By Swami Shraddhananda
Coming to the United States in 1957, Swami Shraddhananda was head of the Vedanta Society in Sacramento from 1970 until his death in 1996. He was the author of Seeing God Everywhere and Story of an Epoch as well as many articles published in both English and Bengali journals. “A Fruitful Search for God” is found in Seeing God Everywhere.
Those who seek God are often frustrated in various ways; they do not understand whether or not it is possible for their search to be fruitful. Some seekers complain, “I have tried meditation. I have tried concentration and prayer for two years, or three years, or four years, but illumination has not come.” Others complain that they have tried to meditate upon God in different ways and are confused about what God really is.
When we are interested in seeking God, we should first settle upon which God we are seeking, because different pictures of God are given in different religions; and even in the same religion different concepts of God are found. Further, the emotional and intellectual constitution of each mind is different; it is only natural that different people will approach God in different ways. If the seeker cannot decide which particular idea of God to meditate upon among the innumerable concepts of the Divine, he or she should seek the guidance of a competent spiritual teacher. If this question is not settled, one’s spiritual life is bound to be confused.
Some people like to think of God as an impersonal truth—as infinite Reality, infinite Consciousness, and infinite Bliss. They should stick to this idea of an impersonal God. It may happen that a person whose basic aptitude is for the impersonal God may, after reading devotional literature, develop an interest in meditating upon God with form, such as Shiva or Krishna or the Divine Mother. This seeker may continue in this way for some time, but eventually may not find joy and peace. The contemplation may not be fruitful.
On the other hand, consider the case of a person who has an emotional nature and wants to love God tangibly, in a personal way. If by reading different philosophical and metaphysical books the seeker tries to meditate upon God as the Infinite Principle, he or she will not find meditation interesting. There will be frustration. Therefore, an important point to decide upon in the very beginning is which aspect of God appeals to me and what God should I seek.
Then another trouble comes: our impatience. We begin with a certain notion of God and continue for some time, and then we become restless. Not finding “instant illumination,” we then try another concept of God. Then another. We drift from concept to concept. This drifting is a great hindrance to an effective search for God.
After the Ishta, our Chosen Ideal of God, has been decided upon, we should give sufficient time for that contemplation to become effective. Sri Ramakrishna’s parable of digging a well in one place is very instructive. If a person digs just ten feet or twenty feet in one spot and, not finding water, gives up and goes on digging again from place to place but nowhere sufficiently deep, he or she is bound to be frustrated. Had this person dug a little more, say thirty feet, water would have been found. Sri Ramakrishna said that impatience often comes in our religious life, and it is a great obstacle. Ishta-nistha, clinging faithfully to one’s Chosen Ideal, is extremely important.
Sri Ramakrishna began his search by worshipping God as the Divine Mother, with the help of an image of Mother Kali, and in a spirit of absolute self-surrender and burning faith. Sri Ramakrishna was like a child with total faith in his mother, knowing that whatever she did was best for him. With that kind of faith, Sri Ramakrishna pursued his spiritual practice.
But it was not an easy path. We suffer greatly if some worldly desire is not fulfilled, but an earnest spiritual seeker’s frustration in not attaining the vision of God is one hundred times more painful. The aspirant has withdrawn his or her mind from many sense enjoyments and has sacrificed many things for God. If God does not respond, an acute suffering overwhelms the aspirant’s whole being. This happened to Sri Ramakrishna. He suffered for months because Mother Kali remained like a motionless stone. But he did not give up; his faith sustained him. Then one day a miracle happened: Mother responded. Beyond any doubt Sri Ramakrishna felt that Mother was formless, infinite Consciousness. This vision naturally brought him great peace of mind, but his dependence upon the Mother continued. We can imagine his attitude: “O Mother, I shall always remain your child. You have blessed me with this vision, but I cannot say that this is final, so I depend upon you. Kindly hold my hand and take me wherever it is necessary for the perfection of my spiritual life.” As a result of this self-surrender, wonderful things happened. The Mother began to give him many other experiences. To Sri Ramakrishna, all these different visions of God, personal or impersonal, were just the different faces of the Divine Mother. At every step his search became fruitful.
If we have sincerity and patience, our search for God will be fruitful—no matter with what idea of God we begin the search. By God’s grace, more and more of the truth of God and our own real nature will be revealed. Two confusions exist in spiritual life: We do not know who or where God is, and we do not really know who we are. This ignorance regarding God, ourselves, and our world is called maya1. A fruitful search for God enables a person to cross over maya.
When we look at ourselves we seem to be very tiny compared to the vast universe. Wherever we go we are confronted by the duality of the little and the great. We go to a library and see thousands of books on the shelves relating to various subjects. How little our knowledge is compared to the storehouse of knowledge contained in those volumes! A sense of frustration and insignificance overwhelms us. We go on a trip to a high mountain range and find that we can barely climb a few thousand feet, while the vast stretch of peaks all around mocks our littleness. We sit in a restaurant where we are allowed to eat as much as we like for a certain sum. Having paid the sum we begin eating, but soon the stomach refuses to accept any more. Again there is a sense of frustration: “I wish I could eat double this quantity, but I cannot.” This is our experience. And it is equally true in the areas of love, wealth, happiness, friendship, honor, and so on. The vast and the little invariably go side by side. This conflict can be resolved only by spiritual wisdom.
God-consciousness is a discovery on two levels. It is discovering my spiritual nature and discovering God, the Infinite, who is hidden by the glare of empirical existence. He is hidden by nature, He is hidden by life, by my mind, by all the sense experiences. As I grow spiritually, I discover both God and myself. My physical and psychological nature may be limited, but my spiritual nature is not. I am really Spirit. Spirit is much more than nature, much more than mind, much more than life. In the process of this discovery, my fears and doubts about myself slowly begin to disappear. There cannot be any fear, doubt, or confusion in my true Self. Spiritual progress means progress in the comprehension of my spiritual nature as well as comprehension of the infinite, changeless Reality, God.
Why am I searching for God? Many people seek God when they are in a crisis—whether of health, economic condition, or some other worldly difficulty. If God listens to their prayers, they say, “Oh, God is kind.” If their prayers are not answered, they lose faith. On the other hand, if they have true faith, they say, “It is God’s will; let His will be done.” Their faith is not shaken.
We are on a spiritual search because we are seeking God for peace and strength. We are not satisfied with the world as it is; it is continuously changing. We are not satisfied with this body; it is fast approaching its seventieth year, the deadline in the horoscope! We are afraid, so we want to lift this fear. We are seeking something stable, a knowledge that will bring us the joy of Totality. We are not satisfied with a little knowledge, with little tidbits of pleasure. The saints and sages tell us that one who has realized God becomes free from all evil, passions, fear, pettiness, and ignorance. Even though living in the body, the illumined soul feels this freedom. We read in the Bhagavad Gita that the Self cannot be burnt by fire, killed by weapons, scorched by heat or withered by wind.2 That Self is our true nature, the principle of pure Consciousness within this transient body.
In a genuine spiritual search, we seek God in order to discover that we really are parts of the infinite, immortal Being. Our true Self shares the nature of God. If we can find God through our search, we shall simultaneously find the Self. We shall find ourselves eternally related to God; our lives will be grounded in that endless love. The fear of death will vanish forever. When we become conscious of God, we have neither future nor past. We live in an eternal, timeless present. We also rise above the fetters of space. The vast universe can no longer frighten us.
If our purpose is pure, and we seek God for God’s sake—that is to say, if we seek God in order to be aware that we are filled with God—we shall certainly be able to discover that God is our own essential truth. Entering the body, God pervades every pore as Consciousness, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says.3
It is very important to know where to seek God. We often seek God outside, in heaven after death. The great seers and teachers tell us that if we are seriously seeking God, we should try to see His presence first within ourselves. It is He who is enabling us to see, hear, smell, and work. There are people who have had this experience: they always feel that it is God who directs their lives; from this realization self-surrender comes.
In a wonderful hymn to Lord Shiva, Swami Vivekananda describes him as the infinite calm at the back of all the noise of this universe.4 In another verse he implies that the wild mind, with all its desires and distractions, is, in fact, the dance of Shiva. If we can look upon our wild minds as the dance of Shiva, the wildness of the mind will disappear in two seconds; that is the miraculous touch of God. If we can touch anything with the Divine, it will be transformed at once. So when we seek God, we should search within. If we are able to feel His presence in the movements of our bodies and minds, we shall become purified.
The practice of inner contemplation gradually enables us to see God’s glory outside. The tenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita prescribes the contemplation of God in nature. Wherever there is any manifestation of power or excellence, whether in a mountain or in a tree or in a human being, the Gita teaches us to see the presence of God in that object. This can be another search, the search for God in nature. But it is better that this search be done after we have progressed a little in trying to experience God within ourselves.
At no time in spiritual life should we give way to depression. There is nothing in spiritual life to be depressed about.
God is simple, and the search is also simple. The main factors necessary in this search are faith, self-surrender, and sincerity. Sri Ramakrishna said that if you take just one step toward God, God will come ten steps toward you. We should retain our faith. We should neither read too much nor should we allow our minds to be scattered in too many directions. Somehow we have been imprisoned in this little life; if we can develop a desire for freedom, our search is bound to be fruitful.
We should remember that spiritual experience is a process. It is not that all of a sudden we find ourselves illumined. Illumination is happening every day. When we sit in contemplation even for fifteen minutes, we should feel that we are in the presence of God. We are repeating His holy name; that is communion, that is an experience of God. If God is the power and the love in ourselves, then how can we miss Him? If the Vedantic definition of God as the Totality is clear, we can find God every day.
As our contemplation grows deeper, the sense of God’s presence becomes stronger and stronger. Of course the mind goes outward when we are very busy with our secular activities and involvements, but just as soon as we find some time to close our eyes, we are bound to feel the presence of God. We can hear God’s voice saying, “I am with you; I am with you.”
We should have a spirit of self-surrender. Let God drive this life. Surely, He is a responsible driver. He is my eternal friend, my eternal companion. As these experiences become clearer and clearer, we will become fearless, strong, and detached. Then we shall walk in this life with freedom; we shall not be afraid of anything—not even of death. Unnecessary desires will not crowd into our minds any more, because we know that by experiencing God we experience everything. We enjoy everything through God. This is the real fruition of spiritual life. A fruitful search for God is indeed possible.
Spiritual life will to bring us to the state in which the small personality disappears and our divine nature appears.
1. Maya is the cosmic illusion that creates ignorance and veils the vision of Brahman, the one Reality. Due to the power of maya, Brahman is perceived as the manifold universe.—Ed
2. 2. 23.
3. 1. 4. 7.
4. “A Hymn to Shiva,” The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 8 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1976), 4: 501-04.