Grace of God
Some followers of Yoga tend to think that it is somehow ‘higher’ not to believe in any God.
‘There is no God other than the higher self of man they say, throwing their heads back proudly. This is fine as long as circumstances go quite well; it sounds all right to a young person, barefoot and more or less permanently camping, who is nevertheless sure of middle-class parents, or at any rate the Welfare State, to fall back on. It may sound all right in a comfortable flat surrounded by imported luxuries. But when in real difficulties, facing serious illness or imprisonment or even heavy responsibilities, it begins to ring hollow. Those who say it may find that they have promoted themselves to the sixth form without being able to tackle the sixth-form syllabus.
The more his spiritual training progresses, the more a student comes to recognize the grace of God. Without some glimpse of it, he is never free from an inner anxiety, however much he may conceal it from others, or even from himself, by bold gestures. While he has the anxiety, he can make little progress. Carefully practised physical relaxation exercises do not remove it, though they may mask its effects for the time being.
Still, mere belief in the grace of God, without spiritual training, can also be a cul-de-sac. This is because the distorted idea of it is used as a cloak for laziness. Like all spiritual ideas, this one has to be thought through right to the end, something which takes considerable courage. An experienced teacher is a great help at these times, because he can bring the hidden obstacles and evasions out into the light.
A man in Japan had an urge to find a spiritual teacher, but after going to see a number of well-known teachers in various towns he had still not found one with whom he could, as it is said, make a ‘connection’. One day he happened to hear that a new priest was coming to the neglected temple of Kannon in his own small town.
(Kannon is a bodhisattva of compassion, who perceives the appeals for help of all beings in their distress, and whose wisdom find ways to help them, sometimes miraculously. The name Kannon means the one who perceives the voices.)
When this seeker entered the temple and met the new priest, he had an experience like an electric shock, and realized that this was to be the temple where he could focus the devotion which he now felt for the first time.
He attended the services regularly, and spent some of his spare time and money helping to clean and repair the temple. After some weeks of this, the priest said to him,
‘You should now begin to repeat the invocation of holy Kannon for an hour every day: I can show you how to do it. Every Buddhist must do some form of meditation, and this can be the form for you.’
These words jarred on the new devotee. He made no reply, but a few days later when they were tidying up after the morning service, he said to the priest,
‘It seems to me that to undertake practices like invocation would be to deny the grace of holy Kannon, which brought me here. All my searches were of no avail; it was when I was not searching, not making any personal human efforts, that by the grace of Kannon you came here, by the grace of Kannon I heard about it, and by the grace of Kannon I had that experience which has changed my life. Am I now to say to holy Kannon “I shall resume my personal efforts again, as your grace may not suffice to take me the rest of the way”?’
The priest made no reply, but invited him to stay on for the midday meal. This was generally a simple affair of rice and a couple of vegetables; that day, however, after hearing his invitation accepted, the priest gave some money to his wife with a few whispered words, and when the lunch was served it included some rare dainties, deliciously cooked. The man felt his mouth water as it was set before him. The priest said the usual invocation to Kannon, and then he and his wife immediately began to eat without waiting for their guest. When the latter looked at the tray before him, he found to his surprise that there were no chopsticks on it. For a while he was too embarrassed to say anything, but as they did not seem to notice that he was not eating, he finally blurted out,
‘Excuse me, but . . . there are no chopsticks.’
‘Chopsticks?’ said the priest wonderingly, ‘Whatever would you want with chopsticks?’
‘Why, I need them to pick up the food.’
‘Surely you are not intending to pick up that food, are you?’ said the priest with an expression of surprise. ‘That would be a denial of the kindness of my wife, who has got this special food for you, and cooked it specially for you, and set it out on the tray for you, and brought the tray for you, and put it in front of you. If you now say you want chopsticks, you are as good as saying that her service is not complete. Surely you should wait till she puts it in your mouth, shouldn’t you?’
The man turned scarlet, and hung his head. The wife gently put a pair of chopsticks on the tray, and the priest patted his arm and said, ‘Please eat your meal and enjoy it.’
That night the guest asked for instructions in how to say the invocation of Kannon, which the priest gave him with great affection, adding, ‘What you cannot do by your own power, holy Kannon will always do for you; but this little thing which you can do, the holy Bodhisattva leaves for you out of courtesy, so that you can have the joy of cooperating with the One who sees the cries of the whole world, and helps the distress of those who utter them.’