Years ago, I was involved in the village council at Ananda Village. We were charged with making decisions about the day-to-day running of the Village. And at one point some difficult issues arose.
People had strong opinions, and there didn’t seem to be a solution that would accommodate everyone’s needs. In the end, we followed a basic principle that Swami Kriyananda always urged us to adopt: “Let dharma be your guide.” It was based on a saying of Lahiri Mahasaya: “Where there is dharma (right action), there is victory.”
In other words, when we act with the right consciousness, things always work out.
The decision-making models that most people follow tend to be polarized. They’re “either/or” – either it’s a consensus-based democracy, or it’s an autocracy where somebody takes charge and tells us what to do.
At Ananda, we call ourselves a “Dharmocracy,” meaning that we try to base our decisions on an impersonal understanding of dharma – of what’s right because it’s in tune with God’s will. And if sincere, dedicated people aren’t able to see the issues in a way that makes us feel united in dharma, we’ll simply conclude that it isn’t the right time to make a decision.
It’s a wonderful way to guide our actions, because it takes our ego out of the picture. As Swami Kriyananda used to say, “Instead of trying to make things happen, try to tune in to what is ‘trying to happen.’”
There were times when we would put off making a decision for years, if we realized that it would do more harm than good to plunge in and make a decision based on our desires.
The ability to set our egos aside and follow our inner sense of dharma gives us a wonderful sense of freedom. It’s central to the spiritual teachings, and it’s a priceless key for finding God’s presence in our lives.
There’s a chant that was a special favorite of Yogananda’s guru, Sri Yukteswar. We seldom sing it in large groups, because it’s a bit complicated. It describes the spiritual rewards of giving up our ego-desires:
“Desire, my great enemy,
With his soldiers surrounded me,
Is giving me lots of trouble, oh, my Lord.”
And then it gives us the answer:
“That enemy I will deceive,
Remaining in the Castle of Peace.
Night and day, in Thy joy, oh my Lord.”
There are some lines in the middle about pranayama and the wishing tree and such. And then the last line is:
“You won’t have to fear anything anymore.
You won’t have to fear anything anymore.”
(The complete words to the chant appear at the end of this article.)
I love to sing that chant. It’s wonderful to follow the line of thought that ends with those inspiring words: “Night and day, in Thy joy,” and “You won’t have to fear anything anymore.”
The chant starts with the problem of desire and ends with joy, and with overcoming fear. It’s a condensation of a great truth of the spiritual path – that our desires take us away from God, that we can defeat desire by going deep within, and that in God’s joy all our fears and troubles vanish. And what a wonderful promise it is.
The Bhagavad Gita exhorts us to discipline our hearts and minds in order to detach our consciousness from the desire for the fulfillments of the external world and find our inner freedom. And it can all seem terribly austere and discouraging, unless we remember the joy to be found in the inner castle of peace, in the bliss that dispels all fears.
The last part of the chant offers us the practical solution. The answer is pranayam – the practices of yoga that enable us to withdraw our energy from the senses and enter the inner Castle of Peace.
For countless lives, we’ve tried to reach out and pull the world into our own reality, finding something we want and grabbing it, and taking as much of it as we can into ourselves.
And then, over many lives, we gradually realize that all of our efforts to make the outside world conform to our own wishes have only made us feel increasingly alone and insecure.
This is why we sing, “Desire, my great enemy.” Because our desires lure us to seek outward fulfillments that always end up letting us down.
Now, the desire that most assuredly gets us in trouble isn’t a desire for material things, or for worldly comforts. It’s the desire of the ego to have its own way – the ego’s desire to feel puffed-up and important, to be gratified, and to try to overcome its fears by pasting onto itself all kinds of false self-assurances – that I’m strong in my individual self, separate from others, and so on.
It’s not possible to overcome our desires by merely affirming a victory – “I don’t want it – oh, I really don’t want it at all!” – so long as, just behind our affirmation, there’s the whispered thought, “Ah, but I really do want it, after all.”
Swami Kriyananda and Paramhansa Yogananda urge us to be very careful not to make affirmations that will end up frustrating us because they’re divorced from our reality.
“I don’t want chocolate cake!” And if you aren’t affirming a truth that you feel on a deep level, the operative words may be “I want…”
P. G. Wodehouse wrote a story about a young woman who gets the idea that two young men both want to marry her. In fact, neither of them wants to marry her. But they decide to settle the issue by playing a round of golf.
And so the two men go out on the golf course, and the winner has to marry this woman that neither of them wants to marry. And, completely without intending it, they both start playing the golf game of their lives. And so on the one hand they don’t want to win, but on the other hand they’re desperate to keep playing the best game they’ve ever had. And they’re tempted by the idea that it might just be worth it to spend a lifetime in a horrible marriage if they can play one brilliant round of golf.
It’s a lovely description of the way we get terribly mixed up about what we truly want.
With the best of intentions, we affirm, “I don’t want to be important. I don’t want to be recognized. I don’t want to be appreciated. I just want to be without ego and open to do God’s will.” And in the background of our mind the opposite desire is percolating.
Yogananda said, “We learn a certain amount from having our desires frustrated. But in fact we learn more from having them fulfilled.”
Now, that’s an interesting statement, because it goes completely against the traditional view of renunciation, where we’re always disciplining and punishing ourselves, and we can’t have nice things. It’s especially true if we’re coming from the old Catholic way of thinking, where the more you suffer, and the more you imitate Christ by sort of dying on the cross all the time, the more Christian you are.
And yet there’s not one of us who wants to be unhappy. We don’t wake up and say, “Oh, what joy – I’ll be very unhappy today!” And when we see people defining their religion by how much they suffer, it isn’t attractive, because it doesn’t inspire our hearts.
Rabia, a famous woman Sufi saint, lay on her death bed, very ill and in pain.
A disciple said, “Mother, he is not a true devotee who is not eager to suffer for God’s sake.”
The saint said, “This smacks of ego.”
The disciple said, “Well then, Mother, he is not a true devotee who doesn’t enjoy suffering for God’s sake.”
The saint said, “Better, but still there is too much ego.”
The disciple said, “Mother, what is the right attitude?”
She said, “He is no devotee who does not forget his suffering in the contemplation of the Beloved.”
That’s the opposite of the traditional idea that God is pleased when we offer Him our devotion as a terrible sacrifice.
It’s the old Catholic idea that God is pleased if I don’t have marmalade on my toast in the morning. And God will be pleased if I refuse to marry, even though I want to. And God will be pleased if I don’t express my creativity.
But this isn’t how we draw closer to God. Because we aren’t actually giving God anything, are we? We’re just suppressing our perfectly natural desires, while in the back of our mind we’re frustrated because of all these desirable things we can’t have.
Gandhi said it perfectly, “Don’t give up a pleasure until you can replace it with an even greater pleasure.”
And that’s the key. It’s why the chant says, “Desire is my great enemy – that enemy I will deceive, remaining in the Castle of Peace, night and day in Thy joy.”
Desire is a trickster who loves to sneak in from the side. But by remaining in the castle of peace I will fool desire – I will find perfect fulfillment in God’s all-desire-quenching love.
What are our desires? They are the restlessness that tries to persuade us we aren’t as happy as we should be. “I would be happier if only…”
If only I could make these people do what I want. If only I could accomplish this goal. If only people would behave differently. If only the world would give me more.
We place endless conditions on our happiness. And that’s the definition of desire – “I would be happier if…” But we can deceive that enemy by concentrating on God within, until we can live night and day in His all-satisfying joy.
When a dear friend of ours was dying, Swami Kriyananda spoke to her about the astral world, and how beautiful it is. But even in that beautiful world, we eventually become restless, thinking, “I’d be happier if I could only have what I’m missing down there.” And so we return to earth to try to fulfill our desires.
Imagine that you’re sitting at home on a stormy night, cozy in your favorite chair, with a perfect video and all the comforts you need. And then you open the refrigerator and find a salad, and it looks pretty good, and maybe there’s some leftover lasagna and it looks pretty good, too. But then you remember the wonderful pizza you had last Wednesday, and you start thinking about the spinach pizza, and boy that’s really good pizza. And you think, maybe I’ll have a pizza delivered, but not from Applewood because I can get one cheaper from Pizza Hut, but they don’t have that special one.
And whereas a minute ago everything looked pretty good, now you’re a little bit uncomfortable. So you eat a little of the salad, and you decide to put the lasagna in the microwave, and pretty soon you’re in the car, driving through the rain, and you don’t know exactly when you made the decision, but you’re on your way to Applewood, and then you run into a friend, and she says, “Let’s go have a cup of coffee,” and your perfect evening is forgotten.
Everything was fine at home, but one little desire has led to another, and you’re no longer happy in the knowledge that everything is perfect. Restless desires have taken over, and maybe you’ll be perfectly content if only you can have this one little extra thing.
This is how, even in the astral world where everything is so beautiful, we remember some little thing that we want in the material world, and suddenly we’re not content anymore.
Where do we want to put our consciousness? That’s the fundamental question. Do we want to remain in the castle of peace, happy in the eternal joy of God, or do we want to try to solve the problem of consciousness by getting “something more” from the world outside us?
The more we succumb to our restless desires, the more we forget that our greatest problem isn’t about fixing the world outside us. The problem is about fixing our consciousness.
The solution to satisfying all our desires forever is simply to change our consciousness. Not to suppress our desires. Not to affirm, “I don’t want it anymore.” But to learn how to live in a state of consciousness where our desires are perfectly fulfilled.
Sometimes God gives us no choice but to turn inside to look for our satisfaction. He pulls the rug out from under us. We’re walking along merrily, and bam, everything changes.
Your life is fine, and then it isn’t. You’re smashed up in a car wreck and you’re carried away to the hospital, and it gets your attention. You’re reminded that the pleasures of this world aren’t reliable, and you remember to look for God’s all-satisfying bliss and love.
When something happens to upset our equanimity, we’ll often look for a distraction. “I’m not happy doing this anymore. I’ll do that instead. I’ll start a lovely fantasy and I’ll chase it around the world for a while.”
Desire, my great enemy, is giving me lots of trouble. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t ask God for the normal fulfillments of life. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask for His help and blessings. By all means, ask. Because we’re in this world to learn by having many, many experiences. Just remember that the end of the story is “Night and day in Thy joy, oh my Lord.”
Our families, our jobs, and our relationships are the teachers that God has given us to help us find that inner state where the heart sings, “Joy, joy, joy.”
In the 1970s, Swami Kriyananda twice traveled across America on “Joy Tours,” where he would stop in various cities and give talks about the practice of joy. Because joy is our best solution. Finding happiness is never about what we do, but about the consciousness with which we do it.
The spiritual path is so much simpler than we realize. All of our meditation, chanting, prayers, yoga postures, study, and pranayamas – we need to understand all of these practices in the proper way.
You can make a long list of the practices of yoga – we read the scriptures, we study the teachings of the masters, and we meditate and pray. And why? For one reason only: so that when our equanimity is upset we can quickly come back to joy. Because none of those practices is an end in itself.
It’s so that when you get up in the morning you’ll be glad to be alive, and when you go to bed at night it will be with a deep sense of satisfaction, and an awareness that God is with you.
It takes these practices to get there. We do them because desire is our great enemy, and he’s giving us lots of trouble, and he’s forever planning how he can get us to believe we’ll be happier if we do something else.
What does a devotee look like? A devotee is a very simple person. A devotee is a happy person, a joyous, blissful person; a person whose happiness comes from inside. And our practices on a day-to-day basis are so easy, compared to the endless troubles that come when we choose the way of chasing worldly satisfactions.
A lovely thing about the spiritual path is that we don’t have to wait until the end to start reaping the fruits of a life in God, because each step is accompanied by a growing inner happiness.
The scriptures tell us that there are eight manifestations of Spirit: love, joy, peace, calmness, power, divine light, sound, and wisdom.
In my classes, I write them on the board. Because they’re the clearest, most useful thing you can imagine. To know God is to receive His Spirit in these very real ways. It’s not about walking around with a grave face saying Om Guru, or sort of holding your energy in for fear that you’ll violate some rule of God and be punished for it.
It’s none of that. It’s living in the quietness and bliss and power of the Divine. And in all circumstances, one of these qualities of God, and these approaches to God, will always work.
In our Ananda Sangha we particularly like joy. It’s one of our favorite qualities of God. “Ananda” means God’s joy. And the prime example of this aspect of God was given to us by Swami Kriyananda and Paramhansa Yogananda.
Swamiji had many of the qualities of a man of God, but perhaps the most dynamically impressive was his constant inner awareness of joy.
Rajarsi Janakananda, Yogananda’s chief disciple, called his guru a premavatar, an “incarnation of divine love.” But Swamiji said to me that Yogananda was an incarnation of joy. And our challenge is not to make our life outwardly perfect, but to be joyful no matter what happens.
We spend so much of our time fighting the wrong battles, and then we can’t understand why we don’t make progress.
We try to be good enough so that God will accept us; and God has already accepted us unconditionally and without ceasing. All we have to do, Yogananda said, is improve our knowing. To live in God-awareness is to have a happy, joyful countenance about everything.
When everything goes to pieces, we can pick ourselves up and start over without losing our joy. When you have joy, you can be so helpful to the world. Just think what a blessing a joyful person is in every circumstance!
We were making costumes for our singers who were flying to Italy to tour and give concerts. We had a hundred yards of fabric, and we spent hours and hours trying to make the colors fit, and so on, and after two long days of work we realized that we had ruined all of the fabric. It was 9:30 at night and there we were, the four of us, and we’d ruined it all.
We spent an hour trying to persuade ourselves that we hadn’t botched it, and then we accepted it, and there we were.
I joked, “Who are we going to blame?” (I had an awful feeling that it would be me!) But we knew that we would share the blame, because we had made the decisions together that had led us to this point.
Fortunately, it wasn’t all that much money and time, and it wasn’t all that tragic. But sometimes there are real tragedies. And there you are. And who gets the blame?
Just play it out. Make a joke of it. Make it light. Because, really, when you go into the astral world, do you think that you will care? When you think of the eternity that you’ve spent learning serious lessons, and the tragic events you’ve been through, do you remember any of them? Look at the tragedies you see in the world. Believe me, you’ve had them all!
Everything that’s ever happened to a human being, has happened or will happen to you. But it all fades. You go to Pompeii and see where the people are buried under the ashes, and now it’s just tourists. When you were buried under the ash, it was a big moment, but now it’s a tourist attraction. Because the minute you suffocated, you were in the astral world. You were in bliss again, and you said, wow, wasn’t that interesting?
Desire, my great enemy, is giving me lots of trouble. My desire to make the world the way I want it is keeping me from my own perfect bliss.
And it’s all God’s play. “You are eternal bliss. I send you out to wallow in confusion, and I make it intense so that you will understand – ‘Night and day, in Thy joy, oh my Lord.’ Then you won’t have to fear anything anymore.”
Think of that. You won’t have to fear anything. Just sing it over and over, and you will live in that desire-quenching Light. And why not begin right now?
God bless you.
(From Asha’s talk at Sunday service on September 1, 2002.)
Desire, My Great Enemy
Desire, my great enemy,
With his soldiers surrounded me,
Is giving me lots of trouble, oh my Lord,
Is giving me lots of trouble, oh my Lord.
That enemy, I will deceive,
Remaining in the Castle of Peace,
Night and day in Thy joy, oh my Lord,
Night and day in Thy joy, oh my Lord.
What will be my fate?
Oh Lord, tell me.
Pranayam be thy religion,
Pranayam will give thee salvation,
Pranayam is the Wishing Tree,
Pranayam is the Wishing Tree.
Pranayam is Beloved God,
Pranayam is Creator Lord,
Pranayam is the Cosmic World,
Pranayam is the Cosmic World.
Control the little pranayam,
Become all-pervading pranayam,
You won’t have to fear anything anymore,
You won’t have to fear anything anymore.
Notes on the Song
Most people think that pranayam describes the breathing exercises of yoga. But Yogananda explained, “Pranayama is a condition, not a technique.” The purpose of pranayama is to give us control of the inner life force.
Paramhansa Yogananda said that the author of the chant is using poetic license when he says, “Pranayam is Beloved God” and “Pranayam be thy religion.” Even so, he said that the words of the chant do describe the only way to union with God, by control of the inner energy.