The Best Way to Help the World — and Ourselves — Today

Photo: grateful thanks to Yogi Madhav on Unsplash.

I recall how Swami Kriyananda remarked, many years ago, that people are driven by a desire to recreate the kind of atmosphere in which they feel most comfortable.

It explains why some people are driven to create heavy and confused environments, or stark and heartless living spaces, because it’s a vibration they feel comfortable in.

I’m astonished when I see ugly skyscrapers – it makes me wonder why the owners, when they apparently had all the money in the world, would feel compelled to build such things.

On the positive side, there are people who delight in creating beautiful and uplifting environments. I remember visiting the Royal Palace in Thailand, and feeling utterly stunned by the beautiful architecture – it was exquisitely detailed, even more so than any temple I had seen in India. And you can only stand back and wonder about the consciousness that would think of making something like that.

I’m thinking of another time when we were in Thailand, and we stayed at the Royal Orchid Hotel in Bangkok. It’s just about the most luxurious hotel you can imagine, and when we came down for breakfast, we found that someone had gotten up very early to turn the fruit into works of art. The watermelons and peaches were ornamented with tiny cut designs. So you would come in and find that your breakfast was an aesthetic delight. And, again, what is the consciousness that would want to do that?

I believe it was a very worthwhile endeavor, to put so much energy and attention into turning something so mundane into a beautiful expression. It makes you appreciate the incredible number of options we have for creative expression. And it’s surely one of the great joys of travel, to discover that our own seemingly fixed reality isn’t the only one possible.

I remember visiting Swami Kriyananda when he was in seclusion in Rishikesh. He told us how he’d been walking through the city, and how the thought had come, “In America they would keep the streets cleaner.” He paused and thought, “And then what would you have? You would have clean streets. And how important is it, really, to have clean streets?”

Is it an eternal value? When I die, and I come before God, will He exclaim, “Good for you – you kept the streets clean!”

And then Swami talked about how, when the most important thing is our inner life, the outer world might have to be neglected.

What’s happening in the world today is that many cultures are coming together, as the great distances that formerly separated us are being annihilated. And in this new shrinking world it will be possible to have the best of East and West – we can have a rich inner life and clean streets, too.

Paramhansa Yogananda taught the monks to keep their rooms neat by putting things away as soon as they were done with them. It was simple and very practical advice for keeping things orderly in the monastery, without making a fuss.

At the end of Swamiji’s life, he got a lot of credit for being tidy, but it was actually his housekeepers who kept things tidy for him. Before he had a staff, he wasn’t tidy at all. He said that although Master told the monks to put things away, he preferred to leave it out, because it was being used, and he could wend his way through it very efficiently. It didn’t bother him, because having a clean house didn’t matter. What mattered to him was the tremendous creativity that was pouring through him.

There was a woman in our congregation who had two bouts with cancer, and the second round took her life. When Linda realized that she wasn’t going to survive, she and her husband went to Assisi to see Swami, and we flew over with them.

She asked him, “What do I do now? Do I pray to be healed? Do I pray to die beautifully? Do I say goodbye to my family? What’s my prayer at this point?”

She had been deeply attached to her husband and her children and her home, and she didn’t trust her own judgment. So she asked him, “What do I pray for?” And Swamiji’s answer was simple. He said, “Pray to be in the light.”

We are, each of us, living in a restless sea of desires, thoughts, and cross-currents of consciousness. And with these forces rippling through us all the time, the occasional moments of inner peace are welcome when they come.

I was Swami’s secretary in the early 1970s, so I got to spend a lot of time with him. I remember an evening when Seva and I were working with him. Seva is an old friend who worked with Swamiji for many years.

We took a break and had dinner together, and then we sat and talked. Swami was talking with Seva, and as I sat and listened, an unusual stillness came over my mind, and I was aware that I was enjoying a blissful respite from my usual mental chatter.

I was sitting out of Swami’s line of sight, enjoying that rare moment of stillness, when he said to Seva, “Is Asha still here? Asha – are you here?”

I said, “Yes, sir, I’m here.” And he said, in his friendly way, “Why can’t I feel your mind?”

I said, “Because it’s unusually calm, Sir.” And he didn’t turn around, but he said, “Oh, yes, there you are.”

Most of us are living in a roiling sea of mental cross-currents, aren’t we? Our minds are endlessly planning and surging to and fro. And we will only ever find what we’re truly seeking when we can stop riding those restless waves.

Most people try to push the waves back and forth, in hopes that if they can just get the waves perfectly organized, they’ll have clean streets.

Think how much energy we expend trying to get our lives beautifully aligned, and think of how often they suddenly aren’t aligned anymore.

People have an annoying habit of not cooperating with our plans for them, and the planet has an extremely annoying way of ignoring our plans.

Many of you know Michael Gornick who lived at Ananda Village for many years. Michael had a beautiful place on the Big Island in Hawaii that he had worked on lovingly – and now it’s just a tiny island in a huge lake of black lava, because the volcano on the island decided to create another reality.

I’m of an age where I can look back at photos of myself and think, “My gosh, was that me?” There is Asha, with the same eyes, and I can sort of remember the moment. And, being a woman, I can remember the dress I wore, and where I bought it, and how long I had it, and what I finally did with it. And it was all so very real when it happened. But when we invest ourselves in any of those ripples, the other side – the trough of the wave – is bound to appear.

And so it was with my dear friend Linda, who, out of the beauty of her soul and the goodness of her heart had created a truly gorgeous life for herself in so many, many ways, and who had very, very good karma, all deeply well-deserved. But now, all of a sudden, the body has decided to die. And when the body dies, where does our consciousness go? As far as we’re concerned, we aren’t there anymore.

I remember a California ballot initiative in the 1970s against nuclear arms. It was started in Palo Alto, as so many things are, and it was a very well-intentioned, spiritually based movement to campaign against war. And isn’t that a good idea?

One of the representatives came to Ananda Village with a beautifully designed presentation, and he wanted Swamiji to endorse the initiative and put Ananda’s energy behind it. And you might think it’s an absolute no-brainer. But, really, it depends on your perspective.

So he gave this extremely effective presentation that was based on what happens when nuclear bombs land in a densely populated area, which it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out. A lot of people die, starting from the epicenter where all the people are vaporized, and as the effects spread the survivors might last no more than a week, and so on. And it’s terrifying.

Swami listened respectfully, and when they were done he commended them on their sincerity and the intelligence with which they were going about it. But then he had two interesting comments. He said, “In a hundred years almost no one living on this planet will still be here, and all of us will have gone away. So this idea that somehow we must stop death is kind of a lost cause, because it’s inevitable for everyone.”

Then he said, “Once we’re in the astral world, whether we dribbled off one by one, or we all left the planet together in one big whoosh, it doesn’t matter at all.”

Of course, from this side it matters a great deal, doesn’t it? But he said, “Once it’s over, and once you’ve stepped out of this body, you’ve just stepped out of this body.”

Once I step off this dais and walk into the other room, I’ll be in the other room, and from a certain perspective, a tremendous thing will have happened. But in terms of my consciousness, very little will have changed. I’ve walked from here to there, and everything that is meaningful about me will still be there with me.

But when we define ourselves by what’s temporary and we invest ourselves in it, we are terribly vulnerable, and we feel it. And that’s the fundamental tension that everyone is living with. We’re constantly distracting ourselves with restless entertainments and noise, and with our own restless hopes and longings, because we’re gambling that this time it will be different. With every incarnation, we come in expecting that this time we’ll be able to change it, and this time we’ll get it right.

Master said that we decide to reincarnate not because it was a disaster last time, but because it was almost right. And that’s the frustrating part, isn’t it – that, as he put it, it almost works. It came so close to working that with just a tiny bit of adjustment we’re sure we can make it perfect.

But insofar as we’re depending on the temporary, no matter how beautiful and heartfelt and God-remembering, we are vulnerable. And we know it.

When your mind and emotions get calm enough that you can look objectively at whatever anxieties you’re feeling, you can begin to ask the right questions, secure in the inner calmness and peace that opens doors for true insights.

Why am I worried? Why am I feeling tense? Why is this situation making me sad? Why do I desire this and that?

To give it a name is not the same as freeing ourselves from it. But if we keep questioning, we find that it’s because we wanted it to be different.

I wanted to make my own rules, and I wanted the world to conform. And how’s that working for us? It’s never worked for me, but perhaps you’ve discovered a secret that I don’t know.

Consider Swami’s reply to Linda. “Pray to be in the light.” The light does express itself in this world. And whether you’re here in your body, or in the astral world with your wonderful family, there you are. And then you can look at these things and realize how deeply you’ve identified yourself with them. “You are my husband, my son, my child. This building is mine, this is my furniture, and here’s my jewelry.”

Or is it simply that we loved each other, and we did something beautiful together? Because the flipside is that the Divine does express in this world. And it’s such a weird contradiction that it takes us time to get our minds around it.

People have gotten, I want to say angry – but let’s just say annoyed with me. They get annoyed with the principles of Self-realization, and sometimes they take it out on me because I’m the one who told them. So they figure that if they can argue with me maybe they won’t have to face it.

Why are we so cynical and negative about the idea that this is a beautiful world? Sure, we’ve seen the world look nicer than is now. But that was another reality, and now this is what we’ve got.

We thought it would be a good idea to incarnate in “interesting times,” during the transition between a lower and a higher age. And what did we expect? This is what happens at such times, and we are the pioneers.

We are the first wave of a new energy, and we’re planting the seeds. There are lots of wonderful words we can say about it, but none of them will change the fact that the light and the darkness are at war, and that it’s scary, and it might get worse. And maybe a lot of us will find ourselves in the astral world together, if we’re the lucky ones. Because for the ones who have to hang around and deal with what happens next, it will be a challenge.

So what shall we do? Shall we identify with the temporary, or shall we strive to be in the light?

When we cling to an outward form, it’s because we believe we’ll find what we want. And what do we want?

Well, I want to be in the light. I want to be able to overcome all my sorrows and suffering. I want to feel myself as who I know I’m meant to be, a child of God, living in unbroken oneness with satchidananda, His ever-conscious ever-new, ever existing, ever self-aware bliss.

That’s why this world is so annoying. If there were really no hope, we could relax and accept it, because it wouldn’t even occur to us that it could be otherwise. But inside us there’s a silent pulse that is forever reminding us that we were born for bliss – that we are not dark, we are bliss. But we’re confused about it.

Have you seen children be less interested in a new toy than the box it came in? And isn’t it a perfect analogy for our situation? Divine Mother tells us that we were made for Her bliss. She tells us how to realize Her eternal bliss within us, and She sends the masters to serve as examples. And, you know, those examples don’t always conform to our expectations or our common sense.

Jesus was crucified, and most of us aren’t saying, “Oh, good, I get to be crucified!” Jesus lived in a darker age, whereas Yogananda’s story was less tragic. But it doesn’t mean that he was even a little bit less willing. He was anchored in the consciousness that whatever God gives me, that is what I embrace.

Our reading today tells how, as a child of seven or eight, Master was healed of Asiatic cholera, a disease that was nearly always fatal at the time. Cholera comes on very fast, and they had no treatment. And as he lay on his deathbed, too weak even to raise a hand, his mother, who was a highly elevated soul, urged him, “If you look at the picture of my guru, he will cure you.” So he bowed mentally to the picture of Lahiri Mahasaya, and he was healed. And he tells how he turned to his mother in gratitude for her faith.

As I was thinking about this episode, I was struck by the extent to which the balance of light and darkness in the world is determined by what we each are individually doing to align ourselves with the darkness or the light.

In Swami Kriyananda: Lightbearer, I quoted the following words of Swami’s:

“The majority of people in the world are just marking time, waiting to be inspired by someone else’s faith. If a handful of people, or even just one person, knows what life is about and puts his will behind it, many will be carried along. You don’t have to grab people on the street and try to sell them books! Just radiate spiritual light wherever you go. That is the best way to serve.

“Don’t think you have to be a learned person, a minister, or have an important position. Just be yourself with sincerity. Be completely sincere in your relationship with God. Don’t put yourself down, but with faith and love, put yourself aside. Get out of the picture, and God will work wonders. Don’t hold back with the thought, ‘I am unworthy.’ Of course you are unworthy! Nothing new in that! But it is not you doing it; it is God acting through you.

“Every day of your life be grateful that God has brought you to this path of discipleship. As Adi Shankaracharya said, ‘In all the three worlds – causal, astral, material – there is no greater blessing than to have a true Guru.’ The techniques are given to us as a way to attune ourselves, so that we can receive the Guru’s power. The power of the Guru is worth more than any technique.

“Receive this ray of divine grace. It will transform your life and bring you to God.”

Isn’t that beautiful? Now, certainly, my life was extraordinarily uplifted by Swami Kriyananda, and by his faith. He had so much confidence in the power of God, and the power of the Guru, and the power of our work together, and our magnetism, first to create what we were trying to create in an external way, which is what you’re looking at now. But also, he had tremendous confidence in the principle that, as Lahiri Mahasaya expressed it, “Where there is dharma, there is victory.”

Where there is right action, and where there’s a movement toward higher consciousness, we will succeed in having the experience that we long for, because that is the nature of reality.

Yogananda’s poem Samadhi expresses it in this way: “Vanished the veils of light and shade.” And what is the shade? It’s anything that blocks the light. The implication is that darkness doesn’t have an inherent reality of its own, because the light is always there, and something is temporarily standing between us and the light. The light is there, and then we do something to block the light and so we put ourselves in the shade.

For my friend Linda, that was her great challenge. “I’m dying. I’m going to lose what I love, and death will be a diminishing of my life experience.” That thought threatened to cast a shadow. And even if it isn’t true, it creates a feeling of being in the shade. And Swami said to her, “Pray to be in the light.”

The light doesn’t come to us because God suddenly notices, “Oh, you’re praying really hard. I’m going to give you some of My light.” When you focus yourself wholly on the light, it removes any blocks between you and God automatically, because the blocks are just temporary errors in your perception.

Now, it’s all very simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Our longstanding habits are standing between us and the light. But, on the positive side, they are nothing but habits, and if you pray to be in the light, you will be in the light, and the shade will be diminished everywhere.

We are living in a crazy time of transition, what with all the dark things people are doing. But, thank God, they aren’t running the show, because it’s being run from a much higher level.

In Autobiography of a Yogi and in The New Path, Master and Swamiji tell us that Babaji and Jesus together have planned the salvation of this age. They are very concerned about the materialism and racial prejudice and wars between religions. But they cannot magically change everyone’s karma, because we all need to play out our various roles. And the people who are doing dark things are also children of God, and it may be annoying to contemplate, but that is the fact of it.

In the midst of horrible persecution, Swamiji experienced a dark night of the soul, and he prayed to Babaji. He said, “I don’t care what happens to me. I don’t even care what happens to the work I’ve done. I’ve done it all for Divine Mother. You can take it away if you want to. That’s of no consequence to me. But why are you letting these evil people have power over me?” And the answer that came from Babaji was: “They are all my children.”

That’s something to meditate on, isn’t it? The worst murderer is moving toward his own Self-realization, though in his case, by inviting painful lessons.

We’ve been all things, and God has remained with us. He has never stopped helping us move forward. And how do we go forward? We go forward when we see the light.

How can you be of help, when the darkness seems to be overtaking the world? By living in the light, and everywhere you go, by being the light.

That was Swami’s comment to the anti-nuclear people. He said, “I really approve of what you’re doing, except you can’t create peace by creating fear.” Because when you’re spreading fear you’re no longer in the light.

Pray to be in the light. It’s such a very simple prayer, and so powerfully effective.

God bless you.

(From Asha’s talk during Sunday service at Ananda Sangha in Palo Alto, California on July 1, 2018.)

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