Swami Kriyananda often stressed an important principle – in our search for God, we don’t actually create spiritual understanding. We perceive it.
It’s not as if we have to reach out for something that’s foreign to our nature, or that we have to become different than we are.
We simply need to become aware of realities that are already part of our nature, but that we find ourselves too distracted to perceive.
The entire journey of the soul, from beginning to end, consists of removing these distractions from our awareness.
Most people never realize that the truth is staring them directly in the face. As Paramhansa Yogananda said, the plot of human life is simple. We acquire a human body, and then we become distracted by the countless things of this world that are nonessential and temporary, and that can never fulfill us.
And then we engage in the long process of weeding out the distractions. Through adventure after adventure, we conduct an endless series of experiments to see if the ephemeral can ever be made eternal.
Life after life, we begin to discover that there is only one reality that can ever truly satisfy us, and that it is the God who dwells within us.
As the Bible says, it isn’t only that we need to abide in God, but that God already abides in us, and His Word is with us, and we can keep His company.
That’s the simplest and truest fact about the spiritual path.
In our lives, we’re always keeping company with something, and whatever we habitually keep company with gradually becomes familiar to us and begins to define us.
It takes only a moment’s reflection to notice how often our minds wander.
We make a solemn vow that we’ll meditate – we’ll concentrate on the breath, we’ll repeat the mantra, we’ll listen to the sound of Aum, and we’ll do Kriya Yoga.
And then our attention gets captured by some small distracting thought, or the sound of a barking dog, or a noise from the street, or someone’s voice. And we allow these small distractions to turn us away from our spiritual search.
I’m starting to write another book, and as I was preparing, I found a software program that I put on my computer a while ago. It’s called Freedom, and it performs a very simple function – it locks you completely out of your email so that you can work without distractions. A number of well-known authors credit their success to the program, and it’s very dear to my heart.
We determine to focus our attention on a single good purpose, and then someone walks in and starts telling us about the movie she watched last night, and our good intentions fly out the window.
We form a true intention to be a good devotee and disciple, and to attune our consciousness to the Divine Mother and allow Her to work with us. And then, in the corner of our eye, we glimpse an attractive bauble that’s shining brightly, and suddenly we’re looking in that direction and our attention is caught, and we’ve forgotten all about our noble purpose.
I’m a reasonably good driver, but Swami Kriyananda would never let me drive his car except in extreme circumstances.
As he put it, it isn’t that I’m a bad driver, but I forget that I’m driving.
I’ve never had an accident, because I’m aware of my limitations, and I drive cautiously. Nonetheless, Swamiji was absolutely right. I’ll be driving along, and driving is very boring to me, so I’ll think of something interesting, and soon I’ve forgotten that I’m driving.
On the spiritual path, it helps tremendously to reduce the tremendous complexity of the search to bite-sized portions, by making every moment a tiny project, and completing it well.
“In this moment, what am I concentrating on? Am I allowing myself to be distracted? Let me pull my back and put my focus on what I truly want, and what will truly fulfill me.”
As we begin to understand that every bit of who we are and what we want is inside us, we begin to want to give our attention to each moment and be watchful of where our consciousness is going.
In time, we realize that we don’t actually need to acquire anything outside of ourselves, because everything we need is within us. We are made of Spirit, and we just need to turn our attention in the right direction.
The light of Spirit is emanating from within us. But there’s a world of sparkling baubles out there, and it seems to glow with its own light. And just as little children are terribly interested in what they’re seeing, and as they instinctively reach to grab for it, the world seems terribly attractive to us.
We look out and see people and things, and they seem to offer us something terribly interesting and important for our happiness. The world seems to emanate a deeply desirable light, and we don’t understand that the light it’s offering us is a light that we’ve given to it in the first place.
In Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda recalls how, when he met his guru, Sri Yukteswar, he asked him to tell him some stories about his life.
Sri Yukteswar said, “I’ll tell you a few, each with a moral.”
He described how, as a young boy, he became absolutely determined to have a very ugly dog. His family tried to offer him a more attractive pet, but in his mind this dog had become the most beautiful one in the world, and he had to have it.
Sri Yukteswar concluded, “Desire is blinding.” That was the moral of the story.
He said, “Infatuation lends an imaginary halo of attractiveness to the object of our desires.”
Now, this doesn’t mean that everything we’re attracted to is ugly, or that every attraction we feel is wrong. Having tried lesser things over many lives, we reach a point where we’re able to be more refined and discriminating in our choices, and we’re attracted to things that are uplifting and inspiring, especially things that remind us of the beauty of the Divine.
And always, the idea that fulfillment emanates from outside us is a projection of our soul’s longing for perfect love and joy.
We can only arrive at a more refined level of understanding by conducting our own experiments, in our own time. When the masters offer to guide us to perfect freedom, they don’t insist that we change overnight. They work us exactly as we are, at our present stage of awareness.
This is why, instead of telling us, “Don’t look at anything,” they tell us to look for the Divine in things, and to look at the kinds of things that remind us of the all-satisfying love and bliss that we will only find in God.
The masters recognize that our energy will go outward to the world, but they urge us to direct it to things that will actually give us something in return.
The people in our lives can often help our spiritual growth – our children, and our loved ones and relatives. It’s not that everything outside our own little sphere is unimportant to our spiritual welfare, by any means. But the perfection of understanding and love that we’re seeking can only come by drawing closer to the Divine. And life forces us to learn this lesson again and again.
When we love our family and friends to the limit of our ability, what is it that we’re loving? Is it the personality, the person, the body, the relationship? Or are these just external reflections of the Divine?
What is it that we love? The more we develop the ability to love everyone, the more powerfully we find God’s love expanding in us, healing us of our ignorance, and giving us the freedom we crave.
This is the secret of living in the world with tremendous enthusiasm, as the masters do. It’s the secret of loving people without the slightest hesitation or fear, as they do. And then, no matter where we look, we’ll find nothing to distract us, because we are always looking at God. As Jesus said, we’re abiding in Him, and we’re seeing all as branches of the same vine.
Sister Gyanamata was Paramhansa Yogananda’s most advanced woman disciple. She met him when he came to speak in Seattle in 1925. Her son attended one of his classes, and he invited Master home to dinner, and that was the first time she laid eyes on him.
There was a saltshaker on the dinner table that was weighted at the bottom so that you couldn’t lay it on its side. They were sitting at the table playing with the saltshaker, and no one could make it lie down. But when it came Master’s turn, as Sister Gyanamata recalled, he stared at it intently, and still it kept popping up, but eventually it stayed down. When they asked him how he made it stay down, he said, “The mind was determined that it would stay down.”
Later, he confided to her, “I heard the voice of God, ‘For the benefit of Sister, lay it down.’”
The next night, they were having dinner again and trying to lay the salt shaker down, and when it came to Gyanamata, she pushed it down and it stayed down.
Everybody thought that she had developed a miraculous power. But she explained, “It wasn’t I who laid it down. It was Master’s vibrations through me.”
In later years, she said, “From the moment of our first meeting I have lived in his vibration.”
Now, think of what that means. Our vibration is determined by our consciousness. We vibrate according to the streams of consciousness that we’ve attuned ourselves to. We can vibrate with the popular culture, or our desires, our joys and sorrows, our high aspirations, our work, our role as parents, and so on.
When Michael Jackson was at the height of his popularity, the teenagers at Ananda Village discovered that Swami didn’t know who he was, and they felt duty-bound to educate him. So they chose their favorite songs and gave them to Swami.
Swamiji dutifully listened to at least part of it, and afterward he made two interesting comments.
First, he said that the man was a consummate artist – he knew exactly what he wanted to say, and he said it to perfection.
I greatly admired Swami’s objectivity, because I knew that he didn’t like the music, but he respected the skill.
Then he said, “Michael Jackson is absolutely in tune with the vibration of this planet.”
Michael Jackson had attuned himself to the vibration of this world until he could express it perfectly, and everyone in the world loved it, because it was a complete match.
Then Swami said, “I am absolutely out of tune with the vibration of the consciousness of this planet.”
He said, “Nothing of this planet matches me. What I’m doing, I’m doing for the ages.”
Here we are, living in this world, and we need to ask ourselves what kind of consciousness we want to attune ourselves to.
We imagine our reality as fixed and unchangeable. We’re born into a specific family with a specific name. We have photographs of this body at various ages, and they show us a continuity in our self-definition. This photo looks just like who we are now, doesn’t it? We’re this nationality, this race, and this gender. We’re athletic, studious, gregarious, or inward and thoughtful.
It’s what we think we are. But, in fact, it’s just one more turn in the plot of God’s play with us. We don’t understand how deeply we’ve attuned ourselves to these temporary realities and absorbed them into ourselves. In fact, they can never touch the part of us that is our essence. They can never affect the part that truly defines us.
Swamiji said to us many times, “You have no idea who and what you really are.”
We are so different than we imagine. We are nothing but a ray of the Divine consciousness at all times. We are an expression of the ray of God’s consciousness, with which our Master was fully merged. And, in truth, we are part of the same ray as every saint who ever lived.
But we’re distracted – we’re distracted by the bodies we live in, the people we live with, and the identities we’ve pasted onto ourselves.
Not that we aren’t responsible for these temporary realities. We’re responsible for it all, but it can never define us.
This morning I kept forgetting my minister’s robe. I left it in the house, then I left it in the car. I’m responsible for my robe, because it has to be ironed just so, and it has to look a certain way, because those are the rules of the game. But I kept getting distracted.
It was easy to forget my robe, but it’s a lot harder to forget my body, because wherever I go, there it is.
Toward the end of his life, Paramhansa Yogananda was walking with Swami Kriyananda at his desert retreat near Twenty-Nine Palms. From time to time, Master would stumble a little, and at one point he turned to Swami and said, “I am in so many bodies that I forget which one I’m supposed to keep going. I have to ask others if I’ve eaten.”
He couldn’t separate this unique expression from all the others. He couldn’t identify with it even to tell if he was hungry.
Imagine how free and expansive that consciousness would be! Of course, when that realization comes, it will seem perfectly natural to us. But for now we can only imagine it.
Sister Gyanamata said that at the moment she first laid eyes on Master, “there passed between us the recognition of guru and disciple from past lives.
“And that’s where I’ve lived. I’ve lived in his vibration.”
After sixteen years of discipleship, she wrote to him, “I no longer feel your absence, because wherever you are, there am I, standing silently and invisibly before you.”
She abided in him. And, is that option available to us? Absolutely! The Festival of Light promises that we are all equal before God. And it isn’t only the saints that God favors, but we, too, are favored. And everyone, even the worst of sinners, as the Festival says, and even those who may have sinned most greatly.
Swamiji included that statement in the Festival, not to make us dwell on our unworthiness, but as a reminder of how often we become distracted from our true nature which is one with God.
When we allow our attention to be captured by all the things we lack, and the things we’ve done wrong, we have turned our face away from God. But “even those who have sinned most greatly,” as the Festival tells us, have the Divine as their true nature.
What are we concentrating on? What are we abiding in? Swami told the story of a disciple who lay dying, and Swami went to visit him in the hospital at Yogananda’s request. In his last hours the man was acutely aware of his limitations. He lamented to Swamiji, “Oh, I’ve done so many wrong things.”
When Swamiji told Master what the man had said, Master was very sad. He said, “Oh, I wish he hadn’t said that.” Meaning, I wish he wasn’t allowing himself to be distracted from his divine nature by these lesser things.
I was in the Jacuzzi at the YMCA, and a woman said, “My sister had an experience where the light came.” And everyone knew what she was talking about.
Nowadays, everyone knows about the inner light. These are no longer the closely held secrets of Himalayan yogis. It’s a fantastic, wonderful time we’re living in.
At death, the light appears, and our consciousness is drawn into it. This is the point where people may realize that it isn’t their time to go, and so they come back into the body, and they tell us about their “near-death experience.”
They feel their consciousness leaving the physical body, and they see the light. The tunnel of light is the subtle energetic spine by which we exit the body the same way we came in.
We came in from the medulla at the base of the skull, and most people go out by the medulla when they die, because the medulla is the center of the ego. And insofar as we’ve let ourselves be distracted by the limited world of the body, we sink backward at the moment of death, instead of rising to meet the Spirit at the point between the eyebrows.
If we’re spiritually inclined, instead of lowering our energy at the point of departure, our sense of identity rises from the medulla to the spiritual eye, and we exit from the body at that point.
When someone dies, you can feel their energy and consciousness rising. And as we leave the body, everything that we’ve allowed ourselves to become identified with determines how we’ll make the transition. And it’s not just our desires that hold us back; it’s also the thought, “I regret, I’m sorry, I failed, I wasn’t, I shouldn’t have…”
We are always the divine perfection, but if we let ourselves be distracted, in that final moment we will go where it’s been our habit to go.
We imagine that the way out of our difficulties is to concentrate on them, but this is a great mistake. We need to believe in the higher part of ourselves, and begin to experience the absolute, unconditional love of God, who is completely unconcerned about the small things that we feel are so important.
Swamiji once told Master about a flaw that he felt he had in his nature.
Master said, almost gaily, “Oh, don’t worry about those little things. When ecstasy comes, everything else goes.”
It “goes” because it’s a lesser vibration that will be swept away in the purifying current of ecstasy.
This is how the guru sees us, and how God sees us. It’s how we can help ourselves and the people around us. We simply need to be aware of what we’re seeing. Are we aware of people’s limitations – their shortcomings and misunderstandings? Or are we able to look into the other person’s eyes and give them a silent message from the Divine: “You can do it. God knows that you can do it, and I know you can do it. You can pull yourself out of anything. And it doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. Because we are all equal before God.”
Abide in that Light. Live in that Light. Let nothing distract you from that Light. And everything that you long for will be yours.
God bless you.
(From Asha’s talk at Sunday service on July 5, 2015.)