I was 22 when I found the spiritual path, and it was great despair and disillusionment that compelled me to embrace it. Like many of the great souls I have known in this life, I came to a point where the anguishing monotony of “normal” human existence was too much to bear. My cries for help led me to Paramhansa Yogananda’s book, Autobiography of a Yogi. It set my heart afire with hope and my prayers were fulfilled.
I eagerly drank in the teachings of Yogananda and knew without any doubt that I had found my life’s purpose. Living in southern California at the time, I started visiting the SRF Lake Shrine regularly, and attending the meditations and services. I was given the privilege of vacuuming Yogananda’s windmill chapel once a week and meditating there after the grounds had closed for the day. The monks would often encourage me to join the monastery and live my life in the SRF ashram. When I did finally make the decision, I signed up for their monastic training program which took place at their ashram in Hidden Valley.
The first program I attended there was focused on practicing Kriya Yoga with greater devotion. There was a large circle of visiting male guests, mostly householders, and we were asked to share with the group some special way in which we practiced devotion. As my turn to share was approaching, I began to notice my heart beating much faster and my palms were beginning to sweat. When it became time for me to speak, I could barely say anything without sounding like I was going to cry. I wanted to share, but a profound insecurity was arising within me. I felt like they were going to disapprove of what I shared. Later that evening, and all weekend long, I kept asking my guru, “Why was I so insecure about sharing my heart’s feelings with them?”
Finally, a few nights later in meditation, an answer came. “It is because you are judging them.”
“What?” I thought doubtfully. “How does that even make sense?”
But as soon as I began to ponder this, the understanding came: “Since I am judging them when they speak, I impose that same judgmental tendency on them when it is time for me to share!”
I realized I was entirely responsible for the situation and the way to get free from my insecurities was to work on that essential quality for any devotee who wishes to meet with success on the path: Non-judgment.
At some point in the next couple of months, I decided that the ashram wasn’t for me. I had learned some valuable lessons there but some indefinable force was drawing me out again. I went back to my home town and moved in with my mom. About a year went by and one morning I awoke with the clear realization that I was ready for a spiritual relationship. To put it more truthfully, I was lonely.
When I finally decided to make the trip to visit Ananda Village, I saw how sincerely the yogic householder path was embraced there and that it was clearly producing great saints. Within two years I had met and married a wonderful soul named Melody.
One night, during our first six months together, we were walking home under the moonlight after a very blessed Kriya Ceremony. We were speaking of monasticism and our mutual attraction to it, and wondering why we had chosen to be together rather than become complete renunciates. Then we had an experience that clarified everything I had encountered thus far on the path.
We felt simultaneously that we had very likely embraced monasticism in past lives but we had held judgmental attitudes towards those who had chosen to become householders. We had looked down upon it as some kind of lower path. Thus, in this life we were born with the inescapable karmic desire for a spiritual relationship in order to learn that anyone can find God provided their yearning is deep enough and the effort is made.
Now we have an eight month old son who is teaching us many more priceless lessons of responsibility, humility, and selfless love. The truth has become clear that wherever God puts His devotees is the very place they will find their salvation. And if we hold judgment against another for their choice of lifestyle, it is quite likely that we are signing up for that very position!
One of the many great truths of the Bhagavad Gita is expressed in verse 6:31: “That yogi rests forever centered in me who, whatever his outward way of living, sees Me at the heart of all beings.” How can we judge anyone when we remember that God dwells equally in all? We are all His children and the birthmark of the Infinite is on our brows! In does not matter what roll we play in life, householder or monk, provided that we live our lives as an offering of service and devotion, of meditation and God-remembrance. As we learn to love and serve God in everyone, His grace will dissolve our weaknesses. It will free us from all bondage and make us instruments for the Light!