Spiritual beings going through a human experience - Living Meditation

1  Spiritual beings going through a human experience

This life is but a link in an infinite chain of existence. The body perishes but the soul lives on – immortal, treading the path back from its painful separation to its blissful return to the mansions of the Lord.
Maharaj Jagat Singh

Mystics tell us that although we are in a body, we are not the body – we are spiritual beings going through the experience of being human. From this encouraging point of view, we are pure beings of spiritual nature already, but beings whose purity has been temporarily obscured by our mind and senses. We will realize this for ourselves only when our soul dominates our mind, and this higher state of consciousness, the Masters tell us, can be gained through meditation, and through meditation alone.

Through meditation, we learn to hold our attention still at the spiritual eye centre. Once we are able to do this, the mind comes under the influence of the soul and is receptive to the more subtle reality of the Shabd. The layers of ever-changing desires and worldly impressions that conceal our pure consciousness fall away naturally – the scales of spiritual blindness fall from our eyes – and we experience, with the ear and eye of the spirit, the sweetness and power of the deathless Self, the Shabd, buried deep within us. Without the practice of meditation, our mind remains possessed by worldly passions and attachments, and our soul, deprived of its best potential ally – an enlightened mind – travels without support through the experience of being human in this most dangerous of planes, the land of Kal.

The Indian word ‘Kal’ has been deliberately kept here, as there is no equivalent to this concept in the Western tradition. ‘Kal’ in Sanskrit literally means time – the illusion of life unfolding in sequence. In the teachings of the saints, Kal is personified as the ruler of the realms of mind and matter, god of the material universe – the physical, astral and causal planes where time shapes and destroys all – whereas the Supreme Consciousness exists both within and beyond time.

According to the Shabd Masters, it is Kal that keeps the soul trapped in the material and mental spheres, where mind and matter, not spirit, dominate. The way out of this trap is to transcend the realm of mind and matter by means of Shabd meditation under the guidance of a living Shabd Master – a guide who is free from the prisons of time and duality, and whose perspective reflects to his or her disciples the unlimited truth of Shabd.

In his Radiant Form, he [the Master] helps the disciple at every step, accompanying him throughout the spiritual journey.
Introduction to Die to Live

Life in the land of Kal

Look upon the world as a bubble: him who looks thus upon the world the king of death does not see. Come, look at this world, resembling a painted royal chariot. The foolish are sunk in it; for the wise, there is no attachment for it.
The Dhammapada

When we stay at a hotel, we don’t try to fix the problems we face. This is because we are guests at the hotel, not attached to it, and we know we will soon be on our way. Similarly, a bridge is meant for crossing, so no one builds his home, the place where he is to stay, on a bridge. Is it not strange, then, that even though we know we will not be in the world permanently, we act as if we were to be here forever! Soami Ji says that we are so attached to the creation and love it so much that we have forgotten the Lord, forgotten our true home, and forgotten who we really are. We are trapped in this world of illusion and take everything that we see to be real.

Not only mystics tell us that this is a world of illusion, scientists say the same thing. Science tells us that at the subatomic or quantum level, nothing of the material world is left intact. There are only energy fields with no solidity at all, nothing for the senses to see or touch. Our physical senses are too dull and too slow to sense, feel, see or experience in any manner these energy fields that are in fact vibrations taking place in a void. The illusion in which we exist isn’t restricted to the material world. Our mental perceptions, emotions and attachments are part of the illusory realm of mind and matter.

Meditation is the means to realize the fleeting and impermanent nature of human life, of all our attachments and endeavours – even life itself. Meditation is the means to realize a higher, more permanent level of reality. Through meditation and with the help of a true Master, we can wake up from the dream-like existence that characterizes lower planes of consciousness. The Masters teach that just as it is the very nature of the world to change unceasingly, so it is the privilege of human beings to experience the changeless, deathless and blissful nature of their own true Self.

Yet how difficult it is to retain the spiritual perspective and clarity as we live out our daily lives in the material world! Wherever we look, we see change, suffering and conflict. Influenced by what is going on around us, we easily take the path of least resistance. How natural it can seem to go with the flow – so we too ‘flow’ with the downward, superficial tendencies that appear to characterize our times, even though our Master demonstrates the benefits of choosing the upward path and shows us how to disengage ourselves from all and everything that pulls us down.

Everyone is burning in the fire of maya [illusion]; all are roasting in it day and night.
Baba Jaimal Singh

Injustice, sickness and poverty are everywhere, and we see cheating, violence and obsession with sense gratification all around, but for us to capitulate to a negative perspective of life is to deny our spiritual nature and invite restlessness and suffering upon ourselves. To go to the extent of indulging in the downward tendencies of the mind is simply asking for yet another birth and inviting even more suffering upon ourselves.

In a place where mind and matter are active, there can never be peace. Sorrows and wars of nations, or communities, or individuals shall continue. The soul must seek other planes to find peace. To find peace is the business of the individual. Everybody has to seek it within himself.
Maharaj Sawan Singh

To choose a positive path is to affirm one’s spiritual nature. All conflict, in the final analysis, is the manifestation of inner conflict. And while we may never be able to make the world into a utopia, we can, the saints tell us, transform ourselves. Through the practice of meditation, we can gradually reclaim for ourselves a higher state of being. By turning inwards, by exploring and experiencing the spiritual reality of inner life, we can gain the strength of character to remain sane even if the entire world were to go crazy around us. Problems in life will always be present – it is the nature of the realm of Kal – but the support we get from meditation will make us increasingly able to deal with the ups and downs of daily life.

Pleasures from external objects
Are wombs of suffering.
They have their beginnings and their ends;
No wise man seeks joy among them.
Bhagavad Gita

We are responsible for the freedom of our soul

Liberty means responsibility.
That is why most men dread it.
George Bernard Shaw

To acknowledge and affirm our spiritual nature, the first practical step we are to take once we are committed to the spiritual path is to embrace responsibility for our every thought and action. If it is Kal’s responsibility to keep us trapped in the realms of suffering, it is equally the responsibility of each human being to take the future of his or her soul in hand.

Whatever we are today, it is the result of what we thought and did in the past. By the same rule of cause and effect, what we are to become in the future will be determined by what we think and do right now, today. Through our consciousness, our sense of discrimination, we can choose at every moment to make a difference now, in this life, not only for the rest of our lifetime but for all eternity. This is our privilege. This is our challenge.

While the body we occupy at this point in time will die, our soul continues far beyond this life to reap the harvest of the choices we are making here and now. If we are clever and make wise choices today about what we think and do, it will be a lot easier to make positive choices tomorrow. That we have been put on the path of the Masters means the time has now come, in this very life, to become masters of ourselves. There will be no incarnation better than the one we are in now. It is now that we have the opportunity to realize who and what we are.

Why, then, would we wait for another birth? Why do we wait to make meditation our first priority? If we are not going to make this effort now, when are we going to do it? We need to ask ourselves these questions. If it is not for me to do it, who do I think will do this work for me? Why, we can ask ourselves, did we come to this path? Why, then, do we procrastinate? We made a conscious choice to accept the teachings of a Shabd Master for good reason. To help us keep our focus, we need constantly to revisit our motives and our priorities.

Now is the time to get serious about living the teachings! There is no better time to make the required effort to keep our attention in the eye centre. The responsibility is ours and ours alone. No one else can do it for us. If a student wants to pass an exam, he or she has to study; no one else can do the studying for them. Master Sawan Singh (also known as Great Master) says: “Develop the power to withdraw your attention, at will, from the outward objects and from the physical body, and concentrate it in the eye focus.”

He states the disciple’s responsibility very clearly. Those words ‘at will’ mean it is we who are responsible for keeping our mind in the eye centre through effort and self-control. No one else will do it for us. Even the Master, who is teaching, guiding and protecting us, will not do it for us. Unless we take this step ourselves, we will never make spiritual progress.

With the gift of initiation, Master bestows on the disciple sufficient grace to do meditation. All disciples of a true Master have the strength to meditate and to keep the attention at the eye focus. We cannot let laziness or fear paralyze us. We have the strength to raise our attention to the eye centre because the force that is upholding the entire creation is upholding us. That force is Shabd; that is what the Master is; and that, too, is what we are.

The power within is not ignorant of what you are doing. It is with you and constantly watches you and guides you.
Maharaj Sawan Singh

Initiation is not an insurance policy

One does not become a satsangi simply by being initiated.
Maharaj Jagat Singh

Sant Mat is not an insurance policy by which we are guaranteed salvation just by attending initiation. Although initiation is no small matter, although it marks the culmination of a journey of thousands of lifetimes, it is not the end of the journey. Shabd Master Baba Gurinder Singh (or Baba Ji, as he is known) tells us that the event of our initiation may be taken as the projection of our desire to grow spiritually. Unless we take action, we will not become satsangis. A satsangi is one who is in contact with Truth (sat, truth; sang, with). You are either there, or you are not there. There is no half-way ground in experiencing Truth.

As Master Jagat Singh (or Sardar Bahadur, as he was also known) points out, we do not become satsangis by the mere act of having attended initiation. A graduate student enrolling in a doctoral programme does not become a PhD just by joining the university. A student has to attend classes for many years before he or she graduates. Until we have merged into Shabd, we are all seekers in search of our home. The way to go home is through meditation. If we are not doing our meditation, then we are not on our way to becoming satsangis. Nor are we following the teachings of the Master, no matter how often we have the sight or company (darshan) of his physical form, listen to satsangs, do seva or read spiritual books. Without meditation, it is impossible to attain liberation.

A Master comes to initiate us, to put us in contact with our inner Master, the Shabd. Once we have been initiated, we have to follow the instructions our living Master has given us. By putting more emphasis on the person of the Master than on his teachings, we make a serious mistake that is detrimental to our spiritual welfare. The Master’s finger is pointing to the eye centre but we are busy worshipping his finger, not looking at where his finger is pointing. If we believe that Master will wave a magic wand and automatically give us liberation after death, we are wrong. If we believe that just by attending initiation or by having his physical darshan, without doing our meditation, he will give us liberation after death, we are also sadly mistaken.

Shabd Master Charan Singh used to say that nothing justifies us saying that we cannot do meditation. The Master fulfils his task by immersing us in an ocean of grace. Now we have to do our part and take responsibility, through action, for the welfare of our soul.

Kal’s deadliest weapon: indulging in thinking

Mind is the deadliest of foes, but the most useful of servants. When it turns wild and gets out of control, it heads for certain destruction. When properly awakened and controlled, there is no limit to what the mind can do.
Introduction to Die to Live

Once we have been initiated, we need to practise the process of controlling our mind so that it becomes the servant and ally of our soul, not our master. As we all have experienced, there is no end to our desires, and we know how easy it is to be dominated by them! At the root of this problem lies the habit of giving free rein to our mind so that it goes wherever the senses lead it. If we learn to control our mind, we automatically gain control over our senses. In Die to Live, Master Charan Singh says: “Intellect is a great barrier in our way, but we have to pierce the barrier of intellect with the help of intellect.”

Used constructively, the intellect is a great friend on the spiritual journey. Supported by a spiritual focus and the habit of clear thinking, the mind discriminates for our spiritual advantage – looking to our spiritual growth and spiritual well-being. ‘Compulsive’ thinking, on the other hand, fuels desires, makes the ego stronger and contradicts all efforts to put our soul in charge. Compulsive, out-of-control thinking gets us into trouble and leads to pain. It is a question of who is in control. Allowed to go its own way, not referring to its power of discrimination, the mind quickly becomes our downfall.

‘Compulsive’ thinking is the process of abandoning oneself to the inner chatter of the mind. It is the tendency to live in a world of concepts and illusions; of fear for what the future may bring; of obsessing with planning; of remembering and ruminating on what is past. The process itself builds habits of worrying, judging, analyzing, building expectations and daydreaming. Compulsive thinking feeds the passions. It reinforces the ego. Constant mental repetition of the obsessions of the day makes deep grooves in the mind. These grooves become so deep that even if we act on them, we may not be able even in one lifetime to wipe clean the slate of karmas. Then we have to reincarnate again – in response to what remains on the slate.

Relentlessly and restlessly, the mind tries to experience and enjoy everything. But nothing seems to satisfy its ravenous hunger. The acquisition of wealth and power gives rise to endless desires. Our possessions become the master, instead of being our slave. The passions gradually forge heavy chains around us, bind us to the baser things of the world and invariably harden our heart.
Introduction to Die to Live

We generate thousands of thoughts every day. From the spiritual perspective this means that thousands of times a day our mind bypasses the eye centre as we run from one thought to the next without rest or pause. No wonder we feel restless and anxious! How could it be otherwise, with all that activity going on within our head? When we indulge in wanton thinking, we waste many opportunities to centre ourselves through spiritual repetition (simran). We miss the benefit that is available to us – the well-being that comes from repeating the words the Master gave us at the time of initiation, through which we create that much-needed focus at the eye centre.

If, rather than containing the mind’s activity, we continuously indulge its whims and allow it to do as it pleases, then it continues to jump around wildly, wanting to go its own way. And it does this even more at the one time we really need it to become still, when we try to pin it down during the meditation period.

Masters therefore encourage less indulging in thinking and more focused repetition. Indulging the mind has an adverse effect on the disciple, scattering the attention and preventing us from going within. Since karma originates from action, and action originates from thought, by constantly thinking about small, insignificant, passing desires we fan these desires into forest fires. First, there is a thought or an idea – in the beginning it may seem just an innocent thought wave, one that can be easily brushed aside by a wave of simran or a counter-thought. However, if the mind starts to dwell on the thought, it becomes a desire. Once the desire gains momentum, it takes hold of us and we begin to consider how we can ‘possess’ the desired object. A great thirst and appetite may soon develop for it, and we become restless until we satisfy our desire. Once action has taken place, we have created karma. Craving, or mental indulgence, is thus the womb of all the invisible chains and fetters that bind us to this world.

If, on the other hand, we choose simran to focus our mind and brush away these extraneous thoughts when they are just beginning, we pre-empt the battle. We cut at the root of our desires, dilute the downward tendencies of the mind and win a victory for our soul. One by one, each of these little victories adds up and gradually the positive energy they generate helps us establish our attention at the eye centre from where the currents of spiritual energy power our soul.

The habit of compulsive thinking is a form of mental diarrhoea that weakens us, a sickness that prevents us from fulfilling our spiritual potential. It is a pathological state of human nature, a misdirected use by the mind of the power or energy of the soul. Not only does compulsive thinking weaken the spirit and strengthen the ego, it inexorably reinforces the mistaken notions that the world is permanent and that other people and events are responsible for our problems.

While the mind derives its life-force and energy from the soul, it at the same time does everything possible to suffocate the soul!
Maharaj Sawan Singh

The way to treat this sickness is to concentrate and focus our attention at the eye centre through simran. Simran reduces and quietens the stressful static created by out-flowing thought waves. Simran restores the mind to clarity, strength and wellness. Simran frees us from our obsessions so that we can be empty of our petty self and become receptive to the healing power of the Shabd within. (For more on this subject, see the section on simran in Chapter 5.)

Get a grip on reality

Satsangis should form the habit of ‘thinking’ – clear thinking … Clear thinking is ninety percent abhyas [spiritual practice]. Clear thinking is a blessing. It can easily be attained by a little practice.
Maharaj Jagat Singh

As we walk the spiritual path, we come to understand more and more that our suffering is rooted in our distorted or unclear way of perceiving the world and ourselves. By perceiving reality in a delusional way, we construct a delusional reality within which we live. It is no wonder, then, that when we experience lust, greed or any of the downward tendencies, we define ourselves through them, through our thoughts and emotions. Deluded as we are, we identify our very being with our anger, lust, greed, attachments and our ego. As we go through the experience of being human, we confuse our real Self with what we feel.

The greatest tragedy of our deluded state is that we fail to see that our essence is Shabd. The Masters tell us that even the smallest part of Shabd is nothing but light, bliss and love. From the encouraging perspective of the Masters, our obsessions and neuroses are but temporary obstructions, passing dark clouds that block the brilliance of our soul from reaching us. Our challenge is to contribute to the process that drives the clouds away.

Meditation helps us reach a state where we can detach ourselves from our emotions and obsessions. Through Shabd meditation, we actually experience that we are not these ever-changing identities that we assume through our feelings and neuroses, but that we are fundamentally pure and constant. We are not the small self we thought we were, but rather the Shabd Self – this light, bliss and love that is within us. Through meditation we realize that our downward tendencies are superficial and temporary. As we stop identifying ourselves with our passions and attachments, we let go of them. Once we let go of them, we are free to identify with our Shabd Self. Meditation helps us to gain increasing clarity as to who we really are.

As the meditation practice becomes stabilized, we begin to see the process of life in an objective manner. We see events and people for what they are, rather than for what we have always projected on them. It becomes possible to witness that our thoughts and emotions are just that: thoughts and emotions, personal mental projections or electrical impulses. Seeing these projections in a clear light, we release our grip. The resulting light-heartedness we experience enables us to go deeper into the meditation practice. The deeper we go, the more clearly we understand the true nature of the mind.

Strengthened by meditation, we are able to watch how the mind, in expressing itself, creates infinite scenarios and then dissolves them again. We see for ourselves how its reservoir is unlimited, how there is no end to its creations. We start to recognize that the source of our problems lies in the deceptive nature of our mental creations, and in our yearning for permanent or lasting solutions in an ever-changing world. Because we treat the world as permanent, we look to it for the lasting happiness we crave. Clear thinking shows us that it is this, our distorted perception, that is leading us again and again to seek happiness in situations where the final outcome can only, by its nature, be frustration, separation and pain.

Clear thinking is attained by practice, and it is well worth cultivating it to help us avoid falling into our own mind traps. We can help ourselves by reasoning things out and thinking things through in the light of the saints’ spiritual perspective; by using common sense to see if what we think seems reasonable, logical and truthful; by checking if our conclusions will bring us closer to or further from our spiritual goal. Real clarity, however, will be achieved only when the currents of thought settle, when through the practice of simran they become tranquil at our eye centre.

Clear thinking takes us deeper in the practice of meditation. Once the thought waves are stilled, our soul experiences a higher reality through its faculty of direct perception. With our shifting mind anchored, we perceive things and remain unaffected by them, so that we are able to let life go its own way. Thus a two-way process is created: as we think clearly, it becomes easier to concentrate in meditation; and increased concentration, leading to the unperturbed receptivity of a heightened consciousness, allows the Shabd to be revealed.

If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is, infinite.
William Blake

To be able to keep our attention in the eye centre, it is critical that at the time of meditation we let go of many things that may otherwise demand our attention. It is critical that we remind ourselves that it is our perception of events and other people that affects us; it is our perception of life that makes us suffer, rather than the people and things themselves. If we are able to realize this fact and let go of our obsessions, then it becomes easier for us to achieve better concentration in our meditation practice. The one strengthens the other. This is why it is crucial that we put full effort into exercising control over our thoughts.

With clear thinking, we see that many of the preoccupations that prevent us from doing simran are not worth pursuing. They are personal, based on our own misconceptions, and have no lasting relevance. For instance, our impulse to blame circumstances or people is a self-deception. We realize that events or people don’t hurt us; it is how we view the world that makes us feel hurt. Events are impersonal; others are not to blame; it is our own perception that is at fault. What others think or say about us is not in our control: people’s opinions are their own, so we shouldn’t let our meditation be perturbed by them. People may not be what we wish them to be since each and every person has to go through his or her own personal and individual drama. Given the law of karma, therefore, it is foolish to think we can bend or shape other people to suit our own life’s drama.

Open your eyes: see things for what they really are, thereby sparing yourself the pain of false attachments and avoidable devastation.

Events such as beginning or ending a relationship, power struggles at our place of work or seva, getting ill, becoming rich or poor – none of these is under our control. Most of these events were already determined and charted out before we were born by our own actions in previous births. We would derive far more benefit if we worked to control our thinking instead of trying to control events, people or circumstances. What would we gain if we were to control the whole world, but could not control ourselves!

The fact is that we don’t have a choice regarding many things that happen to us, but we do have the choice as to how we react to them. Will we react in a positive manner? This choice can be ours. Will we turn our attention towards our inner life? If so, what will we choose there? We have the choice to choose simran or to occupy ourselves with inner chatter: will we let go of our apparent need to be entertained, ad nauseam, by our own thoughts and dreams? We have the choice to cultivate receptivity to the Sound. Will we give our time to our meditation practice? We have the choice to calm our mind, to cultivate clear thinking, to choose a path of inner happiness and inner freedom. Will we keep working with ourselves to strengthen our simran? What will we choose?

Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: some things are within our control, and some things are not.

Invert the five passions to nurture meditation

Clear thinking helps us redirect the emotions and thoughts that hinder our meditation, yet it is interesting to note that when it comes to spirituality the mind is so perverse that it turns everything backwards. On the spiritual path, we talk about how we want to replace lust, anger, greed, attachment and pride or ego with their opposite virtues so as to nurture our meditation. Do we succeed? What seems to happen more often is that the mind comes in and twists everything around.

For example, lust is excessive indulgence in the senses while the opposite of lust is continence – but where do we, who see ourselves as spiritual practitioners, practise continence? Is it not frequently seen in the spiritual side of life, where many of us – ironically – practise continence in the area of meditation! We may even say that too much meditation is dangerous! How often, on the other hand, do we justify being lustful for life “for the experience of it”? “I need to have this experience.” “I need to know this thing.” “I need to go through this.”

As disciples on a spiritual adventure it should be the opposite. On the spiritual path, we should be lustful for meditation. If we are passionate about spirituality, we have to crave and yearn after meditation. We need to nurture the desire for more indulgence in meditation until we reach the point that we lose ourselves in it.

Another passion we can redirect to improve our meditation is anger. When someone in this world does something we don’t like, the most common response is to react and to try to change that person. We get angry because the world isn’t the way we want it to be. “This person is no good.” “I want you to be this way.” We are filled with anger. But when we come to our meditation, it is nothing but forgiveness. Where is our reforming zeal when we are dealing with ourselves? Do we try to change our mind by giving it a good slap in the face and saying, “You are going to sit! You are going to meditate!” Oh no, we become all forgiveness. We say, “Oh, poor mind, it is too much for you. If I press you too hard, you will rebel and overwhelm me. I forgive you, I know you are weak.” We are all forgiveness as far as the discipline of meditation is concerned. We forgive ourselves for our lack of effort yet we put no bridles on our anger towards the world.

It should be just the opposite. If we need to be angry, we should be angry towards our mind: “What are you doing to me? Why are you trying to mislead me? Why are you making me waste my existence? Why don’t you sit still and be quiet?”

Then there is greed. How many days do we spend in stores, shopping malls or online, purchasing all life’s paraphernalia, accumulating it, savouring it, dressing ourselves up with it? We need the sharpest car and the best house. We need to see and be seen. These may seem like small things but soon, if we are not careful – filled with care for our soul – our mind will find there are skyscrapers we must own, empires we must create, whole populations we must milk for profit. To be content with just some knowledge becomes insufficient: we must know all things and amaze the world with our knowledge. The fact is that most of these things we don’t need, so, basically, all this is nothing but greed and indulgence. But by the same token, are we greedy for meditation? Do we want more and more of it? No. When it comes to that, we become the embodiment of contentment. “I must lead a normal, balanced life; I can take only so much. I’ve done the most I can handle of meditation. I’ve gone to satsang; I’m content.”

For the one who loves the Master, there is no such thing as contentment with meditation; there has got to be greed – insatiable greed. We always want more meditation, we always want more of the presence of the inner Master; there has got to be greed for that.

What, then, do we see if we analyze attachment? If we knew that someone were beating up a person we love, we wouldn’t wait to get help. We would run and throw ourselves into the fray. Even if the person were much bigger than us, or there were twenty of them attacking, we would just ignore the fact and would flail around to protect this loved one whom we are attached to. Now when it comes to meditation, the soul, which is our real essence, is being molested, raped, beaten to death by the mind and senses, and yet, in the midst of that ordeal we manage to find detachment. “Oh, poor soul, this is your plight, the mind is powerful and I cannot defend you against it.” We are very detached about the soul. “In the last moment the Master will come, like Superman, to the rescue. Don’t worry. I do not need to make any effort. He will save you. He is attached to you.”

Are we attached to our soul? It would appear that we are not. Rather, it would seem that we are very attached to the worldly things and unattached to that which is our essence. We say, “Oh, we have our children and our family and all that.” It is true, we have all those relations, but who are they? The Master says this world is a play: many wives, many husbands, many children, through our many lives – we have had them all!

There is a story about a man who was very attached to his wife. When his wife died, he wanted a message taken to her, so he asked a spiritually advanced disciple to contact his wife. The advanced disciple went inside and then came back. The husband asked, “Well, what did she say?” The disciple replied, “She said, ‘Who? Which husband? I’ve been with so many by that very name since I have been coming into this creation. To which husband are you referring?’” That is the extent of our attachments. We think these relationships are so real, so important, such vital obligations. With the spiritual perspective, however, we see we must reverse this way of thinking. It has to be just the opposite. Our priority has to be to consider our obligations to our soul. First and foremost, we have to value our soul so much that it is more important to us than everything else.

Then we come to the last of the five downward tendencies, which is ego. We think we are so valuable in this world that we should be recognized as important. We assume that people should want to be with us; that we should be paid more; that the Master should come personally to thank us for ‘our’ seva, and so on. There is so much ego in us. Yet, when we come to the spiritual side of life, we become the embodiment of humility. Then, we are nothing. We become worthless. We can’t fend for ourselves, and we can’t battle against the mind. “Master, you have to do it for me. You have to meditate for me.” We become all humility, and yet it should be just the opposite.

If there is anything that we need on this spiritual path to reach our destination, it is the determination of the ego. This may sound like a tremendous contradiction in the path because we are trying to eliminate the ego. The mind is so cunning it tries to cloud our clear thinking and we confuse the faculty of ‘doing’ with a negative association of ‘ego’. At this stage on the spiritual path, firm resolve is more important to us than anything else, and a natural ingredient of ego is firm resolve. ‘Firm resolve’ is the determination to make things happen. ‘Firm determination’ is the quality of the mind that in Sanskrit is called ahankar, which also means ego and will power. It is this natural quality of the mind that becomes perverted when it gets out in the world and says, “I am this” and “This is mine”. But in order to get to the eye focus we need this same quality to be directed to our advantage, so that it says, “I am going to do it, I am going to achieve it.” If we don’t have that faculty, we will never get to the eye centre.

Clear thinking on this matter is extremely important. In this plane, we are enmeshed in ego. It is through the ego that we function, and without it we cannot live. When it becomes time for us to do what is important for us to do, we have to use our ego. But the use of the ego is only a faculty, not an identity. When it comes to achieving something in this world such as getting a job, we exert our determination. When we go to school, we say, “I can pass this exam. I can obtain this degree to get this job. I can succeed in this job.” When we really want something, we go and get it. For our spiritual growth, we need to use that same determination.

In this way, we use the mind’s natural behaviour to our advantage. The five ‘sins’ or ‘passions’ that stand in the way of spiritual growth are simply perversions of the mind’s natural tendencies. We can take each of these passions and reverse them, transforming them from downward tendencies to positive powers, and create ballast for our upward journey. Lust, anger, greed, attachment, and ego can all be inverted to serve the spirit by supporting our meditation practice.

Unmasking the ego

Within the body He Himself resides,
Yet He cannot be seen, that Invisible One.
Under the sway of mind,
Fools know not the truth,
And search for Him outside.
Guru Amar Das

Where there is thinking (mind), there is duality. Where there is duality, there is ego: “me and my thoughts” or “me and the world” or “I am one thing; the world is something else”. Ego is sustained and fed by constant thinking. Ego cannot concern itself with living in the present, because being in the present threatens ego’s very survival. Ego is kept alive by thinking constantly about the past or future. Without a past, it is hard to maintain an identity. Preoccupation with the future gives hope for the continued survival of ego. Ego is therefore always looking to get attached to some memory, situation or problem, to guarantee its survival and to reinforce its sense of self.

What ego fails to see is that this self is just a mask impersonating our real Self. Ego is the ignorance of who we really are. Ours is a case of mistaken identity. It is as if we were water contained in a glass bottle that is floating on the ocean, and we thought we were the bottle instead of the water. Eventually, the bottle will be smashed by the waves against the rocks and the glass will break. Once the bottle is broken, where is our separate identity? Where is the single drop? It doesn’t exist any more. It has become the ocean.

What has happened to me?
I am now lost to myself!
I look within me and I do not find myself.
Within myself You abide.
From head to foot You are there,
And You too are within and without.
Bulleh Shah

When we die, we lose contact with our possessions and relations. Without these relationships with the outside world we will no longer be what we used to be, our ego will have no meaning, our personality as we experience it just now will have died with us. The word ‘personality’ derives from the Latin word ‘persona’, which means mask. This mask was used in ancient Greek theatre to portray a role or personality. Our ego is the mask, the personality or self we have built in this lifetime to cover our true Self. It is our ‘false’, our temporary identity, an impostor that pretends to be the real ‘me’.

We will never become receptive to the truth of our own being until we unmask the ego, until the deceptive wall of duality between Shabd and the true self crumbles. The wall of ego that separates Shabd from us is made from the bricks we ourselves provide by indulging in thinking. Where there is thought there is ego. Where there is ego – ‘me’ or ‘you’ – there is separation, impermanence and pain.

When one merges into the Absolute there is no ego, no duality, no separation and no pain. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says that union is achieved through stillness of the thought waves. The only way one can merge back in the Absolute is by quieting the mind. This is very difficult to achieve but it is not impossible. By training the mind in simran, we control our thoughts and make them harmless. Then we are in a receptive state when we practise listening to the Shabd in bhajan. We go on practising our bhajan until we are able to hear the inner Sound. Once this is accomplished, we are drawn by the magnetic pull of the Sound. As our awareness of Shabd expands, ego occupies its proper place and the soul gains control. As the soul gains control, stilling the mind becomes a real possibility. Meditation is the means to still our mind, to become absorbed in the celestial music, to be bathed in the light of Shabd.

In answer to a fear expressed by many: we don’t lose the sense of who we are by merging with the ocean of consciousness. On the contrary, we become who we really are, which is pure consciousness, perfect happiness, limitless love. What is this personality that we are so afraid to lose? What sense does it make that we remain satisfied with this dark world, separated from our true essence, when our possibilities are infinite? Let us become the ocean. Let us make the effort to avoid being bottled up again. Let us strive to merge back into Shabd. That is who we really are.

One day I wiped out all notions from my mind. I gave up all desire. I discarded all the words with which I thought and stayed in quietude. I felt a little queer – as if I were being carried into something, or as if I were touching some power unknown to me … and ztt! I entered. I lost the boundary of my physical body. I had my skin, of course, but I felt I was standing in the centre of the cosmos. I spoke, but my words had lost their meaning. I saw people coming toward me, but all were the same man. All were myself! I had never known this world. I had believed that I was created, but now I must change my opinion: I was never created; I was the cosmos; no individual Mr Sasaki existed.
Zen Master Sasaki

It is the barrier of ego that prevents us from knowing our true Self. By replacing self-centred thoughts with simran, by offering our ego in meditation to the Master, the wall of duality will one day crumble, the impostor will be unmasked, and we will gain experience of who we truly are.

When the desire for the Friend became real,
All existence fell behind.
The Beloved wasn’t interested in my reasoning,
I threw it away and became silent.
The sanity I had been taught became a bore,
It had to be ushered off.
Insane, silent and in bliss,
I spent my days with my head
At the feet of my Beloved.
Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir