The Path: One Man's Quest On the Only Path There Is
by Swami Kriyananda
(J. Donald Walters)
Direct Disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda
Purchase a copy of 'The Path'
My sudden conversion to this totally unheralded way of life had the effect on my earthly family that a grenade might have if hurled unexpectedly into someone's home during a leisurely Sunday breakfast. My parents believed strongly in giving us children the freedom to follow our own lights, but even so, their concern for my happiness made them anything but indifferent to what struck them as a sudden plunge into insanity. Nor did I help matters much when, in my zeal of conversion, I endeavored to persuade them that my choice was the only sane one.
Some weeks after my arrival at Mt. Washington, I received a letter from Father Kernan, the associate minister at our Church of St. James the Less, in Scarsdale. Was I, he inquired sympathetically, in some emotional or spiritual difficulty? And was there anything I might like from him in the way of help or advice? I was touched by his considerateness, but replied that, if he really wanted to understand why I'd left the church, he might read Autobiography of a Yogi. Some months later he remarked to Mother, "We don't ask enough of people like Donald."
Next, some military officer came out (I don't recall his connection with my family), offered to help if he could, decided he couldn't, and leftpresumably to report that at least I wasn't starving to death. Some time after that, Sue and Bud Clewell, relatives in Westwood Village (a suburb of Los Angeles), visited me with pleas that I not estrange myself from the family. My brother Bob wrote from New York to suggest that I might like to join him in some housing-development scheme. Dick, my youngest brother, wrote from Williams College, "Couldn't you have found what you wanted in one of the monastic orders of your own church?"
Bernard told me one day of his own experiencenot with relatives in his case, but with erstwhile companions. "Shortly after I moved to Encinitas," he said, "a group of my old friends arrived, determined to kidnap and hold me forcibly until I agreed to give up this 'wild-eyed fanaticism'in other words, to become, like them, a devotee of the dollar! Fortunately I wasn't around to receive them: Master had sent me that morning on some urgent errand to Mt. Washington. My friends, thwarted, soon abandoned their plan."
Whether by coercion or by love, it is not unusual for people who want to dedicate their lives to high ideals to encounter opposition from well-meaning friends and relatives. For between selfless idealism and worldliness there exists a fundamental incompatibility. Worldliness lives in the constant expectation of personal rewards and benefits, of desires satisfied, of value received. Idealism scorns personal benefit, renounces selfish desires, and views life rather in terms of value given. It finds its highest benefit in the very act of sacrifice, and considers that to be true gain which worldliness views only as loss. "Fanaticism," is the verdict commonly pronounced by worldly people on any but the most pallid expressions of idealism. And if, out of unconscious shame, that verdict isn't forthcoming, "ulterior motives" is the next charge. All the while, however, worldliness feels vaguely uneasy in the presence of selfless dedication, as though sensing in it some hidden threat to all that it holds dear. For the soul knows that its true home lies not in this world, but in infinity.
Perfect representatives of either side are, of course, rare. Worldliness and renunciation are qualities which people manifest in varying degrees, but no single human quality ever suffices to define an individual. Worldly people may even, on one side of their natures, applaud heroic self-sacrifice in others. And many, of course, are no strangers to self-sacrifice themselves; in factstrange twist of human nature!it is the worldly man, frequently, who most sternly censures the renunciate who falls from his ideals. And of course the renunciate, for his part, must do constant battle against worldly self-interest in himself.
But the fact remains that between worldliness and renunciation, considered as abstractions, there is not and can never be the slightest compatibility. As the Bible puts it, "Whosoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God."(39)
The renunciate's worldly friends and relatives would always prefer to see him keep his feet in both boats. Indeed, he, too, may legitimately show them love as children of God. But if he dwells pleasurably on the thought, "These are my people," or if he looks on their worldliness with sympathetic favor, he places himself in real danger of losing his vocation. For one who stands in two boats may end up falling between them and drowning. Many a renunciate has abandoned his high ideals because he tried to reconcile in his own mind these two opposite worlds.
In the Biblical story of the Jews' exodus from Egypt lies a deep spiritual allegory. Only those Jews who had been born in the wilderness, out of captivity, were permitted to enter the Promised Land. With man, similarly, only those mental qualities which are born in the "wilderness" of meditative silencequalities such as humility, devotion, and soul-joy, the gifts of divine gracecan be brought over into the "Promised Land" of divine union. Pride, anger, greed, lustthe offspring, in short, of man's bondage to egomust die before God-consciousness can be attained. ("Blessed are the pure in heart," Jesus said, "for they shall see God."(40) ) Even a wise, discriminating egosymbolized in this story by Moses(41)though capable of leading one out of worldly captivity, and of shepherding one through the long process of spiritual purification, must eventually offer itself up into the infinite light. Moses was permitted to behold the Promised Land from afar, but he had to die before his people could enter and live there. As Jesus put it, "He who will lose his life [who will, in other words, offer it up] for my sake shall save it." (42)
The worldly person asks first of life, "What do I want?" The devotee asks only, "What does God want?" Renunciation is an inner state of consciousness, not an outward act. All those, whether married or single, who love God and want to know Him must reconcile themselves to living for Him alone. The pathway of the heart is too narrow for both the ego and God to walk it together; one of them must step aside and make way for the other. "Living for God," Yogananda said, "is martyrdom": martyrdom of the ego; martyrdom of self-will and selfishness; martyrdom of all that worldliness clings to so desperately. But the true devotee comes in time to see that this isn't martyrdom at all, since its end is joyous freedom in the only true Self: God. We are sons of the Infinite! Anything that binds us to a limited existence desecrates this divine image within us. Renunciation is no abject self-deprivation, but a glorious affirmation of the universe of joy that is our birthright.
As St. John of the Cross put it:
In order to arrive at having pleasure in everything,
The essence of renunciation is to relinquish the clinging attitude of a beggar towards things, places, people, experiencesin short, the limitations of this worldand to offer oneself constantly at the feet of Infinity.
Desire pleasure in nothing.
In order to arrive at possessing everything,
Desire to possess nothing.
In order to arrive at being everything,
Desire to be nothing.
In order to arrive at the knowledge of everything,
Desire to know nothing.(43)
In the beginning of the spiritual life, especially, Yogananda told us, it is better to mix little or not at all with worldly people. For it is essential that one's heart be strengthened, in preparation for making this heroic gift to God of every desire, every thought, every feeling. No weakling could ever make so total a self-offering. Cowards quickly fall by the wayside. None who enter the spiritual path for its superficial glamour alone can survive tests that have no other purpose than to assault the devotee's every natural inclination. The more completely one can identify himself with the consciousness of complete self-surrender, the more likely he is to succeed in his spiritual search.
This is as true for householders as for monks and nuns. Outward renunciation merely helps to affirm the inner resolve, necessary for all devotees, to seek God alone.
In the Self-Realization Fellowship monasteries, Paramhansa Yogananda taught us boldly to claim our new identity as sons of God, rejecting all consciousness of worldly ties.
"Sir," I began one day, "my father. . . ."
"You have no father!" Master peremptorily reminded me. "God is your Father."(44)
"I'm sorry, Sir. I meant, my earthly father."
"That's better," the Master replied, approvingly.
"Milk will not float on water," he often reminded us, "but mingles with it. Similarly, as long as your devotion is still 'liquid'that is to say, untriedit may be diluted by worldly influences. You should therefore avoid such influences as much as possible. Only when the 'milk' of your consciousness has been churned into the 'butter' of divine realization will it float easily on the water of this world, and remain unaffected by it."
"The mind of the worldly man," he once said, "is like a sieve, riddled with desires, distractions and worries. It is impossible for a person in such a state of mind to gather and hold the milk of peace."
Master was compassionate toward those who were weak, and never sought to impose on any of us ideals that were beyond our reach. Rather, he took each of us as we were, and tried to guide us from that point onward. Thus, even in the monasteries, disciples sometimes mistook his kindness and encouragement for leniency, and never realized how drastic was the inner revolution to which he was actually calling them. He would be satisfied with nothing less than the total destruction of our mental limitations. The more we gave to God of ourselves, the more he, encouraged by our willingness, demanded of us. I always smiled when I met people who defined his love for them in terms of the little things he had given them or done for them, outwardly. The real definition of his love for us lay not in what he gave to us, except spiritually, but in what he took from us. His real purpose was not to tidy up our little mud puddles of delusion and make them more comfortable to sit in. It was to take us out of those mud puddles altogether. If, in the process, this meant subjecting us to temporary pain, he flinched no more from that task than a conscientious doctor would in trying to cure his patients of serious physical ailments.
On the subject of renunciation, especially, there was often in Master's manner a certain sternness, as though to impress on us that the staunchness of our dedication to God was, for each one of us, a matter of spiritual life or death.
Daya Mata tells the story of how, as a girl, she once asked Master whether he thought she ought to go out and find work to support her needy mother. Instead of the sympathetic reply she expected, Master cried, "Go on! Get out of here this minute!"
"Master," she begged him tearfully, "I don't want to leave here. This is my entire life!"
"That's better," he replied, very gently. "You have given your life to God, renouncing all worldly ties. The responsibility for your mother is His now."
On Yogananda's invitation, the mother came to live at Mt. Washington. She remained there as a dedicated nun until her death some forty years later.
Soon after that scolding, Master began referring to Daya Mata affectionately as his "nest egg." For it was from her arrival that he dated the beginning of his monastic order.
Nothing won Master's approval so much as the willingness to renounce all for God. But renunciation, to him, meant an inner act of the heart; outward symbols he viewed more tentatively, as potential distractions to sincerity. In Phoenix, Arizona, a raggedly dressed, unkempt man once boasted to him, "I'm a renunciate." Yogananda replied, "But you are bound againby your attachment to disorder!" For this present age, prejudiced as it is against many aspects of the spiritual life, he counseled only moderate adoption of the outward symbols of renunciation. Perhaps he felt that more extreme austerities might attract too much attention to themselves, and thus feed the very ego which the renunciate was striving to overcome. Much, for example, as he loved St. Francis of Assisi, and referred to him affectionately as his "patron saint," he often said, "St. Francis loved Lady Poverty, but I prefer Lady Simplicity." Renunciation, to him, was not a matter of where one's body is, nor of how it is clothed, but of inner, mental purity. "Make your heart a hermitage," he counseled us. It was not so much that he rejected outward forms; some of them, indeed, he favored. But his concern was that we use them to internalize our devotion.
Monasteries, like any human institution, have a tendency to involve their members outwardly in communal affairs. To some extent, of course, this is necessary, but Yogananda urged us even in our monastic life to remain somewhat apart from others.
"Don't mix with others too closely," he recommended to us one evening. "The desire for outward companionship is a reflection of the soul's inward desire for companionship with God. But the more you seek to satisfy that desire outwardly, the more you will lose touch with the inner, divine Companion, and the more restless and dissatisfied you will become."
Frequently he held up to us examples of saints who had remained aloof even from fellow devotees. "Seclusion," he told us, "is the price of greatness." Though mental withdrawal may not make one popular with less dedicated devotees (Daya Mata, who lived that way through her early training, soon found herself dubbed "the half-baked saint"), it is a shortcut to God.
Disciples seeking Master's help in overcoming delusion received loving encouragement and sympathetic counsel from him in return.
"If the sex drive were taken away from you," he told a group of monks one evening, "you would see that you had lost your greatest friend. You would lose all interest in life. Sex was given to make you strong. If a boxer were to fight only weaklings, he too, in time, would grow weak. It is by fighting strong men that he develops strength. The same is true in your struggle with the sex instinct. The more you master it, the more you will find yourself becoming a lion of happiness."
The three greatest human delusions, he used to say, are sex, wine (by which he meant intoxicants of all kinds), and money. I once asked him to help me overcome attachment to good food. He smiled gaily.
"Don't worry about those little things. When ecstasy comes, everything goes!"
But where the principal delusions were concerned he was very serious, and worked with infinite patience to help us overcome them.
The desire for money he contrasted with the joys of non-attachment and simple living. "Renounce attachment to all things," he told us, "even to the fruits of your action. Don't work with the thought of what you might get out of it. What comes of itself, let it come. Work to serve God, and for the supreme satisfaction of pleasing Him."
Related to the desire for money is the ambition for worldly power and recognition. "Realize," Master said, "that God's is the only power in the universe. In all your actions, see Him alone as the Doer; seek to please only Him." He added, "Worldly power, fame, and riches are like prostitutes: loyal to no one. Only God will stand by you loyally forever."
The desire for "wine" Master related to the soul's deep-seated longing to escape pain and suffering, and to reclaim its lost inheritance of bliss in God. "Pseudo-ecstasy," he labeled all intoxicantseven the "intoxicant" of too much sleep. He urged his students to escape the delusions of worldly life, not by dulling their minds to its sorrows, but by rising above them in the higher "intoxication" of soul-joy. "Meditate," he urged us. "The more you taste God's joy within you, the less taste you will have for those mere masquerades of ecstasy."
In fact, I knew a disciple who at one time had been an alcoholic. He took Kriya Yoga initiation from Master, and thereafter practiced the techniquequite literally!with a bottle of whiskey in one hand, and his prayer beads in the other. In time he found so much enjoyment in Kriya Yoga practice that one day, halfway through his meditation, he set the bottle disdainfully aside, and never touched it again.
In sex-desire Master saw not merely the physical, procreative instinct, but the soul's longing for union with God manifested in the need for a human mate. It was to this unitive urge that he usually addressed himself when referring to the sex instinct. Romanticists in his audiences sometimes objected to the cheerful irreverence with which he often treated the "tender passion." But Yogananda was particularly not interested in feeding people's illusions: It was his goal to demolish them.
"Marriage," he once told a church congregation, "is seldom the beautiful thing it is commonly pictured to be. I smile when I think of the usual movie plot. The hero is so handsome, and the heroine so lovely, and after all kinds of troubles they finally get married and (so we are supposed to believe) live 'happily ever after.' And then I think, 'Yes, with rolling pins and black eyes!' But of course, the producers hurriedly finish the story before it can get to that part!"
"Remember," he advised us once, "it is the Divine Mother who tests you through sex. And it is She also who blesses, when you pass Her test." He counseled his male disciples to look upon women as living embodiments of the Divine Mother. "They are disarmed," he said, "when you view them in that light." I was never present when he counseled women disciples in these matters, but I think his suggestions must have been based on encouraging in them similar attitudes of respectperhaps to see reflected in men the Heavenly Father, or the Cosmic Teacher. For only by deep, divine respect for one another can men and women win final release from the magnetic attraction that draws them to seek fulfillment in outer, not in inner, divine union.
In the monastery, as I have mentioned earlier, Master permitted the monks and nuns no social communication with one another. When the necessities of work demanded contact between them, he counseled them not to look at one another, especially avoiding communication with the eyes, and to keep their conversation as brief and impersonal as possible. So strict was he that he even discouraged many of the normally accepted courtesies that men and women extend to one another. I remember one day, when Master and I were standing out of doors near the entrance to his Twenty-Nine Palms retreat, a young nun came to the door from the car, laden with packages. Observing that she was having difficulty in opening the door, I went over and opened it for her.
"You should not have done that," Master told me, after she had gone inside. "Keep your distance," he added, "and they will always respect you."
It is only when one strives to overcome delusion that one discovers its primal power. "As soon as the first thought of sex arises," Master said, "that is the time to catch it." Worldly people scoff at what they consider such exaggerated precautions. "It's absurd," I've heard them exclaim, "to suggest that every time I look at a member of the opposite sex I'm going to feel tempted!" But basic attraction, which may find outward expression sooner or later toward the "right" person, and which in any case can distract the heart from one-pointed devotion to God, begins long before the stirrings of any noticeable attraction to one human being. Its root lies in an instinctive pleasure in the mere abstraction "man," or, "woman." It affects all ages. A woman once told me that her little daughter, while still a toddler, had a special giggle that she affected only in the presence of little boys. It was to this deep, instinctive, and generally not specifically directed response that Yogananda was most particularly referring when he spoke of tracing temptation to its "first thought." Years of introspection have taught me that if one can catch this subtle first responseso rarely even noticed by most peopleand immediately impersonalize it, the thought of such attraction virtually vanishes from the mind. But even then one must be careful. "One is not safe from delusion," Yogananda said, "until he has attained the highest, nirbikalpa, samadhi."
Rejection of the world is only the negative side of devotion. Master's usual emphasis was positive. "Nothing can touch you," he told us, "if you inwardly love God." Nevertheless, there is a beauty in the act of utter self-offering to God that makes renunciation, even in its more limited, negative aspect, one of the most heroic and noble callings possible to man.
Bernard told me of one occasion when a visitor from India came to see Paramhansa Yogananda. The man was received by Sister Gyanamata, and had the poor grace to treat her condescendinglyas though, in serving her guru, she were only Master's servant. Later, inspired by his interview with Master, he apologized to her.
"In India," he said, "we are taught to respect all women as wives and mothers. Forgive me, please, that I failed to pay you that respect earlier." Smilingly he concluded, "I offer it to you now."
Sister Gyanamata, in her usual impersonal manner, replied, "At least half the people in the world are women. Most of them sooner or later become mothers. There is nothing in either fact that merits any special respect. But you may, if you wish, pay respect to the fact that in this life I have become a renunciate."
The visitor could only bow. For renunciation of egoic desires and attachments is, ultimately, the stepping stone for all people, whether married or single, to rediscovery of that divine image within, which alone gives man importance in the greater scheme of things.
(39) James 4:4.Him.
Back in context.
(40) Matthew 5:8.
Back in context.
(41) Symbolism apart, Paramhansa Yogananda once told me that Moses was a true master.
Back in context.
(42) Luke 9:24.
Back in context.
(43) This poem, incidentally, shows also the close correlation that exists between the mystical experiences of great Christian saints and those of great yogis. St. John's expressions"possessing everything, being everything," etc.are no mere metaphor. He is describing, quite literally, the state known to yogis as samadhi, or cosmic consciousness. In Chapter 33 many more such Christian corroborations are presented of the ancient yogic teachings.
Back in context.
(44) "While he yet talked to the people, behold his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? and he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." (Matthew 12:4650)
Back in context.
Copyright 1996 J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda), Trustee