My subject tomorrow at the Sunday Service at the Ananda Meditation Temple is "How Can Devotees Rise (Spiritually)?"
As I prepare my thoughts for tomorrow, I figured I might as well share some of them on this blog.
Just as there's no point discussing the menu at a nearby restaurant with a good reputation unless you are hungry, so too there's no point in discussing spiritual growth unless you are seeking it. So this subject presumes a shared desire for spiritual growth based on a shared understanding for its value to us individually.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna's disciple, Arjuna, asks, "What does one of spiritual realization look like, act, move, and speak?" Krishna's response is that one who has attained God-realization can maintain his equanimity under difficult circumstances; he is not shaken by desire or anger, for example, when others ordinarily would. Krishna's response, in other words, is very practical and demonstrable.
Doing good deeds is praiseworthy but neither good deeds nor religious ceremonies can bring us the permanent beatitude of perfect and permanent joy and freedom in union with God. Either have the potential to raise our consciousness above selfishness and egotism, but not necessarily very far without the inner intention and desire to do so as an act of devotion and self-offering to God. "The road to hell," it has been well said, "is paved with good intentions."
In the Sunday Service reading the quote of Jesus from the New Testament that is part of the reading is Jesus' response to Judas' criticism that Mary had spent money to buy a costly oil and herb to wash Jesus' feet when, in Judas' view, the money could have been given to the poor. The New Testament notes that Judas' view was not based on his compassion for the poor but on his attachment to the money itself (he was the treasurer for the little group's "purse"). Jesus said (famously): "The poor ye have always with thee, but me ye have not always."
Of course it's absurd to accuse Jesus of lack of compassion for the poor. This he demonstrated amply elsewhere. Besides, the text makes it clear the issue isn't the poor, at all. Instead, Jesus is saying that the challenges and sufferings of daily life (and, yes, the existence of poverty and injustice in the world) is a reality that is without end. This world, the saints and sages tell us in every age and time, is one of ceaseless flux. The unending play of the opposites (health, disease, life, death, poverty, wealth etc.) will go until the end of time.
Not that we who are incarnate in human form shouldn't strive to make this world a better place, and to alleviate the suffering of others. Such acts are the rightful response and duty of the soul whose compassion and sense of connection is based on the eternal principle of "we are one." Later in the Bhagavad Gita, in fact, Krishna describes the yogi as one who feels the joys and sorrows of all men even as, elsewhere, Krishna explains that one of wisdom remains unaffected by the vicissitudes of his own life.
Instead, Jesus is saying that when the opportunity or appearance of soul-consciousness comes into the life and consciousness of the devotee, it is the higher duty of the devotee to draw that inspiration into his own soul. Thus, Mary, who washed Jesus' feet as an act of devotion and recognition of Jesus as her guru, teacher, and a man of God-realization, made this inner communion her priority. When Jesus said "me, ye have not always" he meant it both outwardly to those disciples present but also to us -- far into the future, that we might both seek the inner Christ (and our guru whether in human form or in spirit alone),
It is this seeking (and finding) that must be the soul's priority. As St. Augustine wrote, "We were made for Thee (alone), and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee." The world will go on as it must because the drama cannot exist without the play of opposites, but each soul must "individually make love to God." We can only achieve union with God one soul at a time. We can't do it by proxy for another person, nor any other person for us. No one can meditate or pray on our behalf without our own efforts as well.
In what form, then, does God appear to us such that we ought to make our attention and receptivity to Him a priority? Well, the big philosophical answer is God is in all things and in all hearts. But that's a little TOO big to be practical. God must therefore be in a Hitler or Stalin but attempting to seek Him in those forms is probably not a wise idea. Nor in pleasure, merely, riches, fame, fortune and the usual material pursuits of humankind.
How about churches with their congregations of like-minded devotees? Well, yes, that's a good start. Especially those churches which emphasize inner communion with God, not just social activism, dogmas, or rituals. This is where meditation plays such a large role in this new and modern era of globalism. For meditation is a practice for everyone. It transcends sectarianism, just as God, the Infinite Spirit, is our Father-Mother, Beloved, Friend of all. Yogananda wanted his churches to be like hives where the devotee bees could taste the nectar of God's presence and their own Self-realization. Based on that direct perception of God within, then, and only then, could their credos, rituals, and their acts of charity and fellowship be invested with God's power of transcendence.
To conclude I will say that in case anyone has come this far and has forgotten the "why" of spiritual growth, it is simple, just as ultimate truth is simple: lasting happiness. The reason we turn to God may, at first, be due to the suffering caused by our ignorance or errors. We may even turn to God in fear of His law of karma. But the real reason to turn within is for the love of God. Our hearts can never be satisfied with material playthings which are so evanescent and which so readily betray the hope and trust we invest in them. The love we desire; the joy we know is ours; the security we wish to build around ourselves; these can only be found in the Eternal Now, in the presence of God, and in the joy of our souls' rest in Him. This is gnosis and comes only through the 6th sense of the soul's power of intuition.
No one can convince you of this by logic. This gnosis is of the heart. Our life stories may differ by extremes but those who have turned to God (in whatever form we give to Him by name or definition) is based on this one simple reality: we "know" it is right for us. That having been said, the path to God-realization is filled with traps, tests, and detours. Both St. Francis of Assisi and Paramhansa Yogananda experienced times when they thought they had lost "contact" in the intensity of their spiritual service to God in others (their ministries), but when they "came back" to mindfulness, they received God's inner reassurance, that "I AM with you until the end of time." In their lives, however, they had already "found" God. In our lives we must not lapse smug upon the victories of past inspiration and upliftment. Let us remain ever watchful at the gate for His coming.