A group of devotees invited a master of meditation to the house of one of them to give them instruction. He told them that they must strive to acquire freedom from strong reactions to the events of daily life, an attitude of habitual reverence, and the regular practice of a method of meditation which he explained in detail. The object was to realize the one divine life pervading all things.
‘In the end you must come to this realization not only in the meditation period, but in daily life. The whole process is like filling a sieve with water.’
He bowed and left.
The little group saw him off, and then one of them turned to the others, fuming. ‘That’s as good as telling us that we’ll never be able to do it. Filling a sieve with water, I ask you! That’s what happens now, isn’t it? At least, it does with me. I go to hear a sermon, or I pray, or I read one of the holy books, or I help the neighbours with their children and offer the merit to God, or something like that, and I feel uplifted. My character does improve for a bit – I don’t get so impatient, and I don’t gossip so much. But it soon drops off, and I’m j ust like I was before. It is like water in a sieve, he’s right there. But now he’s telling us this is all we shall ever be able to do.’
They pondered on the image of the sieve without getting any solution which satisfied them all. Some thought he was telling them that people like themselves in the world could expect only a temporary upliftment; some thought he was just laughing at them. Some thought he was telling them there was something fundamentally wrong with their ideas. Others thought he might be referring to something in the classics which he had expected them to know; they looked for references to a sieve, without success.
In the end the whole thing dropped away from all of them except one woman, who made up her mind to see the master.
He gave her a sieve and a cup, and they went to the nearby seashore, where they stood on a rock with the waves breaking round them.
‘Show me how you fill the sieve with water,’ he said.
She bent down, held the sieve in one hand, and scooped the water into it with the cup. It barely appeared at the bottom of the sieve, and then was gone.
‘It’s just like that with spiritual practice too,’ he said, ‘while one stands on the rock of I-ness, and tries to ladle the divine realization into it. That’s not the way to fill the sieve with water, or the self with divine life.’
‘How do you do it then?’ she asked.
He took the sieve from her hand, and threw it far out into the sea, where it floated momentarily and then sank.
‘Now it’s full of water,’ he said, ‘and it will remain so. That’s the way to fill it with water, and it’s the way to do spiritual practice. It’s not ladling little cupfuls of divine life into the individuality, but throwing the individuality far out into the sea of divine life.’