Showing posts with label "Autobiography of a Yogi". Show all posts
Showing posts with label "Autobiography of a Yogi". Show all posts

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Yogananda's Predictions of Coming Difficult Times: True or False?

I have written before on this subject and Swami Kriyananda has both spoken and written on this subject many times. So this article is NOT a recitation of Yogananda's predictions. 

Instead, I would like to address some common objections to these prophecies.

1. Predictions aren't set in stone. True! Swami Kriyananda would always say as much but his opinion was that, to-date, the awakening of consciousness and the concomitant change in human behavior seemed to him insufficient to completely mitigate the predictions Yogananda made (between 1948-1952). How can we view events in our 2019 world and feel confident of positive changes?

2. Bad things are ALWAYS happening. Yes, this is also true. But this fact alone doesn't mean the specific predictions Yogananda made won't ALSO come true.

3. Why is it religious groups are consistently predicting "end times?" For one, Yogananda didn't predict "end times," only difficult challenges in the world. In fact, he said that after a long period of warfare, we would enter a long period of relative peace. (Besides, don't some people think the "world's going to end" if they didn't an invitation to that party?)

4. Sceptics aver that religious groups (or their leaders) make these predictions to keep the faithful in line, fearful, and unquestioning. I suppose this could be the case but as a hypothesis, it's difficult to prove and surely can't apply to all cases for at least two reasons unrelated to any motivation: 1. Predicting the future is always a risky business, and/or 2. As pointed in #2 above, BAD THINGS happen all the time. As to motivations, some people are, in fact, motivated by fear; fear is part of the human experience and, as such, it has its place. 

So let's explore #4 in relation to #2: why are the "faithful" often being warned of bad things when bad things are always happening anyway?

And, whereas Paramhansa Yogananda DID make certain predictions, it is not by any means super-clear that any of those predictions have come true. I'm going to focus on just two of his predictions: 

#1: America would suffer a depression far greater than the Great Depression of the 1930's. and....

#2: He stated with great vigour: "You don't KNOW what a cataclysm is coming."

I don't think any of the recessions that have taken place since 1930's could possibly be greater than the Great Depression, right? 

On the other hand, there have been innumerable natural disasters around the world, not least of which would be the Asian tsunami of 2004. But none of these seem to me to qualify to fit Yogananda's intent on one of two counts: 

1) When Yogananda gave that warning, he was speaking to an American audience and none of the many hurricanes, fires or earthquakes in the USA would seem, in my view, to qualify for the level of intensity that Swami Kriyananda related to audiences (he, being present when Yogananda made that statement, at least once, if not several times). 

2) If the intensity of Yogananda's emphasis on cataclysm was intended to be global, we certainly haven't had anything of that magnitude yet, though there is fear building worldwide that the cumulative effects of climate change may, like a tsunami, reach just that intensity in the upcoming decades. 

It is curious to me that Jesus Christ is quoted as making similar prophecies. In over two thousand years one could argue that none of his predictions came true, or, alternatively, that all of them came true at some time or place or another! (See Luke 21; Mark 13; Matt 24)

In the Indian epic the Mahabharata, Krishna warned of a coming age of un-virtue and destruction. The Pandavas, his chief disciples, left their palaces and traipsed up into the Himalayas to escape these inevitable changes. 

Absent global catastrophic events, we are left with the fact that BAD THINGS are always happening. Thus until such catastrophic events occur we might at least content ourselves with exploring the #2 objection that BAD THINGS are always happening AND why then are avatars are ALWAYS predicting them? 

What if there are two levels on which the predictions of these saints are justifiable? The one is personal: are not people in general and devotees specifically apt to have great tests and challenges in their lives? Aren't such likely to be tempted to follow ideologies or lesser leaders who are false? Besides, what seems catastrophic to me might be nothing to you but it IS to me! All the ills human life is heir to happen to a great many people but when they happen in the lives of the devotees their faith is tested that they may see the depth (or lack) of their spiritual mettle. 

The second relates to groups of devotees: aren't they likely to be persecuted or encounter social or political opposition; or, great difficulties such as betrayals of trust or apostacy? Are they not likely to see taking place around them injustice, deprivation, wars, and calamities? Not a few religious adherents in modern times have turned away from the "heavens" to toil on earth for humanitarian goals. For this, they receive many worldly kudos but there can be, for some, a hidden trap.

Yogananda's warns of this trap in "Autobiography of a Yogi," writing in Chapter 45: "Refusing a monotheistic love to God, the nations disguise their infidelity by punctilious respect before the outward shrines of charity. These humanitarian gestures are virtuous because for a moment they divert man's attention from himself, but they do not free him from his single responsibility in life, referred to by Jesus as the first commandment. The uplifting obligation to love God is assumed with man's first breath of an air freely bestowed by his only Benefactor."

The same can be said of political or social activism. Devotees can be discouraged, frightened, distracted or energized away from the spiritual path by the endless woes and material concerns of human life. 

Hasn't history shown repeatedly that evil can spin a web of lies, disguising itself as good, enticing devotees, spiritual leaders, and churches to support dictators, slavery, wars, prejudice, or exploitation in a form that could be called the "anti-Christ?" (that is to say, "anti-Christ-consciousness)

Thus, even if BAD THINGS are always taking place, a saint may warn of them because they are challenges to the faith and equanimity of devotees. Is not the warning saying, in effect, that the "joy and inspiration you may feel in my presence or in your spiritual life will be challenged someday by things that happen to you or around you?"

When I think of Jesus' words of warning (about troubles, persecutions, false teachers, natural calamities) to his disciples I consider that they did not know at the time that they would be founders and missionaries of a new religion. That new religion was going to be tested year after year, decade after decade, and century after century by the persecutions and, later, the temptations of power and the betrayals of heresy and apostasy. There would be many false prophets and teachers; many wars, dictators, and spiritual leaders vying and competing. 

That Jesus is quoted as saying "this generation shall not pass away" before he will come a second time can be viewed on a personal level in the lives of his direct disciples and on a general level to all disciples of any generation. The power of the living Christ can be seen or felt by the spiritual eye or "I" (the kingdom within you) by those who remain faithful to the "spirit and the truth." 

Was, then, also, Yogananda saying the same thing to those of us who are his followers? Do we not see all around us catastrophes, suffering, betrayals, exploitation, violence, and evil? Are we tempted to lose hope and faith? To feel anger, fear or resentment? To abandon spiritual work and practices in favor of saving humanity? To be concerned for material things more than our soul's love for God?

Who among us, today, does not feel this country (America) has not only lost whatever "greatness" it may have had but has also betrayed its founding ideals as epitomized by its elected leader(s), surely an "anti-Christ-consciousness" embodiment(s) if there ever was one?

This isn't fear-mongering on the part of Yogananda (or Jesus or Krishna etc.). It may be dramatic, stark, or, for some, fear-inducing in its language and imagery, but to me, the message goes something like this: "Don't put your faith in making this world perfect. It is a school, merely. Yes, do what you can to make it a better place but focus on your love for God and your love for God in all." 

The function of a school is to give examinations and to help students pass them and move on. So, yes, you will see hardship and suffering but hold steadfast to your faith and love for God. If this world were perfect, who would seek God's love? Are not the imperfections of this world the necessary inducement for us to seek the "truth that shall you free"?

Returning now to the two predictions of Yogananda that I cited above, who can say with confidence that wholesale financial collapse in America is impossible? (Did I read the other day that the national debt of America is $23 TRILLION?) Who can say that a major catastrophe (asteroid, volcano, earthquake, pandemic, world war) is impossible? (Almost daily I receive postings about possible catastrophic asteroids or super volcanoes.) 

The primary reason for contemplating such possibilities is not fear but to warn us not to fall asleep in our spiritual efforts. It's not necessary for the most ardent devotees but helpful for those who are new, weak or discouraged. Given that bad things are always happening, why not heed Krishna's immortal words: "Get away, Arjuna, from my ocean of suffering and misery!"

Added unto us with the love of God we can "be the change we seek in the world" with far greater effect than only toiling in the vineyard where the grapes of wrath are grown. Ultimately, then, it CAN be a both-and but walking the edge of the steep path between the outer and inner worlds takes great spiritual agility.

As the scripture of the street puts it: "Just sayin'"


Swami Hrimananda



  

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Ode to Forrest, Forrest Gump!

The movie, "Forrest Gump," is based on the 1986 novel by Winston Groom and was made into a movie in 1994 starring Tom Hanks. Quite apart from the scenes of a historic period in America (the 1960's, the Vietnam War and the presidency of Richard M. Nixon), the movie's enduring charm stems from the inspiring, timeless, and yet timely messages bottled within the labyrinth of its plot.

"Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get." This is perhaps the most popular quote for which Forrest Gump is famous. It is a lesson he learned from his "momma." In this simple metaphor of a box of chocolates, we are reminded to take life as it comes, with non-attachment and even-minded cheerfulness. Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now-famous classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi") put it this way: "What comes of itself, let it come. All circumstances are neutral, he went on to say, but appear positive or negative according to the attitude of the mind. I'm sure Forrest (if he were to think about it but probably wouldn't bother) would agree with Yogananda's statement that there are "no obstacles; only opportunities" in life.

In the movie, Forrest carries with him that box of chocolates. It's as if, with each new episode, he reaches into the box with his eyes closed to select another piece of chocolate. This box of chocolates is, metaphorically speaking, the source of Forrest's ability to take life as it comes to him. It is detachment worthy of a great yogi!

With this "yogic siddhi" of non-attachment (psycho-physiological power) comes to Forrest additional qualities such as acceptance: self-acceptance and acceptance of others and of life as it flows by him. He is a witness to history even as yogis are a witness to their thoughts and the flow of life's energy within themselves and all around. But he is also a willing participant in history, doing what life calls him to do in each moment. He's an unwitting football star when that is needed; an unselfconscious hero in battle; a friend in need and even when rejected.

This power of acceptance is vibrantly clear in his relationships: with his love, Jenny; with his war-friend, Bubba; and with Lt. Dan. In each case, he takes his friends as they are and himself at face value: as his own sincere and well-meaning Self.

With Jenny, he feels her childhood pain from abuse and wants only to protect her. He wants nothing from her, though everyone else seems to. His love is selfless and without condition.

With Bubba, neither race nor social status means a thing to Forrest. He risks his own life in the Vietnam War to rescue his friend Bubba. And when that fails, he immortalizes Bubba by buying a boat to do shrimp fishing (which was Bubba's hope and dream when he returned home). This lead to his establishing the financially successful Bubba-Gump Company and sharing the profits with Bubba's impoverished family!

With Lt. Dan whom he also saves from certain death in the same war, he receives nothing but anger, reproach, and verbal abuse. Yet, later, when Forrest is shrimp fishing, Lt. Dan suddenly appears on the scene. Forrest immediately accepts and embraces his friend who while "shrimping" together with the ever-content Forrest is at last healed of his grief, resentment, and anger at life's cruelty.

While I surely am not the first person to express these responses to the otherwise simple, if popular, movie, Forrest Gump, it struck me anew the other day to write these words.

I like to imagine (in jest) that Forrest single-handedly created behavioural psychology when he responds to being called "stupid" saying: "Stupid is as stupid does!" (One's consciousness is manifested by one's actions!)

Simplicity; purity of heart; willingness and practicality in action; acceptance; loyalty to friends and purpose; spontaneity (as when he suddenly is prompted from within to begin running: running back and forth across America with no thought of "tomorrow" or how he would survive, eat, or be sheltered).

"O Father, Lord of Heaven, you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes." (Matt 11:25) Forrest Gump's life revealed the secrets of happiness. It would not have fit the movie to have introduced a religious theme because, for the message the movie conveys, it is complete. Forrest could have easily been re-cast into a saint but then the movie would never have achieved any recognition or popularity.

Forrest Gump symbolizes everything our society is not: innocence. It's wonderful that moviegoers enjoyed an evening's entertainment, but I think Forrest Gump has much more to say to us. Each generation needs a movie like Forrest, Forrest Gump. Don't you think?

"Life is like a box of chocolates" whose sweetness is found in innocence and acceptance.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

How to be Thought-less!

Paramhansa Yogananda, in his now-classic life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," describes yoga as "a method for restraining the natural turbulence of thoughts, which otherwise impartially prevent all men, of all lands, from glimpsing their true nature of Spirit." (Chapter 24).

From Chapter 41 of that modern scripture Yogananda gives this challenging poem from one "of the many great saints of South India...., Thayumanavar:

You can control a mad elephant;
You can shut the mouth of the bear and the tiger;
You can ride a lion;
You can play with the cobra;
By alchemy you can eke out your livelihood;
You can wander through the universe incognito;
You can make vassals of the gods;
You can be ever youthful;
You can walk on water and live in fire;
But control of the mind is better and more difficult.

Stilling the agitations of the "monkey mind" is the subject and goal of countless meditation techniques and millions of meditators alike!

Ramana Maharshi is one of the most notable 20th-century advocates of Advaita (non-dualism), particularly in what he termed "Self-inquiry:" the quest to know "Who am I?" The great teachings of East and West essentially urge us to "Know Thyself" and discover "Tat twam asi" (That Thou Art). Watching one's thoughts and/or breath are among the ubiquitous and universal techniques of focusing the mind in order to still the "natural turbulence of thoughts."

Techniques are given, and there are many, to help focus the mind in order to reach the point beyond our thoughts. Too many meditators mistake the path for the goal and continue with their mantras, devotions, prayers, or breathwork "until the cows come home." The cows, that is, of their returning thoughts.

Why is so little attention is given to the cessation of what one teacher calls the "self-structure." The small self (ego, subconscious, etc.) is a little dictator whose mission is to keep us focused on our body, its needs, and to protect, defend and affirm the personality (ego.) It does a good job from a Darwinian point of view but it doesn't give us anything beyond a fleeting and insecure fulfilment and a deeply entrenched habit of restlessness. Praise, one day, blame, the next.

For starters, almost nobody on this planet is the slightest bit interested in the cessation of mental activity called "me." After all, didn't Rene Descartes tell us that "I think, therefore, I AM?" For another, the cessation of mental activity is very, very hard (note poem quoted above). And for those very, very few who make a deep and sincere effort, what they get for their reward is that their ego-self gets to stare into the abyss of nothingness, facing the prospect of its dissolution! So no wonder even meditators take the equivalent of a "rain check!" 

[In a humorous aside, Swami Kriyananda, in his landmark book on raja yoga, "Awaken to Superconsciousness," gently chides the Buddhistic tendency to focus on negative aspects of enlightenment (a state of no-thing-ness (nir-vana)) as the reason the enlightened ones, Bodhisattvas, chose to defer their liberation and come back to help others!]

But what, then, is the reward of making the effort? To quote Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, "Even a little practice of this inward religion will save you from dire fears and colossal sufferings." I'd add to this that the benefits of meditation, speaking generally and clinically, derive from the very effort to focus the mind inwardly and away from the senses, body, and ego. In an analogous manner, sleep too is essential for mental and physical well-being.

Thus I don't feel to dwell on the reasons the effort, challenging as it seems, is more than repaid. Besides, too great a focus on "what I get from this practice" will tend to undermine "what I get from this practice!" All great teachers of meditation caution that non-attachment to results--even of our meditation--is essential to success in every endeavor, including meditation. Besides, the reasons to meditate are as varied as those who practice it. 

How, then, best to focus the mind and transcend the thoughts? On this, too, I have to concede that the prescription is individual. There are many meditation techniques, philosophies, and, as stated just above, reasons to meditate. A strict approach, such as Ramana Maharshi's practice of self-inquiry, is probably too austere for most modern (and restless) minds. It is termed, in the yogic tradition, the approach of gyana yoga. Krishna states that meditating upon the formless (no-thought, or Absolute) is difficult for the average human. 

A devotional approach satisfies the heart's natural yearning to be loved and to love. One can meditate upon the image, feeling or thought of one's chosen deity, guru, or even an abstract principle such as love itself! But our culture is far from one that is comfortable with devotion, being, as we are, so fixed upon reason and analysis.

An energetic approach has the advantage of not requiring a complex belief system and is epitomized in the universally popular and useful approach of mindfulness: using the breath as the meditation object (with or without a word formula or mantra). In this Age of Energy, let "pranayam be your 'religion'" to quote a chant popular with Swami Sri Yukteswar!

Deeper practices of energy-meditation may involve a focus on the flow of subtle energy (prana or chi) in the chakras or the deep spine. The most well known of these is termed, simply, Kriya Yoga and was popularized by Paramhansa Yogananda (see Chapter 26 of his autobiography mentioned above).

What's wrong with thinking, you ask? The thinking and intellectual function of the human mind is a mixed gift: it is the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thinking is necessarily logical and dual: this is not that, and that is not this! The intellect is a natural extension of the ego for it focuses on naming, labelling, distinguishing, and using for its advantage or protection the objects of the senses (people or things or forces it can control).  It has been well said that the mind makes a great tool but a poor master. 

Thus it is, by tradition from higher ages of consciousness, the power of the intellect (which can reveal the secrets of nature) is supposed to be given to or used only by one who has become identified with the soul, or higher Self. In such a case, this power is used for the good of all and not for self-aggrandizement or exploitation. It is obvious that at this time in history, this is far, far from the case.

Since the mid 20th century, it has often been said that humanity stands on the brink of self-destruction owing to our mastery of the tools of thinking, reasoning, analyzing and manipulating nature's secrets but that we have yet to save our souls! We have focused too greatly on the outer world at the expense of the inner world of consciousness. To this day, scientific dogma still insists that consciousness is the mere byproduct of matter, the brain, the body and evolution of the species. Reflection, and only a little is needed, would reveal the opposite: "I AM, therefore, I think!"

Thus it was that the noted historian Arnold Toynbee stated that while the west has conquered the east with its guns, the east will conquer the heart of the west with yoga. 

And finally, let me share this simple, uh oh: thought! The Thought-less Yogi emerges from the effort to still thoughts randomly throughout the day NOT just in the practice of meditation but between activities; before a phone call or email; at a stoplight. You learn to bring the monkey-to-heel by living increasingly in the "witness box" of the higher mind. This can be achieved whether your temperament is devotional, perceptive, or active. 

The state beyond thought, the transcendently aware state, must be felt, or intuited, not conceptualized. It is the portal to higher states of superconsciousness. As in Yogananda's quote above, the still mind "glimpses" our true nature as Spirit, as the formless I AM of all humanity, all creation, and of the Godhead. 

So train your monkey to be still and FEEL the stillness wherein no thoughts intrude. You may find it helpful to bridge ego consciousness to higher consciousness through the medium of a visualization from which you then extract the FEELING of transcendence. Examples include the image of the bright blue, cloudless skies on a sunny day; the vastness of the ocean when perfectly calm; the majesty of a great mountain; the roar of wind or water overtaking you; vastness of space in all directions; or the silvery-beam of moonlight filling you with deep peace and transcendent love. 

Once the raft of techniques has brought you to the shore, discard the raft and enter into PURE FEELING; PURE AWARENESS with no name, no form, no object to behold.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Swami Sriyukteshvar Giri Maharaj - May 10, 1855

Swami Sri Yukteswar, guru to Paramhansa Yogananda, was born May 10th, 1855 in his ancestral home of Serampore (north of Calcutta). He was the only child of a middle-class family. His father was a minor landowner and businessman but died when his son, Priyanath, was still young. Priyanath (later, Swami Sri Yukteswar) had to attend to family matters from a young age.

I'd like to share some interesting aspects of Sri Yukteswar's (SY) life taken from the translated biography written by Swami Satyananda Giri, one of SY's disciples.

Not surprisingly, Priyanath was of an exacting disposition. Early in life, he made connections and friendships with a well-placed and well-off family, the Goswamis. An early incident took place at the home of the Goswamis at a time when a supposedly learned pundit was holding forth in the home. Everything the pundit stated was merely a recitation of scriptural passages. As a young teenager and tiring of this mindless parroting which lacked personal experience and commitment, Priyanath mocked the pundit by proclaiming aloud for all to hear (including the pundit) that he learned something the other day and found a quote in the shastras to prove it. He made a quick exit, laughing hysterically. The pundit was about to upbraid Priyanath, but the teenager had departed!

SY consumed knowledge voraciously and from all directions: science, medicine, art and music, and the scriptures. For a time he attended a Christian college in his home town where he delved deeply into the Christian Bible. But soon his interests turn to anatomy and medicine. When his professor couldn't satisfactorily answer his unceasing questions, he left the Bible college and went on to medical school where he studied for nearly two years.

He worked as an accountant but was so quick with numbers that he could easily finish his work and spent the remainder of the day in "chit chat!" He also soon left this occupation!

He was intrigued by homeopathy and studied the works of the German researcher, Dr. Konn. SY was proficient in helping others with their illnesses using this and other traditional forms of healing. He enjoyed horseback riding, hunting, skill with weaponry and sports.

For a short time, he studied under a man named Bankimbabu, a sort of rationalist teacher independent of sectarian religious traditions: a free thinker, of sorts. SY loved music and even played the sitar. He would be perturbed when he heard others singing or playing out of tune, for he had a "good ear" for music.

He married and had one daughter, though his wife did not live long and years later, his daughter, who also had one daughter, died young. He would say that "God made me a sannyasi the easy way!" (By circumstances, that is.)

He attended traditional religious festivals like Holi or Durga Puja and even accompanied his mother on pilgrimages. SY was attracted to sadhus, sadhakas, and siddhas: always eager to be in the presence of holy people and to learn yoga techniques. But he was also alert for fakes and frauds.

Once time in his search for yogis, he came upon a man who was said to levitate every night. So one night, SY hid under the man's bed before the man came to his room for sleep. Not surprisingly, nothing happened and a confrontation ensued!

His searches once took him to the jungles of northern India where he witnessed the moonlight dances to Krishna. He studied from tantrics, Vaishnavites, and many other traditions.

In his association with the Goswami family and other local leaders, he took note of how each would go his room to practice yoga techniques but never spoke of it. This inflamed his curiosity until finally he overhead a conversation about a yogi in Benares. Off SY went immediately to Benares and after an intense search found the residence of Lahiri Mahasaya, who, as we know, became his guru!

SY was initiated into Kriya Yoga in 1884. Thereafter he wrote a continuing stream of letters (and came also to visit often) to Lahiri Mahasaya (LM) about spiritual and yogic matters. Later as SY began writing a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, he would send chapters to LM for review, editing, and approval. His commentaries were published locally for the benefit of a growing number of students. He founded an informal organization called the "Gita Sabha" (fellowship). Its members consisted of kriyabans who studied together.

He associated with many famous yogis of his time, including Trailanga Swami. He went to visit Ramakrishna at the Dakshineswar Temple but for some reason, Ramakrishna was not there. SY was friends also with Swami Vivekananda but SY's efforts to link his own ministry with that of the Ramakrishna Mission were unsuccessful.

When he would visit LM, he sat apart and spoke very little but he admitted that even in the "chit-chat" that occasionally took place in LM's presence he felt uplifted.

SY spoke Bengali (of course), Hindi, French and English and was versed in Sanskrit. He wrote "primers" with shortcuts for the learning of English, Sanskrit and Hindi. He took an intense interest in astrology and found the art and science of it in disarray, much knowledge having been lost or misunderstood. He sometimes paid the travel expenses of renown astrologer or himself would travel to meet them.

When asked about the value of studying Sanskrit, SY made a curious statement: he said that this would be a good thing for Indians to do for the next fifty years (until, around 1950?)

SY's efforts to correct the Hindu calendar were not accepted by the pundits of his time. Even though he convinced a council of learned astrologers in Puri, the one astrologer whose assent they said was still needed died before SY could meet with him. SY then predicted that it would after his own death before the calendar correction he had offered the world would be accepted in his own land.

It was, as we know from "Autobiography of a Yogi," in 1894 that SY went to the Kumbha Mela in Allahabad where he met his param-guru, Babaji and from whom he was commissioned to write the "Holy Science."

His first attempt at writing the book commissioned by Babaji was to do so in the French language. He had hoped to attend an Exhibition in Paris that was coming up. His hoped-for travel never materialized. For this, he spent an intense six months learning French! He gave his manuscript to a French Christian missionary. This missionary immediately recognized that these writings would create an upheaval among Christians and, somehow, managed to lose the document.

SY started over again: this time in English and this time writing Sanskrit slokas inspired by ancient precepts from Vedas, Upanishads, and the Gita. "Kaivalya Darshanam" was the Sanskrit book title for the "Holy Science." He employed the assistance of two local barristers in shaping his English.

Several themes played out in the life of SY. Among them was an abiding value set upon non-sectarianism. Another was the supportive relationship between reason and faith; science and religion; efficiency and spirituality; health and consciousness.

One of his followers, Sri Motilal, played a large part in making SY better known and in helping SY spread his message of kriya yoga and Self-realization in Bengal and Benares. Motilal was a proficient organizer who, over time, became highly advanced spiritually and later in life had an awakening that turned his life's work toward humanitarian causes. SY supported him but was not directly involved in those efforts. By the end of Motilal's esteemed life, he was known as the Satchidananda Swami.

A curious incident occurred where, in association with a professor, SY met with two German scholars who travelled to India seeking secret knowledge. While Swami Satyananda's description of this part of SY's life was not wholly satisfying to me, it triggered in SY a commitment to education that would integrate health sciences, how-to-live training with academic and spiritual studies. Whatever it was the German scholars were seeking, they (like many who have travelled to India) did not find it. SY evidently was inspired to formalize or rationalize the Self-realization teachings so that everyone could benefit (even if, presumably, not all were seeking moksha).

It was in 1904 that he purchased the land in Puri that was to become the Kararashram. For the training of disciples and renunciates, he saw three stages and three separate locations for them. The young brahmacharis (up to age 25) would live and train in Puri at Kararashram. The adult sadhakas would live in Benares in Pranabashram (where Swami Pranabananda was a part) and the senior renunciates (age 50 and above) would live in Rishikesh at the Siddhashram.

In each person's life, SY saw how one moved through the yugas: kali, dwapara, treta, and satya. An interesting view of the yugas: one suited to each of us, personally! [For a description of the yugas, see the Introduction to the "Holy Science" or the expanded exploration of the yugas in the book, "The Yugas" by Steinmetz and Selbie.

The active years of SY's service were years of political ferment in India. While he supported Indian independence he, like Gandhi, was emphatic that the individual (not "the people") was the key to the social changes clearly needed.

It was on building character, right behavior, attitude, virtue and spiritual consciousness that SY saw that India would deserve its freedom. SY protested against the servile, slave-like, tamasic (lazy) tendencies that being a conquered people fostered among his countrymen. He agreed with Swami Vivekananda that in seeking (pretending?) to be sattvic (peaceful) Indian culture had become tamasic (lethargic).

His all-around educational ideals included not only the sciences but farming and agriculture, martial arts, art, music, and craft, the languages of English, Bengali and Hindi, and of course yogic practices. He saw the value of post-educational travel including air travel (which had not become a commercial reality at that point) but he decried its influence on young men of India who only returned with western habits and a loss of self-respect for Indian culture. He agreed (again) with Swami Vivekananda that "if you want to know the Bhagavad Gita, play football." (Meaning, in part, that by health culture you can improve your mental acuity and your intuitive awareness.)

Indeed, he had a strong emphasis on the need for self-respect. In his description of Dwapara Yuga (the age our planet has entered into), he predicted that "self-respect" would be one of its hallmark characteristics. (We see this in the rise of minorities, women, and people of color, etc. etc.) He, like his guru, LM, initiated all castes and religionists who were sincere. He especially emphasized the need to imbue children with self-respect. This did not mean, he said, that children shouldn't be disciplined. Tone of voice, emotion, and form of discipline are important in finding the balance.

SY travelled extensively in Bengal (Orissa, too, I imagine) to many villages where he would share his all-around teachings of health and Self-realization through kriya yoga and yoga at large. He studied asanas, mudras, pranayama and all manner of yogic practices. Always he taught Vedanta adwaita as the supreme goal and reality: Satchidananda.

SY eschewed the traditional forms of "guru-worship" and behavior. He called himself, simply, a "servant of all." He strongly encouraged seva (selfless service) by day, and God by night! He recommended to those in family life to go on retreat at least once a year. He ridiculed the pomp and lavish sartorial displays of some of the spiritual leaders of east and west though he accepted the value and necessity of the diverse forms of religion. He encouraged that we respect all forms of spirituality.

Strangely, his own efforts at organizing were not successful. He called himself a "son of Saraswati disowned by Kali." I can envision several ways to explain this but in yogic terms I would say simply that he was a gyana yogi, not a karma yogi though his karma yoga was enormous! Go figure!

"Learn to behave" was something of a motto for SY. Be polite but not subservient.

I've only extracted some tidbits from the biography and without repeating what Yogananda wrote in "Autobiography of a Yogi." As Krishna counsels in the beloved Gita, "even the wise model right behavior" past the point of their needing it for their own upliftment. To westeners whose only source of information might be the "AY," one might be led to imagine SY was only a thinker and yogi. But, in truth, he was unceasingly active in seva (karma yoga).

Thus may we honor and celebrate the birth of this Gyanavatar, Swami Sriyukteshvar Giri, May 10, 1855.

"Tat twam asi"

Swami Hrimananda

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Lahiri Mahasaya of Benares: Yogavatar (1828-1895)

September 26 (today, as I write), 1895, Lahiri Mahasaya of Benares left this earth plane in a conscious exit in the presence of a group of disciples. His birth, in 1828, was on September 30! Thus we have a convenient few days to give Lahiri focused reflections.



The significance of Lahiri Mahasaya's life can be summarized to include:

  • He was the param-guru (guru of his guru) of Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the widely acclaimed AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI). Lahiri Mahasaya exercised a profound influence in the life of Yogananda.
  • It was he who was commissioned in 1861 by the incomparable Babaji to spread the practice and teachings of Kriya Yoga.
  • Though a Brahmin and a yogi, Lahiri Mahasaya was NOT a Swami; he was married; had children, and was a career accountant during British rule. He, therefore, showed how one could live IN the world even while making definite spiritual progress toward soul liberation.
  • Despite rigid caste customs at the time, Lahiri Mahasaya (LM) initiated individuals from all castes and various religions without regard to gender, status, or position.
  • He discouraged fruitless theoretical discussion of the scriptures and preferred direct, intuitive realization of their message. "Solve your problems through meditation" he counselled. 
  • LM performed civic and community service in addition to his spiritual training in kriya yoga and spirituality.
  • LM gave inspired interpretations of traditional Indian scriptures that unlocked keys to a broader and universal understanding applicable to everyone.
  • LM studied, practised and then reduced to practical simplicity and application the tangle of yogic practices so that anyone could learn their essence and make significant spiritual progress.
  • LM gave down-to-earth practical counsel to those who came to him sincerely for help.
  • LM guided individual "chelas" (disciples) with words that were "mild and healing."
  • Besides, Paramhansa Yogananda, LM initiated many saints and highly advanced disciples, and, others with influential worldly positions.
  • In the presence of many disciples, LM casually exhibited yogic powers of breathlessness, sleeplessness, cessation of pulse and heartbeat, unblinking eyes (for hours), and a profound "aura" of peace.
  • In accordance with ancient practices, he gave for the cure of various diseases a specially prepared "neem" oil.
  • LM transformed the seemingly mysterious practices of yoga into a definite scientific practice.
  • LM demonstrated to close disciples all the signature powers of a great saint and avatar, including bi-location, resurrection, healing, levitation, raising the dead and much more.
  • Paramhansa Yogananda proclaimed LM a "Yogavatar," or incarnation of Yoga.
  • Yogananda wrote of LM: "His uniqueness as a prophet lies in his practical stress on a definite method, Kriya, opening for the first time the doors of yoga freedom to all."
Lahiri Mahasaya Maharaja-ki, Jai!

Joy to you,
Swami Hrimananda

reference: Chapter 35, The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya, from AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI, by Paramhansa Yogananda.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Why Celebrate Labor Day?

Welcome to America's annual celebration of labor: Labor Day! What exactly is there to celebrate? Or, to contemplate?

1. Swami Sri Yukteswar is quoted by Paramhansa Yogananda in "Autobiography of a Yogi" saying, "Those who are too good for this world are adorning some other. So long as you breathe the free air of earth, you are under obligation to render grateful service. He alone who has fully mastered the breathless state is freed from cosmic imperatives. I will not fail to let you know when you have attained the final perfection." Whew! 

2. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna counsels Arjuna: "Action is a duty, but let not your ego crave the fruits of action. Be not attached either to action or to inaction." (2:40). "No one can remain actionless for even a moment; all are compelled (by Nature), whether willingly or unwillingly, to be active, driven by the qualities (impulses) of Nature. One who forsakes work (in the name of divine aloofness from activity) cannot reach perfection. (3:4,5). Our physical nature compels us to feed, clothe, shelter, and protect our bodies. We are dependent upon and an integral part of the world around us.

3. When I see a person begging on the street I think to myself, is not the real tragedy the lack or failure to be creatively engaged and serviceful? In America, at least, finding food, shelter and clothing isn't (technically) all that difficult. While such is the basic prerequisite to being serviceful and engaged, it's the lack of creative engagement that drains the spirit. How often have you wondered, seeing such a person, "If he would only ask for work, then perhaps he could feed himself!" Well, of course, I am greatly oversimplifying a complex and very individual situation (consider, e.g., substance addiction, mental illness, and lack of basic needs) but I think replacing beggary with service holds a secret to overcoming the karma that puts one in such a depressing circumstance.

4. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosover believeth in Him will not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) The creation is a great drama and not just for the comedies, tragedies, joys and sorrows that vie constantly for supremacy. We should cherish the world, life, and our legitimate duties and creative impulses and inspirations as a means of rejoicing, acknowledging, and fulfilling the manifestation of the "Son" (the indwelling divinity within us and all creation). The creation IS God in vibration and in joyful intelligence. Serving and doing our best to live a God-centered life, a life of joy, wisdom,, compassion and creative activity honors the "Christ" in creation and in our souls. We potentially manifest "Christ consciousness" in joyful, creative service.

5. It used to be common for acquaintances to greet one another with the question, "How are you, keeping busy?" I used to wonder what was so special about "keeping busy?" Most people I know feel they have "too much on my plate." Maybe this (mindless) greeting was a holdover from the Depression of the 1930's when fear of losing or having a job was uppermost. We should learn to be "calmly active, and actively calm" as Yogananda would put it. Let, therefore, our "labor" be one that is calm, conscious, "present," and intentional!

6. Lastly, should you be burdened by what strikes you as an unsatisfactory role in life, begin first by affirming gratitude for the opportunity to serve in whatever way life gives to you. By accepting what is, you can fulfil your duties or experience your circumstances with a pleasant state of mind. This is the first step to working out whatever past action of your own that has placed you in this situationThink about how you can do better or how you can help others, even if in silent thought and prayer. Draw into your consciousness the love of God and share that love with all. Even if you are bedridden and cannot serve in any obvious outward way, you can serve those who serve you with your smile, your love, your gratitude and your sincere wish to help them through prayer.

Let us, then, honor "Labor Day" as the creative manifestation of God IN and AS creation through the active engagement of our soul expressing itself through the vehicle of the human form in the great play ("lila") of life. Celebrate whatever health, intelligence, education or talents you might have been blessed to receive in this life that you might serve as a channel of divine blessing bringing joy, intelligence, and love into this world of duality. Be grateful for the creative energy of countless others whose contributions and discoveries make our own life safer, more healthy, and more productive.

Let us "honor" the labor of love out of which God has become this creation by "laboring" with His love!

Blessings,

Swami Hrimananda

PS: Tomorrow (Sep 2, 2018) is the day on which Hindus celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Politics, Yoga, Self-Realization and Ananda

From the view of the soul (the God's-I view), all things are appropriate if done with attunement to the divine will. The core mission of Ananda worldwide is to achieve soul freedom in God through the application of the scientific techniques of raja yoga (which can include hatha and kriya yoga); to establish intentional spiritual communities demonstrating that simplicity of living guided by high ideals brings the greatest happiness; to have land in the country where we grow our own food; to live and serve in harmony, cooperation, simplicity, moderation, creativity and divine attunement; and to show how to apply this way of life in business, relationships, health and healing, education and all aspects of daily life.

When it comes to social issues, politics, and social activism, the outer work of Ananda is so young that thus far in our brief 50 years we've had to build (literally) communities, teaching centers, retreats, our publishing arm, schools for children, and the attendant outreach and infrastructure such activities require.

Views on the issues of the day can legitimately vary according to individual points of view between sincere and equally intelligent people. 

Paramhansa Yogananda, the inspiration behind the Ananda work worldwide, said he was in the party of Abraham Lincoln (a Republican). In his day, Yogananda was wary of social reforms instituted by the then president, "FDR." Yogananda was not enthusiastic about the long-term effects or social implications of the New Deal, the welfare state, and other so-called progressive initiatives; he was concerned about the intrusion of government into private lives; for the dependency that a welfare state can create; and for the potential loss of creativity and initiative in individuals.

But how he would respond today on questions of universal health care, social security, and the many other social services, who can truly say? His teachings and Ananda's work is with individuals, primarily: developing personal responsibility; willpower, devotion, meditation, selflessness in service and attitude and, yes, certainly compassion. But our emphasis will always lean towards the personal and taking personal responsibility. Public entitlements that are enacted to "buy" votes or which deplete the personal initiative and sense of individual responsibility will always be suspect. In general, I can say with confidence that any program that helps an individual to help himself is far better than a handout that deprives that person of dignity and initiative.

Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Yogananda and the founder of Ananda, quietly and respectfully guided us in his example and words to be more conservative and circumspect especially on "new deals" that promised us what we might imagine were free handouts from the government. He remarked that Yogananda's school at Ranchi declined in its spiritual ardor and educational excellence when the school accepted funding (with strings attached) from the Indian government.

We, disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda, seek to achieve the spiritual goal of Self-realization. Meditation, introspection and God-communion require a personal commitment, initiative, energy, and creativity. The personal freedom to step away from the "maddening crowd" is a natural and generally necessary step. Life on the path of Self-realization is very personal. Not surprisingly, we seek the company of others of like mind since support for the inner life is not to be found in society at large. 

Naturally, therefore, the help we give to others is more likely to be to those we know rather than enthusiastically trumpeting new legislation and new governmental initiatives. I wonder if socially progressive ideas would be as enthusiastically endorsed if their votaries had to pay for them personally. Do you too sometimes wonder if promoting new government schemes subconsciously relieves their proponents of the burden of guilt for any personal commitment? 

Swami Kriyananda often said: "Peace is my bottom line!" Not social peace but inner peace. If one can march as Gandhi or King marched--with courage and with love so great that even being struck, humiliated, spit upon, or jailed could not trigger in them the quid pro quo of hate--then let it be. This is the path of a Christ. But, you see, for them, too, peace was the bottom line. 

Recently, our center hosted a prayer vigil for the families separated at the southern border of the United States. Our emphasis was on using prayer and meditation to offer these families on a soul level strength and spiritual support. It was also to provide a sanctuary for those who wanted to come together in prayer and meditation as their personal response to this unfortunate situation. While our position on immigration policies was implied, it was not the focal point of our gathering. Therein lies an important difference. 

Government policies and conflicts in society can take many forms but often, if not always, the resolution is the result of a compromise between opposite points of view: a compromise that can be assumed to satisfy neither point of view. The very fact of compromise is, indeed, as much the lesson as the resulting policy. In general, a wise person will tend favor compromise because it supports harmony and provides at least some directional movement in place of continued conflict or simply paralysis. Wisdom understands that we live in a world of opposites which unceasingly vie for, and alternate in, supremacy. 

Thus when one stakes out a position on a social issue, it may be appropriate to articulate the principles and the goals of your position but one should also acknowledge (even if only to himself) that any practical movement forward in the direction of your goal will require some compromise. As Yogananda put it, "Fools argue; the wise will discuss." 

Both Gandhi and King showed remarkable courage and ability to do both. “Be wise as serpents,” Jesus counseled, “and harmless as doves.” Those who defend dogma will tend to end up both disappointed and angry. This world is poorly arranged to achieve perfection or lasting victory to one side or the other.

During World War II, Yogananda was supportive of the war effort but focused his energies on continuing to uplift and inspire people, and bring them closer to God through the science of raja and kriya yoga. He enthusiastically supported Mahatma Gandhi's efforts to free India from British rule but stayed centered on his own life's work.

In Yogananda's famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," he gave a rare rebuke to the rising trend of humanitarian works: "Refusing a monotheistic love to God, the nations disguise their infidelity by punctilious respect before the outward shrines of charity. These humanitarian gestures are virtuous, because for a moment they divert man's attention from himself, but they do not free him from his single responsibility in life, referred to by Jesus as the first commandment." 

Those who guide the work of Ananda understand the complexity of having institutional positions on social issues. Given the path of Self-realization that we strive to follow, it behooves us to give wide latitude to individual members to make their own personal choices. 

It seems likely that the years ahead will see increasing civil unrest owing to the continued state of polarization in our country and other countries with whom we are aligned culturally and politically. Yogananda gave notable utterance to predictions of future challenges to America and other nations in the forms of economic depression, war, and natural calamities. It will take wisdom, courage, and faith to act in attunement with divine guidance if issues and positions continue to intensify. 

There can be no fixed policy on whether, or to the extent, Ananda, or parts of Ananda, take or support political action, social policies or partake in mass movements for or against any such positions. In all representative actions, we must seek attunement with God and gurus.

As the work of Ananda becomes increasingly established, individual members will naturally express their dharma in many new forms, including humanitarian, social, and political activities. But we must not lose sight of the single greatest contribution the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda offer the world: health, happiness, harmony, energy, creativity and divine freedom in Bliss through kriya yoga. To quote Lord Krishna from the Bhagavad Gita: "Even a little practice (of this inner yoga) will free one from dire fears and colossal sufferings." A way of life that requires no legislation, no government handouts, nor yet will incite war, exploitation or greed and will bestow a natural inclination towards living in harmony with the natural world and with our co-inhabitants (in all forms)........what can be a greater gift to the world than this?

May the light of yoga enlighten your consciousness,

Swami Hrimananda



Monday, July 2, 2018

Has Yoga in the West Been Inappropriately Appropriated by Westeners?

I confess I only learned of the concept of "cultural appropriation" last year. The Oxford Dictionaries defines cultural appropriation as the "the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society."

For starters, there's no secret that yoga came from India. One cannot say this is not acknowledged. As to inappropriate, well, where does "goat yoga" or "beer yoga" fit? I feel that serving wine after yoga class is inappropriate when I contemplate the history, the tradition, and the intention behind yoga practice. 

Therefore, while certain applications and adaptions of yoga seem inappropriate (culturally or not), the question in my mind is whether the very practice of yoga itself falls under this criticism. For that matter, are all adaptations or modifications or new uses for yoga inappropriate?

I happen to be a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now famous classic story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." Yogananda taught hatha yoga but did not become famous or associated with hatha in the same way, say, as B.K.S. Iyengar. (There is a yoga style associated, however, with what Yogananda taught. It is called Ananda Yoga and was initially developed by Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Yogananda, and the founder of the worldwide network of communities and yoga teaching centers called "Ananda.")

Any student of the modern history of yoga in the West will easily discover that renowned yoga teachers came to the West specifically to teach yoga and in the process bestowed upon key students the mantle of continuing that work in the West.

Far, therefore, from yoga's being unilaterally appropriated by westerners, teachers from India have intentionally brought yoga for the purpose of its perpetuation to the West. 

But there are additional points I'd like to make. Millions of have read "Autobiography of a Yogi." In his life story, Yogananda makes several statements indicating that a high spiritual purpose existed for the dissemination of yoga practices (principally, so far as his life's mission was concerned, its meditation aspects) in the West. Indeed, it was, Yogananda taught, in the divine Will that the best of East and West be distilled for the upliftment and evolution of human consciousness.

Many a qualified yoga teacher, both east and west, claim that yoga is a universal and nonsectarian science for physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Suited to every time and clime, the principles of yoga are discoverable by any sincere seeker. 

More than this is the assertion, and one that I endorse from my own research and intuition, that India's contact with the West, as painful as it was in many respects (having been conquered, etc.), helped revive, energize and even improve yoga (including meditation) practice. 

I say "improve" on the basis of two things: one, the particular analytical and scientific genius of western culture, and secondly, the assertion (made by Yogananda and his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar and one readily endorsed, however instinctively, by most of the planet's human inhabitants), that we are in an ascendant age of increasing knowledge and (re-)discovery. 

Yogananda, in speaking of the existence and practice of "kriya yoga," stated that it was almost forgotten through human indifference and priestly secrecy. Western medical testing of yoga and meditation has contributed significantly to the validation of its benefits for all the world to see. 

In India, yoga practice in the past has been burdened with unscientific claims of some of its proponents. Few westerners are aware that during the British Raj yoga practice and yogis had fallen into such disrepute as to be viewed as veritable gangs of thugs and reprobates that it was banned. (That this ban was also based on politics and prejudice cannot be denied. Further, such a view did not invalidate the true practice of yoga even if by but a few.)

The long-standing and deeply-held Asian and Indian respect for one's teacher (guru) is deeply embedded in the yoga tradition. In its contact with the West which doesn't have that cultural orientation, confusion and friction have sometimes resulted. 

Yogananda attempted to clarify the use of the term "guru" by applying the term to refer to the "sat guru." This is a reference to a spiritual "savior" on the level of Jesus Christ, Buddha and the like. 

Yet in the east and throughout the world, the ordinary term "guru" can be applied to financial or computer "gurus!" In the late 19th century and early 20th century, in India, a trend began that was influenced both with western physical body-building culture and with the renewal of pride in Indian culture that began to teach hatha yoga from a more strictly physical health point of view. 

In this process, the guru concept and its concomitant spiritual purposes began to weaken but did not dissolve. While the cultural relationship to the teacher continued in the tradition of deep respect and implicit obedience to the teacher, the reality was that few (if any) such teachers, even among the most popular (or perhaps "especially") were true, sat gurus: avatars or liberated masters. The clash with western culture was inevitable and took the uniquely western form of lawsuits and scandals.

Yogananda knew that the spread of yoga and meditation would not be met by a concomitant rising quantity of true, liberated masters. He himself employed printed lessons to teach the precepts of Vedanta, Shankhya and the practices of Yoga (especially raja and kriya yoga).

Moreover, he knew that the egalitarian consciousness of the west would spread eventually throughout the world and would tend to consign to the past the sacred tradition of guru-disciple. Nor is it a matter of too few true gurus. Rather, in a fiercely egalitarian society, it is a matter of too few true disciples.

The point here is that in an evolving and expanding age of consciousness, change is not only more rapid but unstoppable. Yoga has come to the world to uplift society at large. That it will not resemble the forest hermitages and ashrams of tradition may be regrettable to some but inevitable to many. This is not "appropriation." It is change and evolution.

There will always be those souls who incarnate with a pre-existing understanding of the need for a true guru. The need for a guru and the role of a disciple will not disappear because not only will there always be some of have "eyes to see," but because in an ascendant age more and more people will awaken spiritually. This will happen through yoga practice. We see this every day at the Ananda yoga centers worldwide.

Nor is such an awakening the expectation (much less a prerequisite) in the teaching and practice of yoga (including meditation). "When the disciple is ready, the guru appears." Keeping the tradition alive and held out as an example is the role of those (relatively) few (in this culture). But this truth-teaching is not well served by mere proselytizing. Truth "simply is."

In his life story, Yogananda describes how he, while meditating in a dusty storeroom (to escape temporarily from the boys in his school!), had a vision of American faces: souls he would meet when he was soon to go to America. 

Souls who, in past lives practiced yoga-meditation in India where the tradition was kept alive (even if barely), are now being born in the West. How then can anyone truly claim "appropriation."

Yogananda would thunder from his "pulpit" to crowds of thousands: "The time for knowing God (through kriya yoga) has come!" Yoga is indeed for all. 

Let us put aside divisive accusations of appropriation, at least as it relates to yoga. Yoga is for the world and for anyone, regardless of skin color or birth, who armed with respect for its traditions and origin, and with sincere dedication to its practice "goes within."

With joy and the light of yoga,

Swami Hrimananda










Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Jeff Bezos and God : "Objection Overruled"

So many people in modern culture object to the use (and the implied meaning behind) of the word "God." There are, it seems to me, several types of people who object:

1. Atheists. Those who describe themselves as atheists are those who actively deny the existence of God. For my purposes I will assume this includes any Being or Force that by any other name might still be "God." An atheist has a positive non-belief in God and in some cases an emotional rejection of the possibility of God's existence. The emotional rejection might stem from a person's experience of dogmatism or definitions of God that include condemning souls to eternal hell or as allowing injustice and suffering in the world. Or, their negative affirmation might be on intellectual grounds, perhaps on the basis that science has shown that there is no longer a "need" for God to explain material phenomenon. 

Ironically, atheists are illogical, despite their fixation on reason, science and pragmatism. They can no more disprove the existence of God with the very tools they claim disprove Him than religionists can prove the existence of God with anything other than faith (or, far worse, mere belief). Just because God can't be proved using their chosen tools of knowledge doesn't, logically, mean that God can't or doesn't exist! It just means there is no evidence acceptable to them. Just think of all the scientific laws, forces, or phenomenon that couldn't be "proved" only just centuries ago! Our non-belief had no effect upon the force of gravity, for example. 

2. Agnostics. These folks just say, "Gee, I just don't know. Maybe ....  but I've not met Him ..... " For this group there's less of a reactive objection to God and more of either indifference or a positive, intellectual doubt. Some agnostics might embrace the assumption that the question of God cannot be answered for lack of acceptable proof. Thus they are off the hook of having to grapple with such an existential or esoteric question. They can live their own life free of the angst or guilt they associate with religious beliefs! This group of people may incline (unlike the professed atheists) to be content with themselves; they are busy with their own lives and simply not interested in the question to begin with.

3. "God-Word Dislikers." Finally, there is this category (the one I wish to discuss) of "God-Word Dislikers" who might believe in a Divine Being or Force, abstract and impersonal, or personal and involved, but whose name, if that of "God," they find objectionable. Behind this objection is the basic same emotional rejection described for some atheists but in this group they leave room for a loving or at least neutral Being or Force. 

Maybe they view their god as an overarching Intelligence behind all created things. Others might prefer lesser gods (like Hindu gods, e.g. Ganesha, Shiva, or various goddesses) or angels or earth-based fairies, "devas," rather than one hierarchical, almighty, omniscient, all-pervading GOD! It might also be a male vs female objection wherein the GOD-word is impugned by male hierarchy, judgement etc. A female god (Divine Mother) or goddess, by contrast, is earth and people-centric, loving, caring and offers the bounty of the material world, enjoyment, happiness and love. The more earthy types of this genre incline dangerously close toward ego affirmation, offering humans the merely bounties of the earth and its pleasures (instead of eternal Bliss, which is said to be the nature of God and of our own Self).

It's not easy to disassociate words from their connotations. Even though I say to students in my classes, "get over it," it's not as if I don't understand their visceral objection. For me, at least, as a speaker or a writer, the G-word is simply convenient, easy-to-spell, easy-to-say hook for whatever attitude or practice I might be describing. 

Also in my view, each person can ascribe whatever attributes they wish to project onto their god. Their God may be male, female, gender-less, all pervading or simply watching over each of us: your choice. I'm not being merely cynical, but, again, in my view, practical. Until you "know God" you'll just have to find the approach or definition that works for you!

I often explain that just as you or I will never be able to telephone and speak to the President of the United States, or Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon), so too we will never "see" or "hear" God face to face, or ear to ear with our human ego. 

But that fact doesn't mean the President of the United States doesn't exist. It just means that I don't know him in my little, egoic self. It also means he doesn't know me, except as a citizen of his country. On that basis he can say he "knows me."  Jeff Bezos would "know" me as one of his customers and that's all the counts from his point of view.

But both God and Jeff Bezos have customer service reps. 
God has a whole lot of reps (compared to Bezos). 

Some of these God-reps are self-appointed, like your average preacher, teacher, or priest. Others are indeed "His own" and have been "appointed" by God, not man: Buddha, Yogananda, Jesus Christ, Moses, Krishna, Rama and many others. These reps don't argue with one another or clash, though their messages "for their people" may vary in emphases, or culture, or time and place.

Down through history, millions (is it billions?) look up to these "high-end reps" for guidance and as examples of how to live. These reps and some of their high profile followers (aka "saints") play important roles in the lives of many. Relating to holy persons, whether alive or gone, is more than enough for most sincere devotees. Instinctively, many know that relating to the Infinite Power (aka "God") is neither particularly appealing nor practical.  Even the lesser but more accessible line of popular spiritual teachers is adequate for many. Knowing the "boss" or the "president" is simply neither an option nor is it necessary.

Still, this God-word and God-question will forever rage on. Is God personal or impersonal? Here are some thoughts on it: who can limit that which is Infinite? What's the difference anyway between Infinite and Infinitesimal? Why can't "God" be both? How could He who is Infinite NOT be both? And why can't a rep be a "son of God" (or, ok, for some of you, a daughter! Doesn't matter, really, because souls are without gender, so I am told.)

The distinction is our problem, not God's problem. Whether his reps are his "sons" or simply souls with the red phone hot line to the Almighty, it doesn't really make that much difference on the ground in the here and now.

Down through the centuries the reps were everything and God was just a faraway idea. The reps told you what He said we had to do, or, or, well, or ELSE! For those who needed the stick more than the carrot, that's what they heard.

But for those more sensitive, these reps always exhibit and express divine, unconditional love (and joy and power etc.). They attribute their "power" to God, not to themselves. They urge their followers, those with "ears to hear," to do so also. Most talked of God as intimate; as real, both personal and impersonal, depending on their own point of view and mission. But the masses generally missed the point and simply wanted what they could get from the reps: comfort, joy and a better life via divine favors. 

For the deeper souls, the imitation of these Christ-like reps is the goal. To have the joy of St. Francis even in the midst of suffering; to forgive while crucified by hate; to render aid no matter the personal risk; to love all alike; to adhere to righteousness in the face of temptation or at personal inconvenience. to heal the sick; raise the dead; forgive sins (meaning change lives of others). These divine powers, these "Gifts of the Spirit," have been demonstrated and witnessed down through the ages for those "with ears to hear and eyes to see." It's not blind faith but openness to that which might otherwise seem impossible. Faith is knowing without logical or sensory evidence. Belief is but a hypothesis.

The lives of these saints and masters bring us the "good news" that God exists and that we, being "His" children, are made in His image and are destined for immortality: not of the physical body but of the soul. Nor is it "mere" existence but "ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss of the soul. This is our destiny to re-discover and to realize our true Self. 

So, sure, stick with the reps if the big Guy is still beyond your ken. God is "big enough" not be upset by it. If you like his reps; if you know his reps; then, it's enough for HIM. Whether you know it or not, He knows that in knowing his reps you know HIM. The reps are a chip off the Old Block and so are you. Really.

He doesn't even mind if you dumb it down to wanting to find happiness within your Self. The last sentence of Chapter 35 of "Autobiography of a Yogi," states: "Through use of the Kriya key, persons who cannot bring themselves to believe in the divinity of any man will behold at last the full divinity of their own selves." ["Kriya key" means the practice of "kriya," an advanced meditation technique!]


Maybe our very interest in the subject has its genesis in God's hidden presence within us. Maybe that presence recognizes itself in the reps. Maybe the reps help that nascent knowledge to grow from a seed into a tree as we progress from ego to soul; from devil to angel; from sinner to saint. Just maybe, "it takes One to Know One." Just say'n.

"Goodness" (with two "zeros") is God (with one "zero") manifested in the duality of His creation. Goodness with its necessary opposite exists in this world (of duality) whereas God is transcendent Bliss itself. One without equal; One without opposite! 

In the name of Thy holy reps, 

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Is Human Happiness Enough? Finding the "Third Rail"

Swami Yogananda (aka Paramhansa Yogananda) signaled the theme of his life's work and teachings in his very first book, "The Science of Religion." [

That book was ghostwritten by a friend of his and it was somewhat poorly articulated. Swami Kriyananda re-wrote or re-presented its theme in his own book, "God is for Everyone."]

The theme could be described as "How to be Happy!" I won't attempt to describe his book and its precepts but I do wish to begin with this common word, "happiness."

"Happiness" is a rather vague word, connoting to most people a state wherein one has all the comforts and satisfactions of material existence, including a few excitements and high points along the way. A good job, career, recognition, family, friends, home, pleasures, and monetary security--these are among the "treasures and pleasures" usually considered to bring us "happiness."

Reflective humans, both in their own life and in observing the lives of others on the planet, conclude that this kind of happiness, which I will call, "human happiness," is fraught with uncertainty. These ordinary satisfactions come and go, all too often tainted by both their disappearance and their opposites.

No matter how large our bank account or how high our status or how large our house or car, there's always more. There are bigger homes; higher pay or status;  and faster and newer cars. 

Then too there's the inevitable troubles brought by competition, repairs and upkeep. One's beautiful wife or high status husband might stray or become disillusioned, despondent, or ill. Your perfect child might end up disappointing your high expectations.

And, last of all, you can be certain that even if you manage to carry all these good things to the end of life, you can't take them with you. Such forms of happiness are far from certain and fodder for insomnia or worse.

I saw a joke recently in which the question was asked about super-healthy people: "What will they die of, nothing?" 

And then think of the 99% of have none of these "things."

Is human happiness possible? Is it enough? In "Autobiography of a Yogi," Paramhansa Yogananda writes, "for wisdom, too, do we hunger" (not just for food, shelter, etc.)

One time honored response is to simply become a stoic: accepting life as it comes, neither especially high or low. The dullness that covers our heart in this state of mind has a certain practicality and groundedness, and not a few votaries down through the ages follow its path, but is it really all that satisfying? 

Another is to energize one's commitment to "get mine while I can." Ok, sure: this sounds really satisfying, doesn't it?

It may take our souls countless lifetimes to pursue every possible form of human happiness before we throw in the towel and break one way or the other, but eventually, one finds the "third rail."

God is the "third rail:" the electrifying force that powers the universe and the life of all beings. "I am the light and life of the world" (3 Ne. 11:10–11). 

As the universe is incomprehensibly old so God, the indwelling "life and light of men" can patiently wait. We have been given choice and reason. We do not merely get zapped by this electrifying conscious, blissful Force and find ourselves enlightened. We must consciously seek it. And what we seek is to be more than merely conscious in a human body and ego. In the end, however we may define it (whether as "God" being an anthropormorphic entity or an abstract Force). What we find is what is already there within and in front of us: Infinity itself.

Talk to God. Share your thoughts, emotions, struggles, and moments of human happiness. Turn within in silent, inner communion (aided by the science of meditation). "Be still and know that I AM." Pray for guidance and the light of an unerring conscience. Pray to be an instrument of the light to those around you. 

God has sent to us those who have achieved Self-realization. It is not so easy to approach Infinity directly. It is easier to approach God through those who have become "the sons of God." If I AM THAT I AM, then there must be those who already KNOW THAT and who can help me along the path to inner freedom.

The "way to God" is not for sissies or for boasters. "Suffer the little ones to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven."

Blessings of light and silence,

Swami Hrimananda