We are in Assisi, immersed in a Spiritual Renewal Week with the theme “How to Develop Spiritual Power Against Troubled Times.” There is a common misperception in which people confuse developing spiritual power with spiritual powers, the ability to perform miracles.
In today’s class one of the speakers talked about the time when Paramhansa Yogananda visited Therese Neumann, the Bavarian saint. In a chapter about this visit in Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda revealed that, in her elevated consciousness, Therese had transcended the need for food. She said that she awoke one day with neither the need nor the desire to eat. In other words, this “power” came to her spontaneously.
One of the guests attending the program posed the question, “Why didn’t she teach others how to do this? It seems selfish that she kept this ability to herself.” I admit that I was a little shocked by the audacity of the question. I suspect that while many might wonder quietly why the saints don’t share their secrets more openly, few would voice such a question in a class.
Uma, one of the teachers, gave a marvelous answer. She said that the saints and masters tell us quite openly how to develop such abilities. We just don’t like their answers or their methods. We want to be given a quick fix, but they tell us that it doesn’t work that way. Powers come naturally as our consciousness becomes expanded and elevated. In Therese’s profound connection and attunement to Jesus, she had effectively merged with him. His sufferings became hers to the extent that in her weekly trances she exhibited his wounds on her own body. So the answer to the question of how to rise above the need to eat is to become so immersed in love and devotion that hunger, along with everything else, becomes irrelevant.
How does one develop such powers? We don’t so much acquire them as embody them. In a sense, Jesus gave us clear instructions for how to walk on water, or heal others, or feed the masses: “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.” As long as we, the ego, want powers, they will elude us. But as the ego dissolves, God, the only power in the universe, will use us as He wills.
Many years ago we heard a miraculous story from Malka, an Indian friend of ours. After visiting Ananda Village on a pilgrimage, she headed to New York to spend time with her sister. One evening, she fell down some stairs and crushed her arm. At the hospital she was told that she would need emergency surgery. The injuries were so extensive, however, that the surgeon didn’t know if he could knit the shattered bones together, or if he would have to amputate her arm.
Understandably distraught, she sleeplessly awaited her impending surgery. Amidst her pain and fear, Swami Kriyananda walked into her room. Gently stroking her arm, he assured her, “Don’t worry, Malka. Everything will be fine.” At his soothing words, she fell into a peaceful sleep. The morning surgery was a success, and when we saw her a year later, she joyfully waved her arm in the air to demonstrate the complete healing.
The remarkable feature of the story is that Swami Kriyananda was in California the entire time. When we told him about it, he said, “I have no conscious knowledge of doing that.” But then he added a very deep teaching about the essence of spiritual power: “The soul can act independently of the ego. Nor does it need the ego’s permission to do so.”
This is another way of saying that when we transcend the limitations of ego, God can work wonders through us. Our part is to cooperate with His grace by developing limitless love and the deep desire to help others. Once we fully allow God to flow through us, we will have both spiritual power and, if needed, spiritual powers.
In His love and joy,
P.S. You might enjoy watching these videos from my 80th birthday celebration, including greetings from our spiritual family around the world.
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