DEVOTIONAL WAY TO GOD
By Paramahansa Yogananda (Excerpts from 1998 SRF Magazine)
To discover the hidden presence of God, you must love Him; but it came to my mind, how can you love God without knowing Him? You cannot love anything that is unknown to you. Can you love a flower you have never seen? Can you love the ocean if it is just a word to you? Could you love someone you had never known or heard about? Could you love someone as a friend whom you never met? Could you love anything that you knew nothing about? How, then, is it possible to love God, having never seen Him? ...
The simplest way to know God
is the way of love
The paradox is that the simplest way to know God is the way of love.
There is a way of knowledge (Jnana Yoga) by which He can be known: the path of analytical discrimination, eliminating all that is not God—"Neti, neti," not this; not that. Another way is to purify oneself by performing nothing but good actions and renouncing the fruits thereof (Karma Yoga). And then there is the path of devotion (Bhakti Yoga), continuously thinking of God until one sees Him in everything. He is so evident if we look for Him with the eyes of devotion. We must make Him know that we are wanting Him, that He cannot continue to elude us. If we press Him with our thoughts, with our longing for Him, He is bound to express Himself; He is bound to respond.
God's presence is so close; it is just as though somebody is playing hide-and-seek with you in a dark room. Though you do not see the person, you feel that he is there. That is how God is, just behind the darkness of your unseeing eyes. He is talking to us through the wise man. And He is inspiring us through the great ones, such as Christ, Krishna, and the Masters. He is, but where is He? That is what devotion answers: You do not have to see Him in order to become devoted to Him. Devotion means that you know He is omnipresent around you in the dark conundrum of cosmos, playing a divine game of hide-and-seek with you. Behind the leaves, behind the wind, behind the warm rays of the sun—He is hiding, but He is there. He is not far away; that is why it becomes easy to love Him.
God is the greatest lover our hearts can know.
He loves to be pursued, because the only thing He hopes for is the love of His children. To receive their love is the sole purpose for which He sent forth creation. He has everything within Himself, except our love. He gave us free will to love Him or to love Him not. He wants us very much. That is why He sends His saints to show us the way back to Him. ...
Love Rises Above All Obstacles
God wants us to get through His race of life. You will be receptive to His help if you show Him that you love Him. Have the love of God always in your heart, that you may know He is hiding, but is ever near. You cannot escape having to go through obstacles and troubles. That is the way of life; it is painful. The greatest saints have suffered, and suffered with a smile for God. ...
The equanimity of yoga is when your love rises above all obstacles that God has put before you. In that transcendence you find Him. As one great saint of India used to pray: "Come to me as a touch of pain, for in pain I urgently remember Thee. If I should ever forget Thee, in the thickets of joyous tears touch me with the finger of pain to wake me from that forgetfulness." So pain was given not as a cruelty or to destroy us, but as an awakening, a reminder that we must reach the Immutable One where all pain ceases.
Anything that causes pain and suffering should be avoided if possible. But when it does come, unless you are able to endure without embitterment and despair, you cannot reach the kingdom of God. Look at Jesus Christ on the cross. Consciously he had to go through the dreadful sensations of pain until he had overcome the flesh. When he lifted his consciousness to God-awareness, he realized instantly that it is all a delusion; and then the arms of the Father enfolded him. This whole drama is between pain and love. Your love must be greater than your pain. To be unfailing, love must be unconditional. Conditional love is selfish love. Selfishness is that trait by which you want everything to be to your advantage and in which you give little or nothing in return. Conditional love says, "I love him because he loves me; he does so much for me." Similarly, some persons love God because He has given them life, and health, and other gifts of being. Now that is a very poor way to think of God. It is a sort of barter between God and human beings: "You look after me, Lord, and I will love You." ...
The devotee whose love for God is unconditional says: "I didn't ask You, O Lord, to create this body. Why should I have to ask You to care for it? I will not thank You for creating me, for this body is a nest of pain and limitations." This may sound sacrilegious, but it leads to something wonderful. It is your duty and privilege as His child to lovingly demand of Him His attention, not by weak supplication, but by affirmation of your divine status and rightful endowments—above all, your right to know your Heavenly Father. Your part is to love Him, unconditionally. ...
We may not realize it, but in effect God parted with everything when He created human beings and endowed them with free will. Having set in motion His self-perpetuating cosmic laws that maintain the universe for the benefit of His children, He became not the Owner but the Observer of the drama—how human beings would use their freedom. Would they embrace or reject His omnipresence amongst them? Instantly He could reclaim all manifestation except the love of His children, to whom He gave the freedom of will to cast Him aside or to accept Him. That is the greatness of God. We should choose to love Him, or we miss the whole magic and joy of His creation. Love gives and doesn't ask for anything in return. "You have given me love, my Lord, and I know by the happiness love gives that it is a joy to love You. In the love You have placed in my heart You have given me something of my own that I can give to You without seeking anything from You." God gave us life, He gave us the power to love, He gave us everything, along with the freedom to cast Him aside. In other words, He has given to us, asking nothing from us. His greatest blessing is His unconditional love, given silently, without reservation or expectation. We, being His children endowed with the power of His unconditional love, should use that power to find Him: "O Lord, I do not want anything from Thee but Thy love alone; and without condition I give my love to Thee."...
Don't Just Read About God — First Taste Him
Intellectual knowledge of God does not mean that you know God. A great mistake in the modern world is reading about God or listening to sermons about Him without trying to commune with Him, thinking that actual communion with God is impossible. How, then, can one presume even to talk about Him who is impossible to know? But the saints I have met, who have communed with God, say, "Don't just read about God. First taste Him; and then you will be able to speak thousands of words about Him, as with a thousand mouths. But if you don't, taste Him, everything you say will be mere surmises." Perception of God is what is necessary. Then even if you have no grace of language, if your heart is filled with Him, others will feel the power and conviction of your direct perception.
For the average worshiper, some ceremony is good. The ceremonies in India are most wonderful in rousing devotion if performed with an understanding of their symbology. The altars are adorned with garlands of flowers, joss sticks (incense), and oil lamps. You sit, or stand, or kneel before the altar and chant as symbolic offerings are made. These rituals were discarded by the yogis, however, because they hold the attention outward. When the conch shell is blown and the gong is beat and the tinkling of bells are sounded—all of which are depictions of astral sounds—very few can think deeply about God. The mind is kept engaged in the ceremony. Nevertheless, most people prefer ceremony, for, unlike the yogis, they do not like to turn inward because initially they experience only darkness and silence. So some ceremony is helpful in the beginning to awaken devotion. ...
Catch God in the Net of Unconditional Love
God is like a little child. He knows no guile. But if you play the slightest deceit or trick on Him He is gone. That is why it is so hard to get hold of Him. You have to catch Him in the net of your unconditional love. Love means craving for God. God appreciates love more than devotion: In devotion there is distance and awe, perhaps fear; in love there is unity, at-one-ment.
(from Realizing God in Your Daily Life by Paramahansa Yogananda)