AWAKEN: I hope you don’t mind, but may I start off on the deep end? What is the purpose of life?
PARAMAHANSA YOGANANDA: To connect your life with spirit is the most important duty.
Awaken: Do you mean “God” when you say “spirit?” Because I know that some people are uncomfortable with the word “God.” And if so, what is “God?”
Paramahansa Yogananda: God is love. When you feel unconditional love for all, that is God. Every reflection of love comes from the one Cosmic Love, but when expressed as human love in its various forms, there is always some taint in it. The mother doesn’t know why she loves the child; the child knows not why he loves the mother. They do not know whence comes this love they feel for one another. It is the manifestation in them of God’s love; and when it is pure and unselfish, it reflects His divine love. Thus, by investigating human love, we can learn something of divine love, for in human love we have glimpses of that love of God’s.
Awaken: Let me push this just a little bit, so that I can truly understand. So, ideally, the idea is to experience God’s love within the context of our relationships here on earth? How do we know whether we are experiencing untainted, pure divine love through those relationships? Is it even possible outside the context of unconditional motherly love?
Paramahansa Yogananda: The World as a whole has forgotten the real meaning of the word love. Love has been so abused and crucified by men that very few people know what true love is. Just as oil is present in every part of the olive, so love permeates every part of creation. But to define love is very difficult, for the same reason that words cannot fully describe the flavor of an orange. You have to taste the fruit to know its flavor. So with love. All of you have tasted love in some form, in your hearts; therefore, you know a little about what it is. But you have not understood how to develop love, how to purify and expand it into divine love. A spark of the divine love exists in most hearts in the beginning of life, but is usually lost, because man does not know how to cultivate it.
Many people wouldn’t think it even necessary to analyze what love is. They recognize love as the feeling they have for their relatives, friends, and others to whom they are strongly attracted. But there is much more to it than that. The only way I can describe real love to you is to tell you its effect. if you could feel even a particle of divine love, so great would be your joy — so empowering – you could not contain it.
Think deeply about what I am telling you. The satisfaction of love is not in the feeling itself, but in the joy that feeling brings. Love gives joy. We love love because it gives us such intoxicating happiness.
Awaken: And yet, our focus is so often only on romantic love…
Paramahansa Yogananda: Conjugal love is tricky, and most people leave this world with an unsatisfied heart. They have not sought love in the right way. Attracted mostly by pleasing appearance, they look for their soulmate in a graveyard of beautiful, nicely dressed forms… but a devil may be housed within. I am not condemning man and woman for responding to the God created attraction; I am condemning the perversion of that attraction through lustfulness.
Man and woman should look upon each other as reflections of the divine. I find it very sweet when a husband calls the wife “mother” or when she calls him “father.”
Awaken: What is the best way to cultivate this kind of cosmic consciousness?
Paramahansa Yogananda: Yes… How can you know how to approach God when there are so many religions, each one claiming that it will send you to heaven? You have already tried one or many paths, but do you feel that you are in heaven or any nearer to it? Your own self realization of truth, not blind dogma, must be the only binding force in your spiritual life.
I do not want to hold anybody by my personality; for if I do, when death shall cut that string, the flower garland of those souls will be strewn and trampled by time. I am here to serve souls, and the only bait that I shall use is my love. Anyone who will sincerely practice the methods of this path will remain with me, bound by his own self realization. Have a goodwill toward all religions; love them in your heart, but be faithful to the path to which God has drawn you. Don’t take my word or anyone else’s. You can prove through your own experience the truth of my words.
If you believe it when someone tells you that you can get to heaven without effort, you will be sadly disillusioned. You must know the method by which you can find God… There is prayer, affirmation, following moral ways, concentration, meditation. The Kriya Yoga path I am giving to you is a science that includes all of these.
Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” Buddha taught, “meditate on God.“ Bhagavan Krishna proclaimed, “he attains the supreme effulgent Lord, O Arjuna! Whose mind, stabilized by Yoga, is immovably fixed on the thought of him.” Zoroaster and all prophets of true religions gave the same teaching…
The proof of the existence of God as proclaimed by the great ones is not in books, nor in the words of others. It is within yourself. When you sit quietly and pray, and nothing happens, you have not contacted God. Blind prayer, and praying with the wrong motive, do not work. You must in truth know within, from your own experience, that you are one with him and can work his miracles. When you can feel your consciousness in every atom, in all space, and beyond creation, then you can rightfully say, “God and I are one“ – but not until then.
Awaken: How will I know when he reveals himself to me?
Paramahansa Yogananda: To his devotees, God sometimes reveals himself as a great light; or as the cosmic sound of Aum, or Amen; or as boundless joy, love, or wisdom. His light spreads like wings, all over eternity – such light that sometimes I see the earth in it like a dream. This world is a dream. God is in the intelligent, creative, vibratory sound of Aum or Amen that Devotees hear. He often talks to me through vibration. In it I feel his creative intelligence and power.
Awaken: Would you tell me more about how the seeker should set up his or her lifestyle so as to cultivate God consciousness?
Paramahansa Yogananda: Live simply and take life more easily. Be alone once in a while, and remain more in silence. If you spend your life in constant excitement, you will never know true happiness. And don’t think so much about reforming others; reform yourself first. The greatest field of victory is your own home. Keep your daily appointment with God. Reserve the time for him. Meditate and pray deeply; and wait for his response. And when you contact God, intuitive perception of truth will guide you in everything you do.
Awaken: I’m glad you mentioned intuition. This is something that has interested me for a long time. And it seems to be something that is discouraged in today’s education and society, which prioritizes the faculty of reason over intuition. What exactly is intuition and would you explain more about its importance?
Paramahansa Yogananda: Intuition is direct perception. It is the all-knowing pure comprehension of the soul. Only by the development of intuition can you know truth. You have an inkling of the nature of intuition through those unexplained feelings called hunches. A hunch is undeveloped intuition, something you know without the medium of the senses or inference, some truth that comes of itself. You may be sitting quietly, and for no reason you think of someone you haven’t seen or had contact with for a long time; and then suddenly he arrives, or you hear from him. Now, how did you know? It was through a momentary flash of intuition. That kind of spontaneous intuition all of you have had at sometime.
Awaken: But, if we all have it, why do we make so many mistakes in judgment about our partners… our work… and in just about everything?
Paramahansa Yogananda: Errors in judgment are a result of not having developed this intuition. Most of you have had the feeling that you could be great, and do great things; but because you have lacked intuitive power, that potential has, for the most part, remained dormant. To progress and to avoid the misery of mistakes, you have to find what is the truth in everything. This is possible only if you develop your intuition. That is why I am asking you to cultivate and use intuitive power in everything. In your relationships with others, in your business, in your married life… in every part of your life, intuition is essential.
By not developing the faculty of intuition, you make wrong decisions, pick up the wrong business associates, and get caught up in wrong personal relationships. Since the judgment of your mind is conditioned by the information fed to it by the senses, if your senses become deluded, you may think a person is wonderful without knowing what he truly is inside. You may think you have found your soulmate, so you enter into matrimony; and then end up in the divorce court. But true intuition will never make such a mistake… it will feel and perceive accurately in the heart what that person is really like.
Awaken: It is lamentable that this faculty of knowing isn’t taught in secular schools…
Paramahansa Yogananda: Educators, culturists, preachers, reformers, doctors, and lawmakers will hasten the true progress of civilization only when they themselves learn, and then teach others, how to develop harmoniously all the factors of life and of man’s nature. That is the true education and all-round human culture that all the world is seeking.
Educational authorities make it impossible to teach spiritual principles in public schools because they confuse them with the varied conflicting religious dogmas. But if they would concentrate on the universal principles of peace, love, service, tolerance, and faith that govern the spiritual life, and devise practical methods of growing such seeds in the fertile soil of the child’s mind, then the imaginary difficulty would be dissolved.
Awaken: It seems we have drawn a line between what is considered spiritual and rational in modern—especially western—schooling, where we exclude whatever is not considered rational or scientific.
Paramahansa Yogananda: Many college graduates leave their universities with a top-heavy, book-inflated head, and are unable to walk straight on the path of life because their legs of will and self-control have been almost paralyzed through disuse. They tumble headlong into the pit of wrong marriage, sex misuse, inordinate dollar-craving, and business failure because they have not been taught any use of their college sharpened mental blades of smartness except to hurt themselves. Many young men seem to take pleasure in doing those things that react to their own disadvantage and suffering in the end.
I consider properly organized schools as gardens where infant souls are grown and nurtured. The gardeners should be well selected and given cooperation by parents and the public. We should never neglect teachers, for they are soul molders. The care and spiritual nourishment of the early life of the human plant usually determines its later development.
Awaken: For someone who is just starting out on the spiritual path to know God, where would you tell him/her to start?
Paramahansa Yogananda: Go to your room and shut the door — make no fuss. sit down and talk to God. Practice meditation. Let your mind become so intense that the next time you sit to meditate you won’t have to make the effort; your mind will be fixed immediately on him. When I utter the name “God” my whole being melts away in his joy. But that I had to work for. Make the effort. I was not at first the devotional kind. My mind used to be very restless. But now it is just like fire. As soon as I put my mind at the Christ center, all thoughts are gone – breath, heart, and mind are instantly still, and I am aware only of spirit.
Pray to him, “Lord, you are the master of creation, so I come to you. I will never give up until you talk to me and make me realize your presence. I will not live without you.“
Awaken: Teresa of Avila spoke of the value of humility, what value would you advocate as key to living a spiritual life?
Paramahansa Yogananda: If you would develop Christ consciousness, learn to be sympathetic. When genuine feeling for others comes into your heart, you are beginning to manifest that great consciousness. When you talk unkindly about others, you are far from the universal sympathy of Christ consciousness. Jesus said: “bless them that curse you.” He practiced divine sympathy. Jesus fought against those who were doing wrong; but he hated no one, because he saw God and everyone. Lord Krishna said: “he is a supreme yogi who regards with equal-mindedness all men…” Do not sully your own thoughts and tongue by criticizing others. Be sincere with everyone, and above all, be sincere with yourself.
In your heart must swell that sympathy which soothes away all pains from the hearts of others, that sympathy which enabled Jesus to say: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.“
Awaken: And how can we cultivate this, especially when we have been so aggrieved by life‘s circumstances and various traumas at the hands of others?
Paramahansa Yogananda: The transcendental way to develop universal sympathy is meditation. The man whose mind dwells in the super conscious state is always happy, always wise and loving, and always retains the after-effects of meditation.
Awaken: One final question, if I may… if the idea of God consciousness strikes some as lofty, how may this shift in consciousness affect one’s life in an every day, practical level… for example, so many are dealing with stress, depression and anxiety… do you have any advice for these common issues?
Paramahansa Yogananda: Nervousness is a malady that can be overcome by a specific medicine: calmness. The disturbance of mental equilibrium, which results in nervous disorders, is caused by continuous states of excitement or excessive stimulation of the senses. Indulgence in constant thoughts of fear, anger, melancholy, remorse, envy, sorrow, hatred, discontent, or worry; and lack of the necessities for normal and happy living, such as right food, proper exercise, fresh air, sunshine, agreeable work and a purpose in life, are all causes of nervous disease.
Any violent or persistent mental, emotional, or physical excitement greatly disturbs and unbalances the flow of life force throughout the sensory motor mechanism and the lamps of the senses. if we connect a 120 V bulb with a 2000 V source, it would burn out the bulb. Similarly, the nervous system was not made to withstand the destructive force of intense emotion or persistent negative thoughts and feelings.
Spiritually, an imbalance of life force in the body makes it extremely hard for the devotee to concentrate or meditate deeply enough to acquire peace and wisdom.
Remember that the greatest healing of nervousness takes place when we attune our lives to God. The highest Commandments given to man are to love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength…
Realization that all power to think, speak, feel, and act comes from God, and that he is ever with us, inspiring and guiding us, brings an instant freedom from nervousness. Flashes of divine joy will come with this realization; sometimes a deep illumination will provide one’s being, banishing the very concept of fear. Like an ocean, the power of God sweeps in, surging through the heart in a cleansing flood, removing all obstructions of delusive doubt, nervousness, and fear.
Awaken: Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today… It is greatly appreciated.