Meanwhile, one question kept popping up from callers. Put generally, it was: I have a busy life. I work most of the day. How can I prepare for Ascension or how can I court enlightenment under this circumstance?
Perhaps I can comment here, if you’ll allow me, on the notion of paths. There are so many paths to God/enlightenment/Ascension. Maybe I can cite a few quotes to that effect from the great masters just to ground the point.
Sri Ramakrishna: “As many faiths, so many paths.” (1)
“God Himself has provided different forms of worship. He who is the Lord of the Universe has arranged all these forms to suit different men in different stages of knowledge.
“The mother cooks different dishes to suit the stomachs of her different children. Suppose she has five children. If there is a fish to cook, she prepares different dishes from it — pilau, pickled fish, fried fish, and so on — to suit their different tastes and powers of digestion.” (2)
Ibn Arabi: “Which ever way you turn your face, there you will find a road which leads to God.” (3)
Hilarion: “Seek [the way] not by any one road. To each temperament there is one road which seems the most desirable. But the way is not found by devotion alone, by religious contemplation alone, by ardent progress, by self-sacrificing labour, by studious observation of life. None alone can take the disciple more than one step onwards. All steps are necessary to make up the ladder. The vices of man become steps in the ladder, one by one, as they are surmounted. The virtues of man are steps indeed, necessary — not by any means to be dispensed with. Yet, though they create a fair atmosphere and a happy future, they are useless if they stand alone. The whole nature of man must be used wisely by the one who desires to enter the way.” (4)
Mother Meera: “All paths lead to the same goal; that is, to realize the Divine.” (5)
Oh, heavens, I could go on and on. Moreover, Krishna said:
Whatever path men travel
Is my path:
No matter where they walk
It leads to me. (6)
I imagine that the intent of this statement is to let us know that God accepts any action sincerely done as worship or service, etc.
I’m not saying that every way is a path. But any way done with sincere intention to fulfill the purpose of life – to know our true nature – can be a path.
There’s a path for each sense door. There’s a path for each temperament. There’s a path for each situation we find ourselves in.
For me, the answer to the question that “this circumstance” prevents me from worshiping God or preparing for Ascension, etc., is to create of the circumstance a path.
For the person who’s working “too much,” perhaps turn work into selfless service. Or maybe express unconditional love to everyone in your work setting. Or do each task with infinite care and attention.
I think we see this setting as somehow divorced from God but this other setting as united to God. So, for instance, my prayer room is united to God (I actually don’t have a prayer room) but my workplace or office (I don’t have that either) is separate from God. But of course we know that statements such as these don’t hold up to examination. There’s no place that’s separate from God.
But more to the point, any action can be consecrated to God, any action can be worship, any action can be used to presence myself, any action can be inquired into, etc. Any action can be turned into a path by the simple alteration of my attitude.
There’s no circumstance that I’m aware of that cannot be made a path. Imprisoned? Wonderful. Lots of time to meditate. Remember the American diplomat imprisoned in China for something like 15 years, who, every day, cleaned his cell with a toothbrush to show his guards that he bore them no malice and willingly accepted his situation? Or Satyam Nadeen (Michael Clegg) who described how he achieved enlightenment in prison in From Onions to Pearls . Or Sri Aurobindo, if I recall correctly, who, accused of being a nationalist agitator, achieved enlightenment in his prison cell.
Traditionally we think of paths along the lines of the yogas: bhakti yoga (love or devotion), karma yoga (selfless service), jnana yoga (self-enquiry or wisdom), raja yoga (meditation), etc. However, these are only a few of the paths that can be followed. But even beyond that, why not get rid of the notion altogether of “the paths” – we need to look at how the divine qualities can be plumbed, understood and acted on wherever we are right now. I think we need to liberate service, worship, and even meditation from any prior constraints and see breathing as an act of worship, and looking, and speaking, etc.
There’s no need, I believe, to postpone spiritual practice. Every moment can be spiritually sanctified. I think that’s what I need to really get.
(1) Paramahansa Ramakrishna in Swami Chetananda, They Lived with God. Life Stories of Some Devotees of Sri Ramakrishna. St. Louis: Vedanta Society of St. Louis, 1989. , xiii.
(2) Paramahansa Ramakrishna in Swami Nikhilananda, trans., The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1978; c1942, 81.
(3) Ibn Arabi, Muhyidden Ibn Arabi, Kernel of the Kernel. trans. Ismail Hakki Bursevi. Sherborne: Beshara, n.d, 25.
(4) Master Hilarion, channelling through Mabel Collins, channel. Light on the Path and an Essay on Karma. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974, 12-3.
(5) Mother Meera on back cover, Adilakshmi, Mother Meera.
(6) Sri Krishna in Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, trans., Bhagavad-Gita. The Song of God. New York and Scarborough: New American Library, 1972; c1944, 51.