As Devi and I took our morning walk through the countryside near our rural Pune Ashram, we were met with a scene that has changed little in the last thousand years. Crops have just been harvested, and the farmers are plowing their small fields with wooden plows pulled by bullocks. They wave as we pass, and we somehow bridge the language barrier by shouting, “Happy Diwali.” In India this is the time of Diwali, the Festival of Lights, which commemorates light driving out darkness, and is the Indian equivalent of Christmas.
The villagers live a very simple life that has changed only slowly as modern technology makes its inroads. But this simplicity is largely due not to choice, but to circumstances. The simplicity that Paramhansa Yogananda spoke of when he said, “Plain living plus high thinking lead to the greatest happiness” is of an entirely different nature. True simple living is possible when we offer more and more of our attachments to God.
This begins outwardly, perhaps by living with fewer “unnecessary necessities,” as Master called them. Rather than feeling deprived, people find that this brings them an increasing sense of freedom. But offering luxuries to God can carry us only so far. We must also begin to offer our time, service, and financial resources—things that we hold precious—and start to test the limits of our non-attachment. But these, too, are still outside of our definition of “self.”
Next we must begin to offer up our thoughts, habits, actions, and attitudes: worldly qualities that are the inner enemy forces, the Kauravas, that Krishna urges us to fight in the Bhagavad Gita. Now we enter into another level of simplicity: that of the disciple attuned to the life-changing discipline and love of a guru. At Ananda, members express this by choosing to take vows of simplicity, self-control, and cooperative obedience. But offering even our behaviors and attitudes does not get to the heart of the matter.
Ultimately, what we must offer is the ego itself, our “bundle of self-definitions,” as Swami Kriyananda called it. This is best done by purer devotion, deeper meditations, and selfless service. In the Gita Krishna tells Arjuna, “The inner, spiritual fire ceremony of raising awareness is superior, O Scorcher of Foes, to any outward act of self-offering. In this wisdom (alone) is all action (karma) consumed.” The daily practice of raising our awareness, through meditation techniques such as Kriya Yoga, offers up the life force itself and brings the genuine simplicity of ego transcendence.
As we continue peeling away the ego, once-bright desires drop away like dead leaves in the fall, and along with them go anxieties, fears, and limitations. In their place we find, not barren branches, but a peace and joy that cannot be found by clinging to possessions and attachments. Worldly wealth can never offer the sense of security that comes through the faith that Divine Mother is providing for our every need.
I see this kind of freedom now in many of my friends and gurubhais. They seek no thing whatsoever, but only to live more and more purely for God alone. This is true “simple living.”