“O waves that we are on the bosom of the Infinite Sea, joyfully together let us celebrate our own greater reality. . . . Whereas suffering and sorrow, in the past, were the coin of man’s redemption, for us now the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy.”
When the winter birds began to arrive, among them three Northern Flickers flew in to a nearby hillside. Two turned to face each other, the third stood to the side, expressing intense interest, a theatre audience happily anticipating the evening’s entertainment. The two performers held their long beaks straight up in the air, their spotted breasts swelled out to full expansion. Moving lightly, the birds began angling their bills first to one side, then to the other, bills crossing in midair to form an X between them. The two hopped forward toward each other, bills aloft, then back to continue crossing bills — for all the world like an avian square dance do-si-do. There was a feeling of joyous exuberance in the midst of the daily search for ants to eat, a feeling that radiated out to bird and human spectators alike.
Eastern-European Jewry reached a nadir of sorrow and suffering early in the eighteenth century, just at the transition between Kali and Dwapara Yuga. Caught between Ukrainian peasants rising up against their Polish overlords and war between Poland and Sweden, the defenseless Polish Jews lived in fear and struggle for bare survival. Their spiritual life too was a wasteland. Polish Judaism had turned in on itself, the ancient religion congealed into ritual and dry study of the Torah, both avenues to God closed to all but the tiny elite of scholarly religious leaders. The mass of people had no hope for a life other than grinding poverty and persecution.
Into this time of despair came the Baal Shem Tov, a charismatic spiritual leader who honored religious tradition and its rituals but offered the people—all the people — a way to live in joy; to see, experience, and express divine joy in every moment of their lives: in plying their humble trades, raising families, simply being alive in this world. All life, he taught, is holy. Everyone can transform human suffering through prayer; everyone can behold God in everything of this world and can reach Him through each pure deed. Early Hasidic Judaism saw all life as an expression of one Spirit, indwelling and ever joyous.
Attunement with divine will, Swamiji has explained, manifests as a constantly flowing inner joy, and as imperviousness to sorrow. Holding our hearts and minds always attuned to God’s presence, we come to see every experience as a window through which God’s love shines upon us. Our life becomes one of calm acceptance and joy.
Swamiji speaks of walking slowly, meditatively, in nature, feeling God’s breath behind one’s breathing, His guidance hidden in every sound — a car horn, a dog barking, a breeze rustling the leaves of a tree — and in the rays of the sun slanting through the clouds. Like Brother Lawrence — a French monk contemporaneous to the Baal Shem Tov in Poland — by unremitting effort to hold God’s presence in our hearts, we come in the end to His state of constant inner joy and freedom from suffering and sorrow — to feeling Him within just as much in picking up a straw from the ground as in deepest devotion during spiritual practice. A friend, asked how he prayed before Kriya practice, made this reply: “When I practice Kriya, I am praying”—no separation between the outer act and the inner knowing. How beautiful our life becomes when we practice the Presence even a little — and what joy awaits us when we do nothing else.
With love and a quiet awe, we watch our friend’s soul shine with steadily increasing joy even as his memory disappears into the fogs of dementia. No longer able (or allowed) to drive or operate the power tools that were his livelihood, he now walks tirelessly around the community, loppers in hand, seeking out, cutting and stacking Scotch broom — like Sabari of Indian legend, making the forest path clean for the coming of the Lord. Going up for the Purification Ceremony, kneeling before the minister, his gnarled workingman’s hands held up and folded in pronam, bursting from a heart filled with devotion come his words, “I love God.” Reminded of the customary words, he tries again: “I love God. I seek purification by the grace of God. I love God.” One evening, just returned from a meditation, he stood gazing up at the sky, his face lit with a joyful smile: “Whenever I get all screwed up, all I have to do is look up at the stars and suddenly I’m free!”
“When I was blind,” beloved Yoganandaji writes, “I found not a door which led to Thee, but now that Thou hast opened my eyes I find doors everywhere: through the hearts of flowers, through the voice of friendship, through sweet memories of all lovely experiences. Every gust of my prayer opens a new door in the vast temple of Thy presence.”
In divine friendship,
For Ananda’s “Thank You, God” Tithing