Some time ago I had the good fortune to travel to Brunei, a sovereign state on the island of Borneo. I was pleasantly surprised on the short flight from Malaysia – and prior to take-off – to be welcomed with a traveller’s prayer on my economy cabin video screen, an invocation to Allah and a supreme protector to safeguard our journey. The screening was received in a meditative, respectful silence followed by a short incantation from my fellow passengers. In my own world one would be astonished by such an event, since personal belief, God and religion for the most part are carefully excluded from the public domain – schools, airlines, company offices – and conversations about an all-governing Intelligence are rare and often awkward.
My fellow passenger was less impressed by the devoutness of our airline, and I was happy to inform him that, to the best of my knowledge, Emirates, Etihad, Royal Brunei and Kuwait Airlines also have similar customs. I was able to remind him of Albert Einstein’s remarks, that “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” Rebuking the ardor of many who rail against religion, Einstein further commented:
“The fanatical atheists are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who—in their grudge against traditional religion as the ‘opium of the masses’—cannot hear the music of the spheres.”
Although the idea of God, of Allah, Brahma, a supreme creator, lies beyond the comprehension of the limited rational mind, we nevertheless have an intuitive intelligence that responds to life in a rather different way. Many truths lie over the horizon of the mind’s understanding and await discovery at a further point in time, but if one can quieten the chatter of the mind, silence and stillness are gateways and portals to a different kind of knowing. Spiritual masters are very much at home in this world, and speak of a relationship we have with the universe which is both mystic and inspirational. The late Indian master Sri Chinmoy wrote a small book called ‘Grace’, an account of the responsive role of grace in human life.
For most of us the concept of grace with its assumption of the existence of God or a benign, conscious Intelligence has little reality. Either we do not believe in God or, overly conscious of our blemishes and wrongdoings, we cannot believe that a God could love us constantly and unconditionally. But Sri Chinmoy writes: “Personal effort cannot live by itself even for a minute, because its inner nourishment is the Grace from Above… God’s Grace is responsible for everything. This moment it is using our hands, next minute it is using our legs, next moment it is using our mind, next moment our breath or our heart.”
He describes grace as one of the elusive, powerful mysteries of God’s love, the key to that great alchemy that transforms ignorance into knowledge, disbelief into devotion, seeker into saint.
‘Grace’ describes the love and compassion of God responding to personal effort and falling unconditionally like rain on agnostic and believer alike. Personal effort, magnet-like, always attracts grace – and grace increases our hunger, deepens our meditation, clears away the blocks and obstacles to expedite our progress.
Belief or disbelief in grace does not alter its reality any more than our expectation of a sunny day might stop a sudden downpour — and an open mind/open heart will gradually reveal its existence. As we become more conscious of grace in our life, a direct personal experience, our faith and our feeling of being God’s child deepen. Anxiety disappears, love and patience come, everything is being taken care of by God the infinitely loving parent. Sri Chinmoy writes:
“God’s greatest adamantine Power is His Grace. The moment God uses His Grace for an individual, He offers His very Life-Breath to the seeker. If we approach God with the heart and the soul there can be no dryness, only a constant shower of love and Grace.”
Many people talk of a relentless causality that governs our lives. From the alignment of planets astrologers also make charts that predict what will happen. But grace can nullify everything. Sri Chinmoy reminds us that “there is a world which is infinitely higher than the planets. From there we can easily create, and we can also delete anything in our fate… then we can add something new. Your fate can also be adjusted by the Grace of the Supreme.”
Grace especially permeates our being when we are in the field of aspiration, even to the point of nullifying or changing our karma. Sri Chinmoy uses the analogy of a child who does something wrong then runs to the father to avoid the consequences. The father has compassion for the child. He knows the child has done something wrong but safeguards the child from the consequences.
Comments Sri Chinmoy: “In the case of an ordinary, unaspiring person, karmic dispensation is unavoidable, inevitable. The law of karma is always binding: like a snake it will coil around him. He has to pay the toll, the tax; the law of karma is merciless. But again, there is something called divine Grace. If I shed bitter tears and pray for forgiveness, then naturally God’s compassion will dawn on me. Divine grace plays the role of the father. If the father wants to protect the son, he can.”
“When we aspire with our heart’s tears, we see that God is coming down to us from Above. The heart is crying and yearning like a mounting flame burning upward. This flame of the heart wants to go beyond the mind, so it is always rising. And God is constantly descending with His Grace, like a river flowing downward. Ours is the flame that always burns upward; God’s Grace like a stream, is coming down from the Source. When aspiration and Grace meet together, we come to experience the divine fulfillment of union with God.”
“God’s love gives us first a free access to His inner Existence, then a most complete intimacy or oneness with His inner Will and finally, ecstasy or delight, which is the universal and transcendental Reality which God Himself is.”
For those who doubt such things, there is nothing at all wrong with having a questioning mind or a healthy skepticism. But a little humility is also helpful, the recognition that our comprehension of truth, reality, the fundamentals of the universe might be still very small. Einstein adds from my small book of his quotations:
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.”