Sants and other holy men come into this world to impart their spiritual message. Imbued with the bliss of God-Realization, they reveal the secret of His Reality to the hearts of seekers. Whoever comes in contact with such Saints is able to get a spark of spiritual consciousness from them.
But how can one completely master the secret of that supreme happiness? The average person listens to a flute and enjoys its melody, but he cannot play it. He can really enjoy it only if he is able to play it. Similarly, the thoughts of Saints are reduced to writing in the sacred books, but one cannot realize the Truth by merely reading these books. It is necessary to engage in the practice of spiritual discipline in order to attain the true and lasting happiness of God-Realization.
Spirituality is not attained by merely reading or writing, but by practice. A theory without practice is not of much value. But a practice which is performed even without knowing the theory is not without benefit. By such practice the dormant energy of our soul is awakened. Spiritual energy remains dormant in one who reads and hears about spirituality but does not put it into practice. Therefore, the Saints have always emphasized practice or self-experience.
They have not put emphasis on practice only, but have highly recommended the value of theory also. In order to grasp spiritual theories fully, it is necessary to attend Satsangs (discourses of the Saints). This is the best means of gaining such knowledge, and every seeker is advised to derive benefit from it. Satsang has often been described by Saints as a protecting wall against disruption in meditation.
In Satsang every spiritual subject is dealt with dispassionately and with love. By attending such Satsangs, a seeker attains spiritual knowledge of a high order, even without studying scriptures and other books. So the Saints always advocate self-experience through practice as far more important and beneficial than sheer theoretical knowledge. For, spirituality is essentially an individual proposition. But in the absence of a teacher and without the practice of his teachings, one cannot achieve this high status.
The reading of holy books is, however, not altogether without benefit. But their full benefit will not accrue so long as we do not have self-experience through personal practice.
This is the Secret obtained through self-realization and not through intellect or discussion. You should, therefore, practise and not depend upon debates. Then only will you be able to realise it.
Sar Bachan / Soami Ji
Spiritual progress is achieved through individual discipline.
Numerous books have been written on instrumental music such as that of the vina, the guitar, or the flute, but if one wished to learn how to play one of these instruments, he would have to go to a teacher. Likewise, he cannot attain spiritual knowledge without the help of the Living Master. One may get some knowledge by reading scriptures but one can never gain personal experience or self-knowledge there from.
A person who has never seen fire may be able to know something about its qualities of light and heat, but would not understand what it really is like — how it enters into darkness and how cold is removed by its heat. However, if we light a fire and sit by it, then even without reading about it, we can clearly discern its qualities.
If, to our knowledge of spirituality, we add practice, then such knowledge will adorn the seeker like a garland of flowers. Thus it is that Saints put so much emphasis on practice.
A person who can play a musical instrument needs not read a book about it. What he needs is the instrument and a person who can teach him how best to play upon it. Then if he works at it daily, he will become an expert in course of time. In the same manner, a person may know the theories of spirituality from a Master by attending his Satsangs, but for personal experience it is necessary to practise them. In other words, one should put to practical application what is imparted during Satsang. As one gives more and more time to practice according to instruction, and with love and faith, his spiritual knowledge will increasingly develop.
Spirituality awakens the 'knowing' faculty of the soul. When one has attained such a state, he knows what soul is and how it can meet its Master, the Lord. The name of the practice to attain this consummation is called Yog or Yoga.
This type of yoga has been taught by the Saints from time immemorial. It was prevalent even during the prehistoric period, but was then imparted orally by a Master to a disciple. In the beginning, the yoga was practised by breath control, which, however, is both difficult and dangerous. For such practice, one needs much time and also has to abstain from many things. Consequently, this practice was confined to a small number of persons.
The practice for attaining spirituality is also called Bhajan Yog or Surat Shabd Yoga. A description of this yog can be found in the 'Yog Sutras' of Patanjali, Gorakh Nath, the Buddhist Scriptures, the Upanishads and Vedas (Yajur Ved). In the Parsee Scriptures — 'Zend-Avesta' — there is also a description of Shabd Yoga.
The Muslim Saints too have described it in their books.
Among the Indian Saints, Kabir, Guru Nanak, Dadu, Paltu, etc. have preached this Yoga and described it fully in their writings. Among the Christians, St. John gives a clear description of it (the Word) in the Bible (1:1, 2, and 3).
Thus, spirituality was preached and practised more or less by the founders and disciples of all religions; but in course of time it declined and became obscure. People forgot the essence and took to rituals, rites, and other outer forms of worship. Eventually, they became quite ignorant about God-consciousness, how to achieve it, or what path to follow towards that Realization. They even became oblivious to the higher spiritual regions.
In order to tread the Path of Spirituality, we must first have a longing for God. The following questions naturally arise in the mind of every seeker:
What things are necessary for spiritual progress?
What is the method of meeting God, and what are the facts and procedures pertaining to this achievement? What are the essentials for traversing the Path?
What qualities should one imbibe in order to achieve success?
The teachings of all religions have tried to give answers to the above questions.