The Sidetracked Satsangi
The Masters have a profound impact on us. Perhaps this comes into particularly sharp focus when we are in their physical presence. Whilst having their darshan, our love for them is heightened and we get an inkling of what unconditional devotion might feel like. As the current of love flowing from the Master touches and reaches our innermost core, we experience an intense joyfulness, a sense of happiness that is uplifting, inspiring, and energizing. Indeed, nothing comes close to the fulfilment we experience in the presence of the Master.
However, as the mystics often remind us, a cup needs to be empty before it can be filled, so if we attend satsang with a mind full of the distraction of life’s events, it’s hard to taste the ambrosia being offered to us. This was the situation in which I found myself a few years ago. Instead of experiencing the wonderful feelings I had expected, I found myself sitting in satsang and feeling quite flat.
From time to time, events will occur that interrupt our routines and, for a short period, may impede our attempts to place Sant Mat centre stage in our life. As long as one is able to get back on track, there is no long-term harm. However, an unbalanced life is simply not sustainable long-term as it will negatively affect our spiritual development.
The Masters are like a mirror, they reflect what we feel. If we go to have their darshan with an open heart, desiring love and longing, this is what we feel in their presence. If, however, we feel guilty, unhappy, or ashamed of ourselves, then sometimes even the Master’s darshan may not override these negative feelings.
For the past few years, I had devoted myself to work and, in so doing, neglected my relationship with the Master. Uneasiness and unhappiness at doing so was the principal reason I did not experience those lovely feelings of love and joy whilst in his company. As explained in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III:
When you are not in a position to please your own self, when you’re at war with yourself, [when] you’re not happy with yourself … how can you think that you are happy with the Master or that you have been able to please him? In order to please the Master, first please yourself; attend to your meditation.
In a similar way, Kabir reminds us of the regret we may experience when we die:
Repeat God’s Nam, O my mind,
Or you will repent it in the end.…
With what face will you go before Dharmrai,
the divine judge, when he calls you to account?
Voice of the Heart
When, on the material plane, we become uncomfortable with ourselves for not complying with the Master’s wishes, imagine how we would feel if we could see our lives from the spiritual plane. The implications of our lack of engagement would be laid bare. Half-hearted attempts to meditate are not sustainable. Our practice risks becoming a ritual if we compartmentalize it to the morning and become engrossed in worldly activities for the rest of the day. Rather we must make Sant Mat the focal point around which everything else revolves.
The path is narrow and it is easy to become sidetracked without even being aware of it. Out of love for their disciples then, the Masters use different methods to keep them on course. In much the same way that the Masters encourage us to view feelings of loneliness as a sign of the Lord’s grace, I like to think that the emptiness I felt on that day was a gift from him. It was his way of reminding me that love is a gift from the Lord and that we should do everything in our power to cultivate it.
The way forward
The Master constantly reminds us that we should learn from our experiences. We cannot change what has happened but we can choose how we wish to behave henceforth. The specifics will vary among individuals, depending on their personal circumstances. For my part, I am trying to follow through with two complementary changes, one involving a change in attitude and mindset and the other more practical in nature.
First, I realized that fear of failure, pride, and ego underpinned my obsession with work. Fear signalled imperfect faith in the Master and, ultimately, an unwillingness to surrender. We often equate surrender with accepting the events that have already occurred, but we may also view it as trying not to control those that have yet to occur. Taking this perspective means putting in our best effort but no more and instead being willing to accept that sometimes the results we want may not be in our destiny. We harm ourselves when we neglect our spiritual welfare in order to make ever greater effort in worldly activities; in fact we have little, if any, control over the outcomes.
Second, I thought about how I could practise meditation in the manner advised by Maharaj Charan Singh in Die to Live:
Meditation is a way of life.… It must take on a practical form, reflecting in every daily action and in your whole routine.… Everything you do must consciously prepare you for the next meditation.
Towards the end of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, one of the leading characters, Prospero, states that after his daughter’s wedding, he will return to “my Milan, where every third thought shall be my grave” (Act 5: Scene 1). By substituting ‘simran’ for ‘grave’ and ‘every second thought’ for ‘every third thought’, these words can be a reminder of a goal to which we aspire. To help us, we can try to follow the advice offered in Living Meditation about how to get into the habit of repeating simran constantly. The author advises us to choose one action that we do every day and make a decision to be entirely in simran when doing that action so that we don’t think about anything else. Once we have got into the habit of performing that whilst doing simran, we can move to another action and then another action until most of our day is in simran.
This is life-long work; aspirations do not turn into achievements overnight. Transforming this sidetracked satsangi into a devoted one remains a work in progress. In the meantime, as encapsulated in the following quotation, reading spiritual literature provides reassurance that the grace and support of the Master is unending and is a salutary reminder of the role and responsibility of the disciple:
Our Master is all-powerful and certainly one day he will release us from the bondage of mind and senses, through his infinite mercy, provided we turn not from his door, and practice bhajan and simran to the best of our ability, according to his orders.
The Dawn of Light