A worldly refusal to honour the sacred is as unbalanced as a monastic refusal to honour the secular. In a balance of both duties, in a commonsense union of their ordained roles in a man's life lies the way for present-day man. Each age has its own emphasis; ours should be equilibrium.
We do not feel the need of hallowing our days. That is our great loss.
Metaphysical study will not weaken reverence but will rather put it on firmer ground. Metaphysical understanding will not weaken devotion but will rather more firmly establish it. What it will weaken, however, is the attachment to transient forms of reverence; what it will destroy is the error of giving devotion exclusively to the individual and refusing to include the Universal.
When devotion, worship, and reverence are fortified by knowledge, they can one day reach a stage where notably less is desired or demanded and peace then naturally arises. Nor is a measure of peace the only gain. Virtue later follows after it, quietly and effortlessly growing.
The sceptic who deems all prayer vain and useless, who regards the reasons for it as foolish, is too often justified. But when he ceases to search farther for the reasons behind prayer, he becomes unjustified. For if he did search, he might discover that true prayer is often answered because it is nothing less than making a connection--however loose, ill-fitting, and intermittent it be--with the life-force within the universe.
There is no one so sinful or so degraded in character that he is denied this blessed privilege of a contrite yearning for communion with his own divine source. Even the failure to have ever prayed before, even a past life of shame and error, does not cancel but, on the contrary, merely enhances this right. This granted, it will be found that there are many different forms of such communion, different ways of such prayer.
He should not hesitate to pray humbly, kneeling in the secrecy of his private room, to the Overself. First his prayer should acknowledge the sins of his more distant past having led to sufferings in the later past or his immediate present, and he should accept this as just punishment without any rebellious feeling. Then he may throw himself on the Grace as being the only deliverance left outside his own proper and requisite efforts to amend the causes. Finally let him remember the living master to whom he has given allegiance and draw strength from the memory.
There are those who object to the introduction of prayer into the philosophic life. In a world governed by the law of cause and effect, of what avail is this whining petition for unearned boons, they ask. Is it not unreasonable to expect them? Would it not be unfair to others to grant them?
These objections are valid ones. But the subject is covered with clouds. To dispel two or three of them, it is worth noting two or three facts. The first is that whether a prayer is addressed to the Primordial Being, to the Overself, or to a spiritual leader, it is still addressed to a higher power, and it is therefore an abasement of the ego before that power. When we remember the smug self-complacency of man, and the need of disturbing it if he is to listen to a truer Voice than his own, what can be wrong with such self-humbling? He will not be exempted by his petitioning from the sway of the law of cause and effect. If he seems to get an answer to his prayer we may be sure it will be for reasons that are valid in themselves, even if he is ignorant of those reasons. But how many prayers get answered? Everyone knows how slight the proportion is.
The man who is earnestly seeking to advance spiritually will usually be ashamed to carry any worldly desire into his sacred prayer. He will be working hard upon himself to improve, purify, and correct himself, so he need have no hesitation to engage in prayer--for the right things. He will pray for better understanding of the higher laws, clearer sight as to what his individual spiritual obligation consists in, more and warmer love for the Overself.
Pray by listening inwardly for intuitive feeling, light, strength, not by memorized form or pauperized begging.
The devotee who is mainly trying to draw God's attention to himself is still ego-centered.
It is strange that most just persons usually acknowledge having no right to get something for nothing, yet in the matter of prayer they feel no shame in requesting liberation from their particular weaknesses or habitual sins. Are they entitled to ask--often in a mechanical, importunate, or whining manner--for a result for which other persons work all-too-hard? Is it not effrontery to ask for divine intervention which should favour them while the others toil earnestly at reshaping themselves?
How then should a man pray? Should he beg for the virtues to be given to him gratis and unearned for which other men have to strive and labour? Is it not more just to them and better in the end for himself if, instead of demanding something for nothing, he prays thus: "I turn to you, O Master, for inspiration to rise above and excel myself, but I create that inspiration by my own will. I kneel before you for guidance in the problems and decisions of life, but I receive that guidance by taking you as an example of moral perfection to be followed and copied. I call upon you for help in my weakness and difficulty, my darkness and tribulation, but I produce and shape that help by trying to absorb it telepathically from your inner being." This is a different kind of prayer from the whining petitions often passing under that name, and whereas they seldom show direct, traceable results, this always shows them.
To enter this stillness is the best way to pray.
It is not to be, as it is with so many unenlightened religionists, nothing more than a request to be given something for nothing, a petition for unearned and undeserved personal benefit. It is to be first, a confession of the ego's difficulty or even failure to find its own way correctly through the dark forest of life; second, a confession of the ego's weakness or even helplessness in coping with the moral and mental obstacles in its path; third, an asking for help in the ego's own strivings after self-enlightenment and self-betterment; fourth, a resolve to struggle to the end to forsake the lower desires and overcome the lower emotions which raise dust-storms between the aspirant and his higher self; and fifth, a deliberate self-humbling of the ego in the admission that its need of a higher power is imperative.
At no level of his spiritual development need a man leave off the custom of prayer. The religious devotee, the mystical meditator, the metaphysical thinker, and the integrated philosopher alike need its fruits.
Self-purification is the best prayer, self-correction is the most effectual one.
It seems to be a law of the inner life that we have to ask for the inner help that is needed long long before it begins to manifest.
Both prayer and receptivity are needed. First we pray fervently and feelingly to the Overself to draw us closer to it, then we lapse into emotional quietness and patiently wait to let the inner self unfold to us. There is no need to discard prayer because we take up meditation. The one makes a fit prelude to the other. The real need is to purify prayer and uplift its objectives.
Meditation in a solitary place remote from the world may help others who are still in the world, but only under certain conditions. It must, for example, be deliberately directed towards named individuals. If it floats away into the general atmosphere without any thought of others, it is only a self-absorption, barren to others if profitable to oneself. It can be turned toward the spiritual assistance of anyone the practiser loves or wishes to befriend. But it should not be so turned prematurely. Before he can render real service, he must first acquire the power to do so. Before he can fruitfully pray for persons, he must first be able to draw strength from that which is above all persons. The capacity to serve must first be got before the attempt to serve is made. Therefore he should resist the temptation to plunge straightaway into prayer or meditation on behalf of others. Instead he should wait until his worship or communion attains its highest level of being. Then--and then only--should he begin to draw from it the power and help and light to be directed altruistically towards others. Once he has developed the capacity to enter easily into the deeply absorbed state, he may then use it to help others also. Let him take the names and images of these people with him after he has passed into the state and let him hold them there for a while in the divine atmosphere.
The love which he is to bring as sacrificial offering to the Overself must take precedence of all other loves. It must penetrate the heart's core to a depth where the best of them fails to reach.
Love is both sunshine for the seed and fruit from the tree. It is a part of the way to self-realization and also a result of reaching the goal itself.
Since true philosophy is also a way of life, and since no such way can become effectual unless the feelings are involved, it includes and cultivates the most refined and most devotional feelings possible to man.
Remember that no enterprise or move should be left to depend on the ego's own limited resources. The humble invocation of help from the Higher Self expands those resources and has a protective value. At the beginning of every day, of every enterprise, of every journey, and of every important piece of work, remember the Overself and, remembering, be obedient to its laws. Seek its inspiration, its power. To make it your silent partner is to double your effectiveness.
He should not fall into the error of believing that the transition to philosophical study has exempted him from the duty of mystical practice or that the transition to the latter has exempted him from the need of religious devotion. We do not drop what belongs to a lower stage but keep and preserve it in the higher one. Aspiration is a vital need. He should become as a child at the feet of his divine Soul, humbly begging for its grace, guidance, and enlightenment. If his ego is strong, prayer will weaken it. Let him do this every day, not mechanically but sincerely and feelingly until the tears come to his eyes. The quest is an integral one and includes prayer alongside of all the other elements.
The way to be admitted to the Overself's presence can be summed up in a single phrase: love it. Not by breathing in very hard nor by blowing out very slow, not by standing on the head nor by contorting like a frog can admission be gained. Not even by long study of things divine nor by acute analysis of them. But let the love come first, let it inspire the breathing, blowing, standing, or contorting, let it draw to the study and drive to the thinking, and then these methods will become really fruitful.
Thanks for Thy presence and existence here and now.
Praise for making life on earth more bearable and more endurable when it becomes oppressive.
God needs no worship, no praise, no thanksgiving. It is man himself who needs the benefit to be derived from these activities.
He who sits with humbled, bowed head and folded, clasped, or knees-rested hands, with mind and heart in awed reverence, in sincere, worshipful, and rapt absorption which is aware of nothing else than the divine presence--he is praying, is meditating, is worshipping, is in heaven already.
In the adoration of his higher self he reaches the apex of existence. It proves that he has found out the secret of his own personality and solved the mystery of his relation to God.
Look how the smaller birds greet the sun, with so much merry chirruping and so much outpouring of song! It is their way of expressing worship for the only Light they can know, an outer one. But man can also know the inner Sun, the Light of the Overself. How much more reason has he to chirp and sing than the little birds! Yet how few men feel gratitude for such privilege.
The humility needed must be immensely deeper than what ordinarily passes for it. He must begin with the axiom that the ego is ceaselessly deceiving him, misleading him, ruling him. He must be prepared to find its sway just as powerful amid his spiritual interests as his worldly ones. He must realize that he has been going from illusion to illusion even when he seemed to progress.
The higher he climbs, the humbler he becomes. Only he will not make an exhibition of his humility to the world, for it is not needed there and might even harm him and others. He will be humble deep down in his heart where it is needed, in that sacred place where he faces the Overself.
Within his heart, he may call or keep nothing as his own, not even his spirituality. If he really does not want to cling to the ego, he must cling to nothing else. He is to have no sense of inner greatness, no distinct feeling of having attained some high degree of holiness.
But selflessness does not mean the surrender of one's own ego to someone else's ego. Renouncing the personal will does not mean becoming the creature of another person's will. Humility does not mean becoming the helpless victim of other people's wrong-doing. The only surrender that we are entitled to make is surrender to the Higher Power.
The unfulfilled future is not to be made an object of anxious thought or joyous planning. The fact that he has taken the tremendous step of offering his life in surrender to the Overself precludes it. He must now and henceforth let that future take care of itself, and await the higher will as it comes to him bit by bit. This is not to be confounded with the idle drifting, the apathetic inertia of shiftless, weak people who lack the qualities, the strength, and the ambition to cope with life successfully. The two attitudes are in opposition.
The true aspirant who has made a positive turning-over of his personal and worldly life to the care of the impersonal and higher power in whose existence he fully believes, has done so out of intelligent purpose, self-denying strength of will, and correct appraisal of what constitutes happiness. What this intuitive guidance of taking or rejecting from the circumstances themselves means in lifting loads of anxiety from his mind only the actual experience can tell. It will mean also journeying through life by single degrees, not trying to carry the future in addition to the present. It will be like crossing a river on a series of stepping-stones, being content to reach one at a time in safety and to think of the others only when they are progressively reached, and not before. It will mean freedom from false anticipations and useless planning, from vainly trying to force a path different from that ordained by God. It will mean freedom from the torment of not knowing what to do, for every needed decision, every needed choice, will become plain and obvious to the mind just as the time for it nears. For the intuition will have its chance at last to supplant the ego in such matters. He will no longer be at the mercy of the latter's bad qualities and foolish conceit.
There are great dangers in falling into a supine attitude of supposed submission of our will, an attitude into which so many mystics and religionists often fall. There is a profound difference between the pseudo-surrendered life and the genuine surrendered life. It is easy enough to misinterpret the saying "Thy will be done." Jesus, by his own example, gave this phrase a firm and positive meaning. Hence this is better understood as meaning "Thy will be done by me." A wide experience has revealed how many are those who have degenerated into a degrading fatalism under the illusion that they were thereby co-operating with the will of God; how many are those who have, through their own stupidity, negligence, weakness, and wrong-doing, made no effort to remedy the consequences of their own acts and thus have had to bear the suffering involved to the full; how many are those who have failed to seize the opportunity presented by these sufferings to recognize that they arose out of their own defects or faults and to examine themselves in time to become aware of them and thus avoid making the same mistake twice. The importance of heeding this counsel is immense. For example, many an aspirant has felt that fate has compelled him to work at useless tasks amid uncongenial surroundings, but when his philosophic understanding matures, he begins to see what was before invisible--the inner karmic significance of these tasks, the ultimate educative or punitive meaning of those environments. Once this is done he may rightly, and should for his own self-respect, set to work to free himself from them. Every time he patiently crushes a wrong or foolish thought, he adds to his inner strength. Every time he bravely faces up to a misfortune with calm impersonal appraisal of its lesson, he adds to his inner wisdom. The man who has thus wisely and self-critically surrendered himself may then go forward with a sense of outward security and inward assurance, hopeful and unafraid, because he is now aware of the benign protection of his Overself. If he has taken the trouble to understand intelligently the educative or punitive lessons they hold for him, he may then--and only then--conquer the evils of life, if at the same time of their onset, he turns inward at once and persistently realizes that the divinity within offers him refuge and harmony. This twofold process is always needful and the failures of Christian Science are partially the consequence of its failure to comprehend this.
He who surrenders his future to the Higher Power surrenders along with it the anxieties and cares which might otherwise have infested the thought of his future. This is a pleasant result, but it can only be got by surrendering at the same time the pleasurable anticipations and neatly made plans which might also have accompanied this thought. "Everything has to be paid for" is a saying which holds as true in the realm of the inner life as it does in the marketplace. The surrender of his life to the Higher Power involves the surrender of his ego. This is an almost impossible achievement if thought of in terms of a complete and instant act, but not if thought of in terms of a partial and gradual one. There are parts of the ego, such as the passions for instance, which he may attempt to deny even before he has succeeded in denying the ego itself. Anyway, he has to make clear to himself the fact that glib talk of surrender to God is cancelled if he does not at the same time attempt to surrender the obstructions to it.
To surrender a problem to the Overself is to cease worrying about it. If the worry still remains, its presence is proof that the surrender has not really been made.
The indispensable prerequisite to mystical illumination is self-surrender. No man can receive it without paying this price. Any man in any degree of development may pay it--he has to turn around, change his attitude, and accept the Christ, the higher self, as his sovereign. But once this happens and the Grace of illumination descends, it can affect the self only as it finds the self. An unbalanced ego will not suddenly become balanced. An unintellectual one will not suddenly become learned. His imperfections remain though the light shines through them.
He is to sacrifice all the lower emotions on the altar of this quest. He is to place upon it anger, greed, lust, and aggressive egoism as and when each situation arises when one or another of them shows its ugly self. All are to be burnt up steadily, if little by little, at such opportunities. This is the first meaning of surrender to the higher self.
The intuitive sensitivity of the artist and the discriminating intellect of a scientist are needed to keep that delicate balance which knows when to assume responsibility for one's own decision, action, and life and when to shift this responsibility to a higher power. The novice's statement that he commits his life into God's hands is not enough, for obviously if he continues to repeat the same foolish judgements and the same guilty conduct as before this commitment, his life still remains in the personal ego's hands. If his commitment is to be effective, it must be accompanied by the duty of self-improvement. Surrender to a higher power does not relieve him of this duty; on the contrary, it compels him more than ever before to its carrying out. The shifting of personal responsibility is achieved only when the awakening of consciousness to the higher self is itself achieved. The mere desire and consequent say-so of the aspirant does not and cannot become factual until then. He may seek to relieve himself of the pressure of obligation and the irritation of obstacles by this device, but the relief will be merely fictional and not factual.
When a man feels the authentic urge to walk a certain way, but cannot see how it will be possible either because of outer circumstances or of inner emotions, let him trust and obey it. For if he does so, the Grace of the Overself will manipulate these circumstances or alter his feelings accordingly. But it will do this so as to lead to his further growth and real need, not for satisfaction of his personal desires or his supposed wants. Let him accept its leading, not the ego's blindness.
The rejection of the idea of Grace is based on a misconception of what it is, and especially on the belief that it is an arbitrary capricious gift derived from favouritism. It is, of course, nothing of the kind, but rather the coming into play of a higher law. Grace is simply the transforming power of the Overself which is ever-present but which is ordinarily and lawfully unable to act in a man until he clears away the obstacles to this activity. If its appearance is considered unpredictable, that is because the karmic evil tendencies which hinder this appearance vary considerably from one person to another in strength, volume, and length of life. When the karma which generated them becomes weak enough, they can no longer impede its action.
There are three types of Grace: firstly, that which has the appearance of Grace but which actually descends out of past good karma and is entirely self-earned; secondly, that which a Master gives to disciples or aspirants when the proper external and internal circumstances exist--this is in the nature of a temporary glimpse only but is useful because it gives a glimpse of the goal, a sense of the right direction, and inspiring encouragement to continue on the Quest; thirdly, when a man attains the fullest degree of realization, he is enabled in some cases to modify overhanging negative karma or in others to negate it because he has mastered the particular lessons that needed to be learned. This is particularly evident when the Hand of God removes obstructions in the path of his work. The philosophic conception of Grace shows it to be just and reasonable. It is indeed quite different from the orthodox religious belief about it, a belief which regards it as an arbitrary intervention by the Higher Power for the benefit of its human favourites.
He may know that the work of Grace has begun when he feels an active drawing from within which wakes him from sleep and which recurs in the day, urging him to practise his devotions, his recollections, his prayers, or his meditations. It leads him from his surface consciousness to his inner being, a movement which slowly goes back in ever-deepening exploration and discovery of himself.
It seems as if grace visits us at moments of its own choosing. That is the truth, but not the only truth. For study, practice of exercises, training, self-discipline, prayer, aspiration, and meditation also form a total effort which must attract grace as its reward eventually.
If the existence of grace is granted, the question of its means of transmission arises. Since it is a radiation issuing from the Overself, it can be directly bestowed. But if there are internal blockages, as in most cases there are, and insufficient force on the man's part to break through them, then it cannot be directly received. Some thing or person outside him will have then to be used as a means of indirect transmission.
No Maharishee, no Aurobindo, no Saint Francis can save you. It is the Holy Spirit which saves man by its Grace. The ministrations of these men may kindle faith and quiet the mind, may help you to prepare the right conditions and offer a focus for your concentration, but they offer no guarantee of salvation. It is highly important not to forget this, not to deify man and neglect the true God who must come to you directly and act upon you directly.
Two things are required of a man before Grace will manifest itself in him. One is the capacity to receive it. The other is the co-operation with it. For the first, he must humble the ego; for the second, he must purify it.
The closer he comes to the Overself, the more actively is the Grace able to operate on him. The reason for this lies in the very nature of Grace, since it is nothing other than a benign force emanating from the Overself. It is always there but is prevented by the dominance of the animal nature and the ego from entering his awareness. When this dominance is sufficiently broken down, the Grace comes into play more and more frequently, both through Glimpses and otherwise.
The real bar to the entry of grace is simply the preoccupation of his thoughts with himself. For then the Overself must leave him to his cares.
By grace I mean the manifestation of God's friendliness.
If you seek to invoke the divine grace to meet a genuine and desperate physical need or human result, seek first to find the sacred presence within yourself and only after you have found it, or at least only after you have attained the deepest point of contemplation possible to you, should you name the thing or result sought. For then you will not only be guided whether it be right to continue the request or not, but you will also put yourself in the most favourable position for securing grace.
No one but a man's own Being gives him grace. From the moment when he lays his head prostrate before It, and returns again and again to that posture, mentally always and physically if urged, grace is invoked.
In the early stages of spiritual progress, Grace may show itself in the bestowal of ecstatic emotions. This encourages him to pursue the Quest and to know that he is so far pursuing it rightly. But the purpose gained, the blissful states will eventually pass away, as they must. He will then falsely imagine that he has lost Grace, that he has left undone something he should have done or done something he should not have done. The true fact is that it is Grace itself which has brought this loss about, as constituting his next stage of progress, even though it affords no pleasure to his conscious mind, but only pain. His belief that he has lost the direct contact with the higher power which he formerly enjoyed is wrong: his actual contact was only an indirect one, for his emotions were then occupied with themselves and with their pleasure in the experience. He is being separated from them so that he may be emptied of every desire and utterly humbled in his ego, and thus made ready for the time when joy, once regained, will never leave him again. For he is now on the threshold of the soul's dark night. In that state there is also a work being done for him by Grace, but it is deep in the subconscious mind far beyond his sight and beyond his control.
When the Quest becomes the most important activity in a man's life, even more important than his worldly welfare, then is Grace likely to become a reality rather than a theory in his life too.
If there is any law connected with grace, it is that as we give love to the Overself so do we get grace from it. But that love must be so intense, so great, that we willingly sacrifice time and thought to it in a measure which shows how much it means to us. In short, we must give more in order to receive more. And love is the best thing we can give.