(This is a shorter version of The Prodigal Son – Lessons for Us All. This version appeared on Asha’s Speaking Tree blog at the Times of India website.)
A friend of ours died of cancer many years ago. She had a heroic passing, in the sense that she surrendered her life joyfully to God.
In the memorial service that Swami Kriyananda gave after her death, we listened to a recording of her voice, in which she described an incident that happened fifteen years earlier.
She was staying in a hotel on a business trip, and she had a cold, so she was sipping codeine cough syrup. And, in her typically absentminded way, she overdosed and suddenly found herself alone in a hotel room, far from home and on the point of dying.
She passed out, and when she woke up she was thoroughly confused and thought that it would somehow help if she could get to the bathroom. So she crawled to the bathroom, and in her confusion she was, as she put it, embracing the toilet bowl. She was staring into the water and the thought came, “Divine Mother, is this how it’s all going to end?”
It seemed so humiliating and ridiculous, but she thought that it might be her last moment, and so she said, in her childlike way, “I am a good devotee, and I love God.”
At that point, she saw a bright light, and her consciousness began to exit her body through the spine.
She floated up into a tunnel of light, and she knew that she was on her way out of this life. But Paula had a great affection for beautiful clothes, and in that moment she remembered that she had put a special outfit on layaway at a store. And as she was soaring away from this world through the tunnel of light, she suddenly remembered the outfit and came rushing back into her body.
Everyone laughed at the story, because it had such a humorous ending. But there were serious lessons in it as well.
There are so many things that we might think of saying in the moment of death. But what occurred to Paula to say was the defining fact of her life: that she was a child of God.
There was a little boy in India who kept talking about a village not far from where his family lived. It turned out that a man in the village had murdered him in his previous life. Finally, the family took the little boy to the village, where he led them to his grave and pointed at the man who had murdered him.
It caused a great upset for the villagers. But if you’re dying with anger, and the last thing you think is, “How dare you!” – then you’ll be born again with that vibration, and you’ll have the opportunity to see where it leads.
Someone mistreats you, someone you love betrays you, or a deep desire goes unfulfilled and you die without resolving it. And where does that energy go? It’s stored right here in the spine. And that restless energy needs to be resolved before we can be completely still in our heart and receive God.
We cling insistently – “This is what I must have!” Instead of humbly accepting what God is asking of us.
The path to God brings a tremendous release of the little ego-self. And that release can come in one of two ways: when we’ve been beaten to the ground so completely that we simply give up; or it can come when we decide to move ahead of the fiery wall of karma, by working courageously to expand our hearts.
So let us start now to be what we were meant to be. Our mantra can be simple: “I am a very good devotee. I love God”
We need to practice it every moment. “Oh, my goodness, I said an unkind word.” Just remember: “I’m a good devotee, and I love God.”
Starting where I am, I will open my heart and welcome God, no matter what my heart is holding.
I wrote some English words to the classic Indian chant, “Sri Ram, Jai Ram.” I gave it the words: “God’s love, God’s love, flows purely through me. From darkness and doubt, forever I’m free.”
The chant works for me, because it came out of a terrible time. I had behaved about as badly as possible. I went off to my meditation room, and then what could I say? You can only say “I’m sorry” so many times. But then you’ll just become a sorry kind of person.
So we have to turn toward the light – “From darkness and doubt, forever I’m free.”
The darkness in us is the delusive thought that we are not the light. But we need to consider that whatever we’ve done is completely irrelevant in the larger context of this great drama of God. It’s a dream, and in the end all that matters is the light.
Swami Kriyananda said, “When enlightenment comes and you are standing there looking back at millions of incarnations, everything fades and all you see are those moments in which your spirit touched into the Infinite.” And, even now, that’s the only thing that is real, you see, because everything else is a dream.
“I’m a very good devotee, and I love God.” And God has never stopped loving me.
God bless you.