This post has been expanded and moved to my Psychology Today blog. You can find it here.
Janyananda will be conducting Mahalakshmi Homa at the University of South Carolina, Aiken, on Friday, November 22nd. More details to follow. If you would like to help sponsor the ceremony, please use the donate link. A $5.00 donation via paypal will cover a pound of organic butter to be clarified for ghee offering. If you live in the Aiken-Augusta area and can donate kindling or firewood, please let us know. You can use this form or subscribe to the newsletter on the main page so that we have your information.
This dialogue with the deva transpired after intense puja, japa, and meditation. It is believed to be a trustworthy revelation from the Lord when received with sincerity and faith.
Janyananda: Master, teach me the method by which I may reach an end to suffering, the path by which perfection can be obtained.
Ganesha: The ignorant wrongly believe that by bowing in devotion they bring shame upon themselves. They think it a disgrace to bow before divinity, as though it were beneath the dignity of human beings to prostrate before God. I tell you truly that when you enter into praise of God, the divine presence enters into you, so that all fullness returns to you. No debasement of human dignity occurs during worship: rather, by exalting the devas, mortals enter into their highest expression of goodness.
Janyananda: I take you to mean that the world of the devas is above and beyond the human world, as a realm of perfection and beauty. In order to perfect human powers, we must strive to reach the deva loka. Through sadhana, we make contact with the deva loka, and, indeed, actually live in it while we simultaneously live on earth.
Ganesha: Yes, but you must never think of the deva loka as having a separate existence, for it resides within all things. The shining ones are never far away, never remote or unobtainable. The second you call my name, I live within you. I honor even the most selfish prayer: for health, for wealth, for power, for prestige. Through selfish desire many have come to me. Through selfish desire, many have become great saints. I use desire as my vehicle, to draw all things into myself. This is one of the meanings of the many-armed deities: the bottomless desires of human beings represent so many pathways to divinity. Our arms reach out to you though you know them not.
Janyananda: So everyone comes to God through the means of captivation that appeals to that person? Can we say, then, that all paths lead to God, that all paths are equally good?
Ganesha: Some means are, indeed, more efficient, and lead to a less prolonged search. Each day you leave yourself your own inheritance. Each day you harvest what you sowed the day before. In order to have an advantageous position tomorrow, you must do your utmost today. Make only the best sacrifices. Do the best work. Perform the greatest sadhana. Give of the best that you have. No effort, no matter how small, ever goes wasted. You are the direct beneficiary of every deed in which you engage. In this way, you create yourself day by day.
Janyananda: I know this intellectually, but my mind and heart grow dull. I know that I ought to maintain my spiritual practices. I know that I should think only good thoughts, but my strength fades. I fall in and out of love with spirituality: I falter so easily. The slightest distraction throws me off balance entirely.
Ganesha: Not for nothing did Shri Krishna teach the truths of the spirit through the image of the battlefield. Not for nothing did my father, Lord Shiva, clothe himself with ashes from the crematory grounds. You must remember that you fight for life and death, that you engage in fierce struggle. You must compete as though you wanted to win, to overcome, to triumph. The devas march at your side, but you must take up arms yourself. Half-hearted efforts lead to half-realized results. Be unreasonable in your devotions. Be like a madman. Go beyond respectability. Risk becoming a laughingstock for God. The greatest rewards come from the greatest efforts. Do not be deceived by those who teach a doctrine of moderation, who view spirituality as one more technique for self-improvement. Do not be deceived by the false grace which promises something for nothing.
Janyananda: Sometimes I wonder whether I have made any progress at all, whether I am not going in circles rather than advancing in the spiritual life. I wonder whether my practice is just an elaborate fantasy, whether you are just an imaginary friend.
Ganesha: You are not the judge of your own progress. Do not wallow in remorse, depression, or despair. Your only job is to lose yourself in me. Your only task in life is to journey further and further into everlasting bliss. It does not matter whether you succeed in your own terms. It does not matter who does or does not follow you. You must remain focused on giving your all.
Janyananda: I think that I am beginning to understand. I promise to apply myself to the utmost as long as you promise to remain with me.
Ganesha: All you have to do is call my name, and I will be there. I will be your refuge, and I will make you a refuge for many. You cannot imagine now the miracles that wait for those who hope in me. I will make the Satsanga my bulwark on the earth, and no evil will prevail against it. When times of doubt arise, return to these words of mine and draw strength from them. Gaze on an image of me and offer prayers. Make no mistake: I come to my devotees through such simple means. I will not fail those who trust in me.
You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself—without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind. 2.47-48 (Easwaran Trans.)
Shri Krishna here propounds a most strict and severe discipline, but it is also a discipline that liberates. Who can claim to have not engaged in work for the sake of reward? Most of those in Western culture and even in global culture take it for granted that the purpose of work is to earn a paycheck and that such rewards are just desserts. We have bought wholesale into the idea that the world economy functions on enlightened self-interest, which can basically be read as selfishness, plain and simple. It doesn’t take long to realize that this paradigm inevitably produces dissatisfaction. The faith of Wall Street that “greed is good” produces suffering around the world in the form of exploitation of the earth and laborers as everything, even life itself, becomes a commodity. But even supposing that one is well paid and that one engages in ethical business does not guarantee that a paycheck will be satisfactory. We easily get used to material rewards, and as soon as we regard them as deserved, they cease to satisfy.
Krishna advises Arjuna to perform his duty as a warrior without regard for the consequences and without seeking power or material gain. Arjuna’s nature as a warrior is to fight, and he should concentrate on this task alone. If he focuses on anything other than duty, Arjuna will not be able to bring his whole mind to bear on the task at hand. And, we are told, the person who works for earthly rewards will reap the fruit of rebirth. The person who leaves any unfinished business on earth will keep returning again and again, to make a little more money or indulge in a little more pleasure-seeking. Real liberation must move beyond temporal rewards. And yet, if we still have these desires, it will do no good to suppress them or engage in feelings of guilt and remorse. Desires must either run their course or be transformed into something higher and purer. The spiritual disciplines of puja, japa, meditation, and asana are designed to transmute base desires into higher ones in a process of spiritual alchemy. This is the “fight” to which most aspirants are called.
Even on a more mundane level, we can examine how attachment to the result can be paralyzing. Suppose a first-time writer sits down at the computer and says, “I will now write a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.” Every phrase and sentence that makes its way onto the page will seem all wrong, and the would-be writer will most likely never make it to the first chapter, let alone a perfectly crafted novel. But suppose he or she says, “Let me just sit down to write each day and see what happens.” Such open-ended exploration will be much more likely to produce a high-quality product. Trying too hard to be a success can paradoxically be a sure road to failure. Krishna advises cultivating indifference to the results and simply getting lost in the task itself.
Some people have the opposite problem and are attached to inaction rather than action. Using the novel-writing example above, such a person might say, “It would be rather presumptuous of me to try to write a novel, so I will just daydream about it instead.” This person will not be satisfied in life, for, as beings caught in the world of name and form, we have been given the vehicle of action. We should seek to use that vehicle in the very best ways that we know how rather than sit on our hands. We are entitled to work, to engage our hopes in concrete projects. We are not guaranteed that those projects will succeed, but we are bound by duty to try to make them succeed.
In the Chandi, a prayerful recitation of the deeds of Goddesses Durga and Kali, the Mother fights against many demons who are grouped together in pairs. I am often reminded of two demons in particular, Self-Deprecation and Self-Conceit. In the spiritual life, and indeed in any pursuit whatsoever, we must avoid these twin tendencies. One is the temptation to regard ourselves more highly than we ought, and the other is the temptation to put ourselves down. Both of these tendencies are forms of insecurity, of a lack of true self-love. If we see ourselves as manifestations of the one eternal Self and concentrate on duty alone, we will be able to defeat these demons. Both Shree Maa and Swamiji are fond of saying that we should regard God as the doer, and this attitude frees us from many kinds of mental self-torture. If I operate from the perspective of ego, I will always be afraid of getting things wrong. But if I operate from the perspective that I, myself, am nothing more than a tool or instrument that the Universe uses, I will be free to simply do the work.