This Month’s Feature Article
Questions and Answers
Swami Prabhavananda [1893-1976] was the head of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, USA, and a disciple of Swami Brahmananda. One of the foremost disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Brahmananda was an ever-illumined soul. His disciple, Prabhavanandaji, answers the questions of a few aspirants here.
[Published in Vedanta and the West]
Q: If God is present in everyone, how do you explain people like Hitler?
Swami: God dwells everywhere. God dwells in the heart of the tiger too, but that doesn’t mean that you have to go and hug the tiger. It is just like this: The self-luminous sun is shining. But rain clouds have gathered and it seems to us that the sun has disappeared. Actually the clouds have not affected the luminosity of the sun: it continues to shine behind the clouds. Similarly, God dwells in a Hitler too and remains unaffected by the thoughts and deeds of the man. The man reaps the fruits of his karmas [the consequences of his thoughts and deeds], and suffers. But through such suffering his character will be purified, and in some life he will wake up and realize the divinity.
Q: How can we live successfully in the world but not be of it?
Swami: Everybody has to live in the world. We monks also have to live in the world. I remember a disciple once asked Swami Brahmananda whether anybody can find God while living in the world. He replied: “Where else would one live?” But remember, let not worldliness attach itself to you. How to keep worldliness away from you? by attaching your mind to something greater, something higher. The only way to live in the world and not be attached to it is to attach yourself to God. Let your hands work, go about your business, but keep a part of your mind in God, knowing him to be the one reality, the eternal truth. He alone is your very own. We have to convince ourselves that there is one object of love, one being who really loves us—and that is the Lord. He is your very own. You belong to him. Have that awareness. You can then live in the world and nothing will touch you.
Q: Can you explain why the Lord will one day seemingly take an active part in our affairs and the next day, in a very similar situation, stay completely aloof?
Swami: Isn’t it your own mind that changes? When you are in a good mood you think the Lord is taking an active part in your affairs, and when you are in a bad mood you think that he doesn’t concern himself with your affairs at all. God is always the witness. He is indifferent to your merits and demerits. All he wants is your love. But how can you love God unless he gives you that love? He is very miserly when it comes to giving devotion. So you are in a dilemma. What to do? Weep before the Lord and pray that you may have pure love for him. That is the only way.
Q: Can a happily married couple find god and/or the Truth together?
Swami: Well, I don’t see why not! I wish that all of you happily married couples may remain together happily. If you move together toward God, one can help the other. Marriage is an institution which provides opportunities to learn control and to be selfless. If both of you devote yourselves to God, you will remain happy together, and surely you will realise the Truth.
In our Hindu scriptures there are many examples of householders who became great devotees. The ancient rishis, the seers of the Vedas and the Upanishads, were married people.
Q: How can we learn to distinguish between what is the Lord’s will and what is our will?
Swami: There is just one way. Do you feel the presence f God and remember him? If you do something and consider it God’s will and have forgotten God, then you may be sure it is your own will.
Q: How can we learn to keep the mind on God?
Swami: Practice. Try! Then one day you will look at someone. Suddenly you will think. There is the presence of God. You’ll look at the sky and feel: Oh, there is God! Someone will be talking to you and you’ill have the awareness: That’s God’s voice.
One can do this when one begins to fall in love with God. Then recollection of him comes automatically.
Q: How can we make ourselves want to meditate?
Swami: The secret is doing it. When the mind is concentrated on a subject, interest arises. But it takes time. Once you begin to meditate regularly, you will find that there is joy in the thought of God. Practice!
Q: What meaning can spiritual awareness have for a middle-aged person?
Swami: Middle-aged or old—it makes no difference if there is the desire for spiritual life. And if the desire arises, no matter at what age, you are blessed. I know this from personal experience.
Many years ago, in India, an old man who had lived a very wayward life, arrived at our monastery and said: “I want to stay here. Give me a room and some food.” What little he owned he just handed over to the abbot. After some time, my master came to visit our monastery. When he saw this old man, he turned to me and asked me: “Where did you find this saint?”
Thus, middle age or old age, it doesn’t matter if you want God. After all where is God? He is within you, he is your very Self. Sri Ramakrishna expressed it so positively. He said: “Everyone can realise God, because God is the Self in every being.”