When Swami Kriyananda was a young monk, Yogananda had him out teaching and representing SRF.
At one point, he found himself at a bar mitzvah in Beverly Hills, where he got into a conversation with a wealthy psychiatrist. Because he was young and inexperienced, he began telling the psychiatrist about the teachings, hoping to get him interested.
The psychiatrist was skeptical, to say the least. To bolster his case, Swamiji told him about some of the miracles Paramhansa Yogananda had performed. And as Swamiji recalled later, he could see that the psychiatrist was thinking, “Hmm, I have an opening for this patient on Thursday.” Because he was convinced that Swamiji was completely off his rocker.
It wasn’t appropriate to try to win over a doubter in that way. And when Master next saw Swamiji, he said, as if out of the blue, “By the way, when you’re with people who are skeptical, better not talk about miracles.”
Swamiji was very surprised that Yogananda knew what he’d said to the psychiatrist, even though the Master had been miles from Beverly Hills at the time.
Swamiji said, “You knew?!”
Master replied as calmly as if they were talking about crossing the street, “I know every thought you are thinking.”
Later, Swamiji wrote: “It was a little disconcerting to realize that it was true.”
In The Path, he tells how two brother monks were riding the bus from Mt. Washington to Encinitas. And as young men might, they began talking about subjects that weren’t exactly uplifting.
When they arrived at Encinitas, Master met them at the gate.
He said, “You’ve given your lives to God! No more talking like that.”
When I read the story of the psychiatrist, I asked Swamiji, “Is that still true? Does Master still know every single thought that every one of us is thinking?”
And then it was Swami’s turn to say, matter-of-factly, “Of course.”
Now, we can try to “do the math” with our minds. How many thoughts must a master keep track of? How many devotees must he be able to follow in his consciousness, through how many centuries?
Of course, it’s impossible to calculate. All we can do is ponder the fact that, as the masters tell us, awakening into superconsciousness is a far greater awakening than rising from a deep sleep into our ordinary consciousness.
Years ago, a group of us from Ananda traveled to Los Angeles to help run a sales booth at a new-age fair. We spent a week working long hours, and on the fifth day someone asked Anandi, “how are you doing?” She said, “I finished my morning meditation and I thought it was my evening meditation. But other than that I’m fine.”
This life can be very confusing. But the masters tell us that when superconsciousness comes, we find a clarity and awareness that drives all our confusion away.
Swamiji said, “the difficulty we have in understanding how the Master can be with us in that way is because we don’t understand that Spirit is ‘center everywhere.’”
In our normal consciousness, it takes no effort to know what our hands and feet are doing. And if our “body” is infinite, we’re equally aware of every part of it.
As Swamiji said, “Omnipresence implies that you are not only infinite, but infinitesimal.” In other words, when that state comes, we are both infinitely large and infinitely small. We are one with the stars and the atoms.
Nothing is too small to escape God’s notice. And, of course, this poses an extraordinary challenge for us.
We invite the Master to take charge of our lives – and how will we relate to his omnipresence – especially to the fact that he knows our every single thought, all the time, and sometimes we might prefer a little privacy?
Yogananda said, “I don’t enter the consciousness of anyone who hasn’t invited me.”
In a talk that he gave at a Christmas banquet for the monastics, Master said, “Every night I go into the souls of every one of you.”
And then he said, “I don’t pay any attention to the bad. I only look for the good. And if I see that the good is coming along, that’s all that matters.’
Now, it’s one thing to acknowledge our faults and weaknesses. But it’s important to understand how Master views our failings. Let’s always remember what he said. “I don’t pay attention to the bad.”
It’s a statement that’s well worth meditating on. Because he’s telling us that the Divinity dwells in each of us. And that Divinity – that divine Light – is what he wants to bring out in us.
In the midst of the lawsuit that we were engaged in during the 1990s, we had to deal with people who were being utterly dishonest. We had attorneys opposing us who were, as Swamiji described them, and these are his exact words, “the closest thing to the personification of evil that we are likely to meet in our lives.”
It wasn’t an exaggeration. They were people who were cruel, and enjoyed it. As Swami told one of them, “You enjoy hurting people. It’s why you became a lawyer.”
One of their characteristics was so peculiar to me: they would lie all the time.
Part of the difficulty in facing the lawsuit was that the legal system is set up for people who are truthful. You say, “I swear to tell the truth,” and it’s assumed you will. And if you don’t, the system for unraveling the lies is far more complicated than anything you might imagine. We learned, to our chagrin, that it wasn’t at all like Perry Mason on TV, where the brave attorney rushes in with the truth at the last moment and saves the day.
Once people start lying, especially lawyers, you’re sunk. And we were sunk. That’s exactly what happened. The lawyers would not only lie about things that were important, they would lie about things that didn’t matter. They would even lie about things that could easily be uncovered. It was so puzzling to me.
In his Gita commentary, Swamiji talks about tamas – the darkening, downward-pulling tendency in human nature. A characteristic of tamas, he said, is that “people lie for the sheer pleasure of creating confusion.”
I’m sure he had those lawyers in mind. But isn’t it strange? They enjoyed the power they felt in seeing everybody get so mixed up because of their actions. That’s exactly what they were doing. And it’s evil, because it’s evil to hurt people that way.
Now, I’m giving you this long story so that you’ll understand the magnitude of Swami’s next statement.
At one point, we were all feeling a bit discouraged. And even though Swami told us that his inner joy was untouched, nonetheless he prayed to Divine Mother.
He said, “Why are you letting these people have so much power over me? I’ve lived my life for You. I’ve done my best.”
And then he prayed to Babaji, and the answer came in Babaji’s voice: “They, too, are my children.”
It was as if God was saying, “how can I favor some of my children over all the others? Each of my children is acting out his destiny as it was meant to unfold.”
Now, that is a revelation. And it gives us a hint of how God views our lives, with all our strengths and mistakes and weaknesses.
Master says, “I don’t pay attention to the bad.” Because the bad doesn’t have any reality of its own – it’s merely the absence of light.
One of Yogananda’s most memorable statements was: “A room can be in darkness for a thousand years. But if you turn on the light, the darkness will vanish as though it had never been.”
And so his only concern is to find the little specks of light in us and fan them into a mighty flame that will eventually consume all our darkness.
In the story of Peter Pan, Tinker Bell is a fairy whose body is like a little flicker of light. At one point in the story, Tinker Bell’s light grows dim, and the narrator tells the children in the audience that Tinker Bell will gain strength if they truly believe. So the children start clapping desperately to save her, and if you’re a child you can hardly stand it. And then Tinker Bell’s light begins to pulse, and gradually she shines again, and it’s just beyond anything, to know that you were able to help save Tinker Bell’s life.
Is it any different with us? I’m sure that Master watches our little light flicker, and he’s always working to keep the little flame alive. He doesn’t care about what’s attacking it, because his only concern is to ignite a flame that will burn our darkness away in an instant forever.
A woman at Ananda was in a difficult position and couldn’t decide what to do. She hadn’t received an answer to her prayers. So she wrote to Swamiji, “which decision should I make? What does God want me to do?”
Swami wrote back so touchingly. He said, “Any course you like. All God wants of you is that you sincerely want to do the right thing, even if you don’t do the right thing.”
God wants our heart. Our lives are very inconveniently arranged for us to be able to do the right thing all the time. Sometimes even our best efforts go awry.
It’s so touching how often we mess up – really, it’s astonishing. I astonish myself with the words that come out of my mouth. “Why did I say that?” Well, because it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Sometimes you know it’s bad even before you do it, and yet you do it anyway. Because “The devil made me do it.” And Master is there fanning the little flame of light. But he’s not the only presence inside us. There’s a presence of another kind that wants to put out the light. And it’s a battle, no doubt about it. But how profoundly reassuring it is that Master pays no attention to the darkness.
I listened to an interview with Ram Dass recently. He’s the author of Be Here Now, a book that was very famous and influential when it was published in 1972. It was an important book, because it had a powerful effect on helping yoga grow strong in America. He’s an American, a former Harvard professor of psychology who became a disciple of a great yogi, Neem Karoli Baba. Baba has passed away, but he was a true master.
In the interview, Ram Dass described his first meeting with Baba. He talked about being in the Himalayas, several days before they reached the place where Baba lived. He was standing out under the stars, and he described how the night sky was like a Van Gogh painting, because the air was so clear and the stars were extraordinary.
His mother had died six months earlier, and he was thinking of her as he gazed at the stars, wondering where she was.
Several days later, he came to Neem Karoli Baba. And Baba was not designed to impress Westerners. He was kind of roly-poly, and very outrageous. He had no possessions, and he was just sitting under a blanket as his shelter.
Ram Dass, who was then Richard Alpert, was sitting in front of Baba and trying to understand how to relate to him. And suddenly Baba looked at him and said, “Three nights ago you were standing outside under the stars thinking about your mother. She died of a spleen condition.” And chills ran up and down his spine.
He said, “There are many things in my life that I’m not proud of. And I always felt that if people knew about them, they wouldn’t think as highly of me as they do. And here I met a man who knew everything, and he loved me just the same.”
Last night, we sang Swami Kriyananda’s song, “He Who Clothes the Field.” Chaitanya, one of our music leaders, taught us how to sing the song. And when we came to the last line – “Know that you live not alone” – he urged us to sing the word “alone” exactly as we felt it, so that others would feel it, too, and be able to feel that they aren’t alone.
He who clothes the field with lilies –
He who feeds the birds of the air –
He who floods the hills with sunshine –
He whose love all creatures share:
Will He not clothe us?
Will He not feed us?
Are we not, like them, His own?
Fill your chalice at His fountain:
Know that you live not alone!
The entire spiritual path is in those lines, isn’t it?
As miserable as we are, we protect our misery, in part because we don’t want to acknowledge how weak and helpless we are. So we build up our egos, and we try to make our lives work by our own power. And then we imagine that we’re in command. But, sooner or later, something happens and we go absolutely splat. And we go splat a thousand times, and we keep reconstructing the ego until at some point we have the courage to look at the contrast between the bliss of God and the tawdriness of what we’re so desperately clinging to. And it isn’t easy to let go of what we know and what’s familiar to us.
Even Arjuna, the great hero of the Bhagavad Gita, has trouble letting go of his familiar world. He says to Krishna, “What if I give up the pleasures of this world? What if I don’t make it all the way to God? Then I’ll have nothing!”
And that’s the fear that we recoil from, isn’t it? “Long we feared to face Your love,” as another song by Swamiji says, “lest our emptiness it prove.”
“At least I have this little life that seems so real to me.” But the Master is lighting a little spark of flame inside us, and blowing on it with the power of his devotion and his faith in us. And one day that flame will burn all our fears away.
I wrote Swamiji a letter, at a time when I was terribly discouraged. I said, essentially, “I just fear that you’re going to give up on me.” And I treasure his reply. He said, so simply: “I understand, and I am patient.”
I put the letter up on my wall. “I understand, and I am patient.” Really, that’s the whole story. “Know that you live not alone!”
God never lets go of us. He never sees anything except the divinity in us. As disciples, we owe it to ourselves to learn to be ever more deeply united with the Master who lives inside us. Because everything else will pass away, and only the light is real.
(From Asha’s talk at Sunday service on December 11, 2005.)