We all long to live a spiritual life. But in our attempts to create a spiritual atmosphere in which we can live, we often feel frustrated, because we feel that our efforts are fruitless. Sometimes we feel that something external is holding us back, and sometimes we feel that the obstacle is internal. But whatever it is, that frustration can bring on a feeling of negativity, of hopelessness. Perhaps we’ve been on the path for many years, or maybe we are recent initiates. But we need to understand that frustration and self-criticism will probably hinder our progress. We need to adopt a positive and cheerful attitude, be patient and disciplined, and our spiritual life will unfold in its own time.
What we need is patience. We have to make effort, yet we have to forget about results. We need to continuously put in our best efforts, sincerely trying to please the Lord by doing our meditation, living the Sant Mat way of life, following the vows, and being harmonious with others. That will all create an atmosphere of love, of meditation. And our efforts will invoke his grace. As Hazur Maharaj Ji once wrote – effort and grace are like two wings of a bird. A bird cannot fly with only one wing. It needs both to balance and stay aloft.
Being patient is probably the hardest thing for us – we are so geared up to living a results-oriented life. We are brought up to think that if we study hard we’ll get a good job, or a promotion. That if we are sick and follow doctors’ orders, we’ll get well. But things don’t always happen as we expect them to. We have to let go, relax, trust in the Lord, and not think we know what’s best for us.
Hazur Maharaj Ji once wrote to a disciple: “When you believe that the Lord loves you and is promoting your welfare, you will cheerfully accept whatever comes about.”1
Maharaj Ji explained why meditation is the best means for us to submit to His will, rather than praying for the Lord to live in our will. He said:
In prayer, we speak to God. We expect something from him to fulfil our desires. In meditation we hear God, we submit to his will. In meditation, you hear the voice of God, and you submit your will to him. You live in his will. In prayer you are asking the Lord to fulfil the desires of your mind. You are dominated by your mind, and you are using the Lord to fulfil those desires. In meditation you just resign yourself to the will of the Father. You give yourself to him. Whatever he gives you, you are happy, contented. That is the difference between prayer and meditation.2
We need to accept our destiny and give up thinking about inner progress. Why do we calculate? Calculating goes against the very essence of the teachings. We don’t meditate because we want results. We meditate to please the Master, the Lord. There is a big difference. It means letting go.
That might be difficult to remember sometimes. But if we think about it, letting go and accepting His will is how we can keep him close to us at all times. When we let go, we are leaving a space, an opening for him in our hearts and minds, where we accept whatever he gives us, rather than expecting anything. We have to empty ourselves of preconceptions. When we approach him in a calculating, or transactional manner, we are saying – here, I’ve done this for you – now you do this for me. We need to let go of wanting to see results and patiently await his grace.
There is a traditional prayer repeated every morning by religious Jews. It says: “I firmly believe in the coming of the Messiah; and although he may delay his arrival, I daily await his coming.” Imagine! They’ve been waiting two thousand years with no expectations! That’s faith. That is the kind of patience and faith we need to have. To show up at His door every morning. To sit in meditation without expectations.
A mystic once said: “The root of impatience is the mistaken belief that we are the masters of our fate.”
Let us take a lesson in patience from the life of the bamboo tree.
In its first four years of life, some varieties of the Chinese bamboo show no growth above the soil. But in its fifth year, it can grow as much as 60 feet in a span of just six weeks. This is because in the early years, the tree develops a strong underground root system to support its growth.
The same principle is true for our maturity on the path. Out of impatience, we look for early signs of progress. But reversing the outward flow of our attention is a slow affair. To turn our attention inwards, we need to be patient and build our efforts on a strong foundation.
The joints on the tall bamboo stalk are very strong, and occur at intervals of eight to twelve inches. In this way, the bamboo grows steadily, segment by segment, as high as 60 feet, despite the stalk being only eight to ten inches wide.
Similarly, by attending to our meditation regularly, day after day, we too are growing ‘segment by segment’. We experience a change in attitude. We become more content and receptive to His will. We are maturing slowly, just as the bamboo tree matures slowly after building its strong foundation. And that is why the bamboo can tolerate the greatest windstorms. It bends but does not break.
The Chinese mystics take a lesson from the bamboo. They teach that just as the stiff and inflexible reed breaks with the intensity of the wind, so the disciple needs to be flexible but firmly rooted. Then he may bend, but will not break.
When our beliefs are rooted in consistent practice, the storms of life might bend us a little, but we won’t break. The periods of waiting, of frustration, are needed, to strengthen us.
The butterfly’s life cycle illustrates the importance of effort and struggle
Butterflies grow and mature through a process of transformation. First they are caterpillars, then they create a cocoon around themselves, and while in the cocoon they slowly mature until they emerge as butterflies. The butterfly needs to go through each stage naturally.
Once there was a man who found a butterfly cocoon. He thought he would help the butterfly emerge faster. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through the opening. Finally the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily, but it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would expand and be able to support the body. But that never happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.
The man didn’t understand that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were Nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings, so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon. The struggle strengthened it! And for us, too, sometimes our struggles are exactly what we need. If God allowed us to go through our life without any obstacles, we would not become strong and independent – able to stand on our own two feet.
Without the struggle we would never mature. The struggle is our effort, even if we sometimes think of our efforts as fruitless. But the effort is what endears us to the Lord. We need to be patient, but we also need to be making effort. There is a balance we need to maintain. So although we need to be patient, we should not become lazy and think that he will do it all. If we want to reach the destination, we have to keep our eyes, and efforts, true to our goal.
As Great Master wrote to a struggling disciple:
The path of the Masters is a long one and it takes time to mould the mind. The withdrawal of the scattered attention into the eye centre requires patience, perseverance, and faith. The learned get impatient when they find themselves helpless in controlling their mind. They begin to doubt the efficacy of the method given. They want quick results, little knowing that mind is a power which is moving the world, and the world dances to its tune. It expresses itself through lust, anger, greed, attachment, and pride, and who is free from them?
To try to concentrate the mind in the eye centre is to pick a quarrel with it, and it is a lifelong quarrel. If we are successful in this struggle (with the mind), the prize is everlasting bliss. Then there is no more revolving on the wheel of births and deaths.3
Patience, perseverance, and faith – the foolproof formula!
In one of his poems, Soami Ji Maharaj reassured us that the Master is always looking after us and there is no need for anxiety or worry. The poem begins with the disciple begging his Master to reveal his true inner form, and the master answers with kind reassurance:
Listen, dear soul, and let me explain:
Unique and wondrous is my real form,
which no one can perceive until I lend a hand.
Practise meditation and subdue your mind
by holding your sense impulses in check.
Have patience, keep the company of the Saints,
and I shall purify you through my grace.
I shall not rest till I show you that form –
why are you in such a hurry?
I carry your burdens in my own heart
so that you may be free of worries
and nurture my love in your heart.
Give up your misgivings, be steadfast in your love –
a love tempered with faith.
I shall myself help you put in the effort,
I shall myself take you to your ultimate home.4
Hazur always emphasized that the Lord never withholds his grace when we are sincere and honest in our love and devotion – when we consistently put in effort to meditate and follow the vows. He said that “all this meditation, all these spiritual practices, are simply to make us receptive to his grace. We have to be sincere with ourselves. We must live with ourselves rather than living for others. We have to put in honest and sincere efforts, then leave the result to the Lord.”5
Someone once asked Hazur Maharaj Ji why we have to wait so long. Hazur answered:
Why all this waiting? Because we are separated. We are separated from our focus. We are not at the door of our house, and the master is there at the door of our house, so we are waiting to go to the door. Let us go to the door of the house; then there will be no more waiting.6
It’s a question of trust. We have to trust that he has put us on the path out of his love, and he will see us home. Continue with our meditation while trusting in the Lord. Attend satsang and rely on the master. He has our interests at heart and will not abandon us.
Sardar Bahadur Jagat Singh once said: “Initially, the mind will make you cry, but in the end the mind itself will cry. At first you will become frustrated, but if you persevere you will ultimately win. All devotees must remember this. They must not get disheartened and give up.”7
Why is this so? Because ultimately the Master’s grace will take us across the whole realm of the mind. If we follow his instructions and stick to the path, following the four vows, make our best efforts and trust in him, there is no doubt that he will see us through. He has taken our responsibility. We have put ourselves under his protection and guidance, so we have to trust that his advice is for our own good, and follow it.
A nineteenth- century philosopher wrote words that will certainly encourage us to keep moving ahead:
I find the greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving. To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it, but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.8
The point is that, like the bamboo that needs its root network to be strong, or the butterfly that needs to mature slowly and naturally – in the same way, the disciple, trusting in the Master, needs to cultivate patience in order to develop the love and discipline necessary to follow the path. The disciple needs to be persistent and keep moving forward, knowing that he or she is being guided towards the ultimate destination.
- Unpublished letter
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, #203
- Spiritual Gems, #131
- Sar Bachan Poetry, Bachan 33, Shabd 16, pp. 329,331
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, #454
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, #83
- Rai Sahib Munshi Ram, With the Three Masters, Vol. III, 1st ed. 1967, p. 116; 5th ed., 2018, pp. 184–185
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.