September 12 marks the anniversary of the day when, in 1948, Swami Kriyananda met Paramhansa Yogananda and became his disciple. From then on, in spite of his amazing accomplishments, Swami Kriyananda’s self-definition was simply, “I want to be known as a good disciple.”
The essence of discipleship is the effort to align our individual will with God’s will as it is expressed through the guru. When we do, miracles begin to unfold. God guides and uses us as His instruments. He will work through each of us to the extent that we are willing to be His channel.
We need a guru because our knowledge is limited. A somewhat arrogant athlete once asked a great coach why he should bother listening to him. The answer was both amusing and deep: “Because you don’t know what you don’t know.” What is valid in an unimportant area such as athletics is even truer for the most difficult of all tasks—becoming free from delusion. We can only escape the maze of ego through the guidance of someone who is already free.
Although Swami was a volcano of creativity, he was very orthodox when it concerned Master’s teachings. Once I came up with a new way to teach a basic meditation technique. When I described it to Swami his only comment was, “That wasn’t the way Master taught it.” I knew his real message was that I should get myself out of the way, attune my mind and heart to the guru, and let him flow through me.
Throughout the years of his discipleship, and especially at the beginning before he had developed his attunement and discrimination, Swamiji would always ask, “Did Master say this?” For instance, there was a discussion about whether UFOs were real, and if life existed on other planets. The issue was settled for Swamiji when he heard that Master said, “Yes, UFOs are real, and in fact there is life everywhere throughout the universe, even in the center of stars.”
The fruit of true discipleship is freedom from ego. Two statements made by Swami Kriyananda toward the end of his life impressed me very deeply. He said, “I can no longer tell where Swami Kriyananda ends and Master begins.” And also, “Sometimes I am so full of bliss, I can hardly contain it.”
This is the fruit of a life of discipleship. For truth-seekers, it is the only fruit worth harvesting.
As a child, I was fascinated by the story from the Old Testament of the Tower of Babel. If you recall, it tells of the time shortly after the creation of mankind, when everyone in the world spoke only one language. With the presumption of youth, people began to build a tower that would reach all the way up to God. Not pleased with such arrogance, God decided to stop their efforts by making all the builders speak different languages. Unable to understand one another, they had to abandon the tower, and we’ve been separated by language barriers ever since.
Jyotish and I are now visiting Ananda’s community near Assisi, Italy, where diversity of languages is a part of everyday life. People from all over the world come here to meditate and learn Master’s teachings. Right now there is a group of Russians and Ukrainians here who are training to be Ananda Meditation teachers. Translation, translation, translation takes place all the time: from Italian to English, German to Italian, English and Italian to Russian, and on and on.
But unlike the builders of the Tower of Babel, we do find ways to communicate in spite of the linguistic differences. A few days ago we had a wonderful satsang with the Russian and Ukrainian devotees. As they asked us questions in their native language, we found that we could partially understand them if we listened not just with our mind, but sensitively with our heart. (We also had the assistance of a very good translator.)
A dear friend of ours, Sahaja, who lives in the Assisi community, is the chief Italian translator of Swami Kriyananda’s books. One of the techniques she learned over the years for accurately translating Swamiji’s words is always to ask if she isn’t sure of the meaning.
When she gave Swamiji the first book that she had translated for him, he opened it randomly, read a footnote, and told her, “You’ve translated the meaning exactly the opposite of what I wrote.” Mortified she replied, “It’s the only sentence whose meaning I wasn’t sure of, and that I didn’t ask about. I thought that because it was only a footnote, it wasn’t so important.”
Listening sensitively and asking for clarification are important tools in breaking down language barriers. But the final step is to intuitively perceive the vibration behind the words that are spoken, and to trust your intuition.
As I thought about these aids to communication, I realized that these are also stages that help us to communicate with God. First we must still our minds and listen to His whispers in our soul. Next we need to ask Him to clarify if we don’t fully understand. Finally we should try intuitively to perceive His answers and trust that He really is speaking to us.
I’ve come to understand that the symbolic meaning of the Tower of Babel is that when ego awareness makes us feel separate from others, we also lose the ability to tune in to greater realities. Communicating mind to mind requires words and translations, but communicating heart to heart needs nothing more than openness and love. If we can learn to humbly listen, ask, and trust, then we can build an inner tower that will reach all the way to God.
With joy and love,
There is a story of a woman with two pots. Each morning she fetched water from a well and carried it to her small hut. One of the pots was new and whole, but the other was old, worn, and cracked. A day came when the old pot began to weep, feeling like a failure in even the simple task of carrying water. The new pot, on the other hand, was proud and scornful. The woman knelt and whispered to them, “Come with me. I wish to show you something.”
She brought them along their daily path and bade them each to look carefully. The side on which she had carried the cracked pot was lined with happy little flowers, but the other side was barren. She said to the pot that was feeling inadequate, “Each morning you share a little of your water, and, because of your gift, these flowers flourish and have become beautiful.” To the prideful pot she said, “You hoard all that I give to you for yourself, and therefore nothing grows where you have been.”
The ego is ever limited and cracked, and all truth seekers feel at times inadequate. How could we not? Neither he who feels pride nor he who feels inadequate can ever be truly happy—these emotions arise when we think of ourselves. The richest person on earth, or the most powerful, or most intelligent, remains unfulfilled unless he has learned to give. Those who shove others aside in the race for success find, in time, that they have been running backward in the quest for God. Only when we give of ourselves do we open the space for the Divine to express through us. Jesus said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Krishna, in these immortal lines from the Bhagavad Gita, shows the way:
Cling thou to Me!
Clasp Me with heart and mind! so shalt thou dwell
Surely with Me on high. But if thy thought
Droops from such height; if thou be’st weak to set
Body and soul upon Me constantly,
Despair not! give Me lower service! seek
To reach Me, worshipping with steadfast will;
And, if thou canst not worship steadfastly,
Work for Me, toil in works pleasing to Me!
For he that laboureth right for love of Me
Shall finally attain! But, if in this
Thy faint heart fails, bring Me thy failure!
All of us are pilgrims on a journey to the Divine. Let us share what we have been given with those especially who are lame or heavily burdened. As you give, look not for rewards. The less we notice our own good deeds, the more will they be blessed by God.
Love, kindness, and self-forgetfulness: These are the qualities that will create beauty wherever you have passed.
A few years ago Swami Kriyananda asked us if we could spend more time in India to help with Ananda’s work there. We replied, “Yes, Swamiji. During the past year we’ve been training others in many of our responsibilities. Now we can be gone, and everything will continue to run smoothly.”
Swamiji smiled and said, “Good. We should all live our lives in such a way that we are ready to leave this world at a moment’s notice.”
His words brought to mind a very powerful and poignant experience in my life. It took place on June 28, 1976—eleven days after the birth of our son. As I adjusted to the new responsibilities of motherhood, our home had become a bit neglected. On the morning of June 28, we had a scheduled checkup for our son. I decided it would be nice to tidy up before I left.
When it came time to leave, I realized that I hadn’t yet attended to the meditation room. Not wanting to leave our sacred objects there in a dusty space, I quickly put them all in a box and placed it by the entry of the room.
I remember standing at the door of our home before I left, happy at how sparkling everything looked, and smiling at all our beautiful houseplants. That was the last time I ever saw any of it again.
Before I returned home a forest fire struck our community, burning our home to the ground along with twenty-two of the twenty-three other houses. Jyotish had stayed in the community that day, and although he tried to save our home from the fire, the only thing he was able to rescue was the box of holy items from our altar.
I’ve been forever grateful for my last loving farewell to our home and belongings. From that experience I realized that I should treasure each moment as a unique opportunity that may never come again. Here are other thoughts I took away that might be helpful to you:
- Do your best in all things, so that you can live in freedom without misgivings or regrets.
- Remember to let your dear ones know that you love them. Life is unpredictable, and we never know when the present moment will be our last opportunity to tell them.
- Most importantly, live so that if God suddenly calls you home, you can say goodbye to this world and reply, “I am ready, Lord. Let’s begin this journey together.”
With joy in God,
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.