Never Give Up
When we first come to the path, many of us experience a feeling of joy and relief. At last, the emptiness that seems to run invisibly under the skin of everything makes sense. We learn that the feeling of being an outsider, of being apart from things, of loneliness, has meaning and purpose. Whether conscious or unconscious, this feeling has sat within us, often since childhood, like a dull ache at the centre of our being, throbbing with an unceasing and alienating rhythm.
Is it any wonder, then, that when the Master accepts us into his fold we are filled with happiness? We finally understand that our affliction is merely one of the baits the saints use when reeling in their marked souls with the fishing rod of divine discontent. All we need to do is to follow our Master’s simple instructions in order to leave behind this world of vaporous illusion and to reclaim our divine heritage.
But as the ocean of time ceaselessly churns, the resolve and vigour with which we initially applied ourselves to the path are often worn down by the relentless tide of worldly impressions that assail us. It could hardly be any other way. We are physically bound to this world, our senses run out like wild horses, and we seem firmly trapped in a shadow land.
Our efforts at meditation become feeble, worldly commitments press in with vice-like force, and the noble teachings of the Master appear like a faint impression from a fading dream. We sometimes apply ourselves with only half-hearted effort to meditation, or abandon the struggle entirely, and may begin to compromise the vows we took at initiation.
But rather than seeing this as failure, we should understand that in fact we are in the midst of a transformative struggle, a fierce yet unseen battle that demands all our attention and endeavour, a conflict that makes even the most difficult of worldly challenges appear easy. In comparison, to make a million dollars is child’s play and to scale the most dangerous of mountain peaks the stuff of nursery rhymes. If we are wavering and if our commitment is dissolving like melting snow, then this is precisely the point at which we should stand firm and refuse to be beaten.
There is an instructive tale from Scottish folklore, concerning Robert the Bruce, a king of Scotland who reigned in the fourteenth century. He was determined to free his people from the yoke of submission to the English king. Five times the English and Scottish armies clashed, and five times the Scots lost to their more powerful foe. After the fifth defeat, the Scottish king had to flee for his life. He spent a grim winter in a wretched hut on an island off the coast of Northern Ireland.
Robert the Bruce felt at this point that he was a beaten man. However, one day he noticed a spider in the hut, spinning a web. The spider kept failing in its innumerable attempts to spin a thread between two wooden beams. But it never gave up and eventually managed to span the distance and complete its web. Inspired and galvanized by observing the indomitable will of this tiny creature, the king resolved to return to Scotland and raise another army. Despite being outnumbered by a ratio of three to one, his army defeated the English, and Scotland was finally granted independence.
Yet this is a tale of mere worldly success. What we have committed to is of infinitely more value. The spiritual path is one of courage, selfless sacrifice and elevating endeavour. The world will not offer us praise or encouragement in our struggle, it will not fete us for our unwavering will, and we will receive no shimmering awards for slaying the dragon of the mind. Rather, the world will quietly turn away from us – or even laugh openly at our spiritual ambitions. That is how it is bound to be, for this sphere is naturally inimical to spiritual effort.
But we should never give up. A boxer does not climb into the ring anticipating defeat. He takes to the canvas knowing that he will face punishing blows, certain that he will be hurt, understanding that his stamina and skill will be pushed to their limits. But he also enters the ring with a plan in mind of how to outwit his opponent and claim victory. And despite months of intense training to build stamina and develop technique, he knows that ultimately success will depend principally on one factor: the will to achieve victory, whatever the odds.
Our will is a powerful force, and by using this determination in applying ourselves to simran we are fuelling the fire of success in meditation. It is worth remembering that many who have gone before us have achieved such success, and that behind stand many more who too will scale the invisible heights with quiet, unseen glory. Why should we ourselves not join this stream of ascending light? As the saints have pointed out countless times, this is our birthright.
Since being brought into the Master’s orbit and starting on the path, the obstacles we have faced and the difficult karmas we may on occasion have had to endure can dilute our resolve. But we should never let them break us. They can, rather, increase our strength, for the more suffering we go through, the lighter our load becomes. And the lighter we become, ultimately the higher we rise.
Moreover, beneath the layered crusts of our being we have the hearts of lions. If we did not, the Master would never have initiated us. If he thought we lacked the strength to banish the shadows of this world and rise above this ceaselessly oscillating illusion, then we would never even know of the path of the Masters. Let us not forget this. Let us never lose heart.
And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.… Men have forgotten this truth.… But you must not forget it.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince