“Don’t depend on death to liberate you from your imperfections. You are exactly the same after death as you were before. Nothing changes; you only give up the body. If you are a thief or a liar or a cheater before death, you don’t become an angel merely by dying. If such were possible, then let us all go jump in the ocean now and become angels at once! Whatever you have made of yourself thus far, so will you be hereafter. And when you reincarnate, you will bring that same nature with you. To change, you have to make the effort. This world is the place to do it.”– Paramahansa Yogananda
The culmination of life’s lessons should result in the gradual peeling away of all attachments and all meaningless aims. Life is the great teacher and is leading us to the unfoldment and realization of our highest spiritual potential – liberation. On a daily basis we are bombarded with an entirely different definition of what success in life means. For many the mark of success is believed to be some form of ego ‘greatness’ defined by illusory and transitory things. The media, marketing and social influences portray varying degrees of obsession with ego drives: with the pursuit of wealth, power, pleasure, narcissism, youth and beauty. There is nothing wrong with any of these drives if they serve as stepping stones and as a means to the final goal of liberation. We should have sufficient material support to fulfill our needs comfortably, we should be able to experience life’s pleasures without undo sensation seeking, and we should fulfill our duty as it is presented to us – called dharma. However, the danger lies in the unconscious attachment to transitory and illusory experiences and objects that only create more attachment and slow down our progress on the path.
No one belongs to you and you belong to no one. This is the ultimate truth and any notion of ownership or possession is illusion. We have a responsibility to all life and indeed we are stewards but this role is often misunderstood: there are two forms of relationship to others: one unconditional, universal and liberating, and the other conditional, personal and stagnating. In Sanskrit they are known as ‘daya’ and ‘maya’. Daya can be translated as compassion. Maya in this sense, is attachment. When we are under the influence of maya our love is exclusive and conditional – it is relegated to our husband, wife, children, relatives and then on a broader scale to our ‘tribe’: friends, country, political party, religion, even our ‘sports teams’. With maya there is a notion of ‘I-me-mine’ in how we relate to the world around us. My family, my wife/husband, my children, my money, my body, my country, my affiliation, my religion, my God! We have a sense of ownership and if we are not careful this becomes strong attachment. The opposite of maya is daya. Daya is really a different-conscious perception, it is unconditional compassion for all life. It means looking upon everyone equally with the same eye of realization. Seeing all from the perspective of truth or reality. We do not love anyone more or any less in the highest form of love. There are great saints throughout history who have been observed to display profound compassion and love for all living things, including animals, plants and even inanimate forms. This is not just an attitude that we can hope for but is the essence of who we are — the saint is not ‘practicing’ or blindly believing anything – the saint just happens to perceive through the awakened spiritual sense that one divine being is manifesting as all things and playing all roles. This requires a detachment from the names and forms that appear as separate identities, as ‘others’, and always acknowledging the true one divine identity within.
Get Out of the Way!
The one divine being, what religions give various names to, is manifesting as everything we see and is the essence of all being. At the same time we cannot be naive in how we apply this truth. A story is told of a spiritual seeker walking down a path in the jungle who saw a large elephant charging toward him! There was a rider on the elephant shouting, “Get out of the way!” But the seeker said to himself, “Well all this is God so I will just stand my ground in faith!” Shortly the elephant was upon him, picked him up with his trunk and tossed him aside! He was badly bruised and confused. When he came around to his senses he asked God, “What went wrong?” the reply was, “I am in everything, the elephant and the rider, and therefore I tried to warn you speaking as the rider to get out of the way!” There are times when we can stand our ground but as our intuition strengthens we will know too when to get out of the way.
Your Life is a Parenthesis in Eternity
Our lives have been described as “a parenthesis in eternity”. When we are young we feel immortal but as we age we perceive time as speeding up and we may begin to reevaluate our purpose for being here. So often we hear of people at the end of their lives having regrets over not paying more attention to spiritual values and truths. It is uncomfortable for most of us to contemplate the inevitability of departure from this life and the eventual separation from this relative plane of existence and from everyone we know. Our instinctive survival programming avoids this kind of thinking…and actually keeps us from confronting many things in our lives that we realize we should give attention to. It is easy to remain complacent and to ignore the passing of time, to avoid and to ‘put off until tomorrow’. For many the concerns of family, finances, job, personal comforts and personal health take the lead and become the primary focus of life. If any of this resonates with you, if you have any doubts, regrets or anxieties, then now is the time to commit and to get your priorities in order. The number one priority is ‘liberation for oneself’. Then and only then can we be of real service to mankind.* All else follows and falls into place when we take the actions necessary and put our goal for liberation in its rightful place.
* More on what it means to ‘serve mankind’ in the next sutra.
What is liberation?
Liberation is freedom from all that previously bound us and kept us from realizing the truth of our being – it is Self realization. If we are embodied we are not yet fully liberated. To be accurate though, there are a very few who are liberated while embodied (called jivanmuktas) and their work on this plane has been accomplished. For these advanced souls final seed karmas are being worked out until they make their transition not to return again if they so choose. The purpose of our embodiments is to achieve (or realize) liberation and these lives are our school rooms. If we are not consciously living in the twenty-four-hour-a-day awareness of our divinity and the divinity in everyone and everything, then we are not yet liberated. Therefore, liberation is our number one priority.
How do we experience liberation?
Liberation is our very nature as pure spirit but to realize our essence requires a path that incorporates spiritual disciplines. There are many paths. The truth is all paths lead to liberation sooner or later. Even what one would consider as ‘fundamentalist’ paths and paths that clearly are suffering from distorted beliefs, will eventually lead one out of untruth to truth. How can this be? The answer is simple: every event and everything in our lives is conspiring to teach us. Teaching can be gentle or severe but eventually actions and beliefs that contribute to suffering will be identified, realized and corrected by every individual and his/her path will change or adjust accordingly. This can occur in this life or future lives but it will surely be a lesson repeated until it is learned. We must have utmost respect for all people no matter where they are in their unfoldment and no matter their chosen path, religion or belief system, all will eventually reach the shore of liberation. If you have yet to find a clear path, open your mind and pray for guidance – it will be made clear. Know too that if you do not have a teacher or Guru, the truth is, you already have one. The word Guru means, ‘that which dispels the darkness’. A real Guru will tell the seeker that the true Guru is not a person. Life is the Guru. Life teaches the lessons that, by and by, dispel the darkness and ultimately lead every single soul out of suffering and ignorance to final liberation.
“All time is wasted that is not spent in seeking God.”
– Lahiri Mahasaya
Simplify – Simplify – Simplify
Life can be simplified and arranged so that we shift our time allotment from mundane matters to spiritual pursuits. First we devote some time everyday to prayer, meditation and to studying the nature of consciousness through spiritual literature and devotional practices. Eventually our spiritual senses begin to awaken. There is nothing wrong with socializing, cultural engagements or media entertainment but we should be discrete and on guard as to what we let into our consciousness. Over time, as we progress, we will find that many of the mundane pursuits only provide temporary satisfaction, are a waste of time, and consequently lose their attraction. The satisfaction and pull of our unfolding soul awareness begins to overwhelm all else. Over time, we will find that every spare moment is given to our spiritual disciplines, not because we ‘should’ but because we realize that it is the single most important thing we can do and the soul satisfaction we experience as a result is beyond words. We arrange our lives around our spiritual disciplines rather than trying to ‘fit in the time’. This does not mean that we have to become renunciates and isolate ourselves from the world and live like hermits. True renunciation is not an outer condition – it does not happen by avoiding, depriving or taking things away. One can have nothing and be attached to everything. In truth, renunciation is internal and means we can ENJOY all that comes to us but simply not be attached. We renounce our attachment to the things of this world so that we can find our real satisfaction within our soul in communion with God.
Over time the brain and nervous system will become more and more refined as we find the instinctive, distracting (and time wasting) pleasure seeking drives being replaced with a yearning for conscious divine union. At a certain point we realize nothing else matters – there is an omniscient (all-knowing) presence that knows exactly how and what we need. Its intelligence is beyond our comprehension just as the infinity of the universe is beyond our intellect to grasp.
This Divine presence is absolute existence and impersonal in the unmanifest aspect but is very personal and intimate in the manifest. The unmanifest is called the ‘Father’ and the manifest is called the ‘Mother’. Father is the transcendent, formless aspect and mother is with form, immanent in creation. Therefore, one can experience the divine manifest in creation easier than the unmanifest – and eventually the experience of the manifest leads to the experience of the unmanifest. Many Saints call the manifest aspect the Divine Mother because of the creative-nurturing attribute one experiences when one communes with the Divine Mother – the universe and everything we perceive is the ‘body’ of the Divine Mother. So even though we know we are one with absolute being (the formless transcendent aspect), having a sense of devotion and childlike relationship to the manifest expression of God as the Divine Mother can be very useful. Until we fully realize our oneness with the absolute transcendental being, we can access the Divine Mother presence through deep yearning. By using love as a magnet we attract that presence from within. God as the Mother aspect will respond to our pleas when we sincerely and continuously yearn to know his/her presence. Which in essence is love. Then it will arise within as an over-powering, yet tender and gentle, awareness. As described in previous sutras the presence is often unveiled in the meditators spiritual eye in the form of light along with the sound of Om. We must be patient though, it may not be revealed right away – after pouring out our hearts we must learn to quiet our mind through meditation so we can look and listen within the depths of our being for the response. We must prepare the container also. The purity of body, mind and emotions is important. Purity of the body is facilitated by following a clean and appropriate diet – the ayurvedic sattvic diet is most supportive of this. For mental and emotional poise we can cultivate the virtues (reread sutra #14) and work on any addictions or negative reaction patterns thereby freeing ourselves of anger, greed, selfishness, pride, fear, egoism, and other impurities. This yearning must be from the soul, very strong and has been described as needing as much intensity as if you put your head under water and yearned to breathe; more than the yearning the lover feels when their beloved is gone; more than the yearning a child feels for its missing mother! This is not an experience that only poets, saints and mystics are privy to – this is our heart of hearts just waiting to be unveiled in the depths of the soul.
In your quiet moments, pray to God, yearn to love God, yearn for knowledge and the love of God with the deepest devotion of your soul – in time you shall receive the answer.
Rumi on Yearning
There is a candle in your heart,
ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul,
ready to be filled.
You feel it, don’t you?
You feel the separation
from the Beloved.
Invite Him to fill you up,
embrace the fire.
Remind those who tell you otherwise that
Love comes to you of its own accord,
and the yearning for it
cannot be learned in any school.
“Read less, meditate more and think of God all the time.”
– Paramahansa Yogananda
– Liberation for Oneself and service to mankind.
*motto of the Ramakrishna order of monks*