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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
David Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
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The Suffering Saint
Reflections of an Uncertain Mystic
Faqir Chand's Last Letter Before Dying | Summer 1981
Simply put, biology trumps theology, despite whatever protestations we make otherwise.
We far too often have romantic views of mystics, sages, and yogis, which on closer inspection gives way to a more nuanced, jumbled, and human understanding.
While religiously we may yearn for certainty and for beliefs that can withstand critical scrutiny, the world we experience upturns are most cherished dogmas. This is particularly true when we put our chosen gurus on inflated pedestals, only to discover to our chagrin and disappointment that they cannot withstand such exalted heights. They like us have cracks in their glorified armor and eventually fall down to terra firma, reminding us anew of Nietzsche's often repeated dictum, “human, all too human.”
Thankfully, there are exceptional mystics in history who have by their frank confessions provided us with a glimpse into their own doubts and insecurities. Faqir Chand (1886-1981), the famed shabd yoga master in the Radhasoami tradition, is a much-needed beacon in disentangling us from our naïve superluminal projections which can over time generate more confusion than clarity.
Although Faqir Chand had experienced extraordinary states of consciousness due to his daily practice of shabd yoga, he realized that despite such achievements he was a still a spiritual seeker who didn't know much. Indeed, Faqir came to understand that no matter how much he learned, he was still at his core unknowing, even if he was a wiser sage as a result of acknowledging his ultimate ignorance.
As Faqir explained to me personally back in the summer of 1978 in North India,
“But, my child, one thing I would like to tell you. I do not proclaim that whatever I say is correct or final. Whatever I say is the conclusion of my experience of life. Nature is unfathomable. No one has known it. A small germ in a body cannot know the whole body. Similarly (a) human being is like a small germ in a vast Creation. How can he claim to have known the entire creation? Those who say that they have known are wrong. No one can describe or even know the entire creation. Up to a certain extent to which man's mind has access, one can say something. But nobody can tell about the entire universe. It is indescribable.”
Yet, it was several days before Faqir Chand's death in a hospital in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, that perhaps best captures his remarkable vulnerability and honesty.
In the last recorded letter that Faqir Chand ever wrote, he revealed how much our physical ailments impact our outlook on life and why no matter how “spiritual” we may wish to be, we never really do escape the ravages of illness.
Writes Faqir Chand a few weeks before his death,
“It is ten o'clock at night. I am lying in a room number 2015 of a big hospital in Pittsburgh. The entire life of 95 years moves in front of me. I did inner exercises and practices. What have I understood? I'm actually a bubble of consciousness. I wished and still I wish that when my last hour comes I shall tell how I went above after leaving body and mind etc. But the experience is somewhat contrary. I wish I should separate myself from the body and mind but it becomes impossible when there is physical pain, giddiness. Since glucose is being given continuously day and night for the past four days, hence, I am tired now and it has become impossible.
Faqir was not alone in experiencing how illness could negatively constrict his meditational practice. Sawan Singh, famously known as the Great Master of Beas, who was a mentor and friend of Faqir, also had his normal routine disrupted whenever he got seriously ill.
Disciples of such renowned spiritual teachers usually try to cover-up or rationalize away their gurus' lamentations with all sorts of ideological excuses, ranging from “the master only appears to feel pain, but he is really in transcendent bliss” to “Baba is taking on our karma in his own body and that is why he is ill-disposed.”
But a closer inspection of any teacher's life shows that these are merely lame excuses that don't hold up under rational scrutiny. A good illustration of how an esteemed master suffers like normal mortals can be seen in the diary entries of Rai Sahib Munshi Ram, who served as Sawan Singh's personal assistant, published in three volumes under the title With the Three Masters.
Below are two pertinent excerpts:
6th of August, 1945:
22nd to 24th April, 1946:
It is naïve to believe that spiritual masters are somehow immune to the ailments of their own bodies. Simply put, biology trumps theology, despite whatever protestations we make otherwise.
Faqir, unlike many gurus in his tradition, was completely forthcoming about what he experienced and didn't gloss over his own frailties. Faqir was an existential mystic who was not averse to confessing his continuing uncertainty about what he had achieved and what he had not.
We can learn much by appreciating and acknowledging the truth in the oft used phrase, “the suffering saint,” and not whitewash away the very humanness of our beloved ishta-devatas.
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