Showing posts with label Babaji. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Babaji. Show all posts

Thursday, March 15, 2018

An oratorio: Christ Lives in the Holy Land, and in You & Me!


An oratorio: Christ Lives in the Holy Land, and in You & Me!

Every second year the choirs and musicians of Ananda Portland and Ananda Seattle combine alternatingly at each other’s temple/sanctuaries to perform Swami Kriyananda’s acclaimed oratorio inspired by the life of Jesus Christ. How can we understand the inspiration behind this powerful tribute in song? 

How can we understand the seemingly prominent role Jesus Christ has at Ananda throughout the world? What makes the music of this oratorio so like a deep meditation?

A sensitive reading of Paramhansa Yogananda’s "Autobiography of a Yogi" hints at his spiritual connection with Jesus. He makes reference to Jesus at least sixteen times and even reveals that John the Baptist was Elijah and thus Jesus’ guru from a past life. He states that Jesus taught kriya yoga or “a similar technique” to his close disciples. Further, he stated publicly that the three Wise Men were none other than Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya and Sri Yukteswar (where does this revelation place him, Yogananda?)

When, during the writing of his commentaries on the Bible, Yogananda prayed to Jesus to ask that his words be in tune with Jesus’ teachings, he received a vision of Jesus who gave his blessings and corroboration.

Jesus proclaimed to the crowds that he came “not to destroy the law and prophets” but to fulfill them. To “fulfill” must surely mean to carry on their message and vibration. (While it might also mean to “complete” this interpretation is not absolute.) Paramhansa Yogananda’s obvious connection to Jesus suggests the same on his part in relation to Jesus. More than this, he gave the title “Second Coming of Christ” to his own ministry! (If that didn’t get him crucified, I don’t know what would have!) I don’t think it could be clearer than that.

I have had guests and new students occasionally object or at least express surprise how they felt the Ananda Sunday Service, or some of our events and classes are Christian in feeling. All of this is understandable given the deeper connections described above. I’ve had one reader in the public challenge an article I wrote in respect to Jesus’ atonement of sins on the cross for failing to quote similar examples from other faiths. Neither I, nor other Ananda representatives, are particularly required to hand select passages from every faith when sharing Yogananda’s teachings. But drawing upon the life and teachings of Jesus Christ is specifically appropriate.

In his book, “Conversations with Yogananda, Swami Kriyananda quotes Yogananda answering this question (“Why do you emphasize the teachings of Jesus Christ.”) by replying only, “It was Babaji’s wish that I do so.” [Pretty cagey, I’d say! I suspect the paucity of his reply was related more to the questioner than to the question. That’s my opinion, anyway!]

We do know that Babaji commissioned Swami Sri Yukteswar to write a book showing the underlying unity in Jesus’ teachings and those of India’s rishis. Just read that book, Holy Science, and you’ll see!

Returning now to Swamiji’s oratorio, Christ Lives, we can more easily understand how the masters worked through Swamiji to create a Handel-esque musical work that proclaims a new understanding (Yogananda called it a “New Dispensation”) of Jesus’ teachings. It is, in its own way, a “fulfillment.”

I won’t be so bold as to attempt to describe this oratorio in musical terms. The point of this article is to entice you to come and hear it for yourself! Music isn’t my language, particularly.

In the libretto (words to the songs) you’ll find repeated references to “light,” “joy,” and “peace.” Extending the universal and deeply metaphysical theme of the gospel of St. John (“In the beginning was the Word…..the light of men”), the oratorio guides us to understand Jesus as not the ONLY begotten son of God but a soul, like you and me, who has achieved Oneness with the Light of God. The “Light of Christ” is the indwelling divinity in every atom; in every heart and soul. With this light, Jesus had become wholly identified.

The song “In the Spirit” describes the great vision of St. John in the last book of the New Testament as an ecstatic experience. John was “caught up in ecstasy.” Yogananda dedicated an entire lesson to interpreting the so-called Apocaplyse in metaphysical and Vedantic terms.

From the Old Testament’s frequent commands to “look up” the oratorio describes King David in terms of meditation and the looking up through the point between the eyebrows: the doorway to the divine light. At least four songs dwell upon the feminine nature of God both in general and in the form of Mary, the mother of Jesus. John the Baptist is described as living in solitude and seclusion and achieving his wisdom and faith through the inner life of prayer and meditation.

The temptation of Jesus by the devil in the desert is perhaps one of the most poignant and beautiful songs. A foursome—Jesus, Satan, and two devotee witnesses—sing of the opposing pulls, one divine, the other satanic, upon Jesus’ soul and of Jesus’ rejection of the satanic force. This not only gives recognition (Yogananda proclaimed: “I add my testimony to that of all before me that Satan exists.”) to the power of maya but to its power to become personal both within us and objectively. It also models to us how to deal with maya’s power: seek the love of God!

Another aspect is the very personal relationship Jesus had to his disciples. In song, their life together, wandering the countryside of Judea, is shown to be a celebration, a joyful troupe of disciples with their guru. Rejected is the “man of sorrows” who could never have inspired large crowds. This personal touch is also reflected in songs that speak of the poignant uplifting of souls such as Mary Magdalene, caught in sin and of her rejoicing when freed by his love.

Even the miracle of turning water into wine (the first story after his ministry began) shows Jesus’ care and concern, and love, for all. 
Rather than have the wedding couple be embarrassed by running out, Jesus quietly “refills” the jugs with wine!

Another of the many deeply inspired and musically moving pieces is “Living Water.” This is the story of the woman of Samaria whom Jesus meets at the well. Yogananda explained that this woman was a fallen disciple from a past life. Jesus’ detour into Samaria was intended to find her. The bond of guru and disciple is eternal.

In what is normally considered a triumphal day—Palm Sunday—the music reveals the darker undertone of rejection that is soon to befall the heralded “King of the Jews.”

In the songs of this oratorio, Jesus is depicted in both his overarching divine nature and his very personal, human nature. The juxtaposition of these two has for its message: “Tat twam asi!” “Thou ART THAT!” His nature is our nature. As John the Beloved proclaims in his gospel: “To as many as received Him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God.”

“You Remain Our Friend” is a song sung every Sunday. For that reason members might no longer appreciate the power of its message: both personal and universal. We reject the Christ in the form of the guru and in the abstract, indwelling form of light by our daily busy-ness, indifference, and material desires and fears. While we may yet be fickle, God remains forever our Friend.

But in the end, Jesus is transfixed into pure Light and in the company of his eternal guru, Elijah, and the great prophet Moses. Resurrected is his soul as master of life and death. This is the promise of immortality given us by the saints and masters in every religion. This truth is one and eternal. We need only realize our oneness with it in our deathless Self within!

May the Light of Christ, the Infinite Consciousness, be with you!

Swami Hrimananda

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Christmas Story for Children of All Ages

Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a faraway land, or was it a faraway galaxy, a child was born. Not in a house like yours or mine; and certainly NOT in a hospital with a midwife or doctor. 

No, nothing like that. This child was born in a small barn; a shed, really. We call it a stable because it’s where a cow and donkey stayed on cold nights. Maybe there were a few chickens; likely, too, a goat or two. There was hay piled up all around. It wasn’t warm but then outside it was…

a cold, dark, December night. The stars shone brightly in the skies above. In the surrounding hills, shepherds watched their flocks. 

They had to guard the sheep from packs of hungry wolves. To keep warm and to keep the wolves away, the shepherds had a camp fire.

This night when the child Jesus was born was both special and yet ordinary. After all, billions of babies have born on planet Earth in the two thousand years since the birth of Jesus! When you were born it was a very special event for you; your parents; your grandparents, friends and family! Even if you were born in a hospital and not a stable for farm animals, yours was still a very special event!

What made the birth of Jesus special? What does his birth have in common with yours?

Every so often, and at different times and places on Earth, there is born a soul with very special qualities. The birth event may or may not be unusual but in these cases the child is. Do you remember your birth? No, of course you don’t. I don’t either. But these special children DO remember their birth. In fact, they know all of their past lives. Who are these children? Well, Krishna; Buddha, Jesus, Rama and many others. These are children who remember! Who KNOW that they are children of God. They are children who KNOW God.

You and I are children of God, too. But just as we don’t remember our birth, we too often think we are just “who we are” as our parents named us: John, Sally, Ramesh, Gita, Noah. We have forgotten that we have lived many lives and have been called by many different names. God, too, is called by many names. But essentially God is simply I AM. We have forgotten that our true nature is that of God’s own nature: joy! We have forgotten that we are an incarnation of joy and not just a physical body. But these special children who are born from time to time have remembered.

In the case of Jesus’ birth, the event had several distinct features we are told from the bible. In the stories written by Matthew and by Luke, the Greek physician, we hear that nearby shepherds heard and saw angels singing. The angels told the shepherds that this Christ child—a child who remembered—had just been born in that nearby stable!

And from far, far away, perhaps as far away as India, wise sages journeyed to pay homage to the child Jesus. But how did they know? There wasn’t email or internet! There weren’t even old fashioned newspapers or TV news!!!!! A wise sage is one who just knows – knows from inside. Like the child Jesus or Buddha who remembers who they were and have always been, these “three wise men” (the bible doesn’t say there were three of them; it only says there were three gifts given to the child Jesus) said they saw “His” star in the east where they lived, far away.

Well, you know how sign language works? Certain hand gestures or positions symbolize words. Bring your hand to your mouth and move your hand like your mouth is chewing and you have the sign language symbol for “I want to eat!” 

Well, the word “east” is sign language for seeing and knowing. The sun rises in the East and we awaken! One who knows and sees is called a Seer! And what did these wise sages see? A star! Not in the sky, but in their mind’s eye: right here, at the point between the eyebrows! The five-pointed white star that they saw in meditation told them in wordless words that an avatar, a true child of God, was about to be born. It told them the approximate location: near the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea in the land of Israel.

These wise men of India were summoned by the star to find and honor the birth of this avatar, Jesus. And thus it was that they journeyed a long way, perhaps as much as 2,000 miles: on camels, no less! Hmmm, or maybe they had a faster way to travel.

Who were these Wise Men? Our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, said the three wise men were his own gurus. Their names in the incarnations of 19th and 20th century were none other than Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Swami Sri Yukteswar. It was they who came to honor the baby Jesus. This means all four of them knew each other from past lives. We don’t know where Yogananda himself was at this time and he didn’t or wouldn’t tell us.

There was another curious feature of Jesus’ birth. It is a part of the story that we also find told in regards to the birth of Lord Krishna, centuries before the birth of Jesus. Not everyone was so happy that a great king-like soul was to be born. In each case, the local king was jealous and wanted to kill the child. In each case, the child had to be taken away and hidden.

What makes this story special to us is that it isn’t just the story of Jesus’ birth. It is the story of your birth, and mine as well. For we are also children of God. And, if we want to remember that truth-- just as Jesus, Krishna, Buddha and others have--we have to give birth to that memory in the knowing and remembering silence of our hearts and minds: especially in meditation. Not just once, but every day. Meditation is the humble “stable” where our soul-nature and memory can be rediscovered, reborn.

The shepherds are the mindful, conscience-guiding guardians of the sheep of our thoughts. We build a fire of devotion in the dark night of meditation to keep away the subconscious wolves of restless thoughts, desires and fears. If we do that, angels of God will come and sing to us, instructing and encouraging us to seek this Christ-child in our hearts. The wise men and saints of the past have given us teachings that will enable us to give as gifts to our soul-child our thoughts, feelings, and actions. But King Ego will want to kill this child and, at first, we must hide our Christ consciousness in the quiet safe place of meditation and prayer until he can grow strong and come out and play openly in daily life, declaring, “I and my Father are one!”

We are each a king and queen but we think, instead, that we are commoners, subjects of the demands of earth, water, heat and air; subject to the demands of food, water, comfort and restless desires. 

But we are more than this; more than mere humans who live only a short time subjected to the frailties of age, health, and forces of luck and destiny.


Christmas reminds us that we too are a King (or Queen). This reminder is cause for celebration. And of course it needs be said that if “I am a King” then so are you! We are all that: “tat twam asi!” (Sanskrit: "Thou art That!") On this basis we are reminded to live in this world with nobility, goodness and goodwill for all.

If everyone, or even just many, truly give birth to this remembrance of the inner and universal Christ (the living presence of God in us and in all creation and AS creation itself), the human race would truly live in peace and goodwill.

May the light of Christ be born in you this Christmas and every day a Christmas!

Swami Hrimananda

Friday, November 3, 2017

Is "Spiritual but not Religious" Really "Spiritual"?

I have read several reports over the last many years about the growing number of Americans who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Those of us on the inner path of meditation are certainly among some of those.

Paramhansa Yogananda predicted that “Self-realization would become the religion of the future.” By this he meant, according to Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Yogananda), that in the future people in all religions would come to an intuitive understanding that the true purpose of religion is to help us evolve spiritually by having a direct, personal perception and relationship with God or one’s own Higher Self.

But notice that Yogananda’s statement used the term “religion” of the future.

Among the millions who see themselves as “spiritual but not religious” are, I would guess, many who have rejected orthodox religions. There many reasons for this rejection: reasons which my readers no doubt do not require to be enumerated. Yogananda employed the term, tongue-in-cheek, “Churchianity” to describe the orthodox sects of Christianity (and, by extension, all orthodox faiths). By this less-than-flattering term, Yogananda referred to the institutional weightiness of organized religion which tends to suffocate individual spirituality.

Indeed, in Yogananda’s teachings he claims that his coming to the West began with a communication between Jesus Christ (not in the physical human body) and Babaji (the peerless, deathless master in human form). In this dialogue between these two great masters, one of the east, the other of the west, Jesus bemoaned the loss of (in so many words) “spirituality” among his followers. He said “good works” (serving the poor, having institutions of learning, healing, and the like) were aplenty. So, too, rites and rituals. But direct, intuitive, inner communion (vs ritual, sacramental communion) had fallen by the wayside in Christianity at large.

Let's consider now this appellation: "spiritual but not religious." It's key feature is the rejection or non-involvement with organized religion. But other key is "spiritual." But what does it mean when I say (of myself), "I'm spiritual"? 

It could mean that I'm a nice person. I pet dogs, kiss babies, and help elderly folks cross the street. I pay my taxes. I believe in God or something equivalent. It might even mean I pray or meditate. I respect (or not) all faiths or at least see them as means to the same end. (BTW: is the term "organized religion" an oxymoron?)

But I wonder how many of the millions who place themselves in this category really live a life of daily prayer and meditation, self-sacrifice or ego transcendence in the name of enlightenment or other divine goal, or service to humanity as an act of devotion. It's true that few religionists do any of these things, either! 

What I've described is more what most people might imagine the life of a monk or nun might be like and how few of these there are in the world (even among monks and nuns!). And I think that's my point. 

At least a religionist participates, however wanly, in his faith and commits himself to serving its cause, attending its religious services, and giving in monetary support. By contrast, being only spiritual but not religious might mean one does nothing at all! Maybe he sips a latte on Sunday morning while reading the proverbial (digital) newspaper on the deck in the sunshine!  

What I’ve encountered in some of these people, moreover, is an attitude of judgment of religion and intellectual pride surrounding their view that all these religions are either useless or all point to the same thing (and who needs them, therefore, anyway!).

The fact that many of us feel religion has abdicated its true calling by becoming partisan, sectarian and promoting divisiveness rather than peace and harmony is wholly and truly understandable.

Nonetheless, an objective reading of history will also disclose that religion has also been a force for unity, harmony, respect, rule of law, and peace at key moments during human history. No other human activity or impulse has this power. Legislation, imposed by police force, is insufficient. Reason has limited power to change behavior. High ideals and spiritual consciousness as exhibited not by prelates and popes but by saints HAS this power.

St. Francis is one, of many, examples. “Rebuild my church” the painting of Jesus on the cross, coming alive, commanded St. Francis. He, Francis, mistakenly thought the broken down church building needed repairs. In time he was to see that his role was to re-infuse Christendom with the true spirit of Christ. At the height of his life’s work, tens of thousands of people called themselves his disciples and adopted a truly spiritual way of life of prayer, sacrifice, service and love for all. St. Francis had all the reasons in the world to condemn popery and clerical abuses of his time. Instead, through love, self-sacrifice and example, he worked to change their consciousness.

In the now famous and extremely popular modern spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," by Paramhansa Yogananda, his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, challenged Yogananda’s aversion to religious organizations in this brief interchange (the result of which has blessed and inspired millions):

“Why are you averse to organizational work?” (Sri Yukteswar)
          Master’s question startled me a bit. It is true that my private conviction at the time was that organizations were “hornets’ nests.”
          “It is a thankless task, sir,” I answered. “No matter what the leader does or does not, he is criticized.”
          “Do you want the whole divine channa (milk curd) for yourself alone?” My guru’s retort was accompanied by a stern glance. “Could you or anyone else achieve God-contact through yoga if a line of generous-hearted masters had not been willing to convey their knowledge to others?” He added, “God is the Honey, organizations are the hives; both are necessary. Any form is useless, of course, without the spirit, but why should you not start busy hives full of the spiritual nectar?”
          His counsel moved me deeply. Although I made no outward reply, an adamant resolution arose in my breast: I would share with my fellows, so far as lay in my power, the unshackling truths I had learned at my guru’s feet. “Lord,” I prayed, “may Thy Love shine forever on the sanctuary of my devotion, and may I be able to awaken that Love in other hearts.”[1]

How often in my life of teaching meditation have I seen students come and go. Having taken a class(es) in meditation they turn away, whether receiving what they sought or in disappointment, not realizing that on their own they will very likely never establish the habit of meditation in daily life. "OK," you might object, "but maybe the Self-realization path (which includes Kriya Yoga) isn’t their way." But who can say that for sure.

I don't think that Yogananda’s prediction of Self-realization as the religion of the future can be so summarily dismissed. My teacher, friend, and founder of Ananda, Swami Kriyananda expressed Yogananda’s prediction by saying that he felt Yogananda was the “guru of this age."

Let me digress to explore what Swami Kriyananda might have meant by “guru of this age.” Certainly it is subject to interpretation but it makes no sense to me to see the term “guru” as being literal in respect to the human race at large. I think it means that Yogananda’s presentation of meditation and yoga philosophy was suited to this new age. He taught in our language and in our country (and to our scientific culture). It was not a mere transportation of old ideas and language (that of India) into a culture unfamiliar with it. Yogananda gave us a spiritual view of life and a way of life that is not based on narrow-eyed sectarianism, or, indeed any 'ism.
  
Yogananda spoke on subjects of marriage and child-raising, success and career, politics and history, economics and trade and not just theology and religion. He gave deep insights into our Judaeo-Christian culture and theology, and, to a lesser degree, that of other faiths. Nor did he abandon devotion and worship as if to please agnostics, atheists or die-hard materialists. He described his work and teachings as a “new dispensation” of eternal values and truths. The term “dispensation” implies that restrictions of the past have been loosed for a fresh new start on the path to the “truth that shall make us free.”

He brought answers to the spiritual needs and questions of the modern era and consciousness. We NEED inner peace in this fragmented society. We NEED advanced but relatively simple techniques of meditation like Kriya Yoga. In fact, we don’t need GURUDOM in the traditional outer forms that we see still prevalent today [where the teacher, living a life of luxury, is the center of attention by adoring millions]. Yogananda left this world at the relatively young age of 59 and left no viable successor gurus!

In fact, he said he was “the last of this line (of gurus). He left us his life-affirming counsel in all walks of life and he gave to us, on behalf of the lineage which sent him, Kriya Yoga. Organizations like Ananda are merely “delivery vehicles.”)

Religion is not going to go away. I once heard the Dalai Lama remark that the world doesn’t need more temples. Yes, I agree with him if he means enormous and expensive temples which are paeans to “churchianity”. But what we DO need is the support of one another to turn the tide of materialism, exploitation, racism and violence in a new direction towards cooperation, peace, and harmony.

“Religion,” Swami Kriyananda, and I’m sure others, have said “is organized spirituality.” Organization is the particular genius of the West. The science of consciousness is the gift of the East. We need both. A new and grass roots spiritual force must rise. And, it won’t be any one organization, like a super Catholic church. It will be many groups of like-minded souls who can acknowledge and cooperate with one another and who can be an example of “how-to-live” in a new age.

Let us then be “spiritual AND religious!”

Joy to you (and you, and you …. )


Swami Hrimananda

[1] Chapter 27, "Founding of a Yoga School at Ranchi"

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Be the Change : Be a Kriya Emissary!

There is a surge of inspiration worldwide among millions of meditators to find ways to become visible and to offer the “meditation solution” to a world in desperate need of change. 

Ananda, the worldwide network of communities and centers based on the practice of kriya yoga meditation, has initiated a campaign called, BE THE CHANGE: I Meditate. At the website, https://www.meditationpledge.com/ meditators around the world have an opportunity to pledge their meditation hours as an affirmation of their personal commitment to meditation as the solution to affecting a shift in worldwide consciousness towards peace, harmony, and cooperation.

The term “kriya” has always intrigued me for the simple reason that its literal meaning is simply (more or less): action. In Chapter 26 of the "Autobiography of a Yogi," Paramhansa Yogananda interprets the term as “union (yoga) with the Infinite through a certain rite or action.” Very generic is his explanation, in other words.

Swami Kriyananda may have been the first swami ever to take the spiritual name “kriyananda.” At the time, as I understand it, his intention related to the practice of kriya yoga. But inasmuch as Paramhansa Yogananda described Swamiji’s life as one of “service, and (he paused), meditation,” Swamiji also opined that his name has a double meaning: not just action as kriya yoga meditation but action as in service!

Why is it that Babaji and/or Lahiri Mahasaya used this singular, generic term (kriya) to describe the technique that they have given to the world? In our times every teacher goes out of his/her way to brand his own form of meditation or yoga with a trademarkable term! Were they simply ignorant of the benefits of trademarks and branding? (I can’t answer that for them, of course.) 

The term they chose is generic because creation at large and the human body specifically are generic. The way to enlightenment and to liberation is universal and not dependent upon belief or religious affiliation. The soul’s awakening gradually withdraws identification from the three bodies (physical, astral, causal) step by step going in reverse order and enter the kingdom of God through the channel(s) through which we came. The technique which they called “kriya” does precisely this. 

There are innumerable variations in terms of describing and practicing the technique itself. Thus it is that Yogananda claims that “St. Paul knew kriya, or a technique very similar to it…….” It’s the channel and the process that is universal. The details of the technique are important both as to the effectiveness which results by practicing the technique correctly to energize these channels AND as to the grace and power that comes through the guru and the instructions given by the guru.

Thus I come to my main thesis: as “kriya” refers to action, it is time for kriyabans (practitioners of kriya) to take action, to become Kriya Emissaries. I don’t mean we should rush out and teach the technique itself on the street corners. Meditation itself is “kriya” when understood in its broadest context. Ananda’s BE THE CHANGE initiative and campaign is the first level of our taking action. Sign up and pledge your meditation. Let’s achieve those million hours of meditation and help shift consciousness at a time in history when it is desperately needed.

But I would also hope that individuals, two by two (preferably), could with the support and guidance of their spiritual teacher, organization, or like-minded friends, go for a weekend; a week; a month; or more, and travel locally, regionally or internationally to share the BE THE CHANGE message and the practice of meditation. 

As most of my readers are likely affiliated with Ananda, this message can and should include sharing information on how and why the practice of kriya yoga can powerfully aid in this shift of consciousness. Paramhansa Yogananda wrote in "Autobiography of a Yogi" that the kriya technique is destined to spread around the world so that “all…may come to know that there is a definite, scientific technique of self-realization for the overcoming of all human misery.” Later in the "Autobiography of a Yogi," he writes, “Through use of the Kriya key, persons who cannot bring themselves to believe in the divinity of any man will behold at last the full divinity of their own selves.”

Whether we leave our town or city or not, we CAN be Kriya Emissaries. Sharing with others that we meditate need not be an imposition upon others. It can be done subtly: a picture at our desk; a book on a table; a suggestion to a friend. For others, taking a meditation teacher training course will not only help your meditation practice but it will empower you with confidence to share simple techniques with friends, family, children, or more formally in classes at work, fitness center, church, or other public venue.

“The only way out is IN!” The solution to humanity’s pressing issues today is a shift in consciousness. Leadership is needed but consciousness is by definition individual. This is the age of Self-realization which has come, as Yogananda put it, “to unite” all sincere seekers (not under the umbrella of any single organization or creed but under the shining stars of Superconsciousness!). Let us vow to ourselves, as Yogananda did when his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar challenged his resistance to public service, “to share with my fellows, so far as lay in my power, the unshackling truths I had learned at my guru’s feet.”

Joy to you,


Swami Hrimananda

Friday, March 17, 2017

I've Just Returned from a Pilgrimage to India

Two days ago I returned from helping to lead a trip to India for 24 Ananda members and students, most from the Seattle area. I've been many times to India but I would say that this trip was a highlight for me. I think I may, at last, have some perspective on these trips worth sharing.

Here's a few general things that have come clear:
1.    A true pilgrimage always involves "tapasya." Tapasya can, in this case, equate to the hardship and self-sacrifice that is entailed in leaving home, comforts and routine to travel a long distance to a foreign country for the sake of spiritual purification and upliftment. As one of the pilgrims put it, "it's not what you put in the brochure!" Maybe it should be, but we didn't! (We DID talk about it, however.) You can start with the simple fact that it is expensive to take such a trip but that's only one kind of tapasya. There's the discomfort and weariness of travel; the exposure to illness, disease, and general malaise associated with bacteria of a far distant country. There's heat, humidity and coldness: and we had it all, though truthfully, the heat was no by no means extreme, nor the cold, though we were near to literally freezing in the Himalaya (there was an unseaonable snow in Ranikhet). There are unlimited opportunities for annoyances specific to travel and to traveling in groups (where's there's bound to be one or more fellow travelers who get on your nerves).
2.    There's the unrealistic expectation that you are going to go into "samadhi" (a high spiritual state) at these holy shrines or in the presence of saintly people; or, that you might have visions or deep insights into your life's drama or into universal truth. Even though, in fact, you might have such experiences, the issue is one of expectations. What then is a realistic expectation in regards to the spiritual "fruit" of pilgrimage? Let me share some thoughts a little ways further on this very important topic.
3.    The bonds of friendships that derive from sharing meaningful, adventurous and new experiences, both mundane and sublime, cannot be understated. The value of learning patience with others and acceptance of self are enduring, practical, and life-long traits.
4.    Entering into a culture that is so different than one's own is expansive to the mind and heart. The importance of, as one pilgrim put it, "getting out of the bus" (from where we look out at Indian street culture, separate and safe), is paramount to the instinctive impulse in signing on to such a trip. Immersion is what the pilgrim seeks: both material and spiritual. It is empowering to ride local transportation; to visit the homes and families of locals; to learn about their history and way of life, and, more importantly, to experience their way of life: these are also essential. As visitors this is not easy and attempts to induce this integration can be all too false (like tourists attending a luau organized by their five star hotel in Hawaii). There are risks, both to health and person. But making the effort (which takes some courage, common sense, and intuition) is important. Five our pilgrims accepted the auto rickshaw driver's invitation to his home. They were all women. On paper, at least, it was risky, perhaps foolish. But grace and intuition seems to have guided them to a genuine and heart opening experience.
5.    India is changing rapidly. New apartment buildings are rising to surround temples, ashrams, and other sacred sites. Don't put off unnecessarily your inspiration to go on pilgrimage. Our travel to and our devotion to these holy places will help them survive and thrive. The Indian people take notice of our sincere interest in preserving and honoring these holy sites. A culture that historically and instinctively honors saints and sacredness seems wonderfully unusual to us. We may be stunned when we meet an Indian professional man or woman (perhaps in fields such as medicine or technology) who, while well educated and traveled, spontaneously and naturally expresses deep devotion to the guru, deities, or shrines. Same for the rickshaw driver. Either way, we contribute not only to developing our own devotion but preserving theirs by our example and our pilgrimage.
6.    No pilgrim from western countries can avoid the intensity of encountering first hand the contrast and seeming conflict and injustice between luxury and poverty; health and disease; life and death; self-indulgence and hunger, to name a few. To return each night to one's four or five star hotel after walking the streets where trash, hardship, and poverty run amuck is a contrast guaranteed to generate tears of sorrow or guilt, anger at injustice, or worst of all, deadening indifference. 
It is our intention that dictates the consequences. If we go truly on pilgrimage, offering ourselves and any tapasya that comes, into the flames of devotion, self-sacrifice, and desire for soul-freedom (ours and others), then the results are "guaranteed" but not in any way we can or should expect. Non-attachment to the fruits of pilgrimage must be our starting point. 

Spiritual consciousness and insight come "like a thief in the night" Jesus warns us. We must be prepared but not expectant. "Two are working in a field; one is taken, the other remains." This paraphrase of another of Jesus' metaphors reminds us that our consciousness (including intention) is more important than any outward (travel) or position (role). Prayer, meditation, humility, openness, equanimity under stress or success........these reflect the ways we must approach our pilgrimage if its spiritual fruit is to be tasted.

Spiritual blessings from pilgrimage may well be experienced after, even long after, the trip itself. The power to suddenly make important changes in your personal life may be felt almost immediately. For some, time is needed for the seeds of grace planted during the pilgrimage to sprout. The joy of pilgrimage may appear like flowers in the Spring but may not even be noticed by you until you return home when the contrast with your pre-pilgimage state becomes noticeable. Meditating in Babaji’s cave may be, for some, a contemplation of discomfort rather than bliss. But the effort may produce spontaneous wisdom or joy under otherwise challenging circumstances just when you need it most.

When we travelled to the Himalayas to visit Babaji's cave on Drongiri Mountain, northeast of the hill station of Ranikhet, we were met by unseasonable and near winter conditions. Hope of even ascending the path to the cave was silently at stake, potentially crushing our highest hopes. But, all in all, our group remained cheerful and confident regardless of weather conditions. But the following morning dawned bright and sunny, even if still cold. Our climb that day, and the next day's trip back down to the plains, was met with gorgeous, sunny weather!

Every culture has its own tailor-made ways and karmic patterns which produce misery for its people. India is no exception. Once one of the richest countries in former times, centuries of foreign occupation had reduced the subcontinent to the poorest of the poor countries. A rigid class (caste) system nurtured exploitation and prejudice even as it stifled freedom, creativity and energy for far too long. 

But all of this is steadily, even rapidly, changing. One cannot but experience the vibrancy and creativity of modern India. While loss of spiritual values attends growing material prosperity everywhere, it is a necessary stage in India's recovery and in overcoming past karma. Underlying this obvious trend, a pilgrim finds the innate sweetness, kindness, devotion to saints and sacredness, and hospitality very much alive today. India's avatars and saints, nurtured by the native devotion of its people, has, as Yogananda put it in his "Autobiography of a Yogi," bulwarked India against the fates of Egypt, Rome, Greece and other past civilizations.

The pilgrims' discomfort in encountering a culture that tolerates widespread beggary is not so easily resolved or dismissed. Each pilgrim must confront his response to extreme poverty in his or her own way. While we cannot end injustice or hunger by our own individual actions, we mustn't let this reality excuse our own indifference.

Share, then, as or if you feel to do so and under whatever circumstances confront your conscience. There is no one way; no pat response. I've seen the simple act of giving a few "cents" to a beggar create an onrush of fellow beggars grasping and pawing at the hapless foreigner whose confusion and discomfort grow to the point of panic or even anger.

At a train stop, some of us, with meal plates in front us in our seats, were confronted with a little boy outside our window on the platform asking for food. We had eaten a banquet only hours before and had little need for the meal placed in front of us on the train. There was no time to jump up and try to give our meal to this boy as the train was about to lurch forward. The feeling of helplessness: both his, and our own in responding to his need, produced tears and averted eyes. This is the price of expanding our awareness of realities far from our own. It is the price of opening one's heart to the realities of others. For this we have traveled so far.

The bonds of friendship in a holy and sacred effort last far beyond the few weeks of a pilgrimage. The simple exchanges of kindness with those in India whom we encountered in our journey, too, are heart-opening. We need not measure "success" by visions or superconscious experiences but by the yardstick of the open heart. Open not merely to sentiments or personalities but to the great Giver of Life, Love, and Joy from which the transforming power of love and friendship come. To attune ourselves to that divine power as manifested especially in the lives of those great saints whose lives reflect this power so perfectly is find a channel, a life-spring, to the Source.

We, who are, in a sense, privileged, have put our karmic inheritance to good use in fulfilling the timeless inspiration to leave all, risk all, and go on pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is a metaphor of the soul’s journey back to God. Not only do the destinations offer to us priceless blessings but the very journey itself opens our hearts and minds to the greater reality which we call Life: the divine Life.

It’s good to be back and it’s a blessing to have gone!

Nayaswami Hriman



Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What is Kriya Yoga?


Padma and I (and others) just returned from a four-day retreat at Ananda Village whose theme was the art and science of kriya yoga. Kriya Yoga is the central practice of the meditation teachings brought from India to the West by Paramhansa Yogananda and which are at the heart of the spirituality of Ananda worldwide. This article was sent to Ananda members in the Seattle area.

Kriya Yoga is an advanced form of meditation known and recognized throughout the world. It was re-introduced to the world in 1861 to a humble Hindu accountant, Shyama Charan Lahiri (aka Lahiri Mahasaya) by the mysterious Himalayan saint known only as “Babaji” who gave “Lahiri” permission to initiate any sincere seeker of any faith whether monk or householder.

Through the traditional transmission from teacher to student-disciple-teacher, the spread of Kriya Yoga was destined to encircle the globe. It is well suited to the modern age where the emphasis is upon personal experience over belief. Paramhansa Yogananda’s now famous life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, put Kriya Yoga on the world map of popular meditation techniques.

Both by tradition and by intention, Kriya Yoga (KY) has been given only to those who have received preparation and training using various preparatory meditation techniques. Traditional yoga training includes a healthy diet, right attitude and moderation in sense faculties, study of spiritual teachings, and physical exercises in addition to a spectrum of meditation and purification practices such as yoga postures and breath control.

The basic purpose of this training is both to test the aspirant’s sincerity AND to prepare the body, nervous system, and the mind for deeper and more advanced meditation practices and experiences. With the popularity of meditation ever growing, most people naturally seek physical and mental benefits. For this purpose, mindfulness techniques (such as the Hong Sau - "Watching the Breath" - technique taught by Yogananda) are more than adequate. Kriya Yoga is for those seeking enlightenment (using any number of other possible words or terminology).

The other prerequisite intended by the reintroduction of KY into popular use is the recognition ­— part in gratitude and part as a transmission of actual spiritual awakening — of the need for a God-realized guru or preceptor. Such a person is no mere ordinary spiritual teacher; nor is the intended transmission thwarted by the guru’s no longer being in living, human form. Any technique given as initiation, including the Kriya technique, functions as much as a “channel” for the transmission of higher consciousness as it does a technique of meditation. Without the former, the latter is only partly effective. As we are “Spirit” and not merely a body with a personality, so the spiritual freedom we seek cannot come through merely material means or psychological efforts alone.

The true Goal of advanced meditation practices transcends ego, personality, body and matter: it “lives” in a realm without second, without form, and in unconditional consciousness. Such a state is therefore its source and being beyond ordinary perception must be channeled and received bit-by-bit just as a computer or a cell phone conversation carries information bit-by-bit. The technique is to the goal as a cell phone is to the substance of a conversation. The cell phone alone cannot substitute for the conversation even as the cell phone makes the conversation possible.

But as the guru or preceptor is a transmitting station, a sub-station and transformer, for the ultimate Goal, we must recognize that the preceptor, too, has no substantive personality. Our “discipleship” is not to a person but to an “instrument” (a rather “conscious” cell phone tower, if you will) sending us transmissions from Infinity. In this somewhat limited sense, then, the technique itself can become our guide and guru because it allows the transmission of higher consciousness to reach us. As Yogananda said of himself in the role of guru, “God is the guru. I killed Yogananda long ago.” Just as we can no more pick up our cell phone and call the President of the United States, so we must call the switchboard and talk to one of God's reps! Eventually, by building a relationship of trust with those who have His ear, we’ll get through to “the top.”

Yogananda, as the guru, is no longer present in a human form. Far too much is made these days by prospective and otherwise sincere devotees of the fear or doubt surrounding a discipleship relationship with him since it must needs be an inner relationship alone. Recognizing that through kriya yoga practice one can consciously draw on the spiritual power of Yogananda’s omnipresent consciousness is hardly a threat, except perhaps to the obstructive, no-saying donkey we call the ego!

Nor does such a relationship prohibit the recognition of other God-realized channels, for in God consciousness, there are no distinctions and no competition for loyalty. Whether world teacher or unknown, a free-soul is no more, or no less, free in God.

Given, however, that few devotees, even among the most committed, can spend more than an hour or two each day in the practice of kriya yoga, it must be recognized that the company of other (and especially more advanced) devotees is one of the most important ways of drawing on that spiritual transmission. This outward “transmission” is necessary so long as we are “outward” in our consciousness and self-definitions. Serving the outward work of the guru’s transmission with fellow devotees is easily one of the most important ways to advance spiritually and transcend ego consciousness. It doesn’t necessarily mean being a teacher: there are many ways to serve, each according to what is best spiritually for him. If one’s life circumstances permits such association but one balks at this opportunity, one would do well to question his spiritual readiness.

A wonderful description of Kriya Yoga can be found in Chapter 26 of “Autobiography of a Yogi.” The book can be read online for free at www.Ananda.org. You can also watch several video presentations by Padma and I on our own website: www.AnandaWA.org/kriya-yoga/ .

Sincerely and with unceasing blessings,

Nayaswamis Hriman and Padma

Monday, October 20, 2014

In the Footsteps of St. Francis - A Perspective

A group of Ananda members from Seattle, WA have just returned from a two-week visit to Italy. We saw the sights of Rome and the treasures of Florence, but these were but introductions to the deep spirituality which is their true source and the greatest treasure of Italy and of humankind: "the Word made flesh and dwelt amongst us."

So much has been said about the impact of St. Francis on religion and culture that I feel in awe of even attempting to share any insights. As a fact of history, St. Francis mobilized and inspired thousands of people in the direction of a profound and deep spirituality (many becoming saints like himself). His use of the vernacular, the language of the Italy of his time, and his love and embrace of nature, is said (by those more knowledgeable than me) to have sown the seeds for the Italian renaissance. Over a thousand years after the life of Jesus, he was the first to recreate and reenact, for devotional purposes, the birth of Jesus. In one simple event in a small village, he single-handedly birthed one of the most profound and inspired traditions of Christendom: the Nativity!

While ancient Rome was, itself, a colossus of genius, brute force, and sheer energy, it is not really the cultural treasure of Italy today. After all, most of it is in ruins. Nonetheless, I came to feel that for Italians, and Romans especially, they are understandably proud of their ancestral tradition and history of the glory of ancient Rome. Surely this memory has inspired some of Rome's offspring to heights of glory and genius. (Yes, Mussolini attempted to imitate it, too, for sure!). I can't say that the "glory of Rome" resonates deeply with me but any objective measure of it at its height is impressive by any standard.

Thus it is that I believes the echoes of that former greatness continued to emanate from its center in Rome far into the medieval and renaissance periods. What happened, historically, was that the fading glory and strength of the Roman empire was given over by Emperor Constantine to the fledgling Christian religion. The Church thus inherited the erstwhile power and glory of Rome, even if much reduced, indeed, on the brink of collapse, but Christianity re-enabled that power into a new form and for a new era of history.

The brilliance of the classical periods of Greece and Rome is found in its foundations in logic, reason, and appreciation and devotion to the human experience and psyche, both body and mind. While far from religiously spiritual, the classical times had a strength and beauty of its own. Indeed, so much so, that by the height of the Italian renaissance and against the pressures of the Protestant revolt, the Catholic Church itself was accused of paganism because it supported great works of art that depicted characters and gods and goddesses from the classical period and, shockingly, featured the human body in all its (unclothed) glory.

(An aside: To those of us who view human history in the light of the theory of the "Yugas" as revealed and re-interpreted by Swami Sri Yukteswar in his abstruse tome, "The Holy Science," we see that during the classical periods of Greece and Rome the power of the pantheon of the gods had become mostly an empty ritual. Belief in gods was on the decline as human consciousness was steadily losing its power of subtle perceptions beyond physical form. The old time religions devolved into superstitions and myths, the power now faded into empty, even debased, rituals and time-worn customs.

To replace the gods, humanity, or those few with integrity and insight, only had human life as a measure of our potential. What arose is what we might call today "secular humanism." This included the Stoics and the emphasis on ethics and morals based on human reason. The decline of human awareness, according to the yuga theory, reached its nadir around 500 A.D. -- about the time of the last Roman emperor. The libraries of learning and knowledge from past ages were purposely destroyed out of fear, ignorance and disdain for their seeming uselessness. Then began the slow ascent, first through the Dark Ages, then medieval times onto the Renaissance, the Protestant revolt, the age of exploration and so on. The cycle reached its parallel, though ascending rather than descending, with the Greek and Roman secular humanism during the so-called "Enlightenment," the Age of Reason which occurred roughly around the time of the American and French revolutions. In the ascending cycle, such a stage in the growing awareness of human consciousness would be a natural result of the Renaissance and the age of exploration during which human thought and the natural world became legitimate and inspired objects of man's growing self-interest. Medieval mysticism and heaven and hell began to lose their lustre in part as deep thinkers, and later, whole generations, lost faith in the practicality of their reality, such a loss being catalyzed in part due to the excesses of church institutionalism. For a marvelous and eye-opening explanation of the yugas, visit: http://www.crystalclarity.com/product.php?code=BTY)

Returning now to our subject, it occurs to me that the Roman genius and energy was reborn by divine decree (blessings, in other words) in the flowering of Christianity which replaced the Roman empire. Unfortunately, it would long be tainted, as if even by physical association, by the Roman legacy of seeking power by conquest, beauty in grandiose architecture, ego affirmation and sensuality.

The transformation of the Roman legacy into essentially a religious and spiritual one was something I felt as I walked the streets of Rome. My sense was for a new-found appreciation of the spiritual influence of so many saints (and martyrs) through whose sacrifice and consciousness the failed Roman empire was transformed into the spiritual heart of Christendom and which effectively moved its center of gravity from Jerusalem to Rome. The presence of saints Peter and Paul, alone, would have endowed the ancient city with the blessing of being an "eternal city."

As Buddha was a Hindu, Jesus was a Jew. As Buddhism left India and went east, Christianity left Palestine and went west. Such was the divine will. Rome became the center of Christian energy and remains so today. As we are witnessing a mini-renaissance in the Catholic Church under Pope Francis, purposely taking the name of St. Francis ("rebuild my Church"), so we can see at work the continuation of the promise of Jesus that to Peter he gave the keys to the kingdom on which to build his church which will stand to the end of time. (How well it has carried out its commission is, of course, debatable, but the Catholic Church is still here and is in fact experiencing yet another renaissance of sorts. That Paramhansa Yogananda gave a more metaphysical and more personal interpretation of Jesus' words doesn't necessarily negate a more outward interpretation if not taken too literally.)

Padma (my wife) pointed out that Yogananda taught that Jesus appeared to the prophet Babaji and asked Babaji to send someone from India to the west to resurrect the personal practice of inner communion using the art and science of eastern meditation. To St. Francis, then, Jesus appeared with a similar message, "Rebuild my church" by the personal "Imitation of Christ." In one conversation, one of the pilgrims wondered if, in fact, St. Francis was himself a reincarnation of Jesus. Francis had twelve disciples; he was the first to receive the stigmata (wounds of Christ); he imitated the life of Jesus literally; raised the dead. Well, anyone, idle speculation, to be sure.

Thus it was that on this journey, I found it "easy," perhaps obvious, to ascribe the genius of the Italian Renaissance (in art, sculpture and architecture) to the spiritual power and transformation of consciousness that St. Francis initialized. Further, it seems to me that Francis' appearance on the scene was a continuation of an essential vibration of greatness that stretches back, albeit taking a very different form, to Roman times. Francis' greatness was entirely spiritual but its ramifications created echoes, like waves, emanating outward from the initial shock of omnipresence, resulted in, literally, a renaissance of human consciousness. Each aspect of this being understood in the larger context of the devolution and subsequent evolution (upward) in human consciousness.

It was appropriate, therefore, that our little pilgrimage begin with a tour of the cultural treasures of Rome and Florence. On those treasures, I have little to say or to add, as art, for art's sake, is not an area of great personal interest. That I was as floored, awed, and inspired as just about anyone (ought to be) by these great works, I attest and confess, but beyond the general shock into speechlessness that many experience, I have nothing to add!

So, now we will go onto Assisi in the next article..............in the footsteps of St. Francis.......taking a far more personal and spiritually oriented tone..............and away from the more grandiloquent tone of this first "perspective."

Blessings,

Swami Hrimananda




Saturday, August 30, 2014

What is the best meditation technique? What is Kriya Yoga?

What is the best meditation technique? Can a device with sound or images or other electronic stimulation really deepen your meditation? Should I use a pre-recorded, guided meditation aid? Are all the techniques which use the term "kriya" the same? There are so many mantras and pranayams and gurus, where does one even begin?

The short answer ("All roads lead to Rome") has some validity and is a tempting rejoinder and end to all these questions, but . . . . the "real answer" is both subjective (personal) and objective (demonstrable).

A proper response also requires an understanding of the purpose of meditation, whether, too, from the one's personal motivation or from the tradition and history of meditation itself. But I have addressed the question of "What is Meditation" in other articles on this site. For my purposes, I will assume that our shared understanding of the purpose of meditation is primarily a spiritual one.

"What works best for you" is a fair yardstick although be forewarned that you risk "the blind leading the blind and both falling in a ditch" of ignorance. It's like practicing hatha (physical) yoga because it's a good body workout experience: just because everybody does it, it still misses the true purpose of yoga by a "country mile."

Let's start with the personal: the meditation technique that is right for you has to work for you; it has to appeal to you: enough in the beginning to be attracted to it, and enough in the end to stick with it. This is not the same thing as saying your technique is effortless, easy, and blissful. Think of marriage (or a meaningful profession or career) as a comparison.

Notwithstanding the internet, CD's, DVD's and old-fashioned books, it is also worth noting that no effective (and long-term) meditation technique is divorced from its source: the teacher (or tradition). Partly it's a matter of your own confidence and faith in that technique. If John Smith down the street writes a book on meditation, it might strike your curiosity but I doubt it's going to change your life through daily, deep practice. Both the message and messenger are equally important. Meditation is personal: never forget that!

Not only, therefore, must the technique appeal to you and work sustain-ably for you but you must feel a connection, confidence, inspiration and/or faith in the teacher and/or tradition from which your chosen technique has come. I will stop short of talking about gurus and a disciple-guru relationship. I have written of that in other articles on this site.

There is one further point on the question of personal: the teachings and philosophy that surrounds your technique and teacher. Meditation, viewed in the vacuum of this article discussing technique (as such), might seem disconnected from the need for philosophy, theology, or teaching. Indeed, many meditation teachers say just that: you can be an atheist and practice meditation. Fine: who would argue with that! (I've said it myself!) But that, too, is a philosophy and a teaching. And maybe that really inspires you!

Thus some meditators practice under the auspices of one of the many Buddhist traditions; or Indian traditions; or Christian monastic traditions, or Sufi, Taoist, or Shinto and so on.

So, on a personal level, and as my own teacher, Swami Kriyananda put it in a talk he gave: we need to find the "right teacher, right teaching and right technique" for US and OUR spiritual evolution. All three (like Father, Son and Holy Ghost) are integral components of a successful (i.e. life changing) meditation practice.

Now, let's move on to the "objective" aspects of techniques. Almost any sincere and intelligent effort to meditate will produce positive results. That being said, we enter into the science of meditation. Keeping this article to a reasonable length, let us simplistically say that a successful technique or sitting in meditation experience will yield a mind that is focused and free from random thoughts; a body that is perfectly still (being relaxed but alert); and a "heart" or "mind" that experiences an expansion of consciousness and/or deep satisfaction in the form of inner peace (joy, love, etc.). Let's just leave it at that for now, ok?

The science of meditation teaches us that there is an intimate connection between our mind and body through the medium of breath. Our breath (in its various and measurable attributes of inhalation and exhalation) reflects our state of mind. Our state of mind affects our breath. This relationship is the bedrock of meditation.

The mind, however, can be influenced by conscious and intentional body movements (think yoga, martial arts), by mental concentration (mantra, visualization and affirmation), and by inspiration (chanting, prayer, and devotional images). Each of these, relative to breath, are still somewhat "outside" ourselves. They are effective when employed intelligently, consistently, and as guided intuitively. But the ultimate tool and the source (both) is the mind which in its purest form transcends any specific mental image or physical form. The breath has more directly than any of these other techniques a psycho-physiological impact upon the mind.

I am not saying that breath techniques are BETTER than mantra or devotion, for example. Rather, I am saying that the breath, relatively uncolored and free from the image-making faculties of the mind (which, in the end are abandoned in the higher states of meditation), works directly upon the mind. In the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, the core sutra states that oneness is achieved when the mind transcends creating and reacting to stimuli (mental or otherwise): Stanza 2: "Yogas chitta vritti nirodha."

That fact doesn't invalidate the wide range of meditation techniques. St. Teresa of Avila discovered from direct experience how to go from formulaic prayer to silent, inner prayer and finally beyond all mentation into ecstatic, breathless states of divine communion. She was known to levitate and even bi-locate.

Nonetheless, the discovery of the mind-breath-body connection IS the science of meditation. It is HOW the mind rediscovers the transcendent state of pure consciousness even while in a body. Thus it is that breath techniques (aka "pranayama") abound and are very often at least part of the most effective and popular meditation techniques that are taught and practiced today.

I practice the popular Kriya Yoga technique as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda and his lineage (Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Swami Sri Yukteswar). It has been made known principally through his famous story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." Chapter 26 of that book ("Kriya Yoga") can be read for free online: http://www.ananda.org/free-inspiration/books/autobiography-of-a-yogi/.

While most of the popularly used pranayams focus on the breath, diaphragm, and lungs, Kriya Yoga focuses on the internal, subtle breath whose movements, yogis tell us, cause the physical breath. These currents of energy (known as "prana") revolve up and down in the subtle (or "astral") body which inhabits (creates, sustains, and, at death, leaves) the physical body. The intelligent vital Life Force of prana flows out to the physical body through doorways known as "chakras." Kriya Yoga organically and gradually teaches one how to control this life force so as to consciously coax it inward and away from its captivity in the organs and tissues of the physical body so its power and intelligence (which is divine) can reunite with its commander-in-chief, the Soul, residing in the higher(est) chakras in and around the head. This goal is the state of yoga: union with the Soul and then, eventually, with the Infinite Oversoul which is God.

Each conscious rotation of the prana in the astral body through the chakras is equivalent to living one full solar year in perfect harmony with the body, with the world and with the soul. Excluding the seventh chakra, the soul, the remaining six chakras becomes twelve by the polarity of the movement of prana up and down and through these chakras (producing, in turn, in each rotation, one breath cycle of inhalation and exhalation). These twelve constitute the true inner astrological constellations under which our karma (past actions) reside and which must be untied and released so their energy may seek soul-union above in the seventh chakra.

In this manner, Yogananda taught that the practice of Kriya Yoga is the "airplane route" to God because it accelerates our spiritual evolution by resolving karmic patterns without having to wait many lifetimes to work out each and every desire and make good each and every debt.

Kriya Yoga is not only a technique: it is a spiritual path. It therefore uses devotion, chanting, affirmation, mantra and good works, right attitude....in short all the tools of the spiritual "trade" that one sees universally employed. By adding this direct perception and control of our inner, soul anatomy, we have a meditation technique suited to our cultural inclination toward science (and away from sectarianism).

I will not conclude by saying "Kriya Yoga is the BEST technique" but it is a great gift to the world for those who feel drawn to it and inspired by its preceptors and precepts.

Blessings to you,

Nayaswami Hriman


Monday, April 8, 2013

India Pilgrimage - the Final Episode!

It seems right to me now to skip ahead to the final adventure on our three week trip to India: Babaji's cave (near the hill station town of Ranikhet). Yes, it's true I skip the Taj Mahal and our visit to the lovely Ananda Center in Gurgaon (a few miles south of Delhi). But all good things must end and so, too, this travelogue.

After visiting the Ananda Center in Gurgaon on Sunday, March 17 (in the afternoon and evening), we bussed to the old train station in Delhi for an overnight train to the line's end at the foot of the Himalayas--a town called Kathgodam. The Old Delhi station was a museum piece, a small version of the old Howrah Station in Calcutta, but much messier in what I saw, with lots of people sleeping on the floor everywhere and a narrow warren of steps and overhead passageways with descending stairs onto each train platform across a large and enclosed rail yard. Very old fashion, very NOT tidy, and very old. One felt claustrophobic and slightly ill at ease, safety wise. The response was to "puff up" as it were and look snappy and snippy like a seasoned traveller. I kept a close watch, as did my friend, Bimal, on those few pilgrims with wanderlust.

We scurried through these ancient corridors like rats, resembling a new form of rat (of Western origin) but otherwise pressing forward or against a sea of rats just like us: going to and from trains, or servicing trains (porters, e.g.). After some confusion about our track number, we found our train and hustled aboard a faded blue, decades old set of cars. Ten of us, out of the some thirty, were arbitrarily assigned by the railway online service to First Class cars: a euphemism, merely, they were hardly "first class." Each compartment had 4 berths so I and one other pilgrim, Patricia, got the other eight seated and we took a compartment that had two others (men) in it. The bunks were positioned so the head or feet faced crossways to the direction of travel. The compartment door closed to the hallway but otherwise the bunks were open one to the other.

A man, attempting already to sleep, did not want us to turn the lights on. We had to position our belongings, make our beds, and prepare for sleep in very dim light. I was not feeling well, having a cold and sore throat. I meditated a while but, though lying down, slept not at all through the night. The train would stop for a few minutes and then move on.

Before dawn, we arrived at Kathgodam. The morning air was slightly chilly. We disembarked groggy and perhaps a little grumpy, all of us. We stumbled in the darkness toward the station and out into the parking lot. Fortunately, our guide, Mahavir, and the two buses were waiting. In a few minutes drive, by pre-arrangement, a local hotel welcomed us into their breakfast room where we could use the toilet, have some tea, and biscuits.

Then off we went into the dawn, quickly rising up the foothills on a twisting and turning two-lane (paved) road. Already the air here was clearer and cleaner. The refreshment of woods and mountains poured down from high above like a healing breeze. We dozed and then would gaze at the increasingly beautiful scenery that unfolded in the morning light as we went up and up and up.......at turns we could see a hint of the vast Indian subcontinent plains stretching south into an invisible distance hidden by a slightly brown layer of dust and smoke clouds as far as the eye could see.

After some time, perhaps an hour or more, we arrived at a delightfully scenic village on a pond (well, ok they called it a lake). Our buses negotiated the village lanes in a cumbersome, elephantine gait and deposited us a few steps from a hillside ashram belonging to the silent woman saint, Mauni Ma, a direct disciple of Neem Karoli Baba (guru to the famous Baba Haridas). It is a lovely place, clean and quite large, freshly painted. We were still befuddled with sleeplessness. Murali guided us in energization exercises and stretching exercises to help throw off the sleep and I did a guided meditation sadhana lest too much silence produce the sacred hong snore mantra.

Mauni Ma's son addressed us afterwards in the sadhana room and then invited us down into the courtyard for tea and prasad. (We met her, in silence of course, on our way back to Kathgodam before boarding the night train back to Delhi. On that train ride, I slept like a newborn, thus redeeming my less than felicitous prior experience.)

We didn't stay long as we then began a longish but most delightful hike around the village and its lake to a resort hotel on the far side where we had a wonderful breakfast inside and out on the patio. We enjoyed and prolonged our stay as much as we could as it was healing balm visually and in all ways from the intensity of the last many days in the crowded and polluted cities and the heat of the northern plains.

At last we had to board our buses for the long ride up and up the mountains toward Ranikhet. The scenery was stunning but most of us soon tired of the turns and twists and unending mountain roads in these buses which seemed out of place on the narrow and steep roads. We chanted and sang; rested and watched; chatted and read.

Half way up we stopped at an ashram of Neem Karoli Baba. It is extremely clean and beautiful, at the edge of a happy and flowing river in a wooded canyon of sorts. We meditated there for quite some time; had tea at the tea stalls and generally were refreshed and prepared for the next many hours. As we rose in the mountains the sun beat more directly upon the mountain sides and our buses. The last part was mentally and physically challenging for most of us.

At last we reached the hill station along a high ridge facing north. Between the trees I eager looked for glimpses of the Himalayan peaks, still some one hundred miles or so north of us. Soon I was rewarded, even in the fading light of the day. Soon all were pressed to the glass oohhing and aaaahing at every turn as new peaks appeared and brightened our faces and warmed our hearts. We were, though tired, thrilled, for few, if any had ever seen the majestic sacred Himalayan range except in photos.

The Woodsvilla Resort was several miles past Ranikhet, driving along the ridgeline going east. It seemed the bus drive would never end! But at last we arrived and were warmly welcomed by the hotel staff and assisted down the long flight of stone steps into the lobby and soon thereafter to our rooms and into the dining room for dinner. We all retired early to await the big day of going to Babaji's cave on nearby Dronagiri Mountain.

The next day I arose long before sunrise. I could not wait to see the morning light streak across the face of the Himalayan magistrates. I laugh at myself because in my eagerness to watch the drama of light on such a panorama, I decided that surely my guru wouldn't mind if, just this morning, I meditated with my eyes open!

So, I sat on the cushioned window seat facing the Himalayan range and waited as I meditated. Slowly light began to fill the sky. The faces of of the eternal-snow rishis went from darkened silhouette to a clear outline and then a full face. At last, streaks of light shot forth from the east (to my right) and hit the snow-clad mountains full on. Their faces burned with light and came to life before my eyes. The morning dawned cloudless and clear. The sky gradually but quickly turned from inky darkness and star-lit to brilliant blue. It was a thrilling experience; one I will never forget.

This day, then, we are to travel to Babaji's cave. I won't take the "real estate" to describe the wonderful story of Lahiri Mahasaya, age 33, in the year 1861, being transferred mysteriously to Ranikhet and, while out wandering the hills, being called to meet the peerless and deathless guru, Babaji, and being initiated into Kriya Yoga in a cave on Dronagiri Mountain.  I refer you , instead, to Chapter 34 - Materializing a Palace in the Himalaya in Yogananda's famous Autobiography of a Yogi. It is to this cave, reputed to be the very cave, where we are to go today.

It took several hours to get there by our bus. The windy road led down the other side of the mountain, traveling north from the hill station of Ranikhet and along a beautiful, green-carpeted and terraced river valley with quaint villages and picturesque scenes. Then, up the other side along the flanks of Drongiri, not far from the town of Dwarahat. Our drivers took a "short-cut" to avoid going through Dwarahat. I was looking forward to the town because my daughter Gita and I had stayed there two nights on our first visit here less than two years ago. Not knowing this I became confused because as our vehicles rose higher and higher, it seemed to me that I recognized my surroundings as being Drongiri Mountain, yet we hadn't gone through the town! (Later the route we had taken was explained to me.) While very close to our destination, we stopped to take a group photo with the backdrop of several Himalayan Peaks cast against Drongiri Mountain. It was absolutely stunning. All we could do was joke and cajole but inside I think we all felt we had died and gone to heaven but, having just arrived, we weren't sure quite how to behave!

Within minutes, then, we had reached the trailhead to Babaji's cave. Increasingly throughout the world, this remote pilgrimage spot is becoming known. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunagiri ). There's a tea stall and very rustic "hotel" there. We got our provisions readied, did a brief prayer, and began our walk. It starts along a jeep track that follows the curve of the mountain. The sun was hot because now midday, so many of us covered up. The altitude is about 8,000 feet and you feel it when you leave the jeep track and begin trekking more seriously up the side of the mountain.

For me in both visits there I experience the mountain as having a soft light, a mellow light "around the edges." It feels mystical. If that is mere sentiment, then so-be-it. The large rhododendron trees had flaming red flowers on them and on the ground beneath them. The pine trees are dwarf-like, and somewhat spindly and miniature, adding to a fairy-like feeling that someone is watching or the landscape is alive and conscious. You can't see the cave from below.

The trail, once leaving the jeep track, is steep but basically in excellent shape. Signs display the fact that Yogoda Satsangha Society (YSS) owns the property. One crosses what is supposed to be the Gogash River (see Chapter 34) but in March it was sadly dry. It is a shadow of its former self. Lahiri Mahasaya said that Babaji had him lie down at the river's edge after taking some kind of cleansing herbs or drink. He spent the better part of the night there before being summoned back up to the cave.

Just below the cave, YSS has constructed a fence-enclosed outbuilding. I suppose it has supplies in it but it is locked. It makes for a good staging area and picnic area for the final ascent up the trail to the cave itself.

The cave is small. On the inside, it was walled off by YSS to protect the deeper reaches of the cave. I do not know why. The cave itself is locked with an iron gate. We were fortunate however to be allowed in and we took turns meditating there. Many also meditated just outside the cave and on the ledges and hillside surrounding the cave. For breaks one would descend the trail back to the staging area for a snack and a rest.

The hill is pocked with caves and legend has it that not far away there is (are) a cave(s) where centuries ago the Pandavas sought shelter. According to the internet link shown above, the region is spiritually charged.

In meditating there, one should not expect great inner experiences. Should this occur, well, of course that is wonderful. Safe it is, rather, to be still and pray to receive the blessings and grace of the Mahavatar Babaji and the other great rishis (starting with Lahiri Mahasay) upon one's life.

I came away with a deeper appreciation for the truth that in this sore-pressed world come such great souls to show us the way out of delusion and into inner freedom. More than that I came away with a greater appreciation that without the grace of God incarnating in human form through the avatara (divine descent into the human forms by Self-realized souls), we can never find our way out of the labyrinth of suffering and unhappiness. All the great moments and trends of history, politics, religion, science and the arts pale by comparison with the significance of the avatara. Though human history largely ignores them and human beings are indifferent or worse, it remains, in my view and that of devotees and saints everywhere, the most significant fact of human history and our soul's greatest blessing and opportunity.

The rest of our journey was essentially the journey back home to Seattle. Most of it warrants no special description. We were weary and many bore the marks of travel fatigue and illness, but our hearts and souls were cleansed and refreshed. I hope and pray to God that each of my fellow pilgrims retain some permanent beatitude, some light, that can guide the next steps of their spiritual journey towards soul freedom.

With gratitude and devotion, I bow at the lotus-feet of Babaji, of my guru Paramhansa Yogananda, their lineage and to all saints and sages in every time and clime who have walked the path to God-realization and, in so doing, have lit the path for others to follow.

Thank you, dear friends and readers, for coming on this journey with us.

May the light of the Masters shine upon you,

Nayaswami Hriman