A person wrote that “patience and suffering” in the spiritual life ought no longer to be taught, as it was in the days of St. Francis of Assisi; that we are now entering an age when “overcoming, victory, and mastery” are the lessons man needs to learn.”

Dear _______:

I have always admired your courage, but when we assume a stance of opposition to others, we invite their fire in return. As I say, I admire your spirit, but since it has thrown you into this competitive attitude, and since to my mind the spiritual victory you speak of is betrayed when it is sought competitively, I find myself obliged to take issue with you even though, basically, we are in agreement.

Frankly, I have found too much of ego, not only in the teachings to which you subscribe, but in many of the schools of so-called “new thought.”  Victory is always desirable, but to define victory in terms of egoic fulfillments, and to claim personal credit every inch of the way, is almost an insult to spiritual truth. In a deeper sense it is even a kind of defeat. All this energy directed toward “manifesting” health, “manifesting” wealth, etc., would be fine were the victories not tied to such a petty outlook! Sometimes I get the impression that, in this view, the “ultimate proof” of spiritual development is the ability to drive downtown and quickly find a parking space!

Yes, I agree with you that passivity and dependence on others are, or should be, passé in religion. We’ve had quite enough of the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” approach to religion. It is certainly time people looked on religion as a pathway to inner strength and Self-realization. Beggarly attitudes are a mark of churchianity, but not of Christianity.

But what kind of strength do we really want? What kind of victory? You obviously haven’t studied the life of St. Francis, or you wouldn’t say that his spirit was one of “patience and suffering.” Joy was the entire essence of his life! His inner joy was so great that he simply did not care whether his body was well or not. His truly was a higher form of “overcoming.” For our physical health must be taken away from all of us sooner or later, if only in death. But divine joy is proved when we can hold onto it under the harshest worldly circumstances. It is such a soul only who deserves to be called a master.

Yes, I do believe that a part of the process of overcoming must be an ability to manifest whatever one needs in life. But in higher stages of understanding we see that we need nothing—that divine joy is to the soul eternally all-sufficient. It all comes back to the question of mental attitude. If we ask God to take care of us because we feel too passively helpless to take care of ourselves, then all we really need from Him is a good kick in the pants. Victory for us, at this stage of spiritual evolution, means learning how to manifest everything from parking spaces to a new home.

But once we’ve learned that we can manifest such relatively paltry things, our joy in them is bound sooner or later to pall. It is then that dependence on God assumes another hue. It becomes not passive, but joyous and positive—an affirmation of infinity, and of freedom from bondage to petty, egoic victories.

What we must overcome, essentially, is not merely a weak, cowardly ego, but egotism itself.

In divine friendship,

Swami Kriyananda

From Letters to Truthseekers. Crystal Clarity Publishers. Related reading: In Divine Friendship, Letters of Counsel and Reflection by Swami Kriyananda.

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