Somebody said to me recently, “All I want is peace.” She didn’t understand that we must win peace by conquest. In the battle of life, every day is a struggle between right and wrong, between uplifting and debasing tendencies in human nature.
The Bhagavad Gita is the story of how to fight that battle and reunite with eternal bliss, our true nature. It’s not an easy battle. While a part of you is saying, “I want freedom, I want joy, I want the higher Self,” the other part is saying, “Oh, no! Please let me hang onto this!”
To fight this battle and achieve the highest attainment takes a great deal of will power and determination. It’s not enough to say, “Well, I’m trying.” No, don’t just try. Do the right thing until you can do it with all your will power. God won’t be satisfied if you just “mean well.”
Summoning sufficient will power
I recall a monk who lived at Paramhansa Yogananda’s Mt. Washington headquarters while I was there. This young man experienced many high spiritual experiences, but his karma, our Guru told him, was very complex. He had good spiritual karma, which gave him his deep experiences, but those experiences were, as the Master hinted, the result of the disciple’s soul desperately trying to keep him from leaving the spiritual path.
Yogananda once said to him, “If you leave the spiritual path this time, you will wander for another 200 incarnations before you return to the point you have reached already in your spiritual evolution.” Alas, the young man did leave the path. Later, he visited the Master and wept “so bitterly” that, Yogananda told us, “I wept with him.” There was nothing our Guru could do about it, however.
Yogananda did say to him, when he paid that visit, “If you try hard now, you may reduce the number of those incarnations to seven.” But the young man’s directional flow of energy was already too strongly toward worldliness. From all I’ve heard about him since then, he simply resigned himself. Instead of saying, “I haven’t yet succeeded,” he accepted, sadly, that in this life he had fallen completely. He wouldn’t have had to accept this conclusion, had he summoned sufficient will power.
Right attitude toward mistakes
The Bhagavad Gita is set on a battlefield to help us understand that to find inner peace we must fight against those qualities that pull us downward from our higher aspirations—anger, jealousy, passion, greed, and so on. The natural tendency of human beings is to go downward. But only by reversing that flow, which means bringing our energy up to the spiritual eye and the brain, do we find freedom.
So be very firm. Remember yes, you can make mistakes; and yes, you can go in the wrong direction; and yes, if you do so, it is not going to be easy. Every step toward darkness is a step toward suffering. Those who suffer are those who are out of tune with the Divine.
But the more in tune you are with your higher Self, the more blissful you always feel. Then nothing can touch you. People can persecute you, martyr you, but it won’t touch you. Nothing will bother you when you have that consciousness of God’s peace within yourself.
Which side won?
The Bhagavad Gita tells us that at the end of every day we should ask: “Which side won?” This is very important. Before you go to sleep, meditate and then ask yourself: “Did I err in any way? How have I improved? What shall I do tomorrow to improve myself?” When you see that you made a mistake, admit it honestly to yourself. Don’t feel badly; just say, “I’m trying and I will do better.” But you must be absolutely ruthless in your truthfulness.
There’s the story in the New Testament of Jesus meeting the woman of Samaria at the well. Paramhansa Yogananda said she was a fallen disciple of another lifetime and that Jesus had purposely gone to Samaria to find her and, if possible, to redeem her.
When Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband,” and she said, “I have no husband,” he was pleased with her answer. He told her, “You have had five husbands and the one you are living with now is not your husband.” He didn’t ask the question to bring out her moral degradation; it was to test her truthfulness. When he saw she was completely truthful, he knew she was fit to be redeemed.
Don’t bury your mistakes under the carpet. If you honestly face your faults and say, “I will fight this tendency in myself. I am not that”—you can be free.
“Get Thee behind me, Satan”
We need to understand that as we meditate more deeply, our lower subconscious tendencies become a little anxious and try to stir us. You sit there meditating and the ego begins to think, “Ah, a glass of milk would be pretty good right now, or a walk —and I’ll get back here sooner or later.”
This is the symbolism of Yudhisthira in the Bhagavad Gita. Yudhisthira represents the soul-quality of calmness, and the tendency, when a person feels very calm and very much in tune, to think, “Well, I can gamble; it can’t touch me.” I’ve seen people do this. They say, “Oh, I couldn’t be hurt by that delusion.” But the world has its own power and unfortunately the dice are loaded. If we go in that direction, that’s how we’ll get caught. Yudhisthira had a weakness for gambling. He gambled against a skilled gambler who knew how to win by cheating, and he lost everything.
Temptation always comes to spiritual seekers at their points of special weakness: pride; sexual desire; the longing for romance; a desire for money, fame, vengeance, or worldly power. These are examples, merely. Delusion can assume countless forms.
The world is full of angels and demons. It wouldn’t hurt to realize that any time you feel angry, lustful, greedy, or any of the negative attitudes that come to people—that this is not you. This is something you have accepted into your aura. If you treat it as a separate being, then you can say, “Get away from me!” As Jesus said, “Get thee behind me Satan!”
How to fight temptation
In trying to decide whether or not a thing will be good for you, always ask: “Will it raise or lower my energy?” Things may seem like great fun but if they will lower your energy—stay away from them. If they will seriously lower it—shun them like the plague. Remember, you should always try to turn your energy inward and upward toward the spiritual eye and the brain.
The principles of self-control are primarily sexual, but self-control in all ways is very important—not to drink too much, not to eat too much, not to laugh too much, not to do anything too much, because it will spill your energy outward. But the greatest spill of all is through sex.
Temptation is anything that tempts you out of yourself. If your want to find God, a part of you should always be somewhat withdrawn, observing.
The power to uplift the inner energy
In fighting the battle with your lower nature, the key is to reach the point where it becomes more pleasurable to sit thinking of God, praying to Him, and feeling his presence, than forgetting Him and becoming restless. Focusing within on God, and on the higher attractiveness of His love and bliss, is the best way to overcome any lower sensory attraction.
The most important thing on the spiritual path is to love God. It’s not enough just to get good karma. You have to open your heart to God, and that doesn’t mean simply keeping an open mind. (“Yeah I’m willing.”) There has to be an aspiration for the light, for divine love.
From that heart quality comes the power to uplift the inner energy from the senses and the body. As you lift one hand up to God, God will lower two to pick you up. Divine grace, ultimately, is the key to everyone’s salvation.
The need for a guru
So, it’s very important to reach the point of knowing that you want to know God and to feel the bliss of His presence in your heart, and that these are the most important things in life. To achieve that, you also need a guru.
A true guru is the highest kind of saint, having attained oneness with God. This means he is able to infuse into receptive disciples his own spiritualized consciousness, and raise those who are spiritually ready to the same exalted state as his own. The power of God and Guru is greater than all delusions. As you meditate deeply, that power will come more and more to the fore.
When “efforts end in ease”
So, in the beginning there is a constant struggle between your higher and lower tendencies, but there comes a point when, as Yogananda put it, “efforts end in ease.” After a while, as you meditate more and more deeply, there’s no struggle involved.
The truth is that you can be liberated in this lifetime if you work hard at it, especially with the practice of Kriya Yoga, which gets the energy flowing right where the battlefield is: in the inner spine. When you can bring your energy strongly into the spine, it dissolves all those things that are holding you back, and you become free.
This article first appeared in print in Winter 2009: “Always Ask: Which Side Won?,” Swami Kriyananda, Clarity Magazine.
From Religion and the New Age, Keys to the Bhagavad Gita (Crystal Clarity Publishers) and recent talks on the Bhagavad Gita.