Swami Yogatmanandaji’s lecture on questions in spiritual life (‘Do you have a question?’, June 17, 2012) was, as usual, insightful and inspiring. However, the best part of it it was carefully hidden – the title. In Zen-Buddhism, teachers use such questions (‘koans’) to point out the truth to the disciple. Thus, it makes perfect sense that Swamiji gave great answers to the various questions of the devotees but not, at least not directly, to the one he himself had raised: ‘Do you have a question?’ What could be the answer?
If I have no question, why is that so? Because there is such an abundance of knowledge that all my questions are perfectly answered? In that case, I would have fallen prey to what Sri Ramakrishna time and again criticized pundits (religious teachers) for. Simply because they were able to quote the scriptures in reply to all sorts of questions, they believed they knew everything – and thus never came to enjoy the mangoes they were describing in such detail. So, if I have lost all questions – my spiritual appetite so to speak – something has gone terribly wrong. Needless to add that in today’s knowledge society where scriptural wisdom is even to be found on tea bags, a devotee can almost as easily become a pundit as a ‘religious professional’.
On the other hand, if I have some questions, I’m not necessarily better off: the answers I get may not be satisfactory; different people give different answers; seemingly true answers could be misleading and seemingly wrong answers might just be very profound; personal questions are certainly relevant in spiritual life, but whom can I trust, who really knows me/himself/God? And finally: which question is worth being asked?
Sri Ramakrishna’s approach to these problems can be as surprising for us as it was for his teacher Totapuri. Instead of embarking on lengthy discussions, he just went into solitude and asked his divine mother Kali. It seems that She made all answers flash up in his mind when he approached Her – and waited for a reply instead of suggesting his own reply. Later on, his disciple Narendra (Swami Vivekananda) too made the experience that all the troubling worldly questions drop off in the presence of God. The one important question that remains leads straight to God: Who am I, who are you?
In the Gita, Krishna initially only serves as a simple charioteer and directs the carriage according to the commands of Arjuna. In other words, as long as we hold on to our own answers and opinions, religion is nothing better than a rhetoric toolkit to confirm our passionate mind in what we want to believe anyway. Such reasoning can result in terrible wars. However, the charioteer revealed Himself as the embodiment of religion, peace and bliss once Arjuna started to ask and supplicate Him. Why not give it a try, again and again?
Thank you for this beautiful instruction in meditation, dear Swamiji!