On one of my first visits to the Ananda community in California, in about 1970, I overheard a conversation that I’ve never forgotten.
Conditions were quite primitive in the early days. Binay, one of the men I overheard, lived in an American Indian tipi. The other man, Satya, lived in what amounted to a plywood box.
Someone had discovered that they could drive to a distant Air Force base and get these giant boxes for free. They were used to transport jet engines, and when no longer useful, they were simply thrown away. In those early, pioneering days, anything that could keep one warm and dry was considered a prize.
Before Ananda purchased the land for the community, someone had driven an old bread truck onto the property and abandoned it. Binay used the van as a workshop for a fledgling business he had started, making jewelry from wildflowers and the beautiful wood of a shrub that grew on the land.
One day, another resident decided to clean up the area and hauled the van to the trash dump, not realizing he was dumping Binay’s business.
During the conversation between Satya and Binay, I heard Binay try to make sense of what had happened.
“I thought Mother wanted me to do this business,” he said earnestly. “But I guess She has other plans that She hasn’t told me about.”
Because I was new at Ananda, I thought he was talking of his earthly mother. Inwardly, I criticized: “What kind of mother would take his business to the dump?!”
I wondered, “And why is a grown man waiting around for his mother to tell him what to do?”
As the conversation continued, I realized that he was talking about someone he called “Divine Mother.” But it made it no easier for me to understand. His attitude still seemed incomprehensible.
After I moved to the community, I worked in the kitchen of our guest retreat. I was enthusiastic but utterly unskilled. On the first day, the cook asked to make scalloped potatoes, and I confessed I had no idea where to begin.
Apparently I was the last in a series of incompetent assistants. In extreme exasperation, the cook turned her eyes to heaven and exclaimed, “Divine Mother, why do you keep sending me people who can’t cook??!!”
My next introduction to Divine Mother came through Swami Kriyananda. I sought advice about a dilemma I was facing. After listening to my tale of woe, he said, “Just give the problem to Divine Mother. Let Her solve it.”
At that point, several months into my sojourn at Ananda, I knew of Whom he was speaking. Not that it helped me much. I remained silent, while inwardly pleading for some advice that would be more useful. But no further words were forthcoming.
Fast-forward several years. A guest at the retreat sought me out for counseling. After listening to her sad story, I said, with complete sincerity, “Just give the problem to Divine Mother. Let her solve it.”
Her bewildered expression was such a perfect mirror of my own, years earlier, that I almost burst out laughing!
In fact, my own words surprised me. At which point had I shifted from passive observer to active participant? When had the Divine Mother become real to me?
I’ve never been able to isolate the moment when my perspective changed. But by then, I just knew, beyond any doubt, that God is personally concerned for each of us. I knew that the Infinite Compassion is a conscious force, ever eager, like a loving Mother, to help us. Not necessarily in the way the ego wants, but in ways that nurture our souls.
So many of the principles I learned from Swami Kriyananda are simply stated:
“Live in the spine.”
“Rest in the heart.”
“Give your problems to Divine Mother.”
“Aum Guru. Aum Guru. Aum Guru.”
Many times, I would have preferred his answers to be as complex as my questions were. But as Swamiji wrote: “According to every saint who has experienced this sublime awakening, God is simple: it is man, with his intellectual justifications, who is complex.”
In no way, of course, is this an excuse to put our reasoning powers on the shelf! Swamiji’s hundred-plus books testify that a clear mind is a tremendous asset for success in the spiritual life.
The key, however, is that our reasoning faculties be guided by intuition. The intellect, unaided, is not enough. “Keen intelligence is like a two-edged sword,” Yogananda’s guru, Sri Yukteswar, said. “It can be used to remove the boil of ignorance, or to cut off one’s own head.”
I am so grateful that Swamiji trusted us enough to tell us the Truth. The road before us becomes clear when we become simple. “Love God.” “Give your problems to Divine Mother.” “Aum Guru.”
At first, I didn’t understand. If Swamiji had given me a second option, perhaps some intellectual conundrum to puzzle over, I would not have faced up to the far greater challenge of opening my heart to Divine Love. I would have gnawed on the dry philosophical bone, perhaps forever.
Well, surely not forever. For without Divine Love, nothing else ultimate can satisfy the human heart.
The greatness of true spiritual teaching is that it explains, but not too much. Instead of reducing Truth to dry facts that the ego can comfortably embrace, it challenges us to meet Truth on its own level. It is not a question of heart or mind. It is heart and mind.
Spiritual growth is not about ever-more-intricate reasonings. Like water on a stone, it slowly carves the rough surface of our egos to form a smooth receptacle for God’s love.
Blessings and joy,