Metals of Earth
The beach at Surfside, Texas Saturday before last was picturesque and perfect. October skies – the color of blue that only comes in autumn when every particle of the heavens radiates light from within itself. The sun cast its smiling glow on everything. And the ocean waters – just warm enough, just gentle enough (without being too tame) to enjoy.
Standing in the surf, mud and tiny tiny clams squished beneath my feet. The waves massaged my body, with the subtle currents pulling me one way, then pushing another.
I have had this love affair with the ocean since I was a child. It is a like a long-time friend who knows me, who I know. Every time we are alone together, I whisper secrets to it. It holds my secrets, year after year, decade after decade. With kindness and a gentle, rhythmic understanding.
This year, I said, “You have known me since I was a little girl. Look how much older I’ve become. But you look the same now as you did then.” And I could see in my mind’s eye what I might look like at 80. Frail, thin, wrinkled skin, wiry, silver hair, squinting eyes. In a black bathing suit. Standing in the ocean up to my waist. Remembering.
Since the beginning of September, I have felt Guru Nanak in my arc line telling me to write about the time he and Lehna took a walk into the forest. I keep trying to write, but I am failing at it miserably. I don’t want to see it from a psychological perspective because of what it says about human nature. But here we are. Somehow, I need to get past my own resistance, and write the story as my own heart sees it.
One day when Guru Nanak was getting along in years, a yogi came to visit him. Talking with the Guru, seeing his surroundings, the devotion with which he was served, the spiritual environments, and the community of disciples, the yogi said to Guru Nanak, “Well done. You must be pleased with this spiritual life you’ve created. So many people studying with you, being your students, walking the path of self-liberation.”
Guru Nanak looked at the yogi. “Forget it,” he said. “Let me show you how many students I really have.”
So the Guru in his wisdom sent word to his followers that he was going on a walk, and that he desired his Sikhs to walk with him. In anticipation of being in the presence of their Teacher, the Sikhs gathered around his door at the appointed time. But rather than greeting the crowd warmly and fatherly, Guru Nanak stormed out his front door preceded by two huge, snarling, frightening dogs. Brandishing a large knife, his own clothes tattered, his eyes wide and terrible, Guru Nanak yelled for the Sikhs to follow him. Then, he set off at a strong pace along the road.
When he appeared in the doorway looking wild and scary, many of the Sikhs fell back at the sight. The way the Guru looked frightened them. His behavior was strange and unfamiliar. So rather than follow him, concerned for their safety and wanting to feel protected, they turned away and walked home.
However, a good many took courage and decided to follow the Guru – out of curiosity, if nothing else. After some time of walking along behind their knife-branding, wild-acting Teacher, the people began to notice bronze coins scattered on the path.
Seeing the bronze coins, some of the Sikhs stopped. They gathered as many bronze coins as they could. Pockets full, hands full, feeling lucky and happy, they turned their back on Guru Nanak, left the company of the others and went home.
Further down the road, the bronze coins disappeared. But then silver coins began to appear in their place. Excited at their good fortune, many who did not stop for the bronze stopped for the silver, instead. Expressing their joy aloud, the gathered as many silver coins as they could.
Filling their pockets, using the cloth of their clothing to create bundles, they filled themselves with silver. Happy, appreciate, grateful, content – they stopped following the Guru and returned home.
By this time the number of people walking with Guru Nanak had fallen considerably. As the party advanced down the road, the silver coins disappeared. And gold coins took their place. The remaining party almost went mad with delight. Exuberant, exhilarated, praising and exclaiming their unbelievable fortune, they stopped and gathered the gold coins. They congratulated themselves and congratulated each other for having gone so far with the Guru. For having traveled such a distance. And look how the Guru rewarded them. With pure gold! They filled their pockets, made bundles from the clothes of their body, used anything and everything available to them to collect the gold. And then they went home.
But Guru Nanak, never a backward glance, kept walking. The road was becoming wilder and wilder, and he entered into a forest. By this time he had only 4 companions. His servant Lehna, the yogi and 2 other Sikhs.
There is more to this story, More tests in the forest, But I have to stop here. Stop at this place – looking back down the empty road – where bronze, silver and gold had swept all but three of Guru Nanak’s followers away.
It is a truth that is difficult to acknowledge. Why do people follow a Teacher? Why pray? Why belong to a religion at all? All of the Masters teach about Love, about the power of the Spirit, how to find the Divine inside of oneself, how to conquer the experience and illusion of death. But for so many, for most of us, really, when the test comes, our basic animal instinct for security and comfort has more power.
What do we love? God? No. Divinity? No. What we really love is the image of our own comfort. We love our own convenience. Most religious rituals and practices, if we are honest, are done to secure for ourselves that image of comfort and convenience. We love the Earth and what is of the Earth. Because we believe the Earth is what provides our security.
Isn’t it human? Isn’t it natural? Don’t we want success, status, money and the power, the influence that comes with it? Doesn’t it give us a sense of security? Of validation? Even a sense of purpose? So in some ways we tell ourselves stories about why we follow one path or another. We deceive ourselves a little about why we are spiritual. Sometimes, gold is the real God. The God of the Americans. The God of the Indians. Even the God of the Sikhs. We claim to follow the Guru because we want to merge with the Divine. But when gold is our secret devotion, our subconscious destination, our real image of deathlessness and Divinity – then we can get a little stuck. The Guru has no problem leading us down a road where we find all the earthly wealth we could ever ask for or imagine. The problem is – gold is not HIS ultimate destination.
Bronze, silver and gold come from metals buried in the earth. It is our animal impulse, our animal instinct that sees the earth and what it is of the earth as true security. But we are not just animals. We are something different – we are blend of animal, angel and human. We have a mind, a consciousness given to us to perceive the Divine. So when those metals of the earth overpower and distract the mind, it is because we have created an internal image and belief that they are the highest power. Though there is nothing in them inherently that has any power at all.
The Guru wants to take us to a different type of experience entirely.
The spiritual path that the Guru has given to the Sikhs is to find the Deathless Reality of the Divine Light buried inside our own bodies. And to know this Deathless Light as the only Power that truly matters. It spans the cycles of birth and death. It bathes us in pure pure Love. What an amazing potential the human birth offers – to break through the blocks of our own subconscious mind and find that Infinite, Ever-Present, Loving Reality in our own hearts. Waiting to embrace us and take us home.
The security we feel when we can touch the Naam within us, the Divine Identity inside of us, is real and everlasting. It doesn’t depend on the earth – though it has the capacity to enjoy the earth, unattached. To follow the Guru to the end is to find our Selves. And when we find our Selves, then we become the living Light of the Divine on the earth – enjoying whatever the Creator brings to us without ever loosing sight of the Deathless Divinity in all.
This is something, the Guru tells us, that no money can buy. But it is the answer to the most secret longing of every soul.
Guru Nanak continued into the forest. After traveling deep into its depths, the party came across what looked like a corpse lying next to a funeral pyre. A cloth was draped over the decayed and rotting body, and the stench that arose was gut-wrenching and terrible. Guru Nanak looked at Lehna and the other two Sikhs.
“Go and eat that dead corpse,” he said.
The two Sikhs, disgusted, horrified, distraught turned and left him.
Lehna bowed. “Shall I start at the head or the feet?” he asked with humility.
“Start in the middle,” said Guru Nanak.
In the forest, we leave the realms of social reality completely behind. And the types of tests that the Guru creates – there is no psychology to explain them. What the senses perceive, what the mind reacts to. In these realms where the soul has transcended earthly attachments and enticements – still – there are issues to resolve. These are tests to go through.
But that dimension is not something one can create for oneself. That dimension requires such trust, such love, such a deep state of surrender that it can only come through grace. What the Guru was testing in that moment was his own grace. It’s difficult to describe this, impossible to put it into words. But the test was not of those who followed him into the forest. Rather, Guru Nanak was testing to see upon whom his own grace had fallen. Upon whom his own grace had been received.
Lehna went to the corpse and sat in the middle. He lifted the cloth off of the body when something miraculous happened. The corpse transformed into a beautiful langar. Taking some of the food, he offered it first to Guru Nanak. The yogi was impressed.
“This man is one with you – he is of you,” the yogi said to Guru Nanak.
Guru Nanak agreed. “He is of me, he is my very limb – that is why he shall be known as Angad. He is my own true image.”
The state of grace is a total mystery. It can take us past our senses, past our intellect and rationality, past our fear of pain and death. Who has the words to describe and explain it? Grace can cause us to do what we ourselves could never do on our own. And when that grace prevails in a person, the Heavens themselves remember.
It has been said that Guru Nanak only had one true Sikh - Lehna who became Angad. And that Guru Gobind Singh only had five – the Panj Piaray. They didn’t choose who these Sikhs were. They didn’t decide it. But when the time came, and the test was given – what the Guru was truly testing was the reality and expression of his own grace.
How can we enter into that dimension? How do we have a prayer of accessing that state of consciousness that pulls us past the animal instinct for security and convenience, the mental reaction to what the senses perceive? The gift of Amrit is the gift given by the Light of Nanak in the body of Guru Gobind Singh to give us that chance for the Guru’s grace to prevail in our lives - in the face of absolutely impossible and insurmountable odds.
May you be blessed to experience the grace of the Guru in your own life and to let it carry you far beyond what your body and mind could ever do on its own.
All Love in the Divine.
Ek Ong Kaar Kaur