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Search for a True Guru

In Sar Bachan, Soami Ji writes:

Search for a true Guru, my dear friend –
  he is the rarest jewel in the world.
The true Guru manifests himself
  to those he showers with his grace.…
Let me tell you everything you need to know
  to recognize the true Guru,
  the one who is dyed in the colour of Shabd.
Open your eyes, you will see him close by.
What more can I say?
I have revealed the whole secret.
From now on it depends upon your destiny, beloved!
If you do not act on what I’ve just said,
  you will keep drifting from form to form.
Radha Soami has said, and said at length,
  all that is necessary.1

Search for a true Guru, my dear friend –
  he is the rarest jewel in the world.

Saints, when they try to tell us something that is beyond our limited experience, use metaphors referring to something we’re familiar with. What is a jewel? Something precious, something intensely beautiful; if it’s rare, it might be extremely valuable. And Soami Ji is saying that a true guru is the rarest jewel in the world. So he’s telling us that we need to search; our work is to seek that rarest of all jewels – the true guru.

Then Soami Ji says:

The true Guru manifests himself
  to those he showers with his grace.

So here we have a seeming contradiction – a paradox. First he says we need to search, then he tells us it’s all a matter of grace when the true guru will manifest himself.

All over the world, when satsangis meet each other, our favorite thing is to say to each other: Tell me the story of how you came to the path. And we love those stories, we can’t help it, because there is always something miraculous – it’s a personal miracle for each person. Whatever the details of the story, we always sense the truth of Soami Ji’s words here:

The true Guru manifests himself
  to those he showers with his grace.

However, as Baba Ji has said so forcefully, the physical body is not the true guru. The physical body, he said, doesn’t have the power to be the true guru. And he said that the true disciple, in fact, is also not the physical body. The true guru is Shabd, and the true disciple ultimately is also Shabd. But knowing this as a teaching is one thing, and knowing it as an experience is something else.

So when Soami Ji says, “Search for a true Guru, my dear friend,” he is talking about a deeper, more profound search. When we got initiated we did not join the club of ‘those who know’; we did not join any exclusive club at all. When we got initiated we became seekers – seekers in earnest, seekers who had taken vows to cement their resolve, seekers who now had instructions on how and where to seek.

So we sit here in the Master’s satsang today, and we are still seeking that reality which is the true guru. Even with the Master before us, we are blind to a reality that we can’t yet see. Something about sitting before the Master often makes us only more keenly aware of how limited is our capacity.

We might want to say, together with Julian of Norwich, “I saw him and still sought him.”2 (That is: I saw him, but I was also still seeking him.) Julian of Norwich was a fourteenth-century Christian mystic, and when she wrote about her mystical experiences she must have been marveling over the strangeness of her state, because she saw the radiant Christ within, but still knew there was deeper seeking yet to do. She writes: “And thus I saw Him and I sought Him, and I possessed Him and I lacked Him.”3

But then she sums up something she learned through her inner experience, saying that “the constant seeking of the soul pleases God very much, for the soul can do no more than seek, suffer, and trust … And … seeking is as good as beholding during the time that He wishes to permit the soul to be in labour.”4

As Baba Ji said recently, however poor our attempt at meditation may be, even that pleases him. We may think it is a poor offering that we bring. He said, “No, it was like when a friend comes to see you – you don’t look at what your friend has brought you, you’re just glad to see him.” Julian of Norwich even goes further. She writes that the Lord says to us:

Pray inwardly even though it seems to give thee no pleasure,
  for it is beneficial enough though thou perceivest it not.
Pray inwardly, though thou sensest nothing, though thou seest
  nothing, yea, though thou thinkest thou canst achieve nothing,
  for in dryness and barrenness,
  in sickness and in feebleness,
  then is thy prayer completely pleasing to me, though it seems to give thee
  but little pleasure. And thus all thy living is prayer in my eyes.5

She uses here the word ‘prayer’ for what we might call ‘meditation.’ She is speaking of what she calls “an exalted imperceptible prayer” in which “all our purpose with all our might is fixed wholly upon the contemplation of Him.”6 This type of prayer, she says, unites the soul to God.

Actually, she doesn’t use the word ‘unite.’ She can’t find in the entire English language a word that communicates the oneness that she means, so she uses ‘one’ as a verb:

Prayer ones the soul to God, for though the soul is ever like God in nature and in essence, it is often unlike God in its external state.… Then is prayer a witness that the soul wills as God wills, and it comforts the conscience and inclines man to grace.7

We might ask: Does our meditation stand as a witness that we will as the Lord wills, that whatever he chooses to send us is just fine with us? Julian suggests that when this is our approach and our attitude to meditation, it inclines us toward grace. It opens us to grace.

When we pray – or meditate – in “dryness and barrenness,” it is greatly pleasing to the Lord, according to Julian. And all our living is then prayer in the Lord’s eyes, she says. If she’s right, then it is very much to our benefit to just carry on with our meditation, such as it is, and keep hoping, waiting – in essence to keep searching for the true guru within.

Soami Ji continues in the next stanza:

Let me tell you everything you need to know
  to recognize the true Guru,
  the one who is dyed in the colour of Shabd.

Now he’s about to tell us the whole secret, everything we need to know so that we can recognize the true guru, the one who is dyed in the colour of Shabd. It is a beautiful image to reflect upon: how do you dye a piece of cloth? You immerse it in the dye. You plunge it into the dye vat, and if you keep it there long enough, it comes out absolutely the colour of the dye. I don’t know if Shabd has a colour, but if it does, we’d have to say its colour is love.

The Sufi mystic Fakhreddin Eraqi describes the melody of Shabd as Love itself singing a serenade. Now, a serenade is a particular kind of a song; it is a song you sing to your sweetheart to attract her, to awaken love for you in her heart. Eraqi writes:

Love serenades in secret
Where is there a lover to hear?

Every breath, a new note is struck.
Every moment, a fresh tune issued.

The entire creation is the Sound of this Melody,
Who has ever heard a song to extend so far?

Love’s secret could not but be revealed,
For how can this Sound be concealed?8

He wonders, how can the sound of this love serenade be concealed? It is resounding twenty-four hours a day. It is life. It is consciousness. We are Shabd; Shabd is us. If it ever withdrew, we’d be dead. How can it be concealed? But how can we not hear it? Eraqi is saying that we’re like a lady who’s being serenaded. She’s fast asleep in her bed, while her lover is singing a beautiful serenade to her. She needs to wake up, go to the window and see who is singing. We need to wake up and listen to the song our lover is singing to us.

Soami Ji describing the true guru as the “one who is dyed in the colour of Shabd” implies something very important for us. Because, if he is dyed in the colour of Shabd, we too can become dyed in that colour. If one cloth can be dyed, then another cloth that’s plunged into that dye vat can also become dyed in that same colour. By immersing ourselves in that Shabd, its colour will also penetrate and transform us – we too will take on the colour of love.

So now Soami Ji is going to tell how to recognize the true guru. He says:

Let me tell you everything you need to know
  to recognize the true Guru,
  the one who is dyed in the colour of Shabd.
Open your eyes, you will see him close by.
What more can I say?
I have revealed the whole secret.

That’s it?! Open your eyes? That’s all he’s got to say? Some of us have been almost half a century striving and struggling on the path, and he says, “Open your eyes, you will see him close by.” Is this really the whole secret?

The true guru, he is telling us, is that one who is with you always, closer than your hands and feet, closer than your own breath. Day and night he is with you; waking or sleeping, he is never far from you.

We often talk about the spiritual path as if it were a journey, as if we have to get from some place to some other place. It’s a trek, a long hard journey. But Soami Ji says, No, it’s right here, right now. Just wake up. That’s all.

The Sufi mystic Fariduddin Attar wrote:

Since your Lord is always with you,
Walk and act in this Presence,
For every step you take in denial
Brings you only remorse and betrayal.9

Soami Ji goes on in the next line:

I have revealed the whole secret.
From now on it depends upon your destiny, beloved!
If you do not act on what I’ve just said,
  you will keep drifting from form to form.

Another paradox. In the first line Soami Ji says it all depends on your destiny; in the next he says you’d better act on his advice. How to resolve this paradox? I don’t know. But if it all depends on our destiny, then at least we can take heart from the fact that he calls us “beloved.” Maybe, because he loves us as he does, there’s some hope for us in our destiny.

But it’s probably a much better idea to focus on his admonition to act on what he has told us. That is: we need to turn to the Master within, the Shabd. As Hazur wrote: “Shabd is the real essential form of the Satguru and it is in this essential form that the Satguru is present everywhere and looks after the disciples.”10

How then do we cultivate the awareness that he is with us and, as Hazur Maharaj Ji put it, looking after us? Let’s look to the words of advice from one of the earliest Tibetan Buddhist Masters, Padampa Sangye. He describes this process of developing an inner relationship with the Master in a particularly colorful, but profound, metaphor:

In the narrow defiles of birth, death, and the intermediate state, bandits await –
  the five poisonous emotions – sure to ambush you;
People of Tingri, avail yourselves of the teacher as your escort.11

Padampa Sangye lived in the village of Tingri, and his disciples gathered around him there, so he addresses his advice to the people of Tingri. He says the journey through life is like going through a narrow pass with rocky cliffs on either side, where bandits wait to ambush you. Those bandits are the poisonous emotions – all our negativity, which robs us of the happiness of life, what to say of our spiritual wealth. He says, To get safely through such a narrow pass with the bandits ready to ambush you, you need a skilled escort. An escort is someone who walks by your side, giving you the support you need. He says “avail yourself of the teacher as your escort.” “Avail yourself” means the teacher has already offered his services as an escort; you just have to accept his offer. Then Padampa Sangye says:

Your never-failing source of refuge is the teacher;
People of Tingri, carry him constantly on the crown of your head.12

He says, If the teacher is really our escort, walking by our side through life – if we really turn to him for guidance, follow his instructions and accept his help – then he becomes our refuge, our shelter . But Padampa Sangye also says, There’s only one way to actually do this: “carry him constantly on the crown of your head.” Carry him with you, not just sometimes, but constantly. In Padampa Sangye’s way of saying it, carry him on your head. As we might say it: turn our attention to him within, at the eye center. Be aware of his presence. Walk and act knowing that he is with us. Padampa Sangye continues:

If your protection is the teacher, you’ll reach wherever you aspire to go;
People of Tingri, cultivate devotion as the fare you pay for the journey.13

And so we need to cultivate devotion. Great Master, Maharaj Sawan Singh, says:

Devotion consists in fixing the form of the master in our heart. … Then love is awakened in the heart of the disciple. So long as love is not of that type, the effort to create conditions for such a love should be continued. Once devotion of this high type is established in a human heart, the soul automatically starts rising upward and is able to catch hold of the Sound Current.14

Devotion consists in fixing the form of the master in the heart. If we continue, and if we persevere, someday we may be able to say, along with the Sufi poet Rahmat Ali Shah:

I etched Your Beautiful Face
On the inner wall of my heart.
Long since my heart has gone to ruins,
Only the wall bearing Your Image

But we may not be there yet. Our devotion may not be perfect yet, so our work is to go on with the efforts to create the conditions for such a love. What are those efforts? Daily meditation, certainly; satsang; seva; the practice of simran during the day. And the practice of his presence, remembering that he is with us, that he is our escort through life. But above all, the daily meditation practice. In other words, we continue searching for the true guru, as Soami Ji expressed in the first line of this shabd. We continue seeking.

In this seeking, though, there is a mystery. We ourselves may not be able to discern the difference between seeking and finding. As Julian of Norwich wrote:

For I saw Him and still sought Him, for we are now so blind and so unwise that we never seek God until He of His goodness shows Himself to us.16

In other words, if we are seeking that realization, if we are striving to follow the path he has shown us, if we are yearning to know the true guru within, it is a sign that he is also already showing himself to us. As she puts it, “of his own goodness” he is revealing himself. Our seeking, striving and yearning is clear evidence of his gift of grace.

As the Sufi poet Hakim Sanai said:

You will never find anything until you seek,
Except the Beloved,
Whom you do not seek unless you have found.17

  1. Soami Ji Maharaj, Sar Bachan Poetry (Selections), p.111
  2. Julian of Norwich, The Complete Julian of Norwich, tr. Father John-Julian, p.95
  3. Ibid., p.95
  4. Ibid., p.99
  5. Ibid., p.193
  6. Ibid., p.201
  7. Ibid., p.201
  8. Vraje Abramian, Poetry, Stories and Teachings of Sufi Mystics and Saints, p.72
  9. Ibid., p.12
  10. Maharaj Charan Singh, Light on Sant Mat, #26
  11. Padampa Sangye, The Hundred Verses of Advice, tr. Dilgo Khyentse, revised edition, p.36
  12. Ibid., p.37
  13. Ibid., p.38
  14. Maharaj Sawan Singh, Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. II, p.20
  15. Winds of Grace, p.58
  16. The Complete Julian of Norwich, p.95
  17. Winds of Grace, p.xx