Originally published in 2014, this is a message I felt bears repeating.
"I know this will disappoint you," says Swami Rama in his book, The Art of Joyful Living, "but it is the truth: no one outside you can give you salvation."
He was right about the disappointment. That’s not what I’d hoped. I was wishing my therapist, or a workshop, or a great guru could give me enlightenment.
But, over many years, I’ve come to realize that other people can’t give me enlightenment. They can point in the right direction; they can give me practices that move me toward the goal; but I have to do the work myself. Expecting otherwise is like a child expecting his mother to magically take away the hurt of a scraped knee.
“But,” the ever-hopeful child within my mind objected, “I’ve heard that great Yoga masters can simply touch a disciple and raise that disciple up in consciousness. Maybe if I just find the right spiritual master….”
It may be so that great Masters can lift a disciple, but - and this is an important but - only if that disciple has done all that is needed to arrive on the threshold of enlightenment, and all the guru has to do is lift him the last tiny bit. Up until that point, and there’s a long road to reach that point, one has to do the practices necessary to make himself ready for that final lift.
According to the great Yoga sages, the reason I am not liberated at this very moment is because I have an unconscious death-grip on my un-liberated state. When I expect others to enlighten me, I am like a man who is clinging to a tree with arms and legs and all his might, shouting “this tree is holding me! Get it off me!” To get away from that tree, the man simply has to let go of it. Others can’t let go for him. He has to do it himself.
The tree I’m holding onto is my mistaken belief that I am my body, mind, and ego. If, in my heart, I believe I am this body, this mind, this ego, it’s very hard to let go of my identification with these things because of fear that I won’t exist if they are gone. But if I knew that I could let go of these things and still exist, then the fear would go away.
This is where Yoga comes in. Yoga is a path to slowly become aware that I am not my body, not my mind, and not my ego, but rather that I am pure being. Once I know, absolutely, that I’m being itself, and not the physical thing I’ve been imagining I am, then letting go is easy. Achieving this understanding is what is called enlightenment, and reaching this state takes sincere practice over a long time.
It’s not enough to just think about the practices. I actually have to do them in the same way that one has to exercise to get in good physical shape. Just as sitting on the couch watching fitness programs on television won’t improve the fitness of my body, so too simply wishing to be enlightened won’t get me any closer to enlightenment. I actually have to make the effort.
If I do the practices, with full sincerity and effort, then progress can be made.
So, if you want salvation, remember, Swami Rama says, "The truth is, we have to enlighten ourselves. You have to light your own lamp; nobody else will give you salvation.”
What he means is: get off the couch and do your practices consistently, with sincerity and devotion, and someplace along the way, grace may lift you over the threshold.