Sri Chinmoy: At the beginning you have to make a conscious effort to achieve something. Then later your actions become spontaneous. Unless and until they become spontaneous, you have to make a personal effort. When a sprinter starts a race, he moves his arms and hands very fast, making such vigorous movements. But after fifty or sixty metres, when he is going at top speed, everything becomes spontaneous. At that time he is not thinking about his arms at all. Others will say that his movements appear effortless. But they have to remember what vigorous movements he made at the start.
It is like sailing a boat. Before you start, while you are making your preparations, you need to do all kinds of things. While you are getting ready, you have to work very hard. It is only when you are actually well on your way that the boat can sail without your constant personal effort. Similarly, in your spiritual life, once your actions become spontaneous, at that time you feel that this spontaneous movement is an act of Grace from above.
Again, if you are sincere, then you will feel that even from the very beginning of your journey God’s Grace was descending. Otherwise, you would not have been inspired even to enter into the spiritual life. When you start out, you feel that you are making a great personal effort. But there comes a time when you realise that this personal effort itself is nothing other than Grace from above. Why are you getting up early to pray and meditate, whereas your friends are still wallowing in the pleasures of lethargy? It is because God’s Grace has descended into you. The deeper you go, the clearer it becomes that it is not your personal effort at all, but God’s Grace that enables you to make progress.
Personal effort is of paramount importance in the beginning, because at that time we don’t feel that God is our unconditional Friend. On the human level, if I give you something, then I expect you to give me something in return. If I don’t give you anything, then I feel that you are under no obligation to give anything to me. But God is not like that. God gives unconditionally, whether we claim Him as our own or not. This moment I may pray to God to fulfil my desire. The next moment, even if He fulfils my desire, immediately I can say, “Oh, I don’t need You. I don’t want to be Your child.” But God cannot do that kind of thing. God always claims us as His own, no matter what we do, no matter how bad we are, because He sees that in hundreds or thousands or millions of years, He will make us perfect. A child can decide to leave his parents at his sweet will, but the parents find it extremely difficult to leave their child. Similarly, I may disown God, my eternal Father, because I am angry with Him or because He has not fulfilled my desire. But He will never disown me, because I am His eternal child.
So-called personal effort is necessary because we do not feel that God is constantly loving us and blessing us unconditionally. Once we feel that He is doing everything for us unconditionally, then the sense of personal effort is not necessary. In the beginning we give fifty percent of the credit to ourselves, because we get up to pray and meditate, and fifty percent to God, because He responds to our prayers and inspires us during our meditation. But when we become sincere, when we become humble and, especially, when we become pure, at that time we feel that it is God who has inspired us to exercise our personal effort. Then we will say that one hundred percent of the credit goes to God.