Intellectual understanding can be the starting point, but not necessarily.
Some people can start off with intellectual understanding and, moving deeper beyond that, they move to what’s called heartfelt understanding. Heartfelt understanding is that understanding that’s unshakeable. A billion people can show you convincing evidence but it cannot persuade you otherwise. That’s the nature of heartfelt understanding.
So you can start with intellectual understanding and you can end with intellectual understanding! Or you can start with intellectual understanding and end with heartfelt understanding.
There have also been people that have reached the goal without intellectual understanding. For example, there was a young boy living in India who was not so bright. His mother felt so sad and unfortunate about her boy, who everyone thought was stupid, because his intelligence was so low. His mother thought, “How can I take care of my boy, in such a challenging world?”
She decided to take her son (he may have been around ten years of age) to a Spiritual Master’s house and explained the whole story. She begged the Spiritual Master, “Can you please take care of my son, so that he can have a better life. Only you can deal with him, train him up, I can’t do anything, I’ve tried my best.” The Master saw her sincerity and he felt compassionate. He said, “Okay, leave him here with me, I will take care of him.”
So the boy was amongst many other disciples who were very talented and intelligent, and who strove very hard. This ten year old boy was a disciple, but he was not a formal disciple—more like an orphan. He couldn’t help the Master much. The Master couldn’t give him any meaningful work, he couldn’t give the boy transcribing work to make the satsangs into books, he couldn’t tell him to make Thai curry for dinner, he couldn’t do anything really.
But the Master knew the boy loved one particular food called unniappam. It’s an Indian sweet—a round little sweet ball. And the boy didn’t want to do anything, he only did something if the Master gave him some of this food, unniappam. So the Master just gave him heaps of unniappam, as much as he liked. He ate it and he loved it. And he loved the Master, because the Master gave him his favourite food all the time.
The boy didn’t participate in satsang, he didn’t understand satsang, but he was very close with the Master, always by the Master’s side. His Master would tell him to do some things, “Can you get me some water, can you get my glasses that I left in the top draw,”—he could do things like that.
Anyway, the Master was writing a book, I forget the name of this book but it’s a famous spiritual book in India. I haven’t read it but people have told me it’s a very beautiful book. The Master had completed half of the book and unfortunately passed away before he finished it. But the book was completed—this lover of unniappam, this boy, wrote the second half of the book. And they say in India, when you read that book, you can’t tell it’s a different author in the second half. He became a Master, this boy.
That’s one story that shows you don’t have to start off with intellectual knowledge to attain enlightenment.
In our world we’re used to being trained in this system where, for example in high school, when you’re able to name all the planets in the solar system for an exam, you get a mark back for that question, “All correct.” That means you know the planets in the solar system, you’ve got correct understanding. But we don’t know it deeply, we don’t know it in our heart, in our gut—that heartfelt knowing, that applied knowledge.
Applied knowledge means if someone says to you, “You’re a bloody idiot,” you’ll be calm and relaxed, like the person hasn’t said a word, because you know whatever it is the person’s saying about you, is not you. Now that faith of knowing, “I am not that,” doesn’t come easy. The applied heartfelt understanding doesn’t come easy. Applied means—when situations in life hit us, when situations in life test us, how you respond in that moment will determine who you are. Because that knowing of who you are will show, in that moment, you see. If you don’t know who you truly are, beyond that “I” and “me”, you can’t apply.
Now, to be able to apply the heartfelt knowledge, you have to lose the I and the me. Like I said, if someone screams at you that you’re an idiot, in less than half a second—you don’t even say to yourself “that’s not me,”— it’s like a mantra rises automatically inside you that says, “that’s not me.” So you’ll be relaxed. You’ll be composed in life. You’ll be fearless, not afraid of anything. You’re not afraid to get a job, you’re not afraid to not have a job, you’re not afraid to enter into a relationship, you’re not afraid to not have a relationship. You’re not afraid of life, and you’re not afraid of death.
Beyond the ego of “I” and “me” is true understanding. An understanding that comes from deep within you, within your heart and not your mind.
So how do we access that heartfelt knowledge? Through tearful contemplation. Contemplation is not enough—it’s tearful contemplation! Because tearful contemplation means you contemplate deeply, with love, the object that you love, the goal that you love. And also through heartfelt prayer. I don’t mean just a prayer you’re repeating because the scriptures say to repeat it. That’s good too, but I mean prayer in the way that St Francis of Assisi prayed to Jesus. Jesus is not in physical form, but when St Francis of Assisi thought of Jesus on the cross, it was automatic—without one word coming out of his mouth he was in the heart faculty! You’ve got to pray in that way.
What’s also critical is that we cultivate a beautiful attitude in ourself. So how do you get that beautiful loving attitude? We get it by hanging around a person that has a perfect attitude. And the fastest way to change our attitude is through copying. So you’ve got to find someone that has the perfect attitude, then copy the attitude. Copy and notice how they love life, how they see life, how they see other people. Do they see other people as low and themselves as high? Or do they see, “I am the servant of the world. I am nothing.”
Go find someone that has that attitude! Go live with them, hang around with them, see what they do. See their faith—in the midst of failure, how do they respond? Do they lose faith? Do they want big crowds coming to praise them? Or do they just want to serve whoever comes— whether it’s one or one million, they start stirring the noodles for whoever is hungry.
There was a Master who had a perfect attitude. He was asked, “What’s your preference in life?” He smiled and said, “Whatever shows up is my preference.” Now that’s a perfect attitude. If a boyfriend shows up, that’s my preference. If no boyfriend shows up, that’s my preference. If suddenly a million dollars shows up, that’s my preference. If nothing comes and I’m broke, that’s my preference. Now, with an attitude like that, we’re talking about contentment, perfect acceptance, perfect equanimity and perfect love .
And if for whatever reason your attitude and understanding is still not perfect, then stamp your feet on the ground, scream out to God, “Help! I want that! I want that!” Like a child in the supermarket, chucking a tantrum when the mother will not give the child the sweets. They put the sweets near the checkout, and the child will try to grab it, and when the mother says no, the child will chuck a tantrum, make a big scene—and fifty per cent of the time it works! But guess what, when a person’s attitude is like that, when they chuck a tantrum towards God, a hundred percent of the time it will work, not fifty per cent! God is compassionate.