Saturday, January 24, 2015

Let's Be Real with God

One of the monks in Yogananda’s ashram became emotional in his fervor. In the midst of group chanting he would cry out and roll on the ground, calling to God.

Some of the monks were put off by this. But when mentioned it to Yogananda, he said, “Ah, if only you all had that kind of fervor!”

We need to understand what’s important to God. We may have our own ideas of what the spiritual life is about. But God doesn’t care about our ideas. Nor does He care about the feelings, ideas, and images we have about ourselves – including the self-image we try to project to the world around us.

He accepts us exactly as we are. And what we are is a vibration that we’ve generated by our consciousness. Our consciousness shapes our actions, thoughts, feelings, and what we feel is important in our lives.

A disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, the great Bengali saint of the 19th century, brought a group of dancers, singers, and actors to visit the master at the ashram. In India, entertainers were considered of low caste, but Ramakrishna embraced them and gave them his heart.

After they left, some of his more narrow-minded disciples wondered aloud why the guru would welcome such low-class people.

The great yogi said, “The God they are worshipping now is dance and music.” Then he added blissfully, “Ah, but they know how to worship!”

This is what pleases God. It isn’t the careful, well-organized way we present our self to the world. It’s when we give our whole heart.

Now, this certainly is not an age when we can live extreme lives of pure renunciation and devotion. I’m sometimes overwhelmed by the complexity of the modern world. I look around my house and the thought comes insistently: “How can I simplify?

“How can I keep less food in the fridge? How can I clear out my cabinets? How can I spend less time cooking meals?” Faced with the endless stream of emails, phone calls, and material objects in our lives, the aspiring heart rebels. The mind seeks to escape – “I can be a better devotee if I have less to do – I would love God so much more if someone would do all the cooking, and if I didn’t get so many emails.”

It’s easy to be distracted by all the irons in the fire. And the temptation is to mentally put those things in a separate box from our spiritual life.

But how can we imagine that the conditions we’ve created for ourselves are completely outside of the will of God?

Some years ago, I got into a difficult situation with friends. I saw that they wouldn’t be able to escape the suffering they were going through, and I was distraught, weeping for their pain. And because I couldn’t do anything about it, finally the thought entered my mind, “Do you think this could be happening outside of God’s will?”

Do you think that the entirety of God’s creation is a manifestation of his satchidananda – His ever-conscious, ever-new bliss – except for this little square where you’re standing? Is this little piece of the cosmic structure a forgotten hole that isn’t satchidananda – not God?”

Of course not! So the natural conclusion is, “Why am I rebelling? Why am I sad that things are this way? If this is where God has placed me, and what He’s asking of me, what kind of a response is rebellion?”

It’s not so dissimilar from when you give a child a doll and she cries, “This is purple! I wanted the pink one!”

Swamiji’s father returned from a business trip and gave him and his brother each a little toy boat. And they immediately began to argue about whose boat was best.

The father said, “Oh, I made a mistake,” and he switched the boats. And of course they immediately began to argue again.

There’s a natural, uncanny inclination to rebel against our circumstances. Because, let’s face it, it isn’t hard to imagine how almost any circumstance could be better.

But it isn’t the answer. “I’d be a lot better person if my circumstances were different. I’d have more time to love God if someone would do the cooking.”

A classic spiritual question is whether we have free will. Yogananda answered it very simply: “We have one choice: to think of God, or not to think of Him.”

Let us assume it’s true. And, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Divine Mother is every bit as present when we’re cleaning the house, driving the children to school, shopping for groceries, and cooking.

How could God not be there? How could anything be outside of God?

We need to turn ourselves within and see if we are in tune with the divine energy continually expressing through us. Or if we’ve allowed ourselves to sink into dullness, full of grumbling, while we wait for our problems to be magically taken away so that we can pursue our “real” spiritual life.

Swami said, “We spend so much of our life waiting to be rescued from the conditions we’re in – imagining that something will come and rescue us from them.”

We imagine that death will be the final rescue. “At least I’ll be released from the struggle for a while.”

I read about a man who worked with people with terminal illnesses. In his workshops, he had them make two lists.

First he had them list everything they would miss if they died – the marriage of their children, the birth of grandchildren, caring for their elderly parents, and so on.

Then he had them list everything they would be happy to leave behind because they wouldn’t have to face it anymore. And, of course, we all have our lists, conscious or subconscious.

“Hurrah! I’ll no longer have to cook three meals a day.”

The desire to be rescued is an expression of our soul’s desire to be healed of all suffering and liberated in God’s bliss. But if our consciousness is omnipresent, if our power is limitless, and if there’s really no difference between ourselves and all creation, then if there’s anything we aren’t fully embracing in this life – to that extent, we’re separating ourselves from God.

I remember a time when I was frightened about something I had to do. I prayed for Divine Mother’s comfort, and I was very puzzled when She didn’t send it.

I prayed, “Why aren’t you comforting me?” And then a picture flashed in my mind of someone who had passed through my life, and to whom I hadn’t given very much compassion.

It was a person who had struggled in his life, and I didn’t feel much affinity with him. I thought it would be okay if I turned my heart in other directions. And now I heard Divine Mother say, “If you close your heart to any of My children, how can I open My heart to you?”

I was urging a friend to be more conscientious in her attitude toward her work. I felt that I’d earned a right to speak somewhat sternly, because I’d been trying to get her to understand this point for years. But she kept giving excuses, one after another. We were laughing, because we were friends. But I kept escalating and she kept rejecting, excuse after excuse.

Finally, she said, “I’m scared when I do that.”

I said, “Oh, now you’re telling the truth. Let’s work with what’s true.”

It isn’t our weaknesses that God objects to. It’s our fear of opening ourselves to Him. How can we help but be imperfect? We’ve lived many lives, and this is as far as we’ve gotten. And God can’t hold us responsible for where we are, or for not doing more.

I said to someone, “If a child is four and behaves like a four-year old, will you be furious with him? What can he do? He’s four. Soon he’ll be six, then nine. And if he’s nine and behaves like a four-year-old, you can say, ‘You’re too old for this. You’re a big boy now.’ But when he’s four, you can’t say ‘Be a teenager.’ It’s impossible.”

And here we are, at whatever spiritual age we’ve attained, and we are exactly what we are. And Divine Mother is extremely sympathetic when we don’t wait to be rescued, and when we don’t hand Her a long list of reasons why we can’t do better. And She is instantly sympathetic when we have the courage to say, “Divine Mother, I’m scared. This frightens me.” Then you find that She says, “Oh, you’re frightened. Take my hand and I’ll help you get through it.”

That’s the consciousness we want to have. Yogananda isn’t with us. Even Swami Kriyananda is no longer with us, and so it’s more important than ever to know how to invite their presence.

When Swami died, I said, “The only grownup has left the planet. We’re here by ourselves now, and we need to band together to take care of ourselves. Like little children when they’re orphaned, we’ll have to learn to manage.”

The spirit and divine presence of the masters is with us, but not when we close our hearts, because then they simply can’t get in.

God bless you.