Asha Praver

Letters from Asha

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ask Asha: Fear in Meditation

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

Sometimes if I have a deep experience in meditation it makes me fearful. My heart yearns to meet the Divine but I am also afraid of such an experience. How should I conquer this fear, particularly the fear of going into the unknown and experiencing the Divine?

From S.B
India

Answer

Dear S.B.:

I was in my early thirties when I got married. Before that, I had never been out of the country (U.S.A, where I was born). I didn’t even have a passport.

By contrast my husband loved to travel and had been to India and also spent six months traveling around Europe before our marriage. His karma trumped mine, and together we have traveled to many places in the world.

As a novice traveler, I experienced some anxiety about being in what was to me any “foreign” country. The only language I speak is English. Some 30 years ago when we first started traveling, in many places English was hardly spoken. (Things are different now.)

What if I broke some important cultural taboo and didn’t even know it? I imagined myself surrounded by hostile “natives,” yelling at me in a language I didn’t understand about something I knew nothing about.

Just for fun, God manifested for me a bit of what I feared.

We were in Athens, Greece. It was my first trip -- our honeymoon, in fact. We liked to walk, and had been wandering around the city. It was rather late at night and we decided to take a taxi back to our hotel.

The driver took a circuitous route in order to drive up the fare. I often joke that I always know what I think, I usually know what I feel, but I rarely know where I am! So he fooled me completely.

David, however, pays more attention than I do, and he saw exactly what the driver was doing. When it came time to pay the fare, David offered him the appropriate amount and refused to budge when the driver pointed to the meter and demanded more.

Communication, as you can imagine, was not smooth. The driver knew a little bit of English; we knew not a word of Greek.

We had gotten out of the cab and were standing in the street having what quickly escalated into a major disagreement with the driver. A crowd gathered -- all eagerly contributing to the discussion in loud voices, in Greek, of course -- and pretty soon my imagined scenario was playing out around me.

I didn’t enjoy it, but at the same time, I noticed that it wasn’t so bad. The fear of it was much worse than the real thing.

Still, I would have paid off the driver and put an end to it. David saw no reason to allow him to take advantage of us and stood his ground.

Finally, in what, even at the time, I saw as a brilliant conversation stopper, the driver reached over, quickly removed from David’s face the prescription glasses he always wore, carefully folded them and placed them in his own shirt pocket. Then he got into his cab and closed the door.

Within a few seconds David realized we had been defeated. He paid what he now understood to be the ransom to get his glasses back. The driver took the money, returned the glasses, and we went into our hotel.

What you may well ask does my honeymoon trip to Athens have to do with your meditation?

There is an often quoted saying, “As above, so below.” I always thought this was from the Bible and apologize now for the many times I have declared that to be so. In fact no one knows exactly where the saying came from.

Doesn’t matter, the meaning is what is important. Science, religion, and philosophy all refer to it. The microcosm illustrates principles you see also in the macrocosm.

From the Self-realization point of view, what this means is that the seemingly unfathomable reaches of Infinite Spirit can be understood to a surprising degree by building on what we already know.

One aspect of Swami Kriyananda’s genius as a teacher is that he can make even the most subtle teachings comprehensible by relating them to experiences that everyone already know to be true.

For example, in order to explain how the up and down flow of energy in the spine relates to our state of consciousness, Swamiji reminds us of how children respond to positive and negative experiences.

Excited children often jump up and down when they are pleased with something. And, at the opposite extreme, throw their bodies full length onto the ground when things go contrary to their desires.

A happy person lifts up eyes, head, and chest; a despairing person bends over and looks down.

Even if we can’t feel the rising and falling currents of energy in the spine, we see the evidence of their presence -- the positive nature of rising energy and negative nature of downward moving energy -- all around us.

As another example, when asked the perennial unanswerable question, “Why did God make creation?” Swamiji gave this quite original answer: “It is the nature of Joy to want to share Itself.” Sounds good, but still a little beyond the reach of the ordinary person to understand when you try to picture God Himself. So Swamiji elaborated.

“If you go to a restaurant that you really enjoy, or a movie that is particularly good, what is your first impulse? For most people, it is tell your friends. It is not enough merely to enjoy it yourself. You want to share your joy with everyone,” Swamiji explained.

Obvious, when he puts it like that. Our understanding of God’s very nature can be built upon our own experience. A perfect illustration of “As above, so below.” As it is with God, so each of us, as a reflection of His consciousness, express the same principles. That’s the extraordinary power of the path of Self-realization. It is based on experience, not mere belief.

Back now to our trip to Greece.

Meditation is like traveling to a foreign country. Yes, philosophically speaking, we are in fact not leaving home but going home. Still, we have grown up in exile, so to speak, and even though we may be divine in our true nature, we have been living in the servants’ quarters all our lives. The palace and its ways seem strange to us at first.

It is no surprise that we feel a little nervous, just as I was on my first trip away from the good old U.S.A. Now, three decades and a few dozen trips later, I have come to understand how much people everywhere are all the same. What is there to be nervous about merely because customs and language vary?

I remember very early on in my meditative life asking Swamiji about some experience I had. Nothing notable, it was just unfamiliar to me.

Swamiji responded, “Don’t be afraid. You’ll get used to it.”

Until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that I was nervous, and I didn’t want to accept it as true even though Swamiji had said it. Intellectually, I knew I should love the experiences of meditation and there was a big disconnect between what I thought I should feel and what I actually did feel. (This was before I became better acquainted with my own feelings.)

I responded quickly, and defensively, “I’m not afraid!” My voice, however, betrayed my true feelings. It was tense, hurried, and high-pitched. Fortunately, I noticed my tone of voice and later reflected on my fear and Swamiji’s reassurance.

Why was I afraid? Swamiji had answered that already: because the experience was unfamiliar and I was not used to it.

Same for you: You’ll get used to it. In the meantime, don’t compound your difficulty by worrying about what is, in fact, a perfectly natural response. Otherwise you’ll have not only the anxiety of being in an unfamiliar realm, but also a complex about your anxiety! Yes, you could analyze the ego and its fear of being annihilated and past experiences that may cause you to fear losing control, etc., etc.,etc. But why bother? It won’t solve the problem anyway. It will just make you more self-concerned. No point in making things worse than they already are!

Here is the simplest and best solution I know.

In my experience in Greece, one reason I was able to weather that adventure relatively well is because I was with David. My dear and wonderful husband, who was also an experienced traveler, was right by my side. I trusted him and therefore was not overly concerned about what was going on around us.

When we enter meditation, our guide is Master himself. We are in good hands! The answer to all fear is love. “Perfect love casts out fear,” the Bible tells us (1 John 4:18). When you find yourself in meditation feeling anxious about what you are experiencing, call on Master.

Imagine yourself walking hand in hand with him, not only in meditation, but also in the everyday world. Feel the security a little child feels when his father grasps his small hand with his larger and stronger one. As with the earthly father so with the Heavenly Father. In the presence of such certainty and love, what is there to fear? His love for you, your love for Him casts out all fear.

Practice this visualization in meditation before the anxiety sets in. Make your meditation itself a communion with Master. The inner worlds may be foreign to you but they are Master’s natural home. You have a “local” guide who knows the territory and speaks every dialect imaginable.

And if the fear still overtakes you, resolve it by taking refuge in Master’s consciousness. Inwardly run to him, cast yourself upon his lap like a little child. Curl up there and visualize his arms around you. Feel his love. Love casts out all fear.

I first went to India in 1986, as part of a pilgrimage called “In the Footsteps of Master.” We visited many of the places made holy by Master’s presence, including his childhood home at 4 Garpar Road in Calcutta. At that time Master’s nephew, Harekrishna Ghosh, was still living in the family home. We returned to the house about a dozen times over the next 20 years, gradually coming to know more and more members of Master’s family.

Harekrishna had a younger sister named Sheffli. Both of them met Master when he returned to India in 1935. Harekrishna was fifteen then and has almost adult memories of being with Master. Sheffli was only three, and doesn’t remember the visit herself but has heard the stories of her relationship with Master from older relatives.

Apparently she was completely enamored of Master and whenever she was in the same room with him, would run to his side, cling to his leg, or climb onto his lap. Master returned her affection and would keep close her to him whenever possible.

Once they were all going to a movie theater and Sheffli was considered too young to go along. Master, however, overrode the objections, lifted Sheffli to his chest, buttoned his coat around her. In that way he took her into the movie theater and held her next to his heart the entire time.

When I first heard stories of Sheffli and Master, my first thought was, “What a waste! To have met Master only once in a lifetime and be too small even to remember it!” Then, as I reflected more deeply, I also saw the deep blessing of meeting him in early childhood. Because she was so young, Sheffli was entirely uninhibited in her love and devotion to Master. It never occurred to her that she might not be welcome or that her extravagant expression of devotion to him was anything other than perfectly appropriate.

Often since then I have visualized myself as a tiny child, throwing myself against Master’s leg, clinging to him, climbing on his lap, resting against his heart with his buttoned coat around me. Ah, bliss!

We are Master’s chelas -- a word for disciples, but it also means “child.” We are children of the Guru and as such have both a right and a duty to surrender completely not only to his guidance but also to his protective love.

With a Self-realized Master taking care of us, what harm could possibly come to us? His perfect love for us -- and our perfect love for him -- casts out all fear.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha


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

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ask Asha: Sex in a New Relationship

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

I am very fortunate to have a committed, spiritual relationship in which my partner and I are devoted to God first and to serving and loving one another and all in Him. We are a young couple and physically very attracted to each other, so we recognize enjoying intimacy and great sex is natural. It becomes very difficult however for us to"set" an appropriate frequency for sex when our spiritual aspirations of moderation and self-control seemingly conflict with our sexual drive and day-to-day preferences. How do we find balance between indulgence and self-control, high spiritual ideals and natural, loving intimacy?

Thank you,
A.E.

Answer

Dear A.E.:

I’ve been thinking about this question for some time. I have written, unfortunately even sent to you, several replies I have now rejected. I don’t think there is any other area of life where there is such a wide difference between what the masters say and what the average person experiences. Sex, the masters declare, is one of life’s great delusions. Sex, most people believe, is one of life’s great joys. Not easy to bridge that gulf.

Modern society for the most part has simply turned its back on the teachings of the masters and committed itself to sex. We swim in a sea of constant sexual stimulation. Like fish in water, we no longer even notice. To say that women’s fashions are immodest is putting it mildly. That which used to be considered pornographic is now commonly seen on television, movies, and billboards.

Even little girls dress like grown women in what would be a sexually provocative way, except that they are years away from puberty. People think it is cute, not realizing -- or perhaps not caring -- that we are raising generations of girls who believe ideal feminine beauty is sexual and ideal love is erotic.

I mention this only to say that to live even a sexually moderate life, what to speak of a celibate one, is not easy these days. In such a restless age, to focus your energy in a committed loving relationship is a big step forward. When that relationship includes spiritual dedication and devotion to God, you have the potential for a happy and fulfilling life.

Whether or not your relationship is pleasing to God is not determined by the frequency of your sexual relations but by the overall direction of your energy. To be God centered and of service to others, that’s what matters, and that is how you describe yourselves. If you weren’t so attracted to each other you probably wouldn’t even be together. Then all the other positives of your relationship would not be there either.

Swamiji said that one of the greatest sources of tension in devotee marriages is sex. My response was, “That makes us pretty much like everyone else in the world!” He remained serious in the face of my quip. With devotees there is a twist. One or the other, as Swamiji explained, decides to renounce sex or develops a complex about it. Sometimes it is because of a spiritually inspired disinclination for it, but more often it is because he feels guilty about his attraction to sex, and can’t reconcile his actual spiritual state with the ideal described in the teachings. I use the male pronoun here for convenience but women are just as likely to feel this way. He begins then to look upon his partner not as a friend, but as a temptress. Things go rapidly downhill from there.

On another occasion I remember a monk who left the monastery to marry then decided he would continue to live a celibate life even within the marriage. Unfortunately, this was not what his wife had signed on for. When Swamiji heard about the tension between them over this issue, he responded, “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t take on the responsibility of a wife and not take her reality into account.”

Fortunately, both of you agree about your sexual relations. Whatever you do from now on has to be a shared understanding. There is no point in forcing yourselves to meet some external standard if it is not a sincere expression of your own consciousness. To do so would be suppression, not transcendence.

Transcendence comes when self-restraint is not the result of guilt, fear, or a desire to “look good,” but arises naturally from the understanding that restraining the desire is more fulfilling than indulging it.

At first, of course, for one who seeks to transcend there may be a middle ground to cross when the desire is still strong and discipline is needed to restrain it. In time, however, restraining that energy with a wholesome attitude opens up an entirely new reality. As Swamiji put it, “Once the desire for sex is overcome you can’t imagine why you were ever attracted to it in the first place.”

For you now, sex is a great pleasure. Neither suppression nor transcendence is the issue. Swamiji’s comment is probably incomprehensible in terms of your actual experience. To give up sex would feel to you like a loss. Still, the teachings say that in time you will transcend it. That time, however, has not yet come. This is nothing to be proud of, nor is there any reason to be ashamed. It is just a fact.

Mahatma Gandhi, famous for his asceticism, said one should never seek to renounce a pleasure until you have replaced it with a higher pleasure. On the path of Self-realization you have to be guided by your own experience.

In the meantime, keep in mind the reasons why sex can work against your spiritual aspirations. If you know what the pitfalls are, you are less likely to fall into them.

To begin with, sex is inherently ego-affirming, the opposite of where you want to go spiritually. Ego is the soul identified with the body. Sex is not only dependent upon that self-definition it constantly reinforces it. “I am a woman. You are a man.” That is the underlying premise of your attraction to each other.

The starting point for sex is a compelling personal desire. In a refined relationship, of course, sex is based on mutual giving. Still, the extent to which you have a personal need, to that extent you cannot be entirely selfless. The purpose of marriage, like all relationships, is to learn selfless love.

A sexual relationship emphasizes the unique personal connection between two people. Most people, of course, would not consider this to be a downside. But as the Bhagavad-Gita tells us, “What is day to the worldly man is night to the yogi. What is night to the worldly man is day to the yogi.”

To become too infatuated with each other, too defined by being a “couple,” is not, in the long run, all that helpful. Love grows from the personal to the impersonal, from the individual to the universal.

Be sincere and utterly open with Master. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed by your sexuality. At the same time, don’t make a dogma of it. Meditate often on these words from the Ananda wedding ceremony, “May our love grow ever deeper, purer, more expansive, until, in our perfected love, we find the perfect love of God.”

Trust that Master has brought you together and together he will lead you to God.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha


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

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ask Asha: Life and Death of Our Pets

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

We lost our house in the economic downturn and are now in an apartment. It was a stressful process, but I never questioned God or felt anger over what happened. In fact, when it was all over, I felt relieved. My one sadness is that I had to give up my dogs. One was adopted into a good home. For the other, a Great Dane, it didn’t work out. I had rescued her when she was two years old and we were very close. I thought about putting her to sleep but in the end a rescue group found a home for her in another state. I drove her to Los Angeles to give her to her new owners. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out and they put her to sleep, then accused me of unloading on them a sick dog. I feel so bad about the pain and stress I caused her and the family who took her. I don’t know how to deal with the grief I feel over this dog.

From M.

Answer

Dear M:

I commend you for facing your challenges so courageously. You were very fortunate to have had such a close and happy relationship with your Great Dane. And she was fortunate to have had so much of her life with you.

The life span of most animals is shorter than that of the humans who care for them, so loving a pet often means living through its death. The whole question of the life and death decisions we make for our pets is quite complex and important to many people. I am taking the opportunity your question provides to write at some length. I hope something here will be of help to you.

Part of the “dowry” David brought to our marriage (in 1982) was a black female cat named Huey. He had adopted Huey when she was small enough to fit into his cupped hands and fifteen years later they had been through a lot together. Moving several times, starting a number of successful enterprises, finding Master, coming to Ananda.

To say that Huey was a disciple would be an overstatement, no matter how sentimentally we might regard her spiritual advancement. She was, after all, just a cat. The only cat, however, allowed into Crystal Hermitage -- the spiritual center of Ananda Village where Swamiji has his home. We lived next door and when Swamiji gave satsang Huey would sometimes join the group.

I didn’t grow up with pets and had never lived with a cat, but I conscientiously cultivated Huey as a friend. Her relationship to David predated mine and I didn’t want to put him in the awkward position of having to choose between us. Fortunately Huey was gracious and we lived together in harmony.

One day I came home to find the David and Huey sitting on the floor sharing quality time. Like any cat, Huey was acutely aware of her surroundings and registered my arrival with a slightly tense look. Petting her gently, David spoke to the cat about me, saying, “Don’t worry, she is one of us.”

About two years after we got married, we were on a lecture tour and, not for the first time, left our house and cat in the care of friends. We were in Houston, Texas when the call came. “Huey has disappeared,” our friend told us. She was always regular in her habits, even when David was away. “It has been three days and nights since she last came home. We’ve searched every crevice of the house, and walked all around calling her name. We think she is gone.”

She was seventeen years old. Either she went away to die by herself, as cats often do, or was eaten by something larger than herself. I believe she stayed around long enough to be sure I wasn’t going anywhere. Knowing that David would be taken care of she felt free to leave.

Even though I have never experienced the kind of bond with an animal that you had with your Great Dane, I have seen it between David and Huey. No matter how close the bond, though, animals -- like all living creatures -- have their own destiny. We no more “own” our pets than we do our children. We are all in God’s hands.

Swamiji remarked to me once that he sees all beings, even animals, as just “Egos on a spectrum between bondage and freedom, striving to be free.” We manifest the body -- whether human or animal -- that allows us to express the full development of our present consciousness. For this reason, once we reach the human level it is rare to go back to being an animal. And even then, if as punishment for particularly egregious behavior, or longing for a less conscious life, it is usually for only one incarnation.

When we have reached the limits of each body’s ability to serve our consciousness, we shed it with no more consequence to our ultimate well being than taking off a heavy jacket when the weather turns warm. Of course humans become attached to the body they are in and often view its impending loss with more concern than is warranted.

An animal has an individual ego, or, perhaps more accurately, an animal has the full potential of what will become its individual ego as it advances up the spectrum. Animals, however, have not yet developed the self-awareness that human beings have and for this reason relate to their own bodies more impersonally than we relate to our bodies and theirs. My cat, dog, parakeet, or goldfish becomes a specific relationship as far as we are concerned. Because we know that individual through a particular form, we make the obvious mistake of thinking that the form is the individual that inhabits it. When the form changes, we feel that the love we have shared is also gone. This is not true. Form changes. Love is eternal.

Animals sometimes manifest to an amazing degree a capacity for loyalty, love, and self-sacrifice -- more than some humans do. But animals still lack the self-awareness required to make conscious spiritual progress. That is what distinguishes all animals -- no matter how advanced -- from all humans -- no matter how primitive. Humans can influence their own development, for good or for ill, by the conscious use of free will.

Animals progress more or less automatically through lower stages of development. They live through the karma that goes with each stage until their consciousness has reached the point that no animal body is sufficient to express it. A human body is needed. Master says that dogs, horses, and monkeys are the most advanced animal forms. (Sorry to say that to all you cat lovers.)

It is very good karma for an animal to come into contact with human beings. Even on the animal level, environment is stronger than will power. Being always in the company of more evolved beings, i.e. human beings, helps speed the animal’s evolution.

Animals don’t have sufficient awareness to reflect abstractly about their condition. They can’t speculate about how their species is treated in emerging economies where dogs, for example, often live on the streets by their wits alone, as opposed to the secure, luxurious life the average American dog enjoys.

I recall how amused a visiting friend from India was by our dog grooming studios. He worked as a travel guide and pointed out that the towels used on the dogs were bigger and thicker than you find in most Indian hotels. In a country like India where so many people barely have enough to eat, it is impossible on a national scale to lavish such resources on mere pets.

Your dog couldn’t contemplate the contrast between her life with you and where her littermates may have ended up. No doubt she was highly intelligent, with a loving heart, but to think in that way requires an awareness she simply did not have.

As a result, animals are more accepting of their destiny, less attached to specific outcomes. They don’t identify with their own bodies in the way humans do. Therefore the loss of it doesn’t grieve them in the way we imagine. They experience both positive and negative emotions, but a great deal of suffering is caused by the thought that things ought to be different than they are. This requires the ability to compare one situation to other actual or possible outcomes. To think about what might have happened if is a skill only humans have.

Humans often project onto animals the level of suffering they themselves would experience if as human beings we had to live through the conditions the animals face. Even though we may feel very close to our animals, their consciousness is different. Speaking of David’s cat, since there was no sign of sickness, or even much sign of old age, most likely she was eaten. Out in the woods where we lived that happened all the time. Huey wasn’t much of a hunter, but occasionally she brought to David the loving gift of a dead bird or mouse she had killed herself. She showed no remorse. It was her nature to hunt.

A larger creature sustains itself on the flesh of those that are smaller or weaker. Huey may have given her life for another, just as those birds and mice died to feed her. We may think it horrifying, but it is the appropriate expression of consciousness for most animals. It is all part of God’s plan. When the animal grows beyond that consciousness, it no longer incarnates as an animal. Although many people still kill to eat, but they no longer do it with claws and teeth. Often they just buy the animal when it is already dead.

As humans we can weep over the seeming cruelty of Nature or the loss of a beloved creature. But if we rebel against what is, and choose to grieve over such a fundamental aspect of creation there will be, literally, no end to our sorrow.

Master saw it all impersonally. He said to Swamiji once, “God eats people,” illustrating his point with a kind of gobbling sound as he lifted imaginary people to his own mouth as the mouth of God. Almost no one on this planet now will be here in a hundred years. The soul is eternal but the form changes. Constantly changes.

Looking at it from another point of view, do you think the soul of your dog wanted to be a Great Dane forever? It was nice while it lasted, but really, when you think about it, how much fun could it be? Would you actually condemn her to stay in that body a moment longer than she wanted to? Or a moment longer than being a Great Dane would serve her evolution toward spiritual freedom?

Autobiography of a Yogi is one of the most influential spiritual books of our time. Almost everyone who veers away from traditional religion looking for a more personal spiritual path reads that book. For many, it is their introduction to the whole idea of meditation and Self-realization.

Master knew the role this book would play for generations to come and certainly considered carefully what to include. I’ve always found it interesting that he wrote such a moving story about his own pet fawn.

At his school for boys in Ranchi, India, Master said, “We had many pets, including a young deer who was fairly idolized by the children. I too loved the fawn so much that I allowed it to sleep in my room.”

He goes on to tell the story of the unfortunate accident that caused the death of the baby deer. Master went away for the day and, despite his strict instructions to the contrary, in his absence the deer was fed a large quantity of milk. So much that it died of overfeeding.

Before the deer passed, however, Master tells of the tussle he had with God, as he prayed mightily that the life of the animal be spared. Master’s prayers were winning, and the deer was beginning to recover, when the spirit of the deer came to Master in a dream.

“You are holding me back,” the deer said. “Please let me go; let me go!” Its time on earth was over and Master’s love for it, and his intense prayers that it live on as a deer was actually hindering its spiritual progress. Realizing his error, Master released the deer and a few moments later it died.

I believe Master included this story because so many people love animals and need to understand how to relate to them in the context of a greater spiritual reality.

Early on in my life at Ananda, I was in a position sometimes to offer spiritual counsel to people. Unfortunately, I lacked the maturity always to speak appropriately. On one occasion I remember vividly, someone I tried to help complained to Swamiji about the terrible things I had said.

It was frustrating for me because I knew the advice I had given was true. Swamiji agreed, but, he went on to explain, even truth should only be offered when the person is ready to receive it. If you speak too soon, the person will reject the advice in the moment and be less open to hearing it later when the time might be more auspicious. “You already said that!” is the common response.

I felt terrible. I was trying to be helpful but seemingly had caused more harm than good. I wanted to resign from the ministry but Swamiji wouldn’t let me.

“We are responsible for our intentions,” Swamiji told me. “We cannot always predict, and we certainly can’t control how our good intentions will be received by others.”

Then he added, “God reads the heart. He alone never misunderstands. It is the intention of the heart that matters most.”

It was a great comfort to me at the time and has been a guiding principle ever since, helping to extricate me from distress sometimes at the actual result of my well-intentioned actions.

In your case with your dog you behaved as conscientiously as you possibly could. You drove all the way to Los Angeles to give the dog to what you thought would be the right home. That it did not turn out the way you intended is not a sign of your failure. It is certainly nothing for you to feel guilty about. The mere fact that those people blame you for giving them a dog that didn’t turn out to be what they hoped is unfortunate, but has nothing to do with the truth of the matter. It is a sign only that your dog had her own karma. Yes, you played a part in her destiny, but her destiny was never in your hands. It was always in her hands (or paws, in this case) and in the hands of God.

We give ourselves too much credit -- or in your case, too much blame. We think that our little decisions actually determine the course of the lives of other beings. If you take a snapshot of a certain moment in time it may look that way, but in fact we are always acting as part of a greater whole. We are instruments, merely, not the source of what happens.

The trajectory of the spark of divinity that lived side by side with you as your dog, you neither created nor destroyed. You merely accompanied it for a time.

Talking once about children, Swamiji said, “Parents create the physical body, which is to say the vehicle through which the soul of the child can express its destiny. The parents do not, however, create either the soul or its destiny.”

Even more is this true in the case of a pet.

Your dog needed to have one more experience before it was done with that form. Merely because that experience was less than pleasant for your dog -- or so you imagine -- it does not mean that it wasn’t a necessary, even an important experience for your dog to go through. Would you have wanted to prevent her from learning what she needed to learn to progress?

Think about it in terms of your children. Certainly you have a natural instinct to protect them. But when does “protection” turn into something actually detrimental to their wellbeing? Each soul -- whether human or animal -- must learn its own lessons in its own way. Sometimes we have to discipline our love, resist the desire to “protect” when such protection would actually hinder or weaken the one we love.

Think of Master and the deer. He gave strict instructions about how the deer should be cared for, but its own destiny was stronger even than Master’s will. Someone disobeyed, probably at the inner behest of the fawn who needed to die and had to find a way to do it.

If you had been the one to put your dog to sleep, I suspect you would have felt guilt over doing that. Perhaps your dog wanted to spare you the distress of ending its life. It arranged to be far away when that moment came. Maybe she was acting out of love for you. Given that you were so close, and animals do have the capacity to be utterly selfless, that it as likely an explanation as the one you have chosen -- that you failed her.

In other words, God has His plan. When we see it unfolding before us, we need to accept with gratitude whatever He brings. What you are doing is seizing one small aspect of that Plan and claiming personal responsibility for it. Isn’t that rather egoic?

We think if we are feeling guilty and heaping blame upon our own heads that we are diminishing our ego. In fact, we are affirming it. This kind of self-blame and self-abnegation is EGO in all capital letters illuminated by a neon sign.

Master defined humility as self-honesty. It is a brilliantly clear and subtle definition. Self-honesty means seeing things as they actually are.

Let’s say, for example, that you are the best violinist on planet earth. Wow! Now that is an accomplishment worth noting. The violin is not an easy instrument to play. The ego might well cling proudly to that as evidence of its own importance.

Let’s step back a little now from that accomplishment. In a hundred years, do you think you’ll still be remembered? Maybe with recordings you will be. Two centuries from now? Three? Four? Even if they still sing your praises after all that time, compare your accomplishments as a violinist to being a Self-realized Master who directs the destiny of generations.

Now think about how many inhabited planets there might be in just this one galaxy. So, you are the best on planet Earth. What position does that give you in a galactic, or even inter-galactic context?

Now, looking at it from the other side, I read a true conversation that took place between one of the greatest violinists on the planet (whose name, notably, I can’t remember right now) and a devoted fan.

After a concert the fan said, “I would give my life to be able to play the violin the way you do.”

The violinist calmly replied, “I have.”

It is a notable achievement to develop a talent with such dedication and concentration as that violinist had. It is by no means insignificant, even spiritually, because of the beauty he shares and because of the qualities he had to develop within himself in order to do it. Qualities focused now on music will also serve him well when his aspirations expand to infinity: concentration, discipline, willpower -- to name just a few.

Humility is self-honesty. Yes, you have done something worthwhile in developing your skill to this extent and you should feel deeply gratified by your accomplishment. But in the greater scheme of things, it is only the violin, and from that point of view there is no cause for pride. Let’s just see things as they actually are.

Guilt gives us an enormously distorted view of reality. It is not the truth. It is not self-honesty. You meant well. You did your best. Your dog had a destiny that was always out of your hands. Don’t make yourself more important than you are. And don’t make yourself less either.

You were a loving human caretaker to your dog. And she returned your affection. But like all things in this world that form couldn’t last forever. Your life together was interrupted by economic changes -- the loss of your house and the yard where the dog could live. Having a Great Dane in the apartment where you now live wasn’t an option.

Even if you hadn’t lost the house, the dog was coming to the end of its incarnation. Change was inevitable. She had her destiny and she fulfilled it.

Leave room in your thinking for God to have a plan.

With children and pets there is a strong inclination to think that we are in charge of their lives. Children have a greater capacity to declare their independence. Pets seem more under our control, but that is also an illusion. We control their bodies, perhaps, just as we do the bodies of our children when there are small. Animal or human, though, everyone’s destiny is in his own hands.

Think of Master’s pet fawn appearing to him in a dream and begging to be allowed to die. He took the trouble to put that story in Autobiography of a Yogi. It behooves us to pay attention to the lesson and to follow him in this, as we do in all other ways.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha


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