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The Perfect Joy

by Daya Mata: Gurudeva Paramahansa Yogananda often extolled St. Francis of Assisi as one of the great lovers of Christ, an exemplar of what a follower of Christ should be. In the chapel at SRF International Headquarters Guruji had a vision of St. Francis, and from that vision came the poem we all love so much, “God! God! God!”

I would like to read to you today extracts from ‘The Little Flowers of Saint Francis.’

One winter’s day, as St. Francis was going from Perugia with Brother Leo to St. Mary of the Angels, suffering sorely from the bitter cold, he called Brother Leo, who was walking before him, and spoke thus, “Brother Leo, even if the Friars Minor (The name for members of the order of monks founded by St. Francis) in every land give good examples of holiness and edification, nevertheless write and note down diligently that perfect joy is not to be found therein.”

And St. Francis went his way a little farther, and called him a second time, saying, “O Brother Leo, even if the Friar Minor gave sight to the blind, made the crooked straight, cast out devils, made the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, and restored speech to the dumb, and what is a yet greater thing, raised to life those who have lain four days in the grave, note that perfect joy is not found there.”

And he journeyed on a little while, and cried aloud, “O Brother Leo, if the Friar Minor knew all tongues and all the sciences and all the scriptures, so that he could foretell and reveal not only future things, but even the secrets of the conscience and of the soul; note that perfect joy is not there.”

Yet a little farther went St. Francis, and cried again aloud, “O Brother Leo, little lamb of God, even though the Friar Minor spake with the tongue of angels and knew the courses of the stars and the virtues of herbs, and were the hidden treasures of the earth revealed to him, and he knew the qualities of birds, and of fishes, and of all animals, and of man, and of trees, and stones, and roots, and waters; note that not there is perfect joy.”

And when this fashion of talk had endured two good miles, Brother Leo asked him in great wonder: “Father, I pray thee in God’s name tell me where is perfect joy to be found?”

And St. Francis answered him thus, “When we are come to St. Mary of the Angels, wet through  with rain, frozen with cold, and foul with mire and tormented with hunger; and when we knock at the door, the doorkeeper comes in a rage and says, ‘Who are you?’ and we say, ‘We are two of your brothers,’ and he answers, ‘You tell not true; you are rather two knaves that go about deceiving the world and stealing the alms of the poor. Begone!’ and he opens not to us, and makes us stay outside hungry and cold all night in the rain and snow; then if we endure patiently such cruelty, such abuse, and such insolent dismissal without complaint or murmuring, and believe humbly and charitably that that doorkeeper truly knows us, and that it is God who makes him to rail against us; O Brother Leo, there is perfect joy.

“And if, compelled by hunger and by cold, we knock once more and pray with many tears that he open to us for the love of God and let us but come inside, and he more insolently than ever shouts, ‘These are impudent rogues, I will pay them out as they deserve,’ and comes forth with a big knotted stick and seizes us by our cowls and flings us on the ground and rolls us in the snow, bruising every bone in our bodies with that heavy stick -if we endure all these things patiently and joyously for love of Christ, write, O Brother Leo, that in this perfect joy is found.

“And now, Brother Leo, hear the conclusion. Above all the graces and the gifts that Christ gives to those who love him is that of overcoming self, and willingly to bear other pain and buffetings and revilings and discomfort for love of God.”

This story expresses the ideal to be followed by everyone on the spiritual path, the ideal made manifest in the highest way in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus:

Spirituality lies not in the power to heal others, to perform miracles, or to astound the world with our wisdom, but in the ability to endure with right attitude whatever crosses we have to face in our daily lives, and thus to rise above them.

This spirit bestows all-conquering strength and supreme happiness.

To each of us come times of great tribulation that we feel are impossible to endure. We ask, “Why has this happened to me? It seems so unfair and unjust.” Whenever I am tempted to reason in that way, I remember this story from the life of St. Francis.

Every experience whether joyful or painful — comes for one reason: that through it we might draw closer to the Divine Beloved. Perfect joy lies in selflessly striving for the best outcome, and then humbly accepting whatever God gives.

When human relationships bring disappointment, most people become bitter. Never allow that to happen to you. Turn to God, like a child who runs to his mother for solace. In the companionship of true friends, we enjoy the love of the one Divine Friend. And from those who misunderstand and misjudge us, we have equal opportunity to experience the perfect joy of turning to God for strength and comfort. In that relationship with God, you cannot feel bitterness toward those who mistreat you. You regard your feelings of hurt or loneliness or inward emptiness as a reminder to deepen your relationship with that One who will never fail you.

When we make the sincere inner resolve, “Lord, I want You, only You,” in that instant the Divine is fully conscious of our affirmation. From then on, our part is to strive to accept all circumstances as coming to us with the permission of God. We learn to see our ordeals as God’s love exhorting us to be nonattached to everything but Him. By facing and overcoming painful experiences, we break the chains that imprison the soul in this little cell of pain-racked flesh and petty emotions.

But we must ask ourselves, my dears, what makes us suffer? Not other people; not the circumstances we are in; not God. It is we who hurt ourselves when we make the mistake of relying on external things for fulfilment.

When we are filled with upsetting emotions, hurt feelings, and restless desires, do you know what is really wrong? At the root of these sufferings is the loneliness and inner emptiness that comes from not knowing God. Our souls remember the perfect love we once tasted in complete oneness with the Divine Beloved, and we are crying in the wilderness of this world to have that love again.

Why do we feel jealousy, anger, and possessiveness in our human relationships? Because each one of us is hungering to possess that something which is uniquely ours, secure in the knowledge that nothing and no one can take it away from us. We look for a singular condition or environment that will give us that sense of security, a special friend we can cling to, a love we can call our own.

The urge of every human being is for perfect love, perfect union with another. But God is the only one we can possess in that way.

All human relationships eventually end in loss or disillusionment unless they are anchored in the Divine; it has been so since the beginning of time.

Why do we criticize? Because our true soul-nature is perfection, and we instinctively look for it – in outer conditions, in other people, in organizations. We become resentful when these inevitably fall short of our expectations. The soul yearns for its lost divine heritage; but so long as we depend on the world for the happiness we seek, we will never know perfect joy.

Outer conditions are never going to be perfect; I always keep that in mind. Possessions, social position, the praise of others — all these are so transitory. What we have or do not have in this temporal world is not as important to us as our inner attitude toward whatever comes to us each day. It is through perfecting our attitude that we find strength, joy, and realization of our innate divinity.

Master from said: “Be humble; don’t criticize; learn to be sympathetic.” These three are essentials of right attitude for every devotee.

Humility has nothing in common with putting on an outward show of piety; it means being able to take all of life’s experiences with the right attitude, even when we are reviled with unkind words. St. Francis expressed it beautifully:

“Learn to accept blame, criticism, and accusation silently and without retaliation, even though untrue and unjustified.”

In trying to defend ourselves against criticism, we become mired in self-pity and self-righteousness. Real humility, on the other hand, enables us to stand strong, because it is God we are seeking to please, not man. In being true to Him, we will become the kind of person whose qualities may also be more pleasing to man.

The next we should not be critical. A fault-finding attitude is like a cancer, eating at the very roots of your peace within. You cannot be a happy individual if your mind is filled with negativity and carping.

Of course, constructive criticism — sincere suggestions for improvement – can be valuable. But it is easy to become overly analytical and negatively critical. If we find that the mind is constantly being tossed about on the waves of restless dissatisfaction and ill-will, we can know that our attitude is not right. So long as we are filled with any kind of negation, whether or not we feel that our attitude is justified, we cannot experience God. Darkness and light cannot coexist in the same room; likewise, wisdom and ignorance, love and hate, cannot coexist in the consciousness. The less we indulge in or listen to gossip and criticism, the more peace we will enjoy within.

The last point: Learn to be sympathetic. People usually think this is something everyone else lacks; we all wish others would be more sympathetic toward us. But it must begin with us – forgetting self, thinking less of our own welfare, and being more thoughtful of the needs of those around us. As St. Francis said,

“It is in giving that we receive.”

In one respect only should we be selfish, and that is in zealously guarding our relationship with God. From Him we draw unconditional love and understanding to express in our relationships with others.

The greatest joy of my life comes from this:

I am in love with God.

I have not followed the path that most people in the world pursue in seeking human love and companionship. But I feel so much loved, so much loved. The Beloved of the Universe never disappoints me.

Even in times of trial I know that His blessing is just behind those painful experiences, urging me to sunder all limiting attachments and draw closer to Him.

The devotee with the right attitude feels a sweetness even in pains and trials, which he recognizes as the love of the Divine. Learn, oh, learn, my dear ones, to accept all of life’s experiences with that attitude. And know also that the blessing of Guru is always there to help you. That will never fail you.

Strive to unite your heart with others in a deeper sympathetic understanding. Help others, but avoid being critical. Reach out to others with a sincere love; but above all, love the Divine Beloved. To be drunk with longing for God is to clear our consciousness of the negative attitudes that separate us from His perfect joy.

Source: AWAKEN


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