Thursday, October 5, 2017
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 attaché 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,
Reading references from the writings of Swami Kriyananda included: "Religion in the New Age," "Hope for a Better World," "God is for Everyone!"