Inward Path or Outward Path? Meditation or Work?

Swami Kriyananda was talking with Ananda members about the various delusions people have.

He confessed, “My particular delusion has been to think imagine that if I can just explain it carefully enough, everyone in the world will embrace the spiritual path.”

Uma fixing VW
Ananda Village, late 1970s. Young nun Uma (now Nayaswami Uma) works on a rattletrap VW Beetle shared by the monastic sisters. (Click to enlarge.)

He added, “The benefit of my delusion is that it has kept me working hard, trying to bring people to spiritual understanding.”

Of course, he knew it isn’t possible to persuade people to enter the path until they’re inwardly ready.

Still, the positive side of his particular “delusion” is that he worked tirelessly to expand the reach of Master’s teachings, through writing, composing, counseling, and developing ideas for outreach programs.

Master told Swamiji that his path would be one of “intense activity, plus meditation.” This sometimes raises questions in people’s minds about the nature of the path – namely, should we spend more time serving outwardly, as Swamiji did, or should we focus primarily on meditation?

I once asked Swamiji, “Is it fair to say that the way you do things is the way Master did them?”

He said, “Of course.”

“And is it fair to say that if you refrain from doing something, that’s because Master didn’t do it?”

He said, “Of course.”

Now, Master came with a mission to help the world make the difficult transition from a 2,400-year period of materialism, to an age, just now dawning, when people will be aware that the underlying reality of this planet and of all life is energy.

Krishna came at a similar turning point in history. In his case, it was a bridge from a higher age of energy-awareness into a darker age of materialism. Today, we’re living in more hopeful times, because civilization is on the ascendant. But no age on earth is ultimately perfect.

I once asked Swamiji, “Do people like us ever feel at home on this planet?”

I had started the conversation by asking, “If we had to come back to this planet, why didn’t we wait until it was more evolved, since living in a higher age would be more fun?”

Swami answered almost before I’d finished my question: “I never want to come back again!”

He said, “In higher ages, it’s a little better, because people like us are in charge, and the whole world is more like a big Ananda, in the sense of the values, and how people relate. But this world is not about that. It’s always a material plane. It’s always a place where there’s an inability to find true satisfaction. It’s always a compromise between the inspiration we feel in our hearts, and our ability to express it.”

Again, this may raise the question of why we should bother serving in this world, if our goal is to get out of it.

Master offered a great comfort to Swamiji, and to us, when he said, “God reads the heart.”

Divine Mother never misunderstands us. She knows what’s in our hearts.

Swamiji talked about how we should serve one another, not for each other’s sake, but because we see God in one another. He said that when we love selflessly, “we find that there’s no one to compete with.”

We have the false idea that there’s an inadequate supply of whatever we want, and the feeling arises that we have to push people out of our way to get what we desire. But when we love without thought of what we’ll receive, we find that there’s an infinite supply, and that everything we desire is already ours. So who is there to compete with?

And isn’t this the answer to the question, “Should we serve or should we meditate?” The clearly answer is, “Both.” Serving in the right way, with God’s love, is as inwardly liberating as meditation.

In Awaken to Superconsciousness, Swamiji describes a point in meditation, where we realize that there’s no reality outside of our own self.

Of course, that reality isn’t the ego-self. Many people are narrowly self-identified and behave as if there’s no reality outside themselves. We’re talking about a state where God expands our sense of identity to embrace everyone and everything.

In that meditative state, all sense of difference and separation dissolves, like darkness before a powerful light, and nothing is left but the one true reality.

And then Swami describes poignantly how, in that state, “For a moment one feels an intense loneliness.”Because we’re used to defining our reality by our interactions with the external world. But Swamiji says, “After that moment passes, one realizes that the single reality is bliss.”

The single reality is pure love. And then what is there to compete for? What is there to lack?”

Now, this is the goal of every true religion. Most religions are true, though superficial beliefs creep in over time, as the followers gradually lose the perception that we are divine.

How can we keep the teachings pure and alive, so that we can find God’s all-satisfying bliss within?

swami kriyananda
Swami Kriyananda at groundbreaking ceremony on the future site of the Expanding Light guest retreat, Ananda Village, late 1970s. The community had just recovered after a devastating forest fire that destroyed 21 of its 23 homes. Swamiji insisted that instead of turning inwardly to lick its wounds, the community begin to serve more dynamically than ever. Thus began an era of tremdnous spiritual growth for the members. (Click to enlarge.)

The “method” is actually quite simple. Essentially, it’s by doing whatever brings us closer to God. And on our path, the method is intense activity. Not activity for its own sake, but in service to God.

Now, we may not have the karma to serve the Guru’s work directly as Swamiji has done. But wherever we’re working, we need to understand that what counts is that we think of serving God.

Someone once asked Swamiji, “How much work should I do?”

He replied, “You should do as much work as you can do calmly. At the point where you are no longer calm, you should pull back until you can become calm again.”

Years ago, I fell into a cycle where I was working frantically and couldn’t seem to step aside and get calm. I told Swamiji about it, and I said that it was making me sad. He said, “Yes – running around like a head without a chicken.”Which summed it up perfectly – I was caught in my head, spinning endlessly, feeling un-grounded and unhappy.

I remember another time when I fell into working in that frantic state, endlessly buzzing and not knowing how I could break out of the cycle. When I mentioned it to Swami, he said, “You don’t necessarily do more good by doing more.”

When we spin too far out from our center, the vibrations we generate cease to be uplifting. We may feel we’re on top of things, but we’re subtly missing the point, with the result that we lose our inward attunement and end up feeling sad and confused.

Master’s advice was to be “calmly active, actively calm.”Even as we work, we need to remain centered in the divine Spirit.

Master held up one of his monastic disciples, Durga Mata, as an example of how to work with the right spirit. In The New Path: My Life with Paramhansa Yogananda, Swamiji describes how the monks were painting a room at Mt. Washington. They were wistfully slapping the brushes at the walls. Meanwhile, Durga was attacking the job with tremendous energy, painting away and covering wall after wall.

Master praised her spirit, because in that dynamic flow, she was conscious of the powerful current of divinity.

durga mata book
Durga Mata, at Paramhansa Yogananda’s instruction, served Rajarsi Janakananda. In her book she tells hundreds of priceless stories of these two great saints. (Click to enlarge.)

In the 1920s, Master had Durga doing work that was traditionally done by men. In her book, A Paramhansa Yogananda Trilogy of Divine Love, she describes how Master asked her to build him a motor home, long before anyone had thought of doing it.

He had the idea that by combining a car and a house you could travel around inexpensively and give talks. So he bought a railroad car and had Durga mount it on the back of a truck. Durga, who was a small woman, but very strong, spent many weeks down at the machine shop, wearing overalls and covered in grease, building this house car for Master, at a time when women didn’t even normally wear pants.

Reading Durga’s book, you sense that she was constantly thinking, “How can I serve? How can I build this house car for Master? What can I do next to make it happen?”

In his last years, Swamiji’s body was frail, but he remained absolutely unrelenting in his service. He was constantly generating ideas for projects for himself and for us to do. And it was all directed toward the single thought, “Let’s get this work going. Let’s reach India now with Master’s teachings.”

What does it matter what it costs us physically? This is what we were born to do. This is the energy we came here to put out.

Someone said to Swamiji, “But Master taught that we should do a little God-reminding work and spend most of our time meditating.”

Swami said, “That’s for a higher age.”

Our path in this age is outwardly active. It’s reflected in the Festival of Light, which came to Swamiji while he was in seclusion years ago.

The thought was that the Festival would give us a service that describes our spiritual path. At the end, it tells how we reach a point in our spiritual growth where we’re no longer setting our will against truth. We’re wanting to understand reality on its own terms, instead of wishing it were otherwise. We’re receptive to learning about the nature of happiness and suffering, of truth and untruth, of lasting happiness versus temporary pleasures.

And then we come to “the fourth and last stage of the soul’s long journey through time and space: The Redemption.”

This is where we begin to give back to God. This is the stage of divine service. And our Master’s way of serving, and our way, is very active.

There are masters who do hardly any outward work but only meditate. Swamiji met a saint in India, Sri Rama Yogi, of whom Master said that he was fully liberated. Sri Rama Yogi lived in a little village that was very difficult to get to – it was a tiny backwater where hardly anyone had any inkling of his spiritual greatness. They would talk to him about the weather and the crops. Yet Master said, “If I had spent another half hour in his company, I could not have brought myself to leave India.”

When Swamiji met this great saint, he asked him, “You have so much to give – couldn’t you do more for the world?”

Sri Rama Yogi answered, “God has done with this body what He will.”His way of being a disciple was entirely inward.

We may long wistfully for a lifetime of meditation, but it isn’t our way. Our way is intense activity.

We’ve come on the coattails of great masters to help them bring about a major change in the world. And yet it’s not the work alone that will bring us closer to God. The work is just a vehicle. Whether we work for a divine cause or for a software company, we have just one job – to work with Spirit. Our spiritual job in this life is to project the consciousness of the Divine with as much energy as we are able.

When we meditate, we draw what God longs to give us, and when we work we share His gifts. Let us resolve the apparent conflict between the inward path of meditation and the outward path of service, and live both equally well. Then we will find that they are the same – they are two sides of the same divine vehicle that will carry us home to God.

(From Asha’s Sunday service on May 16, 2004.)

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