Editor’s Note: Nayaswami Prakash and Brahmachari Dhyan often work together on maintenance projects at Ananda Village. One day, in conversation with Dhyan about his work with Prakash, it occurred to me that it would be fun and inspiring for them to provide 5-and 40-year perspectives on how Sister Gyanamata’s guidelines on right attitude have played out in their lives. Both Prakash and Dhyan were enthusiastic about the project and cooperated wholeheartedly. (More details about their backgrounds and current jobs appear at the end of the article.)

Sister Gyanamata, in her book, God Alone, (p.26), gives four guidelines that sum up the right attitude of the devotee committed to living for God:

• See nothing, look at nothing but your goal, ever-shining before you.
• The things that happen to us do not matter; what we become through them does.
• Every day accept everything as coming to you from God.
• At night, give everything back into His hands.

What follows is a composite of written accounts submitted by Dhyan and Prakash and notes from my interviews with them.

1. See nothing, look at nothing but your goal, ever-shining before you.

Dhyan (Five years):

Since I was very young, I’ve wanted to dedicate my life to some type of service to mankind. When I was seven years old, while walking with my father in San Francisco, I saw a sickly-looking, decrepit man begging on the street. Despite my pleas, my father refused to give the man any money. After that, my overriding interest became helping people who were disadvantaged. The specific ways I want to provide help have changed, but helping people has been the constant.

After finding the spiritual path and experiencing inner joy and peace, the thought came, “Now you have the key to helping others!” It was like a lightening bolt striking my consciousness. I had only been on the path a few months, but helping others by sharing what I’d found became my life direction.

Early on I learned that when we make up our minds to seek God, the world will often try to lure us away from that goal. I discovered Paramhansa Yogananda’s teachings and Ananda in 2009. In 2010, after spending two years in a community college, I decided to complete my education at Ananda College, at the Ananda Meditation Retreat near Ananda Village. Around this time, my father told me he planned to retire and wanted me to take over his handyman business. When I explained that my life was moving in a different direction, my father accused me of running away from responsibility.

As home life became increasingly tense, I moved to the college before the start of the school term and, with the help of the director, was able to find work. I knew then, more than ever, that my life was completely dedicated to God. I was 24 years old.

1. See nothing, look at nothing but your goal, ever-shining before you.

Prakash (Forty years):

My initial sense of the goal of life was not so much God-realization as service to something larger than myself, and of being part of something larger than myself, a feeling that translated naturally into living in a spiritual community.

I had followed another spiritual path and had gone as far as I could, but could not honestly continue because I did not have feelings of discipleship to that path. My departure from that path left me in a state of darkness and despair, unable to continue in that direction and unable to return to any sort of worldly life.

In the midst of the most difficult period of my life, an image of Paramhansa Yogananda formed in my mind, a memory of the cover photo of Autobiography of a Yogi. Grasping that image with my whole being, I was led to the book itself. Here was the Divine Friend that my soul recognized at once. I was next led to a book by Swami Kriyananda, The Road Ahead, an account of Yogananda’s prophecies. The back cover told of Ananda, a community based on Yogananda’s teachings.

I sorted out my life in a few days and hitchhiked from North Carolina to Ananda Village. Arriving at the community, I knew I was home at last. The year was 1974 and I had just turned 32.

I came onto the spiritual path with one very helpful understanding—that, no matter what was to come, what mistakes I might make, I would stay on Paramhansa Yogananda’s path. For me this meant I would never leave Ananda.

2. The things that happen to us do not matter; what we become through them does.

Dhyan (Five years):

After graduating from the Ananda College in 2012, I moved to Chandi House at Ananda Village, a group house where most people new to Ananda Village live for a year. At Chandi I felt more independence but at times felt overwhelmed by being around people so constantly. I had my own room and quiet time began at 9 pm, but I could feel psychic energy all around me.

Swami Kriyananda says that group living smoothes the rough edges and is strongly recommended for new people entering the Village. My rough edges included being annoyed that I had to wait for the bathroom to be available, the limited storage space for personal food, and not really feeling “at home.” Some people I felt close to; others I hardly spoke to. The unpredictability of the situation sometimes made me a little irritable. But I soon discovered that the more regular I was in my meditations and other spiritual practices, the easier it was to contain my emotions.

There were a number of us interested in starting a monastery and we were able to secure the use of a 6-bedroom group house for that purpose: Inspiration House. I was enthusiastic to move into Inspiration House because I saw the monastery as my dharma and something Swami Kriyananda wanted for Ananda.

The house quickly filled up with six residents, and many of the challenges I faced at Chandi House followed me, but in a much more intense way. The main lesson I learned is that whatever irritates us in others is also a fault in ourselves. Living in a group house gives us lots of mirrors to reflect back our faults.

To reconcile myself to group living, I realized I needed not only to correct the irritants within myself, but also to try to see the highest in others. Instead of judging them and becoming irritated, I said the “peace and harmony prayer” for those I was struggling to accept. More lately I’ve prayed to my Guru for help in seeing the good qualities in those who annoy me.

Sister Gyanamata says, “Your religion is tested in the cold light of day.” I’ve had to learn to recognize and value the outer changes I’ve seen in myself: more calmness and consideration of other’s realities; greater equanimity when going through trials; and a willingness to sacrifice time and energy to help others. But these changes are much more evident during my “good periods.”

What causes the good periods to end? I get into a good flow and suddenly I sleep in and miss meditation. Since I’m now in a “good space spiritually,” I think I can get away with doing things which undermine a strong meditation routine: watching the wrong movies, staying up late, being too social and outward. On a deeper level, I think I become afraid of having to live up to the high standard of regular meditation, constant thinking of God, and avoiding things that take my mind away from God.

I’m learning not to be too hard on myself during these “not-so-good” periods, but also how to take responsibility for keeping my energy high, sattwic, and supportive of my spiritual aspirations.

Another challenge after moving to the Village was being assigned to Ananda’s property services department, which oversees community maintenance. I had hoped to serve in ways I assumed were more spiritual (teaching, writing). Day after day, coming home from work sweaty, dirty, and aching, it was so easy to identify with my job. I began to wonder whether I was competent to do anything else.

Swami Kriyananda writes that we should not identify with anything other than being a true disciple of a true guru. That was my goal — to become a true disciple, which to me meant doing the work I was assigned with a positive attitude and joyful spirit.

I took my concerns into meditation and prayed to God and Guru, asking them to free me from the delusion that it really mattered what kind of work I did. As Sister Gyanamata says, “The things that happen to us do not matter; what become through them does.”

I have not perfected Sister Gyanamata’s attitude but I’m progressing.
With the practice of meditation and Kriya Yoga, I now feel more contented with my life, including whatever work I’m doing.

2. The things that happen to us do not matter; what we become through them does.

Prakash (Forty years):

Again and again over the years, I have been urged toward balance and moderation in all things. In my early years at Ananda Village, I was given Bach Flower Remedies for fanaticism and despair. My nature finds it more familiar to approach any obstacle with fanatic zeal, to drive forward with will power until a stone wall stops all forward momentum. In the ensuing collapse, despair sets in and, deep inside, my energy gradually builds for the next fanatical assault. The new assault may find an entirely new target, but the emotional cycle remains essentially the same.

Early in my time at Ananda, I went to see the well-known psychic, Marcy Calhoun, for a past life reading. Summing up, Marcy said, “Your life lessons will be moderation and balance.” Swami Kriyananda’s brief comment was: “She has good intuition, doesn’t she?”

Early on I determined to meditate eight hours a day on weekdays, and fourteen hours a day on weekends, which I soon decided also included Thursdays. My work at the time included teaching, counseling, and leading yoga postures.

My objective was to stay in a state of divine love and joy, which I thought I could achieve by living on fruit juice and meditating as much as possible. Up to a certain point the plan worked. I found that if I stopped eating, negative feelings such as impatience and anger would go away. Writing an extensive, self-analytical spiritual journal at the end of each day brought the mind — with its unrelenting habit of evaluating whatever was now occurring, along with each and every past experience I could possibly remember — into a semblance of equanimity.

By living on fruit juice and sleeping very little, I freed up a lot of time. My meditations were wonderful, my heart was full of love for God and man, but the body was steadily diminishing.

When my weight reached the low 90s, I was told Swami Kriyananda wanted to see me. When he looked at me, he said, “This is ridiculous.” He let me reflect on that comment a few days. When he asked to see me again, he quietly remarked, “You’ll look better when you weigh 160 pounds.” An undreamed of weight for someone averaging 120 pounds his entire adult life.

The “ridiculous” remark plunged me into despair; the “160 pounds” remark fueled the next fanatical application of energy, this time to a strong healthy body weighing in at the required poundage.

I gathered everything Paramhansa Yogananda had written about gaining weight, all the specific foods – butter, cream, bananas – and, adding rice flour, daily cooked up a mush of it all, two and a half quarts ingested each day. I cut back meditating to an hour and half a day. As the quality and quality of my meditation dropped, all the negative feelings returned – outbreaks of anger, impatience and pushiness – putting projects ahead of the people involved.

In two months I had gained 50 pounds, was working construction, and had changed from a loving meditative wraith into a seldom meditating, aggressive manual laborer. When I could not coerce my body above 145 pounds, I went to Swami Kriyananda in some discouragement. Very kindly, he said my present weight would do.

The lesson for me is always the same. At the still center point between all opposites lies the doorway to divine love, to the experience of God, to freedom from every delusion.

Over time, by Yogananda’s grace, Kriyananda’s guidance, and the powerful mirroring effect of living in a spiritual community, the pendulum swing of my nature has moderated. More and more I find myself an amused spectator of my own ongoing drama, playing essentially the same role, but with increasing self-awareness.

One day a week Dhyan and I work together on village projects. Using a tractor-mounted “masticator,” we had been cleaning up a 5-acre area that was overgrown with heavy brush, removing old metal posts and barbed wire, the remnants of the land’s previous use as a cattle ranch.

That particular day I had noticed a great tangle of wire and metal posts that we had overlooked. Thinking (mistakenly) that I would work around the tangle, I soon managed to back the machine into the wire. The tangle of wire got sucked into the machine in such a way that the machine was completely jammed. Each of hundreds of tightly-wound wires would need to be cut from underneath the machine.

Dhyan and I worked together – one prying a strand away from the machine, the other cutting it with bolt cutters. Lying on our backs, we pried and cut for several hours. Instead of feeling frustrated, we enjoyed the work, the comradeship, the absurdity of it all. Dhyan and I were working with the thought, “The things that happen to us do not matter; what we become through them does.” When we finished, we looked at each other and one of us said, “I think we got it right this time.”

3. Every day accept everything as coming to you from God.

Dhyan (Five years):

One of the most persistent problems I’ve faced as a devotee is being overly intellectual. I’ve thought I had to analyze and understand everything on a mental level.

During one of my more challenging times at Ananda College, a few of us went to a movie in town with Nitai, a teacher at the college and a long-time Ananda member. On the way, I told him I was going through a difficult time — how I felt very disconnected from God and Guru when just a few days before I was uplifted and walking hand in hand with the Divine. For Nitai to grasp the gravity of the situation, I spelled everything out in great detail. After hearing my long, drawn-out account, all he said, “Well, that’s the path.”

I thought, “That’s all he has to say?”

Something similar happened when I began working with Prakash on heavy equipment projects. When I first asked him questions about the tests I was going through, the spiritual teachings, or the spiritual path in general, he deflected all of my questions by saying, “Let’s stay focused on the work.”

I thought maybe I was asking stupid questions. I now understand that he wanted me to focus more on serving and to perceive things more intuitively.

Once I began focusing more on service, Prakash started to open up. During one of my more challenging times, he explained that Divine Mother was testing my love for Her and strengthening my resolve to live for God alone. That statement gave me the understanding I needed to go forward.

In time, I began to realize that the moments of upliftment I experienced came after I offered myself unreservedly to the Guru. I reached a point of complete acceptance and humility, and that’s what opened the door to deeper experiences.

Yet, during the more difficult periods, the thought of offering myself into an “unknown” presence was very difficult. What could I do to get my energy realigned with Yogananda’s, so I could feel his love dissipating my pain and uncertainty? This issue got resolved about a year ago when a few of us drove with Jyotish and Devi to Los Angeles to assist with one of their programs.

At one point, I asked them how I could keep the spiritual path fresh and inspiring. Jyotish quickly responded saying, “Attunement to the Guru is the way to keep the path renewed because Master is the source of all inspiration.”

At the time I was battling the delusion that Yogananda was no longer with us because he was no longer in his physical form. This delusion came and went. There were times I knew Yogananda was with me because my heart was open to his presence. Other times I would be filled with doubt that life continues after death.

This Los Angeles trip was the first time I had ever visited any of Yogananda’s shrines and the first stop was Mt. Washington, where Yogananda had lived. As we entered the main building, I drifted off towards the stairs, leading to Yogananda’s study. Immediately I felt uplifted. “Are you still there, Master?” I asked mentally. In reply, a strong current of energy coursed up my spine.

“You are with us.” I felt Yogananda’s living presence within me more powerfully than ever. There was a sense of calmness about it. For the first time I felt what attunement really was, and I realized that I needed to learn to live in that state of attunement and not allow life’s changing circumstances to determine my attitudes. This was what Nitai was trying to teach me.

On a deeper level, Nitai was teaching me that all things come from God, and that their purpose is to help us learn our lessons, and especially to learn to love God regardless of what’s happening outwardly in our lives.

3. Every day accept everything as coming to you from God.

Prakash (Forty years):

Satsang with the younger generation helps me see everything as coming from God – I can feel them so very consciously trying to do so. I remember doing the same thing when I was newer on the path. To be inspired by a teaching meant to immediately try to implement it in your life.

When I would be working with Dhyan, for example, he might look at me and say, “Can I ask you a quick question? How DO you see everything as coming from God? Are you able to do that in your life, and how?” All the while the tractor is running. His sincerity and interest reawaken my enthusiasm for seeing what we’re doing at that moment as coming from God, and for understanding what it is we are learning. It becomes two brothers who are both learning. The younger brother thinks he’s the one who’s learning but the older brother is also learning.

Working with heavy equipment as I do, I have to guard against becoming impatient and dealing with obstacles by forcing my way through. I was driving an 18-ton bulldozer to an area I’d been asked to clear of brush and found my way blocked by a series of fences going across the access road. Caught up in my forward momentum, I let myself heat up and spoke impatiently to the young fellow who showed up to help me get the equipment through. He was calm, considerate, patient and helpful, mirroring to me how I should have been. Immediately I saw the entire episode as coming from God.

Driving away, I sent an awkward apology and shook a reproving finger at my irascible outburst. Instead of responding to impatience with impatience, this young man became more patient and helpful. I wondered how Divine Mother would drive the lesson home even more, for the longer I stay on the path, the shorter the delay from action (mine) to reaction (the universe’s).

Sure enough, that evening came a voice mail message whose impatience perfectly reflected my own of that morning. The subject of the message was a second bulldozer, parked in such a way that visitors to our Springtime at Ananda flower show could not photograph a particularly beautiful flowering tree without the machine’s large yellow presence appearing in the background. I was to move the machine immediately.

“Well done, Divine Mother!” I thought. “Who but You could have produced such a perfectly (and amusingly) arrange educational scenario?

Lighthearted, joyfully amused at the ongoing learning process – these are the attitudes starting to shine through more regularly. How welcome they are! Enough of moods, self-justification, rationalization. In the last year or so especially I feel myself moving more and more toward soul freedom; balance and moderation seem more like normal states of being than something strongly recommended but out of character for the hand I’ve been dealt.

Taking Nayaswami vows has been so helpful: “From now on I embrace as the only purpose of my life the search for God.” Repeating the vows throughout the day, I find it more and more natural to let everything go, for only that one thing matters. At the end of the vow, the renunciate is speaking directly to God: “I have no other goal but to know Thee, and to serve as Thy channel of blessing to all mankind.” In recent years, I’ve had the thought, maybe it can happen; maybe it is possible.

4. At night, give everything back into His hands.

Dhyan (Five years):

Once I came onto the spiritual path, I’ve wanted nothing more than to live in God’s joy and to be deeply fulfilled with His love. I’ve often wondered, when contemplating this goal, “What is holding me back from this?” The answer it isn’t always clear.

When my life intensifies and I feel I’m living in a pressure cooker, I build a mental bonfire before going to sleep, and offer into that fire all the pains, worries, and doubts I feel, seeking to be healed. This is something Swami Kriyananda recommends and I’ve found it very effective. Afterwards I feel much more peaceful and less consumed by negative thoughts.

This process is helping me understand that spiritual growth is a process of self-offering—offering my likes and dislikes, my pains and worries, and my desires and attachments into the light of God. This isn’t always easy. It requires that I learn to relax and accept the pace at which I’m growing and changing.

Right now I don’t build a mental bonfire every night; I do it sporadically. Because it’s been so helpful, I anticipate that in time I’ll do it more frequently.

4. At night, give everything back into His hands.

Prakash (Forty years):

In my early years on the path, it was a very conscious and intense sadhana for me to give everything to God at night. Every night I wrote for hours in my spiritual journal! Because my work in the apprentice program meant dealing with people, a great deal of what I gave back to God had to do with interactions with people.

During the day I would often write down a single word, sometimes on the inside of my arm — little notes to myself. In the evening I would start going through my list, describing and evaluating the interactions, and committing myself to correcting whatever wrong attitude I saw. This process served the same purpose as a mental bonfire: I could go into meditation with my mind clear of any nagging sense of uncompleted energy flows. As life got busier with the weight-gaining program, the evening practice diminished a great deal and I turned toward trying to evaluate and release in the flow of the day.

In the last several years keeping a spiritual journal has become important again to understanding and releasing what happens during the day. Usually I do the journaling in the morning after meditation, before I go to work. This practice is helpful especially in trying to see the hand of God in everything that’s happened. I start the day with a feeling of connection to the Divine. Now, during the day, it’s becoming more natural to look at things as an observer and to see what Divine Mother is teaching me in the moment.

It’s especially interesting to see whether my perception the next morning is the same as when the events were happening. More and more the two are the same. How recent is this shift? The major shift took place when I took Nayaswami vows in 2012.

Now, too, in conversations with close friends, I’m observing that permeating the friendship is mutual support in putting God first and finding God in this lifetime. This feeling is one I haven’t had since the very early days at Ananda – that we are going to help one another move toward spiritual freedom. In these recent years what I’ve seen more and more is the awareness that the real purpose of any close friendship is to help each other move toward God.

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