We depend on our relationships with those around us. We need others in order to feel security and meaningfulness in our lives. Yet we ignore the one relationship which has the most to offer us, our relationship with Ultimate Reality; with the Universal Consciousness which is the Source of our lives; with God. Devotion to our relationship with God is not a particularly popular subject today. You don’t see much about it on TV or at the movies or in newspapers or magazines. You don’t hear people referring often to their relationship with God. The sad fact is that very few people today are devoted to any relationship. There is an epidemic of ego-centeredness in which people are living more and more for self gratification; wanting to take from others but giving little importance to what they might give. This sad situation has created an unhappy and lonely society.
WHAT IS DEVOTION
Let us consider what we mean by devotion. We mean that there is a degree of respect, love and loyalty to someone or something. When we are devoted to something, we make it the basis of our lives. Every one is devoted to something or someone, even if that might be to their own body pleasures or egotistical satisfaction. Some are devoted to politics, others to artistic expression, others to sports stars, others to movie stars, others to their work, others to their children, still others to money or fame or power, or recognition from society. Others are devoted to scientific research while others are devoted to their sensual needs. Yet others are devoted to serving humanity, while others are devoted to healing or educating. The list is endless. We are each devoted to something which attracts our energy and causes us to dedicate much time, thought and energy and, in some cases, our lives themselves to some purpose or goal. We do this with the hope of obtaining satisfaction which may mean that we believe that we will acquire security, pleasure, affirmation love, abundance, wisdom or meaning in life. After one has gone through all these efforts to fulfill his needs, and still feels that something is missing, he begins to turn his energies towards the transcendental reality, seeking oneness with the Universal Spirit, which we call God. He has no other choice, since he has exhausted all the earthly possibilities of satisfaction and has realized that they are temporary and unable to give him lasting security or fulfillment. At that point he starts to redirect his energies from a horizontal direction to a vertical one. That is, rather than trying to find happiness and security through his relationships with people, activities and objects around him, he starts to develop a vertical relationship with the universal spirit which is omnipresent within and around him always. As he gains strength from this relationship, he becomes more able to offer in a selfless way on the horizontal level to the people around him. Only when one has inner fulfillment and inner security can he offer real love to anyone around him. Otherwise, what we usually call love is often actually codependence on others for the mutual fulfillment of needs. If the other becomes unable to fulfill my needs, or if my needs change, or his behavior changes, then my love turns from sweet to sour. That is not love, that is in reality a bartering of emotions and needs. Thus, only a person who has an inner source of strength, peace, love and satisfaction can really love and offer something of value to those around him. The Most efficient way to achieve that goal is a direct relationship with the source of all power and fulfillment – God – the Universal Spirit. Can there be any other more efficient source of what we are looking for? If we ignore this relationship, then we are like fools in the dark trying to use flashlights to help us find our way, when we could have direct access to the sun itself. The people around us are like small flashlights, they cannot offer us much in the way of real happiness. But God is like a thousand suns, there is no limit to its light and power. We can open ourselves to this universal source of love, wisdom and peace which is right inside us and then become much larger flashlights, let us say beacons for those around us and really offer something worth while to the world.
IMAGINE GOD AS YOU LIKE
You have the right to relate to God in the way which suits you. God is a universal consciousness which is beyond all forms. All forms, however, are a part of God and are manifestations of God and thus can be used in order to relate to Him. But no form can describe His ultimate reality. Thus, various religions have been constructed around various forms and principles. All of these are valid ways for approaching the one universal formless being. The form is a useful point of focus for our minds which have not yet reached the level of evolution where we would be able to concentrate on the formless, pure omnipresent universal consciousness. Our minds cannot comprehend infinity or immortality or omnipresence. Thus most people need a form of some type to help them concentrate. But, if someone has objections toward limiting God to a form, he may choose to use some principle or quality such as love, peace, truth or righteousness, as a point of focus. One can easily be devoted to a principle such as love or righteousness. Also one may imagine God as light, as a form made of light or as a ball of light or as a formless light; whatever suits him best. One may also choose to relate to God as an omnipresent essence; something like space or energy or a presence of some type. Each of the above mentioned possibilities may serve as windows or doors which all lead to the same divine room of the One absolute source of all creation. The various religions exist to offer people a variety of ways to approach the one God, and each leads to that One. All are equally correct and yet none has a monopoly of God, for God is beyond religions and systems and one can approach Him with, or without, such organized systems. Each has a direct connection, a direct personal telephone line to this Universal Consciousness, for it is operating our bodies and minds. We are the temples of the living God. We are not separate from that Divine Consciousness. Thus, to ignore it is like to ignore our own inner self. God is our own inner self. When we give so much attention to finding happiness and security and comfort through people and objects external to ourselves, we ignore that tremendous power and ability which lies within ourselves. Developing a relationship with God it means developing a relationship with our real inner self.
HOW CAN WE DEVELOP THAT RELATIONSHIP
There are various ways in which we can develop our relationship with God. Some ways will be suitable to some, and others to others. Each may choose the ways which help him most. Some may like to create an altar in their home as a point of focus. They may like to place an icon, flowers, incense, and a flame or light of some type. These are not the essential aspect of communication with God. These are external factors, which for some may be simply show. For many of us, however, they may be a valid way of increasing our concentration on a feeling of love for a being that we can not see, hear or even conceive at our present state of evolution. The altar then becomes a place where there is a special atmosphere. When we sit there, we feel a natural tendency for our minds to flow inward into an inner dialogue or into a silent union with the Divine. It is not useful, however, to limit God’s presence to an altar or to some icons. We can use the icons to remind us of God’s presence. But we must avoid at all costs limiting God’s presence to the icon. The Divine is everywhere and, most of all, in the hearts and minds of the people we encounter each day. To love God in an inert image, and to reject him and abuse him as a living human being whom we encounter daily, is not logical nor useful for our evolution, nor for social harmony.
When we have a relationship with someone, it is natural to feel the need to speak with him or her. We like to visit them, see them, talk with them, share with them. We might ask them for help and offer them help. That is the meaning of friendship. The same applies for our relationship with the universal spirit. In order to develop our contact, we need to communicate with it regularly. Communication is easier in this case, because we need not go anywhere in order to find our loved one, our friend. He, or she if you like, is omnipresent; and, thus, actually within us in reality. Thus communication simply means stopping temporarily the incessant flow of the mind towards external events, desires, attachments, fears and expectations and directing our attention into the inner calm where we can think clearly about what is going on within us and communicate it to our friend, to our real mother, our real father. Just as we report the state of affairs in our lives frequently to those who are close to us, in the same way we communicate our deepest feelings, questions, gratitude and needs to our Universal Self. This is called prayer. It is simply opening our heart to the universal being. We may do this with the help of traditional prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer or the various prayers handed down to us by our religious background. Or we may create our own spontaneous communication according to our feelings at the moment. Both are valuable. The traditional prayers have been created by enlightened beings (the Lord’s Prayer by Jesus himself) and thus have a special spiritual vibration. Also, by their continual repetition over thousands of years by billions of people, they have created a power of their own on the spiritual level. Every human thought and word carries a certain amount of spiritual power. When so many billions of people have prayed the same words to the same form of God for thousands of years, this creates a tremendous focus of spiritual power, independent of other factors. Even if Jesus had never existed (I believe that He did exist) His name has become a great source of spiritual power simply through the faith, thoughts and prayers of so many human hearts. The greatest power of prayer, however, lies in the sincerity of the heart which is praying. If you can feel more intimate, more real and honest by creating your own prayers while communicating, then follow your inner guidance. There are three aspects to the prayer. The first is the addressing or the describing of the being to whom we are about to communicate. Here we in some way try to comprehend and describe in our minds this Being to whom we are talking. This is not easy because, as we have already mentioned, God is beyond description. This attempt to describe the universal being, however, helps us in some way to open our minds to its great majesty and power. This reminds me of the story of the young child on the sea shore who was gathering water in a cup and emptying it in a bucket. A monk from a nearby monastery happened to be passing by and asked the boy, «what are you doing my child?». The boy answered,«I ‘m trying to put the sea in my bucket». The monk laughed heartily. «My child, you cannot fit the whole sea into that tiny bucket». The child looked into the monk’s eyes and answered with a strange wisdom, «yes Father I know, and you too must realize that you cannot fit all of God into your mind». The monk walked off wiser and more humble, free now from the illusion that he could ever know God through theological gymnastics. The second aspect of prayer is the expression of gratitude for all that we have. We tend to remember only our problems when relating to God. We have so much to be grateful for: our houses, food, money, clothing, friends, access to techniques and concepts with which to improve the quality of our lives, the trees, birds, flowers, the sea, sun, the mountains, colors, sounds, music, art, philosophy, science, and most important, for all these lovely beings who are sharing the earth with us. Let us start off each day by remembering how much we have, how lucky we are. Let those thoughts bring us joy, gratitude and stimulate within us the need to offer something to those who have less than us. The third aspect of prayer is the most well known. It is the asking for help. If we are going to ask for help, this is the place to ask. This is where all the power is to make things happen. We must, however, be careful that what we are asking for is really going to make us happy, or really is best for our evolution. We may believe that it would be best for us to be rich, or successful, or for our daughter to get married, or for our child to become a doctor. But we cannot be sure that any of these roads will bring us or our families happiness or evolution. It is best to leave this Universal Omniscient Consciousness to decide what is best for us and others. Of course we have the right to express our preferences, but we can follow that with an «if it is your will» or «if that is best for our evolution towards you» or «let your will be done». Each will get what he asks for. Those who ask for material wealth and success will get that, those who ask for healing will get that, those who ask for knowledge will receive, sooner or later, knowledge. But none of these will bring the lasting inner fulfillment we are looking for. When a baby wants milk, water will not do. We are all spiritual babies looking for reunion with our real mother – the Universal Consciousness within us. Thus it is best to pray for purification, or to become instruments of divine love and peace on the earth, to be molded in the way which is best for our union with the divine. We may pray that we might overcome negative habits, or improve our character, or become fit for union with God, or for the experience of the presence of God in every being and situation we encounter. These, in my humble opinion, are more worthwhile praying for. This little story illustrates this clearly. Once there was a wealthy merchant who had four wives. When he was about to return home after the end of a long trip for merchandise, he wrote to his wives asking them to write to him, indicating what gifts they would like him to bring them upon his return. The youngest wife wrote asking for beautiful clothing and ornaments. The second wife asked for medicines, as she was ill. The third asked for books, as she was interested in worldly knowledge. The fourth wrote saying that she didn’t want anything except for her husband himself to be close to her. The merchant returned and gave the clothing to the first wife, the medicines to the second, and the books to the third. They were all so happy that they had received exactly what they desired and asked for. The husband went and lived with the forth wife. After a time, the happiness stimulated by their gifts wore off and they wondered where their husband was. They complained to him, «You have been staying exclusively with the fourth wife. Why don’t you stay with us?» He answered, «I simply gave to each what she asked for. You asked me for clothing, medicines and books; she asked me for myself. I gave to each what she asked for». The following story brings out the point concerning the balance between gratitude and requesting in our prayers. While praying, remember the story about the two little angels. One was sitting on a cloud having little to do, watching the other go busily back and forth to the earth. After watching the busy angel for a time, he decided to ask him what he was doing. «What job do you have which causes you to go back and forth between heaven and earth so frequently?» The busy angel answered. «Oh, I collect the various pleases from the people on Earth and bring them to God. What is your job, which causes you to sit here on this cloud for such long hours?» The sitting angel answered. «Oh, I collect the thank you’s from the people on the earth». Let us give some work to the «thank you angel» and rest to the «please angel».
OTHER WAYS OF DEVELOPING OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
Chanting is another way in which we can communicate with the divine. It has the same results as prayer, but the added advantage that our bodies and minds are stimulated by melodies and words which open the heart and create a spiritually oriented emotional ecstasy. Chanting opens our hearts, releases suppressed negative emotions and inspires higher feelings of love, compassion and unity. When people chant together, they create a unity among them which is seldom created through discussion. We are always going to find some degree of difference and disagreement on the intellectual level. When we chant, we are united in voice, heart, mind and spirit. Chanting also has a beneficial effect on all the organs of the body, on the emotions, mind and spirit. Some sects of monks and mystics from various religions use chanting, and sometimes dancing, as a way to develop a feeling of ecstasy and union with God. Repeating the name of God internally is another very efficient way to liberate the mind from its outer focus and accustom it to maintain continual contact with the beloved. This technique is used frequently in eastern cultures, but is also well known in the Orthodox Christian tradition as the unceasing prayer, or the prayer of the heart. The “Philokalia” and the simple, easily readable book “The Way of the Pilgrim” deal with this method of enlightenment and union with the divine. One simply repeats continually in his mind the phrase «Lord Jesus Christ Have Mercy On Me». One could, however, use other words or phrases which help him to feel the presence of the divine. One could repeat such words or phrases as, Love, Peace, Christ, I am an eternal soul, I am love, God, I love you, enlighten me, all is God, I am an innocent child of God. The possibilities are many. Such a method can be employed most of the hours of the day, when the mind is not consciously engaged, such as while driving, cleaning up, walking, waiting for someone, eating, falling asleep or while waking up. This will gradually lead to a state of feeling a continuous presence of the Divine wherever we are and whatever we are doing. This will bring greater inner peace and love for all beings as we begin to perceive that all beings are expressions of the God that we love. Reading the various religious and philosophical texts can help us in our attempt to perceive the nature of the Divine. Christ gives us many parables which help us to understand the nature of the Father and the Kingdom of God. At the same time He gives us guidelines as to how we must live in order to more quickly and effectively unite with God. We are also told, through such scriptures, what is expected of us by our Father – the Universal Consciousness. We are told that we must love each other, serve each other, help each other. We are told that we must develop the love for each other that He had for us. Such a love enabled Jesus to accept being crucified in order to become a symbol of strength, love and the truth of immortality in our minds. We are told that the way to God is through the service and love towards his children here in the earth. Reading the lives of the various saints also gives us greater courage to proceed without fear on our spiritual path back to our real home and to our real parent. Witnessing their courage and inner strength in overcoming the various difficulties and tests of their lives, gives us strength to overcome ours. Their experiences of God and his power and love serve to increase our faith. We gain the faith which we need to face the world around which is based on lies and slyness with only the truth of a clean conscience and the faith in God to protect us. We gain a new doctor, a new psychiatrist, a new parent, a new friend, a new spiritual teacher and guide in life – God himself. An inner transformation gradually takes place and we develop an inner peace and strength which we never before had in our lives. We are sure that whatever may happen in our lives, we will not be left alone and vulnerable. We have the most powerful and loving friend in the world. We have the Omnipresent Universal Consciousness itself as a partner in life. Thus, even if we loose all our money and possessions, we do not worry because we are sure that, through our effort and God’s grace, all our needs will be taken care of. Even if our spouse leaves us through separation or death, we will not be alone, for we have an omnipresent immortal friend who is always with us. Even if we are seriously ill we know that there is no danger. We will either get well and continue enjoying this world or we will leave our bodies and enjoy an even more intimate and direct relationship with God without the obstacle of our physical body and mind. The power of faith is our greatest protection. It is a power which makes the difference between those who swim freely in a sea of serious problems and those who are drowning in a tea cup of illusory difficulties. The dynamic duo – the individual and the universal can overcome all obstacles. Faith in ourselves and faith in God, these are the keys to peace, security, health and happiness.
GIVING GOD A HAND
God obviously does not need our help. But His creation does. We are placed on Earth to become united. We have been asked repeatedly by the founders of all religions to follow the path of love and share with each other, and to care for each other as brothers. We have ignored this request persistently. When we have a relationship with someone, we usually want to make him or her feel well. God is that transcendent formless being which has no needs from us. But on the other hand God is also manifest as all the beings and objects in the physical world. We can serve God by serving man. Sai Baba has said that «hands which serve are holier than lips which pray». There are people who pray to icons but ignore the walking temples of God around them which need so much help. As long as there is famine God is hungry. As long as there is poverty, God is poor. As long as there is abuse of humans and animals, God is being abused. As long as there are lonely people, God is lonely. There is no way of approaching God more effectively than by serving mankind with selflessness and love. We can gradually become instruments of love, light, compassion, relief and service to those around us. This is the fastest road to health, happiness and harmony with our selves and the universe.