Many of you will have heard of a book called The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom. I’ve referred to it often over the years, because it’s been a powerful influence in my life.
Corrie and her father Casper and her sister Betsie were devout Christians who lived in Amsterdam at the outbreak of the Second World War. When the Germans took over the Netherlands and began persecuting and deporting the Jews, the Ten Booms became strongly involved in the underground movement, hiding many people in their home.
They were eventually betrayed, and all of the family members were taken to a concentration camp. Her elderly father died within the first ten days, and I believe her younger sister and brother were released, but Corrie and Betsie were imprisoned for a long time in Ravensbrook and other terrible places.
Betsie and Corrie were in their fifties when they were interned, and Betsie died in the camps. They had lived a quiet, deeply devoted traditional Christian life until their conscience demanded that they take the heroic measures that would have such terrible consequences for them.
Corrie had considered Betsie her teacher, not only because she was the elder sister, but because of her deep devotion to Jesus. During their time in the camps Betsie never lost her faith and compassion, but Corrie, on the other hand, had to struggle to keep her spirits up and her faith alive.
Betsie predicted that she would die before they were freed, but that Corrie would live, and that she would have a powerful ministry after the war, helping those who had suffered.
Corrie lived well into her eighties. She spent the remaining thirty years of her life traveling the globe, doing what she felt God wanted of her, and testifying to the presence and power of Jesus.
I’m sure that if Corrie and I had met, we would have found many points of difference, because the theology that she represented is in many ways the opposite of what Paramhansa Yogananda came to offer the world. Nevertheless, I’ve found extraordinary inspiration in the way she lived her beliefs, and the power that they gave her.
Which is all to say that it doesn’t matter how much we talk about our beliefs, because what counts is the living power of God that enables us to move in this world with the awareness of His presence and help.
In our reading today, we listened to beautiful words from Sir Edwin Arnold’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita:
Cling thou to Me!
Clasp Me with heart and mind! so shalt thou dwell
Surely with Me on high. But if thy thought
Droops from such height; if thou be’st weak to set
Body and soul upon Me constantly,
Despair not! give Me lower service! Seek
To reach Me, worshipping with steadfast will;
And, if thou canst not worship steadfastly,
Work for Me, toil in works pleasing to Me!
For he that laboureth right for love of Me
Shall finally attain! But, if in this
Thy faint heart fails, bring Me thy failure! find
Refuge in Me! let fruits of labour go,
Renouncing hope for Me, with lowliest heart,
So shalt thou come; for, though to know is more
Than diligence, yet worship better is
Than knowing, and renouncing better still.
Near to renunciation — very near —
Dwelleth Eternal Peace!
This is the message that Corrie Ten Boom absorbed from Jesus’ teachings. Because once we cut away that which is superficial in religion, we find that every true spiritual teaching is offering us the same message. The truths they bring were not made by human hand, but are eternal, and they merely await our discovery.
People come to spiritual truth from many directions. And when our hearts are troubled with fears and regrets and griefs and longings, where will we turn for comfort? And how strong and firm will our faith in the Comforter be?
Early in Corrie’s ministry, she came to America, where money is easier to come by than in many other lands. Americans have generous hearts, and Corrie’s supporters urged her to raise money there, because her ministry included wonderful works such as building homes for refugees and supporting missionaries, which required a great deal of money.
While she was touring and speaking in America, she met a woman who gave her a very large donation, and while they were talking the woman expressed how pleased she was to be able to support Corrie’s work. Corrie replied, “I’m very happy to have your support, but what about my real message?”
Because Corrie’s constant theme was the need to give our hearts to Jesus, and what it would mean for us in this life and in the afterlife.
But when she asked the woman what she thought about giving her heart to Jesus, she saw that the woman wasn’t particularly interested, because she was mainly inspired by Corrie’s missionary efforts.
Corrie was deeply troubled by this – that the woman had missed her primary message completely. And we might think of the great good karma that the woman would receive from doing Jesus’ work. But for Corrie it was far less important, and when she prayed to Jesus and expressed her disappointment that she hadn’t been able to convey his greatest message, she felt an inspiration coming, never to ask anyone for money again.
She prayed, “Not even a little bit?” And the answer came: “No – never!”
And so, for the rest of her life she never asked for travel expenses, or for a guarantee of where she might stay. She asked for nothing, even though, whenever she would feel God inspiring her to go to Vietnam or South Africa or Australia, she would have no idea how it would work out, except that she had put her life completely in Jesus’ hands.
So she would arrive at a place where she knew no one, and time after time, amidst no small amount of hardships, confusion, doubts, and disappointments, she remained firm in her conviction that if she did whatever Jesus asked, he would never disappoint her.
And this is the essence of the spiritual path for us all, too, and for which Corrie Ten Boom served as such a shining example. Because it was the simplicity of her faith that kept her in tune with what she needed to do.
In accordance with her traditional views, Corrie believed that you won’t get to heaven if you don’t give your life to Jesus Christ, and you might actually be damned to hell. So she believed that her life’s single purpose was to tell everyone about Jesus. And whenever she found herself in a bus station, or talking with customs officials, or sitting on her suitcase waiting for a ride, she would talk to everyone she met about Jesus.
Now, on the one hand, some people might feel annoyed by that approach. I read a charming article about a woman whose work required her to travel all over the country alone, and how someone asked her, “Aren’t you ever afraid?”
She said, “Well, if anybody directs unwanted attention toward me, I ask them if they are saved, and it usually ends the conversation and gets me a little peace.” [Laughs]
With our sophisticated theology, we might be tempted to smile condescendingly at such a person. But we really need to look at it through God’s eyes, and see how, because Corrie was always walking with Jesus, she was able to know from moment to moment that her life was a journey and that she was always passing the time with Jesus.
Whenever I’ve read her books and thought about all that she was able to do, I’ve had to ask myself if I would have that kind of courage. Is my faith strong enough that if I felt God calling me to go to another country where I knew no one, would I have the faith and courage to stand up for what I believe, and to look into the eyes of a stranger and offer them what I felt in my heart they most urgently needed?
It’s important that we not become so smart in our spirituality that we become a little stupid about it in the process.
And that’s really what the Gita is telling us. The Gita is extraordinarily sophisticated, in the many wise insights it offers us for dealing with the endless compelling issues in our lives. The Gita is the story of the battle between the part of us that aspires to live for God alone, and the part that hopes we can sort of live for God but keep a little of this or that for ourselves.
I’m at the stage in my life where you begin to want to travel a little lighter, and you don’t want to have a storage locker full of unpaid debts and unresolved questions.
It’s a time of preparation for, as Swamiji called it, “The Final Exam” – when the facade that you’ve carefully maintained in your life begins to be taken away. In your thirties and forties, you’re less likely to give it deep thought, but when you’re in your seventies you realize that the final exam might still be a little while off, but it probably won’t be all that long.
Stephen Levine was an early pioneer in the field of conscious dying. Stephen was a disciple of Neem Karoli Baba, so he had a solid spiritual basis, and he had his own unique way of talking about life in the physical body.
He pointed out that we are constantly being motivated by waves of consciousness. A vibration of consciousness comes over us as a feeling of loneliness, or hunger, or we have a pain in our side, or we remember somebody we’d like to connect with. Or maybe we just want to be entertained, or we don’t have the capacity to be creative. And these movements of consciousness are constantly driving us to be doing something with the physical body.
I’m upstairs in my house, and I think about those nice crisp apples in the refrigerator. So I walk downstairs and open the fridge, and I take out an apple and cut it, and all the time I’m moving my physical body.
Or maybe I’m feeling a little stuffy in the house, so I go out in the courtyard, and maybe I meet a friend and we talk, all of which means that I’m moving my physical body.
The impetus begins in my consciousness. A vibration of consciousness creates a thought or a feeling, and it wants to be shifted in the physical world, and I use my physical body to shift it.
Stephen Levine talks about the process of dying, particularly if you’re dying over a longer period of time, and maybe you have a debilitating disease that is gradually taking you down.
My mother had Parkinson’s for fifteen years, and I watched her options slowly being taken from her. A friend in our community died from ALS, and we watched him transform from a big, strong man into a very different form. And as you begin to die, the fluctuations of consciousness continue, but you find that you can no longer solve the problem of consciousness at the level of the physical body, because the body is no longer able to respond. I want an apple, but I can’t get out of bed, and I can’t go downstairs, and maybe I can’t cut it, and I can’t chew and digest it.
The problem of consciousness is still with me, but I can no longer resolve it with the body. And Stephen Levine would say, “When it begins to happen, and people realize it, they become tormented by the fluctuations of consciousness because they’ve lost their habitual way of resolving them.”
He said that people will often experience a period of absolute panic, because the fluctuations are still there, but their habitual way of resolving them is gone. And he said that what ideally happens is that the panic resolves as the person discovers that the problems of consciousness can be solved at the level of consciousness. And, he said, “Why wait?”
When we try to solve the problem of consciousness at the physical level, we aren’t really solving it, because we’re just distracting ourselves from the underlying dilemma.
Now, the teaching of Self-realization, including the practices of meditation and discipleship and surrender to God, is meant to show us how we can take the fluctuations of consciousness and resolve them at their own level, in our consciousness.
It doesn’t mean that I’ll never come downstairs to eat an apple. But as I’m getting the apple, I begin to solve the problem of consciousness by having it in my mind that I’m just eating an apple. And now we can begin to detach the strings of restless feelings that bind our consciousness, not because we must detach ourselves according to God’s law, but because God is giving us the opportunity to do so.
Master said, “St. Francis worshiped Lady Poverty, but I am devoted to Lady Simplicity.” And it was a perfect expression of the inner path of Self-realization for this new age.
During my first sixteen years on this path I lived at Ananda Village. It was an extremely rural existence, because the community was just getting started. And from the standpoint of money and material things, we were quite impoverished, but I’ve never known a period of greater wealth than we had in those early years. We lacked for nothing, and maybe money was in short supply, and we had very little stuff, but at the same time we were very fulfilled and happy.
Swamiji had more than we did. His home was larger, and he was able to buy all the things he needed. And¸ when people compared what we had with what he had, they would sometimes be confused. But I quickly realized that simplicity is having just as much as you need, and no more.
For the life that I was living, I only needed a tiny trailer that was barely wider than I could stretch out my arms, and just high enough that I could stand up, which meant that when I did the energization exercises I had to be careful not to bang my hands on the walls or the ceiling. This went on for years, but I didn’t need a car, and I didn’t need running water, and I didn’t need anything else, because I had exactly everything I needed.
Swami Kriyananda’s needed more to meet his needs, but it was only what he need to build the particular expression of Master’s work that God had commissioned him to do, and he had nothing extra.
Am I trying to solve the problem of consciousness by shopping and accumulating, and trying to make myself feel secure by rearranging my stuff, and looking at it again, and then having so much that I’ve filled the garage and the storage unit?
I’ve been told that one of the strongest growth sectors in the economy is storage units – for two reasons. One is that people move around a lot and they might not have a permanent home. And the other is that their stuff eventually fills the house and garage, and then where will they put it?
Are we solving the problem of consciousness at the level of consciousness? One of my friends who, thank heaven, is a devoted yogi, found herself having to move all over, so she put her life’s accumulation of worldly goods in a storage locker. And then one of our California wildfires came along and burned everything except for one statue, which was then stolen.
They say “You can’t take it with you.” But why are we even carrying it around with us in the first place? I’m not just talking about material goods. I’m not on a campaign to get you to empty out your storage locker and get rid of all your stuff.
When people are confused about the right spiritual way to deal with all their stuff, I’ll sometimes tell them to put it in storage and just not think about it. If you don’t have the will to sort it out today, just get it out of sight and go on with your life, and it’ll take care of itself later.
But what I’m really talking about is finding out who we are, so that we can work with it and realistically solve the problem of consciousness.
Corrie Ten Boom had a quality that I feel is beautiful. She believed that Jesus died for our sins, which is not entirely untrue, because the guru does take on a great deal of our karma. In Corrie Ten Boom’s path, the theology may be articulated differently, but it’s not entirely wrong from our perspective.
Jesus is her guru, and Jesus can intercede, as Swamiji put it, the way a strong man can come between you and a bully and take a blow on his own shoulder that might break you, but that will hardly cause him to flinch. Corrie felt that Jesus could take all of her remorse and guilt and sense of failure. And once she began developing the ability to give it all to him, she came up with a marvelous saying, “Jesus throws it in the deepest ocean, and then he puts up a sign that says ‘No fishing allowed.’”
Once she’d given it to God, and once she’d surrendered her failings, as she put it, her motto was “Corrie can’t do it, but Jesus can.”
Her family was betrayed by a man who came to them pretending to need money to help his wife, who he claimed was Jewish. So they gave him some money, and they were arrested by the Gestapo. And the man had insinuated himself sufficiently into their network that he was able to betray all of their communication systems. So not only were they arrested, but the secret sign that meant that the house was safe was put in place by the Gestapo, and many others were arrested, many of whom died, and all of whom suffered.
After the war, Corrie was preaching somewhere in Holland and talking about forgiveness, and how you can give your heart to Jesus and all will be forgiven. She spoke with passionate conviction about how God forgives us as we forgive others. And afterward a man came up, and she immediately recognized him as the one who had betrayed them.
He said, “You said you will forgive. Will you forgive me?” And he reached out his hand.
Corrie recalled how she stood there, stunned, and how no power on earth could have made her respond. She said it was only a few seconds, although it felt like eternity as she remembered her years in the concentration camp, the death of her family, and all that had happened to Betsie, and everything she had endured.
She had just encouraged her audience to forgive, and she thought, “I can’t. I just can’t do it.” And then she remembered, “Corrie can’t, but Jesus can.” And she felt her arm rise and take hold of his, and such a power of joy came through her that she had never known.
Now, that is the power that the Bhagavad Gita is talking about. Cling to me. Adore me. Set aside all other considerations. Everything that you think is your duty is not your duty after all. You have only one duty, which is in all circumstances to cling with all that you are to God within you, and He will make you whole.
God bless you.
(From Asha’s talk during Sunday service at Ananda Sangha in Palo Alto, California on February 18, 2018.)