Introduction: There are no “Shoulds” in God
One of my goals as an author is to bring God “down to earth,” and help people connect with the Divine within themselves in practical ways that can be integrated into daily life. In the West, most people view “God” as something outside of them to be believed in, and do not realize that He/She/It is within them (and ultimately IS them), and can be experienced ever more deeply through spiritual practices like meditation. Although we are already one with God right now in this very moment, most of us still need to do spiritual practices to remove the ignorance that veils us from It, just as fog veils our reflection in a mirror.
People often view spiritual practice as an obligation, but in reality it is a celebration for people who understand that God is Ever Present, Ever New Bliss, as the great Master Paramahansa Yoganada once defined It. A wise woman once told me that, “There are no shoulds in God,” because the spiritual path is ultimately about connecting more deeply to Love, Joy, and Bliss, and not about pleasing a Deity outside of you. For once you realize that God is the Source of all Joy, seeking Him becomes potentially effortless, because you realize that He is what you have been seeking all along! Furthermore, once you realize that you are One with Him, and that He is actually the One experiencing “you,” your own seemingly ordinary life becomes transformed into His very expression, “The Kingdom of Heaven within you” (as Jesus expressed it) or “Nirvana” (as the Buddha called it).
Here are six practical tips for communing with God in daily life as a working person with a 9-5. For a more comprehensive explanation of my spiritual views, read my book Daily Bliss in the link above. If you do not believe me, or if these methods don’t work for you, I simply don’t care. As Hafiz once said, God and I are having a wild party, and will enjoy Ourselves no matter what, but it would also be great if others joined in the Fun! All my writings are merely expressions of what works for me that will hopefully inspire others to seek the Divine within themselves. And don’t be fooled: No “how to” manual or “___ step method” can lead you to God if you do not love Him more than worldly things, and are not willing to sacrifice lesser goals to realize Him. Only His Grace can open your eyes to the fact that He is the goal of life Itself and that, apart from Him, there can be no lasting happiness.
- Meditate on a Daily Basis
Over thousands of years, the great sages of India developed the spiritual technology of seated meditation to help catalyze Enlightenment experiences for practitioners. There are many types of meditation, but when I write and speak I am typically referring to Buddhist meditation because that is the only type of meditation I have considerable experience with, and is method that the Personal God Himself gave me as a means to achieve God-Realization in this lifetime. I practice Zen meditation 7 days per week, for around an hour per day, and have been sitting daily for 8 years. I often recommend for beginners to start sitting for the substantial but do-able amount of 20 minutes per day. Even 5 minutes a day of meditation is a blessed habit to develop that will bear enviable spiritual fruit in your life. Think of all the useless entertainment that you consume on a weekly basis. If you really make it a priority, you will find the time to meditate. As the great Avatar Ramakrishna once said, “People will weep a jug full of tears for their families and their careers, but who seeks God with similar zeal?”
If you look at the sky with your natural eyes, you can see a few stars in the city on a normal night. But if you look at the same sky with the powerful technology of a telescope, billions and trillions of stars become suddenly visible. Similarly, through the technology of meditation, the average person can develop ever widening spheres of spiritual perception by systematically learning to calm and concentrate their “monkey mind.” You cannot see your reflection in a boiling pot of water, and you similarly cannot realize your True Nature with a mind made foggy by wandering thoughts. Meditation is so spiritually powerful that the Bhagavad Gita (“the Bible of India” as some call it) says that even those who HEAR about meditation are closer to God-Realization than those who merely pray and perform rituals. Even for worldly people who have no spiritual path, meditation can ease stress, increase concentration, and has other innumerable benefits. I also highly recommended going on periodic meditation retreats, a topic I have written about extensively in my book and other blog posts.
- Begin your Day with Prayer and Positive Intention
Each day, I begin and end my day by reciting my spiritual vows, and by asking God to fully reveal Himself to me, and to guide me on the path to total spiritual liberation. Regrettably, worldly people only ask God for material things, but His true devotees realize that He Himself (or Enlightenment Itself) is the goal of life, and that God-Realization is the sole reason they have incarnated in a human body. Praying in this way sets the tone for my day, and activates the Grace of God, which automatically responds to such heartfelt prayers. Instead of instantly checking emails or the news, take a few moments to set your intention for the day, and ask God to lovingly guide you through the complexities of your life to the blessed state of God-Realization that is the only thing we should justifiably envy in this world.
Jesus once said, “Ask, and you will receive; knock, and the door will be opened.” Those who want to experience God, but do not yet have a path to Him, should ask Him to give them a path. Through dreams, intuitions, signs, and other innumerable confirmations, the Personal God has led me to Zen meditation as a technology by which He continuously reveals Himself to me, or rather reveals Himself to Himself. When you begin to ask the Personal God for guidance, He will sport with you, and your daily life becomes a sort of entertaining scavenger hunt where He is constantly speaking to you through signs, dreams, and inner intuitions. Although ultimately He is merely playing hide and seek with Himself, this relationship with the Personal God watered by daily prayer gives life an excitement and blessed intimacy I have never found in any other way of living.
- Carry Koan with you Throughout your Day
Zen Buddhist masters often gave their students koans to carry into their daily lives as tools to enter more fully into This Very Moment/God Itself/Buddha Nature. Right now, as I write this sentence, I am practicing a Koan personally given to me by my Zen teacher in Portland. Traditional koans often take the form of paradoxical questions like, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” or profound statements like, “Ordinary Mind is Buddha.” In daily life, beginners without a teacher can simply carry around the question, “What is God?” or “What is Buddha Nature” or “What is It right now?”
When you are in the grocery store, “What is God right now?” When you are at work, “What is my True Nature in this moment?” What is That which sees and hears and is reading this sentence, immediately Now? From the Absolute perspective, there is no Personal God to pray to: God is only experienced in the Present Moment, as the present moment, as your own natural Awareness. It is manifesting Itself right now as whatever you are witnessing, though It transcends any dichotomy of inside, outside, Experiencer, experience, being, or non-being. You have never been, and will never be, separate from It. It was never born and can never die, and It alone exists. And even though It can be more deeply realized through meditation practice, only Grace can reveal Itself to Itself.
These words shamelessly misrepresent It, and run the risk of causing inferior seekers to mistake their own intellectual mutterings for actual Experience. What an absurdity that I am even pointing to It with these words that true meditators will find so disgustingly spiritually limiting! Had the Personal God not instructed me to write articles like this, I would never forgive myself for talking so glibly and publicly about the Sacred Essence that when experienced “shuts the mouths of a thousand scholars.” Who can understand the profound sense of betrayal of someone who is made to speak about the Sacred before the distracted ears of the worldly? Yet if this never occurred, how could anyone find the path to God?
In any case, carrying a koan-like question (not intellectually, but as a gateway into direct sensory experience) in your day can be a powerful tool to cut through the notion that your own everyday life and “Divine” are separate. Please do not forget that this is not a superficial practice. Zen Master Mumon practiced with the question “What is Mu?” for 5 years before fully “understanding” it. When will the human race as a whole practice like Mumon? When will we have living Buddhas and living Christs instead of Christians and Buddhists who merely regurgitate lifeless sayings and mistake the spiritual path for a rhetorical arm wrestling match?
- Attend a Weekly Spiritual Service
Jesus once taught his overly dogmatic generation in bygone Israel that you yourself ARE the temple of God. You do not need the intermediary of a religion or a church or a teacher or a group to be connected to the Divine, because “the kingdom of God is within you.” And from the devotional perspective of the Personal God, you are His unconditionally loved child yesterday, today, and forever! You cannot earn His Love or Grace or Favor through attendance to a spiritual service.
On the other hand, it can be both spiritually uplifting and invaluable to attend a weekly service led by a spiritual teacher who has found genuine wisdom. Right now, I attend a weekly Zen service and study with teachers there on an intimate basis. I have learned that studying meditation with an authentic teacher is irreplaceable and invaluable to my own spiritual progress. In the past, I have attended various Christian churches of different denominations that the Personal God specifically led me to, something that He used to speak to me at that those times in my life.
Many people have baggage about going to a church or temple because they had negative experiences in early life. The law of spiritual groups is, “different strokes for different folks.” So don’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater” simply because you had a bad experience growing up. Try another path or denomination! Getting involved with a church or temple can be a wonderful blessing in your life, so keep looking and ask God to show you the path and/or religious tradition that will help you get closer to Him. All the while, never forget that your personal connection with the Divine is beyond religion and is found within yourself. Also, beware of power hungry false prophets, greedy teachers of the prosperity gospel, or meditation teachers that are still spiritually immature. It is better to have no teacher than to get involved with a teacher who is perverted, greedy, or prone to scandal.
- Read Scriptures
Over the past few years, I have studied Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Christian, and Taoist scriptures on a regular basis. Sometimes God directly gives me a dream, or speaks to me in meditation, showing me to study a specific scripture. When this happens, He wants to show me something through the scripture to help teach others, or wants to teach me a new perspective in my own life. Most of all, reading scriptures can help you re-orient skewed priorities in your life by revealing the Mind-State of awakened masters of the past. Whenever I read the Christian gospels, for instance, I receive a powerful reminder from Jesus to put God-Realization first in my life. When I read the Buddhist sutras, I receive a reminder from the Buddha to prioritize the path to enlightenment over all other worldly pursuits.
Although they can be fountains of wisdom and inspiration, scriptures are limited because, at best, they only describe the experience of God symbolically. They are the menu and not the food, the treasure map and not the treasure. Among other reasons, the Personal God has directed me to Zen Buddhism to show me that He cannot be realized through scriptural study alone, but can be experienced through empiricle techniques of meditation that transcend mere belief and symbolic description. Yet I also must admit that in dry spiritual seasons of my life, scriptural study has re-invigorated my spiritual practice by reminding me in beautiful, poetic language that the reason I have come to this planet is to experience God alone.
- Pay Attention to your Dreams
For more than any other reason, I have come to believe in a Personal God through my dreams. Although ultimately we are One with God, God splits Himself between the Personal God and the devotee as a wonderful form of Lila (or Play) for those with devotional karma. In dreams, the Personal God often shows me things He wants me to do I would never consider doing on my own. For instance, this very blog only exists because He has shown me in dreams that He wanted me to create it.
In dreams, I am often directed to books He wants me to read, am shown various aspects of my potential future or the future of humanity itself, and the meaning of scriptures are often revealed to me in dreams. Spiritual teachers have come to me to give me messages and meditation instruction in dreams. Past lives are sometimes revealed to me in dreams. If I told you everything that God has revealed to me in dreams, you truly would not believe me! Largely through paying attention to my dreams for the past 7 years, I have become utterly convinced that an Intelligence beyond my ego is guiding my life into a purpose He Himself fashioned for me before I was born. I have also become more convinced of the reality of concepts like karma and re-incarnation, and dreams have generally revolutionized my spiritual world view.
Dreams are incredibly complex, and usually are not lofty revelations of the Higher Self, but reflections of psychological patterns playing out in daily life. I cannot assure you that if you follow your dreams you will “believe in God,” but I can assure you that if you systemically study your own dreams for a long period of time your spiritual worldview will probably be radically altered. It is truly a pitiable tragedy that most modern people neglect to pay attention to their dreams, and fail to heed the ceaseless flow of messages being personally crafted just for them by the Divinity latent within their own psyches!
May God reveal Himself to you, remove the veil of ignorance separating you from Him, and show you who you really are!
Thanks for reading,
- Three Reasons to go on a Meditation Retreat
- Re-interpreting Jesus II: The Kingdom of God
- Airports, Musing, Hafiz…!
- Some Brief Thoughts on Spiritual Peace
- Effortless Effort: Some Thought’s on Ehei Dogen’s Fukanzazengi
- Being and Doing
- The Rest is Gravy: A Rambling
- My New Book, Daily Bliss