Thursday, March 15, 2018

An oratorio: Christ Lives in the Holy Land, and in You & Me!

An oratorio: Christ Lives in the Holy Land, and in You & Me!

Every second year the choirs and musicians of Ananda Portland and Ananda Seattle combine alternatingly at each other’s temple/sanctuaries to perform Swami Kriyananda’s acclaimed oratorio inspired by the life of Jesus Christ. How can we understand the inspiration behind this powerful tribute in song? 

How can we understand the seemingly prominent role Jesus Christ has at Ananda throughout the world? What makes the music of this oratorio so like a deep meditation?

A sensitive reading of Paramhansa Yogananda’s "Autobiography of a Yogi" hints at his spiritual connection with Jesus. He makes reference to Jesus at least sixteen times and even reveals that John the Baptist was Elijah and thus Jesus’ guru from a past life. He states that Jesus taught kriya yoga or “a similar technique” to his close disciples. Further, he stated publicly that the three Wise Men were none other than Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya and Sri Yukteswar (where does this revelation place him, Yogananda?)

When, during the writing of his commentaries on the Bible, Yogananda prayed to Jesus to ask that his words be in tune with Jesus’ teachings, he received a vision of Jesus who gave his blessings and corroboration.

Jesus proclaimed to the crowds that he came “not to destroy the law and prophets” but to fulfill them. To “fulfill” must surely mean to carry on their message and vibration. (While it might also mean to “complete” this interpretation is not absolute.) Paramhansa Yogananda’s obvious connection to Jesus suggests the same on his part in relation to Jesus. More than this, he gave the title “Second Coming of Christ” to his own ministry! (If that didn’t get him crucified, I don’t know what would have!) I don’t think it could be clearer than that.

I have had guests and new students occasionally object or at least express surprise how they felt the Ananda Sunday Service, or some of our events and classes are Christian in feeling. All of this is understandable given the deeper connections described above. I’ve had one reader in the public challenge an article I wrote in respect to Jesus’ atonement of sins on the cross for failing to quote similar examples from other faiths. Neither I, nor other Ananda representatives, are particularly required to hand select passages from every faith when sharing Yogananda’s teachings. But drawing upon the life and teachings of Jesus Christ is specifically appropriate.

In his book, “Conversations with Yogananda, Swami Kriyananda quotes Yogananda answering this question (“Why do you emphasize the teachings of Jesus Christ.”) by replying only, “It was Babaji’s wish that I do so.” [Pretty cagey, I’d say! I suspect the paucity of his reply was related more to the questioner than to the question. That’s my opinion, anyway!]

We do know that Babaji commissioned Swami Sri Yukteswar to write a book showing the underlying unity in Jesus’ teachings and those of India’s rishis. Just read that book, Holy Science, and you’ll see!

Returning now to Swamiji’s oratorio, Christ Lives, we can more easily understand how the masters worked through Swamiji to create a Handel-esque musical work that proclaims a new understanding (Yogananda called it a “New Dispensation”) of Jesus’ teachings. It is, in its own way, a “fulfillment.”

I won’t be so bold as to attempt to describe this oratorio in musical terms. The point of this article is to entice you to come and hear it for yourself! Music isn’t my language, particularly.

In the libretto (words to the songs) you’ll find repeated references to “light,” “joy,” and “peace.” Extending the universal and deeply metaphysical theme of the gospel of St. John (“In the beginning was the Word…..the light of men”), the oratorio guides us to understand Jesus as not the ONLY begotten son of God but a soul, like you and me, who has achieved Oneness with the Light of God. The “Light of Christ” is the indwelling divinity in every atom; in every heart and soul. With this light, Jesus had become wholly identified.

The song “In the Spirit” describes the great vision of St. John in the last book of the New Testament as an ecstatic experience. John was “caught up in ecstasy.” Yogananda dedicated an entire lesson to interpreting the so-called Apocaplyse in metaphysical and Vedantic terms.

From the Old Testament’s frequent commands to “look up” the oratorio describes King David in terms of meditation and the looking up through the point between the eyebrows: the doorway to the divine light. At least four songs dwell upon the feminine nature of God both in general and in the form of Mary, the mother of Jesus. John the Baptist is described as living in solitude and seclusion and achieving his wisdom and faith through the inner life of prayer and meditation.

The temptation of Jesus by the devil in the desert is perhaps one of the most poignant and beautiful songs. A foursome—Jesus, Satan, and two devotee witnesses—sing of the opposing pulls, one divine, the other satanic, upon Jesus’ soul and of Jesus’ rejection of the satanic force. This not only gives recognition (Yogananda proclaimed: “I add my testimony to that of all before me that Satan exists.”) to the power of maya but to its power to become personal both within us and objectively. It also models to us how to deal with maya’s power: seek the love of God!

Another aspect is the very personal relationship Jesus had to his disciples. In song, their life together, wandering the countryside of Judea, is shown to be a celebration, a joyful troupe of disciples with their guru. Rejected is the “man of sorrows” who could never have inspired large crowds. This personal touch is also reflected in songs that speak of the poignant uplifting of souls such as Mary Magdalene, caught in sin and of her rejoicing when freed by his love.

Even the miracle of turning water into wine (the first story after his ministry began) shows Jesus’ care and concern, and love, for all. 
Rather than have the wedding couple be embarrassed by running out, Jesus quietly “refills” the jugs with wine!

Another of the many deeply inspired and musically moving pieces is “Living Water.” This is the story of the woman of Samaria whom Jesus meets at the well. Yogananda explained that this woman was a fallen disciple from a past life. Jesus’ detour into Samaria was intended to find her. The bond of guru and disciple is eternal.

In what is normally considered a triumphal day—Palm Sunday—the music reveals the darker undertone of rejection that is soon to befall the heralded “King of the Jews.”

In the songs of this oratorio, Jesus is depicted in both his overarching divine nature and his very personal, human nature. The juxtaposition of these two has for its message: “Tat twam asi!” “Thou ART THAT!” His nature is our nature. As John the Beloved proclaims in his gospel: “To as many as received Him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God.”

“You Remain Our Friend” is a song sung every Sunday. For that reason members might no longer appreciate the power of its message: both personal and universal. We reject the Christ in the form of the guru and in the abstract, indwelling form of light by our daily busy-ness, indifference, and material desires and fears. While we may yet be fickle, God remains forever our Friend.

But in the end, Jesus is transfixed into pure Light and in the company of his eternal guru, Elijah, and the great prophet Moses. Resurrected is his soul as master of life and death. This is the promise of immortality given us by the saints and masters in every religion. This truth is one and eternal. We need only realize our oneness with it in our deathless Self within!

May the Light of Christ, the Infinite Consciousness, be with you!

Swami Hrimananda

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Jeff Bezos and God : "Objection Overruled"

So many people in modern culture object to the use (and the implied meaning behind) of the word "God." There are, it seems to me, several types of people who object:

1. Atheists. Those who describe themselves as atheists are those who actively deny the existence of God. For my purposes I will assume this includes any Being or Force that by any other name might still be "God." An atheist has a positive non-belief in God and in some cases an emotional rejection of the possibility of God's existence. The emotional rejection might stem from a person's experience of dogmatism or definitions of God that include condemning souls to eternal hell or as allowing injustice and suffering in the world. Or, their negative affirmation might be on intellectual grounds, perhaps on the basis that science has shown that there is no longer a "need" for God to explain material phenomenon. 

Ironically, atheists are illogical, despite their fixation on reason, science and pragmatism. They can no more disprove the existence of God with the very tools they claim disprove Him than religionists can prove the existence of God with anything other than faith (or, far worse, mere belief). Just because God can't be proved using their chosen tools of knowledge doesn't, logically, mean that God can't or doesn't exist! It just means there is no evidence acceptable to them. Just think of all the scientific laws, forces, or phenomenon that couldn't be "proved" only just centuries ago! Our non-belief had no effect upon the force of gravity, for example. 

2. Agnostics. These folks just say, "Gee, I just don't know. Maybe ....  but I've not met Him ..... " For this group there's less of a reactive objection to God and more of either indifference or a positive, intellectual doubt. Some agnostics might embrace the assumption that the question of God cannot be answered for lack of acceptable proof. Thus they are off the hook of having to grapple with such an existential or esoteric question. They can live their own life free of the angst or guilt they associate with religious beliefs! This group of people may incline (unlike the professed atheists) to be content with themselves; they are busy with their own lives and simply not interested in the question to begin with.

3. "God-Word Dislikers." Finally, there is this category (the one I wish to discuss) of "God-Word Dislikers" who might believe in a Divine Being or Force, abstract and impersonal, or personal and involved, but whose name, if that of "God," they find objectionable. Behind this objection is the basic same emotional rejection described for some atheists but in this group they leave room for a loving or at least neutral Being or Force. 

Maybe they view their god as an overarching Intelligence behind all created things. Others might prefer lesser gods (like Hindu gods, e.g. Ganesha, Shiva, or various goddesses) or angels or earth-based fairies, "devas," rather than one hierarchical, almighty, omniscient, all-pervading GOD! It might also be a male vs female objection wherein the GOD-word is impugned by male hierarchy, judgement etc. A female god (Divine Mother) or goddess, by contrast, is earth and people-centric, loving, caring and offers the bounty of the material world, enjoyment, happiness and love. The more earthy types of this genre incline dangerously close toward ego affirmation, offering humans the merely bounties of the earth and its pleasures (instead of eternal Bliss, which is said to be the nature of God and of our own Self).

It's not easy to disassociate words from their connotations. Even though I say to students in my classes, "get over it," it's not as if I don't understand their visceral objection. For me, at least, as a speaker or a writer, the G-word is simply convenient, easy-to-spell, easy-to-say hook for whatever attitude or practice I might be describing. 

Also in my view, each person can ascribe whatever attributes they wish to project onto their god. Their God may be male, female, gender-less, all pervading or simply watching over each of us: your choice. I'm not being merely cynical, but, again, in my view, practical. Until you "know God" you'll just have to find the approach or definition that works for you!

I often explain that just as you or I will never be able to telephone and speak to the President of the United States, or Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon), so too we will never "see" or "hear" God face to face, or ear to ear with our human ego. 

But that fact doesn't mean the President of the United States doesn't exist. It just means that I don't know him in my little, egoic self. It also means he doesn't know me, except as a citizen of his country. On that basis he can say he "knows me."  Jeff Bezos would "know" me as one of his customers and that's all the counts from his point of view.

But both God and Jeff Bezos have customer service reps. 
God has a whole lot of reps (compared to Bezos). 

Some of these God-reps are self-appointed, like your average preacher, teacher, or priest. Others are indeed "His own" and have been "appointed" by God, not man: Buddha, Yogananda, Jesus Christ, Moses, Krishna, Rama and many others. These reps don't argue with one another or clash, though their messages "for their people" may vary in emphases, or culture, or time and place.

Down through history, millions (is it billions?) look up to these "high-end reps" for guidance and as examples of how to live. These reps and some of their high profile followers (aka "saints") play important roles in the lives of many. Relating to holy persons, whether alive or gone, is more than enough for most sincere devotees. Instinctively, many know that relating to the Infinite Power (aka "God") is neither particularly appealing nor practical.  Even the lesser but more accessible line of popular spiritual teachers is adequate for many. Knowing the "boss" or the "president" is simply neither an option nor is it necessary.

Still, this God-word and God-question will forever rage on. Is God personal or impersonal? Here are some thoughts on it: who can limit that which is Infinite? What's the difference anyway between Infinite and Infinitesimal? Why can't "God" be both? How could He who is Infinite NOT be both? And why can't a rep be a "son of God" (or, ok, for some of you, a daughter! Doesn't matter, really, because souls are without gender, so I am told.)

The distinction is our problem, not God's problem. Whether his reps are his "sons" or simply souls with the red phone hot line to the Almighty, it doesn't really make that much difference on the ground in the here and now.

Down through the centuries the reps were everything and God was just a faraway idea. The reps told you what He said we had to do, or, or, well, or ELSE! For those who needed the stick more than the carrot, that's what they heard.

But for those more sensitive, these reps always exhibit and express divine, unconditional love (and joy and power etc.). They attribute their "power" to God, not to themselves. They urge their followers, those with "ears to hear," to do so also. Most talked of God as intimate; as real, both personal and impersonal, depending on their own point of view and mission. But the masses generally missed the point and simply wanted what they could get from the reps: comfort, joy and a better life via divine favors. 

For the deeper souls, the imitation of these Christ-like reps is the goal. To have the joy of St. Francis even in the midst of suffering; to forgive while crucified by hate; to render aid no matter the personal risk; to love all alike; to adhere to righteousness in the face of temptation or at personal inconvenience. to heal the sick; raise the dead; forgive sins (meaning change lives of others). These divine powers, these "Gifts of the Spirit," have been demonstrated and witnessed down through the ages for those "with ears to hear and eyes to see." It's not blind faith but openness to that which might otherwise seem impossible. Faith is knowing without logical or sensory evidence. Belief is but a hypothesis.

The lives of these saints and masters bring us the "good news" that God exists and that we, being "His" children, are made in His image and are destined for immortality: not of the physical body but of the soul. Nor is it "mere" existence but "ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss of the soul. This is our destiny to re-discover and to realize our true Self. 

So, sure, stick with the reps if the big Guy is still beyond your ken. God is "big enough" not be upset by it. If you like his reps; if you know his reps; then, it's enough for HIM. Whether you know it or not, He knows that in knowing his reps you know HIM. The reps are a chip off the Old Block and so are you. Really.

He doesn't even mind if you dumb it down to wanting to find happiness within your Self. The last sentence of Chapter 35 of "Autobiography of a Yogi," states: "Through use of the Kriya key, persons who cannot bring themselves to believe in the divinity of any man will behold at last the full divinity of their own selves." ["Kriya key" means the practice of "kriya," an advanced meditation technique!]

Maybe our very interest in the subject has its genesis in God's hidden presence within us. Maybe that presence recognizes itself in the reps. Maybe the reps help that nascent knowledge to grow from a seed into a tree as we progress from ego to soul; from devil to angel; from sinner to saint. Just maybe, "it takes One to Know One." Just say'n.

"Goodness" (with two "zeros") is God (with one "zero") manifested in the duality of His creation. Goodness with its necessary opposite exists in this world (of duality) whereas God is transcendent Bliss itself. One without equal; One without opposite! 

In the name of Thy holy reps, 

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, March 9, 2018

At Thy Feet - Loving Your Own - A Holy Science Indeed

My teacher, Swami Kriyananda, said that when, in his early years, a person would try to convert him to their religion and couldn't accept his choice, he would say, "Well, maybe yours is better than mine, but, even so, mine is mine, however second best."

The diversity of opinions on everything and anything, what to mention religion, is such that absent rank injustice or the need for self-defense, what can you do but do your best to use common sense, intelligence, and goodwill and, finally, to follow what seems right for you?

It doesn't matter to me what ranking, spiritually speaking, the universe would ascribe to Paramhansa Yogananda and the line of gurus who sent him to the West. Nor, also, what others might say about my teacher, Swami Kriyananda.

I know what I have gained and learned and I am grateful. I extend my gratitude to my family, my wife, my friends and to the dedication of so many with whom I share ideals of service, sadhana and devotion. 

It doesn't matter what they may think of me, or, I of them. 

So this very day, March 9, we honor the passing in 1936 of Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri of Serampore, India (near Kolkata). His passing (in Puri, India) took place while his disciple Paramhansa Yogananda was absent yet still in India for his year long visit from America.

I am slowly re-reading Swami Sri Yukteswar's one and only book, the Holy Science. I am doing this in preparation for a class series I will co-teach this Spring and Summer. I bow at his holy feet for the wisdom I can feel and but only partially glimpse in the depth of realization implied in his words. 

Though I fare better in inspiration, wisdom and understanding through the writings of his disciple, Paramhansa Yogananda, and, in turn, Yogananda's disciple, Swami Kriyananda, I yet perceive the hidden depths of wisdom contained in that true scripture. I believe that the Holy Science will only gradually become understood (i.e. "realized") as the centuries move toward the appearance of the third age (Treta Yuga) some two thousand years hence.

I stand, then, today in awe and gratitude for the inspiration offered to us through the line of teachers of Self-Realization. I also stand in gratitude for the lives of each and every person with whom I have come into contact in my life and service to this ray of divine light.

It doesn't matter how small in numbers we may be. It doesn't matter that the world is largely indifferent, or that "devotees may come and devotees may go" (to quote a chant). It doesn't matter that with some I find favor and others not; with some I am in tune and with others not. For they are all part of the drama of my own journey.

It is not realistic to say that one loves everyone as they are. But one can love everyone as they truly are: reflections of my karma and sparks of divine grace, all doing the best they can.

For this, on this day of March 9, 2018, I bow at Thy feet, accepting my own life, my own karma, my very own as my very own: a gift of Divine Mother. To quote a friend: it is all perfect! All as it should be.

At thy Feet,

Swami Hrimananda