“Dear Asha, why is this happening to me?”
Sorrow and stress are universal, but difficult situations can also be opportunities—life trying to guide us toward greater happiness—if only we had the wisdom to follow it. To find the hidden blessings within the various situations in life, you need faith, trust . . . and sometimes, a wise friend to talk to.
To many spiritual seekers, that person is Asha—who through her counseling and lectures has helped thousands worldwide gain a deeper understanding of themselves and the spiritual path. Based on letters to questing souls, this book showcases the clarity, compassion, and inspiration of Asha Praver—a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda and meditation teacher for over 40 years. Her responses will astound you with their universality: How to help others . . . How to see life as fair . . . How to be true to yourself.
Below is a sample of the practical wisdom in the pages of Ask Asha:
• “Every apple seed contains within it the potential to become a fruit-bearing tree. It doesn’t happen all at once though. It may be tiresome for the seed first to be a sprout, then a twig, then a sapling—but it is the fastest, in fact the only way to become an apple tree.
• “So it is with the soul. Self-realization is our divine destiny, but we can’t get there in one leap. Perhaps your repeated failure is not caused by lack of will power but from lack of patience—trying to reach the goal without first walking the path.
• “If you reach too far beyond your actual realization, inevitably you will collapse back—perhaps to a place lower than where you started, if you define yourself now by your failure. You may think you are compromising your ideals to aim lower, but in fact that may be the surest route to success.
• “Spiritual progress is both a science and an art. The science is comprised of the divine laws of the universe; the art is to know which to apply and when.”
Ask Asha – Table of Contents
1. I make the same mistakes over and over.
2. Nothing outside ordinary reality ever happens to me.
3. Spiritual hypocrisy has left a bad taste in my mouth.
4. My job and the rewards it offers seem pointless.
5. My partner cheated on me for fifteen years.
6. People will take advantage if we forgive everything.
7. I loved a powerful and good man, but he died.
8. The husband my parents have chosen for me is not my soul-mate.
9. I am in love with a man who doesn’t love me.
10. What does it mean in meditation to have an empty mind?
11. Sometimes in meditation I feel afraid.
12. In meditation I doze off and start dreaming instead.
13. Two “karmic bombs” went off this week.
14. How does karma get from one incarnation to the next?
15. Why do bad things happen to good people?
16. An ugly divorce has devolved into guerilla warfare.
17. Are all astral worlds beautiful?
18. How does a guru take on the karma of his disciples?
19. Is it bad karma to give up a baby for adoption?
20. My friend is negative about my spiritual path.
21. My boyfriend thinks only the Catholic religion is true.
22. Dark aliens from other planets have interbred with Earthlings.
23. I have lost interest in sex, but my wife has not.
24. Sex should always be a gift, not a responsibility.
25. As newlyweds, moderation in sex is out of the question.
26. My boyfriend thinks “sacred” drugs like LSD are a path to God.
27. Isn’t wearing distinctive religious garb just spiritual ego?
28. With so many wearing blue, Ananda now looks like a cult.
29. Will you be my guru?
30. I may have to kick my adopted son out of the house.
31. My elderly mother is bitter and unhappy.
32. My mother has really poor judgment about men.
33. Trying to fix my daughter’s hard karma only makes it worse.
34. My son’s wife is a compulsive nail-biter.
35. When does soul evolution begin?
36. If God is Bliss, why did He create suffering?
37. Why did God choose Mary to be the Mother of Jesus?
38. Jesus: Son of Man or Son of God?
39. I feel so guilty that my Great Dane was put to sleep.
A few words from the author . . .
The dilemmas raised and resolved here are from truth seekers around the world, sent to the Ask Asha feature of my website. Even when the answer meanders through many aspects of the spiritual path, all have a practical immediacy not always present in mere theoretical discussions.
Perhaps you’ve never faced these exact situations: Giving up a child for adoption, trying to forgive a philandering spouse, facing the death of a beloved pet—to name a few included here. Still, all of us have suffered guilt, disappointment, heartbreak, and anxiety about the state of the world. The details may differ from what you face, but the solutions will still prove to be of value.
My own spiritual training has come over four decades of life in the Ananda communities guided by Swami Kriyananda, a disciple of the Indian guru, Paramhansa Yogananda.
Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi is a textbook for those seeking a spiritual rather than merely a religious life. Religion too often is about dogma and form. Spirituality is the consciousness with which we live. The cutting edge of learning is when high ideals are tested in the cold light of day.
The Ananda communities are not remote monasteries sheltering a world-renouncing few, but active centers of work and service, home to people in all stages of life. Marriage, children, money, education, creative work—all aspects of life must be faced and resolved in a spiritual way.
May the solutions offered—and the deep learning that inspired them—be for you, as they have been for me, the doorway to happiness.
Q: I make the same mistakes over and over. Despite my best intentions, I can’t seem to make any spiritual progress. Everyday life also confuses me. If, as the scriptures say, this world is a dream, why work so hard to succeed? Compared to divine realization, isn’t everything else trivial?
A: Every apple seed contains within it the potential to become a fruit-bearing tree. It doesn’t happen all at once though. It may be tiresome for the seed first to sprout, then be a twig, then a sapling; but it is the fastest, in fact the only way to become a tree. There are inescapable stages of development.
So it is with the soul. Self-realization is our divine destiny, but we can’t get there in one leap. Perhaps your repeated failure is not caused by lack of will power but lack of patience—trying to reach the goal without first walking the path.
It is tempting to say, for example, if renunciation is required, “Now I must renounce! If austerities are beneficial, let me banish all comfort from my life!” You may think this proof of your dedication, but in fact it is looking for a shortcut that isn’t there.
If you reach too far beyond your actual realization, inevitably you will collapse back, perhaps to a place lower than where you started. You may think you are compromising your ideals to aim for less, but for you this may be the surest route to success.
Spiritual progress is both science and art. The science is comprised of the divine laws of the universe; the art is knowing which to apply and when.
About everyday life, I used to share your confusion. If everything in this world is ephemeral, why bother? Intuitively I felt compelled to strive for excellence, but philosophically I couldn’t figure out why. In Swamiji’s book, The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, I found the answer.
He speaks of the Self-realized person as triguna rahitam. This means one who has transcended the three gunas—the fluctuating energies that make up the material world. Tamo guna is confining, darkening, downward pulling. Rajo guna is activating, restless. Sattwa guna is uplifting and calm.
To determine what is forward for you spiritually, ask yourself, “What guna, or combination of gunas, am I expressing?” Eventually we must go beyond the material world altogether, leaving even sattwa guna behind, but like the seed becoming a tree, we have to get there in stages.
“Why bother? Nothing is real.” This may sound like philosophical truth, but it is more likely tamo guna—fear and laziness masquerading as wisdom. Superficially, lazy resembles calm, but they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Fear is paralyzing. Better to be intensely active, even restless in your activity, than succumb to either. The first victory must be over tamo guna.
Imagine the rim of a bicycle wheel with spokes leading into the center. We are all spread out at different points around the rim. The way to reach the center depends on how the rim is oriented from your point of view.
Those at the bottom must go up; those at the top, down. For some, more discipline is required; others need to relax and go with the flow. If the opposites happen to meet, each may declare, “Only my way is right!” They don’t see that progress is directional, in relation to the center.
If Mahatma Gandhi, in the middle of the movement to free India, had decided to use his fame instead to open a law practice, everyone would say he had fallen. If a lazy, do-nothing man finally got off the couch, went to law school, and made a fortune, everyone would say, “Well done!”
Imagine now that the points on the rim are aspects of your own karma. Eventually all karma must be resolved in God, but you can’t do it in one swoop. You have to move step-by-step, according to where you are in relation to the center.
On the path of Self-realization there is no manual of Right Behavior you can put on like a uniform. You expand from within—like a seed—from the heart of your being. Dogmas won’t do it; intuition is needed.
When Jesus was asked, “How can you tell a true prophet from a false one?” he answered, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” The answer to “Why bother?” is the same: “Look at the fruits.”
Think of that man lying on the couch, letting others support him. No matter how highfalutin’ his philosophy, he is a lazy bum.
This world is a spiritual gymnasium. The equipment is the circumstances your karma has brought. Even if you go to the gym every day, though, just sitting there won’t make you strong. You have to run the treadmill and lift the weights.
What you accomplish in life may be unimportant compared to eternity, but the consciousness you develop in order to succeed is the path to freedom.
Great masters and highly-evolved souls know far better than we do the dream nature of this world. Still, they set the example by working hard to accomplish what God has given them to do.
Swamiji would go over a manuscript dozens of times before he considered it ready for publication. Even after a book was printed, he would edit it again, if he felt it could be improved.
When members of our community were first learning to sing his music, Swamiji would often stop them mid-performance to correct something. Certain people objected. Correcting singers in public was embarrassing, they said.
“They need to put out the energy to do it right,” Swamiji replied.
Singing wrong notes was only a symptom. Laziness and lack of concentration—tamo guna—was the more important problem to be overcome. Learning to sing properly was a way of training their consciousness. Most knew this, and welcomed Swamiji’s guidance.
As my mother aged, her body began to fail. Everyday tasks became more and more of a challenge. “Getting old is not for sissies!” she often said. The same is true of the path. The first essential attitude for the devotee is courage.
In my mother’s struggle with her body, defeat was inevitable. No physical body lasts forever. Nor does every seed become a tree. By contrast, on the spiritual path, victory is assured. It is not a matter of if, but when.
To my everlasting embarrassment, I remember a conversation I had with Swamiji once when tamo guna had me in its grip. Actually, it wasn’t a conversation, because Swamiji said nothing.
I was facing a big challenge. To be fair, it was a serious, lifelong issue, and I was far from the finish line.
“Everything in my life is going well, except this one thing. I would be so happy if it would just go away!”
In other words: If the spiritual path were not so hard, it would be easier.
Silent and expressionless, Swamiji stared at me, my words hanging in the air between us, as tears of self-pity rolled down my cheeks.
Several moments passed. Then the phone rang. Swamiji answered it without even a glance of apology. It was to confirm a doctor’s appointment he had been trying to arrange. When the call ended, so did the interview.
Don’t think for a moment that Swamiji was being rude. Even then I knew his response was brilliant: Stop whining!
I shudder to think what might have happened if he had shown even an ounce of sympathy. I would have clung to it like a drowning person to a log. It would not, however, have been my raft over the ocean of delusion, but a stone taking me to the bottom of the sea.
I persevered. What choice did I have? Either wallow in misery, or make an effort to transcend it. I can’t say even now that I have conquered that delusion, but by the grace of God it no longer defines me.
The pathway to success is paved with failure. There is no alternate route.
To rail against yourself for repeated failure gives tamo guna the win, eroding your confidence and sapping your strength. It doesn’t matter if you have been over the same ground a thousand times. If it is where you find yourself, the only thing to do is move forward from there.
“This is an invaluable collection of Asha’s best and trustworthy counsel. A brilliant read for those of us who would like to have the tools to handle everyday problems, even as she inspires us to reach our higher potential and level of happiness. As Asha leads the reader to self-awareness, she becomes a supportive friend who offers the best advice one could receive.”
—Dr. Pathma Naidu, Head of Counseling, Pathways World School, India
“Asha has a knack for taking timeless spiritual truths and presenting them in a way that is immediate, practical, and directly applicable to our modern lives. Her advice is compassionate and insightful, and helps us find the next step toward spiritual progress in any situation.”
—Graham Waldon, Manager, East West Bookshop
“From early in her spiritual life, Asha’s teacher, Swami Kriyananda, asked her to give spiritual counsel to new seekers. It is obvious why. She is a wise soul with a talent for putting deep teachings into words everyone can understand. This book is a gift to anyone searching for truth.”
—Richard Salva, author of Blessed Lanfranc: The Past Life of Swami Sri Yukteswar
“Forty years ago, when I first met Asha at Ananda Village, I felt immediately that here was a wise sister I could go to for guidance. . . . Often over the years, when a question has arisen about Yogananda’s teachings or Kriyananda’s writings, I have heard someone say, “Let’s ask Asha.” And so when her new book—Ask Asha—appeared in my mailbox, my first thought was, “Of course, that’s what we’ve been doing all along.”
“The letters [in this book]—each one an answer to a specific call for help—are masterpieces of clarity, wisdom, and compassion. Hers is a beautiful mind, and the reader experiences an expanding universe of understanding growing from one central seed thought into a flowering tree, one that ultimately bears fruit not only of comprehension but also of inspiration and motivation to do something real about the challenges we all face. Her writing is always graceful, often entrancing—one emerges feeling understood, cleansed, and committed to useful spiritual action. . . .
“The help that we . . . receive through these wonderful letters is not only for our own growth toward God, but that we might help all in our orbit likewise grow toward their own Self-realization.”
—Nayaswami Prakash, Clarity magazine