Years ago, there was a man at Ananda Village who didn’t stay very long, because he harbored attitudes that weren’t harmonious with life in the community.
I was present at an encounter between this man and Swami Kriyananda. Over the years, I’ve thought about it often, because it involved a subtle question of attunement.
This man had a great deal of inner strength and a forceful personality – a good thing in itself. As Swamiji remarked, people can appear to be very sweet and pious, but in fact they just don’t have enough energy to sin.
It isn’t that they’re spotlessly pure inside, but that they don’t have the energy and courage to express what’s actually there. And at least this man had enough energy to sin.
He was very determined to follow his own way, and he was telling Swamiji about something he planned to do, even though it was obvious that it wouldn’t be good for him spiritually. He was acting as if he wanted Swami’s opinion, but his nature was rebellious, and it was clear that he didn’t want Swamiji’s advice. But Swamiji wasn’t fooled, because he is deeply sensitive to the difference between our words and our actual desires.
The man said, “I’m going forward, and I’m telling Master, ‘If you don’t want me to do it, you’ll just have to stop me.’”
Swami’s response was, “Why would God answer a prayer like that?”
Instead of asking God to guide him to the right path, he was saying, “I’m going to do it my way, and you’ll have to show me that I’m wrong.”
Do you see the difference? When we ask for God’s help, there needs to be complete humility and willingness to do as He guides us, with the full force of our will behind it.
That’s the narrow line we have to walk, and it can often be difficult to know if we’re truly open to receive what God wants to give us, and if we’re ready to follow.
Swamiji emailed me this morning about a course he’s writing in India, Material Success Through Yoga Principles. It’s about a subject that he hasn’t talked about much, which is money. Years ago, he wrote a little book called Money Magnetism, and it’s marvelous, but it’s short, whereas this course is a much more complete guide for living successfully in the material world.
It addresses the question: “How can live we a life that is spiritual, honorable, and materially successful, by channeling our energy rightly? “
Swamiji has never said that God wants us to be rich, because of course God doesn’t actually care if we’re rich. But we have to live in this world, and we might as well recognize that the highest kind of success comes when we live in a way that’s consistent with spiritual principles. The teachings of Self-realization include a vast amount of understanding in this area, and Swamiji was aware that it hadn’t been clearly presented before. So he felt that it was a hole in his writing that he needed to fill.
Swamiji has had the usual cycle of health troubles, with the result that he’s been unable to sleep consistently. He was lying in bed one night, thinking about the course, and he described to me how he thought he might as well be useful, so he got up and started looking at the second lesson. Everyone who read the chapter thought it was good, and he thought it was pretty good. But as he put it, “Right there on the second page, logic collapsed.”
In the middle of the night, he found this big problem with something he thought he’d finished, and he didn’t know what to do about it. So he said, “Master, I can’t do this. You’ve got to help me.” And ideas immediately began to pour in, not just good ideas but insights that he had never considered before.
He wrote, “I can’t tell you how many times Master has solved a problem for me, not only by giving me an obvious solution, but inspirations that were unheard-of until that moment.”
Twenty-five years ago, Swamiji wrote a course called Superconscious Living that also explored the idea of using spiritual teachings to be successful in everyday life. It was a short course of just five or six lessons, and it was discontinued long ago, but we’ve resurrected it here in Palo Alto to use in our classes.
Swamiji introduced it at a big conference that Ananda put on in San Francisco. He was staying in an apartment in the city, and several of us were staying with him. Swamiji asked me to be his recording engineer, working with a very simple setup of audio equipment. Those who know me will realize that Swami must have been desperate, because I don’t have any mechanical sense, or a particularly good ear. So it was a bizarre assignment for him to give me. But I was willing.
He would give classes and then come home and start recording at 11 or 12 o’clock at night. One night, he made a recording of Yogananda’s chants called “Music for Meditation.” It was just Swamiji sitting with a harmonium and a microphone and chanting Yogananda’s chants, with me running the recorder. But on that night I couldn’t get the recording system to work. It was a very simple system, but no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the sound to record properly on the tape.
Swamiji took a break while I messed with the machines, reading manuals and calling people in the middle of the night, and trying to stay cheerful and affirmative. When I explained that I couldn’t fix the problem, Swami said, “Well, okay,” and he went off to meditate. A little later he came out and said, “How’s it going?”
It was past midnight, and I still couldn’t make it work. Swamiji really wanted to do the recording, and I wanted desperately to be able to help. Finally – much to my embarrassment – I thought, “Oh, maybe I should pray.”
I thought of all that he’d said in his Superconscious Living talks about bringing God into everything we’re doing, and how we should make the God our partner.
I said, “Divine Mother, we’re trying to make a recording. It’s such a noble cause, and the only thing that’s preventing it is that I can’t work this machinery. Maybe You can help us with the machines.”
I turned the equipment off, pulled out all the plugs, put them back in, turned it on, and it worked. I did nothing different, but I remembered that we aren’t in this by ourselves.
Swamiji recorded for an hour or two, and it was glorious. Afterward, he said, “What did you do differently?”
I said, “Well, I asked Divine Mother for help.”
“Good girl!” he said.
A couple of nights later, he was giving a talk to a fairly large crowd, and without any warning, he said, “Asha has something she wants to tell us.”
I was very used to saying “Yes, sir,” so I walked up to the microphone and said, “What?”
He said “Just tell what happened at the recording.”
I told the story that I’m telling you now, and I concluded with a moral: “These teachings are extraordinary. They completely change your life. Everything will be different, but you have to remember to use them.”
And there’s the rub, isn’t it? It won’t do you any good at all if you keep it in a drawer.
It’s surprising how often we get mixed up about this, forgetting the simple reality that we are God’s children.
This path is not for sissies. It’s definitely not some bland psychological self-help course. And while there’s a good place for psychology, when people are unable to function in the world and need to get their basic systems working so that they can cope, our path is far beyond all of that.
Ours is a graduate seminar, you might say, where we’ve got our life working, our life is okay, but, oh my God, the anguish and monotony!
My ego is functioning, and now it’s time to transcend it. Do you see the paradox? In order to reach the point where you realize that the ego is no longer working, you have to have the power to try to do it your own way, until you wear out that approach and realize the folly of it.
People very often don’t welcome the idea that you’re supposed to surrender your will to God. They’ve fought very hard to have a self, and they’ve fought hard to develop their strength of will.
I tell such people, “Go ahead and listen to your own self. Don’t worry about listening to anyone else, because before you can truly give yourself to God, you must have that power.”
People come onto the spiritual path because they are competent, and because they can take care of themselves, and they don’t need anything from anyone, thank you very much. But then they find all of a sudden that it isn’t working.
It isn’t a question of turning your will over to God out of weakness, but of reaching out to the utmost limits of your will power to get what you think you want. Your will power is a wonderful tool – it’s what got you this far. But now you can see that it won’t get you any farther, and we have to acknowledge that what God is asking now is that we turn everything over to Him, including the full power of our will.
A woman wrote a letter to Swamiji: “I’ve prayed and prayed, and I can’t feel what God wants me to do.”
Swamiji said, “Make either choice – it doesn’t matter. All God wants you to do is ask.”
Why do we think it matters what the specific answer is? It isn’t the answer that matters, it’s the process.
There was a time when I made a difficult decision, and afterwards I asked Swamiji, “Sir, have I made the right decision?
The truth is, I just wanted him to decide for me. And he refused. He said, “Hm, it’s more difficult, isn’t it, when you take responsibility for yourself?”
I said, “Yes, sir. Just tell me, am I doing the right thing?”
He said, “You’re just doing a thing, Asha. It’s neither right or wrong.”
He said, “Whether it becomes right or wrong will depend on whether you include Divine Mother in it.”
Isn’t that wonderful? And yet, how often do we remember it?
There’s a wonderful Sanskrit word: smriti. It means “remembering our divine origin.”
I love the passage in the Bhagavad Gita, where it says that whenever someone is powerful, rich, beautiful, or effective in this world, it’s because they’ve gotten a piece of the Divine.
And that’s how we have to think about our lives. When people tell us, “You sing beautifully. You speak well. You look lovely,” we have to have the awareness to think: “Who looks lovely? Who speaks beautifully? Who knows how to sing?”
The only thing we’ve accomplished is to clean our window so that some of God’s light can shine through. We need to remember that when people compliment us, they’re complimenting the part of us that isn’t the ego-self. In the final analysis, there is no you to compliment. And when compliments come, it means that whatever happened, there was nobody home named “I.” And that’s how we can learn to be relaxed about our abilities, by knowing that everything is God.
Swamiji will often talk with great enthusiasm about the wonderful things he’s accomplished. And people sometimes think, “What an egotist!” But there’s no ego in it at all. He’s like a child with it. He’s saying, “Look at all the wonderful things that have happened.”
When someone praised one of our Ananda ministers for a service he’d given, he replied, “Oh, something inspiring happened and I got to be there.”
Isn’t that a fun way to look at it? “Something beautiful has been done, and I got to be there.” That’s the spirit. That’s what God is asking of us, and it’s the secret of the greatest happiness and success.
If you want to be powerful, rich, famous, and gorgeous in this life, then grab a piece of the Divine. That’s something worth having. That’s worth doing. And then your instrument will be blessed by that which flows through it.
God doesn’t ultimately care what we do, He just cares that we do it with Him, with the understanding that the only thing that’s ever happening is the divine reality, and we might as well live more completely in that truth.
(From Asha’s talk at Sunday service on July 11, 2004.)