Showing posts with label Bhagavad Gita. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bhagavad Gita. Show all posts

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Yogananda's Predictions of Coming Difficult Times: True or False?

I have written before on this subject and Swami Kriyananda has both spoken and written on this subject many times. So this article is NOT a recitation of Yogananda's predictions. 

Instead, I would like to address some common objections to these prophecies.

1. Predictions aren't set in stone. True! Swami Kriyananda would always say as much but his opinion was that, to-date, the awakening of consciousness and the concomitant change in human behavior seemed to him insufficient to completely mitigate the predictions Yogananda made (between 1948-1952). How can we view events in our 2019 world and feel confident of positive changes?

2. Bad things are ALWAYS happening. Yes, this is also true. But this fact alone doesn't mean the specific predictions Yogananda made won't ALSO come true.

3. Why is it religious groups are consistently predicting "end times?" For one, Yogananda didn't predict "end times," only difficult challenges in the world. In fact, he said that after a long period of warfare, we would enter a long period of relative peace. (Besides, don't some people think the "world's going to end" if they didn't an invitation to that party?)

4. Sceptics aver that religious groups (or their leaders) make these predictions to keep the faithful in line, fearful, and unquestioning. I suppose this could be the case but as a hypothesis, it's difficult to prove and surely can't apply to all cases for at least two reasons unrelated to any motivation: 1. Predicting the future is always a risky business, and/or 2. As pointed in #2 above, BAD THINGS happen all the time. As to motivations, some people are, in fact, motivated by fear; fear is part of the human experience and, as such, it has its place. 

So let's explore #4 in relation to #2: why are the "faithful" often being warned of bad things when bad things are always happening anyway?

And, whereas Paramhansa Yogananda DID make certain predictions, it is not by any means super-clear that any of those predictions have come true. I'm going to focus on just two of his predictions: 

#1: America would suffer a depression far greater than the Great Depression of the 1930's. and....

#2: He stated with great vigour: "You don't KNOW what a cataclysm is coming."

I don't think any of the recessions that have taken place since 1930's could possibly be greater than the Great Depression, right? 

On the other hand, there have been innumerable natural disasters around the world, not least of which would be the Asian tsunami of 2004. But none of these seem to me to qualify to fit Yogananda's intent on one of two counts: 

1) When Yogananda gave that warning, he was speaking to an American audience and none of the many hurricanes, fires or earthquakes in the USA would seem, in my view, to qualify for the level of intensity that Swami Kriyananda related to audiences (he, being present when Yogananda made that statement, at least once, if not several times). 

2) If the intensity of Yogananda's emphasis on cataclysm was intended to be global, we certainly haven't had anything of that magnitude yet, though there is fear building worldwide that the cumulative effects of climate change may, like a tsunami, reach just that intensity in the upcoming decades. 

It is curious to me that Jesus Christ is quoted as making similar prophecies. In over two thousand years one could argue that none of his predictions came true, or, alternatively, that all of them came true at some time or place or another! (See Luke 21; Mark 13; Matt 24)

In the Indian epic the Mahabharata, Krishna warned of a coming age of un-virtue and destruction. The Pandavas, his chief disciples, left their palaces and traipsed up into the Himalayas to escape these inevitable changes. 

Absent global catastrophic events, we are left with the fact that BAD THINGS are always happening. Thus until such catastrophic events occur we might at least content ourselves with exploring the #2 objection that BAD THINGS are always happening AND why then are avatars are ALWAYS predicting them? 

What if there are two levels on which the predictions of these saints are justifiable? The one is personal: are not people in general and devotees specifically apt to have great tests and challenges in their lives? Aren't such likely to be tempted to follow ideologies or lesser leaders who are false? Besides, what seems catastrophic to me might be nothing to you but it IS to me! All the ills human life is heir to happen to a great many people but when they happen in the lives of the devotees their faith is tested that they may see the depth (or lack) of their spiritual mettle. 

The second relates to groups of devotees: aren't they likely to be persecuted or encounter social or political opposition; or, great difficulties such as betrayals of trust or apostacy? Are they not likely to see taking place around them injustice, deprivation, wars, and calamities? Not a few religious adherents in modern times have turned away from the "heavens" to toil on earth for humanitarian goals. For this, they receive many worldly kudos but there can be, for some, a hidden trap.

Yogananda's warns of this trap in "Autobiography of a Yogi," writing in Chapter 45: "Refusing a monotheistic love to God, the nations disguise their infidelity by punctilious respect before the outward shrines of charity. These humanitarian gestures are virtuous because for a moment they divert man's attention from himself, but they do not free him from his single responsibility in life, referred to by Jesus as the first commandment. The uplifting obligation to love God is assumed with man's first breath of an air freely bestowed by his only Benefactor."

The same can be said of political or social activism. Devotees can be discouraged, frightened, distracted or energized away from the spiritual path by the endless woes and material concerns of human life. 

Hasn't history shown repeatedly that evil can spin a web of lies, disguising itself as good, enticing devotees, spiritual leaders, and churches to support dictators, slavery, wars, prejudice, or exploitation in a form that could be called the "anti-Christ?" (that is to say, "anti-Christ-consciousness)

Thus, even if BAD THINGS are always taking place, a saint may warn of them because they are challenges to the faith and equanimity of devotees. Is not the warning saying, in effect, that the "joy and inspiration you may feel in my presence or in your spiritual life will be challenged someday by things that happen to you or around you?"

When I think of Jesus' words of warning (about troubles, persecutions, false teachers, natural calamities) to his disciples I consider that they did not know at the time that they would be founders and missionaries of a new religion. That new religion was going to be tested year after year, decade after decade, and century after century by the persecutions and, later, the temptations of power and the betrayals of heresy and apostasy. There would be many false prophets and teachers; many wars, dictators, and spiritual leaders vying and competing. 

That Jesus is quoted as saying "this generation shall not pass away" before he will come a second time can be viewed on a personal level in the lives of his direct disciples and on a general level to all disciples of any generation. The power of the living Christ can be seen or felt by the spiritual eye or "I" (the kingdom within you) by those who remain faithful to the "spirit and the truth." 

Was, then, also, Yogananda saying the same thing to those of us who are his followers? Do we not see all around us catastrophes, suffering, betrayals, exploitation, violence, and evil? Are we tempted to lose hope and faith? To feel anger, fear or resentment? To abandon spiritual work and practices in favor of saving humanity? To be concerned for material things more than our soul's love for God?

Who among us, today, does not feel this country (America) has not only lost whatever "greatness" it may have had but has also betrayed its founding ideals as epitomized by its elected leader(s), surely an "anti-Christ-consciousness" embodiment(s) if there ever was one?

This isn't fear-mongering on the part of Yogananda (or Jesus or Krishna etc.). It may be dramatic, stark, or, for some, fear-inducing in its language and imagery, but to me, the message goes something like this: "Don't put your faith in making this world perfect. It is a school, merely. Yes, do what you can to make it a better place but focus on your love for God and your love for God in all." 

The function of a school is to give examinations and to help students pass them and move on. So, yes, you will see hardship and suffering but hold steadfast to your faith and love for God. If this world were perfect, who would seek God's love? Are not the imperfections of this world the necessary inducement for us to seek the "truth that shall you free"?

Returning now to the two predictions of Yogananda that I cited above, who can say with confidence that wholesale financial collapse in America is impossible? (Did I read the other day that the national debt of America is $23 TRILLION?) Who can say that a major catastrophe (asteroid, volcano, earthquake, pandemic, world war) is impossible? (Almost daily I receive postings about possible catastrophic asteroids or super volcanoes.) 

The primary reason for contemplating such possibilities is not fear but to warn us not to fall asleep in our spiritual efforts. It's not necessary for the most ardent devotees but helpful for those who are new, weak or discouraged. Given that bad things are always happening, why not heed Krishna's immortal words: "Get away, Arjuna, from my ocean of suffering and misery!"

Added unto us with the love of God we can "be the change we seek in the world" with far greater effect than only toiling in the vineyard where the grapes of wrath are grown. Ultimately, then, it CAN be a both-and but walking the edge of the steep path between the outer and inner worlds takes great spiritual agility.

As the scripture of the street puts it: "Just sayin'"


Swami Hrimananda



  

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

How to be Thought-less!

Paramhansa Yogananda, in his now-classic life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," describes yoga as "a method for restraining the natural turbulence of thoughts, which otherwise impartially prevent all men, of all lands, from glimpsing their true nature of Spirit." (Chapter 24).

From Chapter 41 of that modern scripture Yogananda gives this challenging poem from one "of the many great saints of South India...., Thayumanavar:

You can control a mad elephant;
You can shut the mouth of the bear and the tiger;
You can ride a lion;
You can play with the cobra;
By alchemy you can eke out your livelihood;
You can wander through the universe incognito;
You can make vassals of the gods;
You can be ever youthful;
You can walk on water and live in fire;
But control of the mind is better and more difficult.

Stilling the agitations of the "monkey mind" is the subject and goal of countless meditation techniques and millions of meditators alike!

Ramana Maharshi is one of the most notable 20th-century advocates of Advaita (non-dualism), particularly in what he termed "Self-inquiry:" the quest to know "Who am I?" The great teachings of East and West essentially urge us to "Know Thyself" and discover "Tat twam asi" (That Thou Art). Watching one's thoughts and/or breath are among the ubiquitous and universal techniques of focusing the mind in order to still the "natural turbulence of thoughts."

Techniques are given, and there are many, to help focus the mind in order to reach the point beyond our thoughts. Too many meditators mistake the path for the goal and continue with their mantras, devotions, prayers, or breathwork "until the cows come home." The cows, that is, of their returning thoughts.

Why is so little attention is given to the cessation of what one teacher calls the "self-structure." The small self (ego, subconscious, etc.) is a little dictator whose mission is to keep us focused on our body, its needs, and to protect, defend and affirm the personality (ego.) It does a good job from a Darwinian point of view but it doesn't give us anything beyond a fleeting and insecure fulfilment and a deeply entrenched habit of restlessness. Praise, one day, blame, the next.

For starters, almost nobody on this planet is the slightest bit interested in the cessation of mental activity called "me." After all, didn't Rene Descartes tell us that "I think, therefore, I AM?" For another, the cessation of mental activity is very, very hard (note poem quoted above). And for those very, very few who make a deep and sincere effort, what they get for their reward is that their ego-self gets to stare into the abyss of nothingness, facing the prospect of its dissolution! So no wonder even meditators take the equivalent of a "rain check!" 

[In a humorous aside, Swami Kriyananda, in his landmark book on raja yoga, "Awaken to Superconsciousness," gently chides the Buddhistic tendency to focus on negative aspects of enlightenment (a state of no-thing-ness (nir-vana)) as the reason the enlightened ones, Bodhisattvas, chose to defer their liberation and come back to help others!]

But what, then, is the reward of making the effort? To quote Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, "Even a little practice of this inward religion will save you from dire fears and colossal sufferings." I'd add to this that the benefits of meditation, speaking generally and clinically, derive from the very effort to focus the mind inwardly and away from the senses, body, and ego. In an analogous manner, sleep too is essential for mental and physical well-being.

Thus I don't feel to dwell on the reasons the effort, challenging as it seems, is more than repaid. Besides, too great a focus on "what I get from this practice" will tend to undermine "what I get from this practice!" All great teachers of meditation caution that non-attachment to results--even of our meditation--is essential to success in every endeavor, including meditation. Besides, the reasons to meditate are as varied as those who practice it. 

How, then, best to focus the mind and transcend the thoughts? On this, too, I have to concede that the prescription is individual. There are many meditation techniques, philosophies, and, as stated just above, reasons to meditate. A strict approach, such as Ramana Maharshi's practice of self-inquiry, is probably too austere for most modern (and restless) minds. It is termed, in the yogic tradition, the approach of gyana yoga. Krishna states that meditating upon the formless (no-thought, or Absolute) is difficult for the average human. 

A devotional approach satisfies the heart's natural yearning to be loved and to love. One can meditate upon the image, feeling or thought of one's chosen deity, guru, or even an abstract principle such as love itself! But our culture is far from one that is comfortable with devotion, being, as we are, so fixed upon reason and analysis.

An energetic approach has the advantage of not requiring a complex belief system and is epitomized in the universally popular and useful approach of mindfulness: using the breath as the meditation object (with or without a word formula or mantra). In this Age of Energy, let "pranayam be your 'religion'" to quote a chant popular with Swami Sri Yukteswar!

Deeper practices of energy-meditation may involve a focus on the flow of subtle energy (prana or chi) in the chakras or the deep spine. The most well known of these is termed, simply, Kriya Yoga and was popularized by Paramhansa Yogananda (see Chapter 26 of his autobiography mentioned above).

What's wrong with thinking, you ask? The thinking and intellectual function of the human mind is a mixed gift: it is the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thinking is necessarily logical and dual: this is not that, and that is not this! The intellect is a natural extension of the ego for it focuses on naming, labelling, distinguishing, and using for its advantage or protection the objects of the senses (people or things or forces it can control).  It has been well said that the mind makes a great tool but a poor master. 

Thus it is, by tradition from higher ages of consciousness, the power of the intellect (which can reveal the secrets of nature) is supposed to be given to or used only by one who has become identified with the soul, or higher Self. In such a case, this power is used for the good of all and not for self-aggrandizement or exploitation. It is obvious that at this time in history, this is far, far from the case.

Since the mid 20th century, it has often been said that humanity stands on the brink of self-destruction owing to our mastery of the tools of thinking, reasoning, analyzing and manipulating nature's secrets but that we have yet to save our souls! We have focused too greatly on the outer world at the expense of the inner world of consciousness. To this day, scientific dogma still insists that consciousness is the mere byproduct of matter, the brain, the body and evolution of the species. Reflection, and only a little is needed, would reveal the opposite: "I AM, therefore, I think!"

Thus it was that the noted historian Arnold Toynbee stated that while the west has conquered the east with its guns, the east will conquer the heart of the west with yoga. 

And finally, let me share this simple, uh oh: thought! The Thought-less Yogi emerges from the effort to still thoughts randomly throughout the day NOT just in the practice of meditation but between activities; before a phone call or email; at a stoplight. You learn to bring the monkey-to-heel by living increasingly in the "witness box" of the higher mind. This can be achieved whether your temperament is devotional, perceptive, or active. 

The state beyond thought, the transcendently aware state, must be felt, or intuited, not conceptualized. It is the portal to higher states of superconsciousness. As in Yogananda's quote above, the still mind "glimpses" our true nature as Spirit, as the formless I AM of all humanity, all creation, and of the Godhead. 

So train your monkey to be still and FEEL the stillness wherein no thoughts intrude. You may find it helpful to bridge ego consciousness to higher consciousness through the medium of a visualization from which you then extract the FEELING of transcendence. Examples include the image of the bright blue, cloudless skies on a sunny day; the vastness of the ocean when perfectly calm; the majesty of a great mountain; the roar of wind or water overtaking you; vastness of space in all directions; or the silvery-beam of moonlight filling you with deep peace and transcendent love. 

Once the raft of techniques has brought you to the shore, discard the raft and enter into PURE FEELING; PURE AWARENESS with no name, no form, no object to behold.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda

Monday, June 17, 2019

How Can I Find that Perfect Job?

A person wrote to us with this question:

In Scientific Healing Affirmations, Paramhansa Yogananda says that we attract material success by obeying the conscious, subconscious and superconscious laws of material success. I would like to attract to myself a job which uses my God-given talents, my strengths, and helps me to relate to my higher self. Is it possible to attract a job to oneself by concentrating on the subconscious and superconscious laws alone? 

My response to this question was put this way:

Dear Friend,

When Paramhansa Yogananda uses the term "superconscious" he is not referring to a level of consciousness that is OTHER THAN divine! Think of the "superconscious" as being the soul: a reflection of God (the Christ or Krishna consciousness).

The significance of this is that this method does not automatically remove from our life the accumulated karma that we have created from the past. When you write ".....to attract a job to oneself by concentrating on......ALONE" you imply that this power of attraction is centred in the ego but that is NOT what Yogananda means when he uses the term "superconscious laws of material success." Or, perhaps you mean that these methods work without regard to one's personal karma. 

The principle and power of non-attachment apply in this case lest by will power you achieve your job but find yourself enmeshed in creating more karma for yourself. In fact, the laws of success as Yogananda outlines them very much includes non-attachment to the results. It's a fine line, do you see? Success combines the highest of will power, energy and creativity with non-attachment and surrender to the divine will. (Actually, it is not so much SURRENDER as ATTUNEMENT AND HARMONY with the divine will, but the difference is mostly in the words not in the reality of consciousness required.)

As a devotee and meditator, strive for freedom from karma by devotion, self-effort, attunement, and selfless service. Material success and creative engagement WILL COME when it is yours to come. On the other hand, if the success of this outward variety is your priority apply your will and attune your soul to the guru and if and when material success is yours, and especially for your soul's freedom, it will come as day follows night. 

Live in the present thought that such a job is yours already and is the gift of God. It awaits only time and place but in the eternal now it exists already.

Remember that if such a perfect job were yours today but is received without divine attunement, you will find it falling short of satisfaction like the string that Yashoda used to try to tie to baby Krishna to keep him from being naughty!

Pray: "Beloved Friend, God: I seek to serve you in a capacity that brings to me creative engagement with my divinely-given strengths and leads me to freedom in Thee. Bless my efforts with success that I might reflect Thy joy and serve other souls! Thy will be done!"

Blessings and joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Is Being "Nice" Enough? Story of the Angry Saint Durvasa and the Flawed Warrior, Karna!

The heroes of legend are often characters both great and sometimes greatly flawed: just like most of us. 

At Sunday Service recently as a guest speaker with Padma, my wife, at the Ananda Church in Palo Alto, CA, I shared a simplified version of the story of Karna, one of the great warriors and tragic figure of the world's longest epic, the Mahabharata (the source of India's greatest scripture, the Bhagavad Gita).


 Despite being a great warrior he was handicapped by the need for recognition and the concomitant commitment of unquestioned loyalty to anyone who awarded him honor and love. His blind loyalty caused him to follow one who was, himself, dishonorable and provoked in Karna ignoble acts. Karna did feel remorse for his misdeeds but he met his death in the great war of Kurukshetra owing to both his virtues and his flaws which were exercised nobly but without discernment. Nonetheless, despite what could easily be judged his failure, he was honored after his death by Krishna for his unstinting generosity, strength and prowess in war, and self-sacrifice. 

Members of various faiths, spiritually minded, are exhorted to be good and to manifest virtue and integrity in their lives. Seen from the point of view of their opposites, who can argue? How much better a place our planet Earth would be if everyone were, simply, "nice."

As a member of a worldwide faith community known as "Ananda" I could be described as a Self-realizationist! Prayer, meditation, fellowship, study, giving and serving are, like most all faith traditions, an important part of my life. It's a good thing to try to be "nice." But it's also important to be honest, especially self-honest: in fact, ruthlessly self-honest! Sometimes our flaws act as the sand in the oyster of our soul which, over time, produces the pearl of great price.

I've been struck, so to speak, numerous times, with the contrast between those with no faith but who are infused with great integrity and virtue being contrasted with fellow religionists who seem all-too-fatally-flawed and difficult to get along with.

I recounted in that Sunday Service talk in Palo Alto that in the game of golf there is a rule that no matter where the ball lands, one must, if at all possible, play the ball (hit the ball) where it is found. (One is not supposed to touch the ball.)

No matter how poorly a "hand" (of cards) that life (our karma) deals to us, we must play the game of life with what we are given. Being born in a family of criminals or in a crime-infested neighborhood exposes us from an early age to the temptation, perhaps even the practical necessity, to engage in criminal acts.

Or, being born with the proverbial silver spoon of entitlement and privilege, we are a paragon of virtue, gentleness, refinement and compassion.

The history of saints, East and West, is riven with characters who didn't always play the game of life according to the Marquess of Queensberry Rules.
The famously "angry" sage, Durvasa, whose short fuse was legendary was the one who gave to the teenage girl, Kunti, the mantras to invoke various gods with whom to mate and produce offspring. Her innocent curiosity to use one of the mantras invoked the sun god from whom she conceived and later gave birth to Karna out of wedlock. 

Her fear of shame caused her to send the infant down the river in a basket (as, curiously, happened to Moses) thus setting the stage for Karna's existential insecurity about his not being accepted by others (for what was wrongly assumed to be his low-caste birth).

A person difficult to get along with might, nonetheless therefore, be a saint in the making by struggling to overcome certain non-virtuous traits. Another person born to innate sweetness may, in fact, be spiritually coasting along on good karma. 

The "nice" person may be offended by the unruly one but this may be a test of just how even-minded and ego transcendent the "nice" person really is. Not that this justifies being hurtful or unkind, but, spiritually speaking, we should be careful about our assessment of ourselves or others.

Swami Kriyananda recounted a beautiful story from the life of St. Therese of Lisieux. She was a novice mistress. Some of the nuns came to her and said “Why do we have to have some of these nuns here who are just so unpleasant? They wash the clothes in such a way as to deliberately get suds in the eyes of others who were helping!” You think in a convent, people shouldn’t act like that. But people are people, and their peopleness will come out. [laughter] You know what she said? “If we didn’t have such people, we would do well to go out and get them, and bring them here.” 

Yogananda put it another way: we cannot win the love of God until we can win the love of at least one other person (including and perhaps especially those who do not "like" us). I am not inclined to take this literally but in principle, I think the message is clear. 

So if you happen to be one of those difficult people, at least consider, as honestly as you can, just how deeply sincere are your efforts at self-improvement and, more importantly, how deep is your love for God and truth. "God doesn't mind our faults but seeks only our love (and interested attention!)," Yogananda would say to others. Don't pride yourself on your testiness, as if to justify your faults, but don't give up, either. "God watches the heart" Yogananda would also say to comfort and challenge devotees. 

And if, instead, your mouth has the silver spoon in it, watch the degree to which you take personal offense at criticism, especially when it is deemed (by you) to be unwarranted or unfair, for of such are the tests of karma and of God. Be at least inwardly thankful for whatever hurts you might receive that your "niceness" be honed by wisdom. Don't let your goodness be merely a show or worse, hypocritical.

Jesus warns us not to consider ourselves "good" for the fact that we love those who love us. Love is indeed the overriding aura of sanctity but so also is wisdom. God's love can sometimes be well disguised, masked that we might unmask the true Doer behind all seeming.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Memorial Day in America: The Great Yagya, Wheel of Life!


The purpose of Memorial Day (celebrated in America) is to remember and honor the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in defense of their country. Whether or not you, or me, or history judges their sacrifice as justified, they gave their full measure and thus honor is due to all.

I think of the great and noble man, and war hero, General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate army.
He is quoted as saying “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it. Duty then is the sublimest word in the English language. You should do your duty in all things. You can never do more and you should never wish to do less.” 

History may judge that he made the wrong choice (he had been offered the leadership of the Union army), but he followed what he deemed to be his duty and to that degree, then, he was victorious. Both then, and ever since, he has been adjudged in error. In recent years, statutes to his honor have been removed in various cities in the American South. America’s Civil War was anything but civil and it was a holy war to free enslaved peoples: of this there is no doubt. Yet each must act in accordance with his own sense of duty.

Or, as Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita puts it: Perform those actions which your duty dictates, for action is better than inaction. Without action, indeed, even the act of maintaining life in the body would not be possible. (Gita 3: 8)

I once asked Swami Kriyananda (founder of Ananda and a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda) about the righteousness and karma of the Allies in WWII having unleashed the atom bomb in Japan and having firebombed the cities of Germany. He dismissed my unspoken but critical view of these decisions with the equivalent of “all is fair in …. war.” 

Difficult times call for difficult decisions. You can only hope to do your best. The outcome is what determines the rightness of a decision. The victory of the Allies gave birth to the Iron Curtain but nonetheless deflected for a time the spectre of greater enslavement and hopelessness.

It is no coincidence that India’s greatest scripture, the Bhagavad Gita takes place on a battlefield where the first question asked is whether it is righteous to fight. But military warfare and its righteousness is not my real topic this day of remembrance.

Let us also remember those great saints and avatars who have given their lives to spread the message of Self-realization (our soul’s eternal life in God) to all “with ears to hear.” When a soul has become freed from all present and past karma but elects to answer God’s call to return into human form for the upliftment of others, it must bear the burden of the limitations of earthly existence even if that burden is not engendered by its own past actions. Human existence, even for a freed soul, entails some loss of divine contact, just as Jesus on the cross momentarily cried out to Elias or as Yogananda wept inconsolably for the death of his earthly mother. 

While that loss is never permanent nor is it the cause of actions fired by desire, the temporary eclipse of the immortal and omniscient bliss of that soul is surely a painful or burdensome loss. Even avatars, however briefly, confront their impending death with some trepidation; such was the case of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and both Lahiri Mahasaya and Swami Sri Yukteswar (as recorded in “Autobiography of a Yogi”).

Whether soldiers or saints, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13. The intention that motivates a conscious action ties the consequences to the doer of the act. The results of that act shape the nature of the act’s consequences. (If one (a saint or master) has dissolved the sense of doership, then the consequences of his action accrue to the benefit of others.)

Jesus’ response to God’s call to sacrifice his human life on the cross was faced in a different circumstance by Abraham who was asked by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. The sacrifice of one level of existence to achieve or for the benefit of a higher level of consciousness is the way by which God has created the world.

In Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains to devotee Everyman (Arjuna) the purpose of “yagya,” or self-offering:

10. Prajapati (God in the aspect of Creator) brought mankind into manifestation, and in so doing gave man the potential for self-offering into a higher (than human) awareness (through yagya). Along with this gift He enjoined mankind, “Whatever you desire, seek it by offering energy back to the source of all energy.
Let this sacrifice (yagya) be your milch cow of fulfillment.”

11. (Prajapati continued:) “With this offering, commune with the devas (shining angels), that they may commune also with you. Through such mutual communion you will arrive at the highest good.”

12. (Prajapati concluded:) “By communion with the devas you will receive from them the (earthly) fulfillments you desire. He who enjoys the gifts of the gods without returning due offering (of energy) to them is, verily, a thief.”

The above is, for westerners, an unusual, even odd way of stating what we know of sacrificing the present for the future. It is investing in our future by refraining from present enjoyment. We in the West know all about “investing” whether for retirement; or investing in a college education, or the future of our children and so on.

Nature too teaches us that all life offers itself into the greater life of others as an integral part of the cycle of life. The great “water wagons” of rain clouds unleash their precious cargo that life might be revivified. The sun consumes itself to give us energy and light. Microscopic life forms are consumed by larger life forms all the way up the food chain. Plants grow, live, and die for the nourishment of other life forms. And, returning to our beginning, soldiers give their lives in defense of their nation and their people.

To lose weight we must sacrifice a few simple pleasures! To sustain bodily strength we must take the time and make the effort to exercise. To nourish a friendship we must learn to hold our tongue and to accept others as they are before considering how we might help them (if they are open to our help).

To fulfill our duties in work and service, we must sacrifice some of the time we might otherwise give to relaxation and recreational pursuits. Parents sacrifice the pleasure of one another’s company and many personal pursuits and friendships by serving the daily needs of their children.
   
The great wheel of life is sustained by sacrifice. From the saints to the soldiers, this is one of our soul’s great lessons and therefore we celebrate this day of Memory.

May each and every one of us surrender to the great wheel of Divine Life, offering ourselves into the fire of dharma and purification that leads to our soul’s true home in Bliss.

Swami Hrimananda
USA Memorial Day 2019
   

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Indecisive? Doubting Thomas? Bhagavad Gita Speaks to You!


The Doubter: Wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita
Chapter 4.V-40. The ignorant, the person who lacks devotion, the doubt-ridden: all these must perish. The man of vacillating temperament finds no happiness in this world or the next. For him, supreme bliss is not possible.
[Editor’s note:] There are two kinds of doubt: constructive and destructive. Constructive doubt wants to know the truth and is open to it but is yet unsure or unconvinced. Destructive doubt, by contrast, is not the kind of doubt that has no interest in pursuing the inquiry any further. 
Rather, destructive doubt is his who wants the truth but is fearful of being betrayed, made a fool, or proven wrong. Ego-protectiveness renders such a truth-seeker impotent and paralyzed. 

Here is what Swami Kriyananda writes about such a doubter in his magnum opus, Essence of the Bhagavad Gita:
“The worst case, however, is that of the confirmed doubter. He has all the intellectual equipment he needs to rise to the heights, yet his compulsion is to keep listing all the shortcomings, the drawbacks, and the mischief by which others might try to undo him. He has the devotion, and the desire to rise to the heights, yet a cynical inner voice keeps whispering in his subconscious, what will the end be treachery? lack of appreciation? opposition? ingratitude?
Paramhansa Yogananda once commented, “The doubter is the most miserable of mortals.” He was referring, not to constructive questioning, but to the nagging tendency to oppose every constructive idea, to prejudge it for no real reason at all, and to be disposed to reject everything wholesome or constructive. It can’t be right, therefore, it isn’t right! It can’t work therefore no matter what happens, it can’t really work even if it seems to be doing so. People can’t know what they’re doing, therefore, they must be wrong!
To doubt a true teacher [or teaching], especially if one is his disciple [or simply seeking] owing to arrogance or simply to a habit of mental rejection causes seething turmoil in the mind. One assumes dejectedly that whatever the guru [teaching] says must automatically be wrong: not because it has been proved wrong, nor even because one wants to disbelieve a conclusion that may simply be inconvenient, and not because one doubts the guru’s motives. . . . The doubter deeply desires something true in life, but cannot accept what he finds. A strange twist of mind rejects, not out of disinterest, but rather out of intense interest. His doubt is born of almost a fear of finding himself deluded in the end, when he wanted so much to be certain.
Were he indifferent, his condition might be better at least in the sense that he’d then be able to direct his interest elsewhere. The tragedy, for him, is that he desires his whole being yearns for the very truths which subconscious habit impels him to reject. That habit proposes no acceptable alternative. It simply shakes its head and says, No. The truths he wants so his habit tells him cannot possibly exist. The habit gives no reason. Darkly, instead, it poses the dire warning, What if . . . ?
What if all this should prove, in the end, to be chicanery? What if my guru’s [teachers’] motives be not so generous as they seem, and all he [they] really wants is somehow to squeeze others for his own benefit? Such doubts quickly develop a life of their own, and create for themselves an alternate universe: What if everything!? Ones will power becomes paralyzed; hope withers away, and becomes in time a dry twig. The sweetness of friendship is soured by suspicion.
For all the above reasons it may be justly said that the doubter is indeed the most miserable of mortals.
Finally, the man of vacillating temperament can never accomplish anything worthwhile. He will never commit himself to anything. He has no loyalties. He drifts through life as his whims waft him, settling on no truth, and forever uncertain of anything.
The determinedly ignorant person can only be left alone to his own plodding rhythms. Eventually, he will emerge from his self-woven cocoon: when he has suffered enough, and when, through suffering, he begins to care and, in the caring, to make the first, faltering attempts to develop his own latent abilities. Then he will emerge from his self-confinement.
The apathetic may at least be aware that there are clouds of unknowing to be blown away. Although they’ve imagined that life has nothing more to offer them, when their dreams of passive contentment or resignation fade, they begin to look around anxiously for viable answers.
It is the doubter, alas, who suffers the most. His thinking processes, despite his longing to be good and to do right, become paralyzed. He yearns to find something on which he can fix as his ideal, but then tells himself that, for one reason or another, that ideal cannot exist. His tragedy is that he yearns for bliss, but finds bliss denied him by a compulsion in his nature that he can’t understand. How can he overcome this self-damning tendency?
He must tell himself, There is no road back. I have no choice but to go forward, even if it means only trudging heavily, one slow step at a time. He can expiate his karma by helping others to resolve their doubts. He can concentrate on his own yearning for truth, until the very yearning pulls him out of the dense fogs of doubt into the sunlight of a faith all the more certain because it has rejected gloomy speculation as a waste of time and energy. Helping others to resolve their doubts and uncertainties becomes, for him, a way of affirming his own solution-orientation. For him at last, supreme bliss becomes the only possible solution to every problem and difficulty in life!”
[editor’s postscript] Swami Kriyananda was told by his guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, that in past lives he (Swamiji) was eaten up with doubts and that it was part of his karma to help others overcome their doubts. Thus Swamiji’s karma was to teach. As he said of himself, “I’ve probably had every doubt anyone could have so I am well placed to help others.”
Our western society, oriented as we are to the rational, reasoning mind, the consequence of which is to render intuition and heart knowledge hidden from conscious view, inclines toward skepticism and doubt particularly as to non-material statements and realities. Thus it is not uncommon for many, otherwise sincere and intelligent seekers, to remain on the sidelines of religion and spirituality, and, indeed, many other worthwhile causes, for fear of being wrong or disappointed and for lacking an inner intuitive sense of what is right for them to do.
All outward activities in a world of duality necessarily contain both good and not so good; truth and untruth. Just as each of us is a mixture of positive and negative qualities. The “Hamlet complex” (“Shall I, shan’t I?”) is easily found in a culture where comfort and material gain are constantly upheld as the summum bonum of life.
Swami Kriyananda urged us to take action (in the spirit of Krishna’s counsel in the Bhagavad Gita) saying “Doing something is better than doing nothing.” Even more useful, he explained that “action is clarifying.” While mental pondering leaves you stuck, taking some, even but tentative action, by contrast, helps you see and feel the consequences and to determine kinesthetically whether further efforts in that direction are warranted. Perfection in world of duality can never be achieved outwardly in form or in action, only in intention and consciousness.
If therefore you are, by habit, indecisive, or even temporarily so, take some tentative steps in the direction that seems best (or right in front of you). By your action, you will see and feel more clearly the results and the inner guidance as to the next step.

May the Force be with you!
Swami Hrimananda




Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Bhagavad Gita: A Timely Gem

The Bhagavad Gita: A Timely Gem

When the first translations of the Bhagavad Gita into English arrived on the shores of America in the early 19th century, visionaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau pounced upon its timely and timeless message. 

Thus began what historian Arnold Toynbee described as the reverse "conquest of the West" by the East. The teachings of Vedanta (and Shankhya and Yoga) began to seep into western culture and have been steadily and increasingly transforming the consciousness of millions. Words such as karma and guru and, of course, yoga are now commonplace as are concepts such as reincarnation and practices like meditation. 

[The history of this transformation is excellently summarized in the book, American Veda, by Phillip Goldberg.]

Swami Kriyananda, founder of Ananda and direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now-famous Autobiography of a Yogi), points out that for a book to be considered a true scripture it must address the core issues facing humanity: how and why was the creation brought into being? What is the purpose of life, and especially human life? What is the cause and purpose of suffering? How can suffering be transcended and happiness be found?

He brings up other points, as well, as to what constitutes a scripture: are its precepts in line with other great scriptures and the universal values and virtues espoused by great saints of east and west? Does the scripture convey a vibration of upliftment, inspiration and light?

By all measures (and no doubt there are others), the Bhagavad Gita measures up! Among Hindus, the "Gita" as it is sometimes called is perhaps the most beloved of their many scriptures. Its name means, simply, the Song of God! It is one chapter in the world's longest and perhaps most famous epic: the Mahabharata! 

It consists of a dialogue between God and "Everyman devotee," or, more precisely, between Lord Krishna and his disciple, Arjuna. The conversation takes place on the eve of one of India's most famous historic battles (in the first millennium BC) as Krishna, Arjuna's charioteer, is asked by Arjuna to draw their chariot between the battle lines that Arjuna might survey the respective armies poised and destined to transform the dusty plain into "killing fields."

Isn't it ironic that India's most famous scripture takes place on a battlefield yet produces a culture known for non-violence? And, ironic, too, that while Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, the civilization most influenced by his followers is known for its combative nature and its desire for conquest of the world and of nature? 

Not surprisingly, therefore, the Gita begins with the portrayal of life as a battle: a battle between our lower and higher natures. Inner and outer conflict is the nature of this world and our inner world. No one can avoid taking sides. No one can avoid suffering. Everyone is seeking happiness. Is there a way out?

Our life decisions must be guided by "what is right." But how to know "what is right?" The result of our decisions and the actions which follow have specific consequences, both in the world around us and upon our inner consciousness. In a universe ruled by the inexorable law of action and reaction, we cannot avoid the consequences but we can choose how to respond to them.

Our ticket "out" lies in our true, inner nature and the nature of creation itself: the Divine Self. Immortal, imperishable, eternal, and ever-blissful, the way out of suffering and the way to lasting happiness lies, as Jesus himself put it so succinctly, "within us."

We must develop wisdom and discernment to know how to act; how to respond and how to draw upon the power of our own higher Self. The science of right action is found in the mastery of the science of "yoga." ("Yoga" here refers not merely to physical exercises but the practices of life control that guide us to identify increasingly with the transcendent nature of our soul.) Intuition, born of meditation and right action, can guide us to freedom from all action. The secret link between the lower self (ego) and the higher Self (soul) is the breath: that which brings us into the world and that by which we leave the world.

The pathways of yoga can include or emphasize our feeling nature; our thinking and perceiving nature; and our active nature. All three portals to objective reality can be reversed to flow inward into the royal (raja) stream of "pranava" (or Spirit) in the astral spine. Entering this sacred channel through the doorways of the psychic energy centers (chakras), we can direct this life force upward to unite the lower self with the Divine Self.

One cannot achieve freedom, however, by refusing to act. We must breath; eat; exercise; care for our body; deal responsibly with our own impulses, desires and fears and respond to life's vicissitudes, including illness, old age, death, fortune and misfortune: the fate of all beings. The yoga science offers to us the right action of how to internalize our consciousness and life force to achieve enlightenment in far shorter time than it takes by merely responding to our karma as it presents itself.

Three levels of consciousness, motivation, feeling, and action are described throughout the Gita: inertia (form), activity (energy and feeling), and wisdom (calm perception). These levels, or gunas, pervade all beings and all forms of creation. The Gita classifies a wide range of actions and intentions according to the predominating guna of each. This becomes a valuable guide to those on the journey of soul awakening. 

As rain clouds disgorge their gifts of nourishment to the earth; as the sun consumes itself to sustain us; as parents sacrifice themselves to care for and raise their children; as lower forms of life are consumed by higher forms; so the great wheel of life is sustained by self-sacrifice. So, we too grow and expand our wisdom, powers, and love by self-offering to God and higher beings (as manifestations of God).

Devotion to the Supreme Lord is the highest such offering. Those who sacrifice to lower gods (such as wealth, pleasure, success), "go to those gods" but do not achieve the final state of eternal happiness. All material goals offer happiness but always break their promise.

The key to breaking the energy spiral, the cyclotron of ego, comes through the instrument of the avatar, the sat guru, the one sent to us by God to liberate us and to show us that freedom can be ours.

The end-game and end-goal of our creation is to pierce the veil of mystery that hides the Lord of creation from our view and to know that we, too, are "that!" Tat twam asi-Thou art That!"

The Gita contains counsel to every level of awakening: body, mind, and soul. Its highest teaching is to seek God alone and its greatest gift is the science of yoga, the "how-to" of the eternal truth-teachings known in India as "Sanaatan Dharma."

May the song of God flow through you!

Swami Hrimananda



Here in the Seattle area, Murali Venakatrao and I will begin a 5-week course in the essentials of the Bhagavad Gita. It takes place on Thursday evenings beginning May 9th, 7.30 to 9.30 p.m. We will record this class for those who enroll on our website but who are at a distance on planet Earth: https://www.anandawashington.org/?event=essence-of-the-bhagavad-gita-bothell&event_date=2019-05-16   Our recording will be either audio or video or both. Our text will be the landmark book by Swami Kriyananda, Essence of Self-Realization.









Monday, February 11, 2019

The Avatar in You and Me! Friends in God

O Bharata, whenever virtue declines and vice predominates, I incarnate on earth. Taking visible form, I come to destroy evil and re-establish virtue. (Bhagavad Gita, 4:7-8)



In this passage, Lord Krishna speaks to us about the ancient teaching from India of the "avatara": the descent of God into human form in response to the needs of humankind.

While Hinduism and Christianity view their respective avatars as "actual" incarnations of God, the more nuanced teaching as elucidated by Paramhansa Yogananda is that the "saviour" ("Avatar") is a soul like you and me with but one difference: the avatar has, in a prior life, achieved oneness with God and worked out all past karma. Thus, the avatar returns to human form solely for the sake of helping souls still in delusion.

[Why or how the term has come to mean one's "alter ego" as in "my avatar" in gaming or social network circles is beyond me. But that's neither the term's original meaning nor my own in this article.]

The avatar's prior dissolution of ego consciousness implies that the ego has merged wholly into soul consciousness and, from there, has become "one with God." Thus Jesus Christ could declare, "I and my Father are One!" The distinction, then, between saying "God has incarnated in human form" and "Another soul, like me, has achieved God-realization" is, in fact, not great so far as the avatar's state of consciousness is concerned. But it IS important so far as WE are concerned because this truth affirms or reminds us that WE can also achieve that state!

By contrast, if God simply "incarnates Himself" into human form, as a special divine creation, it tells us that we are inherently separate from God. No difference for God who is omnipresent, but a big obstacle for us who are not yet omnipresent! 

This is, in fact, the "good news" which God sends to humankind through those who "have seen Him."

But for the promise of immortality represented in this "good news," only those with "eyes to see and ears to hear" can see and hear this good news.

God does not interfere with the karma and desires of those souls whom He has created. Only those who are ready to remember their soul's immortality hear the news. Of course, "many turned away" as the New Testament said of the life of Jesus towards the end of his ministry for they could not fathom his radical call to sonship in God (especially when he spoke of "eating my flesh" and "drinking my blood!").

In Yogananda's life, too, Swami Kriyananda said that it was like a hotel at the headquarters at Mt. Washington in Los Angeles: "people checking in and out." They did not recognize the spiritual stature and promise of Yogananda who, evidently, did not live up to their expectations! 


Even during Yogananda's "barnstorming days" around America when thousands would line up to hear him speak, only a few remained after the novelty of this popular motivational speaker from India had been satisfied.

Much more could be said on the nature of the soul and the saviour, but I would like to go back to the quote from the Bhagavad Gita above. 

What does Krishna mean when he says he comes "to destroy evil?" Swami Kriyananda in his landmark book, Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, points out that Krishna does NOT say he will destroy EVILDOERS! He takes aim at EVIL itself. Destroying "evil" and "re-establishing virtue" is a reference to consciousness. 

This means, then, that the avatar's purpose is to uplift human consciousness. This takes place on two planes: that of the individual souls (presumably disciples from past lives) and that of humanity at large. In looking back over history, we can see that the avatar must address the realities and needs of those specific places and cultures into which he/she is born. Yet, over time, the avatar's influence expands worldwide as in the case of Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, and now we see also in respect to Yogananda, to name a few. The power of such a descent, a "purna avatar," lingers for centuries, even millennia! 

But the medium through which this power spreads and continues over time is the "avatara" that occurs in the hearts and minds of those who are awakened. 

As the avatar's consciousness is that of God consciousness and as the disciple seeks to attune to God consciousness, we, too, can see ourselves, in a sense, as part of the avatara. Thus our life's purpose includes helping to help uplift humanity, on a scale appropriate to our own lives. 

While we devotees naturally focus on the "virtue" element of the avatar's mission, I'd like to consider the evil-destroying element. 

Yogananda said that in a past life he was William the Conqueror. And after that lifetime he said he was a king in Spain (probably Ferdinand III). It is, admittedly, difficult to overlay what we know of the lives of these men with the concept of an avatar. But, whatever the case may be historically or otherwise, it suggests some aspects of the evil-destroying purpose of their incarnation. 

Stories of the life of Krishna are filled with episodes where he destroys this or that demon (incarnations of evil). We, too, have our demons. Attunement to the avatar means we, too, should do our best to destroy our bad habits or ignorance. 

In the lives of Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr we see two great souls battling the demons of injustice and social evils. I don't hold them out as avatars but as souls who took up the avatar's sword for themselves. Gandhi took kriya initiation from Yogananda and King considered himself a disciple of Gandhi. Gandhi had a special love for Lord Rama, and King, for Jesus Christ. Both Rama and Jesus are considered avatars.

While history celebrates their social justice accomplishments, they were candid about their own inner struggles as well. Thus they stand as excellent examples of the avatara "destroying evil." 

In yoga, we speak frequently about the importance of being centered in the spine (both physical and astral spine) The spine is a symbol of strength, self-discipline, and one-pointed upward focus. While spirituality as expressed in these times and as emphasized by Yogananda is focused on the positive, life-affirming results and process of spiritual growth, he also made it clear to his close disciples of the need for self-discipline and ego transcendence.

Swami Kriyananda would sometimes counsel us saying, "Be a little stern with yourself." He told the story of how one evening, sick of the little prancing prince of the ego, he cried out in meditation, commanding his ego, "GET OUT!" Later, walking outside in the dark he came upon Yogananda. Kneeling before him, Yogananda said quietly to Kriyananda, "Very good." 

But as a caveat: just be sure you direct your self-discipline towards yourself, not others! Your efforts are between you and your soul.

Practice "titiksha": disciplining your senses in regard to sensations such as heat or cold; or the likes and dislikes of flavours; or the opinions (perceived or actual) of others; of your own opinions. By practising on little things we prepare ourselves to hold in check the ego's preening on the stage of your life. 

Receptivity to the avatar should include both sides of the equation for spiritual growth: ego transcendence and the transforming power of unconditional love and joy. Our soul's journey is necessarily unique and individual. It's expression, therefore, must remain true to your Self. 

But one thing common to all of us, because we are united by God, is found in one of the greatest treasures of the journey: the gift of true friendship. Friends-in-God are those who act as soul-mirrors to one another. The company you keep, both inwardly and outwardly, determine to a great extent the direction of your attention: whether upward toward God, or, downward toward ego and the senses.

Let us remember that the purpose of the "descent" is to enable us to rise. "Rise O My Soul in Freedom."

Jai guru,

Swami Hrimananda






Friday, February 8, 2019

Meditation for the Thought-full

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swami Hrimananda.

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