Receptivity: Key to Spiritual Progress

Spiritual advancement is not a question of attaining anything. It is simply a matter of opening wide the door to a state of conscious being that is ours already, hidden from us only so long as our attention is focused elsewhere. When, by regular meditation, the door gradually opens, ego and soul are able to work together, in closer cooperation.

This process involving the interaction of ego and soul is fascinating but difficult to put into words. It is as though there were two different “me’s” carrying on, and more and more frequently they seem to get through to each other. This same experience must be true for everyone sincerely on this spiritual path.

The opening between the soul and ego
I read recently about a saint who appeared to his disciples in time of need, sometimes saving them in serious crises. One such instance involved a woman who was on the point of drowning, to whom the saint appeared physically and led by the hand across the river. When next she saw her guru, she thanked him for saving her life. Imagine her surprise when he replied frankly that he hadn’t been conscious of the episode.

A fully realized master must surely know such things on an ego level, too. But perhaps, before one reaches enlightenment, there is a time when the opening between soul and ego is sufficiently wide for the soul to enter into the ego’s functions — to do things, for example, for those with whom the ego is involved in ways of which the ego itself is unaware.

Does all this sound a bit wild? Perhaps it is. Still, I’ve found increasingly that when I’ve thought of something I wanted to say to someone, that person has had a dream or vision in which I told him that very thing. I wasn’t conscious of coming to him, but sometimes well, I wonder.

The difficulty posed by this aspect of our consciousness is that people look for it to the personality, and it doesn’t come that way at all. What I can definitely say, however, is that the more I attune to that higher level of being, the better I can help you. And then this friend, whom you know, is not really helping you at all!

Judgement undermines receptivity
A mistake disciples sometimes make is to attempt to “figure out” their guru, instead of calmly receiving him in their souls. One of Paramhansa Yogananda’s disciples, when referring to him, said to me, “Every time I think I’ve understood him, I find that he’s much more than I thought!” After this remark, I thought, “Why would anyone even try to understand a true guru?”

To understand a master, one must himself become a master. Human beings — especially those of an intellectual bent, like that disciple — often typify others, trying to mold them according to a variety of set “formulas.”

This particular disciple was an astrologer. Her profession conditioned her to define everything in terms of planetary and constellational configurations. However, by reducing people to types, she lost any normal understanding of them as living human beings who struggled, each of them, to achieve perfection. The result of this analytical attitude was that she herself eventually fell spiritually, her delusion being the belief that, in order to understand others, one needed only to reduce them to symbols.

In that disciple’s attempt to define others, she also placed herself mentally in the position of a judge. She thereby not only judged herself but also lost touch with normal human compassion. Our Guru had tried gently for years to dissuade her from practicing astrology, for he saw that her attachment to that discipline would lead her to imagine in symbols a reality greater than people themselves.

True understanding comes by identifying with others on a soul level as masters do. That disciple failed to see that definitions can never take the place of the thing defined. Human beings, especially, are far more than flesh-and-blood mechanisms.

How darkness enters our consciousness
Anything that prevents us from seeing life with dispassion, and therefore objectively, obscures the inner light and limits our receptivity. Darkness enters people’s consciousness because of attachments to material grossness and by clouds of emotion such as fear, anger, and hatred.

A good example of how this can happen involved a Bengali friend of mine who lived in Calcutta during the unrest that attended the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. For some days he was forced to protect himself and his family by barricading themselves in their home. Eventually, however, he was obliged to go out for food.

He made the trip by car and took with him a rifle for protection, which was poised carefully across the steering wheel. At a certain point on the road he suddenly found himself confronted by someone with a gun aimed directly at his head.

This person happened to be the chief of police, and was in fact a personal friend of his. So darkened was the police chief’s mind, however, by the pervasive atmosphere of hatred that he failed to recognize the man in the car as his friend. Only the fact that both of them had weapons pointed at each other averted a tragedy, creating instead a standoff between them.

After a few seconds, the policeman lowered his gun, blinked a few times, then recognized the man before him as a friend of his. Thus, the crisis passed.

During those moments of tension, however, the policeman’s face was barely recognizable. As he returned to normal consciousness, his expression changed. It was as if a cloud had settled over his countenance, and then passed as he became himself again. He shook himself, then exclaimed in wonder, “I don’t know what came over me. Please friend, I beg you to forgive me!”

This case was an extraordinary demonstration of how extremely dark the mind can become when it is clouded by emotion. Even in less critical situations, when the clouds of emotion are less dense and the inner light is able to shine through more clearly, its subtle rays cannot penetrate the fog of materialism.

How to relate to a master
There are as many ways of relating to a true master as there are human beings who relate to him. Even a master’s own disciples limit themselves in what they receive, so long as they define his greatness in merely human terms.

Those who seek their inspiration outwardly receive what the eyes and ears can absorb, but not the deeper understanding craved by the soul. This understanding comes only by deep communion in meditation. Wise, then, is that disciple who looks not only to the master’s physical form, but also communes with him in his soul.

My highest duty, and my constant desire, as your soul friend, is to take you beyond mere human friendship to a deeper awareness of the Eternal Friend who resides in our own souls. You will benefit from our relationship according to the level you tap. I am your friend, but if you define our friendship in terms already familiar to you, you will remain on that level of familiarity, and will gain little from it. See our friendship, therefore, as progressing ever upward, toward the impersonal love of God, which alone is reality.

Always remember that whatever I can give to you comes through me by the Guru’s grace. Only to the extent to which I can attune myself with him do I receive the grace truly to help you on the path. The more your own faith and attunement goes out to our true source in him, and beyond him in God, the more greatly you will be able to receive.

Fill your heart with His love
Wise, then, is that disciple who looks not only to the master’s physical form, but also communes with him in his soul. Herein lies the secret of how to relate to a master. It is a relationship not only of inner communion and receiving, but of self-giving. It comes not by taking eagerly what one can for oneself. Only in a spirit of mutuality can divine love be developed.

The way to know God, then, is to still the mind by deep meditation. The way to know Him is to live constantly in His blissful presence. The way to know Him is to commune with Him in the inner silence, and to fill your heart, finally, with His love.

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From In Divine Friendship, Promise of Immortality, and other sources.