by Prem Prakash
A man goes to a spiritual teacher who has a reputation for being able to perform miracles. The teacher tells the man that the miracles are irrelevant, what is important is the faith and devotion which makes miracles possible. As had happened so many times before, however, the man insists that his devotion can blossom only after a personal experience of the miraculous. So, the teacher writes something on a small piece of paper, folds it carefully, and tells the man to put it in his pocket and this will enable him to walk on water. The man does as instructed and, sure enough, he strolls right on top of a lake. Amazed, he becomes curious as to what the teacher had written on the paper that could make this miracle possible.
He pulls the paper out, unfolds it, and sees that written on it is the word, Rama, one of the Hindu names of God. He thinks to himself, "What's the big deal about Rama?" With this thought, he sinks beneath the water.
There is a long history of debate in theology about the nature of God and proper religious belief. The debate is rather irrelevant to yoga, though, because yoga is not about theory or belief, it is about experience. Once one begins to experience spiritual reality, the notion of entering into intellectual debate becomes absurd. If you want to find out if you have hair on your head, put your hand on your skull and find out for yourself. After that, it won't matter who argues with you. You will know the truth about the hair on your head.
The experience of spiritual reality grows out of the peace of one's own mind. This peace is cultivated by yoga practice: by detaching the mind from selfish thoughts and linking it with the power of the Divine. Although I like to refer to yoga as the science of spirituality, it is crucial to remember that yoga practice without devotion leaves yoga as just another dry, mechanistic system. Those who try to practice yoga without a spiritual intention usually get bored or burn out, because their egos are not getting sufficient attention. We may be able to put ourselves into convoluted yoga postures or sing devotional songs with a beautiful voice, but unless a spiritual longing lies behind our practice we are no different than gymnasts or parakeets.
Many Christians are suspicious about yoga as a valid spiritual path because they have been taught that one should not rely upon works to attain salvation; one should depend on the grace of God. This is a complicated issue, but one which can be clarified through the following three yogic principals. First, any condemnation of techniques which help people cultivate spiritual consciousness is man-made preaching, not God-made teaching. Spiritual practices do not negate the role of grace, they help cultivate one's sensitivity to grace.
Second, yoga does not see salvation, as the term is generally used, as a goal. We came from the One Self (which we may call God), and we live and move and have our being in that One. There is nothing to be saved from, except our own illusions about who we are and our relationship to God. Guilt and fear of God are creations of unhealthy human minds projecting their own anger and desire for vengeance. Guilt and fear are not only devastating to mental health, they have absolutely no role in spirituality. There is no God who wants to punish you.
The third principal is that grace is not some magical event, like winning the lottery, which magically blesses a few undeserving wretches, leaving the remaining wretches to suffer. Mother nature proceeds in an orderly fashion and so does spiritual growth and experience. One depends on grace in the same way that one depends on wind to sail a boat. Before the boat is taken by the wind it must be hauled, lugged, and heaved into the water. Anyone who has ever pushed a boat into water from the shore knows how much work this can be. Still, there is a sweet moment when the water and wind take over, and one can hop on board and enjoy the ride.
This is also the way spiritual growth and experience come about. We purify our minds, open our hearts, and dedicate our lives to service. But these are only the processes of "pushing" ourselves into the spiritual waters. It is the grace of God blowing on the sails of our devotion that gives the ride. The great poet Kabir said, "I simply sit quietly and God meditates on himself in my mind."
The experience of God's grace comes to everyone in an individual way.
What would we expect in a universe where we all have unique fingerprints
and every snowflake is different? God arrives before us in a form that makes
sense to us: as love or light, as compassion or joy, as a teacher or friend,
as father or mother. It really doesn't matter how we relate to the Divine,
or what name we use as a label for this reality which is far beyond labels
God is the ultimate shy lover: She will not agree to consummate our affair until She is certain we want nothing but Her. As long as the mind goes on repeating, "I want..., I need..., I demand...," we will be stuck receiving the petty things we say we want, need, and demand. When we turn our mind from these ego thoughts and adopt the practice of focusing on God, then our beloved feels assured that it is Her we truly want. Our efforts then fulfill their purpose; our hearts open and are filled with the dance of God's love, twirling throughout our days and nights, bringing meaning and purpose to our life.
Why waste time trying to figure out how someone can walk on water simply by carrying God's name with him? It's much more fun to dance than it is to sit around debating music theory. Every day, let us push our boats to the water -- by working on quieting our minds, opening our hearts, and serving others. One day our little boat will be close enough to water's edge that the winds of grace can billow the upturned sails and send us out beyond the shallows of worry and fear, out to the depths of love and life.
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