When Paramhansa Yogananda was a young monk in India, a skeptic once said to him, “Some day all you swamis will be very disappointed when you wake up and discover that there is no God. Yogananda replied, “Well, you may be right, but meanwhile we’ll at least have had the satisfaction of knowing that we’ve done some good.”
The importance of living your beliefs
That was a very Dwapara Yuga kind of answer. The important thing is not how we define our beliefs, but how we live them. Giving lip service to the concept of God isn’t nearly as important as living in a way that gives you inspiration and fulfillment. Definitions of sabikalpa and nirbikalpa samadhi, as I heard some pundit expounding on in a lecture in India, are simply beside the point. Someday we’ll all have samadhi, but meanwhile we must start where we are right now.
We all want more happiness, less sorrow; more love, less meanness of heart; more charity, less narrow-mindedness and selfishness. These are universal desires. We all want to find happiness and to avoid unhappiness. It’s really that simple.
Moreover, we learn by trial and error. Over time, as we experience the results of our actions, we begin to move in the direction of avoiding those things that bring sorrow and seeking out those that produce happiness.
Judge by your own experience
People sometimes worry that science has undermined faith in religion. In some ways, of course, it has. But basically what science has done is wonderful. It has said that without experiment, which in religious terms would be experience, you can’t claim to know anything.
People used to say that the earth was flat, but their belief didn’t make it so. People also used to say that the earth was the center of the universe, but they eventually found that it wasn’t so. Again and again, experiment has proved that certain dogmas, beliefs, and suppositions simply weren’t valid.
And so it is in our search for truth. We must approach the search for truth experientially. When I meditate I feel great joy. I feel God’s love. That’s what makes it worthwhile to me.
If love were only an intellectual belief it would mean nothing. But I feel so in love with God that I want to do whatever I can to know Him more fully. We all want to experience God’s presence in ourselves. When we experience His presence, others can feel it, too.
This is the basis of spiritual teaching in India—to judge by your own personal experience. The Indian teachings rest not on an institution declaring what ought to be, but on people—the great masters—who have actually experienced the truth.
In India—less bigotry
It always struck me as a sad testimony to religious bigotry that some Christian missionaries in India were outraged to see me in the orange robes of a swami. But all the Indian Christians I met were, without exception, gratified to see me. The Indian Christians would say, “Oh, how inspiring to see you in your ochre robes.”
They saw me not as an outrage to their beliefs but as someone who also loved God. It is inbred in their culture that it doesn’t matter how you define truth. The important thing is how you live it and experience it.
It’s wonderful in India to see Hindus pass in front of a church and bow in reverence. They know that the same God they love is being loved and worshipped also in that church.
The religion of the future
This is what religion in Dwapara Yuga is all about. It’s a matter of living the principles and the teachings. And that always comes back to the individual. Yogananda used to say, “You have to individually make love to God.”
In his discussions of Dwapara Yuga, Yogananda said, “The religion of the future will be Self-realization.” He wasn’t talking about building an organization. He meant that in the future, every religion will understand that the true purpose of religion is to help you in your own personal relationship with God, in your private devotions.
Why do the great masters come? Not to create institutions like General Motors. No! They come to help us individually to realize that what we’re looking for is within ourselves.
Dwapara Yuga will bring people the understanding that religion is about experiment and personal experience. Many more people will come to God in this age than previously because they will understand that religion is a matter of individual effort, not fixed and brittle concepts. In Kali Yuga there is the tendency to box things into fixed definitions. A definition is not the truth. I can say, “God is love” and yet live a life totally contradicting this principle. It’s what we do that matters.
We must all become Christ-like
Our goal in life should be to become Christ-like. It’s entirely false to say, “He was so great. We could never be like him.” Jesus didn’t come to show us how great he was, but to show us what we are. He kept bringing it back to this truth and telling the crowds, “Don’t your scriptures say, ‘You, too, are gods?’”
But to reach that level of realization, we need to meditate. We need to practice Kriya Yoga. We need to develop devotion to God. It isn’t enough merely to pass pamphlets out in the streets.
Spirituality is inward
In Dwapara Yuga there’s going to be more recognition in religion that church authorities don’t necessarily know truth. He alone knows who has experienced it. Sometimes the most ignorant person will be the one who deserves the most respect.
There’s a beautiful story in Autobiography of a Yogi that shows how Yogananda saw spirituality as inward, not outward; as individual, not institutional. He told the story of three hermits on an island in Greece who had a very unusual prayer. They would pray, “We are three. Thou art three. Have mercy upon us.”
It wasn’t a sophisticated prayer, but the people living on the island reported that many miracles took place in the presence of these hermits. Word of the hermits eventually reached the local bishop who thought, “These hermits must be wonderful souls. For their edification I would like to give them the prescribed prayers of our liturgy and church.”
So he went to the island and taught them the accepted, official prayers. The three hermits were humble men, who gratefully received his instruction, and the bishop left feeling he’d accomplished a good thing.
As he was on the boat leaving, however, he suddenly saw the three hermits running over the water hand-in-hand, crying out to him, “Wait, wait, wait, your Excellency, please. We’ve forgotten the prayers you taught us. Could you go over them once more?” He said, “My children, you don’t need those prayers.”
The simplicity of the heart
The future of religion is going to go more toward the simplicity of the heart and away from official dogmas and creeds. When I was in college, people used to come to me with all sorts of learned theories wanting to know my opinion. I would say to them, “If it doesn’t feel right in your heart, don’t accept it.” There’s great wisdom in the heart.
In the chapter, “An Experience in Cosmic Consciousness,” in Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda wrote, “I cognized the center of the empyrean as a point of intuitive perception in my own heart.” Your real center of being is in the heart. This is the seat of intuition, and if you want to know whether anything is true, see whether it resonates with your heart.
In Dwapara Yuga the true expression of religion will be that of the individual’s love for God—God first, God second, God all the time. Then with His love you can love all.
But don’t think that merely the feeling of love is the answer. When you feel great love in your heart, that energy can go downward as well as upward. It’s good to love outwardly, but unless that love is based in an upward flow toward the Spirit, it will take you into delusion.
“Do you love me?”
We need to love all with God’s love, and to love Him in all. In Dwapara Yuga people will come to understand more and more that this is what life is about.
When you die, the question God will ask you will be, “Do you love me?” It couldn’t matter less to God whether you’ve been a Baptist or a Protestant or a Jew or a Hindu, or whether you’ve even gone to church.
The most important thing Yogananda taught was how to love God. It isn’t a matter of how long you meditate, or how many prayers you do. It’s a matter of the devotion, the energy, and the consciousness that you bring to your search for God. This is the true religion of the future and for all eternity.