Swami Kriyananda’s book, The Essence of Self Realization, is a collection of sayings of his Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, that he recorded during the years he lived with him.
Even though I’ve read that book many times, it continues to have an extraordinary power for me.
One memorable passage is a conversation between Yogananda and a professor from Columbia University.
As a professor of philosophy, he was more interested in ideas about religion, than the practices of inner communion.
“What is God?” “What are His attributes?” “What are His qualities?” These are the kind of questions that intellectuals and theologians love.
Yogananda answered the professor in an interesting way. He explained that it’s impossible for us, with our limited human minds, to perceive God’s nature – His unconditional love, His omnipresence, and His infinite wisdom.
The human intellect can only grasp reality secondhand. It cannot directly know a being whose nature is unbounded.
Yogananda tells the professor that the point of an avatar’s presence on earth is not to explain the spiritual life in terms that satisfy the mind, but to inspire us. The avatar’s role is to awaken that part of us that can realize God’s omnipresence as our own.
Elsewhere, Yogananda says, “The masters talk about God in terms that we already know.” The masters are aware of our human longings – how our hearts long for love, and to be understood, to be seen, and to be comforted, appreciated, and supported. So they talk about human experiences that we can relate to. They speak of God as a father and mother, and they talk about friendship and romantic love.
Our hearts can understand those feelings. And so, instead of giving us a set of intellectual definitions, the masters give us stories that we can understand with our hearts.
Our human hearts are forever restless. A friend and I were discussing a word that people often use when talking about romantic relationships. They’ll say, “I’m not sure I should ‘settle’ for this relationship.” We all have a list of the qualities we want in a perfect relationship. And, “Maybe this person won’t fulfill all of my longings, but I don’t think I should settle, so I’m going to try this other relationship because it looks like it might give me more.”
Restless, restless, restless. Wherever I’m standing, it’s not enough. And we’re perfectly right – whatever we long for in this world, it will never be enough. Because we can seek here and there, but it will never satisfy our hearts completely.
Yogananda described God as better than a thousand million romantic loves all merged into one – better than the most delicious taste, the most delightful feelings, and the most exquisite sights. And the way he describes God is very persuasive, because he’s speaking from direct experience. He isn’t describing God from the outside, in a cold, abstract, intellectual way; he’s inspiring us to seek the perfect, flawless fulfillment of the deepest longing of our hearts.
Even though I’ve read The Essence of Self-Realization many times, it’s uncanny how I’ll come upon a paragraph that I’m positive wasn’t there before.
I had that experience recently with a passage where Yogananda talks about the purpose of human love.
He tells us that the purpose of the love of good friends is to help us understand that the nature of divine love is to give itself freely, without conditions or expectations.
Yogananda said that friendship is the freest form of love. We give love to our friends simply because we feel inspired by the joy of giving it.
And then Master uses a beautiful phrase, “the selfless intensity of romantic love.” This is something we desire of love in all its forms – a “selfless intensity” that takes us out of ourselves.
And finally, Master says that the love of the parents for the child is meant to help us understand that the nature of God’s love is supportive and protective.
Now, just think how the parents nurture the newborn child. The baby is so vulnerable, and the love of the mother and father says, “I will do anything to protect this child. I will do anything to ensure that my child can realize its potential.”
The love of the parents reflects the great spiritual drama of our lives. Because we need to understand and nurture our potential – our potential to love infinitely, and to sacrifice self-interest and expand our awareness in the great ocean of God’s love.
When I was new at Ananda, there were two women in my life with whom I had completely different relationships. One of them I loved dearly, and the other I did not get along with at all. We had a karmic conflict that, I suspect, was born in the distant past. With Swami Kriyananda’s help, thank God, we were able to resolve our differences. But it was an intense time, and I was new on the path, and I couldn’t figure it out.
I knew that I had an intense aversion on one side, and an intense affection on the other. And so I came up with a bright idea that I presented to Swami Kriyananda.
“Swamiji,” I said, “the problem is not that I dislike this woman so much, it’s that I love this one too much. And if I loved her less, it would sort of equalize. What do you think?”
Swami looked at me for a moment in stunned silence. In all the years I knew him, he was sarcastic with me perhaps three times, and this was the first.
“That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard!”
He said that great love is given to us so that we can begin to understand the joy of great love. And the love that’s planted in us to give to the baby is so that we can understand the joy of giving that great love. We think it’s purely about loving the baby as our own, because we don’t understand that it’s the story of our own spiritual potential.
We need to reflect on where the ability to love comes from. Do we think that it comes from nothing, simply because the child is suddenly there, or because our dream romantic partner is suddenly there? Do we think that our love is simply a mechanism implanted in us by nature to preserve the species, as many intellectuals claim? Or that it is born from the physical structure of our brains and hearts?
The love that comes out of us shows us what we are made of. We didn’t realize how much we could love, and that we could experience the joy of such great love. All of human life is God’s great play, in which He is trying to draw us into a love that is forever increasing.
This life is not an end in itself. Now, that doesn’t mean that we should live our lives badly. Just the opposite – the more perfectly we live, the more perfectly we can begin to understand the flawless fulfillment that is possible in God’s bliss and love.
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect.” Christ wasn’t merely spinning beautiful ideas. He was describing our actual destiny. That destiny is what Christ is describing when he says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you.” It was a definite promise.
In our human hearts we say, “Oh, this love is so satisfying to me!” And then the masters come and tell us, “A thousand million romantic loves all crushed into one, moment by moment, can be yours if you would seek it.” And the mind doesn’t know what to think, but the heart understands.
Think of the first thrilling days of a great romance. A thousand million times that love crushed into each moment! It’s inconceivable, because it’s not a mental definition but a very real promise. It’s a promise that our hearts will be restless until they are fulfilled in the perfect love of God. As a western saint put it, “Lord, our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in Thee.” And so it is. And so it will always be.
God bless you.