Sunday, February 24, 2013
A Letter to a friend………What does it mean to be “spiritual?”
You are not alone in imagining that to be a spiritual person means to be loving and kind. What else, after all, could it mean? How can being spiritual be anything other than loving and kind?
You speak often of drawing inspiration from others more spiritual than yourself, and of wanting to be around such persons, whether “in-person,” or by reading or online. It is right to recognize the spiritual qualities of others and to seek to draw from them such qualities by association, support, respect, and service.
My concern for you (and others like yourself) in your admiration for the better qualities of others is that you may be tempted to substitute your admiration for the work you must do to acquire those qualities in yourself. Further, such “looking at others” may provide a shield whereby you can judge people without having to work on yourself. Anyone who, in your view, treats you with what you deem to be unkindness or absent a loving attitude is simply dismissed as “not spiritual.” Never mind that you might be attracting such treatment by your own lack of kindness or love for others. Never mind, further, that those whom you admire are either dead or at least nowhere near you. By contrast those whom you dismiss for lack of spiritual qualities are rather too near, as it were (though not too dear!).
Truth is: living with saints and those of higher consciousness is never comfortable. Some saints are very strict but even those who are known to be loving and gentle are experienced differently by followers who live with and around them in close proximity. One doesn’t become a saint by lack of will power, strength and commitment. A saint doesn’t have to scold: his or her very life, vibration, consciousness, and presence is like a strong spotlight that shows the flaws of nearby objects. Between the extremes of strictness and gentleness is a wide range of spiritual people, on various levels of Self-realization, who are very much human beings, both because of, and in spite of, their spiritual realization.
My teacher, Swami Kriyananda, is a good example of this. Most people see him, especially now at this final stage of life, filled with bliss, joy, and love for all. In fact, he’s always been this way but in his younger, work-building years, he had to be more engaged, executive, administrative, guiding and training many, many people. It wasn’t feasible for him to relax into the Spirit openly because he had a divine work to do. Nonetheless, even in those years one could feel the power of divine love, human kindness, and spiritual wisdom in his presence. But whether now in his “bliss years,” or then, in his “barnstorming years,” it is never “easy” to be around him for more than a mere visit or satsang. The very intensity of his consciousness precludes familiarity or subconscious relaxation, mental, emotional or otherwise. Mindfulness and Presence emanate from him and one becomes innately more self-aware in speaking or acting. Time slows down. Few people can take that intensity for very long. He doesn’t have to “judge you.” You feel the pangs of your own conscience for any thoughts or attitudes that are less than uplifted and expansive.
The love one feels from a saint is a power, not a mere sentiment. Divine love, we are told, has created us and has created this magnificent universe. What greater power can there be? It is this power, and its inseparable companion, joy, that makes a saint so magnetic. Be not like the earth which resists the gravitational pull of the sun by its own centrifugal force. As you yield, however, to the sun's magnetic power it will burn up and purify your attachments and ego: so ego beware! Sadhu, behold!
A true and mature devotee, therefore, doesn’t postpone his or her spiritual growth by dismissing the “slings and arrows” of daily interaction and misunderstandings. A devotee doesn’t avoid the spiritual “issue” and opportunity for self-reflection by jumping into the mud puddle of judging others whenever, to your view, another person, especially another devotee, reprimands or otherwise behaves in ways not to your ego’s likings. To the devotee, all people and especially one’s gurubhais, are no less than the “guru” him (or her)-self speaking.
Dismissing those around you as “less than spiritual” is not the way to develop the magnetism to attract a true guru into your life: whether this current incarnation or a future one. Seeing God’s presence in everyone around you, however, IS! (If the reader prefers to substitute “to grow spiritually in” for “to attract a true guru into” it is good enough.)
It is the ego that rejects distasteful experiences or other people as “unspiritual.” Moreover, it is a not very clever ruse to avoid the issue of learning one’s own lessons. Sometimes that lesson is simply to learn to not “dismiss.” More likely, however, there is something to learn in the “facts of the case.”
Take more thoughtfully and less reactively, therefore, the daily interactions of others as coming to you for your own spiritual growth. Take from the saints and others and through your admiration for them, their qualities and lessons into your own life. Be a saint, too! Don’t merely peer through the pages of a book or the windows of a “church,” but enter in and make those qualities, that saint, your very Self. For that, more than anything, is the truth “that shall make you free.”
To be a Christ you must be the “Imitation of Christ” (a famous book by Thomas a Kempis). The more you see the “Christ” in others, the more of a “Christ” you will be.
It is my fondest wish for you to be free and if these thoughts contribute even insignificantly to that, I will be satisfied.
Your very Self,
(This “letter” was neither written nor sent to any specific friend…………..there is no value, therefore, in speculation, only introspection!)
Saturday, February 16, 2013
Love is the law!
In a week, 34 of us leave for India. We will visit places where Paramhansa Yogananda lived, the holy city of Benares, a Himalayan cave, the Taj Mahal, the Ananda center in Delhi, and Swami Kriyananda at the Ananda Community in Pune.
Now we are full of eager anticipation but we hope to return in late March with our hearts as full as our luggage! Pilgrimage is an ancient tradition. It is a rite of purification and carries the hope of spiritual rebirth. Where God has come to earth and shared our human drama through the souls of those who are fully realized as His children, spiritual and purifying vibrations linger yet still. They are activated by the loving hearts of His devotees and a channel of grace thus remains open at such places through which divine blessings flow.
So too the life of Jesus though long ago remains fresh and alive to those “with ears to hear” and hearts that love. The New Testament portrays Jesus Christ as both compassionate and forgiving, but also sharp and unforgiving toward the hypocrites and exploiters of others. “Be ye wise as serpents but harmless as doves” he is quoted as saying.
Natural and moral law imposes upon the awakened conscience of sensitive and intelligent humans relatively clear guidance as to how to live and be healthy, happy and at peace with oneself. It’s not complicated, though, given the temptations life affords, it’s also not necessarily easy.
With hard work you can get a good education, a decent job, attract a satisfactory life partner and more or less, with some luck and a lot of “steel on the wheel,” enjoy the “good life.” But it’s a narrow pathway and you’d best not go overboard with any of life’s pleasures and indulgences and you’d be “better be good, for goodness’ sake!”
You don’t need religion to feel in tune with the Golden Rule and to be a basically good, hard working, unselfish, and decent person. But if you depend only upon your own pluck and luck to keep it together, you’ll always be looking over your shoulder lest the shadow of misfortune be pursuing you. You’ll never know when the axe comes down on your comfortable life. And if it does, where will you be then?
Jesus was criticized by those pesky ‘ol priestly Pharisees, hypocrites and “white sepulcres” (whitewashed on the outside but nothing but a rotting corpse on the inside!). He dined with the down and out and the sinners of his time. A woman, a known “sinner,” hearing that he was at the house of a rich but notorious villager, came and wept at his feet, anointing Jesus’ feet with costly oil. Jesus explained that he came not to heal the healthy but those ill with the disease of delusion. He said, simply, that “her sins, though many, are forgiven, for she has loved much!”
I doubt the “loving” to which he referred to was in relation to her “sinning.” No, her love was her recognition of her unworthiness in relation to her recognition of his sacred and divine vibration as her only salvation. In this she showed herself above Jesus’ host that evening who failed to conduct even the most rudimentary gestures of honor and hospitality to Jesus.
The poignant story of the centurion who, loving as he did so greatly his own servant, and having an intuitive recognition of Jesus’ spiritual power and presence sent someone to ask that Jesus heal his servant. The centurion knew that it was taboo for Jesus (a Jew) to enter the home of a Roman and stated simply that “You need but say the Word, and my servant will be healed!” Jesus was astonished at the faith of this Roman, when so few of his countrymen could come close to doing the same.
And for the woman caught in adultery, Jesus asked the gathering crowd (eager to stone her to death in accordance with the law), “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” One by one they walked away. When only she remained there with Jesus, he said, “Neither do I judge thee. Go and sin no more.”
In his final hours before his crucifixion, he spoke to his disciples as friends and commanded them to love one another as he had loved them.
Jesus’ life displayed little regard for the niceties of rite and rituals. He wasn’t against such things for he, too, went to the temple at feast days. But he lived and roamed the countryside telling stories of God’s love and forgiveness. But He was not merely a preacher. He was practical and forgave not just “sins,” but illnesses and diseases, even, in a few instances, the fatal disease of death.
Paramhansa Yogananda has come into this new and modern age with a message and mission for a culture of people of greater sophistication, education, opportunity and interests than those of Jesus’ time. But we are frenzied and much burdened with restlessness. To us he brings the peace of meditation; the comfort of God’s presence within ourselves. The antidote for the confusion and complexity of our age is found in the temple of silence within. There, in the only true temple there is, we can commune in peace and love with our God.
True “communion” is an act of love. Yogananda said “You must make love to God!” And when the time came for him to leave this earth he gave this counsel: “Only love can take my place.”
The only true love we can have for one another is the love of God. For it arises not from desire or attachment but from the wellspring of divine and unconditional love within.
Our is a democratic age. Cooperation and friendship are the way to find fulfillment and to stave off the ill effects of ruthless competition and destructive nationalism. This cannot be merely the behavior of a merchant, seeking a mutual benefit society. To be lasting and to be satisfying, it must arise from the natural love of the heart. God, in our age, will be seen not so much as Lord and Savior, but as our divine friend. By extension, therefore, we would do well to see all people as our divine friends.
Swami Kriyananda has commented that the primary reason to love is because by loving we find greater happiness than by hating, resenting, or refusing to forgive. But we cannot love everyone in a merely human way, for we find a natural affinity to some and a spontaneous antipathy towards others. Divine love expressed outwardly will often be seen more as respect, fairness, forbearance, and cooperation. It is not merely an act of will but an outpouring from within.
“If ye be my disciples, love one another!”
Let us take these words of Jesus to heart.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
As part of a team of members who respond to questions from all over the world on behalf of the Ananda Worldwide Ministry, some questions get directed to me for a response. Today there came a classic question, "Why does God permit suffering." We are here in human form to discover the mysteries of our existence. Some who have gone before us have solved the riddles of life. Great souls such as Buddha, Krishna, and, in our time, Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the worldwide classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi").
When I first saw this question this afternoon, I thought, "Oh heavens, how am I supposed to say anything meaningful on so deep a question?" Often those who ask have suffered greatly: directly or through the loss of loved ones. There was no hint in the question that the person who wrote in to the website was especially or deeply hurt personally, but it is often the case when this question is asked.
So I penned below a response as best I could. Much more could be added but it is such a universal and important question, I thought to share the response with others:
RESPONSE (later "enhanced"):
You have asked the ages-old paradox that all compassionate and thoughtful people must ask: "Why does God (who is all Good), permit suffering?"
Is a parent negligent who permits his child to go to school where he may encounter bullies or simply other students who might harangue, insult or even fight with him? Is a parent negligent who permits his son to go to war, perhaps to return crippled for life, or to never return?
God is not the cause of suffering. Whatever else God is, we must do what we can to deal responsibly with our suffering, our grief, or the travails of others. Why should we imagine, especially in our grief and pain, that we can understand the mind of God? This universe is vast and we are complex creatures. Let us not look afar to cast blame but be practical and do what we can to improve our or others' situation.
A God's eye view of humanity reveals that we humans only think of God when we are in need. Left to our own, we prefer to revel in the the gifts and pleasures of His creation rather than to see these as but His gifts. Few receive His gifts with gratitude and love for the Giver. Fewer still can receive life's hardships as HIs gifts, given to purify our attachments or teach us valuable soul lessons.
Instead, if we have too little, we want more; if we have much, we want more. We are never satisfied even when sated. We burn with disquietude, wondering all along "What's wrong with this picture?" "Who is to blame?" 99.9% of humanity is too busy chasing pleasure, happiness, security, recognition (or avoiding or getting over their opposites).
Still, I must concede that those who suffer all too often and all too much are the innocent. But among life's many questions, can we ever really answer the questions that start with "Why?" Why was I born poor, rich, healthy, ill, luck or unfortunate? As suffering obviously happens and too often to those who do not deserve it, we cannot help but ask "Why" and wonder "Who is to blame."
Our instincts are well placed, however: someone indeed has to be blamed! For if there is not cosmic justice, no inexorable law of cause and effect, our universe, both outward (material) and inward (moral), will go up in flames of chaos, anger, violence and rebellion.
The questioner also asked whether, given the suffering in the world, "Why does He destroy the whole thing?"
Yes, God could dissolve this creation; some say, in fact, that he does every 4 billion years or so (like night and day cycles). But then it just continues later. Let us step back, however, towards the "big picture."
God is the novelist, the playwright, who sets into motion a grand drama whose purpose is to entertain and to play the divine romance of "hide 'n seek." He doesn't want us to suffer but if the show is to go on He can't simply make us puppets and pull all the strings. The show would be a sham. He is hoping his children will wake up and seek Him behind the curtain of maya but the show won't work unless he gives us both the freedom to choose, and at the same time, makes the drama of life real and enticing enough to make it unique and dramatic. As a result, He knows that it is difficult to "find Him."
We think of life in terms of our physical body. It lives a mere 80 years. Yet this universe has existed for untold billions of years and consists, we are told, of an estimated 200 billion galaxies. Maybe, therefore, we need to take a longer view. If there is no known center of the universe (and even if there were, what difference would it make to me), maybe the real center is, as Jesus said it is, "within you?"
Maybe as the great sages have averred and as thousands of lives have offered tangible proof or hints of, we have lived for many lives: indeed, many more lives than we can even imagine. We can't imagine 200 billion galaxies, so of course it would be extremely difficult to imagine thousands, even billions, of lives. It is taught that we have come up through the stages of evolution. Paramhansa Yogananda even said he could recall an incarnation as a diamond!
So could the cause for suffering, even for those who otherwise appear (in this lifetime) as innocent, be traced to a distant past? With so many lives, who can imagine we've been "saints" the whole time? "There but for the grace of God, go I!" Can you not imagine being a criminal? A murderer?
In the Old Testament Book of Job, Job was a righteous man. But Satan made a bet (imagine!) with God, that deprived of his health, family, wealth, and respect, he would denounce God.......just like so many people do when suffering. Job passed the test and remained faithful to God. This story, weird as it may seem, suggests to us that some of our tests may be permitted in order to test and purify our love for God. These reflect our relationship with God and are as much God's grace as His consolation and inner peace, or other many gifts of the Spirit, are.
Paramhansa Yogananda taught that "all conditions are neutral; it is our reaction to them that determines our happiness, our wisdom, and our peace of mind." Remaining in the God's eye view of this drama, we find ourselves increasingly untouched by what he called "the crash of breaking worlds."
I agree, however, that no explanation can satisfy the sense that it's bad deal for us. Paramhansa Yogananda said he used to "argue with God" that as He made this mess, he has to clean it up. But, to no avail. Yogananda said he knows why but nonetheless he also knows we suffer so. The deep compassion of the avatars for us impels them to return lifetime after lifetime, forgoing the bliss of union with God, to endure the "slings and arrows" of ignorance and persecution and troubles to uplift humanity and free disciples.
Suffering gives thoughtful people more than cause for anger or puzzlement; it also gives us an incentive to seek the answer to life's riddle. For we know perfectly well that life is a gift and the gift is good! But then there's pesky thing called suffering!
The real question isn't so much "Why does God permit suffering" but the more practical one: "What do I do about it?" We have the freedom and therefore we have the opportunity (and responsibility) to solve the riddle of life by our own efforts. When we unite those efforts and direct those questions to God (being willing to pay whatever price the great pearl of truth may cost us), then He responds.
Indeed, one of the great themes of Krishna's discourse in the Bhagavad Gita is that we must act in this world. In other words, we must take responsibility for the conditions in which we find ourselves. We don't need to know the "why." A soldier on the battlefield cannot focus on the reasons for the war or even the overall strategy for the battle. He must fight to defend himself and defeat the foe right in front of him.
No great scripture or teacher fails to counsel us to adhere to righteous action. Right attitude and action are like levers that trigger the divine response in the form and the power of grace. When we are uplifted and protected we know, in that state, that this power doesn't come from us. Yet, we had to initialize the relationship and the flow of energy toward superconsciousness (God-consciousness).
At first we read books, talk to people, go to teachers. But in time as our ardor blossoms into the flower of faithful devotion, He sends us a true guru: one who can help us achieve freedom from endless rounds of birth and death (and suffering).
Make each day an effort to know, love and serve God in the silence of your soul and in the hands of your daily service, guided by wisdom and compassion.
"God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son to redeem it." That son is, at first the guru, but in time it is the our very own soul, a child of God, for this is who and what we are. God knows that we suffer and wants to help us but most people are too busy with the playthings and troubles of this world to seek Him, not for making our mud puddle nicer, but for His love alone.
May the LIght of Truth and the Moon of Divine Love guide your footsteps to His bliss,
Monday, February 4, 2013
Essence of the Bhagavad Gita
India’s most beloved scripture consists of one chapter of the world’s longest epic story, the Mahabharata. This chapter of some seven hundred verses is composed as a dialogue between Lord Krishna and his disciple, Prince Arjuna. It takes place as they are sitting in Arjuna’s chariot surveying the opposing armies: theirs, the Pandavas (think, “good guys in white helmets”) and the Kauravas, (the quintessential “bad guys”).
Of course the scene is allegorical although the battle of Kurukshetra is considered a historical one. The exhortation to do battle is a metaphor for the battle of life to which the soul is called in its mission to seek freedom through reuniting its consciousness with that of its Creator.
As each culture is divinely guided to its highest potential, it is curious to contemplate that the Hindu “Bible” is a call to war while the Christian bible (New Testament) is a call to “turn the other cheek.” East and West, respectively, embody certain attitudes that would do well to seek balance: the one, perhaps too passive; the other, too aggressive.
The are many great themes in this wonderful scripture for the instruction of souls in all times and places . Among the themes in the Gita (that I will explore in a 3-week class series—see below) are the soul’s very first encounter with suffering and good and evil. Arjuna, seeing that the opposing forces consist of his very own cousins with whom he was raised, questions the rightness of killing them in battle. Are they not, his very own?
Did not Jesus ask, “Who are my family but those who walk the path toward God with me?” The "family" may be taken literally as one’s birth family who typically resists the effort to dedicate oneself to the search for God. Or, more deeply and more importantly, the "family" is our own subconscious material desires. The soul, upon reaching adolescence or early adulthood, comes face to face with the need to separate himself from his past in order to begin his spiritual journey aligning the conscious mind towards the guidance of superconscious (guru) mind. And yet, this past, these familiar traits, are my “family!”
Krishna eschews all sentimentality and urges his devotee to take up his “bow” and fight in this just and noble cause -- the very purpose of our creation. All habits and traits which are of the ego are never killed but their energies transmuted and sublimated into higher forms, just as in the teaching of the law of karma and reincarnation, the soul never dies but is simply reborn into new forms. In the wilderness and silence of meditation, we don’t “die” but in fact are reborn into the kingdom of the soul’s consciousness.
Our fears are groundless -- that without our past, subconscious or ego affirming traits there is no "I." But everyone must confront this existential dilemma face-to-face.
What, then, Arjuna asks, is right action? How can you know what is right or wrong? Outwardly it is difficult, Krishna admits, but that action which is not in pursuit of ego-motivated results, which is offered to God in self-offering and devotion and with no thought of personal gain, will guide us to the heights of Self-realization more surely than any other.
The grace of God and guru, the preceptor, must be sought in silent, inner communion and in righteous outward action. In attunement with the silent flow of grace and wisdom, which like the quiet sound of oil pouring from a drum, guides our thoughts, feelings, and actions, we will sail our raft of life toward the seemingly distant shores of freedom.
The greatest wisdom is found through the practice of yoga: silence of mind and body in contemplation of the divine Presence. The greatest action is that which is offered without thought of self in devotion at the feet of Infinity. The greatest feeling is love for God and for God in all, given without condition and expressed in daily life with humility, compassion, and the wisdom of the soul.
Krishna gives Arjuna a taste of his overarching, infinite consciousness as Spirit but the experience proves so overwhelming that Arjuna at last asks to see his beloved friend, Krishna, again! Thus it is that we do best if we approach God in form: as the preceptor, or in the impersonal forms of love, light, sound, peace, etc., or in the form of a beloved deity. The abstract thought of infinity is too much for the human mind and heart to bear, much less to love.
Much, much more wisdom is shared in the Gita: the qualities of nature and consciousness and how to distinguish the higher from the lower, whether in religion or in daily life.
Tuesday night, at the East West Bookshop, 7:30 p.m., February 5 (12, & 19th), I will share these beloved teachings with friends. My text is Swami Kriyananda’s most inspired work, based on the wisdom of Paramhansa Yogananda, Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, (Crystal Clarity Publishers, Nevada City). We will film the series and the hope is to make it available online at a future date.
Blessings to you,