Remembering Our Objective
When Guru Nanak was young he had a dialogue with a group of Sidh yogis, accomplished yogis who possessed miraculous powers. They initially looked down on him and challenged him:
Who are you and what is your name?
What path do you follow and with what objective?
The yogis asked about Nanak's objective because they knew that everyone is lost without a clear objective. This dialogue is so relevant to us today because many of us have to live among people who challenge our beliefs, directly or indirectly, and who present to us their own perspectives, often in a very forceful way. How to live in our diverse and globalized world without compromising on our own path and beliefs, without creating the confrontation and negativity of which this world is already so full? The dialogue in this whole section of the Adi Granth scripture shows us how to do that, and it perfectly captures our own experiences with the living Master and the teachings that he embodies and brings alive for us.
In the face of the arrogant attitude of the yogis, Nanak replies respectfully, while firmly stating his own experience:
May I humbly relate the truth and submit myself to
the Saints in veneration.…
We shun the clatter of the marketplace
and stay clear of worldly paths.…
While working in the marketplace of life
and treading worldly paths,
one should not lose sight of one's objective
nor be allured by another’s wealth and spouse.
Without Nam, O Nanak, the mind cannot be held still,
nor its cravings appeased.
The Guru shows a marketplace and a city within the body
where one deals in Truth with natural ease …
one contemplates the Essence.1
Nanak talked about the objective of finding the inner marketplace of Truth, while at the same time living in the marketplace of the world. Almost five hundred years before Christ, Socrates hung out in the marketplace and also challenged his fellow citizens to get their priorities straight and to keep the interest of their souls as their true objective:
For I go about doing nothing other than trying to persuade you, young and old, to put your priorities straight and place the care of your souls first, so that it may become as perfect as possible, rather than placing the care for your bodies and your wealth above all else.2
Masters come to remind us of our highest objective, the larger perspective, the long view. They broaden our scope of vision. They help us avoid entanglement on the ‘horizontal’ level of life. They ask us to contemplate the essence, to direct our attention to the ‘vertical’ dimension. We are stuck on a horizontal plane of relationships with others, with our environment, and with our own selfish and scattered self – always vulnerable to temptations, always living and moving under the low ‘ceiling’ of the physical plane. We forget the vertical dimension, the rise within ourselves to a finer reality.
Masters teach us how to ‘carry the cross,’ as it were, of this intersection between the horizontal and vertical – how to live in the present, at the intersection of outer and inner life.
They come to remind us of our lofty, inspiring and divine objective of return to our true home. “Let's fly back to our dear country. Let us listen to the voices from on high,” says Plotinus.3 And “Come my friend, to your true home. Why live in an alien land?” says Soami Ji Maharaj.4 The mystics shake us from our deep sleep; they awaken us to the realization that we are pursuing contradictory and false objectives, trying to make ours that which can never truly be ours. They explain that whatever we achieve in this alien land can stay with us only for a limited time.
As initiates of a perfect Master we are headed for our true home, and our Master advises us never to lose sight of our objective. Hazur said, “We should try to face our day-to-day problems remembering our destination, remembering the path.”5
We often hear from the Master that we need to be objective, that without remembering the goal, the objective, our actions become empty ritual. By remembering our objective, we become inspired; without remembering our objective we become victims of routine. We forget the reason why we do what we do, so we become vulnerable to doubt or we become dogmatic and narrow minded. There has to be a reason for everything we do, Master keeps reminding us. Reason and spirituality as taught by the Sant Mat Masters stand on a common ground.
A writer in the field of economics, one of the most rational pursuits around, says: “Rationality involves pursuing ends that are coherent, and employing means that are appropriate to those ends.”6 In other words, rationality involves the pursuit of objectives that are not contradictory and that employ means appropriate to those objectives. This definition of rationality sounds a lot like the Master when he speaks of spiritual pursuit. Keeping the objective in mind is the essential ingredient both of rationality and of spirituality. Without a clear objective, without employing the means appropriate to attain the objective – practising meditation – we live in concepts and illusions. We may even become religious fanatics. Bowing before the slippers of past Masters is not the appropriate means to attain the desired objective of realizing the divine within ourselves: rationality and spirituality are both in agreement on that.
Spirituality is the highest form of rationality because it aims at the highest objective: obtaining and merging into the highest good of the soul – the divine.
But what about our daily routine? We know how numbing, how grinding it can be. The day-to-day problems tie our attention down and keep it from rising to the reality we crave. In our daily lives our energy is drained on petty trivia. The soul is tied to the physical plane not only with the five thick chains of the passions. In addition, our attention is attached to the material plane by so many little things, by so many trifles. Like Gulliver in the land of the Lilliputs, one day we woke up unable to rise, since every hair of our body was tied to the ground with the tiny ropes of the tiny creatures that we encountered during our travels.
While trying to adjust the tiny ropes and chains so they hurt less, we forget about our higher purpose of freeing ourselves from all these chains and letting our attention soar. We just need to untie the ropes and let the soul rise, as the Master repeatedly tells us.
We are caught in the web of our own making, in the web of our own ‘story,’ our personal drama – tragedy, comedy or soap opera. Our brain is a powerful reality simulator, it keeps projecting mental movies in our head; we can't stop it, we can't get out of the theatre, we are chained to our seats, we can't stop the revolving film of our thoughts. This is the condition that Plato called the cave, because the passions and the animal self keep us chained to the cinema screen and we have no choice but to watch the dramas and melodramas revolving before us, keeping us always involved and enthralled by our self-generated dramas.
Since ancient times, lovers of wisdom have recognized that we ourselves are the keepers – the prison guards – of our own prison, because we all have a natural inborn love and affection for what we perceive as ‘me and mine,’ as that which belongs to us. It is this universal instinct that Masters have the job to re-orient, because we are confused about our identity and what can and cannot belong to us. They come to change the direction of our love. At this point in time, the instinct of love for what is me and mine is misdirected and deluded. The Master has said that we love our negativity – we ride the train and keep our suitcase of negativity and worries sitting on our head, rather than letting it rest on the seat beside us – simply because it is mine.
We love even our troubles and burdens because they have become part of our identity, of who we think we are. But our higher objective is to go through our lives – through the story of our lives – like a puppet that understands it is a puppet whose strings are being pulled by karmas; a puppet that keeps its attention fixed on the divine objective, the true home, the vertical dimension, even through the thick fog of karmas. Hazur noted that this is not easy:
Our karmas, they are the strings – they are making us dance. And we think, who makes us dance? Ego is the attitude we have in life. We think we are doing it. We forget the string behind us, our karma, actions which we have done in the past causing the reactions now. That we have forgotten. So we have become egoistic.7
Ego is something we cannot touch or see, but it wraps a thick veil around our eyes. It forces us to attach ourselves to our story, even to our miseries and negativity, to all the images our mind projects.
We meditate so that we can overcome the passions that deceive us about who we are and what truly belongs to us. We meditate so that we can realize our true self as something different from the deluded mind that always keeps us moving out and away from our home in the eye centre – the deluded mind that forever binds us to outward-oriented actions, which in turn causes our rebirth and death and eternal misfortunes. Maharaj Sawan Singh says:
When man’s attention is confined to the Pind part of the body, he is literally full of evil, as the attention is slave to the passions … If this were not the case, there should be no difficulty in attaining concentration and going in and up.8
The word ‘passion’ derives from the Greek word for suffering; it means passively suffering the control of forces over which we have no power. Passions make us passive towards our higher objective and active in the world because they tell us a deceptive story:
- Lust deceives us into believing that we can make the external beauty of people ours, that we can possess others.
- Anger deceives us into thinking that people and events have trespassed against us, or against something or someone we think belongs to us. In anger, we think that the evil we notice in ourselves is caused by other people or circumstances, not by our own lower nature which we do not recognize as the root cause of our problems.
- Greed deceives us by making us believe that external objects can become ours.
- Attachment prevents us from letting go of external things and people because it makes us believe that they belong to us.
- Pride – ego – deceives us by making us believe that our lower self and our passions are our self, our ‘me.’ Because of ego we desperately try to control of our external environment, to act like a king in our little domain of influence.
When the mind is under control, it is our best friend; if it is out of control, it is our worst enemy. It is not the case that there are two minds – these are two different aspects of the mind. The mind is one, but it can function in two directions – higher or lower, positive or negative. It depends on towards which side we channelize it, which side predominates. If we are able to evoke its positive side, the mind will help us rise within. If the negative side predominates, it pulls us out and down, spreads our attention out into the creation and enhances duality. Maharaj Sawan Singh says:
Our only but deadly enemy is our mind. Lust, anger, greed, attachment, and pride are its agents. It is through these that the mind keeps us always out and on the move from our home in the eye centre, thereby binding us with this world; our actions becoming the cause of our rebirth and death and our eternal misfortune.
The positive qualities – continence (chastity), forgiveness, contentment, discrimination, and humility – remain suppressed and ineffective. Pious resolutions and so-called prayers afford us no protection against these agents.9
Defeating these deadly enemies is the main goal of all spiritual paths because they block our way to our eternal happiness and contentment. Why are they enemies? Because they succeed in deceiving us about what really belongs to us.
The soul has a natural love and affection for the Lord, but most souls living in the physical body as human beings do not appear to be lovers of the Lord. Why? Because the passions keep them confused about what is truly me and mine. The passions hijack and mislead our instinct of unity – of merging, belonging to the One.
Masters come to change our story, to tell us the sacred story of who we truly are and what truly belongs to us. They help us to claim our true identity and our true legacy of eternal divine Love. It is in the company of the Master that we learn to channel our affection and love in a different direction. In their company, we redirect our possessiveness and orient it to the Master, and to God. Now we start saying, ‘my God, my Master.’
And how about Nam, Shabd? The very notion of ‘mine and ours’ loses its meaning when it comes to Shabd, which is our true essence, our purest and deepest self. We cannot make our innermost self ours because it already is our most real and true possession. But we can reach a state of realization in which our sense of me and mine dissolves into the Shabd. Shabd is the power that links us to the Master, to God.
Today we are not conscious of Shabd’s working in us, of the fact that our essential deepest self is a drop of this infinite power vibrating through the universe. But Masters come to show us how to let go of our limiting selves and how to attune to Shabd in a conscious, vibrant and intense experience of transformation and bliss. Masters are living examples of this realization and they teach us that we can realize our true self – the real me – as a drop of this Shabd. At some point in the spiritual journey the self must dissolve into the Shabd, because the soul's tendency has always been towards merging, returning, abolishing the distinction between me and you.
We will realize that only God and Master is truly ours – we will realize God. At that stage, who possesses whom and who belongs to whom are all irrelevant, and we realize that there is only one Owner in the entire creation, the Lord. In the Indian language there is a beautiful word for the Lord: ‘malik,’ which means owner. Would we be owned by mind, maya and the passions or would we rather belong to the Master and the Lord?
How do we truly make God ‘mine,’ Master mine, the Shabd mine – reverting back to the dualistic language of our limited conceptual horizon? Just as we need to work hard in the world to make certain things mine, so we need to work hard to make God, Master and Shabd mine. But no, this is incorrect: we cannot make Master and the Lord ours, we have to make ourselves suitable to become the Lord's intimate possession. We have to blend into the Shabd and attain union with the divine, where duality of any kind vanishes like shadows in the sun.
Even though everything belongs to the Lord and he can do with it as he pleases, we are not conscious of that because our attention is mortgaged away to our karmas. We are under debt and we even owe more than we are worth – in real estate terminology, we are ‘under water.’ How can we give to the Lord a house that is under mortgage? So our objective now is to pay off our debts, our karmas, wrap ourselves in meditation and present back to him what has always belonged to him. The mother loves to unwrap the gift her child gives her, even though the child and the gift already belong to her.
Saints have completely reoriented their sense of belonging and their possessiveness. They view the external things as alien, distant, unreal, and the inner realms as close and real. They have directed their love, affection and sense of belonging towards the divine: Socrates cherished his wise ‘divine voice;’ Mirabai called the Lord ‘my father and my mother;’ Christ said, ‘Who is my father and mother; those who follow my teachings are my relatives.’ Plato said, ‘The physical is a shadow of the subtle and radiant inner realities.’
This is the level of intimacy that all Shabd Masters have with the inner voice of God; in fact, they are identical with it. The Shabd is their self. They have blended their self with it.
Socrates had an intimate relationship with the private divine voice which protected him from harm – he was seen to sit motionlessly in meditation for an entire night. This inner voice gave him his sense of closeness and merging into the divine realm. He had made the inner voice of God an intricate part of his life, always seeking guidance from it, never accepting disciples without the approval of his private divine voice or divine sign.
It was under the direction of this voice that Socrates resisted the temptation offered by his disciples to escape from prison. He calmly accepted his death in an Athenian prison, completely detached, in a happy and joyful mood. Thus he gave a personal example of how to keep one's divine objective, how to preserve the purity and eternal good of one's soul as a supreme priority even in the face of physical death.
Throughout his life, Socrates mercilessly confronted and exposed ignorance of the worst kind, which he called double ignorance, i.e. when people arrogantly believe they know what they, in fact, do not know and have not experienced first-hand.
Like Socrates, Guru Nanak, in his conversation with the Sidh yogis was also facing the double ignorance of those who lack realization while believing that they are wise:
What can I explain to someone
who knows the answer before he poses the question?
Truly, what can I explain to someone
who has already reached the far shore?
As the lotus growing in the water
and the duck swimming in the stream
remain untouched by water,
one crosses the ocean of existence, O Nanak,
by repeating God’s Nam …
Gurbani Selections, Vol. I, p.165
Socrates's death started the so called Platonic tradition, the ideals of which overlap in most points with the tradition of Guru Nanak. In his dialogue with the Sidh yogis in the Sidh Gost, Nanak says:
…one crosses the ocean of existence, O Nanak,
by repeating God's Nam
and attuning one’s consciousness to Shabd.
Let us live detached,
with only the one Lord dwelling in our minds,
and remain desireless amid temptations.
Nanak is a slave of the one who not only sees,
but also shows others
the inaccessible, unfathomable Lord.10
Every line of this stanza corresponds to principles that Socrates also lived by and exemplified. Socrates said that he was in awe of anyone who could teach him about the power that wisely governs the universe; he also spoke of the repetition of magic words that can heal the soul and make it realize its immortal nature. Countless teachers in the Platonic tradition taught disciples how to cure the eye of the soul by turning one's attention inward and digging up the ‘buried eye’ through inner practice and contemplation.
They taught and were living examples of how to live in the middle of the noisy marketplace, the corrupt city, and remain unaffected, detached and free from hostility, antagonism and duality; how to attain the supreme Objective, the supreme Good of the soul. They showed how to accept firmly and graciously the harsh treatment that the world doles out to lovers of the Lord.
The objective remains the same with Socrates almost 500 years before Christ, Nanak 1,500 years after Christ, and the present Master 2,015 years after Christ. And the means for attaining it also remains the same: a pure moral life and vegetarianism as the foundation for the contemplative practice of meditation, which is humankind's pathway to its original source in the divine, whether one's starting point is East, West, South or North.
- Gurbani Selections, Vol.1, pp.161–167
- Plato, Apology of Socrates, 30a–b
- Plotinus, Ι.6.8.16 ;V.1.12.12-21
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Discourses II, 1st ed., p.262
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spirtual Pespectives II, #510
- Maurice Godelier, Rationality and Irrationality in Economics, p.22.
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives I, #40
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Spiritual Gems, letter 202
- Spiritual Gems, letter 202
- Gurbani Selections, Vol. I, p.165