Friday, February 3, 2023

Practicing the Presence of God on the Inner Path

A good friend of mine recently endowed me with a copy of Brother Lawrence's classic, "Practicing the Presence of God". This little book is a favorite among Christians. In the last century, this practice was energized further by the missionary, Frank Laubach, as expressed in his book, "Letters by a Modern Mystic." My friend also reminded me of an essential editorial passage from Paramhansa Yogananda's commentary on the "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained." The editorial was written by the editor, Swami Kriyananda.

In the editorial, Swami Kriyananda pointed out a distinction that has been very meaningful to me in my inner, spiritual life: the distinction between my practice of the presence of God and my realization of the presence of God. These are two, distinct experiences just as the practice of meditation is not necessarily the same thing AS meditation. Meditation begins, Yogananda taught, when motion ceases (meaning physical movement, emotions and thoughts).

My inner spiritual conflict or confusion has long been between my efforts to visualize or affirm spiritual states (such as peace, love, etc.) or the presence of God in the form of the guru versus being uplifted into such states (called by Yogananda: "superconsciousness"). My conflict centered on whether to drop my efforts in favor of being open to the descent of these states into my consciousness. 

Was I, I would wonder, preventing my own upliftment by grace by the static of my mental efforts to pray? Does prayer more or less, despite its seeming intention, keep me separate from God? Even worse, is prayer a clever way by which the ego guarantees that my separateness remains firmly intact? Shouldn't I be perfectly still, awaiting the Spirit? Like St. Teresa of Avila before the angel, shouldn't I await the piercing sword of divine love without expectation?

The traditional forms of practicing the presence of God as illuminated by Brother Laurence, Frank Laubach and even the delightful and inspired book, "The Way of the Pilgrim.," are similar to the Hindu practice called "japa." As the Russian pilgrim recited the so-called Jesus prayer: "Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me," so Hindus and yogis will silently chant a mantra throughout the day. 

Though slightly different, Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach "talk to God" throughout the day, sharing their thoughts silently and mentally with God or Christ.

There's no question that all of these practices are life-transforming. Though they are simple, that doesn't make them easy to practice. In the Way of the Pilgrim and in a manner that is both obvious and traditional, one begins where you are: a few seconds; a few minutes; and on and on increasingly until the silent, mental prayer literally overtakes one's mental awareness and subconscious. The chant or prayer becomes the backdrop to one's consciousness. 

Life being what it is in the effort to "stay tuned," it just so happened that three "coincidences" occurred in my life that set the stage for this reflection. First, my friend sent me the book by Brother Lawrence. Second, I was assigned to give a brief talk on "Making Room for God in your Mind." Thirdly, that very morning I was asked to respond in writing to the question "Did Yogananda teach the practice of japa?" 

Returning to the editorial comment in the Rubaiyat, the comment appears as part of Quatrain 31: one of the deepest stanzas referring to the inner path of spiritual awakening. I'll copy that quatrain here:

Up from Earth’s Centre through the Seventh Gate

I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate,

And many Knots unravel’d by the Road;

But not the Knot of Human Death and Fate.

Yogananda's commentary on this quatrain launches into a lengthy exposition on the system of the energy centers in the subtle body which are known as the chakras." Most readers of this blog will require no further description of the chakras. 

A profound explanation follows: 

The nerves are channels through which the life-force enables the mind and body to interact. As the life-force moves down the spine and out to the body and its senses, the mind is drawn outward also. Sense-stimulation from within impels one to seek fulfillment in sense-pleasures.

This same nervous system, however, constitutes the one and only path to spiritual enlightenment, regardless of a person’s formal religious affiliation. When the energy can be coaxed to reverse its flow from the senses to the brain, it reveals to our consciousness another world. This stimulation of the nerves at their inner source awakens the desire for self-fulfillment and for Self-realization. With progressive interiorization, through daily meditation, one develops subtle, inner perceptions vastly more satisfying than their muted echoes from the senses. The knotty problems of life and death are resolved, and the heart’s feelings are extricated at last from the need for further incarnations of material involvement.

It continues with this paragraph:

Stimulation of the nerves at their inner source promotes divine consciousness. It helps also to think of God, certainly, but it is not strictly necessary. If atheists experiment with this teaching, they too will get results. Indeed, to think of God is to define Him, and to define Him is, in a sense, to limit Him. The steady expansion of consciousness surpasses all definitions of Him who is undefinable. Let your devotion to God, and your thoughts of Him, proceed as much as possible from your experience of the Divine, in the silence.

Meditation is the supreme way to internalize the flow of energy and consciousness. In daily life, too, one can transform “absent-mindedness,” and the fancied need for “fillers,” by concentrating on the life source within.

Yogananda's commentary on the Rubaiyat and especially this stanza, so rich with meaning, is well worth the read.

What I take from this reminder of the inner path, then, is to "pray, praise, and glorify God" through inner communion with the indwelling grace, power and presence of God in the form of the Life Force (or prana). Even belief is secondary. As Swami Kriyananda's beautiful choral piece called Life Mantra reminds us: God is life; life is God. Jesus spoke plainly in this regard: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." The advanced technique of Kriya Yoga is a form of communion with the river of life in the subtle spine of the astral body. In that river, we are bathed and transformed by grace. Yoga practice has come to free us from dogmas and rituals, which while they too can have a place at humanity's table, are no substitute for the living experience of God's presence where it alone can be found: again, in the words of Jesus Christ, "The kingdom of heaven is within you."

May the Light of the universal Christ/Krishna shine upon you!

Swami Hrimananda!