Work vs. Meditation
“Master once taught me a good lesson on the attitude we should hold toward our work.” Mrs. Vera Brown (later, Meera Mata), an advanced older disciple whom Master had made responsible for training some of the newer ones, was sharing with me a few of her experiences with our Guru.
“‘You work too hard,’ Master told me one day. ‘You must work less. If you don’t, you will ruin your health.’
“‘Very well,’ I thought, ‘I’ll try not doing so much.’
“Two or three days later, to my surprise, Master gave me more work to do!”
Mrs. Brown’s eyes twinkled. “‘Okay, Master,’ I thought, ‘you must know what you’re doing.’ I took on my new duties. But all the time I kept wondering, ‘How am I going to reconcile all this extra work with his instructions to me to work less?’
“Well, a couple of days after that, Master again told me, more sternly this time, ‘You must not work so hard. In this lifetime you’ve done enough work for several incarnations.’
“What was I to do? Again I tried cutting down my activities, only to find Master, after two or three days, giving me more work than ever!
“We repeated this little comedy several times. Every time Master told me to work less, he soon thereafter added duties that forced me to work more. I figured he must know what he was doing, and that it was up to me to try and understand what that was.
“Well, finally one day I looked at Master. ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘instead of using the word work in our life here, why don’t we substitute the word service?’
“Master laughed. ‘It has been a good show,’ he said. ‘All your life you’ve been thinking, work! work! work! That very thought was exhausting you. But just see how differently you feel when you think of work as a divine service! When you act to please God, you can do twice as much and never feel tired!’”
Mrs. Brown, whose frail body never seemed to run out of energy no matter how much she did, laughed merrily. “You see, the very thought of pleasing God fills us with His energy. Master tells us it’s our unwillingness that cuts off the flow of energy.”
“True,” I replied thoughtfully, “as often as I’ve put that principle to practice, I’ve found it works marvelously. But,” I continued, “there’s another obstacle I run into: that of being too willing. What can one do about that?”
“How can one be too willing!”
“Well, what I mean is, I become over-enthusiastic about what I’m doing. As a result, I lose my inner peace and fall into the old consciousness of hard work, which ends in exhaustion.”
“I see.” Mrs. Brown nodded sympathetically. “That’s right. Without inner peace we lose the consciousness of God’s presence. And if we can’t feel Him within us, we can’t really feel His energy.” Again she laughed merrily. “Master taught me a good lesson on that subject, too.
“He was cooking one day in his kitchen. I was there in the room with him. For lack of anything better to do, I decided I’d clean up after him. The moment he emptied one pan, I’d wash it. Whenever he spilled anything, I cleaned up the mess.
“Well, he began dirtying pans and more pans, spilling food and more food. I was working faster and faster to keep up with him. In my whole life I’d never seen such sloppy cooking! At last I just gave up. It occurred to me that I might as well wait till he was finished before I did any more.
“As I sat down to watch him, I noticed a little smile on his face, though he said nothing. Presently, I saw he wasn’t messing things up anymore. Finally it dawned on me that he’d only been teaching me the difference between calm, God-reminding activity, and the sort of restlessness that one indulges in just for activity’s sake. I’d been working in a spirit of busy-ness. Master’s way of showing me my mistake was to lead me to its own logical conclusion!”
I myself learned in time to make inner peace my “bottom line.” No matter how many calls I have had on my energies, I have never allowed them to bring me to the point where my inner peace became threatened.
The spiritual path would, one suspects, be relatively easy to understand if it involved only meditation, ecstatic visions, and a blissful expansion of consciousness. Why, one asks, must it be complicated by mundane activities like ditch digging and letter writing and cleaning up kitchens? One may sympathize, on one level at least, with that reluctant disciple, on the day we completed the swimming pool at Twenty-Nine Palms, who grumbled, “I didn’t come here to pour cement!” Many a sincere devotee, too, has probably wondered what pouring cement (or digging ditches, or writing letters, or cleaning up kitchens) has to do with finding God.
The answer is, quite simply: nothing! Not in itself, anyway. Master once told the story of a man who placed a hundred-dollar bill in the collection plate at church, then was upset because God didn’t answer his prayer. Laughingly Master commented, “God already was that hundred-dollar bill — whether in or out of the collection plate! Why should He care where it was placed?” The realm of maya (cosmic delusion) is like the surface of an ocean: No matter how high the waves are whipped by the storm, the over-all ocean level remains the same. God doesn’t need anything that we can give Him. He already is everything! The one thing He wants from us, Master said, is our love.
The purpose of spiritual work, then, is not really to do things for God, but rather to do the most important thing of all for ourselves: to purify our own hearts. No work for God is more or less important than any other. The Bhagavad Gita states that He accepts even a flower or a leaf as an offering, if it is tendered with devotion. The important thing is to reach the point where all our love, all our energy flows naturally toward Him.
Meditation, too, is a kind of work. True, it differs from such labor as digging ditches, but then, so also does mental planning, and who will say that planning is less truly work than the physical execution of plans? Even in the animal kingdom, mental ability is often more highly regarded than brute force. (Witness a group of dogs playing together. Usually it’s the brightest one, not the largest, that the others follow.) Meditation is the most refined and exalted of all mental activities. From it have come the greatest inspirations. If one could meditate deeply all day there would be no need for a person seeking divine communion to dig ditches or to do any other work, whether physical or mental.
The criterion, of course, is that word, “deeply.”
When Mrinalini Mata, already a disciple when she was still a young schoolgirl, met Master at the breakfast table one day, he remarked to her, “You didn’t meditate this morning.”
“Sir,” she protested, “I meditated a whole hour!”
Master, quite unimpressed, replied, “You should have meditated half an hour.” He had seen that in sitting longer, when not in a mood that day to meditate with intensity, she had actually done less effective meditation.
Intensity is everything: intensity of awareness. Superconsciousness cannot be attained by halfhearted efforts. “You must be calmly active, and actively calm,” Master said. “Be intensely aware of everything you are doing.” Work, on the spiritual path, is a means of helping one to channel his energies constantly, dynamically, toward God.
“Make every minute count,” Master said. “The minutes are more important than the years.” People who put their whole concentration into working for God find they can also meditate more deeply.
“When you work for God, not self,” Master told us one day, “that is just as good as meditation. Then work helps your meditation, and meditation helps your work. You need the balance. With only meditation you become lazy, and the senses become strong. With only work, the mind becomes restless, and you forget God.”
Master taught us to consider any work holy that we did to please God. To keep his minister-disciples from imagining that their work of teaching and counseling was more spiritual than that of other disciples who served in the gardens, he gave them manual labor to do also. On that weekend when Master first sent me to San Diego to lecture, I got a valuable lesson from Carl Swenson (later, Brother Sarolananda), a fellow disciple in Encinitas. “Look at my hands!” I lamented. “They’re all seamed with cement. People will think I didn’t bother to wash them.”
“What do you mean?” protested Carl. “They are your badge of honor.”
Master taught us not only to offer our work moment by moment to God, but also to see God acting through us as the real Doer. “I slept,” he said once, “and dreamt I was working. I woke up, and saw God was working.” Action in this spirit wasn’t intended to make us automatons. I remember thinking halfway through a sermon one Sunday morning, “If God really is the Doer, why not mentally remove myself from the scene altogether, and wait for Him to speak through me?” There ensued two minutes of silence! Friends in the audience thought I must have frozen from nervousness. But to me this pause was simply an interesting experiment. I concluded at last that God had no intention of speaking for me. His was simply the inspiration for my words. My job was to draw on that inspiration.
To see God as the Doer, then, means recognizing that it is by His energy and inspiration that we live. It means not taking personal credit for anything we do. This attitude keeps one humble, and also vastly increases one’s powers of accomplishment.
Master instructed me to pray to God and our Gurus before every lecture, and ask them to use me as their instrument, that I might express what they wanted me to say. Humility, alas, is not easy to acquire. After working some months on developing it, I awoke one morning to the realization that I was becoming proud of my humility! In working to develop devotion, too, I discovered that I was becoming pleased with myself for feeling it. (Master’s comment: “If you love yourself, how can you love God?”) The real secret of humility, I came gradually to realize, is self-honesty. To see everything in its right proportion to everything else reduces the chances of one’s taking oneself, or anything else, too seriously.
As Sister Gyanamata once remarked to Bernard, after he’d thanked her for the spiritual help she had lovingly given him over the years: “It is the nature of a fig tree to bear figs.” Her words revealed the humility of perfect detachment — that is to say, again, complete self-honesty.
Master, in his effort to break us of halfhearted willingness — what he called “one-horsepower energy”—urged us always to keep a positive outlook, and to affirm possibilities rather than weaken them with too many so-called “reasonable” objections.
I remember his greeting to me one day: “How are you, Walter?”
“Well,” I began.…
“That’s good!” he interposed promptly, nipping in the bud what he saw was only a mild case of “vapors.”
Never supportive of us in our moods, he urged us to banish them firmly with vigorous, positive affirmations. “I suffer when you have moods,” he said once, “for then I see that Satan gets ahold of you.”
Faye, when she was seventeen, was inclined to be somewhat moody. “If you want to be unhappy,” Master once said to her, “no one in the world can make you happy. And if you determine to be happy, no one in the world will be able to make you unhappy.” She once told me, “Master wouldn’t even allow us to be around him when we had moods.”
Moods weren’t often my specific problem, but I remember one that ambushed me one day, and the helpful method I discovered for combatting it.
It was in February or March, 1949. Master had been away from Mt. Washington several weeks, and I hadn’t seen him in all that time. I was beginning to feel his absence keenly. Finally he returned. The next day word came down to me to get someone to carry a five-gallon bottle of drinking water up to his kitchen. Eagerly I appropriated the job to myself. Arriving upstairs with the bottle, I could hear Master dictating a letter in his sitting room. Hoping to attract his attention, I rattled the bottle and made as much noise as I felt I decently could for a job that called for a minimum of tumult. Master paid no attention.
“He doesn’t care that I miss him!” I thought, plunging suddenly into a violent depression. “I’m just a worker to him, not a disciple!” I rushed on to brood over the unfeeling nature of this world, where nobody really cares for anyone else. Moments later I made an abrupt about-face: “No, Master cares, but he sees I’m such a hopeless case that he figures he might as well give up pouring water into this bottomless pit!” On and on my mind churned. I tried reasoning with myself: “Look here, he’s obviously busy. Why should he drop everything just for you?”
“Yeah?” retorted my recalcitrant mind. “I imagine he said, ‘Look out, here comes that worthless disciple, Walter! Quick, let me dictate a letter as an excuse not to have to call him in here.’”
Clearly, reason wasn’t going to pull me out of my mental whirlpool. Indeed, reason’s tendency is to support any feeling that happens to be uppermost in the mind.
“Do you like being moody?” I demanded of my mental citizens.
“No!” came the chorus — unanimously, except for one or two grumblers in the background.
“Very well, then, boys, if reason won’t do it, let’s see if changing our level of consciousness will do the trick.”
I went down to my meditation “cave,” and there plunged my mind deeply at the Christ center between the eyebrows. Five minutes was all it took. By the end of that time my mood was so uplifted and positive that I no longer needed to affirm anything. “But of course he’s busy!” I thought. “Hasn’t he told us often that our real communion with him is inside, in meditation? And what if all his disciples tried selfishly to take up his time? He wouldn’t have any time left over to complete his writings, which will help thousands.”
In Autobiograpy of a Yogi Master wrote, “Thoughts are universally and not individually rooted.” We don’t create them. We only receive them, depending on our level of consciousness.
“Sir,” someone once asked Master, “what causes moods?”
“Moods,” he replied, “are caused by past overindulgence in sense pleasures, and consequent over-satiety and disgust. If you indulge your moods,” he added warningly, “you will reinforce the mind’s swing back again toward sense pleasures. For that is how the law of duality works: it moves constantly back and forth, like a pendulum, between opposite states of awareness. If, by not giving in to moods, you remove energy from one end of the pendulum’s swing, you will find the hold that the senses have on you at the opposite end will weaken as well.”
I learned in another way, too, how important it is not to indulge one’s mental tendencies too freely. For some time during my first year at Mt. Washington I was disturbed by periods of almost obsessive sleepiness during meditation. I no sooner sat for meditation than my head began to nod. One day I felt particularly joyful inside, and was eagerly looking forward to that evening’s meditation. To my immense disgust, however, the moment I sat to meditate drowsiness descended on me once again like a dense fog. I was furious with myself.
“Since you insist so much on sleeping,” I scolded my mind, “I’m not going to let you sleep at all!”
I stayed up all that night — typing letters, walking about the grounds, drinking tea — anything to beat down my insistent craving for sleep. When daylight came, I went outdoors and worked hard in the garden. By the following evening my mind had become so submissive — terrified, I imagine, lest I abuse it with sleeplessness a second night!—that my meditative drowsiness ceased completely, and didn’t return again for many months.
I worked as hard at meditation as I did during the day at my various jobs. (“Too hard,” Master once told me. “In meditation, you should place more emphasis on relaxation.”) I soon learned that the adage, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is as true for spiritual as for mundane expectations.
During my Saturday meditations I had been going deeper and deeper into inner stillness. “Just a little more effort,” I began to think, “and surely I’ll slip into full superconsciousness.” One Saturday morning I entered my cave with the determination not to stop meditating until this goal had been achieved. For nine hours I sat, continuously applying every ounce of will power I could summon. In the end, exhausted, I had no choice but to admit defeat. If I had stopped short of exhaustion, I might have avoided discouragement and salvaged enough confidence to keep on trying over successive Saturdays. As it was, however, though I continued to meditate regularly, months passed before I was able again to make a really deep effort. It was from this very failure, in fact, that my obsession with drowsiness began.
Yet even now there were compensations: at times, deep joy during moments of inner stillness, and increasing devotion, and blissful inner sounds — one, particularly, that resembled wind in the trees. Master urged us not to talk about our meditative experiences, so I prefer to keep the most precious of them locked in my heart.
I worked hard to develop devotion, chanting and praying daily for the grace of intense love for God. Master one day smiled at me lovingly. “Keep on with your devotion,” he said. “See how dry your life is when you depend on intellect.”
His help was available to anyone who called to him mentally in meditation. Here he was the guide, ever subtly inspiring us, according to the measure of our receptivity, to make the right kind of spiritual effort. Sometimes, too, when we met him during the day, he would admonish us on some point concerning our meditations. Indeed, he watched over us in all ways. It never ceased to amaze me that, with so many disciples to look after, he could be so perfectly aware of the needs of each one.
“I go through your souls every day,” he told us. “If I see something in you that needs correcting, I tell you about it. Otherwise, I say nothing.” On another occasion he said, “I have lived the lives of each one of you. Many times I go so deep into a person at night that when I wake up in the morning I think I am that person! It can be a terrible experience, if he is someone full of moods and desires.”
Mrs. Michelle Evans, that lady I initiated into Kriya Yoga in San Diego, told me, “I used to drink — not much, but the way most people do — you know, to be sociable. When I met Master, he told me to give it up, so for a while I took nothing alcoholic at all. But then I got to thinking, ‘Surely beer doesn’t count, does it? or wine? I mean, they really aren’t in the same class with whiskey, rum, and brandy are they?’ So I went back to drinking beer or wine occasionally. It gave me less explaining to do when we had guests.
“Well, the next time I saw Master at the San Diego church, he looked at me sorta penetratingly and said, ‘I meant all alcoholic beverages!’ Well! Since then, what choice have I got? Any time I slipped, he’d know about it!”
Jan Savage, a young boy of nine who had come to Mt. Washington with his mother, was meditating one day with Daniel Boone when he had a vision of Jesus Christ. Thrilled, he told Boone about it afterwards.
“It could be your imagination,” Boone said. “Better say nothing more till you ask Master about it.”
Master, who was away at that time, returned to give the service the following Sunday. Afterwards Jan joined the line of devotees that always waited to come forward for Master’s blessings. As he approached, Master reached out and tousled his hair affectionately.
“So!” he cried. “Little Jan had a vision of Jesus Christ. That’s very good. That was a true vision!”
Boone told me in February of an experience he too had had after keeping his mind steadfastly on Master for two days. He was given a kind of ecstasy in which he was quite unable to feel his body, even while he moved about, performing his daily duties in the print shop. “I had to pray, finally, that I’d be able to feel my body again,” he said. “I was afraid I might harm it in the machinery.”
Well, I thought, that was for me! More eager for the experience itself, I’m afraid, than for humble attunement with my Guru, I kept my mind on Master one-pointedly. He was in Encinitas at the time. Two or three days later, he returned to Mt. Washington; I met him by the front porch as he arrived.
“What sort of mischief are you up to, Walter?” He smiled significantly.
“None, Sir.” Mischief? It didn’t seem like mischief to me.
“Are you sure you aren’t up to some kind of mischief?”
I began to understand what he meant, but was reluctant to accept his definition of what I’d been doing. As he was going indoors, he smiled lovingly, saying, “Goodbye, Walter.” Thinking the matter over, I had to admit to myself that, while my practice had been right, my intentions had been wrong.
“Don’t seek experiences in meditation,” Master told us. “The path to God is not a circus.”
More touching was the experience of another disciple, Rev. Michael, who, feeling deep love for Master, would often repeat the words mentally, “I love you, Guru.”
One day Master responded to his silent offering. The two of them happened to meet in the hermitage garden at Encinitas. With a gaze of deep tenderness, the Guru said, “I love you, too.”
Master responded instantly to sincere love. One day, missing him intensely, I went down to see him in Encinitas where he was staying at the time. Shortly after my arrival he passed a group of us on his way back from a drive. Seeing me, he invited me to ride up with him to the hermitage. “I have missed you,” he told me lovingly. How rare is it, I thought, for one’s unexpressed feelings to be intuited so sensitively.
Master’s help was with us not only in our inner, spiritual struggles, but in our work as well. One day Norman and I were replastering the wall of a garage by the main entrance to the Mt. Washington grounds. The plaster was old, and was setting up fast. Though we kept on adding water, we had all we could do to complete each batch before it hardened completely.
Halfway through the job, Master, on his way out for a drive, saw us and stopped the car. Calling us over to him, he chatted with us for about half an hour. We were delighted, of course. Yet at the back of our minds there lurked a slight apprehension: What about that plaster? I’d just mixed a fresh batch and poured it onto the board. And there it was, getting harder by the second.
By the time Master left us, both Norman and I were certain it would take a sledgehammer to break up the plaster. To our amazement, however, we found it as soft and pliable as it had been when I poured it. For the rest of that day the plaster gave us no trouble at all.
Hard work was as important to our way of life as regular meditation. “You must be intensely active for God,” Master said, “before you can attain the actionless state of union with Him.” More than either work or meditation, however, was the stress he placed on the importance of devotion. “Without love for God,” he told us, “no one can find Him.”
Nightly I chanted Master’s translation of a song by the great Bengali saint, Ram Proshad: “Will that day come to me when saying, ‘Mother! Mother!’ my eyes will flow with tears?” Gradually I found myself becoming transformed inwardly. I began to feel I had some cause for self-congratulation, when one day word came to me that Master had been talking with a group of the monks in Encinitas. During the course of the conversation he had remarked lovingly:
“Look how I have changed Walter!”