Showing posts with label Gandhi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gandhi. Show all posts

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






Monday, January 28, 2019

Stand up to shine the Light!

The paradox contained in the great spiritual teachings of East and West is how to reconcile our divine origins (and destiny, as children of God) with the reality of our day-to-day ego-active and Self-forgetful lives. Whether we refer to the Sanaatan Dharma teachings of India ("Tat twam asi" - "Thou art THAT!" One of the grand pronouncements of the Vedas) or the gospel of St. John ("As many as received Him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God" Chapter 1:12) or any number of other great scriptures, the question of "Who do men say I am?" (Mark 8:27) applies as much to us as it did to Jesus Christ.

This paradox is directly addressed in St. John's statement in the first chapter of his gospel: "The light shineth in darkness but the darkness comprehended it not." (John 1:12)

This is saying, among other profound precepts, that within each of us shines the light of Life; the light of divinity. And yet, in the darkness of matter and ego consciousness, we are generally unaware of that inner light and thus do not "comprehend" that it even exists (what to mention being willing to "receive" its influence in our lives).

I heard an inspiring story recently. There's an organization, Homeboy Industries, in Los Angeles founded by a Jesuit priest, Fr. Greg, that helps released prisoners and reformed gang members. He takes the "boys" occasionally to conferences to have them share their stories. At one such conference, Mario, who was covered head to foot in tattoos and the kind of young man you might move to the other side of the street to avoid, shared his story of "redemption" to a crowd of about one thousand people.

In the Question and Answer session which followed, Mario, unaccustomed to public speaking, was quite nervous. Out of the crowd, a woman stood to ask Mario what advice would he give to her two teenage boys. Mario fumbled a bit and finally blurted out: "Don't be like me!

The woman was silent for a moment. Then she spoke again: "Why?" she said, having heard his remarkable story. "You are kind, wise, and giving. I would want my boys to be like you!" For a brief moment, the room was utterly silent. Then, the crowd burst into appreciative applause and support for Mario.

Mario had not yet recognized that inner divine light in himself. But he was clearly ready and receptive when the woman in the crowd "called it out." Our potential, and indeed divine duty, is to discover that "Light" within us, and to share, reflect, and call it out in others.

This reminds me of another story I came across just as recently. There's a Jewish woman doctor, Dr Racel Naomi Remen, whose life work is to bring caring and feeling back into the practice of medicine. In one of her talks, she recounts the story of her grandfather who, in each of his weekly visits during her childhood, would reveal to her one aspect of her own goodness and higher potential (her "light") His influence upon her was life transforming and in turn she has helped uplift countless others in her life's work. In the talk she gave that I watched, the theme of her talk was to encourage us all to be what she called "blessers."

In the grand scheme of spiritual teachings, this role of "blesser" is distinctly, though not exclusively, the role of the "satguru." The satguru is one who is of the spiritual stature of Jesus Christ, Buddha, Krishna, Paramhansa Yogananda and others. In India, such souls who return to earth to help others and who are, themselves, free from all past karma, are called purna avatars.

That innate divinity may be purely expressed in the consciousness of the avatar, but all who have "seen the Light" should also strive to emulate their example. 

Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, says spiritual awakening is the function of our soul's memory: Smriti. We don't create a truth we recognize it. And we recognize it only when we are ready to do so. Surely you've heard the expression "When the disciple is ready, the guru appears."

The sharing of universal truth-teachings (which can be called Sanatan Dharma) is not a process of proselytizing. It is the process of that "light shining in the darkness" and, at last, the darkness beginning to "comprehend" its existence! That light shines most purely through the vibration of consciousness. To shine, the Light does not need words though words and actions can be a medium to express it. The vibration of divine Light is, however, subtle. It is no surprise, then, that spiritual works like Ananda are not attracting millions for millions are not yet ready. "Out of a thousand," Krishna declares, "one seeks Me."

In the worldwide Ananda communities (www.Ananda.org), its founder, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda) taught us to work with positive people. Give little, if any, energy to negativity, he counselled. Negativity is not, by its nature, cohesive and constructive. This doesn't mean we should snub or ostracize detractors or naysayers. What works the best is when you focus on working with others who share a common and worthwhile goal.

At the risk of a tangent, I responded to a question from someone in India who wrote to ask about psychic experiences both in and out of meditation. Some of these were interesting; some positive; some somewhat threatening. I responded saying that as we awaken spiritually, we awaken to a realm of reality far more vast than the physical one our bodies inhabit. We can easily get sidetracked, spiritually or psychically. "The spiritual path," Yogananda stated, "is not a circus." Sages from ancient times warn aspirants that they may be tempted by powers over nature or by beings who seek to flatter or to use them for their own purposes.

Yogananda confirmed the existence of disincarnate entities ranging from angels and fairies to demons and ghosts. Nothing to be afraid of but a reality to be aware of. In responding to her questions, I suggested that she should focus on her devotion to God and her intention to achieve God-realization through her meditation practices. She should live increasingly "in the spine," I said, and "centered in the Self within."

I explained that the guiding wisdom and power of the Divine Light pouring into her "spine" would infuse her with focused, centered, Self-awareness. Being "in the Light" put into proper perspective the presence of lower entities and her need, if any, to respond. 

Like the famous mathematician, John Forbes Nash, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, he said, later in life, that although the delusions of his disease were still present he simply didn't "give them any energy."

Recently, in Seattle at the East West Bookshop, we gave a Tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. After the program, one of the attendees commented to my friend (Rick Johnston) that some years ago (when he worked there), his kind remark and counsel regarding the death of this woman's mother, changed her life and helped her immensely at the time of her grief. How many times has each of us, even casually, perhaps not even remembering the incident afterwards, has shed "light" into the life of another person?

We can each be a light-bearer, in other words. This doesn't suggest that we set ourselves up on soapboxes on the street corner. Let the Light shine through us by our attunement and those with "eyes to see" will come to the Light. 

In my years of teaching meditation and these precepts, I find that there are some who draw from me inspiration I didn't think I had. The law of magnetism operates very well on its own. All we have to do is be willing to cooperate with it.  

By contrast, there are others who are not interested or, worse, just want to counter anything I say. (Paramhansa Yogananda stated, partly "tongue-in-cheek," that the reason God doesn't appear to most people is that they would just argue with him.) In the early days of Ananda's first community in California, the fledgeling community was struggling to find its own identity. Swami Kriyananda said that there was a time when every time he opened his mouth his self-styled opponents "would jump into it!"

Another reason for us to be open to being light-bearers in this world is that Yogananda affirmed an ancient and long-held precept from the yogis of India: to achieve enlightenment, one must "free" at least six others. Haven't you found that there is one or more people who seem to turn to you for inspiration and guidance? Don't let it get to your "head," but be open to be a channel of light. 

When, in the Bhagavad Gita (4:7-8), Krishna says that the Divine Light descends to "destroy evil and re-establish virtue" he does not mean to destroy people (evil doers, that is). Rather, it is the upliftment of consciousness, like bad seed falling on stony ground, that weakens the power of delusion and makes it difficult to sprout and flourish.

Nonetheless, there is this "combative" element to the avatara (and therefore to our own lives, as well): Krishna was a warrior. In his life, he is said to have battled numerous so-called demons. (Leaving aside the objective manifestation of demons for another lifetime, are there not demons in human form to be found in every city and nation? Are there not inner demons, as well?) Yogananda claimed he had been William the Conqueror; and, later, a King in Spain fighting the Moors. Later in his life, Yogananda thought there should be an international police force to counter the evil of "international criminals."

We, too, are part of the avatara. We, too, must confront not just our own inner demons, but, if your circumstances and dharma suggest it, the demons of injustice that surround you just as Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. did. This isn't about "fighting," it's about "witnessing." To witness is to act as a mirror and reflect back what you see from a higher perspective of Light.

Whatever form our spiritual battles take, both outward and inward, we need to find our "spine" wherein we draw the strength, grace, and wisdom to do what is needful.

Too often we emphasize the softness or the love and acceptance aspects of the spiritual path but ignore our own, internal need for self-discipline and courage in daily life. 

Don't try to convert negativity unless you are truly strong in yourself. Worst yet, don't accept their critical point of view just on the basis of your wanting to be liked, accepted, open-minded, or "nice."

So while it is better to let the vibration of your inner light beam its rays upon those whom you live and serve with (rather than to proselytize), we should be willing to stand up against the darkness of ignorance or intentional evil. Stand up and defend the ideals for which you live or serve; or for those who have inspired and taught you; or others who are defenceless (even if for the simple reason they are not present in the conversation to defend themselves). 

Don't in the name of supposed fairness, remain silent considering merely the possibility of "two sides of the story." Intelligent negativity begins with a kernel of fact and creates from it the pretence of a righteous cause. What makes it negativity is that its motivation is born of envy, resentment, prejudice or dislike. Loyalty is basic to success in relationships, health, career, and in seeking enlightenment. Cowardice or self-doubt sometimes uses silence (not-witnessing) to hide behind wanting to consider all sides.

To grow in the Light, attune yourselves to those great souls whose Light is pure and without taint of ego or karma. Then, associate with others of like-mind, seeking the Light. Finally, be a Light unto the world!

Joy and blessings to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, October 27, 2018

So Much Depressing News! What's a Yogi to Do?

Recently I hear many friends and students who express frustration, confusion, anger or depression in the face of a constant stream of bad news, public craziness, and endless catastrophes. The destructive effects of climate change, ignorance, negativity and selfishness have combined forces like a relentless tsunami spreading despair everywhere!

What to do? How does a person with high ideals, goodwill towards all, and desire to help others cope with what seems like a growing fogbank of darkness?

How can one not imagine the destructive cumulative effects of all this craziness? How can one be optimistic, cheerful, and even-minded "amidst the crash of breaking worlds?"

For this opportunity, we were born: you and me. To develop wisdom, non-attachment, faith, courage, hope, forgiveness and to take positive action in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds: wow, what a gift! What a GREAT time to be alive and conscious! For us, the choices are clear and compelling.

Think of the founders, families, soldiers and others who confronted the British Empire in a revolution in 1776 that changed the world. They could NOT have won on the basis of any logic or resources other than their own conviction, faith and courage (and the grace of God and a karmic destiny to be fulfilled).

Here and now is an armed revolution NOT the need; what is needed is a spiritual revolution. As Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. faced an empire and a nation without the weapons of violence and "overcame," so we, a nation of peaceful warriors, can overthrow the ignorance and selfishness of a nation and a world.

Neither Gandhi nor King saw the fruits of their labors during their lifetimes, and so must we understand that we, too, may not see "righteousness rain down like a river" in our lifetimes. Not just those of us over sixty years of age, but many others of you may not see "the shift." It is not ours to measure our success though success is assured. 

Spiritual success comes from non-attachment to the results of our efforts. So we mustn't think ahead (only to be temporarily frustrated) to the manifestation of the forms of success. It is our spirit, attitudes, and consciousness (and living example), that will stem the tide and reverse the tsunami. It is our love for God and love for God in all that is the only true measure of "success."

Nor must we imagine that this fair planet will achieve in its outward form the paradise or perfection that we ourselves may imagine is the goal. As Jesus Christ, a man of great compassion and love for all, nonetheless admitted: "The poor ye shall have always." Same can be said of all evil and suffering.

For this world is simply a school and we've come here to learn lessons and graduate. We didn't come here to make a perfect school. We should make the school a better place if we can, for sure, but it is only a school. We were not created to stay in school forever. We were created, as my childhood Baltimore (Catholic) catechism taught me, "to know, love, and serve God in this world."

"The drama of life," Paramhansa Yogananda stated, "has for its lesson that it is simply that: a drama." As Swami Kriyananda (Ananda's founder and a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda) would sometimes explain: imagine you begin to read a novel. Everything is just perfect and there is no conflict. You'd put the novel down after a few pages or chapters. The drama of creation and human life requires conflicts and opposites to keep it interesting and ongoing. 

God does not permit us to use reason alone to figure out that He's really behind the drama. He wants us to choose to seek Him for His love, not for the gifts of His creation and not for obtaining His power over creation. The magnetism of creation's maya (delusive nature) is far more powerful than the separative, ego consciousness of any individual. Why? Because ego is itself "maya." Thus, neither the report of our senses nor our reason can "pierce the veil."

Yogananda, who lived in and around Hollywood during its heydays between the 1920's and 1950, compared the creation as the play of light and dark projected on the screen of our sense perception.

Sitting in the movie theatre, he'd tap a friend on the shoulder and say, "Look into the beam of light from the booth of eternity." It's all a light show. During the movie, we laugh and cry and are wholly engrossed. But it's only light pouring through the film. When we leave the theatre of life, it no longer has any real impact on our lives.

I was thinking recently about the despair friends feel. Imagine, I said, that everything in the world around was made perfect: climate, health, sustainability, harmony with nature and among nations and peoples. For a while, those who remembered the times of disharmony would revel in the newly found peace. But, after a time, then what? Would we be happy, inside? In ourselves? Relieved, yes. Glad the turmoil is over, yes. But happy?

And what about the next generation; or the next. Soon no one would remember what it was like. Would THEY be happy? They would likely be bored, restless and spoiling for a fight with someone.

The truthful answer is: NO. Why? Because outward circumstances cannot, by themselves, bring us anything other than passing sorrow or joy. The eternal and lasting and unconditional joy that our souls remember is "an inside job." "The kingdom of heaven is within you," Jesus taught. "Not Lo here, or there."

During troubled times in the mid-twentieth century, two great saints of modern India were asked the same question by despairing men and women around them. "What are we to do in the midst of the chaos, violence, starvation and suffering that surrounds us?"

Each, Ananda Moyi Ma and Ramana Maharshi, independently, gave the same response: "Don't you think that He who has created this world knows how to deal with it?

You might, understandably, retort: "Apparently, "he" does NOT!" But, friends, think again. Step back from this drama and know that light and dark, war and peace, and joy and sorrow will continue to ebb and flow, in conflict, trading places for an eternity. 

This non-attached view does not mean we reject God's creation, for God Himself, as we read in the Bible, declared it to be "good." Indeed, we can only make peace with the ceaseless flux when we have the God's eye view that all creation is a manifestation of God's own consciousness. In God consciousness, life is joy but in ego consciousness life is suffering. 

Our effectiveness in times of crises is greatly enhanced by remaining calm. If that is true of daily life, how much more is it true for our worldview?
The characters, good and evil, on the stage of life, are playing their parts for a time and then withdraw behind the curtain to change costumes and exchange roles. Bad actors imagine they are the roles they play. But the great actors know it is but a play. Such ones can return home untouched by the drama. The deluded, evil ones must come back until they want to reform.

The virtuous players find out sooner because by the nature of virtue their consciousness expands beyond the ego. But even virtue is insufficient because "virtue is [merely] its own reward." We must also seek to know, love and serve God who is above good and evil. We do this through the process of ego transcendence and by inner communion with God. Only in this way can we achieve the permanent beatitude that banishes all suffering forever, just as the great Buddha did. 

We should strive to make this earth a better place and our lives ever more serene, virtuous, and pleasing to the God within our souls. We do this for our upliftment and as an example to others who are struggling with sorrow, pain, or poverty of body, mind, or soul. But we do this without false expectation and without attachment to the outward consequences of our efforts. For God is the Doer. Dissolving the sense of doership in favor of being a channel of Divine Light is the way to freedom from all action and for rest in the Self.

The Way of Return is shown to us by the Wayshowers: those who, themselves in a past life, achieved the cosmic vision of God and who return to share the "glad tidings" of our freedom and salvation from all suffering. This is not accomplished en masse in history by some great eschatological event like the "Rapture," but soul-by-soul.

Paramhansa Yogananda predicted difficult times ahead for humanity. After a period of great turmoil, he said a period of relative peace would descend upon humanity who at last would have tired of conflict. But, never mind these outward things, rejoice for the opportunity to see clearly the upward path to soul freedom. Be of good cheer. Do your part. Link with others of like mind. Pray and meditate daily. Seek divine attunement and inner guidance in all that you do. You are not who you think you are. You are the eternal Atman, the pure Soul, a spark of Infinity, as "old" as God "Himself." You are the I AM.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda