Abraham Lincoln: Servant of God

By Nakin Lenti

Abraham Lincoln is remembered primarily as the preserver of the Union and the president who freed the slaves. But far less is known about his deep spirituality and devotion to God, qualities too often overlooked by modern secular historians in their attempt to assess Lincoln’s presidency and his place in history.

Lincoln was committed to following God’s will, as he understood it, not only in his personal life but also in the conduct of his presidency. In politics, especially, this desire for truth led to great public ridicule, and throughout his life he suffered from chronic doubt, uncertainty, and a deep sense of internal anguish.

As he said of himself, “Probably it is to be my lot to go on in a twilight, feeling and reasoning my way through life, as questioning, doubting Thomas did. But in my poor maimed, withered way, I bear with me as I go on a seeking spirit of desire for a faith that was of olden time, who in his need, as in mine, exclaimed, ‘Help thou my unbelief.’”

Lincoln’s commitment to God’s will reached its most dramatic, public expression in the autumn of 1862, when he issued the historic Emancipation Proclamation outlawing slavery in the confederate states. The decision to issue the Proclamation was a turning point in Lincoln’s life, and a challenge from which he emerged as one of the great leaders in history. By what path did Lincoln arrive at this decision where he felt absolutely certain that this was God’s will for him and the country?

A former yogi
The spiritual foundations of Lincoln’s life were laid in early childhood. Paramhansa Yogananda has said that in a previous life Lincoln had been a yogi in the Himalayas, who died with a desire to bring about racial equality. His incarnation as Lincoln enabled him to fulfill that desire.  Lincoln was born into a family that resonated with strong anti-slavery convictions and devotion to God.

Despite the lack of formal schooling, which amounted to about one year, Lincoln nonetheless had access to a few books, which influenced him deeply.  Among these were the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, Pilgrim’s Progress, Aesop’s Fables, Robinson Crusoe, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and the Life of Washington.  Of these the most influential was The Life of Washington and the Bible, which became the cornerstone of his life.

The Bible: a practical guide
Abraham Lincoln was not a literalist in his interpretation of the Bible, even though he had memorized it from cover to cover. For Lincoln, the main importance of the Bible was its implications for the way people live and treat their fellow human beings.  Although nowhere in the Bible was slavery condemned, a fact often used by pro-slavery advocates to justify their own position, Lincoln believed in an underlying unity between people—that we are all created in the image of God.

He concluded that if man is made in the image of God, it does not follow that he was sent into this world to be degraded and brutalized by his fellow man.  He felt that no person, regardless of color or nationality, was a mere thing to be bought and sold. “The issue,” said Lincoln, “is not what a man’s particular abilities might be, but what his rights are as a human being made in God’s image.”

Moreover, he understood that most of the Founding Fathers were not advocates of slavery. It was already entrenched. But without the willingness to compromise on that particular issue the country could never have been founded.

This is the platform he took to the presidency. That he was an astute politician cannot be denied. But he was much more than a political thinker because of his appeal to a higher moral code, which he felt transcended political expediency. Again and again, during his first run for the presidency, he reiterated his anti-slavery position. In a speech in Clinton, Illinois, October, 1859 he said: “I do hope that as there is a just and righteous God in Heaven, our principles will and shall prevail.”

Again in New Haven, Connecticut, he said: “We think slavery a great moral wrong. We think in that respect for ourselves, a regard for future generations and for the god that made us, require that we put this wrong where our votes will properly reach it.”

Lincoln hated war and oppression. He felt emancipation was right on principle, but rejected the argument that slavery should be attacked by force where it was legally established. To a group of Quakers who urged immediate emancipation, he said, “a decree could not be more binding upon the South than the Constitution, and that cannot be enforced in that part of the country right now.” There didn’t seem to be any clear guidance on how to proceed.

To a group of clergymen he said, regarding the Emancipation Proclamation, “I suppose it will be granted that I am not to expect a direct revelation, I must study the plain physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible and learn what appears to be right and wise.”

When faced with making difficult political decisions, Lincoln tried to steer a middle course. Adamant was his refusal to give into mob sentiment and extremists on all sides demanding simplistic answers. He knew there were none. The war, once started, he knew would have to follow its own inexplicable course toward final resolution.

“Amid the greatest difficulties of my Administration,” he would later say, “when I could not see any other resort, I would place my whole reliance in God, knowing that all would go well, and that He would decide for the right.”

By the winter of 1862, the war, which everyone thought would last just a few months, was going very badly for the North.  It was a very difficult time for Lincoln and the nation. He was criticized for his handling of the war and the ineptitude of his generals. After almost a year of fighting, Lincoln had to consider the possibility of defeat. What, then of God’s will?  Could it be something entirely different from his own?  In the midst of these difficulties, Lincoln’s favorite son, Willie, died at age 11.

Overwhelmed with grief, he said, “I will try to go to God with my sorrows.” The ensuing months precipitated Lincoln’s own “dark night of the soul.”  Day after day, Lincoln prayed, earnestly seeking to know God’s will for himself and the country. Slowly, after months of doubt and indecision, he again came to feel God’s guiding hand in his life. Out of the ashes of this experience emerged a new man, and a more decisive and confident leader.

A sign from God
By July of 1862, Lincoln had written the first drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Clearly, he felt that this was the right direction.  Still, always tentative in his approach to God’s will, he prayed deeply for a sign, a military victory, in order to proceed.  With the victory at the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, he felt that God had decided in favor of emancipation. From then on, writes one scholar, “the curve of the Confederacy’s fortunes turned decisively downward.”

When Lincoln presented this proclamation to his Cabinet a few days later on Sept.22, he said to them, “When the Rebel Army was at Frederick, I determined, as soon as it should be driven out of Maryland, to issue a Proclamation of Emancipation.  I said nothing to anyone, but I made a promise to myself and to my Maker. The Rebel Army is now driven out and I am going to fulfill that promise.”

Abraham Lincoln is often thought of as the savior of the Union because of his deep commitment to keeping the country unified. In truth, he was really the creator of a cohesive union. As one Lincoln scholar put it, “The Civil War proved to be not so much the fortress where the Union was preserved as the fiery furnace where men were smelted into one political stuff.”

As President, Lincoln’s deepest conviction was that no nation could ever be truly great except “under God.” He tried in various ways to bring an awareness of God into the national consciousness.  Lincoln was the first president to speak openly of God in the context of public policy. During the Civil War years he instituted a day of prayer and fasting as a way of uniting people to a common cause. The phrase “one nation under God” and the term “In God we trust” were first used during Lincoln’s administration.  He also established Thanksgiving as a national holiday for giving thanks to the Creator.

Paramhansa Yogananda said of great leaders like Lincoln and Washington: “There are politicians and there are politicians—those puny ones who cater to the mob sentiment and who put the national mansion on a loose foundation. But men like Lincoln and Washington have always tried to solidify the foundations of the national mansions with the eternal rock of truth and spirituality.”


Preparing children to meet life's challenges

By Nitai Deranja, President of Education for Life International

Education for Life offers techniques for transforming education into an integral process which harmonizes book learning with direct life experience and instructs students in the art of living. It is based on the deep insight into the potential of every human being: Nurture creativity, intuition and wisdom in every student, tapping into unexplored capabilities or pure potentiality. Education for Life is a system of education that has the same goal as life itself: progressively to become on every level- heart and mind, body and spirit- more balanced, mature, effective, creative, happy, harmonious human beings.

When you visit an Education for Life School, you will find that each classroom seems unique. There is no standardized “look” to the classrooms, no set outward curriculum that each teacher follows, and no fixed style of learning for students. What then, are the distinguishing features of an EFL school? It is the purpose of this pamphlet to highlight the subtle, yet essential factors that define Education for Life and therefore determine the quality and scope of a child’s school experience.

First and foremost, EFL teachers are trained to appreciate that life itself is a school. Throughout our lives, the events that come to us offer a series of lessons that can lead to an ever-deepening sense of personal fulfillment and happiness. Put slightly differently, life continually offers us the opportunity to expand our consciousness. From this perspective the primary goal for the years of formal schooling becomes the development of the skills and attitudes that will help us take full advantage of these life-lessons.

A hallmark of an Education for Life classroom then will be the modeling of a cheerful openness to life and the unexpected lessons that might come our way. Although teachers will bring appropriate lesson plans to class, there will always be a readiness to embrace and make use of whatever special experiences a particular day presents. In the early grades opportunities for growth might present themselves through an unexpected visitor, unusual weather, or a spontaneous incident from the playground. In later years there will be a concerted effort to involve students in the broader streams of life outside the classroom. In every instance, an EFL teacher will strive to help students discern whether their responses to new events produce an expansion or contraction of consciousness. Specifically, the teacher will guide students from reactions of fear toward courage, from judgment toward compassion, from sadness toward joy. In our school’s philosophy this directionality of attitude is referred to as “Progressive Development.”

This focus on the gradual expansion of the student’s consciousness leads naturally to the next essential component of an EFL classroom, a child-centered curriculum. While every school must address the standard topics of modern education, the EFL curriculum will be child-centered in the sense that the teacher looks primarily to the students’ readiness for particular kinds of growth in determining the specific activities that will take place in the classroom. By knowing each student’s interests, talents, and potential, the teacher is able to present the lessons in a manner that maximizes student involvement and progress. Thus while a teacher may work with the same basic material over a period of years (fractions, world history, etc.), each class will manifest a unique expression of the learning process. EFL curriculum categories such as Understanding People, Cooperation, and Wholeness, as well as our small teacher/student ratios, facilitate this approach to learning.

The emphasis on a child-centered curriculum also contributes to a feeling of mutual respect between teacher and student. In paying close attention to individuals, the teacher develops an appreciation for each student’s positive qualities. Children, on the other hand, sense that the teacher is seeking to adapt the learning process to their interests and abilities as opposed to imposing a rigid program of prearranged lessons. In this way teacher and students can partake in the excitement of co-creating the curriculum.

The final characteristic of an EFL classroom is also rooted in the goal of preparing children to find happiness and fulfillment in life. In responding to life’s challenges, we have four primary tools at our disposal: the body, feelings, will, and intellect. The proper development of these “Tools of Maturity” lies at the heart of Education for Life. In our schools we emphasize one of these tools in each 6-year cycle of the child’s growth.

The stage from 0–6 encompasses the “Foundation” or preschool years. During this period the child is primarily occupied with learning to relate to physical realities, especially those of the body. An EFL preschool will promote physical vitality through a healthy diet and generous amounts of exercise, sunlight, and fresh air. Frequent nature outings will be interspersed with activities specifically designed to promote physical agility and coordination. The Foundation Years are also a time for cultivating the physical senses through creating a beautiful classroom environment and involving the children in painting, crafts, music, dance, and other activities that refine the children’s capacities for hearing, seeing, feeling, etc. Storytelling and role-playing are popular venues with this age for sharing initial insights into human behavior. The preschool years also provide an opportune time for cultivating uplifting habits of cleanliness, cooperation, and truthfulness.

The next cycle of growth covers the period from 6-12, the “Feeling” or elementary years. During this stage we shift our emphasis from the body to working with and through the child’s emotions. For a beginning step, children are helped to notice the different kinds of feelings and their varying effects on people. Students learn to appreciate and cultivate the uplifting influences of kindness, cheerfulness, and even- mindedness. Conversely, they can learn to redirect the disturbing energies that produce anger, greed, and jealousy. Techniques for working with these energies include breathing exercises, affirmations, yoga, and meditation. Of crucial importance during these years is the cultivation of the calm, centered state that leads to clear intuition. As their capacity for refined feelings develops, students learn to discriminate between the positive and negative effects of different kinds of activities and environments. Teachers will also utilize feelings as a powerful stimulus for other kinds of learning by emphasizing the awe of nature and scientific exploration, the sense of order and symmetry in mathematics, and especially the encouragement to be gained from the study of inspiring and saintly people.

Properly understood, the “Willful Years” from ages 12-18 present some of the greatest opportunities for the child’s development. Adults can help students avoid the self- involved negativity and rebelliousness that can plague the junior and senior high school years by encouraging positive applications of the will. Realistic, yet challenging goals must be set for these young people; goals that are in accordance with their own higher sensitivities as well as their individual talents and interests. Through faith in their positive potential and consistent adherence to appropriate disciplinary procedures, adults can support the students’ efforts to gradually learn such lessons as perseverance, self-sacrifice, responsibility, and self-control. Classroom applications of this approach will emphasize a “hands-on” style of learning where students can apply their energies to life-like situations. Science projects, debates, service projects and challenges of physical endurance are especially appropriate for this age group. A primary goal of the EFL teacher is to help each student identify and realize individual areas of expertise, thus providing a basis for the healthy development of the will. In an EFL school students of this age are asked to share in the responsibility for financing field trips and other special activities, even to the point of earning part of their tuition.

The final EFL cycle covers the “Thoughtful” or college years from 18-24. During this period the intellect is trained to work in conjunction with the three complementary tools of the body, feelings, and will. Intellectual insights are coordinated with the energy and enthusiasm produced by physical vitality, the intuitive feel for the rightness of an idea that comes from clear, calm feeling, and the ability to overcome obstacles that results from a dynamic application of the will. In this way the intellect becomes an effective tool for gaining the insights needed to lead a productive and fulfilling life.

Preparing children to meet life's challenges

by J.Donald Walters
The first public service that Paramhansa Yogananda undertook after he became a swami was to found a school for young boys. Starting in 1916 in the village of Dihika, Bengal with only seven students, he was “determined to found a school where young boys could develop to the full stature of manhood.” A year later he moved the school to Ranchi and founded the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidyalaya which is still in existence today. Almost sixty years later, in 1972, at Ananda Village, the first Ananda school was founded, based on the ideals and directions that Yogananda laid out about education. Starting also with only seven students, the original Ananda School now has a campus of seven classrooms with ninety students, plus branch schools in Palo Alto, Portland, and Seattle. The following article is from a talk that J.Donald Walters gave in which he discusses the Education for Life system used in the Ananda Schools.

What I’ve tried to do in my life is to take Yogananda’s central teachings and apply them to many fields of life – business, the arts, relationships, raising families, schools, communities, and so on. The education of children was very dear to Yogananda’s heart, but what he actually said about it was very little. Through the years, we have taken what he has given us, meditated on it, and applied our understanding in the Ananda School classrooms in order to deepen our insights and attunement to Yogananda’s vision for spiritual education.

The purpose of spiritual education is to fulfill the divine potential of children, and to prepare them for life by giving them the tools they need to keep on learning throughout the many experiences that will come to them.At Ananda we are trying to develop a system calledEducation for Life, something which is very much needed in society today. The reason for so many of the problems in our world is that we’re giving children what Yogananda called an essentially atheistic view of life. When we rigorously exclude all spiritual teachings and higher values, our children end up getting the message that there aren’t any higher values, and that there isn’t even a God. Children have a natural longing for values and ideals, but our society gives them a universe and a life in which they have no faith. The cynical teachings of modern education are so ego-oriented, and so money and job-oriented that when children grow up cynical and angry at the universe, it’s hardly something to be surprised at. It’s the fault of our society that allows that kind of thing to happen.

When we speak of spiritual education, we don’t mean a church kind of education. What we mean is to help children understand that they’re going to be a lot happier if they are kind to others, and if they work for high ideals. The child who has a little bag of dates and eats them all himself isn’t nearly so happy as the child who shares those dates with others. In all cases, we can see that people who are selfish just aren’t happy, and people who are selfless are happy. They can apply this understanding not only at school, but also at home and everywhere in life. If we can bring this kind of teaching to children, this then is spiritual education.

Another purpose of spiritual education is to build the person on all levels. We are triune beings composed of body, mind, and soul, and if any part of us is starved at the expense of the others, then we aren’t complete. It’s an interesting fact that people who write, as an example of a mental activity, will very often also do something physical to keep themselves grounded. When Yogananda first had an experience of cosmic consciousness, his guru, Sri Yukteswar, handed him a broom, saying, “Let us sweep the porch.” We have to learn to keep these worlds in harmony with one another. If we let one go in favor of the other, in some way we become unbalanced.

Young girl smiling at Living Wisdom School, Palo Alto, California

An education that ignores individual differences and tries to run children through an assembly line is bound to produce shoddy results. An education that is deep, enduring, and effective must be highly individualized.

In the education of our children, we need to help them develop their characters and their minds, but we must also help them prepare for living successfully in this world. We don’t want them to go out into society and find themselves incapable of relating to what’s going on. They have to have the facts that are a part of our modern upbringing. But they don’t need to have those facts taught to them in such a way as to leave them believing that there’s no value in anything. There is a great deal of emphasis on the wrong things today. The basis of spiritual education is to prepare them for society in a way that will help them to remain idealistic.

Suppose you have children who have learned how to love everyone, who have learned the goodness of life. When they go out into the world they may face hatred, criminal activity, and many other negative things. Will they be able to handle it? This is probably the primary concern that people have with spiritual education. The answer is to be seen in those who live with love. It isn’t as if they become stupid or lose the ability to relate to the world as it is. In fact, the broadest understanding comes from that which is centered in love; the narrowest understanding is that which is centered in hatred. If you’re on the lowest level, you can relate only to the lowest level; if you’re on the highest level, you can relate to all levels. To see that this is true, we can point to examples of people who live that way and who are able to handle life’s many challenges far, far better. I have observed that people who are complete as human beings are generally more successful. A spiritual education can actually guarantee greater success even in the way worldly people define it.

A good example is Yogananda’s most advanced disciple, Rajarsi Janakananda. He was the chairman of several large companies and owned several others. He had the clarity, calmness, and centeredness to be able to pull back from all the stress and excitement and see the way to resolve difficult issues. The secret of his success was the fact that his consciousness was rooted in God, and in the desire for right action.

Children are born with different inclinations, with different strengths, weaknesses, and educational needs. One of the unfortunate aspects of modern education is the assembly-line approach to teaching where the same information is more or less dumped out to everyone. There isn’t any philosophy; it is just information. Small classes, where the teacher can get to know each child personally, are essential for giving individual attention and for discovering what the natural level of understanding is for each child.

Rajarsi Janakananda, chief disciple of Paramhansa YoganandaParamhansa Yogananda’s chief disciple was James J. Lynn, a self-made American businessman who said he was able to accomplish in an hour what would take others many hours, thanks to his mastery of meditation methods such as those taught at Living Wisdom School. By teaching children kindness, concentration, will power, strength of character, truthfulness, and other higher qualities, life is made richer. These are deeply important to the development of the human being, but such things are not taught today in public education. The ultimate purpose of life is not simply to get a job. So many people live this way and then die, not of old age but of deep disappointment with the life they have led. If you don’t know how to be truly happy, money won’t buy it for you.

Spiritual education is training people for life. How many people get married, and then get divorced because they don’t know how to get along with their spouse? They’re not educated for that. nor for life.

Education, rightly understood, is expansion of awareness. It is preparation for that process of real learning which takes place after we leave school, when we are in the constant struggle, the battlefield of life. By giving children the tools and understanding to make the right choices in life, we can lead them to lasting happiness. Then they will be able to achieve the kind of spiritual victories that are the true meaning of success.