One day, God came walking through the world to see how his children were faring. He came upon an old ascetic who had spent his entire adult life in severe bodily mortification and forceful mental disciplines. The ascetic had gained a certain degree of clarity of his senses from his prolonged practice and realized that the man casually walking by his cave was fully established in awareness of the inner Divine Self. Painfully unwinding his body from his rigid posture, the ascetic bowed before God and said, “Great-Souled One! I perceive you are an illumined master. Pray tell me, honorable sir, how long it will be before I realize my inner Divine Nature?”
God smiled warmly and laughingly replied, “You are doing well, my son! At your present rate of progress, you will realize your inner Divine Self with just one more lifetime of similar effort.” The ascetic, terrified, in shock, cried, “Another lifetime of this horror? How can I endure this boredom, this agony, this pain for another day, let alone another lifetime! How horrible! You have cursed me this day! Be gone from this place, you imposter! Never would I believe such as you.”
God smiled lovingly at him and walked on. Soon He came upon an idiot splashing in the river, laughing and singing. This man’s primary activity every day was to cry out, “God! How I love God! God! I love God! God!” This foolish one never took the slightest care for his physical needs, never cared if he were fed, clothed, housed. He never noticed if he were clean or dirty, hot or cold, wet or dry. He might have been locked up in a padded cell in our modern age, but in those days, people saw that he was harmless and therefore tolerated him and occasionally gave him a crust of bread or some old, half-rotten fruits or vegetables to eat.
The idiot was attracted by the radiance of this handsome stranger, came up out of the water, bowed before him and said, “How wonderful! God has sent by a Great-Souled One. I have been enjoying myself so much of late I had nearly forgotten I have a goal. I began my quest to realize enlightenment long ago but of late have become distracted by this constant joy welling up inside. Seeing you just now reminded me of my journey and I was wondering if you could tell me how long it will be before I realize my inner Divine Nature?”
God smiled warmly and laughingly replied, “You are doing well, my son! At your present rate of progress, you will realize your inner Divine Self with just seventy more lifetimes of similar effort.”
“Seventy lifetimes of similar effort!” cried the idiot with perfect joy. “How wonderful! What a flawless boon you have today bestowed upon me, Great Lord!” The idiot was so filled with joy at the prospect of another seventy lifetimes of such bliss that the last doubt fled from his mind; his last question melted into the joy that was his life; his ignorance was irrevocably crushed; he attained the highest state of enlightenment instantly.”
We on Earth commonly think there are three kinds of time: the past, the present and the future. We often guide our actions largely on the basis of regret for our past actions and missed opportunities or from concern for our future well-being. The problem with living for the future is that the future never arrives. It doesn’t exist except as an invented concept. There is only NOW—now extends in all places and at all times. The past does not exist, either: there was, before this instant, an unbroken succession of Now moments; there will be in the future an unbroken succession of Now moments. Now, the present, is the only time there is, the only time there has ever been, the only time there will ever be.
This is why it is so absurdly easy to gain enlightenment—the Infinite light is already here, now, within the grasp of each of us. Nothing more is required than ceasing the attempt to live in the past or the future. The Sun is always shining; we have only to stop identifying with the clouds passing in front of it to be free.
The unhappy ascetic was not enjoying the present; he was continually hoping to realize his Self in the future. Therefore the prospect of even one more moment of such torture was agonizing.
The happy idiot, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed each and every instant—he was filled with joy at the thought of continuing his ecstatic present. The additional rush of joy through his already bliss-saturated nervous system was more than the last of his ego’s weakened belief system could withstand—the old limitations in his mind, already largely discarded, were destroyed—the Infinite light of the Now burst through him, upward and out, transforming his life permanently. His eyes fully opened for the first time; he recognized God standing before him. The newly enlightened one bowed before his Lord and cried his gratitude and joy to the Source of all that is.
We human beings have an unfortunate habit of unnecessarily complicating our lives. Love is supremely simple, absolutely fundamental, requires no training whatsoever, is permanently transforming, increases more and more as it is given away, and is the greatest secret in the entire Universe. Like most great secrets, this particular one is displayed openly, as if it were valueless. It is here for all who wish to have it; there is no limited supply; it increases from age to age and yet is infinitely full always.
What stands between any of us and the full experience and expression of love? In fact, nothing at all. Love is the most natural expression of everyone’s life, the one fundamental constituent of everything, the innermost basis of every feeling of every being in created time. It is simpler to experience love for everyone than to experience any dark emotion, any feeling of hatred or fear. Why, then, is the world apparently dying from lack of love? What abuse of industry, government, disease, crime or neglect could not be cured by just a drop more comprehensive vision inspired by the smallest increase of love? The world is being strangled by the absence of love! Where the all-embracing wonder of life, where the overpowering joy in this? Why is the world so sick?
I know a garden in Charlotte: small, little more than three acres, but filled with beauty everywhere. The couple that created it bought the lot in 1927—at the time, it was treeless, a red clay-baked North Carolina cornfield; now their Wing Haven is considered one of the loveliest gardens in the region. It is a garden famous not only for its inherent loveliness, but also for the multitudes of wild birds that live and visit there. The founders’ manifest love transformed this onetime barren field into a little slice of wonder. This couple was not inherently different from anyone else, with the single exception that they had a deep intuitive grasp of one of the most fundamental principles of the enlightened—if you want to experience love, give love.
This Earth is not loveless. On the contrary, it is saturated with love overflowing everywhere at all times. Those who are desperately lonely and love-starved are living in an artificial hell of their own creation. They are lonely and love-starved only because they demand that everyone else prove they love them first.
I once had a friend, I’ll call him Mike Little, who was talented in many areas: he was a talented classical guitarist, a great dancer, a brilliant conversationalist, a gifted astrologer. But Mike could never maintain a relationship with a person of the opposite sex for more than a few days. I asked him once why he thought this was so.
His answer was, I thought, quite revealing: “No one can love better than I can. I know this! But I’m waiting for the perfect girl before I reveal my love.” “How will you recognize her?” I asked, fascinated. “Does she have a particular appearance?” “Oh, no, nothing superficial like that. The perfect girl will love me first! She will be willing to give herself to me completely. She will open her heart fully to me. Such a hidden diamond she will get in me! I know how deeply I can love. She will be so lucky!”
How often do we think in similar ways? “If only he would stop smoking/drinking/doing drugs/get a regular job/be nicer to me/love my mother more/be nicer to my children—why then, I would give him my whole heart.” It is easy to see, when it is presented like this, how completely upside down this kind of thinking is. Love second, you will wait forever to be loved. Love first, you will be loved. This is absolutely guaranteed.
There is another kind of thinking, closely allied to it. This kind demands proof of love to love back. It usually goes like this: “Jacki said she loves me. But if she truly loves me, she would…” and then we fill in the blanks with whatever it is we want from Jacki or believe Jacki should do for us to demonstrate her love. We have a deeply rooted habit of defining others’ love for us in specific ways that fit neatly with our romantic ideal, which is a creation of that part of our minds that likes to dwell in fantasies and/or the future.
But there are no absolute standards of behavior. Being loved by someone does not imply that the lover must conform to any particular rigid standards we might desire. On the contrary, if the love is mutual, freedom of expression naturally increases. Many people in our society feel that being in love means putting the partner in a cage—controlled, defined, restricted, bound. This most often happens when the male member of the relationship overshadows and dominates the female. But occasionally it is seen in reverse.
There could be a great many reasons for desiring and attempting to enslave another, but typically this behavior results from a sense of insecurity— “Mary would find someone else if I didn’t watch her closely.” “John would betray me if I didn’t keep him on a tight leash.” And so forth. Again, a sense of insecurity can have many different causes, based on previous experience: “My father was killed on the freeway when I was sixteen.” “My mother left me for three weeks with my aunt when I was four.” “My wife ran away with a vacuum cleaner salesman.” The list is as long as the life experiences of the human race. But any sense of insecurity always reduces down to a deep-seated sense of unworthiness.
If I don’t feel I am worthy of love, I will structure my life (quite unconsciously) to prove that I am not loved. Again and again, I will demonstrate the truth of my own self-image. Then I will be able to say to others and to myself, “See, it didn’t work out because he/she just didn’t love me enough. It’s not my fault. I am quite innocent. He/she betrayed me.”
Taking personal responsibility for the parts of our lives that don’t work to our satisfaction can be one of the most difficult parts of assuming control of our own destiny. Yet this is also one of the most important. If we condemn anyone else for anything at all, we are projecting our own guilt and lack of worthiness onto the world. It is difficult or impossible to see anything outside that does not exist inside. Rabbits live in a rabbit world, not a bird’s. Dogs live in a Dog Universe, not our human one.
If an angel comes to your door and you don’t believe in angels, what will you see? If you believe that everyone is out to get you, how will you greet anyone you don’t know? If you believe everyone is basically untrustworthy, how can you ever hope to trust anyone? In large cities, we walk by thousands of strangers every day. We have become so inured to their presence, we frequently don’t even glance at them. They could be smiling with joy to see us, but we don’t look up from our private world to greet them. This is not just true on busy pedestrian thoroughfares; it carries over to our silent and sparsely populated pathways in our public parks. We are walking alone; another person approaches us; we pass each other without sharing a single glance or a word. How often this occurs every day! Of what are we so terrified? Is every stranger a criminal? If we dare to smile or take a dangerous plunge and say, “Hello!” are we going to be mugged or raped on the spot? We act as if we believe this were so.
The basic principle at work is that the Universe perfectly reflects back to us our beliefs and understandings about life. This is partially a result of our human physiology—we don’t see as well as hawks, smell as well as dogs, hear as well as dolphins—but the range of the senses operating within our own species is primarily a result of our belief systems and the experiences we have accumulated based on those belief systems.
Love and Fear
There are only two roots to all our emotions: love and fear. Love is the natural state of human life; fear is the means the ego uses to control and possess the world. They cannot simultaneously coexist: when love increases, fear evaporates—since it was never real, it vanishes in the Sun of perfect love. When fear increases, love hides and bides its time until the individual opens again to Truth. It can never be destroyed, but since the human is endowed with certain inalienable rights (including perfect free will) if the ego insists on illusions, love will as if disappear from the mind until the personality chooses again for Reality.
The ego wants to own everything; this denies the invincibility of surrender, the handmaiden of love. Love is universal and freely given, yet the ego insists that it be owned, that it obey the ego’s stern dictates of when, how and where. In this, the ego will forever fail, for it is fighting the wrong battle. Love can never be limited or exist in separation or isolation. Only by renunciation of the desire to manipulate and control will the ego melt into the Universal Self of Infinite, Eternal Love.
It is not by attempting to force feelings to change that they change. Emotions evolve only when they are accepted exactly as they are. The key to doing this is to stop judging them. Only the ego defines good and bad. This is its primary tool of control: if some desires are good and some are not, life is going to remain split. By separating our feelings from the ego’s belief systems, we can use their powerful energy for personal growth.
There is a story from the Ishayas that illustrates this point. The monks were attacked from time to time by hordes of demons when they were deep in meditation. No matter how hard they worked to be free of them, there was no escape. It was only when they stopped judging them as evil that they would vanish or transform into celestial nymphs or angels. It was only the monks’ interpretation of reality that was giving them trouble. This recognition is a necessary stage of evolution.
As consciousness grows, we learn that whatever comes to us is our own creation, none other’s. With the dawn of this understanding, we stop wasting our energy fighting, resenting or repressing what we created. This enables us to use the energy of our desiring to accomplish much faster growth.