Monday, November 3, 2014

Doing Good: Is there a Downer Side?

Warning: this article will be more personal than some......, My kids, when they were kids (long ago), when I would warn them of dire things to come in the world we live, they would say, "Oh Dad, you're such a Downer!" Gita, especially, who's very upbeat and positive was particularly annoyed by what she called "Downer Dad." Well, I hope I'm not really that way but at a meeting yesterday, when our meeting worked out ok and I declaimed: "Gosh, I really thought that was going to be mess," someone in the group piped up, "Pessimist!" Well, so, there you have it! Downer Dad!

Living in a spiritual community as I have most of my adult life and teaching mediation and yogic philosophy as I do, and being a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda as I am, you'd expect that I would reflect the upbeat, positive, life-affirming, joyful qualities that Yogananda, and my teacher (founder of Ananda), Swami Kriyananda, and, indeed as Ananda members worldwide do. And, yes I do.

Early in my life, as a college student of the 60's studying comparative religions in "smoke-filled" rooms, I was attracted, at first, to the dour existentialists and the stone-faced Buddhists. But, at such a young age, with a life before me, it wasn't fitting or even easy to continually wear the forlorn long face of the stoics. The shoe simply did not fit, future "Downer Dad" notwithstanding.

It wasn't long, then before I turned, to India: to its color, its chaos, its cacophony, to its exuberant embrace of life. My heart needed something more than "chop wood, carry water." But, at first, I was suspicious of all this joy. Isn't joy, I asked, merely the opposite of sadness? In affirming joy, would I not condemn myself to its dual?

In time, and after encountering Yogananda's now famous story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," and becoming a student of Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Yogananda) and experiencing the infectious joy each, and so many other Ananda members, exuded, I gradually relaxed into the understanding and the actual experience of joy as a non-dual state of consciousness! "Joy is Within You," is the slogan of Ananda!

But even this nearly insufferable up-beat-ness (:-) could not so easily erase episodes of that existential dread or anxiety born of ego consciousness. My "Yes, but........." would always, has always, tempered my view of things lest on wings of hope I fly too close to the sun that I have not yet fully realized.

Well, getting back to my intention, and, in fact, as Yogananda and Kriyananda have also taught, virtue is not sufficient to find God. Virtue is a stepping stone. Is not the energetic enforcer of the law more likely, in a former life, a criminal now making good his past misdeeds? Virtue results from the use of will power applied by the ego toward goodness. This effort is right and true and just.

But how many churches and humanitarian organizations are infested by do-gooders? Oh, yes, without them the good deeds wouldn't happen: I know THAT! Why, then, do I say "infested." Because what comes with good deeds and their doers is just that: the doers! The sense of doership: the "I" principle is, for most, inextricably tied up with the doing of good. Admittedly, it's a step up from evil and from indifference or selfishness. But doing good deeds are, for most people, still born of ego. Nonetheless, good deeds are necessary to expunge one's past bad karma.

But good deeds do not necessarily derive from superconsciousness. In fact, their own, innate "evil" is the reinforcement of ego. "I am doing good." The pitfall that awaits do-gooders is judgement of their fellows. If I am working hard, I will hardly fail to notice that you are a slacker. If I am meditating three hours a day, I will certainly be sure to notice that rest of the devotees around me are NOT! Thus it is, that a judgmental attitude rises up among do-gooders. The habit of being judgmental is what "infests" religion and humanitarian efforts, and, in fact, every group of human activity.

A true devotee knows that his highest duty is to realize that God, not ego, is the Doer. We strive to be mindful of the divine presence within. The light of wisdom that radiates from this inner awareness shows us the divine light in all other beings, creatures and circumstances. Whereas many a do-gooder meddles in everyone else's business, mentally, verbally, or the name of doing good......a true devotee remains centered within. Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita that to "do" someone else's dharma is to fail, even when doing one's own dharma is difficult, unpleasant or we are not yet successful. Uplifting our consciousness is our sole duty in life.

When our consciousness is uplifted, the good we do comes naturally and without expectation or judgment. It is a gift of the soul. It is guided by wisdom and by love.

Shifting the subject, then, and at the risk of seeming in self-defense, someone commented recently that many who work with me and for whom I am supposed to give guidance have experienced my "directness." Our subject was how to be a supportive leader. The question was whether being supportive always meant being "nice" and talking things out in a reasonable and understanding manner. Who would question the value of that? The laudable trend of conflict resolution through respectful interchange and the seeking of mutual understanding for differing points of view is essential. This is wonderful and an invaluable tool in group dynamics.

But among true devotees, bent upon achieving God-realization through superconsciousness, and living by intuitive, inner guidance, we sometimes act in ways that, to the ego, may be abrupt or unwelcome. A self-defensive insistence upon respect can also be, for the devotee, a smokescreen for ego protection. Many a spiritual teacher, enlightened or not, wisely or unwisely, have been known to give a psychic blow to the student's ego. In today's psychological, ego protective culture, the seemingly harsh training given by gurus in former times would be labelled abuse! (And, no doubt, it must have been in some instances.)

My teacher sometimes took advantage of (what turned out later to be) inaccurate accusations against a student to upbraid or correct a student without making any effort to hear other points of view. Unfair? Yes, apparently! An opportunity to develop ego-detachment and dissolve ego-defensive impulses? Absolutely! I've witnessed fellow students receiving such a corrective from him and, yet, whether immediately or upon reflection, expressing gratitude for having learned an important lesson from one whom they viewed as their best friend. I'm not describing wimps but people of will power and intelligence. (A "wimp" wouldn't attract a valuable lesson so directly nor would handle it so wisely.) Such instances were testimonies to the greatness of each of them.

Any such correction to another ought to be arising from a calm, inner detachment free from likes or dislikes. A perfect world, this is not. A perfect opportunity, it might be: for both! To rephrase Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, "One cannot achieve spiritual victory be refraining from action." This may seem self-justification and it might seem risky behavior, spiritually. I agree. In my own life, if I have dispensed it, it has been infrequent and it has always been sincere. More often, my emotions have not been involved, but sometimes they have been, but always under some degree of self-control and awareness. Almost always the circumstances arose that allowed me to say something that has waited for a long time to be said. Perfect? Wise? Effective? Well, sometimes, at least!

(Is this not, in fact, the duty and obligation of parents, and not just supervisors and leaders? A parent is often compelled to correct a child under circumstances where his or her own emotions are involved. The correction will be increasingly effective as those emotions are dissolved by wisdom and a foundation of love and deep respect. But sometimes, whether towards a child or an adult, "tough love" demands a display of urgency and intensity .... though best rendered with self-control and conscious intention.)

The downer side is that most people will long remember words of censure from another. The ego holds tightly its hurts. There have been times I had to be willing to sacrifice the goodwill of a person, perhaps lifelong, by rendering a correction to him that circumstances demanded. Or, to risk the support of others by taking a strong position. But leadership is not a popularity contest: whether in the spiritual or material realm. Making errors in judgment should be assumed but responsibility too often demands timely action and gives not the luxury of inaction. The spiritual path is not for sissies. As it is, and for all of us, on the spiritual path or not, the world dishes out plenty of censure, hard knocks and more. That isn't the issue. It is always a question of our response to life: faith, hope and charity; or, self-justification, revenge, and anger?

Do good; be good; but reach upward beyond goodness. The ego's progressive steps from unawareness, indifference, and evil, and finally to good can only be ultimately resolved in God alone; in Oneness; in superconsciousness. This is why and how meditation can powerfully accelerate our freedom in God. Kriya Yoga and similar advanced techniques can more rapidly dissolve the knots of doership inherent in both good and evil.

In prayer, meditation and right action, strip away the bark of ego, that the Tree of Life might grow taller and ever more beautiful. If we give to God our failures, He will take them. To those who come to God with love and self-offering, He promises that "I will make good your deficiencies and render permanent your gains" (words of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.)


Swami Hrimananda