A Strong Man, Fully Armed
"When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils."1
The ancient principle: "As above, so below" is irrevocable. Since "above" and "below" are only relative terms, we can also say: "As within, so without."
We are each a universe unto ourselves, living in the greater universe. No force in the outer world can come into the orbit of our life and affect us if there is not a corresponding entity or energy already inside us in one or more of the subtler levels of our being. Every person, place, or situation we encounter is inside as well as outside of us. It is a lot like picking up a radio or television broadcast. First there is an attunement of the inner mechanism and then the corresponding outer signal becomes manifest in and through the set.
So we should understand that whatever happens to us externally is also occurring internally. This is why those of true wisdom tell us that when we wish to alter our external life we should do it by altering our internal life, for it is our internal life which really determines what can arise in our outer world. It is no exaggeration to state that the inner is the cause and the outer is the effect.
Therefore, if we have something negative constantly arising in our environment, instead of complaining about it and wishing that we did not have to put up with it, we should instead look deep inside and ask: "What inside me corresponds to this negative situation?" For if we can discover and correct that we will find it becoming automatically corrected in our outer life. Like every other truth regarding our individual existence, this underlines the unalterable fact that we–and we alone–are totally responsible for our lives, that we are at all times fully in control of all that happens to us.
A very interesting and valuable aspect of this approach to life from the interior viewpoint, is the common observation that usually when we correct our inner life or consciousness, the negative object does not necessarily go out of our life, but instead ceases to be negative and becomes positive. Thus, by healing our inner negativity we have healed the outer negativity as well. Many people think that meditation–which is the prime healing process–is selfish and only of benefit to the person who meditates. But by uplifting ourselves we can uplift the world. This is why Saint Seraphim of Sarov used to say: "Acquire the spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved." Paramhansa Yogananda often told his students: "Save yourself and you will save thousands."
Realizing this, when we look at the world around us and its problems we should not see them as external difficulties which "they" in the form of governments or other social structures should straighten out. Rather we should realize that they are things which we must straighten out by means of the reconstruction of our own consciousness.
It was long ago said that in the presence of a man of peace no violence can arise. Even wild animals are tame when near the saints. Evil men wished to destroy Gautama Buddha, and set an insane elephant on the road where he was walking. It came charging at him, but upon coming into his aura, the elephant became docile and did him no harm. Instead the elephant was cured of its insanity.
"Pilate went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer. Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above."2 Jesus meant that since there was in Him no hatred, hostility, or the desire or impulse to injure anyone or anything, His enemies were able to harm Him only because it was so decreed in the divine plan. He could say this because He was the strong man who was the master of his palace. That is, He was "a strong armed man," the master of all levels and aspects of His consciousness and the bodies in which it dwelt–for the word translated "armed" in the verse means "fully armed."
"In my Father's house are many mansions," applies not only to the external creation, gross and subtle, which is composed of numberless "worlds," but to our own individual mode of existence as well. In the "house" or "palace" of our dwelling are many levels and many rooms–most of them completely unknown to us until we take up the path of conscious self-evolution.
In the East the human complex is sometimes spoken of as "the city of nine gates." In the Song of Solomon "the city" refers to both body and mind. The souls speaks of searching through "the streets and the broad ways," referring to those passages in the physical and subtle bodies wherein the life energies flow. Saint Theresa of Avila wrote of the "Interior Castle" of the mind and heart.
We are strong in our inner nature, but that is not enough. We must also be armed. So this parable indicates. There is more to life than just being here, as there is more to school than just sitting. There must be study and learning. And beyond the learning there must be practical application. The armor spoken of in the Gospel passage is the mastery of all our inner powers, the consciousness of the totality of our being.
The human being is a true marvel. We are often lost in admiration of the world around us, but we are also worthy of admiration. Sadly, we are awed by human technology, feeling as though we are nothing in comparison, when a little bit of reflection should show us that the mind which can produce such awesome technology is obviously far more astonishing and admirable than its product. And the mind is just one part of us!
Although all that exists is ultimately good, being a manifestation of the divine consciousness, God, it cannot be denied that there is a negative force within the universe–and within ourselves. If we are not armed through interior mastery, the negative principle within our own selves may give us great trouble. To evade our personal responsibility we often seek to blame external factors for our life's problems, but that is basically dishonest. The outer things which we accuse have only entered into our life sphere because there is a corresponding negativity within us.
The universe cannot exist without positive and negative poles, and we cannot exist within the universe without them either. But one can become progressively more assimilated into the other. That is, the negative can become absorbed into–and become–the positive, or vice versa. And when the absorption is perfect, then duality vanishes and we are not in this or any other world, but have passed into the transcendent mode of being that is beyond all worlds. This transcendence is called nirvana in Eastern philosophy. In actuality there are two kinds of nirvana. One occurs when the negative principle has fully assimilated the positive within us and we have thus become a completely negative being. This is quite possible. When we thus transcend this world we find ourselves in that abyss which the Lord called "outer darkness." If on the other hand the positive absorbs the negative into itself, then we enter into the inner light, the Kingdom of God within. This latter process is the only way to be strong and armed. After we have made some advancement in spiritual life we must begin to transform and restore the negativity into its true positive state.
This state of things can sometimes be observed in places of great spiritual power. Not only are positive entities attracted there, but negative entities are drawn there as well. The negative entities, having become so "bent" that they find themselves incapable of extricating themselves from their dilemma, seek out a positive atmosphere with the hope that if they can endure to remain in it (and it is very unpleasant to them), then their negativity may become loosened up enough for them to begin shedding it by their own efforts. After some time in the holy atmosphere their astral forms became changed. Becoming brighter and brighter, those forms eventually dissolve and they pass into another dimension for their evolution before returning here for another incarnation upon earth.
At the beginning, however, they may be so habituated to evil that they will cause disturbances in that holy place and even trouble the people who have also come there for upliftment. This is because negativity has become an automatic reflex with them. Therefore the aspirant must realize that many times when he finds himself attacked by negative intelligences–both embodied and disembodied–he is really being sought out for help, and should deal with them accordingly. It is not easy to love evil human beings or evil spirits, but if we can do so they may be delivered from their evil.
The great Master, Paramhansa Yogananda, was more than once held up by robbers. By steadily looking into their eyes with love, he was able to change them, and they asked his forgiveness and left him alone. One mad man came with a gun and told Yogananda that he was going to kill him. The Master stood calmly, loving him as only the saints can do. After some time the man threw down his gun and said: "Forgive me. You have taken away my evil." It is the great lovers of God who can say to their straying brothers: "Your sins are forgiven you. Go in peace." This troubled world of ours does not need peace conferences and cultural interchange programs with slogans and demonstrations. It needs saints who will heal it by their very presence. And we must strive to become ourselves those needed saints.
It is easy–when you know the methods–to put up a strong defensive aura so that no negativity can come near or touch you. But it is better to be able to change that negativity, to heal it and cause it to become wisdom instead of ignorance. When our spiritual consciousness is strong enough, those who are spiritually asleep will be awakened by simply coming into our presence. The Lord Jesus said, "Ye are the light of the world."3 But we must hurry up and light our lamp.
All along the way, until we arrive, the negative and positive sides of us take turns at being the "strong man" that is "armed" and in control. But one must eventually despoil the other and take unto itself all that the other has. One is going to eat up and absorb the other. And the one that absorbs the other is the one who truly wins. So we must strive to see that the right man wins!
In many of our ancient "fairy stories" there is great occult wisdom concealed beneath symbols. One wisdom story is Little Red Riding Hood. In the Scandinavian and German tales the wolf always represents the principle of darkness. During eclipses of the sun the people believed that the wolf had leaped into the sky and swallowed it. When the sun reappeared they felt that it had escaped from the wolf's jaws or stomach. In the same way the grandmother and Little Red Riding Hood represent the individual souls who are swallowed by the darkness of ignorance. The woodsman and his axe or sword represent the principle of gnosis, of illumination. He cuts through the wolf of darkness and sets the pair free.
The crux of the story really is that if Little Red Riding Hood had not dawdled on the way to her grandmother's house and had not as a consequence entered into conversation with the wolf she would never have gotten into trouble. And especially she could not have been fooled into believing that the wolf was her grandmother!
Now, in or outside the wolf's stomach, Red Riding Hood was essentially the same. Even when swallowed by the wolf she remained intact and uninjured. Being confined to the wolf's stomach was unpleasant enough, we can be sure. In the same way the divine soul can never be anything but what it is–a part of the greater Life that is God. But it is up to us to decide whether we are going to end up in the bosom of the Father or in the wolf's belly. And it is not wise to assume that somebody will for sure come along with a sword and get us out of the wolf's interior.
How, then can we arm ourselves? We should learn how to tune in to every level of our being in turn and master it. This is accomplished through meditation, by means of which our higher, spiritual will comes into function in every facet of our existence. This is not just hopeful fantasy. Those who meditate experience this.
It is necessary to realize that we need not worry about or fear any external principle of darkness, but we do indeed need to be concerned about our own inner darkness. For that alone harms us–indeed, that alone brings us into contact with the outer darkness. Once the inner darkness is dispelled by the inner light of Christ, then all will be light in our outer life as well. This is why the saints have passed through this world of turmoil and suffering while experiencing only peace and joy. Their consciousness was not posited in the world but in God, Whom they had found within. They did not look outward to the darkness of the world, but inward to the immortal kingdom of God.
It is not the world or the people in the world that need to be changed. We are what needs changing, though that is usually the last thing we acknowledge or agree to do. A real Christian is one who is making himself into a Christ, not busybodying in the lives of others.
"My brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all."4
Putting on the whole armor of God, as Saint Paul has advised us, we must strive upward on the path to enlightenment. False mysticism says: "Oh, you are trapped in material existence which is evil and delusive. Do these practices and untie the knots of the bodies and they will fall away and you will be released into spirit." Yes–and then we will have to return again as an atom of hydrogen and go through the whole process of evolution all over again, because we cannot evolve except through these bodies. Just as by destroying our auto we do not get to the place we want to go, so by dissolving the vehicles of our consciousness we will not arrive at the Goal. As we have to get in auto car and drive it to our destination, so it is with our body-vehicles. They must be used for that attainment. Then, just as after arriving we can get out of the auto and leave it behind, so it is with our bodies, gross and subtle.
The path of mastery is the only path to peace, to the completion of the aeon-long struggles of evolution. "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out.…He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith."5
Light From Eternal Lamps–Essays On Practical Spiritual Life–by Swami Nirmalananda Giri