A friend faced a difficult test. And, being a devotee, she said, “I’m praying about it. But how can I know what Master really wants? I don’t know how to find out what he actually wants me to do.”
I thought for a moment and felt the inspiration to tell her, “Master doesn’t care.”
From our perspective, the smallest details of our lives seem terribly important. And there’s no denying that the difficulties we face sometimes weigh heavy on our hearts. Don’t let my baby die. Give me a few more years to be with my mother. Help me fulfill this longing to give my love to a good person, or to some good cause.
But God cares less what we do, and the experiences we go through, than what we become through our experiences. Because it isn’t the events of our lives that define us, but how our consciousness changes.
For many years, I observed how Swamiji would counsel people, and how there would often be a stunning difference between what he told them, and what they thought they’d heard him say.
In one case, a man had a powerful desire to pursue a certain project. Swamiji looked at him and said, “There is no spiritual benefit for you to do this project. You don’t need to do this project. You’re fine with what you’re doing already. You don’t need to do this.”
It was about as direct as anything I’d ever heard him say. And then the man came out of the room and announced, “Swami says I can do it!”
Fortunately, I had the good sense not to try to break whatever delusion the man had fallen into.
Later, when I repeated the man’s words to Swamiji, he shook his head and remarked, “Wow, that is impressive.”
And isn’t this how we persuade ourselves of the “truth” we want to hear? In one part of our hearts, we long to know what God wants us to do; but in fact our hearts are seldom neutral.
“Maya” is a wonderful word. It’s so much more descriptive than “delusion.” In Hindu mythology, Maya is personified as a female goddess. And the reason Maya is female is because it’s the feminine side of our nature, whether we’re born male or female, that leads our reason astray.
In the story of the Garden of Eden, a Yogananda interpreted it, Eve represents the feelings that persuaded Adam to eat the apple and fall into delusion. And of course it doesn’t have anything to do with the relative spiritual merits of men and women. But when our emotions become engaged, whether we’re male or female, reason tends to go along. And this is why Master said, “Reason follows feeling.”
When we have an overwhelming desire for something in our hearts, the rational mind lines up all of the perfectly good and logical reasons why it’s exactly the right thing we should do. And only later, when we pull ourselves from the ashes and try to understand what went wrong, do we realize that it was our emotions that led us astray.
Many years ago, Swami told me, “Whenever your ego gets involved, you make terrible mistakes.” He was referring to certain decisions I’d made, and he wanted to help me understand that when I let my feelings take over, wanting things to happen a certain way, I would invariably make a whopper of a bad choice.
God tells us that whatever we want, we can have it. As the Bible says, if we pray believing, it will be given to us. And if we want something that isn’t good for us, and if our desire is so strong that it overrides the subtle whispers of a higher intuition, God will give it to us, so that we can learn by living through it and experiencing the consequences of following our desires.
In the consciousness of the saints, we find reason and feeling, logic and intuition, perfectly balanced. And Swamiji’s life showed us the way to sail safely past the temptations of Maya. When our inner awareness is united with God, we find it effortless to avoid the snares of delusion. In the consciousness of God, there’s an astonishing feeling of all-satisfying contentment that melts all our other desires away.
In Swami Kriyananda: As We Have Known Him, I related the story of a man who fell and struck his head so hard that his spirit began to leave his body.
He didn’t die, but he found himself rising through a tunnel of light and coming into the presence of an angelic being. And he said that many years later, when he met Swami Kriyananda, he received a great blessing that took him back to the same place. He said that when his soul left his body, he found himself in a state of absolute desirelessness, where he knew with complete certainty that there was nothing else that he could possibly want. He said that it wasn’t as if he had let go of his desires, but that in that vibration of perfect contentment it was impossible for any other desires to arise. He said that if he felt a slight touch of desire, it was quickly extinguished by that all-sufficing light.
Desire implies that what I have is not enough. And, of course, our entire culture is intent on trying to persuade us that no matter what we have, it’s not enough.
There was a billboard in Los Angeles that said, “Fall in love with yourself all over again!” It was an advertisement for plastic surgery. And, just imagine – you can remake your face and re-invent yourself and fall in love with yourself all over again. And it’s a perfect expression of the delusion of this world, which tells us that it’s perfectly right and proper to be forever restless, always needing, always seeking and craving something more. And it all comes back to a point of restlessness in the innermost feelings of our heart.
We need to understand that we cannot find perfect peace by simply becoming passive. As the Bhagavad Gita says, we cannot escape action by inaction. Which is to say that inertness doesn’t have the power to free us. The state of perfect contentment doesn’t come to those who lack the energy to pursue their desires and act on their restlessness. It comes to those who’ve realized by their own direct experience that they want nothing but God.
In Swami Kriyananda, we saw a living example of someone who exemplified contentment, which the Indian scriptures tells us is the greatest virtue. Swamiji was intensely active for God, yet there wasn’t the slightest hint of restlessness compelling his activity.
What we saw in Swamiji was that he was always utterly centered, without the slightest personal desire to go in one direction or another. And in that perfect self-offering, he allowed the spirit to guide all his actions.
A young man wanted to leave Ananda to pursue a career in music. He wanted to write and perform his own songs, and he tried to get Swami on his side. He said, “You know what it’s like – sometimes you just have to write a song!” And Swami, who’d written so many God-inspired songs, said, “No, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I never do anything because I’m compelled to do it by restlessness.”
Those weren’t his exact words, but he said, essentially, “I do only what God inspires me to do.”
When a woman was appointed as the conductor of a famous symphony orchestra, a reporter asked her, “What’s it like to be the first woman conductor of a major symphony?”
She said, “Conducting this orchestra is thrilling to me. I’ve worked very hard for this moment, and I’m elated to have this opportunity. But as for being a woman, I’ve been one for a long time.”
There was nothing defining for her in being a woman. It was something she didn’t have to work at, in terms of finding out who and what she was. And so it is in our spiritual life, that only by long, hard work, and by having many experiences, do we gradually come to the awareness of who and what we are. And it isn’t our external circumstances that define us at each step of the way, but our awareness, and who we are inside, and what we’re becoming.
I remember arbitrating a dispute between two women at Ananda Village who had some very difficult karma together. I was in the kitchen with one of the women, and the other woman came in and made some innocuous remark; I think she said, “Good morning.” And the first woman exploded. She was extremely upset by what the other woman had said. Even though the words were simple, there was a load of negative feeling behind them. And if the other woman thought that she could hide her consciousness behind an innocuous remark, she quickly discovered that she was mistaken.
Our consciousness defines us. We can instantly feel the negative thoughts of others. Swamiji talked about judgmental attitudes, and how harmful they are to us. And he pointed out that everything is strongest at the source. So, while others may receive some of the power of our negative thoughts, the effect is much stronger in our own hearts, and nobody will ever receive as much of our negativity as we will.
Every slightest negative thought and feeling that you’ve put out is waiting in the wings, where it will sooner or later come out and kick you. And this is why we need to be extremely aware of the dangers of falling even a little bit away from our center. Because our negative thoughts and feelings can start to define our consciousness and draw to us some very unfortunate consequences.
Years ago, when Swami Kriyananda was in Assisi, he visited the Portiuncula, the tiny chapel that St. Francis built with his own hands. Today it’s enclosed in a massive basilica. But as he meditated, Swamiji said that he suddenly became aware of the intense sweetness of St. Francis’s consciousness.
He prayed, “How it possible to be so sweet?” And the answer came: “By never judging.” Which is to say, by seeing the lovable presence of God in all, and never wanting to harbor any other consciousness.
That’s what devotion is. It’s when we give ourselves so wholeheartedly to God that our consciousness has God’s power in it. And it’s a consciousness where no other desire can arise.
When we stand in the consciousness of our restlessness, we pray for ourselves. “Lord, you’ve got to make my life different, because I can’t bear it this way.” But when we release every desire in the one, single desire for God, we find that all our desires are fulfilled.
And then whatever we want will come to us, because our hearts are pure, and it doesn’t even occur to us to ask for anything but more of the Divine. And in that perfect communion, what else would we ever want to ask for?
Let us pray to be more aware of God, because this is the only prayer that God must answer. It is who we are, and we only have to stop imagining that something else will fulfill us. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Lord, Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
God bless you.
(From Asha’s talk during Sunday service at Ananda Sangha in Palo Alto, California on November 8, 2015.)