Grace vs. Self-Effort
Many people ask what the relation is between grace and self-effort. Paramhansa Yogananda once scolded a disciple for his light-mindedness. “You keep others rollicking all the time. As a devotee of God, you should be more serious. It is all right to laugh occasionally, but try even then to keep your mind inwardly calm.”
“I know my fault,” said the disciple, “but how can I change without your blessings?”
“Well,” the Guru replied, “my blessings are there already. God’s blessings are there. It is your blessings that are needed!”
How often people ask God for His blessings—but what a rare few stop to consider the part they themselves play in attracting those blessings! Grace is like the sunlight on the side of a building, shining impersonally. God has no favorites: He loves all equally. Paramhansa Yogananda once told his first disciple in America, “God loves you just as much as he does me. He is our common Father.”
If those who live in a building want to receive the sunlight, they must keep the curtains of their windows open. It is we ourselves who keep out the sun of divine grace, by closing our mental curtains.
God’s grace flows constantly in our lives. He is always with us. If we would receive that grace, however, we must open ourselves to it. It is our hearts, especially, that must be held open by love, and calmness, and a willing spirit.
Related to this subject is another teaching of my Guru’s. It is on this subject of willingness. “The greater the will,” he said, “the greater the flow of energy.” He taught this primarily to show us how to fill the body with energy, but it can be applied to every aspect of our lives. It is the way divine grace itself works.
If, for example, you want joy in your life, live joyfully! Don’t wait for joy to come to you. And if you want love, give love!—to people, to life, to God. Don’t wait passively for others to love you.
Grace is there always, shining on your life. You can close the curtains against it, however, if you so choose—by selfishness and self-involvement, and by such negative attitudes as unwillingness. How can He enter your life if you yourself shut Him out?
Prayer and meditation are the best ways to part the curtains of the mind, making it receptive. So also is an attitude of willingness. Embrace whatever duty life places on your shoulders. By reluctance you will only close yourself off from that divine flow. A “closed curtain” attitude is the underlying reason people suffer in life. One must, to learn His laws, accept them wholeheartedly, and live by them!