Over the years I’ve managed to keep a journal with some daily thoughts and reflections. Today I looked back to read my entry on 21st February 2003. It was disappointing. The exact same character frailties, unhelpful desires and spiritual blocks I had then, are still affecting me now. It can be disheartening to see a lack of transformation and progress, and naturally calls one to question themselves. Am I consistently bringing my full attention and care to the basic spiritual practices? Does my lifestyle support and foster deeper spirituality? Could certain activities be checking my spiritual growth? Have I approached other spiritualists to receive their feedback and advice? This kind of regular honest introspection is essential for a healthy spiritual life. We have to identify our blocks and make a concerted effort to create change.
However, there is another perspective. Once, a disciple approached his guru with a similar quandary regarding his perceived stunted spiritual progress. The guru responded by handing him two seeds, one for a fern tree, the other for a bamboo tree. He told the disciple to sow and cultivate them both.
- After one year the fern tree had grown 1 foot high, but the bamboo tree had not appeared.
- By the second year the fern tree had reached 2 foot high, but there was still no sign of the bamboo tree.
- Three years in, the fern tree had steadily progressed to 3 foot high, while the bamboo tree remained invisible.
The disciple was slightly bewildered, but the guru simply smiled and told him to be patient. At the conclusion of the fourth year the fern tree had progressed to 4 foot high, but the bamboo had now miraculously shot up to 5 foot high. When the disciple reported back, the guru explained the reason – “yes, the bamboo was spending 3 years spreading its roots. That was the invisible part of its growth process”. Thus the guru assured the sincere disciple that he was indeed progressing, though it may not be externally perceivable at this moment in time.
Advancement in the spiritual discipline is not necessarily linear. It’s not that with each progressive year of sincere practice a certain amount of visible and perceived character progress is guaranteed. The effect of our day-to-day practices may be on a much more subtle and internal level, and if we continue on with enthusiasm, patience and determination, we can be assured that progress is taking place. Like the trees, we all grow in different ways. Since inner transformation is a divine gift, we cannot force it to occur. Through sincere and concerted endeavour we can only attempt to attract grace, yet we are not in ultimate control of that transcendental commodity. With each passing year, I am realizing that the defects of envy, lust, pride, ego and anger are incredibly deep-rooted. Although we see hints of improvement over time, it will likely take many years of concerted effort to truly reconfigure the psyche, and manifest our pure spiritual character. I’m not disappointed – it’s worth the wait!