Belief is a powerful thing. It is often misunderstood and as a word it is often misused. Belief shapes the way we see the world and the way we see ourselves and others. Jesus says repeatedly; “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” We are always being told to “believe in ourselves”. We hear it so often, it loses its meaning.
When I was in college, I took a small business management class. We were all art students at a prestigious art school and a common question was; “when will my work be worth a lot of money?” and the answer was always, “When you believe you are worth it.” The students wanted a pragmatic answer; “Oh you have to pay your dues learning the ropes for five years, then you can start your own business and in a couple of years, you will be in the top 5%” or something like that. Everyone’s journey is different and there is no pat answer to such a question. That’s what I thought this non answer was about. But the answer was pragmatic. Belief rules every decision we make.
In spiritual matters, belief seems to have a slightly different meaning that is tied to faith and implies doubt. Whereas knowledge is the elimination of doubt. I would differentiate the two like this: “I believe in God, but I know the sky is blue.” I know the sky is blue because I can see it. I have proof. I have no experiential knowledge of God. A Sufi teacher once told me that she would not give her soul to something she wasn’t sure of; something she only had read of in a book or been told of by others. Her soul was too important to her. She had to have experiential knowledge of God if she was going to give her soul over to such a being. She argued that this was not too much to ask, and that in fact it would be foolish to do otherwise. This has always stuck with me. She said she had found it in the Sufi path. Indeed this is a recurring theme among seekers and the guides we meet along the path.
I did not follow that teacher or dedicate my life to her school. I did follow her advise though.
She said: “The best way to get directions to someone’s house is to ask the owner. If, however, you don’t know how to contact the owner, the next best thing to do is get directions from someone who has been there.”
“If you don’t know how to get to God’s house, find someone who has been there who can show you the way.”
Then she said this:
“If you don’t know someone who has been to God’s house, pray for God to send someone to show you the way, and if your prayer is sincere, God will send you a guide.”
I went home and prayed for a guide. Soon after I met someone who after much cajoling would teach me to meditate. I learned a great deal from this teacher. I learned much more than just meditating. Being on the Path is a way of life. It is the ultimate endeavor in life, and should permeate every aspect of every action and thought. Of course we are human and will falter. We must live our lives, pay our bills meet our obligations, and we must live a life that will last a lifetime. If we dedicate ourselves to God and don’t do anything else, and it doesn’t pay off in a short time, we may quit. But if we have the long term in mind, we can carry on with our lives, but with a new focus, through this new prism of getting home to God’s house.
I have moved on from life with that teacher. She told me from the outset that she too was on the Path, but had not been to God’s house. She showed me what she could and we have moved on with our lives.
Perhaps my prayer wasn’t earnest enough. Perhaps I held a fear that an enlightened master would make me give up more than I was ready to give up. Whatever the case, God sent me exactly what I needed at the time. Just as I believed He would