Discover how divine grace, combined with self-effort, can lead to spiritual clarity and ultimate freedom.
Embarking on a journey of spiritual awakening, we often find that the transformative power of divine grace becomes our guiding light, leading us to clarity and purpose.
Divine grace transforms our lives and sets us free. Clarity about our divine purpose connects us to that enabling power and sets us on the path of ultimate freedom.
What is divine grace?
Divine grace—God's unearned radical support—infuses our life. It lifts and guides us toward fulfilling our dharma or life purpose. It transforms us, opening our eyes to life's beauty and wonder.
Divine grace is how we experience higher states of consciousness in meditation. Grace is how we meet our Guru, the love of our life, our dear friends, or even the arrival of our children. Grace is how wisdom arises, and we receive the light of inspiration. Grace supports the earth and its atmosphere—all things are possible through divine grace and power. Each breath we take, we take through divine grace.
Everything truly worthwhile comes about through divine grace. That has been my experience over 40 years in my ministry.
"Grace knows no effort or cost, no merit or reason. It is the gift of divine support given freely."
—Yogacharya Ellen Grace O'Brian
In 1989 I was ordained to teach Kriya Yoga by my Guru Roy Eugene Davis (a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda who brought Kriya Yoga to the West). He offered me a powerful transmission of divine energy, grace, and blessing during the ordination. And along with that transmission came a couple of surprises.
The first surprise was that the ordination was scheduled to take place Saturday during a meditation seminar he was offering, and he forgot to do it. I sat through the workshop all day in anticipation, poised for the special moment that did not arrive. Imagine! However, when he offered the ordination the next day at the Sunday gathering of the newly formed community where I was serving, it became a blessing of my dharma, an affirmation of my life work.
I was initially interested in the mystical path of Kriya Yoga with its philosophy and practices for Self- and God-realization. I wanted that. Yet, I wanted more. Besides a mystical path, I wanted a practical one. I wanted a nonsectarian, spiritual path to peace and well-being that could be lived in a world of family, work, community, and the larger global sphere. I was interested in living an awakened life and contributing to an awakening world. Community is an essential part of that vision. A satsang where people come together to learn, practice, and live spiritually was part of my dream.
When Paramahansa Yogananda shared his reticence about the usefulness of organizations, his Guru Swami Sri Yukteswar said to him: God is the honey; Organizations are the hives; both are necessary. Any form is useless, of course, without the spirit, but why should you not start busy hives full of the spiritual nectar? 
Being ordained in the community and having that affirmed was an unexpected revelation of grace that has become even more meaningful through the years. With ordination, I committed myself to God, the Kriya Yoga path, my Guru, and a spiritual community.
The second surprising thing that happened that day was that my ordination was filmed. Today we film the food we eat, the places we go, the people we see, what we buy, and how we organize our closets. Forty years ago, that wasn't the case. The videographer was someone unknown who learned my teacher was in town and just showed up to film his talk. That's how we ended up with the film of my ordination. Now forty years later, and after the passing of my beloved teacher, to be able to watch that moment of grace-filled blessing is a gift beyond measure.
Besides the blessing of ordination itself, those two unplanned events were glimpses of the divine grace that has made everything possible in my life and this work.
The ordination lesson of the surprises was: Pay attention! Things will not always be how you thought they would be. And you are being supported all the while! This life is not your little plan; it is God's life, infused with divine grace.
We tend to focus on the surface of things—on our plan—what we want, what we think should happen, what went wrong, or what's missing—when all the while, Life's supportive grace with its power of divine Love is there with us, lighting the way forward.
Once we are aware of our life's divine purpose, we begin to see this activity of divine grace unfolding every day. Without that context, it may escape us altogether.
Many people live mundane lives and don't experience a world of grace and beauty. Those who are awake find it everywhere, regardless of circumstances.
Poet Mark Nepo wrote:
Today my heart aches,
Not because something is lacking, but because the love
I've carried all along is bursting
Though all the gates of choice. 
Nothing compares to the power of gratitude and love to transform our lives. Clarity about our divine purpose connects us to that power and sets us on the path of ultimate freedom.
Yoga teachings indicate three types of grace: the grace of God, the grace of the Guru, and the grace of self-effort. Our progress comes about through the combination of self-effort and divine grace. Self-effort is arranging conditions to be receptive to divine support. Outwardly it is doing what we need to do to facilitate change. Inwardly self-effort is opening our heart and purifying our mind. Sri Chinmoy wrote: Your heart must become a sea of love. Your mind must become a river of detachment. Gratefulness—the cultivation of gratitude—is the way to experience that.
Gratitude quiets the mind. It stops our restlessness. It prevents the ego mind from moving through its litany of complaints, always searching for what is missing or what is wrong. It is simply not possible to continue our fault-finding frenzy in the light of gratitude.
Cultivating gratitude doesn't mean we won't see where there is an error or where wrong has been done. We just don't dwell there. We seek the strength of faith—our ability to see beyond appearances to the unseen activity of grace.
Gratitude opens the heart. Once the ego mind stops complaining and arguing with life, the heart is free to open. When the mind grows quiet, the splendor of divine love is known. And life is seen as it is--infused with grace and beauty.
Gratitude brings us into the present and into the presence.
I listen to a podcast where the host concludes the program by asking their guest (usually spiritual leaders, authors, or practitioners) what essential thing they do as they begin the day. What is the one thing they would not skip or miss? Such a good question! A few say, well, getting out of bed, or making my bed before I do anything else, having my coffee or tea, meditating, greeting loved ones. What would you say? What is it for you?
For me, it is prayer. I start my day with a kind of free-form affirmation of aliveness that begins with gratitude: Wow, ok, here I am! Thankful for another day! Then it shifts to intentionality: Today, I will love well. May I serve; may I be wise and kind. Followed by commitment: I will remember You. And so on, until I feel complete with it. Then I get out of bed (and make it). Next, I go on to morning prayers, study, and meditation. And coffee.
If you like the idea of morning prayer and don't have one of your own, here is one from His Holiness the Dalai Lama:
Every day, think as you wake up, "Today, I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive, I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry, or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can. 
Life is infused with divine grace and beauty. It is always, forever, trying to show us that. When we look upon it with gratitude, we are free to see it.
 Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi (Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1997), p. 284.
 Mark Nepo, “Now That I Feel,” in The Way Under the Way: The Place of True Meeting (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2016), 156.
 His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, in Jennifer Prugh, River of Offerings: Twelve Journeys Following the Path of the Ganges River, (San Rafael, CA: Mandala: 2020), p. 36.
© 2023 Ellen Grace O’Brian