Bring Your Own Cheese
A disciple went up to the microphone at a question and answer session and presented her dilemma to the Master. She said that whenever she goes out for a meal with her friends, she can never be sure if the cheese that the restaurants use is vegetarian. So, to ease her mind, she started bringing her own cheese and would discreetly request the restaurant to use it for the pizza and pasta that she and her friends had ordered. Her friends were not vegetarians so it did not make a difference to them. They did not mind accommodating their friend. But they did think she was a little obsessed with her level of vegetarianism. What she wanted was confirmation from the Master that she was not being a fanatic and was in fact doing the right thing. So she asked, “Is it okay, Master, for me to bring my own cheese?”
And there it was. The “Oh no!” that detonated in my mind in the millisecond of silence that filled the air before the Master responded. How many times did my own conscience nag me every time I ordered a pizza and wondered about the cheese? “What you don’t know will not hurt you…” was its clever quip. But how many explanations did I come up with to quash its nagging?
…it is very difficult to stay in this world without killing anything at all. When we walk, we kill. When we breathe, we kill. When we talk, we kill. When we drink, we kill. Since the whole world is filled with souls, we can’t exist in this world without killing.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II
My mental dispute would invariably end with my pitiful closing statement, “When we eat cheese, we kill.” And that would be the end of it, at least, until the next time, when the whole exhausting exercise would start all over again.
Here is one of the more confounding ironies of Sant Mat: as long as we keep to the four vows we can use our comfort level to make decisions about our way of life. But just when we get comfortable comes the reminder that it is time for an upgrade; time to take our commitment up a notch and ask ourselves if we are prepared to narrow that comfort zone to get closer to him.
The question is, where do we draw the line? How does one stand up to seemingly logical advice such as “we have to be practical” and “nothing we eat can ever be 100 percent vegetarian”?
The fact is, while the vows taken at the time of initiation are the same for everyone, the degree to which every initiate applies those vows to their daily life is deeply and profoundly personal. It is not a matter of one disciple being a fanatic and the other one being indifferent, nor is it about one disciple being more “good” than another. It is simply about every individual being able to live with himself after the fact.
Just as no two human beings are the same, every disciple on the spiritual path is different. Each one is a unique by-product of his complex karmic history and deep-seated mental impressions, all of which influence his approach towards the path.
For this reason, everyone has a different threshold for following the vows. So, while all initiates are vegetarian, teetotallers who abstain from drugs and practise meditation – the degree to which these vows are implemented is based on everyone’s own individual moral compass. As long as the person is comfortable and happy with himself and he feels that he is doing his personal best to keep the vows, he will grow spiritually.
The word growth, in any context, implies a gradual development – a work in progress. Spiritual growth is no different. As an individual matures on the path, so does his level of awareness. That automatically fine-tunes the sensitivity of his moral compass. The problem arises when one refuses to acknowledge that still small voice and denies the feelings of doubt that arise in the mind. Eventually, when no action is taken by the individual to resolve those feelings sincerely and honestly within himself, it becomes a weight on his mind and a stumbling block in his spiritual practice. Hazur Maharaj Ji explains it very clearly:
If you feel guilty about doing it, then you should not do it. If you honestly feel that it is all right under the circumstances, I do not bother, I do not mind – go on doing it. You should not do anything that makes you carry a sense of guilt with you, for that will not let you sit in meditation, it will not let you live with yourself, and it will not let you be happy. We should always do the best we can under the circumstances. Sometimes we are caught in such a net that we find it difficult to escape. We just have to do what is practically possible in that situation. We do many things which we cannot justify, which we should not justify, but we have to do them. But all the same, the law of karma will take its own course.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II
So while intellectually a person may be able to justify his actions with perfect logic and flawless reasoning, the question to ask at the end of the day is: “Am I happy with myself?”
Of course, regardless of the answer, the Masters have always said that from the karmic perspective, the law will still always take precedence. Poison is poison and if taken, there will be a price to pay. From that there is no escape. So when the Master reminded us that it is easier to run with only the weight of a shirt on our back and that every penny makes a pound, good conscience once again prevailed and the conclusion was clear. There is room for improvement.
But long after that special encounter between Master and disciple, what lingered in the mind was not anything that was spoken. What was most impressive was the tenacity of that young disciple. Following the teachings of her spiritual path was clearly the priority in her life. Never mind the inconvenience of carrying a block of cheese in her handbag or the impression her friends would have of her. She made a commitment to mould her life according to the teachings of her Master, and that was exactly what she was doing. She was walking the walk.
It is much better to be strong within yourself. There is no need to feel inferior in this society that we are vegetarian and do not drink, also that we do not serve such things. If people do not really love you, you have no concern with them. Do not bother about them. If they are interested in you, they will respect your principles. They will respect your feelings.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II