We recently read a very moving story. A raging forest fire had consumed a large area of national forest, and only after days of battling the flames were firefighters finally able to put it out. When they went into the devastated areas to look for any injured wildlife that might have survived, they saw at the base of a charred stump an eerie sight — the petrified ashes of a bird that had died in the fire with its wings still outstretched.
As the firefighters approached, they heard faint chirping noises coming from beneath the ashes. There they found what the mother bird had willingly sacrificed her life for — her nest of baby birds still alive and unharmed.
Why are we inspired by this story? Because it reminds us that willing and loving sacrifice is one of the most noble things in life.
For the devotee, the process of inner transformation that expands our consciousness beyond the self is impossible without this one key attitude: self-offering. As we willingly offer all that we are to a higher ideal or reality, we open the floodgates of divine grace and blessings to inundate us. Self-offering is a natural step for the devotee when our love and longing for God have deepened through the practice of devotion.
When selfless love exists, there isn’t even a sense of loss, no matter what the sacrifice. This state of consciousness is beautifully reflected in Christ’s immortal words from the cross, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
“One cannot take one step forward on the spiritual path without the natural love of the heart.” These words from Yogananda’s guru, Sri Yukteswar, are particularly important today, given the skeptical and overly analytical mental environment that surrounds us. To devote oneself whole-heartedly to anything is seen as naïveté or as a loss of one’s “objective” distance. Yet the selfless giving of ourselves to what we love is the only true source of joy.
There is a beautiful story from the life of Yogananda’s most advanced woman disciple, Sister Gyanamata, that illustrates this. Even during the latter part of her life, when she was frequently ill, she joyfully performed whatever tasks her guru asked of her. When one of the younger disciples asked her somewhat critically why she so eagerly did whatever Yogananda asked, Gyanamata told her simply and humbly that never in her life had she known such joy as when doing the bidding of her guru. It was Gyanamata’s total devotional self-offering that made her the great saint that she was.
The practices of yoga and meditation are great aids in our spiritual development. The study of philosophy and spiritual teachings can help expand our consciousness. But until we can develop a personal relationship with God based on love and devotion — a love that is childlike, whole-hearted and magnetic — we can never fully enter into the flow of grace that ultimately leads to Self-realization.
During Yogananda’s speaking tours, he would rush out onto the lecture stage with his orange robes and dark hair streaming behind him. With dynamic enthusiasm he would shout, “How feels everyone?” The crowd would thunder back, “Awake and ready!” Years later one of his students was giving a lecture to a spiritual gathering. Wanting to follow the Master’s example, but not wanting to get carried away, he said in a staid voice, “I trust everyone is awake and ready.”
Lackluster commitment won’t bring us the spiritual results we want. As Yogananda said, “When will you find God? When all your desires for others things are finished. When you realize that the only thing worth having is Him. When every thought, every feeling is drenched with the love of God. Then you will find Him.”