Make God More Real in Your Life: Five Key Practices
A reporter who was interviewing Swami Kriyananda asked him, “Do you need a guru? Those of us who were present expected him to say, “Yes, of course.” Instead, Kriyananda said, “No. You don’t need a guru. Why do you want somebody telling you what to do? But, of course, if you want to find God, then you need a guru.”
Swami Kriyananda said that Paramhansa Yogananda gave his closer disciples very few spiritual teachings. He told them that attunement with God through the Guru was all they needed. For those of us who are serious on the spiritual path, attunement with God through the Guru is also all we need. We could be totally ignorant of the teachings. We could not know a single technique. We could have no contact with other devotees. But if we held onto that one thread of attunement with the Guru, whatever else we needed spiritually would come to us through that attunement.
1. “Open your heart to me.”
What are some of the practices that will strengthen our attunement to the Guru? There is a statement in the Ananda purification ceremony in which the Guru says to the disciple: “Open your heart to me and I will enter and take charge of your life.” We are never separate from the Guru, just as we are never separate from God, but we must realize the Guru’s inner presence by opening our hearts to him and asking for his blessings. How do we do that?
Yogananda said the eyes are the windows of the soul. In meditation we should visualize the Guru, and especially his eyes, and try to feel his consciousness in our hearts. As a first step, visualize his eyes for as long and as clearly as you can. Then feel that you are completely open to his consciousness and are inviting him into your heart. Connect with him in your heart and feel his consciousness and vibrations flooding your heart.
Drawing the consciousness of the Guru into the heart in meditation is one of the most powerful ways of attuning to the Guru. Try also during the day to keep this loving connection active and vibrant. Whenever you see a picture or an image of Yogananda, don’t just glance at it absentmindedly. Stop and consciously make an inner connection. Look deeply into his eyes and try to feel his presence in your heart.
Beautiful reproductions of statues of Yogananda in smaller sizes are now available. These can be placed in a garden or other suitable place. In your heart, that statue can become the living presence of the Guru. A photo of the Guru can serve the same purpose.
There is a beautiful poster of Hanuman, the king of the monkey clan, who was a wonderful, deep disciple of Lord Rama in The Ramayana, the story of Lord Rama’s exile from his kingdom. This poster shows Hanuman spreading open his chest so you can see his heart, and residing in his heart is the image of Lord Rama. If we, like Hanuman, can open our hearts so completely that only the Guru resides there, we don’t have to concern ourselves with anything else.
2. How do we learn to remember?
One of our biggest challenges as devotees is forgetfulness. We have good intentions. We plan to do something, and then we forget. How do we learn to remember? The most important practice is meditation. Through meditation, the life force becomes withdrawn and under the control of our will, and the mind becomes calm and focused. In that calm focused state we can perceive the presence of God much more clearly than at other times.
It’s when we are functioning through the senses and the life force is directed outward that we become forgetful. That’s why all the great masters tell us to begin and end our day with meditation. The withdrawal of the life force through meditation will automatically bring about the remembrance of God. Always end your meditation by not only affirming but actually feeling your attunement with God and Guru.
Durga Mata, who was Yogananda’s second most advanced woman disciple after Sister Gyanamata, gave one of the disciples she counseled some very important advice. She said, “Don’t worry if you don’t have visions in meditation. Don’t worry if you don’t see God or hear the sound of AUM –– or any of those things. The most important thing of all is the feeling that you have.”
Peace is one of the aspects of God. If you feel peaceful after meditation, you are carrying in your heart the presence of God. By taking that calm inward state into activity you can train the mind in the habit of remaining partially inward throughout the day – and it will be much easier to remember God and Guru. Always try to hold onto that inward, God-reminding state as long as possible.
3. The Guru is not his body or personality
Another important attunement practice is to think of the Guru, not as his body or personality but as God in that form. The great woman saint, Anandamoyi Ma, often said she was not a person, that she was love and compassion that had taken human form. .
Yogananda said, “I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this temple now but God.” Obviously he had a body and a personality but that wasn’t who he was. Yogananda said his essential qualities were love, joy, and wisdom. He was love, joy and wisdom that had taken human form. That’s who he was and that’s who he is, not a body or a personality.
The more you relate to Yogananda only as a body or a personality, the more he recedes. Try to relate more to his essence: absolute love, absolute joy, and absolute wisdom.
4. “Does it please you, my Guru?”
Yogananda said, “To those who think me near, I will be near.” I (Nayaswami Jyotish) run a few times a week and when I run, I’m usually chanting or feeling that Yogananda is floating along beside me. I keep a conversation going: “Oh, look, Master, isn’t that a beautiful flower? Oh, it’s a tiger lily. It’s my favorite flower.”
As you move through the day, always try to keep a conversation going. Converse lovingly with him and share the innermost secrets of your heart. Give him your joys, your defeats, your possessions and attachments.
The Bhagavad Gita says we should ask questions of the Guru. But we can’t ask a question that lacks energy, such as, “What should I do with my life?” Yogananda said the highest prayer is, “I will reason, I will will, I will act, but guide Thou my reason, will, and activity to the right path in everything.” The right time to ask the Guru for guidance is when we’re poised to move in a certain direction in life. That’s the time to ask him, “Is this right? Please guide me.”
Years ago an Ananda devotee wrote a beautiful chant: “Does it please you, my Guru? This I’ll ask of all I do. I’ll do what pleases you.” In seeking guidance, we should ask, “Does this please you?” When we ask that kind of question and get the answer, we also greatly deepen our attunement.
Try never to start a meeting without first praying to God and Guru. You can pray outwardly or you can pray silently, but if you connect with the Guru with energy and magnetism, he will guide you.
5. Become a positive force in the world
Yogananda described his spiritual path as a combination of meditation and service. The essence of divine service is the willingness to be a channel for God and Guru in whatever way is needed.
An important way of serving is through kindness to others, and it has been very inspiring to observe how Swami Kriyananda served others in this way. If he went into a store, he never treated the clerk like an automaton. He never got upset if the clerk was slow or inefficient. He always created a connection with that person, often by means of a little question or comment: “Oh, what a beautiful blue in that broach you’re wearing – where did you get that?” He would say just enough to create a connection, so that the person would open up and respond.
Qualities such as compassion, kindness, and sensitivity to others create an upward flow of energy in the heart, and are very important for our attunement. One of the best things we can do with our lives is to become a positive force in the world – to be filled with love, joy, compassion, and the eagerness to nurture others. Merely asking the question, “What would Yogananda want me to do in this situation?” can profoundly improve our lives and the lives of others.
And so, the essence of attunement, and a very deep and powerful practice, is opening the heart to receive the Guru and then offering the Guru out in service to others. The more perfectly we do this, the more we transcend whatever limitations keep us from experiencing our complete freedom in God.
Nayaswamis Jyotish and Devi are Spiritual Directors of Ananda Sangha Worldwide. In his Last Will, Testament, and Legacy, Swami Kriyananda named Nayaswami Jyotish as his “spiritual successor.”