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

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























Friday, March 29, 2013

Kolkata: Home of Saints, Avatars, Poets, Scientists & Revolutionaries

Part 2 in Pilgrimage to India series:

In the pre-dawn darkness we boarded the train from Puri to Kolkata: the same train and tracks that Paramhansa Yogananda and his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, would have taken together from about 1910 to 1920. (Sri Yukteswar would have gone there from 1903 to 1936 by train.)

Yes, indeed, the train looked like it was the same one, too. You couldn't open the windows or even really see out of the train windows and the bathroom was simply a hole in the floor: need I say more? It was, however, air conditioned, but even that was mostly an affirmation. For nearly eight hours we rode north along the coast and inland before arriving at Howrah Railway Station, Calcutta: perhaps India's greatest and largest and most famous railway station. Here Lahiri Mahasaya, Paramhansa Yogananda, Swami Sri Yukteswar, innumerable devotees and perhaps even Ramakrishna and most certain his great disciple, Vivekananda, and also Ananda Moyi Ma would have boarded and exited trains! 

But Howrah was surprisingly tidy and quiet: not at all what I expected. There's an old building, where we de-trained, and a newer one. The rail yards are quite large and extensive. We boarded our tour bus but instead of crossing the Hoogli River into Calcutta by the Howrah Bridge, we circled around and entered the city across a brand new, modern suspension bridge to soon arrive at our hotel, the lovely and welcoming Kenilworth. (The Hoogli River is a branch of the Ganges as she splits apart to become the "mouths" of the Ganges flowing into the sea. For our purposes and that of most Indians, she is the Ganges!)

Fresh from the train ("a euphemism, merely, we were covered with soot" -- Autobiography of a Yogi), we soon got back on the bus (after depositing ourselves in the lovely and refreshing Kenilworth Hotel) to visit Yogananda's increasingly famous boyhood home at 4 Garpar Road, Calcutta. Somnath, the husband of Sarita (they have two grown daughers), is descended from Yogananda's younger brother, a well known artist in his own right, Sananda Lal Ghosh. The family, with assistance from devotees, have restored and now maintain the home for the purposes of serving devotees from all over the world. Treasures in photos and paintings (including colorized photos), personal belongings and of course a place of pilgrimage await all who come with devotion. Yogananda's bedroom; his attic meditation room; the spot where Babaji stood to bless his journey to the West....this and much more bring the great guru to life in his youthful vitality. 

We had two visits there; the second one came three days later, on March 7, the day that commemorates Yogananda's "mahasamadhi" (conscious exit from his physical body). (On that day in 1952 in a crowded banquet room of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, Yogananda left this world speaking of his India and his America!)

So we chanted and meditated, taking turns meditating in Yogananda's bedroom and in his attic meditation room while having our central spot in the upstairs living room. On March 7, we had a discipleship renewal ceremony. All told, I think I can speak for most of us in saying this home was one of the trip's many highlights. The family served a catered lunch to us on that Thursday, March 7 and shared some time-honored stories of Yogananda's upbringing. 

On March 5, the day after our arrival and after our first visit to Garpar Road, we visited the home of Yogananda's boyhood friend: Tulsi Bose. It is down the block and around the corner. You could never imagine it being what it really is: one of India's most precious shrines, but unknown to all of India and the world. For reasons of destiny, Yogananda's own home contained too large a family and was too busy a place for his youthful spiritual search. Divine Mother caused him to seek and meet young Tulsi Bose, whose home was quieter and better suited for satsang (spiritual gatherings), although considerably smaller. Master (Yogananda) spent much time there both as a high school and college student but also upon his only return visit to India, spanning 1935-1936. Stories from family and friends abound, for Yogananda's return to India was a big sensation throughout India but most certainly in Bengal: local boy does good! He was as much a spiritual sensation and sought-after speaker in India as he had been during his barnstorming days in America in the Twenties and Thirties.

There is what is now an old somewhat fragile guest chair in the tiny (12' x 15' ?) downstairs living room where the likes of Yogananda, Sri Yukteswar, perhaps Lahiri Mahasaya, plus one or more of Lahiri's most advanced disciples, Swami Vivekananda, anyone?, and who knows how many other saints (and I think that includes Ananda Moyi Ma, and maybe even Ramakrishna's widow, Sharda Devi?), had sat and where chanting, meditation, and high spiritual experiences, too numerous to attempt to catalogue here, had taken place. Just try sitting in that chair: a kind of "electric" chair! But be careful: it is very fragile!

Upstairs is the tiger skin that Sri Yukteswar meditated upon; plus the deerskin of Yogananda and the bed where they had slept at various visits. We took turns sitting on these to meditate! In an tiny upstairs meditation room are relics so numerous they've yet to be classified. One that stands out for most of us is an iron trident said to be given by Babaji to Lahiri, Lahiri to Sri Yukteswar, S.Y. to Master, and Master, having left it with Tulsi! The trident is the symbol of Shiva! Talk about "power."

I doubt anyone left there empty-hearted: awe-struck, at minimum, inwardly quiet and blissful, probably. And over all this tiny domain their reigns a queen of hearts, a custodian-saint worthy of the privilege: Tulsi's now elderly daughter, Hassi Mukherjee. Hassi was blessed by Master in 1936 when Hassi's mother, Tulsi's wife (chosen for him by Master), was pregnant. Years later Hassi, as a young girl, spoke to Master in Los Angeles by telephone when he would ring up to see how the family was doing. Master always watched over his extended, human family, even from afar, in America.

After a catered lunch in this tiny home, we motored to the nearby Dakshineswar Temple, home of Ramakrishna's life-long lila (life drama) -- as resident "avatar!" We chanted on the very spot in the portico opposite the statue of Divine Mother (Goddess Kali), where Master had an experience of Divine Mother as he describes in his autobiography. We watched the sunset across the Hoogli and meditated in the bedroom where Ramakrishna lived for 30 years.

What a day that was!

Calcutta has an interesting role in the history of modern India: from the mid to late 19th century until about the 1930's (as I understand it), West Bengal spawned a rise in nationalism and national and cultural pride through the genius and courage of such great souls as Rabindranath Tagore (poet laureate), J.C. Bose (scientist), reformers of Hinduism, revolutionaries, and, of course, an entire line of avatars! For those interested in historical matters, and who find synchronicity fascinating, it is well worth researching.

Wednesday, March 6, we crossed the Hoogli and went upriver to the town of Serampore: actually, Sri Ram Pur (city): site of Swami Sri Yukteswar's home. The home is mostly gone and now off limits to visitors, being occupied by what we assume are his descendants. Instead, there is a small shrine next door where we meditated for a while.

Then we walked through the ancient and quaint lanes to the riverside to the Rai Ghat, where Babaji once appeared to Sri Yukteswar to congratulate him on the completion of his book, The Holy Science. (Babaji had asked and commissioned S.Y. to write this tome which was intended to announce the basic message of these avatars: that the underlying message of Christ and Krishna, of Christianity and Hinduism, is the same.)

At this bathing ghat, too, did S.Y. and his disciple, Paramhansa Yogananda, would come in the early morning to bathe in the Ganges. Here we sat around the aged banyan (where Babaji and his band had stood to greet S.Y.), and chanted joyfully as throngs of locals pressed forward in curiosity. The experience was exhilarating. What a contrast between our hearts and minds and the mundane scene and thoughts of those around us. Presumably they did not understand our joy, though I would guess they have become somewhat accustomed to these groups of Westerners (and Indians) coming throughout the year to sit under the banyan tree and meditate.

These simple shrines and places specific to Yogananda and his line are yet to be particularly of note to modern Indian culture. Thus their seeming invisibility to the culture contrasts sharply with the intensity of feeling and magnetic draw they have for certain souls from around India and the world.

Then we crossed town to visit with the descendants of Master's elder brother, Ananta. Durlov, his wife, and his son greeted us and feed us a delightful lunch and regaled us to with family stories. Ananda members had, some years ago, intervened to help the family (in the spirit of Yogananda, himself, who always assisted his large, biological family, when in need) find a suitable place to live.

Next stop: Swami Kriyananda at Ananda Community, Pune! Pack your bags, we are off again!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

What does an Avatar Know? or, Feel?

[[edited and revised Saturday, Sept 17]]

The nature of divinity incarnate must surely remain one of humankind's greatest questions and mysteries. You may question that statement but the key to understanding it lies in the simple realization that our "answer" reveals our own nature as well.

I often state in my classes and talks that the answer to "Who is Jesus Christ?" shows us "Who am I?" Is the avatar a divine creation, a puppet? God descended into human form? Is the avatar human like us, and if so, to what degree, to what extent? How did such a one come into being an avatar? By divine fiat or by self-effort? Is such a state unique or do all of us have the potential to achieve it?

We are, to ourselves, also a mysterious concatenation of moods, ideas, actions and feelings. Our sublime states all too frequently descend to the mundane, or lower. We want our deity (our image of perfection) to be clear, clean, and essentially one-dimensional. Look what inevitably happens after the avatar leaves this earth. Even Yogananda who died only in 1952 has been cast by some of his disciples in the one dimensional terms of a strict disciplinarian, or as the founder, merely, of a monastery. In Swami Kriyananda's latest book, "Restoring the Legacy of Paramhansa Yogananda," he describes how in a few decades Yogananda's own disciples have been steadily re-making his image in their own image.


Jesus Christ was crucified once but his image, teachings, and persona have been crucified daily for centuries such that for many Christians and non-Christians he’s been reduced to a wooden crucifix or a spiritual victrola in a sad monotone of “Thou shalt!” Gone is the joyful camaraderie he had with his disciples, the adventure of living and learning from him, the joy and inspiration they felt in his presence. Who would be attracted to a sad and somber saint?
 
Life is dual; life is messy, and when divinity incarnates, He (She) plays by the rules She has created. Just as Oneness is a state of consciousness that transcends duality, so too the only way to pierce the veil of divinity incarnate is to aspire and to approach the deity via an upward effort and flow towards transcendence. Thus it was that the apostle Peter was the only one who answered Jesus’ question (Who do men say I am?) correctly when he responded from intuition, saying: Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God. That Jesus was One with the Father was more than his critics could handle. For his revelation, he was crucified. His own response to his accusers who saw only blasphemy in his claim, he said “Do not your scriptures say, ‘Ye are gods?’”.
 
Thus it is that our attempts to identify divinity or perfection in a living spiritual teacher, or in one now gone from sight, in another person, or in ourselves are fraught with peril. To pierce the veil of duality, we, ourselves, must achieve some degree of intuition born of our soul’s state of knowing-ness. Armed now with this tool of in-sight, let’s now turn directly to our subject of the avatara: the descent of divinity into human form.
If an avatar is "one with God" does the avatar feel pain? Grief? Does he make mistakes? Does he get angry like you or I? Is an avatar above delusion, material desires, hurt feelings, or judging other people?
It is taught in India and is taught by Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the popular and renowned spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi") that an avatar is free from karma and acts in freedom (without personal desire). Is this always and under all circumstances? Is personal desire different than the influences of or appropriate responses to circumstances?


To what degree does such a one feel human joys and sorrows? A further question is this: to what degree does an avatar have access to omniscience? Let's explore this multi-faceted diamond of consciousness where infinity is crystallized into human form. Swami Kriyananda once used the example of an inverted triangle wherein the tip (pointing downward) touches earth in human form and the base (above) stretches to infinity.

Here are some examples (mostly from "Autobiography of a Yogi") for us to consider:
  1. Jesus was crucified and cried out in his agony, "Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani" (Loosely translated: "Lord, why have you abandoned me?").
  2. Paramhansa Yogananda grieved inconsolably (by his own account) at the loss of his mother when he was still a boy.
  3. Babaji told Lahiri Mahasaya that the reason he (Babaji) materialized a golden palace for Lahiri at the time of their meeting and Lahiri's initiation was that Lahiri had had a past life desire for a golden palace.
  4. According to the story of Lahiri's life, one gets the impression that until age 33, when he met Babaji and Babaji reawakened Lahiri's memory of his past life, he was somehow unaware of his own mission and consciousness as an avatar.
  5. Paramhansa Yogananda recounts in his famous story ("Autobiography of a Yogi") that the day after his own guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar had manifested pyschic and telephathic powers in the charming story of the "Cauliflower Robbery," Sri Yukteswar was unable to state the location of a misplaced lantern, disclaiming his own power to do so.
  6. When Sri Yukteswar and Lahiri Mahasaya were each informed of their impending death, they were temporarily taken aback and had to recollect themselves.
  7. In the garden of Gethesmane, Jesus prayed that "this cup be taken from me."
  8. Paramhansa Yogananda claimed that he was, in past lives, William the Conqueror, a famous Spanish king and general, and Arjuna, the Pandava warrior whose archery skills in warfare (and discipleship to Krishna) were legendary.
  9. Swami Sri Yukteswar tells the story how, as a boy, he wanted to have an ugly dog and his mother was powerless to entice him by more attractive canine substitutes.
And yet, each of these (Jesus, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteswar, and Paramhansa Yogananda) are believed to be avatars.


What do the rishis and scriptures tell us about the avatar? An avatar is considered to be an incarnation of divinity. In the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda this definition is clarified to state that such an soul is like you and I, but has achieved Oneness with God and cosmic consciousness. This achievement occurs over many lifetimes and its victory is the combination of self-effort and divine grace. An avatar is freed from all past karma and has the power to help an unlimited number of souls and to dispense any and all levels of God-realization according to the will of "the Father who" sends him.

Others speak of an avatar as a direct manifestation of God or some aspect or diety (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva), but Yogananda did not use the term in that way. This is more or less how Christian theology defines the nature of Jesus Christ. But Yogananda pointed out that Jesus and his direct disciples made it clear numerous times that what Jesus attained all souls have the potential to become ("sons of God"). The avatars, Yogananda taught, do not come to show off, but to show to us our own highest potential.

Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita describes how he (and others) have come repeatedly down through history and may play a visible role on the stage of human history or be behind the scenes (like Babaji). Therefore it is clear that an avatar comes and takes on many different roles and personalities. Discerning the chain of incarnation is beyond the scope of any except the most spiritually advanced and probably is only truly made known by the avatar himself.

Swami Kriyananda, contemplating the paradox of Yogananda having once been William the Conqueror, once asked Paramhansa Yogananda what it means to be an avatar under such circumstances. Yogananda's terse reply was that "one never loses his sense of inner freedom." The clear iimplication is that, as William, he did not necessarily access (openly at least) his omniscience and prescience. So far as we know, he made no disclosure of knowledge of his longer-term purpose or his spiritual stature. Perhaps such knowledge was simply unnecessary to the fulfillment and conduct of his role as William.

[As an historical aside, historians show that William set into motion a chain of events whose significance grew over time. The government that he established and that was brought to greater completion by his youngest son Henry I created a new political form that, in time, produced the Magna Carta and subjected even kings to the rule of law and due process, and, established the concept of inalienable human rights and liberties. The political stability and power of Britain was to eventually give birth to the founding of America, to the beginnings of globalization and exchange of knowledge between east and west (through its empire), and to the spread of the English language as the linga franca of the world.]

In the book, "Conversations with Yogananda," Swami Kriyananda reports that Yogananda also clarified that an avatar does not necessarily act or have at his disposal in every moment cosmic and omniscient knowledge. Functioning as he must in a physical body, he, like ourselves, must deal with the material realities and human egos which surround him. In fact, while enjoying, let's say, a meal, he may be calmly present and enjoying that experience, chatting away merrily, without regard for or need to elevate himself to a transcendent level. If you ask him "What year did Columbus sail the ocean blue?", he may pause, try to remember, and even get the date wrong! For in that setting, there's no compelling spiritual need to prove anything or help anyone, so his ordinary human memory suffices for the task at hand.

But that's a far cry from what many people do: avidly wolfing down a sandwich, completely forgetful of the Self! For when the need arises, the avatar has a "divine security clearance" and higher access to cosmic knowledge! They demonstrate this time and again, certainly at least to those "with eyes to see."

But when and how does he access that higher knowledge? Can he just "dial up" God the Father and ask him about so-and-so? What is difficult for us to understand is the "I-ness" of an avatar. Yogananda said that even an avatar has to have an ego to deal responsibly with his body and in this world. Thus our inquiry today is the attempt to discern that spectrum of motivation and awareness possessed by one who is free in God.

We see in the life of Jesus, of Yogananda, and many others that they prayed frequently to God (as Father, Mother or in other forms dear to them) for guidance. They attribute their miraculous powers to God, not to themselves. So whether in reality or for our benefit, there seems to be a veil in place between omniscience and their level of consciousness in human form. But many avatars have raised the dead, healed the sick, spoke prophetically, or disclosed the thoughts or past lives of others. Sometimes these incidents were spontaneous; other times, the avatar prayed beforehand or otherwise showed himself going within for divine sanction or power.

Yogananda said of himself (and Jesus and Krishna similarly), "I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this form but He." There seems therefore to be a flow of energy between the avatar in his human form and the avatar in his cosmic consciousness. There seems to be an I-Thou interchange which, while different in degree, is not different in kind from our own efforts to attune ourselves to God's presence in our lives.

Absence of personal motive would be another approach to trying to discern the consciousness of the avatar. Thus we see illustrated in the life of William the Conqueror a steady flow of actions based on moral, ethical, political, and religious rules, precepts, and standards of behavior. Although some of his actions, looked at through the lens of 21st century mores may seem ruthless, living as he did in the Dark Ages ruthlessness (as we would define it) was not only accepted in his time but expected, for few royal subjects would respond to anything less. Reluctance to take on battle would only have been interpreted as weakness; likewise, as would anything less than the commitment to win and to be victorious or the willingness to punish enemies in accordance with standards of the time. (In fact, however, both William and his youngest son, Henry I, showed remarkable forebearance and magnanimity over their self-styled enemies.)

An analysis of history shows us that William was no mere interloper taking advantage of political instability to expand his dominion but the rightful heir and protector of the British crown. He was supported by all the princes of Europe and by the papacy in his claim. Similarly Henry I (who may very well have been Swami Kriyananda in that past life) conducted his royal affairs in a manner that showed that he was fulfilling "the will of his father" in establishing the British kingdom and Normandy on principled grounds. [See the fascinating account of their lives in Catherine Kairavi's newly published account, "Two Souls, Four Lives."]

An avatar willing accepts the limitations inherent in human form when he incarnates. This includes going through the human stages of infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. The avatar experiences the joys and sorrows of human existence. But the avatar's incarnation is not propelled by karmic complusions or ego-oriented desires, and, instead, is inspired by a desire to help others and fulfill the divine law.

If you willingly went to jail, though innocent of any crime, in an effort to spare another person who might have been wrongly accused or who would suffer unnecessarily from the experience of incarceration, you would still be innocent of the crime. But there you would be in jail and you'd have to accept the limitations, rules, and daily humiliations of prison life. Were you to protest your innocence, you would be ignored by fellow inmates and jailers alike, for we all know that in prison, "everyone's innocent!"

A grandparent might thoroughly enjoy playing catch with his grandson or a father wrestling with his son without ever losing the sense of his role. Even in the spirit of rivalry or competition, the grandparent or parent probably experiences the "game" with a greater sense of detachment than the child who perhaps plays in earnest or with abandon.

An actor, practiced and well honed in his skills, might with confidence play his role upon the stage with immersion into the role while acting. While doing so it is unncessary for him to remind himself that he's not, say, Hamlet, for on an existential level there is no confusion. Moreover, arriving home after work, he greets his wife and children as himself, and no taint of his stage persona or role lurks or stains his own consciousness.

Yogananda taught that Jesus did not suffer on the cross for himself but felt grief for the ignorance and the consequent (if future) suffering of his tormentors. Jesus' greatest victory was not even his resurrection but the forgiveness he expressed even while hanging on the cross. Yogananda went further to state that Jesus could have, at any time, transcended the physical pain of his agony. As Christians teach that "Jesus died for our sins," so Yogananda taught that a true guru (an avatar) can take on karma of his disciples. He himself endured physical illness and explained that it was for the purpose of taking on karma of his disciples. Such is the great gift of love and divine friendship the guru offers.

If your friend loses a loved one to illness or a sudden, fatal accident, will you tell her that "The soul is eternal and does not suffer? Or, that death has no true reality and therefore she shouldn't grieve?" Well, I hope not! Yogananda as a boy felt the grief natural to a child when he lost his mother. Later Divine Mother appeared to him to reveal that it was She, herself, who was his mother in that life. This consolation would have dissipated any vestige of sadness that may have been retained. But his grief need not have been merely the grief of human delusion but the grief appropriate to his condition and his circumstances. I believe that such a one, like the actor, can genuinely experience grief while remaining untouched within. This is demonstrated by the lack of residual or recollected pain in the future. The ordinary human being takes many years to recover from grief and very often re-experiences again and again, perhaps, over time, less often, or less intensely but all too often for the remainder of his or her lifetime! The avatar, by contrast, like writing on water, undergoes the human experience and then moves on, untouched.

Remaining in his human "self" and eschewing the power to withdraw to his omniscient Self, I believe that Yogananda experienced and expressed his loss as a child, even as the quiet, inner, watchful Self remained intact and withdrawn from the drama. 

Swami Kriyananda has also commented on what might be somewhat particular to Yogananda's "lila" (the way he behaved and related to the world around him). Kriyananda explains that Yogananda willingly experienced various human emotions and circumstances even when he could have just as easily chosen to transcend them. Being free, he was unafraid or had no need to protect himself from the power of maya. He wore his wisdom like a comfortable old coat and had no need to affirm his transcendence. This was demonstrated at times when he was mistreated, misunderstood, humiliated, incurred or accepted physical pain, human grief, or enjoyed the simple pleasures of good food, in his infectious humor, beautiful scenery, sports, and the pleasure of the company of friends.

Sri Yukteswar tells the story of his childhood attachment to an ugly dog and how he could not be dissuaded from wanting that dog by more attractive substitutes! Lahiri may have had a past life desire for a golden palace but perhaps that desire was gone and perhaps Babaji simply resurrected that past desire to honor Lahiri's re-awakening and initiation in the form of that golden, bejeweled palace on Drongiri Mountain?

Still, let's assume that each them actually had, as avatars, these desires. Is that possible? Imagine that you are an avatar and that you are free from the delusion and shackles of desire. But then you willingly incarnate to help others. In so doing, you must cloak your cosmic spirit in maya. Your cosmic consciousness must be "squeezed" into a human body, so to speak. You descend into the womb of maya for the sake of struggling souls. This means you will be surrounded by and even temporarily exposed to and tempted by maya's power. Remember, for example, the temptation of Jesus (Yogananda said Jesus had long ago been liberated). An avatar, being free and retaining that freedom, can "play" in the storm of delusion with a kind of absolute impunity while even yet allowing the law of duality to influence or circumscribe his inner freedom during the "lila" of the experience.

Thus, should the circumstances surrounding the avatar (as a child, a warrior, a husband, etc.) call for grief, desire, warfare, he can enter the fray and may be, for a time, wholly or seemingly immersed in it. But when he "comes out of it" he can instantly detach the vrittis, the energies, from his consciousness, just as a professional football player can pound the heck out of the other team, leave the field satisfied and not be the least bit personally angry with his opponents. In the great epic of India, the Mahabharata, it is said that the good guys and bad guys met in Swarga (heaven) afterwards for a party! An avatar is perhaps like you and I working in the garden. We necessarily get dirty, but we can come inside the house, take a shower and the dirt is gone. It has no ultimate power to affect us.

Have you ever been in an embarrassing situation while yet laughing at yourself or mentally saying to yourself ("This will make a good story!")? Have you ever had a great idea and you knew instantly it was just perfect? Then, as you go about sharing, energizing and manifesting that idea you find that there is little or no sense of ego or pride in the idea: just the joy and satisfaction of its manifestation? In the midst of the flow of inspiration, talent, and skill we can feel "the force" without necessarily involving the ego beyond the necessity to stay present and focused on the task at hand. Isn't it so?

Some people (maybe in their business life, artistic talents, or inventiveness) just seem "to know." There's no great angst involved. There's no agony of reasoned analysis, or impassioned affirmation. "He who knows, knows." It doesn't require hindsight (conscious analysis of how you know) or foresight (conscious awareness of what it all means or what will result). It simply IS. We all have probably had this experience sometime, somewhere! Imagine the level of calm, inner confidence an avatar must possess! What freedom!

With these examples and illustration, perhaps we can intuitively sense even a fragment of the consciousness of an avatar who lives and acts in this world of duality. At the same time, we must be careful not to imagine we can define or in any way limit that consciousness, for it expresses Infinity itself! Their lives offer to us a window onto the uniqueness which is our true Self, and the permission and duty to play our roles with passion, creativity, joy and yet, like a great actor, without ever being touched by its drama.

Yet for us to "see" who is an avatar, to detect divinity in another person, and to finally uncover divinity in ourselves we mustn't be fooled by outer appearances. (Like the picture-perfect sadhu in India who approached Swami Kriyananda to say, "Want a picture? 40 rupees!") It takes sincere and sustained "sadhana" (meditation, introspection, right attitude and right action) to develop the intuition that we may have "eyes to see, and ears to hear."

Imagine it! Act it! Be-come free!

Blessings,


Nayaswami Hriman