Saturday, March 7, 2015

What is "Mahasamadhi" and Are Miracles Real?

Today, Saturday March 7, is the 63rd anniversary of the day that Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now famous life story: "Autobiography of a Yogi") "left his body" (died) at a banquet at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles in the presence of a large gathering to honor the newly appointed ambassador to the United States from India.

The term used (Sanskrit) is "mahasamadhi" - the Great Samadhi. This describes the conscious exit from the body by a saint. Samadhi is a term that refers to the ultimate state of God consciousness, a state of oneness with God (and, by extension, all creation which is a manifestation of God's consciousness).

You may rightly ask: "Many people die consciously, so how does this differ?" Yes, it's true many people die a peaceful and otherwise conscious death and they are not necessarily considered great saints. Since we are talking in terms of consciousness it is not so easy to observe by outer signs. By definition, the act of dying entails no necessary physical movements. So, to a degree the designation of an act of "mahasamadhi" is, at least to a casual observer, a statement of belief.

Since Yogananda ("PY") lived in recent times and until the death of Ananda's founder in 2013, Swami Kriyananda ("SK"), we personally knew someone who was present at PY's death in 1952, we can take his mahasamadhi as our example. At the moment PY slipped to the floor while reciting his poem, "My India," SK had his head down writing down PY's words as he addressed the gathering at the Biltmore Hotel. SK said he knew instantly however that PY had exited his body. In SK's own autobiography, "The New Path," he describes numerous instances in the preceding days, weeks, months and even years that PY dropped hints of the nature of his exit.

Among the hints that he gave was his statement that he would go by a heart attack (stopping his heart, that is; something he demonstrated repeatedly publicly, though temporarily, of course); another was that he would leave his body while reciting his poem, "My India." And on and on like that. But these are but hints. The real essence of the appellation of mahasamadhi comes not only in the striking manner of death but more importantly in the power of his life.

I occasionally come across a student at our Ananda center who, while enjoying the practice of yoga and meditation, is resistant to the idea of miracles. Such folks object to the stories in "Autobiography of a Yogi" wherein saints materialize from nowhere, or bi-locate, cure the sick or raise the dead. And, in some way, who can argue?

SK, at age 22, had similar reservations; so did I, at age 26. For many of us, we simply put such things on a mental shelf to be dealt with later as we continued to enjoy the stories, wisdom, humor and inspiration of what surely must be one of the greatest spiritual classics of the modern era.

Now, mind you: I have no intention of convincing anyone that miracles happen. In fact, I would direct your attention to that chapter in the "Autobiography" ("AY") called "The Law of Miracles." As excellent a discourse on miracles you will not find anywhere! Bar none!

It has been well said by others wiser than me that "Either everything is a miracle, or nothing is a miracle." The one defense I would offer in favor of what we call miracles is simply that: what we call miracles are phenomenon that we simply do not yet have an explanation for! Most of what passes for our daily use in technology would be shockingly miraculous in prior centuries. And, we've only just begun to explore nature and the cosmos! I am long past fussing over how it is possible for Jesus Christ to resurrect his body from the portals of death and any other similar miracle. Whether he did so as a matter of fact, is, for me, secondary, to the possibility that it can be done.

Getting back to "mahasamadhi," did PY choose that moment or was that moment chosen for him? According to the theology of oneness that he and others in the Vedantic lineages have professed, a liberated soul who returns to human form is an "avatar." Avatara is the descent into a human body of a soul that has, as Jesus said of himself, become "one with the Father." "Self-realization" is a term now used for that state of consciousness. As God can be both infinite and infinitesimal, so God-consciousness now permanently resident in the vehicle of a unique and eternal soul can incarnate into human form. Not a puppet or a divinely-created automaton, but a soul, like you and I. In such a one, however, his consciousness is united to God's infinite consciousness. Such a soul comes to play a part on earth, like you and I, but the part he plays is not compelled by ignorance and attachment, but is guided by divine impulse even as filtered through the unique qualities and past tendencies of that soul.

Thus the question of whether PY committed an act of spiritual suicide (as someone once asked me) or whether God "took him out" is a non-question. Such a one would easily have, or be given, glimpses of his final exit and, like many people on earth, might have an inkling for the timing of it. There is no separate "ego" to decide such a thing apart from the divine mind.

As all action creates reaction ("karma"), the action of a Self-realized soul accrues to the benefit of others but nonetheless follows certain patterns appropriate to itself. In PY's life work, it was entirely fitting that he leave this world speaking, as he predicted that he would, of "my India and my America" and, in the presence of the ambassador from India! Like a great story or play, his end was as fitting and appropriate as any inspired ending should have been. In God there are no coincidences, only God "choosing to remain anonymous."

PY was a public figure a part of whose public mission was to highlight and bring together the best of east and west. He taught that soon America and India would lead the world in their respective contributions to the evolution of human consciousness: the one in the discovery of natural laws, efficiency and individual liberties, and the other in the science of mind (yoga) leading to the true freedom and happiness born of direct, personal perception of our true Self.

During his life, PY demonstrated to those close to him that could enter, at will, the state of oneness (samadhi). During the last years of his life, he was in seclusion much more than before and close disciples experienced or perceived that during such times he would be in an elevated state of consciousness and oblivious to his own body and the world around him.

Adding to that his predictions of his exit from this world, it is the custom among yogis to label the death of such a one a conscious act and the final great-samadhi (for that lifetime). With the power to unite his consciousness (confined in the physical form) with the consciousness of Infinity, such a one could enter that state and permanently (rather than temporarily) exit the body. This, at least, is one way of describing what is said to have taken place.

Of course, it can't be proved in an objective sense. It is an article of faith. Faith, however, is not the same as the more tentative hypothesis inherent in mere belief. The faith of his disciples rested in their actual experience of PY as a human being in daily life. To those close to him, PY demonstrated that he knew their every thought. That proof and impact of that accrued only to those individuals. It can be described but not proven to anyone else.

The so-called miracles of saints are only rarely demonstrated on a large public scale. But even when it does happen, those people die off soon enough and nothing is left but their testimony. Whether to one or a handful of close disciples (who witness, say, the raising of a person from death), or whether a group of diners being given full glasses of carrot juice from a small half-filled pitcher, it inevitably comes down to someone's personal experience and testimony.

God, it is said, does not win devotees by performing circus stunts. God has and is everything. We have only our love to give or withhold--for eternity if we choose.

SK suggested that we, at Ananda, use the occasion of PY's mahasamadhi to honor the life, teachings and consciousness of great saints in every tradition, east and west, past and present. Self-realized saints (we use the term "masters" -- having achieved Self-mastery) are, in effect, God incarnate. They demonstrate that we, too, are God incarnate but still mostly asleep. It is the purpose of creation that we awaken. Simply to "die and go to heaven" and to turn our backs on the creation as a sham, is not the divine intention. The creation is beautiful to the extent God who is the creation awakens to become Self-aware.

It is, therefore, in the fitness of things that souls do, in fact, by self-effort and the power of grace, achieve Self-realization while in human form. In this way, then, God speaks and teaches others and gives upliftment and hope to those who "have ears to hear and eyes to see." To honor such living examples is to honor ourselves, our souls and all souls. Too many sects have abandoned the devotion to God through the saints (especially the true masters.....many others are but saints still "in-the-making"). Thus, we take this day to pay such tribute in song, prayer, chanting and inner communion (in meditation).

Blessings to all this sacred special day!

Nayaswami Hriman

1 comment:

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