The woman of Samaria asked Jesus, “Where is the best place to worship?” This question presents an issue that afflicts religion even today.
Divided in two directions
In order to look for “the best,” you must make comparisons, judging one thing superior and all others as inferior. People who say, “Only my religion is the best,” create dreadful divisions in the world. More spiritually mature people recognize that each individual has his or her own “best way.”
All religions face the problem of intolerance; it’s a part of human nature. Energy can flow in two directions: either toward more and more differentiation, comparison, and prejudice or upward toward more unity, love, and joy.
Tendencies in human nature
But it isn’t only the different religions that divide people; it’s also different temperaments. Paramhansa Yogananda said that there are a variety of ways to experience truth. But if any one aspect excludes others, it can create imbalances that drive truth away.
For example, there are those types that Yogananda called the “emotionalists,” people who demand more and more emotion in worship until they get into such an emotional frenzy that it drives God away. (We can never really drive God away, since he is our very essence, but we can drive away our ability to perceive Him.)
Too little feeling can also drive away God-perception. This describes the “intellectualists,” people who think that by careful definition they can somehow find God. That’s like carefully defining the taste of an orange instead of actually tasting it.
The ugly head of intolerance
Yogananda referred to the third group as the “fanatics” or “dogmatists,” those who allow dogmas to substitute for the direct experience of God, and zealously seek to impose those dogmas on others. A fourth type is the “liberalist,” people who have so little sense of direction they can’t move toward any goal.
These are all tendencies in human nature. But, when any of these is overemphasized, the true experience of God must wait. And when one’s preference is presented as the “best” or “only” way, intolerance begins to rear its ugly head.
The soul will direct us
How, then, do we arrive at an experience of God? Jesus answered the woman of Samaria by saying, “God is a Spirit,” and we must worship Him “in spirit and in truth.”
“In spirit” means that we have to go into a realm subtler than sensory experience. We tend to want to experience God as we do the outward world—through the senses. God, of course, is in everything, but He is hidden in the things of this world. To have the direct experience of God— the state of “Self-realization”— we have to go beyond the senses into a deep, inward state of stillness.
The soul knows that it is a part of God and yearns for the direct experience of its true nature; everything else gives only fleeting contentment. Ultimately, it is the soul that directs us to find our fulfillment inwardly.
Who yearns to be a paraplegic?
A study looked at the long-term “sense of happiness” or “satisfaction” of various groups of people. They found that paraplegics tended to be just as happy as those who had won the lottery.
Now, that’s a “mind-blowing” concept when you stop to think about desires and life-goals. Who wants to be a paraplegic? Nobody! How many people yearn to win the lottery or the equivalent? Almost everyone!
Paraplegics however, because challenged outwardly, begin to find happiness inside, which is in the only place it can be found. Finding happiness is the whole goal of life. You don’t need to change that goal; you just need to seek it inside yourself rather than outwardly in things.
Engage all parts of your nature
In our search for God, we have to engage all aspects of ourselves, especially the heart. When in balance, all parts of our nature can help us spiritually.
Jesus said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, with all thy mind, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength. And thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Yogananda explained that each of these phrases has a very deep, mystical aspect to it. “With all thy heart” means that we have to focus all of our love on God and stay constant in that love.
We usually begin our prayers with, “Heavenly Father, Divine Mother, Friend, Beloved, God,” because these are the ways we experience love in this world: through the love of parents, our beloved, or friends. Ultimately the love between guru and disciple is the most precious of all because in that relationship, the soul’s unconditional love can burst into a full flowering.
Do everything you can to protect it
The most helpful strategy on the spiritual path is to increase your devotion. To start a campfire, you hold a match to sticks or straw and produce a small flame, which you must carefully prevent from going out. The first small flame of devotion in your heart is like that. Once ignited, you must do everything you can to protect it and let it grow.
Gradually, as the flame of devotion grows, you can add more and more fuel – kindness to everyone, friendship to the lonely, service to God, — until the flame of love becomes a blazing fire. People will be drawn to that light and warmth.
This is what we see with saints. People will travel from across the globe just to bask in the warmth of their love for God. The essence of a saint is that there is nothing left except love for God. Everything else has been burnt up in the fire of their devotion.
“All thy mind, soul, and strength”
“With all thy mind” means that the state of inner communion requires complete concentration. If our mind is divided and restless, we can’t perceive our unity with God.
“With all thy soul” refers to our soul nature, which is eternally united with God. The more we dissolve our ego tendency back into our immortal soul nature, the more we experience our unity with God.
“With all our strength” does not mean to pray with greater and greater tension. It refers to our life force. If we want to worship “in spirit and in truth,” we have to offer God all our life force by reversing its normal, outward flow and redirecting it inward. As that happens, the senses calm down, the mind is controlled, and our devotion flows one-pointedly toward God.
Ultimately there is no “neighbor”
And so, this prayer, “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength,” is really a description of deep meditation—of worshipping God “in spirit and in truth.” When we are able to love God in this way, the other part of the prayer, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” becomes easy for us.
We began with the woman of Samaria asking, “What is the best way to worship?” We end with Jesus saying, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” not like thyself. Your neighbor is not “kind of similar” to you. Ultimately there is no neighbor; there is only one Self, one God.
In the oneness brought by deep meditation, we see the face of God shining back at us through all forms. In the end of this beautiful drama of life, there is only God helping God and God loving God. And in that state our souls finally come to rest.