Showing posts with label Ananda. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ananda. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.



Monday, January 21, 7.30 p.m. Free – East West Bookshop, Seattle
[https://www.anandawashington.org/featured-events/]
This even will be LIVE on Facebook

To many of us, it seems that the principles upon which our country was founded are in short supply these days. What can we do about it? Unless, like Mahatma Gandhi or Dr King, you plan to start a national movement for peace justice and equality, you can at least stand up and be counted! And next Monday night you have an opportunity to do just that!

Next Monday night we honor the lives of M.K. Gandhi and Dr M.L. King in a public tribute that would be just the kind of occasion where people like you and I can come together. The tribute includes music, audio and video tracks, and readings from their speeches and writings.

Paramhansa Yogananda stated that America and India represent the twin ideals of material and spiritual harmony (and their concomitant social ideals, justice and equality) so needed in our rapidly changing and growing world. He did not mean that India and America have perfected these ideals. Instead, he meant that India and America have the karma to lead the way in demonstrating the importance of these ideals for the benefit, indeed survival, of all nations.

For this was our nation founded; for this was born the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Abraham Lincoln. For this, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King lived and died. Dr King said that one who had nothing for which he was willing to die was not fit to live. An extreme statement, no doubt, and obviously not the karmic destiny for most individuals. 

But certainly, next Monday night is an occasion for us but to be together. You will be energized and inspired by the experience. As the years go by, fewer and fewer people have lived through the turbulent years of the civil rights movement in America. The message of Gandhi and King is, more than ever, relevant to the challenges of our times. Come and show your support for social change through nonviolent means and inspired by universal, spiritual ideals.

Blessings to you,

Nayaswamis Hriman and Padma

Ananda Washington

P.S. Anyone wishing a copy of our script, please write to us at friends@anandaWA.org

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Angels on High: the Fall from Grace and the Soul's Rise to Freedom

In the 1947 movie, “The Bishop’s Wife,” an angel (in the form of actor, Cary Grant) comes to the family of a Protestant bishop in an answer to their prayers. 

Problem is, the angel finds himself attracted to the bishop’s wife (played by Loretta Young). After answering the couple's prayers (with a few twists), the angel departs knowing that an immortal cannot be with a mortal. This plot, mostly na├»ve and innocent by today’s standards, struck a chord with me in respect to the great themes of history related to the “Humanity’s Fall from Grace.”

Are we not taught that we, too, are angels, children of God, made in the divine image? As immortals, do we not inadvertently “fall in love” with the mortal scene and imagine happiness will come through the never-ending, ever-changing passing drama of life? Are we therefore not unlike that angel, Cary Grant? Except that we take much longer to wake up from the illusion before withdrawing and vowing, some day, “never to return.”

Like the more modern movie, “Groundhog Day,” we tend to make the same mistake over and over, year after year, lifetime after lifetime. Paramhansa Yogananda wrote that until the ever-watchful soul awakens the ego to the prospect of the “anguishing monotony” of repeated rounds of birth and death, we are not ready to begin the journey, like the prodigal son, back home to our soul’s eternal joy in God.

This seemingly circular track of life, this broken and repeating record, is the “hell” that is spoken of in scripture. Hell is not a forever place but it certainly feels like one when we are caught in the addiction to matter and to soul-stultifying ego identifications. The pathways to perdition are endlessly labyrinthine, but the way to freedom is “straight and narrow.”

Thus it is that the “Fall” is easy but the climb back is more difficult. Mired by habit and circumscribed by the hypnosis of countless lives as a spiritual “pauper” imprisoned in the cage of the human body, the royal soul needs help: first to be reminded of its royal status, and second to be given the tools and the power to rise! This help which “cometh from the Lord” comes in the form of the true guru, one who is Self-realized.

Here, now, in the season of Christmas, we celebrate the birth of one who comes to free others. But Jesus is not the only such a one, because in every age to all people, according to their heartfelt prayers for redemption, God sends such a one to help.

Christmas is not just an abstract event far away in time and space which is endowed with spiritual significance. It is a very human event. Indeed, what could be more natural than the birth of a child! 

This newborn “Christ” is, like all infants, innocent and sweet. As we humans see in newborns new hope and promise, so this divine child brings new hope and promise to our souls. But unlike the hope most newborns bring to their human parents, the birth of an avatar brings the promise of the soul's redemption and return to its spiritual home, a "kingdom not of this world.” 

But like all infants, this newborn will need protection, care, feeding and training. Thus, too, do our souls need protection, care and feeding. And this is the role of the avatar, whether in the form of Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Yogananda or others.

The claim that Jesus is the “only” one narrows the Christmas celebration to professed Christians. This makes Christmas a merely sectarian religious holiday. But Paramhansa Yogananda explained that the term “Only begotten” refers to the divine consciousness that underlies every atom. Our souls were created to re-discover that truth of who we are. And any soul which has achieved this realization is, like Jesus and the others, a living “son of God” but none can contain the Infinite. None can be the “only” one. 

“Only” refers to the omnipresent, omniscient, and eternal consciousness of God present at the still heart of all creation. It is the “only” reality that exists in the creation that is without flux or change. It is the “only” reflection of the Infinite Spirit, who is the progenitor beyond all creation and who remains untouched by the creation of which it is an invisible part! 

When an individual soul achieves this Self-identity, he can say, as Jesus and the other immortals have said, “I and my Father are One.”

May you in-joy a blessed celebration of the living Christ within and without!

Swami Hrimananda





Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Jesus the Yogi Christ : Why Celebrate the Birth of Jesus?

Christmas is for Everyone

Perhaps You-Too have discovered You-Tube? There you can learn that Jesus didn't really die on the cross but escaped to either India (Kashmir to be exact) or, to the south of France (with Mary Magdeline, of course). You might be surprised to know that an exact reckoning determined that Jesus was born on March 2, 4 B.C. (They forgot to calculate the time?) Like the Never Ending Story of science (which blows our minds every few years or decades), who knows: maybe they are right!

But what novelists, speculators, con men, scoffers or archaeologists will never change is the fact that Jesus Christ changed world history. His message and example conquered the Roman Empire (which crucified him), and in the process changed western history (and by extension, world history). More importantly, given that such “conquest” proved a mix bag to say the least, he “conquered” the hearts of countless souls down through the centuries. Witnesses to his life and thousands of others who only heard about him have given their lives willingly and joyfully to bear witness to their faith.  

Never mind that atrocities have been committed in his name or that countless followers are glued to their unyielding and untested beliefs, for ignorance and ego can be found everywhere, and not just in religion and spirituality. Never mind the “miracles” described in the life of Jesus, though, are not the discoveries of modern science every bit a miraculous to us even today? Just because we use technology doesn’t mean we have a clue about how it works! Imagine a time traveller from, say, just two hundred years ago coming to Seattle. Has not science so opened our imaginations that we can imagine “raising” the dead? Why just consider the testimony of near-death experiencers!

Truth is more vital than facts. Truth changes lives. Facts soon get lost. Eyewitness accounts demonstrate the unreliability of our five senses, our perception, and our memory! In contrast to mere facts, what about the miracle of forgiveness? The miracle of returning love for hatred? I think of Gandhi or Martin Luther King. What about helping a neighbor in need?

The spirit of Christmas is the simple, but life-changing, recognition of our shared humanity. That tiny babe in a manger so long ago is but a symbol, for what new-born is unlovable? No matter what your beliefs about that tiny babe, the reminder and the affirmation that love can be (re)born even in spite of those who would seek to destroy it, is a truth that we resonate with on a deeper level than ego. That both common “shepherds” (i.e. ordinary people) and “kings from afar” would both come to a humble manger to bow down to this truth is a symbol more powerful than any platitude eloquently expressed.

Who among us would fail to welcome society’s celebration and a reminder of our shared humanity? Especially now in these times where “getting mine first” is elevated to a philosophy, a veritable religion. Yes, like all things, Christmas can be materialistically milked for money or mere feasting.  But this “greatest story ever told” (why the greatest? Because it’s your story and mine, too), is a truth worthy of celebrating.

How should we celebrate Christmas? With gift giving, Christmas decorations, and feasting? All of those have their place for many. Who doesn’t enjoy an exuberant show of beautiful Christmas lights? By the way, did you know that the very first time a nativity scene (a live one, by the way) was created was by St. Francis in Italy in 1223?

All outward celebrations aside, followers of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now famous book, “Autobiography of a Yogi participate in a tradition that he began which is to set aside a day of meditation on the “formless Christ”. By “formless Christ” he meant the universal divine consciousness, intelligent and wise, that resides in every person and, indeed, in every atom of creation. This divine Self, he taught, is the invisible intelligence and the pure and noble impulses that have their source in the Creator and Sustainer of all life. Yogananda taught that the “second coming of Christ” is an event that takes place in the human heart after first having been awakened by the “Christ” in human form (i.e., the guru) which can be designated as his “first” coming.

“Jesus” was the man’s name but “Christ” was the title bestowed upon him. “Christ” signifies that he had achieved realization of his innate divine nature. While we all possess this innate divine nature, few have sought it, and fewer have yet to “become One with the Father.” Whether this takes one lifetime or a thousand, it is for this purpose we were created. It is our destiny to achieve this oneness, but it is only by the free choice of our hearts that we begin the journey “home” to claim our royal birthright just as in the beautiful story of the Prodigal Son. (You might find it interesting to know that the title of “Christ” is etymologically connected with the word “Krishna” and carries the same significance.)

Let us, then, honor the tiny babe in a manger whose shining face is our face when we love all without condition. Let the purity of a newborn’s trust and openness be nurtured in our hearts during this holy season and in every day of our life. Love is the redeeming power of the universe and it never fails to resurface no matter how dark the days may get. 


Happy Christmas to all!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Ego: the Last Temptation! The Dark Night of the Soul

Some of you may wonder why I would write about something so distant from our own state of consciousness and the pressing needs of our daily life? 

And you would do right to ask this question. But as someone wise once put it, "If you don't know where you're going, anywhere will get you there."

Or to quote the old Hermetic doctrine: "As above, so below."

We can learn much from the lives of those who have gone before us on the spiritual path and achieved soul liberation. 

In exploring this subject, please permit me a certain randomness befitting of reflections that are necessarily intuitive or, at worst, speculative.

I've mentioned this before, but I've always found it curious that both Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. considered themselves a failure just about the time each was assassinated. (Though Rev. King seemed to have had a deep spiritual experience the afternoon of his last speech (before his assassination), in general he was disheartened about his life's work.)

Paramhansa Yogananda told Swami Kriyananda in answer to Swamiji's question to his guru, "When will I find God?" that "You will find God in this lifetime but death will be your final sacrifice."

Success in any endeavor, whether material, scientific, inventive, artistic, or spiritual, requires effort and self-sacrifice. (Never mind those born with the proverbial "silver spoon." Such cases have nothing practical to offer us by way of example.) For "the pearl of great price" is not to be purchased cheaply. 

Christianity may have had a corner on the market of institutional organization and succession, but India has cornered the "market" on building a "database" of the unfoldment of the soul's inner life. 

The yogic traditions have evolved a veritable science which details changes in consciousness and their manifestations as the soul progresses towards "moksha" (freedom). 

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is among the most renown and most clinical of such chronicles but by no means the only one. Countless stories from the lives of great saints form a body of knowledge illustrating the stages of awakening. 

The Bhagavad Gita depicts the "Everyman devotee" as losing heart early on in the spiritual journey, especially when encountering the army of habits, attitudes, and past actions which stand between him and "heaven." The beloved scripture of the Gita assures us that no spiritual effort is ever lost and should one fail to achieve freedom in one life, the next life will afford the opportunity to continue the journey.

Among the key ingredients of the climb up "Mount Carmel" (or, if you prefer, Mt. Meru) is faith and courage. Also essential is devotion. The fact that the devotee's devotion, faith, and/or courage fails him or her with cyclical frequency is the story of the soul: the "Greatest Story on Earth." The need for a guide to take us up the mountain of karma is a prerequisite that we see in the lives of those who conquered the peak of liberation.

Yoga describes this upward journey through the unfoldment of certain soul qualities and through their outward manifestation in certain gifts or powers. This article doesn't intend to explore these but a simplified description for illustration purposes might be useful.

We must first be convinced that false, deceptive or hurtful attitudes and actions must be released. We must learn the importance of truth-telling, contentment, non-violence, moderation and the like.

This leads us to being centered within our selves: self-contained, as it were. It's like preparing to climb Mt. Everest: we must decide to go and to let go of all other activities; we must gather our supplies and our strength for the climb. Our commitment must be unshakeable and we must have training for the rigors ahead. Our intention must be one-pointed and courageously heart-felt and pure of any other motives and distractions.

Once the climb begins in earnest and as we ascend our mind's focus becomes narrow: narrow in the sense of what a climber experiences from one moment to the next; one hand-hold, one toe-hold, one ice axe arrest; one cable hold to the next. The world around us recedes as our mind focuses on the present moment with great intensity. Far below us in the plains lie the busy-ness of the world but here, on the steep slopes of ice, snow and wind, there is only our next step. 

Death by cold, avalanche, starvation, or fall lurk around us every inch of the way. We increasingly rely upon our mountain guide for the way is narrow and steep. 

The spiritual path, as most truthseekers experience it, is a battle that takes place back down on the plains, long before our arduous ascent up the mountain. The gathering of supplies and training has to do with releasing false and hurtful habits and adopting new and spiritually healthy ones. 

Using the symbol of the cross, with its vertical and horizontal planes, these first stages deal mostly with the horizontal. Arms outstretched, we draw in and away from identification with and attachment to the world of the senses and the world of desires and fears which are centered around the ego and body.

But the climb up the mountain deals with the vertical plane of the cross. The preparations for and training for the ascent is crucial. Unprepared we might never make it. Hence, most of us are dealing with the horizontal: our relationship with the world around us.

Suffice to say, how often on the horizontal plane does our courage and faith fail us, even if momentarily. Preparing for the vertical ascent is itself a great victory (and a necessary one). The failures, discouragements, and doubts are, in themselves, mini-versions of the dark night of the soul (even if nowhere near the "last temptation").

Do you recall the temptation of Christ in the New Testament? Thus had Jesus conquered and cauterized all human attachments and, in the desert wilderness of inner silence was poised or at least "fit" to ascend to the Father, Satan ("Maya" or the Conscious Delusive Force) appears to test him. The horizontal plane had been withdrawn inward and only the vertical remained.

Satan then tempts Jesus to use his dominion over all nature (the power indicative of conquering the horizontal plane of earthly attachments) to bring him food (after his 40-day fast); to exercise earthly and material powers (e.g. as a conqueror or emperor). 

This is the last test: the test of ego and the test of power over all creation. Buddha faced the same test under the bodhi tree: Maya also appeared to him to test him. Buddha, too, responded exactly as Jesus did: "Mara (Maya), Mara, I have conquered thee (or, "Get thee behind me Satan").

In the science of yoga, the negative pole of the sixth chakra is the seat of ego-consciousness in the body. It is located at the medulla oblongata at the base of the brain (seat of our lower brain functions, the so-called "reptile" or "fight or flight" functions). 

In the rising power of Kundalini ("the entrenched vitality of our mortal delusion" - Swami Kriyananda, "Art and Science of Raja Yoga), it has one last test: to offer itself into the Divine Light. In the soul's journey, the ego slowly and in fits and starts intuits the goal of life as transcendence from both the horizontal plane of creation AND the vertical plane of separate existence. 

As step by step, the ego invites the hidden and locked Kundalini power to uncoil, together they win victories on both the horizontal plane and the vertical plane. At first, as mentioned above, the horizontal plane is the primary focus. But at each step the soul force of divine grace is what vitalizes the ego's will and intention to victory. 

As the horizontal "plains" far below in the lower psychic centers of the chakras fall away, the soul increasingly focuses on ascending the vertical plane. Here too there are many knots to be untied in the invisible world of consciousness. Far more subtle and spiritually dangerous are the distractions and temptations which lie in the upper centers (chakras).

"Pride goeth before the fall." While pride associated with worldly wealth, power or pleasures is continually under assault from other egos and the forces of duality in the world, spiritual power emanates from within and cannot so easily be taken from us. India's spiritual wealth is filled with stories of the temptations of pride from spiritual power.

But when the ego is stripped and made clean of all attributes, self-definitions and attachments, what remains is pure consciousness and consciousness is its own vitalizing reward. Many saints remain in an I-Thou relationship with God for even lifetimes.

In the life of Paramhansa Ramakrishna, it was his guru, Totapuri, who with great force broke the spell of Ramakrishna's love affair with Goddess Kali so that Ramakrishna could enter cosmic consciousness in the state of samadhi.

As the great master, Moses, led his "people" to the Promised Land but could not, himself, enter into it, so too the ego can lead the "people" of its own self-definitions but must die before the Promised Land can be entered. 

So, too, the great warrior, Bhishma, on the battlefield of Kurukshetra (in the epic of the Mahabharata) had the boon to die only when he willingly surrendered. For he also symbolized the ego.

The stories from the lives of saints continue in this vein to state that the final sacrifice the soul is asked to make is to surrender its separate identity (the ego) into the great Light of God.

Paramhansa Yogananda's most advanced disciple, whom he named Rajarsi Janakananda, faced the darkness before entering final liberation. After years of spiritual consolations afforded him by visions and visitations by his guru and great saints and many other deep inner experiences, there, at last, came a time when only darkness appeared within. 

He had to face this darkness. The darkness that faces the soul is the seemingly real possibility of extinction, of complete annihilation of one's existence. With no guiding, welcoming light, nor the smiling countenance of his guru, neither reason nor logic, nor books on the subject could assure him that the darkness was not real; at this moment, one's "rod and staff" are solely faith and courage. 

We can write or talk about this all day but, just as when most humans face the very real possibility of physical death, there's no play acting left, so too the soul must confront its own extinction in order to pass the last test of its life. 

St. Anthony of the Desert faced this after decades of prayer and solitude in the Egyptian desert. When the tomb which was his home began to crack and crumble, he cried out to his guru, Jesus. 

After Anthony had passed this final test, Jesus appeared to him. Anthony asked Jesus, "Where have you been all these years?" Jesus smiled reassuringly, "Anthony, I have always been with you!" But we, like Anthony, are not permitted to know that until we have passed the final test of darkness. And why is this? Because only in complete oneness is our realization safe from doubts. 

We have no choice in life but to someday face the death of our human body. But we can postpone forever facing the dark night of the soul. "I will wait," says God. But our destiny is to conquer Maya and so shall we conquer, for time itself is but an illusion. But so long as we measure time, why wait? 

When the great Buddha encountered the three-fold sufferings of human life (illness, old age and death), he vowed to conquer them. And so must we. When our soul tires of repeated rounds of rebirth on the wheel of samsara, it too will cry out to Divine Mother for help. Why wait?

The little darknesses of our daily or weekly crises of faith and courage are "baby steps" which can prepare us for the big step. Whether it be lifetimes or this life, let us remain "awake and ready" for we can never know the hour or the place, for "He comes like a thief in the night!"

The realm of Infinity is beyond light or dark. It is the realm of eternal bliss which is God. When we conquer Mara, we will view our past lives of joy and sorrow as but a great novel with a victorious ending!

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda


Monday, October 15, 2018

Family Opposition to your Spiritual Path

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States (from 1901 to 1909).

Or, to quote Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the popular spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi"), “An easy life is not a victorious life.”

Most of us won’t have our personal victories chronicled in a movie, book, or news article but all of us face challenges which, for us, are sufficient “unto the day” to test our commitment to our spiritual ideals and practices. Maybe it is the discipline to get up the morning early enough to meditate; or, to be kind instead of cold to another person; to be positive when our inclination is to be grumpy or to gossip.

For those whose spirituality has turned toward the east, towards yoga and meditation, or towards discipleship to a guru, we often encounter resistance, displeasure, doubt or sarcasm from our family and friends. Some of this might exist even if our spirituality were to have taken a more orthodox form but certainly it is true for people such as followers of Paramhansa Yogananda.

Resistance to the spiritual life comes from a lot more than just a family member. This resistance exists in our own ego and subconscious mind as well as in the minds of others. More than this, even, is the overarching, cosmic impulse toward separation from God which is called many things: maya, delusion, or the satanic force. 

But as it relates to those close to us, to what extent for the sake of harmony should we bow to their displeasure and rein in the time we devote to spiritual practices or participation? 

Jesus Christ (no stranger to opposition) has something to say on this question. He gave to us this counsel:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
He that findeth [that is to say, that clingeth to] his life shall lose it: and he that loseth [in other words, that giveth up] his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 10:34-39)

I don’t think it gets clearer than this. However, not every seeker or devotee possesses the same commitment to the spiritual path and thus, in actual practice, each must find his or her own way on this issue. We want to be long-distance spiritual runners, on the one hand, and at the same time, we love, respect, and seek to be loyal to our nearest and dearest. If reason alone could persuade them of acceptance of your inspiration and spiritual life that would be lovely but I know from experience that it is often not that simple. 

Trying to convince another person of the validity and power of one's newly acquired spirituality can almost always be depended upon to backfire. The fact hasn't stopped far too many initiates from trying this well worn but weed-infested path. I personally was spared this all-too-frequent temptation but many of my friends succumbed. It would be sometimes years before the subject could ever broached again.

Besides, religion, along with sex, money, in-laws, food and child-raising, is among the most taboo or difficult topics to broach between spouses or close friends. 

But the principle of standing firm on one's spiritual path remains valid even if how, when, and to what extent to do so remains very individual. It is worth saying, and this entire article is an admission of it, such opposition is a personal test for many, many devotees. Until our soul awakens us to the earnestness of our search, we might falsely imagine our spiritual life is simply another form of being a "weekend warrior." "Magnetism is the law" and the company we keep largely determines the direction of our soul's journey. Can the devotee continue to meet his drinking buddies at the bar and then head off to group meditation? Hmmm, think again! 

If for you, the accommodations you must make to the opinions of others seem stifling to you right now, I suggest you seek wise counsel but remember the adage that “patience is the quickest way to God.” How often have I seen that in time and with patience (and steadfastly walking the inner path), it is the loved one who comes ‘round to an acceptance of one’s spiritual path and practices? But this won't happen if your own commitment to the spiritual path is wishy-washy. They will only respect you if you are loyal to your own principles.  

If this is your test, are you patient? Or, are you a “pleaser” or perhaps even a coward? Or, are you judgmental and defiant? Maybe your commitment to the spiritual path is, itself, lukewarm, or plagued with doubts? Only your backbone knows! There is no rule except your own conscience. But hold fast to the need for firmness, courage and commitment and know that your own attachment to the opinions of others or fear of their displeasure is your own spiritual test. Not to deal with it is to create a block to your spiritual growth. 

May I suggest an experiment? In order to see which end of the spectrum between patience and courage you need to work on, try carefully choosing occasions to calmly, kindly, and lovingly assert your need to engage in your spiritual practices or life! (including satsang, retreat, pilgrimage, service, etc.).

Then, observe your reaction and that also of the other person. If you are nervous and fearful, you may need to be more courageous. If in response to your assertion, the other person refuses to acknowledge your need, and anger arises within you, you may need to work on patience.  

Generally, when your assertion is centered in deep calmness and righteousness, you’ll find approval or, in the case of rejection, you’ll remain calm (but not indifferent) regardless of whether you proceed or back down. 

But heed this warning: don't excuse your own lack of courage or commitment to your spiritual path with the claim that familial harmony is the higher priority or dharma. In most circumstances, it IS the priority but, to quote the scriptures of India, "When a higher dharma conflicts with a lower dharma, the lower ceases to be dharma."

In such a case the "dharma" includes your opportunity to be strong in yourself in walking your spiritual path but without being antagonistic or resentful toward the other. The harmony sought is first and foremost an inner harmony and only secondarily an outer one (which circumstances and karma may sometimes render impossible). We can't nor should we control how other people receive our sincere and pure intentions.

Is it possible that the conflict might justify ending the relationship? This question is too delicate to answer even in generalities in an article like this. But it certainly CAN be a justification. For such a question you need competent and wise spiritual counsel (and not just psychological counsel).

In all cases, strive to see the divine presence in others, even those who might oppose your spiritual efforts. See in them not their egoity but their shining souls within. Similarly, rise above familial attachment as in the thought “you are mine” in favor of “We are each a child of God, made in the divine image. We are God serving God” walking the path of life toward truth, each in our own, unique way. Whether you need more courage or more patience, either way, your loved one acts as an instrument of the divine will because, either way, the test is yours. (It is also theirs but you should respect their free will to deal with it in their way.) 
Victory requires the courage of conviction!

Joy to you,
Swami Hrimananda


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Illness & Depression: Karma or Chemistry?

I have observed that if I am ailing and it's serious enough to go to a doctor I find immediate relief even with the simple statement of a diagnosis: giving what I have a name! There is no doubt more than one reason for this relief (which is felt in spite of pain, discomfort or seriousness of the ailment), but what I take from this is that the name objectifies the ailment as separate from "me."

In a similar way, it's more comforting to believe that the reason I have high blood pressure, or diabetes, or colon cancer is because it "runs in the family." Somehow this relieves me of responsibility. I suppose that because each of these psychological ruses brings some relief that they, therefore, have some merit, a bit like taking Ibuprofen or another pain reliever.

But then there's the question of karma. Do I have cancer because of my family history? Or, because of my own actions? Am I depressed because my brain doesn't produce the right chemical balance, or because bad things have happened to me, or was it something I did that attracted to me unbalanced chemicals, bad things happening to me, and/or this depressed state?

The metaphysical teaching of karma and reincarnation (which most of the readers of this article will no doubt take for granted as a given, a truth, and a reality) offers a potential challenge to the "pain" relieving results of attributing my illness to external causes.

And yet there is an irony here because even in the worldview of Vedanta, the belief that this illness isn't me is ALSO taught! "Tat twam asi!" I am THAT (which is eternal, beyond suffering, beyond the body and ego). Reconciling the teaching of karma with the affirmation of my soul's perfection requires and invites us to a level of self-honest, awareness and intuition beyond that of the average person.

Returning to the earth plane of the body and ego, let us consider that the fact that taking two aspirin will cure my headache doesn't mean I didn't do something (like forget to drink water; get stressed out; have too much sugar, etc.) to trigger it. Just because my brain chemistry is off doesn't necessarily limit the cause of my depression to mere chemistry even if balancing that chemistry alleviates (some of) my depression. Just because my mother had high blood pressure doesn't mean she's the only reason my body has high blood pressure.

Even when the solution to my illness is a straightforward medical one, the simple fact that I have access to that solution is part of my karmic matrix. There are billions of people on our planet who don't have access to the medical care that many of us are blessed to have.

The solution for a broken bone is fairly straightforward but does not in any way explain why I slipped in the first place. Perhaps I was careless; perhaps it was a freak accident; maybe some child left his toy in my path.

The reason for remembering the metaphysical law of cause and effect is not to blame oneself; nor is it to necessarily or reasonably expected to uncover the past actions which may have given rise to my current health issues.

Rather, the value of taking responsibility is to remind ourselves that what we created we can uncreate. "A prod to pride" rather than passive submission is how Yogananda described the lesson of astrology ("Outwitting the Stars," a chapter in Autobiography of a Yogi)

This "prod to pride" to undo what we have done does not mean that we can defy death or always defeat cancer or depression. We are a soul who happens to have a body. This reality is a two-edged sword. When appropriate, we either dismiss the body and its troubles to affirm our soul, or, other times we assert the power of the soul (divine) force over even life and death! In both cases, our body troubles are meant to strengthen our consciousness of the soul as our true Self. The body, by contrast, is short-lived. "There's no getting out alive!" But the soul is eternal.

The test of illness is not just the medical one in front of us, but may, in fact, be a test of courage; faith; energy; joy; trust; or, even, acceptance! Sometimes, one conquers a disease by accepting it with equanimity and faith. Other times, we do so by putting up a good fight, even if our body loses the fight to death itself! And sometimes BOTH are true: we calmly deal with our body's ills using medicine, on the one hand, and God-communion on the other hand, but both with equanimity and faith.

I happened to stumble on an article about a book by Johann Hari: "Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression -- and the Unexpected Solutions." The author traces the root cause of depression to attitudes and actions that lead to a lack of connection with other people. Of the nine contributing factors to depression that he uncovers, only two have to do with brain chemistry.

https://upliftconnect.com/the-root-cause-of-depression-and-how-to-heal-it/?utm_source=UPLIFT

If I were to boil down the gist of this author's analysis in metaphysical terms I would conclude that ego transcendence is, ultimately, the solution! This doesn't deny either the value of medicine nor the many intervening steps at reconnection suggested by the author. But separation (ego from the soul) is the elemental dis-ease of the soul. Overcoming our existential malaise requires energy. Expanding our consciousness beyond the little ego to include others is the ultimate cure for all dis-ease.

It takes willpower, energy, commitment, and intelligence to cope with the downward pulling tendencies of illness. Paramhansa Yogananda is often quoted saying, "The greater the will, the greater the flow of energy."

On the other hand, the simple acceptance that my past action (pre-natal, past lives, or postnatal current life) is the root cause doesn't mean we can know what action(s) were the cause; nor, more importantly, does dwelling on the fact of our being the cause necessarily help deal with my present situation. Why beat ourselves up (even more)?

Yogananda's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, put it this way: “Forget the past. The vanished lives of all men are dark with many shames. Human conduct is ever unreliable until anchored in the Divine. Everything in future will improve if you are making a spiritual effort now.” ("Autobiography of a Yogi," by Paramhansa Yogananda, the first edition)

The point of this article is that to overcome our problems we must exercise our own, God-given willpower, at least as the first step. Calling on the Divine Power and attuning ourselves and our prayer with the Divine Will is the second step. 

What does it mean to seek divine power and the divine will? In part, this refers to the intuitive understanding that God alone is the First Cause, the essential Doer and the underlying Reality of all things. In this remembrance, God is, at first, separate from us. But in the deeper our realization of this truth, God becomes not just the Doer but also the instrument. Our prayer becomes not so much a desire for health but a prayer to be "in tune" and that "Thy will be done." 

If the solution to any problem is as simple as taking medicine, or having a surgery, or reach out for help, well fine, of course! Sometimes the karmic test involved with our illness is the obvious one: to draw upon the intelligence and willingness; forsake the temptation of denial; deal responsibly with the present reality; and, then take action to rise above that reality. 

Another aspect of dealing with illness comes as we advance spiritually: "What comes of itself, let it come" Yogananda also counselled. While few people, even devotees, are ready for this stage, it is a true state of being wherein we don't even consider our karma to be ours: instead, what comes is the blessing of God's grace, the Divine Alchemist, refining the crude ore of our consciousness in the crucible of divine love. 

One must, however, be sure not to hide behind this attitude to disguise fear, paralysis, or passivity. This state comes only with heroic self-giving to God in all matters of daily life. Swami Kriyananda, Ananda's founder, never prayed for healing for himself when illness struck or death threatened. His life provided countless opportunities to test his resolution. (He admitted that he did not expect others to be ready to live this way but simply stated that it was, for him, necessary and right.)

In the Old Testament, the Book of Job, the righteous man Job is tested by Satan to see if Job will remain faithful "to the Lord" if his health, wealth, wife, and reputation are taken away. (He does.) But Job's "friends" taunt him insisting that Job must have done something to deserve his troubles. Job insists he has not! This complex, hard, and subtle tale invites us to see all our tests as tests of our faith in God's goodness and wisdom, and our love for God. It took tremendous willpower and faith for Job to overcome the test he was given.

A devotee, then, sees illness not even as a test but ultimately as God's grace drawing us closer to Him. This does in NO way imply passivity. Swami Kriyananda described all tests as invitations to raise our energy. A saint may already be living in, for, with and AS God but the rest of us will have to go through some kind of step by step process.

I suppose there's no harm in dealing with illness only on medical terms: at least one is dealing with it on its own apparent level. But our emotional reaction to illness is the subtler and more important point. We have two opposing responses: on the one hand, objectifying illness as not ours can be a subterfuge for denial while, on the other hand, dwelling on one's "fault" can paralyze the willpower. So, the right response, well, depends on whether your intention and attitude lead you towards wisdom or ignorance. 

Yogananda described depression as the result of past sense indulgence (prenatal or postnatal). That may seem simplistic but as the article cited above suggests, some cases of depression, perhaps many cases, involve a loss of connection with the world and people in our lives triggered or worsened by self-absorption and self-involvement. Unlike a traumatic accident like an automobile crash wherein the hospital treats your body without regard to your involvement (especially if unconscious), depression, like other addictions, requires the willpower and motivation on the part of the one who is ill. One has to WANT to reconnect with life again.

As we all know, depression sometimes results in suicide. Yogananda commented that a baby who dies at childbirth or in early childhood (and perhaps even later as a young adult) may have been a soul reborn who previously committed suicide. The premature death in a later life, he said, is intended by the law of karma to reawaken the soul's desire for and appreciation of life again. 

Medical science, has, I am told, corroborated the anecdotal evidence that a patient's will to live can be a crucial factor in regaining health. In any case, however, attitude, even in the face of death, is the soul's challenge, blessing and opportunity. 

May the the Divine Light shine ever within you,

Swami Hrimananda



Thursday, August 2, 2018

Why Spirituality Needs Religion

In the world of meditation and yoga, we find many, no doubt millions of practitioners, whose attitude toward religion ranges from "anti" to neutral to "spiritual but not religious."

Like the "God" word, "religion" is a hot-button loaded with baggage. In the world I live in, the term "spirituality" generally substitutes for the term "religion." 

As a writer and one sensitive and appreciative of the poetry and power of words, I feel that words ARE important. My thesis for this article is that there is more at stake than just rejecting religion with all of its baggage. There's no point in even describing why so many reject religion. We can assume we (who are reading this) already HAVE rejected it in its orthodox forms. 

I have long suspected that the unfortunate consequence and too often unconscious reason New Agers have thrown the baby of "God" out with the bathwater of religion is that it gives so many an excuse to turn their back on God and embrace their own ego-centric lives. 

For one thing, we live in an age of ego-affirmation. I've written other articles on this aspect of emerging consciousness. The rigid caste systems of the past centuries defined us by our birth, parentage, gender, skills, language, and social status.

The American experience symbolizes the emergence of the recognition of the value of the individual. This is a good thing, for sure. At long last eclipsed in this renaissance of individuality is the old forms of "tribe" wherein individuality was subsumed to the identity of the tribe. 

But in the world where all things must balance, there has to be a counterbalance to the potential of rampaging egoism to shoot and bomb the human race out of existence. Thus we see in the movements and consciousness surrounding ecology, climate change, sustainable energy, wildlife conservation, concern for the preservation of all species, peace and nonviolence movements, yoga and meditation, and humanitarian efforts: a heightened sense of responsibility; yes, a sense of belonging. Some even use the term "tribe" (though for me it conjures up images of beating drums and stomping feet). But in this case even the tribes are conscious and voluntary associations whose motive power lies with individual initiative and commitment.

On the issue, then, of "spirituality" vs "religion" we can discover a need for balance. The former represents the importance of individual consciousness while the latter refers to our need to share with and/or receive from others.

Just as gender-neutral champions keep searching for words in our language that are neutral (like "staffing the booth" rather than "manning the booth"), so too spiritually minded people use the term "spiritual" instead of "religious." But something is lost in translation. It's not "either-or" but "both-and."

On an egoic level, one can can consider oneself "spiritual" AND also "share or be involved with others." But the deeper spirituality attested to since ancient times by the custodians of religion (the saints, masters, rishis and avatars) is that spiritual consciousness is ego transcendent. 

Otherwise, if it is only the ego sharing spiritual practices or values it amounts to living the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have them unto you" is beautiful but it is little more than "scratch my back and I'll scratch yours." It is reasonable but inadequate to lift consciousness beyond the ego. 

The Golden Rule, being sufficiently demonstrable through logic alone, amounts to a contractual quid pro quo arrangement that fits rather too snugly the merchant-consciousness of our times and culture. The reason it is insufficient to save humanity from selfishness, greed and violence is that the Golden Rule breaks down when under attack by personal desire, addiction, stress and fear. Reason will never be enough except in times of peace and prosperity to re-direct "fight or flight" impulses into constructive channels.

What is needed, because our deeper nature craves it (not because it is imposed upon us), is contact with and communion with our higher, soul nature--which is divine; which is God in human form. 

Thus it is that a world teacher, Paramhansa Yogananda, came to the West to teach meditation and the ancient (and universal) truths of Vedanta ("All is One; All is God"). So, too, the teachings of New Thought and many other wave-forms of consciousness.

What too many forward-thinking people have rejected in the name of their personal freedoms is nothing less than God. This is as true for those who might associate themselves with New Thought as it is for the Self-Help crowd. Thus what might be termed "liberalism" is all too often agnostic, atheistical or simply self-involved. 

Humanistic ideals, absent attunement to the higher reality of Spirit, can sometimes be used as a psychological shield to keep God out of the picture. Humanitarian ideals and activities can become a kind of false god.

Jesus Christ clearly taught compassion and the importance of helping those in need; yet, he also said, "The poor ye have always, but Me you do not have always." Apart from what the "me" refers to, he is saying, to use his own words but more clearly for my purposes: "Seek ye FIRST the kingdom of God......and all these things shall be added unto you." 

No quantity of enlightened living, hiking, kayaking, adventure travel, protesting, consensus building, or feeding the poor and housing the homeless will satisfy the heart’s need for the unconditional love and joy of God in our own soul. In the immortal words of St. Augustine: “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” 

True lovers of God are few: Krishna admits as much in the Bhagavad Gita: "Out of a thousand, one seeks me." Nonetheless as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah attest, even one true devotee can influence the consciousness and karma of a large group of people. Paramhansa Yogananda asserts that the hallowed resiliency of India (the world's oldest and continuous culture and religion) is based on her unbroken line of saints and rishis.

"Saints," Yogananda averred, "are the true custodians of religion." But saints do not live in a vacuum. Like a rare flower, they "grow" in the garden of receptive hearts. A culture or a group of people whose united prayer is to know God magnetizes the appearance of saintly souls in their midst. Spirituality needs religion like plants need soil. The tragedy of religion in modern times is that religion is has lost touch with its true purpose: to bring God to earth so we can ascend to "heaven!" ("Heaven" meaning to resurrect our own soul's divinity in our consciousness.)

Quoting the words from the weekly Festival of Light ceremony conducted at Ananda centers throughout the world:


A prayer of love went up from earth, and You responded.
A ray of Your light flashed out from the heart of Infinity,
Burst downward through night skies of consciousness,
And was born on earth for the redemption of mankind
In human form.
Many times has that light descended,
Drawn to earth by the call of aspiring love.
Your “chosen people” have always been those of every race and nation 
Who, with deep love, chose Thee.


The forms and customs of religion will vary from time to time, and place to place, but its essential message remains the same: to awaken us to the divine presence within and in all creation. 

Yogananda put it this way: "Church is the hive; God is the honey!" Only a soul already firmly on the path to God-realization can turn away from others in the search for God alone. There are very few such souls at this time in history.

For it is also an undeniable truth, that ultimately, the soul sheds the ego not in church but within: essentially, alone. This is the paradox of life that Jesus taught that God is not found outside ourselves, crying "Lo here, lo there, for the kingdom of heaven is within you!" 

So divinity is found within, in the silence of meditation; yet, how do we get there: through teachings and teachers. And where do such come from? From religion and all that surrounds it.

When Paramhansa Yogananda complained that organized religion is a nest of troubles, his guru chided him, asking where would he be were it not for other true gurus dedicating their lives to living and sharing the divine teachings. Yogananda then silently vowed to dedicate his life to helping others as he himself had been helped. 


Religion has failed to uplift humanity because it has fallen into idolatry: mistaking the form for the Spirit behind the form. Just as others worship money or pleasure or position, religionists have “worshipped” their own faith to the exclusion of other faiths. The solution is not to abandon religion but to restore it to its true calling. No other human activity raises consciousness and brings inner peace with the same life-changing effectiveness. 

We no more abandon our personal integrity and uniqueness by our love of others than religion need exist at the expense of spirituality. Quite the contrary, just as our own uniqueness is nurtured by a loving family, friends, and community, so religion and spirituality are two sides of a sacred coin or contract between our soul and God; our soul and all creation; our soul and all souls. 

"Environment is stronger than will" as Yogananda put it. The company you keep will have more influence on your life than your beliefs, for your "beliefs will not save you" from negative influences and your karma.

Truth is one and eternal. Realize oneness with it in your deathless Self, within.

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