A major karmic challenge in this life arose during my early school years. One day a boy emerged from a large group of children playing in the schoolyard. He walked over to me and said, “We are friends.” His announcement was accompanied by a rather fierce handshake. He told me his name was Edmund.
The friendship that ensued for Edmund and myself from that abrupt introduction was tinged with difficulties. At the time, I was interested in music and reading beautiful books. In secret, I tried to know more about Jesus. This innate interest had little or nothing to do with the non-religious family into which I was born. I knew at an early age the happiness that came with deep enthusiasm and complete absorption.
Conversely, Edmund’s emotional framework was too fractured and tormented to go deeply into anything. His eruptions of envy and anger kept his consciousness limited to the surface of his being. His favorite strategy was an attack from behind. All of a sudden, I would find myself lying on the street stones with Edmund on top of me trying to hit me with his clenched fists.
I felt, for whatever reason, that I had to be his friend. It was similar to the way that people under the yoke of tyranny feel they have to love their nation’s leader. These feelings of compulsory love can never be genuine, of course, for love requires freedom.
I experienced Edmund’s tyranny of unbridled emotions as a continuous source of discomfort. For several years, I was unable to extricate myself. At the same time, mysteriously the adults in my life, such as parents and teachers, were unable or unwilling to help me.
Edmund followed me to high school but by then I had found the strength to distance myself from his aggressive energy. During some unusually open conversations, I was even able to sympathize with him as he told me about his parents’ divorce and his father’s desertion.
There was one dramatic moment that I recall with particular clarity. We must have been 18 or 19 at the time. He ran over to me (this time not from behind) looked into my eyes with great intensity and exclaimed, “You have always judged me!!!”
Those words stuck with me, not emotionally, but spiritually, as if they had awakened some ancient soul memory.
Years later, a highly intuitive astrologer, looking at my natal chart, said, “It looks like you had to endure some extreme bullying in your early childhood. You do have a well-developed sense of justice, but in some previous incarnation you may have been a very harsh judge of some kind, applying severe punishment systems and showing little mercy.”
These two items of unfavorable karmic information became important signposts in my life. Sometime later, they were alleviated by the positive inspiration I drew from a letter Swami Kriyananda had written to a group of friends. In it, he described his visit to the Porziuncola, a little chapel built by Saint Francis, near Assisi:
“Feeling the divine sweetness of Saint Francis in my meditation, I wondered: How is it possible for anyone to be so utterly sweet? And then the answer came: By never judging anyone; by being from one’s heart a brother or a sister to all; by complete humility — but above all, by never judging.”
Years later, not far away from the Porziuncola, Swami Kriyananda founded the first Ananda community outside the United States. Ananda Assisi is based on that very principle of unconditional acceptance. The Divine, freed from the interference of human egos, is allowed to foster in the residents an ever-deeper understanding and appreciation of the law of karma and its positive end results of growth and maturity.
As I am writing this story, I am visiting my mother in Amsterdam, the place of my birth. As is my custom during such visits, I am meeting up with some friends who I have known ever since I was young. They are certainly not devotees, so these friendly reunions cannot be considered satsang according to a formal application of the guru’s precept. Nonetheless, in my heart they each hold a special place, especially one of them.
As Richard spoke to me last night about his house, his book collection, his trouble with his neighbors, I observed the tendencies of my thoughts. He is worldly, they said, so this is not real satsang. He’s materialistically attached to his things.
I also noticed a certain impatience in listening to him and the inner efforts of my conscientious self to find a way out of this downward spiraling energy.
See God in everyone, the teachings say. Well, I wasn’t able to do that. My damning verdict had already been reached: attachment, materialism, worldliness!
‘Aum Guru, Aum Guru,’my mind sang in my forehead.
All of a sudden a new prospective emerged. I could feel Richard’s deep affection for me, and along with it, my deep affection for him. “He is trying to say something deeper,” a voice whispered.
“He needs your unconditional acceptance. Do not circumscribe his spirituality with your own definitions of him. Instead, listen with that deep feeling you have always had for him. Don’t feel superior to him, just because you meditate and live in a spiritual community.”
As my heart accepted this line of thought, my energy and my mind came back under the guidance of my higher self. I was able once again to be there, fully present with him like in the old days but more conscientiously. A renewed sweetness infused the companionable evening that we spent together.
By judging other people, we nail them to our rigid definitions of them, thereby discrediting their potential for spiritual unfoldment. It’s not that we should become blind to other people’s defects – we simply no longer react to them with careless or repressive emotion. We discriminate but we do not judge. Instead, we accept.
Satsang, the company of fellow truth seekers, is indeed fundamental on the spiritual path. In essence, our spiritual family can neither take the blame nor make amends for all that may have gone perceivably wrong with our biological family. Only full and unconditional acceptance of all the actors, past and future, appearing on the stage of our lives, makes it possible for us to give the best to our spiritual family. Overcoming the meanness of condemnation then, will reveal itself as a true path towards Self-realization.