Paramhansa Yogananda made a very interesting statement that I think deserves our special attention, since it’s extremely useful for understanding how we can get down to business and start to make real progress on the spiritual path.
He said that we must fight the battle for joy exactly where we’re standing.
Too often, we imagine that spiritual principles don’t apply at this particular moment in time, or that they aren’t relevant in these particular circumstances. And I’m reminded of something that Swami Kriyananda said: “Most people are always wishing for something else. Don’t!” In other words, the only place and time when spiritual growth can ever really start to happen is right here and now, exactly where we are.
Before Sunday service this morning, I went out in the courtyard and enjoyed the warm sun at the end of an unusually brutal California winter.
It was wonderful to stand with closed eyes and let the sunlight fall on my face – it brought a memory of something that Swami Kriyananda often said – that everything in this physical world is a symbol of the spiritual world.
When we’re meditating, the inner world of Spirit can seem much smaller than the external world that we can see with our physical eyes. And until we’ve deepened our experience of that inner world, it’s hard to imagine how much vaster it is than this physical creation.
In fact, Master and Swamiji remind us that it was the boundless ocean of Spirit that had to condense itself in order to create this physical universe.
Standing in the courtyard, I reflected on what a lovely symbol the warm sunshine was for the divine light that we can see in meditation. And I was thinking of the powerful attraction that the inner light has for us, once we’ve had even the tiniest taste of it.
Our Bible reading today tells us that no man has seen God, but that the Son of God has revealed Him. Those aren’t Jesus’ exact words, but it’s how Paramhansa Yogananda interpreted them. He said that the “Son” is the presence of God in the heart of everything, including you and me, and that it is the Son – the inner light – that declares the reality of God to us.
In the same way that I was able to enjoy the sunlight falling on my face, we can feel the warmth of the Divinity declaring itself to our inner awareness. And once we’ve tasted that light, it becomes no longer a matter for rational speculation or debate, but a sure inner knowing. So, when Jesus describes himself as the Son of God, and the only begotten of the Divine, we need to remember that he is talking about the truth of our own being.
In Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda talks about the scientific way to experience the Son of God who dwells in us. He says that by having our own experience of the Son, we will realize that Spirit is “center everywhere, circumference nowhere,” and that we are one with the vast Ocean of Spirit.
What is the power that animates our lives? What power is it that fills our hearts with inspiration? What is the power that makes us long for God’s unimaginable joy? It is the spark of Divinity in us, calling us to return to our true home.
We all suffer at some time or other. And the reason we suffer is essentially because we’re always longing for “something else.”
We suffer because even though we instinctively know that a greater happiness exists, delusion tempts us to seek that happiness in ways that only lead to suffering. Or we suffer when we have painful experiences, and we wish we were having a different experience instead.
God and Guru are always trying to help us find ever-increasing happiness and freedom. And Swamiji pointed out that whenever the Divine corrects us, it will always be in a way that, once we get the point, we’ll feel encouraged and confident that we can succeed.
More times than I like to remember, Swamiji would have to correct me and redirect my energy. But he always worked hard to help me understand that he believed I could do it.
It was how he always worked with us. He never gave us more than we were ready to receive. His aim was never to challenge us with goals that were beyond our reach. His only intention was to help us win the battle for joy exactly where we were standing.
There’s a sensitive line between offering people suggestions that they will be able to step into, and giving them challenges that will overwhelm them, to a point where they just want to go home and pull the covers up over their head.
Swamiji said that one of Satan’s best tricks is to make us feel discouraged, and that there’s no way we’ll ever be able to succeed. When we’re struggling with some big test, what’s the worst thing that can happen? It’s hard enough to be struggling, but it’s much worse if we lose all hope that we can succeed. Satan’s greatest victory is when he can tempt us to define ourselves as people who will never be able to win the victory.
Master’s advice was wonderful in this regard. He said that if you ever find yourself confronted by a test that you absolutely know you won’t be able to overcome, you should hastily run away.
It isn’t often that the guru gives us such a heartfelt endorsement of our natural inclinations! And, of course, there are bound to be times when we can’t run away. But if it looks like it will be overwhelming, then if at all possible, we should run away.
Master said, “The better part of wisdom is to run away.” Because, he said, you never want to put yourself in a situation where you’re bound to be defeated, because it will only reinforce the idea that you’re a person who’s incapable of winning your battles.
Swamiji counseled us to fight the battles we stand a good chance of winning. And then we can circle back to the bigger battles later, when we’ve developed the strength to win them.
I’ve mentioned how I faced a difficult karma, many years ago, and how it suddenly went away. I was feeling so wonderful about it. And when I told Swami about it, he said, “Well, perhaps it’s over.”
Then he paused and said, “But I don’t think so.” And he consoled me, “There’s nothing more you can do at this point. Just put it on the shelf and grow strong in other ways, and then you’ll get to come back to it.”
Because, what happens when we lose hope? If we’re completely flattened, we’ll just shut down, and there won’t be any possibility that we’ll be able to think of creative solutions.
Swamiji pointed out that as people get older, the pain of life very often gets to be too much for them, and so they harden inside. They become rigid and defensive, and they’re no longer able to think creatively or accept positive suggestions. It’s all just too much for them, and they can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. So they hunker down and brace themselves against their fate.
But that isn’t victory. Master called such people “psychological antiques.” He said that God sometimes has no choice but to kill them, so He can give them a fresh start. And we sometimes see young people who’ve frozen in place and become psychological antiques even at age fourteen.
Whenever you feel “I simply can’t cope. I can’t go on. There is no hope,” you can be sure that Satan has got hold of you.
The positive way to respond to our challenges is to know with absolute certainty that a solution exists. It may not be the easiest choice, and it might not be free of pain and struggle, but there is always a way.
By concentrating strongly at the point between the eyebrows, the center of will power and divine consciousness, and praying strongly to God at that point for His help, we’ll always be able to attract a superconscious solution.
But if we lose hope, we’ll simply be stopped dead in our tracks, until we can gather the courage and inspiration to get back up and keep going. Otherwise, we simply won’t be able to go on. And that’s why, when the first thought of hopelessness enters your mind, that’s the time to nip it in the bud.
Swami said, “Satan, the power of darkness, insinuates itself into our consciousness through our own false reasoning.”
Satan loves it when he can get us to think, “Surely anyone would be able to draw upon God’s power to overcome this situation – but not me!”
As I mentioned earlier, when people think of “the Son of God,” they generally think that it applies exclusively to Jesus. But Master explained that it refers to the Divinity in each of us. Thus, to “believe in the Son of God” is not only to believe in the divinity of Jesus, but to believe in the God who resides in us.
Not the tiny, strutting ego-self that boasts, “I can do anything – I can write books, I can sing, I can start a business and get rich, I can become a sports superstar.” To believe in the Son of God is to know, even as Jesus did, that you, too, are an expression of God. And when you’ve had the experience of His presence, you will know that nothing can touch you.
The masters are not terribly interested in our psychological complexes. Their constant desire is to sweep aside those lesser concerns and help us realize what we truly are: one with the divine light that is always giving life to our being. The goal of the masters is to help us have an unbroken experience of that light.
Swamiji said, “All that which seems so important to you now, will not have the same importance to you in a few years.” He said, “When you die and you leave this world, if you remember it at all, you will say, ‘Oh yeah – all that.’”
The events that loom so large in this life, and that threaten to overwhelm you, and that you don’t think you can face – you’ll look back and see that it was nothing, compared to the divinity of your own being.
Swamiji said that when you attain Self-realization, and you’re enveloped in that divine glory, you look back on your millions of incarnations and realize that the only thing that ever really happened was when you touched into Divinity.
You realize that everything else was a dream, and that your countless incarnations all happened within the dream. Because God alone is real, and our only contact with the true reality is when we touch into the reality of God.
This is what it means to believe in the Son of God. Do you know with every fiber of your being that you are one with the Infinite? Do you know that everything that happens in this world is a ripple in the vast ocean of God’s consciousness? If you could have that vision, just imagine what a perfectly brave and happy soul you would be!
There was a man named Karuna who lived in our community. He was a wonderful soul, and a dear man. He had such a tender spirit that he couldn’t bear to watch movies that showed people suffering.
We developed a movie-rating system based on whether they were “K-rated” – Karuna-rated. “Asha-rated” was a fairly high standard, but Karuna-rated was much more demanding. Karuna couldn’t even watch Bambi, the children’s film, because the mother deer gets killed, and he couldn’t bear it.
I’m not terribly good at watching movies that are overly tough or tragic. I like to know that everything will work out for the best, and that nothing too scary or shocking will happen, and that I won’t have to fear that the person I’m loving on the screen will die in some horrible way.
We spend so much of our lives feeling anxious. And many of our fears are baffling to us, because we can’t pinpoint their source. They rise up out of the subconscious; because, let’s face it, our past lives were not entirely free of stress and error, and those lingering subconscious memories can bring up lots of fear and dread in this life, carried over from the pains and disappointments and unfulfilled longings and regrets of the past.
Swamiji said that there are two things that bind us to the wheel of reincarnation. The first is our longing for fulfillments that we weren’t able to get in the past. And the second is our regrets for things that happened in the past that we would like to fix. Both are based on the assumption that this world and our experiences in it are very real, and that they are what they appear to be. Because this world is fairly convincing, isn’t it?
I remember a woman at Ananda Village who went through a period of great emotional pain. And Swamiji remarked that her suffering was “mind-made.”
She was suffering because of a thought that she had become attached to in her mind, about how people were thinking of her. And Swami said that there was actually nothing particularly tragic happening in her life, but she was suffering because she had persuaded herself that she had to suffer.
Now, there’s a tricky distinction to be made here, because if you’re facing one of life’s very real disappointments, it’s different than if you’re just imagining it. But the deeper point is that we always have a choice about how we’ll respond to whatever our life may be throwing at us.
As adults, we know that our lives aren’t always going to go smoothly. God may give us a temporary vacation from our karma – we may be born in Hawaii and live a relatively carefree existence for a while. But tough times are bound to happen, as our karma ripens and comes due. And if we’ve experienced the Son of God within us, and if we’ve come to understand that the Son is the only reality, and that everything else is a play of shadows – then how brave will we be?
Consider the example of the saints, and how they’ve been able to face even very severe trials with undiminished joy. And, how is it possible? When your consciousness is anchored in the divine inner light that holds the fulfillment of your every longing, you find that any whispers of discouragement or darkness can simply be flicked aside.
What is there to fear? Why am I worried? As a great French saint, St. Jean Vianney, said, “If you knew how much God loves you, you would die for joy.”
Swamiji loved that statement, because it’s telling us about our true reality – it’s telling us that, like Jesus, we are Sons of God, and that anything that would take us away from that awareness is of Satan – it’s coming from the darkening power that wants to drown us in “mind-made” suffering.
The challenges of this life are difficult enough, and we really don’t need to go out looking for all sorts of creative ways to make them worse. Let’s make the best of the gifts that God and Guru have given us, and fight the battles we can win.
God bless you.
(From Asha’s talk during Sunday service at Ananda Sangha in Palo Alto, California on February 22, 2015.)