Making Your Spiritual Life Dynamic
Many years ago, when Swami Kriyananda was a young monk living in Paramhansa Yogananda’s ashram, he wrote a letter of encouragement to his brother disciples for Christmas. Below are excerpts from this letter. Although written for those in a monastic setting, Swamiji’s letter can be very helpful for all meditators.
Swami Kriyananda’s Letter
When our Master was a mere boy, he cried for the Divine Mother’s love as few men cry even for worldly possessions. When he could, he remained by himself, meditating long hours. After meditation, he silently and lovingly offered every action to God.
After coming to the hermitage of his guru, Sri Yukteswarji, he became if possible more in earnest than ever. Other disciples talked instead of meditating. Master spent many hours in solitary communion. Other disciples forgot God, whether they worked or loafed. Master kept his mind all day long focused at the Christ center, mentally talking to Divine Mother.
He had been sent to earth charged with a tremendous mission. But Master never forgot for an instant that the real Doer was God. He was only an instrument. Inwardly, he was always free and at peace.
Years ago I approached Master one evening for his blessing. Though I said nothing, inwardly I petitioned him to help me taste the delusion-dispelling sweetness of Divine Love. Looking up, I saw his face lit with a tender, blissful smile. I knew that he had heard my prayer, and that it had pleased him.
Master was pleased with everything we did to serve him, or to help others. He was pleased when we meditated long hours. But the thing that touched him most deeply was when we expressed divine love, or if we sincerely yearned to express it. To him, love was the very soul of the spiritual life.
Ever since I came here I have been haunted by a sense of the urgency of what we are doing. I have worked hard and, perhaps, creatively. But I have often been a worker at the expense of being a devotee. Thoughts of my work have driven out thoughts of my Lord. There are many times when I have been work-centered, not God-centered. Except for my meditations — and not always in them — I have often been too busy to remember God.
I am not saying that I have been wrong to work hard. Master’s cause will never grow if we sit around lazily waiting for him or for fellow devotees to do all the work. And we shall never grow spiritually, if we do not throw ourselves with all our hearts into the work to which we have been drawn in this life.
But what is the use of work for God that is undertaken without the thought of God? I have been wrong because I have too often suffered from misdirected zeal. My zeal has been too much outward, not enough inward. The proof that outward zeal is insufficient has been forced upon me by the realization that even my work, at such times, has been of mediocre quality. Some of it has actually represented wasted effort.
Yet when I think of God, my very least work goes well.
Whose world is this that we are so anxious to improve? This is God’s show. When we attempt to take too great a responsibility from Him, we must sooner or later learn that we are only like little children pushing a moving locomotive. We may think we are moving the engine with our own power, but in fact it is moving on its own power, and nothing we do can change its speed. Nor, if it stops, can we move it even a centimeter. What happens, rather, is that by pushing it we ourselves get drawn forward.
Once Master and Meera Mata were walking in the garden in Encinitas. Several yards ahead of them they saw Rajarsi Janakananda [Yogananda’s foremost disciple] sitting on the lawn in profound meditation. Master whispered, “Let us walk quietly now, so as not to disturb him.” When they were out of earshot, he continued, “You have no idea what great blessings are drawn to the work every time one of its followers goes as deep in meditation as Rajarsi does.”
Centuries ago, Saint John of the Cross said words to the effect that one act of divine love (that love which is the fruit of deep meditation) is of greater value to the Church than the combined activities of dedicated, but unmeditative, monks, priests, and nuns.
The greatest thing we have to give to the world is our spirit — our devotion. If we lack that, of what avail the letters we write, the flowers we water, the books we print?
I knew Master three and a half years. That is not long, but it was long enough to hear a considerable number of his priceless discourses. Many hours he would talk with the monks on various philosophical points and on matters pertaining to the work. Often, too, when we were alone he would discuss these issues with me, personally. And if there is one point that stands out in my throng of sweet memories, it is the fact that what pleased him always, above everything else, was devotion, and a constant inward remembrance of God. Philosophical truths were, for him, only avenues to the expression of divine love. Good work without devotion might have impressed him, but it never thrilled his heart.
Ah, my brothers and sisters, would it not be wonderful if more of us were on fire with love for God? Our greatest work in life should be to express that divine yearning, that love. When we can reflect it, we shall be able to work ten times as hard, and a hundred times as effectively, as we do when we draw only on our own scanty powers.
Intensity should be practiced in every phase of our life. Keen, alert attention is the way to find the time for everything we need to do. And it is the only way to reach God. Master was never idle. “Be constantly active,” was his counsel. He meant that even when we are sitting still, the mind should remain alert, active in the sense of alive — never dull.
Are there any rules that might help us to “sing secretly to the Lord”? Here are a few suggestions:
- More silence and solitude. Paramhansa Yogananda seldom permitted the devotees working around him to speak unnecessarily. “Remain in the Self,” he would say.Divine silence is not cold or hostile. The feeling of brotherhood does not diminish in such quietude; it grows warmer and deeper. How often, indeed, do our words merely conceal our real selves! The saints are wiser than most of us; they converse by silences.
Too much joking is one of the worst detriments on the spiritual path. I do not mean that we should never laugh, but our laughter should always be centered in an inner earnestness, lest it take our minds away from God. Master said, “Joking makes the mind light, so that when the time comes for meditation one finds it difficult to meditate deeply.” He himself joked sometimes. In fact, he had a perfectly wonderful sense of humor. What he was against was habitual light-mindedness.
He was particularly anxious that we practice silence when we were gathered together in groups. Groups, he pointed out, form a fertile soil for restlessness and mental noise, and where there is noise God quietly disappears from our consciousness. Silence is the way to keep Him near us.
- Better use of our free time. Instead of reading idly or talking when we have free time, we should give those precious moments to God.When I first came to Mt. Washington, other monks would spend long hours in the kitchen, conversing and listening to music. I was certainly no better than they, but perhaps I had suffered more. I couldn’t bear the thought of prolonging unnecessarily the pain of delusion. I spent all my free time meditating, or chanting mentally to God. The others mockingly dubbed me, “The Monk.” But I have never regretted my meditative labors. All those who laughed at me have left the path, but I, with God’s grace, am still here.
“The minutes are more important than the years.” What time have we to seek God, save this brief moment? How easy it is to lay elaborate plans for tomorrow’s spiritual endeavor! It absolves one of the necessity for working quite so hard today!
- Practice God’s presence in activity. Much of our daily life is spent in work or in other outward activities. Our minds may often become engrossed in what we are doing at the expense of the thought of God. We must somehow discipline ourselves to carry at least the feeling of His presence into everything we do.
Dear ones, how easy it is to be sidetracked from the greatest commandment — to love God! How easy it is to follow lesser rules at the expense of important principles. Love alone can truly satisfy us. And love alone can conquer God.
The true monk should arise in the morning with the name of God on his lips. Instead of thinking of the duties and problems of the day, he should kindle the flame of divine yearning in his heart. Cloaked in tranquillity and filled with inner delight, he should spend the early morning hours in chanting, practicing yoga, and mentally calling to the Divine Mother to bless him with Her love.
At breakfast, and during his other meals, he should eat in the joyous thought that he is maintaining God’s temple.
His day’s work should be a service; then it will not seem like work. Silently, he should offer every movement, every thought, to the Divine Mother; consult Her for answers to his problems; share with Her his worries and difficulties.
In the evenings, resisting all invitations to pass time in friendly but unnecessary talk, he should retire quietly to his room. There the gathering veils of night will gradually hide his mortal memories in oblivion as he sits again in meditation, joyously pouring out his heart’s love at the Divine Mother’s feet.
If he cannot meditate all evening with sustained devotion, he should go for a walk, or busy himself with simple tasks, keeping his mind free to think of God. Later, he should meditate again.
When he sinks into the gentle arms of sleep, his last thought should be of God; his last resolution should be to awaken the following morning with an even deeper devotion.