Showing posts with label Christianity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christianity. Show all posts

Monday, August 28, 2017

What is Meant by Hell? Is it Forever?

There are several key aspects of Christian dogma that require deeper understanding if ever Christianity is to be reconciled to other religions, and especially (from my interest, at least), to the Vedantic teachings of India. The Vedas and related teachings and practices predate even the appearance of Hinduism as we know it today as well as Christianity and the other major religions.

Some of those key aspects requiring deeper understanding include the Christian teaching that only by accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior can you be saved from eternal damnation. This is two-fold because it posits the concept of eternal damnation as well as the singular role of Jesus Christ and the religion founded in his name.

Reincarnation is another key teaching requiring reconciliation. Reincarnation interfaces with both eternal damnation and eternal salvation in the ego (with a resurrected human body). 

Being saved by Jesus Christ alone interfaces with the dogma that Jesus is the ONLY son of God. Being the son of God is less of an issue than being the ONLY son of God! Considering what we know of the age of the universe, of planet earth, of the existence of other religions and cultures, well, gee whiz: it just no longer makes sense that Jesus Christ is the only savior for everyone: whether born before, during, after his mere 33 years in a human body. A Christian has to purposely hide his head in the sand, ignoring the teachings and the saints of other religions to stick with that. The fate of all those billions who never heard "the good news" is either eternal damnation (no fault of their own?) or sitting somewhere in a nowhere land called "Limbo!" (What an invention THAT is!)

So perhaps you can see that this question of Hell is, well, hell, an important question! 

Here are some thoughts about hell and what it means and how it was used throughout the Bible (New and Old Testaments):


  1. You don't have to die to go to hell. Look around you: war, disease, depression, mental illness, starvation, abuse and exploitation.
  2. During suffering, it is difficult to imagine it ever ending and easy to imagine that your suffering is forever. This is as true for addictions and desires as it is for mental or physical suffering.
  3. In fact, despair is the bottomless pit of suffering. When addicted to a harmful habit or substance, you stop even enjoying it but cannot imagine yourself living without it. This realization produces a numbing state of despair and paralysis of will (along with the effects of the habit itself). What else is despair if not the feeling of eternally being dammed?
  4. "In my Father's house there are many mansions." The rishis of India, including modern saints of India such as Paramhansa Yogananda, confirm that the after-death states of the soul include places that could be described as heaven and hell. The difference is that they are not forever. Instead, and somewhat more like the Catholic teaching of Purgatory, these states, whether pleasant, unpleasant, or simply a state of sleep, are but rest stations between incarnations. But their existence is affirmed in the east and their nature is deemed temporary. 
Accepting the personal and private intensity of living in hellish states of consciousness, in pain and suffering, is it not so unimaginable that they would be described in the strongest terms in various phrases in the Bible? Even without questioning the translations and the original meanings of the words, it is easy to see that the language of Jesus and the Jews in the Bible were typically intense and strong. Witness the dialogues between Jesus and Pharisees, for example. Jesus hurled the epithet "Ye Whited sepulchers" at the Pharisees (and that was on a good day)! I think it is safe to say that the Jewish culture has a long history of intense debate and hyperbole of expression. (I think of Jewish mother jokes!)

In the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, the centuries around the life Jesus were considered periods of relative darkness as to humanity's general degree of virtue and enlightenment. Fear of hell fire was a valid form of motivation in that long dark night of ignorance that extended through medieval times up to and prior to the dawn of the Age of Reason and Science. 

I don't know of any specific surveys, but I doubt many Christians really believe in eternal damnation. In fact, Catholics had to invent Purgatory because hell is such a draconian consequence of sins so inconsequential as missing Easter mass. 

And what about those poor children dying in childbirth or before the age of reason? For them, the Catholics invented LIMBO! From the view of reincarnation and eternity these inventions seem like patching a leaking boat with band aids. Never mind the issue of a just and merciful God wherein one person is born with mental illness or deformity or in seriously disadvantaged circumstances (even just spiritually) and another born with the proverbial silver spoon. Certain core Christian beliefs will never withstand the crushing forces of actual human experience as cultures and religions collide and integrate. 

I give no advice nor challenge to orthodox Christians. Each must find his own way and those many who stay rooted head down in the sands of ignorance can stay there for this lifetime but the future belongs to Sanaatan Dharma. This can be translated (from the Sanskrit) as the "Eternal Religion." It offers eternal salvation through ego transcendence into the state of eternal Bliss in God (who is pure love and bliss) to all beings, accomplished by the combination of self-effort and grace over untold lifetimes. Such a teaching applies in every age, on every planet, to every being. Meditation is the engine that accelerates the soul's journey to Self-realization for the simple reason that God's bliss is a state of consciousness; it is not a place in time or space. It does not require a physical body, or any form of body. It is the dissolution of our separateness (ego) back into the only reality that has ever existed: God. No loss of consciousness is implied: only expansion into Infinity!

As science searches for the "theory of everything" based on a deeply rooted impulse in human nature, so Sanaatan Dharma offers the "good news" for all Beings. As science, rooted to matter and circumscribed by the law of duality, may never find the "theory of everything," so too no outward form of religion can ever circumscribe that which is eternal and infinite. But as science can nonetheless be useful, so the different religions can help those who are attracted to them to advance along their personal journey to Self-realization.

Thus Sanaatan Dharma intends no undermining of Christians or other faiths. Instead it offers to those who are ready to seek "oneness with everything" the goal of soul liberation in God through the practice of meditation. Meditation is the science of God-realization. 

Blessings and joy to all on our respective journeys to the "truth that shall make us free."

Swami Hrimananda

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spiritual but not Religious? Is Virtue Enough?

My brother Devin says he goes to the Church of Devin! There must be a lot of people like him. For the many intelligent and sincere people like my brother and including Abraham Lincoln, joining a church is a major compromise of one's integrity and spirituality. But then who will claim to be the equal of Abraham Lincoln (or, ok, my brother)?

(Admittedly: it astonishes me how many people -- otherwise seemingly intelligent, at least in other departments of their lives -- who go to church because their parents did, or for no other reason than habit or to simply not rock the boat. I've spoken to adults who search out a church for the simple reason that they now have children and figure they'd better get them off to some church, even if they don't go themselves! But here I'm not concerned about such meager motivations for church affiliation. For such people I suppose it beats hanging out in a bar or doing nothing at all.)

But, I ask you: are there perhaps some among the growing numbers of "spiritual but not religious" whose claim to be spiritual (while yet unaffiliated ) is but a subterfuge for their indifference, or even hypocrisy? What is a claim if untested by the cold light of day? What are mere beliefs if there's no walk to the talk?

For all the compromises and shortcomings to be found among those serving in any given church or faith, are we humans, as individuals, not replete with compromises and shortcomings in respect to our own personally held ideals and self-image? How often do we err in thought, speech or action? Is not the world itself and most human undertakings a compromise with the ideals that inspired them?  "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!"

Maybe you still think your mother, your partner or your children are perfect, but the rest of us have learned the hard way that most of our loved ones, including ourselves, fall well short of perfection. We've learn to be accepting, including self-accepting; we've learned to compromise in adult kind of ways, holding to harmony as the higher principle than being right or getting what I want.

Indeed, for those of more sensitive awareness and higher moral aspirations, we may come to realize that it is in the cold light of compromise that avoiding anger and disharmony is both tested and the very razor's edge of our opportunity to learn and grow as spiritual beings. It's rarely about what we think a situation is about. It's about harmony, calmness, kindness, compassion etc. etc. It's about letting go of desires, false expectations, judgement and on and on. It's about being able and willing to accept criticism calmly; be willing to look at ourselves; make corrections or amends where necessary and letting go of what others may think about us, right or wrong. It can also be a lesson in how to stand up for a principle or even oneself with calm dignity, without having to strike back or be defensive.

Public service generally and politics specifically teaches its votaries, at least the ones with integrity, this difficult lesson. Accusations of "selling out" must be faced whenever a compromise for the sake of harmony and modest progress is made.

We all know that it would be better if religion were more spiritual; if religions encouraged their members to seek to know and love God through personal prayer and meditation; to serve God in their fellows with a lot less ego and a great deal more humility, seeking to make this world just a little bit better a place to live in. It would be better if religion empowered individuals to establish a personal relationship with God rather than stand between the individual and God. But, well, I could go on, for religion has its faults like the rest of us, just like school, work, or politics.

Thus I say to those who claim higher ground in being "spiritual but not religious" to reflect on whether their position is simply an easier one for the ego; perhaps even a judgmental one; perhaps even somewhat disingenuous: an excuse not to engage and duck the test to see if you, too, can uphold your claim to spirituality when working shoulder to shoulder with others in the religious trenches. If religion isn't spiritual enough for you, why not jump in and help improve it? The greatest spiritual growth is achieved through relationships. Yes, ultimately our relationship to God, but when was the last time God descended to ask your advice? If we are, as the Bible tells us, "made in (His) image," then maybe God could be right in front of you? Maybe we can see what our spirituality really is if we step up and out and serve others in the name of God and truth! What if our aloof friends make fun of us for capitulating? How will we do, then?

No faith, no dogma, no ritual, no religion will be perfect until you are perfect. By that time, it won't matter. The greatest saints and prophets have always upheld and encouraged others by their example to participate in and commit to whatever outer form of spirituality (aka religion) suits their temperament.

Religion, in theory, has much to offer humanity. Religion ought to be showing humanity the high road of ethics, integrity and love for God and love for God in all. That orthodox faiths leave much to be desired is so obvious that it hurts. How many of those who scorn them are willing to contemplate human history and culture devoid of the uplifting influence of religion. (Yes, much suffering has been inflicted by religionists but that's only one side, only one view. It's easier to critique what was done wrong in the past than to imagine "what if.")

I feel blessed to be part of a meditation and communities movement that is free from centuries of religious institutionalism. I am part of the Ananda worldwide spiritual work of kriya yoga meditation, hatha yoga, and intentional communities inspired by one of the twentieth century's most renowned spiritual teachers, Paramhansa Yogananda (and founded by a direct disciple of his, Swami Kriyananda). So if you consider yourself un-orthodox, there are probably some choices for you, too!

I don't have to have Ananda be perfect because I have gained far more spiritually and humanly (is there a difference?) from serving this work for decades than just living on my own in the world, preoccupied with my own desires and my family's needs. I could not have grown or have been inspired by just going to a Sunday Service each week. True, there are far too many with religious vocations who are egotistical, greedy and sometimes worse, but anyone who holds up the few who have failed as a judgment of the many who have tried, is either ignorant or hiding behind their judgment.There have been great saints and selfless devoted workers in the name of religion down through the centuries.

Now, let me admit of another facet of this diamond: "It may be a blessing to be born in a religion, but it is a curse to die in one!" (To die, spiritually, that is.) This saying, from India, also has its place. Many people "die" spiritually in the coffin of their religious beliefs and rituals. They die due to judging others; they die to compassion and kindness; they die to the need for personal inquiry and introspection; they die to the presence of God within. But until one has walked his talk amidst the clash of egos and shortcomings, who can say he has matured sufficiently to absent himself all together from the effort to serve with others spiritually?

The history of humanity reveals our need for others and our innate social nature. By cooperation with others, we can achieve greater safety, prosperity, health and creative engagement. How can this not be also true in the realm of spiritual growth: the human activity we call religion (organized spirituality)? If God is One, and we are children of the One Light, we cannot know God who is All by turning our backs on others and refusing to share and serve that Light.

Common sense and self-honesty would serve the "spiritual but not religious" well; add a dash of humility, too. We can think we are spiritual because we have a vegan diet or see all faiths as the same (disdaining all of them, no doubt, at the same time) while we recycle our compost but haven't lifted a sincere prayer for another person in decades, if ever. Feeding the poor is not a substitute for seeking to know and love God. This is the error too many Western churches have made. Mother Teresa saw her savior, Jesus Christ, in the "poorest of the poor." She wasn't trying to solve the issue of poverty.

In Paramhansa Yogananda's life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, he shares these somewhat "tough" truths in a message to those (both churches and individuals) who think that serving humanity is a substitute for seeking, knowing and loving God first and foremost. Speaking of the woman saint in India, Ananda Moyi Ma, he wrote that she "offers her sole allegiance to the Lord. Not by the hairsplitting distinctions of scholars but by the sure logic of faith, the childlike saint has solved the only problem in human life -- establishment of unity with God. Man has forgotten this stark simplicity, now befogged by a million issues. 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. This uplifting obligation to love God is assumed with man's first breath of an air freely bestowed by his only Benefactor."

A vague belief in God, or being a good person, liking warm puppies, concern about global warming or helping elderly people across the street may be virtuous but it is not spiritual in the sense of one's level of consciousness. Absence of ego, love for God, and upliftment into transcendent states of joy, unconditional love, abiding calmness, and the absence of anger, and the presence of natural moderation and simplicity in one's habits, these are just some of the hallmarks of spiritual consciousness.

The world today needs divine power and inspiration born of the attunement of individuals of courage and commitment channeled into action, into prayer, meditation and devotion. Having a latte on Sunday morning may be pleasant enough, but it will not satisfy our soul's need to "know, love and serve God" (quoting my childhood exposure to the "Baltimore catechism").

And if this fails you, check out the "Church of Devin." I suspect he can use a few followers. :-)

Blessings to all,

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Why does God permit Suffering? Why did He create this mess?

A friend wrote:

Dear Hriman, I was cruising along in the Bhagavad Gita until a day or so ago. As soon as I came to a certain part I suddenly was stopped dead in my tracks. "Legend has it that when God first manifested the universe He made it perfect. Men and women, realizing the need for living in perfection, sat in meditation and soon merged back into Brahman. One or more similar attempts were made, all of them with the same result. God then decided, 'I must impose delusion on people. They must struggle, advance by trial and error, and discover that kind of action, and that attitude toward it, which will lead them to bliss and freedom'. Thus it is that we find ourselves in this 'pickle'".

I don't know about you, but this doesn't make sense to me. Is this "impose delusion" strategy the Bhagavad Gita's version of the temptation of Eve? It seems like a queer way for a Creator to act. So maybe this is all just a story and does not pretend to describe what really happened? 

But it did bring up to me a question I've never stopped to think about. Why should we love God? by whatever name you want to use for It. We didn't ask to be created. In a sense we are in this world at the behest of Something else entirely. And 'frankly my dear' this isn't such a great place! So am I supposed to love a God that put me and the rest of us here? Why? There's still no reason for us being at all. All the answers of all the religions and spiritual "classics" haven't yet come up with one that satisfies me in some simple way.

So I'm stuck at present. Not only with the Bhagavad Gita and Sanaatan  Dharma, but also with Christianity. Anyway, since my quandry came out of reading the B.G., and you encouraged me to read it, I figured I might as well ask you for your viewpoint.

Here are some thoughts I shared:

Yogananda often encountered this (doesn't anyone who thinks more deeply about wonder, "Why?") and on at least one recording says "I often fight with Divine Mother. You made this mess. You must free us!"

But he, as others before him, also said "When you achieve salvation, you will know, and you will not regret one bit of the journey, saying "What a great show it was." Yogananda also taught that "The drama of life has for its lesson that it is but a drama."

Stuck in duality, in suffering, separateness, and death, we cry out and say, "Why?" It seems all wrong somehow. God may be in bliss, but we aren't and He made us all, so isn't He responsible for it?

Religion doesn't exist to rob us of inspiration and the strength to overcome negativity, sadness, and despair. Religion doesn't exist to teach us that God is evil, or doesn't care about us, or doesn't feel our pain.

It has been said that God created the universe that He might know and love Himself through many; that He might play the game of hide n seek in the divine romance of duality. Swami Kriyananda writes that "it is the nature of Bliss to want to express and share itself."

Imagine you are immensely creative: perhaps like Shakespeare. You possess a love of life. Though perfectly happy in yourself, you are brimming with joy and ideas. So, like the mighty Bard, you set pen to paper to write the greatest story ever told. To make the story believable and interesting, exciting and inspiring, you need a hero and villain; you need tragedy and comedy. No one would bother to participate in a play that was all sweetness and light: way too dull.

As the playwright you are not evil for having created a believable evil villain to bring conflict and tension into the plot. Nor are you necessarily the swashbuckling handsome hero for the fact that you can write for him good lines and heroic deeds. You are untouched by the drama, for it, after all, is just a drama.

Now good actors know that they just play their parts, following the script even as they enhance it with their skill. Despite public adulation and attention, they remain are just themselves and are not fooled by appearances and plays which for them is simply their job, even if they can also enjoy because they do it well and skillfully. 

If they are but B grade actors, they begin to think of themselves as those roles and in time find themselves typecast, coming again and again to the theater to play those kinds of parts until they grow out of them.

In creating the universe God had to BECOME it. There can be nothing created that is separate from God, for God alone IS: I AM. Yet, God is untouched by the universe He created, while yet immanent in it, while yet the very essence of it: in short, the Trinity. God the Father beyond and untouched by creation; God the son, the innate and immanent intelligence, silent and still at the heart of all motion and in the center of all atoms and hearts; and, God the Holy Ghost, the invisible motion whose rotations and movements spin off all objects and thoughts.

Thus the creation is endowed with the same desireless impulse to create, share, and expand with infinite variety while yet remaining in Himself as the Creator. Armed also with the intelligence to perpetuate that existence, there comes a point in the outgoing power of the Holy Ghost that the emerging separateness gradually becomes "satanic," meaning self-aware, self-affirming and rebellious, seeking to be One unto itself, seeking knowledge and power, and seeking happiness on and as its own in the forms and activities of creation, rather than in communion with the Creator. 

As God is immortal, eternal, Self-aware and blissful in Himself, and as we are but sparks of that Infinity consciousness so we, though deluded to imagine our fulfillment in but His echo (the creation), naturally have the impulse to perpetuate ourselves, self-aware and happy. But in turning our backs on Infinity we grow small and in time as the wheel of birth, life and death, pleasure and pain turns ceaselessly and crushes our hopes repeatedly, we cry out for release from bondage. 

Until such time, however, most souls wouldn't have it any other way. With the endless variety show of creation, it takes countless incarnations before we grow weary of the toys of creation. Like the baby who eventually tires of the new toys his mother drops into his crib to keep him busy while she performs the housework of creation, the baby at last wails and cries for the mother to come pick him up and put him on her lap. 

God remains silent until we, like the prodigal son, rise up from our prison of suffering and want, and begin the long journey home, willing to serve our Father, even as his hired hands. When He sees that we are coming, He will run out to embrace us as His own Son. 

From another angle, then, and returning to your comment about the story of God making his maya more powerful, it might as well have been us choosing to play in the dream of creation rather than come home "before dark." For are we not "like gods?"  ("Do not your scriptures say, 'Ye are gods?'")

No explanation can satisfy the intellect. Only the heart can find satisfaction in opening up to God's love. We can't really love someone we don't know. But we can pray to receive that love that we might return that love in joy and true happiness.  "Thou art the living Christ," said only Peter (of the disciples) when Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do men say I am." Only the heart knows the truth that "can set us free."

No man has revealed to us our birthright as children of Light, but our souls remember that we are not pauper but a prince. And so, in the long history of time, we begin to awaken. Great souls, living Christ-like saviors, walk the earth in every age to bring to humanity the good news of God's eternal promise of our immortality. The touch of God "made flesh" quickens our souls, lighting the lamp of divine love in our hearts.

The intellect can only walk us in the general direction but like Moses, it cannot enter the promised land of divine bliss. The ego (incl. intellect) must at last surrender. To slay the serpent of maya we must enter the desert of inner solitude, stripped and bleached of human desires and passions by the inner sun of wisdom. 

There we can lift this serpent of delusion upon the staff of the straight spine seated in meditation, in silent, inner communion. There, beyond the duality of intellect and the pull of the senses, there in the humble manger of the open heart, the Christ is born. In time, with self-effort and the blessings of grace, this universal, indwelling and eternal Christ will be resurrected.

Blessings,

Hriman


Monday, December 23, 2013

That Night When Christ was Born!

What a wonderful story the birth of Jesus is! Did you know, however, that the custom of erecting a nativity scene in honor of Jesus' birth did not begin for a thousand years and was started by St. Francis near Assisi, Italy?

Now, two thousand years later, how relevant is it to assert or deny the virgin birth? Or, the appearance of the heavenly hosts? Or, the presentation of the Three Wise Men from the East?

Joseph Campbell, the famous "mythologist," has helped modern Americans reconnect with the reality that a story can be meaningful and true with or without being a fact. The Bible stories, the Hindu Ramayana and Mahabharata, creation myths and on on show us that "truth is greater and more true than mere facts."

The power of the nativity lies in its hidden message. Like art, including music, it affirms a reality that our intellect is too dull (or distracted) to comprehend (or notice) but which our heart and soul knows, embraces and celebrates.

Orthodox Christians, viewing the nativity story from the point of view of theology and belief, limit their understanding to a literal interpretation of what they believe are the facts of Jesus' birth. I don't have a problem with that but it doesn't address the real issue: the power of this story to uplift generations for centuries in the embrace of its power, love, and light.

Really, after all: millions go to Christmas Eve Services and many don't normally go to church or have an orthodox religious life at all. Is their attendance merely a well worn habit? For some, yes. But for all? No, I don't think so. Millions, some not even Christians, surely feel a special grace or blessing of kinship with all during the Christmas season. There is a famous story from World War I when the close-by but opposing armies in the trenches came out to celebrate with one another one dark and cold Christmas Eve. Stories of spontaneous generosity are so omnipresent during Christmas that it makes no special point to remember any of them!

It is true that babies always attract a fair amount of ooohing and aaahing but Gee Whiz, two thousand years ago? We wax wistful and brotherly (sisterly) at the sight or thought of this child -- his birth, his life, his death, and resurrection. We know this child has for us a message that is true. It is a message of hope, of reassurance, of safety, of security, of love without condition and without end.

The hidden message is, at least in part, said plainly in Sanskrit, from India, from the Chandogya Upanishad: Tat Twam Asi. This "grand pronouncement" of the eternal teaching (Sanaatan Dharma) means, simply, "Thou art That." 

We recognize ourselves in that child for we, too, are eternal and "Before Abraham, I AM." (John 8:15) Further, Psalm 82:6 reminds us that "I have said, ye are gods, and all of you are children of the most high."

None of this denies the divinity of Jesus, the Christ (the annointed). The Star of Bethlehem, "His star," presages and symbolizes that this one is a true "son of God" and "one with the Father." So, too, the meaning of the virgin birth. But the difference between Jesus' spiritual realization and our own is matter of degree not kind. We have yet to awaken fully to our sonship in God. And that awakening was the purpose of his birth, and the incarnation of every such son of God whether it be Buddha, Krishna, or any number of world teachers, avatars, who come fully awakened in God. They come for but one purpose: to bring prodigal souls, souls thirsty and hungry for truth and God-realization, back to their home in God consciousness.

This is the hidden message of the nativity. It follows, though more by deduction, than intuition, that the birth of the hidden Christ within us requires action on our part. We must imitate His birth in the meaning of the symbols of his birth: the manger which was but a stable represents humility. Humility is the first condition of our spiritual awakening. Humility does not mean self-deprecation but realization of the wonder of creation, the smallness of our ego, and our need for and desire to love God, that Being of Love who is Infinite and the essence of all Life. To have this realization is the perspective of Infinity and it must needs be a form of humility for the ego.

The quietness of the animals in the stable means that our animal appetites must lie down and render service to this inner Christ. We have need of food, for example, but only in the context of nourishment not food greed, and to keep the body fit as a temple of our God!

The shepherds who watch over the flocks are our thoughts which herd (direct) our actions. These shepherds must come and worship this Christ and in so doing become protectors of our thoughts and actions directed toward selflessness, toward nobility, and toward devotion.

The Three Wise Men who come to worship the Christ child reveal to us that to our aid will come, if we seek and let them, wise teachers, both living and now gone, whose teachings can assist us to develop wisdom, devotion, and self-control.

King Herod, or King Ego, stands ready to massacre this child, and indeed, this child as it is born in others around us. We must flee to Egypt until he dies. Egypt here means we must seek the company of other truth seekers and avoid the soul-killing company of worldly people and circumstances. Until the ego has died (at least sufficiently to no longer challenge Christ the (inner) King), we must remain in the protection of the like-minded. Indeed, spiritually speaking, only highly advanced souls can afford to live apart from society or, in any case, without the ongoing support of other spiritually mind people.

As any newborn child, this inner Christ will need protection and nurturing until he can be "about my Father's business!" We must have daily prayer and meditation, and develop right attitudes of servicefulness, devotion, and right living: compassionate and kindly.

This is the good news of Jesus' birth. What it does mean to be good news because we are "saved?" The appearance of divinity in human form and in one who has achieved oneness with the Father through many incarnations is good news because it means we can do it too. It's also good news because (the bad news is) we can't do it by ourselves alone. It is the ego that awakens to the possibility of soul freedom but it is already trapped. A true savior, or guru-preceptor, has the spiritual power to "lift up the serpent in the wilderness" and thus to lift the serpent of delusion up in the wilderness of spiritual purification, prayer, meditation and self-offering, and, to transform the base metal of ego consciousness into the gold (brass) of the soul.

The good news of the birth of such a one is therefore two-fold: one, "we can do it, too," and two, " And, He is here to help us." Some are more attracted and in tune with other such avatars, like Buddha, Krishna, and in our times Paramhansa Yogananda, or others like Paramhansa Ramakrishna, and even great saints who, while not entirely free, serve to help others spiritually. The realization of others is not our concern. We must walk the path to freedom according to our heart's direction: to Jesus, or to others. Thousands were disciples of St. Francis but he was, in turn, a disciple of Jesus and one of the greatest (and the first to receive the stigmata, the wounds of Christ on his own body).

Let us both celebrate and get to work on achieving soul freedom. "The time for knowing God has come" Paramhansa Yogananda declared. Meditation, including Kriya Yoga, is for everyone and is the greatest single aid to soul freedom through self-effort.

A blessed and bliss-ed Christmas and New Year to all,

Swami Hrimananda aka Hriman


















Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Cosmic Drama: Part One (of Five) Jesus Christ – an oriental who changed the West

This is part one of a series of articles. It has its origins in a prior blog article entitled, "Who is Jesus Christ?" You may wish to read that first, though not absolutely necessary. This series attempts to describe the Trinity, or, how God can be omniscient, omnipresent, infinite, and immanent in creation at the same time. And, what significance this has for the reality we face as individuals. As the prior article on Jesus Christ noted, "Who Jesus is says a great deal about who we are." So, too, who God is addresses who we are.

The teachings of Jesus were to force a reevaluation of the fundamental teachings of Judaism. St. Paul is generally credited with the intellectual horsepower that set the stage for these changes. What was to become the teaching of the Trinity – the triune nature of God – arose in Christianity primarily to help bring a broader understanding of the Jewish teaching of the oneness of God. In the Judaism there is only one God but the separation of God from man is absolute. His messengers might be angels or prophets but God’s appearance on earth was rare and never in human form. God “appeared” to Moses as a burning bush that did not consume the bush and out of which came a voice. In some form that is unknown, God gave to Moses upon Mt. Sinai the stone tablets upon which were written the Ten Commandments. But always God was “other” and all but inaccessible.

Jesus’ appearance on earth and his declaration that he was the “son of God” was naturally a shocking and blasphemous statement to the orthodox point of view. Moreover, as history and scholarship has repeatedly attested (and as the New Testament implies), the messiah was expected to be bring the Jews political freedom (from which would come the religious renaissance) in this world, a repetition of the role not unlike that of Moses who led the Israelites from bondage in Egypt to freedom in their new land and into a new covenant with God.

The assumption that God is wholly “other” and separate from creation is an easy and understandable one, for God’s presence in creation is well hidden, to say the least. The separateness of people, one from the other, plants and animals, night and day, male and female seems so obvious that why, too, wouldn’t God Himself be “other?” In Genesis, for example, we read that God simply says, effectively, “make it so” and it was. No one seems to have had much curiosity about exactly how He did it. A carpenter who makes a chair remains separate and apart from the chair. Isn’t that obvious? Why question it?

Obvious? Or, maybe not so obvious? Unlike the carpenter, God had place to go, no trees or hardware stores, from which to gather the materials of creation. Only now, in our age, with quantum physicists exploring the very nature of the creation of matter on its most element levels has the question (and the potential answer) been raised anew and piqued the interest of intelligent and thoughtful men and women everywhere. It is perhaps our newly acquired scientific consciousness that has provoked deeper inquiries into God’s methodology. Thus far, however, scientists seem to be stumped. They are standing before an abyss of emptiness devoid of discernible matter but latent with tremendous energy, out of which pops minute particles at seemingly random intervals only to vanish as quickly as they came. Like a scene out of the Trilogy, they stand as if before a door in a mountain unable to decipher the code that unlocks that door and leads to the inner sanctum of creation’s deepest mysteries.

A table and chairs may not reveal much about its maker but their very existence reveals the fact of a maker. A work of art, a new invention, a child conceived, and a new computer chip all appear from seemingly nowhere (the human mind and heart) but with great potential consequences, just as quarks and vibrating strings exist at the very edge of pure energy and no-thing-ness, out of which all things have come. While scientists tell us that energy is the underlying substrata of all matter, they have not nor probably ever will, discover the source and motive that underlies energy itself.

By contrast, rishis and masters, down through the ages, have suffered from no such limitation, for they have not merely tried to find the source of the atom but have become the atom using a kind of reverse engineering from the process by which God created the atom to begin with. The masters achieved Self-realization and oneness with the overarching Consciousness out of which all things in creation are born, live, and to which they are withdrawn. The teachings of metaphysicians aver that the creation is a manifestation of God’s consciousness “becoming” His creation. When the Jews intone daily their great mantra (“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE!”) little do they know that the concept “God is One” means God is one with the entire cosmos as well and at the same time Being other, separate and apart from it. Oneness surely includes infinity and infinity is presumably inclusive of everything and therefore big enough to be “both-and” so that God can be both separate from creation and at the same time the very essence and sustainer of creation itself. But how? This question we will pursue in the series of four more articles to come. But it provokes more questions that need addressing, also, such as:

If God became the creation, does this mean we are but puppets and our so-called “free-will” is an illusion? What, if any, is our responsibility for our actions? From whence comes suffering and evil? Is God good, evil, indifferent or something else? Stay tuned…….for the next four articles.

Aum, shanti, amen,
Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Why Celebrate Christmas?


Why Celebrate Christmas?
Who, Scrooge or worshipper alike, doesn’t bristle at the commercialization of Christmas? It is so easy and so common to want to chuck it all out the window and into the trash. On reflection, however, doesn’t that simply put the nail in the Christmas spirit’s coffin? Why invest in materialism by essentially agreeing that there’s nothing sacred about Christmas?

Instead, why not search for how to express that spirit in ways that are authentic to you? And, given the familial and communal nature of that spirit, why not share your celebration with others of like-mind?

It feels slightly silly to attempt to define the Christmas spirit, but our world is closing in on us and in America and in so many countries our lives at home, at work and in the shops and marts are shared with people of other faiths or of no faith. Not only therefore might Christians stop to consider what Christmas is all about but how can everyone find inspiration from its universal message.?

I suppose I ought to ask whether it has a universal message? Is the birth of Jesus Christ an event only of interest to Christians? Generally speaking, Christian teachings hold that Jesus Christ is the world’s only savior and belief in the redemptive power of his death on the cross and the glory of his resurrection thereafter are the hallmarks of Christian faith. But this blog article will end up being a book if I head off in earnest in that direction. So, instead, let me say that …

As a yogi and a follower of the teachings of India (especially as brought to the West in modern times by Paramhansa Yogananda), I am not alone in espousing the view that saints and saviors have come to this earth down through the ages in all faith traditions and that the greatest of these are all “sons of God” as was Jesus Christ. They come to remind us that we, too, are that, and that our lives in human bodies are given us that we too might become Self-realized in God as are the masters in every religion.

There is, however, another aspect of universality that millions recognize, even setting aside the specifics of the meaning of Jesus Christ’s incarnation on earth. The Christmas spirit is one of giving and sharing. Christmas is a celebration of the Golden Rule of life and of the kinship of life that all nations, races, people, and faiths share. That surely is worth affirming in this world of troubles, is it not?

Though I can’t give specifics, perhaps you, too, have seen movies or read stories of how during World War I and/or II, soldiers stopped fighting on Christmas Day and shared in some way across their battle lines. How many children stories exist with tales of how the humblest child or animal had a gift to offer the baby Jesus? In that little form we pay homage to the life we all share, for in that light we are One and we are children of our one, Father-Mother God.

Even atheists and agnostics can celebrate the humanity and harmony exemplified in the Golden Rule.
Candlelight symbolizes, inter alia, that at the darkest hour of life (winter solstice of the northern hemisphere) there remains this light of eternal life, like the seed buried and unseen in the winter ground but which bursts forth in the Spring. In celebrating light in its many forms (colored Christmas lights, candles and so on) we share a universal symbol of hope that the sunlight of vitality and healing will once again rise.

The spiritual interpretations of this light, of which Jesus was a human representative, include the teaching that this light is the light of the soul, as a reflection of the Infinite Light of God. This Light exists eternally behind the darkness of ignorance and materialism, and at the still center of all matter. This eternal Light is the promise of our immortality which has its Being in our souls, not in our physical bodies.

Let us therefore celebrate this Light which “shines in the darkness, though the darkness comprehended it not.” Let us celebrate our kinship with each other, with all creatures, and with all life. Let us affirm that we are children of the Infinite Light and that all distinctions of race, nation or faith are but constructs of the limits of the human intellect and but constrictions upon the natural love of the heart. “Hear O Israel, the Lord, the Lord our God, is ONE!

One week from today at the Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell, Nayaswami Jamuna Snitkin presents a 3-hour workshop on this subject, “Why Celebrate Christmas.” Saturday, December 8, 9:30 a.m. http://www.anandawashington.org/classes/art-of-living-classes/
Look forward, too, to a series of blog articles inspired by the faiths of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Self-realization on the universal theme and celebration of Light.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Jesus Christ: the ONLY?

Religion has been plagued by sectarianism and no religion has been so organized and so intellectually self-enclosed and bullet-proof than the traditional Catholic Faith. A recent conversation with my ultra-conservative Catholic priest and brother served only to remind me of both the limits of the intellect and the dangers of the sheer magnetism of two thousand years of accumulated tradition and self-enclosed logic.

The trouble begins with Jesus' use of the personal pronoun "I" in his statement that "I am the way, the life, and the truth" (not an exact quote). It continues with states like "upon my church I shall build my church and the powers of darkness shall not prevail against it" (approximate quote). An entire theology has been built around such quotations, and, added to that, the testimony of (church-ordained) "saints" adds proof to the pudding!

Paramhansa Yogananda, a great yogi who came to America and who brought a new dispensation of a broader vision of divinity and truth, showed how Jesus' words and teachings can be understood in a broader context. Yet the weight of tradition and the apparent testimony of the saints would seem to shun any new interpretation or understanding. Add to this the fear of the "anti-Christ" and associated breakdown of traditional values and you have a retrenchment from which there seems no return, no reconciliation, no hope for raproachment.

From my brother's point of view, there isn't any such bridge. There is no way to reconcile. Theirs is the only way, and the rest of us are condemned to you-know-where or, with some theological fine print, can be saved by natural living and grace based on our ignorance and God's mercy.

The combination of the erosion of traditional ("Catholic" or "Christian") values and the emergence of Eastern religions with their overarching and universalist tendencies makes for trouble all 'round. It drives the traditional Christians crazy to think that Buddha or Krishna might be elevated to the stature of Jesus Christ!

No blog article is sufficient in length to tackle these questions. For reference I direct your attention to Swami Kriyananda's book, "Revelations of Christ," or Self-Realization Fellowship's (shortened) "The Yoga of Jesus."

The gulf that divides east and west (universalist vs dogmatist) is a very deep one. We mustn't fool ourselves into thinking reconciliation is just around the corner. We of metaphysical persuasion tend to be non-violent, even pacifist, but not so (many of) the representatives of orthodox religion.

I told my brother I would rather love him than argue with him. But he never seems to give up on his insistence that the Catholic Church is the only one true church and after the anti-Christ and the dark days to come it will emerge victorious!

Rather than argue our way through the Jesus' teachings, why not find it in our hearts to unite in our love for truth, our dedication (self-sacrifice) to serving God and higher ideals, and in our personal life of prayer, meditation, and introspection? Are not the so-called traditional Christian values essentially universal ones?

Sadly, however, the path ahead of us is not a bed of roses. While mainstream religion has largely ignored us, laughed at us, scorned or condemned us, its response will be much more intense when the time comes that it feels threatened by those who dare to meditate (without their sanction) and who see in all faiths the underlying unity of truth.

As unpleasant as it may seem to many of us, we must be willing, at least, to stand up for a truth that is needed on our planet today. We are all children of the Infinite One God. All life, all faiths are but a manifestation of that One consciousness. Life has but its purpose the realization that we are but sparks of the Infinite Flame.

There is no real argument among the great Ones who come to declare the eternal truths. Even if saints encourage their followers to be true to the faith they are born in, an examination of their lives finds them preoccupied with ego-transcendence and love for God. A new dispensation of revelation has come in answer to the prayer of sincere hearts that a universal understanding in matters spiritual be found that is comparable to the universal acceptance of natural laws discovered by scientists.

This new revelation, like the "new" science that replaced medieval superstitions and blind beliefs, is not intended and need not destroy the faith of traditional religionists. In fact, it can free them from the narrow confines of sectarianism. Let each faith honor its own tradition while it yet sees its beliefs and rituals in the broader vision of God's love and wisdom.

Blessings,

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, December 17, 2010

What was the Star of Bethlehem?

This morning in the pre-dawn night I was walking to the meditation room at the Ananda Community, Lynnwood and beheld the very bright morning star in the southeastern sky. I suppose it was Venus, but my ignorance on stars being unplumbed, I couldn't truly say. Like the Star of Bethlehem (as I imagine it), this star was so bright, hopeful, and comforting in the cold winter darkness.

I doubt any 21st century person would even bother to consider that some "star" grazed along the night sky guiding three very wise persons from the east (going west) to Palestine to a lowly stable in a nondescript village on the edge of a desert!

In 1976 I visited a planetarium in Calcutta and watched the feature show which asked "What was the Star of Bethlehem?" I guess they could roll back their star charts and program the sky to look like it might have on that starry, distant night long ago. Well, they didn't come up with much but it was a good show.

As I look around at the cars along the freeway, the shoppers at the mall, the families in the grocery store, and the faces from all nations and races which surround me in this bustling international community of Seattle, it's easy to imagine that the star of Bethlehem is not a pressing issue with anyone.

The point is that most people seem to have an instinctual sense of what's important. That's different than wisdom but it's good enough for survival. I doubt even churchgoers fuss much over whether they believe each and every dogma propounded to them by their respective churches.

Maybe the Star of Bethlehem, like the virgin birth, isn't all that important as to the facts. Maybe the specialness of Jesus Christ is accepted enough two thousand years later as to not make these stories as important to modern people as perhaps they were to the nations of the middle east and the Roman empire!

Owing to the inheritance of Christian dogma that so strongly asserts that Jesus is the son of God, there's little issue with his acceptance as a "super-saint" of some sort, or, ok, then, as the son of God, even. What's not digested, accepted, or even contemplated is the implications of Jesus' life and state of consciousness upon our own. Oh, I don't mean simply to say that Jesus' life and teachings should inspire us to be better and more saintly.

No, I mean something deeper, something profound, and life changing. Jesus himself spoke of his second coming. Many Christians teach or believe that Christ will appear on earth in much the same way the Jews of Jesus' time expected a Messiah to appear on the scene and drive away those pesky Romans!

But I suspect no Jesus Christ is about to appear in the clouds ready to scoop up the faithful in a rapture to heaven. Fortunately most Christians probably don't bet their life's retirement funds on that happening anytime soon. Indeed, no more than they grapple anxiously with whether the Star of Bethlehem really did prance around the Middle eastern sky like some traffic-directing dirigible.

No, the time has come for something else. Something to wake us up. And, no I don't mean the end of the world or Martians or anything so Hollywood-ish. What Paramhansa Yogananda taught is that the "second" coming of Christ takes place when a divine awakening is born in our own hearts and within our own consciousness. The seed which gives birth to this infant Christ-child is contained in our soul's memory of its divine nature and is "fertilized" or "watered" into new life by the teachings and living spirit of a Christ-like soul who can truly say "I and my Father are One."

Jesus declared that "Before Abraham was, I AM." Thus any claim to be the only begotten son of God must not be limited by any particular human form, including that of Jesus who, in his human, bodily form, called himself only the "son of man."

The implication for devout Christians of seeing that Jesus, son of man, was also a God-realized son of God who partook in a universal Christ consciousness which is part of the Godhead (Trinity) and which therefore has existed since the beginning of time, opens the doorway to acceptance of the appearance of Christ consciousness in many forms down through the ages. Buddha, Krishna, Rama and who knows how many countless others could also say (in fact DID say), with Jesus, "I and my Father are One."

The first chapter of St. John's gospel describes Jesus (without even naming him) as the Word ("which was [in the beginning] with God, and was God."). There can be no doubt directly from the New Testament that this consciousness far transcends any limitation the intellect might place upon its appearance in any single human being, just as God, Infinite, is in no way limited by any aspect of His creation or of his triune nature.

We have here something so profound, both personally life changing and culturally revolutionary, that though it may be many years before its implications become generally understood and visible, it is bound to change the course of history. And none too soon, either! Christianity is in desparate need of a revival. Christians desparately need a way to escape the confining limitations of dogma which separate their sympathies and acceptance of people of other faiths. Christian countries which once dominated the world are now in retreat as a rapidly growing tsunami of other faiths and cultures rises on the tide of a new world order.

Coming from the east to the west with the wisdom of the ancients, Paramhansa Yogananda is a wayshower to the healing of the nations and the survival of the planet. No mere intellectual affirmation of religious or cultural equality can supercede the barriers of deeply and long-held faith. Not until that faith (and other faiths) receives the redeeming grace to have eyes to see and ears to hear the Savior's voice in many forms and in many lands, can we of earth meet each other on equal grounds, true to our past but embracing our future, and our self as our very own Self.

More than this, even, is what it means to you and I. Through the living touch and spirit of any such son of God, we, too, can reawaken to the realization that we, though for incarnations prodigal children, are no less God's very own and heirs to His consciousness (of Bliss, of Christ-mas joy).

God is not dead. Jesus is not dead. The Christ dwells, however latently, however unknown to us, in each one of us. Through our conscious, willing, creative and whole-hearted giving of ourselves, ("Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind, and strength.") we can give birth to an infant Christ in our hearts. This infant can grow as our attunement grows and as we dissolves the countless threads of attachment, desire, and self-identification that comprises what we call our ego.

This in fact was the good news which Jesus (and all God-realized masters) proclaim. As the Hindu scriptures teach, "Tat twam asi" (Thou art THAT!). The star of Bethlehem was described as HIS star. It is also OUR star: the five pointed, brightl beacon of light outlines the five points of the body (arms, legs, head) as we are indeed "made in the image of God" (Genesis). As Jesus was born of a virgin, so we too are born of the pure light of God. As Jesus ascended the ladder of Self-realization through countless lifetimes, we, too, can ascend by truth and grace.

Christmas blessings to all,


Hriman

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Prodigal Son Returns!

The story told by Jesus in the New Testament of the prodigal son who returns to and is welcomed back home by his father is one of the most inspiring allegories of the scriptures of east and west.

Where in this story is there any hint of eternal damnation? Is not error, ignorance, and self-destructive attitudes and behaviors hell enough? How many millions suffer from poverty, addictions, abuse, disease, and exploitation? Hell, who needs hell? It can be right here in our own hearts and minds! Besides, when you are truly in the midst of suffering, does it not SEEM like it will never end?

Are WE the cause of our suffering? How can we explain the suffering of a child? The annihilation of an entire culture? Is life itself to blame? Is suffering just built into the matrix of life? Is it God who punishes us? If so, do we deserve it or is God capricious?

These are among the great questions of life, to be sure. Just as only a handful of people in this world can truly comprehend the grand mysteries of science such as string theory, quantum physics, relativity, and the time-space continuum, so too only a few great souls truly grasp the grand mysteries of our human experience. Who, among millions who use computers or cell phones, truly understand the inner workings of even these (now) mundane devices we so depend upon?

The pearl of life's wisdom is not sold cheaply in the marketplace of bookshops but is only found, hard-won, in even-mindedness and calmness on the threshing floor of daily life and in the hermitage of inner silence.

Why, then, should we be surprised if the great drama of life is veiled and seems to us a mystery, an enigma? Paramhansa Yogananda was once asked about a possible "short-cut" to wisdom. He smiled and replied that such a short-cut would make it too easy and that God has so veiled the truth that we might seek Him for his love, not merely his wisdom. Besides, he quipped, most people, if given a chance to talk to God, would only argue.

He went on to say God HAS everything; God IS everything. He "lacks" only our love, our personal interest, and our attention. Most humans on this planet wouldn't have it any other way, so engrossed in the pursuit of life, liberty, pleasure, and human happiness are they.

Yet, like the prodigal son, when the famine of disappointment or disatisfaction strikes again (whether clothed as material success, or, failure) and we gnash our teeth in despair at the thought of the anguishing monotony of continued rebirth, and we look heavenward (inward) for the truth that can make us free.......then the dawn of wisdom appears in the eastern sky.

You see, until we have stepped out of the drama, we cannot see the drama for what it really is: a drama. Caught up in our roles, we cannot see that both the villain and the good guy are but actors. It's true that the villain is slain and the hero victorious but even that doesn't necessarily appear so from the outside looking in. We cannot see the cause of our suffering or the seeming whimsey of success as but part of the drama and our likes and dislikes of it all as the result of our identification with it.

But there is a way out. Someone once said, "The only way OUT is IN!" Indeed! The story of prodigal son describes the pathway home.

Turning now to the story itself in the New Testament, at first, famished as our souls become for kernels of wisdom, we take apprenticeship with spiritual teachers, teachings, and practices; in this process, we may be asked to feed others who are even more needy than we (the "swine" in the story). Then, as the Bible describes, we "come to ourself" and remember the happiness (bliss) we once knew in our Father's home.

Then, armed with that remembrance, we begin our journey, retracing our steps homeward. In what direction do those steps lead? As Jesus put it elsewhere: "The kingdom of heaven is within you." Thus he, a great yogi, counsels as does Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, the inner path of meditation.

The door the leads to "heaven" are the doorways of the subtle (astral) spine known as the chakras. These lead to the inner kingdom which, in turn, leads us to our home in God's eternal presence. Kriya yoga is an advanced technique of meditation that is aptly described as the key to these doorways. It is designed to accelerate our inner path and ability to become sensitive to this inner world of energy and consciousness. This is the "stuff" of the higher worlds from which the material world appears and is sustained.

We retrace our steps in a way not unlike reversing the process of birth, or, as is often said, becoming "born again." Not physically of course, but energetically. We become baptised in this inner spine of energy and divine consciousness. The rest of this description is the teaching of raja yoga training and need not be dwelled upon here.

Be ye of good cheer, for the good news (paraphrasing Christian vocabulary) is that the keys to the inner kingdom have been given. Meditation is for everyone and kriya yoga unlocks the power to be free.

Blessings to all! Hriman