Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Bhagavad Gita: A Timely Gem

The Bhagavad Gita: A Timely Gem

When the first translations of the Bhagavad Gita into English arrived on the shores of America in the early 19th century, visionaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau pounced upon its timely and timeless message. 

Thus began what historian Arnold Toynbee described as the reverse "conquest of the West" by the East. The teachings of Vedanta (and Shankhya and Yoga) began to seep into western culture and have been steadily and increasingly transforming the consciousness of millions. Words such as karma and guru and, of course, yoga are now commonplace as are concepts such as reincarnation and practices like meditation. 

[The history of this transformation is excellently summarized in the book, American Veda, by Phillip Goldberg.]

Swami Kriyananda, founder of Ananda and direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now-famous Autobiography of a Yogi), points out that for a book to be considered a true scripture it must address the core issues facing humanity: how and why was the creation brought into being? What is the purpose of life, and especially human life? What is the cause and purpose of suffering? How can suffering be transcended and happiness be found?

He brings up other points, as well, as to what constitutes a scripture: are its precepts in line with other great scriptures and the universal values and virtues espoused by great saints of east and west? Does the scripture convey a vibration of upliftment, inspiration and light?

By all measures (and no doubt there are others), the Bhagavad Gita measures up! Among Hindus, the "Gita" as it is sometimes called is perhaps the most beloved of their many scriptures. Its name means, simply, the Song of God! It is one chapter in the world's longest and perhaps most famous epic: the Mahabharata! 

It consists of a dialogue between God and "Everyman devotee," or, more precisely, between Lord Krishna and his disciple, Arjuna. The conversation takes place on the eve of one of India's most famous historic battles (in the first millennium BC) as Krishna, Arjuna's charioteer, is asked by Arjuna to draw their chariot between the battle lines that Arjuna might survey the respective armies poised and destined to transform the dusty plain into "killing fields."

Isn't it ironic that India's most famous scripture takes place on a battlefield yet produces a culture known for non-violence? And, ironic, too, that while Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, the civilization most influenced by his followers is known for its combative nature and its desire for conquest of the world and of nature? 

Not surprisingly, therefore, the Gita begins with the portrayal of life as a battle: a battle between our lower and higher natures. Inner and outer conflict is the nature of this world and our inner world. No one can avoid taking sides. No one can avoid suffering. Everyone is seeking happiness. Is there a way out?

Our life decisions must be guided by "what is right." But how to know "what is right?" The result of our decisions and the actions which follow have specific consequences, both in the world around us and upon our inner consciousness. In a universe ruled by the inexorable law of action and reaction, we cannot avoid the consequences but we can choose how to respond to them.

Our ticket "out" lies in our true, inner nature and the nature of creation itself: the Divine Self. Immortal, imperishable, eternal, and ever-blissful, the way out of suffering and the way to lasting happiness lies, as Jesus himself put it so succinctly, "within us."

We must develop wisdom and discernment to know how to act; how to respond and how to draw upon the power of our own higher Self. The science of right action is found in the mastery of the science of "yoga." ("Yoga" here refers not merely to physical exercises but the practices of life control that guide us to identify increasingly with the transcendent nature of our soul.) Intuition, born of meditation and right action, can guide us to freedom from all action. The secret link between the lower self (ego) and the higher Self (soul) is the breath: that which brings us into the world and that by which we leave the world.

The pathways of yoga can include or emphasize our feeling nature; our thinking and perceiving nature; and our active nature. All three portals to objective reality can be reversed to flow inward into the royal (raja) stream of "pranava" (or Spirit) in the astral spine. Entering this sacred channel through the doorways of the psychic energy centers (chakras), we can direct this life force upward to unite the lower self with the Divine Self.

One cannot achieve freedom, however, by refusing to act. We must breath; eat; exercise; care for our body; deal responsibly with our own impulses, desires and fears and respond to life's vicissitudes, including illness, old age, death, fortune and misfortune: the fate of all beings. The yoga science offers to us the right action of how to internalize our consciousness and life force to achieve enlightenment in far shorter time than it takes by merely responding to our karma as it presents itself.

Three levels of consciousness, motivation, feeling, and action are described throughout the Gita: inertia (form), activity (energy and feeling), and wisdom (calm perception). These levels, or gunas, pervade all beings and all forms of creation. The Gita classifies a wide range of actions and intentions according to the predominating guna of each. This becomes a valuable guide to those on the journey of soul awakening. 

As rain clouds disgorge their gifts of nourishment to the earth; as the sun consumes itself to sustain us; as parents sacrifice themselves to care for and raise their children; as lower forms of life are consumed by higher forms; so the great wheel of life is sustained by self-sacrifice. So, we too grow and expand our wisdom, powers, and love by self-offering to God and higher beings (as manifestations of God).

Devotion to the Supreme Lord is the highest such offering. Those who sacrifice to lower gods (such as wealth, pleasure, success), "go to those gods" but do not achieve the final state of eternal happiness. All material goals offer happiness but always break their promise.

The key to breaking the energy spiral, the cyclotron of ego, comes through the instrument of the avatar, the sat guru, the one sent to us by God to liberate us and to show us that freedom can be ours.

The end-game and end-goal of our creation is to pierce the veil of mystery that hides the Lord of creation from our view and to know that we, too, are "that!" Tat twam asi-Thou art That!"

The Gita contains counsel to every level of awakening: body, mind, and soul. Its highest teaching is to seek God alone and its greatest gift is the science of yoga, the "how-to" of the eternal truth-teachings known in India as "Sanaatan Dharma."

May the song of God flow through you!

Swami Hrimananda



Here in the Seattle area, Murali Venakatrao and I will begin a 5-week course in the essentials of the Bhagavad Gita. It takes place on Thursday evenings beginning May 9th, 7.30 to 9.30 p.m. We will record this class for those who enroll on our website but who are at a distance on planet Earth: https://www.anandawashington.org/?event=essence-of-the-bhagavad-gita-bothell&event_date=2019-05-16   Our recording will be either audio or video or both. Our text will be the landmark book by Swami Kriyananda, Essence of Self-Realization.









Friday, April 12, 2019

What is the Deeper Meaning of Easter?

Why Celebrate Easter?

The feast of Easter is observed primarily with images of bunnies, chocolate goodies, beautiful flowers, colorful new clothes, and for millions, a once-a-year visit to a church service. Few contemplate seriously the meaning of Easter beyond its outward observance. So let us step back and take a few minutes to consider the meaning of Easter to our own lives.

For starters, let us acknowledge that Easter is inextricably linked to the tragedy of the crucifixion. This is the way of the world where light alternates with darkness. But it’s deeper than that because, for one thing, the crucifixion was not a tragedy except in a very human sense, and for another, the resurrection of Jesus Christ has far more significance to us personally than its simple (if dramatic) narrative would suggest.

Jesus’ resurrection represented a victory: a victory over physical death; a victory over those who condemned him to death; a victory over those who accused him of blasphemy for affirming his own divine nature; a victory over those who doubted or scorned his legitimacy as a spiritual teacher.

But that victory could not have been a reality were it not for his crucifixion. It is not necessary to believe the story of Jesus’ resurrection to distil meaning from it. By contrast, it is not as difficult to accept the reality of Jesus’ crucifixion! But let’s see them as symbols for realities in our own, personal lives.

The ever-present and timeless message of these dramatic events is that the “death” of selfishness and egoity is the price of the soul’s resurrection. Egoity and selfishness we are familiar with, but the existence and nature of the soul is elusive to our day-to-day conscious awareness. For most people, the soul is only experienced in peak moments of transcendent joy, unconditional love, or the intensity of sacred experiences. Few people seek ego transcendence as a means to achieve soul-realization because few have awakened to the truth that the soul is the source of finding lasting happiness.

This message is the eternal “religion” and it is the core message of the movement known as Self-realization. Meditation is the means to this end. Stilling the natural tumult of our senses and mind reveals the eternal, changeless, blissful light of our soul.

Jesus accepted the divine will in accepting the yoke of crucifixion. Prior to his capture by his self-styled enemies, he briefly prayed that this yoke might be lifted. The answer to his prayer could not be granted and he accepted it without resistance. This models for us our response to the yoke of our karma, the suffering that comes inevitably in living life in a human body. Suffering can be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual but we have no need to define suffering. Pleasure and happiness can also find expression in these ways and, however transient, should also be accepted calmly. Only spiritual “happiness” requires no opposite in order to exist because it is our very nature.

This has nothing to do with whether we should seek abatement of suffering or the righting of wrongs. It is our ego-instinct to deny or repulse (or, for pleasure or happiness, our instinct to grasp) that creates the pendulum of unceasing action and reaction which is called karma. By calm acceptance and by neutralizing the reactive process through daily meditation, we achieve the freedom from all suffering and the state of true joy. This neutralizing process is enhanced by devotion and selflessness. Whatever proper action is dictated by the experience of sorrow or happiness is a separate matter and is not precluded by the fact of our acceptance.

The meaning of Easter is also embodied in the acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as a true “son of God.” Not the ONLY son of God, but an avatar: a descent into human form of a perfected soul sent back to transmit to truth seekers the hope, promise and power of transcendence. Other souls, too, such as Buddha, Krishna, Moses, and Yogananda, to name but a few, have come and will return again and again to guide entire families of souls toward the Light.

Jesus’ narrative is a dramatic one for he came at a time in human history where only an extreme example could awaken sleeping souls to their own highest potential as “sons of God.” As stated in the first chapter of the gospel of John: “And as many as received Him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God.”

The Easter celebration thus holds a two-fold message for all humankind: the way to lasting happiness lies in overcoming egoity in order to achieve Self-realization; and, that wayshowers such as Jesus the Christ show us the way to live in this world; they stand poised to transmit the power of soul consciousness to those who “receive them.” We cannot achieve the “pearl of great price” by our efforts alone. More is needed to break the cyclotron of ego magnetism with its sheaths of karma which bind us.

Easter reflects the universal promise of immortality which is our soul’s true nature. Let us then celebrate this message as it has been embodied in the dramatic events of Jesus’ last days on earth.

[For more inspiration on this subject drawn from the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda and his disciple, Swami Kriyananda, I highly recommend the book, "Promise of Immortality." Written by Swami Kriyananda, it can be found at an East West Bookshop near you or at www.CrystalClarity.com. At Ananda near Seattle, we have a day-long retreat on Saturday, April 20, and a celebratory Easter Service on Sunday, April 21. www.AnandaWashington.org]  

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Cure of Nervousness -- by Swami Yogananda

Another of the Lessons from Paramhansa Yogananda's "Yogoda Lessons": only minor edits:


“Yogoda” Course (1925): Lesson 6--Cure of Nervousness
BY SWAMI YOGANANDA
          Definition: Restless mind vibrating thru the nerves is termed nervousness.
NERVOUSNESS—ITS PSYCHOLOGICAL SYMPTOMS
(1) Impatience.
(2) Lack of discretion in action (Impulsive action from impatience).
(3) Being influenced by contagious temperament of others.
(4) Fear.
(5) Anger.
(6) Jealousy.
(7) High-strung imagination.
(8) Ceaseless brain-storm (too much jazz or rock, theatre-going, dancing).
(9) Purposeless life, exciting existence.
(10) Mind and reason enslaved by nerves.
(11) Exciting dreams.
PSYCHO-PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS
(1) Shaking of head or hand.
(2) Twitching lips.
(3) Restless fingers.
(4) Involuntary movement of body parts.
(5) Fits.
(6) Heart trouble.
(7) Stimulated vision (hallucinations).
(8) Hasty action (nerves act before mind knows).
(9) Garrulous or chatter box habits.
(10) Insomnia.
PHYSICAL METHOD OF NERVOUS CURE
(1) Do not use sour pickles or acids.
(2) Or spices.
(3) Or stimulants.
(4) Remedy indigestion.
(5) Avoid constipation by using Yogoda system [Energization Exercises].
(6) Lessen hasty action.
(7) Lessen over-work.
(8) Go to bed early.
(9) Don’t play with fingers as a matter of habit.
(10) Don’t wrinkle face.
(11) Don’t scratch with fingers.
(12) Avoid the use of onions.
(13) Regular sleep.
(14) Frequent bath.
(15) Rub hands and skin of entire body before bath.
(16) Moderation in natural impulses [sex, food, etc.].
(17) Don’t lie awake in bed—wake up and get up.
(18) Crushed juice of celery, orange juice or almond juice, and almond butter are very good.
(19) Contract body, inhale and hold absorbing emotion. Then relax, exhale, and think the nervousness has left you with your relaxation.
(20) Brisk fresh-air walks daily.
PSYCHOLOGICAL AND GENERAL MEANS OF CURE
(1) Avoid argumentation.
(2) Delay action a little after resolution.
(3) Avoid quarrelsome surroundings.
(4) Don’t remain in the same room with nervous people.
(5) Choke excitement in the bud.
(6) Avoid Jazz, rock and loud music for some time at least.
(7) Listen to violin music.
(8) Don’t frequent movies which contain exciting scenes or tragedies.
(9) Sleep alone; empty your body and mind of thought and sensations before you sleep.
(10) Fully ANALYZE what you fear, or what you are excited about. Refuse to accept sudden emotions and excitement. Find the cause of excitement and seek remedy, but do not allow anxiety to rule the mind. Refuse to be obsessed by one idea.
(11) Keep company with people superior to you in everything—of cool and sweet temperament.
(12) Don’t indulge in vulgar jokes.
(13) Practice calmness, do not talk too much.
(14) HOLD TO THE CALM AFTER-EFFECTS OF CONCENTRATION AND MEDITATION TECHNIQUE.
Organic nervousness is very rare (in which the organs of the body are affected). Most cases of nervousness are psychological, expressing through the body, and mere analysis from an M.D. or Psycho-Analyst, or through Self-introspection, affects an immediate cure.
Above all, remember, MODERATION in eating, bodily enjoyments, sex impulses, work, money-making, play and social functions, leads to happiness, health, mental efficiency. Remember money is for your happiness, and that you are not made for money regardless of your happiness.
Physical science and science of mind and life will bring unity of human beings through fellowship with Truth and Good—Sat-Sanga (Fellowship).


Sunday, March 10, 2019

HOW TO CONTACT DEPARTED-DISEMBODIED SOULS

Dear Friends, I have shared below an excerpt from this lesson by Swami Yogananda. Originally intended for his students (those taking his written lessons) I have felt to omit certain parts of the lesson to honor his intention. Nonetheless, it is well worth the read.


Advanced Super Cosmic Science Course (1934): Lesson 5—How to Contact Departed-Disembodied Souls
BY SWAMI YOGANANDA

HOW TO CONTACT DEPARTED-DISEMBODIED SOULS

What happens ten minutes after death.
              When the ordinary person dies, his whole body usually becomes paralyzed, just as a part of your body sometimes “goes to sleep.” When your foot goes to sleep, you see it, you know that it is yours, but you cannot move or use it. So, at the approach of death, most people feel an entire paralysis, or a going-to sleep state of the entire body--limbs, muscles, and even internal organs, including heart, lungs, and diaphragm.

              In the beginning, the dying man is conscious of the slowly falling asleep of the muscles and limbs. When the heart begins to grow numb there is a sense of suffocation, for, without heart action the lungs cannot operate. This sense of suffocation is a little painful for about one to three seconds, and causes a great fear of death. Because souls reincarnate many times, and necessarily have to experience death in passing from an old body into the body of a little child, they retain the memory of the feeling of suffocation and pain at death. This memory of pain causes fear of death.
Physical and psychological states at death.
              The ordinary man, at the time of death, experiences the following sensations:
              1. Gradual numbness of the limbs, muscles, heart, lungs, diaphragm, and so forth.

              2. During the spreading of numbness in the limbs and muscles, a sense of sadness and helplessness, and a desire to live, comes into the mind.

              3. When the numbness reaches the heart and muscles, a sense of pain and suffocation is experienced which causes an extreme fear of death, and an attachment toward possessions and loved ones strongly comes upon the soul and causes extreme mental grief.

              4. With the pain of suffocation, there is a great mental struggle to bring the breath back again. At this time, a condensed review of all the good and bad actions of his lifetime comes up in the mind of the dying man. This mental introspection changes into a tabloid tendency which serves to be the guiding tendency in determining the kind of rebirth that the dying man is to obtain in the next life.

              5. At this time, the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing vanish in succession. The sense of hearing is the last to leave the consciousness of the dying man. That is why it is extremely unwise to even whisper within the hearing of a dying person: “All is over; he is about to die.”

              6. Since the last predominating thought of a dying man is weighted down with the habit tendency of a lifetime, it is not good to overburden this consciousness with the fear of death.

              7. The dying man should be told nothing, or, if he is a brave man, and wants to die, whisper into his ear: “Cross the portal of this woesome life into the vista of an everlastingly happy life.”

              8. The ordinary person, after he experiences the sense of suffocation, finds himself suddenly relieved of the weight of his body, of the necessity of breathing, and of any physical pain.

              9. After that, the soul of the dead man enters into a state of oblivious sleep a million times deeper and more enjoyable than the state of ordinary deep sleep.

              10. A sense of soaring through a very peaceful tunnel of gloom is experienced by the soul.

              11. Sometimes, when a man dies quickly, for instance, by hanging or electrocution, or guillotine, or from a shot or sudden accident, he experiences practically no physical pain.

              12. The suffering is purely mental when the soul remembers it cannot breathe or live. An imaginary sense of suffocation and pain at death turns into a most painful mental nightmare, which for some time tortures the mental feeling of the dead man, but after a little while, when the soul realizes that its body is gone, it becomes reconciled. If a good soul is murdered, he seldom suffers even any mental agony after a sudden death.

Different souls experience different kinds of death.
              When deep thinkers die, they retain their consciousness very slightly after death. Those who are used to thinking only through the machine of the physical cerebrum encased in flesh, cannot think consciously when that brain is missing. However, due to the fact that deep thinkers have a strong imagination and power of concentration, they can unconsciously materialize their thoughts into astral dreams--in the astral realm of death. Deep thinkers sometimes get beautiful dreams in the astral realm after death. They seldom go through astral nightmares.

              As in ordinary sleep, a man may experience dreams or nightmares, so during the big sleep, that is, death, a soul may experience either beautiful dreams or nightmares. As dreams or nightmares are experienced during the unconsciousness of sleep with the physical brain as the base, so, also, the ego experiences dreams or nightmares during the unconsciousness of the death-sleep, with the astral brain and latent memory as the base.

The astral body becomes the base of operation after death.
              The astral body is a dream within a dream of the physical body. As the dream of the physical body can have human dreams, so, also, the astral body by itself (without the physical body) can create any dream within itself. Though the physical body is a dream of God, still it seems real when it is owned by the ego. Likewise, the astral body in death becomes real and the base of operation for the ego.

              Q: Does anybody become conscious after death?

              A: Yes. Saints and people of concentration who, during their earthly existence, have practised the technique of meditation, can retain their consciousness even when the heart slows down or stops, and they are eligible to retain their consciousness during the state of deathly sleep. Just as we can enjoy a deep sleep, or watch the working of a beautiful dream, semi-consciously, so, also, in conscious death all astral experiences can be consciously or semi-consciously watched.

              Q: What are the experiences of souls who can consciously work in the astral land after death?

              A: If, while living in this world, one has hallucinations of living in a different land, that land of illusion becomes real to him, and this world becomes unreal. Likewise, the astral land becomes real to the disembodied soul. [He is not comparing hallucinations with the astral world except as a metaphor.]
Astral climate.
              This astral land appears to the soul as a very beautiful garden of will. Here he finds an astral climate evenly hot and cold, capable of being controlled by the power of the will, just as modern people can create the warmth of the summer indoors by means of steam heat during winter time, and on warm summer days, they can cool their homes by refrigeration. There is astral winter, spring, rainy season, and summer. The astral winter consists of exquisitely beautiful, fairly cool, white fleecy clouds, or rays, floating around the astral land. The astral snow is ordered by the astral inhabitants mostly for decorating the astral scenery. This astral snow changes the temperature according to the will of the astral inhabitants.

              The astral spring and summer are filled with an infinite variety of celestial blossoms smiling on the soil of transparent frozen golden light. The astral flowers blossom and change, or vanish, with an endless variety of blended colours, according to the fancy of the astral gardener. They never die. They only vanish or change when not wanted.

              In the astral rainy season, the rays pour down over the golden soil, emanating an ineffable variety of music of the spheres. They form flower shapes as they fall on the astral soil so that during the astral rain one can perceive a sheet of silver threads dangling daisies and roses of light, and showering them on the astral land. Flower-shaped pools of astral light bedeck the astral streets during an astral rain.

Astral houses.
              In the astral land, there are many mansions or spheres of various multi-coloured luminous vibrations. Just like different neighbourhoods--the aristocratic and slum districts of a city--so the astral kingdom has many quarters of different kinds of dwellings. Unlike clay brick buildings, the astral abodes are made of bricks composed of condensed atoms. The saints live in the aristocratic refined astral realms. Here ordinary souls would freeze to death or suffocate, but the saints can live in extremely cold or extremely warm ways, free from magnetic disturbances. In the astral slums, wicked souls live, unable to enter into the refined atmosphere of the priceless spiritual aristocrats.

Astral animals.
              Just as insects live in the solidified atoms or earth, and fish live in liquefied atoms or water, and man lives in gaseous atoms or air, and saints live in the luminous electric atoms of space, where there is neither soil, water, nor air, so also in the astral land some astral animals live in solidified rays, some astral amphibians live in an astral ocean, and some astral souls live in astral atmosphere, and some live in glittering astral ether, where there is no astral soil, gas, or astral water. The astral animals live more in harmony than earthly animals and are superior to them. That is why, in the visions of St. John’s Apocalypse, and in the yoga books, we find mention of beasts. Saints in the astral realm can travel in any sphere of vibration, just as the President of the United States is welcome to travel in any part of America.

How long do souls stay in the astral land?
              Just as some people do not sleep at all, and others sleep ten; hours a day, and some sleep all the time in sleeping sickness, so ordinary souls get quick rebirths after a short rest in the astral land. Suicide souls are forced to stay longer, experiencing the nightmares of astral life, impelled by their own bad karma. Good souls can remain in the world as long as they want to, and can be reborn on this earth, or may plunge into the Infinite. It is not true that all souls wait hundreds of years after death before rebirth.

Is there marriage in the astral land?
              There is an affinity of true souls who commune with each other by uniting their positive and negative life forces. Astral children are born by materializing thought tendencies and life force into astral bodies.

There is reincarnation in the astral land.
              There is birth and death and reincarnation in the astral land, just as there is in earth life, only in the astral land life is very long and death, or any change, is not forced upon any advanced soul--the wicked astral souls excepted.
              When the soul lovingly remembers earthly experiences, it may have to go back again and experience life and death in the physical world. The astral death has no pain or fear, such as physical death has.

Astral diseases.
              Astral diseases consist mostly of mental moods and mental deficiencies, or astral mal-nutrition. These astral diseases are easily remedied by the powerful minds of almost all astral inhabitants.

What is eaten in the astral world?
              In the astral land, the inhabitants eat solidified rays. They drink liquid light. They breathe astral air and roam in the pure, etheric skies. The astral inhabitants study and help one another and send help to the earth, or to different planets that are in trouble, through the invisible mind radio. It is their goodwill and virtue that keeps the earth from exploding with sin.

Astral crime.
              Astral crime consists in ignorance and in seeking selfish happiness. There are no judges to punish anyone. Souls punish themselves, when they are wrong, by self-imposed discipline.

How can we get in touch with the dead?
              Do not try to contact tramp souls who infest the ether with their presence. As tramps can occupy and run to destruction an empty, unlocked automobile, so tramp souls can get into absentminded, shallow-brained people who try to invoke spirits through a passive state of mind. Such tramp souls can possess the brain and wreck it.

              Only true souls who loved you, and who continue to love you, should be invited. You need good souls to help you, and you can also send them help. Commune with only the highest saints. The tramp souls who come to you uninvited only want a free ride on your brain-car in order to wreck it. That is why people who passively allow themselves to be possessed usually lose their character, mind, and spiritual power.

How to distinguish between true spirit control and subconscious hallucinations.
              In subconscious hallucinations, the sub-mind, through self-suggestion or the suggestion of others, may receive a suggestion by telepathy to act as a dead grandfather or grandmother. In such change of personality a man, through self-hypnosis, or mental derangement, or subconsciousness, thinks himself to be somebody else.

              Once a Boston clergyman was sick, and when he became well again, he felt that he was a grocery man, and he disappeared and lived elsewhere with a different name, and sold groceries. Later he became sick again, his mind changed, and he came back to his home, where he remembered that he was a clergyman. These states are marked by extreme emotions.

              In real communication with a spirit, one should not lose consciousness, but should consciously commune with the invited soul. These states are usually devoid of exciting emotions. Do not try quick, magic tricks to get in touch with departed souls. That is a great spiritual crime against God and humanity. By deep, incessant meditation try to get in touch with your dear dead ones. Only meditation, and months, and sometimes years, of patience can bring them to you.

              The life after death is the greatest mystery guarded by nature, because people would never use their family-cultivated love of one life to give it to new brother souls of another life if they could find their lost lived ones of previous lives. Only broad, all-living, concentrated souls can solve the mystery of life after death.

                        Q: Can souls be contacted if they leave the astral plane and are reborn on earth?
              A: Yes. Even if some of your dead loved ones have reincarnated, you can signal to their ever-awake astral bodies and receive an answer in the form of a dream in sleep, or a vision in meditation.

              Thus, by finding friends in this life and following them up in the astral sphere after death, you will learn the mystery of life after death. Then you will know that death separated your loved ones from you so that you might love, not only them and exclude all your other human brothers, but that you might give your love to all the people in all incarnations. Thus when your heart becomes big enough to love all, you will then know the Father who loves all His children alike, and knowing Him, you will know all your many parents and friends that you loved before. With that intense love you will learn to love all your animate and inanimate brothers as your brothers and children of your one, ever-kind, ever-mysterious Father-God.

              

Thursday, February 28, 2019

5 Paths to Enlightenment

Last Sunday, I gave a talk on "God" that included a summary of Paramhansa Yogananda's summary of five core aspects of the path to enlightenment. They are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, should be seen as facets of the diamond of Self-realization.

The talk itself, in video form, can be found: 
https://www.anandawashington.org/?sermons=can-man-see-god-2

Here are the five "paths" summarized:

1. Way of the Heart - the Social way to God. By expanding our sympathies and service from ourselves and our family outward to neighbors, town, country, and the world, our ego-active tendencies are softened and eventually dissolved in divine love. To be real, we must be able to love even those who do not love us; those who criticize, blame, or hurt us in some way. Forgiveness is a given on this path. A more complete expression of this would be to include both aspects of divine love: "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind, strength and soul; and, love thy neighbor AS thy Self. Love includes service, thus combining "Bhakti Yoga" with "Karma Yoga" as sympathy and compassion are not complete without action.

2. Way of the Mind - the Stoic or Ascetic way to God. Dissolution of the ego-active tendencies is a valid, indeed, virtually traditional path. It is not as suited to the consciousness of our culture at this time but it is valid, to some degree, to every devotee. This path uses a sharply focused, mindful intensity to practice what in India is called "neti, neti". (Not this, not this, I am NOT these thoughts, actions, emotions, body, etc.) A form of gyana yoga that includes the tantric practice of calmly observing oneself during all thoughts and actions, the Path of the Stoic is focused on self-discipline: disciplining the palate; the tongue, the senses, practicing austerities of one sort or another. All are mental and some have physical manifestations. With practice, the mind becomes still and enters the non-reactive state of pure observation. In its strictest form, there are no meditation practices as such. But this path, taken to its logical extreme, is arduous and eschews imagery, visualization, devotional practices, chants and all outward forms of spirituality. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita answers Arjuna's question about this path by saying that it is better for embodied souls to seek God through the I-Thou relationship. Nonetheless, disciplining our ego active patterns and habits remains a necessary aspect of spiritual growth.

3. Way of the Yogi. Kriya yoga, whether seen in the form taught by Paramhansa Yogananda, or in the overarching view of control of life force ("pranayama") in meditation. Put another way, one could say, simply: the path of meditation. Described more fully, the yogi learns to withdraw his attention from the physical body using specific techniques in order to enter and identify with the subtle, or astral, body wherein begins the path of ascension of the soul to God through the astral and causal realms of creation. From the micro reality of the soul to the macro reality of the Oversoul. 

4. Metaphysical or Transcendental Path to God. The power of thought, imagination, and intention describes the "how" of God's creation. It also gives to us the means to return to God. Paramhansa Yogananda gave a wide variety of "metaphysical meditations" that teach us how to experience an expansion of our consciousness into the creation and beyond to God. His book with the same name is very popular. This path guides one to use the power of creative visualization to attune ourselves broadly and deeply with all creation with the goal to pass through the stages of creation and enter the Kingdom of Bliss beyond all vibration. It is a valid and powerful practice and path. It is, practically speaking, a form of meditation.

5. Way of the Disciple. It is axiomatic in the teachings of India that one needs a guru to achieve enlightenment. While recognized implicitly or explicitly in other spiritual traditions, India's ancient tradition of "Sanaatan Dharma" (the Eternal Religion) posits this as a precept. One who is blessed to attract a true (or "sat") guru (one who is fully liberated, an avatar) and who "receives" the guru's blessings fully, receives the power "to become the son of God." If our incarnate souls are, in essence, a spark of God's Infinite Bliss, then the proof of this must be the appearance in human form and in human history of some souls who can truly say, "I and my Father are One." The transmission of liberation takes place through the only medium in which liberation exists: consciousness. No mantra, no prayer, no rite or ritual can substitute or purely transmit God consciousness. Only consciousness can do this. The ego, like Moses who led "his people" (his mental citizens) to (but not into) the Promised Land (of enlightenment), cannot, itself, become enlightened. The ego must surrender the kingdom of the mind to the Infinite Bliss of God. By will power alone we cannot scale the heights of cosmic consciousness but by the grace of God incarnate.

These five "paths" are not independent and separate. During the soul's many incarnations after it begins consciously to seek liberation from delusion, it will emphasize one or more of the paths as part of the process of purification and release of karma. The five work together and perhaps align (though I have not thought deeply about this) with the five pranas (energies) of the human body. 

Therefore, respect your own, and others, natural inclinations to pursue and express different aspects and forms of these core paths and practices.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda


Monday, February 11, 2019

The Avatar in You and Me! Friends in God

O Bharata, whenever virtue declines and vice predominates, I incarnate on earth. Taking visible form, I come to destroy evil and re-establish virtue. (Bhagavad Gita, 4:7-8)



In this passage, Lord Krishna speaks to us about the ancient teaching from India of the "avatara": the descent of God into human form in response to the needs of humankind.

While Hinduism and Christianity view their respective avatars as "actual" incarnations of God, the more nuanced teaching as elucidated by Paramhansa Yogananda is that the "saviour" ("Avatar") is a soul like you and me with but one difference: the avatar has, in a prior life, achieved oneness with God and worked out all past karma. Thus, the avatar returns to human form solely for the sake of helping souls still in delusion.

[Why or how the term has come to mean one's "alter ego" as in "my avatar" in gaming or social network circles is beyond me. But that's neither the term's original meaning nor my own in this article.]

The avatar's prior dissolution of ego consciousness implies that the ego has merged wholly into soul consciousness and, from there, has become "one with God." Thus Jesus Christ could declare, "I and my Father are One!" The distinction, then, between saying "God has incarnated in human form" and "Another soul, like me, has achieved God-realization" is, in fact, not great so far as the avatar's state of consciousness is concerned. But it IS important so far as WE are concerned because this truth affirms or reminds us that WE can also achieve that state!

By contrast, if God simply "incarnates Himself" into human form, as a special divine creation, it tells us that we are inherently separate from God. No difference for God who is omnipresent, but a big obstacle for us who are not yet omnipresent! 

This is, in fact, the "good news" which God sends to humankind through those who "have seen Him."

But for the promise of immortality represented in this "good news," only those with "eyes to see and ears to hear" can see and hear this good news.

God does not interfere with the karma and desires of those souls whom He has created. Only those who are ready to remember their soul's immortality hear the news. Of course, "many turned away" as the New Testament said of the life of Jesus towards the end of his ministry for they could not fathom his radical call to sonship in God (especially when he spoke of "eating my flesh" and "drinking my blood!").

In Yogananda's life, too, Swami Kriyananda said that it was like a hotel at the headquarters at Mt. Washington in Los Angeles: "people checking in and out." They did not recognize the spiritual stature and promise of Yogananda who, evidently, did not live up to their expectations! 


Even during Yogananda's "barnstorming days" around America when thousands would line up to hear him speak, only a few remained after the novelty of this popular motivational speaker from India had been satisfied.

Much more could be said on the nature of the soul and the saviour, but I would like to go back to the quote from the Bhagavad Gita above. 

What does Krishna mean when he says he comes "to destroy evil?" Swami Kriyananda in his landmark book, Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, points out that Krishna does NOT say he will destroy EVILDOERS! He takes aim at EVIL itself. Destroying "evil" and "re-establishing virtue" is a reference to consciousness. 

This means, then, that the avatar's purpose is to uplift human consciousness. This takes place on two planes: that of the individual souls (presumably disciples from past lives) and that of humanity at large. In looking back over history, we can see that the avatar must address the realities and needs of those specific places and cultures into which he/she is born. Yet, over time, the avatar's influence expands worldwide as in the case of Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, and now we see also in respect to Yogananda, to name a few. The power of such a descent, a "purna avatar," lingers for centuries, even millennia! 

But the medium through which this power spreads and continues over time is the "avatara" that occurs in the hearts and minds of those who are awakened. 

As the avatar's consciousness is that of God consciousness and as the disciple seeks to attune to God consciousness, we, too, can see ourselves, in a sense, as part of the avatara. Thus our life's purpose includes helping to help uplift humanity, on a scale appropriate to our own lives. 

While we devotees naturally focus on the "virtue" element of the avatar's mission, I'd like to consider the evil-destroying element. 

Yogananda said that in a past life he was William the Conqueror. And after that lifetime he said he was a king in Spain (probably Ferdinand III). It is, admittedly, difficult to overlay what we know of the lives of these men with the concept of an avatar. But, whatever the case may be historically or otherwise, it suggests some aspects of the evil-destroying purpose of their incarnation. 

Stories of the life of Krishna are filled with episodes where he destroys this or that demon (incarnations of evil). We, too, have our demons. Attunement to the avatar means we, too, should do our best to destroy our bad habits or ignorance. 

In the lives of Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr we see two great souls battling the demons of injustice and social evils. I don't hold them out as avatars but as souls who took up the avatar's sword for themselves. Gandhi took kriya initiation from Yogananda and King considered himself a disciple of Gandhi. Gandhi had a special love for Lord Rama, and King, for Jesus Christ. Both Rama and Jesus are considered avatars.

While history celebrates their social justice accomplishments, they were candid about their own inner struggles as well. Thus they stand as excellent examples of the avatara "destroying evil." 

In yoga, we speak frequently about the importance of being centered in the spine (both physical and astral spine) The spine is a symbol of strength, self-discipline, and one-pointed upward focus. While spirituality as expressed in these times and as emphasized by Yogananda is focused on the positive, life-affirming results and process of spiritual growth, he also made it clear to his close disciples of the need for self-discipline and ego transcendence.

Swami Kriyananda would sometimes counsel us saying, "Be a little stern with yourself." He told the story of how one evening, sick of the little prancing prince of the ego, he cried out in meditation, commanding his ego, "GET OUT!" Later, walking outside in the dark he came upon Yogananda. Kneeling before him, Yogananda said quietly to Kriyananda, "Very good." 

But as a caveat: just be sure you direct your self-discipline towards yourself, not others! Your efforts are between you and your soul.

Practice "titiksha": disciplining your senses in regard to sensations such as heat or cold; or the likes and dislikes of flavours; or the opinions (perceived or actual) of others; of your own opinions. By practising on little things we prepare ourselves to hold in check the ego's preening on the stage of your life. 

Receptivity to the avatar should include both sides of the equation for spiritual growth: ego transcendence and the transforming power of unconditional love and joy. Our soul's journey is necessarily unique and individual. It's expression, therefore, must remain true to your Self. 

But one thing common to all of us, because we are united by God, is found in one of the greatest treasures of the journey: the gift of true friendship. Friends-in-God are those who act as soul-mirrors to one another. The company you keep, both inwardly and outwardly, determine to a great extent the direction of your attention: whether upward toward God, or, downward toward ego and the senses.

Let us remember that the purpose of the "descent" is to enable us to rise. "Rise O My Soul in Freedom."

Jai guru,

Swami Hrimananda






Friday, February 8, 2019

Meditation for the Thought-full

Where do we go when we sleep? When we die? When we daydream and the stream of thoughts vanishes into no-thought as we gaze outward?

Is it: "I think therefore I AM," or is it "I AM therefore I think?"

Our bodies, our impulses, and our world invite us to look outward through our eyes; to hear outer sounds through our ears; to feel objects around us using the sense of touch; to smell invisible fragrances in the air and to put objects of taste into our mouths.

But what if we turn inward, instead? If we remove our skin and see into our organs do we see ourselves? No, we see only these organs, arteries, veins, and blood. Most or many of these can be removed and even replaced, leaving the "I" of myself intact and untouched. We look at these body parts but don't see ourselves.

We can view our own bodies from the outside and make certain conclusions that may affect our sense of who we are and may affect how we act. We might conclude that we are old, young, beautiful or not so, strong, or weak. But then on any given day or hour, we are so preoccupied with other things and thoughts that our appearance is of no particular interest even to us. We may preen one day and want to hide from view the next.

In fact, our thoughts and emotions, and our attitude towards our own self-worth are constantly changing hour to hour, day to day, week to week and year to year. Over a period of years we might look back and see a gradual evolution of our attitudes and opinions but we can never, if ever we give this some thought, know when and how our current views will change.

Look into the mirror. Usually, we look away quickly, perhaps embarrassed or not wanting to face the fact that who we see reflected there is but a stranger to us. But, try it: face the face before you. 

At first, we might be preoccupied with observing our facial features but it won't take long to tire of this, for it reveals little of ourself. 

Ok, then, what about our life history? Does our biography tell us very much? Well, yes, some things for sure. Mostly we can only recollect key events which, even if considered significant (birth, school, prom, wedding, birth, deaths) rarely consume much of our time and interest in day-to-day life.

So, still, we ask, "Who am I?"

I suppose I have to concede that most human beings never ask this question and if they were asked, they'd shrug it off as a useless one. I can imagine one of them saying, "What difference would the answer make?" And that's a good question, too. Let's find out, eh? ("Eh": a concession to my Canadian friends just north of here.)

If staring at yourself in the mirror is a "non-starter," try staring out a window. What do you see? A panorama, or slice of human life passing by? A scene of nature? A parking lot? A lawn? Clouds and sky? A mountain, lake or ocean?

Can you gaze outward and after taking it in, commentary and all, simply look at what you see without mental self-talk?

And, since this is a blog about meditation, can you close your eyes while sitting erect but relaxed and have your thoughts vanish like fog beneath the mid-day sun? It will help if you lift your inner gaze just a little bit. (To do this, touch a finger lightly at the point between the eyebrows, or just slightly above that spot--just for a few seconds. Focus as if peering out at a point a few feet away as your eyes are closed).

With a little practice, you'll get the position just right and comfortable where there is no tension, just inward gazing. What you'll usually see is nothing! Or, at least no-thing. It is usually dark, with maybe splotches of light or even color. As you get calmer any jumpiness of the images should slow down. Gaze in this way with keen interest, and yet, with an air of contentment and relaxation. 

If this is new to you, you'll need to do this daily for a week or more. As a general rule, even with eyes open, if I look up, my stream of thoughts tend to pause, as if waiting for instruction or an answer to a question (even a question unasked). Hold on and exploit this natural reaction, even from time to time throughout the day. The monkey-mind is a curious being and is always interested in something new. The gaze, when lifted, is the nature-given "mudra" (position) of seeking an answer. The mind pauses, eager for a response; eager for some new idea.

We do this all the time during the day when, for example, we wonder where we left our car keys, or what time was that appointment. We might also knit our eyebrows and purse our lips in sudden consternation of something important we may have forgotten. At such times, the mind begins to search on "the hard disk" of memory and tells the monkey to "shut up for a sec."

Getting back to this "mudra" for meditation, you can also practice "looking up" with eyes open instead of closed. The drawback here are the distractions born of visual input. But for some people, or at least to learn where the "sweet spot" of meditation gazing can be found, open eyes can be helpful. You just have to experiment a bit. Once you find the spot and get comfortable with it, it should be practiced with eyes closed.

In this position, eyes upward for meditation, it is often taught that one should hold that position and add to it an awareness of the simple movements of our breath: whether in the lungs or as the breath flows up and down through the nostrils. The breath is a natural point of focus for beginning meditation. 

For my purposes in writing this article, we are now at the beginning point of the "thoughtless state." Thought-full, or, thought-less, it matters not. When I say "full," however, I am not referring to the usual avalanche of thoughts that pours through our mind in every minute of our waking hours, but the innate "fullness" one experiences in a state of pure mind-full-ness: a state where the normal stream of thoughts has vanished.

This state of self-awareness is the foundational state for higher consciousness. But those higher states are secondary for my subject here today.

Achieving this state of quietude is not the result of the intensity of will power or effort. It can only be done with calm, attentive, intentional relaxation of body and mind. Yet for all of its innate relaxation, it isn't usually helpful to lie down because what I am describing takes a special kind of concentration. Not the kind of concentration where we are facing a deadline and we are tensed with will and the grit of determination, "come hell or high water." 

It's the kind of concentration as most experience in watching a good movie (though not an edge-of-the seat thriller). Or, the kind you might experience while ice skating, skiing, or in the zone where body and mind are one-pointedly focused, both relaxed but keenly engaged at the same time. 

It has to be something you want to do; that you've been waiting all day to find the time and opportunity to do. It has to be something you enjoy; something that takes and gives you energy, joy and flow! 

Whatever it takes to get there, the consequent state of keen, pure self-awareness is a singular state of observation and witnessing. There's no self-talk; no judgement; no assessment or mental commentary. Though neutral, there is an underlying sense of empathy, satisfaction and contentment, like a warm bath or a weightless and invisible waterfall in and all around you. 

In this state, there is a heightened sense of awareness: not "of," but "with." It takes practice, for sure but after a time, try turning your inner gaze upon itself: as if you were looking into your own eyes (like in the bathroom mirror experiment). You can feel your "eyes," the eyes of your attention, looking back at you.

It's an odd feeling at first, isn't it? Just as staring at another person gets quickly uncomfortable, causing one or both to look away, you might experience something similar at first.

In fact, and as stated earlier, you can only sustain this state by relaxing, not by tense will power.

And now, you ask, "Well, so what?" "What's it all about?" Like Moses who could not enter the Promised Land, I cannot take you past this point. In this state of emptiness, what fills it (apart from the pernickety monkey-mind eager to retake the stage) is for you to discover.

I can't promise it will always be wonderful. You will undoubtedly encounter resistance and very likely a kind of fear. The ego and subconscious are fearful of being extinguished by the state of no-thought, because the ego is addicted to thoughts, sensations, emotions and drama from which it derives its self-identity, its role, and its existential being. "It's my job," the ego and subconscious protests. 

Paramhansa Yogananda put it bluntly: "The soul loves to meditate; the ego HATES to meditate."

But for the courageous of heart who can gently smile in the face of the abyss, and who can remain conscious in the face of darkness, the light and joy of the indwelling soul, which itself is but a spark of the Infinite Light, awaits.

More than this is that "added into you" are all the "things" needful for your life's journey, including a protective aura of calm acceptance and inner joy.

The more often your mind is baptized in this state of no-thought, washing away the stain and grime of self-involved, ego-affirming mental activities, memories, and inclinations, the purer you become. You grow in wisdom and intuitive insights; in confidence; in connectedness to all life; to the state of loving without condition. All "these things," too, are "added unto you."

Why? Because this is our essential BEING. It is the I AM before I think (to re-purpose Descartes). This is our homeland; our origins and our birthright which is always there behind our thoughts for us to reclaim. In this state, we have a portal, a kind of psychic "worm hole," to higher states of unitive consciousness. These states cannot be pre-defined or controlled by the ego mind or its intentions or will power.

"By steadfast meditation on Me" (Bhagavad Gita) we come quickly to this portal through which inspiration, insight, wisdom, joy, love, and "all these things added unto you" pour forth into our body, mind, and our life. 

"Is that all there is?" No: infinity is Infinite, timeless, and endless. We can bathe in its gifts but as it pours its blessings into us, we take on its nature and thus we increasingly will be drawn and invited to give ourselves to it wholly. But this doesn't happen without our conscious will.  Though Infinity silently beckons us to surrender or enter into it for no reason or gift beyond itself whose nature is bliss, the ego cannot enter except willingly and except without facing the seeming reality of its own extinction. Paramhansa Yogananda and all the great saints down through the ages offer us assurance that we will not regret our surrender, but in the moment of our surrender we are alone and must face not the dark night of the soul, but the dark night of the ego. (Dark night of the soul is actually a misnomer. The soul's nature IS light!)

You have nothing to fear from entering the "thoughtless-zone." No one or nothing will come to sweep you away into the abyss. You need only "to be present to win." (Stay conscious, in other words!) Indeed, wouldn't it be wonderful if Divine Mother came to scoop us out of our delusion! No, She wants only our love; the only thing she doesn't possess and only we can give it: willingly, consciously. Union with the Infinite must be sought and won by earnest effort, attunement with divine consciousness, and the grace of God and guru.

Go then through your day, then, with the eyes of awareness; non-judgement; with the all-seeing-I. Fear not the journey of awakening. You can take lifetimes or move switfly to the goal. It's always up to you.

Swami Hrimananda.

NB: the state beyond thought can come "like a thief in the night" with or without apparent intention or cause. The description given above is simply an explanation with a recipe. But the state of pre-thought consciousness knows no boundaries. By devotion, self-giving, and in any number of triggering activities, mundane, spiritual or meditative, it can steal upon us. So long as we remain conscious and present, no harm can ever come to us.