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,
I first met Swami Kriyananda shortly after I came to Ananda Village in California, in 1969. As I watched him from a distance, I found myself in awe of him—of his spiritual wisdom, his inspiration as a teacher, and the fact that he was a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda. I also labored under the thought that everyone around him needed to be highly capable, and able to carry out efficiently anything that he asked them to do.
For both of these reasons, I felt awkward around him. Though I had graduated from college with honors, I had very little practical experience in the world, and spiritually I was barely a beginner.
One day the person who brought Swamiji his mail every afternoon needed to go elsewhere, and asked me if I could bring it over. I asked myself, “How hard could this be?” and agreed to do it.
When I got to his home, Swamiji was at his typewriter absorbed in writing a new book. I quietly placed his mail on a table by the door, and was about to slip out, when he looked up and asked, “Could you please make me a cup of coffee before you go?” Well, I was not a coffee drinker and had no idea about how to make coffee, but rather than look totally inept, I said, “Sure.”
I knew that making coffee had something to do with boiling water, so I went into the kitchen, put some water in a pot, turned on the burner, and waited for something to happen. After some time Swamiji was probably wondering what had become of his coffee, and came into the kitchen to see what was happening. This is what he saw: 1) a pot of water on the stove with most of the water boiled away, and 2) a very embarrassed young person standing helplessly in the middle of the kitchen.
Looking quizzical, he gently asked me, “Don’t you know how to make coffee?” Feeling like a child who didn’t know the words on the spelling test, I admitted, “No, Swamiji.” I expected him to say understandingly, “Don’t you think you might be better off living elsewhere?”
Instead, to my surprise, he threw his head back, burst into hearty laughter, and came over and gave me a hug filled with kindness and reassurance. Then he proceeded to show me how to make coffee.
Though Swamiji actually drank very little coffee, on different occasions over the years he would ask me to make him some, as though reminding me of that first shared experience. But he often added, “Oh, I’m making it with a different method now.” Sometimes it was with a frozen coffee concentrate, or a cloth filter, or an espresso machine, but he always kept us on our toes. In this way we couldn’t settle into complacency or become overly self-assured.
The spiritual lessons I learned from making coffee for Swamiji were many. God loves us most when we come to Him like little children. He is not impressed with our accomplishments or judgmental about our shortcomings, but rejoices when He sees our openness of heart.
Earlier this week we were having lunch with a group of friends, and the conversation took an interesting turn. The seven of us passed around the question, “When did you begin to know what you were supposed to do in this life? Why were you born?”
For me, I knew early on that I was supposed to be a teacher. My subliminal thoughts often muse about how to explain a concept or principle to others, and I tend to think in terms of analogies and examples that can be shared. When they asked about my paintings, I answered that I try to capture astral energies and share them through images and color. I also recognized that from youth I was usually the leader of whatever group I was in. This just seemed to be the natural order of things and not a cause for any pride or surprise.
For Devi, it was always natural to listen with an open heart and supportive energy. When she was a child, strangers would sometimes come up to her and talk about their problems. Even adults confided in her and, at the time, it was a bit unsettling. This quality of compassion and intuitive understanding has grown stronger over the years, and I often see her connect with a total stranger as if with an old friend.
Another friend at the table knew that she should be a dancer and is helping people understand how dance can produce higher consciousness. Yet another had a clear sense that he was born to help create communities. As we went around the table, each person had a clear idea of what they came into this life to do and to learn.
Everyone shares a cosmic purpose in life—to realize God—but our individual karma steers us along a particular route to that goal. Many children know quite clearly their lifes direction and purpose, while for others their deeper spiritual nature emerges only when they reach young adulthood.
Try this: Toward the end of your next meditation, when your mind is calm and your intuition open, ask yourself, “What did I come into this life to accomplish? What qualities did I bring that will help me with my life’s goal?” When an answer comes, try to clarify your next steps toward that end. Then ask God and Gurus for their blessings and support. This incarnation is a precious opportunity, more so when our daily actions are in tune with our life’s purpose.
Though universal in his consciousness, Paramhansa Yogananda especially worshipped the feminine aspect of God, or Divine Mother, as he called Her. Newcomers to Yogananda’s teachings often ask us, “Who is this Divine Mother?” To answer this question, I’d like to share with you some experiences from my own journey that have clarified my understanding.
The first incident occurred when I was quite young, perhaps three or four years old. I awoke late one summer morning to find that I was alone in a quiet house. My older brother, with whom I shared a room, must have gone out to play, my father probably had gone to work, and my mother was nowhere to be seen. Wondering where everyone was, I wandered out into our backyard.
And there was my mother hanging out laundry on a clothesline—clean white sheets brilliant in the sunshine and billowing in the breeze. As I stood quietly watching her, I experienced a moment of seeing past the forms of my mother, the sheets, the backyard, and felt a sense of goodness, simplicity, and peace that seemed to permeate everything. I knew that the universe was made of these qualities, and I never forgot it.
Some twenty years later I found Ananda and became Master’s disciple. During my first summer I met a wonderful woman, Haripriya, who was a follower of the great woman saint, Anandamayi Ma. When Haripriya gave me a book about her, and I looked at her photos, I felt the same qualities I had experienced in my backyard as a little girl: the goodness, simplicity, and serenity. The concept of Divine Mother began to coalesce for me. These qualities could be both formless and embodied in a human form.
At about that time Haripriya was leaving to visit Anandamayi Ma in India, and a desire arose in my heart to give a gift to Ma. “But what,” I wondered, “can I give that is fitting for such a great saint?” I had no money for lavish gifts, so I asked Haripriya what would be appropriate.
She paused for a while, and then replied, “A bottle of good cooking oil. This is hard to get in India.” Her answer touched my heart so deeply: to think of the simple aspects of life like cooking combined with the consciousness of one revered by thousands as a manifestation of Divine Mother.
I sent that cooking oil to Ma, and over the years have felt a flow of Divine Mother’s blessings present in the little acts of daily service that we all perform.
So, who is Divine Mother? For me, She is the goodness, simplicity, and peace that permeate all aspects of life and everything that exists. She accepts us our imperfections notwithstanding, and forgives us when we err. Though at times the world seems to be held in the grip of darkness, Divine Mother always keeps Her lamp lit in the window of our soul, showing us the way back to our eternal home in Her.