Helen Keller was left completely deaf and blind by an illness that struck when she was nineteen months old, yet she became a world famous author, activist and lecturer. In 1924 she ‘listened’ to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with her hand, placing it on the speaker of a radio that was broadcasting the music. She later wrote a letter of thanks to the New York Symphony Orchestra:
What was my amazement to discover that I could feel … all the instruments and voices together burst forth, an ocean of heavenly vibration … As I listened, with darkness and melody, shadow and sound filling all the room, I could not help remembering that the great composer who poured forth such a flood of sweetness into the world was deaf like myself. I marvelled at the power of his quenchless spirit by which out of his pain he wrought such joy for others – and there I sat, feeling with my hand the magnificent symphony which broke like a sea upon the silent shores of his soul and mine. … Let me thank you warmly for all the delight which your beautiful music has brought to my household and to me.1
What Helen acheived is astounding – a seemingly impossible quest to experience life fully. And who can imagine the depth and range of our capacity to experience life? Only the true teachers know our true potential, and they alone come to help us realize it.
Helen’s access to a world of music and light began with her teacher Annie Sullivan, who saw the potential hidden within this untamed child who was struggling and scratching just to survive in her prison of darkness and silence and isolation. Annie saw Helen’s potential to leave the prison, to explore and experience the world outside herself, to love and be loved – to become a true human being.
Annie Sullivan was able to do the seemingly impossible, yet the first step was simply to make a connection with this wild, furious little person who lived in a world alone. It was touch that turned the key. Annie initiated the journey with the touch of her hand on Helen’s. With this first simple touch, Helen’s awakening began.
The journey these two took together is a mystery: a teacher, a student and the alchemy of love. This life is all mystery – we really know nothing, we understand nothing. And yet, Helen Keller remembered something. And we too remember something. The poet William Wordsworth writes:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere it’s setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.2
What is this home – this God – that we’ve all but forgotten? Soami Ji Maharaj tells the tale:
In the beginning there was only One, then there were two, and then three, then many, then thousands and lakhs, and finally there were countless beings. Now he who finds a perfect Sat Guru, who is one with the One and is the form of that One, will succeed through his grace in extricating himself from the illusion of the many and reach his Real Home.3
Soami Ji’s words somehow ring true: somewhere within our being we remember Oneness, we remember wholeness. But how do we get there from here? How do we remember, how do we rediscover the Real? It begins and ends with grace, and grace takes form in the living Master, whose very being makes us remember that something. The Creator steps down from the formless into form, as the Master, who gives us his hand, walks with us, teaches us, and leads us within to his sound and light form – and then even onwards, to the formless, boundless One.
Again, all mystery. In Legacy of Love we read:
The true living Master is such a great mystery, the mind can scarcely comprehend it. If, for one’s entire life, one were to contemplate this key to God’s plan of redemption, one would be fortunate to penetrate even the surface of this mystery. How can God take an unsuspecting human being and transform him into a saint? How can a mortal being be infused with the power to connect other human beings to the Shabd, that power which sustains the creation? How can a person be empowered to take others back to the Father’s home from which they came aeons and aeons ago?4
We first meet that Mystery, the Master, right out here in the dark, dense, frightening world of matter. In this shadow world, the mind and senses direct our every action and tell us the Great Lie, that we are separate from everyone else, that we are alone, and it’s ‘every man for himself’ – that love is impossible.
But then we see that being. We don’t know who he is, we don’t know what he is, but there is something about him. We’ve never met anyone like him, yet he is more vast, more radiant, more present, more sweet than anyone or anything we’ve ever seen.
We want to be with him, with that beauty. That’s all we know. The Master has awakened our memory of that something we’ve forgotten. And then he says, just as Tulsi Sahib says to his beloved disciple Taqi:
Listen, O Taqi, keep your gaze fixed on your Master
who has offered you his hand.
Leave it not through negligence, if you long to see
the splendour of your Beloved.
His grace will lead you to his very presence,
without any fear or danger on the way.5
The Master tells each one of us: Take my hand, don’t let me out of your sight, follow me within yourself to the core of your being, where you will meet your Beloved face to face.
We say: I don’t know if what you say is true, but you are the highest authority I’ve ever come across, so I will try to do what you tell me to do.
And he says: Good enough, just begin, and begin again, and never stop beginnning. So we begin the journey. And Maharaj Sawan Singh tells us it is an inner quest:
Man is a wonderful creation. He not only carries his past history with him; but the whole creation, visible and invisible, and the Creator of all are within him, and he has been gifted with the capacity to see all that lies in him and to be one with his Creator.
The search is to be made within one’s self and it costs nothing. The whole thing lies behind the veil of the mind. When the mind has been made motionless, that which lies behind the veil becomes visible.6
Elsewhere the Great Master says, “You live, move and have your being in him.”7 It is as if we are swimming in God, yet all the time we’re feeling lost and wondering where he is. But Great Master has just said he is in us and we are in him. We are like countless bubbles in the ocean of the One. What’s inside the bubble is the same as what’s outside the bubble – it’s just a thin membrane of mind that makes us think we are not the ocean. It’s just this thin membrane of mind that makes us feel alone and cut off from love. The bubble is all we know.
When the mind becomes motionless, the bubble dissolves, the veil disappears. And the Master gives his initiates a part to play in making the mind motionless. He gives the gift of a practice – a practice for remembering the one we’ve forgotten. Tulsi says, “Keep your gaze fixed on your Master if you long to see the Beloved.” Keeping our gaze fixed on the Master is the practice of remembering, the practice of simran. We repeat the five unique names he has given us to remember him and remember him and remember him. Sheikh Abu Said said:
The true saint lives in the midst of other people.
He rises in the morning, eats and sleeps when needed.
He buys and sells in the marketplace just like everyone else.
He marries, has children, and meets with his friends.
Yet never for an instant does he forget God.8
Someone once asked Hazur Maharaj Ji, “What do you remember about your Master?” He said, “I am only remembering my Master.”
Our sacred part to play is this remembering. Simran – the Sanskrit root means both to repeat and to remember. What we repeat, we remember, and what we remember we repeat… and love grows. Hazur says:
The path of God-realization is both easy and simple. By repetition we have to withdraw our body consciousness from the nine portals to the eye focus; by contemplation on the form of the Master we have to make it motionless there; and by listening to the Divine Music that constantly resounds there, we have to reach the place whence it emanates. Simran is the first and the most essential step. Unless its course, which is both long and tedious, is completed, we can hardly gain the other two states. Therefore, we have to practise simran so assiduously that even while talking, it should continue to roll on its course. The five Holy Names must spin ceaselessly around their axis. Sitting, standing, walking, eating, awake or asleep, the repetition must go on.9
Ceaselessly. Ceaselessly. How does ceaseless ever happen? We repeat and remember him, repeat and remember. Then we forget. Then we begin again to repeat and remember with the five names. But these names we’ve been given to repeat are not just any names, any words. They are infused with his love, his power, his magnetism to pull our attention to him at the eye focus. Great Master tells the real nature of simran:
What is this Repetition? This repetition is the Lord himself. He is also the reciter. This recitation is nectar personified.
He himself makes us repeat,
And he does the repetition himself.
He himself is the nectar, he is the dear one,
And he himself is the taste of the nectar.10
He says that the Lord himself is the simran. So this must mean that every time we step our mind into simran we are stepping into his stream of love, on the way to the river of Shabd, and fianlly to the Ocean of love. So we just keep stepping our attention back into him, until one day there is no thought – just the stillness in which we can receive him.
Rumi talks about the heart of this process:
The gold you carry
is in a thousand pieces. …
is sleeping a hundred dreams
each colored by a separate desire.
Should you desire to be as bright
as Damascus and Samarqand
collect your scattered selves
and turn you into a place of delights
When you have collected
and from every falsehood
separated every ounce
then only it may become worthy
of receiving the seal of the Emperor. 11
Our attention is our gold; it is our treasure to spend on him. Our attention is the only thing we can give him, and it is the only thing he asks us to give.
But all these precious bits of attention are stuck to the earth. Maharaj Ji gave a graphic picture of the situation:
We human beings are like maggots. We are born in dirt, we live in dirt, we love dirt, we eat dirt, we die in dirt and then again we are reborn in dirt. Everything we see in this physical creation is dirt – it is transient and will perish – and yet we are attached to it.12
At this point much of our attention is covered in dirt, but when we collect it in simran and place it at his feet within, it will shine. Hazur told a disciple how to do this:
Q: Could you explain to me about doing simran with love and devotion? To me these are just words, and I don’t understand what they mean.
A: Put your whole mind in these words; you will automatically feel the love and devotion. Let no other thought come in your mind. Let the whole of yourself, the whole of your mind, be in the simran. Love comes automatically.13
So simple. So not easy. That’s why Tulsi tells Taqi, “Arduous is the way to the destination of love.” It is arduous, because our attention is the one thing we don’t want to give him. It’s just the nature of the mind. It doesn’t want to go still and die.
But Maharaj Ji has told us, “Let the whole of yourself, the whole of your mind, be in the simran. Love comes automatically.” So we simply have to practise and practise and practise bringing our attention to him, in the simran, through the simran. Love will come, he says.
Practise makes perfect. The more we practise anything, with attention, the more our experience of it expands. How this transformation happens is yet again a mystery, but it happens. The world-renowned pianist Van Cliburn practised the scales endlessly, until one day he was free to fly effortlessly on the notes of the great composers. Children practise riding a bike endlessly, riding and falling off, until one day they suddenly can ride the bike.
Hazur Maharaj Ji said, “Meditation creates love, it generates love, it strengthens love.” We might say that he performs this alchemy: we practise and he makes perfect. We circle and circle around the axis of simran, we get on that bike again and again and again, and fall off again and again and again, but he turns our repetition into mastery and one day we ride the bike with no hands. One day we won’t even need the bike to fly. With our tiny bit of discipline, he brings us freedom.
It may seem slow, this collecting tiny increments of attention and laying them at his feet. And it is arduous. But so what? What is our objective? Arduous is a tiny sacrifice to make for the gift of perfect love.
And so we practise singing the one song he likes to hear, until our song is perfected – until the simran dies out in stillness. And in the silence we begin to listen to his song of love, the Shabd. Maharaj Jagat Singh, said:
Contact the living Master and attune yourself to the Voice of the Lord within, which calls you day and night. This is the message of the Saints.14
Silence and stillness is the pivot to the world within, to the Shabd. Baba Ji has said that we have to be still in order to experience the depth and intensity of love. And he often quotes the Bible: “Be still and know that I am God.”15
Now this practice of stilling the mind and awakening to love is a long and winding road; the heart sometimes feels chilly, the longing feels faint. We fail and fail to collect the gold of our attention and offer it at his feet:
One moment you are all I know, Friend.
Next moment eat, drink and be merry …
O Friend, how will this scatteredness that is me
Find its way to you?16
But it appears the game is rigged. There seems to be a method to the madness. Rumi encourages us:
it is by failures that lovers
stay aware of how they’re loved.
Failure is the key to the kingdom within.17
It is through all our failed efforts to do simran, dhyan and bhajan that we begin to discover who is doing it all. Who has put us here, whose plan it is that we experience the pain of living as strangers in a strange land, and who it is who wakes us from the dream and makes us remember him and want to go home with him.
No matter how forgetful or rebellious we are, no matter how ignorant or arrogant we are, the Friend within shows us only mercy and compassion, grace and forgiveness. Our only job is to persist, to keep on keeping on with the practice of remembering him. And slowly, slowly we experience his love, his radiance, his song a little more and a little more. He is opening the door to our home in him. Sarmad says:
The ocean of his generosity has no shore.
The tongue is powerless to thank,
the heart too bewildered to understand.
Though my sins are many
his compassion is greater still –
I swim in the seas of disobedience
but I do not drown.18
Perhaps our meditation is nothing, finally, but thank you, thank you, thank you.
- Letters of Note: Vol. 2: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience, compiled by Shaun Usher, p.36
- William Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality, Ode 536
- Soami Ji Maharaj, Sar Bachan Prose, #171
- Legacy of Love, p.44
- Tulsi Sahib, Tulsi Sahib, Saint of Hathras, 3rd ed., p.80
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Spiritual Gems, #68
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Dawn of Light, #2
- Legacy of Love, p.393
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Discourses Vol. I, 5th ed., p.106
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. III, p.5
- Masnavi Book IV: 3288–3290, tr. Vraje Abramian
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Discourses Vol. II, 1st ed., p.280
- Spiritual Perspectives,Vol. II, #223
- Maharaj Jagat Singh, Science of the Soul, 8th ed., p.11
- Bible, Psalm 46:10
- Sheikh Abu Said, Nobody, Son of Nobody, tr. Vraje Abramian, p.7
- Feeling the Shoulder of the Lion, tr. Coleman Barks, p.62
- Isaac Ezekiel, Sarmad – Martyr to Love Divine, bait 251