Years ago an Italian yoga magazine sent three formidable questions to Swami Kriyananda:
What does God want of us?
What does God give us?
Who is God?
Soon he sent an article back to them, stimulating as always. It is now kept as a precious keepsake with his handwritten corrections on it. Here is what Kriyananda wrote:
What does God Want of us?
He wants – so my Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda often said – the one thing He doesn’t have: our love. This is the same thing as saying that our true Self will never find fulfillment until it merges in divine love. “Thou hast made us for Thyself,” said St. Augustine, “and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.”
What does God give us?
He gives us as our eternal birthright the freedom to seek Him or reject Him. Nothing else is our own – not possessions, not our personalities, not our talents, not our homes and families. When we misuse the gift of free will by running after worldly desires, we lose freedom and commit ourselves to voluntary, but unknowing, slavery.
Who is God?
He is not a person. He is neither He or She, and He is both He and She. He is everything our souls ever craved: perfect bliss, immortality, complete consciousness – Satchidananda, as He is defined by those who are familiar with the concept of absolute perfection. There is nothing and no one apart from Him. All that we see around us is but a part of a cosmic dream. Who is God may be paired with another, equal question: Who are we? For in our deepest reality, what is left when we strip away all superficial definitions is that germ of consciousness within. There, as Jesus Christ implied, lies the secret of God’s reality.
How can we apply these three answers to our lives?
- Swami Kriyananda’s first answer. Our heart, he tells us, needs to learn its most crucial lesson: to open up to the Eternal Beloved, gradually developing the sweet fragrance of Bhakti Yoga (devotion).
How can we best learn that? One secret certainly, is to visit devotional environments as often as possible. Whenever we go to places where people sing to God, pray to God, and devote themselves to God, our own heart-flower begins to blossom naturally.
It is also wise when we find ourselves in such an environment, to consciously search for and mingle with those simple devotees whose hearts, like flowers, turn constantly towards the Sun of the Divine Presence. Such precious souls can be found in every spiritual community. Usually they are humble, pure, and inwardly beautiful.
Yogananda for example, had an inconspicuous disciple named Horace. He was spastic, an altogether simple man, and completely unknown in the public. One day, however, to everyone’s surprise, the Master told a group of devotees: “Horace is very nearly there. God is satisfied with his devotion.” One of the disciples voiced his surprise: “Sir,” he said, “It must be a very simple kind of devotion, isn’t it?” “Ah,” Yogananda replied with a blissful smile, “that is the kind God likes! ‘He does not reveal Himself unto the prudent and the wise, but unto babes.’”
What can we do if we are unable to be in the company of such fragrant devotees? We can still do a lot. We can pray for the grace of devotion. Yogananda offers us this very effective prayer in his Whispers From Eternity:
Master Mariner, come, take charge of my boat
my little raft of meditation
is floating toward Thy shore.
Though buffeted by furious storms of distraction,
and heaving waves on the sea of my mind
rise and fall tumultuously,
yet I am heading steadfastly toward Thy shore.
O Master Mariner, come!
Take charge of my boat!
Here you can enjoy Swami Kriyananda reciting this prayer:
- Kriyananda’s second answer. This time he advises us to apply our free will like a sword. We need to learn to cut off false ambitions and attitudes, while seeking only the Divine One, realizing that nothing else is truly ours: not our talents, not our spouse, not even our children or parents.
The eternal enemies of this uncompromising attitude are all our worldly desires and attachments which cunningly push our lives toward the ego and its inherent suffering.
So how can we be a good spouse, mother, father, daughter, while choosing “God alone”? How can we work, and follow our projects, while inwardly dedicating ourselves to “God alone?” How can we develop our talents and improve our personality while seeking “God alone?”
For such a life we indeed have to train ourselves to skillfully use the shining sword of discrimination or gyana yoga, which helps us affirm: “Behind my husband, wife, and child I am really loving God in them. And, “My talents are Your presence within me. My very thoughts are Yours. Nothing is mine.”
How can we also avoid holding onto our old worldly desires and habits of the past? Wine (alcohol and drugs), money (worldly power), and sex? Yogananda said these are the three most powerful ones – the merciless lances of delusion and suffering.
How to resist them? How to fight them? Again, when any such desires surface, we are being called to train ourselves to slash them with the flaming sword of discrimination or gyana yoga as we tell ourselves: “I know it already! Running after these attractions is the purest illusion and folly. In the end they will bring me nothing but suffering. Do I really want to suffer again?”
You may sharpen your inner sword of discrimination by absorbing the following prayer that Yogananda included in his Whispers From Eternity:
Lead my body-chariot on the right path
Teach me, Lord, to conquer myself by myself.
Bless me that my discrimination become the charioteer
of the steeds of my five senses,
firmly holding the reins of my mind.
Let my soul, riding on the wheels of discipline
in the little chariot of my body,
drive triumphantly over the speedway of earth-lives until,
on the last lap of the last race,
it finds itself safe, O King of Kings!
in Thy vast royal palace.
Here again, enjoy this prayer being recited by Swami Kriyananda.
- Finally, let’s look at his third answer: God is Satchidananda, or supreme bliss. What are we, then? In essence, we are simply individualized Satchidananda, or God.
Swami Kriyananda talks about the state in which we “strip away all superficial definitions” in order to experience the “germ” of our being, which is an eternally shining spark of God. That free and undefined state can only be reached by entering into the inner kingdom of silence.
In order to reach that formless kingdom, we need to learn how to withdraw our life force from the body and to still the breath. Why? Because as long as we breathe, we will automatically remain bound in a superficial state of body consciousness. Similarly, as long as our life-force flows outward, we will never be able to settle our consciousness in the deep spine, where alone it is free from body-consciousness. In that subtle spine we enter into our inner kingdom, into the “altar of God,” as Yogananda called it.
This is what Kriya Yoga helps us to achieve. It pulls us inward into our essence, into our silent kingdom, while removing all karmic obstacles.
Of course not only Kriya Yoga but other deep meditative techniques as well can take us to that same blessed inner destination. In short, we are being asked to regularly practice Raja Yoga or meditation. Our daily training consists in learning the art of silence and inner withdrawal.
No doubt, the human mind is notoriously restless. Meditation is typically a rather tempestuous journey toward that vast and still ocean of God. So how can we, nevertheless, create an atmosphere of mental, emotional, and physical silence? Here is one answer: Keep practicing! Don’t ever give up. Try again, and again, and again. Yogananda wrote this special prayer to encourage us in Whisper From Eternity:
Demand for union with the Almighty
behold me through the pores of the sky.
Smile at me through the twinkling stars.
Strengthen me through the sun;
calm my feelings through the moon.
Caress me through the breeze.
Love me through my love.
Throb in me through my heart.
Breathe Thine immortality
through this mortal frame of mine.
Speak through my voice.
Help others through my hands.
Use my mind to inspire them.
Breathe through my breath.
For within this fragile viol
Thou alone canst sing
Thy complete, eternal song.
Once again, here you may enjoy listening to Swami Kriyananda as he reads this prayer:
4) What then about Karma Yoga? This last one of the four major yogas is missing from the above descriptions. In fact, had there been a fourth question, “What is God’s will for us in this world?” Swami Kriyananda might have easily answered: “To become a conscious channel for Him, and especially for His love.”
Kriyananda explains that:
“The more we forget ourselves in giving to others, the better we can understand what love really is. And the more we love as channels for God’s love, the more we can understand that His is the one love in all the universe.”
Such channeled love and true karma yoga, are (again!) rooted in the inner silence, in calmness, and in God-centeredness. The more we succeed in maintaining a silent, inwardly connected state of consciousness during our daily lives while acting as a conscious channel, the more we will attract the divine blessings. In this way our “work” will truly turn into “service.”
In other words: our training is to try to maintain an atmosphere of inner stillness all day long, practicing God-remembrance, while secretly blessing everybody as we work, speak, and act. Yogananda expressed this important lesson in his own poetic way in the East-West Magazine, August 1932:
Today I will keep silence.
Silently in my thoughts
I will bless and help
all those around me.
I know that in silence
the Divine blessing
will be with me.
Now, with a firm voice and yogic concentration, repeat this affirmation with Swamiji on service.
Swami Kriyananda’s three answers are a concise “training manual” for our spiritual lives. They provide us with the most essential instructions on the spiritual path which if followed, will instill our days with God-love, God-wisdom, and God-speed.
What else do we need? Let’s keep it simple, pure, and crystal-clear.
- Tyagi Jayadev