“I don’t say this often,” Swami Kriyananda remarked, “but my Guru Paramhansa Yogananda was so cute.”
He added that it doesn’t seem quite proper to say such a thing about a God-realized avatar. Yet he was adorable, because he was so real and charming.
Swamiji described how Yogananda would tell a joke, and he would laugh so hard and his Bengali accent would become so thick that you couldn’t understand what he was saying. But the spirit of joy that poured from him was so infectious that Swamiji and the others would be laughing and laughing, without knowing exactly why.
Swami told how he was sitting with his Guru after a lunch that they hosted for some guests. On the table was a fork and a glass of water, and Yogananda was trying to flip the fork into the glass. He kept trying and missing, and Swamiji describes how he became utterly serious. When he finally got the fork in the glass, it smashed the glass. Yogananda looked at Swamiji and said, “but I got it in!”
Swamiji told the story to illustrate the Guru’s utter determination when he decided to do something, even something as trivial as flipping a fork into a glass.
All of which is to say that people sometimes get the idea that the way to be spiritual is to be terribly serious about it all the time, even to the point of grimness, and to pretend to be aloof and above it all.
But, as the Gita tells us, we can’t get out of action by refusing to act. In other words, we can’t transcend the world by refusing to engage in it.
When we refuse to engage with the world, it’s usually not because we’ve transcended it, but because we’re afraid. We’re afraid to open our hearts because we might be rejected. We don’t want to be creative or artistic or successful, because we’re afraid that we might succeed. So we erect a wall of indifference and aloofness, to avoid engaging with a world that seems impossibly scary.
“I should be detached.” Therefore, instead of detaching myself from my likes and dislikes and expanding my consciousness to offer divine friendship and love to all, I’ll withdraw into myself in the name of spirituality, and I’ll behave coldly toward the “outside world.”
This isn’t the example that the masters set for us. The masters and their great disciples are people of tremendous energy. And whether that energy manifests outwardly, or if they spend their lives in solitude and inward contemplation, their commitment to the divine life and to sharing God’s love is total.
I talked last week about why devotees fall. Today, we’re talking about how devotees can rise again if they fall. And an important key to letting go of our mistakes and moving forward is to put ourselves wholeheartedly behind whatever we’re doing.
When I taught beginning meditation classes, I would spend the last class trying to help people understand how they could stay with their practice and make progress.
I explained that one of the reasons the spiritual path stops working for us is that we stop giving it energy, so it doesn’t inspire us anymore. And then we don’t do as much, and the energy winds down and we drift away from the path, having lost a priceless opportunity.
With something as priceless and subtle as the spiritual life, we need to be extremely careful and alert to do the right things that will keep us going. The formal rules and rituals of religion are well-intended efforts to help people stay awake. But the problem with following “the rules” too rigidly, instead of raising our own energy, is that it becomes mechanical and dry, and so it ends up draining the life out of our spiritual efforts.
In our services, we ask you to stand up and sit down and sing and pray. It isn’t as bad as some churches, where Swamiji joked that they tell you to stand up and sit down so that you won’t fall asleep.
But we need to realize that there’s a force that wants to pull us back into the world. And when you get serious about the path, you find that force suggesting that you don’t have to be doing this. Your friends and family will tell you, “Don’t try to be awake. Be like everybody else. Come back to us!” Because that force will use those people as channels to try to get its own way.
When you become saintly, that’s when Satan will really take an interest. And he’ll manifest in the forms that are perfectly designed to tempt you.
Saint Anthony spent decades meditating in a remote cave in the Egyptian desert. Satan manifested to him as all kinds of hideous monsters and demons to try to get him to renounce his guru, Jesus Christ. And whether you think of that force as the Devil or simply a projection of Anthony’s own mind, nonetheless it was a reality that was bent on getting him to give up. But Anthony held on no matter how the Devil threatened him. “I will not yield, because this is my only reality.”
When Christ finally appeared, Anthony asked him why he hadn’t come amidst the terrible temptations. Christ said, “Anthony, I was always with you.”
Now, of course St. Anthony had to be in a very high state of consciousness, to be able to undertake such a degree of renunciation and spiritual testing. But for us, our tests play out at the level of our daily interactions with others.
Our tests don’t include the devil threatening to smash the roof of our cave down on our head. They take simpler forms. “Will I get out of bed and meditate?” “Will I develop the patience to be kind to the people God sends me?” “Will I summon the courage to open my heart?”
There’s a wonderful song by Swami Kriyananda, Walk Like a Man. A line in the song says: “Give life your heart – bless everything that’s grown. fear not the loving – all this world’s your own.”
It’s an unofficial theme song of our community – because the thing that makes our communities thrive is each person’s commitment to following the star of God-realization.
Now, that’s the power of loving that we need to develop. We need to find the courage to love, to be unafraid to love God, and not be afraid of the work that God has given us, and not fear to give His love to the people in our lives.
Don’t think that you’re becoming God-centered, if you’re only closing yourself off from the world. God wants us to find Him through the life He has given us. We must be ready to seek Him everywhere, in the midst of good and ill fortune, health and disease, life and death.
Sometimes you’ll have a life where everything goes beautifully. God gives us those good lives to help us find the courage to open our hearts to Him, so that we’ll be ready when He takes us through our next lesson.
We must face the reality of the karma that we’ve created, and we must have the courage and faith to go forward, knowing that when we take one step toward the light, the light will take two steps toward us.
I often joke about “God’s matching fund.” You put in a penny, and God puts in a dollar. You put in a dollar and He puts in twenty. God’s grace is out of all proportion to our own efforts. As Yogananda put it, the path is twenty-five percent our effort, twenty-five percent the guru’s effort on our behalf, and fifty percent the grace of God.
The point is that your twenty-five percent must be a one-hundred-percent self-offering. But if you have the right attitude of devotion and sincerity, you don’t need to worry about the details.
Someone said to Swamiji, “I’ve prayed and prayed, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. What does God want me to do?”
Swami said, “it doesn’t matter which choice you make. God is pleased that you’ve thought to try to attune yourself to Him.”
All you have to do is try with complete sincerity. All you have to do is want to be in tune with God, and He will help you. Just keep going and don’t quit. If you plant a seed in the ground, you can’t know how much it’s grown. If you plant seeds of God-realization, you can be certain that you will move steadily closer to Him.
Spend time in places that inspire you. Do the things that keep your energy strong and your enthusiasm high. And don’t quit. That’s how you can make spiritual progress.
No matter how low you think you are, stand up and begin walking toward the light. God will draw you to Him and bless you and give you everything your heart desires.
(From Asha’s talk at Sunday service on June 15, 2003.)