At the Very Least
There is an old story that goes like this:
The Lord said to a holy man, “Come, I will show you Hell.” They entered a room where a group of people sat around a huge pot of stew. Everyone was famished and desperate. Each held a spoon that reached the pot, but the handle was so long that it could not be used to reach their mouths. The suffering was terrible.
“Come now, I will show you Heaven,” the Lord said after awhile. They entered another room, identical to the first – the pot of stew, the group of people, the same long spoons. But there, everyone was happy and well nourished.
“I don’t understand,” said the holy man. “Why are they happy here when they are miserable in that other place, and everything is the same?” The Lord smiled. “Don’t you see?” he said. “Here, in Heaven, they have learned to feed each other.”
This poignant story reminds us that when we act on principle, when we act selflessly, no matter how dire the situation, we create an essential element of heaven in our lives. Throughout time, developing character has been a goal of parents, religions, schools and societies. Children’s books are full of morality tales where good conquers evil, doing the right thing is rewarded, and acquiring virtues is discussed in the simple language of a child. Religious tales are replete with the deeds of goodness that triumph over all and stir the heart of the Lord within us. The Masters continually remind us that the qualities needed to become a saint are the very same qualities and traits that a good human being possesses.
As initiates of a true Master we meditate, we don’t eat meat, we don’t use alcohol or drugs, and yet the Masters seem to be suggesting that there is something more that we should be doing, since he exhorts us to also be good human beings.
Maharaj Sawan Singh, in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. III, discusses the necessity of imbibing virtues and qualities that would form a solid foundation upon which we could build our spiritual journey back to the Lord.
The Lord is the storehouse of all virtues. The soul which imbibes virtues realizes the Lord and is dear to him. Such a soul is blessed.
Some of the most apparent virtues discussed are: not to injure the feelings of others; not to be rude; to give up desires and evil; not to talk ill of others; to do good even to evil-minded; to adopt truth, contentment, compassion and forgiveness. The list goes on and is both lofty and practical. It is almost a how-to manual for creating an internal and external atmosphere where our inner spiritual life can become strong and grow. As if to emphasize what it takes to win the favour of the Lord, Guru Arjun Dev, as quoted in Message Divine, says:
That knowledge is humility, that quality is simplicity, and that precious gem is the sweet tongue. The disciple can win the favour of the Lord by putting on the garb of all these three qualities.
Maharaj Charan Singh is quoted in the same book:
We should conduct ourselves in a way that would be helpful in our spiritual progress. In our everyday life, we should hear and speak, read and write, do our daily chores in such a way and associate with people that the total effect would be conducive to our spiritual development.
God-realization should remain our ultimate goal and we should maintain a keen desire for the realization of that goal. Maharaj Charan Singh is quoted again in Message Divine:
One who seeks to unravel the true mystery of life should first of all become a man in the true sense of the word.… He must possess the necessary virtues associated with man … [and] put stress on the attainment of these virtues.
The Masters are asking us to ponder over our actions before engaging in them, to act in a way that doesn’t violate the principle of interdependence, and to maintain harmony in the society within which we live. They remind us that when we seek to act nobly, we awaken within the qualities which will ultimately lead us to union with him.
To love God and his creation; to not harm the feelings of others; to have compassion, contentment, forgiveness, truthfulness, gentleness, charity and kindness make us not only better citizens of the world, but more fit spiritually. It isn’t the doing of one at the expense of the other. Maharaj Charan Singh as quoted in Message Divine says:
All the aforementioned virtues should be so assimilated by the disciple as to become second nature.… This is possible only when one’s mind has been cleansed of all impurities and has been engaged in spiritual practice with devotion for the Master.… With love for the Master in his heart and with regular spiritual practice, the disciple will increasingly imbibe all these virtues and will eventually attain those spiritual heights where Saints reside.
The One who is beyond the intellect, speech and senses,
Who is the unborn, beyond the mind, mayas
and the three attributes,
That very Supreme Being, the culmination
of pure existence, consciousness and bliss,
Displays the exalted behaviour of a human being.
The Teachings of Goswami Tulsidas