“Will I ever leave the spiritual path?” a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda once asked him. “How could you?” the Master replied. “Everyone in the world is on the spiritual path.”
In the broadest possible terms this statement is true, because everyone is striving to find happiness and avoid suffering. The main difference between a truth-seeker and a materially minded person is where they look for their happiness: within or without.
The questioning disciple eventually did leave the ashram. Perhaps the Master foresaw this and was consoling him for what lay ahead. In any case, the question is an important one for us: How do we fail spiritually, and can it be avoided?
Take Small Steps with Joy
We heard a story told by a well-known track coach who worked with world-class athletes. He noticed that when these runners would be one-hundredth of a second over their record time, they would be upset for the entire day.
One day, a group of elderly librarians asked him, “Will you help us get started with an exercise program?” He suggested that they begin by walking around the track. To his surprise, they were utterly delighted by being able to walk a quarter of the way. Realizing he had been working with the wrong people, he began training those who found joy in the smallest accomplishments.
To succeed spiritually, try to see the path as a joyous journey, not an impossibly steep ascent. Meditate not for joy, but with joy. Set goals for yourself that you can meet, and move forward step by step to freedom.
Trust Your Own Sincerity
A devotee once said to Swami Kriyananda, “I feel insincere when I sing the chant ‘I Want Only Thee, Lord,’ because I know that there are still many things other than God that I want.” Swamiji replied, “Try inwardly chanting, ‘I want to want only Thee, Lord.’ In this at least, you are sincere.”
We are a house divided: Part of us knows that happiness lies within, but another still seeks fulfillment in the world. Don’t let your lower tendencies convince you that you are a half-baked devotee, or discourage you from seeking God. Define yourself by your aspirations rather than by your present state, and hold firmly to the thought, “I may have stumbled along the way, but my intentions are sincere.”
“Give Me Thy Failure”
Finally, these words from the Bhagavad Gita provide the best answer to our question, “How can we avoid spiritual failure?”:
Clasp Me with heart and mind! so shalt thou dwell
Surely with Me on high. But if thy thought
Droops from such height, despair not!
Give Me lower service! seek to reach Me, worshipping with steadfast will;
And, if thou canst not worship steadfastly,
Work for Me, toil in works pleasing to Me!
For he that laboureth right for love of Me
Shall finally attain! But, if in this thy faint heart fails,
Bring Me thy failure!
If God accepts even this, it is not possible spiritually to fail.