Dear Friends,

In this section of my website, I will be posting pieces I’ve written since the publication of Let Me Remember This. Eventually they will find their way into another book: And This Too. Much of that content is already complete, but, over time, I will add these latest essays and observations so that each can be read and reflected upon individually.

Each new posting will also appear on my current book’s Facebook page. I invite you to find them there – Let Me Remember This – and, if you feel so inclined, to “Like” the page and leave a review.

Onward and upward. Blessings and thanks,


“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.

The Way of the Way

Life is a pilgrimage. It is not a tour. Be its pilgrim, its seeker of truth, its lover of precious learning. See below the surface of what is seen. Get into being. To live this sacred pilgrimage as a tourist is to miss what you are seeking. It is not a place. It is not another person. You cannot take its picture for posterity. You must be it. Get into being.

* * * * *

To answer the call of the pilgrim is to know that you will be led to the edge of your limits. Only when you are ready to accept that exposure will you find in yourself the refuge you have been seeking. Life’s journey is unsettling and often scary until you are willing to risk it all on finding what you have had all along within you.

* * * * *

For a sculptor to sculpt the image of a man on a horse, he must chisel, chip, and smooth away every bit from his block of stone that is not a man on a horse. The man and horse have been there from the beginning, waiting inside to be freed of their stony cover. And so it is that for you to become your true, hidden self, you must unbecome all that is not as you were made and meant to be. No other art form has ever been harder to master, and none is more rewarding to undertake.

* * * * *

Most people travel in packs, where they feel safe. They go no farther than where the pack goes, which is never far. Conformity is their comfort.

Within the pack are also those who play it for personal gain at others’ expense. They see themselves as entitled, and also give lie to the sense of safety that pack-mentality provides. Unrest is there as a subtle and often overt characteristic.

Those who travel alone, or band together in quest of a goal, would appear to be at peril as well, wandering at times into places they wish they had not, dependent on their wits to find a way out. Yet, forced to be fast learners, they tend to be more worldly wise, more accepting of whatever comes their way, and wealthier in the coin of their stories to share.

They who seek independence are likely to wear more scars than most as reminders of their misadventures, but the richness of their lives accumulates in heart and mind, unmatched by any material gain. To those who set their sights on unbridled experience, the wonders and vistas that emerge, inside and out, are blessedly abnormal and expansively alive.

* * * * *

Driving home from a gathering of friends, I had my radio on and was listening to an interview of the Broadway cast of To Kill a Mockingbird. They were sharing their thoughts of the play’s powerful message and how it has affected them on stage and off. Their comments were inspiring, but what stood out most for me was a quote from Mark Twain that was mentioned in the course of the conversation: that the two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you figure out why.

Sadly, not many people figure out why. That second most important day to dawn within them. They deceive themselves into thinking the answer relates to career, social gain, or some other form of external success. Imagine how different this world would be if more folks had a clue that why we are here has nothing to do with such worldly measures. Thank goodness for those who get it. They seldom make the news, but it is they who are leading the way beyond the everyday stories of our mundane wishings and ways.

Maybe It’s Time to Move

Each of us lives in a haunted house. Ghosts are there, and demons too. They have been with us from the time we moved in. We know them. They followed us from where we were before, and although they are not a constant disturbance, they tend to lurk in search of the opportune moment to cause an unruly fuss. It’s unsettling when they appear.

The house is the mind, and to make it a home, we have to face them where they hide, in closets of old regrets and crannies of unexpelled fears. Courageously, we must stare them down and send them away for good. A clean sweep of the house is the only solution. There will be trouble until it is done.

* * * * *

In times of trial and doubt, we look to the strong with envy, longing to be more like them. Little do we remember that the strong began the same as those who are not. They doubted their strength, were afraid to act, betrayed their ideals, failed when tested, lied to cover their faint-hearted tracks, hurt the ones they loved, and suffered in darkness long nights of the soul.

Finally, sapped of these miseries, they took a chance on facing down their fears. When it worked, they took another, and another. The strong began like everyone else, weak of will until willing to gamble on being more than who and what they had been. Their experience of courageous deeds taught them what their previous experience had prevented, and every successive act of strength became easier to take. It is ever the same.

* * * * *

Locally, you live in a body. Your address is wherever it takes you. Yet, in truth, you are as “non-local” as the farthest reaches of space. You’re a cosmic, inter-galactic being whose innate consciousness, if you would let it loose, is an unfenced, open field. It is not confined to your brain, your body, or any conceptual boundary.

As you attune to this, your perception of separation begins to dissolve and intuitive awareness takes over. When fully immersed in the moment, fully into its continuous flow, the field of your consciousness extends to infinity. Nothing is excluded as not of you. Wouldn’t you rather be living there?

Conversations Overheard in My Head

What are you doing?

I’m waiting.

Waiting for what?

Waiting to be ready.

Ready for what?

For whatever I’m here to do.

What do you think that is?

When I’m ready, I’m sure that I’ll know.

You could be waiting forever.

These things take time. Are you waiting too?

Not anymore. I got ready by getting started.

Started on what?

On doing what I wasn’t ready to do.

* * * * *

What does it cost? I asked.

That’s up to you, He said.

What do you mean?

How much of your life are you willing to give it? That’s the only real price. The rest is just time and money.

* * * * *

Dear God,

I prayed to You for relief, and my problem got worse. What kind of an answer is that? “Ask, and ye shall receive,” You said. I asked, but not for this. I would never have asked for this.

Nothing arrives unsummoned, my son. Who or what you are dealing with is who or what the soul in you requested.

How can that be? This is not what I want. You must have meant it for someone else.

Your problem exists for a reason. It’s a gift, admittedly veiled, but a gift nonetheless. You can try to ignore it, but it will not go away. It is yours to unwrap and resolve, and until you do, it could keep getting worse.

I thought You were a loving God. Is this Your idea of love?

Indeed, yes, it is. If I didn’t want the best for you, I wouldn’t bother giving you such a challenging gift to grow on. Get to it, and you will thank Me some day.

C’mon God, give me a break. If You do, I promise to love You even more.

Love is a two-way street. I’m not going to walk it for you just because I could. You have to meet Me half way. I will be there when you are.

Ego: Friend or Foe?

Have you ever had a nemesis? Someone you couldn’t get rid of, who could make you crazy with wanting to do him in? Someone like Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes?

I’m happy to say that I’ve never had anyone as nasty as that in my life. Many are they who I’ve walk the other way to avoid, but none has tortured my thoughts.

Years ago, however, at the heel end of a self-inflicted misery, I realized that I have had a nemesis – the very same one – over the course of countless incarnations. He isn’t a physical person I can punch or take apart; he’s a resident of my own brain, a character in my script that I cannot delete: the eminent Ego.

I give the Ego a capital E out of sheer respect for its persuasive influence and unflagging persistence. The Ego certainly catches the blame for most of the trouble I manage to get myself into. But here’s the catch: I don’t really despise it. In fact, I give it a lot of my attention, especially when its counsel is what my urges are wanting to hear.

The Ego’s attendant presence in my life raises an age-old series of questions: Is it merely a mischief-maker that God has imposed on me for His amusement, or does it possess redeeming qualities that I could be wisely using? Am I simply stuck with it, with its tendency to leave me wishing I had ignored it when I didn’t, or is there a way I can free it and send it packing?

As it turns out, the Ego is an ancient player, whose origin dates to India’s epic saga, the Mahabharata. Long before it was known to Freud and others by his three-letter name, the Ego was renowned in regal courts as a nobleman of the highest principles and moral conduct. His name was Bhishma, and his pedigree was unsurpassed. Bhishma was the son of the great King Shantanu and the goddess Ganga, symbolic of the primordial intelligence in Nature. By his magnanimous disposition, he grew to be a virtuous and selfless prince, devoted to serving the good of his fellow countrymen.

Bhishma, in the beginning, appears in stark contrast to the Ego as seen on display in the world today, for this is who he was meant to be, a gallant renunciate in the face of worldly temptations. He was such a loyalist, in fact, that in deference to a request that he give up his rightful claim to his father’s throne, he willingly complied. For this gracious act of sacrifice, Bhishma was granted an extraordinary boon: he could not be killed, nor would he die, except of his own choosing.

Here the story begins to turn. As years passed, the kingdom was beset with divisive forces, and a monumental battle loomed: the battle of Kurukshetra, which actually took place several hundred years before the birth of Christ. More importantly, it was an allegorical fight for the individual soul against the forces of delusion. Bhishma’s one great flaw is that he chose to stand on the side of material desire, in support of delusion.

And so it is that, despite the Ego’s commitment to the ways of the senses and to the lure of earthly desires, we cannot dispatch it from within us. We can only, by our resistance to its advice, coax it to release us from its grip.

Yet, the question remains: How did this virtuous friend become such a difficult foe?

Does the Ego want us to fail, to suffer, to regret the mistakes we make? Of course not.

It just wants us to trust it, which tends to be risky business, because its focus is ephemeral and short-sighted, commonly resulting in trouble. I suspect the Ego would love for us to be happy, but alas, the pleasures it promotes are fleeting, and the aftermath of these involves a toll. The Ego has developed its own agenda, reflected in the consumer mentality of our society itself.

As an advocate for material desire, the Ego’s perspective is of the ways and whims of the outside world, and thus it is ruled by duality, by the world’s pendulum swings between pleasure and pain. It tries to be a friend by constantly looking for the next high to offset the lows that it causes us to incur, but it cannot make our good times last. The Ego appeals to our emotions, and when that appeal triggers an emotional reaction, there is a problem ahead.

We know from our spiritual teachings, and lately from science too, that all things are interconnected. The Ego cannot be viewed in isolation. It is tied to the whole of karma and reincarnation, and like an indestructible machine, it seems to exist mainly to produce an endless stream of earthly likes and dislikes for us to adopt. Let’s give credit where credit is due: the Ego is a tireless and tremendously effective force. It may not always get its way, but its average is highly impressive.

Also to its credit is the role the Ego plays in our formative years. It motivates us to acquire skills and self-confidence, to improve our minds, and even to begin a search for deeper meaning and fulfillment in our lives. The world out there can be cruel at times, and the Ego, if cultivated wisely, can be a useful ally in meeting some of life’s more difficult challenges.

But once it falls into delusion, the Ego becomes the opponent of our soul’s journey back to freedom in God. Our task at that point, over a span of many incarnations, is to muster the courage, strength, and faith to keep it from becoming a disruptive force. It can still be an ally and friend, but only if we redirect its energy from an outward, sensory momentum to an inward and upward focus.

The key to foiling the Ego’s impulsive nature is to realize its impotence to fulfill us, and thereby to avoid reacting to the pull of its appeals. This requires a practice not of suppression, but rather of learning to release. Jesus in the Bible and Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita made it clear that nothing we give away is lost. For every egoic desire, attachment, and habit we surrender, the value of our karmic investment portfolio increases. Losing becomes winning.

Human than I am, I still pursue my favorite worldly pleasures with considerable relish. But now with a calmer consciousness than before, accepting that nothing about them will endure, and expecting only that whatever occurs will ultimately be for the best, whether or not it would have been my choice.

The Ego counts on its counsel turning out as it foresees. In the short term it is often right, in the long term mostly wrong. Since we don’t always get what we want, it’s important to foster an attitude of wanting what we get. Though plainly not easy to accomplish, we find that when we can calmly accept whatever comes our way, we are able to greatly mitigate the disappointment of an untoward result. For me this is admittedly an aspiration more than a regular feat, but it spares me a lot of unnecessary woe.

Here’s another anti-egoic strategy that helps: catching myself when I start to think of anything as “mine.” In yoga the practice of nishkam karma – non-attachment to the fruit of one’s labor – is wondrously effective in eliminating stress and suffering. This, too, demands vigilant self-control, for we incline to take pride in what we are able to achieve, acquire, and possess.  It’s an “I” thing regarded as natural and normal, but it puts the Ego in the driver’s seat, assuring a bumpy ride of misdirection.

Finally, another risky habit needs to be revised: our tendency to rationalize our desires.

I would bet that we all do this to some degree, because we want to convince ourselves that we deserve the objects of our affections. If you think there’s a “good reason” why something or someone should be yours to name as your own, that rationale is coming straight from Ego, and you can rely on its coming back to bite you.

In truth, nothing is ours. Not so much as a toothbrush goes with us when we transition to our next destination.

A large part of our job in this life is to unlearn a lot of our training. That includes not getting suckered into egoic swamps and snares. The Ego has a nemesis too. It is our self-control. When we improve and apply it, the Ego submits to its leash. Lifetimes more may be necessary to loosen and undo its grip, but even the Ego itself, born of nobility that unwittingly went astray, secretly roots for that final effect: the day when it, as Bhishma, surrenders to the greater good of the soul.

Can We See God?

In a word, no. Our human sight has a very limited range of visibility. But as devotees, we can begin to see God in other ways, merely by looking for Him in all that surrounds and permeates life as we know it: in things of beauty, in the people we love, even in the challenges we face.

Seeing God is more about inner awareness than a sensory experience, because God is formless, colorless, and invisible to the eye. To borrow a line from Gertrude Stein, “There is no there there.” How can you see a thing like that, a that is not a that? Clearly, you cannot.

Yet, within us is an aspect of that same formless, mystical essence, and it makes the experience of “seeing” God an actual possibility. We are each in eternal possession of an atman, the immortal soul, and when we are able to connect with it, God shows up! Not as a tangible experience, but as a knowing. Knowing God is what seeing Him is all about.

It seems fair to say that the purpose of human life is to reach that state of inner sight in which knowing God is an ongoing reality. This is what leads to our soul’s freedom from its body-mind consciousness. Needless to say, we are not yet there. It’s a quest of many lifetimes that has taken a very, very long time already!

This whole question of who and what we are is difficult to puzzle through. On the one hand, we have thoughts, perceptions, freedom of choice, visual input and a host of other sensations, which we lump into an overarching category called “our experience.” Our minds then segment this experience into a linear timeline, which we perceive as “one thing after another.” From when we are born to the day we die, every moment, and every event in that moment, is immediately succeeded by another. As long as we limit ourselves to a worldly perspective, there is no escape from this time-driven process that we regard as real.

To make this more agreeable, the reality we perceive has countless features on which we generally concur, and we give those features names and definitions to identify one from the next: hand, book, happy, sad, and so on. No one, I am sure, would confuse a hand with a book, or the difference between happy and sad. But every name and label we apply adds to our sense of separation. You and I and all the people and things we see as distinct, makes it hard to see the oneness of all that is, and thus impossible to see God from such a point of view.

Now, that is not to say that we should neglect our senses. We absolutely need them to optimize how we function in this world. We need them to get around, to gather food, raise our families, seek useful employment, care for our elders, etc. If the purpose of life is for us to transcend it, what’s that all about?

That question gets us into a whole study about the role of duality, the law of karma, the effect of having worldly attachments, likes and dislikes, and so on. first and foremost, we need to understand that the goal of this life is not in this life. The goal is for us to remember that we are infinitely more than what we perceive ourselves to be, and to act in accordance with that higher potential as we seek to attain it.

This is not easy to do. It reminds me of a quote by Gloria Steinem. We have all heard the axiom that the truth will set you free. She added a corollary: “The truth will set you free,” she said, “but first it will piss you off!”

We live in what is still a competitive world, and to get ahead in that world, most people think they have to play the game. They perceive that competition is a form of truth. But it is not, and it will not set you free. You cannot see or be with God if your ego is pushing you into that sort of existence. Jesus said that to see God, we must be pure in heart. He didn’t mean 80% pure, nor even 99%. Purity is 100%. That means no intrusive worldly desires, no external attachments, no tainted tendencies.

Now, that’s an extremely tall order, because here we are, trying to stay inward, yet contending with all those parts of the puzzle that appear to us as separate, getting yanked around by our litany of likes and dislikes, trying to figure out how in the world we can rise above these perceptions and become Self-realized. No wonder it takes so long!

The good news is, purity is a direction. If you’re only at 80%, strive for 81, and 81 will get you to 82. Look for God everywhere, not so much with your eyes, but with your heart and soul. The journey is one of inner joy, and when that joy becomes your motivation, it’s only a matter of time before God becomes visible to you in the essence of your being. This is our destiny, and the only thing keeping us from it is focusing with body and mind instead of heart and soul.

This life is a school, and for most of us the curriculum is less about learning than it is about unlearning. Our lack of contentment, and our lack of being able to see God, is due to habits and desires that we have been conditioned to have and to hold. They may have been acquired with good intentions, but we all know what is paved with those.

The good news is, we can change. We can. And the more we do, the more contented and closer to God we get. Our destiny is Self-realization. When is only a matter of how long we decide to take. Meanwhile, God is waiting to be seen.

The Trouble with How We Love

It seems we were born to invent. For better or worse, it is what we do. And not just things, but stories, excuses, and schemes too.

Thus, much of what we invent we would be better off without. Take the idea that love is selective, for instance. Who concocted that one?

Our inventiveness apparently dates to our expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Since then we have twisted and spindled a lot of what was already perfect. Love, in particular. We have turned its all-inclusive ideal into a mere expression of personal desire.

Love was never meant to be a “want.” It has always been the omnipresent “is,” the inexhaustible source of “ever existing, ever conscious, ever new Bliss,” known in Sanskrit as Satchidananda.

Everything in this world is dual in nature. Yet, we have conditioned ourselves to love only the agreeable half of its two-sided manifestations. Our love of other people – and our lack of it also – tends to rest on the imposition of personal provisos. And so, it comes and goes. We may think this is natural, but really it is merely a habit, and a bad one at that, acquired of outward living.

Love that depends on certain physical, mental, and emotional criteria is a mark of instability, an example of egoic selfishness that becomes a magnet for the suffering we experience.

It is ego that leads us to seek outside ourselves for what we want, but the ego cannot love without parameters to please it. It weighs and labels what it sees, using its sensory scale of pros and cons. The result is distortion of love as pleasure or pain.

To see anyone as a stranger, or anything as separate, is to limit our sympathies to “I” and “mine.” The only cure is to live from within, to embrace the whole of life’s demands and diversities, no longer wounded of wanting.

Love is not an invention we can improve on. We have to let it be as it was intended. In its original state, it was – and is – the answer to every need.

Self-Talk for Two

Do you ever feel like a slave?

You mean to my career, to my responsibilities? Yeah, sometimes.

I mean, more like feeling bound to how you think, to what you want and are still trying to get. More like that.

I’m okay with who I am, if that’s what you’re asking. Most of the time, anyway. But I get your question. We’re stuck with these bodies and their limitations, with this life and what we have to do.

Exactly. I don’t think it’s fair. We have free will, but to me it’s kind of a ruse, more like a sly form of bondage.

Growing pains are part of the deal, but having free will lets me decide if, when, and how I want to handle what comes my way. If my attitude is good, what seems bad gets better.

What do you think of this idea that life is a gift from God and that we’re supposed to use it to seek only Him? The way I see it, I didn’t ask to be born in the first place, and now I have to live in a certain way, or I get swatted down. What kind of a gift is that?

I look at the gift as a lease. Maybe I don’t remember that I signed it, and maybe I can’t break it, but in living by its terms, I can make the most of it, and it will serve me well.

Those terms are awfully strict. Indulge a desire, and suddenly there’s a gift tax.

Yeah, that’s true. Most of us run up quite a bill before we see the mistake of it.

But why is it a mistake? God has booby-trapped the gift. If He loves us so much, why would He do that? Why would He rig the game?

Maybe the better question is when and why did we decide that we should make the rules? There’s a flip side to every desire we pursue. That’s a given, as it has been from the beginning. Highs come with lows. There’s no getting around it. The slave is the one who keeps thinking he can.

It still feels like a forced march to me. “Here’s your gift. There’s a million ways to use it, but if you choose any of them that isn’t God-approved, you’re going to suffer.”

That’s about it. But the upside is that in choosing to act in ways that are God-approved, we not only don’t suffer, our experience of freedom and happiness continues to grow. The downside disappears.

How’s that working for you?

It works when I do the work, and it doesn’t when I don’t. I know how to talk the talk, and I know all about the sword of discrimination that I need to apply to my unsevered desires, but old habits die hard. It’s still an uphill climb.

That’s what gripes me. I have no real choice in the matter, free will or not. God put me here, and I can’t get out. If I end my life prematurely, I’ll be worse off the next time. The game is rigged. I have to make the uphill climb, or suffer for as long I refuse.

Seems to me a pretty good time to make the only good choice you have. It might even start to feel like a gift.

Do You Need a Guru?

In any field of practice, when we reach the limit of our expertise, warning signs appear. Do not overreach, they say, or things are going to get dicey.

This applies to the spiritual path, just as it does to any endeavor that requires a progressive measure of proficiency. The climb to communion with God is not exactly an escalator ride. We have to do the work, and there are places where it gets mighty steep. Without proper training and guidance, a devotee can just as easily fall into darkness as an unskilled mountain climber could fall to his death.

Claiming to know more than we do, or believing ourselves more capable than we are, is not an uncommon trait. But it tends to be a signal that bad news is waiting to happen. The ego has an infamous reputation for reckless judgment when seduced by a strong desire or in defense of its own self-image. It seems, too, that people of my gender are especially susceptible to this affliction. That’s because, as you probably know, “Real men don’t ask directions!”

Part of what makes that funny is the volume of empirical data that supports the joke.

On the other hand, for men and women alike, I think it is fair to say that this earthly plane of existence is a very unusual place to have landed in the first place. Just consider the setup: We are born into tiny bodies that require care and feeding by other people, and by the time we have grown to where we have a degree of self-control, we have already absorbed a huge amount of misinformation, especially on the subject of what we need to do and to have to be happy. That’s because, for most of us, the ones who have been our parents and mentors were parented and mentored themselves by an earlier generation that also suffered from the same faulty conditioning.

I was in seclusion a few years ago, when it struck me how quite bizarre our situation is. Here we are, divine spirits, stuck inside these rather peculiar, low-efficiency vehicles we’ve been given to travel around in, which slowly wear out altogether, and which seem to run in large part on impulse and confusion.

Now add to this the dictates of karma and reincarnation. We arrive here as infants, completely helpless, with the memory bank of our previous lives erased. We don’t remember a thing about who or where we have been. Immediately, we are immersed in a system of duality, which guarantees that whatever we do in pursuit of a worldly desire will carry the onus of its opposite, downside effect. But people pretend this isn’t true, and so, as we get older, we learn to think that way too, which leaves us wondering why our lives are so often empty of what we really want: peace of mind, love, and lasting joy.

Then one day we are drawn to the teachings of Krishna or Jesus or the Buddha, or someone hands us a copy of Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda, and we start to see a way out, which, more correctly, is the way in: into oneness at the center of being. But to get there we have to undertake a sacred mission, and it’s a real whopper! Our task is to break the spell of our thousands of delusions, slay all the karmic dragons that come flying at us breathing fire, and silence the voice of the ego when it tempts us with some new trinket or worldly ambition.

Do you think that having a guru might be a useful idea?

It took me over fifty years to arrive at that conclusion, and God knows how many previous incarnations of wandering in the desert of my own stubborn ways. To my credit, I was studious, but also terribly mental. I read inspiring books, attended inspiring lectures, married an inspiring woman, and yet those karmic dragons still knew where to find me. My worldly desires and attachments were greater than my ability to let them go.

When I came to Ananda, I resonated completely with the principles and teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. I loved the idea that truth was the only gauge of ultimate value. I accepted him as my guru, and vowed to accept his guidance.

End of story? Would that it were so. Having a true guru, one who has been to the summit of Self-realization, is not only the greatest blessing of this earthly existence, it is also the greatest test of one’s willingness to obey what is required in return.

The trouble is, we, in varying degrees, are also still the disciples of our egoic tendencies.  Have I always followed Yogananda’s unfailing advice? No, I have not. Have I always learned from my first mistake not to make it again? No, I’ve not done that either. In fact. I have a few favorite mistakes that I continue to make now and then just to make sure they’re still really stupid!

It’s amazing what we get used to. I don’t mean that life on earth is just a plague of dragons. It is quite the opposite much of the time. Wonderful moments, loving people, personal victories, all kinds of toys to play with… these are available daily. But in a sense that’s the problem: They seduce us into a steady pursuit of the pleasures they provide. Every pleasure, however, has an expiration date, and it’s usually a rather short one. Trying to extend the experience beyond its period of sensation is like trying to nail Jello to a tree. It’s not going to stay there.

What can a true guru do for you? Everything but the actual work to reach the summit of your soul’s freedom. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna drove Arjuna’s chariot and gave him divine counsel, but he would not fight his disciple’s battles. Getting in shape and doing what needs to be done is our part of the deal. The guru’s job is only to lead the way with perfect insight and wisdom.

Here is why a true guru – Jesus Christ, Krishna, Moses, the Buddha, and Yogananda being most historically prominent among them – is essential to our success: He (or she) has lived many human lives, has been where we are now, has overcome every obstacle and setback on the path to Self-realization, and has returned from a life of freedom in God to show us how it is done.

Simple, yes. Easy, no. Having the right teachings and the right techniques is not enough to achieve communion with God. We need to open our hearts to the Guru’s loving presence – it is time for the capital G – open our minds to his divine wisdom, and take his hand in surrender to his will. Everything we want – love, peace, and joy – is part of the bargain if we do. What is so hard to fathom, and I say this about myself too, is why we continue to reach for the Jello, the hammer, and the nails.