Receiving Grace

Raja_Ravi_Varma,_The_Milkmaid_(1904)The Gita says nothing can be achieved without God’s grace. So what should we do in order to receive it?

An urgent question from one of our members this week. She has completed most of her householder duties, and at this stage of her life has her eyes fixed on the ultimate prize of self realization.

We were fortunate to have not one but two guest speakers to address this question, both of whom are practicing sannyasa. They also happen to be my parents, so I was doubly blessed.

Swami Matrukrupananda talked to us first about achieving the goal through total concentration and single-minded focus. As long as you have any other goals in mind, he warned, you cannot achieve the most important one.

“While this might be feasible for some of us who have retired from the world, what about those of us who are still in the thick of it?” I asked. “We have many mini goals still, at home, at work, with our children. How can we stay focused only on realization when we are still very much embroiled in the world and all its activities?”

My father’s answer was that we could. It’s a matter of shifting our concentration. We do what we need to do, we conquer challenges, continue to achieve success, but with a sense of detachment, a sense of surrender, and an implacable belief that everything we do and everyone we come across is a part of that larger plan of self realization.

“Working without being attached to the fruits of action, having faith in God, and surrendering our ego will only bring us so far, “ he warned. “Ultimately, there is the role of grace.” He ended by urging us to pray for grace since with it, all things are possible, all sins are wiped away and we can step over that final boundary into immortality and bliss.

It was at this point that our member asked her question. If grace is so crucial, then how and where do we find it?

It was Swami Gurupriyananda’s turn to answer. What she said gave us all a jolt. “Grace,” she said, “is not some rare thing you need to seek out. It isn’t given out sparingly or reserved for the chosen few. In fact, grace is something God showers on us day and night without limit and without reservation.”

We found this hard to believe. If grace was so plentiful then why couldn’t we get any? Why were many of our prayers unanswered and why were we having such a hard time implementing even the most basic discipline on our path to realization?

My mother went on to explain that grace is like rain, it showers down on us like a torrent on empty clay pots. If the pots are turned down however, with their openings facing the ground, no amount of rain will get in. The pots need to be turned up, mouths open, and then they will quickly fill and overflow.

She gave us yet another very illuminating example. She urged us to think of grace as the extra credit on an exam. If we do our best and get very close to the top mark, then those few extra credit points will make all the difference. If we don’t try, however, and get a low score, those points won’t help us in the least.

This was a pretty eye opening moment for all of us. Rather than whining about not receiving grace we needed to simply turn ourselves in the right direction to receive it. Rather than rely wholly on outside help, we needed to make a determined effort first, as my father had suggested, so that this freely available grace could make a difference.

We realized that our hard work with the Gita was our sadhana and this dose of instant wisdom from our elders was the grace we had prepared ourselves to receive.

Our homework this week is to continue to be open to what is already abundant, by focusing on the goal, practicing nishkama karma, dissolving the ego, and having faith.

Image: Raja Ravi Varma, Wikimedia Commons

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