There Is No Alternative
A tree planted in rich soil and lovingly nurtured will grow tall, provide shade on hot summer days and produce bountiful fruit. It will also grow – maybe not quite so sturdily – when planted in poor soil. However, if the gardener devotes all his energies to nurturing the soil, ensuring that it is enriched with all the right nutrients, but he subsequently fails to plant the sapling, there is absolutely no chance of the tree growing at all.
Spiritual life without regular meditation is like spending weeks weeding, draining, and fertilizing the soil but, like the gardener, failing to plant the sapling. Meditation is the foundational principle of Sant Mat. In fact, the present Master distils the entire philosophy to one simple tenet: one’s effort to meditate must be sincere and regular. All other practices typically associated with religion and spirituality – pilgrimages, penances, weekly satsang attendance, extensive seva – are irrelevant when it comes to liberating the soul. As Maharaj Charan Singh wrote in Spiritual Discourses, Vol. II:
Try whatever method you want, try any technique that you can think of – give what you want in charity, go on endless pilgrimages, bathe in all the holy waters, read all the scriptures, pierce your ears, wear your hair matted, smear ash on your body, go on bowing at the tombs of past saints, renounce your family, hide away in some forest or mountain retreat – without the practice of the Word, you will not escape from the prison of the body under any circumstances whatsoever.
Sooner or later then, meditation just has to be done; there is no alternative. No other practice is able to expand our consciousness so that we can realize our true identity. Yet no one, least of all the mystics, claim that this is easy. In Die to Live, Maharaj Charan Singh writes, “I don’t think there is anything more difficult than meditation.”
Faith without practice
Hindu philosophy states that if a soul carries impressions of meritorious acts from previous births and sincerely yearns for spirituality, the possibility of meeting a Master is greatly enhanced. In the Skanda Purana section of the Guru Gita, for instance, one reads, “One obtains a great guru as the result of merits acquired in many births.” This would explain why we are so receptive to the ideas we imbibe on first attending satsang. In fact, our faith transcends intellectual reasoning. Listening to the spiritual discourses or reading words on the page, our very core instinctively senses that this is the truth. Why then do we experience such difficulty translating into practice what we instinctively believe to be true?
Maybe it’s because, despite believing that meditation is the only means of liberating the soul, we find it impossible to imagine that one day we will die. By imagining our death as a far-off event, we allow ourselves to become diverted by worldly activities, promising ourselves to practise tomorrow or next week. As a Tibetan teacher, Geshe Acharya Thubten Loden,observed, when putting off our meditation we console ourselves with the thought:
“I can always practice later.” [Yet] Without allowing time for the mind to relax and become tranquil by meditating, you busily rush through life fulfilling each moment with things that “really must be done!” Each New Year you resolve to begin dharma practice seriously, but end up putting it off until next month, next year, then the next year until ‘next’ becomes next life!
The uncertainty associated with human mortality is precisely why mystics impress upon us the urgency of meditating now. In Quest for Light, Maharaj Charan Singh states, “Every breath that we take without thinking of the Lord is time wasted. Every day is a step nearer to the end of this life.” Kabir puts it like this:
With every breath that passes
In forgetting the Name of the Lord
You are losing the chance to … reach the spiritual heights.
What guarantee have you of life?
Your body may be destroyed in a single moment.
With every breath, therefore,
Fearlessly continue repeating the Lord’s Name.
When the oil of life is exhausted
And the wick of the lamp extinguished,
Then there will be quite enough time
To sleep both day and night.
Kabir, the Great Mystic
Beyond meeting our basic needs for existence, no other activity is worthy of our whole-hearted effort except meditation. Yet, for many of us, the reverse is true. With our attention overwhelmingly directed at addressing material priorities, we dissipate the drive and determination required to conquer the mind and, ultimately, risk becoming the person who returns empty-handed from a land rich in precious gems. In the poem from which Kabir’s verses are taken, the weaver-mystic expresses his bafflement about our behaviour. Every moment not spent repeating simran is, according to him, time wasted. Similarly, Buddhist philosophy considers it a grievous failure on our part if, after being given the rare privilege of a human birth, one does not give proper attention to meditation.
Love and hope
Meditation practice is non-negotiable, irrespective of our circumstances. Without this becoming the activity around which everything else revolves, our spiritual aspirations will remain just that, aspirations. The mystics tell us that the Master’s love for his disciples knows no bounds. We believe them because of the love we feel as our soul responds to the rays of love emanating from the Master whenever we are in his physical presence. However, the Master’s love does not dissolve our duty to practise meditation with diligence and dedication. We must dispel any notion of the Master intervening to liberate the soul without sustained effort on our part. In a book of spiritual essays, Swami Sivananda states, “Lord Krishna asks Arjuna to develop dispassion and practice. He did not say to him, ‘I will give you liberation now.’ Therefore, abandon the wrong notion that your guru will give you … liberation.”
Of course, it’s impossible for us to attain liberation without the Master’s help. Our consciousness is so scattered that, even if we meditated non-stop for a hundred years, it would be impossible to take even a single step towards our destination. The Master’s help is essential but so is our duty, which in practice constitutes very little. Nothing more is required of us than making the effort. With this in mind we can, paraphrasing Maharaj Charan Singh, draw comfort from the knowledge that we are no longer roaming in darkness but are closer to our destination each day we meditate.