Act in this World While Living in the Spirit

It’s lovely to see you all. You may feel less joyful to see me, inasmuch as you were expecting to see Swami Kriyananda.

Unfortunately, the fever that started Friday night hasn’t abated. Swamiji planned to give at least part of the service today, but he still had a fever this morning. So he smiled and said, “You get to do it.”

Swami Kriyananda in Palo Alto

Swami Kriyananda in the last years of his life, shown here arriving for a visit in Palo Alto.

Inasmuch as space and time are an illusion, and we’re all one in the Spirit, let us unite with Swamiji and Master and create in our consciousness the experience we’re here for today, of the Divine.

When we talked with Swamiji last night about whether he would be able to come this morning, we reminded him that the subject of today’s service is “The Inner Stillness.” We thought it would be an easy sermon to give, as we wouldn’t have to do anything – just be still. When I mentioned that to him this morning, he reminded us of an expression that Master would often use – “the voice of inner silence” – so I reckon we’ll have to be more vocal than we’d imagined.

Since you won’t be hearing from Swamiji, I thought that I could at least talk about him. However, a difficulty is that it isn’t what he would want me to do. He’s always extremely careful to make sure that our attention doesn’t get confused between the divine energy that flows through him, and the form through which it flows.

But, with that caveat, talking about Swami Kriyananda’s name sees like a good place to start.

As most of you know, Kriya Yoga is a meditation technique that Paramhansa Yogananda introduced to the West. “Kriya” means action, and “yoga” means union. So Kriya Yoga is an action we can perform to draw closer to God.

On the surface, the name “Kriyananda” is a bit of a contradiction, because it combines “ananda,” the divine bliss of inner stillness, with “kriya,” an outward action. In fact, though, it’s a perfect name, given how Swamiji’s life has unfolded, with the tremendous action that has brought him into oneness with divine bliss. “Kriyananda” expresses not only the manner of his life; in many ways it distills Paramhansa Yogananda’s mission.

Those of us who are gathered here today have all, in one way or another, been drawn to that mission. And its nature is a balance of doing all that life asks of us, while remaining attuned to the voice of inner silence.

Friends of Swamiji’s are visiting us from Italy with their baby daughter, Melissa. She’s a beautiful child, with a happy little face and her hair done up by her loving parents in a little top-knot. In Melissa’s little face, you can see her trying to figure out where she is, and what’s to come.

I remember visiting another little friend, Daniel Rinzler, when he was just two years old. He’s a grown man now, but I visited his home when he was a toddler, and as soon as I walked in, he insisted on taking me upstairs. When a little child takes your hand and wants to show you something, you don’t really have a choice. So I followed Daniel upstairs, where he took me to his bedroom and opened a dresser drawer. He pointed and said with great energy, “SOCKS!”

I said, “That’s right, Daniel.” And then he closed the drawer, and he looked at me as if he had something really tremendous to show me, and he pulled the drawer open again and said, “SOCKS!”

I could see that he was beginning to put the pieces together. Amid the chaos of this world into which he’d been born, he was able to open the drawer, and every time there were socks.

It can sometimes help us understand this confusing world if we think like children. As we grow up we become much more sophisticated. We get involved in the countless details of life, and we pick up a seemingly endless pile of self-definitions. What college did you go to? What’s your work? How many careers have you had? Whom did you marry? Where are your children? What’s your house like?

We add layer upon layer, and along the way, most of us lose the spontaneous freedom of a little child.

When Paramhansa Yogananda went to India in 1935, he spent time visiting with his family. Many of us met Master’s nephew, Hare Krishna Ghosh, who came to America in the early 1990s. Hare Krishna was just fifteen when Master returned to India in 1935, so he had the opportunity to be with his guru as a teenager. But Hare Krishna’s sister was three years old at the time, and her discipleship was formed by that early direct connection when she was just three.

Now, we might think, “Oh my, she was only three when she met her Guru? What a shame!” And, on one level, it’s true. There wasn’t a sophisticated intellect that could absorb his teachings. But on the other side, we have the wonderful stories she tells of the time she spent with Master.

Being three, she had no inhibitions. As a toddler, she felt that he belonged to her, and when he came to her home she would run to him and grab him by the legs, take him by the hand, and climb into his lap. And he responded accordingly. He would hold her on his lap and talk to her in the way that she could understand, as a little child.

She tells about going to a movie where very young children were not allowed. Yogananda put her under his overcoat and told her that he would take her in. So she went into the movie resting against his heart.

It simply didn’t occur to her that it wasn’t her place. It didn’t occur to her to think, “Maybe he doesn’t want me to do this. Maybe it’s is wrong behavior.” She was three, and he was hers. As Jesus says, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come to me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

Yogananda's nephew

Paramhansa Yogananda’s nephew, Harekrishna Ghosh, with his wife, Anjali, at Ananda Village. He was fifteen when Master visited India in 1935. (Click to enlarge.)

Now, for most of us, it wouldn’t be appropriate to run up to Swami Kriyananda or Paramhansa Yogananda and grab them by the knee and hold their hand.

But just think of Mary Magdalene. Jesus was having dinner with his male disciples, and in she came with a bottle of costly ointment and knelt at his feet.

You have to picture this in the context of the time. They were having dinner, and the men and women ate separately. And Mary comes in and kneels and begins to wash his feet, breaking open the jar of costly ointment and pouring it over his feet, and washing his feet with her hair.

Now, Judas was very put off by this, and he articulated what a lot of people would probably have thought. “Really, this is a bit excessive. Such things are not done.”

The Bible describes it beautifully:

“Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.

“Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, ‘Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?’

This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.

“Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.”

In the Gospel of Luke we find Jesus saying, “My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.

“Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.”

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene dries Christ’s feet with her hair. (Click to enlarge. Painting: Dieric Bouts, 1440s; source Wikimedia Commons)

Now, very few of us have an opportunity to show our devotion to the Master in such a dramatic way. But we must all have Mary’s spirit. Because that’s what it takes to bring ourselves out of confusion and begin to understand.

Little Daniel was probably finding his socks for the umpteenth time. How many times have we been born into the body of a little, confused baby? When children learn to eat, they pick up the oatmeal and try to find their mouth, and they’re not always successful, and the oatmeal goes everywhere. Parents joke that their babies absorb food through their faces. But the children are determined. “I want to do it myself, Mother!” Because they know that we have to understand.

And so we have to ask the right questions amid all the confusion of this world. All of these forces are saying: This is what you must do. This is where happiness comes from. You can’t possibly think like that. This is what you need to own. You must be afraid. You mustn’t open your heart.

Over time, we hear these things and we begin to think they’re true. And so we live these tight little lives, and we accumulate and accumulate, and then we die. And we go to the astral world, and we say, “Well, something didn’t quite work out.” So we get ourselves ready, and we come down into this world again and learn the language and find our socks, and we do it over and over again.

Yogananda said that reincarnation is created by Satan. The Sanskrit word for the satanic illusion that falls over us when we’re born is Maya. Unfortunately, the illusion prevents us from seeing that this world is a horrible place. If we could see the world as it truly is, we would have nothing to do with it. Why would we want to be part of something terrible?

The problem is that this world is almost a nice place, which is much worse. As Paramhansa Yogananda remarked, the world “almost works.” We almost had the right wife. We almost had the right husband. We almost lived long enough to see our children grow up and fulfill our dreams for them.

Vidura and Durga are a wonderful couple. Durga and I were talking about growing older, and our dear husbands were listening. We were getting ready to go to the gym, and we started talking about face lifts and liposuction, all these ways of making our bodies perfect. Because we used to look better than we do now. And Vidura so sweetly put his arm around Durga and hugged her and whispered in her ear, “Oh, Durga, I love you just the way you were!”

Isn’t that the story of our lives? We come back to be just the way we were, or the way someone looked who seemed a little happier than we were. But after a while, we start to sort out the confusion. And we find that we’ve gotten confused because we’ve been listening to the world outside us, and that it’s just a lot of external noise. And we begin to understand that there’s something better, and we’re now ready to listen because of our desperation to find something that’s meaningful and truly fulfilling.

Someone asked Swamiji, “Why don’t thousands of people come to the teachings, and to our retreats and programs?”

Swami said simply, almost chillingly, “They haven’t suffered enough.”

As long as we think it’s going to work out this time, we’ll look everywhere but inside. I don’t know why this is, but it’s so, and it’s the power of Maya. Once we’ve suffered enough, once we remember, “I’ve been here before, I’ve gone down that road, and it didn’t give me what I thought it was going to give me. I tried that one and it didn’t work.” Then we begin to hear something that’s always been there in the background. But we can never hear it until we stop listening to the noise that’s coming from outside.

We begin to hear the still, small, inner voice of Spirit. But it requires an effort. Being involved with the world is effortless. When we come into the body, our senses are directed outward. Babies grab things and put them in their mouths, because they want to know. When we grow up, we’re a little more delicate. “I’ll take that one, please, and I’ll take that one, and I’ll write you a check, and here’s my credit card.” But we’re still just reaching out and grabbing, until the emptiness of it all causes us to turn inside and say, “Isn’t there something else? Lord, isn’t there something else?”

And then the little voice, when we’re finally still enough, begins to answer: “Yes, my Dear. Yes, my child. Yes, my daughter. Yes, my beloved.”

In our prayers at Sunday service, we say, “Heavenly Father, Divine Mother, Friend, Beloved, Great Masters.” These are some of the ways we can relate to God. But in India it’s common to think of God as your little child.

It seems odd to us here in America, even though we have the same image. We just don’t understand it as deeply. We worship the baby Jesus, and in India they have the baby Gopal. Because one of the most powerful forms of love is the parent’s love for the child. It’s not presumptuous to think of God as your little baby, because it opens your heart and inspires a spirit of loving self-sacrifice when you think of caring for God as your own little child.

In India, people find it natural to worship God as the adorable Baby Gopal.

In India, people find it natural to worship God as the adorable Baby Gopal.

Every form of love that we’re so desperately seeking is ours in God. If we would make the effort to be still, we would know that love. Because in the stillness, we know.

We do the action of Kriya, and we discover the bliss, the Ananda, that is our nature. And that’s what our lives are about. It’s opening the drawer and finding the bliss, every time. This is the drawer we want to open.

And, yes, for some reason it takes a long time. Swamiji once asked Master, “Is it easy to find God?”

Master said, “No.”

Is it easy to see through the delusion of life? Master said no, it isn’t easy. And we must remember this. Because it’s not easy.

There’s a kind of popularizing spirituality these days that tries to tell you it’s easy. It tells you to take whatever you’re doing and call it spiritual. And, well, you can try it. But you’ll find that when you get to the end of that practice, it hasn’t worked.

We must be still; there is no other way. We must use our power to hold ourselves in the center, and from that center act as the voice of inner silence, not the voice of chaos and fear.

Someone was telling me how remarkable she found Swami Kriyananda – all the energy he puts out, and his wonderful nature. And the way I answered her surprised me.

I said, “Ananda makes sense, once you meet Swamiji.”

The words were of my mouth before I could think about them. And I’ve spent several days pondering what they mean. Looking at the surface of Ananda – the buildings, the churches, the communities, and the people going about their business – you don’t necessarily understand what the mission is. But when you understand that there’s a very carefully guiding force, you begin to understand that the purpose is personified in Swami Kriyananda.

When I arrived at Ananda Village, I was a food fanatic. Because I was interested in food, they invited me to serve in the kitchen. So I started cooking, and I cooked very, very badly. Everything I cooked was uninteresting. Swamiji finally decided that since my cooking was going to be inflicted on people, he would have to teach me to cook.

A visiting swami came to Ananda. He was a portly man, and he liked his meals, so we had to cook three meals a day for about four days. And on the first day I arrived for my cooking lesson with Swamiji, equipped with a pen and a little notebook, ready to write down everything he did.

The first thing he did was pick up a handful of this and a handful of that, and throw it in, and he would say, “If that’s too much, we’ll compensate with this.”

My little brain just got completely scrambled. But at the end of those four days, I knew how to cook. It awakened something inside me that was in tune with the inner spirit of cooking. From then on, my style of cooking seemed quite random. But after a time I realized that I knew how to cook what Swami liked. And it was because I was attuning myself to his consciousness, and then I could act from that center.

Now, that’s an experience that everyone doesn’t have. But I saw that there are many ways to do things in this world, and we can imitate others, or we can find a way that’s truly ours.

Yogananda came to the West to restore the teachings of inner communion. He spent a great deal of time teaching Swamiji about his mission, and about the tremendous power of Self-realization.

At a garden party in Beverly Hills, Yogananda gave a talk of surprising power. In a voice of thunder, he said, “Self realization has come to unite all religions. My words are registered in the ether, in the spirit of God, and they shall move the West!”

But the fact that his words were “registered in the ether” isn’t what will create this great change. It’s when individual people go into the stillness of the heart and hear the voice of God, Christ, and the Divine Mother. We need to hear that voice in the ether, and then manifest it.

Swamiji remarked that God wants to give this earth many great and wonderful things, but that they never find expression for lack of willing instruments. We must be still and know, and then we must act.

In that talk in Beverly Hills, Master thundered: “Thousands of youths must go north, south, east, and west!” He urged them – and us – to “cover the earth with little colonies based on plain living and high thinking.”

Swami Kriyananda said, “I had never heard such a powerful lecture, and I vowed that I would do my utmost to bring about the master’s dream.” Much later, Swamiji remarked that of the hundreds of people who heard Yogananda’s talk, only he responded.

Swami Kriyananda dedicated himself to a simple, all-consuming challenge: to be an instrument for the voice of silence. And that’s what we are doing.

Ananda Sangha, Palo Alto. As Ananda grows, will we become form-bound and “churchy”?

Ananda Sangha, Palo Alto. As Ananda grows, will we become form-bound and “churchy”?

In the Ananda colonies, we’re at a point where we’re starting to become established. And it’s a terrible thing that’s happening to Ananda. We were talking about this recently – how people come and think that Ananda is what’s here now. It’s a very dangerous thing, because the tendency is to think that it’s no longer up to you. “I can come to Ananda, which is a solid, established thing.” But you don’t realize that you must help create Ananda every day.

Ananda will cease to exist the moment it becomes only the things we see – the buildings and gardens and communities. The real Ananda is an opportunity to attune your consciousness to Spirit, through meditation and action in attunement with God’s will.

As Swami said, “We don’t want everyone to come to Ananda. But we want everyone to go inside and hear the still, small voice of Spirit, and become an instrument for that.”

Otherwise, millions of lives may pass and we’ll still be getting our lives together in these small ways. We have to be responsible in this world. But be for God. Be only for God. Because everything else goes away.

Every day, visualize it all disappearing – and what will you have left? Nothing but your consciousness. Where is your consciousness right now? Be still and hear the Spirit, and live from that center.

That’s what Kriyananda has exemplified for us. We adore him, and we love his company, because when he’s with us all of a sudden we remember. We realize that it’s all we need. We remember: “This is what I am, and why I’m here!”

I remember watching a very suspenseful movie. I was feeling so tense, and someone leaned over and whispered, “Breeeaathe…it helps!” When the power of Spirit comes, breathe. Be in the stillness, and you’ll know who you are, and everything will follow. This world will be what it is, but Spirit is forever. The world comes and goes. Rely on God. Be still and you will know that He is always with you.

(From Asha’s talk at Sunday service on June 30, 2002)


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