Spiritual Practice: The Best Way to Attain Happiness

Spiritual Practice: The Best Way to Attain Happiness

Too long I’ve wandered from place to place,
Seen mountains and seas at vast expense.
Why haven’t I stepped two yards from my house,
Opened my eyes and gazed very close
At a drop of dew on a stalk of rice?

—Rabindranath Tagor

We are living in unprecedented times. Quantum leaps in science are changing the way we see the world, while technology is changing the way we live in it. Yet through all this progress, our faculties of understanding and wisdom are lagging behind. We are in need of a radical technology—a spiritual “technology of the heart”—if we are to answer the crucial moral and humanitarian questions we face and meet the challenges that confront us at this unique time in history.

Real change, resulting in the positive transformation of our lives and our world, depends on spiritual awakening—the ability to see clearly with compassion and wisdom. This is not something new. What is new is the unparalleled access we now have to these timeless truths. Spiritual practices once known only to monks, nuns, mystics, and practitioners of yoga, are now readily accessible to anyone seeking God–realization.

A woman once asked Brother Lawrence, the 17th–century Carmelite, about her spiritual progress. He answered that her only problem was that she wanted to “go faster than grace.” We face that same temptation today—to try to move faster than grace in our world, putting convenience ahead of conscience and personal power ahead of prayer. With all the information available, there is the tendency to be fooled by the romantic fantasy of an easy and instant spiritual life. But soul advancement is always hard–earned.

We may want the “quick fix” but the truth is that nothing replaces daily, patient, spiritual practice as the quickest and most efficient way of hastening a life filled with the grace of Spirit, in tune with God’s divine plan.

The most exciting truth is this: Where we are now, God is. While a retreat or spiritual pilgrimage can offer us a temporary change, real progress comes at home, in the “practice hall” of family, work, and community life, where we can get busy with the serious work of freeing the soul from the bondage of the ego. While it would certainly be a relief to escape some of the difficult interactions we have with others, it is often those very experiences that are the most spiritually beneficial. By revealing to us the deceptive tactics of our ego–motivated behavior, such experiences force us to surrender, opening us to an experience of oneness. The illusion of having a separate existence falls away, and the light of the truth shines in our souls. Goodness, compassion, unconditional love, peace, forgiveness, generosity, creativity, dignity, loving kindness, serenity, sweetness, joy, power, wisdom—these qualities of God, and more, express themselves in the human personality made radiant with surrender.

When Confucius was asked, “Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?” he replied, “Reciprocity: Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” We find this in the Torah as well: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And it is reinforced by Jesus saying: “Treat others as you would like them to treat you.” Hinduism’s Mahabharata says: “One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself. This is the essence of morality.”

The universality of the Golden Rule suggests a corresponding metaphysical reality—that there is one life common to us all. As we are now coming to realize this truth on the material level, so we must realize it spiritually. Even though outwardly we seem to be separate from one another, “skin encapsulated egos” as Alan Watts noted, it is time to awaken to the truth of our oneness with Spirit. It is this awakening that lies at the foundation of a “technology of the heart,” a technology that can lead us out of the confusion of these contradictory times into the light of a new era of conscious living.

One day a holy man was sitting near a riverbank when a scorpion fell into the water. The saint reached in to save the drowning scorpion. As he lifted it out of the water, the scorpion stung him. Moments later the scorpion slipped back into the water. Without hesitation, the holy man reached in again to rescue the creature. A young man standing nearby saw all this. He approached the saint and asked, “Why would you pull this scorpion out again when it stung you the first time?” The holy man replied, “It is the nature of the scorpion to sting. It is my nature to help.”

A natural, unforced self-discipline is the fruit of spiritual vision. When we truly understand that what we do to others—other people, other forms of life, our own planet—we do to ourselves, we will naturally and spontaneously act rightly. We won’t need to read a book for motivation. Neither will we feel we must work for spirituality or try to become enlightened. We will simply know we are spiritual beings now. There is nothing to add, nothing to attain, nothing to prove, or gain. We choose to live a virtuous life because that is who we are. We speak, serve, and live the truth because it is our nature to do so.

Most people think being free means doing whatever they want. But true freedom is not doing what we want; freedom is being free from those wants. Wants multiply. The more we have, the more we want, until eventually we become enslaved. Freedom comes from experiencing in meditation the unconditional contentment of the soul, which is ours now regardless of circumstances. Paramahansa Yogananda is one who knew this freedom. He wrote: “Whenever your mind wanders in the maze of myriad worldly thoughts, patiently lead it back to remembrance of the indwelling Lord. In time you will find Him ever with you—a God who talks with you in your own language, a God whose face peeps at you from every flower and shrub and blade of grass. Then you shall say: ‘I am free! I am clothed in the gossamer of Spirit; I fly from earth to heaven on wings of light.’ And what joy will consume your being!”

Ellen Grace O'Brian
Ellen Grace O'Brian

Yogacharya Ellen Grace O'Brian is the Spiritual Director of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment (CSE) in San Jose, California. CSE is a ministry in the spiritual tradition of Kriya Yoga that serves people from all faith backgrounds who are seeking Self- and God-realization. Yogacharya O’Brian was ordained to teach in 1982 by Roy Eugene Davis, a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda. She is the author of several books on meditation and spiritual practice including Living the Eternal Way: Spiritual Meaning and Practice in Daily Life; the editor of Enlightenment Journal, a quarterly yoga magazine; and author of several CD lessons on the classic spiritual works including: The Gospel of Thomas, The Bhagavad Gita and The Upanishads. She hosts The Yoga Hour, a weekly program on the Unity Online Radio Network reaching over 122 countries with inspiration and practices from the yoga tradition. To contact Yogacharya O’Brian write <a href=""></a>.