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Work vs. Meditation

Paramhansa Yogananda“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.”

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Excerpted From

The New Path

The New Path by Swami Kriyananda

From Chapter 25 Read online for free