Paramahansa Yogananda wrote a poem called “God’s Boatman” which is of infinite importance (literally). In the poem, the Guru-ji expressed his desire – a purely benevolent, altruistic, sattwic desire, mind you – to be freed from the shackles of the body, so that he might help those mired in the material world to cross the sea of delusion over to the shores of Freedom in God. Forgive the metaphors, but Yogananda-ji does that to me.
In the poem, Yogananda says that he would come back a billion times if need be as long as he knew there was but one person left behind who desired to know the way to the other shore.
It is a beautiful piece in and of itself. To think that there may be Great Souls out there who never take their rest, they just keep coming back, delaying and forgoing mukti for love of mankind, is in itself a heart-wrenching prospect.
But it, as is the case with many things, became evermore of a revelation to me in conjunction with a bit from the Bhagavad-gita.
Particularly Chapter 3, Sloka 25:
As the ignorant perform their duties with attachment to results, the learned may similarly act but without attachment, for the sake of leading people on the right path.
This is not Yogananda’s translation of the Gita but all translations I’ve feasted my eyes upon have led me to one startling thought. One who is in a liberated state of being may behave in exactly the same manner as one mired in attachment, yet not be at all attached, as a method of showing others “the way” so to speak. And so, it may be entirely impossible to tell the difference between the two. And thus, it is very possible that those who provide us with various annoyances throughout our daily doings in the material world may very well be a soul who has already achieved mukti but has come back in order to provide us with the lessons we need to overcome in order to be free ourselves.
It is annoyance with others who we perceive as ignorant, and our reactions to them that are the biggest stumbling blocks to love, and a sense of oneness with others, right? And the slokams that follow 3:25 go on to say that a wise one should never outright shake an ignorant one out of his delusion. The guru, spiritual doctor as he or she is, carefully excises the cancer of delusion from his student. And anyone who understands the dharma of detachment is to proceed with his fellow man likewise. So isn’t it conceivable that the jivan mukti – God’s Boatman shall we say in order to provide some cohesiveness – will appear as an everyman to gently provide us the experiences we need to gently coax love out of a place where there was once only annoyance?
I have long been amused by the idea that we all are avatars to some degree, and this I think lends credence to the scenario I have suggested here. I like to think it is plausible and even likely. It helps me to see Divinity in interactions that may otherwise be unpleasant or frustrating. Of course you could say that, for example, God just puts a frustrating interaction in our path when the lesson we need to learn at that moment can be learned through said frustration. But I think the idea of “God putting them in our path” is a bit too dualistic for me. And I like to think that jivan-muktis are allowed to have a little fun. Fun? A lifetime of annoying people? Why not? They’ve got eternity.