“As Many as Received Him…
… to them gave he the power to become the sons of God.”

That’s an unbeatable deal! But there seems to be confusion about what “received him” means? Jesus didn’t explain. He left it at that.

Strangely enough, most of us have also left it at that. Frivolous and fickle, we have since turned our focus to other matters instead, in particular to matter itself. Desires of a worldly sort have led us to seek the power of less than exalted gains.

That is not to say that our aspirations are without positive goals. Years ago, an ad agency for the U.S. Army put together a TV recruitment campaign, one of the most impressive I can remember. Its theme was powerful, its visuals were stirring, the music behind them was dramatic, and the effect was downright compelling:

“Be all that you can be.”

A line like that is hard to resist, and I’m sure it attracted thousands of young men and women. The Army was selling adventure and upward mobility. Everything about that campaign spoke to its target audience with rousing appeal. The Army was promoting itself as where you could reach your mental and physical potential, be part of a winning team, and serve with pride. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. But is that all there is to being “all that you can be?”

Something in that campaign was missing. Honestly, there was no place for it. To our detriment, it is also what is missing in the whole of our way of life.

If you grew up in America, you heard a lot about getting ahead. Whether evident or subtle, the message was Learn to compete. The supposition was, and still is, that competition motivates, and is thus both practical and noble. America loves a winner, and it points to its competitive spirit as the source of its world prowess.

But our culture’s definition of winning doesn’t do much, if anything, to address what this life is really about. Our social conditioning leaves an enormous gap in people’s awareness of what is truly needed to be at peace and in harmony with ourselves and each other. That missing something is the opposite of egoic.

I was raised to compete, and by most standards, I did quite well. My world was not a vicious one, and I was not fighting to survive, only to live the American dream. Like nearly everyone else in my circle of friends, I had a mantra before I knew the word: What’s in it for me?

I don’t mean to suggest that I was greedy, because I wasn’t. Nor was I without a moral compass. I was fair-minded and willing to share, but I wanted to be the one in control of when, with what, and how much. That missing something was missing in me too, and I was oblivious to the lack of it, not to mention the bounteous measure of happiness it would have brought me.

A competitive spirit, whether individual or national, needs another kind of spirit to counter its restless energy and channel it into a consciousness that favors cooperation. What is missing from our social training is an emphasis on the soul, and specifically on soul receptivity.  It isn’t taught in our public schools, not in many households either, nor is it practiced in our social and commercial activities.

Soul receptivity is the magnet for what Jesus was offering. But when it is overridden by our ego’s aims instead, we forfeit our freedom from suffering. Whatever gave us the idea that anything is more important?

In a ceremony known as the Festival of Light, offered each week in Ananda temples as part of our Sunday services, the story is told of a little bird that flies from its parents’ nest into the world, lovingly advised to “gain strength and wisdom, and what you acquire, share with others… for you are a part of all that is.” But the bird soon ponders, “What else is wisdom if not to keep what is mine for myself?”

What ensues is a lashing of stormy weather that weakens the little bird, causing it to struggle for its life. “That bird’s brief day was like eons of our time,” leaving it confused and afraid, until at last it surrenders to the unknown, realizing that the source of its power to fly was never its own. Thus, the “tiny rebel,” ending its egoic revolt, begins its quest for deeper meaning and the true strength of divine connection.

Are we not also that rebel, egocentric in our pursuits, as we undertake to acquire and keep more than we really need? As desire-driven consumers, our mission, too, is led astray to a self-defeating revolt against our soul’s receptivity. Our quest becomes the Madison Avenue version, presented to us as the “good life” that comes of having lots of goodies, preferably more than the next guy. The trouble is, with it comes pain and suffering as part of the deal.

It isn’t until we turn from this folly to simplicity and moderation that the real quest begins, and the “good life” becomes the one that is found within us.

Do you have to renounce everything you like and everything you have? Of course not. You only have to put these in perspective, which means putting your soul first.

Soul receptivity starts with showing up: for meditation, for personal responsibilities, for life. God’s grace is there for the gaining, but we have to be there for it. Unless we are on its wavelength, attuned to its vibration, we might as well be a million miles away. Jesus promised that as many as would receive him, to them would be given the power to become the sons of God. It doesn’t get any better than that, but we have to be ready to do the do.

A key word in that passage is power. It’s the power of self-control, as represented by Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita: the power of courage, conviction, discernment, and above all, attunement to the guidance of God and Guru. That sounds like a huge challenge, and it is, but only because we resist it. Such power is not dispensed like sodas from a vending machine. But if you fully open yourself to receive it, it will take you home.

I often reflect on the life of Swami Kriyananda. How could anyone write 150 seminal books, compose over 400 inspiring pieces of music, offer thousands of lectures and classes, record as many as a thousand TV programs, be the founder and shepherd of eight thriving spiritual communities, and never lose a minute of inner peace? Swamiji was a living testament to the power of soul receptivity.

Was he very much different than you and I? Only in the degree of his devotion to God and Guru. Swamiji’s attunement never wavered, whereas ours… well, it does. Wavering isn’t a sin, it’s a self-inflicted setback that we are here to overcome. The more we overcome, the more productive we are – like he was – and the happier too. He was the happiest person I have ever known, and it wasn’t just good karma, it was total attunement to his Guru’s ray.

This life on earth has been designed as a test: a test of will, a test of courage, a test of attitude and composure. Every day arrives with a set of challenges, whether big or small. As long as you are alive, these will be waiting to greet you, some new, some tediously familiar. You can deal with them or not, but not does not mean never. Self-realization, like the top of the mountain, comes only when every upward step has been taken.

Just as during our school days, each test is a summons to do the work needed to pass it. It’s a call to the best that is in us, because when that is what we give, we experience the inner peace and joy of our soul’s having taken another ascendant step toward its final destiny, our ultimate freedom in God.