We have a lovely garden that my husband David has cultivated for many years. He works hard at it, and he gets it just so. And then, of course, the rain comes and the garden gets covered with leaves, and it folds up and dies.
And then it comes out beautifully again in the spring, but maybe there was too much rain and we don’t have roses, or a little animal will eat the flowers, no matter how hard you’ve worked.
And it’s just the way with life. You work hard and get it just so. And then there are always the ups and downs. And it’s all because God doesn’t intend for us to define ourselves by the currents that rise and fall on the surface of our lives.
The waves are an unavoidable part of life. But God gives us a choice. We can live inwardly, according to the inner reality, in tune with the unchanging spirit, or we can use our energy to experience the positive and the negative, the good and the evil, the light and the dark – forever rising and falling.
In 1995, a group of us went on a pilgrimage to India. Swami Kriyananda was with us for a time, while we were in Rishikesh.
Those of you who have been there will know that Rishikesh holds a particular charm for devotees. It’s far up the Ganges, high in the mountains where the air is clear, and it’s a little more sane and easy place to be.
From Rishikesh you can walk high into the mountains, and so it has a marvelous energy and it’s inspiring.
Someone gave Swamiji a little house to stay for a month, so that he could take seclusion. But it turned out that the house was in the middle of town, and in a very short time people discovered that he was there, and he had a constant stream of visitors. Afterward, he referred to it as “my ha-ha seclusion.”
But he did have time to be alone, and by the grace of God he was hard of hearing and could take out his hearing aid and shut out all the noises.
Rishikesh is the home to many ashrams. One of the very strong presences is the lineage of Swami Shivananda. Shivananda was a great master who lived in the last century, and Swami Kriyananda met him personally. The heir to his organization, Swami Chidananda, was a few years older than Swamiji, and in many ways they were comparable, because they were eminent disciples of great masters.
Chidananda is the heir to Shivananda’s legacy. He has done a great work building an impressive organization, and he’s written many books, as Swami Kriyananda also has done.
Chidananda happened to be in Rishikesh when we were there, and because he and Kriyananda had met a half dozen times over the last forty or fifty years, they decided they would get together.
Now, Chidananda’s disciples had all of this organized – they would usher Kriyananda in, with maybe one other person, so that he and Chidananda could have a private meeting.
But when the door opened, we stayed very close to Swamiji. So about thirty of us ended up in the small room with Swami Chidananda and Swami Kriyananda seated in front of us in their orange robes, after fifty or sixty years of absolute dedication to the spiritual path.
In the Gita, Krishna tells his disciple Arjuna, “Be a yogi.” It’s not enough to do service, and it’s not enough to be wise. It’s not enough to be a devotee. You must also be a yogi.
And what does it mean? Paramhansa Yogananda said, “A yogi is one who practices scientific techniques to transform his consciousness.”
And what are those “scientific techniques”? They are the scientific practices of living inwardly in the “tree of life,” in the spine – extricating oneself from the waves of life that move constantly up and down around us, by going into the still, unchanging, blissful source within.
The practices of yoga teach us to systematically still the waves of outward involvement so that, no matter what happens outwardly, we won’t get caught up in the waves but will always be riding in the deep inner ocean of Spirit.
So there we were, looking at those two men, both of whom had lived lives of tremendous outward service while inwardly living as true yogis.
They had written books, founded organizations, given lectures beyond count, initiated thousands into the yoga techniques. And both were still tremendously active and productive on those levels. And they greeted each other in a way that was at once very amusing and profound.
Swami Chidananda said to Swami Kriyananda, with a sort of Indian turn of his head, “Ah, Swamiji, how is Ananda?”
And Swami Kriyananda said, “So. And how is the Divine Life Society doing?”
And Swami Chidananda said, “So.”
And then they both chuckled softly. And their humor sort of filled the room. It wasn’t that we were laughing, but it was as if some big cosmic joke had been told.
We were seeing two souls who were perfectly aware that nothing mattered, and that God had done it all. All of the great work they had done, and that everyone praised them for – it was all God’s play.
It was God who had served in that way. Through all of the outward work, they had remained in the calm bosom of God.
We listened while they talked, and then we all chanted. But what was truly happening was a celebration of the inner kingdom of God.
We each have our own experiences in life, and some people are broken and some get stronger. Some become more joyful the more adversity there is, and others use it as an excuse to feel worse and worse.
How many times has your reality changed because something shifted inside you? There’s a saying, “Hell is within and Heaven is within.” We must remember this when we’re tempted to think anything else is happening.
All of the shifts in our lives are temporary, aren’t they? Sooner or later all of the outward engagements are taken away. Will we be able to live from the power of the tree of life? Or will we be riding the waves of outwardness?
In our human bodies, we have the option of living in the inner kingdom or riding the endless ups and downs of this world. The choice is ours. God himself can’t compel us. Only we can choose. Let us choose the Spirit!