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Few Desire It; Few Attain It



Last revised: 5 April 2008

Few seek it

The considerations of this chapter will bring us to the end of our story. The masters will offer us sobering words on how many people actually yearn so strongly for nothing else but God that they attract the divine gift of enlightenment to themselves.

How many care to seek for Him? Sri Krishna says: “One man, perhaps, in many thousands.” (1) Swami Brahmananda is even more conservative. He estimates that “only one in a million sincerely longs for God.” (2)

Sri Ramakrishna could see into people as Jesus could. He explained to his devotees: "Yes, I can see inside [a man] through his eyes, as one see the objects in a room through the glass door." (3) As the carriage he was being driven in passed through the streets of Calcutta, he read people's thoughts and saw very few who were thinking of higher things.

The other day I went to Calcutta. As I drove along the streets in the carriage, I observed that everyone’s attention was fixed on low things. Everyone was brooding over his stomach and running after nothing but food. Everyone’s mind was turned to “woman and gold.” I saw only one or two with their attention fixed on higher things, with their minds turned to God. (4)

If we take mental stock of ourselves, we might find that, for the majority of us, spiritual life has not yet even begun. Sri Krishna may be describing us:

Fools pass blindly by the place of my dwelling
Here in the human form, and of my majesty
They know nothing at all,
Who am the Lord, their soul. (5)

Absorbed in our cloud of worldy thoughts, our attention drawn endlessly outwards, we pass by His dwelling place in the heart again and again. We constitute the majority of the million, who never long for God.

Few attain it

And even of those who sincerely yearn for God, how many attain Him? “Not many,” says Blessed Henry Suso. (6) Of the one in a million that care to seek God, Swami Brahmananda observes, “few sustain that longing.” (7) Of the few who long for Him, Sri Krishna explains, “perhaps one only” attains him in God-Realization. (8)

Jesus knew how rare enlightenment was among people. He warned his disciples:

Many are called, but few are chosen. (9)

I shall choose you, one from a thousand, and two from ten thousand. (10)

“Strait is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (11)

Turning from the world and desiring only God is the strait and narrow way. The Upanishads compared it to “the sharp edge of a razor.” “Narrow [the path] is, and difficult to tread."(12)

The irrepressible Sri Ramakrishna told his devotees: “Out of a hundred thousand kites, at best but one or two break free; and Thou dost laugh and clap Thy hands, O Mother, watching them!” (13)

Among the chosen few, Sri Ramakrishna says, there are far fewer householders than renunciates.

A few [householders] succeed in [spiritual life] through the grace of God and as a result of their spiritual practice. But most people fail. Entering the world, they become more and more involved in it; they drown in worldliness and suffer the agonies of death. A few only ... have succeeded, through the power of their austerity. ... Therefore spiritual practice is extremely necessary. (14)

Let us understand the sages. Few desire God; few of those sustain that desire; and few of them are householders.

Householder Sadhana

But most us reading this book are householders.

Let us leave the sages’ teachings now. Let us come back to our daily situation and see again the situation we face.

Though we live in a society which seems under stress in so many ways, yet householders cannot escape the need to do the same basic spiritual work as renunciates: turning from the world to God and placing nothing else before the realization of Him. Householder teachers are doing their utmost to found a literature which takes into account the increasing globalization and urbanization of our world. They are helping us to practice spiritual disciplines while leading an engaged life. For our part, we cannot postpone our spiritual search to wait for better conditions. This is our life. This is what we were given. The conditions we face now are the conditions we are expected to master. Before we win God’s grace, we are to turn from the world to God in whatever circumstances we are in. How could it be otherwise?

Franklin Merrell-Wolff says that only the attainment of the wisdom of enlightenment is powerful enough to allow the individual to tackle, with any hope of success, the problems that plague world society:

It remains true to my present state of consciousness that I would say that no accomplishment, in the world field, can be effective in solving the wrongness which is so evident…, without the insight and resources which are derived from Fundamental Realization. …

… if we are to resolve in any durable way these difficulties …. It is necessary that more and more of this human whole should attain the perspective and the resources that come from Enlightenment. (15)

… that which is needed is a seeking for the ultimate Attainment on the part of as many people as possible. (16)

In [this that I had realized] lay the one effective key for the solving of [humanity’s] problems. The little tragedies of men left me indifferent. I saw one great Tragedy, the cause of all the rest, the failure of man to realize his own Divinity. I saw but one solution, the Realization of this Divinity. (17)

Every one of us must travel the spiritual parabola of Jacob’s Ladder and every one of us will be at a different place on it than anyone else. It is not a sign of imperfection that we are further back on the arc than some others may be. God released some of us earlier and some later. Where we are is exactly where we are intended to be - now.

But that does not change what Dr. Wolff is saying that, if we wish to alter the conditions of planetary life so that enlightenment can come within the reach of all, the answer is for all of us to reach out for Higher Consciousness, to achieve more and more illumination, which will provide us with the answers and the resources to improve the lot of the world. Without that, I fear that we will perpetuate unworkability and stumble in darkness.

I believe that some, if not many, traditional paths will prove unworkable for householders like us. Somehow we will arrive at approaches that allow us to practice in the midst of busy lives. Every day I see more spiritual teachers tackling the subject of how an increasingly urbanized (and now automated and globalized) world can solve the prime task before it: how to realize God.


We began by describing a period of relative moral decline in the world and saw that it was time to refresh ourselves on exactly why life was created and what role God designed us to play.

We learned that God has a Plan for life, called “spiritual evolution.” By its dictates, we go out from Him as points of consciousness, into the world, and back again, descending and climbing back up Jacob’s Ladder of consciousness, returning to Him illumined.

We heard the masters say that our journey takes us, through lifetime after lifetime, to enlightenments beyond human imagining, until we reach our final destination – complete submergence in God, in a realm beyond the human.

We heard enlightenment described as God meeting God – “O thou I!” In the twinkling of an eye, we immediately and directly experience a sacred something beyond this material dimension. We examined how God made life so that He could meet Himself in that moment of illumination.

We saw that all are destined for enlightenment – some in the morning, some in the afternoon, and some in the evening.

We saw how all genuine paths, followed to their end, eventually lead to God. We discussed some actual levels of enlightenment and the evidence that spiritual evolution continues long after any known level. We hypothesized that, as a process, enlightenment is virtually endless.

We examined the longing for liberation that keeps us moving towards God. We heard that seeing God would require us to turn from the world to Him, from the outer to the inner, and reach a point, however briefly, of loving Him with all our hearts, minds, and souls, to the exclusion of all competing desires.

We saw that few long for God that much; fewer sustain that longing to the end; few succeed in knowing Him; and few among those are householders.

As difficult as our situation is in this modern world, will this be the moment that we let in the importance of wanting nothing else but God or will this be another lost opportunity?

If we wish to free ourselves individually from oppression and misery, then each of us must take up the task that God has set for us. If we as a world wish to free ourselves from the conditions described in the introduction, then the answers must be sought and must come from what Dr. Wolff called “the perspective and the resources that come from Enlightenment.” (18)

We can be, we can know the God that we are. All of us will one day. But we must love Him with all our hearts, Him and nothing else, unconditionally. We must know Him in a perfect moment of now – in the blink of an eye, in an instant. That enlightenment will bring the exit from our dilemma of personal misery and global decline.

If we make the turn in the road from the world to God, from the outer to the inner, we have set our feet on a path that leads to unfathomable spiritual riches.

May we all be blessed with those riches. May all our eyes behold Him. May we know Him as our Self and as everything that is. May He free us from our burden so that we can deeply and lastingly receive His vijnana, the permanent and irrevocable experience of Him.


For full details on these sources, see “Bibliography”

(1) BG, 70.

(2) EC, 194.

(3) GSR, 95.

(4) Ibid., 281.

(5) BG, 81.

(6) HS, 130.

(7) EC, 194.

(8) BG, 70.

(9) STJ, 24.

(10) Matthew 22:14

(11) Matthew 7:14.

(12) UPAN, 20. "There is only one Straight Path, that of Righteousness; all others are false paths." GZ, 90.

(13) GSR, 818.

(14) Ibid., 154.

(15) PTS, xi.

(16) Ibid., xii.

(17) Ibid., 5. Consider Sri Ramana Maharshi as well: "No question can be solved without Self-knowledge. On the realisation of the Self everything becomes clear and all problems are resolved." (GR, 35.)

(18) Ibid., xi.