Many people in the yoga world – especially meditators – like to quote the passage from Luke in the Bible where Jesus says,
The Kingdom of God is within. (Luke 17:20)
It’s a popular idea that helps modern seekers feel free from the religious idea of an afterlife, or from God’s judgement. I think we sloppily like to believe that “everything is inside” – so why bother bowing down to anything outside? I say sloppily because there is some deep truth to the idea that “everything is within”, but few of us sloppy seekers really get the deeply good, sacred part of the “everything”.
When we say “everything is within”, we have to acknowledge that yeah, maybe there is a Kingdom of God in there somewhere, some kind of Divine Essence and ultimate destination of seeking. But we have to also acknowledge that the Divine Essence within is also sharing that “within” space with a whole lot of other crap! And most seekers are much more accustomed to the crap than they are to the Divine part. That’s where sadhana, practice, and a life of devotion comes in. It takes sincere diligence to learn how and be strong enough to sift through all the crap to find, commune with, and ultimate live in that in-dwelling “Kingdom of God.”
I first discovered this teaching as a young seeker, and used it, as many do, to let me off the hook from needing to follow Christianity (my culture’s dominant religion). I was discovering yoga and Buddhist and Taoist teachings and I really liked the empowerment and practicality of the teaching that says that, “Our heavens and hells are within us depending on how we think and feel and believe.” This teaching was so important to me and, in a way, I’ve followed it for the past 30 years.
I have experienced hells inside. I have experienced hells made of fear, of grief, of shame and heartbreak. I have also experienced heavens within. I have known heavenly states of unconditional love and connectedness to Spirit and supreme bliss and contentment. But now at this stage, I am also recognizing the limitation of this teaching
The teaching is good “Heaven or Hell is within depending on how you are.” If more people followed it, much suffering would be quelled. But I think it is kind of a spiritually adolescent teaching. As I move along my journey, I see how what is within us also creates what is around us. The old yoga teachings talk about a human being’s koshas or layers, from energetic to physical, and how yoga is meant to heal and purify and strengthen all of them. But what they leave out is our life. When I teach yoga, I add one more layer. I even gave it a name: the karmamayakosha. Literally this means the layer that is made of karma. Our karmamayakosha is our life.
The karmamayakosha is our relationships, our work, our environment, our society. And we have stewardship of it just like we do with our thoughts, feelings, and physical condition. From he mystical point of view, we kind of weave it out of our being like a spider weaving a web from it’s body. And then, like the spider, we live in the web we weave. But it doesn’t end there, does it?
Unlike the spider and unlike that ideal yogi in the ancient texts, we don’t live in isolation. And the web we live in isn’t ours alone. Everyone we’re interconnected with is also weaving webs. And we all live in the collective web we’re all weaving together. This is were the idea of Kingdom comes in. Our actions effect others. Even if we are tuned enough to be happy NO MATTER WHAT, that doesn’t mean our work is done.
And from experience I can tell you, this sort of personal attunement sometimes leads to a kind of spiritual narcissism where we are doing our thing, feeling happy and free, and stepping on other people causing pain and suffering for them at the same time. Over the years of my spiritual journey I have done this many times. Sometimes it’s been a subtle thing and sometimes in bigger, uglier ways. While I was in heaven, I was raising hell for others. I sometimes was even arrogant enough to preach to the people I was torturing “It’s your own inner attitude that is causing your hell.” That sort of thing.
My own misadventures aside, this is a deep teaching that we all can learn in this day and age. We are weaving a collective web and we can weave it as a Kingdom of Heaven or we can allow it to be a Kingdom of Hell. The operative word there is “allow” because we don’t need to do too much to make hell. Often if we do nothing, hell just happens. But to create the Kingdom of Heaven, we need to pay attention.
The Kingdom of Heaven, as I see it (as I have glimpsed it) is when we truly go out of our way to put love into the collective web. It’s when we really strive to live in wisdom and actually actively serve others in a selfless way and make it a priority to uplift and beautify and heal our world. I am not talking about The World. I am simply talking about our world, our people, the people, places and events that are in our present reality.
Of course, it is totally connected to the other teaching. We can only really spin that web of love into the world if we have cultivated that love inside of us in a real way. Maturity can only happen after adolescence, but it cannot skip it either.
But let’s do it. Let’s create that Kingdom together. Heal if we need to heal. Find Heaven within, but not stop there. Let’s together make this our goal to weave a web of love for the world. Imagine if all the millions of people who are into yoga and meditation and new age teachings were to make this their focus? Can you imagine if all of the activists and do-gooders and policy makers and people who shape society were to have inner spiritual awakenings, what would happen with that? Something to meditate on.
Meanwhile you can meditate with me using this sweet guided meditation on YogaGlo right now.