Swami Kriyananda told the story of Brahmin priests in an Indian village whose ceremonies were being interrupted by a demon.
At the critical moment in the ceremony, the demon would appear and throw unclean things in the fire, causing the blessing of the ceremony to be neutralized.
The Brahmins were very upset about this. They went to a yogi who gave them some powder that he’d blessed.
“The next time the demon appears,” he said, “throw the powder on him, and it will nullify his power.”
The Brahmins were greatly encouraged.
When the demon next appeared, they shook the powder on him.
The demon laughed. He said, “Before you threw the powder on me, I got into it and neutralized its spell.”
This story is told in India to illustrate a puzzling problem we face in our spiritual life: the very tools we’ve been given with which to liberate ourselves from delusion are poisoned by the delusions we’re trying to overcome. Our desires and ego-identifications contaminate our ability to find our freedom.
People seek bliss in endless ways – through possessions, pleasure, food, comfort, power, and so on. These are natural stages in the great journey of all beings toward liberation. From the animals to the saints, all of us are ultimately seeking two things: increasing happiness, and freedom from suffering.
Along the way, we slowly learn to discriminate: to understand that this leads to pain, while this is less painful, and this yields true, lasting happiness and inner freedom.
In this process, the ego is our friend, because it is the ego that enables us to be aware that we are suffering.
The animals don’t have this advantage. When something painful happens, they think “Oh, something painful has happened.” Then they immediately forget about it. They go on to the next moment, not reflecting that it could happen again, and that they might be able to avoid it. If they learn to avoid painful things, it’s an automatic, subconscious process.
We need a healthy ego to want to get started on the spiritual path. It takes a refined level of awareness to understand that there’s a happiness that’s more desirable than the satisfactions that the world offers.
People go to great lengths to avoid taking responsibility for their own happiness. They get involved in dogmatic religions that promise them happiness if they follow a set of rules. Or they join a church where the unspoken agreement is that it’s really too much trouble to overcome the ego, so we’ll pretend that we’re surrendering to God.
Sooner or later, we find that these lesser paths don’t satisfy us. There has to be a healthy-functioning ego that isn’t fooled by pale substitutes for bliss.
Yogananda used the phrase “the rocks of insatiable desires.” In time, the ego realizes that the longing for happiness can never be fulfilled by following endless desires, but only by knowing God.
Finding our true fulfillment in God requires that we face the tremendous challenge to get away from all the things that we think define us. In this effort, our greatest help comes from the masters, who offer to guide us to freedom.
In the Festival of Light, we say, “As many as received Him, to them gave He the power to become the sons of God.”
We repeat this saying every at every Sunday service because it expresses a central truth of the spiritual path. There’s a point at which the ego finally surrenders. “I’ve reached the limit of my understanding. The delusions of my little ego permeate my mind. I’m lost. I need a guide.”
We realize that we need a master who will help us break the bonds of delusion.
People who have out-of-body experiences and come back report how they were able to separate themselves from their identification with a particular body.
They realize, “I’ve been a player, acting out a part on a stage. I became engrossed in my role and forgot that it was only a play.”
This is how the masters see us. God’s power can come to us in an instant, and then all of our delusions fade and we remember what we truly are, one with God.
Sometimes I would watch Swamiji’s eyes and understand that he was seeing people that way. He said, “Everything is just the same – just egos and individual consciousness struggling to be free.”
There are two ways to understand God’s consciousness: as the infinite cosmic consciousness, and in the form of the masters who are born to bring God to us.
Once the consciousness of a master comes on earth, it never leaves. The consciousness is always here, and we can draw it to us by the power of our devotion.
The Masters are sent by God as an expression of His compassion for us. They live only for the sake of lifting others. They joyfully endure the trials and humiliations of earthly life in order to help others. We don’t have the capacity to know how powerful and unchanging their love is, and how that love is always active behind the scenes.
The masters are continually trying to reach out to help us, but we’re busy looking here and there. They want to give us the power to be free. That power must come from a source higher than our little ego. It must be an angelic clarity that is stronger than the demons of maya. To those who receive the masters, God gives His liberating power.
If you look in the right direction and accept the power of God’s grace into yourself, you will find that the ego begins to dissolve effortlessly. The illusion of separateness cannot stand before the experience of oneness with God.
The selfishness and fear that bind us to the ego cannot stand against the experience of bliss. This is the spiritual path in its essence: all of our meditations, prayers, right actions, and right attitudes and service – all of these are designed for one purpose alone, to align us with God’s grace so that we can receive His liberating power.
This is why the masters tell us that attunement is everything on the spiritual path. Receive that power. Attune yourself to it. Focus your life around it, and the grace to become like the great ones will be yours.
(From a talk at Sunday service on February 11, 2007)