Monday, April 2, 2012

God: personal or impersonal?

This week is “Holy Week” in the Christian calendar. Coincident as both Easter and Passover is to the beginning of Spring, these religious celebrations express the Spring themes of hope and renewal.

My topic today would seem unrelated to Holy Week but the renewal promised by the great saints and scriptures, and echoed by Mother Nature in springtime, is a renewal of and in the Spirit. The question of whether to approach God as Spirit (impersonal) or as incarnate (personal) is raised in every tradition, every generation, every faith and in every soul seeking inner communion and inner renewal.

Great debates have raged through the millennia on this issue: some sects espousing the impersonal, others the personal. Swami Kriyananda, direct disciple of the renowned yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda (author of “Autobiography of a Yogi”), and my teacher (and founder of the worldwide network of Ananda communities) has taught that “infinity includes infinitesimal.”

“Why, then,” he is effectively saying, “should there a conflict?” God is the essence of everything and everybody! Armed with the expansive vista given to us by science and confronted with the narrowness of view of sectarian faiths, many educated people reject all religion and specifically any expression of devotion towards a person, alive or otherwise. Who can blame them?  “Idolatry,” Swami Kriyananda writes in his classic text, “Art and Science of Raja Yoga,” “is the bane of religion.”

And then there are those who worship God in the form of their “guru,” such as Jesus Christ, Krishna, Buddha, Rama and so many others. Such devotees may scoff at those pretentious enough to imagine they can approach the Infinite Spirit on their own terms, which is to say, from the insignificant soap box of the human ego. There are those who reject any form and insist that God is Spirit and no representation whatsoever can be made.

We humans all too often mistake the form for the spirit behind the form. We are hypnotized by our reaction to what we feel is the attractiveness (or repulsiveness) of external objects, including mental constructs such as theology or philosophy. We miss the point, in other words. We also cling desperately to our own ideas of what is right. Our insistence betrays only our uncertainty, however.

To the woman at the well in Samaria, Jesus taught that “God is Spirit and seeketh those to worship Him in spirit and in truth.” To worship God in spirit is to commune with the divine Presence in inner silence. To worship God in truth is to seek true wisdom and to walk the path of righteousness (dharma) in daily life.

Try these experiments in prayer and meditation  for yourself. First: sit in meditation and visualize the image of one of the great saints or masters, such as Jesus Christ, Buddha, Yogananda, or any other. For as long as you can calmly concentrate and while dismissing as often as necessary passing thoughts, hold that image behind closed eyes. As you do so feel that your heart is open. You may wish to visualize your heart as an open lotus, rose, or an upturned chalice. The fragrance of the flowers waft upward in adoration, or, in the latter image, let the crystal clear waters of peace flowing from the “master” fill your cup. When you feel complete, then sit still, in the silence and absorb the after-effects of your visualization.

As a second experiment, visualize a golden light behind closed eyes. See that light entering the brain and flowing down into the body and then encircling the body in a halo or sphere of Light. Rest in the gentle but vibrant healing balm of that Light. Now, expand that Light outward in all directions: to your home, your family, your neighbors, your city, country and encircling the earth, bathing all life in the peace-light of your heart. Now send this Light out into the universe and feel this Light is the great Light of God, your Father. Mentally affirm, “I and my Father are One!” When finished sit in the silence and just BE STILL and KNOW that I AM.

You can combine both of these starting from the personal and moving to the impersonal. St. John the evangelist describes Jesus as that Light that cometh into the world, that lighteth every man, and which is God and has created all things since the beginning of time. “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Paramhansa Yogananda taught that Jesus as a person wasn’t a divine creation so much as Jesus, the unique soul, had become wholly identified with the Father-Spirit. The difference between a Jesus Christ and most people isn’t one of kind, but of degree. We need only to come to the same Self-realization that the great masters have achieved through the combination of self-effort and divine grace.

Think, then, of yourself as a spark of that great Light. There is no conflict between you and the great Light of God. So long as we hold the candlelight of our own ego close to our eyes we do not notice the great Light that surrounds us. It’s a matter of attention and direction of our focus. God has descended into flesh to become the creation, and to become YOU. But as the wave cannot call itself the entire ocean, so we must shift our attention from the particular form Spirit has taken (in ourselves, others, and in the creation) to the formless, nameless overarching Spirit which is found in the vibrationless sphere of inner silence. This doesn’t happen in a day, but as Krishna promises in the “Bhagavad Gita,” “Even a little practice (of this) will free you.....”

A blessed and holy celebration of the great Light that rises in the East(er).

Nayaswami Hriman