Paramhansa Yogananda once insisted on putting a “dunce cap” on the head of a sister disciple, who very stubbornly refused. Though he did it jokingly, Yogananda kept insisting. This went on for a while. Finally she said, “All right Master.”
As soon as she agreed to wear the cap, he stopped insisting and put the cap away. He had only wanted her to surrender that little bit of ego that says, “I won’t be recognized as stupid!” Her reluctance to wear the cap seems like a small thing, yet Yogananda later told her: “I saw God and Satan on opposite sides of you. If you had turned toward the wrong side, you would have been lost for this life.”
We are always at that point of decision. Our aspiration for soul-enlightenment takes us upward toward the Divine, but there is also the downward pull of past habit and subconscious tendencies. Which way will you go? Once you go the wrong direction, you then see all the reasons why it’s the right direction for you. Don’t risk these things.
Two types of failed seekers
There are two ways of failing in yoga practice. One of them is fairly common: to return to a worldly life. Such failed seekers may wander for incarnations after such a fall, until the desire for God reawakens in their hearts. For although that desire may seem to disappear, once it has been wakened in the heart, it can never die.
Another type of fall takes place, so to speak, on the battlefield. A person practices yoga zealously at first. After some time, however, he relaxes his efforts and loses his focus on the divine goal. Doubts assail him: “Is there, possibly, no hope for him to rise any higher?” “Is it really worthwhile to sacrifice everything to find God?” Unfortunately, the farther the devotee slips into delusion, the less he is likely to realize his mistake and return to the divine search.
It is always very sad for me to see the grief in the eyes of those who have decided that they didn’t need God after all. They have turned away from the spiritual path, but they can never get away from the feeling in their hearts of having left something precious. Fortunately, most people manage to pull out of their tailspins before losing their discrimination altogether. If anyone, however, rejects life’s higher goals, he may retain a superficial hold on morality but he will end up shrinking in consciousness.
There can be no stasis in life. The choice between seeking God or turning away from Him is absolute. Not to seek Him, or, worse still, to turn away from Him, is to opt for delusion.
A seed cannot suddenly become a tree
The chief reason people become discouraged and abandon their spiritual efforts is their expectation of specific results. There was a man, for example, who came to Mount Washington and was accepted by Yogananda for training. The man received Kriya Yoga initiation and practiced it with great fervor for a few months. Impatient, however, with the seeming slowness of his progress, he left at last in discouragement.
Spiritual growth is rarely sudden. Unless an individual is already blessed from birth with exceptionally good karma, spiritual growth can take a long time. The aspiring yogi would do best simply to love God, and leave the decision as to his fate in the hands of the Divine. Nishkam karma — action without desire for the fruits of action — should be his motto.
A seed cannot suddenly become a tree. The seed will grow if it is watered regularly. That watering process, for a devotee, is daily meditation, constant practice of the presence of God, and devotion.
Ultimately, devotional love is what lifts the devotee’s consciousness toward the Divine. Without love, one lacks the necessary urgency of desire to reach the divine goal. Whether meditating, discriminating, or acting, a devotional attitude must underlie everything one does.
“But it’s so difficult!”
Another common lament among devotees who abandon their spiritual calling is: “But the spiritual path is so difficult!” Well, of course it is! Can the pearl of great price be won without serious effort? A friend of mine recently said, “I’m tired of suffering; I just want to rest.” That friend will find his true rest only in God, and then only by putting out all the energy he can.
God is ever near. If people will do the work needed to calm their thoughts and, above all, their feelings, they will find Him. They need only apply principles that they know already from the challenges of daily life. If they want worldly success, they sooner or later learn that they must work for it! No one is going to drop it in their laps. Similarly, effort—indeed heroic effort—is needed to win in this most challenging but most important of all struggles: the search for God.
Karmic bombs of restlessness and desire
It often happens on the spiritual path that selfish desires spring up from the subconscious mind with surprising vigor to attack one’s devotion. The devotee may be progressing steadily, confident that God is all he wants in life; then all of a sudden, worldly opportunity knocks and he thinks, “Here’s my chance—perhaps the only one I’ll ever get.
“Karmic bombs” is what Yogananda called the restlessness and selfish desires that spring up from the subconscious mind with surprising vigor to attack one’s devotion. I’ve never seen such desires, if pursued as an alternative to seeking God, end in anything but disappointment.
Unfortunately, these desires can be so strong that even the guru’s warning is of no avail. There were two disciples of Yogananda, for example, who talked of very worldly things while returning from Encinitas on the bus. When they arrived at the gateway of Mount Washington, Yogananda met them and repeated everything they had said. He told them, “Don’t mix with each other.” Unfortunately, they didn’t listen and fed each other’s weaknesses by talking of worldly desires, which eventually resulted in their leaving the ashram.
Always watch the heart for any ripple of attraction there. You may feel safe from worldly desires, but if in your heart you find the least tremor of excitement, even on hearing about the pleasures of the senses, shun them like the infection they really are. People may scoff, saying, “It’s just in the mind.” Exactly so! The mind itself is the battlefield. There is no other. In the very act of “pondering” objects of the senses, the energy flows toward them, and with energy, feeling. With feeling comes ego-involvement and personal attraction.
Regular habits of meditation are the best defense against “karmic bombs.” Once the habit of daily meditation is firmly established, one can cruise steadily through many a storm.
Self-honesty is essential
To remain steadfast on the spiritual path, it’s very important to overcome the tendency to hide from the truth and to justify oneself. Mistakes on the path are always possible. The devotee should acknowledge his mistakes sincerely and then simply forsake them. There is no need to make a big issue of it. Just say, “I’ll do better the next time.”
You don’t need to tell everybody what you’ve done—it’s hard to overcome your faults when other people hold them up to you. But you must tell the truth to God, to yourself, and to those who are wise and are trying to help you. Many times I see people make mistakes but say nothing because I know they lack the self-honesty to admit that they were wrong. One of the most important things is the willingness to admit when you are wrong.
The help of the guru
Without the help of the guru it’s impossible to get out of delusion. Yet, so many people come to the guru and think, “Well, I have my own will.” A brother disciple once said to me, “I don’t feel that it would be right to submit completely to Master’s will. It’s important for me also to develop my own will. Otherwise how would it be called ‘free’?”
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. When Yogananda’s disciples followed his will, they found inner freedom and bliss. And when they didn’t follow his will, they couldn’t achieve anything spiritually and most of them fell away. That same brother disciple who refused to submit completely to Yogananda’s will was among those who fell away.
The guru’s assistance is primarily inward, in the form of blessings and needed strength. Gradually, as the disciple tunes into his guru’s consciousness, he finds his own consciousness changing. Old habit patterns disappear and new ones manifest, opening him to superconscious inspiration and guidance. Negative tendencies the disciple has unsuccessfully tried to eradicate by his own efforts disappear suddenly in attunement with the guru.
“God will never let you down”
The spiritual path requires courage, dedication, and the absolute conviction that only God can ever satisfy the soul’s yearning for true happiness. Whether a fall, when it occurs, is permanent for this lifetime depends on whether you still put God first in your life, and refuse to accept even the severest setback as a final defeat. “So long as you continue to make the effort,” Yogananda said, “God will never let you down.”
“The only solution,” Yogananda said, “once one knows deeply the true meaning of life, even if, afterward, he abandons his calling to it, is to turn back to it again: to resume a life of meditation and devotion.” You were born to know God. This is the only purpose of human life.