Imagine if the Master invited us to live with him at the Dera. Elated and excited, our entire focus would be directed towards making the necessary arrangements for our departure. Without hesitation we would drop commitments that previously seemed important.
But how do our imaginary actions compare to the way we respond on a daily basis to the real invitation issued by the Master – the one in which he waits for us to join him one-on-one at the eye centre? Few amongst us could claim that we approach our meditation sessions with the same level of zest and gratitude that we would if the Master had asked us to join him at the Dera. Maybe this is because organizing such a move, whilst requiring much effort, is easier than simply being still and silent so as to experience his presence. To put it another way, unlike a trip to the Dera which would require us to take clothes and other practical items, it is essential that when meditating we discard our worries, aspirations, and analyses of all that has passed and bring nothing with us..
If we were able to forget the outward part of ourselves during meditation and turn our attention inwards, we would begin to foster the kind of relationship with the Master that we currently try hard to create through darshan and physical contact. But bringing nothing, discarding our preoccupations with daily routines and desires, is the cornerstone of our spiritual struggle.
There is no complicated reason underpinning our difficulty. How we spend ninety percent of our day influences the ten percent we dedicate to meditation. It is impossible to change habits at the flick of a switch, least of all those that are deeply ingrained. Essentially, we cannot expect our mind to change its normal behaviour – chattering constantly – just because we want it to be quiet during meditation. On a daily basis then, we are confronted with a gap between our desire for spirituality and the actions of the mind. Over time, this gap is bound to test the enthusiasm of even the most determined seekers. However, instead of becoming frustrated or reproaching ourselves for lack of self-discipline, it would help to understand the nature of the mind so that we can bridge the gap and approach our daily meditation session with renewed interest and determination.
How to bring nothing
Like neuroscientists, the mystics view the mind as a muscle which, in effect, is driven by two forces: one is our conscience and the other is pleasure seeking. Currently, the mind is both helping and thwarting our spiritual development. Indeed, since our love and desire for spirituality originates in the mind, Maharaj Charan Singh counsels us in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I, to make it our best friend, emphasizing that we cannot progress further without doing so:
All your emotion, your devotion, your love to begin with are nothing but the outcome of mind. Mind is creating that love and devotion in you, and soul is taking advantage of it. So we have to win the friendship of the mind … and we have to give our mind a better pleasure than sensual pleasure.
By emphasizing that we need to make friends with the mind, Maharaj Charan Singh is encouraging us to train the mind to act in the interests of our spiritual welfare. The result will be that it no longer succumbs to the thoughts, feelings, emotions, or desires that make meditation harder. This requires vigilant self-monitoring, as Maharaj Sawan Singh explains in the following letter from Spiritual Gems:
Mind needs vigilance of a higher order than is given by parents in bringing up their children…. So long as it is not trained, it is our worst enemy; but when trained, it is the most faithful companion. And the point is that one has to train it to get the best out of it and to realize his spiritual origin.…
There is a proverb here: ‘If you are going fox hunting, go with the preparation of a lion hunter.’ The same applies to mind hunting. Every day one should be on the job with renewed determination.
There is a risk in discussions about ‘conquering’ the mind that it will assume a strength of mythical proportions. Whilst we should not underestimate its power, the above quotations are reassuring since they suggest that, with regular exercise, we can redirect the mind to act in ways that will support our spiritual development. Living in the moment by repeating simran throughout the day is one such exercise. This is the best way to stop fuelling our habit of compulsive thinking, which in turn will make it easier to quieten the mind during meditation. As explained in Living Meditation:
The present moment is the most valuable thing there is. Nothing happens tomorrow, nothing happens yesterday, everything always happens now. In fact, the ‘now’ is the only time there is. It is impossible for us to do or to think outside the present moment.
A further way in which we can train the mind to promote our spiritual progress is by learning to accept all that passes without worrying about the future or feeling guilty about the past. One exercise to achieve this equanimity would be to identify how events that we deem to be negative may assist our spiritual efforts in the long-term. The proverb ‘each cloud has a silver lining’ is designed to encourage us to find the positive aspect of the gloomiest of situations. As well as identifying the positive aspect in a material sense, we could look for the spiritual benefits. For example, not getting a promotion may mean less work and more energy to concentrate on Sant Mat. Being outbid on a house may prove more conducive to concentration as one is not saddled with a large debt and a lifetime of anxiety and work to pay it off.
In this way, we begin to develop an attitude whereby we view everything through the prism of how it affects our spiritual life. This attitude may be enhanced further by assessing how every action or inaction (mundane or otherwise) will affect our meditation practice. For example, avoiding a chore and watching the television will provide instant gratification but may become an issue if we keep thinking about the chore during meditation. If we are involved in a quarrel, regardless of who is right or wrong, we should be the first to make up, for no other reason than we do not want to think about it during meditation.
Meditation then is not an activity confined to two and a half hours a day. Preparation beforehand is equally as important. Indeed, following a spiritual path is difficult specifically because the two are inextricably linked. As noted in a thirteenth-century text for nuns, The Ancren Riwle, “Let no one think that he can ascend to the stars with luxurious ease.” However, we are not alone. The inner Master is always with us, helping us to reach the eye centre and beyond as swiftly as possible, rewarding our most paltry efforts ten times over. The elation we would feel if the Master asked us to join him at the Dera will, no doubt, pale into comparison when we finally become conscious of travelling with him inside to reach our final destination.