In The Book of Mirdad, the principal character, Mirdad, says to his disciples:
Man is a god in swaddling-bands. Time is a swaddling-band. Space is a swaddling-band. Flesh is a swaddling-band, and likewise all the senses and the things perceivable therewith. The mother knows too well that the swaddling-bands are not the babe. The babe, however, knows it not.1
Throughout the ages mystics and saints have tried to explain to us that we are not this body. Neither are we that personality with a certain character, a part of the mind with which we identify ourselves so strongly. If we are not this body and not this mind, what are we then? They tell us that we are soul. But what is soul?
Both body and mind are bound by time and space, and because of that, they are temporary, perishable, changeable and fickle – as fleeting as a dream. Whereas soul is eternal, immortal, true. As Master Charan Singh Ji explains in Spiritual Perspectives:
Soul is immortal. Soul neither dies, nor can it be killed. It just changes shape – from one flesh to another flesh, from one body to another body, from one form to another form. So soul is immortal.2
If we envision God as an ocean, then the soul is a drop of that ocean. If we compare the Almighty to the sun, then the soul is a ray of that sun. Soul is our true self, according to saints and mystics. Mind and body are just coverings, swaddles that envelop our true self. These are garments we received and had to put on the moment we were born into this creation so that we could operate in the physical realm. During our long stay here, over lifetimes, these garments of mind and body have become dirty, and veils of illusion have accrued, due to our actions. They are stained with all kinds of colours due to impressions we have absorbed from our past experiences. Great Master, Maharaj Sawan Singh, explains:
If a lantern were wrapped in a thin muslin cloth, its light would be dimmed. If there is another envelope of thick, coarse cloth over the muslin, the light will be cut off entirely and the lantern will cease to serve the purpose of a lantern. Man is much like a covered lantern. There is light in him. There is the spark of pure Existence, Knowledge and Bliss in him; but the envelopes of mind and matter dim his light, and he gropes in darkness.
Real existence has degenerated and appears in him as reason, intellect and instinct. Bliss has degenerated into fleeting experiences of pleasure and pain. Clothed in our dark coverings, we are incapable of understanding our Source. And the extent to which we succeed in removing our coverings marks the degree of our capacity to understand our Source.3
The mystics tell us that our true self is soul, pure light, pure being. But we have become unconscious of its existence and of our divine source, identifying ourselves instead with the soul’s coverings. As a consequence, we focus our mind only on the physical world that surrounds us – on what is visible and tangible – and experience our life as a chain of ostensibly unrelated, fleeting experiences. Identifying ourselves with the soul’s coverings, our consciousness is ever in flux, our understanding is foggy, and our life is out of balance.
The Lord and his realized souls know very well that we are not these coverings of mind and body. But most of us, God’s children, do not know this until we meet a saint, a true Master, who can make us understand. In addition to their intellectual arguments, saints’ living example – as human beings whose coverings of mind and body are so pure that the divine light of their true being shines through – shows us the reality.
A true Master bears witness with his whole being that the Divine really exists. When the time comes, the brilliance of that light that emanates from him attracts us in such a way that within our heart a longing arises to search for that divinity; to search for that divine power that can be found within this body. He shows us the way to true happiness, radiant peace, and serene stillness. His radiance helps us to realize our true self and, finally, our oneness with our source – with God.
The soul is drawn to that divinity and we all are searching for it. In this quest, the guidance of a true living Master is essential. Why? Because in his physical form, he explains the teachings of the mystics to us, again and again, and emphasizes the importance of daily meditation. With his guidance and grace, he makes it possible for us to withdraw our attention from the world and focus it within on the divine power of the Shabd, and thus to see his true form. The practice of meditation and simran during the day enables us to remember God at every moment. Our devotion to these practices and to him allows us to develop love for the Divine.
As a human being, the Master is an example for us. He shows us how to deal with daily responsibilities and circumstances and gives us advice if necessary. And in his true form, as Shabd, he removes the stained veils that cut off our sight, and he purifies our garments – the coverings of body and mind. Through this process, the darkness within us and in our lives diminishes, and we gradually begin to perceive the divine light of our true self.
The guidance of the living Master is essential because this removal of our veils doesn’t happen without a struggle, without resistance. It can even cause pain. When a bandage has covered a wound for too long, so that it has become attached to it, it is painful when it is removed, even if it is done with utmost care to prevent damaging the underlying tissue. Likewise, removing the veils of misguided concepts and opinions can be painful for us. The process may also confuse us, even if it is done with utmost care. We have identified ourselves with our body and our mind for so long. They give us a feeling of certainty, security, and of being in control, which of course is an illusion.
The guidance of the living Master is absolutely necessary during the sometimes difficult purification of all that covers the soul. The Master explains to us that there is no easier way. As gold has to be held in fire to be purified, and dirty clothes have to be washed with strong detergents or even bleach to get them clean again, so the garments of body and mind must be purified by means of certain experiences. We have to go through these experiences, these karmas, to attain our goal: realization of our true self and our oneness with God.
How are we to endure this cleansing and turning away, step by step, from the world that once fascinated us so much? What can allow us to let go of our illusory ideas and convictions, which we have clung to for so long? The answer is love – divine love. The Master immerses us in divine love. And whether we are conscious of it or not, this immersion generates such sweetness within us that a longing arises to let go of everything that stands between us and the Divine. Being in the safety and warmth of Master’s love enables us to let go and sacrifice our wealth, body and mind. It enables us to surrender our very life. It is divine love that purifies and transforms us.
There is a story based on a legend in the Puranas, a group of ancient Hindu scriptures, that describes the cleansing transformation of the garments of body and mind by the Shabd, personified by the Master. In this story a man called Pundalik, traveling with his wife and parents, joined a group of pilgrims on their way to Varanasi.
One night the pilgrims stopped at the hermitage of a great sage. Tired from the day’s long walk, all fell asleep except Pundalik. As he lay awake, he saw a group of beautiful women clad in soiled clothes enter the hermitage. They swept the floor, fetched water and washed the sage’s clothes. Then they had darshan of the sage, and when they came out, their clothes were spotless, pure white. Astonished at this sight Pundalik asked them who they were. They replied that they were the river goddesses in whose waters thousands of people bathed. Their clothes became soiled because of the pilgrim’s sins, but when they purified themselves by serving the sage, their garments became snow-white again.4
Baba Ji asks us, like other mystics and saints, to pay attention to the symbolism of such stories rather than taking them literally. The aim of this legend is to show us the exalted value of serving the Master. It highlights that our garments of mind and body, like those of the river goddesses, will be cleansed and purified when we serve him. And serving him implies serving others unconditionally, since he is in everyone. When our garments are clean, they can absorb the deep “red hue” of the master’s love, as Kabir describes in the following poem. That love will allow us to realize that we are neither body nor mind, but soul, pure light, which is of the same essence as God. Then, as the poem describes, we will become absorbed in bliss.
My Satguru, the adept dyer,
has dyed the fabric of my soul....
Removing the dark stains,
he gave it a deeper red hue;
repeated washings cannot discolour it,
and with each passing day
it acquires a brighter glow….
In the pool of affection
brimming with the water of devotion,
he immersed it and dyed it
in the hue of his love.
Intensified with a longing so profound,
the colour became fast and vibrant….
My Satguru … has dyed the fabric of my soul;
he is the wise and adept dyer.
I sacrifice everything unto him –
my body, mind, wealth and my very life….
Says Kabir, my Guru, the adept dyer,
has showered his grace upon me.
Wearing this garment of serenity,
I have become absorbed in bliss.
My Satguru, the adept dyer,
has dyed the fabric of my soul.5
The Master dyes the garments of our soul in the hue of his love. The only thing we can do is take care that the colour of his love adheres, that the cloth of the garments covering our true self can absorb the deep red colour of love. In other words, all we can do is be receptive to his love, to the grace that he ceaselessly showers upon us.
Receptivity comes when we listen intently to the Master’s teachings, when we practise his instructions faithfully, and when we remember him constantly with devotion during meditation and during our simran throughout the day. We are receptive when we remain in complete obedience to him and when we render him service with utmost dedication in thought, word, and deed. Then we will be able to absorb the dye of his love, and that love will help us to let go of all that stands between us and the Divine.
In his atmosphere of mystic love and bliss, let’s make best use of the time we have been given by being receptive, so that we can have this experience of truth and reality:
The flood of mystic love washes away all our dirt and filth; the storm of mystic bliss drives away all our doubt and suspicion; the sun of mystic knowledge dissipates all our delusion and darkness; nothing is left but the naked truth beaming in its own radiance, the absolute reality glowing in its own refulgence.6
- Mikhail Naimy, The Book of Mirdad, p.43
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I, p.168
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Spiritual Gems, Letter 157,
- Judith Sankaranarayan, Many Voices, One Song, p.73–74
- Kabir Sahib Ki Shabdavali, Vol. 2, p. 63; in RSSB Video, Enigma of Love at approx. 33 minutes. Will appear in forthcoming book, Santon ki Bani
- L. R. Puri, Mysticism, the Spiritual Path, 2nd ed., 2009, p.73