In the Bible, there is a well-known parable of the ten virgins, five of whom are wise, the other five foolish. While awaiting their bridegroom, they all fall asleep.

When they hear the bridegroom approaching, all of them arise to light their lamps, but only the five wise virgins have remembered to bring more oil. The foolish virgins ask the wise virgins for some of their oil and are told to go buy their own. By the time the foolish virgins return, it’s too late and they are not allowed into the wedding.

The oil of devotion

The timing of the parable, and the circumstances under which it was given, are very interesting. Jesus gave this parable three days before the crucifixion, when he had withdrawn to the Mount of Olives and was only with his close disciples. This was probably his last opportunity to teach them directly.

Through this parable, Jesus was instructing them on the attitudes they needed to carry on without him. Paramhansa Yogananda explained that the oil in the lamp symbolizes devotion, and that the coming of the bridegroom signifies the advent of Christ Consciousness.

Jesus was telling his disciples, “Keep your devotion strong and your heart attuned to me. Be ever-watchful and ever-prepared to receive the Christ Consciousness, for you never know when it will descend upon you.”

Was it mere selfishness that caused the wise virgins to refuse to share their oil? No — we can’t give our devotion to others because each person has to develop it on their own.

In part, this parable is about perseverance versus failure on the spiritual path. Devotion and attentiveness are qualities that help us go forward on the path. The “oil and fire” of devotion give us the power to go deep enough in meditation to experience the presence of God, who is love itself.

Don’t be too goal oriented

To persevere on the spiritual path, it’s also necessary not be too goal-oriented. The spiritual path is not like a hike on a sunny morning where you can reach your goal quickly and easily. It’s a long trek, akin to walking across the country.

You don’t know when you’re going to reach the coast, only that you must keep going day after day. While keeping the goal in mind, you don’t want to hold overly optimistic expectations that could cause you to lose heart when what’s needed, is more perseverance.

Each day has a certain beauty

Although a cross-country trek may last a long time, if you’re not overly goal-oriented, you can appreciate the beauty of the forests, streams, and mountains along the way.  Each day will have its special beauty.

In the same way, a key to persevering on the spiritual path is to enjoy the path itself. Enjoy each day’s meditation for its gift of peace and joy, even if you haven’t achieved the goal of samadhi.

Being able to appreciate the present moment will make you more sensitive to all the ways in which God is continually showering you with love and blessings—in meditation and in every life experience. Knowing that God’s love is always present, and that you can draw on it, makes it easy to stay on the spiritual path.

An exercise in remembering

There’s an exercise you might try that will make God’s love more dynamic to your awareness. Try to remember, from your earliest childhood, those times when you felt the touch of God in your life. We’ve all had these moments, some of them very vivid.

Maybe it was a time when a loved one died, and you felt a wave of blessing take away your sadness. Maybe it was a moment when you were at the end of your rope, in despair and depression, and you felt a ray of light enter your life. Or perhaps you were trying to develop a new talent and felt a flow of grace giving you the extra impetus you needed.

Remember those moments and then understand that God has always been with you, watching over you, protecting you. Weave those times into a beautiful mala of divine grace and wear it.

And if you ever feel alone or discouraged about your spiritual progress, remember those times of blessing and grace and lovingly call to your Father/Mother God. As Paramhansa Yogananda said, “If you think me near, I will be near.” Meditating with the thought that He is already with you will deepen your awareness of His presence.

Negative attitudes push God away

To persevere on the spiritual path, it’s also important not to fall into the trap of pushing God away by projecting your own negative attitudes on to Him. God doesn’t have negative qualities. In Him there is only pure light, love, and joy.

If, however, we don’t try to attune our consciousness to His will, our awareness of those qualities begins to fade. The shadows become deeper when we turn away from the light.

How God views our misdeeds

In the early years of Ananda Village a real character named Ram Lila lived here—he has since passed away. He was about five feet five, and nearly as wide as he was tall. He’d been a biker and part of Hell’s Angels, and although he retained some rough mannerisms, he had a wonderful heart.

Being a moody fellow, he went through ups and downs. At a certain point he went through a negative period for a year or so, left Ananda, and talked against us. But the time came when he regained his center and showed up at a Spiritual Renewal Week talk.

When Swami Kriyananda saw him, he said, “Ram Lila, come here.” So, Ram Lila shuffled up in front of about two hundred rather apprehensive people. Kriyananda took a lock of his hair, tugged it a bit, and said playfully, “Ram Lila, I hear you’ve been a bad boy.”

Ram Lila looked at him and mumbled, “Yeah, Swami, I have.”  Kriyananda said, “Don’t do it anymore.” Ram Lila replied, “I won’t, Swami.” And that was it.

That’s a good example of how God views our misdeeds. He kind of pulls our forelock and says, “I hear you’ve made a mistake.” And, for ourselves, it’s important that we admit we’ve done something wrong. Then God says, “That’s okay, just don’t do it again.”

There’s nothing we can ever do that will cause God not to love us. There are, of course, certain things He prefers that we not do. I recall the time when our son, who was then three or four years old, asked Swami Kriyananda, “Do you like bad people?”

I don’t know what little mischief prompted his question, but Kriyananda answered the question in his heart. He said, “I love bad people, but I don’t always love the bad things they do.”  God always loves us. He doesn’t always love the things we do, but nothing can ever diminish His love for us. Naughty or good, we are still His children.

Like a day without food

For devotees, the main thing is to keep your lamps filled with the oil of devotion and to keep offering your love to God. As you do that day by day, and year by year, it becomes both habitual and deeply fulfilling.

After a while, if a day goes by when you don’t express your love for God, it’s like a day with no food. Your soul, nourished as it is by divine love, will impel you to turn back to Him.

So keep your devotion strong, knowing that He is giving back a thousand fold, the love you give to Him. For your love for God is only a tiny reflection of His love for you.

From a December 7, 2007 Sunday Service and an October 24, 2007 satsang at Ananda Village. Jyotish and Devi Novak are Acharyas (spiritual directors) for Ananda Sangha Worldwide. Jyotish is also Acharya for the Ananda Sevaka Order, worldwide. Other Clarity articles by Jyotish and Devi Novak are listed under "Nayaswami Jyotish and Nayaswami Devi."

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