In his recent talks, Swami Kriyananda has warned that the world now faces the prospect of severe economic hardship. How will we live, if the material foundations of our life are shaken or destroyed? I have no set answer, but I pray that the following stories may inspire us with the possibility that our most reliable “resource,” in good times and bad, is our relationship with God.
How to raise the money?
When I moved to Ananda Village in February 1976, the community’s photographer had recently left. A big event, a “Village Fun Faire,” was being planned. It promised to be photogenic, with colorfully costumed performers and an elephant. I wanted to take good pictures, but my camera wasn’t up to the job.
In the early years at Ananda Village, many of the single people lived a very simple life, earning just $50 a month plus room and board. Wondering how I could raise the money for a camera, I reached in my pocket and found 34 cents – my entire net worth at the time. But I sensed that if a camera was truly needed, the money would come. I told God that I would do my part, if He would show me how to make the money.
The next day, a friend called to say that he had written a book for bicyclists, and he needed photos. Could I do them? The amount he offered was just enough for a camera that would serve Ananda.
“Go see the podiatrist!”
Fifteen years later, I was training for my first ultramarathon, when an injury threatened to end my running career altogether. I tried all manner of remedies, from anti-inflammatory drugs, to massage, icing, cheap shoe inserts, and special exercises, but nothing worked. I even stuffed leaves in my shoes!
Finally, feeling desperate, I prayed for help. And then I heard an intuitive voice that I recognized as Swami Kriyananda’s. It said, “Go see the podiatrist.”
I said, “But I have no money, and the podiatrist will prescribe shoe inserts that cost $400, plus he’ll charge $40 for the office visit.”
The inner guidance was unrelenting. Again, it said, “Go see the podiatrist.” Seizing my faith in my hands, I made an appointment, and sure enough, the doctor wanted $40 for the visit and $400 for inserts. I asked him to bill me, and the next day I received a phone call from the same friend who had “come through” 15 years earlier. “I’ve written another book,” he said. “Can you do the photos? I need them quickly, and I’ll pay $500.”
This story has repeated itself endlessly in my life as a devotee – not always as spectacularly, but often enough that I’ve come to understand that certain principles are at play. I’ve seen, for example, that when the need is real and we humbly ask for God’s help, He willingly provides.
A job in response to a prayer
But I evidently still had much to learn about money and grace, and in due time God taught me a difficult lesson.
In the late 1990s, I was able to make a living as a writer and editor in Silicon Valley. But when the high-tech industry experienced a down-turn in 2001, the company I was working for struggled and my work fell by the wayside. Following 9/11, my other clients reduced their spending, and I found myself essentially unemployed.
I prayed for help, and the next day a friend told me of an opening in the department where she worked at Stanford University. I happily took a part-time job helping the department manager.
My boss was a wonderful person. Before work each morning, I would pray to be able to make her day easier by being supportive and cheerful, and offering her God’s friendship. I loved that job, and I stayed for two years. But then the department trimmed its budget and my job was eliminated.
Both a wonderful and confusing time
For the next six years, I had a terrible time making a living. Why? I can think of at least six reasons, all related to mistakes I had made in the past. But I don’t think it helps to dwell on our mistakes, since what ultimately matters is the lessons we learn from them.
After I left Stanford, I applied for hundreds of jobs for which I was highly qualified. I went to dozens of job interviews that seemed to go well – yet nothing resulted. I had countless responses to my ads on Craigslist, but I was never hired. I began to run up debts.
I had a reading with a Vedic astrologer whose predictions had proved accurate over the years. He told me that I was in an inward period of my spiritual life – “on pilgrimage” – and that I was “invisible” to employers.
It was a wonderful, yet a deeply confusing time. I was writing a book on fitness, based on Paramhansa Yogananda’s teachings, and my work on that project brought me joy. But the satisfactions were balanced by a growing sense of frustration over my inability to make a living. Over the years, I had developed an excellent resume, with testimonials from respected companies, and two degrees from Stanford. I had a handful of regular clients who gave me just enough work to keep food on the table, but little more.
I reach the end of my rope
The time of testing stretched to six years. After five years, I had another astrology reading and learned that I had entered a period when it would be possible to make a living. Yet months passed after I entered the “money period,” with no change. I realized that my Guru was capable of holding up my astrology chart, and with a gentle smile, ripping it to pieces, if it would help me learn a needed lesson.
Just when I felt that I had reached the end of my rope, I had a vision in meditation. I saw a young man with brown skin and long black hair standing in front of a gray stone hut, high in the Himalayas. He wore a simple wool robe, and it was obvious that he had nothing, only a crude rock shelter and food. But the smile on his face was radiant. I realized from this vision that it was possible to be sublimely happy while having almost nothing materially.
The vision reminded me of how I had lived 30 years earlier, in the early days of Ananda Village. At the time, I owned just two pairs of pants and two shirts. When one set of clothes was dirty, I washed them in the shower and set them on a fence to dry. At Christmas one year, Swami Kriyananda drew my name in our Divine Mother gift exchange. Someone told him that I only had two shirts, and he gave me a pale-blue long-sleeved cotton turtleneck. I loved that shirt – it felt wonderful to wear it, and I was sad when it finally wore out.
Two important realizations
Whatever the lesson of this test was, I wanted to learn it completely, so that I wouldn’t have to return to it again. I wrote to Swami Kriyananda, “I am glad that my Guru is uncompromising.” His secretary replied that Swami had read my email, and had said he understood.
Some weeks later, I had a further realization. I wrote to Swami Kriyananda, “I have come to understand that I am in this world for only three reasons: to love God, to serve His work, and to live simply.” I sent the email and forgot about it. I would have been content to receive no reply. Even if I became homeless, I felt that I had learned an enduring lesson.
A week later, nothing had changed. Then I received an email from Kriyananda’s secretary. He said that Swamiji had read my latest email, and that he had said, simply, “Very good.”
I can’t tell you how much those words meant to me. It was the most precious message of my life.
A regular flow of work
The sequel is that, bright and early the next morning, the phone began to ring off the hook. The same Craigslist ad that had failed to elicit a job for six years was unleashing a torrent of offers. It was scary how many people were calling and asking me to work for them.
From then on, I’ve had a steady flow of work. But the lesson, of course, didn’t end there. It wasn’t as if Divine Mother said, “You’ve learned your lesson – now you’ll be able to find work easily.” I found that the flow of work continued to the extent that I affirmed, over and over, the purpose of my life: to love God, to serve His work, and to live simply.
Reflecting on the loving help that Swami Kriyananda and Ananda had given me over the years, I felt a strong desire to give back. I began participating more in Ananda’s work, by singing in the choir and two small groups, by writing, by volunteering in the Ananda community garden, by helping the community manager, and by tithing. And to the extent that I offered my service cheerfully, from my heart, I found that I was blessed.
The most difficult, yet rewarding lesson
At age 69, I see that one of the most rewarding lessons we can learn on the spiritual path is to go along with God’s way of doing things. We naturally would like to think that we can plan our lives logically. “I will invest so much energy, and I’ll receive this much in return.” We hope to find security by gaining control over the material circumstances of our lives.
My six-year test showed me that all the money in creation is contained entirely within Divine Mother’s purse. When I serve God’s work, the sense of abundance increases. But when I forget the threefold purpose of my life, I find the flow of opportunities reduced to a trickle. Abundance, I realize, comes by opening ourselves to its only source, in God, through our love and service to Him.