Showing posts with label Groundhog Day. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Groundhog Day. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Angels on High: the Fall from Grace and the Soul's Rise to Freedom

In the 1947 movie, “The Bishop’s Wife,” an angel (in the form of actor, Cary Grant) comes to the family of a Protestant bishop in an answer to their prayers. 

Problem is, the angel finds himself attracted to the bishop’s wife (played by Loretta Young). After answering the couple's prayers (with a few twists), the angel departs knowing that an immortal cannot be with a mortal. This plot, mostly na├»ve and innocent by today’s standards, struck a chord with me in respect to the great themes of history related to the “Humanity’s Fall from Grace.”

Are we not taught that we, too, are angels, children of God, made in the divine image? As immortals, do we not inadvertently “fall in love” with the mortal scene and imagine happiness will come through the never-ending, ever-changing passing drama of life? Are we therefore not unlike that angel, Cary Grant? Except that we take much longer to wake up from the illusion before withdrawing and vowing, some day, “never to return.”

Like the more modern movie, “Groundhog Day,” we tend to make the same mistake over and over, year after year, lifetime after lifetime. Paramhansa Yogananda wrote that until the ever-watchful soul awakens the ego to the prospect of the “anguishing monotony” of repeated rounds of birth and death, we are not ready to begin the journey, like the prodigal son, back home to our soul’s eternal joy in God.

This seemingly circular track of life, this broken and repeating record, is the “hell” that is spoken of in scripture. Hell is not a forever place but it certainly feels like one when we are caught in the addiction to matter and to soul-stultifying ego identifications. The pathways to perdition are endlessly labyrinthine, but the way to freedom is “straight and narrow.”

Thus it is that the “Fall” is easy but the climb back is more difficult. Mired by habit and circumscribed by the hypnosis of countless lives as a spiritual “pauper” imprisoned in the cage of the human body, the royal soul needs help: first to be reminded of its royal status, and second to be given the tools and the power to rise! This help which “cometh from the Lord” comes in the form of the true guru, one who is Self-realized.

Here, now, in the season of Christmas, we celebrate the birth of one who comes to free others. But Jesus is not the only such a one, because in every age to all people, according to their heartfelt prayers for redemption, God sends such a one to help.

Christmas is not just an abstract event far away in time and space which is endowed with spiritual significance. It is a very human event. Indeed, what could be more natural than the birth of a child! 

This newborn “Christ” is, like all infants, innocent and sweet. As we humans see in newborns new hope and promise, so this divine child brings new hope and promise to our souls. But unlike the hope most newborns bring to their human parents, the birth of an avatar brings the promise of the soul's redemption and return to its spiritual home, a "kingdom not of this world.” 

But like all infants, this newborn will need protection, care, feeding and training. Thus, too, do our souls need protection, care and feeding. And this is the role of the avatar, whether in the form of Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Yogananda or others.

The claim that Jesus is the “only” one narrows the Christmas celebration to professed Christians. This makes Christmas a merely sectarian religious holiday. But Paramhansa Yogananda explained that the term “Only begotten” refers to the divine consciousness that underlies every atom. Our souls were created to re-discover that truth of who we are. And any soul which has achieved this realization is, like Jesus and the others, a living “son of God” but none can contain the Infinite. None can be the “only” one. 

“Only” refers to the omnipresent, omniscient, and eternal consciousness of God present at the still heart of all creation. It is the “only” reality that exists in the creation that is without flux or change. It is the “only” reflection of the Infinite Spirit, who is the progenitor beyond all creation and who remains untouched by the creation of which it is an invisible part! 

When an individual soul achieves this Self-identity, he can say, as Jesus and the other immortals have said, “I and my Father are One.”

May you in-joy a blessed celebration of the living Christ within and without!

Swami Hrimananda





Saturday, November 22, 2014

Reincarnation: Making a Comeback!

Yes, it's true: studies show that belief in reincarnation is making a comeback. Did you know that Matt Damon believes that he'll be "bourne" again?

Anyway: here we go again. I suppose anyone reading this would have seen the movie, now rather aged, "Groundhog Day." Starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell in a romantic comedy, Groundhog Day features a story in which the protagonist must repeat one day in his life until he "gets it right." It's a comedic study on reincarnation that never mentions reincarnation. It's a delightful, if somewhat silly, movie.

It surprises me, on the one hand, that people scoff at the idea of reincarnation. Yet, on the other hand, why wouldn't they: almost no one can seriously recall even one past life. (Those who do are usually assumed to be a little "light-headed.")

Thing is: can you remember all the incidents and facts of your present life that you DON'T remember? Duh, of course not. Fact is we don't remember 99.9999% of our current life. Our early childhood probably consists of a few fleeting images. As for the rest of our years, we could only reconstruct them in soft chewy bites by referencing jobs we've held, births, deaths, divorces and on and on. It's shocking how quickly we forget the facts. What stays with us, however, is the sense of success, or failure, happiness, grief and the many small but mounting repetitions of attitudes, skills, words, and habits.

I joke with students in my classes that anyone who is a parent must surely believe in reincarnation. Watch your infant grow and pay close attention: from whence comes that fully-armed nuclear bomb of tendencies?

While I admit that most average people on the planet don't waste time speculating on the origins of the universe, the existence of God, the source of evil, and the wide disparity of wealth, health, success, failure, suffering, happiness and longevity. But some do: most likely you and I, right?

A thoughtful person, putting aside for the sake of and the joy of contemplation, the nagging need for proof, would no doubt question the "why's" of life. The answer to those facts of disparity cannot be accounted for by a person's genes. Science admits that genes only offer a sense of potential, not a blueprint of predestination. Wherefore, therefore, this disparity; the shocking injustice of birth and circumstance?

If God is the cause, well, "the hell with him!" Could we be the cause? But how? Where's the beef? (the proof, in other words).

There are many things in life -- important things -- whose cause and origins remain a mystery to us. Science has revealed a great many things about the material world, large and small, but seems impotent to reveal the things of life that matter the most to us: health, love, birth, death and so on.

I'm reading a book right now: it's called "Why Does the World Exist?" (by Jim Holt) When I "googled" this as a question I got 118,000,000 "hits." The efforts by scientists and philosophers to answer this question seem ludicrous to me (as a Vedantin), but it's obvious the question of our existence is far from ludicrous to the deepest thinkers of humanity down through the ages. Like most of humanity who seeks happiness through the fleeting pleasures of the senses or the ego-affirming victories of wealth, status, or power, it may well be that philosophers and scientists are asking the wrong question and/or looking for the answer in the wrong places. Fortunately for you, I won't attempt to weigh in on this subject.

But what I want to suggest is that, in general, a thoughtful person ought to be, at very least, agnostic: which is to say, willing to say, "I don't know, but I am open to the truth, whatever it is and whatever its source." The truth and source could be fundamentalist, orthodox, or entirely nonconformist. What I have observed in the heated dialogues among scientists, religionists and philosophers is, well, just that: heated dialogue. That alone tells me that some are not being objective while others are being dogmatic.

In Chapter 35 of the now famous book, "Autobiography of a Yogi," in the beginning paragraphs of Chapter 35, The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya, you will find a succinct but extraordinary proof that Jesus, in the New Testament, acknowledges the teaching of reincarnation and you will discover a cogent and persuasive revelation of the name of Jesus' guru. Visit http://www.ananda.org/autobiography/#chap35

In a charming recorded talk by Paramhansa Yogananda (author of "Autobiography" cited above) entitled "One Life versus Reincarnation," he presents arguments for both sides: that we live only one life, and, that we live many lives. (You can listen to a five minute clip here: http://www.yogananda-srf.org/listentopy/Listen_to_Paramahansa_Yogananda.aspx#.VHFWz9LF-So )

Fact is, however, we DON'T remember past incarnations. Fact is: we cannot know the future. Fact is: we only have the present to live. Not for the present, but in the present. Through mindfulness of our attitudes and actions, and especially by the power of daily meditation, we can know the consequences (though not the details) of our past actions ("karma") and we can learn how to improve ourselves thereby. That's all that matters.

It has been said, no doubt well and truly, that if we COULD remember past lives we would be horribly burdened. People tend to dwell on their mistakes and few claim their victories. Our lack of memory gives to us a fresh start with each life. Yogananda was once presented an infant to hold. He said he almost dropped the kid because he "saw" the consciousness of a murderer residing in that sweet, little body!

It is here and now that we exist. "Now" is the alpha and omega of our conscious actions. Past and future lay hidden behind a veil. The ability to know our past lives arises, we are told by Patanjali, author of the "Yoga Sutras," to the degree we become unidentified with our present life (body and personality). Only in the expanded and free consciousness of nonattachment can we bear the burden of the past and with that power we can free ourselves from its chains and our identification with it.

While the doctrine of reincarnation and its corollary, the law of karma, can help comfort us and help us accept the disparities of life's manifold destinies, it remains for us but speculative philosophy, albeit the best there is on the market of human understanding. There are those, however, who can see, or even catch glimpses, of the subtle threads of karma which intrude upon the present. For us, too, this will come if we make the right effort now to expand our consciousness from its identification with the little self, its tiny and temporary flesh-cage, and its strutting ego upon the brief stage of life.

Look, perhaps, instead at the patterns of life: yours, and others. You see how we repeat and repeat our mistakes, our successes, our habits and thoughts. One generation abuses the next, and the next abuses the next. Sooner or later someone down the line rebels and breaks the chain of karma through heroic struggle and, I might add, grace from a higher Power. We see repetition also in nature and all around. Repetition also fosters change, growth and evolution. Reincarnation is more like a spiral staircase: going up, or, in some cases, going down.....all according to the law of cause and effect (karma).

Every day can be a new life. Every night our miseries are dismissed from our mind. Reincarnation is all around us. Take it where we find it and probe its secrets. The secret is, simply, to "wake-up." Patanjali says the path to enlightenment is the result of smriti, memory: recollectedness (mindfulness).

The repeating patterns of thought and behavior can be broken by watching, observing, feeling and intuiting their goodness or their harm. Forget the "Thou shalt not...." and substitute "Awareness precedes change." This should be our guide, looking neither left nor right but straight ahead. If what we find no longer serves our true happiness, then we can resolve, in concert with a higher Power (God, Christ, guru) to change it.

If you're still not sure, then rent "Groundhog Day." It will at least be entertaining. Yogananda said God made this world for our entertainment. We must not be caught up in the drama, for it is only a play; a dream of God. Remember: "the good guy gets the girl and the bad guy goes to jail!" So be a good guy and play your role with attention to the script and following the cues of the Director. Someday your movie career will end in an Oscar of bliss-applause presented to you by Divine Mother (the "girl")!

Joy to you, joy to you, joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!