(This is a shortened version of How can we change and become more inspired and spiritual?. This shorter version was posted on the Times of India’s “Speaking Tree” page.)
I once asked Swamiji to tell me how much of the spiritual maturity that I felt I had gained at that point in my life was the result of meditation and spiritual advancement, and how much was due to the simple fact that I had lived through forty years of normal life experiences.
Swamiji’s answer was subtle. He said, “You can tell where the karma still holds you, if you think of it with either longing or with regret.”
If you haven’t experienced the fulfillment of marriage, parenthood, or success, and you regret it, it’s guaranteed that you’ll have to fulfill that desire, sooner or later. You’ll have to satisfy it in another lifetime, or you’ll have to overcome it some other way, for example by transmuting it in deep meditation.
I said, “Well, sir, I think of how much fun we had in the first ten years of starting the Ananda community, and I would really enjoy going back to that.”
He said, “That’s different. It’s not that you long for it and regret that it’s past, it’s merely that it was a joyous experience that you would happily relive.”
I said, “Yes, Sir, I can see the difference.”
Some of us will die with longings and regrets. Those energies will be stored in our spinal chakras and our subconscious mind. We’ll go to an astral world and enjoy a respite from the struggle for a time. And at first we’ll be relieved, because the physical body is tiresome. But then, insofar as our chakras still hold these longings and regrets, we’ll slowly become discontented with the astral world. And then we’ll find ourselves in a little baby’s body, having our diapers changed, learning to walk and talk, so that we can start to work out our longings and regrets again.
Paramhansa Yogananda said that this is the power of maya, the force of Satan that compels us to reincarnate, when we die with the thought that we’d be happier if certain things would happen.
Maya says, “Oh, you’re a little bit happy, but you’d be so much happier if…” And so we come back and try again. And Satan isn’t merely the kind of dark force that tempts us to commit horrible acts such as murder. Satan is in what we’re doing right now.
I had a conversation with a woman who had been a prison chaplain all her life. She said, “I was put there.” Meaning that she felt God had sent her to do that work.
She said, “Many of the violent criminals who’ve done horrible things have no memory of having done them. They just remember the point where something overcame them.”
Afterwards, they realized what happened. And – what was the force that came over them? It was the satanic power – the force of darkness.
The ego had a desire for power and domination, and it put them in tune with a force that could take over their consciousness and do those acts through them. And now they were living with the consequences.
Most of us will never go into a murderous rage. But how many times have we looked back on something we’ve done and thought, “What was I thinking? What came over me?”
Well, what came over you was the devil. I love that phrase: “The devil made me do it!” Because it was self-evidently a very stupid thing to do, and so it must be the devil who made me do it.
A very young child in our school was behaving very badly. Finally the teacher took her aside and said, “What is wrong with you today?”
The little girl said, “Well, on my right shoulder there’s a good angel telling me to do good things, and on my left shoulder there’s a bad angel telling me to do bad things, and today I’m listening to the bad angel.”
Whether we can see our good and bad angels, Paramhansa Yogananda said that this is exactly what happens. And the difficulty is that the good angel whispers, and the bad angel usually shouts. He makes so much noise that he persuades us, “This is a perfectly normal way to behave – everybody feels just as I do.”
In a book that I wrote, Swami Kriyananda – As We Have Known Him, a member of Ananda describes how he got into a great deal of trouble when his judgment became clouded and he decided to take some actions that were unwise. Swami Kriyananda phoned him and said, “Before you make any decisions, maybe you should talk to me.”
The man said, “All right. But you have to understand that the situation is very complicated, and it will take me at least a half hour to explain it to you.”
Swami said, “You can have as much time as you need.”
After he put down the phone, Swamiji turned to me and said, “Truth can be spoken in a moment. Self-justification, that’s what takes a long time.”
As much as we would like the world to be different, our mere wishing is not going to have the slightest effect. You can stand in the rain and shout, “Stop raining!” And you can stand by the rose bush and shout, “Bloom!” You can tell the sun to rise in the West, and it’s not going to happen. You can tell your body, “Stop aging!” And it will never respond.
These are clues that there are limits to our power, and that the way the world is made has reasons that we don’t immediately understand. And one of the most obvious things in the world is that we need to accommodate ourselves to the way God made it.
I’ve told how my first job at Ananda was cooking in the kitchen at the Seclusion Retreat. I had a little group of assistants, and it was essential that they cooperate with me, especially when we would prepare a banquet for hundreds of people. There was a girl on the kitchen staff who was a wonderful person, but very feisty by temperament. Swami used called her “my little bantam rooster,” because it was her nature to fight all the time. Whenever I would suggest, “Please cut it like that,” she would make a counter-suggestion. “I don’t want to cut it this way…I don’t want to mix it that way…why don’t we do it this way?…this is too much work!”
Finally, I put my down my tools and said, “I can cook or I can fight with you. I don’t mind fighting with you, but I can’t cook and fight, so you’re going to have to make a choice.”
I said, “What would you like to do?”
I was being playful, and to her credit she laughed. Because she understood that we couldn’t make dinner if she was going to be arguing all the time.
Now then, we want God to give us His all-satisfying happiness, and we say we want to be Self-realized. But we have a clear choice: we can either work hard to be receptive so that God can uplift our consciousness, or we can choose to argue with Him. And when we argue, we go against a cardinal principle of the spiritual path, which is that one-hundred percent of spiritual progress comes by making ourselves receptive.
We can argue with what God, in His love, wants to give us. We can want it to be different. But this life is a continual struggle to accommodate ourselves to the truth. It’s an endless battle between the power of darkness in our nature and the inner power of the divine light.
And it’s not a big, external fight. It’s the small, everyday battle where the ego wants to have its way. It’s a battle with the all-pervasive, sneaky ego that masquerades as wisdom: “Oh, in this case you’re completely justified in being mean!”
But if you study the consequences, you see the murderers who find themselves imprisoned for following that line. And what could they have been thinking?
Swami said to me, “Whenever your ego gets involved, you make terrible decisions.”
It’s a simple statement, and I can’t count the times I’ve watched it play out exactly as he said it. When the ego gets involved, we make the worst decisions possible.
And I don’t mean the great big, strutting, self-important kind of ego, but the little, puny self that whispers, “Oh, but what about me? What about my importance? What about everybody noticing how smart I am? What about me being the cause of this? What about me being the one who’s right?”
These are the tiny ways that Satan influences us.
These little whispers of thought are so simple. And yet they are everything on the spiritual path. Because humility and receptivity are everything.
The masters live close to the vast ocean.They are one with the ocean, just a tiny bubble floating in the cosmic sea. That’s what the masters are like. And the ocean is Infinity, and that’s who we are, just tiny bubbles. As Yogananda put it in his beautiful poem Samadhi – “A tiny bubble of laughter, I am become the sea of mirth itself.”
There’s a recording where Yogananda speaks to a large audience of disciples. He says, “A tiny bubble of laughter, I have become the sea of mirth itself!” and then he urges his audience, over and over: “Say it again!”
And what is there to say, but, “God, give me that.”