Only Three Things
God Almighty asks only three things from all: the first is obedience; the second, contentment; and the third, remembrance. Obedience is worship, contentment is devotion, and remembrance is awareness.
Those are the words of Shams of Tabriz, a mysterious wandering dervish and spiritual teacher who lived some 700 years ago. He was a Persian poet-saint whose single disciple was the greatest Sufi poet of all time, Jalal al-Din Rumi, generally known to us simply as Rumi.
Obedience is worship, Shams says. And for us as satsangis, what is worship? Certainly not rituals or set prayers or gathering in some place of worship like a temple or mosque. It’s humble and loving acceptance of someone’s total authority over us and doing whatever he asks.
Shams strongly emphasized total obedience to the guru (or the sheikh, as he calls him). And he added a warning that if a disciple deviated even a little from the sheikh’s command, he would not reach his goal. This is how he put it:
The sheikh’s command is like a specially selected seed which will certainly germinate and grow into a fruit-bearing tree, make no mistake about it. Some people change or try to deviate from the command and then, when it does not bear fruit, they blame the sheikh. On his own, the disciple interferes with what he has been ordered to do. He thinks that he is nearing the completion of his work, but rather he is missing by hundreds of miles what otherwise would be close at hand.
Maharaj Charan Singh once defined obedience as the practical face of love. If we truly love him we will do what he asks us to do. As he told us:
Obedience is another word for submission. And submission is another word for driving out the ego. When we are proud or full of ego, we do not like to submit to anybody, we do not like to be obedient to anybody. … When that love takes its place within us, all other things are driven out. Then there is obedience, there is submission, there is understanding. All good qualities automatically take shape.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III
Obedience is another name for submission, and submission is another name for driving out the ego. We regard these two as among the biggest challenges of our path. But they both start with simple obedience. Nothing else is needed.
The second thing that Shams says God wants from us is contentment, which he equates with devotion. In other words, to be happy and grateful for whatever has been given to us and not ask for anything more. This is accepting what the Lord has given us. This is living in the will of the Father.
Shams tells us that there’s great comfort in acceptance of the Lord’s will – in accepting whatever he gives us as our greatest good fortune. And he points out that since we can only have what is destined for us, there’s absolutely no point in trying to get more. In his typically forthright way he says:
Just as one cannot escape death, so one’s daily bread cannot escape him either. Because planning, in the face of destiny, is useless, effort without grace is of no avail. … Because you cannot escape your death, cannot fulfil your desires, cannot be deprived of your daily bread, and cannot have anyone else’s daily bread, then why are you killing your body with striving, O son of Adam?
‘O son of Adam’ means mankind of course. That’s all of us. Then comes the big one: remembrance. Shams says this means awareness: constant awareness of the path we follow. Awareness of our every thought, word and deed, constantly trying to be the best person we can be.
Great Master equates remembrance with simran or repetition, the only way we can control our thoughts, our actions and even be saved from rebirth. He discusses this in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. I:
No one is free from repetition or remembrance of some kind. It is through this process that the worldly objects enter into every pore of our body, mind and intellect, and man is virtually dyed in the hue of the world. It is because of this that the soul has to be born again and again. … If we give up remembrance of the world and instead think of the Lord, we can easily gain the means of salvation.
Let’s look at another aspect of remembrance. Who is it that we so often remember? Our own Master. And the chances are we’re thinking of him with some degree of longing. And this is of course why we have a living Master – so that we can see him in all his glory and magnificence and fall in love with him; and then, through that love, come to yearn for him when we no longer have access to him. Then we will mourn for him, Maharaj Ji says, and we’ll be the fortunate ones who mourn for him. This mourning, he says, is in fact feeling the separation from the Father, which becomes a real longing to go back to the Father.
Even if the Master is still in the flesh, there may be many times when we feel distant from him, sometimes even at the Dera when we’re right there in his proximity. There may even be times when he deliberately makes himself distant from us. But even this has a purpose. Shams says even then we should not stop trying to please him:
When a veil comes between sheikh and disciple, it becomes like night. When darkness comes, then you must persistently praise him and strive to remove that veil. As much as the darkness increases and the sheikh appears more unpleasant to you, you must increase your effort to serve him. You should not be sad or disappointed by the duration of the darkness, for after prolonged darkness, prolonged light will follow.
The Masters want their disciples to feel the separation from them. The practical effect of our longing for that form of the Master – whom we have seen and known – is that the intensity of it will eventually bring us to the feet of his wondrous Radiant Form within.
That’s what it’s all about. Perhaps that’s also why he may deliberately withhold sound and light from us in our meditation and even a sense of his presence. Our seeming failure in meditation and the deep heartache it brings are maybe also his instruments to ensure that our longing will eventually bring us to him inside.
Shams refers to this longing as ‘need’ – not just wanting our Beloved but needing him; recognizing that without him we are incomplete. We need him to make us whole again. And once we’ve felt this need and longing, our tears will carry us back to him and back to our Lord and Father. This need is a wonderful thing – a thing of great grace.
However, when we fall in love with our Master and long for him, we’re usually so concerned with our love for him that we don’t consider that he must have had great love for us in the first place. And even less do we think about the great love that the Lord must have had for his souls to start this whole game of love that would bring them back to him. He devised this whole mysterious game of separation because he wanted to make us aware of his love – and to make us love him the way he loves us. He wants us to become one with him.
This is the Lord’s play. It’s the method he’s devised to unite souls with him in conscious oneness. This is what it’s all about: to become not two, but One. It’s hard sometimes to remember that this whole path is designed around his great love for us, and that he is growing our love for him till it will become our one obsession – with a love so intense that eventually the two must become one. Hazur Maharaj Ji very often spoke of this intensity of love:
Love means to merge into another being, to become another being; to lose your own identity and to become another identity. … He has separated us from him because he has created us and with that feeling of love, we can merge back into Him again.
Thus Saith the Master