The idea of putting God first is the very thought that both the new devotee and the worldly person find most difficult to accept. Having rooted their thinking in common sense, they assume that they’ve got to think first in practical terms, and then expand that into working spiritually with prayer and God’s grace. But I’ve found in my life that if you really give what you’re doing to God, somehow God will then supply the guidance that’s needed, or bring the right people who can help you.
Divine assistance in time of need
Paramhansa Yogananda demonstrated this principle in a story in Autobiography of a Yogi. He was a college student in Calcutta and had to take an exam for which he had not studied. He had attended only a few classes because he spent all of his free time with his Guru, Sri Yukteswar, in nearby Serampore. It seemed impossible for him to pass that exam because he knew practically nothing on the subject. But as he was walking across an empty lot on his way to the exam, he saw a piece of paper blowing along the ground. Hoping this was the divine assistance he needed to pass the exam, he picked up the paper and on it was just the information he needed.
Again and again at Ananda I’ve seen in my own life and in the lives of others that when you put God first, then somehow everything works out beautifully. I don’t mean that you should be impractical, but if you do your best, then God will take care of the results.
This principle also extends to being open to the assistance of others. One of the wonderful things about Ananda is that there’s somebody who has expertise in just about any field you need. Even if you’re in charge of something, it’s ridiculous to keep up the pretense that you know everything about it. Always have the humility to be willing to say, “I don’t know how to do this but here’s somebody else who does.” You’ll be amazed at how many people there are in this world, not just in a spiritual community, who will come forward to help you.
Be clear about your priorities
However, the most important thing of all is to keep in mind what your real priorities are. If you’re a devotee, your real priority is finding God, not the work you’re doing. I want to emphasize that point above all.
The story of Ananda has been a repeated coming back to our focus of who we really are. Repeatedly, there have been people coming in from the outside who were experts in their own fields who thought they were doing us a favor by advising us. Very often they’ve been right, but also they’ve been wrong. They were right from the standpoint of worldly success, but wrong in their definition of success.
As devotees, we want above all to serve God, and in our service we want to feel that even if we don’t succeed in that service, we’re growing closer to Him, that we’re feeling Him more—His love, His joy. These are the important things. Then, secondarily, we want also to be practical.
When you take worldly success as you first priority and come at loving God from there, then you’re coming to the center of the circle from the outside. The trouble with that approach is that there are lots of corridors that you can get sucked off into, and you can miss the center altogether. If you start at the center of living for God and expand outward from there, then God comes through, and things flow easily.
Throughout my life, as I’ve tried to feel and act on God’s guidance, there’s been a question in the back of my mind: Did I act in a certain way because I felt His guidance, or did He come in and save the day because I was simply trying my best? I think it’s a little of both. But I’ve seen repeatedly that if I really gave what I was doing to Him with faith and with no ulterior motives, He has always saved the day, often at the last moment.
Miracles are manifestations of faith
Faith is not just blind belief or groundless hope. It’s something deep within, and you have to put all your energy into developing that faith. We have a song, Many Hands Make a Miracle, but to make the miracle those hands have to work hard together and also be practical.
What I find is that miracles, if we want to call them that, are simply manifestations of faith. By being practical I mean you should take only one step beyond your actual experience, not giant leaps. You’ll find that by taking that first step, you’ll gain enough understanding, energy, and insight to take the next step, and after that, the next step.
Eventually you’ll be able to do those kinds of things which we consider the miracles of saints. It’s not as if the saints had a special pipeline to God. They simply have put more energy, faith, and love into their spiritual practices. Miracles are done through God’s power, yes, but also by God’s power working through dedicated souls.
Again and again at Ananda, although there have been people who wanted to do things in different ways — ways that weren’t dependent on attunement with God — ultimately it has been seeking God that has made Ananda possible.
Yogananda’s method of organizing
Toward the end of Paramhansa Yogananda’s life, there were some people in the work who wanted to start getting organized. It wasn’t that Yogananda was against organization, but he wanted whatever we did to be in tune. He didn’t want to have an in-house rebellion saying, “Now we’re going to get it organized in spite of him.”
One time I asked a senior disciple, who later left the path, “Why does Master keep taking things in different directions and not finishing them? Is he trying to teach us organization?” I was trying to understand. His answer was quite a shocker to me. He said, “Organization, hell! All he’s ever done is disorganize.”
Yogananda was teaching us organization, but he was first teaching us to do things in attunement with God. Knowing that he wouldn’t be around forever, he was also trying to get out many ideas so we’d know what to do when he was no longer with us. If he’d remained fixed in a single direction, we wouldn’t have known what his ideas were in other areas. His method of organizing was absolutely perfect, but that disgruntled disciple couldn’t understand it.
Don’t let reasonable voices take you away from why you came onto the spiritual path and why you’ve come to Ananda. We’ve all come to seek God. If we can also provide an ambience where other people are inspired to seek God, that’s wonderful, but don’t allow secondary things to become first priorities. Seek the kingdom of God first, and these things will be added unto you.
Don’t start thinking, “Well, Yogananda didn’t talk about this directly, and we’ve got to do something about it,” and not try to tune in. If you don’t try to tune in, what you do may be a good thing. It may even have a lot of magnetism, but it can also be that first step that leads you away from attunement with the Guru and the spiritual path.
Make attunement your highest priority
We have to keep our ideals very strong, because we’re swimming against the stream of worldly consciousness. We have to be absolutely clear about these ideals because we’re surrounded by an entire culture that is dedicated to totally different ideals. Even religious people, by and large, are not seeking our kind of inner communion with God. There are so many wrong insights and attitudes toward life that you don’t know where to begin to show people the way out. But the way we’ve begun at Ananda was the way Yogananda wanted—bringing people together who are strong in their attunement to God and Guru, and in what they’re doing. From that strong center, it will spread.
As soon as you lose the thought of putting God first and being in tune with Yogananda, and begin to think in terms of other priorities, you begin to follow a road down which you can never stop going. The more you take that step toward dilution, the more you end up with a watered-down version of the spiritual path. The more you dilute coffee, the more it ceases to be coffee at all.
When you put God first, He’ll find amazing ways of helping you. He may not spare you suffering. How would you grow if He did? But you’ll find that His love and support will always be there for you. That’s why Yogananda often said, “Devotees of this path will always be protected.”