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

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Christmas Spirit Comes from Living in the Presence of God

Bible: (Paraphrased) "As you have tendered to the needs of others, in this way you have honored Me!"

Bhagavad Gita: (Paraphrased) "He who never loses sight of Me in all things and people, I never lose sight of he."

The week after Thanksgiving I had my annual week of seclusion. Seclusion is a personal retreat: a retreat where one is alone with God in prayer and meditation. This time I didn’t even go out for a walk or a run, though I did more chores around the Hermitage house than I have in past years: cleaning, mostly. [See Facebook: Camano Hermitage]

I eat lightly, only had a few hot meals during the week, mostly because I’m a lazy (and a lousy) cook. Accordingly, I consider a cup of coffee a hot meal.

It’s humbling to attempt to sit for 5 to 6 days in meditation. Even if I don't do this unbrokenly, it is the main activity of the entire day, interspersed with chanting and the practice of kriya yoga and other techniques. I had a particular focus for this seclusion: to deepen and prolong periods of complete stillness beyond thoughts and mental images.

The subconscious mind, however, can act like a donkey. Sometimes you can coax it along with a little discipline, a bribe, or a certain amount of force, but there can come a time when you have to ease off and give it a rest. 

At such times I did a little reading (all of it spiritual reading). Other times and to engage the body so as not to get lazy, I'd do some chores (mopping the floor, sweeping, etc.) But all together, it truly amounts to many, many hours of meditation. 

The goal of meditation is, of course, to feel the presence of God: alive, vibrant, intimate and cosmic—in whatever way and form God’s consciousness will appear; in the form of Yogananda, Jesus, or one of the others. As deep inner peace; transforming, ineffable love, or a contagious joy that one imagines will last forever!

There are about four chants that call for a repetition of the names of the masters and these I find especially helpful. I take one of these chants, name by name, one by one into silent visualizations which I then let dissipate into an expectation of their actual vibrational presence. I find this practice deeply rewarding. Thus, I alternate chanting with meditation.

Among my yoga practices, having recently teamed up with Murali Venkatrao in the Advanced Pranayam class at our local Ananda Center (Institute for Living Yoga) for our level II (500 hour) Yoga Alliance students, I gave special emphasis to some of the more aggressive pranayams to take me deeper into psychological equilibrium, inclining toward breathlessness.

To feel kinship with others in this world requires more than mere sentiment or dry philosophy; for it to be real and sustainable -- even when one is under personal attack -- it must descend from the perfect love of God.

When in the New Testament Jesus gives the parable of the "King" who explains to the "elect" that whenever they helped a person in need they were serving Him, we see right away the obvious teaching that we should help those in need. Only slightly less obvious, but I suspect not often pointed out in orthodox Christian circles is the precept that God IS each person. Our charitable act should arise because God resides in that person, not only because his material need. This is the REASON to help others, because they are, "as thyself," a child of God. ("Love thy neighbor AS thy Self.").

This famous parable offers "heavenly rewards" to those of a kind and generous nature but the parable makes it clear that the compassion of the "elect" was not expressed as an act of conscious devotion to God who resides in those whom they helped. Is it enough, spiritually speaking, to be a humanitarian, perhaps an agnostic, even an atheist? Yes--but only up to a point.

We can get good karma and the heavenly rewards of heart warming satisfaction from our good deeds. But to reunite our souls with God, our Creator, requires an act of conscious devotion (and not just one!) All of our good karma for our generosity might be used up by our response when we are attacked by others for it is an axiom that "no good deed goes unpunished" in this world of duality! Good karma can work off bad karma but until we begin to yearn to step out of duality all together and into transcendence (the oneness of God's eternal love and bliss), we just remain on the merry-go-round.

It is not humanly possible to love every person we meet because not everyone we meet is lovable in a merely human way. But when our hearts are full of the unconditional love of (for) God, we are naturally loving. We are also naturally wise in how we express that love! 

Thus a loving parent may have to discipline a child (but to do so does not require being angry); a policeman may have to apprehend a criminal (but need not be cruel); a teacher, correct a student (without dislike); and a supervisor, to lay off or let go an employee (without malice). True love IS wisdom. We mustn't forget that.

Love which results from a bleeding heart simply bleeds the heart into a dearth of feeling!

This, then, is the basis for the true Spirit of Christmas: that divine love and God's presence rests at the heart of each heart, each creature, each person, indeed, each atom of creation.

The outer light of the sun may be absent from our northern hemisphere as we descend into winter, but it can remind us that the true "light of men" resides within us and can be always found, or re-born, in the stillness of the quiet heart, especially deep in meditation.

One reason I think we instinctively honor children as part of Christmas is derived from the tender feelings that arise around devotion to the Christ child. (Did you know, however, that it was a thousand years after that event that the first nativity scene was created for the purpose of devotion? It was St. Francis of Assisi who did this for the first time in Christianity's history!)

But I think there's another reason, as well. For the fellow feeling of kindness and warmth which we call the Christmas spirit is reflected in the innocence, natural love, and openness that children express. (This is also depicted in the "softly lowing" animals who share the humble stable where Jesus is said to be born.) 

Paramhansa Yogananda often quoted these words of Jesus, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven."

"For of such" is the warmth, the welcoming hospitality, graciousness, kindness and generosity we see expressed at Christmas. The social aspect, in spite of its commercialization, remains a valid and wonderful part of Christmas. But it's sustainable source comes from within us from our experience of the living presence of God, the Christ universal.

That aspect of Christmas giving that extends generosity to the poor and homeless is affirmed in the parable given to us of Jesus (above). But giving to those in need goes beyond the gift's material benefit and value. Did not Jesus also say "The poor ye have always with thee"? 

Giving to those in need affirms our kinship even with those whose circumstances differ so greatly from our own, or whose outer appearances do not attract us. We are all children of God and are equally deserving of the divine abundance of joy and self-respect.

We must not be hypocrites like the friends of suffering Job in the Old Testament who taunted him by assuming he must have sinned and thus deserved his troubles. We who might reject a teaching like Original Sin find ourselves, perhaps, all too easily invoking the law of (bad) karma when we or our friends are burdened with illness or misfortune. 

Whatever may be the roots of our present troubles, or those of others less fortunate seeming than us, each of us can turn the "sow's ear" of difficulties into a "silk purse" of spiritual growth if we respond with grace, faith, equanimity, and cheerfulness. Our tests exist to cleanse us and awaken our strength, courage and faith. 

Perhaps you know this story:  

A king had a male servant who, under all circumstances always said to him: “My king, do not be discouraged because everything God does is perfect, and He makes no mistakes.”
One day, they went hunting and a wild animal attacked the king. The servant managed to kill the animal but couldn’t prevent his majesty from losing a finger.
Furious and without showing any gratitude, the king said; “If God was good, I would not have been attacked and lose one finger”.
The servant replied: “Despite all these things, I can only tell you that God is good and everything He does is perfect; He is never wrong.”
Outraged by the response, the king ordered that the servant be imprisoned.
Later, the king left for another hunt and was captured by savages who used human beings as sacrifice. On the altar, the savages discovered that the king did not have one finger in place, so they released him because they considered him to “incomplete” to be offered to their gods.
On returning to his palace, the king authorized the release of his servant and told his servant: “My friend, God was really good to me. I was almost killed but for lack of a single finger, I was let go.”
“However, I have a question,” the king added. “If God is so good, why did He allow me to put you in prison?”
The servant wisely replied: “My king, if I had gone with you, I would have been sacrificed because I have no missing finger.”
While giving to charitable organizations is surely a good thing, anytime of year, consider also more personal acts of sharing. "Charity," my mother used to say, "begins at home." Consider the needs of a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker something he or she truly needs. Give, too, anonymously when you can. Or give to express your caring or appreciation to someone to whom you don't otherwise have an obligation or any other personal motive to do so.
One encounters beggars most everywhere in the world. Who can know if it is wise to give to this one or that. If you choose to give, do so for the awakening of the love of God in your own heart, not for any tangible need you imagine the recipient may have.
Yogananda's charity was more often in this way: more personal. So, too, Swami Kriyananda (Ananda's founder and a direct disciple of Yogananda's). 
We recently had an opportunity to give (both personal and from Ananda here in Seattle) a modest donation to a rural health clinic in northern Bangladesh. We were invited to an annual fundraiser organized by local Imam Jamal Rahman and his family for the benefit of a clinic in their ancestral village. We could see directly the practical results of our gifts and it was satisfying and meaningful.
The message that Paramhansa Yogananda was commissioned to bring to the West and to the world is that "Christ lives!" The universal Christ (or Krishna, Buddha, etc.) consciousness, which is the sole reflection within us of the Creator's bliss and consciousness, exists in all creation, and in you and me. Meditation, and especially kriya yoga (an advanced meditation technique) has come into the world and into increasing popular use to help us discover this realization for ourselves.
Thus Christmas has taken on a new meaning: a universal one and also a very practical one. It can and truly should be celebrated by everyone: of all faiths or none. It is not by legislation, reason, or philosophy that we can overcome our differences and inbred prejudices but by the Christ love of our hearts and souls.
A blessed and joyful Christmas season to all!
Nayaswami Hriman 



Saturday, October 28, 2017

Grow Your Own Food : the Role of Farming in Ananda Worldwide!


Ananda Farms, Camano Island, WA

I am absolutely unqualified to write this article. I hardly know a weed from a pickle. But the other day Zach Abbey (co-manager of Ananda Farms www.AnandaFarms.com) posed the rhetorical question: "What is the vision of farming in Ananda's network of communities?"

Our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, in a thundering oration, once declared that a time would come when intentional spiritual communities would "spread like wildfire." He urged audiences to "buy land in the country, grow your own food, and live together in simplicity, guided by high ideals."

That was 1949. Since that time, neither of these two powerful commands have born fruit, at least outside the Ananda communities (of which there are nine). So, what gives here?

"Timing is everything!" Ananda's work in communities is, to state it simply and in relation to my question, seminal. Our experience and our example to society at large will bear fruit, like indeed fruit is borne, at the right time.

We have been learning as we go. The first community, Ananda World Brotherhood Village (now called, simply, Ananda Village), has gone through many changes over its fifty years. The other, newer communities, are organized differently and also experience changes and new forms from time to time. 

In Seattle area, for example, we moved away from having a professional property manager to managing the apartment community ourselves. This is at least a step in the right direction of what an intentional residential community should look like.

And, thus, returning to farming, we need to patiently continue growing food on land in the country where some can live. We will learn and refine our methods as we do this. The time is surely coming, (many others affirm this also) when what we have learned will be put to widespread use. But for now, like our communities, farming seems like an expensive luxury even as it is generally ignored by society at large.

Interest in alternative lifestyles is growing, however. 

Those of us drawn to either or both of these movements which are destined to manifest more commonly in the future are "way-showers," pioneers (you know, the ones with the arrows in their back). We are practicing what in yoga is known as "tapasya" -- the self-sacrifice and self-offering of our energies into a higher cause or ideal without regard to outward success as measured by the world around us.

Farming within the Ananda communities, like the communities themselves, has evolved in its various forms. Struggle and resistance always confronts changes. Organic farms around the world largely follow modern agricultural methods of tilling the soil, automated irrigation, and mono-culture row cropping. So, too, have the organic farming methods at the Ananda Communities.

But in recent years, Zach and Hailey Abbey (in Seattle area) and Alex and Dharmdasi Forrester (Ananda Village) have initiated no-till permaculture style food growing. Setting aside considerations of whether one form is more efficient than another in terms of the "Green Revolution" (which, it can be questioned, may not be the only measure of food growing goals), this approach is guided by the desire to live in harmony with nature, not to wrest from Her hands her bounty in a struggle of the survival of the fittest! 

I dare not pretend to articulate the goals of permaculture style farming. Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008) is one of the guiding lights of this movement. Visit www.AnandaFarms.com for more on this subject. Better yet, visit Ananda Farms on Camano Island!

So now we have both methods co-existing side by side within the Ananda Communities. Acceptance of the new style was not an easy process. No one threw a punch, of course, but there's nothing more likely to generate a lot of talking than philosophy!!!!! :-)

Though I personally am an advocate of the no-till "yoga farm" approach, it isn't as important as it might seem to those who farm. Rather, the impulse, felt through the margins of society, to "grow your own," IS. Whether hydroponically or otherwise, on some level there is a perceived need to get back to the land.

Yoga is about integrating body and mind; and, earth, water, fire, air and ether! The soul of modern civilization has become "virtually" vacant from the earth, caught up in technology and ideology.

To regain our center as we do through yoga and meditation, we also need to reconnect and reintegrate into the world our bodies inhabit. 

Thus I feel, and am not alone in this, that however challenging it might be in this era to pioneer more natural methods of growing food (because the heavily subsidized agricultural industry provides food so cheaply), we must "farm-on" for the benefit and the example given to many who will come after us (whether soon or later).

Blessings,

Swami Hrimananda

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Friendship: the New Marriage

(Note: I speak here of marriage between a man and a woman. This form of marriage remains the dominant form of marriage, social changes notwithstanding, and, besides, it's simply easier to write nouns and pronouns in our language which has not yet figured out a natural way of addressing these new norms. My choice then is not a philosophical or social one but a practical one.)

"The only true marriage is between souls who have no compulsion of desire or need to be married!" (anonymous) 

Well, ok, so there aren't any such marriages to be found! (At least not commonly.) 

Human nature or perhaps only human culture bestows upon us an idealized image of marriage, cast in terms of romance and "happily ever after." While no one with life experience would buy into that in a sober state of mind, lots of people buy into it emotionally (at least when attending weddings, or deep into romance novels or movies).

Paramhansa Yogananda wrote a poem called "Friendship." Here is an excerpt:

Friendship is noble, fruitful, holy—

When two separate souls march in difference

Yet in harmony, agreeing and disagreeing,
Glowingly improving diversely,
With one common longing to find solace in true pleasure.
When ne’er the lover seeks
Self-comfort at cost of the one beloved,
Then, in that garden of selflessness
Fragrant friendship perfectly flowers.
For friendship is a hybrid, born of two souls,
The blended fragrance of two unlike flowers
Blown together in love’s caressing breeze.
Friendship is born from the very core
Of secret, inexplicable likings.
Friendship is the fountain of true feelings.
Friendship grows in both likeness and difference.

With the easy accessibility our culture offers for pursuing romantic and sexual urges, we find that marriage is taking place later in life and we see a greater recognition of the importance of friendship (over the intoxication of "being in love"). Perhaps this is the modern form of "arranged" marriage: arranged by higher values and interests rather the compulsion of hormones or a "pretty shade of lipstick and a handsome bow tie." 

I don't know the stats but I bet more couples meet by the arrangement of dating sites than by random bumps in a bar. 

The candid atmosphere of conversation around sex has the positive effect of shedding light on its darker sides such as aggressive and inappropriate behavior, abuse of position, disease, and pornography, not to mention an long list of criminal activities. 

Being in love may seem a harmless form of intoxication, but note that we "fall" in love. All forms of intoxication are similar, even experiencially. All involve a hangover! Taking another step downward, alcohol (or other drug use), sex, and violence can become a kind of demonic triad that clearly has aspects in common. Thus, societies worldwide seek in some way to re-direct sexual impulses into more positive expressions. 

Besides, in our calm and sober nature, we are all genderless souls. As we mature, our attractions, to the extent based on gender differences (however much we regale them at the time of our anniversary or at weddings), will naturally subside. Romantic love is designed, even by nature, to evolve into friendship.

Friendship, then, is the New Marriage paradigm.  

Romance may be the spark of ignition but once the motor of friendship is running smoothly the sparks become secondary and, over the years, even tiresome or artificial to re-ignite. This is not news but it is becoming increasingly true and conscious in society, or so I maintain (whether now or in the years to come).

Indeed, it is easily demonstrated by observation that unless friendship does kick in, the sparks of sex and romance are insufficient to keep the motor of a close and committed relationship running smoothly. 

Some of the natural characteristics of friendship include loyalty, service to one another, shared ideals and interests. And, as Yogananda's "Friendship" poem recounts, it includes acceptance of differences and disagreements. It also involves, increasingly, a shared commitment to community service or other high ideals, including spiritual growth and attunement.

When I opened this article by saying that the only true marriage is between two souls who are not under any compulsion of desire to marry, I am essentially describing two people who are secure in themselves.

This maturity and inner security frees one from the normal and usual neediness and co-dependence that characterizes most [immature] relationships. The freedom implied here allows these two friends to give each other space to evolve and grow while yet retaining respect for their differences in habits and opinions. It also means having the courage to work out or at least attempt to reconcile differences in a harmonious, respectful way.

I do not mean to describe an open-ended marriage. Loyalty will naturally be the basis of a mature marriage. I am referring to the all-too-common fears and insecurities that compel one spouse to fear or resist, or, alternatively, demand, changes in the other. And, when I say "changes" I refer to essentially positive and expansive changes in consciousness or habits (rather than self-destructive tendencies which too often emerge during the course of marriage).

Some of the changes that I've seen that are typical include a change in profession or career (which might require further education), diet or exercise, extreme sports, a spiritual awakening, foreign travel or residency, a hobby, and any number of positive changes in habits.

In this society where men and women mix freely and long-standing taboos around proximity and association are at an all-time minimum, a rising issue in marriage centers on friendships with others. 

Yogananda warned that "magnetism [between a man and woman] is the law," and too close of contact (physical, digital, etc.) between two people might flare into a relationship which could erode the trust and commitment of one's marriage. We bristle at the thought of being told "NO," but we have yet to learn that the new "taboos" require a greater personal and internal awareness of the need for self-regulated boundaries. These boundaries are not formed by custom or society. They exist in the mind, in the form of thought, contact, imagination, and feeling. American society, it seems to me, is largely unaware of this more subtle reality of human nature. Look at the issues arising in daily news around inappropriate behavior in the workplace. 

Another increasingly common change in marriage is facing a decision to end the marriage. Divorce is already common but friendship emphasizes harmony not contractual rights. If a parting of the ways must happen, a commitment to friendship means the separation should be, if possible, mutual, and in any case, as harmonious as any such sundering can be. Joined at the hip for years, even decades, means the dissolution of marriage will require surgery, and surgery is going to generate some pain and discomfort no matter what. 

It is not uncommon now to see separation taking place in the later stages of life when mature couples seek to nurture the impulse to be alone, and free from unnecessary obligations. The need to prepare for the "Final Exam" by pursing spiritual pursuits (prayer, pilgrimage, meditation) or, more mundanely, a bucket list, is an important reality for some. 

It seems to me, however, that if a couple enters marriage with friendship on the altar, they will do relatively well no matter how long the marriage endures. 

Only acceptance and respect for one another's independence and freedom to make, or unmake friendship and the strength and courage to enter into such a relationship can the house of marriage stand as the noble and divine state it can be. To those with a belief in the law of karma (and its concomitant precept, reincarnation) and the courage to follow it through, we are better able to accept the premise that no one owes us anything. Love is a gift and any gift given for profit (with conditions) is merely a contract for goods and services. 

The Ananda communities worldwide are part of a movement in this direction. Our wedding ceremony is surely among the most beautiful not only in its poetic and musical aspects, but in its expression of the ideal of divine friendship. At the same time, it is also grounded in the acknowledgement that when differences occur there is a commitment to work things out as best one can. When men and women, generally, and therefore also in marriage, are now free to follow similar pursuits (even serving together) and increasingly share equal status in society, it is important that marriage not turn into a competitive sport at the risk of friendship. The vows in our ceremony include a "non-competition agreement!" (:-)

If you would like a copy of this ceremony, feel free to write to me.

Though a high bar for marriage partners, these ideals can also help us lift our relationship above petty demands and opinions. The lives of many Ananda couples are a testimony to this uplifting, joy-giving power which is nothing less than the power of divine grace. 

May the blessings of true friendship, in all its myriad forms, be ever yours,

Swami Hrimananda!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Decline and Fall of Reason : an Essay

[At once I apologize for the length of this article. I could see no way to chop it up into segments.]

At the time of the American Revolution, Reason reigned on the throne of the hearts and minds of enlightened men and women. The Declaration of Independence is, if anything, a reasonable statement of self-evident precepts. From that point until the 20th century, the western world was filled with hope that the future held unstoppable advances in education, health, prosperity and peace.

That triumph of reason was stained from the beginning, however, by the bargain made with the devil of slavery. Reason began taking more pummeling later in the nineteenth century when rapid industrialization revealed the horrors of low pay, child labor, toxic work environments and mind-numbing, heart-stifling repetitive work. The first generation of the “Captains of Industry” flaunted their immense wealth squeezed from the tight fists of their vast monopolies.

The first half of the twentieth century produced not one, but two world wars, unmasking even further reason’s dark sides showing that a self-styled master race can justify any amount of violence and evil.

It is true that the Second World War was fought to defend reason in the form of freedom yet the ugliness and violence of that war (which ended with the blinding light of the atomic age) began to blur the lines between right and wrong. Wholesale destruction of the great cities (non-military targets) of Germany and the nuclear destruction of two cities in Japan were simply the quid pro quo collateral damage of an ugly war. The Cold War which followed was largely fought in a gray mist where right and wrong vanished into the murky shadows of espionage, regime change, and cynical affirmations that “the end justifies the means.”

While the 1950’s in America saw a resurgence of optimism, dark clouds of fanaticism clustered around the political purges of Senator McCarthy and rising corporate greed fueled warnings from the likes of newscaster Edward R. Murro regarding the future loss of innocence and integrity in the news media. Ditto for the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about.

The dawn of the 1960’s brought hope with a new and young president but this too was quickly marred by upheaval and turmoil in race relations and rebellious antiestablishment lifestyles. Very soon cries of despair arose over three consecutive assassinations of great leaders and anguish over the insanity and hypocrisy of the Vietnam War.

Fast forward to 2017, more or less, and what do we see? Fake news? A kind of “Battle of the Bulge” is occurring with a resurgence of prejudice, hate and suspicion of “foreigners.” On the world wide web anyone can post their craziness. Now there are more conspiracy theories than ever before. (Whatever happened to the Trilateral Commission? Out of commission?)

Whereas in former times a doctor was God and hospitals and clinics his temple, now we have to do the research and advocate for ourselves, while trying to figure out the labyrinth of insurance options and coverage. We routinely question medical and scientific studies which are too often funded by self-interest groups or tampered with by self-promoting scientists. Doctors simply give us a panoply of drugs and say, “Try this and let me know how it works!” 

We cannot trust the food we eat. We are beginning to grow our own.

Albert Einstein’s failure to find the “theory of everything” combined with theories of chaos and randomness are such that researchers either chase the almighty buck or are only interested in new but marginal breakthroughs. Quantum physics has taken science to the brink of non-matter, even to the edge of consciousness: down the rabbit hole, effectively, toppling the fortress of “either - or” reason and destroying the kingdom of matter.

Liberals are “ultra” and insist that the government owes everyone everything at no cost while the conservatives want to turn the clock back so they can protect their high caste status and their portfolios from the coming avalanche of change. All that matters is “What I want.” Or, “What I believe.” And, “What’s in it for me?”

The noble concept of a pluralistic society whose elected representatives work together to reach compromises in order to achieve a more “perfect union” is now sadly beyond our very ability to imagine it.

Only a serious threat from an enemy (military, economic, political) or a catastrophe of enormous proportions (pandemic; earthquake; gigantic and irrefutable climate change) could unite this or any other nation into concerted action.

There remains however: HOPE FOR A BETTER WORLD. Idealism is on the rise; a sense of our shared interests and kinship, whether under God or on the earth or both is small but growing. 

The popularity of yoga and meditation—veritable symbols of peace and harmony—continues unabated throughout the world. We now have an International Day of Yoga. It originated with a yogi who is the president of the largest democracy in the world (India). It is not, however, likely that sanity and enlightened reason will return to our nation or planet anytime soon.

Because, let’s face it: the god of reason has been dethroned. Frankly, it hasn’t worked very well anyway. Reason has not stemmed the tide of ignorance and prejudice. Reason has not reduced substance abuse, addiction or violence as if it were a vaccine injected by the needle of education. Reason alone, without help from religion, reveals the Golden Rule but the Golden Rule does not rule.

We of an eastern bent of mind who espouse the precept that life ebbs and flows between opposites are not in the least dismayed by these trends for we know as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus averred that Panta Rhei (all is flux). But the pendulum of opposites is never simple. If it were, then humans would see through its illusion too easily. There are also movements which we could call spirals, rising and falling which appear to make each new turn a twist and each new twist appears unique.

We are seeing a cycle that is the decline of the much vaunted and arrogantly affirmed western claim of superiority based on enlightened reason. The cycle of rational inquiry perhaps had its visible beginnings with the Renaissance, moved into the Age of Exploration and Reformation, gave birth to the Age of Enlightenment and independence, which in turn, propelled by the exponentially increasing revelations of science, birthed the industrial age and on and on.

Now, with reason cycling down into increasing disrepute, we find taking its place a rising tide of passion. Passion is crazy; intense, unpredictable; riotous; compassionate, innovative, merciful, cruel and so much more! Passion is the active manifestation of feeling. And feeling, whether mild, medium or intense, has a dark and a light side. We can call the dark side of feeling the emotions of a contractive nature and the light side the expansiveness of inclusive feeling.

By emotions I mean the contractive affirmation of selfishness or egoism as in “raw” emotions based on “fight or flight,” fear, greed, anger, prejudice, attachment (etc.) or other unexamined biases. By expansive and inclusive feeling I refer to calm certitude, unselfishness, non-attachment, and intuitive insight. Expansiveness of feeling is essentially intuitive for it sees wholeness or connection where ego-affirming emotions can see only differences. Intuition accepts (and embraces) a broader reality than only oneself, while emotions affirm the limited reality of one’s ego, opinions, desires and fears.

Expansive elation leading to connectedness with all life can found anywhere and everywhere: in nature; in being in love; in extreme sports; in tragedy or success; in space to astronauts observing our earth; in prayer and meditation; and on and on.

By contrast, negative emotions are the all too familiar emotions of polarized politics, pride and prejudice related to social status, clinging to one’s opinions, distrust and competition between nations over trade or influence, consequences of globalization, racism, abortion, gender issues, and on and on.

At the same time, we, including you, reading this article, see the gentler tsunami of rising unity, harmony, sustainability, creativity, inventiveness, kindness, humanitarian efforts, peace and harmony.

Returning to the fall of reason, we can no longer trust sources of reason. By “sources of reason” I mean facts and purveyors of facts.
Facts are supposed to be aspects of reason because objectively verifiable. But now we don’t really know what is fact and what is speculation or false. We don’t really know who to believe when the person or subject matter is unknown to us personally. Take the simple but crucial topic of climate change. Outside the scientific community of those studying the subject, we are dependent upon what we read and hear. Inside the scientific community there is no unanimity on what is a complex subject of study. Added to these reasonable difficulties are the irrational ones arising from self-interest (on both sides) and the emotions born of recalcitrant opinions (each claiming facts). The situation can be found on other issues, such as health care, welfare, gender definitions, and religion--to name just a few key topics.

The failure of religionists to practice what they preach has given rise to a growing rejection of orthodox religion in favor of being “spiritual but not religious.” Spiritual vs religious means one is oriented to one’s own personal experience (and, yes, sometimes one’s own private beliefs). The popularity of yoga and meditation are excellent examples of those seeking personal experience in preference to dogma or empty rituals.

The worldwide network of Ananda communities stands for a lifestyle that will unquestionably grow in popularity in this century because such associations give people who share their ideals or beliefs a practical way to “walk their talk” together. Communities can be residential, work-centric, issue-centric, or virtual. And yes, people with negative values can form them as well. Either way, if you can’t believe what you read and can’t trust people you don’t know, what else can you do but find others who believe as you do. I don’t say this cynically. I say this clinically! The alternative is to drown in society’s mayhem and confusion.

Looking ahead, I see a decline in centralization of power. While this decline began with a change in consciousness (the affirmation of individuality and attendant rights) as all such great shifts do, its primary symbol today is the world-wide-web. Its founding ideals are those of the United States. Here in the United States we see a shift of power from the central government to states and local governments. Paralyzed as we are at a national level, cities and states are taking positions on climate change, immigration, marijuana, and many other issues which might otherwise have been, or should be, more effectively dealt with nationally. Health care may yet join those ranks. So, too, I predict welfare and other social safety nets may go the same way. Small intentional communities are its logical and ultimate manifestation.

[As a reminder: the delicate balance between states’ rights and the power of a national government began at the birth of America! But mostly through the twentieth century power shifted to the national government with turn of the century formation of the Federal Reserve, the creation of the federal income tax, and the consequences of two world wars and the Cold War. Now it is shifting back even at the very moment when the big issues of the nation and of the world call for leadership and cooperation! Sigh!]

Splintering of large groups into smaller ones began visibly with the breakup of the Soviet Union and client states. The splintering continues throughout the world as smaller groups (ethnic, tribal, racial or religious) assert their independence, their rights, and their self-identity. They often do so violently. This will continue for a very long time, even if future wars, depressions, pandemics and catastrophes will, from time to time, give renewed, but temporary, power back to national or international governments.

The movement of consciousness in the direction of individual rights and freedom will continue even though technology provides powerful control mechanisms into the hands of centralized powers (whether governmental, private or corporate). Orson Well’s novel, 1984, had the date wrong but was an accurate prediction of future possibilities. Fortunately, technology is a two-edged sword for it has also been a key to empowering the individual through communication, education, and awareness.

In short, we are moving towards increasing disruptions and chaos. There’s no turning back. Instability is steadily rising in the United States and there’s no “reason” to foresee its abatement. Local police forces are heavily equipped and highly trained, nothing less than armed militias. Prisons, we are told, are overflowing. Can you imagine the impact of disruptions in food and fuel? Or, reductions in social security, welfare, or food stamps and other forms of entitlement? The American standard of living has nowhere to go but down as that of other nations continues to rise. We simply cannot continue to consume more than our share of natural resources nor purchase the vast majority of our goods from other countries with nothing but our over-valued currency to offer in exchange.

The advice given us by Paramhansa Yogananda (one of the great spiritual teachers of our age) is to establish a life of prayer, meditation, service to God through others, and to establish communities of like-minded friends inspired by high ideals and expressed through a simple and sustainable lifestyle. Meditation is at the heart of the inner life wherein the castle of peace can be defended and from which the unassailable joy of the soul can be shared. (For the record, Yogananda foretold difficult times but said that a time would come of several hundred years of relative peace as those who survive the turmoil vow NOT to perpetuate it.)

These solutions are God’s response and gift to those with “ears to hear” and to those with compassionate and courageous hearts. How else best to weather the woes of an age of great instability where we cannot know what is true and who is false; where, in the final analysis, nothing is real but what resides within you. From the cosmic view of the soul, these “interesting times” are wonderful opportunities for spiritual growth. Perhaps many have been, are, and will be born for this purpose and for the purpose of forming a vanguard of higher consciousness to see humanity through a difficult period of history.

There is much to be positive about, notwithstanding my catalogue of apparent pessimism above. Much depends on how quickly and extensively consciousness can shift from emotion to intuition, from “me” to “us.” Yet, at present, the weight of momentum is going in a negative direction. The passions that have been aroused run deep and run violent. And, they have found their voice in a shared, but false, legitimacy. But the long term trend in consciousness is clearly in favor of tolerance and acceptance. It’s simply a matter of how soon the battles and skirmishes can turn the tide to win the war. The more of “us” that stand tall and together, willing to make sacrifices in lifestyle and resources, in prayer and meditation, the sooner the “sun will rise in the East.”

Remember: “The only way out is IN!”

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda

Reading references from books by Swami Kriyananda and published by Crystal Clarity, Publishers include: Out of the Labyrinth, God is For Everyone, Hope for a Better World, & Religion in the New Age


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Does the Moon of Emotions Eclipse the Sun of Wisdom?

[We've been away three weeks plus a few days. A recap of thoughts shared with the local Ananda Community in Lynnwood, WA]
What a time this is! The eclipse mania is acting as a lightning rod for intensity and a certain amount of craziness. 

The other day during an idle moment (what was I thinking?) I posted some random thoughts on the eclipse [which honestly doesn't interest me that much (that statement in itself prompted objections)] and my Facebook posting was eclipsed by intense and critical comments from the "left" and from the "right" and everywhere in between. I found it more amusing than anything except in respect to the consciousness of those who posted.

I might as well share with you that I prefer to stay indoors for the 1.5 hours or so of the eclipse. I have both personal issues with the sun (skin and cancer) but also have read with interest some postings from the Vedic tradition (www.VedicHealing.com) that lend more support than superstitions would suggest. In general, and without denying that much of the world has been burdened by many taboos and superstitions, I would say that our own tradition of past higher ages (aka the "Yuga cycles" as affirmed by all great civilizations of the past] suggests that in the dim past there may have been more valid if rather subtle reasons behind what later became mere superstitions during the so-called dark ages (which correspond more or less to what we are pleased to call history, roughly 1000 BC to present time). In any case, and for what's worth, that's my take on it.

As a yogi I do find it interesting to contemplate what it means for the moon (symbol of ego and/or emotions) to eclipse the sun (symbol of God or soul)! That alone would give rise to the "dark side" of the eclipse's interpretation. But of course in duality there's always TWO sides: the other being, possibly, the opportunity to examine the dark or unexamined side of our own consciousness (or culture). Your choice, as always.

I read that the last time a solar eclipse crossed America (and ONLY America) was in 1776. I find that, too, rather curious. To say that we in America are in a political maelstrom is to put it mildly, though here, too, I do my best to ignore the brouhahas that seem to swirl continuously every week. I must say that our president has a way of keeping himself on the "front page." Never forget that this fellow is, like the eclipse itself, only a symbol of forces and consciousness out of which he arose. With his departure, those forces do not suddenly vanish.

And finally, given Ananda's long, long history of dire predictions, well, what can I possibly add! What is to come is to come and I for one cannot doubt that at some point we as a nation have some karma to pay. If the eclipse is to mean anything at all as to foreboding, well, there it is for the taking. [Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, frequently repeated predictions by Paramhansa Yogananda regarding future wars, depressions and cataclysms to come. No prediction is ever necessarily literal. True predictions are designed to help others change. One doesn't have to be a guru to wonder about things like climate, economy, war, and the like!] 

Those of you who are Facebook devotees have seen many pictures etc of Spiritual Renewal Week at Ananda Village, CA. The groundbreaking exceeded ALL expectations both in vibration and in outward form. As the testimony of all present is far more adequate than any single expression of it, we do, in any case, add our own testimony of gratitude and upliftment. It was an historic moment for all of Ananda and I will make this prediction, at least: that it will be seen as a turning point in our history. Padma and I were privileged to be among those who turned a shovel of earth! Our daughter Gita oversaw the entire event with the help of the miracle of many hands. The program that followed the groundbreaking into the setting sun was totally astral. Swamiji and the Masters were truly present and smiling.  

Our personal time at the Camano Hermitage (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/18078785) was much appreciated though, looking back, it was nothing less than a working vacation with phone calls, emails, maintenance of the property, and planning our talks for SRW, though we took off for two nights up the coast for our anniversary and most nights we enjoyed a movie at home. Next year and for the first time ever we think we'll take time off AFTER SRW instead, Lord willing! Padma and I both got sick at SRW: a first ever in a non stop attendance at SRW over decades! After the day long Sevaka retreat, August 5, I got dehydrated but recovered quickly. 

We had a few days in Monterey, staying at Padma's brother's (Roy) home and visiting with my brothers, sister and families and then two nights in Portland seeing the grandkids there.

There's nothing however like home and the northwest! We all have a busy week coming up. Let not our soul's joy be eclipsed by the darkness and confusion that surrounds us. We are privileged to live in "Satya Yuga" in our hearts and in our homes and places of service and devotion together.

Blessings to all, and may force of maya (delusion) never eclipse the sunshine of God's indwelling, omni-presence!

Nayaswami Hriman

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Joy is no "Object" : The Land Beyond Our Dreams

How odd it is that in the English language we say: "Money is no object" when we mean to say "Don't worry about the money, spend what you want or need!"
Image result for gold coins
But it is also true that money is indeed not an object, as such. Yes, you can hold in your hand a 10 rupee note or a $100 bill or a gold coin. But as an "object" these things have no intrinsic value beyond the idea and perception we have of them and which is shared with others. Money is essentially an abstraction. A mere idea. We could use sea shells or cows as money for all the difference it makes to the idea.

Well, when I say "Joy is no object" I do NOT mean that joy is a mere thought or abstraction. Rather, I mean that true joy cannot be found and held fast in any thought, emotion, object, or sense experience!

Yogis discovered long ago a secret that even our bodies do not know: we can live without or with very little breathing. Normally our bodies are designed to keep us breathing at all costs and I, for one, wouldn't argue with its design and intention.

But, as I say, long ago yogis discovered that by specific and exacting methods one could suspend the breath and not "just" remain alive but in fact enter into a blissful experience that, with regular practice, can be summoned at will even later while breathing and acting normally in daily life.

This is not merely some healthy way to get "high." Discovering that life exists more fully in a state that is transcendent of the physical body is an enormous release of self awareness from the prison of mortality itself.

Like so many things in life: it's a step by step process. Yogis tell us, moreover, that this is the reason we have been created: to discover who we really are. We are to discover that we are not the personality confined to one human form and condemned to live impermanently and all too precariously, chained by our breath and heart beat to this form.

Admittedly, the vast majority of human beings are quite eager to pursue as much pleasure and accumulation as they can get. Few are ready to embark on an inward journey towards consciousness Itself: to our Creator, Consciousness and Bliss, one and the same.

Nonetheless, the spread of yoga and meditation throughout the world heralds the awakening of an innate and intuitive desire for universality in both self-definition and in society in an increasing number of people. The history of yoga and the existence of great yogis--masters of life force--provide a continuous testimony down through the ages of what is possible.

I recall as a boy being taught that the term "Catholic" meant "universal." I found the idea thrilling though only later did I discover it wasn't quite the case for my Catholic faith as such! But all faiths more or less teach that we are children of God and in this lies the seed of the actual, inner experience, born of meditation (and cessation of breath) that we are One; we are not this body.

Therese Neumann
In a similar vein, we have modern evidence that it is possible to live without food or water. In the person and life of Therese Neumann, we have validated proof of this fact. For more see: http://www.mysticsofthechurch.com/2009/12/therese-neumann-mystic-victim-soul.html


Using the methods of yoga-meditation, bringing the breath steadily and naturally under control we approach the zone where our thoughts are stilled and, not unlike the pleasure of sleep but while remaining conscious (indeed, MORE than merely conscious: intensely aware), we experience a state of wholeness, of satisfaction, of security that is incomparable, persuasive, and pervasive like no other worldly pleasure or accomplishment can ever match. It is ours; our home; no one can take it and it depends on no outward circumstance!

Image result for the last smile
Paramhansa Yogananda - "Last Smile"
What is interesting is that daily forays into this "land beyond my dreams" begins to transform one consciousness with an all pervading sense of calmness; quiet joy; confidence (without ego); insights and love for all without thought of self.

Paramhansa Yogananda coined the phrase "land beyond my dreams" to express this state of "super" consciousness, as opposed to the dreamy state of subconsciousness. 

With proper training, focused discipline, and a pure motive linked with intense yearning, it's not difficult to achieve the beginning states. These alone are worth the effort even if going beyond them into states described down through ages (using terms like cosmic consciousness, samadhi, moksha, liberation and the like) has yet to arrive.

For the sake of description, if not for instruction, imagine your mind crystallizing into a simple but pure state of quiet, inner awareness. Your thoughts have gone to rest, like thrashing waves that have become becalmed and that have dissolved into the resting sea. It's somewhat like gazing out the window at a panoramic scene. But, instead of your gaze going out and away from yourself, it is turned inward as if upon the mind or the awareness itself as an "object" of contemplation. 

Imagine gazing inwardly at your own awareness. Consider the image of looking into a mirror when there's a mirror behind you and the images are multiplied toward infinity. This is more complex than I would actually suggest beyond the simple idea that you are looking at your own awareness which, not being a thing at all, leads you into this "land," a place of feeling which is thrilling in a deeply calm and knowing way: like coming home.

Such experiences can come upon us under any number of circumstances in life. Much poetry is written about such things, being described in an infinity of ways for it brings us to the hem of infinity itself.

But the yogis discovered how to reach this land by the daily practice of specific, often called scientific, methods of breath awareness and control. Yogananda's most famous and most advanced meditation technique is called Kriya Yoga. See Chapter 26, "Kriya Yoga," in his landmark story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." https://www.ananda.org/autobiography/#chap26 Yet most any time-tested technique that suits one will suffice for the beginning stages of meditation. 

Yogananda taught a mindfulness technique of concentration using the mantra, Hong Sau (which loosely means "I am He" or "I am Spirit" Peace" etc). Hence the technique itself is called "Hong Sau." Its essence however appears in every tradition of meditation, east or west, down through the ages. It does so for the simple reason that breath awareness is the key and the link between ordinary consciousness (of body and personality) and the higher state of awareness whose most notable outward characteristic is absence of or reduced breath. To learn Hong Sau you can go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaoRRg0gxr0&t=128s

As the breath, so the mind. "Heavy breathing" is intense and passionate body or ego awareness. By contrast, deep mental concentration requires or is accompanied by quietness of breath. Thus body transcendence requires stilling the breath and heart. It's truly that simple, though the vistas of awareness that open up are Infinite! 

I'll stop now for I have accomplished my main point of inspiration and sharing.

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda