What Does It Mean to “Miss the Point” on the Spiritual Path?

The main handbook of yoga, you might say, is the Aphorisms of Patanjali. Written hundreds of years ago, it remains the authoritative description of the yogic path.

In several of his aphorisms, Patanjali describes the obstacles that prevent us from making progress on the spiritual path.

The great yoga sage Patanjali. (Click to enlarge. Source: Alok Prashad, Wikimedia Commons.)

One of them translates as “missing the point.” The first time I read it, I asked Swami Kriyananda, “Is that what Patanjali actually said?”

Swami replied matter-of-factly that indeed it was what Patanjali wrote, and that the English translation was correct.

“Missing the point.” Why would an ancient sage say something so important in such a simple, almost cryptic way? It’s so simple that for a long time it puzzled me. But after observing myself and the world for a number of years, I realized that it’s a great danger to overlook the meaning of those three simple words.

Patanjali is describing what happens when we think we’re doing everything right, but we’re missing the point. We’re behaving reasonably according to our own lights, yet we aren’t doing what will help us overcome the ego.

You’re doing all the right things, and maybe you’re being successful outwardly, but the net result is that you’re becoming more fixed in your delusions and you aren’t growing in happiness.

Once you recognize how easy it is to miss the point, and how dangerous it is, it’s easy to become a bit nervous about your actions. You begin to question every thought and action. “I’m doing everything right, but am I missing the point?”

The figure of Judas looms large in the story of Christianity. Judas fell into the trap of missing the point.

Swami Kriyananda tells us that Yogananda said, “Judas betrayed Jesus only once.” But as things begin, so they continue. It’s an interesting law of life – if the energy is a little bit off at the beginning, it will set a wrong direction for all of the future.

It’s why, at the start of any undertaking, Swamiji always put enormous focus on making sure the vibrations were correct, and that there was harmony with truth. Because if we start off on the wrong foot, it creates a magnetism that may take us away from truth for a very long time.

We can’t say that Jesus’ teaching got off on the wrong foot, because he was a Self-realized master, and the events of his life happened in accordance with God’s will. But at the beginning of Christianity, there was this great betrayal that still carries a deep lesson for us today.

Most people forget that Judas was one of Christ’s twelve apostles. Christ came with an extraordinary mission, and great souls descended with the Master to help him. When a master is born, highly advanced members of his spiritual family are born to help him carry out his mission.

You need look no farther than the chair you’re sitting on, because we are part of one such spiritual family. Paramhansa Yogananda came with a great mission, and a large group of us have been born at this time to help him carry out that work.

Swamiji’s came to Yogananda just three and a half years before he left his body. He was twenty-two when he met Yogananda and twenty-five when the Master died. So the direction of his life was set before he was thirty. And since then his life was dedicated to furthering his Guru’s mission. Swamiji was one of the great ones who were born to help realize that work.

In The New Path, Swamiji tells us that until he was nine, he lived mostly in the astral world and never really settled in this earthly plane.

He tells how, lying in his bed at night, a great light would appear in his forehead. He would stare into the light, and it would expand until he merged in it. He thought everyone went to sleep that way. He said he did that practically every night until he was nine, when he became acutely ill with a high fever and delirium. His father sat by his bedside, reading him the story of Huckleberry Finn. Huck’s father was a violent drunkard, and at night in his delirium Swami would say, “I don’t want to be a drunkard! Oh, I don’t want to be a drunkard!”

Swamiji said, “I wonder if I was a drunkard in some past life, and I was frightened that it might happen again.”

After that illness, two things happened. He began to realize that the world he lived in wasn’t the world everybody else was living in. And because of the delirium when he was ill, he became a little fearful of states of consciousness that weren’t the normal waking state. So he began to resist those experiences.

I’ve told elsewhere how the whole planet looked wrong to me, even as a child. I realized that I hadn’t met anyone who actually knew truth. I grew increasingly desperate to find meaning.

I dropped out of college, and fortunately God took a hand. He introduced me to the Bhagavad Gita, and to Ramakrishna and his disciple Swami Vivekananda. And I just inhaled the teachings. It was the first time since I’d come into this life that I was able to breathe easy. “Oh my God, somebody has the truth!” It was so vivid to me, to discover that somebody actually knew. But there was an enormous problem. “I know this is true, I know this is what life is about. But how do I make it work in my own life?”

I lived in a little house in San Francisco and went to my little job, and came back to my little house. I had this great inspiration, but when I looked at my life, it wasn’t changing.

Christ and Judas, mural in the 18th-century church at Atotonilco in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. (Click to enlarge. Image source: Tomas Castelazo, Wikimedia Commons.)
Christ and Judas, mural in the 18th-century church at Atotonilco in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. (Click to enlarge. Image source: Tomas Castelazo, Wikimedia Commons.)

I would ride the Geary bus to work. I worked downtown, and I was reading the three-volume story of the Ramayama. It took me three months to read it. I recall sitting in the back of the bus, reading this story, and I was just so into it. The demon comes and steals Sita away, and Rama is so heartbroken, and he doesn’t know where she’s gone, and the brave monkeys are looking for her. I would look up and see the people on the bus, and a kind of madness would come over me. I wanted to shout at them, “don’t you know that Sita has been abducted?!” I didn’t say anything, but I had this feeling that they were missing the point. They were living their lives, doing what was expected, being successful in their jobs and families, but they were missing the point.

I knew the point, but I couldn’t grasp it. Then, shortly before Thanksgiving 1969, I happened to be on the Stanford campus when Swami Kriyananda gave a talk there. It was hosted by a fraternity, in a big tent. Swami said later, “you were there?” I said, “yes, sir, I was.” He said, “well, something good came out of that night, anyway.”

By this time, I was completely desperate. I remember feeling this great pressure inside, and wondering if I might have a nervous breakdown. I knew that Ramakrishna and Vivekananda knew the truth, but they weren’t around, and I wasn’t capable of translating the teachings in my own life. So I thought I might have a nervous breakdown, but being a practical person I realized it would be time-consuming and expensive, and at the end I’d be right back where I started, so there was no point. So I was quietly waiting.

And what I was waiting for was that night in the tent. My companions wanted to sit in the last row, which turned out to be inspired, because it gave us a clear view. The doors opened and a man entered. He was in his early forties and wore an orange robe. His body wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but his vitality was astonishing and completely untouched by his body. The man came in and walked toward me and stopped.

I thought, “he knows.” I couldn’t say what he knew, but I knew that he had what I wanted, and for the rest of my life I’ve believed in him. I didn’t know if it was possible to live according to the truth of the Gita and Ramakrishna, and now it was standing in front of me. From that moment, I’ve never doubted that there is a God.

I don’t know what he said that night. I didn’t see him again for nine or ten months. But from the time it took him to walk to the stage, I knew.

And that’s the point. The point isn’t what we want with our egos. It isn’t taking advantage of the pleasures we can have. It isn’t achieving gratification and security. None of those things work in the long run. The only thing that works is that we gain mastery over our consciousness and the way we are inside.

I hadn’t suffered in this incarnation. My life was very bland that way. But I was born with a desperate longing to escape something I couldn’t even define.

It was my first impulse in this life. As a child I was smart and had a lot of potential – I remember a high school teacher telling me, “I don’t want to see you married in a few years with a family, because you’re supposed to do something else.” But what was it? All of the futures I could imagine looked like nothing to me.

For a while I thought that I would have lots of children, because it would be very meaningful and real. You have the children and you can help them grow. I didn’t consider that it’s a lottery and that you never know what kind of children you’ll get. I had this youthful thought that they would all be perfect. And then I realized that even if I had a dozen children, it wouldn’t necessarily change my consciousness.

The Indian culture values motherhood. I had a conversation with one of our Indian friends. She said, “You’ve never had children?”

I said, “No, never had children.”

“Oh, you poor dear!”

woman and children
Family life teaches us to expand our hearts — an important lesson on the spiritual path. Better, though, if we don’t “miss the point,” grasping it as an end in itself. (Click to enlarge. Image source: Susan Sermoneta, Creative Commons.)

And it’s all right. But it’s not what I was born to do. I don’t have anything against it. I think it’s one of the better things to do, because it’s real and you can get the benefit of it. You bring the children into the world and you can help them find God. And what could be more real? But you don’t have to give birth to them to help them find God, do you? So I thought, “What’s the point?”

The lore of Christ’s life tells us that Judas was one of the most charismatic of the disciples. But Judas missed the point. He fell into the delusion of thinking that Jesus’ life was about worldly power. Now, Judas wasn’t a fool. He had had profound spiritual awareness from former lives. But even in the presence of the Master, delusion crept in and tempted him to think, “Why don’t you make the Master’s work manifest in this world?” Judas began to think, “Jesus knows a lot about many things, but in this matter of worldly power, maybe I know a little more.”

In The New Path,Swamiji says, essentially, “It’s death for the devotee when you begin to think that in certain ways you know more than the Guru.”

We can all fall into that delusion. On more times than I’m proud to say, I’ve thought, “What on earth is he doing?” But after many years, I’ve begun to think, “he knows.”

I think, “Who has a greater chance of being motivated by ego, Swami or me?” It’s a tremendous help when you can just cut right to the heart of that delusion. Whatever you’re resisting, whatever small thing you’re saying, you can ask, “Who has a better chance of knowing?” You can reflect that you might have so much ego that what you’re thinking has nothing to do with the issue at hand.

Swami said about someone, “it’s good to squelch them every once in a while.” They needed to be squelched every so often because they tended to get too huffy about things.

I wouldn’t dare do that, but he did, because he could do it with love.

Swamiji had a meeting with someone from outside our circle. Later, I asked him, “How did the meeting go?”

He sort of half smiled and said, “when you meet people for the first time and simply love them, they’re not used to it. They don’t quite know what to do.”

This is the point. This world is very different than we imagine. You cannot force this world to make you happy. This is a transitory state. We’re just passing through.

We have visitors from India with us. And if those of you who flew over on the airplane had settled down and hung pictures in the plane, and started cooking your meals, and started setting up beds for your children, and started remodeling the airplane, you would have been taken off the plane as mentally unbalanced. It would be decided that you had lost your minds.

I think that’s how the saints see us. They see us entering this world and hanging our pictures, and remodeling. And it’s not so much that we can’t do those things. In fact, they’re what Swami and I used to call “our petty enthusiasms.” And they’re fairly harmless.

We need something to do, and we need to give it our best, and it’s all good training. It’s like exercises in the gym. But when we think for even a second that this is our home, it’s madness. That’s really madness. Because this is not our home. And let us not miss the point.

Those of us who have taken Master as our guru and Swami as our guide have a job to do. We are not here to play through this life. We’re the first wave. We’re establishing a beachhead for this teaching, for this ray, for this time when God has come to give the world Self-Realization and Kriya Yoga. We are privileged beyond measure to be part of this great work.

Who among us could do it by ourselves? But in the wake of these great masters, look what we’ve been able to accomplish. But this isn’t a free ride. This is not our home. Our home is inward with God.

Do everything in this world, as Master said, as if you were going to be here forever, and then be ready at a moment’s notice to turn away and go back home.

That’s the way to live. That’s what I saw coming through the door in 1969. I saw coming in that door the perfect man, the perfect balance of love for God, service to humanity, devotion to Guru, and freedom in Spirit. And that is the point.

(From Asha’s Sunday service on June 4, 2006.)

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