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Chapter Eight
A Step at a Time

Paramhansa Yogananda, when a boy, had a vision in which he saw himself standing in the dusty marketplace of a Himalayan village. The scene around him roiled with the noise of people, confusion, the turmoil of conflicting ambitions and desires, and the urgency of self-interest. Dogs ran everywhere. Monkeys clambered down from roofs to snatch at food from the stalls. People protested loudly at whatever prices they were offered.

Every now and then someone would pause before young Mukunda (as he was then known) and gaze at a spot somewhere behind him. A look of inexpressible yearning would come over that person’s face. Then he would turn away again, and mutter sorrowfully, “Oh, but it’s much too high for me!” That person would then turn back again to the hot, dusty marketplace and reassume his link with the world around him.

The same thing happened several times. At last, young Mukunda (as he was known then) turned around to see what had awakened such deep longing in those few people. There behind him he beheld a high mountain, at the top of which he saw, spread out invitingly, a large, enchantingly beautiful garden. What a thrilling contrast it made to the heat, the noise, the dirt, the confusion in the busy village around him!

His first thought was what those persons had expressed: “Oh, but it’s much too high for me!” But then came a sterner thought: “Well, I can at least put one foot in front of the other!” Armed with determination, he set out to climb the mountain. The trek took a long time, but at last he arrived at, and joyfully entered into the paradise garden at the top.

Who would not greatly prefer to live free from pain or sorrow, in perfect happiness or even bliss? Alas, people dread the effort it would take. They consider themselves unworthy, or unfit, or incapable, or too steeped in worldliness. They cannot even imagine themselves inwardly free. Yet there are a few who yearn to escape from this snake pit of delusion. They’ve suffered enough here on earth, and have realized at last that there simply is no way to find the release they seek, except in God. Thus, they gaze yearningly, at last, at the heights of spiritual attainment.

How splendid it would be if God’s love alone could attract us! Nearly all suffering, alas, is a necessary prod toward the spiritual heights. Faintheartedness, for a time, causes one’s courage to fail: those divine attainments seem “much too high!” At last only, as the soul’s determination grows gradually more firm, one sets forth up the long trail, putting one foot in front of the other. Those who never give up arrive finally at the top.

In every generation, a few determined and undeterrable souls do complete the journey.

What, then, are the stages on the journey? It is easy to refer to them vaguely, but in fact they constitute an endless series of little, separate, and even specific acts of will.

With sex, for instance, my Guru told me, “The first thought: that is the moment to catch it.”

Our very thoughts, he said, do not originate in ourselves, but emanate from various levels of consciousness. “Thoughts are universally and not individually rooted” was how he expressed it in Autobiography of a Yogi. That “first thought” represents a direction of one’s attention toward some universal influence, whether it be toward deeper involvement in delusion, or toward self-mastery. If our first thought is of God, or of self-control, divine grace will enter our minds and will influence us. But if that thought opens mental windows onto scenes of desire, we may tell ourselves complacently (because that desire may still be only slight), “Never mind, I will be all right.” In this thought, however, we will fail to take into account the fact that any thought, if indulged in, will open the mind to the cosmic influences pertaining to that particular level of consciousness.

Divine grace itself is like the sunlight on the side of a building. If we open wide to that light the curtains in our room, the light will enter and flood us with warmth. But if we keep our mental curtains closed — or, to strain the image only a little — if we entertain wrong thoughts (entertain being the right word in this case!) satanic influence will enter our minds, and will try to influence us further in a direction that we may not at first have desired at all.

By gazing, the Bhagavad Gita states, attraction develops; from attraction comes desire; desire (when thwarted) awakens anger; from anger comes delusion; from delusion comes confusion regarding what is right or wrong; and from mental confusion comes complete absorption in the particular delusion concerned.

Shopkeepers in India say to their customers, “Looking is free!” Delusion, too, insinuates the idea, “Thinking is free!” Don’t you believe it! When the first thought of delusion in any form enters the mind, direct your attention vigorously elsewhere.

If someone of the other sex seems to you especially attractive, immediately withdraw your energy from that thought, and then impersonalize it: perhaps by thinking of the beauties in Nature everywhere. Don’t try to change the attraction into repulsion, for repulsion is only the other side of the coin from attraction, and can easily swing back again to its first manifestation. You may find it helpful, however, to imagine that person some fifty years from now! or to imagine him/her in an angry or a vindictive mood.

Then look away; don’t feast your gaze on outer appearance. Remember, much suffering follows from emotional involvement of any kind. Keep your ego free — free above all to enjoy God’s love and bliss.

Avoid physical contact of any kind, even a light touch of the arms, hands, or fingers.

Put yourself in a proactive mode, not a receptive one. Think and speak forcefully about something about which your feelings are impersonal. Be impersonal not only toward the other person, but also toward yourself.

When I was in college, a certain girl in our little circle of friends kept hinting that she’d like me to take her out on a date. Finally I did ask her out. When I brought her back to her dormitory, she exclaimed fervently, “You are so wonderful!” Immediately the thought arose in my mind, “Anyone so lacking in discrimination would surely be best avoided!” I never took her out again, though we remained “coffee table” friends.

It will help you very much mentally to reject any flattery you receive from others.

When you see beauty, or charm, or any other attractive quality in another person, don’t imagine you will absorb that quality into yourself by physically embracing him, or her! Differentiate the quality itself from the person manifesting it; try to think of it as a quality you too can develop in yourself. Emulate it; don’t try to possess it as if squeezing toothpaste out of a tube. Remember, the beauty of the clouds at sunset is due only to the animating light of the sun.

If, driven by delusion, you find yourself impelled toward personal involvement with someone, mentally resist that thought even if in fact you succumb to the temptation.

Refuse to make a big thing of any delusion. Take no one’s judgment of you to heart. People judge others for those faults about which they themselves feel guilty. Tell yourself, then, “Even if I am still weak, my true happiness will never lie in this direction. It is therefore not the way I choose to go.” Sometimes a fisherman must let a fish swim free with the bait for a time, as the best way of eventually pulling it in. To pull on the line too determinedly may only break it. You are not your mistakes. Why, then, exaggerate them to the point where you break the lifeline of self-control?

Don’t criticize, resent, or hate anyone who tries to tempt you. Don’t give that person so much power over you! The best reaction, often, is a free and merry (but not a mocking) laugh; then direct your attention elsewhere.

A story might be helpful here from the years I spent with my Guru; it is one I don’t think I have told before. A famous Hollywood movie actress once visited and lunched with him. I served the meal, and afterward sat in the room to record their conversation. At one point she exclaimed with great enthusiasm, “I love sex!” I was amused, but Master, after her departure, commented with an expression of disgust, “She is a demon!”

If you find it difficult to withdraw from a special attraction to any one person, diffuse that feeling by directing it broadly toward everyone else around you.

Watch for two things in yourself: First, a feeling of excitement in your heart when in the presence of any particular person of the other sex — and indeed generally, when in the company of all persons of the other sex. This feeling can be awakened in people of all ages. A lady of my acquaintance once said to me, “My little daughter, aged three, has a special giggle she affects only in the company of little boys.”

Second, watch for the slightest stirring or stimulation of energy in the second chakra, or spinal plexus. The nerves from this center go out to the sex organs. Excited energy, whether in the chakra or in the organs themselves, is a danger signal. It may be too subtle for immediate awareness, but watch for the symptoms.

Men should think of women generally in their nurturing and self-giving aspect — as mothers, perhaps, or as sisters, and not as ego-attracting temptresses or as a temptation in themselves. The energy women themselves put out should be impersonal, not provocative.

Women should regard men as ideal fathers or brothers, or as potential teachers or guides. Generally, they should maintain a slight, respectful distance. It will not help them, in themselves, to treat men condescendingly, competitively, or with predatory gaze.

Nor should men regard women with a predatory gaze. It is the masculine nature to give energy. Feminine nature tries to draw energy from the masculine. Both sexes should see to it that the giving, as well as the attracting, is of the highest order, directed from the higher chakras in the spine, or — best of all — from the Christ center between the eyebrows. Both should try to see people in their genderless souls.

I have concentrated on sex here simply because it is, as my Guru said, “the greatest delusion.” The same methods can be used, however, for virtually any delusion that threatens to take one from his inner center.

Above all, please remember the saying, “Rome was not built in a day.” Seek freedom gradually, one step at a time. This applies to the overcoming of every delusion. “Banat, banat, ban jai!” was the advice Lahiri Mahasaya gave his disciples: Doing a little bit daily, one step at a time, one finds himself at last on the spiritual summit.


Chapter 9: Transcending the Ego

Autobiography of a Yogi

A Renunciate Order for the New Age

Nayaswami Kriyananda

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