Light From Eternal Lamps–Essays On Practical Spiritual Life–by Swami Nirmalananda Giri
Hiding The Lamp
"No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light."1
A person would be somewhat crazy to light up a lamp and then put it away or cover it up so he would still be in the dark. Yet there are those who love darkness but want to claim possession of the light.
I remember very well when as a child I discovered the existence of one kind of these beings. In our small town people rarely had cement walks leading up to or around their houses, Instead they would lay down boards and use them for walkways. Our house had such wooden walks, as well. One day in attempting to straighten out a board that had gone awry, I turned it over and discovered underneath a multitude of little creatures that scrambled wildly to get away from the light. In a few moments there was nothing where before there had been a large assembly! So from then on I often amused myself by turning over the boards in our yard and watching the scramble. Being a solar creature myself, who did not at all like the dark, I was fascinated to discover that there were some of my fellow inhabitants of the earth that preferred darkness to light–who seemed to actually fear or hate light.
It intrigued me that those creatures did not live down in the depths of the earth where they could be assured of uninterrupted darkness. No, they wanted to live up on the surface of the earth and at the same time they wanted to be covered up in order to be in darkness. Their behavior had a profound message, though at that time I did not figure it out.
But if we consider seriously we can see that most people in the world want to live like those insects. Or at least the "religious" ones usually do. They do not want to be identified for what they are–spiritual moles–or to have someone recognize them as truly being ignorant, unspiritual, or even irreligious. Not that they really mind being those things–they do not with to be anything else–but their egos do not want them to be recognized for what they are and labelled accordingly. They want the low things of life, the things that darken and coarsen the mind and heart through their indulgence, while at the same time having the reputation that they are living up high within the light. Yes, they even aspire to be spiritual examples and leaders of others! They also want the constant company of the dwellers in the darkness, as well as their good will and approval, affirming almost hysterically that they refuse to be "fanatics" or "extremists." "After all, we do live in the world," they conclude with smug satisfaction. But Saint Paul says that Christians have been raised up to dwell in the heavens,2 that we shall henceforth live in the spirit and not in the flesh.3 But the "moles" much prefer to believe in the resurrection of the body rather than the resurrection of the spirit. "How can I be in the light according to external appearances while still living in the dark?" This is the question vital to them.
The answer is simple: create a spiritual cover, a shield under which they can crawl in the dark, congratulating themselves that they are not like those beneath them living in the depths of the earth, but have evolved up to the surface with those who walk in the light. And all the time they can be comfortably in the dark–a darkness they can even begin calling "the light"! After a while they can begin to say that those who do not dwell with them under their spiritual rock are "outside, in the outer darkness," doomed to sure perdition.
Such were the pharisees of Jesus' time, to whom he is speaking, and so are they today. Taking refuge in external displays of righteousness, they remain interiorly darkened, preferring to reverse the old adage and snuff out the candle and curse the light. If their cover is the least bit disturbed, the intrusion–or even the threat of intrusion–of light is desperately, even violently, resisted to the utmost of their power, which is not inconsiderable. Dogmatic theology is the most effective cover of these people along with token external observances originally meant to symbolize and stimulate people to attain the very illumination they now disdain and call "darkness."
But let us not look at others. Let us take a good look at ourselves as aspirants to Christhood. How often do we lie even to ourselves, saying: "I want the Light," and when we get the light, putting it conveniently out of the way. We don't reject it–that would be too honest and we would have to face ourselves squarely–but just push it out of sight, like the man who buried his talent in the ground rather than putting it to use.4
To keep from falling again into that folly, what must we do? We must lift up our consciousness on high through meditation that it may shine into every corner of our darkness and fill us with light.
Meditation confers both knowledge and power, which must then be applied, made to produce practical results. For meditation is a real birth,5 and once a person is born they cannot go back and forth into the prebirth state and into the birth condition at whim. In fact, to reenter the prebirth state is to die! Whimsically dying and living alternately is just not possible, though we might fool ourselves that we are succeeding when we really are all the time simply dead.
Many of us do not want to be in complete darkness, but hope to manage living in a comfortably dim twilight. But the Light of Christ is meant to be lifted up on high. And this is literally so. That is, we must continually lift up our consciousness to the higher levels of perception–"heaven"–away from the "earth" of lower consciousness and perception. This is the inner meaning of Jesus words about "lifting up" the Son of Man–the human consciousness–so that in its lifting up it may be transmuted into the consciousness of our real nature as sons of God. Those who live in deep valleys experience the minimum of sunlight, but those who live on the top of the mountains receive the maximum degree of light. In all religious traditions we find holy places established on the tops of mountains to symbolize this truth and to demonstrate the necessity for climbing the mountain of consciousness and establishing ourselves in the highest possible states–not just popping up and down, in and out, but attaining an unbroken condition of higher awareness.
The essential practice to accomplish this is, of course, the continual practice of meditation. Saint Vincent de Paul was at one time a slave in the household of a Moslem alchemist who really could turn base metals into gold. He trusted Saint Vincent enough to teach him how to do the same. In later years the Saint was constantly besieged by people who wanted him to reveal the secret to them. Knowing that human beings were greedy enough, he prudently refused to do so. But one thing he did tell, and that was that an alchemist does not take all base metals and turn them into gold, but that he makes an amalgam of gold, silver, and other metals. In time the entire mass becomes gold, but first gold is there as a "seed" or aid to transmutation by affinity. So it is with us. At first we mix the base metal of our mundane thoughts and "original ignorance" with the silver of higher aspirations and the gold of the inner consciousness that is cultivated through meditation. This is the most precious secret known to the seeker. Just as continual heat and pressure eventually turn a piece of coal into a diamond, so regular meditation eventually brings us into the status of the Christ of God. It is a great labor indeed, for it is itself the Great Work of divine Alchemy.
But this Alchemy works total change, and many of us do not want to purify our lives and hearts of accommodate that change. Thus we want to flame of Christ to be submerged so we may go about "business as usual." But there is nothing "usual" about a real seeker, and we had better accept it. Of all spiritual aberrations, cowardice is among the worst. Sri Ramakrishna used to tell His disciples that shame and fear were the supreme obstacles to divine realization.
We often want the light, but do not want it to make any drastic change in our lives. And especially we do not want those around us to think we have "gone strange" or become "religious fanatics." Not willing to change ourselves, we insanely expect the Light to change Its nature and cease to shine out–except at command at our own private whim. But Jesus says that everyone will witness the presence of the Inner Light when it is correctly posited (applied).
"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."6
Light does not change darkness–it annihilates it. So no wonder we fear its action upon us. Most of our "life" is a construct of shadows. The moment the light shines we will lose that shadow life. So we cling to it, denying the light rather than our illusions. "For whoseover will save his life shall lose it,"7 says Jesus.
Please understand, I am saying that the Inner Power changes the meditator, dispelling from his inner and out life all that is incompatible with its action. I am not saying that those who are seekers of Christ become these mouthy evangelists of themselves who go around holding up their claims to spiritual life as beacons for others to follow. Just the opposite. He need proclaim nothing. Those who have eyes to see will perceive the light, and those who seek it will come to the light. The blind and the perverse will continue to shuffle along in the darkness of their self-satisfaction. When the light shines there is no need for someone to proclaim it. The light is its own witness and evidence. The wick that sputters and makes noise is a wick that has water mixed in with the oil, and may go out. One of the traits of phoney religion is the tremendous amount of sputtering its adherents make. But the perfect light shines in silence, needing no signal. Yet it must be willing to be visible.
At the very beginning of our spiritual life we must learn this dual lesson regarding the necessity to constantly elevate our consciousness and to make it manifest–that is, visible–in our external lives.
My first instructions in higher spiritual life came through a series of printed lessons. When I applied for those lessons, at the end of the application form there were two boxes to check. One was to be checked if I wanted the lessons sent with the name and address of the spiritual organization on the envelope; the other was to be checked if I wanted them sent in a completely plain envelope with no indication as to their source or nature. In other words, was I scared to have others know what I was doing and run the risk of being ridiculed or criticised? At the time I was living in an environment utterly hostile to belief in higher consciousness, must less the attempt to attain it. Meditation and metaphysical thought was "of the devil" absolutely. Once that envelope arrived bearing the name of the publisher, a real storm could break loose.
You may think I was mistaken, but I considered that I was facing the first test of my spiritual search. More, I felt assured that my decision would effect the ultimate outcome of my endeavors. To check the box for the plain wrapper was to already be in retreat before the forces of darkness that would rise to prevent my progress. The best defense truly is a good offense. So I checked the other box and sent the application on its way. You can't fight a battle in the dark and in secret. You have to stand out in the light and "be counted." I had read the Bhagavad Gita, and out of all the profound expressions of wisdom my favorite was the simple exhortation: "O Arjuna, stand up and fight!" What kind of battle could I begin if I was afraid of my family disapproving of my inner search?
In the church I was brought up in, there was a woman who had told me about her cousin that had been miraculously healed of tuberculosis when the physicians had predicted she would die in a matter of days. This woman had gone with her sister to see their dying cousin, and had given her a New Testament. She had never been given any religious teaching at all, but in reading the Gospels believed she could be cured. And so she was. When anyone saw her, radiantly healthy and strong, and remarked on it, she would openly tell them that God had healed her. Her parents would immediately get the visitor off to one side and assure them: "Eva's mind is affected by her illness. Don't pay any attention what she says."After some weeks, however, her parents told her that if she did not quit saying she was healed and–even more important–"give up this religious stuff" she would have to leave home. The girl had never been off the farm in her entire life of nearly twenty years, except to go to a little country church in her early childhood. She had never even entered the house of another family. But she made her decision. One day she bundled up her clothes and started down the road that led to a nearby town. Turning back she saw all that she knew lying behind her. And ahead of her was nothing but uncertainly. The pull to return was nearly overpowering, so she knelt and prayed as best she knew. Then she stood up, turned her back on "home," and walked down the road singing:
Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee.
Naked, blind, despised forsaken–
Henceforth Thou my all shall be.
And it had been true. She attained a marked degree of spiritual growth before, in a few years, her life ended. So remarkable had her spiritual character been, that a minister who knew her personally wrote her biography and it was widely circulated.
Could I do less than that poor girl–especially since I had been given so much more understanding than she had? Yes, I could, but would I? No, it would be too shameful. My motivation may have been egotistical, but my decision was the right one. How could I hope to conquer my own ignorance, if I could not withstand the ignorance of others? The first step of the journey often determines what the last step will be–or whether there will ever be a last step.
Our inner life is to no purpose if we do not put it to practical use. When Moses came from communicating with God the ignorant demanded that he put a veil over his face so they would not have to see the reflected light of God's glory.8 But there can be no veils for the seeker, whose very intent is to pierce through all veils. If we try to veil our light we will surely extinguish it. And those who live long in the dark become blind.Rare are those who both can and will let the light shine forth without any inhibition, putting it on its proper stand and letting it light up the whole house. Of them alone will it be said: "Ye are the light of the world."