The entire spiritual path is a matter of removing the obstacles between you and God, between you and Truth. These obstacles are karmic tendencies such as anger, greed, and worldly desires, including desires from the past that haven’t yet been fulfilled.
Paramhansa Yogananda told the story of how he had helped a youth named Jotin overcome his anger. Jotin had lost a number of jobs because of losing his temper too readily. Every time a boss scolded him, Jotin would become angry and slap him. Yogananda had previously taught Jotin to meditate, and Jotin now sought his advice on how to rid himself of anger. Yogananda told him that, while meditating, he should offer the habit upward, surround it with divine energy, and “let that energy wash away the habit you wish to destroy.”
Every day, for weeks, Jotin practiced this simple technique. One day he told Yogananda gratefully, “Mukunda, I have overcome my anger.” Yogananda decided to test Jotin to determine whether the change was firmly established. Recalling the many enemies Jotin had made, Yogananda told a few of them to do everything they could to make Jotin angry. They all gave it a good try, but Jotin never faltered for a moment. He had, indeed, overcome his anger.
A redirection of energy up to the Divine
Paramhansa Yogananda often said, “In one gram of flesh there’s enough potential energy to keep a whole city in electricity for a week.” You have that energy within you, but it has to be released. How do you release it? You do that not only by withdrawing the energy from false channels and having it available for your own use, but also by directing the energy in an upward way so that it becomes reinforced by the Divine. The more that you can take whatever energy you have and offer it up to God, the more it becomes a divine power which has no limit.
If you have a quality you want to overcome, think of the opposite quality that you want to develop. Jotin did not meditate on his anger; he meditated on the thought of peace. Anything you meditate on will become stronger. Meditate on peace and you will find that your inner peace will gradually become stronger and stronger, until finally your anger vanishes.
The power of goodness
People often think of goodness as a sort of sweetness, a kind of passive kindness, but it’s much more than that. There is power in goodness. One of the things that I didn’t like about the movie and the book, The Lord of the Rings, is that they depict the evil people, but not the good ones, as having power. They present the view that by being good, you’re rather bumbling, but nonetheless stumble onto the right path. Frodo and all the good people in that story are sweet, innocent, and often foolish.
Like The Lord of the Rings, the Ramayana is an epic, but Ram, Hanuman, and the other heroes are portrayed as having great power. The truly good people I have met are the saints, and they are not weaklings by any means!
One of the things that astounded me about living with Yogananda was his power. He had great power, which I’ve seen in all great saints. Behind their sweetness, behind their love and forgiveness, is power. My Guru was the sweetest person I’ve ever met, but he also possessed great power and he never compromised that power. He wanted to make us strong, and he inspired us to understand that if we wanted to become strong, we had to be willing to take charge of our own lives.
This kind of understanding and power is the ideal, and this is what Yogananda infused into Jotin. It was through that power that Jotin was able to overcome anger. Through the infusion of that kind of power, peace becomes a dynamic reality in itself. It is in no way passive. Your inner strength develops to the point that you realize that anger is a threat to that peace.
Calmness: a deeper form of peace
There are eight different aspects of God. Two of them are peace and calmness; many people think of them as one and the same thing, but they aren’t.
Peace is the cessation of restlessness, and it is the aspect of God we experience first. It’s very healing, like “a weightless waterfall” as Yogananda described it, and is wonderfully releasing and freeing. But calmness is the power of the soul which helps you to cut through delusion. That calmness comes when you go deeper into peace.
It was calmness which enabled Buddha to say, “I will sit here under this bodhi tree until I solve the mystery of life.” And he sat there for forty days and forty nights. How many people have that kind of resolution? It took tremendous will power to do that, to be able to sit there for so long and channel all of his energy upward to God.
Maya, or delusion, has its own conscious power. To try to tempt Buddha to abandon his resolution, Mara (death), as Satan was known then, created illusion after illusion, including images of past pleasures and human fulfillments. But these fulfillments no longer meant anything to him. At the end of forty days, he rapped on the ground with his knuckles and uttered these immortal words: “Mara, I have conquered thee.” It was deep calmness that enabled him to do that.
God will give you more and more strength.
These different aspects of God are aspects of your own higher Self. You can’t create divine power on your own, but if you ask God to infuse that power into you, He will give you more and more strength. The way to do this is to offer your heart’s feelings up to the point between the eyebrows. Direct your energy there again and again. Eventually you will find such a strength coming into you that you will be able to drive out of your mind all harmful emotions, including anger, fear, and any form of pettiness.
You have to make the effort to overcome whatever is holding you back. God is not going to do it for you. Too many people in religion think that God’s grace does it all. You first have to open yourself to that grace, and doing so takes considerable effort. Once you make the effort, however, you discover, bit by bit, that all the obstacles that enclose the soul and make us think we are our personalities and separate from everybody else—all of these get washed away by devotion, by meditation, by Kriya Yoga, by the Guru’s help on our behalf. Most important of all is to love God, far more important than any yoga technique, although yoga can be a means of helping you to love Him more deeply.
The beautiful thing is that when the flow of grace is strong, it washes everything away, even obstacles you thought you could never overcome. Gradually you begin to see that these limitations are not who you truly are. There’s no strain involved. When you feel divine love in your heart, you don’t have to sit there with a notebook and ponder what love is. You simply think, “My God, it’s obvious.”
In your meditation, you will see that qualities you’ve worked on, sometimes despairingly thinking, “I’ll never change”—all of a sudden those obstacles simply are no longer there. You won’t recognize yourself as the person you’ve now become.
But you have to be firm with yourself. You have to say, “I know what I have to do,” and then do it and not worry about the opinions of others.
Calm, determined renunciation vs. emotional rejection
Yogananda favored calm, determined renunciation over emotional rejection. When one feels emotional rejection, there usually lingers inside him also a subconscious attraction. Opposites always attract. Think of a pendulum. The more you push the pendulum in one direction, the more it’s going to swing to the opposite direction.
Yogananda told me the following story during a discussion at his desert retreat. He said, “I met a young woman years ago in Mexico City. She taught yoga and was very committed to this path. One day I asked her, ‘How do you feel about marriage?’ Her answer quite surprised me.
“‘I have given my life to God,’ she fairly shouted with intense vehemence, ‘and I will continue to serve Him alone, without a mate, faithfully, devotedly, every year of my life, UNTIL I DIE!!!’
“‘My goodness!’ I exclaimed. ‘Why that emotion? One must renounce emotional feelings, also. I was going to compliment you on your spiritual commitment. Seek God lovingly, seek Him one-pointedly, but seek Him also with deep calmness.’”
If you want to achieve a spiritual goal, there must be fervor, even intense fervor. But you won’t achieve it through emotional rejection. When you decide to give up something for God, do it calmly, with great determination. Don’t allow your emotions to become involved. Any genuine determination will have calmness in it, and behind it.
Once you’ve truly overcome a particular karma—a desire, disappointment, whatever it may be—you experience calmness. If you experience any fear of the karma, like a fear of death, for example, then you haven’t yet overcome that karma. When you are completely impersonal, impartial—that’s when you can be more certain that you have overcome it. And that’s the way to overcome, even now. If you feel an intense emotion—fear, rejection—give it to God.
Fight the battle of life.
We must do God’s will. Krishna said to Arjuna: “Do your duty. Fight the battle of life!” If you fight that battle—not angrily, not with a feeling of hurting anybody, but with the sense of simply doing your God-assigned duty—you will experience a supporting divine power. That power will feed your inner life, and you will become stronger and stronger in yourself.
The more you walk hand in hand with Him, the more you will experience the peace of knowing that no matter how difficult life becomes, in the end, everything works out. The more you do things with God, the more you will find that He takes care of you in ways that seem miraculous. And you will discover a degree of inner freedom that you could never find by following your own whims and fancies.
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From talks and articles.