Measuring Nearness to God

posted Sep 1, 2012, 2:51 PM by Interfaith WS

        Bernard, a retired engineer who meditated regularly, followed the Christian mystical tradition. More than anything else, he told us, he wanted union with God before he died. “How do I know whether I’m getting close?” he asked. “Is there a yardstick by which a man can gauge his closeness to God?”


        Darshani:  Once, I heard a young American student ask the same question of an Indian sage. The student was one of five Westerners sitting cross-legged on the floor of a terrace in a Himalayan ashram. The master sat on a high-backed chair in front. “Excellent question,” he remarked. “Yes, indeed, there is such a yardstick. But, first, I want to ask you a question. How many desires do you have?”

        “What kinds of desires?” asked the American.

        “Any kind,” said the master. “For example, do you want a good home? Would you like to marry? Do you want to heal the knee injury you got playing football? What about your career? Do you want a good job, more money, specialized education? When you get a home, will you want a swimming pool?” To almost every question the young man nodded.

        “Now I would like all of you to get out your pens and notebooks,” the master said. “Make a list of every desire you think you have. And number them.” The Westerners wrote line after line, page after page. Ten minutes later, the master looked at the young student. “Young man,” he said, “how many items do you have on your list?”            

        “Twenty-three,” the American answered.

        “Fine.” He looked at a middle-aged woman. “And you?”

        “Eighteen,” she said. He pointed to a twenty-year-old girl. “How about you?” he asked. The girl blushed. “Fifty-five.”

        “Fine,” said the master. “Now take an imaginary ruler and measure the length of your list.” He watched as the Westerners made their mental calculations. When they had finished, he looked back at the young man. “Now you have your yardstick,” he said.

        “I don’t understand,” said the American.

        “You see,” the master explained, “the length of your list of desires is the measure of your distance from God.”