The Teacher’s Kindness, The Teacher’s Discipline

Soon after I met Swami Kriyananda, I began to notice that he was extremely kind, yet he could also be quite demanding at the same time.

At one point, Swamiji asked me to travel and lecture. It meant that I had to commit to be at each lecture site on a specific day. But I had a bad habit of putting off planning my travels until the last moment.

Swami Kriyananda with Nayaswami Asha
When we no longer resist the need to change, it becomes possible to expand our awareness and enjoy increasing levels of happiness. Swami Kriyananda and Asha, 1980s. (Click to enlarge.)

David, my husband, could easily foresee what the results of my procrastination would be – the panicky all-night work sessions and general chaos.

He wanted to help, and at first he carefully described the horrors I would experience if I didn’t plan ahead. But having them described in vivid detail just made me feel even more paralyzed with anxiety.

I said, “What I need right now is just to be comforted, to be told ‘It’s okay. I believe in you. You can do it.’”

I didn’t lack understanding. What I lacked was the courage to face my procrastinating and my need to change. To his credit, David understood, and his support helped me summon my own courage.

Since then, in counseling people, I’ve learned that they are often best helped not bu long explanations, but if I simply stand by them with a mother’s love, while they find the courage to do what they already know they have to do.

I’ve learned that you can’t teach people anything that they don’t already know. You may be able to explain their mistakes so that they can recognize them, but they won’t change until they’ve understood for themselves why they need to change.

That was Swamiji’s way. He was always kind, but if he saw that you had understood what you needed to do, he could be very strict, to help you rise to the challenge and achieve a higher level of happiness.

Yogananda said that if we have true wisdom, we will never do anything that goes against our own happiness. When I counsel people, I find that the best thing I can do for them is to re-state what they tell me, to help them call forth their own wisdom and courage.

They’re perfectly capable of understanding the problem, and even the solution, but they’re having trouble putting it all together. At that point, what they need from me is to help them understand what Yogananda called “the inescapability of divine law.”

The manner with which I re‑state what they’re telling me is critical. Am I telling them, in effect, “Yes, you can do it!” Or is my manner just making them feel it’s hopeless?

Swami Kriyananda was always kind in his guidance. His manner gave us confidence that we could change, and reassured us that he was solidly behind us.

When we face a need to change, there’s a point where we have to accept that the divine law is inescapable. Naturally, the ego does its best to argue! Our minds cleverly list all the reasons why we don’t have to take responsibility, and why it’s someone else’s fault. We think, “This time I’m going to get away with it.”

Years ago, Swamiji gave me a job for which I was profoundly unqualified. I did the job for about two years, with fairly disastrous results. I was aware of my incompetence, and I was in a continual state of anxiety. Swami finally took pity on me and suggested that Shivani and I switch jobs.  She was very good at the job I was trying to do, and I could do the job that she had. So he fired me, but in a gracious way.

I said, “Swamiji, I know you’re firing me for good reasons, and that I need to learn certain lessons. But it’s Friday. Why don’t we take the weekend off so I can enjoy the fact that I’ve been released and I don’t have to do the job any longer. Let’s not talk about it until Monday. Let me have the fun of thinking I got away with it.”

He smiled and said, “Okay.”

On Monday, I said, “All right, now let’s talk.” He explained the shortcomings in my nature that I needed to work on. But for three days I pretended that the divine law was “escapable,” and that I didn’t have to face it.

One of the most difficult tests on the spiritual path is facing up to our need to learn something we don’t already. I’m amazed by how desperately the ego fights for self-justification, babbling on about all the reasons it doesn’t need to step out of the way so that we can change.

In my book Swami Kriyananda As We Have Know Him, I tell the story of a man who lived at Ananda Village and got himself into a big mess by following his desires. His stubborn refusal to change caused lots of difficulty for himself and others. When Swamiji heard about the situation, he called the man and said, “I understand that these things are happening to you. But please don’t make any decisions until we can talk.”

The man wasn’t really interested in talking to Swamiji. He said, somewhat defiantly, “I’ll talk to you, but it’s a very complicated situation. I’ll need at least a half hour to explain it.”

“That’s fine,” Swami said, comfortingly. “I’ll be happy to give you as much time as you need.” They arranged to meet. But after Swamiji hung up, he said, “Truth can be spoken in a moment. Self-justification takes a long time.”

Women give alms to Theravada Buddhist monks in Thailand.
When we express kindness, even in small ways, our awareness expands and our happiness grows. Women give alms to Theravada Buddhist monks in Thailand. (Click photo to enlarge. Credit: Suriya Donavanik, Wikimedia Commons.)

When we hear ourselves going on and on, explaining all the reasons we’re right, that’s when we need to stop and be very careful. We need to acknowledge that everything that comes to us is from God’s hands, to help us learn important lessons. God isn’t generally trying to teach us to defend ourselves, or to call up all the many reasons we’re right.

I have unlimited faith in Swamiji. I know it may sound naïve, but I never knew him to be wrong. There were many times when I misunderstood him, but I never knew him to have a wrong perception of a situation.

There’s a long list of projects he proposed that didn’t work out. But in my experience, everything he proposed was based on a true perception. Of course, there’s often a gap between the intention and the capacity to manifest it, especially when other people are involved.

Working with Swamiji, I realized that my perception of reality was like a television screen with well-defined edges. Many interesting things might be happening on the screen, so that I would start to forget about the edges, and it began to seem like a complete world of its own. Over the years, I realized that Swami was seeing a reality that didn’t have any edges.

As I became aware of his expanded reality, I realized that he could see the forces that were creating the destiny of each soul. He was aware of those defining forces on all levels: subconscious, conscious, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. He saw us crossing a narrow TV screen in this lifetime. But when your perspective is infinite, you can see beyond the edges of the little screen of a single life.

Swamiji often corrected me, usually about the same things again and again. Sometimes I would protest, jokingly, “But I’m so sincere!” Or, “But I mean so well!”

I remember an occasion, many years ago, when I tried to justify something I’d done. And I recall how Swamiji said, very strongly, “But you have to take into account how others are affected. It’s not enough that you have our own little story in life. Because that’s where we learn.”

We don’t have to give our power to others. But we have to realize that the divine law is inescapable, and that’s it is always insisting that we learn to expand our awareness to include others and treat them well.

In our Living Wisdom Schools, we believe that the goal of education as “true maturity.” True maturity means that you’re able to relate to realities outside of your own. It’s a simple thought, but it has major implications. For starters, it’s the key to finding ever-increasing happiness in our lives.

Whenever we expand our awareness, we receive a corresponding little extra inflow of joy. One of the ways God teaches us to be more aware of others is by insisting that we look at the soul in front of us, and stop saying “What do I want to say to him?” and instead say, “What does he need to hear from me?”

This was the genius I saw in Swami Kriyananda. He was never motivated by what he needed. His motivation was always, “What will help?”

What will help bring this soul a bit closer to the bliss of Spirit? The divine law states that we are here to realize our oneness with God’s bliss. It’s crucial step to our progress to learn to help bring others toward that bliss as well.

When we move through this world with the single thought “How can I help others?” we are in harmony with the divine law. There will never be a time when we won’t have troubles in this life, even after we find God. But it will be a different kind of troubles. It will be the Divine Mother who weaves the picture of our life as She pleases, using us as Her instruments, instead of our little ego trying to run away and hide from Her bliss.

At the conclusion of our Sunday services, we pray: “May Thy love shine forever on the sanctuary of my devotion, and may I be able to awaken Thy love in all hearts.”

At other times, we pray, “Lord give me Thyself, that I may give Thee to all.” Paramhansa Yogananda said that this is the highest prayer.

This is why we were born. The more we live in harmony with this simple truth, the more the Divine Mother will be able to shower us with Her grace, and the more we will have of everything we truly want.

(From Sunday service, November 26, 2006.)