A friend of mine is an Episcopal priest. He has a degree from an elite university, and he’s devoted to Christ and Yogananda.
I had been reading the Bible, and it struck me that one of the first things Christ’s disciples did, after his passing, was to create communities.
When I asked my friend about this, he explained that the disciples believed the end of the world was coming. They’d heard Jesus speak of the “second coming,” and of the world passing away, and they imagined they should create safe havens where the disciples could gather and survive.
I said, “But I find it difficult to believe that these souls, who had the spiritual stature to be direct disciples of a great avatar, would interpret Christ’s words in such a superficial way.”
Jesus wasn’t talking about the literal end of the world. The “world” he was talking about is the ego, which will die with the awakening of Christ Consciousness.
The second coming of the Christ Consciousness refers to our awakening to our soul nature. With the death of the little ego, our life as we’ve known it ends, as we awaken in God.
My friend explained that these outward interpretations of Christ’s teachings weren’t written down until several centuries after his passing. He said that the teachings of Jesus weren’t fully understood until then.
I said, “Christ came with divine consciousness. Did it really take two centuries of church authorities to figure out what he meant?”
What actually happened is that it took the authorities two centuries to completely misinterpret Christ’s message. In fact, it was very probably misinterpreted the day after he proclaimed it.
Jesus knew this would happen. It’s why he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:9)
About fifteen years ago, in a casual conversation with a friend, I remarked that I felt something wouldn’t be good for her to do.
She completely misunderstood my meaning. She thought I meant that she wouldn’t be good at it. So for fifteen years we labored under this misunderstanding – where she believed that I felt she wasn’t competent, but what I meant to say is that I felt it wouldn’t be a good thing for her, spiritually.
The words were similar enough to create confusion: “good for you,” versus “good at it.”
It can be dangerous to cling to our personal interpretations of what other people say. It’s how the revealed teachings of the great masters get corrupted, as people put their narrow and literal interpretations on them, without being aware of the deeper meanings that may be subtly implied.
Take, for example, the way Swami Kriyananda defined grace. He said that grace is “the power to rise spiritually.”
Grace is the power that God gives us to rise into Him. It isn’t the notion that God will “grace us” with liberation without any effort on our part, or that He’ll grace us with lots of little outward favors. As in, “God graced me with a new car.”
Several years ago, David and I put a new carpet in our home, and I remember the seemingly endless process we went through. We invested tremendous energy in finding the right color of carpet, which we had to order from a supplier on the East Coast.
And then the carpet finally arrived. We had invested so much energy, and there it was at last – the new carpet! Hurrah!
And what does it do? It lies there. It doesn’t tell us jokes. It doesn’t do anything to entertain us. It’s the most inert object in the world. And the entire myth that things have power to enliven our consciousness lay debunked at our feet.
At such times, you’ve probably felt that you just wanted to throw everything away. I wouldn’t do it, but I find it terribly annoying how the myth creeps into our minds that something outside us will give us happiness.
Before the Jews rose to prominence in the ancient world, people had fallen into the custom of praying to various minor gods for worldly boons. They would pray to the god of war for victory, and to the god of prosperity for money. They imagined that these little statues of lesser gods would give them power and happiness.
Then the Jewish people came along with the understanding that there was a single divine power. Because there were sages like Moses among them, who knew the truth by their own inner experience.
The experience of the divine presence is the truth. The Jewish people understood this, and so they drew a great avatar to them, in the form of Moses.
God wanted to turn people away from the folly of praying to lesser gods for worldly boons. So He sent Moses with a set of commandments that would help people find the experience of truth within themselves. The guidelines inscribed in the Ten Commandments weren’t the revealed divine truth, but they suggested that if you followed certain principles, they would help you have the experience of the divine.
Over time, the teachings of Moses devolved into an infatuation with superficial things, as people began to paste their own narrow, outward interpretations on his teachings.
The laws became an end unto themselves, and a new avatar was needed to set religion back on its true course. God sent Christ to help the world understand that fulfillment doesn’t lie in rites and rules and material things, but in developing our power to receive God within ourselves.
What enables us to rise into the awareness of God is our receptivity to His grace. Our salvation doesn’t come only by self-effort. We don’t rise by arranging the world just so, but only by offering ourselves into the flow of God’s grace and letting it change us. That’s the part we have to play to receive Him.
It’s why John said, “But as many as received him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12)
Jesus faced tremendous opposition. In the end, the Jewish people wouldn’t accept him. Many of them had used the teachings to get worldly power and prestige, and they weren’t about to give it up without a fight.
The battle wasn’t between Christians and Jews, but between opposing viewpoints: the idea that religion can be defined by forms and rituals, and the truth that it’s an experience, and that the inner experience of the grace of God is all that matters.
“The end of the world” means the end of the world as we know it, and the rebirth we experience when we embrace the new world that God is offering us.
The conflict between the inward and outward interpretation of religion ended Jesus’ life. And it’s a conflict we face in our own lives.
We hope that our lives will unfold in all the outward ways we prefer. We want our lives to unfold in a predictable, pleasant, comfortable way. But arranging our lives perfectly will never give us the power we’re seeking.
We can follow all of the rules – do our Kriyas properly and put our house in order. But Yogananda gave us a very different perspective on the way to receive God’s grace.
He said, “Many people will fall away from this path. But it wouldn’t have to happen if they would stay in tune.”
He would accept people as his disciples people who couldn’t meditate well, and he said he would meditate for them. There was a woman who lived at Mt. Washington and became God-realized, even though she couldn’t meditate deeply. But she was in tune with the Master.
Attunement is the power to receive God’s grace. And attunement depends on the attitudes of the inner self. It’s not a question of getting ourselves so perfectly organized that we can succeed. It’s a question of receiving from the Master the power to experience God.
Imagine that you’re the parent of a child who wants to be good at sports. Maybe your child isn’t very talented. And as a parent, all you can do is stand on the sideline and watch, because the child must succeed by himself. But every part of the mother or father goes out with so much love and power, trying to help them.
The parents aren’t directly involved, but they aren’t passive. The parents on the sideline cheer and applaud the child’s efforts. And at the end of the game, they gather the child in their arms.
Our experiences on earth are pale mirrors of the divine play. Our little accomplishments are meant to help us build the strengths and qualities we need in order to achieve the only reward that matters: to transcend the ego and attune ourselves to God’s infinite bliss and love.
The divine is completely impersonal, but we can experience it in a personal way. This is why God takes form in saints such as Christ, Babaji, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, or Yogananda. In these outward forms, God expresses His love for us. In the presence of the saints, we can feel the overwhelming love of God, if we will open ourselves to receive it.
Jesus told his disciples, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) He was letting the disciples know that it’s what he would do for them. He was about to lay down his life for the freedom of the friends whom he loved. It wasn’t a passive act. He showed us that by giving up the little self, we can receive the bliss that God wants to give us.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna asks Krishna, “Tell me, Lord, what is the path to salvation? How can I become free?”
At this point in the Gita, Krishna has described the rituals, rules, and laws of religion. But now, with passion, he tells Arjuna, “Nay, but once more take my last word, my utmost meaning have – precious thou art to me!”
Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that what a mother would say to her child? “Precious thou art to me, right well-beloved. Listen, I tell thee for thy comfort this.”
His instructions are simple: “Give me thy heart. Adore me. Serve me. Cling in faith and love and reverence to me. So shalt thou come to Me, I promise true, for thou art sweet to me.”
Aren’t those beautiful words? What would you do if God spoke those words to you? You would feel that you had everything you wanted. “Cling to me, come to me, have faith in me.” You would run to God’s arms without a moment’s hesitation. You would see that everything you were looking for was there.
Krishna says, “So thou art sweet to me. And let go those rites and duties.”
Don’t let any least thing keep you from this. “Fly to Me alone. Make Me thy simple refuge. I will free thy soul from all its sins. Be of good cheer.”
In the Bible, Jesus says the same thing. He tells his disciples, “The world will hate you. The world will persecute you.”
Yet he says this cheerfully. Because you are my disciple, because you have dared to separate yourself from the superstitions of the world, they will see that you are going to a place where they want to go but haven’t the courage. Rather than loving you, they will try to pull you back. They will hate you. They’ll despise you and try to persecute you.
It’s the strangest thing in the world, isn’t it? If you try to do the greatest good, you’ll be torn down, time after time. Such is the nature of this ridiculous planet on which we find ourselves. Nonetheless, Jesus says, “the world will persecute you. The world will hate you.” And he adds, “But be of good cheer, for I have conquered this world.”
He’s telling us, “I am your Divine Father. I am your Divine Mother. I am your protector. What difference does it make what the world says to you – you have Me. You have the power of the Infinite. You have My grace, which has the power to lift you, if you will receive it.”
And how does Krishna tell us to receive? He doesn’t say, “By all these little rites and duties.” Because he isn’t just talking about rites and ceremonies; he’s talking about the attitudes of the mind. And the divine attitude is not, “God can’t love me because I missed my meditation this morning. God can’t love me because I didn’t do my Kriyas today.”
It helps enormously to follow the directions the masters give us, because this is one way we put ourselves in tune with them. It doesn’t help to ignore the rules. But nor do the rules alone bring us salvation. Nor does breaking the rules keep us from the Divine.
“Cling to me,” he says. “Precious thou art to me.”
Isn’t that a glorious message?
“Come to me, thou who art sweet to me. Put aside all other considerations, and I promise you, you will be one with me. Be of good cheer.”
(From Asha’s talk at Sunday service, February 15, 2004.)