In 1936, right after his return from a year long trip to India, Paramhansa Yogananda had an inspiration to celebrate the true spirit of Christmas in a unique way. On Christmas Eve, he held an eight-hour meditation commemorating what he called “Spiritual Christmas”: He and many of his students meditated deeply and invited the Christ Consciousness to be born in the cradle of their devotionally stilled hearts. And on Christmas Day, he celebrated what he called “Social Christmas”: a gala-feast and gift sharing that included uplifting events and music with friends and family. This tradition, inspired by his India-trip over 80 years ago, is preserved to this date: all over the world disciples of the great Master gather, in big meditation centers and smaller meditation groups, to celebrate “Spiritual Christmas” with the eight-hour Christmas meditation and also “Social Christmas” with spiritual merriment and sharing.
In beginning this tradition, Paramhansa Yogananda shared with all his students the key teaching that Spiritual Festivals ought to have a two-fold celebration. The first is to delve deep within and commune with the essential quality that the particular Festival exemplifies, and the second is to share that uplifting quality with fellow truth-seekers in divine joyful satsang.
In the Bhagawad Gita, Lord Krishna divulges to the “prince of devotees”, Arjuna, this principle of inner-outer celebration as the harbinger of joy and upliftment:
“Their thoughts engrossed in Me, their beings surrendered to Me, enlightening one another and conversing of Me, they are ever contented and filled with joy.”— Bhagawad Gita Chapter 10:9
The first two suggestions—“Their thoughts engrossed in Me, their beings surrendered to Me,”—refer to the communion in deep meditation with the essential divine quality exemplified by any spiritual festivity, while the third suggestion— “enlightening one another and conversing of Me,”—refers to the coming together in joyous sharing of that same divine quality with our spiritual friends and family. The union of these two aspects of the celebration—“Social” and “Spiritual”— completes the purpose of any spiritual festivity: “we are ever contented and filled with joy.”
This year, why not put this into practice with Diwali, just as we do with Christmas?
Diwali literally is the “Festival of Lights.” Let us come together then, with fellow-seekers, at our local centers or meditation groups for a period of deep meditation on God especially in his aspect of Light. In the weeks approaching Diwali, let us also read the words of our Gurus on perceiving God as Light and have satsangs and classes with long-time disciples who have worshiped God as Light. This attuning our consciousness with God as Divine Light will be our celebration of “Spiritual Diwali.”
On Diwali Day itself, dressed in beautiful clothes, let us come together again at the same center—now bedecked with auspicious lights, lanterns and rangoli—for a gala-feast and uplifted sharing in music, song and laughter. This sharing of the consciousness of Light with our fellow travelers will constitute the celebration of “Social Diwali.”
And I think we will find that the result of this inner-outer celebration will be what the Holy Gita promises (this Gita verse is so beautiful, simple and sweet, why not take the opportunity to read it again!):
“Their thoughts engrossed in Me, their beings surrendered to Me, enlightening one another and conversing of Me, they are ever contented and filled with joy.” — Bhagawad Gita 10:9
Did you know that Swami Kriyananda often stated that the main purpose of Ananda’s existence was to “Expand the Light”? He even made this the motto of his outreach campaigns—to expand the light of the teachings of Self-Realization to encompass sincere seekers scattered all across the world including India, the land of his Guru’s birth. Swamiji said in his later years, “There are so many receptive souls in India that in time the work here will dwarf everything else Ananda is doing.”
On this sacred occasion of Diwali you too, can join this mission and help us “Expand the Light”. In so doing you will yourself become an instrument of that One Great Light that true saints of all lands perceive and worship, and which Paramhansa Yogananda brought to the world.