Friday, January 14, 2011

Ask Asha: Spiritual Evolution Is Not Linear

[You can ask your own question here.]


Swami Kriyananda has sometimes said that in order to get perspective on an issue, to look at it against the background of eternity. It’s easy for me to picture eternity as a really really long time, but I know it is actually endless, with no beginning and no end (something I have a harder time getting my mind around). I remember reading somewhere, maybe in the Autobiography, that Yogananda was asked (by Dr. Lewis?) if we have to go through all this soul evolution again, or just once, and the answer was, just once. So, to me, this pits a linear process against something very non-linear (eternity) and that’s what I don’t get. For example, what determines when a soul will start to evolve?

Thank you Asha,


Dear Mary:

Spiritual evolution is not linear. We do not become anything. We realize that which has always been true.

Think of it this way. Let’s say on a jungle trail a branch is lying across the path in such a way as to appear to be a poisonous snake. Seeing that branch, you may behave as if your life is in danger. But it is only an illusion. It is just a branch that looks to you like a snake. No matter how committed you were to the illusion, there was never any reality to it. It never was a snake.

So it is with the ego and everything associated with it. It appears to be one thing, but in fact, it is nothing but God. Time itself is an illusion. It is always the Eternal Now.

Yes, from the ego’s perspective we seem to go through a process of coming to a state of realization, but in fact, once that realization comes, we see even the sense that it took time to achieve that realization was all part of the illusion.

Naturally, these are not thoughts that can be grasped easily (or perhaps at all) from the level of consciousness that asks the questions. We get a hint, but that’s all.

This is why Master suggested we memorize his poem Samadhi and repeat it every day. Through that poetic medium, imbued with Master’s realization, we can be lifted into the realm where these truths are not questions but direct perceptions.

In the tradition of India they speak of Days and Nights of Brahma. These are unimaginably (from our perspective) long cycles of time in which God manifests creation and then withdraws it, and then manifests it again. (What that actually means I have to say frankly, I have no idea! But this is what Master tells us.)

Dr. Lewis asked Master if, when creation is withdrawn into the Night of Brahma, do we have to start over again? Master said, no, if you are still wandering in delusion at the end of a Day of Brahma, then you are drawn back into the Unmanifested and then re-emerge at whatever state of realization you had when you were withdrawn. You continue from that point of karma. (Again, I have to say, that these are sensible words to me, but the realization of what this is in truth is far beyond me. But you asked, so here is the answer insofar as I can express it.)

As to when evolution begins, we are like the river seeking the sea. There is never a time when we are not being called back into the Divine Source from which we came. We may be more or less conscious of that call, more or less delusion-bound in the decisions we make and the actions we take, but underneath, all beings are seeking bliss. Because bliss is our own nature.

I hope this is helpful.

Swamiji’s book, The Essence of the Bhagavad-Gita, contains wonderful explanations of these things. You could start with the index and look up this and other related subjects to see what he has to say. I am repeating words that I have heard; he perceives the realities he describes. Naturally, then, his explanations will have more power to convey the states of consciousness he describes. And without a change of consciousness, these things cannot be understood.

Nayaswami Asha

[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of]

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