Light From Eternal Lamps–Essays On Practical Spiritual Life–by Swami Nirmalananda Giri
Called By God
"The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me."1
In the Gospels we do not always have complete accounts of events. Often only their salient–that is, their symbolic–points are being recounted to us in order to convey their esoteric meaning. There is also another reason for the brevity of the Gospel narratives. Since the early Christians were vegetarians, they refused to have their holy books written on the skins of animals as was the Jewish custom. Consequently all the writings of the New Testament were written on papyrus scrolls. Whereas the length of an animal-skin scroll was virtually unlimited since the strips of skin could be sewn together, a papyrus scroll could scarcely be even fifty feet in length. So the Gospels were also written with this limitation in mind.
The deliberate brevity in the Gospels is evident in this verse, according to which Jesus goes to Philip and just says: "Follow me." Philip goes to Nathanael straightaway and announces to him that he has met the Messiah. Although it is true that spiritual events are often unexpected, rapid, and even cataclysmic, it is not usually so, and it is reasonable to feel that in these few verses we do not have the whole story. So we should look at them as giving the esoteric essentials only.
These telegraphic words point out a very important fact of spiritual life that is easily overlooked by the ego-centered: the fact that spiritual life is never initiated at the will of the individual, but is the direct and exclusive action of God. This is not pleasing to our egos, since we wish to preen ourselves on what intense seekers we are and how wonderfully dedicated we are to walking "the path." But Jesus said: "No man cometh unto me except the Father draw him."2 This is why missionarying in the ordinary sense of the word is utterly futile. We can certainly herd people into an organization and intellectually or emotionally convince them to declare their adherence to a set of beliefs and to even swear loyalty to an institution, but none of this is drawing near to God. Usually it is exactly the opposite.
Jesus told the Apostles toward the close of His life on earth: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you."3 In spiritual life as with everything else, things work from the top down. In India they say: "When a man chooses God, you can know that God has first chosen him." Only when we work within this framework can spiritual life be viable to any extent. This principle indicates that the moment the very idea of spiritual pursuit arises in our mind we have been called by God. And since God said through Isaiah: "My word that goeth forth out of my mouth shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please,"4 there can be no doubt of our ability to succeed if we act immediately upon that call.
I say this, because some people use the "I don't know if I'm ready or not" excuse to avoid spiritual life. Others lack confidence in their ability to succeed spiritually and they, most of all, need to have the correct perspective on this matter, for they will realize that since their desire for God is really God's desire for them there is no question of its fulfillment. God never fails. "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness."5
When we realize the truth of things we shall be assured that the very fact we seek to find God means that God has already "found" us–as was the case when Philip said he had found the Messiah. The essential thing is to have absolute confidence in God–the rest will take care of itself.
Do your best.
Leave the rest.
do no more.
This is most important at this point in time because of the continual destructive cant about how we all need "self-esteem" and "positive self-image." This is actually a very negative approach. It is bad enough to have little confidence in ourself, but it is insufferable to then be badgered about it by Ipana-smile experts who insist that we artificially create a self-image that is rooted in their mouths but not our hearts.
Although the aforementioned badgering is a hallmark of the "new age," the "old age" had plenty of tools for beating up its helpless victims, too. One of these was a continual din about humility. The popular idea is that an humble person has a low opinion of himself. That is not true. A person with a low opinion of himself is simply a pessimistic egotist. The truly humble person is one who has no opinion about himself, but who occupies himself exclusively in involvement with God–about Whom he has an opinion of love.
We are weak, corrupted, ignorant, broken, and mortal. That is, our bodies, minds, and egos are all those things. Our ego may lie, and say: "I am rich, and increased with goods," but it is still "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked,"as Jesus tells us in the book of Revelation.6 Therefore if we clear-sightedly look at what we erroneously believe to be our "selves," we cannot help but be utterly depressed and without hope. But if we look to God, Who is all perfection, we will have hope, for in God we will discover our own perfection. Only when we seek to behold God alone is it possible for us to behold ourselves in true perspective. That is paradoxical, but so is any reality.
Jesus said that we have to lose our life to find it,7 meaning that we have to let go of our false ideas about ourselves to find the truth of ourselves. As the great master Yogananda used to say: "Let me drown in Thine ocean and live." He also used to say: "When the 'I' shall die, then shall I know 'who am I.'" When I was a child I greatly loved a song with the refrain: "Let me lose myself, and find it, Lord, in Thee." Although my personal philosophy may have become somewhat more sophisticated over the years, that idea is still valid.
We are told that the incident recounted in the Gospel occurred when "Jesus would go forth into Galilee"–that is, return to His home. God has spread forth this creation, having actually become the creation itself, including the body vehicles in which all individual consciousnesses are evolving. Having projected the universe and sent into it the evolving souls, the intention of God is to systematically withdraw the universe and bring back into His bosom each one of us. It is this will to return, the call back to the origin, that is behind the contact of God with the soul. In the form of vibratory matter–physical, astral, and causal–God looks after and fosters each being. But it is a kind of subliminal or automatic attention they are receiving. It is only when the time has come for a conscious return into the depths of His being that God really "finds" us in the sense of communicating with us. Our return, our ultimate salvation, is His only motivation.
This is also the sole motivation behind divine incarnation. God does not incarnate merely to deliver us from the symptoms of ignorance and suffering, but rather to deliver us from their cause: the separation of our consciousness from Him. The compassion which drew the great being known as Gotama Buddha into earthly incarnation was not directed at our momentary sufferings and foibles, but at their root: the terrible condition of delusion. This is borne out by the fact that Buddha never worked any miracles of healing, nor did He ever do anything to alleviate material suffering. Rather, He presented the knowledge of the path which would lead to nirvana, the state which precludes all possibility of future suffering. This is the truth with all divine incarnations and all valid religions. They are not intended for the momentary relief of suffering, but rather to reveal the cause of all suffering and to arouse and empower us to escape from that deadly root.
Hence when God contacts the soul He has but one idea in mind: its return unto Him in total union. God wishes no other thing for us than this turning back and journeying to our eternal home. Using this fact as a touchstone, we can determine the reality and quality of any aspect of our spiritual life and condition. That is, only the degree to which we are both aspiring to and actualizing our individual union with God is a reliable indicator of the reality of our spiritual search and life.
We must continually apply this test as we live out our life. When encountering anything–be it religion, teachers, associates, activities, objects, ideas, goals, and even our own inner reactions and dispositions–we must ask the single question: "Does this call me toward God?" and–even more important–"Does this enable me to go toward God?" Unless the answer is an outright Yes, then that thing should be forgotten by us. Considering this from the aspect of the concept of God, which is the heart of religion, the great master Paramhansa Yogananda wrote in The Science of Religion: "Whatever concept we have of God, if it does not influence our daily conduct, if everyday life does not find an inspiration from it, and if it is not found universally necessary, then that conception is useless. If God is not conceived in such a way that we cannot do without Him in the satisfaction of a want, in our dealings with people, in earning money, in reading a book, in passing an examination, in the doing of the most trifling or the highest duties, then it is plain that we have not felt any connection between God and life."
This principle can be turned about to great profit. That is, not only should our religion affect every aspect of our life, our every activity should be viewed within the context of religion–specifically, how it affects our search for oneness with God. Whatever does not further or facilitate our search for God, our religious life, should be eliminated. For Jesus said: "He that is not with me is against me."8
This may sound odd, and a host of things in our life may spring to mind that we would think could not be considered as religious acts: taking a bath, cooking and eating food, working for a living, putting on clothes, and tying shoes, for example. Yet if we look at them all we can see that if they are done for the maintenance of order in our life and for the maintenance of life itself, then if our life is dedicated to the search for God–they are all religious acts. For example, taking a bath to remove dirt and the toxins accumulated on the body is a religious act, for by so doing we further the health of the body, and the body is necessary for our spiritual practice within this world. When understood in this way, even cutting our fingernails is a religious act. It is this perspective which Krishna presents to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, telling him that every action offered to God is worship of God and effectual spiritual practice.
Our life, when lived sensibly and in harmony with the divine law, can be a continual act of worship to God, a fulfillment of Saint Paul's injunction that we should offer ourselves as living sacrifices unto God.9 This can only be actualized when we daily practice meditation and throughout all our activities constantly maintain that inward consciousness produced by meditation. The saints of the Church were greatly diverse in their personalities and approach to life, but they all held the inward experience of the spirit to be the heart of their lives. And so it should be with us who aspire to sainthood through Christ.
It is within the divine life of Christ that our entire life can be divinized. Our Lord Jesus did not simply appear on the earth as an evanescent spirit, fading in and out like a vocal ghost. Rather, He was born in a physical body and lived in a truly physical manner, in this way demonstrating that physical embodiment need in no way impede the full manifestation of divine consciousness within a human being. In exoteric Christianity (when it has even thought about the subject) there has arisen the doctrine that the vision of God is impossible for those within the human body and that the fulness of spiritual perfection is likewise impossible for the embodied Christian. This is to completely misunderstand and even to deny the purpose of Christ's incarnation. One of the reasons He suffered and died was to show beyond any possibility of contradiction that He was indeed fully human and, yes, fully mortal, subject to all the laws of physical existence. This is considered at length in the book of Hebrews where it is affirmed that Jesus became absolutely like us in all things. That is, without any lessening of His perfected consciousness whatsoever, Jesus became an absolutely real human being. He became exactly what we are without the darkness of sin and ignorance, so that we, leaving behind that darkness can become what He is. This is the essence of Christianity, and all else within our spiritual life only serves to support and ensure our attainment of Christhood.In summation: if we even know that the attainment of Christhood is possible, then we may be sure that God is calling us to it; that we have already been found by God so that He may be found by us. And we can further know that through His action within our lives produced by our own faithful spiritual practice we shall succeed in our spiritual endeavors. So as the nineteenth century hymn exhorts us: "Let us be up and doing; we have no time to lose. There is life and death before us–O which one will we choose?"