Saturday, December 9, 2017

Christmas Spirit Comes from Living in the Presence of God

Bible: (Paraphrased) "As you have tendered to the needs of others, in this way you have honored Me!"

Bhagavad Gita: (Paraphrased) "He who never loses sight of Me in all things and people, I never lose sight of he."

The week after Thanksgiving I had my annual week of seclusion. Seclusion is a personal retreat: a retreat where one is alone with God in prayer and meditation. This time I didn’t even go out for a walk or a run, though I did more chores around the Hermitage house than I have in past years: cleaning, mostly. [See Facebook: Camano Hermitage]

I eat lightly, only had a few hot meals during the week, mostly because I’m a lazy (and a lousy) cook. Accordingly, I consider a cup of coffee a hot meal.

It’s humbling to attempt to sit for 5 to 6 days in meditation. Even if I don't do this unbrokenly, it is the main activity of the entire day, interspersed with chanting and the practice of kriya yoga and other techniques. I had a particular focus for this seclusion: to deepen and prolong periods of complete stillness beyond thoughts and mental images.

The subconscious mind, however, can act like a donkey. Sometimes you can coax it along with a little discipline, a bribe, or a certain amount of force, but there can come a time when you have to ease off and give it a rest. 

At such times I did a little reading (all of it spiritual reading). Other times and to engage the body so as not to get lazy, I'd do some chores (mopping the floor, sweeping, etc.) But all together, it truly amounts to many, many hours of meditation. 

The goal of meditation is, of course, to feel the presence of God: alive, vibrant, intimate and cosmic—in whatever way and form God’s consciousness will appear; in the form of Yogananda, Jesus, or one of the others. As deep inner peace; transforming, ineffable love, or a contagious joy that one imagines will last forever!

There are about four chants that call for a repetition of the names of the masters and these I find especially helpful. I take one of these chants, name by name, one by one into silent visualizations which I then let dissipate into an expectation of their actual vibrational presence. I find this practice deeply rewarding. Thus, I alternate chanting with meditation.

Among my yoga practices, having recently teamed up with Murali Venkatrao in the Advanced Pranayam class at our local Ananda Center (Institute for Living Yoga) for our level II (500 hour) Yoga Alliance students, I gave special emphasis to some of the more aggressive pranayams to take me deeper into psychological equilibrium, inclining toward breathlessness.

To feel kinship with others in this world requires more than mere sentiment or dry philosophy; for it to be real and sustainable -- even when one is under personal attack -- it must descend from the perfect love of God.

When in the New Testament Jesus gives the parable of the "King" who explains to the "elect" that whenever they helped a person in need they were serving Him, we see right away the obvious teaching that we should help those in need. Only slightly less obvious, but I suspect not often pointed out in orthodox Christian circles is the precept that God IS each person. Our charitable act should arise because God resides in that person, not only because his material need. This is the REASON to help others, because they are, "as thyself," a child of God. ("Love thy neighbor AS thy Self.").

This famous parable offers "heavenly rewards" to those of a kind and generous nature but the parable makes it clear that the compassion of the "elect" was not expressed as an act of conscious devotion to God who resides in those whom they helped. Is it enough, spiritually speaking, to be a humanitarian, perhaps an agnostic, even an atheist? Yes--but only up to a point.

We can get good karma and the heavenly rewards of heart warming satisfaction from our good deeds. But to reunite our souls with God, our Creator, requires an act of conscious devotion (and not just one!) All of our good karma for our generosity might be used up by our response when we are attacked by others for it is an axiom that "no good deed goes unpunished" in this world of duality! Good karma can work off bad karma but until we begin to yearn to step out of duality all together and into transcendence (the oneness of God's eternal love and bliss), we just remain on the merry-go-round.

It is not humanly possible to love every person we meet because not everyone we meet is lovable in a merely human way. But when our hearts are full of the unconditional love of (for) God, we are naturally loving. We are also naturally wise in how we express that love! 

Thus a loving parent may have to discipline a child (but to do so does not require being angry); a policeman may have to apprehend a criminal (but need not be cruel); a teacher, correct a student (without dislike); and a supervisor, to lay off or let go an employee (without malice). True love IS wisdom. We mustn't forget that.

Love which results from a bleeding heart simply bleeds the heart into a dearth of feeling!

This, then, is the basis for the true Spirit of Christmas: that divine love and God's presence rests at the heart of each heart, each creature, each person, indeed, each atom of creation.

The outer light of the sun may be absent from our northern hemisphere as we descend into winter, but it can remind us that the true "light of men" resides within us and can be always found, or re-born, in the stillness of the quiet heart, especially deep in meditation.

One reason I think we instinctively honor children as part of Christmas is derived from the tender feelings that arise around devotion to the Christ child. (Did you know, however, that it was a thousand years after that event that the first nativity scene was created for the purpose of devotion? It was St. Francis of Assisi who did this for the first time in Christianity's history!)

But I think there's another reason, as well. For the fellow feeling of kindness and warmth which we call the Christmas spirit is reflected in the innocence, natural love, and openness that children express. (This is also depicted in the "softly lowing" animals who share the humble stable where Jesus is said to be born.) 

Paramhansa Yogananda often quoted these words of Jesus, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven."

"For of such" is the warmth, the welcoming hospitality, graciousness, kindness and generosity we see expressed at Christmas. The social aspect, in spite of its commercialization, remains a valid and wonderful part of Christmas. But it's sustainable source comes from within us from our experience of the living presence of God, the Christ universal.

That aspect of Christmas giving that extends generosity to the poor and homeless is affirmed in the parable given to us of Jesus (above). But giving to those in need goes beyond the gift's material benefit and value. Did not Jesus also say "The poor ye have always with thee"? 

Giving to those in need affirms our kinship even with those whose circumstances differ so greatly from our own, or whose outer appearances do not attract us. We are all children of God and are equally deserving of the divine abundance of joy and self-respect.

We must not be hypocrites like the friends of suffering Job in the Old Testament who taunted him by assuming he must have sinned and thus deserved his troubles. We who might reject a teaching like Original Sin find ourselves, perhaps, all too easily invoking the law of (bad) karma when we or our friends are burdened with illness or misfortune. 

Whatever may be the roots of our present troubles, or those of others less fortunate seeming than us, each of us can turn the "sow's ear" of difficulties into a "silk purse" of spiritual growth if we respond with grace, faith, equanimity, and cheerfulness. Our tests exist to cleanse us and awaken our strength, courage and faith. 

Perhaps you know this story:  

A king had a male servant who, under all circumstances always said to him: “My king, do not be discouraged because everything God does is perfect, and He makes no mistakes.”
One day, they went hunting and a wild animal attacked the king. The servant managed to kill the animal but couldn’t prevent his majesty from losing a finger.
Furious and without showing any gratitude, the king said; “If God was good, I would not have been attacked and lose one finger”.
The servant replied: “Despite all these things, I can only tell you that God is good and everything He does is perfect; He is never wrong.”
Outraged by the response, the king ordered that the servant be imprisoned.
Later, the king left for another hunt and was captured by savages who used human beings as sacrifice. On the altar, the savages discovered that the king did not have one finger in place, so they released him because they considered him to “incomplete” to be offered to their gods.
On returning to his palace, the king authorized the release of his servant and told his servant: “My friend, God was really good to me. I was almost killed but for lack of a single finger, I was let go.”
“However, I have a question,” the king added. “If God is so good, why did He allow me to put you in prison?”
The servant wisely replied: “My king, if I had gone with you, I would have been sacrificed because I have no missing finger.”
While giving to charitable organizations is surely a good thing, anytime of year, consider also more personal acts of sharing. "Charity," my mother used to say, "begins at home." Consider the needs of a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker something he or she truly needs. Give, too, anonymously when you can. Or give to express your caring or appreciation to someone to whom you don't otherwise have an obligation or any other personal motive to do so.
One encounters beggars most everywhere in the world. Who can know if it is wise to give to this one or that. If you choose to give, do so for the awakening of the love of God in your own heart, not for any tangible need you imagine the recipient may have.
Yogananda's charity was more often in this way: more personal. So, too, Swami Kriyananda (Ananda's founder and a direct disciple of Yogananda's). 
We recently had an opportunity to give (both personal and from Ananda here in Seattle) a modest donation to a rural health clinic in northern Bangladesh. We were invited to an annual fundraiser organized by local Imam Jamal Rahman and his family for the benefit of a clinic in their ancestral village. We could see directly the practical results of our gifts and it was satisfying and meaningful.
The message that Paramhansa Yogananda was commissioned to bring to the West and to the world is that "Christ lives!" The universal Christ (or Krishna, Buddha, etc.) consciousness, which is the sole reflection within us of the Creator's bliss and consciousness, exists in all creation, and in you and me. Meditation, and especially kriya yoga (an advanced meditation technique) has come into the world and into increasing popular use to help us discover this realization for ourselves.
Thus Christmas has taken on a new meaning: a universal one and also a very practical one. It can and truly should be celebrated by everyone: of all faiths or none. It is not by legislation, reason, or philosophy that we can overcome our differences and inbred prejudices but by the Christ love of our hearts and souls.
A blessed and joyful Christmas season to all!
Nayaswami Hriman 



Monday, November 6, 2017

Are All Religions Equal?

As if religious divisiveness were not already rife with strife, do we dare ask if all religions are equal in their spiritual stature or degree of elevation (or revelation)? And, who are we to even ask such a question?

Paramhansa Yogananda was asked this question and said simply, “No, not all religions descend from the same heights of divine vision.” (I am paraphrasing.) He would sometimes tell the story of how one religion of recent vintage, and now exceedingly popular with millions of followers, was created by its founder with the ruse of burying writings underground, waiting a few years, and then miraculously finding them.
I was once received a letter from a friend who chided me for an article I wrote around Easter time comparing the sacrifice of Jesus in his crucifixion with the concept in the Bhagavad Gita (and the Vedas) of yagya (and also tapasya): self-sacrifice. The writer wanted to know why I didn’t include examples from the teachings of the Koran.
Part of my reply to the writer included a question asked of Paramhansa Yogananda: “Why do you (Paramhansa Yogananda) emphasize the teachings of Jesus Christ and those of Krishna (rather than including other teachings)?” Yogananda’s curt reply was: “It was Babaji’s wish that I do so.” In other words, he essentially refused to elaborate.
That there is a special connection between Paramhansa Yogananda and Jesus Christ is amply demonstrated in his own story, "Autobiography of a Yogi.” But no explanation of it is given.
Let us turn now to metaphysics and to the core teachings of Sanaatan Dharma. (Sanaatan Dharma is the indigenous name for Hinduism. The term means, simply, the "Eternal Religion." Its existence pre-dates much of what is recognizable to us as Hinduism. Its origins go far back in time to the Vedas and other writings which followed the Vedas in time.)
There is the core teaching that we, “man,” are made in the image of God. We find this stated plainly in the Old Testament, for example. We are thus, as many religions and saints aver, “God’s children.” We are taught, east and west, that “God” (whoever or whatever “God” is) made the universe. But in most traditions we are not given to understand exactly how God made “something from nothing.” We are told, only, that He did so.
In the traditions of India, however, it is taught that God made the universe by becoming the universe. Put more starkly, there is NO other core or fundamental reality than God alone! God is all there is![1] The teachings further aver the core concept of the Christian trinity: God is beyond and untouched by His creation, while at the same time IS his creation, and at the same time God, as God, resides silently in the still heart of every atom of creation! Father, Mother, son!
By extension, therefore, if indeed logic can be expected to kick in here, at this point, WE are aspects of God. Could then the purpose of our creation and existence be to re-discover, to re-inherit our Oneness with the only Reality there is? To unite, in other words, what only appears to be our separate consciousness with the Infinite Consciousness?
Well, surprise, surprise: this is precisely the teaching of Sanaatan Dharma!
Thus, now let us return to our challenge question: are all religions equal (spiritually speaking)? The core teachings averred above might then be the yardstick by which this question can be answered.
I do not wish to represent the teachings of the basic main faiths but I will dip my toe into the waters. First let me add something VERY VERY important: we must distinguish between orthodox theology and the lives and teachings of the most spiritually advanced saints. For it has been said and makes sense that in every religion, time and place, there have been those individual souls who have achieved the realization described by Sanaatan Dharma. This must be so if Sanaatan Dharma be true.
Putting aside then that the true “custodians” of religion (the saints, whose testimony would surely be, upon close inspection, unanimous), we now might have our yardstick hovering over our inquiry.
Christianity and Islam speak of heaven as a place where our separateness resides eternally: strumming harps, being catered to by virgins, or praising God or whatever. Buddhism and Judaism seem unsure of the whole after-death thing. Buddhism inclines to saying “nothing” and Judaism argues about it. None of these however speak of union (or Oneness) with God. Judaism has the great mantra “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE!” So far as I understand it, however, the One isn’t really one; it’s two: the Lord and me. They don’t take the mantra all the way to the goal line, in other words.
I readily admit my tongue is in my cheek and my analysis in the above paragraph is about as superficial as one could concoct but most orthodox religionists are pretty superficial when it comes to their own beliefs, aren’t they? In one religion, they don’t drink; in another, don’t smoke or dance; in another, don’t eat meat and blah blah blah! Imagine they even kill each other over these things!
It gets worse because if God is the sole Reality behind all appearances and if the goal of the soul’s existence to achieve reunion with the Oversoul, this surely must mean there exists at least one soul who has achieved this!!!!! Sanaatan Dharma says many souls have achieved this. Christianity, at least, says there’s just one: Jesus Christ.
Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam are all very conflicted about the spiritual stature of their respective founders or prophets, some of whom seem all too human (like the Roman, Greek, Hindu or other gods). The teaching of the true guru, or savior, is a teaching that essentially says that the triune God incarnates in human form even as God already IS all forms. (How else would the stated goal of creation be demonstrated?)
Even if Christianity and some Hindu believers say that God himself has incarnated, the more subtle and nuanced approach as clarified by Paramhansa Yogananda (and others) explains that Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and other true saviors are just like you and me but have in a prior lifetime achieved Oneness with God. They are sent back to human incarnation to help others. They are not divine puppets. Like each of us, they too have unique qualities and aspects. They, too, teach in the context of the times and culture in which they find themselves.
Though Christianity comes very close, only Sanaatan Dharma expresses this teaching clearly and universally (even if devout and orthodox Hindus limit this teaching to specific “avatars” as divine incarnations). When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say I am?” he asked the deepest and most important question any human can ask of himself.
It is intellectually more satisfying to say Jesus or Buddha (etc.) are EITHER God or merely HUMAN! It takes a subtler consciousness (of BOTH-AND) to see that both natures dwell in us (and in all creation) and that uniting the two is our goal and ultimate destiny (even if it take millions of lifetimes owing to other choices we make).
None of this makes one religion, as such, better than another. As the saying goes, “There’s something for everyone.” We must each walk our path on our own and, by extension, honor the right and the need for others to do so. Each faith offers and emphasizes certain qualities such as compassion, self-discipline, love, joy, or wisdom. Each faith has nurtured and infused entire nations and cultures with its particular qualities.
Joy to you!
Swami Hrimananda







[1] The nature of evil and suffering is a ubiquitous and necessary question. Essential though it is, it goes beyond the scope of this article. Maybe another time, eh?

Friday, November 3, 2017

Is "Spiritual but not Religious" Really "Spiritual"?

I have read several reports over the last many years about the growing number of Americans who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Those of us on the inner path of meditation are certainly among some of those.

Paramhansa Yogananda predicted that “Self-realization would become the religion of the future.” By this he meant, according to Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Yogananda), that in the future people in all religions would come to an intuitive understanding that the true purpose of religion is to help us evolve spiritually by having a direct, personal perception and relationship with God or one’s own Higher Self.

But notice that Yogananda’s statement used the term “religion” of the future.

Among the millions who see themselves as “spiritual but not religious” are, I would guess, many who have rejected orthodox religions. There many reasons for this rejection: reasons which my readers no doubt do not require to be enumerated. Yogananda employed the term, tongue-in-cheek, “Churchianity” to describe the orthodox sects of Christianity (and, by extension, all orthodox faiths). By this less-than-flattering term, Yogananda referred to the institutional weightiness of organized religion which tends to suffocate individual spirituality.

Indeed, in Yogananda’s teachings he claims that his coming to the West began with a communication between Jesus Christ (not in the physical human body) and Babaji (the peerless, deathless master in human form). In this dialogue between these two great masters, one of the east, the other of the west, Jesus bemoaned the loss of (in so many words) “spirituality” among his followers. He said “good works” (serving the poor, having institutions of learning, healing, and the like) were aplenty. So, too, rites and rituals. But direct, intuitive, inner communion (vs ritual, sacramental communion) had fallen by the wayside in Christianity at large.

Let's consider now this appellation: "spiritual but not religious." It's key feature is the rejection or non-involvement with organized religion. But other key is "spiritual." But what does it mean when I say (of myself), "I'm spiritual"? 

It could mean that I'm a nice person. I pet dogs, kiss babies, and help elderly folks cross the street. I pay my taxes. I believe in God or something equivalent. It might even mean I pray or meditate. I respect (or not) all faiths or at least see them as means to the same end. (BTW: is the term "organized religion" an oxymoron?)

But I wonder how many of the millions who place themselves in this category really live a life of daily prayer and meditation, self-sacrifice or ego transcendence in the name of enlightenment or other divine goal, or service to humanity as an act of devotion. It's true that few religionists do any of these things, either! 

What I've described is more what most people might imagine the life of a monk or nun might be like and how few of these there are in the world (even among monks and nuns!). And I think that's my point. 

At least a religionist participates, however wanly, in his faith and commits himself to serving its cause, attending its religious services, and giving in monetary support. By contrast, being only spiritual but not religious might mean one does nothing at all! Maybe he sips a latte on Sunday morning while reading the proverbial (digital) newspaper on the deck in the sunshine!  

What I’ve encountered in some of these people, moreover, is an attitude of judgment of religion and intellectual pride surrounding their view that all these religions are either useless or all point to the same thing (and who needs them, therefore, anyway!).

The fact that many of us feel religion has abdicated its true calling by becoming partisan, sectarian and promoting divisiveness rather than peace and harmony is wholly and truly understandable.

Nonetheless, an objective reading of history will also disclose that religion has also been a force for unity, harmony, respect, rule of law, and peace at key moments during human history. No other human activity or impulse has this power. Legislation, imposed by police force, is insufficient. Reason has limited power to change behavior. High ideals and spiritual consciousness as exhibited not by prelates and popes but by saints HAS this power.

St. Francis is one, of many, examples. “Rebuild my church” the painting of Jesus on the cross, coming alive, commanded St. Francis. He, Francis, mistakenly thought the broken down church building needed repairs. In time he was to see that his role was to re-infuse Christendom with the true spirit of Christ. At the height of his life’s work, tens of thousands of people called themselves his disciples and adopted a truly spiritual way of life of prayer, sacrifice, service and love for all. St. Francis had all the reasons in the world to condemn popery and clerical abuses of his time. Instead, through love, self-sacrifice and example, he worked to change their consciousness.

In the now famous and extremely popular modern spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," by Paramhansa Yogananda, his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, challenged Yogananda’s aversion to religious organizations in this brief interchange (the result of which has blessed and inspired millions):

“Why are you averse to organizational work?” (Sri Yukteswar)
          Master’s question startled me a bit. It is true that my private conviction at the time was that organizations were “hornets’ nests.”
          “It is a thankless task, sir,” I answered. “No matter what the leader does or does not, he is criticized.”
          “Do you want the whole divine channa (milk curd) for yourself alone?” My guru’s retort was accompanied by a stern glance. “Could you or anyone else achieve God-contact through yoga if a line of generous-hearted masters had not been willing to convey their knowledge to others?” He added, “God is the Honey, organizations are the hives; both are necessary. Any form is useless, of course, without the spirit, but why should you not start busy hives full of the spiritual nectar?”
          His counsel moved me deeply. Although I made no outward reply, an adamant resolution arose in my breast: I would share with my fellows, so far as lay in my power, the unshackling truths I had learned at my guru’s feet. “Lord,” I prayed, “may Thy Love shine forever on the sanctuary of my devotion, and may I be able to awaken that Love in other hearts.”[1]

How often in my life of teaching meditation have I seen students come and go. Having taken a class(es) in meditation they turn away, whether receiving what they sought or in disappointment, not realizing that on their own they will very likely never establish the habit of meditation in daily life. "OK," you might object, "but maybe the Self-realization path (which includes Kriya Yoga) isn’t their way." But who can say that for sure.

I don't think that Yogananda’s prediction of Self-realization as the religion of the future can be so summarily dismissed. My teacher, friend, and founder of Ananda, Swami Kriyananda expressed Yogananda’s prediction by saying that he felt Yogananda was the “guru of this age."

Let me digress to explore what Swami Kriyananda might have meant by “guru of this age.” Certainly it is subject to interpretation but it makes no sense to me to see the term “guru” as being literal in respect to the human race at large. I think it means that Yogananda’s presentation of meditation and yoga philosophy was suited to this new age. He taught in our language and in our country (and to our scientific culture). It was not a mere transportation of old ideas and language (that of India) into a culture unfamiliar with it. Yogananda gave us a spiritual view of life and a way of life that is not based on narrow-eyed sectarianism, or, indeed any 'ism.
  
Yogananda spoke on subjects of marriage and child-raising, success and career, politics and history, economics and trade and not just theology and religion. He gave deep insights into our Judaeo-Christian culture and theology, and, to a lesser degree, that of other faiths. Nor did he abandon devotion and worship as if to please agnostics, atheists or die-hard materialists. He described his work and teachings as a “new dispensation” of eternal values and truths. The term “dispensation” implies that restrictions of the past have been loosed for a fresh new start on the path to the “truth that shall make us free.”

He brought answers to the spiritual needs and questions of the modern era and consciousness. We NEED inner peace in this fragmented society. We NEED advanced but relatively simple techniques of meditation like Kriya Yoga. In fact, we don’t need GURUDOM in the traditional outer forms that we see still prevalent today [where the teacher, living a life of luxury, is the center of attention by adoring millions]. Yogananda left this world at the relatively young age of 59 and left no viable successor gurus!

In fact, he said he was “the last of this line (of gurus). He left us his life-affirming counsel in all walks of life and he gave to us, on behalf of the lineage which sent him, Kriya Yoga. Organizations like Ananda are merely “delivery vehicles.”)

Religion is not going to go away. I once heard the Dalai Lama remark that the world doesn’t need more temples. Yes, I agree with him if he means enormous and expensive temples which are paeans to “churchianity”. But what we DO need is the support of one another to turn the tide of materialism, exploitation, racism and violence in a new direction towards cooperation, peace, and harmony.

“Religion,” Swami Kriyananda, and I’m sure others, have said “is organized spirituality.” Organization is the particular genius of the West. The science of consciousness is the gift of the East. We need both. A new and grass roots spiritual force must rise. And, it won’t be any one organization, like a super Catholic church. It will be many groups of like-minded souls who can acknowledge and cooperate with one another and who can be an example of “how-to-live” in a new age.

Let us then be “spiritual AND religious!”

Joy to you (and you, and you …. )


Swami Hrimananda

[1] Chapter 27, "Founding of a Yoga School at Ranchi"

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Grow Your Own Food : the Role of Farming in Ananda Worldwide!


Ananda Farms, Camano Island, WA

I am absolutely unqualified to write this article. I hardly know a weed from a pickle. But the other day Zach Abbey (co-manager of Ananda Farms www.AnandaFarms.com) posed the rhetorical question: "What is the vision of farming in Ananda's network of communities?"

Our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, in a thundering oration, once declared that a time would come when intentional spiritual communities would "spread like wildfire." He urged audiences to "buy land in the country, grow your own food, and live together in simplicity, guided by high ideals."

That was 1949. Since that time, neither of these two powerful commands have born fruit, at least outside the Ananda communities (of which there are nine). So, what gives here?

"Timing is everything!" Ananda's work in communities is, to state it simply and in relation to my question, seminal. Our experience and our example to society at large will bear fruit, like indeed fruit is borne, at the right time.

We have been learning as we go. The first community, Ananda World Brotherhood Village (now called, simply, Ananda Village), has gone through many changes over its fifty years. The other, newer communities, are organized differently and also experience changes and new forms from time to time. 

In Seattle area, for example, we moved away from having a professional property manager to managing the apartment community ourselves. This is at least a step in the right direction of what an intentional residential community should look like.

And, thus, returning to farming, we need to patiently continue growing food on land in the country where some can live. We will learn and refine our methods as we do this. The time is surely coming, (many others affirm this also) when what we have learned will be put to widespread use. But for now, like our communities, farming seems like an expensive luxury even as it is generally ignored by society at large.

Interest in alternative lifestyles is growing, however. 

Those of us drawn to either or both of these movements which are destined to manifest more commonly in the future are "way-showers," pioneers (you know, the ones with the arrows in their back). We are practicing what in yoga is known as "tapasya" -- the self-sacrifice and self-offering of our energies into a higher cause or ideal without regard to outward success as measured by the world around us.

Farming within the Ananda communities, like the communities themselves, has evolved in its various forms. Struggle and resistance always confronts changes. Organic farms around the world largely follow modern agricultural methods of tilling the soil, automated irrigation, and mono-culture row cropping. So, too, have the organic farming methods at the Ananda Communities.

But in recent years, Zach and Hailey Abbey (in Seattle area) and Alex and Dharmdasi Forrester (Ananda Village) have initiated no-till permaculture style food growing. Setting aside considerations of whether one form is more efficient than another in terms of the "Green Revolution" (which, it can be questioned, may not be the only measure of food growing goals), this approach is guided by the desire to live in harmony with nature, not to wrest from Her hands her bounty in a struggle of the survival of the fittest! 

I dare not pretend to articulate the goals of permaculture style farming. Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008) is one of the guiding lights of this movement. Visit www.AnandaFarms.com for more on this subject. Better yet, visit Ananda Farms on Camano Island!

So now we have both methods co-existing side by side within the Ananda Communities. Acceptance of the new style was not an easy process. No one threw a punch, of course, but there's nothing more likely to generate a lot of talking than philosophy!!!!! :-)

Though I personally am an advocate of the no-till "yoga farm" approach, it isn't as important as it might seem to those who farm. Rather, the impulse, felt through the margins of society, to "grow your own," IS. Whether hydroponically or otherwise, on some level there is a perceived need to get back to the land.

Yoga is about integrating body and mind; and, earth, water, fire, air and ether! The soul of modern civilization has become "virtually" vacant from the earth, caught up in technology and ideology.

To regain our center as we do through yoga and meditation, we also need to reconnect and reintegrate into the world our bodies inhabit. 

Thus I feel, and am not alone in this, that however challenging it might be in this era to pioneer more natural methods of growing food (because the heavily subsidized agricultural industry provides food so cheaply), we must "farm-on" for the benefit and the example given to many who will come after us (whether soon or later).

Blessings,

Swami Hrimananda

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Friendship: the New Marriage

(Note: I speak here of marriage between a man and a woman. This form of marriage remains the dominant form of marriage, social changes notwithstanding, and, besides, it's simply easier to write nouns and pronouns in our language which has not yet figured out a natural way of addressing these new norms. My choice then is not a philosophical or social one but a practical one.)

"The only true marriage is between souls who have no compulsion of desire or need to be married!" (anonymous) 

Well, ok, so there aren't any such marriages to be found! (At least not commonly.) 

Human nature or perhaps only human culture bestows upon us an idealized image of marriage, cast in terms of romance and "happily ever after." While no one with life experience would buy into that in a sober state of mind, lots of people buy into it emotionally (at least when attending weddings, or deep into romance novels or movies).

Paramhansa Yogananda wrote a poem called "Friendship." Here is an excerpt:

Friendship is noble, fruitful, holy—

When two separate souls march in difference

Yet in harmony, agreeing and disagreeing,
Glowingly improving diversely,
With one common longing to find solace in true pleasure.
When ne’er the lover seeks
Self-comfort at cost of the one beloved,
Then, in that garden of selflessness
Fragrant friendship perfectly flowers.
For friendship is a hybrid, born of two souls,
The blended fragrance of two unlike flowers
Blown together in love’s caressing breeze.
Friendship is born from the very core
Of secret, inexplicable likings.
Friendship is the fountain of true feelings.
Friendship grows in both likeness and difference.

With the easy accessibility our culture offers for pursuing romantic and sexual urges, we find that marriage is taking place later in life and we see a greater recognition of the importance of friendship (over the intoxication of "being in love"). Perhaps this is the modern form of "arranged" marriage: arranged by higher values and interests rather the compulsion of hormones or a "pretty shade of lipstick and a handsome bow tie." 

I don't know the stats but I bet more couples meet by the arrangement of dating sites than by random bumps in a bar. 

The candid atmosphere of conversation around sex has the positive effect of shedding light on its darker sides such as aggressive and inappropriate behavior, abuse of position, disease, and pornography, not to mention an long list of criminal activities. 

Being in love may seem a harmless form of intoxication, but note that we "fall" in love. All forms of intoxication are similar, even experiencially. All involve a hangover! Taking another step downward, alcohol (or other drug use), sex, and violence can become a kind of demonic triad that clearly has aspects in common. Thus, societies worldwide seek in some way to re-direct sexual impulses into more positive expressions. 

Besides, in our calm and sober nature, we are all genderless souls. As we mature, our attractions, to the extent based on gender differences (however much we regale them at the time of our anniversary or at weddings), will naturally subside. Romantic love is designed, even by nature, to evolve into friendship.

Friendship, then, is the New Marriage paradigm.  

Romance may be the spark of ignition but once the motor of friendship is running smoothly the sparks become secondary and, over the years, even tiresome or artificial to re-ignite. This is not news but it is becoming increasingly true and conscious in society, or so I maintain (whether now or in the years to come).

Indeed, it is easily demonstrated by observation that unless friendship does kick in, the sparks of sex and romance are insufficient to keep the motor of a close and committed relationship running smoothly. 

Some of the natural characteristics of friendship include loyalty, service to one another, shared ideals and interests. And, as Yogananda's "Friendship" poem recounts, it includes acceptance of differences and disagreements. It also involves, increasingly, a shared commitment to community service or other high ideals, including spiritual growth and attunement.

When I opened this article by saying that the only true marriage is between two souls who are not under any compulsion of desire to marry, I am essentially describing two people who are secure in themselves.

This maturity and inner security frees one from the normal and usual neediness and co-dependence that characterizes most [immature] relationships. The freedom implied here allows these two friends to give each other space to evolve and grow while yet retaining respect for their differences in habits and opinions. It also means having the courage to work out or at least attempt to reconcile differences in a harmonious, respectful way.

I do not mean to describe an open-ended marriage. Loyalty will naturally be the basis of a mature marriage. I am referring to the all-too-common fears and insecurities that compel one spouse to fear or resist, or, alternatively, demand, changes in the other. And, when I say "changes" I refer to essentially positive and expansive changes in consciousness or habits (rather than self-destructive tendencies which too often emerge during the course of marriage).

Some of the changes that I've seen that are typical include a change in profession or career (which might require further education), diet or exercise, extreme sports, a spiritual awakening, foreign travel or residency, a hobby, and any number of positive changes in habits.

In this society where men and women mix freely and long-standing taboos around proximity and association are at an all-time minimum, a rising issue in marriage centers on friendships with others. 

Yogananda warned that "magnetism [between a man and woman] is the law," and too close of contact (physical, digital, etc.) between two people might flare into a relationship which could erode the trust and commitment of one's marriage. We bristle at the thought of being told "NO," but we have yet to learn that the new "taboos" require a greater personal and internal awareness of the need for self-regulated boundaries. These boundaries are not formed by custom or society. They exist in the mind, in the form of thought, contact, imagination, and feeling. American society, it seems to me, is largely unaware of this more subtle reality of human nature. Look at the issues arising in daily news around inappropriate behavior in the workplace. 

Another increasingly common change in marriage is facing a decision to end the marriage. Divorce is already common but friendship emphasizes harmony not contractual rights. If a parting of the ways must happen, a commitment to friendship means the separation should be, if possible, mutual, and in any case, as harmonious as any such sundering can be. Joined at the hip for years, even decades, means the dissolution of marriage will require surgery, and surgery is going to generate some pain and discomfort no matter what. 

It is not uncommon now to see separation taking place in the later stages of life when mature couples seek to nurture the impulse to be alone, and free from unnecessary obligations. The need to prepare for the "Final Exam" by pursing spiritual pursuits (prayer, pilgrimage, meditation) or, more mundanely, a bucket list, is an important reality for some. 

It seems to me, however, that if a couple enters marriage with friendship on the altar, they will do relatively well no matter how long the marriage endures. 

Only acceptance and respect for one another's independence and freedom to make, or unmake friendship and the strength and courage to enter into such a relationship can the house of marriage stand as the noble and divine state it can be. To those with a belief in the law of karma (and its concomitant precept, reincarnation) and the courage to follow it through, we are better able to accept the premise that no one owes us anything. Love is a gift and any gift given for profit (with conditions) is merely a contract for goods and services. 

The Ananda communities worldwide are part of a movement in this direction. Our wedding ceremony is surely among the most beautiful not only in its poetic and musical aspects, but in its expression of the ideal of divine friendship. At the same time, it is also grounded in the acknowledgement that when differences occur there is a commitment to work things out as best one can. When men and women, generally, and therefore also in marriage, are now free to follow similar pursuits (even serving together) and increasingly share equal status in society, it is important that marriage not turn into a competitive sport at the risk of friendship. The vows in our ceremony include a "non-competition agreement!" (:-)

If you would like a copy of this ceremony, feel free to write to me.

Though a high bar for marriage partners, these ideals can also help us lift our relationship above petty demands and opinions. The lives of many Ananda couples are a testimony to this uplifting, joy-giving power which is nothing less than the power of divine grace. 

May the blessings of true friendship, in all its myriad forms, be ever yours,

Swami Hrimananda!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Ananda Yoga : Path to Awakening

Why is it many students who attend yoga classes strictly for exercise and health reasons discover that, over time, their attitudes have become more positive and past, not-so-healthy, habits have fallen away?

One of the great debates that swirl around the practice of yoga is whether it is a religious (or spiritual) practice or whether it is only a physical exercise. The experience of millions demonstrates a  resounding answer: "It depends!"

Yes, it all depends on a student's sensitivity and interest. Yoga (or, technically, yoga postures or its more official name, hatha yoga) can be just an exercise, or, it can be a practice that prepares one for meditation and inner, spiritual growth. 

But even as exercise, its benefits are more than physical. The point of this article is not to list its benefits but to point out its deeper purpose.

First, it is useful to point out the bias inherent in the evolution of human consciousness. Think of the medieval times; think further in time to the industrial age; think further in time to the relative crudity of science, medicine, the short life span of humans, and our poor dietary habits. Note how in each of these areas of human life, we have become more aware and sensitive. (True, not each and every person on the planet but, we could say, "on average!" And certainly in respect to you, the reader!)

The bias I am referring to is that we have come from a long period of time in which our ancestors were, by and large, relatively insensitive and unaware, and relatively ignorant, of how nature and the human body functions. This could be called a materialistic bias: a bias in favor of the outward form of things rather than their inner and energetic realities (be they chemical, biological, atomic, electrical or in terms of emotions, feelings and consciousness). 

Not surprisingly, then, the practice of hatha yoga, coming as it has, from India but also from centuries of relative obscurity, is wrapped in a physical orientation. Its popularity stems in part from its appeal to our physical bias which desires and values strength, health and vitality. 

Would it surprise us that a closer examination of the history of yoga reveals its link to a higher, more sensitive and spiritual, point of view? Of course not! India, no less than any other culture on the planet, has also come up through this materialistic evolution returning to a higher awareness. The difference however is simply this: India, and the knowledge of yoga, retained, even if dimly, the memory that there once existed a time (and throughout all time existed at least some individuals) when the practice of yoga was an extension of and an outward expression of a very sublime and lofty spiritual view of reality.

When the first English translations of such works as the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Vedas, and the Yoga Sutras came to the West, scholars, philosophers, religionists, poets and artists were deeply inspired by their breadth and depth. More than mere love of wisdom (philos-ophy), these were revelations of reality greater and more subtle than psychology or logic or philosophical speculation.

A series of spiritual teachers came, one by one, to the West. Among them we find Swami Vivekananda (1893) and Paramhansa Yogananda (1920). Paramhansa Yogananda (1893-1952) was a world teacher. His primary emphasis was on original yoga: which is, in its essence, a spiritual practice and as such, was focused primarily upon meditation, not yoga postures.

Yet, to his male disciples in his Los Angeles ashram, he taught yoga postures. He had his "boys" demonstrate the postures at public gatherings and he had articles printed on their use and benefits in his magazines that were distributed to members and to the public during his lifetime.

But there are other teachers from India better known for their work in hatha yoga. Notables such as K. Patthabi Jois or B.K.S. Iyengar. Paramhansa Yogananda must have known that had he put greater emphasis on hatha yoga his essential mission to teach kriya yoga (a meditation technique and a spiritual path) would have been obscured by the public's greater interest in the yoga postures.

So whereas Jois and Iyengar were also deeply spiritual, their dharma was to make hatha yoga primary. But in their work, the popularity of hatha subsumed their spiritual emphasis. 

In any event, Yogananda's successors (after his passing in 1952) appear to have dropped the whole thing like a hot potato. His most advanced disciple and his immediate successor, Rajarsi Janakananda (James J. Lynn) was in fact a yoga adept. But his guru, Yogananda, cautioned him from too much yoga practice. Rajarsi was already an enlightened soul and evidently, further yoga practice was an unnecessary distraction to him.

Yogananda taught his disciples that hatha yoga was optional for kriyabans (practitioners of kriya). He noted that it was easier for younger people to practice hatha. Besides, it makes sense that for those who practice meditation to achieve Self-realization, time spent meditating is more precious than time spent doing yoga postures. In part for this reason, Yogananda had discovered and created a system of 39 exercises now called Energization Exercises that take about ten to twelve minutes to complete. These are sufficient preparation for meditation and can take the place of an asana (yoga posture) practice that, to be complete, might require forty-five to seventy-five minutes of precious time in the busy life of the twenty-first century.

Hatha yoga particularly emphasizes physical exertion and effort, even when seen as a spiritual preparation. Its origins are, however, specifically that: a spiritual preparation. This does not deny their value as exercise. Nor does it deny that exercise alone can be one's motivation for practicing them. Yogananda taught his students and disciples to "Keep the body fit for Self-realization!" He was not only himself an adept at yoga, but he taught their many physical and mental benefits to his "boys."

When I came to age in yoga, during the 70's, yoga was often noted as being "integral." This was a recognition of their power to integrate body, mind and spirit. It seemed to me that as yoga postures became increasingly popular, the emphasis given to them was downgraded in favor of health, good looks, fashion and fad.

In the late 70’s as Swami Kriyananda first purchased parcels of land that were later to become Ananda Village, his earnings from teaching yoga postures paid the bills and mortgages, especially before residents of the fledgling community began to chip in. 

Swami Kriyananda taught classes in hatha yoga throughout northern California, principally Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. Back then, hatha was new and a hot item, and there weren’t the yoga studios on every corner that we have now. And he, being a disciple of the well known author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," (Paramhansa Yogananda), and being himself an excellent teacher, found that his classes were well attended. 

In those years, Swami Kriyananda combined his yoga classes with an optional addition of meditation classes. After the yoga class there would be a short snack break. Then the meditation and philosophy class would take place. It was during these early years of teaching yoga that he wrote his now classic text, ART AND SCIENCE OF RAJA YOGA.

To illustrate the deeper power of hatha practice, Swami Kriyananda liked to tell the story of how one of his yoga students in Sacramento confessed to him that at first she took the class because it would give her something to talk about at her bridge club! "Now," she said, "I realize that THIS IS REALLY SERIOUS STUFF!!!!! He simply smiled knowingly!

Just as hatha faded from visibility after Yogananda's passing, a similar miasma in regard to hatha yoga took place in Ananda's history. Swami Kriyananda may have helped begin Ananda’s work with his success in hatha yoga but he never intended it to dominate his life’s work of communities and the Master’s teachings. So after the fledgling Ananda Village community was up and running, he stepped away from Ananda Yoga, letting some of his students take the lead. The need to lead the community and get it established on firmer ground occupied his energy along with the need to train the community's residents in the core teachings of Yogananda, viz., kriya yoga. 

So hatha yoga once again became a kind of orphan. Though always taught at Ananda's retreat center (later many such centers and communities), hatha was never front and center in the way that kriya yoga was (and is).

And yet, the practice of hatha yoga continued and continues to awaken students' interest in meditation and in kriya yoga! 

Slowly and quietly through the 1980's, 1990's and into the new century, a few key Ananda members took the lead in developing what was to be called, "Ananda Yoga." While the term has since been copyrighted, the term is actually redundant! Ananda means "joy" and the state of yoga IS joy! But, well, why quibble as the general public doesn't know this and we needed a name for our style of yoga.

Paramhansa Yogananda never really explained his hatha system to anyone (that we know of). Nor have we ever seen any accounts of how and from whom he learned hatha yoga. He only lived 3.5 years after Swami Kriyananda’s arrival in 1948. One or two of the monks were, at first, better versed in hatha at the time but by the Master’s grace Swami Kriyananda quickly became the leading representative. 

Presumably Yogananda taught Kriyananda many aspects of the postures but if so Swamiji never distinctly explained that to us. Yet, Swami Kriyananda found that when his guru would ask him to assume a specific (and difficult) pose before guests, he could do so effortlessly, even though he was not practiced in the pose. 

A discerning yogi, reading Swami Kriyananda's books such as "Yoga Postures for Higher Awareness," and "Art and Science of Raja Yoga," discovers that Swamiji tuned in to many subtle aspects of both individual poses (pranayams, bandhas and mudras) AND into the system of hatha yoga. We simply don't really know the details!

Ananda Moyi Ma, a woman saint, however illiterate, and featured in Yogananda's life story (Autobiography of a Yogi), was known to assume yoga positions as a girl by virtue of energy (prana) in her body, without her conscious control. The yoga poses are said to have been formed in a much higher age (or higher state of consciousness) when certain highly advanced souls could, like the articulated sound of mantras (but instead using the human body), give physical shape to specific aspects of higher consciousness.

Thus we come at last in this article to my central point and thesis: hatha yoga, if practiced safely and with correct understanding, can stimulate states (attitudes) of consciousness because the body-mind-soul spectrum is a continuum (in either direction), and the human body, a hologram. Ananda Yoga is characterized by the use of specific and individual affirmations with each yoga pose. These affirmations are related to the consciousness from which the pose was created.

When, therefore, a yoga pose is practiced with the intention of attuning oneself to its characteristic consciousness (or attitude), the precision, the exactitude, and the perfection of the posture becomes less significant (though still valuable) because its inherent consciousness is latent and innate. Ananda Yoga can thus operate to awaken higher awareness in the normal range of body types and abilities for this very reason! It is truly for every-body!

Ananda Yoga classes remain focused on classic yoga postures. The affirmations are enjoyed by students for their obvious positiveness. Notwithstanding the gist of this article, our teachers don't preach. They practice! The awakening potential of hatha yoga is something that cannot be imposed upon another person. If it is to be awakened, it takes place individually, from within. If a student is primarily interested in health and well-being, then these benefits are there for him or her also.

Ananda Yoga is sometimes described as "spiritual yoga." This, too, however is redundant though not entirely unfair, given how hatha yoga is generally viewed and taught to the general public. We are essentially spiritual beings inhabiting a human form. Hatha Yoga can awaken us, individually, to that latent joy which is our true nature. Ananda Yoga is taught and practiced with this understanding at its core.

Joy and blessings to you!

Swami Hrimananda!



Monday, October 9, 2017

Do You Have Trouble Meditating? Try a Technology Solution!

Dear Friends,

I have a suggestion: whether you are new to meditation or have been meditating for decades, you may be finding your meditation efforts challenged by resistance, mental restlessness, or even long established mental habits of inattention (while mechanically engaging in your meditation techniques).

Ananda has just published a meditation "app." Here's a link to it (though it's downloaded from your favorite "Play" store). On the Ananda Seattle website (see below) we also have audio guided meditations, even chakra meditations. You find a complete selection of all the above here:


Here's my suggestion if you are finding meditation on your own at home not satisfying:

Use your smartphone (or mp3 player or IPOD or laptop) to have and play a selection of guided meditations. If you are a veteran meditator but also having unsatisfying meditation, don't scoff! Try it.

You may find that even periodic use of a guided meditation will help you focus your mind and uplift your heart. 

If you are not "tech-savvy" ask anyone under 30 for help. These guided meditations and meditation apps are a positive aspect of smartphone technology.

I was given for my birthday a set of rechargeable, "blue tooth," ear-buds so that I am not literally tied to my smartphone. The phone can be across the room in its charger while I listen to music, a guided meditation, or a YouTube session with Swami Kriyananda on the Bhagavad Gita. When finished I just plug the set back into a USB charging unit for the next time.

Guided meditations are especially useful on an airplane or bus or otherwise in noisy situations where you, at least, can sit quietly. They are also helpful when your mind or heart is in turmoil.

Try it!

Swami Hriman

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Of guns and war : Self-realization

Last week (Sep 23 – Sep 30), my family and I went on vacation to Mazatlan, Mexico. A long story but it was wonderful and relaxing. The place we stayed in was almost embarrassingly luxurious and that’s what makes these blog thoughts so, well, interesting (to me).

For starters I “never” read novels. But last week I read three of them. A good friend recommended these to my wife, Padma. Padma downloaded them into our Kindle account and I, wanting something relaxing to read, found them in my Kindle. So, I promptly began to chew through them: each one feeding my appetite for the next.

For starters, the three novels were as follows: “Beneath a Scarlet Sky,” by Mark Sullivan; “The Nightingale,” by Kristin Hannah; and, “All the Light We Cannot See,” by Anthony Doerr. The subject of each novel was the hardships and moral dilemmas faced by the various protagonists during World War II. The first was a teenage boy who came of age in Milan in the latter half of the war. He helped Jews escape to Switzerland and later became a spy as an attachĂ© for a Nazi general. The basic person and story is true but much had to be “novelized” to complete the story. The second takes place in France and is the story of two sisters coping with the hardships and moral dilemmas of resistance vs safety during the German occupation. The third, like the second, was strictly a novel but was a captivating account of a young man who also came of age in Germany. He and his sister were orphans. The boy was trained and drafted into the army but was plagued by moral doubts about the righteousness of the Nazi cause. I won’t say more but I will say that this third one was more like a painting than a story. It not only contained the tragedy and horror of the times but a palpable love for beauty and truth.

My brief summary above does brutal injustice to these compelling stories. But they are only catalysts for my thoughts today. Do I recommend these to you to read? Hmmmm, I think my position is only to mention them as a source for my thoughts below.

So, what’s the point, you ask? There I was amidst natural and man-made beauty, relaxing at the beach or pool in Mexico, and lounging about in what would be considered luxury by 98% of the world’s population while reading about experiences of starvation, abuse, rape, betrayal, murder and butchery on a scale unimaginable to Americans. The contrast could be considered absurd but the point couldn’t be missed: who can read of such conditions and not ask himself, “What would I have done?”

Most of us have never had to face the intensity of the moral dilemmas or hardships millions encountered during that war, and, for that matter, faced by people in every other war ever since. If one’s country is conquered by your enemy, you can hunker down, endure what you must, and ignore the atrocities around (in order to keep safe) or you can attempt to resist and risk your life (and that of your family’s) against impossible odds. Some will cooperate with the conquerors in order simply to feed their family. They might simply say, “Someone has to do it.” A rare few of these might join the resistance, using their insider’s knowledge (at great risk to themselves and family). Let’s face it, the easy way out is to keep your head down, ignore the injustices all around you, and hope the bad people go away eventually.

The awful decisions people had to make and the terrible things they witnessed and did, including soldiers, were so intense that, typically, many never spoke to anyone after the war about their experiences.

Anyone who will read this blog will have likely been born after that war. Many of you have grown up in America. We have lived thus far in a bubble of relative security, peace, prosperity, and health. I believe that someday historians will bench mark September 11, 2001 as the beginning of the step-by-step deflation of that bubble. I have also stated that I think history will designate Hurricane Katrina as the time when Americans began to wake up to the fact that we are on our own and must help one another.

The lesson of war (in this case, World War II) is the same, essentially, as that of the great scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. That lesson is simply that one cannot remain a bystander; to remain neutral in the drama of life. Life itself is a war and by nature and by honor one must fight. At the same time, it is not a simply story of bad guys vs good guys. It can be incredibly subtle, as subtle as the mind itself. Self-justification or personal honor? The protagonist in the first novel (a true person), was nearly captured and killed by partisans after the German surrender for the fact that he wore the Nazi uniform. They killed his fiancé who was but a maid to the mistress of the German officer to whom he was attached and from whom he gleaned information useful to the Allied cause. How could they know he had been a spy for the Allies? Why would she be deserving of death? Throughout Europe during the collapse of Germany, countless revenge killings took place at the hands of partisans against collaborators, real or imagined. No doubt some were deserved but who can know?

In our country’s increasingly polarized atmosphere, we see lines drawn between one political party and the other. Yet each party embodies certain valid principles which while actually or seemingly at odds with each other, nonetheless contain elements of truth. Compassion and justice must alternatingly give way one to the other in order to keep society in some form of balance. But when the natural give and take ossifies into hardened positions, the ship of state becomes rudderless, susceptible to rogue waves of emotions welling up from the depths of the body politic. In human life, we make quantum leaps of faith either by the magic wand of inspiration or the knobby-hard stick of hardship or suffering. But remaining neutral or paralyzed is to expose us to the vicissitudes of fate and destiny.

Some say we need stricter gun laws to prevent outrageous mass killings by crazy gunmen. Others say there’s no reliable way to identify and neutralize crazy people and that murderers will always find “weapons,” whether they be airplanes, trucks or rifles. Some say that had there been registered gun control in 1774, the American Revolution might never have succeeded. The “right to bear arms” is deeply embedded into the American psyche. With spy technology and the increasing militarization of police forces in our country, can citizens really rest easily when our leader is bombastic and pugilistic or when our representatives are increasingly exposed as corrupt? Do we really want “THEM” to have a list of every person who owns a gun? Maybe we do right now, but, will that day come when increasing mayhem and betrayal provoke another revolution? 

It takes no crystal ball to predict increasing social unrest in America with each passing month and year. There are no simplistic answers in a world that ceaselessly fluctuates from one opposite to the other. Stay calm, even-minded, and positive.

Standing up for what you believe in is risky. It’s also nuanced. A revolution can simply be the exchange of one group of thugs for another. On a personal level, there’s also the risk is that you can become the very thing you fight against! Yet not to stand up for what is right is to be, potentially at least, a coward.

In a world of fake news we have the opportunity to be true to ourselves: right or wrong! What else can we do? Where are the great journalists like Walter Cronkite or Edward R Murrow? Held captive, I understand, by special corporate interests. Just as terrorists hold common beliefs and tenets, so can people of goodwill. Some Christian religionists believe you will go to hell for eternity unless you are saved by Jesus Christ. It may not appeal to me or you but it’s not the worst thing in life to ascribe to if it can make you a better person. Even indifference is a kind of belief system. We cannot avoid living out our own “philosophy.”
Those who stand on the sidelines waiting for the truth to be delivered to them with the morning paper are not likely to stand up for anything. Weighing every alleged fact on the scale of their personal opinion they assign themselves to be judge and jury, never soiling their hands one way or the other.

When I think of the hardships and horrors experienced by millions during World War II (and of course many other conflicts, ongoing as I type), I think that in these challenging times of ours we of goodwill need to stand up and be counted. For me and for many of you who might read this, we have committed ourselves to a positive, new direction and movement of consciousness based on meditation and a belief in the interconnectedness of all life united by the Supreme Spirit, the Infinite Consciousness out of which all creation and beings have been made manifest.

The “heart” of Ananda contains two core elements: one subjective; one objective. The subjective heart of Ananda is the goal of Self-realization. This is entirely personal and has nothing to do with history, culture or outward circumstances. The objective heart is “like unto the first.” We are in this world to learn our lessons and serve the divine plan of “salvation” for all beings. For Ananda, the essence of our outward mission includes sharing the path of meditation (especially kriya yoga) but also to establish a new pattern of living for the age in which we live: intentional, spiritual communities (called “World Brotherhood Colonies” by Paramhansa Yogananda).

We are not “missionaries” in the Christian sense of proselytizers, but it is a mission in the “corporate” sense of “mission statement.” As God is One, so our subjective and objective goals are inextricably linked. No one can find freedom in God without helping others. The life work of Paramhansa Yogananda is not limited to a few disciples or renunciates. He came as a world teacher bringing a revolutionary (because universally applicable to all truth seekers) new dispensation of the timeless truths. He represents no “ism,” not even Hinduism. Meditation (yoga) is for everyone, regardless of belief or affiliation.

Our outward work, then, may presently appear unnoticed by society at large or even appear irrelevant to the pressing issues of our day, but nothing could be further from the truth. Self-realization through meditation and fellowship with others of like mind is no less revolutionary than anything accomplished with a gun. “The pen may be mightier than the sword,” but the pen is a product of consciousness. No revolution is accomplished however without great sacrifices. Our work is no less a “war” than any other. Instead of being forced upon us, however, we have the choice to take up our positions of faith and service.

I arrived at Ananda’s first community (Ananda Village, Nevada City, CA) in 1977, less than a year after a devastating forest fire destroyed most of the homes. Outwardly it looked bleak. Jobs were scarce. To rebuild, dozens of members moved to nearby Nevada City to live and to start businesses or find work. (** Ananda's worldwide work was founded by Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda.)

Yet, if you were to visit today, you would find a thriving and high spirited community of hundreds of people, including swamis, monks, nuns, single people, couples, and children everywhere! Ananda Village did not arrive at this point, like the Phoenix, on the basis of any large donations or patrimony. One by one, each person doing his or her part, giving generously, indeed heroically. By meditation, prayer, service to others, step by step the community re-built. Years later the entire community was pushed to the verge of bankruptcy by vicious lawsuits. From this brink of total destruction, too, we recovered by effort and grace.

Now, Ananda members serve this work from cities around India to towns in America, in Mexico, Europe, South America, China, Japan and basically just about everywhere. As symbols of our outward mission, simple but beautiful temples are being built by the generosity of members in India, Italy, and at Ananda Village. Here in the Seattle area, we have already built our “Temple of Light” in Bothell but have just completed the Yoga Hall which is a symbol of the application of inner yoga to the broader community of our fellow citizens. Places of peace and sanctuary, symbols of our highest aspirations toward Self-realization, are needed in the world today. Temples of Light are needed all over the world where seekers can gather in prayer, song, and silence to witness the Supreme Spirit dwelling in our hearts, in all hearts and in all creation.

Studies have demonstrated the truth that if only a small percentage of a given population meditate daily, crime is substantially reduced and harmony among citizens greatly increased. The pressing problems of our age are not difficult to solve if our consciousness is open to harmony and solutions. This is the work of Ananda (and of millions of others and groups). As Jesus called his disciples, “Will you follow me?” so too Paramhansa Yogananda declares for “those with ears to hear:” “The time for knowing God is NOW!” The pearl of happiness cannot be purchased with the debased currency of clinging to comfort and security. Peaceful warriors are being called and others being born. Et tu?

Blessings of light and courage upon you,

Swami Hrimananda

Reading references from the writings of Swami Kriyananda included: "Religion in the New Age," "Hope for a Better World," "God is for Everyone!"