Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reflections on our Pilgrimage to Italy!

Padma and I sent this note to our friends and fellow pilgrims going in early October for two weeks to visit the shrines of St. Francis and other saints, visit Rome & Florence, and stay at the Ananda Center near Assisi.

Dear Fellow Pilgrims to Italy,

The time for our departure is soon. We encourage you to pace yourself this next ten or so days. You don't want to get on the airplane exhausted from getting everything in your life caught up or having packed merely the night before!

Make lists, pull out your luggage, start making piles of stuff! When you pack, leave behind a third of it!​​

Hopefully some of you have been reading up on the life of St. Francis and other things related to our travels.

One thought we'd like to share with you has to do with integrating what we experience with our own path. Almost every town in Italy has its patron saint whose body may be deemed incorruptible or whose relics have witnessed miraculous healings. Stories of these saints tell us of lives of great penances, martyrdom, or suffering.

Most of humanity (though not the true saints) during Kali Yuga considered the body as their only reality. Thus it was that the dogma/teaching of the resurrection of the physical body at the end of time made perfect, simple sense and was very appealing to them. The concept of future lives beyond the current one had little appeal to those without imagination, unless perhaps to grant more time to fulfill desires. It is no coincidence that Jesus' last great act was to resurrect his physical body. The deeper message of his resurrection (power of spirit over nature and the promise of our soul’s immortality in God) was simply lost on the Christians of medieval consciousness.

Not surprisingly, one of the most popular and ubiquitous divine graces given to saints of that era was the incorruptibility (after death) of their physical body. Another measure of sanctity (consistent with the consciousness of the times) was the degree of physical suffering. Again, it was no coincidence that Jesus, a great avatar with a dispensation for Kali Yuga, "suffered" on the cross "for our sins."
(Both suffering and incorruptibility found favor in India, too, during Kali Yuga, but India is not our cultural destination.)

How are we, on this upcoming pilgrimage, going to find inspiration from the saints of the medieval era? How can we relate to such lives, so distant not only in time, not only in culture, but in the very manifestation of divine consciousness? 

It is in the Festival of Light, which we read every Sunday, that we find our bridge: "For whereas in the past the coin of man's redemption was pain and suffering, for us, now, the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy."

Master teaches us and St. Francis showed this in his life, too, that joy in the midst of suffering is the measure of sanctity, not the suffering itself. This joy is not a denial of suffering, nor does it blot it out. But soul joy co-exists in our souls no matter what our body or ego may be experiencing in the realm of maya. Sister Gyanamata, at her death, sinking into the watchful state even as her body was wracked with pain, could only mutter, “Joy, joy, too much joy.”

In Swami Kriyananda’s life, too, we saw dynamically illustrated the co-existence of bliss with physical hardship and the victory of bliss over bodily limitations.

We can find that joy-space-presence as we live more and more in the eternal NOW. It’s like a football player who takes in stride the brutal effects of his sport while, if you or I were to go out in the field, we would be carried out of the game on a stretcher in the first play! The soul sees suffering first as maya and then as but the divine hand (perhaps well disguised).

Master said that evil, Satan, and suffering all play a role in helping us move, as we choose, toward God and toward the truth (that shall make us free). Even Jesus cautioned us not to seek suffering for its own sake: “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

All the true Christian saints illustrated this in their lives. Those whose lives demonstrated states of ecstatic inner communion (superconsciousness) are generally the ones we honor particularly as "in our line."

Even if Kali Yuga consciousness could relate only to the body and its comforts, we, on the threshold of Dwapara and disciples of a great guru, are not so limited.

Thus it is the shrines we will visit will tend to emphasize the miracles and/or the penances performed. As Master's own, we would do well to intuit and unearth the treasure of true joy of which St. Francis and other great saints of his time experienced. St. Francis, even as he was dying and seemingly in great pain, could not contain his joy. For this he was reprimanded by Brother Elias (as being an unseemly posture for a dying saint), the pompous administrator of the now large Franciscan Order. But Francis ignored him.

It is this divine presence that lingers at the shrines and relics of St. Francis, Sister Clare and so many others. Even the great works of art and architecture testify to the victory of Joy over suffering. Kali Yuga was truly a dark time for the average person, yet these saints and the marvels they inspired yet ring with transcendence: the soul of man reaching up to his Creator.

Blessings, Hriman and Padma