Sri Swami Atmaswarupananda
Second Early Morning Meditation Talk given during the Annual Christmas Retreat–Spirituality Means Change–in Gurudev’s sacred Samadhi Hall, Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh.
On Christmas Eve, we read out passages from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the Gospel according to St. Luke and the Gospel according to St. John. The one thing they all have in common is that they are called gospels, which as we know means good news–the good news according to St. Matthew, the good news according to St. Luke, the good news according to St. John.
What was the essence of that good news? Perhaps it was best summarised by the first words of Jesus: “Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Repent means turn around. In other words, you have been going in the wrong direction. Turn around, what you are seeking is right at hand. In other places, Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is amidst you and it’s within you.”
Why was this good news? Because for over a thousand years the Jews had been trying to achieve the Kingdom of Heaven through their own efforts. It was something that they were going to attain if they followed all the correct rituals, all the correct behaviours. But, just as the Upanishads declared, “That thou art,” Jesus declared, “You are looking in the wrong direction. Turn around. It’s right at hand.”
After Lord Krishna had taught Arjuna the entire Gita, He asked him, “Have you understood, Arjuna?” Arjuna replied, “I have recovered my memory.” The one principal discovery that all realized saints seem to have in common is that “I have always been free. I simply didn’t recognise it or realise it.” One time when Pujya Swami Chidanandaji was giving instructions, he said, “Sit four or five times a day and try to remember who you are.” Realise means make real. In other words, make real to your consciousness the truth of what you always have been.
If the goal of the spiritual life is something new, something to be attained, then perhaps it can never be attained or achieved, and as Ramana Maharshi used to say, “Whatever is new will have to end someday. What you want is what you have always had–the natural state.” The natural state according to Ramana Maharshi was found by enquiring “Who am I?” First, we discover “I am not someone or something. I am everything.” And then the discovery is simply “I am.” And finally the discovery is something that cannot be described that is prior to “I am.” That is eternity, what we have always been. And it is our natural state.
This is the real good news. If it were something new, it might be frightening. We might question whether we want it or not. But to say, “I have always been free,” means, “this is natural, this is me. I feel more myself than I have ever been. Previously I have been distracted by likes and dislikes, fears and desires. My mind has been full of turmoil. I haven’t felt myself at all. Now I feel totally myself. I am home. I am natural.”
So the changes that are meant to be brought about are only onerous to the ego, to that which doesn’t want to change, doesn’t want to move. To us, to our real Self, the changes are all good news, because we are getting rid of those things that bind us. As Swamiji has said, “The spiritual life is for joy–the joy of the oneness of our ownself.”