by James Merryman (Devidas)
James Merryman was a long-time devotee of the Vedanta Society of Southern California. The following notes to himself were found in his papers after his death last August. An ardent devotee for some sixty years, he stands out in the memory of those who knew him as a truly great example of a spiritual aspirant. With heartfelt gratitude to him as friend and exemplar for all sincere seekers, his friends share a few of his moments of private thought.
In all your affairs, no one can tell you what is right or wrong for your spiritual growth. Writings, scriptures, teachers and religions are like toys in a children’s play yard; you select the toy that most appeals to you. Each source of knowledge, each experience in your path, has been carefully selected by your Father in order to cultivate your soul. It is said that one must practice certain prescribed disciplines in order to progress in spiritual life, but I say, “Have faith in your Father which is your own inner Spirit and He will tell you what to do. If it is proper to indulge in certain practices, then you will be directed to do them when the time is right. In any event, if you remain faithful to the goodness of God, you will never have to be concerned about the right or wrong in your spiritual life. We must have abiding faith in the perfect wisdom of the Self to guide us in all our affairs.
For some it is not given to thirst for religion, but it is to be instilled with a restlessness—which in itself forms a part of their spiritual development.
When your mind is absorbed in God, there is no time to think of your troubles.
In living a spiritual life, analytical thinking is gradually replaced with feeling.
What are earmarks of spirituality? Kindness—cheerfulness—gratefulness.
What happens to the spiritual aspirant who received the truth, and then seems to turn away from it?
What happens to the tree when it grows in the spring and then seems to cease growing, in fact, almost to die in the winter?
Nothing in nature grows at an exact and even pace. All of Mother Nature’s charges grow and then rest and then grow and then rest. The sun and the rain in right amounts cause the plant to flourish. And in like manner, suffering stimulates spiritual growth in man. In most cases our Father goads us into seeking Him through painful experiences.
When do these painful experiences end? The pain ends the moment you fully realize its purpose. Indeed, those who come to know this are truly blessed. If you were never thirsty, for what reason would you seek water?
Do not swamp yourself in many doctrines, but allow time for ideas to come through your meditations. They will mean a great deal more to your progress than much reading.
Alcoholism is a problem surrounded by a larger problem called life.
In its broadest scope, any inordinate use of drugs or other distractions is an attempt of the soul to find a shortcut to happiness, or relief from pain. Conversely, it may be said that the soul wishes to experience in the greatest way the cessation of pain.
Our life in the world is through the medium of the senses, which draw the mind outward to exterior things. But the soul’s inner nature, our real self, has the power to pull the mind inwardly to discover for itself that which is its true nature.
The power to draw the mind outward is fueled by desire—the wanting and experiencing of things in hope of finding happiness. The power to draw the mind inward, however weak it may seem, is fueled by the mind’s natural instinct to return to its real home.
The greatest happiness that is generated when a man satisfies a worldly desire is only a tiny fragment of his own nature.
The quantity of worldly joy is evanescent, like a wisp of vapor, since it contains within it the seeds of unhappiness that sooner or later must come to fruition. As for quality, worldly happiness is always adulterated with some sadness, such as fear of loss or the desire for more of the same. The quality and quantity of true happiness, when the mind is finally fixed within, is complete and unbroken. One becomes the joy itself. It is a matter of experience.
If you have a pot of rice cooking, you don’t have to keep sampling every grain in the pot to know when the rice is done. Sample one grain and that will be enough to know when the rice is ready. Struggle to realize God within and all problems like fear, anxiety, anger, greed and so on will take care of themselves like ghosts in the night.
Let it be known that whatever dealing you have with the Personal God, you are also dealing with the Impersonal. The father, a powerful industrialist, becomes a playmate while playing on the floor with his son. When the son is with his father, is he not playing with the same powerful industrialist in another guise?
Indecision: 1) Lack of renunciation—you must renounce one thing for another; 2) Inability to assume responsibility for one’s choice; 3) Lack of inner or moral strength and independence; 4) Inability to bear making a wrong decision without blaming others.
What is the basis for making decisions? One should be firmly established in spiritual life. Decision· should come easily to one who is wholly committed to spiritual life. A strong inner life furnishes a secure reference point from which to accept or reject.
I must confess that my enthusiasm for spiritual life hasn’t waned one bit—it has grown. It’s a grand life. Can’t we take a few blows and kicks from the outside for the sake of this?
The more routine in your life, the better. A man said, “It’s good to get away for a while” a vacation. Get away from what? A routine spiritual life?
Physical routine is like a powerful engine. It can carry a ton of spiritual practice. It works by association of ideas. When lethargy sets in, it works like nothing else.
Here’s an interesting experiment:
See if you can plan and execute a full day’s retreat around an ordinary work day. People fast for 24 hours. Why not fast from worldly thoughts for 24 hours? Or 24 minutes—whatever is possible.
To live a perfect day—what a victory!
The reward for reading is immeasurable, but studying even brings a greater reward, since the concentration is more intense. Studying, of course, is simply thinking about what we read.
Renunciation: Even though we find ourselves living under certain conditions, mental renunciation is that posture of mind that causes it to be ever alert and ready to accept change without complaint, to accept the inevitable without losing poise.
Now comes the most difficult of all ideas to digest: Whatever you have done in the past, whatever you may be doing at this moment, and whatever you may be doing in the future is perfect and right for your highest good.
This attitude requires great faith and grit. It is the faith in one’s own inner ruler to be a guide in all of one’s activities.
Rise above lethargy. No mind is so dispersed that it can’t be retrieved. It’s been on a binge and has wandered far from home. Now it must be called back. Resolve! A new beginning! No more crying and whining. Arise! Awake! Start anew from today!
On lust: Struggle! Conquer! You are feeling sorry for yourself. Yet look, there are many facets to life: working, learning, helping, giving, forgiving, overcoming, and so on. Now, through indolence and negligence you have allowed the mind to run away with the ball of worldly lust. You have allowed a tiny fraction of the totality of your life to become blown up and out of all proportion. Passion, this rascal in your ranks—you have given it free reign! Just see how he has kicked up such a cloud of dust. The rest of your troupe—discrimination, thoughts of God, renunciation, purity, are hidden from view. Now you think that this cloud of lust is all there is in life.
This passion has become a dictator that can never be appeased through free use of the mind without restraint. Just as a runaway horse must be reigned in, so must you begin to pull back with a firm grip.
The mind of an idealist loves romance, so it runs after the fruit via the short cut and lo! What does it find? A hog plum, all skin and pit, and no fruit. Believe me, you will not find the succulent fruit that you crave in the wax variety. It is the fruit of spirit, hidden in the heart, that truly satisfies and fulfills. And there is no short cut!
We are active by nature. Let us then use our active nature to the best advantage. Let us use our active nature to overcome our base nature through service to mankind. To lust for sense pleasures is truly selfishness. Counteract this selfishness with unselfishness. Service to Shiva in jiva, if steadily practiced, causes one to lose interest in one’s own comforts, and an increasing tendency to rejoice in the happiness and welfare of others arises. This is the life. The other is death. Which will it be?
Most of us approach spiritual life through pain, the pain of living—the “there are no atheists in foxholes” syndrome. This is just the beginning of spiritual life. There’s nothing wrong with it, but as soon as the storm is over, our prayers are forgotten and spiritual life goes dormant. The trick is to continue practice in such a way that we expect to “die with the house.” The goal is to amass a huge spiritual bank account. Spiritual poverty is common with us because we don’t work at it.
Our greatest tests come with personal relationships. They become a sounding board that draws out the selfishness within. We can’t let go for the hurt.
Religion is extraordinarily simple. There is something within, an inner essence. Its nature is bliss everlasting. The mind, a mysterious thing, seeks repose in this inner essence, but for some inexplicable reason misreads the source and causes us to seek the source of the inner essence outside ourselves. And the more we seek happiness outside of ourselves, the more we seal off the very source of happiness … Every moment of our lives offers an opportunity to reverse the outward rush of the mind.
Soul cleansing is a slow process. We realize we are to give up seeking pleasure of this world for a few minutes and think. I’m reminded of jackals over a carcass. Once in a while one will look up for a moment, but then will return to eating.
Ideas on work:
1) Enter into work with the knowledge that if you do it properly, your mind will become pure (clarified).
2) Enter into work trying to see the sameness to it, whether it’s at the shrine or at your desk.
3) Know that work will drop away of itself when the fruit is ripe.
4) Don’t try to force the issue, whether you should do this or that kind of work. That is the Lord’s business. You are a mere servant—or patient. Do the work at hand.
5) The fact that we work as we do proves that perfection is farther down the path.
6) Be patient. What we are doing now is what we deserve, what we are fitted for.
7) Do not try to escape work. That is not the way.
8) The only way to be free of work is to work through work. If you are in a dust storm, you keep going until you pass through it.
9) Work is a medicine. Take it and don’t complain.
10) The key to working properly is through disposition, attitude. It will save you.
11) What work should we do? That which falls to our lot.
12) Engage yourself in obligatory work. Always know why you are working.
13) Knowing what to do and when to do it requires practice and experience.
14) Ask yourself: Am I avoiding tasks I know should be done? (Procrastination)
15) Work with concentration. Enter a job as meditation, a challenge.
16) You can check on the result of your attitude by observing whether the mind becomes cheerful or not. If not, something is missing. Concentration purifies the mind and cheerfulness is the result.
17) Undoubtedly success in results has its happy effect on the mind. Failure is a test of patience. Forge ahead and meet it head on. If you fail at a particular job, ask yourself: “Did I do my best?” If you did, then pay no attention to the results. Go on.
Spiritual life is primarily a renewing of the mind Transformation is primarily an inner process, and whatever changes take place on the outside are superficial.
It is hard to measure and put a label on the bits and scraps of information that present themselves over the years through books, teachers, lectures and one’s personal inspirations. Everything in nature seems to grow in its own regulated order, just as trees bloom in the spring and apparently die in the winter. Spiritual progress seems to follow its own set of rules. I’ve often likened it to skipping stones on water. Do you remember as a youngster how we would select flat stones and with a deft underhanded throw, the stone would skip on the water? At the first touch, the stone would carom off the surface only to land again and again, until at last it would sink into the water. Religion is like that, just a touch and then another and another, until we finally sink into the deep mystery of God.
While riding one day on the see-saw of the good and bad aspects of making choices, it suddenly occurred to me that all choices in this life were like so many links in a chain, each link having inexorably brought us to the present moment. Interestingly enough, if the present moment has led us to studying our own self, then what could be more worthwhile? What a paradox! In one way, the mind seems to be capricious, inconsistent and full of vagaries, and yet in defiance of our so-called logic, mistakes and all, it seems to have led the soul to the very doorstep of a meaningful quest for the Truth, the highest and most rewarding endeavor of all. At that moment it became clear to me that no mistakes are ever made—they only seem so.
Sit quietly and watch the mind. Note the various ideas that float across the screen of consciousness. Now try to trace back from whence these thoughts arise. I can almost guarantee that you will not find the author, but you will see that the thoughts do not come from this personal ego.
One of the most extraordinary experiences in my life occurred while I was driving. As I was going along the highway, I heard a voice, or felt, or maybe thought, the following statement, the results of which compelled me to pull over to the curb and write the message down. It goes as follows:
An abiding faith in the perfect discretion of the Spirit within to guide one in all of one’s affairs furnishes the necessary climate for the rapid growth of the soul into full maturity.
This Rosetta Stone for living became my refuge. Etched into my mind, it was the key to answering all my questions. It was the key to the state of self-surrender, and it had been given to me like a proverbial fruit, into the palm of my hand. It was for me the real beginning of self-surrender. Nothing can compare with the relief one feels upon giving up the struggle. It is instant relief. All guilt from the past and anxiety for the future suddenly disappear. Not I, not I…
James Norman Merryman, known as Devidas, was born in Los Angeles in 1921. He graduated from The Los Angeles School of Optometry in 1943. After serving in the Navy as a ship’s captain in the Pacific during World War II, he worked as an optometrist until retirement in 1977. His contact with Vedanta began in 1951, when he visited the Ramakrishna Monastery in Trabuco Canyon, California and met Swami Yogeshananda. He did volunteer work there and at the Vedanta Society of Southern California’s Hollywood Center, receiving spiritual initiation from Swami Prabhavananda in 1956. While living at the Hollywood Center monastery for some years, he worked on the maintenance of the Society’s rental properties. He served on the Society’s Board of Trustees for about ten years, resigning when his hearing disability became problematic. For decades he served as an usher for services at the Temple. He died in August, 2013 in Woodland, California.
Devidas was known and beloved by many, not only as a stalwart friend, but as an extraordinary example of a joyful and loving devotee. He was personally warm and affectionate, with a rare sense of humor and love of practical jokes. And yet he was learned in all aspects of Vedanta and rock solid in his devotion to his spiritual Ideal. He often referred to himself as a “cave dweller”—that is, as a retired aspirant of the fourth stage of life. In these short notes he demonstrates his breadth, as well as his depth, of understanding of spiritual life. Some will appeal to people of one attitude, some to people of others, for there was no path which Devidas eschewed. As long as a person was on a spiritual path, Devidas’ support was sure. He was greatly beloved and is just as greatly missed, but his shining example remains with those he touched.