Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ask Asha: Loyalty in Love

[You can ask your own question here.]


I’ve always had a longing to have a strong man in my life. Even the powerful, independent women I admire and seek to emulate, for the most part have had the benefit of strong men either as friends, colleagues, or partners. My problem is the one man I did love, who was powerful and good, is gone forever, but he stays in my heart and makes it difficult for me to love someone else in the same way. I think I am attached to the idea of being a “one-man woman,” but at the same time, I long to have a relationship now. Help!

From K.


Dear K:

Most people who accomplish in this world receive help along the way. Even those who live celibate or solitary lives are often guided, inspired, supported, and assisted by others with capacities that are perhaps different, but nonetheless equal to their own.

The soul has no gender. We are all equally male and female. Sometimes we incarnate as men, sometimes as women. Over the course of many incarnations we have to develop perfect yin/yang balance within ourselves. As we advance spiritually our ability to express equally both masculine and feminine energy increases. Usually then we are drawn to a partner who is similarly balanced, until the need for another person to balance our energy is transcended altogether.

For a strong woman like you to want the company or assistance of a strong man is only natural. As you see in the example of those women you admire, there is no contradiction between personal strength and the ability to form deep relationships with others.

You were fortunate to have for a time such a connection. Naturally it is a profound disappointment that it did not last a lifetime.

Now comes the question of life-long loyalty. How to resolve within yourself the continuing attachment to this man, the romantic notion of being a “one-man woman” with the fact that you have many years yet to live and you want to make the most of them spiritually, and in every other way.

“Loyalty is the first law of God,” Paramhansa Yogananda says. In order to progress spiritually, or accomplish anything in life, we have to commit ourselves and persevere in our commitment. Nothing great is ever accomplished without will power.

It is essential, though, to be loyal to the right thing -- to principles, to truth itself, not merely to the form those principles may take.

A spiritual organization, for example, over time may become loyal to the organization itself, not to the high principles upon which the organization was founded. True principles are eternal. Forms come and go. Misplaced loyalty too easily becomes fanaticism or narrow-minded stupidity.

Some spiritual traditions, for example, assert that divorce is a sin, an offence against God. Self-evidently, fickleness is no virtue, but nor is it always a victory merely to stay together when the price is the sacrifice of spiritual potential. Some life-long couples are deeply inspiring in the quality of their love for one another. Others look merely worn out.

I’m amused when I recall a woman widowed after 60 years of a quasi-victorious marriage. A spiritual person tried to comfort her by saying, “You’ll see him again.” Her frank reply was, “I think 60 years was long enough.”

One incarnation is a rather arbitrary span of time. We change physical bodies from life to life, but the expansion of our consciousness is a continuous, uninterrupted process. Death changes nothing except the context in which we seek divine realization.

The form of the man you loved, and the form in which you loved each other, is gone forever. Never again will you be together in exactly that way. The essence of what you love in each other, the true basis of your friendship, is untouched by the change in form.

In Autobiography of a Yogi, chapter 43, “The Resurrection of Sri Yukteswar,” Yogananda explains that in the astral world we meet all those we have been close to, not only in the incarnation just finished but also in many different lifetimes. There is, however, no jealousy, no thought that if I love one I cannot also love others. Physical form imposes limitation. Love itself has no boundaries.

Yes, sometimes, an experience is given to us and we know that it will never be repeated. That does happen. “I’ve had the love of my life and there won’t be another.” Even though there may be some loneliness in that realization, there is also a calm, uplifting certainty that what God has given and what He has withheld are spiritually right for you.

In Autobiography of a Yogi this subject is also addressed. Yogananda’s mother died when he and several of his siblings were still quite young. His father never married again, but took on the task of being both father and mother to his eight children. Years later, Yogananda tried to engage a female servant to take care of his father. Adamantly, his father refused. “Service to me ended when your mother died,” he said.

In his case, this was a sincere expression of his inner reality. Always a deeply spiritual man, after his wife’s passing, Yogananda’s father lived an exemplary life of simplicity, austerity, and devotion to God.

I don’t think what you are describing is quite like that. To me it seems more of a wish that it were true -- romantic rather than a mature expression of your soul nature. Why would loving one person deeply make it inappropriate to love someone else in the same or even in a greater way?

This reminds me of a touching experience I had with a friend. His wife was pregnant with their second child and he came to me deeply concerned. “How can I be a good father to the baby that is coming? I love my first-born so much, I can’t imagine loving anyone else as much as I love her.”

All I could say was “Love is infinite. Don’t worry. It will be okay.” Soon after the child was born, with tears in his eyes he told me, “You were right.”

What you have learned about love is meant to be shared, expanded, and built upon. To hoard it, to focus only on the memory of things past, is a betrayal of the love you had, not loyalty to it.

Yes, karma plays a role. It may or may not be your destiny to have another relationship like that in this incarnation. There is no reason to think, though, that it is more noble not to have it.

Be completely sincere and open with God. Tell Him of your longings, and also of your confusion on this point. Pour it all into the lap of Divine Mother. Then follow the advice Yogananda gives for how to pray in Whispers from Eternity: “Be thoroughly convinced that He has heard you. And then -- go about your duties, seeking not to know whether God will grant your demand.” Talk to Him whenever your heart feels restless.

If it is spiritually beneficial to you, God will send you a partner. If none comes, know that God is helping you to grow in other ways. The way to meet karma -- to learn what it has to teach you so you can go on to the next lesson -- is to accept it calmly with joy.

I will pray for you.

Nayaswami Asha

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

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ask Asha: Love God

[You can ask your own question here.]


In many ways my entire life feels blessed, even charmed. I’ve practiced Kriya daily without fail for three years, studied all the writings, and listened to many hours of recorded classes. Desires are dropping away, and even those that do arise often are fulfilled in a very sweet way by Divine Mother. Every day I feel inspiration and love. Occasionally I have vivid dreams, which sometimes have included divine visitations. However, nothing outside of ordinary reality has ever happened -- no voices, lights, visible auras, sensing of vibrations, response to crystals, temples, etc. When my friends speak of these things I smile graciously but have nothing to say. Despite conscientious practice of the AUM technique, I don’t hear any sound, nor do I see the spiritual eye. I’ve witnessed no miracles. In some ways I feel I am spiritually “blind and deaf.” I do trust my own intuition enough to believe the teachings are true but I’m going on 100% belief. I feel just a little bit of experience would tip me over from belief to faith. Lacking that experience, it is hard to develop devotion. I feel equivocal even about the positive things because of this lack. I’m already middle-aged. How long will I have to wait?

From A.R.


Dear A.R.

Doubt is a special kind of purgatory, taking the sunlight out of the brightest day. You haven’t used the word “doubt,” but that is what you are describing. So many wonderful things happening in your life, and yet....

In his autobiography, The New Path, chapter 30, “A Divine Test,” Swamiji writes of his own battle with doubt. The solution, he eventually discovered, is love. Alas, you are doubly stymied -- because of doubt you hesitate to love.

I don’t know if anything I say can break this unfortunate cycle, but let me give it a try. I ask your forgiveness in advance if what I say feels flippant or too harsh. I deeply sympathize with your dilemma and hope by speaking plainly to give you a way out of this self-created limitation.

Let me start by rewriting your letter as a note from your son to you.
Dear Dad: 
Thanks so much for raising me thus far. We have a great home. I love my room. The meals are fabulous and whenever I raid the refrigerator I always find something good. The clothes I have are super. I love my bicycle. You picked a good school and you are always there to help with homework. The new music system is fabulous. However, two of my friends now have motorcycles. Seems like I ought to have one, too. I’ve already told you this -- several times. You say you love me, but, well, how can I believe you since you know how much I want this motorcycle and you don’t get if for me? I’m already fourteen years old. How long am I going to have to wait before that motorcycle comes? 
-Your Son

Maybe I’m misrepresenting you with this, but there are similarities.

Here is another way to look at it.

God’s love is omnipresent, unconditional, eternal. Every breath, your very existence is an expression of His commitment to you.

How have you responded? I’m not singling you out as being worse than any of the rest of us, but -- face it! -- for more incarnations than we can imagine, we have turned our backs on the only One who truly loves us. Madly we have pursued every possible dead-end, looking for love, as they say, in all the wrong places.

Finally it has occurred to you -- and to us -- that maybe, just maybe, God is the solution. So for three years now you have given him your Kriyas. And still -- no visible spiritual eye! No crashing waves of AUM! How inconsiderate of Him!

Of course, I am joking -- but not really.

I am reminded of an interview I heard on the radio. Two men in their early twenties had just become gazillionaires when a company they dropped out of college to form went public. The interviewer said, “Already you have earned fifty times more money than your fathers earned in their entire working lives. How do you feel about that?”

The young gazillionaires seemed surprised by the question. “After all,” one of them replied emphatically, “we devoted two years of our lives to building this company.”

It is not up to God to woo us. He has been faithful. It is we who have strayed. Now we have to prove to him that our love is sincere and unwavering. We are in no position to demand -- or expect -- tokens of His commitment to us. Still, you have been showered with them. Ah, but there are still other items on your list that haven’t come. Like a child at Christmas you are comparing your letter to Santa with the presents under the tree and feel that you have been shortchanged.

Am I being unfair to you? Maybe a little. The point is being a devotee is not a business transaction. It is a love relationship.

Back to the mythical question of your son and his motorcycle: How magnetic is it for you when your son makes his faith in your love dependent on the next expensive gift? How likely are you to give him that motorcycle? Not very likely because you know it wouldn’t be good for him, at least not with his present attitude. You love him too much to feed the delusion that material things are the proof of love or that emotional blackmail is the way to get what he wants from you.

There is no set standard of “proof” that God is obligated to meet. You say you trust your intuition -- maybe enough to put your mind behind your beliefs, but not enough, apparently, to risk your heart.

Again, perhaps I am being unfair, but that is how your letter reads to me. “Without these experiences I can’t develop devotion.” Which is to say, “Unless God meets my standard of proof I’m going to keep my love locked up inside of me.” Who do you think will suffer from that decision? You? Or God who is Love Itself?

Let’s put it another way: What are you afraid of?

Despite all that you’ve given to your son unless you come through with the motorcycle it is all over between you. Or so he declares. Kind of silly when you think of it that way, isn’t it?

I am not trying to mock you. I am only trying, in this rather extreme way, to help you see the implications of what you are saying. Your scientific inclination to weigh and measure sometimes serves the cause of truth, and sometimes blocks it completely. In a love relationship, there comes a point when you just have to go with your heart.

Sometimes reason doesn’t serve the cause of reason, it merely masks the truth, which in this case may be fear. What would a vibrating crystal or the AUM sound tell you that you don’t already know?

Swami Kriyananda tells a very instructive story about a fellow disciple named Daniel Boone who lived as a monk with Master at Mount Washington when Swamiji was there. Boone had many experiences of the kind you say are completely lacking in your life -- and were also lacking in Swamiji’s life he tells us. In the end, however, Boone left the ashram and the path, whereas Swamiji never wavered in his commitment or his whole-hearted self-offering to God and Guru in service and devotion.

Later he realized that Master gave Boone all those experiences because he was trying -- unsuccessfully as it turned out -- to save him from being swept away by delusion.

Do you think Master would hold back from you these experiences if, as you assert, they would help you spiritually? Can you imagine another reason why he doesn’t give them to you, for example, the need for you to have the courage to open your heart in trust to Him without the “final proof” you are looking for?

To call yourself “spiritually blind and deaf” -- even if you offer it only as a self-deprecating quip -- is an insult both to you and to God. Also you are holding a mistaken idea -- a dangerously mistaken idea -- that the experiences your friends have mean they are more advanced or more favored by God than you are. That’s the argument your son is using on you. “All my friends have motorcycles. Obviously, their fathers love them and mine does not.”

Such an attitude won’t help you develop devotion, nor will it create the magnetism to draw God’s love to you. He has showered you with blessings. You describe your life as “charmed.” Still -- well, no motorcycle!

And if you do give your son that motorcycle, will that secure his love forever or, later, will he doubt again and demand further proof? And if God gives you lights, will you then need a miracle? And once you have a miracle, will you then need another to insure that the first wasn’t just a lucky coincidence?

Once you start down the road of weighing, measuring, and conditional loving there is no end to it. Relationships do not succeed that way.

You have to love God because it is your nature to love and God’s nature to love you.

How can you know from your perspective in which direction true freedom lies? God has showered you with blessings. Like you with your son, God knows the road ahead better than you do. Accept with gratitude and in return, give Him your heart.

And if you feel you can’t, don’t try to solve the problem with reason. Above all, don’t presume to tell God what He needs to do in order to win your love! Seek devotion with devotion. Don’t pray for lights and sounds, which in them selves mean nothing and are not, in fact, what you seek. Pray for His grace -- above all, the grace to love Him.

Nayaswami Asha

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

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ask Asha: Public Worship

[You can ask your own question here.]


Dear Asha:

I grew up in the Bible Belt and my parents regularly took me to a church where public displays of piety were the norm. I was deeply embarrassed by these outbursts, coming as they often did from people I knew to be spiritually ignorant, even mean-spirited in their religion. I formed a deep-seated aversion to public worship of any kind. True spiritual feelings, I decided, must be kept within the heart; anything else is hypocrisy. Now deeply involved in Ananda, with a rich inner spiritual life of my own, I still find it hard to participate in public worship, and have done so only because Master says it is important. I used to think my reluctance was a virtue; now I see it as a hang-up. Can you help?



Dear E.V.:

Freedom is the goal of the spiritual path: liberation from all limiting ideas and self-definitions. Moksha is the Sanskrit word. Stages toward moksha include freeing oneself from subconscious habits, unexamined ideas, and compulsions based on false premises. Your aversion to public worship falls nicely into this category of things to be overcome, as you yourself have realized.

“Reason follows feeling,” is something Master often said, meaning if we are emotionally predisposed toward a point of view we will find lots of good-sounding ways to justify it. It is quite common for the aspiring devotee to use true spiritual principles to reach false conclusions.

Fortunately, you have noticed. Good work.

Each devotee has his or her own relationship with God. Bhav is the Sanskrit word which means “spiritual mood” or way of approaching God. Some are, by nature, outwardly expressive, others deeply private. So it isn’t a matter of right or wrong.

However, certain principles do apply to everyone, whatever their bhav. The most important one here is magnetism. Master said that whether your energy flows outward to the world or inward and upward toward God is determined to a great extent by the company you keep. It was to this he was referring when he said, “Environment is stronger than will power.”

The point is unless you live in complete solitude (and even then, there are subtle vibrations that may still affect you) you are always in some kind of magnetic field generated by the consciousness of the people who surround you. Even alone in your own home you have neighbors nearby -- many of them -- and their thoughts, feelings, and attitudes bombard you constantly.

Swami Kriyananda lived for some years in an apartment in San Francisco when he was earning the money to start Ananda. It was well off the street, in a quiet area, and in terms of audible sound, exactly the same day or night. Still, during the night, it felt quieter, and more conducive to meditation and creative thinking, because everyone else was asleep, and therefore the apartment was less bombarded by their restless, worldly thoughts.

Yes, the stronger your own magnetism and the deeper your inner life, the less affected you will be. But it is naïve to imagine that you are unaffected.

The effect of the environment around is cumulative and lingering. When you cut onions to make dinner, days later you may still get a whiff of onions from your fingertips. Even if you have just been near the onions, your clothes and your hair may retain some of the odor.

Vibrations of thoughts and feelings are far more powerful than mere onions! It behooves us then to immerse ourselves whenever possible in the vibrations we seek to make our own. This is the reason Master spoke so forcefully about the importance of spiritual communities. Jesus, too, recommended to his disciples that they live together.

This is satsang, which means “the company of truth,” or “the company of truthseekers.” Yes, just hanging out with high-minded people is also satsang, but think how much more powerful satsang can be when everyone is dynamically focused on a high-minded expression. When we pray, chant, meditate, follow a ritual, listen to a discourse, naturally we are more powerful and united in our focus than we would be just sitting in a room together.

In an interview Swamiji gave about the importance of The Festival of Light -- the ritual we do at Ananda every Sunday -- he said that even when people meditate in the same room at the same time, still, often, they do not meditate together in the sense of consciously uniting their force to help one another spiritually.

Swamiji added that whenever he meditates with other people he consciously meditates with and for them.

So here is another way to look at it. Let your time of spiritual practice in the company of others be a time of giving to others. Pray on their behalf. Chant whole-heartedly, knowing that the deeper the response you receive from the divine, the more divine power there will be in the room for the benefit of everyone.

In the early years of Ananda, when we all lived together at Ananda Village, there was no question about going to Sunday Service every Sunday. It wasn’t about whether or not we enjoyed it or felt inspired. Although we did both enjoy it and feel inspired. But even if we hadn’t, it was our duty to go, an act of friendship to participate with full energy and concentration. Otherwise, the Service wouldn’t exist! The mere repetition of words by the one leading the Service did not in itself create the experience. What made it powerful was the commitment of each participant to go as deep as possible into the spirit, together.

“When enough people call sincerely enough,” Swamiji writes, “a mighty flow from the river of grace is deflected toward this planet; a new ray of Light is drawn downward, and all who tune in to it are uplifted as they never could be, were they to struggle merely on their own.”

Imagine if you were living in some remote area, the only devotee for miles around, how you would hunger for the opportunity to share inspiring times with others. You have the good karma to be in good company. Embrace it with gratitude.

As for hypocrisy.... Well, just because some people who express spiritually are hypocritical, doesn’t mean that spiritual expression in and of itself is hypocritical. You have to take it case by case. But I can see that you have already moved past this misunderstanding and are now looking for a way to pick it up by the right string.

Try self-offering to God in the company of others for the benefit of others as a reason to participate and see if that helps.

Nayaswami Asha

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

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ask Asha: More on Forgiveness

[You can ask your own question here.]


In response to a recent letter, “Should we forgive everything?” we received the following additional questions:

From M.A.

I thought the true philosophy was to love one for all that they are but more so for what they are not! When it comes to deciding to choose self-love over abuse, that's the dilemma...let go and move on! 

From L.E.

How did you forgive the person you write about? I am trying to find out how so I can use that as a model to forgive people in my life who have hurt me.  Also, aren’t we lowering standards of a relationship if we think that our partner can do anything, then change and be forgiven?


Dear Friends:

Forgiveness is a complicated subject. Everyone involved has karma that has to be faced and worked out. Seldom do you have simple, happy endings.

On one side is the person who feels offended, even abused.  On the other is the transgressor, whose actions, words, or attitudes caused the injury. There is also how you feel in your heart, which may be different from how you need to respond outwardly.

From the beginning of my spiritual life I adopted the policy suggested by Swami Kriyananda of trying to understand any question from the highest perspective. For me this means asking: What would Swamiji do? How would Master respond?

Most of the time, their way of being is far above what I can achieve, but keeping their example in view illuminates the path that I am walking, tells me which way is forward, and gives me some idea of how to get there from here.

You would think that the lives of saints and masters would be free of disharmony. In fact, the opposite is true. Great souls seem to attract hurt and betrayal, usually inflicted by people to whom they have opened their hearts in loving friendship. There are many reasons for this. One is simply the dual nature of this universe. Whenever light ascends darkness tries to snuff it out. Not a pleasant thought, but one proven again and again throughout history.

The other reason is that these great souls incarnate to set an example of how to live in this world. We incarnate because we have karma to live through -- unlearned lessons that have to be faced. They have no karma of their own, but take on the appearance of karma, or the karma of their disciples in order to help us learn right action in all circumstances, no matter how difficult.

Several of Yogananda’s long-time disciples later turned against him, even dragged him into court, and tried to destroy both his work and his reputation.

After one treacherous disciple left the ashram and moved to another part of the country, every year Yogananda sent him a case of mangoes, and every year the disciple sent the case back unopened. Yogananda said it would take a few lifetimes, but in the end that disciple would return and soon after he would achieve spiritual freedom.

Swami Kriyananda has had to endure extraordinary persecution from his own gurubhais. For twelve years they dragged him through the courts attempting to destroy his work and his reputation. They even tried to take over the copyrights to his books and music! It would not have been dharma to let them succeed. He had to fight back, with great energy and determination. Inwardly, though, his love for them is unchanged.

And looming over any discussion of forgiveness is the crucifixion of Christ, and his immortal words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

This kind of forgiveness may be beyond us now, but it is where we are going. Still, we have to be practical in our idealism. It doesn’t work to paste upon our limited consciousness an ideal of behavior we cannot yet achieve. That is a recipe both for failure and guilt. Then we have the original problem plus a psychological complex on top of it. Definitely not the road to freedom!

I always start with the simple thought, “God knows what He is doing with me.” I may have desires and opinions, but He knows. Even if, in worldly terms -- i.e., viewed from the outside -- the situation seems entirely unfair God knows what He is doing with me.

He can be trusted to bring me what I need at the time I need it, and to give me the strength to use what He sends for my own highest good.

Yes, this is idealistic. Yes, most of the time I can’t get there right away. There may be many long days and nights of wrong attitude before the light dawns. But even if I fail to achieve right attitude in the moment, I do my best not to define myself by my mistakes.

I make a distinction between those actions, attitudes, thoughts, and feelings I commit and those I am committed to. I find this helps. Even in the worst of moods, a part of me still remembers: Eventually I will get over this. I know that I will because wrong attitude makes me suffer, and I don’t like to suffer.

All we ever experience is our own consciousness. If our inner life is filled with anger, resentment, grief, and disappointment life is pretty miserable. Even if circumstances give us every reason to feel justified in our misery, the question is: Who suffers?

Christ-like forgiveness is the high destiny we all must reach for the sake of our own happiness.

I read a very touching article in a magazine about a woman whose daughter was murdered. Even after the man who did it was sent to prison for life, the mother continued to seethe with anger. Finally she realized that her anger was killing her. The man who took the life of her child was taking her life as well. She decided to go to the prison and confront the murderer in the hope of finding some resolution.

At first it was difficult even to be in the same room with him. But she felt she had no choice, so she persevered. Gradually she began to see him, not as a monster, but as a fellow human being who had also suffered much in his own life. The end of the story is that they grew close and she became like a mother to him.

She never condoned what he did but she accepted it. Not as good or beautiful, but as a reality that had to be faced. Expansion of consciousness happened also for the murderer. He had no comprehension of the suffering his action had inflicted. Only in getting to know the bereaved mother did he come to understand that his actions had consequences.

As he faced and accepted responsibility for what he had done, and truly repented, it was possible for the woman to forgive and open her heart to him in love and compassion. She provided for him an example of the all-forgiving love of God. And she, too, experienced that all-forgiving love. The channel is blessed by that which flows through it -- an uplifting ending to a sad tale.

One of the questions my first letter prompted was, “Aren’t we lowering our standards when we let people think they can do anything they want, then change, and be forgiven?”

We are all on a journey from delusion to Self-realization. Any progress along the path should be celebrated, not punished! If a person has overcome a delusion, has genuinely become a better person, then it is no lowering of standards to welcome that person back with open arms. To do so is to affirm the possibility of expanded consciousness for all of us.

If, however, the change is not genuine, if the misbehaving partner is taking advantage of the forgiving partner and has no intention, or, more charitably, no ability to change his behavior, then we have to go to the next level of complexity: the distinction between inner feeling and outward action.

There is no reason to carry anger or resentment merely because someone you love has proved incapable of responding nobly to the love that you’ve offered. We’ve already been over that ground. Now we come to the question of the appropriate response.

To give someone the impression that you are there to be abused, that whatever they do is fine, that their actions have no consequences, is neither love nor forgiveness. Almost always it is guilt or fear trying to pass itself off as some more elevated quality. It is not always easy to sort this out but it has to be done.

A friend was describing to me a relationship she is caught in with an elderly relative. The elder does everything he can to take the joy out of my friend’s life. As she recounted what the relative had said, I interrupted to ask, “You just sat there and let him to talk to you like that?”

“Yes,” she said, “I did.”

“I would have walked out and not come back,” I said. “It is not good for him to speak like that. And it is an offense against the divine within you to let yourself be treated that way.”

Let me add here that if my friend had been unaffected, I would have responded differently. If she were detached and could joyfully give love to an unhappy old man no matter how he treated her, then that might be a spiritual service worth offering.

But she was deeply affected, all the joy drained out of her. That is why I spoke as I did. Everybody’s karma has to be considered.

We are all equal before God. You are not more important than others, but neither are they more important than you. Humility is not self-abnegation. Humility is self-honesty, seeing things as they are.

You have to be impersonal about yourself. It is not about what you deserve or don’t deserve in a self-preoccupied way. It is a question of dharma, what is right.

I remember years ago a woman wrote to Swamiji to say she was leaving her husband after seven years of marriage. “Whenever I try to meditate, he turns the television on as loud as possible. When I speak of spiritual things, he makes fun of me.”

Privately, Swamiji said, “She put up with that for seven years? I wouldn’t have taken it for fifteen minutes!”

No reason to be angry, but no reason to stay and be abused either!

Another question I received was, “How were you able to forgive the person you wrote about who caused such trouble for Ananda?” In that case, it was no effort. The karma wasn’t personal.

In a situation where I was personally involved, however, I discovered something that may be of value to others. When I first started on the spiritual path I became angry at a friend I felt had mistreated me. Over the course of some months I found that my inner diatribe against him gradually focused on a few specific incidents. Finally I asked myself, “Why do I think only of these?”

After some reflection I saw that in all those situations, true principles were at stake. Even at the time, I knew something was very wrong, but didn’t have the courage to speak.

My friend had not been aware of those principles. He had done the best he could with the understanding he had. To be angry with him was like railing at a three year old for not being able to read.

I, by contrast, had consciously violated dharma. When I realized this, I stopped being angry with my friend -- and became angry with myself! Getting closer to the truth, but still not good!

It took some time longer before I could forgive myself. Finally I was able to see myself the way I saw him: I did the best I could with the understanding I had. What more can we ask or ourselves or each other? His error was in understanding dharma; mine was in lacking the courage to act. Even when we fall short, reality has to be faced.

I am not proud of my cowardice, but there is no reason to be ashamed of it either. There is no shame in being three years old and unable to read. When we rail against what is, there is, literally, no end to our fury, and no way of satisfying it. We have to be practical in our idealism.

There is no shortcut to forgiveness. We have to persevere until we have purged from our hearts the need for someone else to be responsible for our suffering. No matter what the facts of the situation, the truth is we are responsible for our own consciousness.

Pray all the time for the grace of God. Grace changes everything and there is no question then of forgiveness, there is only love.

Nayaswami Asha

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