Right Spiritual Action in Unsettled Times

Photo: Our grateful thanks to Informedmag.com.

I’m never been one who follows the news, but these days one peeks around more than usual to see what the planet is doing.

While browsing recently online, I caught sight of a confrontation between a black man and a white man in the South over whether a certain statue should be taken off its pedestal. The statue was purported to be from the Civil War, but was actually put up in the 1900s as a symbol of segregation, and I thought the discussion was symptomatic of the very peculiar confused perceptions of reality that we’re dealing with at this time.

I recently heard a news commentator say, “If people appeal through legitimate channels with valid grievances and the authorities do not respond, people will take things into their own hands, and of such stuff are revolutions made.”

Whether we’re in for a revolution, civil unrest, or some other dramatic turn of events, God alone knows. And fortunately God does know, and we’ll simply have to face the karma that is handed to us.

It’s good to bear in mind that those who are campaigning and arguing and putting their money behind this or that cause will be instruments for karmas that are not actually being determined by human beings.

The difficulty with understanding the workings of karma is that there are thwarting cross-currents of ego that will often cause the karma to be delayed.

There’s a type of karma that we joke about at Ananda. “Instant Karma” is very good karma, because when it comes you know exactly what caused it.

The problem with most karma is that the cross-currents of ego delay its resolution so that it seems to be coming out of the blue, like a boomerang that has sailed around for a long time until it finally smacks you on the head and you receive the consequences of your original action. And it’s even more complicated when we’re dealing with the karma of large groups such as nations.

Speaking of Instant Karma, I had a marvelous experience in India a number of years ago. It was at a time when we were first starting to lead pilgrimages to India, which several of us did for about twenty years until Ananda became well-established there, and the Ananda folks in India took over leading most of the pilgrimages.

In the beginning I would try hard to control the agenda, because there would occasionally be struggles between our guides, who would want to show us the sites they were most proud of, and my own ideas of where I wanted us to go.

One of those experiences happened Varanasi, which is the modern name for Benares. It’s a very old city, and our guide, who was a lovely man and extremely proud of his city, was determined to take us to a certain ancient temple to the Divine Mother in the form of Durga.

I had no wish to go to the temple, so I was already feeling crabby when I got off the bus, because I felt that he had more or less kidnapped us because he could speak the bus driver’s language.

The reason I didn’t want to go to the temple was that it was filled with monkeys, and monkeys are not my favorite creatures. So there we were, at this very ancient temple with hundreds of monkeys running free, and it didn’t help my mood when, for reasons known only to him, the temple priest, the pujari, decided that he wanted to honor me with a marigold garland that was long past its expiration date and had an awful smell. So I kept taking it off, and then he would find it and put it on me again.

And the whole time you’re negotiating with the monkeys, and you have to stay very conscious of where you are, to make sure you don’t wander into a band of monkeys.

Everything was old and little moldy, and it was not my idea of what it ought to be. So I’m walking around in a curmudgeonly state, trying to get rid of this putrid garland and trying to feel the slightest inspiration, all while I’m inwardly consumed with bad thoughts that are distracting me from the monkeys. And then I walk all unawares into a group of monkeys who aren’t terribly fond of me being there, and one of them jumps onto my shoulder. And I, being braver than I would have imagined, grabbed the monkey and threw it on the ground and said, “Get off of me, you filthy thing!”

And then the monkey really went after me, and thank God I was wearing a dress, because when he sank his teeth into what he thought was me, he only got the dress. And now we were in a tug of war and I was yelling at the monkey, “Let go of me! Let go of me!” And finally I ripped my dress out of his mouth, at which point every official there was agape because the white woman who was leading the group was about to be eaten by a monkey, and people were rushing over to help.

Older Durga Temple (detail), Varanasi.

But even in the moment, it began to dawn on me how perfect it was, because it was as if the Goddess Durga, who rides on lion and carries quite a few weapons, was saying, “Don’t mess with me, honey, and don’t be fooled for a second by these outward appearances, because they are not what’s real here, and I have ruled this temple since long before you were sent forth from God.”

And at that point I was thinking, a great deal more humbly, “Yes, Ma’am.” And I went over with complete devotion and bowed to the statue of Durga.

It was pure Instant Karma. Bad thought – bad experience – without a moment’s delay!

I had always worn that dress in India, and afterward I went to a fabric store and bought a big decal of a monkey and sewed it on the dress, and I wore it faithfully and devotedly in India thereafter as a reminder that we simply don’t know what’s going on.

We cast our little human ideas over everything. “Why can’t they keep this temple clean? Why are the monkeys running around? Why does the priest want me to wear this terrible garland?”

And I don’t have the answers, but Divine Mother says, “I do – and don’t even for a second allow yourself to fall into those kinds of thoughts.”

Returning to the encounter between the black man who wanted the statue pulled down, and the white man from the South whose whole demeanor reflected his commitment to preserving what he perceived to be his heritage – and of course they were arguing heatedly with each other.

“My father and grandfather fought for this land, and this is my heritage, and you can’t take it down!”

And the black man was saying, “My grandfather was working your grandfather’s land!” And the white man’s answer was amazing. He said, “We were too poor, and do you know what a slave cost? We worked our own land.”

And – what an answer! Where was it coming from? And yet the person for whom my heart broke was the white man, because you could feel his desperate desire to be seen, to belong, and to be respected. And you could feel that this man had been trying for who knows how many incarnations to find his place in the world. And meanwhile the black man was thinking that he was the underdog, even though it was plain to see that he could move through the world far more effectively, regardless of the obstacles.

And I’m not in any way excusing of underestimating the obstacles that were placed before him because of the color of his skin. But you could see that he understood how to move through this life, and that he was protesting from a position of strength and not from a point of weakness. Whereas the white man was vulnerable, and that’s the only way I can think to describe it. And everything in me wanted to ease the suffering that was causing him to fight against something that should have been accepted with grace.

Now I’m going to change directions. When I was in India last year, I went to Swami’s house on the land that Ananda has in Pune, and on the wall there was a photograph of him that I hadn’t seen, and there was a saying of his beneath the photograph. I may not recall the exact words, but it was something very close to: “True joy is to take the griefs of others and offer them to Divine Mother.”

And, to tell you the truth, I had no idea what it meant, and yet I felt that it was important for me to understand.

“True Joy is to take the griefs of others and offer them to Divine Mother.” I puzzled and puzzled over it, until I happened to be talking with my friend Devarshi, an American who’s living as a monk in India. And when I shared with him that I didn’t understand what it meant, he wrote to me: “If you’re a little child and your brother or sister is having a problem, and it’s bigger than you can solve, what will you do? You’ll run to your mother.”

I’m a tiny child, and I see a problem with my sister or my brother, and I can’t solve it because I don’t understand what it means or what’s causing it, and I’m not big enough to solve it on my own. So I run to my mother, because I know that my mother will take care of it.

Now, please understand me, because I’m not talking politics, and it’s not that I have no sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement, because I do understand the bigger picture. But what I’m thinking is that we are all Divine Mother’s children, and when anyone suffers we are all diminished by their suffering.

But it doesn’t mean that everybody gets to have the solution they want, because everything ultimately has to be resolved in the direction of an expanded awareness, and of  a learning for us all.

The only solution to all of the suffering, whether it’s light-skinned or dark-skinned, and whether it happened yesterday or it will happen tomorrow, is for us to understand that we are in this together, and that there is no person’s suffering that is different from mine, because suffering is always the same.

I’m thinking of the extraordinary story of Betsie and Corrie Ten Boom, devout Christian sisters in the Netherlands who helped rescue Jews from the Nazis during the Second World War, and how they ended up in a concentration camp together, where Betsie eventually died.

While they were in the camp, Betsie had a vision of a time after the war when they would have to help people to heal. And to Corrie’s astonishment, because she of course expected that the people they would be helping would be the former prisoners, Betsie’s vision showed her that they would, above all, have to help heal the Nazis and the prison guards, and all those who had perpetrated the evil, but weren’t the victims. And, in fact, that’s exactly what came to pass.

Betsie and Corrie Ten Boom as young women.

Betsie’s sympathy was for everyone, but the greatest misery that she could see was in the ones who were perpetrating this great evil, because of the karma they were setting in motion for themselves. And her compassion was for the suffering in them that could cause them to inflict such terrible suffering on others. Because it broke her heart to see so much misery expressed in such a horrible way, and all of the suffering that they were setting in motion that would have to come for them.

We are all Divine Mother’s children, and justice must be served, and appropriate responses must be given. And yet, when Master talked about a future world of peace and freedom, and a United States of all nations, he spoke also of the need for an international police force to keep the bullies in line, and to keep them from having their day.

But what I’m coming to is that we are very often moved by compassion to help the refugees and prisoners of this world, and the people of one race or another, and the oppressed religious minorities, even though it’s very difficult to feel that we are having an impact. And so we may become exhausted, or angry, or cynical, or overwhelmed. And rather than bringing light into a situation that’s full of darkness, we may end up only bringing more darkness – the darkness of despair and anger.

Righteous indignation has its place, and we must sometimes express what we’re feeling, because there is no beauty in cowardice. So there are times when it’s necessary to speak up. But above all, joy is when we take the griefs of others and offer them to Divine Mother. Because this world is not ever meant to come out right.

We are always dealing with tremendous forces of karma that are individual, national, and global, and we’re caught up in a great many of those karmas simultaneously at this time.

Yogananda foresaw a period, of which we may be poised on the cusp in this present moment, and that has been building for decades, as we’ve all witnessed the gradual erosion of courtesy, and of civility and respect. It’s perfectly reflected in the popular music, which has become ever more violent and egoic, and the value systems that have become more and more corrupted and eroded.

I could go on, but the details aren’t really the point, which is that we are able to see the karmic payment coming due, and some of those karmas are very old.

Master said that America has very good karma overall. We were founded for religious freedom, and for the greater part we have been a noble country, and it’s important to realize this. Because, as Swamiji put it, the fact that there is darkness everywhere does not mean that darkness is present everywhere in the same proportion.

But what people are inclined to do these days, because they aren’t thinking clearly, is that if there’s a white sheet and some black dots fall on it, we declare the whole thing black and we want to tear it to shreds. But that’s not what Divine Mother is trying to teach us.

What Divine Mother wants us to understand, Master said, is that America came onto the scene with very high ideals and high energy, and was thus able to serve the world as a unique and exemplary Dwapara country where anybody could arrive, and with hard work and the right effort, rise as high as they might.

And it doesn’t mean, of course, that the opportunities were given equally. I’m not going into the sociological aspects, which are undoubtedly true. But overall, this has been the reality of America, and it’s why Master came here, because he could say, “Self-realization is for everyone,” and in this country there was a fertile field where that idea could grow.

Master himself was discriminated against as a dark-skinned person – he was literally driven out of Miami, and when he tried to talk to integrated audiences in Washington, D.C. he wasn’t allowed to. And so he started the Negro Self-Realization Society – he went with his own dark skin and drew all of the people of dark skin around him, and if he couldn’t teach them together he would teach them apart, because Self-realization belongs to everyone.

Yogananda with black students, Washington, DC.

But he added that this country was taken from the Native Americans, and that it was very bad karma. And he said that the thwarting cross-currents of ego, represented by America’s dynamic energy, had managed to keep that karma at bay. But he said that it would need to be paid, and that the payment would come in the form of economic suffering, because it was greed that caused us to disregard divine values in order to get money. And that has been America’s Achilles heel, that there is dynamic goodness here, and great generosity, but there is also this one great karmic stain.

When we were competing against the Russians to be first to put a man on the moon, someone suggested that we should send a dog to the moon, because the Americans in their tremendous concern for the welfare of the dog would put all of their national resources behind the effort to rescue him.

And that’s the best of this country, that expansive quality of the heart. But we haven’t always expressed that quality, and Master said that we will learn to use it, but it will be, as he put it, only through a trial by fire.

We will emerge as a country, he said, stronger and better, and purified from that experience to be able to be who we really are. But in the meantime, not only in America but all over the world, we are being asked how we will respond. And maybe direct action will be required, if a person feels so inspired, and if it’s their destiny.

My, quote, “political activism” has always been to teach people to meditate and love God, because that is the answer. And I’ve suffered deeply, watching people suffer and being unable to participate, because whenever I try to get involved in those outward movements, I find that there are so many shades of higher and lower motivations. And now Swamiji has given us the answer. “True joy is to take the griefs of others and give them to Divine Mother.” Because She alone knows their griefs and can heal them.

The human mind wants to remove the symptoms and make everything better. But I remember how Swami gave us interesting advice for counseling those who come to us with serious problems, or problems of any kind.

He said, “You should be sympathetic, but not too sympathetic.” And it’s a strange answer, isn’t it? He said, “Because if you’re too sympathetic, it encourages people to feel that their problems are enormous.” So there has to be a sense that, yes, this is a difficulty, but we can get through it.

Swami also often said that if you don’t know how to swim and someone is drowning, and you dive in and try to help them, you’ll both drown. In order to help someone, you need to have the strength to bring them forward. And when people are angry you can’t help the situation by just diving in and adding your own anger.

For those of us who understand the path of Self-realization, we must always aspire to act as Divine Mother would, with total compassion and total unconditional love, but as a wise mother would act. You can’t always give your child whatever he or she is demanding, because the child doesn’t know what is in its best interest, and he may know what he wants, but he may not have any idea of what will truly alleviate his suffering.

In the greater picture of things, this world was never meant to be perfect. We are living in the first decades of Dwapara Yuga, and a planet in the very early first years of Dwapara is a mixed cacophony of light and dark, as we’re seeing around us today. And, unfortunately, Master said that throughout the 2400 years of Dwapara Yuga there will still be wars. Swamiji remarked that Dwapara is the most insecure age, because everyone will have powerful weapons that can strike with unbelievable speed and stealth and invade any part of the world.

So we cannot depend on it all just working out nicely according to our wishes. And the way we must work with the drama that the world is passing through now is to lift ourselves and everyone around us toward Self-realization, and into a deeper understanding that Divine Mother is in charge.

Master said that the entire purpose of the difficult times ahead would be to help us understand that we are part of a greater reality, and that we must offer ourselves as channels for the divine power, and we must see everything that’s happening in the context of God’s will.

Is it easy? No. But is it the only solution? Yes. The white man wants to be mad at the black man, so they fight. And may they’ll be able to pull the statue down, and I think the statue should come down, so I’ll take that position, but this man’s suffering and anger will not simply go away, and it will only harden in him and find some other way to be expressed.

We have to put all of it in the hands of Divine Mother. And what needs to happen is a deeper awakening on a completely different level, where each of us realizes, “I am a child of God, and I am here to learn, and if anything disturbs my heart, let me try to find the presence of the Divine within me and act from that place.”

Because as long as we’re acting the way we’re acting now, ego against ego, we are sending out boomerangs of karma, and whether they hit us immediately like the monkey jumping on my back to tell me about Goddess Durga, or whether it will hit me in the next generation when I’m somewhere else, who knows? But we have an obligation and a divine duty to the Self-realization of our own individual soul to pray, “Make me an instrument of Thy light to everyone I meet.”

We must find ourselves first in the presence and power of that light. “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2).

And then everything changed. Because nothing will change as long as we walk in darkness, and everything will change as soon as we open ourselves to the light.

God bless you.

(From Asha’s talk during Sunday service at Ananda Sangha in Palo Alto, California on June 28, 2020.)

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