DYVA VILEENAM – ONENESS WITH GOD
BY: SADHU SUNDAR SINGH – (1889–1929)
(From: Wisdom of the Sadhu: Teachings of Sundar Singh.)
NOTE: Below is a letter of introduction to and an excerpt from a book by Sadhu Sundar Singh. As this letter will explain, the entire book “Wisdom of the Sadhu” may be downloaded at: www.Bruderhof.com It is a PDF file.
MARCH 24, 2004
I have just finished reading a very inspiring book entitled Wisdom of the Sadhu—part autobiography, part parable, and part dialog—that features the thought and teachings of the Indian mystic Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889–1929). In the autobiographical sections, Sadhu Sundar Singh speaks of his life growing up in a devout Hindu home, his quest to find God, the poverty of his search, and how, at the point of utter desperation, he finally found his answer in the person of Christ Jesus (Yesu), an encounter that forever changed him. Kicked out of his home for serving his new Lord, he followed in the Master’s footsteps, often going hungry with no place to lay his head, imploring the people that he met to trust in the grace of God, often face to face in the form of dialogs frequently interspersed with parables. He became a true sadhu—a wandering Hindu holy man—for he could best serve his Lord and Master in this way:
Throughout India, devout people consider the way of the itinerant sadhu—as its Buddhist and Muslim counterparts, the bhiksu and fakir—to be the highest form of religious devotion, so much so that sadhus are generally welcome in every village. Unlike priests and other formal religious leaders, they can move freely among all castes and are even permitted in women’s quarters, which are otherwise off-limits to men. (Wisdom of the Sadhu, 189)
Compared to a modern St. Francis of Assisi, Sadhu Sundar Singh impacted not only his native India but also Tibet, Nepal, China, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, England, the United States, France, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. The German scholar Friedrich Heiler paints him in these poetic terms, “He is India’s ideal of the disciple of Christ—a barefooted itinerant preacher with burning love in his heart. In him Christianity and Hinduism meet, and the Christian faith stands forth, not as something foreign, but like a flower which blossoms on an Indian stem.” He always held the utmost respect for other spiritual seekers, moving freely among the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and Muslim traditions of his youth. He spoke out against calling such people “heathens,” advocating instead the life-transforming power of the risen Christ whose broken body was poured out for the sins of all peoples, whose risen life unites bride and body without boundary or barrier, free and available to all who are weary and heavy laden, who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Put simply, Sundar Singh was a follower of the living Lord and a member of the church universal.
The simple word pictures Sadhu Sundar Singh paints stick out in the mind, such as this awful imagery drawn from his experiences in the jungle: “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…. 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” (from Karma • Bondage). Our send today, “Dyva Vileenam • Oneness with God,” comes from the dialogs interspersed throughout Wisdom of the Sadhu. Each bears for its title a Sanskrit term followed by its English equivalent, and taken together they follow the progressive steps of the spiritual journey. Links to these dialogs will be provided at the end of today’s newsletter, arranged sequentially and linked to Brudenhof’s site where available and where dialogs are missing, to Mr. Renaissance. The entire book may be downloaded from www.Bruderhof.com as an Adobe PDF. Enjoy!
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 marvelous 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.
ONENESS WITH GOD [Sadhu Sundar Singh] 1