By Swami Prajñananda
Life is so precious. I think we often forget that our years are numbered. If you were to leave tomorrow, would you be satisfied with your life?
I often wondered this, especially before yoga. That made me do more. Get a degree. Get a new job. Travel here. Go there. My purpose of life always seemed a little bit beyond my grasp. I would wonder, “What is life all about?” Is it about sleeping, eating, working, unwinding and doing it all again? This felt to me like sleepwalking through life.
There once was a crow king and an owl king. They both lived in their respective parts of the forest with their family and friends. One day the two kings met up. The crow king had been pondering a question for some time. He asked the owl king, “Why do you work at night?” The owl, surprised, responded, “Oh brother, it is not I that works at night, it is you that works at night!”
The crow was taken aback. “This owl clearly is deluded,” he thought. He shared this sentiment with the owl which sparked a long and heated debate. The debate went on all through the day and into the night. As the sky grew darker and darker, the owl pointed up and said “Ah, crow, now it is day!” The crow exclaimed, “What are you talking about — look how dark it is, clearly it is night!” Now they really started to fight.
A swan came by, in the midst of their arguing, and said, “Stop your fighting. You are both right. What is day for a crow is night for an owl. And what is day for an owl is night for a crow.”
This story has a mystical meaning. Most people live like the owl, caught up in the world and unaware of the deeper dimensions of their own being. This lack of awareness is like night to a Self-Realized Being. Such a one lives in the light of their own Divine Essence. Yet the light they live in is so bright, it blinds one who does not know.
Spiritual practice is all about turning your night into day. It is about turning your not knowing into knowing. This is explained in Katha Upanishad 1.3.14:
Approach the great beings and understand the Truth.
The path is like the sharp edge of a razor,
Difficult to tread and difficult to cross.
(Translation by Swami Nirmalananda)
This sutra calls you to action: “Arise, awake!” What are you doing with your life? Sure, you can get a BA, an MA, a Ph.D. You can get your dream job, your dream house, your dream family.
Yet, what do you have if you do not know who you are? Yoga says your ultimate purpose is to know your own Divine Essence. Your Essence is the substratum of this entire universe, while at the same time completely and individually you. There is more to you than you think. Arise! Wake up to who you truly are.
How do you do this? “Approach the great beings and understand the Truth.” You go to one who knows. Just like anything else in your life, you need a teacher. In yoga, the one that guides your way on the path is called the Guru. A qualified Guru is one who lives in the knowing and being of their own Divine Essence AND can show you the way.
This is very important because the spiritual path is as sharp as a razor’s edge. It is difficult to tread and hard to cross. The spiritual path is as treacherous as climbing the steepest mountain on the narrowest trail. Without a guide, you are vulnerable to slipping, falling, getting lost and ultimately not arriving at your destination.
This is why the Guru is so important. The Guru saves you from the traps along the path. They even save you from the traps you lay down for yourself. Plus, a Shaktipat Guru, like Gurudevi Nirmalananda, can do even more. In addition to guiding you, she puts rocket fuel in your tank. You are sped through the process at lightspeed!
You have the unique opportunity to be Self-Realized in this lifetime. Yet, how far will you go? The answer is up to you. While the Guru shows you the way and fuels your progress, you must take the steps yourself. So what will it be? Are you ready to wake up?