10 Metaphors of Spiritual Transformation
TEN CLASSICAL METAPHORS OF SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION
IN MYSTICISM AND MEDITATION PRACTICE
by Iona Miller, 1985
God dances in rapture
and waves of form arise from his dance.
Among the myriad forms, expressions of the One in the Many, are the tales which permeate mystic discourse. Their forms are many, but their message and meaning are essentially One. They are, of necessity, a pale reflection of the experience they intimate.
The mystical and religious literature of East and West and the secret oral traditions of esoteric spiritual schools have used myths, parables, similes, symbols and metaphors to allude to that strange process that somehow changes or transforms our deepest selves. Through this means they have addressed the problem which can be stated as, “How can we know or describe anything about the changes we have not yet experienced, changes that by universal consensus take us beyond the realm of everyday reality, for which our words and concepts have been fashioned?”
We realize that we must rely on the reports of those who have gone ahead, who have explored further, who have seen and understood more, and who come back and say, “its like this…,” “its as if…” Metaphor best expresses the as if realm of direct experience which cannot be describe directly. Classical metaphors are those which are used and understood crossculturally.
One of the favorite allegories of ancient and modern poets and philosophers for the process of human transformation is that of the metaphor. One experience is likened to another as if it were that experience. Metaphor contains a subtle communication by containing meaning in a delicate net of imagery.
In mysticism, in general, it seems characteristic for the higher Self to speak to the ego-personality in the language of myth and metaphor. It allows us to grasp some image of that which remains as yet unknown. In Sant Mat, the Masters have also employed the vehicle of metaphor to communicate the depth of the transformations we can expect to undergo as satsangis. Though they have used many stories and parables, at least ten themes seem to be recurrent enough to be considered “classical” metaphors of transformation within this meditation tradition. They include the following dynamic transformations of lifestyle, soul and spirit:
1. dream sleep to awakening;
2. illusion to realization;
3. darkness (or blindness) to enlightenment;
4. imprisonment to liberation;
5. fragmentation to wholeness (unifying);
6. separation to oneness (unifying);
7. journey to destination (arriving);
8. being in exile to coming home (returning);
9. from seed to flowering or fruiting plant or tree (unfolding);
10. from death to rebirth (renewal, resurrection).
Each of these may be examined in turn to see what saints and spiritual teachers have said about them. We may resonate or relate to various metaphors more deeply than others, depending on our current experiences, yet sooner or later all of them seem relevant and convey their particular message to the soul.
1. FROM DREAM SLEEP TO AWAKENING
In several streams of the primordial wisdom tradition, we find this metaphor emphasized: that our ordinary state of consciousness is like a dream sleep state compared to the transformed, awakened consciousness that is possible and desirable for human beings. The Christian and Jewish Gnostics make much of this analogy, as do the Sufis and Buddhists. The very name “Buddha” means literally, “Awakened One.”
Many poetic expressions of this theme exist, as for example Wordsworth’s “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;” The Masters reiterate this, reminding us we forget all about the events and attachments of our past lives upon being reborn into this world. Shakespeare also wrote, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” The fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty can be considered a symbolic rendering of this ancient spiritual teaching. The maiden soul does not awaken until it receives the magical “kiss” of our prince, the Master, the awakener.
We can begin in the most literal sense of arising from sleep to do our daily meditation before we begin our duties, using a verse from Hafiz:
It used to be that when I would awake in the morning
I would with confidence say
“What am ‘I’ going to do?”
That was before the Seed cracked open.
Now Hafiz is certain:
There are two of us housed in this body,
Doing the shopping together in the market and
Tickling each other
While fixing the evening food.
Then when I awake
All the internal instruments play the same music:
“God, what love-mischief can ‘we’ do for the world today?”
There seems to be a somnambulistic quality to our everyday consciousness. We think we are awake, but in fact have not achieved the objective consciousness which can only be brought about through prolonged effort at meditation. The process of awakening to the greater reality is sometimes described as sudden, as in a moment of satori, an abrupt opening of the eye of awareness. In other writings, the process of awakening is described as gradual, proceeding in a step-by-step manner, sometimes marked by regressive periods of falling back to sleep. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus repeatedly asks the disciples to “stay awake” for and with him; Yet again and again, they were unable to do so. What is it within usthat is the “sleeper” that must awaken?
According to the third Zen Patriarch, “If the eye never falls asleep, all dreams will cease of themselves.”
Gradually, then, we are to learn to maintain longer and longer, more permanent periods of wakefulness, both during meditation and general wakefulness to the greater spiritual Reality as revealed through the Eye Center. The Prajnaparamita Sutra states, “As images in a dream, so one should see all things.”
In SPIRITUAL DISCOURSES, Maharaj Charan Singh tells us that “the Mind must be awakened.”
This mind of ours which is absorbed in deep slumber has to be awakened, for the only obstacle that hinders the soul from merging in the Lord is our mind. The soul is of the essence of the Lord. It is the ray of the divine Sun, a spark from the Supreme Being, a drop of the divine Ocean. But entangled in the closely woven net of illusion (maya), it has taken to the company of the mind. The mind itself is in the hands of the senses and is being constantly dragged by them in different directions. The result is that the soul, which is intrinsically pure and sublime, gathers coats of dirt and rust which cover its refulgence.
It is only the practice of Nam or Shabd that kills the ego. Nothing equals this practice for the purpose of “knowing oneself” and attaining God-Realization. All other practices are inferior to Nam, for they keep us in delusion.
The Master goes on to state that the mind which we wish to awaken is constantly pulling us by the ear, while we helplessly carry out its commands. The saints teach that to awaken to the true reality we must turn our attention inside and collect it at the eye center.
Except for devotion to Nam, no second method exists whereby to awaken the mind. The result of practicing Nam is that as the attention is held steady at the eye focus, it begins to contact the Heavenly Music. Gradually the enchanting strains of the Music become overpowering and all-absorbing. It is then that the mind awakens to the Lord. Its dreams are cut short. It recognizes the transience and impermanence of everything that surrounds it here. It gets to know the fact that the world is unreal, that it is only a shadow-show, and that God alone is real, permanent and immortal. With intense yearning and unwavering devotion, divine love permeates one’s whole being.
The saints have first-hand realization of this awakening of the mind from its ignorant state, through devotion to Shabd or Nam. It is the essence of the experience of all mystics and seers from ancient times to the present. This is how the dormant mind can be awakened from its age-old sleep. Knowing that there is only one way, we should endeavor to seek the company of Saints, to get this secret more than conceptually, to participate and devote ourselves to Nam and Shabd. “The only way out of this chaos, this morass, this dreamland, this castle of sand, this shadow-show, is devotion to the music of the Word.”
2. FROM ILLUSION TO REALIZATION
We already see that mystical metaphors do not exist in isolation; they are strongly linked to other metaphors which carry the same meaning, and the notion of illusion already came up in the metaphors of awakening. One connected to awakening is that of breakthrough or lifting the veil on Reality; realization of the true nature of the creation, ourselves, and the Divine.
Parallel in many ways to the dream-sleep metaphor is the ancient notion that every-day consciousness is a Shadow Play of illusions and images, and that the transformation of consciousness involves the transcending or dissolving of this web of illusions. Indian metaphysicians have long taught that the world as we perceive it is maya, a word related to root meanings of “show,” “display,” “appearance.” Maya is often likened to “veils” that interpose between our perceptive organs and reality, causing us to perceive only the surface, the outer appearance. William Blake spoke of the mystic vision that is possible: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything will appear to men as it is–infinite.”
We are taught that we “cleanse the doors of perception” by withdrawing our attention from the nine doors of the senses, collecting it at the eye center. The most complete transformation of consciousness occurs when self-perception is altered from illusory self-images and concept to “self-realization.” Self is then seen and experienced as the source and center of our total experience, our total world. For initiates, the Master symbolizes and embodies this inner Self, which is the personification of the Divine. Huzur says,
This world is truly a mirage, a shadow-show; alluring and false are its promises. The mind is an unmitigated evil and has to be ruthlessly curbed. Already we are settling the account of its past deeds or misdeeds, and a time must come, if we want salvation, when we must subordinate the mind. This can only happen when we undo the knot which binds the mind and the soul together.
…It is only by meeting with Masters who are themselves steeped in Nam Bhakti [the way of devotion] and by following their directions that we can cross the ocean of phenomena and tear away the veil that masks Reality; that we can break through the barrier that hides the Lord from our sight; that we can transcend ourselves; and that we can transform ourselves and merge in the Lord Himself and become one with Him.
The domain of pleasure and pain can be transcended only by taking refuge in the Satguru and thus joining the mind and soul currents with the Audible Life Stream. Surat Shabd Yoga is the only way. No second way exists.
We fancy that this life is meant to enjoy the pleasures that the world has to offer, that we have been sent here in order to enjoy the company of sons and daughters, wives, and friends, and to eat, drink, and be merry. In reality, however, such attachments and indulgences drag us down still further into the world and into the net of action and reaction. The illusion of joy vanishes and we confront the stark reality of suffering, which is its price, heavy and unremitting. Man’s lifetime is spent in misguided actions and painful suffering which springs from inevitable reaction to his past acts. Saints tell us this is a gross misuse of human life, for such gratifications are equally available to the animals. It is the sole privilege of human beings to meet the Lord. Only this endeavor on their part is elevating and permanently worthwhile. All else degrades them.
…Unfortunately, the whole world is the victim of a mighty illusion. People search for God in buildings, in rites and rituals, in penances and austerities, in good deeds and charities. These only make the chains that bind them stronger. The real wealth lies within, but the mind wanders without. It pursues the shadow and misses the substance. The powers of the mind are like rays of light that are dissipated. When they are concentrated they illumine. Rise above the (worldly pleasures) and get a glimpse of the radiant Reality within.
3. FROM DARKNESS TO ENLIGHTENMENT
In MYSTICISM, THE SPIRITUAL PATH, VOL. I, we read:
In pitch darkness as we are, we know neither ourselves, nor other people, nor our surroundings. Like blind men we merely grope in the dark, and are blown hither and thither by every waft of the wind of causation, or Karmas or what?
We are in a deep slumber that takes away from us all true consciousness and sensibility; we are in an intoxication that does not let us attend to our most serious concern, that keeps us out of our wits, so to speak, and makes us neglect what is of foremost importance. We are not in our senses; our wits have been wool-gathering.
How strange that we investigate into every thing of the world, but never care to look into our own self! We leave out no object in nature from our study; but, alas! We shut our eyes to the reality and essence of our own being. If we sit down to collect ourselves and think on the situation in which we are at present, we find ourselves in utter darkness and extreme ignorance about things which touch us most vitally. Every one of us is truly–
“A child crying in the night,
A child crying for the light,
And with no language but a cry”
We should try to go out of this night into the day, and find our land of Light and Happiness, so that we may cry no more.”
The mystic literature of East and West is replete with descriptions of the experience of the Light. It is implicit in the two processes already described: awakening comes about through more light, and the cleansing of the doors of perception involves light. Enlightenment is not merely a symbolic process of attaining greater knowledge; rather, it is an experience of one’s own inner essence, or Self as a being of light. According to the Upanishads, the Atman is a “light in the heart,” and in Sant Mat the eye center is also known as the “heavenly heart.” Christ said: “Within a man of light, there is light, and his light illumines the whole world.”
But what keeps us from experiencing Light in each and every moment; what keeps our enlightenment at bay? LEGACY OF LOVE quotes Hazur as saying it is understandable that a child is afraid of the dark, but that it is tragic to be afraid of the Light. Just as fire is latent within wood, enlightenment is latent within our souls.
It is not merely a matter of “seeing” colored lights or visions. This perceived inner Light is accompanied by a total blending of understanding, perception, and feeling. In the Tibetan Buddhist BOOK OF THE DEAD, careful distinctions are drawn between the “clear light” that accompanies insight and understanding and mergence with the divine personifications of the various planes, and the “dull lights” that fascinate or entice the initiate into the various samsaric [illusory] realms of earthly experience. Visions and lights may be images and illusions, the play of maya; but the clear radiance of the Spirit is the source light of which these are the shadows and reflections.
The Sun of the One I love has risen in the night,
Resplendent, and there will be no more sunset…
I saw my Lord with the eye of the heart, and I said
“Who are you?” and he said “Your Self.”
Moving from the darkness to enlightenment is analogous to a blind man being given the miraculous gift of sight. The Saints say that the world is blind. A blind man may be defined as a person who cannot see what is present before him.. God is Omnipresent, and yet we are not aware of His august Presence. The Saints are aware of His presence in every particle of this universe. Their eyes are open.
The whole world is blind because it is a stranger to the Word–the power behind all powers. …God is nearer than our hands and feet. …El Dorado lies hidden in the portion of the body which lies above the eyes, and unless we collect our body consciousness at the third eye, there can be no hope whatever of finding this philosopher’s stone. The Divine Nectar flows without ceasing at this point, but only those who reach it can partake of it.
Has not Socrates said, “Know Thyself”? Self-realization is essential before God-realization. So long as we do not know ourselves, we cannot know Him. Our soul is covered with wrappings of lust, anger, freed, attachment, and pride or egotism; and as long as they are not removed, it cannot knows its true nature and its kinship to God. We can get rid of these coverings by listening to the Sound Current.
When gradually, the light of the soul becomes visible and it begins to see itself, it is only then that it is aware of its identity with the Lord. So it is by Simran that we are connected to Shabd Dhun which, in turns, leads us to self-realization and God-realization. There is a secret concerning seeing God in meditation. If you keep your heart pure, you will see God. If the five perversions of the mind dominate the heart, the vision cannot but fade away.
Some people are born blind. Others who have the gift of physical eyes are also called blind by the Saints. This may appear paradoxical; but it is so, because they do not see the Reality. The Lord resides within us all, but when we look within, we see nothing. The utter darkness of ignorance covers us, for we have woven around us an invisible net of worldly attachment. …so long as the blinding screen of ego remains intact, so long as the third eye remains closed, we can never see the refulgence of the Lord and meet Him face to face.
If we wish to realize ourselves by getting rid of our blinders, our covers of darkness and ignorance, there is no better remedy than that of Nam. From Yogananda we hear:
“Your being has two sides…one visible, the other invisible. With open eyes you behold objective creation, and yourself in it. With closed eyes you see nothing, a dark void; yet your consciousness, even when dissociated from form, is still keenly aware and operative. If in deep meditation you penetrate the darkness behind closed eyes, you behold the Light from which all creation emerges. By deeper samadhi, your experience transcends even the manifested Light and enters the All-Blissful Consciousness — beyond all form, yet infinitely more real, tangible and joyous than any sensory or supersensory perception.”
4. FROM IMPRISONMENT TO LIBERATION
There are numerous expressions of the theme of deliverance, salvation or liberation (moksha) in the world’s mythic and mystic literature, for example Plato’s metaphor of the prisoners chained in the cave. Spirit is imprisoned in matter, from which it needs to be freed. Esoteric Christianity regards Christ on the cross as a totally parallel symbol of the Spirit attached, or bound to the two cross bars (time and space) of the material world. The Gnostics, emphasizing the mother-god principle, taught that Sophia, Divine Wisdom, is imprisoned in matter, is the soul in matter — the prima materia, from where she must be freed by the skill and knowledge of the devoted adept of gnosis.
One does not need to go very far to find evidence for the “boundedness” of ordinary human conditioned consciousness. The experience of feeling imprisoned, trapped, attached, or “hung-up” is cross-culturally and historically extensively documented. Tradition varies as to whether the liberation from the bondage of the material world is brought about passively or actively.
The Path of the Masters shows us that these aspects must combine in our final liberation of the soul. Some religious teachings emphasize the role of divine grace in accomplishing the redemption of man, requiring only surrender and faith on our part. Others stress the active work of transmutation: of liberating spirit from matter, analogous to extracting precious metal from raw ore, or of active yogic practice to loosen the knots of karma that keep us tied.
Huzur Maharaji used to illustrate the great boon that the Saints confer on humanity by narrating the following parable:
“In a prison house lives many a prisoner. A philanthropist comes along, and seeing that the prisoners do not get cool drinking water during the summer months, arranges for ice to be sent to them daily. Another arrives, and seeing that the prisoners get coarse and unpalatable food, he arranges for delicious dishes to be distributed to them. A third one, taking pity on the prisoners, provides them with warm blankets during the cold weather. All three of them have doubtless tried to mitigate to a small or large extent that hardships of prison life, but the inmates still remain prisoners. They are still incarcerated. High walls shut them in from the world outside. The longing for freedom still remains a hopeless dream for them. Then a Saint appears on the scene. He has the key to the prison gate, and their homes. There is no doubt that the noble deed of the Saint surpasses in excellence the charities performed by the three philanthropists.
This world is a vast prison house. It is a tight net in which we are caught. It is a dangerous ocean. It is an impregnable fort. There is only one exit from it. The secret of this exit–the only way of escape–is, however, known to the Saints alone. It is only when they apply the key that the gate opens. The mind turns toward Nam Bhakti. Devotion to the Lord becomes practicable. The spirit ascends to higher realms and meets her Lord face to face.
Whether we perform good deeds or bad ones, we have to tread the eternal wheel in order to reap their consequences. From mud huts we move into palaces. From a ‘C’ Class prisoner, we get promoted to an ‘A’ class one, but prisoners we remain in this same vast prison house. The karmas are performed by the mind and as long as the latter does not desist from gathering them, no relief can be expected, even by the soul.
Since the soul became separated from its Origin, and entangled in mind and matter, it has been in physical chains and made subject to birth and death. But there is still a constant and inherent desire in all human beings to seek deliverance from this bondage. It is pain and suffering which makes us actually aware of our mental and physical subjection. Consequently, it becomes the aim of all of us to obtain eternal liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Therefore, we all instinctively seek union with God and the Way back to our original Home of everlasting Peace and Bliss.
The observance of moral laws is but a stepping stone towards the spiritual journey. It promotes us from a C class to A class prisoner, but devotion to Shabd confers liberation itself. Meditation under the guiding hand of the Master is the only exit which the Lord has provided us to enable us to escape from the vast prison house of the phenomenal world. The only gate of deliverance from this prison is the human form, for it is only in this form that God can be realized and true bliss attained.
This true liberation is the great gift given to us by God, and we should learn to value the human body and use it for the purpose of obtaining release from our eternal bondage. As Saints and mystics have always said, we are truly prisoners in this region of constant change and the endless cycle of action and reaction. Our karmas can never release us from the prison house. If we fail to avail ourselves of our privileged position as human beings, we cannot but suffer return to this universal prison again.
5. FROM FRAGMENTATION TO WHOLENESS
Frequently we encounter the mythology and symbolism of the human condition as fragmented, scattered, dispersed, and the necessity to find way to bring about unification, collection, wholeness. This is connected to the process of healing; health and hale are related concepts. Disease, whether physical or psychological is often experienced as a disintegration, a fragmentation, or lack of internal harmony. Expressions such as “feeling torn” or “shattered” or “heart-broken” are indicative of such a state. When we “collect” ourselves, our scattered selves, we remember our connection to the center or the prime source Self. In the case of satsangis we remember Master seated in the eye center.
When the ten thousand things are viewed in their oneness,
We return to the origin and remain where we have always been.
–Third Zen Patriarch
The theme of scattering and dismemberment also connects to other important myths in which there is a near-fatal wound. In the Grail Legends the King is wounded in the thigh and the entire kingdom is laid waste and barren. When the Grail is found by a pure knight the wound is healed and the land restored to fruitfulness. The Grail here symbolizes the source of healing and spiritual nourishment. So when the connection is made to the life-blood of the Spirit, the wound is healed, the land restored, the Self re-membered.
The treasure of the Kingdom of God has been hidden by time and multiplicity…and by creaturely nature. But in the measure that the soul can separate itself from this multiplicity, to that extent it reveals within itself the Kingdom of God.
In Science of the Soul, Dec., 1978, Margaret Hitge states in “From Circumference to Sacred Center: that ” we all have a center, but we live off it–off center. This is what creates our anguish. The madman is completely off center, and the enlightened man is totally centered inside himself. However, although all human beings have a center, only an initiate has a Master eternally present at that center. So a satsangi has a different kind of center. When acting from his center, a man is whole–holy. When he acts from the circumference, he is scattered and fragmented in the field of the mind. When we live our lives off center, on the circumference forgetting our Simran (repetition) and our Master, we are always mentally dispersed and distressed. When we return to the core, we are unfragmented, whole, holy and blissful, and in an altogether sacred place. The degree to which we become centered or remain in touch with our center throughout each day determines the happiness or unhappiness of our life. This is logical because the closer we are our own center, the more aware we are of Master, and the more our problems dissolve. The further away from Him we are, the more our problems increase and solidify.”
6. FROM SEPARATION TO ONENESS
Another aspect of the theme of unification expressed in the movement from fragmentation to wholeness is that of separation to oneness. It is an evolutionary movement from a divided schizoid state of consciousness to an inclusive, unified state. This is the classical theme of “at-one-ment.”
When a person finds himself single, he will be full of light;
But when he finds himself divided, he will be full of darkness.
–Gospel of Thomas
We must unite, not only the warring aspects of ourselves with one another, but also unite ourselves with Master’s Radiant Form. “It behooves us all, therefore, to engage in devotion with one-pointed love. This must be to the exclusion of all else. The lane of love is extremely narrow and can hold either the lover or the Beloved, but not both. The lover has to merge in the Beloved and become one with Him. This is the quintessence of love. Duality has to end in oneness.” In Mysticism, the Spiritual Path I, we read:
“In ordinary consciousness there can no knowledge, unless there is a distinct subject and a distinct object. But mystic knowledge knows no duality; it shines in its own oneness. Transport transcends the psychological limitation of the duality of subject and object. In mystic rapture the subject knowing and the object known are not two, but become one. In psychological knowledge one entity or being perceives another thing or being; the object here is always ‘another.’
In mystic transport, we know and enter Reality; the object here does not remain ‘another,’ but becomes identical with the subject. We know the ultimate reality by becoming that Reality ourselves. In mystic knowledge oneness reigns supreme; there is scope for ‘another.’ The ‘another’ of psychology is absorbed, comprehended and transcended in the unanalyzable unity of mystic insight. The ultimate Reality is One, and when we enter the realm of Transport, we lose our own separate existence in the Oneness of that Absolute Reality.
Psychological consciousness differentiates between various things, it sees ‘manyness,’ it is analytical, so to speak. Mystic transport unites different finite bits of experience into a real whole; it reveals ‘Oneness;’ it is thus synthetical. But this synthesis is not intellectual, but transcendent and spiritual. Psychology views only phenomena, and deals with various fragments of experience; transport looks at the whole of Reality, and grasps the essence of its oneness in a moment of eternal consciousness.
“It is not enough to get the secret and then to sit still. Such a course will be of little avail. The patient gets cured of his ailment only when he takes the medicine prescribed for him. Saints say: “Gather the secret of Nam from the Satguru, then practice it so much that you merge in it, absorb yourself in it, and finally become one with it. God is one, and way to gain Him is also One.”
Saints emphasize that the real secret of worship is with the True Masters. They worship Him only to achieve Him and merge themselves with Him. They have real desire and real eagerness to attain Him. A true longing leads us to true spiritual practice and that, in turn, leads us to God-realization. Such longing can be created within us by Satsang, by the company of Saints and fellow-travellers, and by the study of spiritual literature in addition to the spiritual practice.
What are the qualifications of a Saint, to whom we must surrender ourselves completely if we wish to gain the priceless wealth of Nam? Saints and Seers are those who have transcended matter and mind, who have attained God-realization, whose spark has joined the flame, whose drop has merged with the ocean. Only he who is in constant communion with the Lord can lead us to Godhood. Such a one has truly realized his own Self, and Self-realization is essential before God-realization. When our soul meets the Lord, the long separated drop merges in the Ocean and becomes the ocean, and the soul gains liberation from the pairs of opposites forever. In the world we cannot but experience suffering and misery unless we are holding God’s hand. Separated from Him, we are unhappy. In communion with Him, we are in bliss.
7. FROM BEING ON A JOURNEY TO ARRIVING AT THE DESTINATION
The ever-changing flux of life’s events as journey or path is certainly an almost universal experience; and so the transformation of consciousness as a journey to another land, across a river, up a mountain, through a wilderness, into the depths of the Earth or the ocean–has been the central symbol in many of the great mythic traditions. One of the meanings of Tao is “the way” or “the track.” When a person undertakes to discover the meaning of their existence, to find the true core of their being, whether they do it alone, or under the guidance of a guru, it is like a departure on a journey; a journey into the unknown interior mindscapes away from the safe contours and orientation of the conventional social world.
Scriptures constitute a record of the spiritual experiences of these God-men who labored hard, spent sleepless nights, gained access to the mansion of the Lord and merged in Him. They related for our benefit the obstacles and wonders they encountered. They describe the nature of the realms they cross in their transport to higher levels, the scenes that they witness, and the places that serve as guidepost in their journey above the eye center. A study of these writing creates in us a love for Lord and a yearning to meet Him.
It is only when we travel along the path described in the scriptures and surmount the difficulties that beset the path, that we reach the lap of our Father. Studying a road or railway guide cannot of itself take us to any destination, until, in the light of the information given there, we get prepared, buy a ticket and sit in a car, train or plane. So we cannot reach our destination until we get initiation and work hard at our spiritual practice.
Man’s spiritual journey starts from the soles of his feet and ends at the top of his head. It is divided into two parts. The first is from the feet up to the eyes, and the second is from the eyes upward. If we knock at the eye center, the gateway to liberation will be opened for us.
The four great ages (Golden, Silver, Copper, and Iron) are constantly moving around their axis and nothing is known about the number of times they have traveled the rounds. In the wild waste of this vast ocean, the boat of our mind is being tossed to and fro without a rudder or oars, without even a steersman. It is battered by one wave after another and is endlessly tossed about by storms. Leaking and nearly derelict, it knows no way of escape to a haven of peace. If in our boat we had a steersman who was thoroughly familiar with the ocean and its perilous storms, we would doubtless reach the shore safely. And there is such a steersman. He is the perfect Adept, and the boat He uses is the boat of Nam. The Saints and Seers come into the world not to establish castes and creeds or to gain power or wealth, but to take the souls that are ready back to their original Home.
Kal and Maya (the negative powers, time-boundedness and illusion) are a great force. They have woven a charm around the soul and have put it soundly to sleep. They have numerous agents through whose good offices they keep the soul confined in its cage and do not let it awaken and travel along the Path that leads to redemption. These agents are the mind and its various tendencies, its ceaseless wandering from one thing to another and its limitless desires and cravings.
At every step the “downward” tendency stands in the way of the soul. They stop it from going toward its Home. In countless ways they deceive the soul. Its entire homeward journey is beset with obstacles. It is not that these obstacles are to be met with only here and there. They stand like impenetrable barriers all along the way. On the entire journey there are enemies who keep constant vigil on the soul’s movements. Their one purpose is to see that the soul does not step out of Kal’s spacetime domain, our local universe. Yet, the soul, to fulfill its destiny has no choice but to travel through them.
8. FROM BEING IN EXILE TO COMING HOME
One of the most universal experiences of those who report mystical or cosmic consciousness is that of “coming home.” In Jesus’ parable, the prodigal son leaves his parents, goes into foreign lands, loses sight of his purpose, eats among the beasts of the field. Then, when he returns home he is surprised by the generous, forgiving welcome extended to him.
The sense of having departed or been expelled from a paradise state of innocent bliss, of being in the wrong place, of a mistake having occurred, of being a stranger, is an extremely widespread notion in the consciousness of humankind. In this deeply felt sense of coming from another place, becoming aware of the exiled or alienated condition we are actually in the necessary first step of returning on the homeward journey. And so, paradoxically, the closer we come to the source-center from which we originated, the more acutely we sense our estrangement. In Sant Mat, this longing is known as vireh, the active state of love.
Joseph Campbell has popularized the notion of the Quest and the archetype of hero with his itinerant wandering. It is the story of all of us which proceeds from alienation to homecoming through stages. These stages often include a miraculous or peculiar birth or abandonment (innocent/orphan); a period of seemingly aimless wandering (wanderer); overcoming obstacles sometimes by divine intervention (martyr); gaining the treasure which is hard to find and difficult to hold onto (warrior); and a returning home or reunion (shaman/magician/mystic).
A Zen choan, which reflects the paradox of belonging to one’s family of birth or family of initiates and the detachment stemming from one’s chosen path, states:
When you understand, you belong to the family;
When you do not understand, you are a stranger.
Those who do not understand belong to the family,
And when they understand they are strangers.
–Zen master Mu-mon
Why not put your body to the use for which it was granted to us, namely, to go back to our original home and merge in the Ultimate Reality? We merge in the Supreme Being, with whose essence our soul is one. This is the way that true and everlasting bliss is born and the soul is freed of its chains and returns to its Divine Home. Everyone is at full liberty to avail himself of it, the only prerequisite being the effort to vacate the body and focus the consciousness at the eye center. The nine openings of the body have to be closed and the entire consciousness concentrated at the tenth gate which leads to our True Home.
9. FROM SEED TO FLOWERING PLANT OR FRUITFUL TREE
The unfolding of human potential from the present, ordinary state of consciousness to the full extension of what is possible has often been compared to the growth and flowering of a tree. Meister Eckhart stated that,
The seed of God is in us…it will thrive and grow up to God, whose seed it is; accordingly its fruit will be God-nature. Pear seeds grow into pear trees, nut seeds grow into nut trees, and God seeds into God.
The tree is also used to symbolize the spinal axis, providing within the human being the linkage between Heaven and Earth, between Self and ego, between Sprit and personality, the spiritual and material realms. The tree provides the framework for the ascending and descending process of energy transformation in which we all, as human beings, are involved.
A slightly different interpretive slant is given to the tree symbolism if we regard it, not as extending between earth and sky (the material and spiritual realms), but as extending through time, as the pattern of individual life development. In much the same way we can make a tree diagram of the evolution of different species.
From this perspective, our “roots” are the hereditary tendencies acquired from our ancestors, both human and pre-human; our “trunk” is the main axis of our life’s growth through time; our “branches” are the traits, qualities and abilities with which we extend and ramify ourselves; and our “fruits” are the products of our creativity; the seeds clothed in the nourishing flesh of our individual energies. These are the “fruits of our action,” or karmas, by which we are known.
Maharaji quotes Guru Nanak by saying, “Iron age has ushered in, sow the seed of Nam.” If wheat seed were to be sown in summer months instead of the usual cold months, no crop would ever result and the seed would be simply wasted. In fact during this age it is no season for sowing any other seed save that of Nam, for this alone can bear fruit. Nam, like a wish-granting tree cuts asunder all our fetters and burns away all our sins, thus redeeming the lost soul.
10. FROM DEATH TO REBIRTH
While many religions seek the rebirth of the individual in his lifetime into a fuller spirituality, in Sant Mat we ultimately aim for the end of the endless cycle of birth and death and rebirth. Still the most profound analogy for the radical transformation that is possible for human consciousness, is that of dying and being reborn. We are dealing here with a relatively abrupt discontinuity in the stream of individual consciousness: one feels that the person one is has died, that there is an end to the ego-identity that has been in existence up to that time.
This is a very radical and total transformation. Such an experience brings about a fundamentally new and different perspective and attitude about life, and a totally fresh, innocent outlook, like that of a child. The “dying” of this kind is conscious, intentional dying. Master tells us to “die to live” through our daily meditation. It is purposeful withdrawl from ego-identification with our habitual thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and behavior, so that the personality can become a living vehicle for the Spirit. Saint Paul said, “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”
Also, if we practice continual awareness of and conscious intention towards death, we maintain an aware connection with the immortal continuity of our being. Zen master Bunan said,
While living, be a dead man, thoroughly dead;
Whatever you do, then, as you will, is always good.
From a slightly different perspective we see that parts of our old nature are constantly dying or regenerated. In this way the death and rebirth process is an ongoing renewal of life.
The Masters tell us that the human form is gained only after many and various births and rebirths. Owing to good karmas we experience pleasure and happiness, while the bad karmas bring sorrow and suffering. The true devotees of the Lord set an example by cheerfully going through what the Lord ordains for them, and submitting to it with all their heart. The Saints exhort us to devote ourselves to Nam Bhakti ( devotion to the Word) in order to gain liberation from birth and death and to attain God-realization.
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Each of these concepts describes an individual seeking to bring about a transformation of his consciousness, and we may resonate to one or more of the metaphors closest to our experience. The actual experience of personal transformation, in all the richness of its nuances, gives meaning and depth to these conceptual and symbolic formulations that serve as signposts and milestones on the Great Journey.