By Nayaswami Dharmadevi
September 3, 2019
During our Kriya Renaissance weeklong program in Assisi, I got to share about Jesus Christ. I grew up Catholic in the Bible Belt where the vast majority of people are Protestant. I had several encounters with fundamentalism as a teenager that turned me off to all organized religion. One in particular stuck in my mind.
At age fourteen, I started working in a pizza restaurant called “My Father’s Place.” It was run by a religious man and was located right across the street from a Southern Baptist mega church. A coworker was talking to me one day about Christianity. She “informed me” that Catholics are not Christians, which was news to me! Then she proceeded to say that anyone who isn’t “saved” will go to hell. I asked her how one becomes saved and she responded, “You have to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.” Apparently, Catholics are not “saved” because they get baptised as babies and therefore can’t make the conscious choice.
I asked her a question that I thought would change her position, “What if a baby is born and before it can even talk, and make that conscious decision, it dies?”
“I know,” she said with obvious pain in her voice, “I hate that question because it is so sad… but yes, of course, that baby would have to go to hell.”
I was flabbergasted. There was nothing else I could say to her. So we never talked about religion again. I left the church and in my mind said I would never return to anything that even remotely resembled something so judgemental and lacking in compassion.
Years later, I found Swami Kriyananda, Paramhansa Yogananda, and the practice of meditation. As I began meditating, I felt my connection with Jesus Christ returning and somehow the thought entered my mind to go back to Church. I couldn’t understand where that thought was coming from. I had absolutely no desire to go to church. It had always felt so stuffy and dogmatic when I was a kid. But eventually, I followed my intuition and went… to the longest service of the year – Easter Vigil Mass! I was amazed at the devotion I felt from the congregation and beyond that, I felt the presence of Christ.
Again, years passed and at this point, Narayan and I were living in Los Angeles and serving full time at Ananda. Swami Kriyananda was writing the book “Pilgrimage to Guadalupe” and sent us the manuscript. I read the part of the book where our hero, the pilgrim, stops in a small town where a Baptist family takes him in and they have a meal together and talk. The man had a clearly fundamentalist viewpoint but was easily convinced to being more open-minded after talking to the pilgrim for a short time.
I wrote to Swamiji and said, “I grew up with Baptists and I don’t think they would be so quick to change.” His response was an important lesson for me. “I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt.”
I realized I was holding onto a judgemental attitude. I was being fundamental about fundamentalism! I was not practicing what I wanted most from all those encounters as a young person in the South – acceptance and forgiveness.
Then I remembered what Yoganandaji said about Christ’s greatest miracle. We all know about the miracles of Jesus – he turned water into wine, he multiplied the loaves and fishes, he walked on water, healed the sick, cast out demons, and even raised people from the dead! But what was the miracle that Yogananda said was his greatest of all?
Though condemned, persecuted, and on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Forgiveness was Jesus Christ’s greatest miracle.
How can we apply this teaching to our lives as devotees? Obviously, we need to forgive others who hurt us. We know that when we forgive others we feel lighter and freer in our hearts. But many times, we have a hard time forgiving ourselves.
The problem we hear most from people who practice meditation is their lack of consistency. Something happens in life that gets them off track for a bit. That wouldn’t be a huge deal but lack of forgiveness leads to the real issue. “I’m a bad disciple,” “I haven’t done what I said I was going to do.” These judgemental attitudes lead to feelings of guilt and shame. Then, the devotee feels so bad, he eventually stops practicing altogether.
These “meannesses of the heart” as Swami Sri Yukteswar called them, create tension in our hearts, which blocks the flow of energy. We need the energy of our hearts to rise – it is necessary to feel our connection to the Divine. Without the feeling of connection, we lose hope. So, how do we get it back?
Forgive yourself for any mistakes you’ve made so that you can move on and make progress now. As Sri Yukteswar said, “Forget the past! The vanished lives of all men are dark with many shames. Human conduct is ever unreliable until anchored in the Divine. Everything in future will improve if you are making a spiritual effort now.”