One of the monks in Yogananda’s ashram became very emotional in his fervor. In the midst of group chanting, he would roll on the ground and cry out, calling to God.
Some of the other monks were put off by this and mentioned it to Yogananda.
He said, “Ah, if only you all had that kind of fervor!”
We may have our private concepts of what “spiritual” behavior looks like. But God doesn’t care about our ideas, or the self-image we try to project to the world. He accepts us exactly as we are. And what we are reflects the vibrations we’ve built up over countless lives. The consciousness we’ve gradually acquired shapes all of our thoughts, actions, and feelings.
A disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, the great Bengali saint of the 19th century, invited a group of dancers, singers, and actors to visit the ashram.
In India, entertainers were considered of low caste. But Ramakrishna embraced them and gave them his heart.
When they left, some of the guru’s more narrow-minded disciples wondered aloud why he would welcome such low-class folk.
Ramakrishna said, “The God they are worshipping now is dance and music.” Then he added blissfully, “Ah, but they know how to worship!”
This is what pleases God. It isn’t the careful, well-crafted way we present ourselves to the world. It’s when we give our hearts.
Now, this isn’t an age when we can live a life of extreme renunciation and devotion, spending all our time chanting and begging for alms. The sheer complexity of the modern world demands that we be engaged with it.
And it can sometimes be overwhelming. I look at my house, and the thought presses urgently upon my mind: “How can I live more simply…?”
How can I keep less food in the refrigerator? How can I empty out my cabinets? How can I spend less time cooking meals?”
Faced with an endless stream of emails, phone calls, and bills, the aspiring heart rebels. And the mind longs to escape – “I’ll be a better devotee if I can clear the clutter from my life and have fewer distractions. I could love God more if someone would do the cooking, and if I didn’t have to answer so many emails!”
Struggling with all the irons in the fire, it’s easy to become scattered and distracted. And it’s tempting to put all of “those worldly things” in a separate box from our spiritual life.
But can we really imagine that the conditions we’ve created for ourselves are completely outside the will of God?
Some years ago, I was in a difficult situation with friends. They were suffering, and I wept for them. But the thought came strongly: “Do you think these things could be happening outside of God’s will?”
Do we imagine that the entirety of God’s creation is a manifestation of His ever-new bliss – his satchidananda – except for this little spot where we’re standing? Is our little part of the cosmic structure a forgotten cupboard that isn’t satchidananda – not God?”
Of course not. And then the conclusion is, “Why am I rebelling? Why am I sad that things are this way? If this is where God has placed me, and what He’s asking of me, how is it helping me to rebel?”
When Swami Kriyananda was a boy, his father returned from a business trip. He opened his suitcase and handed Swamiji and his brother each a little toy boat. And they immediately began arguing over whose boat was best.
The father said, “Oh, I made a mistake!” And he switched the boats. And they immediately began arguing again.
It’s natural to rebel against our present situation. Let’s face it, it isn’t hard to imagine how virtually any circumstance could be improved.
But it isn’t the answer. “I’d be a better person if only my circumstances were different. If someone would do the cooking, I’d have more time for loving God!”
Who placed us in these circumstances? Did God place us here, or did we create this situation? It’s a classic spiritual conundrum, one that people have argued for millennia: “Do we have free will?” Paramhansa Yogananda answered it simply: “We have one choice: to think of God or not to think of Him.”
Lahiri Mahasaya put it succintly: “The only duty that has been given to man is to listen to the inner sounds.”
Let’s assume it’s true. And, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Divine Mother is equally present when we’re cleaning the house, driving the kids to school, and cooking and shopping.
How could God not be there? How could anything be outside of God?
We need to turn our minds around and see things in the proper perspective. We need to check our consciousness, and see if we are in tune with the divine that is always expressing through us.
Swamiji said, “We spend so much of our life waiting to be rescued from the conditions we’re in, imagining that something will come and rescue us from them.”
People sometimes imagine that death will be the final rescue. “At least I’ll be released from the struggle for a time.”
There was a well-known teacher and writer who worked with dying people. In his workshops, he asked them to make two lists.
First he had them write down everything they would miss if they died – the marriage of their children, the birth of their grandchildren, and so on. Then he had them list all the things they’d be happy to leave behind. “Hurrah, I’ll no longer have to cook three meals a day.”
The desire to be rescued is an expression of our soul’s longing to be free in God’s bliss. But if our innermost consciousness is indeed omnipresent, and if there is no real difference between ourselves and all creation, then if there’s anything we aren’t fully embracing in our lives, to that extent we’re separating ourselves from God.
I remember a time when I was frightened about something I needed to do. I prayed for Divine Mother’s comfort, and I was puzzled when She didn’t respond.
I said, “Why aren’t you comforting me?” And a picture flashed in my mind of someone who had passed through my life, to whom I hadn’t given much compassion.
I didn’t feel much affinity with him. And I thought it would be all right if I turned my heart in other directions. But I heard Divine Mother say, “If you close your heart to any of My children, how can I open My heart to you?”
At another time in my life, I was urging a friend to be more conscientious in her attitude toward her work. I felt that I’d earned a right to speak strongly, because I’d tried to help her understand this point for many years. But she gave one excuse after another. We were laughing, because we were friends, but I kept escalating and she kept rejecting, excuse after excuse.
Finally she said, “I’m scared when I do that (take responsibility).”
I said, “Oh – now you’re telling the truth! Good. Now we can work with what’s true.”
It isn’t our weaknesses that God minds. It’s our fear of opening ourselves to Him. And how can we help but be imperfect? In our journey of many lifetimes, this is as far as we’ve gotten. And God can’t hold us responsible for where we are, and for not being farther along.
I said to someone, “If a child is four and behaves like a four-year old, will you be furious with him? What can he do? He’s four. Soon he’ll be six, then nine. And if he’s nine and behaves like a four-year-old, you can say, ‘You’re too old for this. You’re a big boy now.’ But when he’s four, you can’t say ‘Be a teenager.’” So here we are, at exactly the spiritual age we’ve reached, and we are what we are.
Divine Mother is sympathetic when we don’t wait to be rescued, and when we don’t hand Her a long list of reasons we can’t do better. She is instantly sympathetic when we have the courage to say, “Divine Mother, I’m scared. This frightens me.” And then She replies: “Oh, you’re afraid. Take my hand and I’ll help you get through.”
That’s the consciousness we want to have. Yogananda isn’t with us, and Swami Kriyananda is no longer with us. So it’s more important than ever to invite them into our hearts with complete honesty.
When Swami died, I said, “The only grownup has left the planet. Now we’re here alone, and we need to band together to take care of ourselves. Like little children who’ve been orphaned, we need to learn how to manage.” The presence of the masters is with us. But not when we close our hearts, because then they can’t get in.
(From Asha’s Sunday service on June 22, 2014.)