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

Friday, February 8, 2019

Meditation for the Thought-full

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swami Hrimananda.

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

Monday, January 28, 2019

Stand up to shine the Light!

The paradox contained in the great spiritual teachings of East and West is how to reconcile our divine origins (and destiny, as children of God) with the reality of our day-to-day ego-active and Self-forgetful lives. Whether we refer to the Sanaatan Dharma teachings of India ("Tat twam asi" - "Thou art THAT!" One of the grand pronouncements of the Vedas) or the gospel of St. John ("As many as received Him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God" Chapter 1:12) or any number of other great scriptures, the question of "Who do men say I am?" (Mark 8:27) applies as much to us as it did to Jesus Christ.

This paradox is directly addressed in St. John's statement in the first chapter of his gospel: "The light shineth in darkness but the darkness comprehended it not." (John 1:12)

This is saying, among other profound precepts, that within each of us shines the light of Life; the light of divinity. And yet, in the darkness of matter and ego consciousness, we are generally unaware of that inner light and thus do not "comprehend" that it even exists (what to mention being willing to "receive" its influence in our lives).

I heard an inspiring story recently. There's an organization, Homeboy Industries, in Los Angeles founded by a Jesuit priest, Fr. Greg, that helps released prisoners and reformed gang members. He takes the "boys" occasionally to conferences to have them share their stories. At one such conference, Mario, who was covered head to foot in tattoos and the kind of young man you might move to the other side of the street to avoid, shared his story of "redemption" to a crowd of about one thousand people.

In the Question and Answer session which followed, Mario, unaccustomed to public speaking, was quite nervous. Out of the crowd, a woman stood to ask Mario what advice would he give to her two teenage boys. Mario fumbled a bit and finally blurted out: "Don't be like me!

The woman was silent for a moment. Then she spoke again: "Why?" she said, having heard his remarkable story. "You are kind, wise, and giving. I would want my boys to be like you!" For a brief moment, the room was utterly silent. Then, the crowd burst into appreciative applause and support for Mario.

Mario had not yet recognized that inner divine light in himself. But he was clearly ready and receptive when the woman in the crowd "called it out." Our potential, and indeed divine duty, is to discover that "Light" within us, and to share, reflect, and call it out in others.

This reminds me of another story I came across just as recently. There's a Jewish woman doctor, Dr Racel Naomi Remen, whose life work is to bring caring and feeling back into the practice of medicine. In one of her talks, she recounts the story of her grandfather who, in each of his weekly visits during her childhood, would reveal to her one aspect of her own goodness and higher potential (her "light") His influence upon her was life transforming and in turn she has helped uplift countless others in her life's work. In the talk she gave that I watched, the theme of her talk was to encourage us all to be what she called "blessers."

In the grand scheme of spiritual teachings, this role of "blesser" is distinctly, though not exclusively, the role of the "satguru." The satguru is one who is of the spiritual stature of Jesus Christ, Buddha, Krishna, Paramhansa Yogananda and others. In India, such souls who return to earth to help others and who are, themselves, free from all past karma, are called purna avatars.

That innate divinity may be purely expressed in the consciousness of the avatar, but all who have "seen the Light" should also strive to emulate their example. 

Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, says spiritual awakening is the function of our soul's memory: Smriti. We don't create a truth we recognize it. And we recognize it only when we are ready to do so. Surely you've heard the expression "When the disciple is ready, the guru appears."

The sharing of universal truth-teachings (which can be called Sanatan Dharma) is not a process of proselytizing. It is the process of that "light shining in the darkness" and, at last, the darkness beginning to "comprehend" its existence! That light shines most purely through the vibration of consciousness. To shine, the Light does not need words though words and actions can be a medium to express it. The vibration of divine Light is, however, subtle. It is no surprise, then, that spiritual works like Ananda are not attracting millions for millions are not yet ready. "Out of a thousand," Krishna declares, "one seeks Me."

In the worldwide Ananda communities (www.Ananda.org), its founder, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda) taught us to work with positive people. Give little, if any, energy to negativity, he counselled. Negativity is not, by its nature, cohesive and constructive. This doesn't mean we should snub or ostracize detractors or naysayers. What works the best is when you focus on working with others who share a common and worthwhile goal.

At the risk of a tangent, I responded to a question from someone in India who wrote to ask about psychic experiences both in and out of meditation. Some of these were interesting; some positive; some somewhat threatening. I responded saying that as we awaken spiritually, we awaken to a realm of reality far more vast than the physical one our bodies inhabit. We can easily get sidetracked, spiritually or psychically. "The spiritual path," Yogananda stated, "is not a circus." Sages from ancient times warn aspirants that they may be tempted by powers over nature or by beings who seek to flatter or to use them for their own purposes.

Yogananda confirmed the existence of disincarnate entities ranging from angels and fairies to demons and ghosts. Nothing to be afraid of but a reality to be aware of. In responding to her questions, I suggested that she should focus on her devotion to God and her intention to achieve God-realization through her meditation practices. She should live increasingly "in the spine," I said, and "centered in the Self within."

I explained that the guiding wisdom and power of the Divine Light pouring into her "spine" would infuse her with focused, centered, Self-awareness. Being "in the Light" put into proper perspective the presence of lower entities and her need, if any, to respond. 

Like the famous mathematician, John Forbes Nash, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, he said, later in life, that although the delusions of his disease were still present he simply didn't "give them any energy."

Recently, in Seattle at the East West Bookshop, we gave a Tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. After the program, one of the attendees commented to my friend (Rick Johnston) that some years ago (when he worked there), his kind remark and counsel regarding the death of this woman's mother, changed her life and helped her immensely at the time of her grief. How many times has each of us, even casually, perhaps not even remembering the incident afterwards, has shed "light" into the life of another person?

We can each be a light-bearer, in other words. This doesn't suggest that we set ourselves up on soapboxes on the street corner. Let the Light shine through us by our attunement and those with "eyes to see" will come to the Light. 

In my years of teaching meditation and these precepts, I find that there are some who draw from me inspiration I didn't think I had. The law of magnetism operates very well on its own. All we have to do is be willing to cooperate with it.  

By contrast, there are others who are not interested or, worse, just want to counter anything I say. (Paramhansa Yogananda stated, partly "tongue-in-cheek," that the reason God doesn't appear to most people is that they would just argue with him.) In the early days of Ananda's first community in California, the fledgeling community was struggling to find its own identity. Swami Kriyananda said that there was a time when every time he opened his mouth his self-styled opponents "would jump into it!"

Another reason for us to be open to being light-bearers in this world is that Yogananda affirmed an ancient and long-held precept from the yogis of India: to achieve enlightenment, one must "free" at least six others. Haven't you found that there is one or more people who seem to turn to you for inspiration and guidance? Don't let it get to your "head," but be open to be a channel of light. 

When, in the Bhagavad Gita (4:7-8), Krishna says that the Divine Light descends to "destroy evil and re-establish virtue" he does not mean to destroy people (evil doers, that is). Rather, it is the upliftment of consciousness, like bad seed falling on stony ground, that weakens the power of delusion and makes it difficult to sprout and flourish.

Nonetheless, there is this "combative" element to the avatara (and therefore to our own lives, as well): Krishna was a warrior. In his life, he is said to have battled numerous so-called demons. (Leaving aside the objective manifestation of demons for another lifetime, are there not demons in human form to be found in every city and nation? Are there not inner demons, as well?) Yogananda claimed he had been William the Conqueror; and, later, a King in Spain fighting the Moors. Later in his life, Yogananda thought there should be an international police force to counter the evil of "international criminals."

We, too, are part of the avatara. We, too, must confront not just our own inner demons, but, if your circumstances and dharma suggest it, the demons of injustice that surround you just as Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. did. This isn't about "fighting," it's about "witnessing." To witness is to act as a mirror and reflect back what you see from a higher perspective of Light.

Whatever form our spiritual battles take, both outward and inward, we need to find our "spine" wherein we draw the strength, grace, and wisdom to do what is needful.

Too often we emphasize the softness or the love and acceptance aspects of the spiritual path but ignore our own, internal need for self-discipline and courage in daily life. 

Don't try to convert negativity unless you are truly strong in yourself. Worst yet, don't accept their critical point of view just on the basis of your wanting to be liked, accepted, open-minded, or "nice."

So while it is better to let the vibration of your inner light beam its rays upon those whom you live and serve with (rather than to proselytize), we should be willing to stand up against the darkness of ignorance or intentional evil. Stand up and defend the ideals for which you live or serve; or for those who have inspired and taught you; or others who are defenceless (even if for the simple reason they are not present in the conversation to defend themselves). 

Don't in the name of supposed fairness, remain silent considering merely the possibility of "two sides of the story." Intelligent negativity begins with a kernel of fact and creates from it the pretence of a righteous cause. What makes it negativity is that its motivation is born of envy, resentment, prejudice or dislike. Loyalty is basic to success in relationships, health, career, and in seeking enlightenment. Cowardice or self-doubt sometimes uses silence (not-witnessing) to hide behind wanting to consider all sides.

To grow in the Light, attune yourselves to those great souls whose Light is pure and without taint of ego or karma. Then, associate with others of like-mind, seeking the Light. Finally, be a Light unto the world!

Joy and blessings to you,

Swami Hrimananda

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