Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now classic story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," would say that "superiority complex" and "inferiority complex" are both forms of egotism. I recall my teacher, Swami Kriyananda (who was personally trained by Yogananda) wryly quoting this statement when some of us were initially resistant (as in "aw shucks") to his proposal that we be ordained as ministers.
Yet, at the same time, Swami Kriyananda often spoke of or wrote about the differences between spiritual or religious attitudes in former times as opposed to the attitudes encouraged by Paramhansa Yogananda in his public teachings up until his death in 1952.
The wisdom-seed for these differences are contained in the cycle of ages described by Swami Sri Yukteswar in the Introduction to his book, "The Holy Science." But for the purposes of this article, I will sidestep its technical explanation and terminology.
In the unworthiness "camp" we have concepts like sin, original sin, and past life (bad) karma. In the entitlement "camp" we have what Yogananda described as "prayer-demands," "you are a child of God," and affirmations such as "I am He" (Hamsa) or "I am Brahma (Aham Brahmasi)." So which is it?
Those who know me well, also know that my life mantra is BOTH-AND! Thus, some will NOT be surprised if I answer that question with the response: BOTH-AND!
Is it possible that we are BOTH unworthy AND entitled? Recall that one of the most controversial questions of Christianity was, and remains, "Who am I?" Is Jesus Christ God? or Man? or BOTH-AND?
You've certainly encountered the image of the devil on your left and the angel on your right: each giving advice and offering their respective support, right? In a recording of Yogananda's voice he humorously remarks that "In the day you are a devil but at night, an angel!"
Life is confusing. It is a paradox on so many levels. We strive and work so hard for so many things even though we all know, perfectly well and logically, that we will end up dead at any time, sooner or later. We know that smoking, drinking, cheating, lying, stealing, being lazy and eating junk food are bad for us but that doesn't seem to stop very many people, does it?
We are quick to criticize others and just as quick, if not quicker, to justify ourselves! When bad things happen to us we instinctively feel these are foreign to our nature. When good things happen we feel this is surely ours.
In former times, the overriding hallmark of spiritual attitude and behavior, both East and West, was one of unworthiness. Whether we call it the result of sin or bad karma, we "spiritual schumucks" needed to supplicate or make sacrifices to the Divine Being or gods and goddesses in order to make amends, or to go to confession and be given the penance of saying certain prayers; or, to accept Jesus as our personal savior whereupon his sacrifice on the cross absolves us.
As St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sow so shall he reap." The need to pay our debts is an undeniable precept. It is embedded in human consciousness.
At the same, however, I don't see that fear or sorrow is as strong a motivation for being good as perhaps it once was (if it ever was). Referring back to Swami Sri Yukteswar's book, "The Holy Science," he describes the upcoming age (beginning around 1900 A.D.) as an age during which humans grow in "self-respect."
When I think back to the American Revolution, the revolutionaries were offended by being treated in a way that disrespected their "inalienable rights." The history of America could be described as one during which the personal liberties and rights of individuals were continually a focus for discussion, protest and legislation. Consider the sentence in the Declaration of Independence: "we hold these truths to be self-evident."
The affirmation of personal liberties and rights is the opposite of unworthiness. I recall the phrase "just because" being used during the heat of the "Black Lives Matter" controversies. Black lives matter, in other words, "just because." No explanation or justification is needed for our innate value as human beings is "self-evident."
From the viewpoint of religion, this is a radical change even if from the standpoint of eternal truths it is nothing new. But the change in emphasis is important as well as practical. But, the emphasis is not simplistic. Let me explain.
If my insistence on entitlement is aggressive, arrogant or at the expense of the greater good, then it is the ego insisting on its entitlement. But to recognize my innate desire for and potential for goodness and, by extension, that of all others, than this is "soul-entitlement." A reverse description would apply equally to unworthiness. If I acknowledge that I have hurt or stolen, then this can be the soul's recognition of its need for grace, redemption, and forgiveness, and the need to change. But if my will power is paralyzed and I insist I am a victim of life and am blaming others, then this is the ego refusing to use its God-given will and intelligence to face current reality and to take steps to make changes.
As is taught in the Bhagavad Gita and in so many other scriptures, we are children of God and our destiny is to be reunited with the perfection that is God. To achieve realization of this truth requires a combination of self-effort and divine grace. Our souls are like gold covered in mud. The mud needs to be washed off in order to reveal the gold. Repeated error, especially over countless past lives, is the mud of our subconscious tendencies that block the soul's light from shining.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, it is, once again, a BOTH-AND. The way to enlightenment can be described as either the Via Negativa or the Via Positiva. We can dissolve the ego or we can expand the ego. The end result is the same: Self-realization in God.
But the point I wish to make is twofold: Yogananda generally emphasized soul-expansion and secondly, he did so because human consciousnesses is evolving in the direction of self-awareness and self-respect. Both points, however, are very general. In private and with the individuals who came to Yogananda for personal training, Yogananda emphasized BOTH the need to transcend ego affirming habits and attitudes, AND, the value of devotion, sympathy, compassion and selfless service. The very nature of any description of God-communion, samadhi, or cosmic consciousness is one of an expansion of consciousness towards Infinity!
Swami Kriyananda pointed out that those who insist that upon enlightenment that "we" vanish into nothingness are mistaken. The bonds of ego identification are surely dissolved in the state of nirvana, but the result is an expansion of consciousness into Pure Consciousness which is bliss. Consciousness is the source of creation. Consciousness may be "No-Thing," but it is not nothing.
Swami Kriyananda's book, Sadhu Beware, is a practical and modern playbook on overcoming ego. And yet as Yogananda once quipped to Swami Kriyananda, "When ecstasy comes, everything (else) goes!"
So you see, both unworthiness and entitlement have two octaves of applicability and we would do well to be conscious of the difference and choose the higher path.
Blessings to all!