In a previous letter, Devi has beautifully covered the subject of universal love: expanding our love to everyone and everything until it becomes unconditional. I would like to address another aspect of love: how to deepen our devotion. Devotion is love turned toward God, or, more commonly, toward one of His awakened saints.
Usually we give our love to those who are close to us: family, friends, and coworkers. But with devotion, we also turn our love inward toward God. This change from outward emotions to inward devotion is what makes the difference between an Italian opera and an Italian saint.
God, of course, knows that impersonal love is difficult—after all, He created this drama in the first place. He knows that loving the saints, His awakened sons and daughters, is the first step in devotion. Initially, the spiritual masters accept, even encourage, personal love. But, as the devotee deepens, they may become more aloof, teaching us to turn our devotion past their form to God within them and everyone. Swami Kriyananda once helped us break our attachment by telling us, “No one is special to me. I’m not even special to myself.”
Here are three things I have found that help me deepen my devotion:
- Thinking of my guru as often as possible during the day. He is my closest friend. I try to talk to him and include him when facing problems and decisions. This practice is not difficult: The challenge, I find, is simply one of remembering to do it.(Ah, forgetfulness, the great enemy!) I try also to remember that it is not Yogananda I love, but God who has manifested Himself in that perfect life.
- Taking one devotional chant or prayer and repeating it over and over, going into the heart of it. Staying with one chant allows it to work its way into my subconscious mind, until I can wake in the middle of the night with the chant repeating itself on its own. I also try to bring it into the superconscious, by going beyond the chant’s words to its very soul. Lately I have taken up a Bengali chant loved by Master, “Kole tule ne Ma Kali.” The English words are:
Receive me on Thy lap, O Mother! Cast me not at death’s door.
Receive me on Thy lap, O Mother! Cast me not at delusion’s door.
- Giving my love and devotion is essential, but so also is feeling Divine Mother’s love and devotion in return. In his Energization Exercises, Yogananda taught us to “Tense with will, then relax and feel.” The same principle applies here: Offer devotion with deep intensity, but then relax and feel God’s love in your heart.
You may well have other ways of deepening your devotion. It would be nice to share with others what has worked for you.
We heard an inspiring story about a revered Tibetan lama whom the Chinese Communists had held in prison for many years. Eventually the lama was released and later met with the Dalai Lama, who asked him, “It must have been difficult to be a prisoner for all those years. Were you ever afraid?”
“Yes,” the lama replied. “There were times when it was very dangerous.”
“Do you mean you were afraid that the guards would kill you?”
“Oh, no,” he explained. “It was dangerous because sometimes I came very close to losing my compassion for them.”
Saints and saviors of all traditions have echoed these words. Paramhansa Yogananda said of Jesus Christ, “O Thou Great Lover of all error-torn brothers, an unseen monument of the mightiest miracle of love was established in every heart when the magic of Thy voice uttered: ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do.’”
What is the source of this unconditional love that can forgive even those who attempt to destroy us? Such love flows from a spring of divine consciousness within each of us. A calm, interiorized mind and devotion to God help us tap into the source. Once we find it, we realize that love is much more than a response to others who are pleasing to us. It is a limitless capacity that flows through us to everyone, but isn’t confined or defined by our personal feelings.
In 2009 Swami Kriyananda had a deep inspiration one night while staying at a hotel in Florence, Italy. Awakening at 3:00 a.m., he wrote these words on a small paper coaster in his room:
The more bliss I feel in myself, the more I find everyone around me utterly lovable. How vastly varied are the ways of approaching that same bliss! Every being on earth has his own, unique way of seeking it! No one can be stereotyped! And the stereotyped beliefs of religion are perhaps the worst. Everyone on earth approaches God in his own special way, though perhaps his way be, at present, very lumpy and bumpy indeed.
When we discover this wellspring of love within, we can unite in Spirit with other “explorers” of higher consciousness. The many little streams of our separate existences can merge to form mighty rivers that wash away the dark pools of conflict and hatred, and eventually flood our planet with an Ocean of Divine Love.
Towards the One,
A number of well-known Indian yogis visited Ananda during the 1970s. One of these great souls was Swami Chidananda, the head of Sivananda’s ashram after the master passed.
During his visit an important exchange took place in our large garden. It was the type of simple, but profound, lesson we so often miss if we aren’t paying attention. God sometimes gives us important teachings in seemingly unimportant ways.
During Swami Chidananda’s tour, he noticed a small rusty can between two rows of plants. “What is that for?” he asked.
The gardener replied, “We use that to water the baby plants after we have transplanted them.”
He then said, “If you use it, you should paint it and keep it in a special place. If it is left rusty and abandoned, it will attract lower astral entities.”
I doubt that any of us had ever considered that the things in our environment might attract astral beings, be they angels, devas, or low spirits. Yogananda said, “Astral beings are not ordinarily visible on earth, unless we know how to perceive the astral world through the spiritual eye.” He also said, “Environment is stronger than will power.”
The different worlds—causal, astral, and physical—are kept separate not by distance, but by different rates of vibration, much as television programs appear on different channels. Swami Kriyananda surrounded himself with flowers, crystals, and beautiful objects. It wasn’t only for the loveliness of the things themselves but, more importantly, for their high vibrations. Similarly, over the years, we’ve made Ananda Village beautiful, a place where land, trees, and animals are loved and appreciated.
A friend and her remarkable daughter visited Ananda recently. The girl, who is six years old, related this dream she had while visiting: She was swimming in a lake at Ananda, when suddenly many fairies came to her. Their leader, the one with bright golden skin and long, yellow hair, said, “The world is changing, and it’s hard to find places where we are welcome. We are happy here, but can you help us find other places?”
Here is a question we should all ask: “What kind of physical and mental environment are we creating?” Is it one full of high vibrations and spiritual beauty—the kind that draws fairies and devas? Or is it a place of rusty cans, negative emotions, and lackluster spiritual vibrations supportive to lower astral entities?
Let us join together to create the points of light this world so desperately needs.
In God’s light,
The elderly nun quietly entered the refectory of the convent. Clasping her hands together and looking heavenward, she exclaimed, “Ah, the economy of God! If there are three people in a room, they are all teaching each other a lesson.” A friend who was at the convent just then on retreat shared this story with me.
I’ve often thought about the wisdom in that nun’s words. Everyone in our lives—whether the loving friend or the challenging neighbor—is there for a purpose. The situations in which we find ourselves, though perhaps painful in the moment, are there so that we can learn what we need for our growth. If we can willingly accept everything that comes to us and see behind the outer forms, especially of those things that are difficult, we find that God’s love and wisdom have been orchestrating it all.
Even when we consider the bigger picture, we find that the universe itself is arranged so that everything is in balance. Scientists recognize that the water, atmosphere, and chemicals on our planet are all perfectly designed to allow life to exist. If the forces of gravity or electromagnetism were to be altered slightly, by even the smallest fraction, the universe would not hold together.
In the midst of this vast plan wrought with divine intelligence, how can we question the purpose of the people and events in our lives? Circumstances are not random, but are a part of “God’s economy,” His perfect order.
Remember, too, that we are not insignificant in God’s plan, nor do our struggles go unnoticed. As Paramhansa Yogananda says, speaking of the state of cosmic consciousness, in his poem, “Samadhi”:
The sparrow, each grain of sand, fall not without my sight.
All space like an iceberg floats within my mental sea.
So what is the divine purpose behind this vast, ordered universe, and behind all of our life’s experiences? God has manifested everything to express His joy, beauty, and love, and our purpose is to realize our oneness with the Creator behind it all. Ultimately, all creation will merge back into the limitless sea of consciousness and rest in the perfect joy from which we came.
With joy in God,
My first Kriya Initiation was on December 22, 1967. It was a Friday evening, and Swami Kriyananda felt that those of us who would be attending the all-day Christmas meditation the next day could benefit from having this sacred technique. The ceremony took place in Swamiji’s small San Francisco apartment and was attended by about a dozen people.
I was both eager and anxious as I took my seat, this being my first initiation. I had dressed carefully in white clothing. Earlier in the day I had stopped at a shop to buy flowers, and my eye had immediately been drawn to a bouquet of beautiful yellow chrysanthemums. Flowers are given during the ceremony as a symbolic offering of devotion to God and the Gurus, and I reverently laid mine beside my chair as I waited for the ceremony to begin.
A slightly frazzled man arrived a few minutes late for the ceremony and took the seat next to me. At the point in the initiation when each individual goes to the altar to make their offerings, this fellow, realizing that he had forgotten to bring any flowers, solved his difficulty by taking the ones I had brought. As a result, I had nothing to offer to express my devotion. For others this might have been insignificant, even humorous, but for me it caused tremendous turmoil. Did this mean that I had no devotion? Did it mean that I was an unworthy disciple? Try as I might, I wasn’t able to overcome my self-doubts that night, or the next day during the long meditation, or for many days afterward. These worries continued to eat at me.
About two weeks later I got a phone call from Swamiji. He asked, “Wasn’t it you who brought those beautiful yellow flowers to the initiation?” I hesitantly answered yes, not knowing where this conversation was going. Swamiji then continued, “The blossoms are still as fresh as when you brought them. I’ve never known any to last so long.”
His simple act of kindness healed a hole in my heart and answered my dilemma. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He needs no outer symbols, only our sincerity. He eagerly accepts the devotion we offer Him and, in return, gives us the boundless ocean of His love.
In loving devotion,