In one of my favorite stories about “Winnie the Pooh,” Piglet and his friend Pooh Bear are wandering in the fog and get terribly lost. And of course they’re just feet from where they’re supposed to be. But the story is told in the absolutely charming way of the Pooh series, and there’s an illustration of the little Piglet character who’s feeling totally hopeless, because sometimes Piglet just folds up under pressure.
Piglet sits there and the only thing he can think of is to lift his head and cry, “Help! Help!” But he doesn’t think it will help very much, so he doesn’t do it.
I’ve always felt that in the spiritual life, we must reach a point where we’re lost in the fog of delusion, and part of us, without even knowing what we’re crying out for, lifts our head and says “Help! Help!”
At that point, our ego is sufficiently flattened to realize that there’s something that will help us if we cry out. And what’s so extraordinarily touching about the spiritual life is that, at that point, God always answers.
You can reason, you can search, but you have to get to the point where you recognize the simple truth: “I need help.” And until that time, God is content to let you play out your life in your own way. “My child, if you think you’re all that powerful, go ahead.” Far from God and guru taking away our free will, they will never interfere with our God-given freedom to run around as long as we like, until a deep intuition penetrates the ego and forces us to admit, “I need help.”
(Photo: Paramhansa Yogananda with a young friend. The relationship with the guru is ultimately that of a child to its mother.)
You really cannot argue or persuade anyone into that realization, because it has to arise out of their own experience.
I once asked Swami Kriyananda, “How do people survive? How can they endure day after day, without some spiritual support?”
He said, “At the moment that they realize they need it, God sends it to them.”
God doesn’t necessarily send us the full-blown package, but He will drop a little breadcrumb, and if you pick it up and follow, then He sends more bread crumbs to guide you.
So the act of discipleship comes before you find the guru. When the disciple is ready, when he longs for help, the guru comes. You have to first perceive the possibility of being a disciple, before you’ll find your guru.
So we come to the second part of the question, which is how we can receive that divine energy, once we’ve discovered the relationship with the guru.
The Bhagavad Gita describes the relationship very simply. It says that the way to draw God’s energy through the master is by surrender, by sincere questioning, and by an attitude of humble service.
Swami Kriyananda translated “surrender,” as two words; he talks of “faith and openness.” And it’s a little paradoxical to start with the word “faith,” because you might think “How can I have faith until something happens to give me faith?”
But faith comes not so much from already knowing that something is true, as by being willing to experiment. And that’s why Paramhansa Yogananda emphasizes the scientific nature of the path of Self-realization, because he says that you must prove it for yourself by experimenting.
A scientist must have faith in his experiments, or why would he spend all his time doing them? How did Thomas Edison decide that it would be possible to find a filament that would make the electric light bulb work – enough faith to do 20,000 tests? Because a part of him intuitively and rationally realized that the answer was there, and so he was willing to put out great energy to conduct the experiment. He was open, and he believed.
Before I met Swami Kriyananda, in 1969, I was feeling absolutely desperate. To look at my life, you would think that it was humming along quite nicely. But inside me, there was a growing intuition, and the phrase that kept coming to me was “This can’t be all!”
This absolute terror was coming upon me: This can’t be it! Surely it’s not really going to be like this, day after day – this caged existence where I run on the little wheel, and my one great satisfaction is that I can keep it moving.
Very often, it’s this kind of intense desperation that cracks the ego and opens us to the guidance from our intuition. And then the thought comes, “Well, there is more, and it’s meditation, it’s through the great masters, it’s through these great scriptures.” And you begin to be open, which is the second part of Swami Kriyananda’s definition. You begin to be open to the possibility that there’s something else, and so you begin to conduct the great experiment.
It’s like falling in love. And it is falling in love. When you meet somebody who seems attractive to you, you try to get to know them. You don’t know for a certainty what the results will be. But you’re open to it, because part of you believes that it might be true. So you put out the energy to figure it out. And that’s where the next phrase comes in: “to question with sincerity.”
It’s important to understand that word, “question.” Because what does it imply? It implies that you’re engaged with your whole self. You’re challenging, you’re evaluating, you’re drawing information, you’re conducting an experiment. But you have to question in the right way. And that’s why faith and openness come first. Because people often question just to prove that what they’re already thinking is true.
Asking questions doesn’t mean that you’re always speaking with your mouth. Just verbally running over your ideas and opinions doesn’t give you the solitude and silence for something new to come in. I remember Swami Kriyananda saying, “So-and-so asks a question, but he’s so busy thinking of his next question that he doesn’t hear what you say.”
So much of God’s guidance is transmitted by vibrations. Swami Kriyananda describes a wonderful way to ask God questions. He talks about asking the omnipresent Spirit of God that is present in us. He said, “If you have questions of the master, visualize him at the point between the eyebrows. Visualize the master in the light of Spirit there, and ask whatever your heart wishes.”
The answer won’t necessarily come as a great voice from the heavens: “Go, my child, and accept that other job!!” It may come that way, but more often you’ll be aware that you’re suddenly moving in a flow, that you’re moving with a certainty and a calmness, yet you don’t know exactly where it comes from.
And it’s not just a question of “Oh, gosh, I have this big problem I need to ask You.” It should be an every-day, every-moment relationship: “Lord, where are You?” With faith, with openness, with sincere questioning, and a sincere desire always to be with God.
Think of how we would move around in the world, if we were surrendering our lives to God all the time. This is true discipleship. And this is such a wonderful feature of these teachings, that we can say “surrender” and “sincere questioning” from the first day of our spiritual lives to the last. And each day, it can have a powerful meaning for us, if we visualize the master and live with him.
The last concept is an attitude of humble service. Classically, we speak of serving the guru. But only a tiny number of people can incarnate next to a master, and only once in awhile do the masters incarnate in human form. So how do you serve the master? You serve the master by helping that which is important to him. A master comes for the salvation of mankind, and that’s his work. What his body does, or where his body is, makes no difference; his reality is to bring Light. And humble service means to serve the guru’s divine consciousness by awakening it within ourselves, and then giving it to others.