“And the greatest of all Yogis is he who with all his soul has faith, and he who with all his soul loves me.”
Bhagavad Gita 6, 47
Many masters have warned that the greatest delusion (and the greatest ignorance) is to confuse appearance with reality, to confuse seeming with being, particularly with regard to oneself, and have counselled: “Be as you wish to seem” (or in present-day terms: practice what you post). Put simply, it is all too easy to adopt the manners and outer trappings of spirituality, but without the essence. As the great master Socrates put it (In Plato’s Phaedo 69c-d): “many carry the thyrsus [symbol of the initiate], but the bacchants [those united with God] are few”.
A much greater personal effort and transformation is required than simply donning the apparel of spirituality ,if we are to pass from the realm of appearance and arrive at the goal of being, in other words, of union with God. In the Bhagavad Gita (7, 3), Krishna says: “Among thousands of men, perhaps one strives for spiritual attainment; and, among the blessed true seekers that assiduously try to reach Me, perhaps one perceives Me as I am”. Jesus, too, famously warns: “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). Though in different words, both these channels of Christ consciousness are saying the same thing: namely, that many spiritual seekers come to the path, but few succeed in arriving at the goal of finding God.
Commenting on these words by Jesus, Paramhansa Yogananda (in The Second Coming of Christ, p. 1276) explains: “Many truth-seekers, owing to the various degrees of intensity of their spiritual urges, intermittently draw the attention of God and receive His invitation into the heavenly consciousness within them; but only those few are chosen to enter into God’s kingdom of Cosmic consciousness who are meritorious according to their earnest, sustained interest in truth and in God, shown through their sincere efforts to spiritualize their lives by unceasing prayer and deep meditation.”
The greatest delusion, then, is to think you are “chosen”, just because you have been “called”;
to think you are realized because you have awoken; to think you already have become what you aspire to be. For waking up to certain truths and aspiring to them is not the same as realizing or being them. An intellectual grasp of these truths does not mean that we have become them or that we act in accordance with them. Again to quote Jesus: “And why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”
Jesus warns against the hypocrisy of seeming rather than being, of making an outward show of praying in the temples and the streets so as to be seen by others, but he urges the true devotee to enter into his closet (his inner self) and pray in secret: “and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:5-6). As Yogananda says (The Second Coming of Christ, p.492) “Jesus admonished those who pray not as a sincere heart-offering to God, but as a public display of devotion to manufacture a reputation of holiness. They are hypocrites, for their egotistical motives are not synchronized with their pious actions […] God, who sees the heart and never responds to false prayers, keeps Himself remote…”
The world is interested in how we seem and thus draws the spiritual seeker into the trap of self-delusion; the Divine is interested in how we are. To progress from seeming to being, from striving for spiritual attainment to actually perceiving God (as Krishna puts it), or from being “called” to being “chosen” (as Jesus puts it), the spiritual seeker has to establish harmony between his thoughts, words and deeds. A well-known Sanskrit saying declares, Manas ekam vachas ekam, karmanyekam mahatmanam, manas anyatha vachas anyatha, karman anyatha duratmanam (Great souls are one in their thoughts, words and deeds; base souls lack oneness in thoughts, words and deeds). Yogananda (in God Talks with Arjuna. The Bhagavad Gita, p. 195) talks of “yogi-novices”, who may speak as if they were calm with wisdom, while in reality they are motivated by restlessness. He says: “Between the words of such a person and what he is, there is an unbridged gulf. One ought not to be a hypocrite in anything. There should be a connection of equality between one’s life and the expression of one’s thoughts.”
In order to achieve this harmony and equality in thought, word and deed, in other words, in order to be a true yogi, as Krishna tells Arjuna to be, more is necessary than merely the outward appearance of spirituality. We do not become yogis by sitting in the lotus position or Christians by standing in church any more than we become cars by parking ourselves in a garage. Krishna, however, elaborates for Arjuna, saying that “…the greatest of all yogis is he who with all his soul has faith, and he who with all his soul loves me.” And here again we find a close correspondence in Jesus’ description of the first and great commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matt. 22:37).
Loving God with heart, soul and mind is the essence of spirituality. Worshipping Him through outward shows of spirituality is the hypocrisy of which Jesus speaks when addressing the scribes and Pharisees: “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matt. 15:7-8). Herein lies the fundamental difference between seeming and being and when Krishna tells Arjuna to be a yogi, it is because the ancient science of yoga provides the techniques for loving God with all the heart, soul and mind.
Loving God “with all the heart” is the essence of Bhakti yoga, through which the yogi achieves union with God through unconditional love and devotion. Yogananda talks of the tendency of many sincere spiritual people to show off their love of God (flaunting devotion), rather than striving to touch the heart of God alone. Loving God “with all the soul”, through meditation, means to enter the state of yoga, that is, of union with God, of the soul’s realization of its oneness with God and its connection with the consciousness of God. Not something that can be achieved through the performing of external rituals. And similarly, yoga offers specialized techniques for concentrating the mind, so that during the time of worship, the devotee is able to keep his whole attention on God, loving God “with all the mind”, in other words, with focused concentration.
The path from seeming to being is not – like the one to Hell – paved only with good intentions. Yoga is the path of spiritual action not inaction. It requires discipline, self-mastery, renunciation of worldly desires and, above all, love of God. There is no such thing as a part-time yogi. Yet, as “yogi-novices”, we may take some comfort in the wise words of Sri Yukteswar that “everything in future will improve if you are making a spiritual effort now”.