Friday, November 15, 2019

Newly Discovered Tips for Meditators Who Want the Monkey to Mind

Newly Discovered Tips for Meditators:

I should add: "newly discovered" for me! I stumbled upon some things I'd like to share. (Even if, there's nothing new under the sun of wisdom.)

1. One's heart rate needs to be slowed before the monkey can relax. A very simple breathing exercise will help: breathe through the nose using a long slow and smooth breath. Let the exhalation be slightly longer than inhalation. Let the breath flow continuously without pauses at the top of inhalation or at the bottom of the exhalation. Of course, there are numerous traditional pranayamas to use also but you do need to know how to use them properly. The most important clue for the success of pranayama is the quieting of the heart and slowing of the breath rate. Some techniques produce a sensation of coolness; others, of warmth. But if your heart is beating faster after the exercise than it was before, then you'd better let that one go or learn how and when to use it correctly!

I have learned that controlling the heart is more than just mechanics. Conscious intention and awareness are very important. Try this exercise: when calm and with eyes closed, "intuit" the experience of breathlessness! Look up and open your mouth with a soft, one-second intake of breath. Hold that pose and feel the heart. You can also stop and calmly fix your gaze on any object with your mouth slightly open and your eyes "wide" (see number 3 below).

When meditating, try to feel, intuit or imagine space in the body. Our body is 99.999% space (scientists tell us). Then expand that awareness out and around you further and further. Notice if your heart rate drops!

2. Try relaxing the tongue during meditation. Let it relax and slide gently and just slightly back into the mouth. It may help to open your mouth just slightly. The tongue is what we talk with. Even mental self-talk can stimulate the nerves in the tongue into readiness to speak! As the tongue, so the mind. As the mind, so the tongue.) [Of course, the gold standard is to place the tongue into Khechari mudra. but that's another and a longer story.]

3. Position of the eyes. No doubt readers of this article already know to position your eyes upward, gazing gently through the point between the eyebrows. In the yoga tradition, this is called Shambhavi mudra. This alone helps greatly with quieting the self-talk. Implied in the experience of Shambhavi mudra is a little-known effect: dilation of the eyes. Try this little trick for dilating the eyes. Lift your gaze with open eyes. Hold your arms out at eye level with the index finger on each hand pointing to the ceiling. Slowly move your arms apart from each other to the furthest points where your eyes can still see both upraised fingers. Notice if this doesn't quiet the mind instantly. After you find this gazing position, close your eyes and begin your meditation as usual. (You may have to do this several times during meditation or for a few days or weeks to have it become natural. P.S. The eyes should never "cross.") 

Why does this work? My understanding goes something like this: the analytical mind tends to keep the narrative going when we are looking at ONE thing. But the feeling or observing part of the mind overrides the analytical brain when simultaneously viewing two or more objects. (A picture, being worth a thousand words! Two pictures, two thousand!) 

In the practice of the Hong Sau technique, we are given the instruction to keep the gaze upraised behind closed eyes while feeling the breath flowing up and down in the nostrils. These two focal points constitute TWO objects being observed simultaneously. While this is true, the dilation technique I think is more sustainable, especially for new meditators. 

Try the dilation method (without necessarily using the arms) even during the day (probably NOT when driving a car) and see if you don't experience an instant quieting of heart and mind, and relaxation throughout the muscles! This can be done simply by becoming aware of what is at the edges of your peripheral vision when looking at any one point in front of you, especially with eyes slightly raised.

4. Re-think the Ajna chakra (6th chakra) at the medulla. We are taught that the spiritual eye (point between the eyebrows) is but a reflection of the 6th chakra which is located at the medulla oblongata at the base of the brain (and in the back of the head). For this purpose, let's exclude the crown chakra (the Sahasrara) viewing it as not being a chakra but, being instead, the transcendent consciousness of the soul (which, let's face it, is somewhat aloof). 

Therefore, experiment with viewing the medulla as the final chakra at the top of the spine. Focus your attention during meditation in the medulla with the idea that it is from the medulla that you are gazing up and forward to the point between the eyebrows. Visualize this, as I do, as the "theatre of the soul" gazing up at the screen where the inner light may appear.

A new technique I learned for feeling the position of the medulla goes like this: sit up straight in meditative posture. While keeping your head level, rotate your head side to side (not too far to either side) back and forth four or five times. Imagine that the head remains centered, rotating to the left, back to center, and to the right in a continuous motion seated on a small post, the thickness of your thumb and located just inside the back of the head above the neck. The area that you feel from this exercise you may consider to be the medulla oblongata (the seat of the ajna chakra).

Therefore, during meditation, center your attention in the medulla. This will help keep your head level (chin level). Too many meditators tilt their head back (lifting the chin) while straining to place their energy at the point between the eyebrows. See if this re-focusing of your attention at the medulla helps ground your meditation, keeping you in the conscious mind even while your upward gaze indicates that you are receptive to the superconscious mind. Too often we focus so intently upon the forehead that our head tilts up and we get "disconnected" from the rest of the body and the other chakras. The result is that we are tempted to mentally drift away or maybe the monkey mind feels free to leap about and do cartwheels and handstands on the stage of our attention. 

Another way to express the effect of the head tilted upwards at the chin, is that this "pinches" the medulla (Ajna) chakra and chokes off our connection with especially the heart. The heart holds one of the keys to quieting the monkey mind. When the heart is calm and at rest, so follows the mind. Think of one of those perennially contented souls one meets here and there. No surfeit of mental agitation have we!

Refocusing your awareness to the medulla will require some practice and reorientation. Ultimately it really isn't a change from making the spiritual eye your focus but it is, in fact, more natural since the ego is said to be centered in the medulla. Until the ego is lifted up out of itself, moving naturally forward to the spiritual eye, the ego is the one practising meditation!

5. The tingles! A sign to look for as you go deeper in meditation (as your heart rate decreases), is a tingling sensation on the surface of the body (the skin). Perhaps your hands, resting on your thighs, begin to feel heavy, even warm. Perhaps your upper body has an energy or tingling feeling all around. Or, perhaps your lower lip feels different (as if the blood is draining away from it). It is no coincidence that yogis often meditate without a shirt. The shirt, by touching the body, interferes with the awareness of this sensation. 

In its initial stages, we actually feel MORE sensitive (just as when you have sunburn or a rash you may not want to wear a shirt). As prana is drawn into the center of the body, certain sensations result. They are somewhat similar to falling asleep except that we can't notice them because we are "falling" asleep! These can include becoming suddenly aware of tension or aches and pains. Other symptoms might include sudden itching, tickling in the throat or nose, yawning or swallowing compulsively (though these also have other sources for their appearance). 

But the "tingles" is a sign to you that you are internalizing your awareness and the prana is following your attention inward. Put another way, these sensations are not problematic but natural. However, this doesn't mean every meditator will or must experience these sensations.

Well, that's it for now. Try some of these and let me know what you think. Just remember that we are all a bit different. Not every technique works the same for every meditator. 

Inhale, exhale, "stop, look, and listen!" (Here comes the train of peace gliding soundlessly down the tracks of your mind.)

Swami Hrimananda, the
Not (yet) wandering sadhu

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Yogananda's Predictions of Coming Difficult Times: True or False?

I have written before on this subject and Swami Kriyananda has both spoken and written on this subject many times. So this article is NOT a recitation of Yogananda's predictions. 

Instead, I would like to address some common objections to these prophecies.

1. Predictions aren't set in stone. True! Swami Kriyananda would always say as much but his opinion was that, to-date, the awakening of consciousness and the concomitant change in human behavior seemed to him insufficient to completely mitigate the predictions Yogananda made (between 1948-1952). How can we view events in our 2019 world and feel confident of positive changes?

2. Bad things are ALWAYS happening. Yes, this is also true. But this fact alone doesn't mean the specific predictions Yogananda made won't ALSO come true.

3. Why is it religious groups are consistently predicting "end times?" For one, Yogananda didn't predict "end times," only difficult challenges in the world. In fact, he said that after a long period of warfare, we would enter a long period of relative peace. (Besides, don't some people think the "world's going to end" if they didn't an invitation to that party?)

4. Sceptics aver that religious groups (or their leaders) make these predictions to keep the faithful in line, fearful, and unquestioning. I suppose this could be the case but as a hypothesis, it's difficult to prove and surely can't apply to all cases for at least two reasons unrelated to any motivation: 1. Predicting the future is always a risky business, and/or 2. As pointed in #2 above, BAD THINGS happen all the time. As to motivations, some people are, in fact, motivated by fear; fear is part of the human experience and, as such, it has its place. 

So let's explore #4 in relation to #2: why are the "faithful" often being warned of bad things when bad things are always happening anyway?

And, whereas Paramhansa Yogananda DID make certain predictions, it is not by any means super-clear that any of those predictions have come true. I'm going to focus on just two of his predictions: 

#1: America would suffer a depression far greater than the Great Depression of the 1930's. and....

#2: He stated with great vigour: "You don't KNOW what a cataclysm is coming."

I don't think any of the recessions that have taken place since 1930's could possibly be greater than the Great Depression, right? 

On the other hand, there have been innumerable natural disasters around the world, not least of which would be the Asian tsunami of 2004. But none of these seem to me to qualify to fit Yogananda's intent on one of two counts: 

1) When Yogananda gave that warning, he was speaking to an American audience and none of the many hurricanes, fires or earthquakes in the USA would seem, in my view, to qualify for the level of intensity that Swami Kriyananda related to audiences (he, being present when Yogananda made that statement, at least once, if not several times). 

2) If the intensity of Yogananda's emphasis on cataclysm was intended to be global, we certainly haven't had anything of that magnitude yet, though there is fear building worldwide that the cumulative effects of climate change may, like a tsunami, reach just that intensity in the upcoming decades. 

It is curious to me that Jesus Christ is quoted as making similar prophecies. In over two thousand years one could argue that none of his predictions came true, or, alternatively, that all of them came true at some time or place or another! (See Luke 21; Mark 13; Matt 24)

In the Indian epic the Mahabharata, Krishna warned of a coming age of un-virtue and destruction. The Pandavas, his chief disciples, left their palaces and traipsed up into the Himalayas to escape these inevitable changes. 

Absent global catastrophic events, we are left with the fact that BAD THINGS are always happening. Thus until such catastrophic events occur we might at least content ourselves with exploring the #2 objection that BAD THINGS are always happening AND why then are avatars are ALWAYS predicting them? 

What if there are two levels on which the predictions of these saints are justifiable? The one is personal: are not people in general and devotees specifically apt to have great tests and challenges in their lives? Aren't such likely to be tempted to follow ideologies or lesser leaders who are false? Besides, what seems catastrophic to me might be nothing to you but it IS to me! All the ills human life is heir to happen to a great many people but when they happen in the lives of the devotees their faith is tested that they may see the depth (or lack) of their spiritual mettle. 

The second relates to groups of devotees: aren't they likely to be persecuted or encounter social or political opposition; or, great difficulties such as betrayals of trust or apostacy? Are they not likely to see taking place around them injustice, deprivation, wars, and calamities? Not a few religious adherents in modern times have turned away from the "heavens" to toil on earth for humanitarian goals. For this, they receive many worldly kudos but there can be, for some, a hidden trap.

Yogananda's warns of this trap in "Autobiography of a Yogi," writing in Chapter 45: "Refusing a monotheistic love to God, the nations disguise their infidelity by punctilious respect before the outward shrines of charity. These humanitarian gestures are virtuous because for a moment they divert man's attention from himself, but they do not free him from his single responsibility in life, referred to by Jesus as the first commandment. The uplifting obligation to love God is assumed with man's first breath of an air freely bestowed by his only Benefactor."

The same can be said of political or social activism. Devotees can be discouraged, frightened, distracted or energized away from the spiritual path by the endless woes and material concerns of human life. 

Hasn't history shown repeatedly that evil can spin a web of lies, disguising itself as good, enticing devotees, spiritual leaders, and churches to support dictators, slavery, wars, prejudice, or exploitation in a form that could be called the "anti-Christ?" (that is to say, "anti-Christ-consciousness)

Thus, even if BAD THINGS are always taking place, a saint may warn of them because they are challenges to the faith and equanimity of devotees. Is not the warning saying, in effect, that the "joy and inspiration you may feel in my presence or in your spiritual life will be challenged someday by things that happen to you or around you?"

When I think of Jesus' words of warning (about troubles, persecutions, false teachers, natural calamities) to his disciples I consider that they did not know at the time that they would be founders and missionaries of a new religion. That new religion was going to be tested year after year, decade after decade, and century after century by the persecutions and, later, the temptations of power and the betrayals of heresy and apostasy. There would be many false prophets and teachers; many wars, dictators, and spiritual leaders vying and competing. 

That Jesus is quoted as saying "this generation shall not pass away" before he will come a second time can be viewed on a personal level in the lives of his direct disciples and on a general level to all disciples of any generation. The power of the living Christ can be seen or felt by the spiritual eye or "I" (the kingdom within you) by those who remain faithful to the "spirit and the truth." 

Was, then, also, Yogananda saying the same thing to those of us who are his followers? Do we not see all around us catastrophes, suffering, betrayals, exploitation, violence, and evil? Are we tempted to lose hope and faith? To feel anger, fear or resentment? To abandon spiritual work and practices in favor of saving humanity? To be concerned for material things more than our soul's love for God?

Who among us, today, does not feel this country (America) has not only lost whatever "greatness" it may have had but has also betrayed its founding ideals as epitomized by its elected leader(s), surely an "anti-Christ-consciousness" embodiment(s) if there ever was one?

This isn't fear-mongering on the part of Yogananda (or Jesus or Krishna etc.). It may be dramatic, stark, or, for some, fear-inducing in its language and imagery, but to me, the message goes something like this: "Don't put your faith in making this world perfect. It is a school, merely. Yes, do what you can to make it a better place but focus on your love for God and your love for God in all." 

The function of a school is to give examinations and to help students pass them and move on. So, yes, you will see hardship and suffering but hold steadfast to your faith and love for God. If this world were perfect, who would seek God's love? Are not the imperfections of this world the necessary inducement for us to seek the "truth that shall you free"?

Returning now to the two predictions of Yogananda that I cited above, who can say with confidence that wholesale financial collapse in America is impossible? (Did I read the other day that the national debt of America is $23 TRILLION?) Who can say that a major catastrophe (asteroid, volcano, earthquake, pandemic, world war) is impossible? (Almost daily I receive postings about possible catastrophic asteroids or super volcanoes.) 

The primary reason for contemplating such possibilities is not fear but to warn us not to fall asleep in our spiritual efforts. It's not necessary for the most ardent devotees but helpful for those who are new, weak or discouraged. Given that bad things are always happening, why not heed Krishna's immortal words: "Get away, Arjuna, from my ocean of suffering and misery!"

Added unto us with the love of God we can "be the change we seek in the world" with far greater effect than only toiling in the vineyard where the grapes of wrath are grown. Ultimately, then, it CAN be a both-and but walking the edge of the steep path between the outer and inner worlds takes great spiritual agility.

As the scripture of the street puts it: "Just sayin'"

Swami Hrimananda


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Swami Kriyananda : Testament to Authenticity

When you have made the acquaintance of a saint (a rare thing for most people), or even have studied the lives of many saints, you find that each one is simply him or her self. Some saints are rather eccentric, too, but in all cases, especially in real life (versus the one-dimensional biographies that are too often written), saints are creative, energetic, imaginative, and, in a divine way, unpredictable.

Here at Ananda in the Seattle area, we are studying the recently published book by Asha Nayaswami: "Swami Kriyananda: Lightbearer - The Life and Legacy of a Disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda.

It is an extraordinary account of the life of an extraordinary man. It is a study in discipleship in our lifetimes. It is difficult to write a post-mortem account of Spirit "dwelling amongst us" without whitewashing a human being into an icon. Fortunately, Asha Nayaswami has done an excellent job at sharing the fully human being who was called Swami Kriyananda.

In the book, which I highly recommend to everyone, not just Ananda members, Swamiji's life is shown as it was lived: transparently! In the countless gatherings ("satsangs") and in numerous letters to members, friends, and even to a few self-appointed adversaries, he was self-honest, fair to all, courageous, and insightful but never bombastic or emotional. He clung to and affirmed his soul's living reality and potential no matter what others would think of him or what others accused him of. Even if he ever disappointed himself, he rose to affirm ultimate soul victory. He also respected the right of others to be themselves, even if at his expense, and viewed each from their highest potential regardless of their current behavior or attitude.

One of the earliest statements I heard him make in a talk he gave long ago (late 1970s?) was to the effect that saints come to demolish the false notions devotees have of what it means to be spiritual. For those who are sincere but who also struggle with living the spiritual life, this was reassuring and supportive.

And he lived his life in that authentic way. For each of us, our path, our tests and victories, are unique. The delusions of Maya are innumerable but all too recognizable (at least by others!). There are, moreover, some delusions that are bigger or more deeply embedded than others.

Swamiji's lifestyle of complete openness and transparency are vividly reported in Asha's book and serve not just as the obvious and general example of discipleship but the practical and concomitant example of living authentically as a human being (on the way to becoming fully human). The two cannot be separated.

Like a great ship, whether moving its way through a storm or becalmed on a glassy sea, the polestar of Swamiji's soul-ship was Self-realization. Swamiji showed the balance between self-acceptance and Self-acceptance on a larger than life public "stage." This he did notwithstanding numerous hurdles, opposition, and challenges. That his "saving grace" flowed from his attunement to his guru (Yogananda) is, of course, the basis for his life and a core message of his life story.

While no book can ever substitute for the actual experience of another person, especially a saintly one, Asha's book is a masterpiece not just for the future of Ananda, or future disciples of Yogananda, but for anyone seeking to view authentic spirituality.

To define "authentic spirituality" is, by definition, impossible. To be "spiritual" means to live by grace; to live with faith; to seek divine attunement. By "definition," therefore, there can be NO yardstick of what, outwardly, constitutes "authentic"! In fact, the term "spiritual authenticity" is redundant for no authenticity can exist except for that which proceeds from soul guidance. Those who claim authenticity on the mere basis of expressing subconscious and ego impulses betray the very concept of authenticity.

Swamiji could play the video game, "Pong," on an Apple II Plus; he could arm or leg wrestle the "guys" or play "shoulder wars" in the pool; all in a competitive good spirit with laughter all 'round.

But he could also see your higher potential and nurture your soul, bringing tears of gratitude to your eyes. He could magnetize a network of eight or nine intentional communities around the world, write music and books and give lectures in many languages.

But these above are only outward facts. By "authentic" I will simply say that his transparency opened him up to be seen even if all too often the result was that he would be judged by the world around him. There's no point in recalling stories from the book: you should get the book and read it. His transparency challenged some whose definition of spirituality was rigid and one-dimensional. His life was a continuous effort at divine attunement and as it poured through him he answered its summons regardless of personal convenience or outward orthodoxy. (Nonetheless, he was strictly orthodox when it came to techniques taught by Yogananda and the counsel he received from his guru.)

It didn't matter if the action he took or the statement he made turned out to be, or seem to be, in error. He accepted that too, though he seemed to accept all things gratefully as part of the hidden divine hand. In a deeper sense, there were no mistakes. (This was not a denial on his part; rather, it was an affirmation of the deepest truth of the soul.)

Some devotees are not even honest with their own consciences as if one could hide one's most hidden secrets from God. Never mind those whose conscience yields easily to convenience or desire. Swamiji's example, therefore, is nothing less than extraordinary.

In addition, to his example of discipleship and the heroic service he rendered his guru to the world, and in addition to the deep gratitude I and countless others feel for his friendship, I honor the example of his courage, his inner Self-sufficiency, his transparency, and the resulting authenticity of his being fully human. Accepting that the soul is nothing less than authentic, too many spiritual seekers cannot see the forest of Spirit through the trees of religious convention.

The "romance of religion" (as Yogananda called it) is viewed by too many to be in the robes and rituals and outward piety common to all faiths. To those attracted to the trappings of religion, Yogananda counseled "Make your heart a hermitage, and your robe, your love for God."

There is a story from India of the husband of a famous woman bhakti, Mirabai. For years she had prayed for her husband's religious conversion, thinking him to be an agnostic for lack of outward religiosity. But one night, when he cried out in his sleep to God, she woke him to say that she now knew his secret. He pleaded with her to not to say it but when she did, he sat upright in meditation and left his body (for he had vowed to do so if ever his love for God were discovered).

Extreme, to be sure. But do not "judge the book (of the soul) by its cover." Some saints appear even a bit grumpy or as martinets but they have their reasons to do so. Look into their eyes for they will twinkle like stars with inner joy. Note further how others around them are spiritually transformed and uplifted.

The deeper your love for God and the stronger your attunement with the Divine Will, the safer you will be in your spontaneous and intuitive expression of the soul's innate wisdom, joy, peace or love. Ultimately there can be no difference. For Swamiji's courageous example of expressing inspiration, I am deeply grateful.

Jai Guru! Jai Swamiji!

Swami Hrimananda