Krishna Bhikshu, one of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s long-time devotees, told the following story about an incident that took place one lunch hour at the ashram:

“In the early years of the ashram everyone who was present when the bell went for lunch would be invited to eat with us. On one occasion a number of visitors were sitting in the hall. When the bell rang, everyone started moving to the dining hall except for one man whom nobody knew. Invited to join us, he refused and continued sitting, apparently in deep meditation.

“Bhagavan [Ramana Maharshi], who had started to eat, was told about the fasting visitor.

“He commented, ‘the man wants a job. How am I to get him a job?’…

“After the meal everybody returned to the hall. The new visitor was still sitting there.

“Bhagavan looked at him tenderly and said, ‘Come on, instead of meditating on a job while you are hungry, you can meditate when your stomach is full.’

“Everybody laughed. The visitor got up and silently left for the dining hall.” [1]

We tend to look at externals. We think that what a person does is what matters – that we can judge a person by his actions. It is true that actions are a good indicator of who a person is, but who we really are is best reflected by our thoughts. For a person’s exterior may hide a very different interior: what looks like Divine communion on the outside, may simply be an intense desire for a job.

When we first enter into the religious life, we take up all the external trappings. We change the manner in which we dress, the type of food that we eat, even the way that we talk. In the beginning, these external changes seem an important part of our new way of life. However, we soon discover that these outer changes do not really help us in our spiritual evolution, only the hard work of inner transformation will bring us closer to God.

The key to this process is to purify our thoughts by raising our consciousness; then right action will come of itself. This concept played an important role in the teachings of the early Hasidim.

Rebbe Shlomo Luzker, a disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch, taught that when we say a blessing before eating food, putting on a new garment, or smelling a flower, it reminds us that the material object in front of us, and the pleasure that we derive from it, is not what matters. What is important in our interaction with any given object is the spiritual emanation that we receive from the Divine spark inside it, the Divine livingness which lies at its very core. A blessing breaks the mental and emotional attachment formed by our sensory experiences. It lifts us out of our ordinary physical consciousness into the higher awareness of the spiritual realm.

The Hasidic Master, Ephraim of Pashdborez, claims that when we are engaged in spiritual learning, we can be sustained solely from the zeev HaShechinah – the radiance of the Divine Presence. This is because when we delve into the inner world, we enter into a different state of consciousness, and dwell on a different plane of existence. In this altered state, we no longer have a need for physical food. We can receive our nourishment directly from the energy of life itself.

Reflecting on the Biblical phrase “walk humbly with your God”, the Hasidic Master, Rebbe Klonimus Kalman of Cracow, advises us to make our inner devotion greater than our outer signs of piety. Outwardly, we should act like any other normal person, while being inwardly alive with the presence of God.

This teaching is more than just wise counsel about spiritual humility; it delineates a central truth about the spiritual path. We do not have to go off into a cave to know God. We do not have to read spiritual books all day long in order to become enlightened.  We do not have to give up our job, or our family situation, or anything else in our existence, in order to have a vital spiritual life.

Many people are afraid that if they go deeply into their interior world, they will turn into dysfunctional and withdrawn individuals, but nothing could be further from the truth. Connecting to the inner reality makes us more alive, more present in each moment. It turns us into effective instruments through which the Divine power can work. It transforms us into a spiritual pipeline through which the light of heaven flows effortlessly into the world.

The spiritual life is not about changing our outer actions or circumstances. It is about changing our inner processes and perceptions. It is about transforming the way we relate to the events of our life. The struggles of the spiritual life take place primarily in the mind.

When we serve God inwardly with great intensity, we penetrate beyond the veil of external sensory impressions. As a result, we become so immersed in the Divine reality that everything we see, taste and feel is experienced as pure consciousness. Once this occurs, everything that we do is transformed into a spiritual act.

This process, however, does not occur by a magical act of Divine intervention; it emerges out of the hard work of self-awareness and self-transformation. It begins in the realm of daily practice and the constant striving to maintain the remembrance of God. Gradually, over time, this spiritual training evolves into a sublime state of consciousness, where one part of us is always linked with God at all times.

Developed in this manner, our spiritual life becomes a natural response to our inner state of consciousness, instead of an artificial behaviour pattern that has been forced upon a resistant lower self. When this happens, our thought, speech and action become one united movement. Our bodies are sustained by the radiance of the Divine Presence (zeev HaShechinah). Our words become Torah or inspired wisdom. And our deeds are transformed into mitzvoth or sanctified acts. Then, even meditation on a job can be a vehicle for Divine service, an experience that leads us into the presence of God.

Copyright © 2012, by Yoel Glick

Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Power of the Presence, David Godman