Staying on the path
‘Staying on the path’ - It might not sound the most ambitious of spiritual disciplines. Perhaps many seekers will be more interested in making the fastest progress or realising God in under 2 and half years or something like that. But, for me, fully staying in Guru’s boat is more than enough. When I look back at my (short) spiritual diary of significant spiritual moments; I read one account where I wrote how when I felt a deep sense of peace, I lost all desire to measure progress - even lofty goals like self-realisation seemed unimportant. It was just enough to be, knowing that being here on Guru’s path was taking me somewhere beyond my wildest expectations.
To stay on the path sounds as if it is just a static goal. But, in the spiritual life there is always progress, whether it is forward or backward. If you are fully in the boat, we can make rapid progress - even if it doesn’t always seem like that. Sri Chinmoy sometimes used the analogy of being on a plane. When we take off, we feel we are flying very fast, but when cruising at 500 mph, we hardly notice we are moving. Being in the boat is like cruising at altitude.
“There is another way to maintain your standard. It is through identification with me. Feel that I represent a boat. You have come with your ticket: regularity and aspiration. Throw yourself into the boat. There you can chant or sing or dance or sleep. You have played your part by entering into the boat. Now just stay inside the boat and the boat will carry you.”
However, from experience, it is only a smooth ride when you are fully in the boat. Half in and half out creates an inevitable tension; and it isn’t even always obvious that we have taken the first tentative steps to stop and look around elsewhere.
One experience a friend recently related to me.
Someone in his centre was having problems with other students there. He wrote to Guru, hoping / expecting Guru would sympathise with his difficulties. Instead, the only reply he got was that they already had one foot out of the boat.
Every case is different and one should be careful about taking individual cases out of the very specific context in which they came from. But, from what I understand, if we allow the critical ego to come to the fore we are in danger of finding things wrong wherever we look; this is problematic for any spiritual path. When we think the problem is everyone else, actually the problem is invariably with our own mind.
There was a great Sufi Master, who over many years noticed a phenomena of his own disciples. Initially when they joined the path, the seekers heart’s aspiration burnt intensely and the ego was sublimated or perhaps the ego would be fully immersed in trying to latch on to the spiritual progress. (giving danger of spiritual pride)
But, after a few years, the initial intensity of aspiration often imperceptibly diminished, and often the ego would emerge from the shadows and come back to the fore to try and reassert itself. The ego, would start to criticise other disciples, and wonder why other people were not as spiritual. If the ego was fed and not put in its place, it’s negativity could increase until it even started criticising the teacher and the path they were on. Such is the path of criticism and negativity - once we see negativity in one place, before we know it, we will see it in the whole world.
To stay on the path, we need to value the path of the heart. The heart which is tolerant, non-judgemental and self-giving. Taking this positive, optimistic approach to life is an essential component of the spiritual life.
What other qualities do we need to stay on the path?
The first thing is to be happy. If we are happy, everything is easier. But happiness doesn’t come just from pleasing yourself. The greatest happiness comes when we can be genuinely self-giving, and seek to give something to others. It is important not just to be a consumer ‘what can I get’ but ‘What can I give’ - It is giving back something that gives a sense of value, and this is important.
One thing Guru always encouraged us to do is to give meditation classes. Not so much to find new seekers but because it is one of the best things for our own spiritual life. When we can offer something to fellow seekers, it is one of the strongest ways to strengthen our own spiritual life; they say 90% of learning is in teaching. When giving talks / classes on meditation - we remember how to meditate ourself, we remember how much value there is in the spiritual life.
I sometimes joke to myself that the spiritual life is 90% about turning up. When we spend time in the boat, we gain the benefits of being there. But, if we devote more time to the myriad attractions of the world, then our focus changes, and we lose that connection to spirituality.
The great spiritual Master, Sri Ramakrishna said the human mind was like blotting paper; it absorbs whatever it is exposed to. If we spend time with spiritual aspirants, we subconsciously absorb this spiritual energy. If we spend time reading the newspaper or some internet forum, we absorb that consciousness - even if we think we are rejecting it, it does imperceptibly seep in.
Fortunately, the modern spiritual life of Sri Chinmoy is comparatively easy. In the ancient days, spirituality was perhaps meditating into the early hours of the morning. But, for us, spirituality also involves singing, running or just turning up for ‘joy days’ - a weekend of having a good time.
“Joy Days, Joy Days! Nothing gives me as much joy as Joy Days. When my children meet together to pray, meditate and play, they feed their souls, they feed their hearts, they feed their physical existence. What else do they need?”
- Sri Chinmoy http://www.srichinmoylibrary.com/tmps-22
I have always come back from a joy weekend more appreciative of the spiritual path I’m on. Even if you don’t feel like travelling a long way to a joy day, you know it is worth the effort because that intensity of being in a spiritual energy is a very easy way to strengthen the commitment to the spiritual life.
Remembering the good experiences
“If I had to define man it would be: a biped, ungrateful.”
Perhaps, this quote from Dostoevsky is true. But perhaps it just that we are very good at forgetting, especially forgetting the uplifting, spiritual experiences we have had.
No matter who you are, be it Swami Vivekananda or very much a beginner seeker, there is no one who hasn’t had dry periods in the spiritual life; but it is equally true that no seeker hasn’t had good experiences. But these memorable experiences can also be easily forgotten, dwarfed by our temporary difficulties. Re-reading our past experiences can bring them back into our mind, and remind us why we have been following the spiritual life for so long. We may begin with imagination, but imagination can definitely be a precursor to reality.
Perhaps the problem is that the loftiest experiences can be so far removed from the mundane drama of the world, that we can even doubt whether we went so high. One note I re-read from many years ago - when I was meditating well, it felt like I had woken from a dream, and was fully awake from the first time. I wish I could experience this at will, alas I can’t. But, I will always keep the memory of that experience alive because I know /nothing/ will ever be able to give that same satisfaction and intensity of joy.
My spiritual diary used to be very short and infrequent - perhaps because I was waiting for an experience of nirvana before I would take pen to paper. But, now, I’m less fussy. If you have an experience of genuine satisfaction, real happiness - or the ability to get out of a bad mood and replace it with something better - is this not a miracle worthy of inclusion?
Just try for one incarnation
I do believe in reincarnation. You don’t need to believe in reincarnation to meditate, but it does help with the spiritual life. I remember one very strong, intense talk Guru gave about the spiritual life. Amongst many other things, Guru said something like: ‘For so many incarnations you have tried pleasing yourself. Can you not just for one incarnation try to lead a genuine spiritual life and see where it takes you? If you feel you are missing out on worldly experiences, definitely you will be able to have them in some future incarnation. But for this incarnation be sincere to your spiritual life.
William Shakespeare said:
“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
If I am really honest with myself, it is the spiritual quest that I really want. No trinkets of the world can compare.
One of the hardest things in the spiritual life is to be honest with yourself. Understanding your real motivation and sincerity behind actions and even thoughts.
We have to ask ourselves? Are we really listening to the promptings of our soul or is the part of us (mind / vital) which seeks outer recognition and outer pleasure? It is said that is easy to deceive others. But, if we deceive ourselves, the spiritual life is very shallow. Sometimes I catch myself trying to justify an action. But, if I’m really honest with myself this action is not being true to the path of the heart, the path of the soul. Sometimes it feels like progress just to stop justifying why you are doing something wrong. There is a certain humility in knowing why you are doing something. It’s important not to be too hard on yourself, but we need to always be honest, and retain the aspiration to aim for something higher.
It is no shame in being at a low standard (whatever a low standard is), as long as we keep aiming to improve our standard. There was a great disciple of Sri Ramakrishna (Girish Chandra Ghosh) he led an undivine life to stay the least. He couldn’t see how he could transform his life. Sri Ramakrishna just told him to always keep in mind his Master, whatever he did. Eventually, this remembrance of his Master and the ideals of the spiritual life would bring his conscience and soul to the fore. Girish did eventually make the most radical transformation due to his devotion to his Master. The important thing is to never give up and accept our standard as unchangeable. Simply valuing the spiritual life and the aspiration to aim for something higher is very important.
When we really follow the spiritual life, there is a sense of satisfaction, and we lose that inner tension, that inner conflict. Because when we are following the path, there is a strong inner harmony - even if the outer world is not as reliable.
Staying on the path is the easiest and hardest thing all at once. When we are 100% in the boat, we know there is nothing more you could want. But, it is equally easy to slip into the gossip world or judgement world. When we start looking all around us, we can start to doubt our own spirituality and imperceptibly slip away from the spiritual life.
I agree 100% with Ramakrishna that my mind is just like blotting paper, I guess we just need to keep dipping it in the right ink.
I don’t want much in this life, but I do want to stay on the path until the very end.
Thank you for this beautiful and useful message. I will refer to it again and again as I am sailing through choppy water right now. I did not really keep a diary when I lived near the Master. My "Recollections" are just that, recollections that I pull up from memory. But tonight I think I will go through my old Prasad box, where I keep all the photograph and sweet little trinkets I got over the years.. I will see what memories will come from going through them.
Thanks for reminding us all to keep it real. I need to hear that message.
Your friend Mahiruha
You once told us that the spiritual life implies a life of very simple focus, but that material desires and comforts can creep in little by little and blur that simple concentration. I know. I've been there.
I was going through a book of poems that Bhikshuni Weisbrot wrote many years ago. I found one poem called "Safety Harbor" which deeply moved me. I have read it many times in recent days. She graciously gave me permission to share this poem on the forum, and I am posting it as part of a larger reply to your message "Staying on the Path":
Years ago, it could have been Tahiti,
we sat together,
looked at the stars
watched the night blackened water
lap at our feet.
What you talk then is night philosophy,
whisperings of insight lent by the cosmos
the breath of knowledge and universality
the opening of your intuitive eye.
It is there you ponder gaps of infinitude
riding back like a night horse
to the beginning of time.
On fire, the conversation runs its course.
We sparkle incandescent,
two sea nymphs at the water's edge,
flowers in our hair,
the scent of frangipani so rich
it follows us through sleep
like a well thought out trail.
It seems long ago,
this luxury of unguarded conversation,
freedom's beauty dazzling us
with a siren's façade.
We are no longer so young
to pretend such girlish safety
or to laugh in late night
giddiness in a hard fight against sleep.
You live somewhere in danger city
in a clean co-op with hip neighbors
and in fact have given up the search for light,
but I am still here,
a faint pulse on this shaky richter scale
of a planet, monitored from above
like a heartbeat on a screen
and I can decide, at least for today,
not to face the cracking cover
of the world made sad by bad decisions.
I shall keep the faith and
I shall build my patience,
not for a brave new world
but for the daily miracle of love.
--From the poetry collection "A Bountiful Cry" by Bhikshuni Weisbrot, copyright 4 April 2003
- Mahiruha, thank you for posting this poem of Bhikshuni's. It has stayed with me – beautiful and poignant – a stark reminder of the realities and choices we face every day. When miracles happen daily, it's all too easy to take them for granted.
- [Moderator's note. Reposted because in first post, Yahoo squashed paragraph spacing]
Once again, I think this message you wrote "Staying on the Path" would be good for me to read again and again. These ideas are truly inspiring and practical.
I've been doing a lot of thinking about my own life recently. This is not necessarily a good thing. When I think a lot, I tend to wonder if I am going in the right direction. Life is to be lived, one day at a time, in the endless now. It is not to be constantly examined and second guessed. Life knows where it has to go.
But somehow I am not content just to go with the currents and eddies of life. I am a spiritual seeker. That means I am seeking truth and fulfillment. I wonder if I will discover at least one abiding truth, that I can offer to the world, before I become too sick and decrepit to do anything meaningful. Sorry to be so heavy!
In his introduction to David Copperfield, Charles Dickens' beautiful autobiographical novel, the author wonders if he will be the hero of his own life, or whether that station will be occupied by somebody else. Tonight I practiced violin for about an hour. Nobody who has to endure the sound of my scraping away would ever think of me as a hero. But, in a real sense, I am a hero. And I am not talking about the eggplant sandwich.
I have accepted the spiritual life. That means, on some level, I am a hero.
I remember a dream I had not too long ago. In my dream, I was sitting in the hull of the Pequod, the imaginary ship immortalized in Melville's novel Moby Dick. It must have been the sleeping quarters. All the beds or cots had been moved to one side, and chairs had been brought in. We sat in neat rows and listened to Captain Ahab, the raving lunatic, hold forth on the White Whale and how he was going to wreak righteous vengeance upon the poor thing. All of us were holding weapons of one sort or another- harpoons, daggers, rifles, swords. We listened respectfully to Ahab's screed, but also inwardly laughed at his demented zeal. But, while I sat there, with my fellow sailors, listening to the flow of nonsense, my mind began to wander out past the confines of the ship, until I felt I was sailing in a private vessel over the seething waves, which soon became completely calm. I felt one part of me was with my shipmates, while another part of me was totally free in the vast ocean, rejoicing in that limitless blue expanse, and needing nothing else.
Then, the scene shifted, and I was driving somewhere with my stepdad. It was late at night and we decided to stop somewhere to get Italian food. The waiter had just dropped off our heaping platters when I said to my stepfather, "No, no something is not right!" He looked at me quizzically, and then I ran out of the restaurant and looked at the stars in the black sky. I remembered my dream's last scene, where I was enraptured with the vast, infinite ocean, and from my heart, the last lines from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass sounded out:
I bequeath myself to the dirt
To grow from the grass I love.
If you want me again
Look for me under your bootsoles.
And, at that moment, I knew that my place was not with my stepdad in the nice restaurant- it was in the ocean, either with my dear comrades, fighting a hopeless quest under the leadership of a madman, or out alone in the infinite, rolling water, seeking the eternal consciousness. A comfortable life is not for me. I have already chosen the life of a seeker, with its precarious journey and unknown goal.
A seeker's life is a life of heroism. No matter how humble your outer circumstances, by choosing to stay on the path you are helping to pave the way for future generations of seekers. You are making their way easier. Just by praying and meditating sincerely you are making it easier for other people to come to the spiritual life.
Like Walt Whitman and Herman Melville, Sri Chinmoy is a dreamer who shows us that our soulful hopes can definitely blossom into brave and abiding realities. And who knows? Maybe this dream of mine suggests nothing more than my overactive love of poetry. But, I am always grateful to Sri Chinmoy for showing me a viable alternative to the ordinary life- to be brave in seeking after the treasure of the endless Consciousness-Sea.
[From Sri Chinmoy's "Dance of Life" poetry collection]
A ZERO AND A HERO
I am a zero.
I pray to God.
I am a hero.
I take care of man.
When I am in the body,
I represent the nothingness
Of a zero.
When I am in the soul,
I represent the Treasure
--Posted by Mahiruha
- For me, staying on the Path is all about the simple fundamentals highlighted again and again in our Teacher's teachings: regularity in attending Centre meetings, singing the daily songs, physical exercise to impart a sense of well being and aspiration, goal setting in some new area, meditation practice , finding projects that fulfill the soul's promise to serve, immersion each day in the legacy of Guru's writings, and so forth. These are some of the Lilliputian chords that tie us to the path - but as we neglect them one by one, the little disciplines severed, we become more and more vulnerable to the endless enchantments of the world.
Then, too, we each have our individual areas of special receptivity, our own path within the path, and knowing these greatly helps. I have some favorite music that always brings me back home, some favorite books that remind me of what is truly real in my life, and there are places I visit on weekends where I love to roam. One of these is Whatipu beach, a remote west coast near Auckland where sea, sky and mountains have conspired to offer a vast wilderness of empty dunes, endless unpopulated shorelines - here all my human burdens are stripped away and there is only the quintessence left, the brevity and frailty of life, nearness of God, the littleness of my human life against this canvas of eternity, spontaneous prayers, solitude and peace.
Guru's large bronze statue in our seeker's class room, still waiting to be installed in our city, has also become a personal favorite place and a safe haven - it has really become alive for me and I often walk there, sit there, converse with it. Our soul's journey is like an underground river, coursing towards God in the deep unseen caverns beneath our usual level of awareness - but sometimes we glimpse this depth to our own spirituality and this helps us greatly to know the truth about ourselves. I remember Guru once saying to us all: "I sincerely admire you all very much - I know how hard it is to be a disciple.." But if we can find our secret strengths and diminish our well-known weaknesses, much grace is won simply in the effort - the loving Parent comes quickly to embrace us once again. Jogyata