Swami Kriyananda often explained how we create our own pain. Let’s say we tie a string tightly around our finger. Then we release the condition that created the pain, and we say how relieved and happy we feel.
I feel I’ve been “tying strings” around my soul for many lives. I don’t want to receive only a hug from God. I want to LOVE the Infinite. You have said that it isn’t enough to say we love something. We also have to work to achieve the goal. Yet I see myself doing foolish things. I know they are foolish, but I am not able to act on what I know. Help!
As my mother aged, her body began to fail. Ordinary tasks became a challenge. “Getting old is not for sissies!” she often remarked.
The same could be said about the spiritual life. It is not for weaklings. You have to take risks. You have to fail. You have to fall and get up. It takes courage. In a course that Swami Kriyananda wrote for his fellow monks sixty years ago, he said that the first essential quality for the devotee is courage.
Wherever you are, there is always a way to go forward. It doesn’t matter if you have walked the same ground before. If it is where you find yourself now, the only thing is to move forward, starting from that point.
What is forward for one person may not be forward for another. If Mahatma Gandhi had suddenly decided to abandon the campaign to free India and had used his fame to open a law practice, everyone would say that he had fallen. But if your lazy uncle finally gets off his cot and uses his law degree to make money for the family, everyone would say, “Well done!”
Devotees “north of God” have to go south; those south of God have to go north. People make a dogma of the direction they are following. Those heading south declare, “South is the way!” Those going north are equally vehement. Of course, both are right in their direction – but wrong in their narrowness.
For a while you may work to move one aspect of yourself godward: for example, by developing a particular talent. Then you may focus on something very different, perhaps raising a family.
The masters tell us that we must strive for excellence in everything we do. For a long time, I wondered why. If everything in this world is relative, why bother?
In Swamiji’s book, The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, I found a good explanation. He speaks of the Guru as “triguna rahitam.” This means “one who has transcended the three gunas” – the energies that make up the material world. Tamo guna is darkening, confining, downward pulling energy. Rajo guna is activating, restless. Sattwa guna is calm, uplifting, peaceful.
To determine what is a “forward” direction for you, ask, “Which guna, or combination of gunas, am I manifesting?” Too often, a clever answer such as “Why bother?” – is just tamo guna. It’s low energy that lets laziness and fear rule you.
Great masters and highly evolved souls put out tremendous effort to achieve the tasks God gives them.
Swamiji would go over a manuscript dozens of times before he would release it for publication. While editing his book The New Path: My Life with Paramhansa Yogananda, he made over 50,000 changes before he considered it finished.
When members of our community were learning to sing the music that Swamiji had written, he would sometimes stop them in the middle of a public performance to correct their singing. Some people protested that he was embarrassing them before others. (The singers themselves never complained.)
Swamiji replied, “They need to put out the energy to do it right.” Singing the wrong way was a symptom of tamo guna – an infection of low energy that they needed to correct.
When we fail to achieve excellence, it is because we have not overcome the confusing influences of the gunas. For the same reason, we don’t see God, even though His presence is everywhere. We need to become like the masters: triguna rahitam. Masters of this world and its energies.
To rail against yourself, “Why do I keep making the same mistakes?” is tamo guna speaking. It makes you self-concerned rather than self-expansive. It doesn’t matter what your problems are. You have to make the effort to overcome them and expand your awareness past them.
No one will force you to behave differently. But sooner or later, unhappiness will compel you to try.
As for finding a shortcut, there isn’t one.
To my everlasting embarrassment, I remember a conversation I had with Swami Kriyananda. Well, it was not exactly a conversation, because he didn’t say anything.
I was facing a big challenge. It was a serious issue, and I was far from overcoming it when the conversation happened.
I explained to Swamiji that everything in my life was going well, except for this big problem. If I didn’t have to deal with it, I said, I would be so happy and free. All of this I said with tears running down my face.
Only later did I understand that I was saying, “If the spiritual path weren’t so hard, it would be easier.”
In his wonderful way, Swamiji knew exactly how to respond. I felt so sorry for myself that I didn’t need more sympathy. Clearly, also, I was beyond reason.
So he said nothing. Nothing at all. Not even with his face. “Expressionless” perfectly describes the way he looked at me. He just let what I said sit in the room without relating to it at all.
We sat like that in silence for a few minutes, and then the phone rang. He answered it without even a glance of apology. It was about an appointment with a doctor. Once that was settled and he hung up, it was clear the interview was over.
Don’t think for a moment that Swamiji was being rude. Even at the time, I could see that his response was brilliant. He was saying “Enough already!” I got the message.
So I persevered. I can’t say I have conquered the trial I was facing, but by the grace of God, I have moved a good distance in the right direction.
I shudder to think what might have happened if in that critical moment Swamiji had shown me even an ounce of sympathy. Of course he was much too wise for that. He knew I would have seized it like a drowning person seizes a log. Except in this case, it would have taken me to the bottom of the sea, not safely to the shore.