Delusions, Including the “Greatest” One
I knew a spiritual woman
in India who once told me, concerning two well-known and highly respected
(but surely not fully Self-realized) saints, “Each of them asked me
to have sex with him just once, and promised me spiritual blessings
in return. I complied. Imagine my disappointment, then, when I received no consequent blessings — not, at least, in the form of any spiritual
experience. You can imagine how badly I felt!”
A strange story. Yet I vouch
for that person’s integrity. Moreover, she had nothing to gain by
lying to me. Though she took me into her confidence on this point, there
was no hint of any intimacy between the two of us.
I am also inclined to believe
that she probably did get good karma for helping those men toward final
freedom from desire, though I fault them for not being completely truthful
with her. Well, I am not in a position to judge, and I do appreciate
their difficulty. To abstain from sex totally is very difficult, and
can result, as Sigmund Freud said, in serious complexes. I myself, as
far as I can tell, have attained freedom from this basic instinct, but
it was only by the special grace of God, and not by any virtue of my
own. All I could do, until then, was try. God and Guru gave me this
inner freedom. And I must say with perfect truthfulness that I had to
undergo much suffering to attain this condition.
For most people, marriage
is the safest route. Loyalty to one person can remove the temptation
to seek a multiplicity of sexual adventures. Moderation, ending in complete
abstinence, is much easier for most people than to abstain immediately
The trouble with marriage
is that it tends to separate people in other ways also from a feeling
of universal sympathy for everyone. It may close people off in fenced
enclosures of likes and dislikes. Marriage is certainly best avoided
for those who want to give their hearts entirely to God. But one must
also ask himself realistically, “What am I capable of doing?” There
are people who marry out of the pure thought that they will be better
able to serve God in the married state. Such people are blessed — if,
indeed, they succeed.
My Guru told us of a saint
he had met as a young man. “Are you married?” the saint inquired
of him. “No,” Master replied.
“You are on the safe side,”
the saint told him. “I myself am married, and my wife is very materialistic.
Still, I have escaped her at last: She doesn’t know where I am!”
My Guru explained that his escape had been into the inner Self.
In another story told me
by my Guru, he said a young married friend of his had once confessed
to him, “I used to have many friends, and I enjoyed their company.
But now that I am married I find I don’t seek them out anymore. My
friendship with them was in fact only a subconscious longing for the
fulfillment of a mate.”
“Thank you very much!”
my Guru replied. “You have taught me something important.”
“Since then,” he continued,
“I have always maintained a little distance from others.”
In marriage, especially for
couples who are seeking God-communion together, there is a natural tendency
to seek intimacy on an increasingly spiritual level. My Guru’s parents
came together as man and wife only once a year, for the purpose of having
children. Once a year may be too difficult for most people, but — once
a month? That, certainly, is better than once a week. And couples who
come together sexually several times a week may as well prepare their
coffins and keep them in readiness for that last gasp! For if they don’t
die physically, they will certainly be courting spiritual death — like
those people Jesus Christ described when he said, “Let the dead bury
their dead.” (Matt. 8:22) By too-frequent sex, in other words, people
lose that refinement which lifts mankind above the dumb beasts.
Even in sex, one’s attitude
should be more self-giving than of wanting personal pleasure. The physical
act should be an expression above all of love; it should not be undertaken
for mere excitement.
Is the single state of brahmacharya better? It depends on the individual. I have known
married people who were more dedicated to God than most renunciates.
Total renunciation often induces pride, which, in itself, is an enormous
obstacle on the path. On the other hand — as St. Paul said — a married
person thinks more about his wife and how he can please her. A renunciate
thinks, “How can I best please God?”
My guru actually wrote in Autobiography of a Yogi, “To fulfill one’s earthly responsibilities
is indeed the higher path, provided the yogi, maintaining a mental uninvolvement
with egotistical desires, plays his part as a willing instrument of
During Kali Yuga, it was
almost always necessary to renounce the world if one wanted to know
God. Lahiri Mahasaya, however, in this new Dwapara Yuga, voluntarily
undertook the dharma of a householder to show people that human understanding
has evolved to the point where it is possible even in the married state
to find God.
In the new renunciate order
I am proposing, one may work toward becoming, and in fact may actually
be, a swami even if he is married. Couples may work together toward
that goal. It depends first of all on how earnestly they want to transcend
ego-consciousness, and to follow the other conditions which I mentioned
at the end of Chapter 1. More is involved in such transcendence, however,
than sexual self-control. The other main delusions include the desire
for, and attachment to, possessions, pleasures, and money. Couples,
in their very anxiety to please each other, may be more attached to
that delusive satisfaction than are single individuals. A husband may
want to buy his wife jewels or other ego-pleasing items that he would
never think of getting for himself. A wife may want to provide a nice
home for her husband even if she might never have had such an interest
If a person wants to transcend
ego-consciousness, he should learn to accept slights and insults calmly
and impersonally. If he or she is married, however, it is much more
difficult to remain calm if one’s spouse is insulted.
One may feel no pride, personally,
but it is very difficult not to feel proud of the appearance, ability,
or success of one’s spouse.
In fact, it is more difficult
to overcome the sense of “I” and “mine” when one is emotionally
linked to someone else.
The fact that such liberating
attitudes are more difficult to acquire in the married state, however,
makes the victory, once it is achieved, all the greater. Ideally, one
should tell himself, “All this belongs to God.” If one’s mate
is shown disrespect or is insulted, one should certainly be loyal to
that person as one’s own, but he need not let himself be upset. Calmness
under all circumstances is right and good. To return insult for insult
is a sign of spiritual immaturity. It is not an insult, however, to
reply, “Your opinion tells me more about who and what you are than
about my wife/husband. To concentrate on the faults in one who is trying
to become good is ignoble.” One might add, then, “Well, I prefer
to see the God in you than to concentrate on the ignorance.” This
might be a sharp reply, but no spiritual teaching says one should become
a doormat for others.
In creating a beautiful home,
think of making it a place of peace and harmony, not a showcase for
the admiration (and perhaps envy!) of others. Usually, more happiness
is found in simplicity than in elaborate display. See that you and your
spouse live above all for God, and don’t concern yourselves with the
good opinion of others. In developing this attitude together, there
comes a certain happiness that single renunciates seldom know. A clear
conscience, when shared with another person, brings with it satisfaction
of a very special kind.
Indeed, God did not make
this universe for us to abhor it. He is pleased when we enjoy things with His joy. And He certainly is pleased when we can share our
enjoyment with others.
As far as income is concerned,
it is certainly easier for an unmarried renunciate to refuse a salary,
and to leave his security entirely in the hands of God. For a married
person, even if he is a renunciate at heart, he would show irresponsibility
if he cared nothing about income or security. He has a duty to his spouse
(and to his family, if he has one), and cannot ask them to accept such
extreme non-attachment as Jesus Christ showed in saying, “Take no
thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor
yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat,
and the body than raiment?” (Matt. 6:25) Here and elsewhere, Jesus
taught an extreme form of renunciation that would not be practicable
for the average person, and particularly not for the householder. Yet
complete nonattachment can be achieved also by giving generously of
one’s worldly goods to others; by using what goods one has to help
others; and by offering those goods in service to God. In this sense,
those who fulfill their earthly duties with an attitude of generous
concern for the well-being of others may develop faster, spiritually,
than those who, being accustomed to living on charity, develop an attitude
of receiving, not of giving. Those who have nothing material to give
others must concentrate all the more on sharing their spiritual wealth
In every case, the important
thing is ego-transcendence. All blessings come from God. To the true
renunciate, whatever comes, whether fulfillment or deprivation, is a
sign of divine grace. One must be forever grateful to God for the lessons
he receives. And he must always share, in token of that gratitude, whatever
blessings he is given in life.
If, in confrontation with
any of the great delusions, one finds himself slipping downhill, he
should never blame himself or say, “I have failed!” If he keeps
on trying, he will justify the words Paramhansa Yogananda uttered, which
I quoted earlier: “A saint is a sinner who never gave up.” Instead
of blaming oneself, one should mentally resist delusion (even if, in
weakness, he momentarily succumbs to it). He should always affirm, “I
will climb out of this pit of delusion eventually, no matter how many
times I fail, for it is not my delusion. It is only Satan’s
power active within me. I will conquer in the end, for I am not
a child of Satan, but of God. I will find freedom in Divine Bliss,
One should never, of course,
use this teaching as an excuse to err, for delusion is very subtle,
and maya uses every rationalization to trap the unwary. If one
can’t help oneself, however, he should never despair. As Krishna says
in the Bhagavad Gita, “Even the worst of sinners can, with the raft
of wisdom, cross safely over the ocean of delusion.” (4:36)
Periods of preparation should
be required of all those who want to take any serious step. Those who
want to become brahmacharis or tyagis ought generally to live as pilgrims
for a year before final vows are taken. Pilgrims take a special vow for a period of one year. At the
end of the year, the vows may be renewed one or even two more times
before deciding whether to take full vows.
Let me try, finally, to sum
up the benefits of the married versus the single state for those who
seek to become true renunciates:
of the Married State
Marriage helps those so
inclined to equalize their own feminine and masculine natures. Each
can learn from the other attitudes that contribute to the complete human
Marriage makes it easier,
for one so inclined, to bring sexual desire under control. With a single
partner, novelty and excitement often disappear, if only gradually.
Constant availability reduces the sense of adventure. And while it makes
sex easy and convenient for those who want to enjoy it, it also, for
those who desire transcendence, renders it easier to avoid.
Marriage makes — or can
make — it easier to free the mind from obsession with sex, and to focus
on loftier realities.
Commitment to the married
state helps to protect one from the sexual predators of this world,
whether at the office or anywhere else. A wedding ring helps both men
and women to make the unspoken statement, “I am not available.”
Each partner in a marriage
can help the other to appreciate and adopt a more balanced point of
view. The woman may help the man to see things and people more intuitively.
The husband may help his wife to become less emotionally attached, and
to see things more clearly from a point of view of duty.
Each member of a marriage
partnership can strengthen the other in facing the world and dealing
Marriage can be self-expansive.
In concern for someone besides oneself it becomes easier to reach out
to others, and, in time, to the whole world. In the Hindu religion,
the wife is taught to love the husband not for his own sake only, but
as God in that form. And the husband, similarly, is taught to love his
wife as an expression of the Divine Mother.
of the Married State
The married state is spiritually
disadvantageous if it encourages an attitude of what my Guru called,
“Us four and no more.” It can create a sort of closed corporation
before which the needs of others become either secondary or nonexistent.
The married state can
easily produce satisfaction with mediocrity. In this case, it kills
all high spiritual aspiration.
The married state easily
tempts one to think, first, “How can I please my spouse,” rather
than, “How can I best please God?”
Marriage draws one more
easily into a social milieu. Couples meet together often, and chat endlessly
about things that, to the true devotee, seem almost appallingly trivial.
5. Marriage could be self-expansive,
but usually it is self-confining in the sense that it limits people
to homely concerns, to children and their concerns, and to social
Marriage emphasizes the
commonplace, and makes it more difficult to develop one-pointed devotion
Marriage, when it is not
a true partnership, can easily induce a sense of competition, one with
the other. Disharmony can result, and awaken mutually harmful emotions.
Marriage requires a lot
of energy, devoted to keeping the relationship healthy and vibrant.
And if one adds children to the mix, the amount of time and energy multiplies
exponentially. While these areas of life don’t necessarily pull one
away from the spiritual life, they often do so simply by limiting the
amount and quality of any service one might render beyond the home.
A married person is not
always free to follow his conscience. My Guru said, “We used to have
couples living in Encinitas, but I found that, if perchance I scolded
one, the other would always spring to that spouse’s defense.”
One is much more likely,
if married, to develop such negative emotions as jealousy, anger, and
of the Single State
The single person is free
to please God above all, to think of Him, to talk to Him mentally, and
to follow purely and unobstructedly, and with fewer objections from
others, the path of dharma (spiritual duty).
The single man is saved
from the danger of having a nagging wife. And the single woman is saved
from the equally pernicious danger of finding herself saddled with a
domineering husband. The man usually is physically stronger, but, as
my Guru often pointed out, “A woman with a six-inch tongue can kill
a man six feet tall!”
If the single person wants
to achieve sexual self-control, he will find it easier — other things
being equal — not to have a partner constantly beside him or her, making
sexual advances and demands.
It is much easier for
a single person to develop an impersonal attitude toward life and toward
others. He is less inclined to think of his own needs, and tends to
focus rather on serving humanity.
A single person can more
easily develop such spiritual attitudes as the thought, “What comes
of itself, let it come.” He therefore finds it easier to escape the
ensnaring meshes of past karma.
It is easier for a single
person to escape ego-consciousness. Marriage demands constant interaction
with others, and may destroy, therefore, all chance of affirming mentally,
“I, as an individual, don’t really even exist.”
Single people can more
easily open their hearts to the needs of others, and serve them selflessly.
It is more difficult for married people to banish personal motives from
their hearts, and to think only in terms of doing what is right.
Austerity — a measure
of which is necessary in all true renunciation — is easier to practice
for one who is single, and whose fate is not linked to that of another
It is much easier, in
the single state, to practice inner and outer silence.
It is much easier, if
one is single, to adopt new directions in life, as one feels inwardly
It is easier to remain
even-minded when one has no one else’s moods or interests to contend
It is easier, finally,
to see God always as the Doer when there isn’t someone around always
asking, “Why did you do that? What do you plan to do about… ? You
are always so…!” In fact, marriage itself would be a great deal
happier if that single word, “always,” were rigidly excluded from
of the Single State
Single people can more
easily become one-sided, imagining the masculine or the feminine view
to be the only realistic one.
Single people incline
more easily toward eccentricity, instead of finding their true center
Single people who refrain
from marriage against their own natural inclination may develop distorted
personalities — exaggerated harshness, for example, or intolerance of
others. These attitudes are often, I believe, symptoms of sexual repression.
Single people more easily
become selfish, inconsiderate of others, and self-indulgent.
Single people may take
themselves too seriously — more so than people who are married.
Though Married, Want to Seek God on Their Own
It sometimes happens that
divine yearning awakens in one’s heart after he has committed
himself to the married state. If this desire includes a strong impulse
to live alone, the following thoughts should be kept in mind:
One has already made a
serious commitment. He or she now has another person to consider in
any such radical decision. If one’s spouse is worldly, selfish, foolish,
or opposed to the spiritual search, one is free to consider the spiritual
dictum: “If a duty conflicts with a higher duty, it ceases to be a
duty.” If, however, one’s spouse sincerely wants to join him in
his quest for God, he must honor that desire and not renounce him/her.
If the other person, though
sincere and good, wants to draw him (or her) away from a life of spiritual
dedication, the higher duty is to separate.
If one has the consent
of one’s spouse, one is free to dissolve the marriage contract.
I may conclude by saying
that I myself prefer the single state, though I should also add that
I did, for a time, embrace marriage. My purpose in doing so was to show
the members of our Ananda community that God can be sought sincerely,
whether one is single or married. After a few years I was released from
that obligation, and returned happily to my norm: the single state.
I bear my former wife only good will, but my life truly was meant to
be lived for God alone.
Chapter 8: A Step at a Time