Introduction

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,

Surendra

It’s Not About Innovation

Every age is an age of wonder, but some are more wondrous than others, and the one that spans my current incarnation is beyond what I could have imagined in my youth. For over seventy years, I have witnessed astonishing scientific, technological and social innovations, which accelerate now at an exponential rate.

And yet, we are the same, still seeking answers to fundamental questions, which the latest innovations cannot provide. We want to know God, but our human limitations, and especially our worldly desires, put us at odds with even the possibility. God is formless. How can we see and relate to such a Being? To borrow a line from Gertrude Stein, “There is no there there!”

We can begin to “see” God, thank goodness, by feeling for His presence in all that is alive, in all that appears inanimate, and even in the challenges we face. But the key is to go even deeper, where we touch that same formless, mystical essence that also abides in us. Endowed with an immortal soul, we possess the innate power to connect with God’s consciousness, not as a tangible experience, but as an intuitive knowing.

Getting to that inner state of divine communion, in which knowing God is an ongoing reality, is surely the purpose of human life itself. It’s as simple as freeing the soul of its constricted body-mind association, and as terribly difficult as any earthly assignment will ever be! No wonder, after countless lifetimes, we remain on the uphill slope in search of that summit.

There’s a lot working against us, and it’s not just social pressure. The question of who and what we are is a hard one to puzzle through. We have thoughts, perceptions, freedom of choice, and constant sensory input, which we lump into an overarching category called “our experience.” The mind then segments this experience into a linear timeline, which we perceive as “one thing after another.” As long as we confine ourselves to this worldly perspective, there is no escape from its time-driven process that we regard as real.

To make matters worse, we tend to agree that reality’s trillions of features look, feel, taste, sound and smell much alike to us all. So, we give them names and definitions to identify one from the next: hand, harmonium, happy, sad, etc. But every label we apply adds to our delusional sense of apparent separation. You and I and all the people and things we see as distinct, prevent us from seeing the oneness of all that is, and thereby make it impossible to know God from such a point of view.

Now, that is not to say that we should neglect our senses. Without them we could not function in this world. But if the purpose of this life is for us to transcend it, what’s that all about?

Frankly, that question raises more issues than can be addressed in a single essay. But I think we have to understand, first and foremost, 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.

As I ponder this truth, I’m reminded of a quote by Gloria Steinem. “The truth shall set you free,” she said, repeating an old axiom, “but first it will piss you off!” Therein lies the rub. We want our truths to be easy-come for fast assimilation. But we are learned in the ways of outward living, and these tend to trigger resistance to accepting and doing what will set us free.

Jesus declared that to see God, we must be pure in heart. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” He didn’t mean 80% pure, nor even 99%. Purity is 100%. That means there’s no room for distracting desires, earthly attachments, poor habits or bad moods.

Undoubtedly, this is the kind of message that Steinem had in mind.

But the good news is, purity is also a direction. If you’re only at 80%, strive for 81, and 81 will get you to 82. Look for God everywhere, especially with your heart. As you do this, the journey through the ages of your life becomes increasingly joyful, and God becomes increasingly visible to your native soul.

What comes of itself, let it come. If it challenges you, so much the better, for it’s meant to be a stepping stone to your freedom. Know that in meeting it wisely and well, it will lead you nearer to your destiny: to seeing, knowing, and being with God; to where wonders never cease.

How Do You Know?

Can the trillions of cells in your body know what it’s like to be the whole that is you? Each of them is endowed with a certain capacity and function that does not include the capacity of knowing more than what it’s to do. Nor can a drop of the sea know what it’s like to be the inconceivable volume of drops that is the sea.

How then can you, one of billions and maybe trillions of souls, know what it’s like to be God? The sea of Spirit cannot be contained in a cup. What you can know, however, is the love expressed in every cell and soul that God has created.

To realize the love that is God is not within the mind’s competence to accomplish. Such love is not a product of reason alone, nor even of reason primarily. You must strive in your heart to experience the oneness that unites the whole of you to the whole of everything else. As your inner sense of this oneness improves, so does your knowing of what you need to know, which is what will eventually free you of needing anything more.

In every expression of consciousness, including that of evil too, God is only love. The challenges you face, no matter how harsh, are lovingly gifted to you for your spiritual growth. Each bears your name and address. Not one is delivered by mistake. Learning to love, embrace, and resolve all that comes your way is what this human life is about. It is how you find your way to your destiny’s door, to knowing God as fully as God can be known. The door is on your side. It opens as you press forward, heart first.

What’s Holding You Back?

Maybe it’s how you were taught to get ahead.

I was raised to compete. “It’s every man for himself out there,” my dad used to say, “To get ahead, you have to outdo the next guy.” That’s how I was groomed to get what I wanted. Top of the list: to live the American Dream.

Competing to get ahead is a restless occupation. It gives rise to a restless mind, and mine was no exception. I had the weight of our culture behind me too. It urged me in my development to study hard, work hard, make a lot of money, and have a lot to show for it. To me, this had the ring of a patriotic duty. Few were the voices that questioned the intelligence of living such a competitive-consumptive life.

Like everyone else, I just wanted to be happy. I figured that financial security was a major part of the package, and I was willing to persevere to achieve it. I played by the rules, but before I knew what a mantra was, I already had one: “What’s in it for me?”

By most common measures, I became successful. I worked for Disney and later moved to Hawaii, where “the good life” got even better. As a freelance writer, I was my own boss, free to set my own schedule and travel as I pleased. But something inside me was missing. No matter how many gains I made, my contentment would come and go like sand through a sieve. I was always in pursuit of the next fleeting pleasure.

When our joy slips away, most of us just try harder to get it back. We do what we have been doing all along, only at a faster and more strenuous pace. I was no different. According to my social conditioning, I was making all the right moves, a model of upward mobility. What was the problem?

The problem was society’s formula for finding happiness. It might look good in theory, but it does not jibe with reality. The messenger and message are upside down. Society does a masterful job of promoting and appealing to our worldly desires, persuading us that it knows what is worth our time and effort, but nothing it sells has the power or durability to keep us in smiles. Though its “good life” is portrayed as the Holy Grail, the more we buy into it, the more we are likely to wonder why the payoff doesn’t pay off.

Years ago, I discovered an age-old path to the peace and contentment I was seeking. It wasn’t fancy or fashionable, but the sheer simplicity of it was deeply effective. I walked into a class that taught me how to turn my energy inward instead of letting it dissipate in my outward chase of transient dreams and delusions.

What I’ve learned since then is mostly what I’ve needed to unlearn. I was looking in all the wrong places for what I wanted, and I was going about it incorrectly also. Instead of directing my competitive spirit entirely toward self-improvement, I was using it divisively, trying to be better than others.

“What’s in it for me?” was working against me too. I wasn’t nearly so happy when focused on getting more for me than when giving more to others. And oddly enough, the more big-hearted I became, the more abundance I attracted as well. Giving begets getting—what a concept!

Have I mastered the art of meditation? Or the science of selfless giving? Well, let’s just say that I’m moving in the right direction. Every day of showing up at the altar of silence within me makes the rest of my activities flow more pleasantly and smoothly. And every gesture of kindness and generosity adds to my happiness, too, even as challenges arise.

Technique plays an important part in the practice of meditation, but attitude is the one most important of all. I am seeing now as if through an open window that had long been boarded up. An expansive horizon has come into view, and it’s right inside of who I am.

Are rough spots still likely to lie ahead? Oh, yes. Kriya Yoga, the meditative method that I have practiced for over 20 years, has been described by Paramhansa Yogananda as “the airplane route to God.” But many choppy miles are yet to be flown. A lot of unlearning remains to be done; many habits and desires remain unresolved; and occasional attitude adjustments remain to be made. But redirecting my consciousness and energy from an outward, competitive aim to an inward, cooperative focus continues to change me. What’s in it for me now is letting go of the urge to run after gains that come and go. The real American Dream is lived by going within.

Still Trying to get It Right

I keep hearing these days that happiness is a choice. Apparently, it’s up to me to make it happen.

“Okay,” says I, “I’ll give it a try.” I decide to decide to be happy. Then along comes a crappy encounter, and I react in my usual crappy-encounter sort of way. I get upset, and I’m not happy. No surprises there.

But a moment later, I remember: I can choose to be happy. So, I strive to turn the crappiness into gratitude and goodness. I call on my powers of reason for support. I affirm repeatedly that this particular setback is no big deal, and…

It doesn’t work. Now I’m not only unhappy, I am frustrated by the result of my ineffective effort.

Well, that wasn’t much fun! “Next time,” my brain implores, “let’s just let the unhappiness run its course. No more striving to make it go away.”

I am back at square one. My original reactive emotions are poised to pounce at the slightest hint of a negative intrusion. My life continues to go up and down, as it did before.

Is that as good as it gets?

Wait a minute. Here comes another theory. If I can accept my unhappy reaction to every crappy encounter, it will lose its grip, and I will sooner be happy again. I can hardly wait for another opportunity to give this a try.

Surprisingly, this helps. I still get unhappy when something unpleasant occurs, but not for quite as long. I think I’m on a roll.

Let’s see, what’s next? Maybe I need to meditate more. Om, sweet Om.

And that helps, too. Until… Whamo! Suddenly, a karmic bomb explodes in my path, and it wounds me to my core. Om, kablooey!

That’s when it hits me. It must be my social conditioning. I’ve been programmed to wish that things were different when I don’t like how they are. Is that the problem?

“Bingo!” said a voice from somewhere far away. “You’ve got to work with what is.”

The trouble is, I don’t want to. When things are not to my liking, wishing they were different is as automatic in me as needing to eat when I’m hungry.

That same voice interrupted again. “You don’t need to eat when you’re hungry, you are simply giving in to an urge. What you need is self-control. Face the music and dance to it. You don’t always get to choose the tune. The one that plays is the one that is calling you out, and it will play on a loop until you decide to cheerfully give it a whirl.”

Cheerfully? Are you kidding? If I get a flat tire, I have to cheerfully get out and change it? In the cold and rain? That’s asking a lot.

“That’s what life does,” said the voice. “It asks a lot. But if you give a lot back, you find that you’re not unhappy anymore.”

Well, I am hardly free of reactive emotions. But they don’t run me ragged like they used to, and meeting them with an understanding smile works well to quiet them down. Challenges are part of life’s daily docket, and it seems the better we get at facing them calmly, the more they test our mettle. The last part of the climb is usually the steepest and most exacting.

Like everyone else, I am trying to win my release from what causes me to hurt. Changing a flat tire cheerfully in the rain, slogging through a swamp of red tape, or dealing with a personal disaster, is a test of right attitude that can often be hard to get right. You know you got it wrong when it upsets you.

What’s funny is that the answer is so plain and simple. And yet, we fight it with our egoic desires as if they had the power to free us. The truth is, we cannot be happy if we make it conditional on getting what we want. Only in choosing to want what we get will happiness truly be ours, unaffected by flat tires, red tape and even personal disaster.

What comes of itself, let it come. Swami Kriyananda showed us how. No matter how severe the trial, he always made the most of it. And no one I have ever known was happier.

Ignorance: Bliss or Beware?

We’ve all heard it said that ignorance is bliss, and that what you don’t know can’t hurt you.

But what you don’t know can hurt you. It can even kill you. I dare say that most of the people who die every year, die of some form of ignorance, whether slowly from decades of poor habits or suddenly from something they didn’t see coming.

Ignorance is not bliss. It is misery waiting to manifest. It is pain waiting to pounce. It is delusion waiting to deceive. You don’t have to look far and wide to observe the part that ignorance plays in the world. Not only is it pervasive, it is also powerful. Lately it seems that ignorance is the fuel that is powering our planetary decisions. This may be an ascending age of consciousness, but it’s a long way from where we are now to the top of the cosmic cycle.

Be that as it is, there’s a purpose to ignorance also. It is what we have to overcome in order to reach the summit of Self-realization. God did not mean it to be an easy achievement.

In a dark room, if you turn on a light, the darkness disappears. But where there is ignorance, the darkness remains even in the presence of light. “The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not” (John:1). In other words, we are eternally bathed in God’s divine light, but if we shut it out by turning to our egoic desires instead, we wind up in the shadows of that light, where we stumble and suffer.

Ignorance is expressed in endless ways, but its root cause is simply our lack of awareness of who we truly are. In looking for happiness outside of ourselves, we lose sight of our innate divinity. We develop a case of spiritual amnesia, thinking that we are the body-mind that we have merely borrowed for this incarnation.

There’s a funny story about a challenge that God was facing in relation to man’s tendency toward this mistaken identity. Rumor has it, He was having second-thoughts about what he had done in creating us in the first place. According to anonymous but reliable sources, God became exasperated over man’s constant pestering for favors, wanting Him to intercede to make life easy. So, God went to His council of advisors and said, “I’ve got to get away from these people down there, but I don’t know where to hide where they won’t find Me with all of their complaints and prayers for things they want.”

Many suggestions were made and rejected until one of the council members had a brilliant idea. He said to God, “Why not hide inside of man. It will take him almost forever to find You there!”

God loved the idea, and that is where He has been ever since, waiting for us to want Him alone.

To overcome our body-mind identity and its desires, we must rise above our ordinary human level of consciousness, and this isn’t easy. It means doing as Arjuna had to do in the Bhagavad Gita, purging ourselves of those myriad “mental citizens” that bind us to delusion, and thus to the shadows of God’s light. That light is ever present, but learning to live in attunement to it is no small accomplishment.

It’s a process, isn’t it. We do this one shift in consciousness at a time, and thankfully there is goodness and grace in every shift we make. But here’s what is most surprising and remarkable about that. Spiritual advancement is not a question of attaining anything. It is simply a matter of opening the door to a state of being that is ours already, hidden from us only so long as our focus is elsewhere. As that door gradually opens, the soul begins to emerge from the shadows, showing us the way to joy in God.

God’s creation exists on myriad levels of manifestation, all at the same time. Every generation has its extremes – Hitlers and Gandhis, fools and mystics – along with every human possibility in between. On a higher level, however, is God’s divine light, which forever surrounds us, forever dwells within us, is forever accessible, and which cannot be diminished by any gross material reality. We are literally imbued with the light, love, wisdom, peace, power and joy of God, untouched by darkness, hatred, ignorance, fear, weakness or sorrow.

And yet, we continue to suffer. We are practiced in the art of misplacing our priorities, in

seeking our satisfaction in egoic pursuits, which causes the light that “shineth” within us to remain incomprehensible. And so it is until we reach that point of “anguishing monotony,” as Yogananda called it, and we say “Enough is enough. I want more by wanting less of what the outside world can give me. I want God and the true abundance that wanting Him can bring.”

Krishna said to Arjuna, “Be thou a yogi.” In other words, realize, as the yogi does, that all is love, all is light, all is an opportunity to live in joy. We must only remember who we truly are.

Shiva’s Dance

In Hindu legend, Lord Shiva is depicted as Nataraja, lord of the dance that destroys the old and weary ways of the world. Whether by wisdom or whim, Shiva decides what must go, and with wild and ecstatic abandon, he performs its obliteration. His purpose, though widely misunderstood, is release of the soul from its false identification with illusion.

It matters not, or perhaps it matters most, if Shiva’s exterminating dance is at the expense of traits and things that we crave or long to keep. Where there is misery of loss over that which is taken away, the message would appear to be clear: a lesson in non-attachment is sorely needed.

We are only human, of course, and it is natural to feel sad about much of what Shiva destroys: a system that served us well for a time, a forest burned to the ground, a neighborhood lost to a storm or flood, and the lives of those harshly affected or swept away by tragic events. But gone is gone, at least in familiar form. When we do not let these go, part of us dies with them. Chaos is often a necessary pre-condition for new life, new growth, new systems, and new civilizations to emerge.

Shiva dances to undo our delusions. If we cling to them of desire or grief, we find ourselves also caught in his path of destruction. What is the use of that? We must control what we can, which is ourselves, and accept what we cannot, which is everything else. Shiva’s dance is done to break us of believing that we know better, to disrupt us of comforts that leave us complacent, to teach us that we are here to accept, adapt, and advance according to whatever occurs.

We want to be happy, and Shiva’s role, paradoxical though it seems, is meant to show us how. Mourn if you must, he is telling us, but then release your attachment to what is no longer there as before. Relationships need not end with death or departure, whether to a person, a place, or a piece of nostalgic connection. We may feel these always dear to us, and be grateful for what they have been; but when that feeling is one of deprivation, we suffer for no good reason.

In Shiva’s dance, earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions are not born of wrath. They are simply dramatic instruments of change, perhaps with a portentous karmic purpose, but always for the sake of clearing a path for self-offering and receptivity to emerge. Tragedies and disasters are executioners of delusion. As we calmly see the truth in this – that we are not the doers of what is done, not the owners of what we name as ours, not the knowers of what is meant to be and why – and as we trust in God’s good will, even as displayed in Shiva’s fiery moves, our happiness gets remarkably easier to gain and sustain.

Shiva’s dance is said to take place at the center of the universe, which represents the heart. Though it tests us, sometimes terribly, it is ever a dance of love.

In Short…

Sadness comes of missing what is no longer there or never was: a lover, friend, material gain, a piece of the past, a harmony or wholeness. It may be what we have lost, or what we have wanted and cannot have. But beneath this sadness is a truth awaiting discovery, a truth that is meant to uplift us: the realization that our fulfillment will never be found in any earthly pursuit.

Fulfillment is not of this world. As soon as we think we’ve acquired it, it begins to wither or take its leave, leaving a sense of deficit and defeat. When we put our emotional stock in finite goals, we guarantee that we have elected to suffer.

But sadness can, and eventually will, lead us to its demise. As it ages into tedium and useless tears, it bids us to search beyond it for contentment and completion. Gradually, or in final desperation, it cracks open a door to an inner vista, casting light on a path that is not of this world, that is steep but loving and calming. This is the path we were meant to take all along.

* * * * *

Grief is deeper than sadness. We think of it as a period of woe that we’re supposed to endure, meanwhile trying to push it away or push through it. This presupposes an “other side,” a time and place where it disappears, but such does not exist. Grief is not a problem to be solved or gotten over, it’s a process to be tended, a teaching to be absorbed. With maturity and reflection, it becomes a placid piece of who we are, an element of our perspective, and with it we see ourselves and everything else from a deeper dimension.

* * * * *

Just as we need to consider sadness and grief, there many reasons to study how to deal with death and dying. Otherwise, we come to it racked with fear and unprepared. The more deeply we delve into the art of dying, the more fully we learn the art of how to live. People are living longer today, but not necessarily better. For life extension to be worth the extra time, life expansion must always be at the heart of it. At every age, from youth to the winter of life, unless there is ongoing growth of a loving spirit, death has already begun.

* * * * *

As death draws near, its effect on the mind is oddly paradoxical. It makes trivial almost everything else and, at the same time, makes everything more important.

* * * * *

You cannot save your soul. It is meant to save you. Let it do its job.