A sailor was captured by the enemy and put in prison for fifteen years. On his release and return home, he was met by a friend who gave him some money to help him get a new start.
Walking to his home, the sailor passed a pet store. He looked in the window there for a long time, and then went inside and used all of his money to buy as many caged birds as possible. He took the birds outside and, one by one, opened the doors of the cages and let all of the birds fly away. Someone later asked him, “How could you spend all your money to free those birds?” The sailor said, “After experiencing prison myself, I couldn’t stand to see those birds in prison.
A pathway to inner freedom
This story was told by an Indian saint as a metaphor for the Guru. The Guru is one who was once imprisoned by his desires and attachments and long ago freed himself from those bonds. When he sees us imprisoned by desires and attachments, he says, “I can’t bear to see you in prison. I’ll do anything to free you.” Thus the Guru returns to the world, not once but many times, and having found the path that leads to freedom, he creates a pathway for us through his teachings, techniques, and the soul vibrations of one united with God. He says, “Follow my pathway and attune to me.”
Paramhansa Yogananda would often say to his disciples, “Practice the techniques. I can help you through the techniques.” He said that without spiritual techniques, it is very difficult to develop the inner power needed to find God – the mind tends to scatter too much.
Swami Kriyananda describes a time, early in his life as a disciple, when for a year and a half, he hated doing Kriya Yoga, one of the most important techniques brought by Yogananda. But he continued to practice Kriya Yoga faithfully because, as he put it, he had no other choice if he wanted to stay in tune with his Guru. By practicing Kriya Yoga despite his reluctance, Kriyananda gradually emerged from that difficult period more in tune with the technique itself, more deeply in tune with Yogananda, and much deeper in his spiritual life.
How we push the Guru away
Paramhansa Yogananda often said to the disciples who came to him for training, “Stay in tune with me so I can help you.” Toward the end of Yogananda’s life, there was the kind of “house cleaning” which often occurs at the end of a Guru’s life –– quite a few disciples, including some of the monks, began leaving the ashram. Kriyananda was in charge of the monks and as he saw monks who had once been deeply dedicated to the spiritual search begin to leave, he became very concerned, even frightened, about his own vulnerability: Would he also leave?
During a satsang with Yogananda, Kriyananda was feeling a desperate need for his Guru’s reassurance that he would not leave the path. When he looked at Yogananda for reassurance, Yogananda looked at him and smiled encouragingly. Despite his Guru’s smile, Kriyananda continued praying desperately, “Master, don’t let me leave, don’t let me leave.” Yogananda never looked at him again that evening.
Later, meditating on what happened during the satsang, Kriyananda realized that through his desperation, he had actually pushed his Guru away. Yogananda had smiled at him saying, “It’s okay,” but Kriyananda, because of his emotional turmoil, had not able to receive Yogananda’s reassurance.
I had a much less dramatic experience that illustrates this same point about receptivity. While in a store and considering whether or not to buy something I thought might be useful spiritually, I rather desperately wanted to know if my Guru approved of this purchase. Standing in the aisle, I silently prayed to Yogananda, “Master, should I buy this or not? What do you want me to do? I want to do the right thing.” I repeated these questions over and over, but no answer came. Fortunately, at some point, I remembered Yogananda’s promise: “Stay in tune with me so I can help you.”
I realized that I would never get an answer because, in my agitated state of mind, I was not even remotely on Yogananda’s wavelength. So I centered myself by focusing at the spiritual eye, waited until I could feel the Guru’s presence within, and then asked the question. The answer was obvious.
Attunement: harmony and devotion
Swami Kriyananda once gave a very simple answer to the question: “What is attunement?” He said attunement is harmony. When there is any kind of emotional turmoil — Kriyananda’s desperate need for reassurance or my angst about the purchase I was considering — inner harmony is lacking. How do we develop and maintain the inner harmony that makes us receptive to the Guru’s blessings?
Swami Kriyananda, in his autobiography, The New Path, has included an entire chapter on attunement. I was living at Ananda Village in the 1970s when Kriyananda was writing the book, and because of how that particular chapter was written, I’ve always tried to tune into it. In those days before computers, his then secretary, Asha Praver, would go to his house each day to pick up what he had written and type it up at her office. When she went to Kriyananda’s house the day he finished the chapter on attunement, she found him in a state of great exhilaration because, as he told her at the time, “The chapter just wrote itself.” It didn’t come out at all as he had planned.
In that chapter, Kriyananda discusses negativity as the biggest obstacle to attunement. He describes a time when he became caught in negativity by associating with a certain group of monks, and by being drawn into their negative criticisms of how some of the more senior disciples were running the main office. When the monks took it upon themselves to reprimand the “erring” senior disciples, Yogananda upbraided the entire group, but directed most of his criticism at Kriyananda, probably because he knew that Kriyananda was the only one who would stay on as a disciple. When Kriyananda later apologized, Yogananda told him he needed to develop more devotion. Explaining, Kriyananda writes:
Our “bondage” to Master was a bond purely of love. When love was missing on a disciple’s part, the bond broke, or was never formed…. In heeding the negative criticisms of my older brother disciples I had fallen — from what had seemed to me good motives — into judgmental attitudes, forever inimical to love.
Devotion insulates us from negativity by lifting our energy inward and upward in ever-increasing love of God and Guru. For attunement with the Guru, an attitude of deep, loving receptivity is essential.
Be patient with yourself
At a recent astral ascension service, Swami Kriyananda described the devotee who had passed on as being without flaw and “free.” How do we reach the point of perfection where we are totally without flaws?
First and foremost, we need to understand that the spiritual path is not a straight shot upward to that state of perfection. During my first months at Ananda Village, I had great meditations and I thought, “Wow, at this rate, God-realization in three years. I just know it!” But it didn’t turn out that way. A lot of times instead of going up the mountain, we’re going down and we can’t even remember where the peak was. We hit some of those walls of pain, confusion, or stress and we can’t maintain the same level of intensity in our spiritual practices.
But the Guru is always working on us in a profoundly transformational way. And if we stay connected to the Guru and try to be in tune, however poorly we’re doing it, he will still help us. We start over and we keep going.
A devotee friend of mine is a very quiet person, very inward, loves to meditate and had always led a very quiet life. Then she had a child and her life became very busy, and she wasn’t meditating very much at all. She thought, “Am I never going to find God?” She had a dream in which she was on a bus going to Jefferson City, the capitol of Missouri, which to her mind represented spiritual freedom. But the bus was going incredibly slowly. It was making stop after stop. She said to herself, “I could walk to Jefferson City faster than this. I’m going to get off this bus and walk. I could even jog a little. And I’m sure I can beat this bus.”
So she got off the bus and instantly she was lost – completely lost. She had no idea where she was. Then she said, “Oh I get it. I’ve got to get back on that bus because no matter how slowly it goes, I know it’s going to get there.”
And that is our journey. We have to keep ourselves attuned because the Guru knows what will make each one of us free. It will be different for each of us — we can’t compare ourselves with anyone else. We just have to say, “I will trust the Guru and link myself with him because he is someone who has found the freedom I am seeking.”
Stand in the presence of the Guru
I would like to share something that you can use as a visualization. After Sister Gyanamata, Yogananda’s most advanced woman disciple, met Yogananda in Seattle she didn’t see him again for a long time. To deepen her attunement with him, she would visualize Yogananda and mentally stand in front of him. She would attune to his vibrations flowing into her.
This is a wonderful practice! Any time you feel troubled or simply want to lift your consciousness, think of Yogananda standing in front of you. Tune in to the pure love and joy that flow from him. Feel yourself bathed in his love and lifted toward his state of communion with God.