Years ago I was involved in the founding of an Ananda center in Rome. Although I scarcely had any prior experience with starting a facility like that, my enthusiasm was intense and sincere.
It was not always kept under control though. Yogananda encourages us to interiorize our spiritual enthusiasm so that we might apply it judiciously. Properly used and placed, it can lead to beneficial results, not unlike dynamite: to dig tunnels through many layers of ego, towards the center of our own being.
This was something I still had to learn.
My fellow disciples were sincere too, but aligning our personalities was an ongoing process. Harmonious cooperation, indispensable for the building of a spiritual work, offers daily evidence of the degree to which the individual devotee has transcended his ego. He may feel deep calmness in meditation, only to find that, in the interaction with other people, that Calmness flies out of the window and the smug Ego steps forward to take charge.
On one occasion I claimed my seniority: I had been with Ananda Europe since its beginnings, had met Swami many years earlier etc. Smugness was expressed more in the tone of my voice than through my words and as I spoke I could feel a downturn in the regard my fellow disciples. “What’s next?,” said one of them, somewhat ironically, after I had finished my presumptuous discourse.
Subsequently, I came to realize the meanness of this attitude: it affirmed the ego and made me incapable of relating lovingly to other people’s realities, distancing me from an objective that, deep in my heart, I longed for; it also degraded my inner attunement with Swami himself, which was even more painful. Swami had always defined harmony as one of Ananda’s main goals: smugness posed a formidable barrier to achieving that end.
Fortunately, his prayers for our sincere cooperative efforts and for Master’s grace prevailed: meditations, satsangs and kirtans were organized, teachers were trained, and by now, thanks to the steadfastness of its founders and core members, Ananda Rome has become an important center in Italy for the dissemination of Yogananda’s teachings.
There is also a more universal need to overcome smugness: Dwapara Yuga signifies the end of institutionalism and the rise of the individual. In the coming centuries people’s confidence in institutional claims and protection will diminish significantly until, eventually, the only security left will be their own intuitive perception of the degree of integrity in the individuals they choose to associate with.
Ananda can be regarded as a landmark and a standard in this evolutionary process: positions are important only to the degree in which those who hold them give them meaning with their own spiritual growth, as channels of Light. Anything less than that is simply not appealing.
However, in the early dawn of Dwapara (we are only in its 121st birthday) memories of Kali Yuga and its rigid hierarchic and dogmatic thinking, still cling to us. Smugness, therefore, becomes a meanness to overcome at all costs.
Here are a few guidelines that might help you in the process:
- avoid speaking about your spiritual practices and experiences. Instead, keep them intimate, between you and Divine Mother;
- try to make yourself useful and, regardless of the position you hold, let your ego dissolve in the flow of service;
- pray for your superiors as well as your subordinates and learn to listen with equal, full attention to both;
- if your position is important, try to find small, inconspicuous ways to serve as well, without mentioning them;
- make meditation an act of listening and then apply that principle in your cooperation with others;
- often meditate on Jesus’ fierce criticism of the Pharisees and on his words: “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. “
In the last analysis overcoming smugness is a way to explore and protect your deeper, more intimate feelings, for God, Guru and our fellow human beings: a sure way to genuine happiness.