II / (ii)
The great Search
Had Jaima’s interest in Spirituality been only a seed cast on rock or sand or a sapling yet tender in its fiber, had it been no more than the mere curiosity or the spontaneous piety of a simple village lad, the passing away of his father would have rung the death-knell of his quest. As the eldest male member of the family, the burden of domestic responsibilities fell on his shoulders; and perhaps more souls are lost to heaven by the sense of duty to earth than by downright sin and evil.
But Jaimal’s urge was a plant of tougher roots and stronger fibre. Undaunted and unmoved, he divided the outdoor duties among his brothers, kept up his old exacting routine, and in six months’ time mastered the Yoga Vashishta and Vichar Sangreh, two standard works of Hindu theology.
There arrived in the village about this time a sadhu of the Udasi sect. As was his wont, Jaimal went to see him and inquired of him the meaning of the passages he had noted down from the Granth Sahib. The sadhu explained that he could initiate him, at least, into the mystery of the Ghor Anhad or deep reverberating sound referred to in the Sikh scriptures, if not into that of the Panch Shabd. Jaimal, keen to learn whatever he could, offered himself as a disciple. But the Diwali festival was at hand and his new teacher wanted to celebrate it at Amritsar.
Reluctant to miss this opportunity, Jaimal went to his mother and begged her to allow him to join the sadhu and go forth on his quest for Truth. But Bibi Daya had to see to the welfare of the family and would not hear of her eldest son going away. She reminded him of his duties.
Your father is no more,
and you must carry on in his place. If you are gone, what will become of us?
I am not insensitive to what you say, my dear mother,
replied her son,
but the Lord is above us, and He Who sustains His creatures even on the rocks and in the sea will not forsake us in our need. Man’s primary duty is to seek his Creator and all other duties are secondary. Be not afraid but be of good cheer; and let me proceed with your blessings.
Deeply religious herself, Bibi Daya was touched by what Jaimal said with such conviction. Seeing his determination and being too fond of him to break his heart, she at last relented.
I know I cannot stop you. Nor do I wish to do so. But if you must go, promise to return home when your quest is over.
Giving his word of honour, Jaimal departed and his mother and brothers bade him a tearful farewell. He had hardly entered his fifteenth year and he was already embarked on a quest that was to carry him through many cities and was to involve him in great toil and travail. It was a time when the railroad was still unknown in India (1853), let alone modern motorways and airways. The rich could, of course, ride on horses, but the humbler folk had to depend on the sturdiness of their own feet.
Travel was difficult and arduous. The British had only recently conquered the Punjab and stability was still to be established. The Great Mutiny was only half a decade away, but the people were growing restive and the country was beginning to seethe with discontent.
It was in such conditions that Jaimal set forth for Amritsar. Three days after reaching there he was initiated by the Udasi sadhu in a local garden into the science of the Ghor Anhad. Like his contemporary Sri Ramakrishna (1836–1886), Jaimal Singh was destined to sit at the feet of many intermediary masters before meeting his True One. Like him, he was destined to learn many a sadhan and make rapid headway in each. And like him he was destined not to be bound, like other yogis, to any of them, but to press ever forwards toward a higher and still higher goal. His early mastery of the Granth Sahib stood him in good stead. It worked as an infallible touchstone with which to test every new attainment and to know that his Real Goal lay still further ahead.
Having practised japa and pranayama, and having delved into the ecstasy of the Ghor Anhad, the quest for the secret of the five-worded Word became Jaimal’s over-mastering passion. While at Amritsar, he did not fail to contact other yogis and sadhus, questioning them for the clues of that which he sought. Someone suggested that he might discover the object of his search at the feet of Baba Gulab Das, then residing at the village of Chatyala.
The boy needed no further prompting and not long after was seeking permission of Gulab Das’s disciples to see their master. The request was granted and he appeared before the revered sadhu. A lively discussion ensued which, because of the newcomer’s tender age, irritated some of the older disciples standing around. But Gulab Das assured them that Jaimal, if young in years, was mature in mind and was a true seeker of God. He tried to satisfy the boy as best as he could, explaining that Naam was no more than the sound vibrating in the pranas, initiating him still further into the secrets of the pranva or the pranic yoga.
Jaimal, though ready to learn whatever he could, was not convinced by the sadhu’s interpretation which, as he pointed out to him, failed to explain
a) the number 'five' used time and again in the Granth Sahib in connection with the Inner Shabd; and
b) the fact that the Sikh Gurus repeatedly asserted that the Path of Naam was distinct from other yogic forms which could not give the highest liberation.
From Chatyala, Jaimal’s quest led him to Lahore. There were to be found Hindu sadhus and Muslim fakirs of all descriptions. The young Sikh lad sought their company at all hours and incessantly mingled with them. But try as he might, he could discover no clue. Finding himself in a great city, having trudged many a mile, with no money in his pocket, hardly ever certain of his next meal, he was not a little discomfited with his predicament. He lived in the hope of solving the secret which none could unravel for him. Weary of foot and heavy of heart, he set out for Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak and a place of holy pilgrimage for the Sikhs.
But at Nankana Sahib, Jaimal failed once again to find what he wanted. The ways of Providence are mysterious. A seeker’s way may be cluttered with countless obstacles which may almost seem to break his heart, yet at the very moment when the spirit is on the brink of collapse, it whispers a word of encouragement and flashes a ray of hope, saving him from the giant despair and putting him on the road to New Jerusalem. And so the boy, now fifteen, met at Nankana Sahib, Bhai Jodha Singh of the Namdhari sect who directed him to Baba Balak Singh of Hazro, a village beyond Attock in what later came to be known as the North-western Frontier Province. With undeterred resolution, Jaimal set out on the long journey. He first halted at Aminabad whence he proceeded to Shah Daulah. From Shah Daulah, his journey took him across the Jhelum river to Tila Balnath, and thence to Rawalpindi.
He spent a few days in each of these towns and never failed to get in touch with the fakirs and sadhus to be found there. Being not very far from Panja Sahib, the famous shrine marking one of Guru Nanak’s most memorable miracles,1 he proceeded there even if it laid somewhat off his route. There he sojourned for a while, enjoying the natural scenery and the clear water gushing from the sacred fount. He journeyed from there towards Attock and at last arrived at Hazro, his destination.
He was very happy to meet the venerable Baba Balak Singh who was impressed by the young visitor’s keenness of mind and intensity of Spiritual Yearning. They passed some delightful days together reading, reciting and discussing the Granth Sahib. Balak Singh was a man of great wisdom and piety, but as far as Spirituality was concerned he, like Gulab Das, was only conversant with japa through prana, and knew little of the Panch Shabdi Naam spoken of by Kabir and the Great Sikh Gurus. However he gave his young friend hope and directed him to Chikker to a householder Sikh of great Spiritual Eminence.
Jaimal arrived from Hazro in the village of Chikker and began inquiring for the man he sought. He seemed to find no clue till he met an old retired Sikh who asked the young stranger if he could assist him in any way. Jaimal related from where he had come and the object of his quest, and asked to be guided to the local saint. The old gentleman, who was himself the man he sought, kindly replied that no such saint lived in that village as far as he knew, but offered to do for him whatever little lay in his power.
Jaimal’s long and exacting search now at last began to yield some fruit. The householder mahatma at whose home he now found himself gave him the first definite clues of what he sought and put him on the first rung of the Spiritual Ladder. Shortly after his arrival the God-intoxicated boy received initiation. His earlier assumptions were confirmed and he now knew it for certain that the Path of Naam had little to do with other yogic practices. But after initiation he pointed out that the scriptures spoke of the five-worded Word and he had been imparted only two. On hearing this, his host and preceptor related to him the story of his own initiation:
It was many years ago that I went to Peshawar. There I met a Great Mahatma and wished to be initiated by him. He accepted me as a disciple and unlocked to me the mystery of the first two Shabdas, bidding me to come back again as early as possible.
I proceeded to my village and intended to return soon. But such are the traps of Maya that I was unable, due to some unexpected piece of business, to fulfil my wish. Two months went by in this way, and when I did at last reach Peshawar, my Master had passed away, taking with Him the key to the remaining phases of the Divine Naam.2
Jaimal had no choice. He had to be content with what he got. He stayed on with the Sikh mahatma for some time, enjoying his hospitality and inspiring company, and sedulously cultivating the gift he had received. Then a day arrived when he bade his latest teacher a touching farewell and set forth for Peshawar to pursue his unfulfilled quest. He had the satisfaction of being put on the right road, but he was not the man to rest till he had attained his goal. At this ancient frontier city he once again, like a keen huntsman, began seeking the trail of some man of full God-realization. But Peshawar was not the place where his quest was to be crowned with success and his thirst satiated.
While wandering among Pathans through its many streets, a mastana Sikh, lost to the everyday world of rational behaviour by Divine Intoxication, stopped him and accosted him with the words:
Why do you expend your labours in the North when your day is to dawn from the East?
Though he could extract nothing more from the strange counsellor, his advice drove home and soon after Jaimal began retracing his steps to the Punjab. On reaching Rawalpindi he decided to visit the famous Kashmir Valley and the popular hill resort of Murree. A lover of Nature’s beauties, he greatly enjoyed his hilly tour and in Kashmir met many a sadhu. His sight-seeing over, he finally turned homeward. With tatters on his back and barely any shoes on his feet or money in his pocket, he at last reached Ghuman to the great joy of his fond mother and his affectionate brothers.
The family celebrated the home-coming in traditional style, offering thanks-giving to the Almighty, arranging scriptural recitations and the singing of hymns, distributing sweets among the neighbours and offering food to the poor. Jaimal Singh, now sixteen, took up the family duties once more and gave himself up to the consolidation of what he had learned in his recent itinerary.
Soon after his return, the Sathyala yogi who had initiated him into pranayama three years earlier arrived, true to his parting promise, at Ghuman to see his young disciple. Jaimal Singh received him with reverence and humility and his former teacher offered to instruct him in the other practices of traditional yoga. But the youth was no longer a child. His wide travels and the varied accompanying experiences had given him a new maturity. What had seemed desirable once no longer seemed of much value, for his contact with many a yogi had convinced him of one thing at least: the kriyas of Hatha Yoga might give strange physical and occult powers, but they could not bestow full Inner Peace and Freedom. Every fresh day only strengthened his old conviction that the path of complete mukti or emancipation lay some other way, and all that he now sought was initiation into the mystique of the Panch Shabd.
Time rolled on its mercury wheels, but Jaimal Singh was not the man to sit idle or be content with only the second best.
Awake, arise and stop not until the goal is reached,
enjoined an ancient Vedic text, and his life was a living embodiment of this precept.
Barely eight months had elapsed since his return when the urge to resume his quest for the holy Naam became too powerful to be resisted, and he began pressing his mother for permission to set out once more.
How can you expect me to let you go again? You were a child then, but now you are a grown up man and understand your responsibilities.
Ah, mother, at my birth you prayed for a saintly son. Then why stop me now?
– How can you talk this way? Have I ever checked you in your religious inclinations? Surely you can pursue your devotional practices and Spiritual Disciplines while living at home?
But Jaimal said:
How can godliness and worldliness go together?
– But you yourself have seen how others have encroached upon our lands after your father’s death. We barely get enough to eat; and when you are gone, your brothers being so young, what will prevent them from forcibly occupying the rest?
Let them take whatever they will. This world is not ours, and even if these lands are not taken away from us we will have to leave them some day when our life span is over. We have only to sustain ourselves. What matters if all our property is lost? The Lord has given us sinewy arms, and with His Grace we shall earn a respectable living.
He whom nothing could dissuade while yet a child could not be deterred now, and Bibi Daya had no choice but to let him go. Thus, at the age of sixteen years and nine months, Jaimal Singh once again set out on his Spiritual Explorations. Having well-nigh exhausted the Punjab and the Northwest, with the words of the Peshawar Sikh still reverberating in his ears, he bent his footsteps eastward. The times were insecure and the British had not yet fully entrenched themselves in their new northern conquests. Night travel was, therefore, prohibited, and sentries were stationed at night on the chief highways to prevent any stray travellers. But Jaimal Singh was too eager to be thus restricted. He would spend the first half of the night resting and sleeping and in the second, while the sentries were drowsing and dozing, continue his journey as quickly as possible.
At Vairach, a village on the banks of the Beas not far from home, he met a sadhu named Kahan who was engaged in collecting bricks.
Good day, holy one,
said the youth.
What is it that keeps you so busy?
Nothing, my son, nothing; I am only collecting material for your future dwelling,
smiled Kahan, and once more got lost in his work.
When others of the village would question him in like manner, he would reply with characteristic brevity,
A temple will rise here one day,
and relapse into his usual silence.
Jaimal Singh, not knowing where to go, directed his steps towards Hardwar on the banks of the sacred Ganges, a favourite haunt of the holy. Travelling by night and by day, he footed the distance with commendable speed and in twelve days reached the Ganges.
He explored the ghats, stepps to the river, of Hardwar, then a small town almost entirely populated by pandits and sadhus, hearing learned yogis, questioning them and discussing his problems with them. From the main town he travelled alongside the river, visiting all the sacred spots in the neighbourhood. At Tappo Ban he heard of a very old sadhu of about a hundred and fifty years who dwelt not far away in the heart of a thick jungle and possessed great powers but seldom spoke to those who came to see him.
Undaunted by the yogi’s reported silence, Jaimal Singh wended his way into the forest and at last found the hermit’s dwelling.
The sadhu was busy with his Spiritual Practices and paid no heed to those that came to see him in order to be blessed by his sight.
The evening drew near and the sky and the branches overhead burst into life with the twitter of homing birds. All the visitors departed; the forest would soon be dark and who could tell what wild creature might be prowling in the thick foliage awaiting its chance. Jaimal Singh alone stayed on. Night fell and yet the yogi took no notice of him. He at last got up, walked to a swing hung from a nearby branch and took his stand, resting his arms on its wooden seat. Hour after hour slipped by but the ascetic stood on motionless, displaying no signs of fatigue. At last darkness began to break and brought an end to his nightly feat of endurance. He left the swing, disappeared into the jungle and returned after bathing. Jaimal had been keeping night long vigil and had kept watching the unusual behaviour of the strange man before him. When the sadhu came back after his bath, he at last showed some signs of being aware of his visitor’s presence. He asked him who he was and what he wanted. The youth told his name, the place from whence he came and added,
Holy one! For many years I have been in search of True Spiritual Enlightenment. I heard of your fame and your great powers and have come as a supplicant to your door. I have watched with interest your strange practices and if indeed they grant full liberation from Inner Restlessness, then pray instruct me into their secrets.
The sadhu made no reply. He sat silent and closed his eyes and opening them after a while, he answered:
My son, my discipline is difficult and bestows many powers. But as for Inner Spiritual Freedom, I am afraid it has not secured me that.
Jaimal Singh wished to question the yogi still further, but the latter became silent and receded from the world of outer consciousness into that of meditation. The sun ascended the heavens and the day passed by. Some devotees came to have a glimpse of the famous yogi, bowed reverently at his feet and, leaving some food for Jaimal Singh and some offerings for the ascetic, departed as on the previous day. Once again the night fell and once again the youth from Ghuman sat on. The yogi at last rose from his seat and spent the second night in the same manner as the first. When day broke, he went for his bath, and on returning beckoned Jaimal to his side.
My son, I cannot tell you much,
But in my meditation I saw that the Guru you seek dwells with His wife in Agra. He is indeed a Great Soul and discourses from the Granth Sahib. He shall unlock to you the treasures of the Panch Shabd. Proceed there and I myself will follow as soon as I can to partake of his bounty.
What a burden fell off Jaimal Singh’s back! How many nights had he spent tossing and praying, wondering if God would ever grant his wishes! The stranger at Peshawar had given him hope, but his words were vague, and nothing was certain. Now at last a definite clue had been given to him and success appeared within sight. The Lord was indeed kind and did not ignore His humble servant’s supplication. Refreshed in spirit and confident in mind, the youth, with a heart overflowing with inexpressible gratitude, bowed before the yogi now enwrapped in silence and humbly took his leave.
Explanation: 1) It is related in Guru Nanak’s life that the Great Sage was touring the region with His devoted disciples, Bala and Mardana. The party was feeling exceedingly thirsty and there seemed to be no trace of water around. The Sage directed his followers to Wali Kandhari, a Muslim hermit who lived on the hillside by the side of a spring.
The Wali, lost in his own pride, sent away the strangers empty-handed. When they returned again at their Master’s bidding, he scoffed: "If your Guru is as great a man as you affirm, then can’t He even quench your thirst?"
When these words were related to Nanak, Who stood at the foot of the hill below, He smiled and struck the rock with His open hand. Straightaway a crystal jet of water burst forth and everyone drank to his fill. The Wali was full of remorse, but it was too late now; and to his consternation he discovered that the spring that ran by his hut had suddenly dried up. The rock where the Saint struck His hand still bears the imprint of His palm and fingers and a clear stream of water sprouts from beneath. It is a great centre for Sikh pilgrimage.
2) In the past it was a common practice with mystics to initiate their disciples by degrees into the Inner Science. After the sadhak had mastered one stage, he was acquainted with the mysteries of the next and so on to the end. The method was not in itself objectionable, but it often led to results of the kind we have just noted.
Jaimal Singh was to meet another case like that of the Chikker mahatma a few years later at Delhi after being initiated by Swami Ji at Agra, when he met a Muslim fakir who too had suffered by the early death of his pir. To avoid such mishaps, Masters of the Surat Shabd Yoga nowadays initiate Their disciples directly into the mysteries of all the five Inner Planes that the soul has to traverse before it can merge with the Absolute.