Conversations — Sadhu Sundar Singh
Darshana — Divine Peace
Seeker: Sadhu-ji, I am searching for inner peace, but the many religions and philosophies I have studied fill me only with doubts and questions. I am no longer even sure if God exists. Can you help me find spiritual truth?
Sadhu: Only the fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Such a thought says nothing about the existence or non-existence of God, but only about the skeptic’s own spiritual blindness and inability to recognize God. Indeed, atheists deny the existence of God altogether, but they cannot prove their claim that God does not exist. Even if we assume for the sake of argument that they are correct, we would only further the cause of ignorance, not the cause of truth, because what could be a greater waste of time than to try and prove the non-existence of something that doesn’t even exist? Time would be better spent on more worthwhile pursuits. Yet if God does exist, as all spiritually enlightened souls know, then it would be still greater foolishness to try and prove God’s non-existence. Though many argue that the belief in God is a harmful superstition that must be eliminated for the sake of human progress, the opposite is the case. Uncounted spiritual blessings have enriched the lives of those who believe.
Unlike atheists, agnostics believe neither in the existence nor in the non-existence of God. They claim that we cannot know whether God exists. But again this is a mistake. We have an innate longing in our hearts to know God, and every race in every age has shown in some form or another its deep craving for God. Is God simply a human invention, as an ancient philosopher once said? He argued the following: “In the primeval age of disorder and violence, as always, laws could punish crimes committed in the open day, but they could not touch the secret crimes hidden in the gloomy depths of conscience. So the best way to make people lead moral lives was to make them afraid by inventing gods who could see and hear all things, not only all human actions, but also the inmost thoughts and intentions of the human heart.” Yet, even this argument actually acknowledges that the human soul is incomplete and unfulfilled without God.
Some claim that God is unknowable, but this is utter nonsense. Such an assertion can only be made on the basis of some kind of limited knowledge of God. If God is completely beyond our knowing, how can we know that he is unknowable?
Seeker: Can no one prove to me whether God exists, so that I can know the truth?
Sadhu: God has no need or desire for anyone to prove his existence. Our arguments are feeble, our minds limited. God could have provided proofs convincing enough, way beyond anything we could imagine. God desires rather that we should enjoy his life-giving presence and so bear witness to something far more sublime and convincing than anything the rational mind can produce.
Our spirits live and grow in our human bodies much like the chick develops inside the egg. If it were possible for the chick to be told that a great world waits beyond its shell, that this world is filled with fruits and flowers, rivers and great mountains, and that its own mother is also there waiting for it to be set free and to experience this splendor, the chick could still neither comprehend nor believe it. Even if one explained that its feathers and wings and eyes were developing so that it could fly and see, still it would not be able to believe it, nor would any proof be possible, until it broke through its shell.
In the same way, there are many people who cannot comprehend the spiritual life or the existence of God because they cannot see beyond the confines of their bodily sense. Their thoughts — like delicate wings — cannot yet carry them beyond the narrow confines of logic. Their weak eyes cannot yet make out those eternal treasures that God has prepared for his children. The only condition necessary for us to break out of our material limitations and attain spiritual life is that we accept the life-giving warmth of God’s spirit, just as the chick receives its mother’s warmth. Without that warmth, we will not take on the nature of the Spirit and we may die without ever hatching out of this material body.
We have been endowed with spiritual senses so that we can feel and enjoy God’s presence. But the influence of irreverence and sin deadens these senses till we are no longer able to see beyond ourselves, nor beyond the material world. As long as we follow this path, we cannot believe that God exists, and so we starve ourselves until in the end we have committed spiritual suicide. Our end is total enslavement to the material world.
Seeker: If we cannot prove that God exists, then how can we ever know God or any spiritual truth?
Sadhu: God is the author of creation and provides all that is necessary for our well-being. If it were helpful or necessary for us to know God perfectly already now, then God would have provided the means to meet that need. Quite the contrary, it is important for our own spiritual growth that we persevere in trying to know more of God. True and satisfying knowledge of anything is always the fruit of mental exertion and the exercise of our own consciousness.
God is infinite while we are finite. We can never fully comprehend the infinite, but we do have within us a spiritual sense that allows us to recognize and enjoy God’s presence. The ocean is vast beyond our imagining, and it would never be possible for a person to fathom it or take in all its great treasures. But with the tip of our tongues we can recognize at once that the ocean is salty. We have not understood even a fraction of all there is to know about the ocean, but with our sense of taste we can experience its essence.
In the end, how can we expect to have full knowledge of the creator, when even our knowledge of created things is limited? We know a little about the physical characteristics of the created world, but we know next to nothing about the unseen spiritual world. Indeed, we know next to nothing about our own spiritual lives. If we had complete knowledge of our own spiritual nature, then perhaps we would be capable of knowing the nature of God, for we were created in his image.
From the moment of birth, every child loves its mother dearly in its own way, but the child cannot know and love the mother as the mother loves the child. With age, the child grows to know the mother better and to enjoy her company in new, fulfilling ways. Our knowledge and age would have to be infinite if we were to truly comprehend God who is infinite. But at every age and level of knowledge we can appreciate and enjoy some aspect of God’s presence. Why do we need to know more than this? As we grow spiritually, we will come to know more and more of God, but there is no need to be impatient. Eternity stretches before us.
One day I saw a flower and began to contemplate its fragrance and beauty. As I thought more deeply, I recognized the creator of such wonders — not with my mortal eyes but with my spiritual eyes. This filled my heart with joy, but my joy was still greater when I recognized that same creator at work within my own soul. How wonderful is God, separate from creation and yet ever filling it with his glorious presence.
Seeker: Since we know so little about God’s nature, how is it even possible to recognize his divine presence?
Sadhu: Many people experience the Master’s presence without actually seeing him. When we apply medicine drops to our eyes, we experience the healing effect, but we cannot see the drops. In the same way, we recognize the presence of the Master and his work of cleansing our inner eyes and aiding our spiritual sight even though we cannot see him.
Those who turn to the Master with open hearts will feel his power and experience peace. It is like something sweet on the tongue. Both our sense of taste and the sweetness of the sugar are invisible to the eye. Similarly, the Master sustains us with unseen nourishment — wisdom that the five senses cannot grasp.
God is revealed in the book of nature for God is its author. Yet we only comprehend this book if we have the necessary spiritual insight. Without reverence and perception we go astray. We cannot judge the truthfulness of any book merely by reading it. Agnostics and skeptics, for example, find only defects instead of perfection. Skeptics ask, “If there is an almighty creator, why then are there hurricanes, earthquakes, pain, suffering, death, etc.?” This is like criticizing an unfinished building or incomplete painting. When we see them fully finished, we are embarrassed at our own folly and praise the skill of the artist. God did not shape the world into its present form in a single day, nor will it be perfected in a single day. The whole creation moves toward completion, and if we see it with the eyes of God moving toward the perfect world without fault or blemish, then we can only bow humbly before our creator and exclaim, “It is very good.”
Seeker: From what you say, Sadhu, it seems to require patience and great effort to recognize God’s presence. What do we actually gain by seeking God?
Sadhu: A mother once left her child for a time playing in the garden. When her little son noticed she was not there, he searched the whole garden over. He looked everywhere but could not find her. Finally he cried and called out, but still she did not appear. The gardener saw him crying and tried to calm him, saying: “Do not cry! Look at these beautiful flowers and delicious mangoes. Shall I pick some for you?” But the child answered: “No! No! My mother has better food than these mangoes and her love is far sweeter than all these flowers. I want my mother.” When his mother heard these words, she rushed out, embraced him, and smothered him with kisses. At that moment, the garden became a paradise. This world is like a great garden full of wonderful and beautiful flowers, but we cannot find true joy in it until we meet God.
Seeker: So how do I find the path to spiritual truth and to knowledge of God?
Sadhu: God never discourages a seeker by judging his or her beliefs to be wrong. Rather, God allows each person to recognize spiritual error or truth by degrees. The story is told of a poor grass cutter who found a beautiful stone in the jungle. He had often heard of people finding valuable diamonds and thought this must be one. He took it to a jeweler and showed it to him with delight. Being a kind and sympathetic man, the jeweler knew that if he bluntly told the grass cutter that his stone was worthless glass, the man would either refuse to believe it or else fall into a state of depression. So instead, the jeweler offered the grass cutter some work in his shop so that he might become better acquainted with precious stones and their value.
Meanwhile, the man kept his stone safely locked away in a strongbox. Several weeks later, the jeweler encouraged the man to bring out his own stone and examine it. As soon as he took it out of the chest and looked at it more closely, he immediately saw that it was worthless. His disappointment was great, but he went to the jeweler and said: “I thank you that you did not destroy my hope but aided me instead to see my mistake on my own. If you will have me, I will stay with you and faithfully serve you, as you are a good and kind master.” In the same way, God leads back to truth those who have wandered into error. When they recognize the truth for themselves, they gladly and joyfully give themselves in obedient service.
Some say that desire is the root cause of all pain and sorrow. According to this philosophy, salvation consists in eliminating all desire, including any desire for eternal bliss or communion with God. But when someone is thirsty, do we tell him to kill his thirst instead of giving him water to drink? To drive out thirst without quenching it with life-sustaining water is to drive out life itself. The result is death, not salvation. Thirst is an expression of our need for water and a sign of hope that somewhere there is water that can satisfy our thirst. Similarly, the deep longing in our soul is a clear sign of hope that spiritual peace exists. Something can satisfy our thirsty souls. When the soul finds God, the author of that spiritual thirst, it receives far greater satisfaction than any thirsty man who receives water. When the soul’s desire is satisfied, we have found heaven.
The water of a river that has its source in one country may flow through many different countries before it reaches the sea. It passes within the domain of many chiefs, rajahs, and princes. Yet no country has the right to stop it and keep it within its territory. It is the common property of all, and wherever it goes, it quenches the thirst of all. In the same way, the stream of life comes forth from the ocean of God’s love, streaming to earth again as rain and then flowing as a river through the channels of the prophets and holy ones to irrigate the world. In this way, it quenches thirsty souls, enriching and restoring the lives of people and nations everywhere. Whoever desires it can freely take of this gift of life.
Seeker: If this life is freely given, then does God expect nothing from us? Don’t we owe him some kind of worship?
Sadhu: People are foolish to believe that they confer some favor on God by their worship. Those who approach worship with such an attitude know nothing of the true nature of God. If we love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and if we love our neighbor as ourselves, then we will experience God’s presence. This is worship. Eternal life will spring forth in our hearts; the fire of love will melt and forge us anew into the image of our creator.
The Master has said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It is not hard to live for a few days in peace with someone — even one who is unfriendly. But if someone lives near us and annoys us day in and day out, then it becomes a difficult task even to endure — much less to love — that person. Yet if we can win through this great struggle, then we will find it all the easier to love others.
God is love, and the ability to love is inborn in every living creature, most especially in human beings. It is only right therefore that the Lover who has given us life and love itself should also receive love from us. God’s love is creative and selfless, giving itself for the joy and benefit of creation. If we do not love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and if we do not love others freely and selflessly, then the love within us loses its divine character and turns to selfishness. Love then becomes a curse. Ironically, those who are selfish end up destroying themselves.
Avatara — Incarnation
Seeker: Sadhu-ji, I see that you live in deep inner peace, and I, too, long to find this peace. Can we imperfect mortals ever hope to experience true oneness with God?
Sadhu: We all have a natural, inborn desire to see God. But God is infinite and incomprehensible. No one can see God without being of the same infinite nature as God. We are finite, and so we cannot see God. But God is love. He is also the source of our craving to know and love him. Out of this love God took on a form that is comprehensible to us mortal beings. Through this act of love we can now share in the joy of the angels by seeing and knowing God directly. This is why the Master said: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
God knows well the inner state of every human being and reveals himself to each heart in accordance with its needs. There is no better way for a person to enter true spiritual life than by encountering God directly. God became man and dwelt among us so that we might not fear him as something terrible and foreign, but instead see that God is love.
Seeker: I can understand that the infinite God is incomprehensible to us mortals. I can also understand that the power, or spirit of God, is at work around us. But how can this God be a man as well? This seems impossible.
Sadhu: The Almighty God and God Incarnate and God the Spirit are one. In the sun, there is heat and light and they are all one. But the heat is not the light and the light is not the heat. So it is with God. The Master and the Spirit both proceed from the Father to bring light and heat to the world. God the Spirit is fire that burns away all evil, making our hearts pure and holy. The Master is the true light that drives out all darkness and leads us to bliss along the path of truth. Yet all three are one, just as the sun is one.
Seeker: Tell me more about this Master of yours. Did he write down instructions for us to follow like other religious teachers?
Sadhu: The Master never wrote anything down, nor did he ask his followers to record his teachings. His words are spirit and life. Spirit can only infuse spirit. Life can only infuse life. The Master’s teaching cannot be contained on the pages of a book. Other great teachers left behind books to replace the living voice, to guide and help their bereft followers. But the Master did not do this, because he has not left us. He is always with us, and his living voice guides and counsels us. His followers recorded his teachings after his ascension as a help to those who cannot yet perceive his living presence. In the end, however, when people ask me, “What made you a follower of the Master?” I can only answer: the Master.
Seeker: But don’t your scriptures reveal the truth about God?
Sadhu: They reveal much to us about the life and teachings of the Master and about the nature of God’s love. God the Spirit is the true author of the Bible, but this does not mean that every word, taken on its own, is holy or inspired. It is not the words in themselves, but rather the meaning that is inspired. The language used by those who wrote the books of the Bible was the language of everyday, not the language of spirit. Only when we make direct contact with the author, that is, with God the Spirit, can the meaning become clear. Just as many do not understand the Master, so too, they can not understand his words.
Seeker: I want to believe the truth of what you say, for I see its fruits in the peace you experience, but it is difficult for me to understand or accept.
Sadhu: God has created us with spiritual faculties and powers, but these must be used or else they will decay and be lost. Faith must be fixed on the living God or else irreverence and sin will rule; they will lead to doubt and ultimately destroy all faith.
Sometimes people say that they are ready to believe in God if only this or that doubt is removed or satisfied. Can one go to a doctor and ask that the pain of a broken arm be removed before the bone is set? This would be ridiculous because the pain is the result of the break. Once the limb has been set, the pain will pass away by itself. Doubts are spiritual pains that arise from our sin. Irreverence has broken our spiritual oneness with God. We must first restore spiritual union with God; then doubts with regard to the existence of God or the divinity of the Master will disappear on their own. Only then will the pain fade. Only then will we experience the wonderful spiritual peace that the world can neither give nor take away. The Master reveals God to us so that the union between God and us sinful humans might be restored. He has opened the way for us to enter his heavenly realm. Whoever sincerely seeks truth with an open heart will find it revealed in the Master.
We do not need knowledge of Hebrew or Greek, but we do need to be united with the Spirit. This Spirit guided the prophets and followers who recorded his words, and this spirit alone can reveal their true meaning to us. The language of the Master is spiritual, and we can only understand its meaning if we are awake in spirit. We do not need to know or understand anything about theological questions or criticisms. Indeed, a child can most readily grasp the Master’s teaching, for the child is still united with the spiritual world from which it came. But those who possess wisdom that is only of this world can never understand, for the Master’s spirit is not in them.
Seeker: If sin and irreverence have broken our relationship with God, then can’t we restore it simply by leading a righteous life?
Sadhu: A cobra remains a cobra, no matter how many times it sheds its skin. There was once a village girl who daily dusted the cobwebs from her house. Once as she was doing this, she also prayed, “O God, as I am cleaning this room, please also cleanse my heart.” Then she heard a voice saying: “Daughter, you will have to cleanse the room again and again as long as the spiders remain. It is better that you drive the spiders from your house.” But she was not able to drive them out because they were hidden from her and too clever to be caught. Likewise, we see the signs of sin in our lives and struggle against them, but only God can remove the roots of sin from our souls.
Some moral teachers and many religious leaders say, “Do good works and you will become good people.” It is absurd to suggest that a bitter tree will become sweet by constantly bringing forth fruit. A bitter tree can only become sweet by being grafted onto a sweet tree. The life and qualities of the sweet tree can then flow with its sap into the bitter tree, driving out all its inherent bitterness. In this way the tree becomes a new creation, capable of bearing sweet fruit.
We may well have the longing to do what is right, but everything we do is corrupted, tainted by our own selfishness and sin. Only if we recognize our sinfulness, as well as our inability to do what is right, and turn to the Master who grafts us onto himself, do we become new creations. Only then are we capable of doing good works. So I say, “First become good, and then you can perform good deeds.”
Once a young man fell over a cliff. By the time he was rescued he had lost so much blood that he was almost dead. His father rushed him to a doctor, but the doctor said: “He will certainly die, unless someone can be found who is willing to provide enough blood for a massive transfusion.” Now the father’s heart overflowed with such love for his son that he offered his own blood, though he knew it would cost him his own life. So by the sacrificial love of his father, the young man was given new life. We, too, have fallen headlong from the mountain of righteousness and lie broken and wounded by sin, with our life fast ebbing away. But if we turn to the Master, he freely gives us his spiritual blood so that we might be saved from death and regain life. Indeed, he came to us for this very purpose.
Karma — Bondage
Seeker: Sadhu-ji, you say that it is our sinfulness that has broken our spiritual oneness with God. Why did God allow such evil to enter the world?
Sadhu: Apart from God nothing can be created, for God is the author of all that is. God is good and has created nothing harmful or detrimental, for that would be against his nature. Evil does not create, but only corrupts and perverts what God has created. Sin is not a part of God’s creation. It has no independent existence. Sin is the delusive and destructive state of those who abandon truth and who, in irreverence, seek to satisfy their own selfish desires. We may think that we can obtain happiness by abandoning God’s will and following our own whims and passions, but the result is not true happiness.
Think of light and darkness. Darkness is the absence of light. It is the same with sin: sin is the absence of what is good and true. Evil is terrible because people drive themselves to utter destruction — shipwrecked on the rocks for lack of a guiding light. For this reason, the Master who is light became God Incarnate. All who see his guiding light and follow the way it leads will safely pass through to the blessed haven where darkness is no more.
Seeker: But if God is almighty, why did he not create human beings so that they could not fall into the dark state of sin?
Sadhu: Sin arises because people deliberately violate God’s order. Of course, God could prevent this by creating human beings differently. But then we would be like obedient puppets or machines, incapable of experiencing the bliss that can only be reached by freely choosing the good. Adam and Eve lived in sinless bliss, but they were free to choose God’s will and direction or to follow their own appetites. Even Lucifer knew nothing of pride, a state that had never existed before he held himself to be God’s equal. So through the choice of angels and human beings, sin arose. But God is almighty and can even transform evil into an opening for new and glorious ends. Firstly, God became incarnate to release us from the cycle of sin and death, thus revealing God’s boundless, self-giving love in a way that would otherwise have remained unknown. Secondly, since we have tasted the bitterness and inevitable consequences of sin, we delight all the more in our release from its clutches — just as the sweetness of honey gives greater pleasure after the taste of bitterness. In unending unity with God, we are free to serve him with reverence and obedience.
Seeker: Modern philosophy, however, teaches that moral values are relative. They are products of history and culture. How then can one say that people are sinful?
Sadhu: It is said that a person suffering from jaundice sees everything with a yellow tint. People whose lives are colored by sin or guided only by the understanding of their minds also see reality colored by their own infirmity. When we shape and fashion spiritual truths according to our own ideas, it is not surprising if, in the end, we reject not only moral values, but also the reality of God. But the Master’s work is to release seeking hearts from sin and death. He continues this work in the hearts of those who seek his help without regard to the opinion of others.
The blindness that sin brings about can be illustrated in many ways. Leprosy makes one’s limbs numb and insensitive to pain and injury. People affected with this disease unwittingly receive wounds and allow the injuries to fester until the body is no longer able to survive. In the same way, sin deadens the heart and clouds the mind until people no longer have any sense of shame or disgust. Eventually, however, their eyes will be opened and they will see how sin has damaged and ravaged their souls; then there will be great sorrow and pain.
Many people are immersed in sin and don’t even notice its great weight — just like a diver may be covered by tons of water without feeling its load. But if when the diver emerges from the water he tries to carry even a small bucket full, he will feel how heavy it is. The Master came to seek and save those who struggle with the burden of sin. He freely gives us rest and release from sin, but first we must feel the weight of it and turn to him for help.
People may not even be aware of their mortal danger. They are like the hunter who caught sight of a honeycomb on the branch of a tree overhanging a river. Catching sight of the honey, he forgot everything else and quickly climbed up. The honey was sweet and he was so enchanted by its flavor that he did not notice the alligators waiting in the stream below. Nor did he see that around the foot of the tree, wolves had gathered. Worst of all, he didn’t notice that the tree itself was infested with termites and was not strong enough to bear his weight. While he was still enjoying the honey, the tree fell and the hunter fell prey to the alligators. So too, the human spirit enjoys for a time the pleasant but fleeting delights of the senses, forgetting that the world is like a jungle fraught with dangers of every kind. Sin gnaws at the very foundation of our lives, threatening to fling us to our spiritual deaths.
The evil of this world lures us with clever words and beguiling enticements like certain snakes that fascinate small birds with their glittering eyes until they can devour them. Or think of the moth that gives no thought to the burning, destructive power of the fire. Fascinated by the flashing brilliance of the flame, it rushes to its own death. Likewise we often see only the allurements of the material world, seeking quick gratification of our own urges, and so rush headlong into spiritual death.
Once in the depth of winter, a bird of prey was busy feasting on a corpse that was floating toward a waterfall. When the bird came near the falls he wanted to leave the corpse and escape. But his claws were frozen to it and he could not fly away. He fell into the roaring waters and died a miserable death. Likewise, if we allow sin to numb our consciences, we become powerless to escape death and danger ahead, no matter how we struggle to escape.
By turning to the Master, however, and building our lives on him, we are saved from certain death and granted spiritual life that no one can take away. The Master frees us completely from the life-destroying seductions of this world. He sets our souls free from every bondage. Overcoming the attractions of the world, we mount on wings of prayer into the spiritual realms where our souls find peace in God’s unfailing love.
Seeker: Has not Confucius said that those who respect the main principles of human conduct need not worry about their faults and lapses in smaller issues? They are excused. Why then do you say that all sin is dangerous, even dangerous enough to destroy our souls?
Sadhu: Not every organ in the body fails before the body dies. If the heart or brain fails, then life ends even if the other organs are healthy and strong. In the same way, the poisonous effect of one sin may destroy the spiritual life not only of a single soul, but also of a whole family or nation, even of the whole human race. Such was the sin of Adam. But remember, just as one word from the Master was enough to call the dead back to life, so one word is enough to restore spiritual life to those who have lost it.
If a wild animal or bird is tamed and then returns to the wild, its own kind may reject or even kill it, rather than accepting it as one of their own. They sense that long association with humans has affected its habits and manners. In the same way, the holy ones of the spiritual world cannot tolerate those who associate with evil and who have thereby corrupted their spiritual nature. Such people are alien intruders in the spiritual realm and they will not be at home there. Even in this world, sinful people despise and avoid the company of spiritual people. How then will they find joy in the eternal world of spirit? For them, heavenly bliss will be a living hell.
In this world, a traitor against king and country may escape punishment by seeking refuge in another country. But where shall we flee if we rebel against God? Wherever we go — in the physical or in the spiritual world — God is ever present. Our only refuge is to seek forgiveness and release from God.
Seeker: So is it true that, if we do not plead for mercy, God will send us to hell and punish us eternally for our sins? How is this perfect love?
Sadhu: Do not suppose that God casts sinners into hell. God is love and has no desire for anyone to suffer spiritual torment. But our own corrupt and sinful life deprives us of spiritual bliss. Heaven or hell is established in our souls and by our own choosing, long before our lives in this world come to an end. Sin is not an illusion or a fantasy. It is a real spiritual state. In this state, the human will separates itself from the divine and thus introduces the seeds of its own destruction.
God condemns no one to hell. No, it is we sinners who do the condemning. We condemn ourselves. Too many hearts are in a condition that they can only feel at home in hell — that is, outside the peace of the Master. God allows everyone to come to his kingdom. Indeed, he invites everyone most earnestly to come in, but if we prefer a life of sin, it is torture for us to stay there.
Pain and disease are not products of the imagination. They are all too real and we see how some diseases, like smallpox, can in a short time destroy the beauty of human skin, turning it into repulsive ugliness. Whoever longs to escape spiritual torment and death should therefore turn to the Master. He offers us release from sin and its consequences. His presence in our hearts and the influence of his Spirit rescue us from hell and lead us to eternal bliss as God’s spiritual children.
Moksa — Release
Seeker: Sadhu-ji, you say that our sinfulness has separated us from God and yet our destiny is to live in oneness with him. How can we overcome the separation?
Sadhu: First, we must see that we have become unclean through our own sinfulness. We may try to cover this sinfulness with good works, but our good works are like dirty rags unless our hearts are cleansed first. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit and were ashamed at their own nakedness, they tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. But fig leaves were too scanty a covering, so God gave them coats of skins to clothe themselves. Our attempts at good deeds are not enough to overcome our sinful inclinations. Nothing will protect us except the robes of righteousness the Master freely gives us.
Many of us have learned by bitter experience that our own efforts at goodness can give us neither peace of heart nor certainty of eternal happiness. When a rich young man approached the Master and asked how he might gain eternal life, he said, “Good Master!” and the Master rebuked him saying: “Why do you call me good? There is no one good except One.” This young man had lived a devout life in accordance with religious law, but he lacked true peace of heart. The Master could see that he wanted to be good and upright, but he failed to recognize that the Master himself was the source of life. When the Master offered no rules or commandments and instead offered him the chance to give away all his possessions to the poor, to abandon his inner uncertainty and to enter into the Master’s company, the man went away sad and unfulfilled.
If good works and religious observance had given the young man spiritual peace, he would not have sought out the Master in the first place. Not only did his moral efforts fail to give him peace, they hindered him from accepting the Master’s offer. Not long afterward, an equally zealous man named Saul encountered the Master. Unlike the rich young man, Saul immediately left everything, gave up all he had and followed him. Everyone who ceases to trust in human goodness, and turns to the Master for release, shall receive true peace and spiritual life.
Seeker: Does God really forgive us for what we have done wrong? Is this what you mean by salvation or release?
Sadhu: God is love and forgives us freely. But God does even more than this. Forgiveness alone is not enough to release us from our sins. Complete release only comes when we are free from the urge to sin. It is completely possible for us to receive forgiveness and still die from the consequences of our sin. The Master came not only to announce our forgiveness, but also to deliver us from the disease of our sin, from its consequences and from death — to break the relentless cycle of sin and death.
Consider the man who suffered from a debilitating disease of the brain. At times it would cause him to act irrationally and unpredictably. Under the influence of one such attack, he unwittingly struck out and killed another man. At trial, he was sentenced to death. But when his relatives appealed for mercy and explained the medical reasons for his temporary insanity, the governor granted clemency and pardoned him. But before his friends and relatives reached the prison to share this good news, the man had died as a result of his illness. So he gained nothing from the governor’s pardon. Quite apart from the pardon, he needed treatment for his disease. Only then might he have lived to enjoy his release.
It is treatment we need, not just forgiveness. In ancient times, religious law forbade people to drink the blood of animals or to eat certain foods. These customs undoubtedly arose from the belief that such foods caused certain illnesses or, perhaps, that they would foster some savage animal behaviour. The Master has said, “My flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed,” for they provide spiritual health and life.
Seeker: This teaching is hard. Who can accept it?
Sadhu: After the children of Israel fled slavery in Egypt, they lost faith in God and grumbled about all they had to endure. Things became much worse when they came to a place infested with poisonous snakes, where many were bitten and died. Then the people were sorry for their grumbling, and they asked Moses to pray to God for relief from the snakes. Moses prayed and was directed in a vision to make a snake of bronze and set it high on a pole. Anyone who was bitten had only to look upon the bronze snake, and the poison of the snakebite was made harmless.
Now, there were some who still grumbled and murmured, “If Moses would provide an antidote or some medicine against the poison, that we could believe, but what effect can a bronze snake have on real snake bites?” So in their unbelief, they refused to turn to the bronze snake, and they died. In the same way, the Master provides release from the deadly poison of sin if we turn to him in faith. Those who refuse to believe because they cannot understand the work of the Master with their minds will perish. But they will perish from the poison of their own unbelief.
Remember that the heart, not the head, is the temple of God. Spiritual and religious ideas are matters of the heart — not the head. If our hearts are filled with the presence of God, then our minds will also find enlightenment. Our physical eyes are useless, unless the light of day illuminates the world around us. Similarly, our minds and the eyes of our understanding are useless without the spiritual light of truth. The wisdom and understanding of the mind can easily be turned to clever instruments of evil if they are not subjected to the light of spiritual truth.
The Wise Men followed the star to Bethlehem. But when they reached Bethlehem, they no longer needed the star, for they had found the Master, the sun of righteousness. When the sun rises, stars lose their radiance. In India we have many genuine truth seekers who faithfully follow their star, but it is only starlight that guides them. In the Master we have the glory of the sun.
Dyva Vileenam — Oneness with God
Seeker: Sadhu-ji, your teaching promises release from attachment to this world. Please tell me more about this spiritual freedom.
Sadhu: So many people are impressed by human ingenuity and our ability to tap the power of lightning, wind, light, and all the other myriad forces of nature. Yet, to overcome the passions and seductions of this world and to gain mastery over oneself is truly a much greater achievement. By leading a life of prayer, we receive from God the gift to dwell in the spiritual realm even while we remain in the material world. If we live in prayer, no force of evil or temptation can overcome us; we remain in safe communion with God without any fear. If we abandon the gift of prayer, we become like well-trained animals and no longer recognize our own imperfection, our relationship with God, or our responsibility for our neighbors.
Once the Master took three of his followers with him onto a mountain. There they experienced spiritual reality so intensely, that for a short time they saw something of the Master’s divine glory. They were so captivated by that glimpse of the divine, they wanted to consecrate that place and remain there. How much more wonderful will it be when we enter fully into the spiritual realm and behold the unfading majesty of God.
Seeker: But isn’t God everywhere? Can’t we experience God by communing with nature and the world around us?
Sadhu: Both water and oil come from the earth. And though they are similar in many ways, they are opposites in their nature and their purpose. One extinguishes fire, the other gives fuel to the fire. Similarly, the world and its treasures are creations of God along with the soul and its thirst for spiritual truth. But if we try to quench the thirst of our soul with the wealth and pride and honors of this world, then it is like trying to extinguish fire with oil. The soul will only find peace and contentment in the One who created it along with its longing. When we turn to the living Master, we receive water that satisfies our soul. This water is a well of spiritual life that springs up deep within us.
It is pointless to seek peace in the things of this world. Peace and satisfaction are not to be found there. It is like the boy who found an onion and peeled away layer after layer, hoping to find something inside. When he had peeled away the innermost skin, he found nothing else. So this physical existence and all that it contains is empty and hollow until we discover the true source of peace. The water of life cannot be contained in earthen tanks, but those who approach the Risen One with a pure heart will find the answer.
Seeker: Are you saying that this material world is completely evil?
Sadhu: We must live in this world, and we can do so without losing our true spiritual nature. The things of this world need not harm us. Indeed, they can help us to grow spiritually. But this is only possible if we continually turn our hearts to the sun of righteousness.
Sometimes we come to a filthy, polluted place and find flowers blooming and giving off a sweet fragrance that overcomes even the stench around them. The plants are turned to the sun and receive its life-sustaining light. The filth does not harm them, but actually nourishes and mulches them so that they grow all the more richly. It is similar when we pray and turn our hearts to the sun of wholeness. We receive life-giving light and warmth so that our blossoming spiritual lives give off a gentle fragrance. Out of these gentle blossoms grow undying fruits.
When we neglect our spiritual life, then the same material things that are provided for our support become a poisonous curse. The sun provides light and warmth so that plants can grow and bloom, but the same sun withers and destroys the plant if its roots no longer draw in water. In the same way, air is a source of life and strength, but it is also the catalyst for rotting and decay. So watch and pray that you are rooted in life and not in death.
We all know that we cannot live without water. But while we need and use water, we must also watch that we do not slip beneath the surface. In the same way, we need the things of this material world, but we must exercise caution. God created earthly things for people to use. But we must not immerse ourselves in them or we will drown the breath of prayer and die.
Seeker: I cannot grasp what this means, to live in the world without immersing ourselves in it. Can you make this clearer?
Sadhu: Think of the ship; it belongs in the water, but water must not come into the ship — that would be disastrous. Similarly, it is right and fitting that we live in this world, and if we stay above the surface, then we can reach the safe harbor of life — and help others to do so. But it would be our demise if the world penetrated into our hearts. The spiritual person holds the heart free for the One who created it.
Waterfowl swim on the water, in constant contact with it, but when they fly, their feathers are free of water. So it is with those who pray: we live in constant contact with this material world, but when we rise in prayer, our spirits ascend into bliss without fault or blemish.
The creatures of the sea live their entire lives in salt water. Yet, when we taste their flesh, we find that it is not salty. It is the same with us. If we maintain an active prayer life, if we turn constantly to the source of life, we remain free of the world’s corrupting influence.
Just as the bee gathers the sweet juice of the flowers and turns it into honey without harming their color or fragrance, so we gather in prayer the joys and benefits from all of creation. As the bees gather honey from various flowers and various places into the honeycomb, so we gather precious thoughts and experiences from every part of creation and, in communion with God, store them as honey of truth in our hearts. Then with boundless peace of spirit, we taste the honey wherever we are.
Seeker: As long as our souls are confined within material bodies, how can we ever really escape the corrupting influence of the material world?
Sadhu: The saltwater of the sea evaporates under the heat of the sun and rises into the sky. There it gathers into clouds and in time falls again to the earth, but now as sweet, refreshing rain. In rising from the sea, the water leaves behind all salt and impurity. So it is with our thoughts and desires in prayer. The sun of righteousness illuminates our souls and enables our thoughts and desires to rise up into the spiritual realm free from impurity. Then they return to us bringing refreshment and blessings to many.
Some plants close their leaves and flowers at sunset, opening up again with the gentle morning sunlight. They use the hours of daylight to take in the warmth and light, and this sustains them through the cold and dark of night. In the same way, if we open our hearts to the sun of righteousness, we are preserved even through the dangers and hardships of darkness, and we grow into the fullness and stature of the Master.
Some sea creatures have such a delicate structure that even the splash of a wave will tear them to shreds. They are so sensitive to the atmosphere around them, that if there is any hint of a change in the weather, they sink into the ocean depths beyond the reach of storms and waves. We, too, must be sensitive to the atmosphere around us. When the storm of evil and suffering threatens to tear us apart, we must dive at once into the ocean of God’s love where there is eternal calm.
Seeker: Is it true then, beloved Sadhu, that one can experience miraculous protection through prayer?
Sadhu: I have experienced many dangers in my travels, often because intolerant people wished to see me come to harm. Once near Kailas, I asked directions to the nearest village. Out of spite, the villagers deliberately sent me down a dangerous jungle path. As night came on, I came to a river that blocked my path and there was still no village to be seen. Already in the dusk, I could hear the sounds of wild animals nearby. With no way to cross the river, I sat down and prayed, thinking that the end of my life was at hand. When I looked up, I saw a man on the other side of the river beside a fire. He called to me: “Do not be afraid! I am coming to help you.” I was astonished to see him wade purposefully across the swift river. Coming up to me, he said, “Sit on my shoulders and have no fear.” As easily as before, he walked straight across the current with me on his back. He set me down on the far bank, and as I walked beside him, both he and the fire disappeared.
Another evening, I was driven out of a village by an angry crowd, wielding clubs. They drove me into the forest until I came to a rock face and could go no further. There I huddled among the stones waiting for them to attack me and batter me to death. But nothing happened. After it was quiet for a time, I looked around and there was no sign of my tormentors. I built a fire, tended my wounds and slept at that same place. In the morning, I awoke to the sight of several men staring at me fearfully from a distance. Cautiously, they approached and offered me food and drink, asking, “Sadhu-ji, who were those men in shining robes who stood around you last night?”
Once, at a town called Rasar in Tibet, I was taken before the head Lama and accused of heresy because I shared freely about the Master’s work in freeing us from our sin. An angry mob dragged me to the edge of town, stripped me of all my clothes and cast me into a dry well that was then locked shut with a lid. My arm was injured in the fall, but worse than the pain was the smell. Many others had suffered the same fate and wherever I reached in the darkness I could feel bones and rotting flesh. The smell was vile. It was like hell. There I was tempted to doubt: “Where is the Master now? Why has he allowed this to happen?” But I also remember a sense of peace, a certainty that the Master was there with me.
I do not know how long I had been in the well, perhaps two or three days, when I heard a grating sound overhead. Someone was opening the lock and dragging away the lid. A rope came down and a voice commanded me to take hold of the rope. I grasped it with all my remaining strength and was dragged up into the night air. As I lay on the ground, breathing in the fresh air, I could hear the well being closed and locked again. When I looked around, I couldn’t see anyone. I do not know who rescued me, but in my heart, I know that it was the Master.
The next day, I went again into the village and started to teach those who would listen. Some people dragged me again before the Lama, and I told him the whole story of my rescue. He was very angry and ordered that a search be made for the man who had taken the key to the lid. But when he discovered that the key still hung on his own belt, he was speechless. He ordered me to leave the village at once, lest my Master should punish him and the village.
Seeker: I find it difficult to believe that such amazing things are possible. Can we really move God through prayer to alter the natural course of events?
Sadhu: The scientific mind does not grasp how the author of life holds in his hands the created laws of nature. It is God who establishes the laws of nature. Thus, it is foolish to suggest that miracles violate the laws of nature. There are actually higher laws about which we know little or nothing. In prayer, we can come to gradually recognize these higher laws. Then, we understand that miracles are not only possible but even natural.
In very cold places, it is quite common for the surface of a river to freeze over while the water still flows beneath. I have crossed many such rivers safely and easily. But if I travel in tropical regions and tell people that there are bridges of solid water across flowing rivers and that I myself have walked across such bridges, then they shake their heads in complete bewilderment and argue that such a thing is impossible. Likewise, those who live only by the senses and by reason are utterly ignorant of the spiritual life and what things are possible through prayer.
God is spirit and God’s ways are spiritual. Spiritual things cannot be grasped by human reason; they can only be seen with spiritual eyes. The greatest miracle is to be born in the spirit, to experience true peace. Once we personally experience the Master and how he has shattered the relentless cycle of sin and death and released us from our own sinful nature, we know that all things are possible with God. Once we have experienced this greatest of miracles, all other miracles seem small by comparison. That a poor, restless, impure, fallen soul can receive God’s forgiveness and taste the Master’s peace — this is the miracle of miracles. Whoever believes in this miracle believes in all miracles.
In great fear or anger or madness, a person can do extraordinary feats that seem far beyond human strength — like breaking iron chains. Clearly, this strength is latent within the human body and only comes to expression when the entire energy and concentration of mind and body is directed toward a single purpose. In meditation, our spiritual strength is similarly focused. Divine power flows through us, overcoming the chains of sin and spurring us to marvellous spiritual feats. But beware! Consider the power of guns and bombs that wreak destruction and devastation. Spiritual power can also be used for evil ends.
Seeker: God will truly grant whatever we pray for?
Sadhu: Some people think that we alter God’s will and plans through prayer, but it is actually our hearts that are changed. The unfulfilled potential of our soul is ever striving to reach beyond the limitations of this imperfect life. When a bird first lays her eggs and begins to brood and warm them, there is only formless liquid inside. But as the mother continues to cover them with her own body, the liquid inside is transformed. It becomes solid and takes on the form of the mother. Similarly, our prayer does not change God. Rather, it is we who are transformed into the glory and image of God.
We do not pray to inform God of our needs. We pray in order to open our hearts to the giver of all blessings. When the Master departed from his disciples he did not pour the Spirit out onto them the same day. They needed a period of special inner preparation before they were ready for this gift. If we receive God’s blessing without expecting it and without being inwardly prepared for it, we will appreciate neither the gift nor will we hold onto it for long. It was the same with Saul, the first king of Israel. He was not seeking to serve God, he was only concerned about lost donkeys. So when he received the spirit of God and was anointed as king, he was not inwardly prepared. Because of this, he soon lost both.
Seeker: What, then, is true prayer?
Sadhu: When we see a crane or heron standing motionless on the shore of a lake or pond, we might think it is meditating on the beauty of the water. But this is not so! The bird stands there for hours without moving, but as soon as it sees a frog or small fish, it darts forward and greedily snatches it. Many people have the same approach to prayer and meditation. Seated on the shore of the boundless ocean of God’s love, they actually give no thought to his majesty or to the divine grace that cleanses us from sin and satisfies the hungry soul. Instead, they are consumed by the thought of receiving something for themselves, some morsel to gratify their self-indulgence. Having visited the very source of true peace and bliss, they fail to appreciate it and instead give themselves to fleeting pleasures.
The essence of prayer does not consist in asking for things, but in opening one’s heart to God. Prayer is continual abandonment to God. It is the desire for God himself, the giver of life. Prayer is communion with God, receiving him who is the giver of all good gifts, living a life of fellowship with him. It is breathing and living in God.
A little child will run to his mother exclaiming: “Mother! Mother!” The child does not necessarily want anything in particular. He only wants to be near his mother, to sit on her lap, or to follow her about the house. The child longs for the sheer pleasure of being near her, talking to her, hearing her voice. This is what makes him happy. It is just the same with those who are truly God’s children. They do not trouble themselves with asking for spiritual blessings. They only want to sit at the Master’s feet, to be in living touch with him; then they are supremely content.
Climate affects the form, color, and growth patterns of plants and flowers. In the jungle we often see insects that have taken on the form and color of the grass and green leaves on which they feed. In the snow of the North, the polar bear’s fur has the same snowy whiteness. The Bengal tiger wears stripes on its skin like the reeds where it lives. Our spiritual environment similarly affects us. If we remain in communion with God, our habits and disposition — even our appearance — are all changed. To pray means to be on speaking terms with God, to be in communion with him and to be transformed into his likeness. We begin to take on a glorious and incorruptible spiritual nature.
Seeker: Is the goal of prayer to lose our individuality and dissolve into oneness with God?
Sadhu: We have been created in the image of God. Our destiny is to be restored into that image. God came to us in the Master to restore us to God’s divine nature. In this way, the Master transforms us into flames of spiritual fire. To become spiritual fire means to become like God. Even the smallest flame of fire is fire and has all the qualities of fire. This does not mean that our spirit is God’s spirit, as some pantheists and philosophers suppose. We are not fragments of God’s spirit. We are not God. God is distinct from us, but our souls can only find peace in oneness with God.
A sponge lies in the water and the water fills the sponge, but the water is not the sponge and the sponge is not the water. It is the same when I immerse myself in God. God fills my heart and I am in complete union with God, but I am not God and God is not I. We are distinct though not separate.
People are very different from one another — in character, temperament, and abilities — even though we are all created in the image of God. Indeed, if all the flowers in the world were of the same color and scent, the very face of the earth would lose its charm. When the sun’s rays pass through colored glass, the color does not change, but the sun highlights and reveals its varied hues, its true charm. So the sun of righteousness shines through the varied characters of spiritual men and women, revealing God’s boundless glory and love.
Dhyanam — Contemplation
Seeker: Sadhu-ji, some say that to encounter God we must fulfil some special devotional exercise of contemplation. What does contemplation really mean?
Sadhu: The wonderful peace and calm we experience in prayer does not come from our own thoughts or imaginations, but from the presence of God in our souls. The vapor rising from one small pond is not enough to form large rain clouds and drench the thirsty land. Such large clouds can only come from the mighty ocean. Peace cannot be found in our own subconscious minds, our own concentration, but only in the boundless ocean of God’s love.
God is love and freely gives everything we need, both for our material and for our spiritual existence. But because the blessings of God’s spirit are so freely given, we often take them for granted. If all people had open and receptive hearts, they could see and hear God’s voice at all times and in all places. But we have lost this awareness. Through prayer, we learn to appreciate spiritual gifts, gifts that are at least as important for life as air and water, heat and light. Those who are focused on this material world foolishly waste the spiritual blessings offered to them, while those with a focused prayer life obtain true wisdom.
Dolphins can live in the deepest water without danger because they regularly come to the surface and take in the air that sustains them. We, too, must rise in prayer into the spiritual realm. To pray is to breathe in God’s life-giving spirit that gives life and peace, even in this world.
The new-born child needs no instruction in drinking, but instinctively turns to its mother’s breast for nourishment. For her part, the mother withholds no good gift from her child, but still the child cannot receive the mother’s milk without effort. In the same way, we are carried at God’s breast, but we must turn to God in prayer for the spiritual milk that sustains our souls.
The root tips of trees are so sensitive and responsive that they instinctively turn away from places where there is no nourishment and spread themselves instead in places where they can drink in moisture and life. I have seen green and fruitful trees standing in the middle of a dry and barren desert. These trees survive and flourish because their roots have driven down and discovered hidden streams of flowing water.
Some people live in the midst of evil and misery but still radiate joy and lead fruitful lives. Through prayer, the hidden roots of their faith have reached down to the source of living water. They draw from it energy and life to bear spiritual fruit. If we lead active lives of prayer, we will also gain the spiritual discernment to turn away from illusion and evil and to find the truth we need for life.
Seeker: You speak of discernment. Can you explain further what you mean?
Sadhu: Human consciousness is very subtle and sensitive. We can receive impressions from the unseen, spiritual world that express themselves in ideas and concepts familiar to us. Poets, artists, and musicians may experience these impressions in the form of rich colors, beautiful music, or other wonderful sights and sounds that come to expression in their artwork. Some people experience such things through dreams, some through visions, others during wakeful mediation. In prayer, light streams out from God, illuminating and guiding our innermost conscience. The discerning power of prayer enables us to distinguish the useful from the useless among such experiences. If we spend more time in meditation, we can recognize the relationship between the visible and invisible world ever more distinctly and clearly.
No thought, word, or deed is ever extinguished. They are forever imprinted on our souls — recorded in the book of life. Meditation provides the atmosphere for us to grow in fear and love of God so that these impressions are refined to contribute to our spiritual bliss. In meditation, the true condition of the soul is exposed, and God can reveal our failings in order to heal and bless us.
Seeker: Why doesn’t everyone readily embrace this truth?
Sadhu: Once a woman was travelling along a mountain path carrying her child in her arms. The child caught sight of a pretty flower and lunged forward so unexpectedly from its mother’s arms that it fell to its death on the rocks below. Isn’t it clear that life and security were to be found at its mother’s breast, not in the fascinating flowers? Many who set out seeking truth do the same thing. Catching sight of some fleeting and fascinating pleasure, they forget the spiritual milk God provides, an offering that comes with greater love than any mother can give, and they leap out into the world and are lost.
If we do not tend and care for a tree or a bush that bears good fruits or beautiful flowers, then it will grow wild and in the end it will be neither beautiful nor useful. It is the same with people of faith: if we neglect prayer and allow our spirits to grow sleepy, we will wither, fall back into our old evil ways, and die.
Once ten bridesmaids went out to meet the groom and lead the wedding procession. Five of them were wise and took extra oil in case he might be delayed. The others were foolish and took only their lamps. The groom was delayed in arriving, so the lamps burned low and the bridesmaids fell asleep. In the middle of the night they were awakened by the cry that the groom had arrived. They all rose, trimmed their lamps, and prepared to begin the procession, but the foolish ones noticed their oil was used up. They asked the wise ones for oil, but these knew there was not enough oil in their flasks to keep all ten lamps burning all the way to the banquet hall, so they told the foolish maids to go, awaken a merchant, and buy their own oil. They frantically tried to find someone to sell them some oil, but by that time the procession had arrived at the hall and the wedding feast had begun. The doors were locked, so the foolish bridesmaids missed the feast as well as the procession. Let us now follow the example of the wise maidens and fill the vessels of our hearts with oil of the Spirit. Otherwise, nothing will be left for us but grief and despair.
Seeker: What is this oil of the Spirit and how can I obtain it?
Sadhu: To obtain the blessings of a spiritual life, we must be ready to believe and obey without doubts and questions. Once the Master was in a temple where people were gathered for worship. Among the people was a man with a crippled and withered hand. The Master called to the man, “Stand up and come here to me.” There the man stood in front of all the people, and the Master looked at him and said, “Stretch out your hand!” Without hesitating, the man held out his hand, and it was completely healed in that instant. Imagine if the man had said: “If you are a prophet then you know my hand is withered and that I cannot lift it. First heal my hand and then I will be able to stretch it out.” Or he might well have been embarrassed to put his hand on show in front of so many people and quickly run away in humiliation. Such reactions would have been reasonable and understandable, but the man’s hand would not have been healed. Whoever wants to encounter God must be obedient. We must lift up in prayer our weak and withered hands, and then we will receive complete healing and new life — all our needs and longings will be fulfilled.
There was once a woman caught in adultery and brought by an angry crowd before the Master. Now, the law prescribed that she be stoned to death. Instead of addressing the crowd, the Master wrote quietly in the sand with his finger. Finally he lifted his head, looked at the crowd and said, “Let the one who has no guilt throw the first stone.” Then he continued to write quietly in the sand. One by one the crowd dispersed — oldest to youngest — until only the accused woman was left. Then the Master lifted his head again, spoke to the woman and said: “If none of these people accuse you, then neither do I. Go, then, and lead a life pleasing to God.”
With his finger, the Master had quietly written on the ground the sins and failings of each of those in the crowd who stood ready to condemn the woman, until each one left in shame and humility. With the same finger, he points to the secret wounds of sin in each person who seeks the truth. Then, with that same finger, he heals our wounds. As children hold a parent’s finger to walk without falling, we, too, can grasp the Master’s finger and walk securely the road to spiritual peace.
As the earth moves, we experience the changes of day to night and summer to winter. But with the sun, there is perpetual noon and perpetual summer. Likewise, the sun of righteousness is the same yesterday and today and forever. If we experience the exuberance of joy or the gloom of despair, it is only because our position shifts in relation to God. If we open our hearts in prayer and meditation, the warming rays of the sun are always there to heal the wounds of our sins and give us perfect spiritual health.
Seva — Service
Seeker: Sadhu-ji, your call to prayer and contemplation is compelling. Should everyone then abandon the distractions of the world to live the life of a hermit?
Sadhu: It is true that prayer is the means by which we experience the reality of God. But once God has become a living reality for us, we simply have to love our fellow men. We cannot do otherwise. Once we receive the new life of the Spirit, we begin to live in love. And living in love, we are moved quite naturally and joyfully to serve others. God is love and if we live in union with God, we have the strength and longing to love others. Service is a spiritual activity, the natural fruit of love. God, who is love, is ever serving and caring for Creation. Human beings are made to be like God and so they too should never tire of serving others.
Prayer without work is as bad as work without prayer. A broody hen satisfies its instinct by continuing to sit in some dark corner even after its eggs have been removed. So it is with those who remove themselves from the tasks of life and spend their time wholly in prayer. Such a life is as fruitless as the hen that sits on an empty nest.
Remember, there is a great difference between those who worship God with their lips only and those who do so with their hearts and lives. All too often, people pray to God in the name of the Master, but they do not really know him. They take God’s name into their mouths and onto their lips but not into their hearts and lives. The Master guides us to recognize what will glorify God and benefit others. If we live in the Master and the Master lives in us, then our prayers bear fruit.
Once a man served his king with great faithfulness and courage and thus enjoyed the king’s favor. But this man’s son led a corrupt and selfish life. So when the son appeared before the king asking for some favor in the name of his father, the king replied, “Do not appeal to me in your father’s name until you first go and live a life worthy of his example. Carry your father’s honor in your heart, not only on your lips, and then I, too, will honor your request.”
Anyone who has received help from another and yet is unwilling to offer help in turn is ungrateful and undeserving of any further help. Unless we offer all our gifts and abilities in service to God, who has given us life and breath and all we have, then we cannot expect to receive the spiritual help that God alone can give.
Seeker: We are weak and sinful — mere mortals. What help or service can we possibly render to God who is eternal and almighty?
Sadhu: God has no need of help from us. Our very existence is entirely dependent on God’s constant help. However, if we offer ourselves in service, God blesses our efforts and adds his help.
When the Master approached Lazarus’ tomb, his power and help was not needed to move the stone away. That was a task for others. Once they obeyed and removed the stone, however, then the Master did what was beyond human power: he called the dead man back to life. Afterward, there was still work left for others: they removed the burial clothes so that Lazarus could walk about in perfect freedom.
It is the same with those who are spiritually dead. We can roll away the tombstones of doubt and ignorance, but only God can breathe new life into them.
Even then, they may still carry the burdens of bad habits and evil company, so we have the continuing duty to help free them from these entanglements. For this task, we must remain ever alert in heart and soul.
God often uses the least gifted people when some great service is needed. Why? Because people who know their own weakness are fully open to the power that God offers. When the Master fed the five thousand, he did not use his disciples. They were too full of doubt and worry, wanting to send the crowds away to fend for themselves. Instead, he turned to a small boy who had barely enough to feed himself. His mother had wrapped some barley cakes and dried fish for him, but he was completely willing to give all that he had in perfect trust that the Master would supply the rest. There may even have been wealthier people there with dried fruit and cakes of wheat, but they were not ready to give them up in such simple faith. So the Master fed the multitude with the simple food of a peasant boy.
Seeker: It requires such dedication to maintain an active prayer life. I do not see how one can find the strength to serve others as well.
Sadhu: The great gift of service is that it also helps the one who serves. Once when travelling in Tibet, I was crossing a high mountain pass with my Tibetan guide. The weather had suddenly turned bitterly cold, and my companion and I feared that we might not make it to the next village — still several miles away — before succumbing to the frost.
Suddenly, we stumbled upon a man who had slipped from the path and was lying in the snow. Looking more closely, I discovered that the man was still alive, though barely. “Come,” I said to my companion, “help me try to bring this unfortunate man to safety.” But my companion was upset and frightened for his life. He answered: “If we try to carry that man, none of us will ever reach the village. We will all freeze. Our only hope is to go on as quickly as possible, and that is what I intend to do. You will come with me if you value your life.” Without another word and without looking back, he set off down the path.
I could not bring myself to abandon the helpless traveller while life remained in him, so I lifted him on my back and threw my blanket around us both as best I could. Slowly and painstakingly, I picked my way along the steep, slippery path with my heavy load. Soon it began to snow, and I could make out the way forward only with great difficulty.
How we made it, I do not know. But just as daylight was beginning to fade, the snow cleared and I could see houses a few hundred yards ahead. Near me, on the ground, I saw the frozen body of my guide. Nearly within shouting distance of the village, he had succumbed to the cold and died, while the unfortunate traveller and I made it to safety. The exertion of carrying him and the contact of our bodies had created enough heat to save us both. This is the way of service. No one can live without the help of others, and in helping others, we receive help ourselves.
Once two women appeared before the wise king Solomon. The first said: “Your Majesty! This woman and I live in the same house. I gave birth to a son, and three days later she also gave birth to a baby boy. But in that same night, her son died. So she sneaked up to my bed while I was still asleep, took my child from my side and left the body of her dead son in his place. In the morning, I could see that it was her baby not mine.”
At that, the second woman interrupted, saying it was not so. Then the two women began arguing in the presence of the king. The king called for silence and, to the astonishment of all present, he called for a guard to come with a sword, cut the living child in two, and give each woman half of the child’s body. The second woman said, “So be it then!” But the first woman fell on her knees before the king and cried: “No, Your Majesty! Have mercy and spare the child’s life. Rather give him to the other woman.” In those words, King Soloman recognized the true mother’s heart and so ordered that the child be given to her.
Seeker: Your examples are full of hope, beloved Sadhu, but I am too selfish and sinful to be of any service.
Sadhu: There was once a convicted murderer who, instead of being hanged, was sent into battle with the armies of the king. He was gravely wounded, but he fought with bravery and valor and returned from the war a hero. The king, seeing his wounds and hearing the reports of his valor, not only pardoned him for his previous crime, but also rewarded him richly and gave him a position of honor in the kingdom. So it is in our spiritual lives. If we fight to save the lives of those oppressed under the weight of sin and selfishness, we will not only find forgiveness, but we will also enjoy spiritual bliss.
Some people are held back from serving others because they doubt their own abilities. They are like those recovering from a long illness. They receive nourishing food and rest and are no longer sick, but they remain weak and lethargic because they have not worked or exercised their muscles. We must simply set out in trust to bring the message of hope and faith to others. It is useless to take swimming lessons unless we are willing to enter the water and practice — first in the shallow water and then in the deep. In this way, we can gain strength and improve our technique. In order to help those who are struggling and sinking in the dark waters of inner need, we must enter the practical school of theology — prayer and spiritual union with God.
Seeker: Why share our spiritual blessings with others, when so often people only mock and ridicule us?
Sadhu: The Master said, “Resist not evil.” Once there was a devoted Indian Christian who was praying in his house alone, when three thieves stealthily entered and took away all they could get. When the man had finished his prayers he noticed that all his goods were gone, except for the box over which he had been bowing in prayer. This box contained all his money and valuables. He immediately took the contents and ran after the thieves calling: “Wait! Wait! You have left some valuables behind. Perhaps you need these things more than I.” When the thieves heard this, they thought it was a trap. But when they saw that he had no weapon and that he was alone, they came back to him. The man said to them: “Why didn’t you tell me you needed these things? I would have gladly given you whatever you needed. Now, come home with me, and whatever you need you may have.” The thieves, seeing the strange life of this man of prayer, were so struck that their lives changed forever.
If a blind man comes groping along the road, it is only right that we who can see should step aside and avoid bumping into him. And if he, by accident, bumps into us, we should not take offense, but rather help him find his way. If we get annoyed about it, it only proves that we are blinder than the blind man himself, completely lacking both common sense and human sympathy. Similarly, if anyone persecutes us because we follow the truth, we should — instead of being offended — forgive and pray for that person in love. If we continue to experience opposition, we lose nothing, since we experience for the sake of the Master, the Truth, which is our reward.
If we serve in love, then our service will eventually bear fruit. If some people speak evil of us or hurl abuse and criticism, then we should love them all the more. They may yet taste the sweet fruits of our love.
When naughty boys see a tree with delicious fruit hanging heavy from its branches, they sometimes throw stones. But the tree does not respond by hurling stones back. Instead, it drops its delicious fruit for them to enjoy. The tree does not have stones to hurl, but it freely shares what it does have — the sweet fruit — without murmur or complaint. So do not be discouraged if some hurl abuse and criticism at you for following the spiritual life. It is a sign that they actually long for the fruit God has given you. And even if they attack you out of malice and spite, still you can offer spiritual fruits and reveal God’s love.
A rebellious son once left his father’s house and joined a band of robbers living along the road through the jungle. In time, he forgot his happy childhood and became as cruel and ruthless as the others. But his father never gave up hoping that one day he would abandon his evil ways and return home. In time, the father called his servants and asked them to go into the jungle, find his son, and tell him that his father was waiting to welcome him home and forgive him, if only he would abandon his evil ways. But the servants refused to go. They were afraid of the wild country and the fierce robbers.
Now, the man’s older son loved his younger brother just as much as his father did. So, when no servant could be found to go, he set out himself into the jungle to find his brother and deliver his father’s message. As he wandered through the jungle, the robbers spied him, attacked him, and wounded him to the point of death. Only then did his younger brother recognize him. Filled with grief and remorse at what he and his band had done, he embraced his dying brother and kissed him. With his last breath, the older brother was able to pass on the father’s message: “Now my life ’s task and love’s duty is done.” So saying, he died in his brother’s arms.
The young man was so moved by the loving sacrifice of his brother, that his heart was instantly changed. He abandoned his life as a robber, asked forgiveness of his father, and from that day on lived a new and upright life. When we think of how the Master died in agony to pass on to us God’s message of love, should we then not also be ready to give our lives in bringing this message of hope to others?
Often, we can share the message of God’s love more effectively by prayer than by preaching. Spiritual power emanates silently and unnoticed from those who pray and reveal spiritual truths to others, just as unseen radio waves from a powerful transmitter can convey messages to those attuned to them. In this way, a seeking person may receive the greatest help from someone praying alone.
The firefly with its flickering light and certain small plants in the Himalayas brighten the dark jungle as best they can. There are also tiny fish in the depths of the ocean that give light into that gloomy darkness. All the more should we be lights for all those souls wandering in the darkness of this world. Even if it involves risk or danger to ourselves, we should be eager to share our God-given light with those who are stumbling and in danger of losing their way.
Seeker: But if we give all our strength in serving others, how will we ever find time or energy to praise God?
Sadhu: God has no need of our praise. Does God lack anything that we mortals could provide? Those who seek to follow the spiritual life are like salt in the world. Salt crystals cannot give flavor to food unless they dissolve. If we dissolve the salt in a pot, it disappears but it does not cease to exist. Indeed, it can then give flavor to thousands of grains of rice.
It is the same with us. If we are not melted in the fire of love and spirit, if we do not sacrifice ourselves completely, then we cannot pass on to even a single soul the blissful experience of the spiritual life. If we do not sacrifice ourselves, then we are rather like Lot’s wife who was turned to a lifeless pillar of salt. Yesu was melted in the Garden of Gethsemane and gave his life on the cross to open the gate of heaven for all. In the same spirit, we must be prepared to give up our own lives for the spiritual welfare of others. This is what will bring praise to God.
The sword of justice hangs threateningly even now over many souls. We must be willing to sacrifice our own desires — even our lives — for the benefit of those in danger of spiritual death. Then the world will recognize that true love abides in us and that we are children of the God who sacrifices himself for us.
Seeker: What happens if we fail to serve others?
Sadhu: If we repeat the same thought or word or deed over and over, then it becomes a habit. Habits determine our character. So we should carefully consider the consequences and implications of our habits. If we become indifferent to doing good, our capacity to do good will diminish. It is difficult to do something well. It is still more difficult to put right something we have done wrong. But it is altogether easy to destroy something. It takes great time and effort to grow a tree, but it is easy to cut it down. When it is dry and dead, it is impossible to bring it back to life.
If we do not make use of the spiritual faculties we have been given, then we will lose them. This has happened to certain fishes living in the deep waters of dark caves. They have lived so long in darkness that they have become completely blind. The same thing has happened to certain hermits I have met in the caves of Tibet. Therefore, do not let your spiritual sight grow dull, but make full use of all your spiritual faculties and strengthen them so that you are able to sense God’s presence.
The pipe that carries fresh water is itself kept clean by the clear water that flows through it. In the same way, we are kept clean and pure if we allow God’s spirit to constantly flow through us for the benefit of others.
There are many people who waste precious chances to serve God and their fellow human beings. They should rouse themselves and make full use of the time that is given to them. Once a hunter picked up some pretty stones by a river in the jungle. He used them to shoot at birds with his slingshot, and so one by one they disappeared into the water and were lost. Some time later, he was in a city and wandered through the market absent-mindedly tossing and catching the one stone he still had left. A jeweller caught sight of it, marvelled at such a precious gem and offered to buy it for several thousand rupees. When the hunter recognized the value of his stone, he cried out: “Woe is me! I have been carelessly shooting gems into the river. I could have been a millionaire. But thank God I have saved at least this one.”
Every day of our lives is like a precious diamond. We may have wasted countless days already in idle and selfish pursuits, so that they are now lost in the depths of the past. But let us at least awake now, see the value of the days that remain and use them to acquire spiritual wealth. If we use them in selfless service to God and if we use them to warn others who are still frivolously throwing away their days in pursuit of fleeting pleasures, then we will gain the boundless treasure of heavenly bliss.
Tapas — Suffering
Seeker: Sadhu-ji, you speak much about the blessings of the spiritual life, but why do so much pain and suffering exist in the world?
Sadhu: It is difficult to understand the mystery of pain and suffering in the world. Ultimately, the root of suffering is found in sin, in separation from God. Still, God uses suffering to call us into the peace of his presence. If God could not use pain and suffering for our good, then he would not allow such things to remain in the world. The grain of wheat must lie in the dark womb of the earth before it can be called forth into the open air by the light and the warmth of the sun. Then it grows into a healthy plant and bears fruit.
Rain and windstorms wreak destruction, but they also cleanse the land of pests and disease. In the same way, the wind of the Spirit shakes us with its power, but its force brings spiritual health and blessings. Just as an earthquake can cause sweet springs to erupt in the desert making the land lush and fruitful, suffering can disrupt our lives and expose in our hearts springs of life-giving water. Then refreshing streams of thankfulness and joy flow where before there was complaining and grumbling.
When a sweet branch is grafted onto a bitter tree, both feel the knife and both suffer. But only in this way can the bitter tree bear sweet fruit. God himself suffered pain in order to introduce good into our evil nature. In this we see God’s great love and in turn faithfully suffer the agonies of this world. We can then bear good fruit forever.
Seeker: So is suffering necessary for the spiritual life?
Sadhu: The divine order is established for our spiritual health and happiness. Remember that spiritual anguish and physical pain are not the same thing. Physical pain is the result of illness or injury, but spiritual anguish is the result of sin and separation from God. When we defy God and rebel against his divine order, spiritual anguish ensues. It is similar to the discomfort an Englishman experiences in tropical heat, or an Indian in the bitter cold. God does not prevent us from opposing him; instead he uses the resulting anguish to remind us that we are pilgrims and strangers in this world.
In the trenches dug during the First World War, flowers and fruit began to grow. Deep down the soil was richer and more fertile than on the surface. So it is when we suffer: the hidden riches of our soul come to light. Therefore, we must not despair when we see what appears to be a destructive process. This very process can set the hidden, unused powers of our soul to work.
The fruit inside the walnut is delightful, but the shell surrounding it is bitter. Suffering is unpleasant at first contact, but those who accept it for God’s sake find within it the delight of spiritual peace. We do not attain real victory by escaping pain, but rather by discovering the grace to change pain into ease, death into life, and evil into good.
The silkworm struggles within the imprisonment of its cocoon, but this very struggle gives strength to its wings. If we open the cocoon and prematurely free the imprisoned creature, it will not have the strength for its new life and it will die. So God’s children struggle in this world and in that struggle become strong and fit for the life that awaits them.
Our spiritual struggles in this world are a preparation for our eternal home. We can only really appreciate the blessings of comfort if we also experience the agony of affliction; the pleasure of sweetness, only when we taste the bitter; the value of the good, only when we encounter the evil; the worth of life, only when we pass through death. Misfortune and hardships in this life keep our spirits wakeful so that we do not abandon our true destiny and become comfortable in this fleeting world. When we have all reached a state of perfect spiritual health, suffering will end forever.
Seeker: Are you saying, then, that God deliberately inflicts suffering on us for our own good?
Sadhu: God has created everything in nature for a purpose, even if we cannot comprehend that purpose. Nearly every substance in nature that causes illness and death can also be used as healing medicine. We call them poisonous because we do not recognize their true qualities. In the same way, trials and afflictions can strengthen and deepen our spiritual lives if we make good use of them.
When we suffer, it may also benefit others in ways we can hardly imagine. By seeing our affliction and helping us, others may exercise their own spiritual gifts and grow toward perfection. God has no joy in our pain, but he sometimes uses pain and suffering as bitter medicines for the treatment of souls. If we turn against God and resist his help, then such trials become deadly poison to our souls.
If a newborn child does not cry out and scream, then it must be slapped until it does. No one has joy in slapping a child — only the longing that it makes full use of its lungs and draws in life-giving air. So in perfect love, God may strike us with blows and stings of pain so that the breath of prayer flows freely through the lungs of our souls. This is the only way we can become strong and fit for eternal life.
Look at the pearl. A pearl is a product of pain and suffering. Tormented by some foreign matter against its soft flesh, the oyster responds by embracing the irritant and transforming it into an object of great beauty. The creation of the pearl not only provides relief to the oyster but is also a source of wonder and pleasure to many others. But beware! The unique luster of the pearl can be easily destroyed. Ink or oils can contaminate and destroy its beauty. Pearls laid in ancient tombs often decay with the corpse of their owners; the dust of the pearls is then mingled with the dust of the dead.
Spiritual life — like the pearl — grows out of pain and suffering. And even when the pain has been transformed into a thing of beauty, the lustre of our spiritual lives can easily become contaminated and decay. We must continually watch and pray and turn to the Master with thankful hearts.
Thousands of years of heat and pressure come to bear on black carbon before it is transformed into a precious diamond. Even then, diamonds do not dazzle unless they have first been cut. When cut and polished, then the rays of the sun make them shine with wonderful colors. Scientists may manufacture artificial diamonds in laboratories, but careful examination exposes their inferiority. Likewise, we cannot attain spiritual perfection without passing through pain and suffering. We must live continually in the presence of God; then our trials will transform us into heavenly jewels, cut and polished by the Master’s sure hand.
Seeker: Why do people laugh and ridicule those who choose the way of suffering?
Sadhu: Do not be surprised or distressed if others oppress and slander you. Light and darkness cannot exist together. People who are attached to their own desires and pleasures will always misunderstand and oppose the spiritually minded. Resisting any challenge to their own selfishness, they often become confrontational. Indeed, if you receive praise and compliments in this materialistic world, then beware that you have not abandoned the spiritual path altogether. Even if the unbelieving overcome their inclination to oppose you, this will only make it worse for you. Then they can begin to influence your spiritual life and hinder your progress.
Once there was a man who courageously confessed his faith and challenged people to abandon their selfish desires. Angered by the challenge of his life and words, his enemies took him and hung him upsidedown from a tree. Even in this position, he had such peace of heart that he was not even conscious of the pain and disgrace. Turning to his tormentors, he said: “In this world, everything is upside-down and nothing is upright. You think you have turned me upsidedown, but actually you have turned me rightside-up. I am like a transparency slide that casts its image correctly only when it is placed upside down in the projector. In your eyes I am upside-down, but in God’s, I am forever upright.”
Sometimes it is easier for the followers of God to die as martyrs than to daily give themselves as living sacrifices. We only experience physical death once, but if we faithfully follow God, we must die daily. The Master needs living martyrs who offer themselves for the sake of others. All those who are ready to give up their lives in faithfulness to God — be it in physical death or daily service to others — will live with God forever in the fullness of joy.
Seeker: But surely, if selfish people despise us, we can at least depend on other spiritually minded people to stand by us.
Sadhu: Do not count on it! In order to rescue us, the Master renounced everything and was himself renounced by everyone. When he entered Jerusalem the people cried out with one voice: “Lord! Lord!” But within three days, they were so offended by his challenges to their comfortable and selfish lives that they cried with the same voice: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” To put your hopes on the support of other people is to build your house on sand. Today they will praise you and build you up, but tomorrow they will cast you down so that no trace remains.
Do not feel sorry for yourself even if those who lead spiritual lives turn against you. If you faithfully follow the leading of God’s spirit, God and the hosts of the heavenly realm will stand by you. You should not get discouraged. The time will soon come when God will reward the unselfish love of the faithful.
Seeker: It often seems that those who are faithful to God and who seek the truth must suffer while others enjoy comfort and ease.
Sadhu: In the bitter cold of winter the trees stand bare and seem to be dead. But in the spring, they burst forth into leaf and flower, and the first fruits begin to appear. So it was with the Master’s death and resurrection. So it is with all of us who faithfully bear the burden of suffering and death. Though we may seem crushed and dead, we will yet bear beautiful flowers and glorious fruits of eternal life.
Do not be jealous of those who lead a comfortable life. It is possible for sheep to wander away from the fold and find good grass along the edges of the jungle. However, they are actually in great danger, and in the end wild animals will tear them to pieces. By contrast, those who stay with the flock may appear feeble and the grass may be less green, but there they are safe under the shepherd’s watchful eye. It is the same with the followers of God; those living in comfort and success do not necessarily enjoy his blessing.
Whether we like it or not, we will encounter suffering and danger in our lives. If we do not bear the cross of the Master, we will have to bear the cross of the world — with all it’s earthly goods. Those who bear the Master’s cross know from experience that this cross bears them and takes them safely to their destiny. But the cross of this world actually drags us down and leads to destruction. Which cross have you taken up? Pause and consider.
The snake and the silkworm begin their lives with similar bodies. But as they grow, the snake remains a snake no matter how many times it sheds its skin, while the silkworm casts off its ugly form and emerges from its cocoon as a completely new creature, flying on the air with delicate wings. So the believer casts off this material body and enters into spiritual bliss, soaring forever in the heavenly realm while the sinner remains a sinner even after death.
The Master opened the gates of heaven for all who follow in faith. As soon as we follow in his footsteps, accepting in faith the way of suffering, we begin to experience unbounded joy. Only those who believe can understand and accept this joy. Heaven is closed to unbelief. God gives an enduring joy and deep happiness even in the midst of pain. This joy can uphold us in the midst of suffering and lead us through the open gate of heaven.
Seeker: You speak of the Master — God incarnate — suffering. How is such a thing possible?
Sadhu: The body and the spirit are distinct, yet they are so finely interwoven that the spirit is aware of even the slightest injury to the body. So the Creator is distinct from his creation, but wherever people experience pain and grief, God himself feels it.
A clean person cannot stand being in a filthy place even for a short time. Those who live in communion with God find it very unpleasant to live among ungodly people. Indeed, some abandon the world to live as hermits in the desert or in caves. If we, as sinful people, cannot stand the company of evil doers, what agony must the Master have known. When we speak of his suffering, we often mean the six hours of the crucifixion. But his whole life as the embodiment of holiness among the defiled must have been a trial. He took this on himself to rescue us from death. It is beyond our comprehension. Even the angels cannot comprehend it. It is an amazing thing that God, out of love, should become one of us that we might gain eternal life.
Once, as I traveled through the Himalayas, there was a great forest fire. Everyone was frantically trying to fight the fire, but I noticed a group of men standing and looking up into a tree that was about to go up in flames. When I asked them what they were looking at, they pointed up at a nest full of young birds. Above it, the mother bird was circling wildly in the air and calling out warnings to her young ones. There was nothing she or we could do, and soon the flames started climbing up the branches.
As the nest caught fire, we were all amazed to see how the mother bird reacted. Instead of flying away from the flames, she flew down and settled on the nest, covering her little ones with her wings. The next moment, she and her nestlings were burnt to ashes. None of us could believe our eyes. I turned to those standing by and said: “We have witnessed a truly marvelous thing. God created that bird with such love and devotion, that she gave her life trying to protect her young. If her small heart was so full of love, how unfathomable must be the love of her Creator. That is the love that brought him down from heaven to become man. That is the love that made him suffer a painful death for our sake.”
God, who himself suffered anguish in this world, is able to protect and rescue those who suffer now. He gives relief when the time is right. Nebuchadnezzar threw three young men into the furnace, but God was with them, and its raging fire could not harm them. God is with all those who have received new spiritual life. They pass through the fires of physical pain and affliction and dwell in the peace and safety of God’s presence.
Amrita — Eternity
Seeker: Sadhu-ji, you say that one day all suffering will cease and that we will enjoy eternal unity with God. What can you tell me about our eternal home?
Sadhu: We are never satisfied with one thing for long. We always want to change our circumstances and environment. This restlessness stems from our deep inner awareness that the fleeting things of this world can never satisfy our souls, can never give us a sense of stable and unchanging fulfillment. Only when we turn to the Master will our desires be transformed, and perfect peace, the gift no one tires of, will reveal itself as the deepest longing of our hearts — indeed, the soul’s only quest.
There are many unhappy people who rejoice in the thought of entering heaven after death, yet who do not realize that heaven must begin here on earth. How will they ever enjoy being in a place to which they are not accustomed? I see so many people, even among the devout, who cannot live together in harmony during this short earthly life. How will they ever live together during the whole of eternity? I do not believe in a religion that offers a heaven only after this life is done. It is true that our dwelling place is not here; our real home is elsewhere. But many of those who wait for heaven will find the spiritual realm strange and not at all to their liking.
In the spiritual realm, heaven and hell are two opposite states of being. These states develop already now within each person’s heart. We cannot see these two states of the soul any more than we can see the soul itself. But we can experience them just as clearly as we can feel physical pain or taste the delicious flavor of a sweet fruit.
The injury caused by a physical blow may fester and worsen until it causes tremendous pain or even death. And we know that fruit may nourish and sustain us beyond the mere enjoyment of its sweet taste. Similarly, each sinful act carries with it painful consequences, just as each good deed carries with it wholesome consequences. Though we may not yet fully perceive the pain or pleasure of those consequences, we will when we wholly enter the spiritual realm.
Sometimes we experience a sudden sensation of spiritual peace or pain, something that comes to us from the spiritual world without any thought or desire of our own. This sensation is the beginning of heaven or hell. It may recur and vary, but gradually one or the other prevails according to our spiritual orientation. By repeatedly fostering one or the other, we determine our spiritual destiny. So the foundations of heaven or hell are laid within our hearts long before we pass on to the next world. When our life in this world ends, we enter into whichever spiritual state our desires or passions have prepared.
Seeker: If we ourselves choose our eternal destiny, then surely no one would choose eternal death, would they?
Sadhu: God has indeed created the human heart with an inclination to accept his living Spirit. But many have developed such love and devotion to material things that their hearts are unable to turn to spiritual things. Think of the charcoal. It has a natural inclination to receive fire within itself, but without oxygen the fire cannot enter it. If we drown ourselves in worldly distractions, the living fire cannot be kindled and we remain in darkness. Only if we turn to the Master will the temple of our hearts be cleansed. Only then will we be ready to accept his spirit into our hearts. Only then can we experience true bliss and lasting peace.
The fitness of our hearts and thoughts to receive God’s spirit is like that of violin strings. If they are properly tuned, in harmony with one another, then the touch of the bow produces beautiful music. If not, then there is only discord. Whenever our hearts are truly ready to receive God’s spirit, they will produce heavenly airs and joyous harmonies — both in this life and in the spiritual world.
When the Master gave his own life on the cross, there were two thieves executed beside him. To all appearances, the three men suffered the same fate, but from a spiritual perspective there was a vast difference. One remained cynical and irreverent, even mocking the Master as he suffered. The other thief felt deep pangs of remorse and recognized the great injustice of the Master’s execution. Opening his heart thus in love and in union with the Master, he heard the comforting words that he would that same day enter paradise. Paradise does not only exist beyond the grave; it already begins in the human heart. Some glorify the womb of Mary that housed God Incarnate. This pales in comparison to any heart into which the Master is invited, transforming it into heaven itself.
Once in a vision I saw a man arrive in the spirit world. He was in great distress, for in all his life he had never given a thought to anything but earning his daily bread. At the same time I saw another man die and enter the spirit world. He was a doubter, obstinate in his opinions. In love and compassion, saints and angels met both of them and tried to guide them toward the heavenly light. But again and again they turned back toward the shadows, because sin had so warped them that they doubted and discounted everything. As I watched, I wondered what their end would be. One of the holy ones turned to me and said, “God may yet have mercy on them.”
Then I saw another man enter the world of spirits. He had led an evil life. When the angels and saints went to help him, he cursed and reviled them, saying: “God is altogether unjust. He has prepared heaven for such flattering slaves as you and then casts the rest of us into hell. And you call him Love!” Just then the magnificent voice of a high angel called out, saying, “God gives this man permission to enter heaven.” Eagerly the man stepped forward. When he reached the door of heaven, however, and saw the holy, resplendent palace with all its glorious inhabitants, he began to feel uneasy. The angels encouraged him to go a little further to see the Master sitting on his throne. But when he did, the light of the Sun of Righteousness revealed the impurity of his sin-defiled life. He turned away in an agony of self-loathing and fled in such haste, that he cast himself headlong into the bottomless pit.
Then I heard the voice of the Master saying: “Look, my dear child! I forbid no one to enter my kingdom. No one forbade this man, nor did anyone ask him to leave. It was he, with his impure life, that fled this holy place. Except you be born of the spirit, you cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Seeker: Is eternal bliss available to everyone?
Sadhu: Many long for it, but miss it through their own foolishness. Once a poor beggar sat for twenty-one years on top of a buried treasure without knowing it. He burned so hotly with desire for money that he even hoarded the pennies he received. Yet, he finally died in utter poverty. Because the greedy man sat so long in that one spot, a rumor arose that he had hidden something valuable there. So the governor had the place excavated and the hidden treasure chest was found, filled with precious gems. The greedy beggar died in ignorance of the wealth that lay a few inches under him, and in the end the riches went instead into the royal treasury. God’s promise of bliss is very near to us — in our mouths and in our hearts.
Many have died of thirst though surrounded by the ocean. Its salty water simply could not quench their thirst. Just so, there are many people who live in the midst of God’s boundless love, but die of thirst because sin has turned the sweet water of God’s love into bitterness for them. Those who turn away from sin and seek spiritual life from the Master find fountains of living water arising from that sea of love. They find full satisfaction and enduring peace. This is heaven.
Once a faithful follower of the Master was tortured until he was at the point of death. But he was filled with such spiritual joy that he turned to his tormentors and said, “Oh, that I could open my heart to you and show you the wonderful peace I have found.” Amazed at his inner peace in the face of such suffering, those foolish people tore out his heart hoping to find something precious inside it. Of course, they found nothing. The reality of heavenly bliss is known only to those who open their own hearts and accept it.
Occasionally our sense of inner peace and spiritual bliss fades. This may be because of some disobedience or because the Spirit departs from us for a time so that we recognize anew how empty and restless our souls are without God. In this way, God can reveal again to us our utter weakness and teach us that without spiritual life we are nothing but dry bones. God wants to protect us from the pride and complacency of thinking that we have achieved something out of our own human strength. God trains and educates us so that we turn ever anew to the Master and so find never-ending spiritual happiness.
Sometimes those who are filled with God’s spirit are overwhelmed by divine bliss and fall into a state of faintness or even unconsciousness. This is a reminder that flesh and blood cannot inherit the glories and blessings of the spirit world. Only when our souls are set free from these mortal bodies shall we experience the fullness of spiritual peace where pain and suffering, sorrow and sighing, woe and death cease forever.
In the midst of polar ice fields, one can find flowing streams of hot water. In the same way we can find, even in the midst of this loveless and sorrowful world, restful streams of heavenly peace. It happens wherever the fire of God’s spirit glows within human hearts.
A warning to the west
Christian: Sadhu-ji, you have personally experienced Yesu to be the Master who leads us to inner peace and salvation. Don’t we have an obligation to bring this truth to heathen peoples everywhere?
Sadhu: We must break the old habit of calling people of other faiths “heathen.” The worst “heathen” are among us. We should love people of other faiths, even agnostics and atheists, as brothers and sisters. We need not love everything they believe and do, but we must love them.
Even an idolater worshipping a stone may experience something of God’s peace. This does not mean that there is any consoling power in the stone, but for some, it may be a means of concentrating their attention on God. God grants to all people peace in accordance with their faith. The danger, of course, is that the worshipper will not advance spiritually, and will become more and more attached to the material object rather than to the living God — ultimately becoming as lifeless as the stone. Such a person will no longer be able to recognize the author of life who alone can fulfil the longing of our hearts.
Christian: But don’t we have an obligation to profess our faith and share it with others? You yourself heard about the Master from missionaries who went to India.
Sadhu: When we have really encountered the Master and experienced release from sin, then sheer joy impels us to share it with others. We cannot sit silent about what God has done; we must give witness to it. Anyone who has experienced the Master’s peace — whether man or woman, boy or girl, rich or poor, laborer or farmer, writer or priest, judge or official, doctor or lawyer, teacher or pupil, government official or missionary — he or she is only a follower of the Master to the extent that they witness to the truth. But bearing witness does not necessarily mean preaching in the market or from a pulpit. We have opportunities of giving witness to the Master wherever we are. We can do this through an upright life, a blameless character, through integrity of behavior, by our enthusiasm, and by our love for the Master, sharing with others what he has done for us. Every person, not only with words but with his life, can be a witness for the Master.
A Sufi mystic was on a journey. He had with him a quantity of wheat. After being on the road for several days he opened his bags and found a number of ants in them. He sat down and pondered over their plight. Being overcome with pity for the little lost creatures, he retraced his steps and returned them safely to their original home.
It is amazing how we humans can show so much sympathy to such little creatures. How then is it possible to lack sympathy and fellow feeling in our dealing with one another? Many have gone very far astray and do not know the way back. Surely it is our duty to guide the lost back to the way of righteousness and to help them find their eternal home.
There are many people in India and around the world who would like to hear about the Master. These people need witnesses to the truth but not Western culture. Indians desperately need the Water of Life, but they do not want it in European vessels! The Master chose simple fisherman as his followers because he had a simple message, not a philosophy. The world has enough of teaching and philosophy.
Christian: Haven’t you visited America and western Europe? What did you think of our Christian witness and heritage?
Sadhu: What homesickness I had in Europe! I felt like a bird in a cage. The whole atmosphere was heavy for me. Many people thought I suffered from the cold climate, but this was not so. I have experienced far greater cold in the Himalayas. It was not the physical atmosphere that oppressed me, but the spiritual atmosphere.
In India, one feels everywhere — even through idols and altars, pilgrims and penitents, temples and tanks — that there is a desire for higher things. In the West, however, everything points to armed force, great power, and material things. It is this power of evil that makes me so sad. India is more and more seeking the Master’s truth. The West is in danger of becoming more and more indifferent. And yet the West owes so many of its blessings to Christianity. At one time the ostrich could fly, but because the ostrich stopped using its wings, it became unable to fly. So are the people of Europe and America — they do not appreciate the faith of their forebears and are fast losing it.
The West is like Judas Iscariot, who ate with Yesu, only to later deny him. The West ought to fear the fate of Judas, lest it hang itself on the tree of learning. You have so many privileges. We in the East have to give up many things when we become Christians. For you, it is not so. Therefore be careful that you don’t lose your only possibility for eternal happiness. I am reminded of the hunter who was pursued by a tiger. He had no fear because his hut was nearby and he was sure that he had the key in his pocket. On reaching it, however, the key was gone, and although there was only the thickness of the door between him and safety, he was lost.
Once when I was in the Himalayas, I was sitting upon the bank of a river; I drew out of the water a beautiful, hard, round stone and smashed it. The inside was quite dry. The stone had been lying a long time in the water, but the water had not penetrated the stone. It is just like that with the “Christian” people of the West. They have for centuries been surrounded by Christianity, entirely steeped in its blessings, but the Master’s truth has not penetrated them. Christianity is not at fault; the reason lies rather in the hardness of their hearts. Materialism and intellectualism have made their hearts hard. So I am not surprised that many people in the West do not understand what Christianity really is.
Many modern thinkers in the West do not believe in the miracles of our Master. To my mind, it’s already a miracle that there are still spiritual people in the West at all. In America, for example, one sees a good deal of Christianity, but it does not address the spiritual needs of the people. Just as salty seawater cannot quench thirst, much of American religion cannot satisfy a spiritually thirsty person because it is saturated with materialism. The Master’s words, “Come unto me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest,” are true as regards the East, but I think that for America, he would say, “Come unto me all who are heavy gold-laden and I will give you rest.”
Looking at the motto “In God We Trust” on the American dollar one might think the Americans are very religious people, but the motto should read, “In the dollar we trust.” Americans are seeking the almighty dollar, not the Almighty God.
Although America is a “Christian” nation and there are many sincere Christians in America, the majority of the people there have no faith. There, where it is so easy to have religion, where religion is offered on every side and no one is persecuted for their beliefs, life should be peaceful. Instead, there is a mad rush and hustle and bustle after money and comfort and pleasure. In India, many Christians suffer bitter persecution but continue to find happiness in their new faith. Because it is so easy to have faith in America, people do not appreciate what a comfort there is in faith.
Christian: What advice do you have, Sadhu-ji, for Christian churches in the West?
Sadhu: A scientist had a bird in his hand. He wanted to find out in what part of the bird’s body its life was and what the life itself was. So he began dissecting the bird. The result was that the very life of which he was in search mysteriously vanished. Those who try to understand the inner life merely intellectually will meet with a similar failure. The life they are looking for will only vanish.
When I returned from Europe, I began reading the writings of the German mystic Jakob Boehme and was attracted to him as soon as I had read the first two or three pages. This simple, uneducated shoemaker had an experience of God that has influenced millions of people. I may be wrong, but I am more and more convinced that simple people like Boehme have a pure intuition and grasp easily and readily the Master’s profound spiritual truths. Educated people, especially those I met in the West, repress their native intuition and substitute in its place a kind of artificial rationalism. That is why the Master called simple fishermen as his disciples.
I studied theology in a theological seminary. I learned many useful and interesting things no doubt, but they were not of much spiritual profit. There were discussions about sects, about Yesu Christ and many other interesting things, but I found the reality, the spirit of all these things, only at the Master’s feet. When I spent hours at his feet in prayer, then I found enlightenment, and God taught me so many things that I cannot express them even in my own language. Sit at the Master’s feet in prayer; it is the greatest theological college in this world. We know about theology, but he is the source of theology itself. He explains in a few seconds a truth that has taken years to understand. Whatever I have learned has been learned only at his feet. Not only learning, but life, I have found at his feet in prayer.
I do not condemn theologians wholesale, but it is unfortunately the fashion in Western thinking to doubt and deny everything. I protest this tendency. I never advise anyone to consult theologians, because all too often they have completely lost all sense of spiritual reality. They can explain Greek words and all that, but they spend too much time among their books and not enough time with the Master in prayer. It is not that I oppose all education, but education without life is certainly dangerous. You must stop examining spiritual truths like dry bones! You must break open the bones and take in the life-giving marrow.
Wisdom of the sadhu — Teachings of Sundar Singh
Copyright 2007 by Plough Publishing House. Used with permission.