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The Flawed Mirror: Being Raised Among Saints

“A saint is a sinner who never gave up,” said Paramhansa Yogananda.

The wisdom in these words is palpable here at Ananda Village, a spiritual community based on the teachings of Yogananda where I was born, raised and have now returned to live as an adult. Often, one of the more difficult lessons for people who live here is how to see the highest in each other, even as we get to know each other more and more and see the flaws in each other. This is much like the challenge we all face with our families; how can we love them, even though we see all their faults?

Psychologically analyzing people is a part of my nature. As a kid, my mom describes how embarrassed she felt for the people in a restaurant who I invariably chose to stare at unabashedly as they tried to eat in peace. Kids have no concern for making others uncomfortable.

This fascination with people combined with living in a close-knit spiritual community for most of my life means that I have spent my 36 years on earth observing the lives of some true saints-in-the-making. This is made even more true because of the leadership roles my own parents have had among them. I’ve observed the highs and lows of some of the most saintly people I can imagine. I’ve seen how stubborn, self-directed, fearful and lost they can be. But, I’ve also seen their capacity for loyalty, willpower, humility, compassion and love. They are all truly lions for God.

Each person that I know who has been dedicated to Self-realization, if they have also clung with humility to serving the guru, has flowered into a more refined, more beautiful version of him or herself. It is highly motivating for me (and probably many others), as I walk my own path of service and spiritual growth. When major life tests come, these “great ones” face them with the thrill that this may be the last hurdle, the final pitfall on the road to freedom. As they age, they do seem to tire of the anguishing monotony of their own limitations, but in that anguish there is also surrender of the little self for the big Self.

My own parents fall into that bunch for I have watched their journey through the stressful years of accounting and book publishing and lawsuits to the heart-expanding years of teaching, counseling and sharing wisdom. Tests continue to face them, perhaps at increasing speed and severity even, but they keep on learning and growing and doing their best.

Old habits die hard and the personalities that we take on in this life may always have their outward quirks. That’s the most confusing thing about saints; they often look just like us. I’m convinced that this seeming contradiction is meant to motivate us all towards sainthood by making it more human.

When I say “saint”, I don’t exactly mean an avatar like Yogananda or Jesus or Buddha. We are all destined for that greatness too, but a saint is a stage on the way to perfection. It is a person who has made sincere spiritual effort and whose soul qualities are less and less obstructed by the ego. Even the greatest gurus appear to have personalities, although they wear them, as Yogananda said, like a heavy coat on a hot summer day.

If I’ve learned one thing from my observations it is this: if we can see the highest in ourselves, we can more easily see the highest in each other. Saints already or still “sinners”, by treating each other as the great gurus we will someday become, we elicit the best from each other and ourselves. Life is more like a war than a battle. Sometimes we lose the battle, but we are all destined to win the war. 

I could write a book of examples from the lives of the saints among us, but it might sound a bit like an exposé. It’s not my place to write of the challenges others face, only my own. No one knows the heart of another; not at least until we experience it through the omnipresence of God-consciousness. Still, there is much to be learned through observation and especially by observing the lives of those we admire.

I am deeply grateful for the examples of discipleship and the paths to Self-realization that are being blazed by my friends. May all of our lives be blessed by their sacrifice and may we all speed to our great destiny together!


PS – Yogananda said we have to free 6 or 7 others before we can be fully liberated…so, you know who you are, don’t forget me, k?!!!

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