"Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God"
Excerpts from The Second Coming of Christ by Paramahansa Yogananda
The Cardinal Message of Jesus
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
"Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
"Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
"Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
"Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
"Therefore take no thought, saying, 'What shall we eat?’ or, 'What shall we drink?’ or, 'Wherewithal shall we be clothed?’ (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
"Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Seeking the kingdom of God first is the cardinal message of Jesus to individuals and nations of the world, because it is the surest way to lasting individual, social, and national happiness.
Perishable material possessions do not contain the immortality and everlasting bliss of the kingdom of God, but His imperishable kingdom contains in it all the goodness of the world. To possess God is to own the universe.
If the ear is pulled, the head comes with it. When by devotion one pulls God into his life, then automatically eternal prosperity of immortality, wisdom, and ever new blessings are added unto him. ...
Man should not seek possessions first, and then God, for he is apt to lose God. The mind is like blotting paper; when it soaks up impure material desires, it becomes saturated and cannot absorb the pure Divine Essence. The foolish materialist becomes wholly accustomed to working for pleasurable perishables; owing to the enslaving habit of his mind, he is unable to concentrate any attention on seeking God. The wise do not waste their effort in acquiring what they will perforce have to give up at the time of death. Those who are successful in attaining the kingdom of God, and in manifesting His righteousness, will have ever new bliss and the realization of their immortality, not only in this life but throughout eternity; and in addition, the fulfillment of all material needs. No sensible businessman could turn down such an offer!
In the words: "Take no thought for your life," Jesus did not excuse reckless disregard for the principles of healthful, successful living. He elaborated that it takes eternal life, the Word of God, to sustain human life and not the physical nourishment of "meat" alone; and that the body was made to express soul wisdom, and not merely to be adorned with clothing and comfort. Then why concentrate all one's energy in worrying about satisfying material wants, when life itself comes from God, is sustained by Him, and begs to express His innate glory? ...
Man is directly sustained by God and the abundance of nature, and indirectly by his earning capacity and physical efforts. Not by all human care can man maintain himself without the help from God, He who is the Maker of Life and the Creator of sunlight, grain, water, and air, which support human life. But because man does his share to acquire the use of God-given things, he soon forgets the direct Divine Hand in human existence. Man cannot make grain, though he wields God's laws to propagate it; nor can he make the power of digestion to assimilate food, nor the life force that transforms the grain chemicals into his cellular tissues. Yet man is so solicitous of the wants of his body that he ornaments it and seeks to grant its every whim, seldom if ever considering that without the inherent Divinity, all he embellishes is a clod of earth. ...
To "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness" is to concentrate on the Eternal Life, the source of all lives, and to express the glory of that immortality in all interactions with the world.
Great scientists and literary savants also take care of the necessities of life, but their minds remain mostly engrossed in the subjects in which they have specialized. Similarly, as Jesus himself demonstrated, the divine man maintains his body as the temporary home of the immortal soul and fulfills all of his God-given responsibilities, but his consciousness is firmly centered in God. The ordinary man thinks only of food, possessions, and pleasure—that is all he pursues. Under the smoke screen of materiality he has totally hidden God from his perception, cutting himself off from life's invigorating Source, depleting his happiness and draining dry the truly satisfying divine joys that inhere in his soul. To acquire everything needful with the mind resting principally on God is the sure way to happiness. To go after inflated "necessities" in a state of God-forgetfulness will certainly lead to misery.
No matter how much the worldly man acquires, he never fully enjoys his situation; for he is never satisfied, is always looking for something more, or is afraid of losing what he has. The Western nations, at the height of industrial civilization, gorged with materiality, have not succeeded in producing a society free of depression and discontentment. Houses, money, automobiles may be necessary to modern existence; but if man does not also give some time to God and meditation, the formula of his life will be missing the catalyst necessary to produce true happiness. Unless one seeks the kingdom of God and establishes within himself its righteousness, peace, joy, and wisdom, the contrasts of pleasure and sorrow in his life will foment inner discontentment, unbalance, and physical and spiritual deficiencies. ...
The Bhagavad Gita teaches: "Actionlessness [oneness with transcendent Spirit] is not attained simply by avoiding actions. By forsaking work no one reaches perfection." "He is the true renunciant and also the true yogi who performs dutiful and spiritual actions without desiring their fruits.... He who has not renounced selfish motive cannot be a yogi." [God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita III:4, VI:1-2] A man of God works diligently, performing dutiful actions to please God and to share the fruits of those actions with God's children; his efforts are not motivated by selfish desires or any influence of delusive evil.
The souls of human beings are sent on earth by God to work for Him in worthy ways that serve His cosmic drama. Hence, those who instead work for their ego and its desires become entangled in delusion's desire-filled net, entrapped for incarnations. The wise man fulfills his mortal obligations as a divine duty, because God has given him a body to look after with its related responsibilities. Such a man is free. The man who neglects his body and its environmental needs to the detriment of well-being sins against God's laws of creation; and the person who solicitously serves his body to please his vanity and mortal desires also divorces himself from God. ...
If one's whole life is based on the comfort of the flesh, coddling the little body, how can one know divine happiness? Why give so much attention to something that has to be cast away at a moment's notice? To be busy day and night with the body is a bad habit. It is a delusion by which one becomes more and more attached to his physical existence.
The worst habit of man is that he thinks of himself as a mortal body; that thought, being uppermost in his mind, keeps him away from God more than anything else. Many saints think of the body as merely a useful animal under their care—Saint Francis of Assisi used to refer to his body as Brother Donkey. It must be cared for, but not so much worried about. When a disciple in the ashram would bother too much about the body, my guru Sri Yukteswarji would say cryptically, "Throw the dog a bone." If the body eats a little, all right. If it sleeps a little, all right. The more one fusses about it, the more demands it will make. One should do his duties to the body and forget it. Remember, we are sons of God; we are not the body. ...
Ordinary man is obsessed with the limitations of his physical body and its afflictions of disease, suffering, pain, heartaches. But on the inner side of the body are the subtle centers of spiritual consciousness, with their untold powers and realization of the divine Self. When in meditation the mind follows the stream of inner consciousness, the devotee enters the supernal "kingdom of God" that exists behind physical manifestations. That is why Jesus said, "Behold, the kingdom of God is within you." [Luke 17:21] In devotional interiorization, the meditator experiences true communion with God in the actual perception of His presence as light, wisdom, love, bliss. ...
Of course, just blind belief in the kingdom of God will not suffice; nor will halfhearted prayers or a few good works. Neither will a lifetime of seeking the divine kingdom without receiving it bring the bounty of blessings promised Jesus. The right way of seeking is through the God-given yoga science of entering the kingdom of God within, the technique of God-contact in which the sages of India have specialized. When ecstatic communion with God is an established fact, then the devotee will know that with the acquirement of the Celestial Kingdom, all things are within his reach. Jesus had that ultimate realization and could say: "I and my Father are One." That is how he could feed five thousand people with two fishes and five loaves of bread, and could re-create his body after death—achievements that no scientist has yet duplicated. Jesus had God first, so he had power over life and death, destiny, and all conditions. ...
As long as God gives man life, he has an obligation to give some of that time to God. The hour will come when one's time is up; let it not have to be viewed with sadness at having been wasted. Be with God; claim that real perennial happiness. Waste not golden spiritual opportunities on the fool's gold of material glitter. Where is the time for God if it is spent in constant fussing to satisfy the body's wants for what I have termed "unnecessary necessities"? Rather simplify life and use that saved time in meditation for God-communion and real progress in attaining life's necessary necessities of peace and happiness.
Real Christ-living should consist in seeking the comfort of meditation first and in also keeping material life simple while attending to one's dutiful activities. A complex material life is only pleasing to the eyes and the status consciousness of the ego, but few realize "what price material comforts." Economic slavery, nervousness, business worries, unfair competition, dissensions, lack of freedom, disease, misery, old age, and death are the harvest of a materially compacted existence. So much is missed when there is no time left for the appreciation of beauty, Nature, and God's many expressions in life. ...
Relatively speaking, there is very little happiness in this world, only snatches of transient pleasure for the most part. I do not mean to paint a dark picture, but to urge those who want more from life to make themselves so spiritually strong within that it will serve as a divine bulwark against assaults of sorrow and suffering.
As long as the mind wanders haphazardly between spiritual incentives and worldly temptations, that course will be futile in producing spiritual happiness. Those who want the world, and place their faith in things that do not last, are like puppets, dancing on strings of their impulses and karma, any time to be taken away by death. Divine happiness is easier to get for it does not depend on life's fickle doles; and it is everlasting. No comparison with any rich man will be able to make the spiritually wealthy feel poor; for they know they are the richest of the rich in the kingdom of God and His righteousness within.
Practicing the Presence of God
During the busy-ness of the day, the true God-seeker spiritualizes all actions with the thought of Him. He learns to keep the mind most of the time at the Christ center, the Kutastha center of the yogi, and finds the Infinite Christ pouring over his consciousness wave after wave of quiet heavenly joy. "He who watcheth Me always, him do I watch. He never loses sight of Me, nor do I lose sight of him. He looks at Me through the niches of space, and I behold him through the pores of the sky." *["He who perceives Me everywhere and beholds everything in Me never loses sight of Me, nor do I ever lose sight of him." (The Bhagavad Gita VI:30) ] When the devotee puts his mind on God, he will see that out of the invisible, out of the unseen skies, a perceptible Presence will speak to him. It is possible to talk to God. His voice can be heard in words, as well as through intuitive feeling, if the devotee loves Him deeply enough and refuses to give up. The desire for His response must be with all one's heart.
Whenever there is trouble or unhappiness, the highest recourse is to think of God steadily; just as the needle of a compass points northward, no matter which way the compass is turned, so must the mind be on God no matter what conditions prevail from moment to moment. There is a God of love and compassion who steals silently into the consciousness, seen only through the ever increasing light of devotion. Have faith in Him; He is ever present. None of the wonders of creation could happen without His omnipresent intelligence. This divine intelligence is the evidence, the trademark, of God—in the tree, in the flower, in the skies, in the moon, in the routine of the seasons, in one's life-supporting bodily system. How can one observe the workings of the intelligent universe and doubt the existence of God?
But no one can find God without continuous love for Him in the heart. To feel that love for God, one must practice it. It is unproductive to analyze and magnify one's defects and troubles. It is enough just to tell God, "Lord, You are the Divine Healer of all maladies; I give myself into Your charge. You are not only my doctor, but my compassionate mother, my wise father, my Creator-God. You cannot forsake me because You made me Your child. Naughty or good, I am Your loving child. Be with me." There is nothing greater than the love of God. If a devotee has found that, his work in the school of life is finished. Until then, precious time should not be wasted. Meditate daily, deeply; and work for God, performing all duties as offerings to Him.
Never give up. To the testimony of Lord Jesus, I humbly add my own: In all my life, I have never found God not to satisfy my needs or to grant my wishes. He sometimes makes me think He will not respond, but suddenly I find there is fulfillment—even more than I could have hoped for. This is not to say that God gives what we pray for if we just sit idly and wait for Him to manifest for us whatever we have requested of Him. He expects us to do our part; He makes us work—sometimes with great difficulty—to create the right conditions and opportunities for fulfillment. Then through Divine Grace, His answer to our legitimate prayers comes to pass. It isn't that I want "things" from God, but just to know He is with me. I have said to Him: "I do not ask for things from You, but when I see what You give to me, knowing my heart and my needs, I rejoice in that gift because of Your own hand behind the giving of it." ...
That state of oneness with God is granted by Him only when He is convinced the devotee does not want anything else. As long as there will be a single desire in the heart for other than God, then even though He will be near the devotee, He will not be fully manifest to him. While waiting patiently for there to be room in the devotee's heart for the giving of Himself, He continues lovingly to grant the devotee's simple, legitimate prayers: "Lord, although I have to satisfy a few material desires to get along as a mortal being, still in my heart there is only You. As Your child, O Lord, I have no desire, because I already have You; and as You have everything, so have You bequeathed that divine inheritance to me." When the devotee with that devotion seeks Him and lives righteously, he cannot fail in his God-seeking. (The Second Coming of Christ, p.515)