Showing posts with label Jesus Christ. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jesus Christ. Show all posts

Monday, November 6, 2017

Are All Religions Equal?

As if religious divisiveness were not already rife with strife, do we dare ask if all religions are equal in their spiritual stature or degree of elevation (or revelation)? And, who are we to even ask such a question?

Paramhansa Yogananda was asked this question and said simply, “No, not all religions descend from the same heights of divine vision.” (I am paraphrasing.) He would sometimes tell the story of how one religion of recent vintage, and now exceedingly popular with millions of followers, was created by its founder with the ruse of burying writings underground, waiting a few years, and then miraculously finding them.
I was once received a letter from a friend who chided me for an article I wrote around Easter time comparing the sacrifice of Jesus in his crucifixion with the concept in the Bhagavad Gita (and the Vedas) of yagya (and also tapasya): self-sacrifice. The writer wanted to know why I didn’t include examples from the teachings of the Koran.
Part of my reply to the writer included a question asked of Paramhansa Yogananda: “Why do you (Paramhansa Yogananda) emphasize the teachings of Jesus Christ and those of Krishna (rather than including other teachings)?” Yogananda’s curt reply was: “It was Babaji’s wish that I do so.” In other words, he essentially refused to elaborate.
That there is a special connection between Paramhansa Yogananda and Jesus Christ is amply demonstrated in his own story, "Autobiography of a Yogi.” But no explanation of it is given.
Let us turn now to metaphysics and to the core teachings of Sanaatan Dharma. (Sanaatan Dharma is the indigenous name for Hinduism. The term means, simply, the "Eternal Religion." Its existence pre-dates much of what is recognizable to us as Hinduism. Its origins go far back in time to the Vedas and other writings which followed the Vedas in time.)
There is the core teaching that we, “man,” are made in the image of God. We find this stated plainly in the Old Testament, for example. We are thus, as many religions and saints aver, “God’s children.” We are taught, east and west, that “God” (whoever or whatever “God” is) made the universe. But in most traditions we are not given to understand exactly how God made “something from nothing.” We are told, only, that He did so.
In the traditions of India, however, it is taught that God made the universe by becoming the universe. Put more starkly, there is NO other core or fundamental reality than God alone! God is all there is![1] The teachings further aver the core concept of the Christian trinity: God is beyond and untouched by His creation, while at the same time IS his creation, and at the same time God, as God, resides silently in the still heart of every atom of creation! Father, Mother, son!
By extension, therefore, if indeed logic can be expected to kick in here, at this point, WE are aspects of God. Could then the purpose of our creation and existence be to re-discover, to re-inherit our Oneness with the only Reality there is? To unite, in other words, what only appears to be our separate consciousness with the Infinite Consciousness?
Well, surprise, surprise: this is precisely the teaching of Sanaatan Dharma!
Thus, now let us return to our challenge question: are all religions equal (spiritually speaking)? The core teachings averred above might then be the yardstick by which this question can be answered.
I do not wish to represent the teachings of the basic main faiths but I will dip my toe into the waters. First let me add something VERY VERY important: we must distinguish between orthodox theology and the lives and teachings of the most spiritually advanced saints. For it has been said and makes sense that in every religion, time and place, there have been those individual souls who have achieved the realization described by Sanaatan Dharma. This must be so if Sanaatan Dharma be true.
Putting aside then that the true “custodians” of religion (the saints, whose testimony would surely be, upon close inspection, unanimous), we now might have our yardstick hovering over our inquiry.
Christianity and Islam speak of heaven as a place where our separateness resides eternally: strumming harps, being catered to by virgins, or praising God or whatever. Buddhism and Judaism seem unsure of the whole after-death thing. Buddhism inclines to saying “nothing” and Judaism argues about it. None of these however speak of union (or Oneness) with God. Judaism has the great mantra “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE!” So far as I understand it, however, the One isn’t really one; it’s two: the Lord and me. They don’t take the mantra all the way to the goal line, in other words.
I readily admit my tongue is in my cheek and my analysis in the above paragraph is about as superficial as one could concoct but most orthodox religionists are pretty superficial when it comes to their own beliefs, aren’t they? In one religion, they don’t drink; in another, don’t smoke or dance; in another, don’t eat meat and blah blah blah! Imagine they even kill each other over these things!
It gets worse because if God is the sole Reality behind all appearances and if the goal of the soul’s existence to achieve reunion with the Oversoul, this surely must mean there exists at least one soul who has achieved this!!!!! Sanaatan Dharma says many souls have achieved this. Christianity, at least, says there’s just one: Jesus Christ.
Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam are all very conflicted about the spiritual stature of their respective founders or prophets, some of whom seem all too human (like the Roman, Greek, Hindu or other gods). The teaching of the true guru, or savior, is a teaching that essentially says that the triune God incarnates in human form even as God already IS all forms. (How else would the stated goal of creation be demonstrated?)
Even if Christianity and some Hindu believers say that God himself has incarnated, the more subtle and nuanced approach as clarified by Paramhansa Yogananda (and others) explains that Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and other true saviors are just like you and me but have in a prior lifetime achieved Oneness with God. They are sent back to human incarnation to help others. They are not divine puppets. Like each of us, they too have unique qualities and aspects. They, too, teach in the context of the times and culture in which they find themselves.
Though Christianity comes very close, only Sanaatan Dharma expresses this teaching clearly and universally (even if devout and orthodox Hindus limit this teaching to specific “avatars” as divine incarnations). When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say I am?” he asked the deepest and most important question any human can ask of himself.
It is intellectually more satisfying to say Jesus or Buddha (etc.) are EITHER God or merely HUMAN! It takes a subtler consciousness (of BOTH-AND) to see that both natures dwell in us (and in all creation) and that uniting the two is our goal and ultimate destiny (even if it take millions of lifetimes owing to other choices we make).
None of this makes one religion, as such, better than another. As the saying goes, “There’s something for everyone.” We must each walk our path on our own and, by extension, honor the right and the need for others to do so. Each faith offers and emphasizes certain qualities such as compassion, self-discipline, love, joy, or wisdom. Each faith has nurtured and infused entire nations and cultures with its particular qualities.
Joy to you!
Swami Hrimananda







[1] The nature of evil and suffering is a ubiquitous and necessary question. Essential though it is, it goes beyond the scope of this article. Maybe another time, eh?

Friday, November 3, 2017

Is "Spiritual but not Religious" Really "Spiritual"?

I have read several reports over the last many years about the growing number of Americans who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Those of us on the inner path of meditation are certainly among some of those.

Paramhansa Yogananda predicted that “Self-realization would become the religion of the future.” By this he meant, according to Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Yogananda), that in the future people in all religions would come to an intuitive understanding that the true purpose of religion is to help us evolve spiritually by having a direct, personal perception and relationship with God or one’s own Higher Self.

But notice that Yogananda’s statement used the term “religion” of the future.

Among the millions who see themselves as “spiritual but not religious” are, I would guess, many who have rejected orthodox religions. There many reasons for this rejection: reasons which my readers no doubt do not require to be enumerated. Yogananda employed the term, tongue-in-cheek, “Churchianity” to describe the orthodox sects of Christianity (and, by extension, all orthodox faiths). By this less-than-flattering term, Yogananda referred to the institutional weightiness of organized religion which tends to suffocate individual spirituality.

Indeed, in Yogananda’s teachings he claims that his coming to the West began with a communication between Jesus Christ (not in the physical human body) and Babaji (the peerless, deathless master in human form). In this dialogue between these two great masters, one of the east, the other of the west, Jesus bemoaned the loss of (in so many words) “spirituality” among his followers. He said “good works” (serving the poor, having institutions of learning, healing, and the like) were aplenty. So, too, rites and rituals. But direct, intuitive, inner communion (vs ritual, sacramental communion) had fallen by the wayside in Christianity at large.

Let's consider now this appellation: "spiritual but not religious." It's key feature is the rejection or non-involvement with organized religion. But other key is "spiritual." But what does it mean when I say (of myself), "I'm spiritual"? 

It could mean that I'm a nice person. I pet dogs, kiss babies, and help elderly folks cross the street. I pay my taxes. I believe in God or something equivalent. It might even mean I pray or meditate. I respect (or not) all faiths or at least see them as means to the same end. (BTW: is the term "organized religion" an oxymoron?)

But I wonder how many of the millions who place themselves in this category really live a life of daily prayer and meditation, self-sacrifice or ego transcendence in the name of enlightenment or other divine goal, or service to humanity as an act of devotion. It's true that few religionists do any of these things, either! 

What I've described is more what most people might imagine the life of a monk or nun might be like and how few of these there are in the world (even among monks and nuns!). And I think that's my point. 

At least a religionist participates, however wanly, in his faith and commits himself to serving its cause, attending its religious services, and giving in monetary support. By contrast, being only spiritual but not religious might mean one does nothing at all! Maybe he sips a latte on Sunday morning while reading the proverbial (digital) newspaper on the deck in the sunshine!  

What I’ve encountered in some of these people, moreover, is an attitude of judgment of religion and intellectual pride surrounding their view that all these religions are either useless or all point to the same thing (and who needs them, therefore, anyway!).

The fact that many of us feel religion has abdicated its true calling by becoming partisan, sectarian and promoting divisiveness rather than peace and harmony is wholly and truly understandable.

Nonetheless, an objective reading of history will also disclose that religion has also been a force for unity, harmony, respect, rule of law, and peace at key moments during human history. No other human activity or impulse has this power. Legislation, imposed by police force, is insufficient. Reason has limited power to change behavior. High ideals and spiritual consciousness as exhibited not by prelates and popes but by saints HAS this power.

St. Francis is one, of many, examples. “Rebuild my church” the painting of Jesus on the cross, coming alive, commanded St. Francis. He, Francis, mistakenly thought the broken down church building needed repairs. In time he was to see that his role was to re-infuse Christendom with the true spirit of Christ. At the height of his life’s work, tens of thousands of people called themselves his disciples and adopted a truly spiritual way of life of prayer, sacrifice, service and love for all. St. Francis had all the reasons in the world to condemn popery and clerical abuses of his time. Instead, through love, self-sacrifice and example, he worked to change their consciousness.

In the now famous and extremely popular modern spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," by Paramhansa Yogananda, his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, challenged Yogananda’s aversion to religious organizations in this brief interchange (the result of which has blessed and inspired millions):

“Why are you averse to organizational work?” (Sri Yukteswar)
          Master’s question startled me a bit. It is true that my private conviction at the time was that organizations were “hornets’ nests.”
          “It is a thankless task, sir,” I answered. “No matter what the leader does or does not, he is criticized.”
          “Do you want the whole divine channa (milk curd) for yourself alone?” My guru’s retort was accompanied by a stern glance. “Could you or anyone else achieve God-contact through yoga if a line of generous-hearted masters had not been willing to convey their knowledge to others?” He added, “God is the Honey, organizations are the hives; both are necessary. Any form is useless, of course, without the spirit, but why should you not start busy hives full of the spiritual nectar?”
          His counsel moved me deeply. Although I made no outward reply, an adamant resolution arose in my breast: I would share with my fellows, so far as lay in my power, the unshackling truths I had learned at my guru’s feet. “Lord,” I prayed, “may Thy Love shine forever on the sanctuary of my devotion, and may I be able to awaken that Love in other hearts.”[1]

How often in my life of teaching meditation have I seen students come and go. Having taken a class(es) in meditation they turn away, whether receiving what they sought or in disappointment, not realizing that on their own they will very likely never establish the habit of meditation in daily life. "OK," you might object, "but maybe the Self-realization path (which includes Kriya Yoga) isn’t their way." But who can say that for sure.

I don't think that Yogananda’s prediction of Self-realization as the religion of the future can be so summarily dismissed. My teacher, friend, and founder of Ananda, Swami Kriyananda expressed Yogananda’s prediction by saying that he felt Yogananda was the “guru of this age."

Let me digress to explore what Swami Kriyananda might have meant by “guru of this age.” Certainly it is subject to interpretation but it makes no sense to me to see the term “guru” as being literal in respect to the human race at large. I think it means that Yogananda’s presentation of meditation and yoga philosophy was suited to this new age. He taught in our language and in our country (and to our scientific culture). It was not a mere transportation of old ideas and language (that of India) into a culture unfamiliar with it. Yogananda gave us a spiritual view of life and a way of life that is not based on narrow-eyed sectarianism, or, indeed any 'ism.
  
Yogananda spoke on subjects of marriage and child-raising, success and career, politics and history, economics and trade and not just theology and religion. He gave deep insights into our Judaeo-Christian culture and theology, and, to a lesser degree, that of other faiths. Nor did he abandon devotion and worship as if to please agnostics, atheists or die-hard materialists. He described his work and teachings as a “new dispensation” of eternal values and truths. The term “dispensation” implies that restrictions of the past have been loosed for a fresh new start on the path to the “truth that shall make us free.”

He brought answers to the spiritual needs and questions of the modern era and consciousness. We NEED inner peace in this fragmented society. We NEED advanced but relatively simple techniques of meditation like Kriya Yoga. In fact, we don’t need GURUDOM in the traditional outer forms that we see still prevalent today [where the teacher, living a life of luxury, is the center of attention by adoring millions]. Yogananda left this world at the relatively young age of 59 and left no viable successor gurus!

In fact, he said he was “the last of this line (of gurus). He left us his life-affirming counsel in all walks of life and he gave to us, on behalf of the lineage which sent him, Kriya Yoga. Organizations like Ananda are merely “delivery vehicles.”)

Religion is not going to go away. I once heard the Dalai Lama remark that the world doesn’t need more temples. Yes, I agree with him if he means enormous and expensive temples which are paeans to “churchianity”. But what we DO need is the support of one another to turn the tide of materialism, exploitation, racism and violence in a new direction towards cooperation, peace, and harmony.

“Religion,” Swami Kriyananda, and I’m sure others, have said “is organized spirituality.” Organization is the particular genius of the West. The science of consciousness is the gift of the East. We need both. A new and grass roots spiritual force must rise. And, it won’t be any one organization, like a super Catholic church. It will be many groups of like-minded souls who can acknowledge and cooperate with one another and who can be an example of “how-to-live” in a new age.

Let us then be “spiritual AND religious!”

Joy to you (and you, and you …. )


Swami Hrimananda

[1] Chapter 27, "Founding of a Yoga School at Ranchi"

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Of guns and war : Self-realization

Last week (Sep 23 – Sep 30), my family and I went on vacation to Mazatlan, Mexico. A long story but it was wonderful and relaxing. The place we stayed in was almost embarrassingly luxurious and that’s what makes these blog thoughts so, well, interesting (to me).

For starters I “never” read novels. But last week I read three of them. A good friend recommended these to my wife, Padma. Padma downloaded them into our Kindle account and I, wanting something relaxing to read, found them in my Kindle. So, I promptly began to chew through them: each one feeding my appetite for the next.

For starters, the three novels were as follows: “Beneath a Scarlet Sky,” by Mark Sullivan; “The Nightingale,” by Kristin Hannah; and, “All the Light We Cannot See,” by Anthony Doerr. The subject of each novel was the hardships and moral dilemmas faced by the various protagonists during World War II. The first was a teenage boy who came of age in Milan in the latter half of the war. He helped Jews escape to Switzerland and later became a spy as an attaché for a Nazi general. The basic person and story is true but much had to be “novelized” to complete the story. The second takes place in France and is the story of two sisters coping with the hardships and moral dilemmas of resistance vs safety during the German occupation. The third, like the second, was strictly a novel but was a captivating account of a young man who also came of age in Germany. He and his sister were orphans. The boy was trained and drafted into the army but was plagued by moral doubts about the righteousness of the Nazi cause. I won’t say more but I will say that this third one was more like a painting than a story. It not only contained the tragedy and horror of the times but a palpable love for beauty and truth.

My brief summary above does brutal injustice to these compelling stories. But they are only catalysts for my thoughts today. Do I recommend these to you to read? Hmmmm, I think my position is only to mention them as a source for my thoughts below.

So, what’s the point, you ask? There I was amidst natural and man-made beauty, relaxing at the beach or pool in Mexico, and lounging about in what would be considered luxury by 98% of the world’s population while reading about experiences of starvation, abuse, rape, betrayal, murder and butchery on a scale unimaginable to Americans. The contrast could be considered absurd but the point couldn’t be missed: who can read of such conditions and not ask himself, “What would I have done?”

Most of us have never had to face the intensity of the moral dilemmas or hardships millions encountered during that war, and, for that matter, faced by people in every other war ever since. If one’s country is conquered by your enemy, you can hunker down, endure what you must, and ignore the atrocities around (in order to keep safe) or you can attempt to resist and risk your life (and that of your family’s) against impossible odds. Some will cooperate with the conquerors in order simply to feed their family. They might simply say, “Someone has to do it.” A rare few of these might join the resistance, using their insider’s knowledge (at great risk to themselves and family). Let’s face it, the easy way out is to keep your head down, ignore the injustices all around you, and hope the bad people go away eventually.

The awful decisions people had to make and the terrible things they witnessed and did, including soldiers, were so intense that, typically, many never spoke to anyone after the war about their experiences.

Anyone who will read this blog will have likely been born after that war. Many of you have grown up in America. We have lived thus far in a bubble of relative security, peace, prosperity, and health. I believe that someday historians will bench mark September 11, 2001 as the beginning of the step-by-step deflation of that bubble. I have also stated that I think history will designate Hurricane Katrina as the time when Americans began to wake up to the fact that we are on our own and must help one another.

The lesson of war (in this case, World War II) is the same, essentially, as that of the great scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. That lesson is simply that one cannot remain a bystander; to remain neutral in the drama of life. Life itself is a war and by nature and by honor one must fight. At the same time, it is not a simply story of bad guys vs good guys. It can be incredibly subtle, as subtle as the mind itself. Self-justification or personal honor? The protagonist in the first novel (a true person), was nearly captured and killed by partisans after the German surrender for the fact that he wore the Nazi uniform. They killed his fiancé who was but a maid to the mistress of the German officer to whom he was attached and from whom he gleaned information useful to the Allied cause. How could they know he had been a spy for the Allies? Why would she be deserving of death? Throughout Europe during the collapse of Germany, countless revenge killings took place at the hands of partisans against collaborators, real or imagined. No doubt some were deserved but who can know?

In our country’s increasingly polarized atmosphere, we see lines drawn between one political party and the other. Yet each party embodies certain valid principles which while actually or seemingly at odds with each other, nonetheless contain elements of truth. Compassion and justice must alternatingly give way one to the other in order to keep society in some form of balance. But when the natural give and take ossifies into hardened positions, the ship of state becomes rudderless, susceptible to rogue waves of emotions welling up from the depths of the body politic. In human life, we make quantum leaps of faith either by the magic wand of inspiration or the knobby-hard stick of hardship or suffering. But remaining neutral or paralyzed is to expose us to the vicissitudes of fate and destiny.

Some say we need stricter gun laws to prevent outrageous mass killings by crazy gunmen. Others say there’s no reliable way to identify and neutralize crazy people and that murderers will always find “weapons,” whether they be airplanes, trucks or rifles. Some say that had there been registered gun control in 1774, the American Revolution might never have succeeded. The “right to bear arms” is deeply embedded into the American psyche. With spy technology and the increasing militarization of police forces in our country, can citizens really rest easily when our leader is bombastic and pugilistic or when our representatives are increasingly exposed as corrupt? Do we really want “THEM” to have a list of every person who owns a gun? Maybe we do right now, but, will that day come when increasing mayhem and betrayal provoke another revolution? 

It takes no crystal ball to predict increasing social unrest in America with each passing month and year. There are no simplistic answers in a world that ceaselessly fluctuates from one opposite to the other. Stay calm, even-minded, and positive.

Standing up for what you believe in is risky. It’s also nuanced. A revolution can simply be the exchange of one group of thugs for another. On a personal level, there’s also the risk is that you can become the very thing you fight against! Yet not to stand up for what is right is to be, potentially at least, a coward.

In a world of fake news we have the opportunity to be true to ourselves: right or wrong! What else can we do? Where are the great journalists like Walter Cronkite or Edward R Murrow? Held captive, I understand, by special corporate interests. Just as terrorists hold common beliefs and tenets, so can people of goodwill. Some Christian religionists believe you will go to hell for eternity unless you are saved by Jesus Christ. It may not appeal to me or you but it’s not the worst thing in life to ascribe to if it can make you a better person. Even indifference is a kind of belief system. We cannot avoid living out our own “philosophy.”
Those who stand on the sidelines waiting for the truth to be delivered to them with the morning paper are not likely to stand up for anything. Weighing every alleged fact on the scale of their personal opinion they assign themselves to be judge and jury, never soiling their hands one way or the other.

When I think of the hardships and horrors experienced by millions during World War II (and of course many other conflicts, ongoing as I type), I think that in these challenging times of ours we of goodwill need to stand up and be counted. For me and for many of you who might read this, we have committed ourselves to a positive, new direction and movement of consciousness based on meditation and a belief in the interconnectedness of all life united by the Supreme Spirit, the Infinite Consciousness out of which all creation and beings have been made manifest.

The “heart” of Ananda contains two core elements: one subjective; one objective. The subjective heart of Ananda is the goal of Self-realization. This is entirely personal and has nothing to do with history, culture or outward circumstances. The objective heart is “like unto the first.” We are in this world to learn our lessons and serve the divine plan of “salvation” for all beings. For Ananda, the essence of our outward mission includes sharing the path of meditation (especially kriya yoga) but also to establish a new pattern of living for the age in which we live: intentional, spiritual communities (called “World Brotherhood Colonies” by Paramhansa Yogananda).

We are not “missionaries” in the Christian sense of proselytizers, but it is a mission in the “corporate” sense of “mission statement.” As God is One, so our subjective and objective goals are inextricably linked. No one can find freedom in God without helping others. The life work of Paramhansa Yogananda is not limited to a few disciples or renunciates. He came as a world teacher bringing a revolutionary (because universally applicable to all truth seekers) new dispensation of the timeless truths. He represents no “ism,” not even Hinduism. Meditation (yoga) is for everyone, regardless of belief or affiliation.

Our outward work, then, may presently appear unnoticed by society at large or even appear irrelevant to the pressing issues of our day, but nothing could be further from the truth. Self-realization through meditation and fellowship with others of like mind is no less revolutionary than anything accomplished with a gun. “The pen may be mightier than the sword,” but the pen is a product of consciousness. No revolution is accomplished however without great sacrifices. Our work is no less a “war” than any other. Instead of being forced upon us, however, we have the choice to take up our positions of faith and service.

I arrived at Ananda’s first community (Ananda Village, Nevada City, CA) in 1977, less than a year after a devastating forest fire destroyed most of the homes. Outwardly it looked bleak. Jobs were scarce. To rebuild, dozens of members moved to nearby Nevada City to live and to start businesses or find work. (** Ananda's worldwide work was founded by Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda.)

Yet, if you were to visit today, you would find a thriving and high spirited community of hundreds of people, including swamis, monks, nuns, single people, couples, and children everywhere! Ananda Village did not arrive at this point, like the Phoenix, on the basis of any large donations or patrimony. One by one, each person doing his or her part, giving generously, indeed heroically. By meditation, prayer, service to others, step by step the community re-built. Years later the entire community was pushed to the verge of bankruptcy by vicious lawsuits. From this brink of total destruction, too, we recovered by effort and grace.

Now, Ananda members serve this work from cities around India to towns in America, in Mexico, Europe, South America, China, Japan and basically just about everywhere. As symbols of our outward mission, simple but beautiful temples are being built by the generosity of members in India, Italy, and at Ananda Village. Here in the Seattle area, we have already built our “Temple of Light” in Bothell but have just completed the Yoga Hall which is a symbol of the application of inner yoga to the broader community of our fellow citizens. Places of peace and sanctuary, symbols of our highest aspirations toward Self-realization, are needed in the world today. Temples of Light are needed all over the world where seekers can gather in prayer, song, and silence to witness the Supreme Spirit dwelling in our hearts, in all hearts and in all creation.

Studies have demonstrated the truth that if only a small percentage of a given population meditate daily, crime is substantially reduced and harmony among citizens greatly increased. The pressing problems of our age are not difficult to solve if our consciousness is open to harmony and solutions. This is the work of Ananda (and of millions of others and groups). As Jesus called his disciples, “Will you follow me?” so too Paramhansa Yogananda declares for “those with ears to hear:” “The time for knowing God is NOW!” The pearl of happiness cannot be purchased with the debased currency of clinging to comfort and security. Peaceful warriors are being called and others being born. Et tu?

Blessings of light and courage upon you,

Swami Hrimananda

Reading references from the writings of Swami Kriyananda included: "Religion in the New Age," "Hope for a Better World," "God is for Everyone!"

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Easter: We Shall Overcome!

Divine Mother in her form as Mother Nature blossoms forth each springtime to give us hope, to charm us with Her beauty, and to remind us that no winter is so dark that light, joy, and love can never return.

All spring festivals and spiritual holidays, from whatever tradition, celebrate Spring's renewal of life and light from the throes of death and darkness. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is perhaps the most dramatic story of renewal in human form. It has inspired and uplifted countless devotees down through two millennia. 

Our western, rational, and "prove it to me" culture may cast doubt upon the literalness of Jesus' life, crucifixion and bodily resurrection from death but no less than Paramhansa Yogananda (no orthodox Christian fundamentalist) insisted that it was real. In a the very same culture that speaks of geologic time, space travel, quantum physics, black holes, multiple universes, and billions of galaxies why would the New Testament account be so difficult to contemplate? 

Direct disciples gave their lives in witness to it. Great saints down through these past centuries testify to the living presence and reality of the very same Jesus who conquered death itself. In Jesus' name countless saints have healed others and even raised the dead! Do not modern scientists speak of ways by which the human body might be frozen and resurrected at a later date?

Jesus' resurrection, in any case, literal or otherwise, stands for the power of love to conquer hate; light over darkness; joy over sorrow; life over death. Do we not see that no matter how much pain we humans may inflict on one another, or how much we might suffer from acts of nature and external circumstances, life returns; the power to love rises to the occasion; and, in time, joy and laughter resound. 

In a profound and unique choral piece called "Life Mantra" by Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda), the words to the song include phrases such as "God is Life; God is Love; God is Joy; Life is God" and so on. This revelation, this perspective, this insight into God's presence in the world as Life itself brings the much-abused and much maligned "God" into our hearts, into everyday life. In the last sentence of Chapter 35 ("Autobiography of a Yogi," The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya) referring to the meditation technique of kriya yoga, Yogananda writes: "Through use of the Kriya key, persons who cannot bring themselves to believe in the divinity of any man will behold at last the full divinity of their own selves."

Paramhansa Yogananda declared that the second coming of Christ is the awakening of divinity in our own hearts and consciousness. (The "first coming" is the descent of divinity in human form: in the form of the guru, such as was Jesus Christ, Buddha, and many others. Their role is to re-awaken the "Christ" in human hearts.) 

The resurrection of this universal, omnipresent, omniscient and blissful Life, this "Christ" consciousness is the remembrance, or "smriti" (see Patanjali's Yoga Sutras) of it within ourselves. It flows and is transmitted by the guru to the disciple so that in time and with effort we too can say as Jesus, Krishna, Yogananda and others have said: "I and my Father are One." (John 10:30)

"To as many as received Him to them gave He power to become the sons of God." (John, 1:12)


The "good news" is declared also in the ancient scriptures of India as for example, "Tat twam asi" ("Thou art That") (Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7 of the Sama Veda); and also: aham brahmāsmi - "I am Brahman", or "I am Divine" (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 of the Yajur Veda)

It is a mistake that some believe that Jesus' resurrection teaches us that our physical bodies will rise from graves at some time in the future. Not only is such an idea absurd and morbid, but it misses the point. The real message of Jesus' resurrection is to demonstrate that spiritual consciousness can conquer even death itself; that love conquers hate ("Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Luke 23:34). To one identified with the eternal soul, death itself is but a transition from one form encasing our soul to another (a more fluid form: the astral body). 

In short, the human spirit, which is to say the divine power behind the human spirit, has the power to overcome all difficulties, hurts, and challenges. Having faith in God, faith in the innate goodness of Life, and faith in oneself can guide us through the most difficult times.

If you, like so many, are disillusioned by current events, think of the darkness during the difficult times of, say, World War II. These things, like winter, spring, summer and fall, ebb and flow. If we remain even-minded and cheerful, centered in the Self, nothing can touch us. Live in the "truth that can make us free," which is to say, we are not this short-lived body and this ever-changing personality. 

"And the Light shineth in darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not" (John 1:5) Behind trials and troubles the Light always shines. If we turn our sights toward the Light even to death we can say, "Where is thy sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55)

Let us then rejoice with the beauty of Spring reminding us of the eternal Beauty of the soul. Let me end quoting the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2:22-24:

(2:22) Just as a person removes a worn-out garment and dons a new one, so the soul living in a physical body (removes and) discards it when it becomes outworn, and replaces it with a new one.
      (2:23) Weapons cannot cut the soul; fire cannot burn it; water cannot drown it; wind cannot wither it away!

      (2:24) The soul is never touched; it is immutable, all-pervading, calm, unshakable; its existence is eternal.**

A blessed and happy Easter to all,

Swami Hrimananda

** "Essence of the Bhagavad Gita," Explained by Paramhansa Yogananda, as Remembered by Swami Kriyananda

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Religion: Problem or Solution?

After the blog I wrote the other day ("A Call to Link Arms") I reflected on a couple of sentences I read in the book I bought in India recently about the time period before, during, and immediately after Indian independence from Britain. It's called "Indian Summer" (by Alex Von Tunzelmann) and chronicles the lives of the last viceroy and his wife ("Dickie" and Edwina Mountbatten) and the events of that time.

In the book there was a passing reference to a long standing debate in Indian political history of whether the British were at fault for the communal violence of that time owing to their reputation for "divide and conquer" in stirring up religious and tribal feelings during the 20th century or whether there was (also) a rise in religious self-identity in Indian culture during that time.

No matter what one's opinion on the matter, it triggered in me the thought (related to my key point in the previous blog) that this "call to link arms" is, in effect, a recognition of the power of spirituality (and yes, "religion," if you must use the term!) to change the course of history. Jesus Christ did it. Buddha did it. Mohammed did it. Or, if you wish: Christianity did it; Buddhism; Islam; etc. Human history was unalterably changed from these religious trends. Better or worse, doesn't matter (though I say, on the whole, better, given the times during which they appeared).

What have we seen in the 20th and 21st century in re religion? Two things: the first, ironic to some degree, is a growing fragmentation and divisiveness born of increased contact and integration. This refers to a need groups have to assert their identifies and, perhaps therefore, to defend their values (as they view it). The second, also ironic, is the decline of people's identification with established faiths as a result of education, travel, and intermingling with other cultures and faiths! Each of those reasons seem opposite if strictly defined but in fact I believe each can be viewed as true in its own way.

The same might be said of nationalism vs globalism. Globalism has been on the rise since the end of World War II and now, somewhat recently, is the counter trend of a rise in nationalism. Both are valid even if somewhat opposite trends.

I'm not at present interested in the globalism trend but I am interested in the trend in religion, religious views, and spirituality. (I wish I didn't have to keep making those distinctions but it seems I have no real choice given the current use and meaning of these terms.)

Finally to get to my real point: if the spiritual (and YES, religious) point of view is that "God" ("the Divine" or whatever WORD you want) is the essence of all reality and the "point" of ALL established religions is to make contact with and experience for your Self, then this is, effectively, a new "religion" and one that knows no boundaries, requires no religious affiliation, and stems from inner experience born of prayer and meditation (especially the latter). (This thought is not new to most of you reading this but it's the context I want to share.)

Thus what occurred to me is that my prior blog articles ("A Call to Link Arms") is actually a reference to a new "world religion" of sorts that, like the internet itself, has no pope and has no priestly hierarchy. That doesn't mean there aren't spiritual teachers, prophets, or saints to whom an aspirant might look or affiliate with (via a personal relationship or formal organization) for the sake of his or her deepening spiritual consciousness. But, this new "religion" has the potential to uplift the human race at a time we desperately need a unifying view of one another of life's meaning.

There is a "credo" of sorts for this new religion but it is a simple one and its essence can be expressed as Oneness or connection. The (relatively) new science of ecology is something of its partner, born of science. Other aspects of cutting age science also lend rational support even if Oneness defies rational or sensory "proof." Our connection with life is something we feel, just as millions and billions are steadily acquiring a feeling for their love of nature, the environment, and the impact of human behavior on our planet and our health.

In short we are moving toward greater feeling, balancing the rational emphasis that has enabled a mindset of exploitation of nature and of other people. When I say rational I should use quotes but concepts like survival of the fittest lean towards master race ideas and on and on can and have been used to justify genocide or, at "best," racial prejudice.

Feeling in turns leads to recognition of the intuitive (direct knowing) part of human consciousness. The caveat on this feeling idea is its emotional aspect. As we humans begin to allow for our feeling nature to rise to the surface probably the first thing that arises is emotions, fanaticism, and violence. But these, like all mere emotions, are unsustainable even as much as our consumption of natural resources is ultimately unsustainable at today's pace and form.

In this view, will this new religion destroy established faiths? I don't think so. Survival being each entity's core instinct, I believe that established faiths will incorporate the concept of our Oneness as a necessity and as a self-evident reality. They will no doubt cling to the idea that their particular faith is better suited to assist people toward realization of Oneness, but much of the heat that surrounds their claims and causes divisiveness will be dissipated as each struggles to reclaim and hold members drawn away by the many independent expressions of Oneness (ironic, eh?).

The point in my prior blog ("A Call to Link Arms") is that the trend toward non-affiliation among adherents of Oneness weakens the potential of this new and I believe divinely inspired intuition to heal humanity of the many crises which we face. Religion, in its own context, is the only aspect of human consciousness that uplifts people toward people and harmony. Nationalism is far more limited in this respect and generally fosters wars, not peace. Globalism which has already shown itself as exploitative in nature could never do this as such except on the basis of near-universal realization and affirmation of Oneness.

I don't know if these thoughts make any sense but I feel compelled to share them. It interests me that millions practice hatha (physical) yoga in all manner of venues from fitness centers to yoga studios but apparently few have yet come to realize that what they are practicing is the physical expression of Oneness. By linking mind with body, we affirm a unity within ourselves. "Yoga" refers to "union," the integration of mind-body-spirit. The very images of yoga poses suggest quite openly respect for all life and our connection with all life through life itself; through life force or energy ("prana") or in Spirit. The endless flow of scientific studies showing the medical and psychological benefits of physical yoga and its concomitant practice, meditation, are more than a hint of how both individuals and the human race can find a way to "link arms."

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Why Celebrate Christmas?

The lament surrounding the commercialization and the meaningless social, decorative and gaudy aspects of Christmas is well known and hardly worth noting. Whether sincere Christians or weary atheists, Christmas could use a strong dose of relevance and meaning these days.

Our problem is not only that it has been bowdlerized of its original spirituality, but taken as strictly a Christian holiday, it would appear to be irrelevant to most of the rest of the world.

Can both of these be changed?

A reverent study of the life of Jesus shows many endearing and inspiring qualities of his life: some divinely attributed and others humanistic. That Jesus was a great man in the best sense of the term is not, to my knowledge, ever been seriously challenged. Some skeptics may say he never lived but for someone who never lived he somehow managed to change the course of history. I think, therefore, we can strike that fantasy from our list of objections.

Have you ever simply sat down and read the four gospels of Jesus' life? Why not do a little reading each night of December and see what you come up with? You don't need to get down on your knees. Make a cup of comfort tea, sit in a comfortable chair or sofa, and read until you know it's time for bed. Put aside preconceptions, expectations, dogma and encounter the person of Jesus.

Another objection I would propose to cross off your list goes like this: why dispute that sectarianism, error, ignorance and suffering has been inflicted upon others in Jesus' name? That doesn't mean it was his fault! You can do with what you want with the miracles testified to in the New Testament, including his resurrection, but his compassion, openness, his humanity, his love for all, his tenderness, his courage........are these not the stuff of greatness? Can you not, also, see the potential in yourself for such?

"Other sheep I have that are not of this fold!" I think that includes you and I. 

Perhaps you fear the overbearing image of Jesus as a person who, like Uncle Sam, WANTS YOU! Forget that image. Just tune into who he was....ok, maybe, IS. "IS" means NOW as you encounter him reading his life story. "IS" means in the feelings of your own heart. We of the rationalist culture imagine stories, to be true and relevant, must be factually true. Consider turning this on its head: the real stories are allegories of life. These are the true "stories" of you and me. Your heart knows what is true. Trust your own calm, receptive, and higher instincts, called "intuition." 

In the gospel of John, one of his most famous sayings is "And as many as received Him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God." That is one of the most potent quotations of the entire New Testament. Consider what this really means. Yes, YOU! You are that, too. You are the Christ. All that is needed, simple but not easy, is to "receive" that Christ-hood in your own heart and find authentic ways to express it in thought, word and deed.

As you read, try to imagine yourself there: in the dusty hills of Palestine; in the crowded, noisy markets of its cities and especially of Jerusalem. Imagine the oppressive presence of the Roman occupiers; feel the arrogance and holier-than-thou attitude of the temple's priests and scribes; hear the call to action on the part of John the Baptist: the crazy man crying in the wilderness: repent! Can't you see him here, now? (No, not the televangelists! But someone deep, sincere, empathetic, sympathetic, and.....real!) Isn't that what this blog article is about: repenting, meaning reconsider our view of Christmas! Let's re-discover our true Self as sacred, reverent, and holy.)

Jesus was born a "king" but born in a manger.  Like the prince who thought himself a pauper, we are that King, too, in our souls, at least. We cannot be made manifest, or born, except in the manger of natural humility and self-offering. It is only the ego with its pride and self-preoccupation that is asked to sacrifice itself on the cross of letting go that our consciousness might expand and know true joy. "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Is this not the Christmas spirit, also?

Why? Because in giving we expand our heart's sympathy and feel the joy of that expansion. This Christmas season, share your material wealth with others in need; do so anonymously if you can; give to the spiritual work of the universal Christ in this world that the light may expand.

We cannot afford NOT to celebrate Christmas. Paramhansa Yogananda established the tradition of a day of meditation just a few days before December 25. He said we should seek in meditation the formless Christ of peace within our own hearts. With the blessings of that occasion, we can then celebrate the social aspects of Christmas with true, Christ-joy.

At Ananda in Bothell, we conduct our Christmas meditation retreat on Saturday, December 17, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. We have chanting breaks throughout the day (contact us for the schedule) and a mid-day snack and comfort break. If you want to know who Jesus IS, come and seek Him in the Temple of Silence within.

In just a few days, this Saturday, December 10, 9:30 a.m., two of our teachers offer a class on "Jesus the Yogi Christ." Explore with us Yogananda's inspired revelation of the true nature, both divine and human, of Jesus Christ. Who were the three wise men? Where did Jesus disappear to for eighteen years? 

A blessed Christmas to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Autobiography of a Yogi : A Life Changing & World Changing Classic

Some 70 years ago -- December 1, 1946, a new scripture for a new and atomic age was born: AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI. How many millions have read this book? Difficult to say but millions of copies have been sold and this classic story likes to travel! But let others attest to the facts of its sales and readership. 

[For your own free digital audiobook copy, go to www.GoYogananda.com BEFORE December 1st.]

I join those countless souls around the world whose lives have been changed for the better by this now famous and beloved classic of spiritual literature. It is also a scripture, for during this worldwide celebration of its publication you will read countless stories of men and women who, in times of need, simply open its pages at random for inspiration and guidance. I am, in fact, one of them.

Its author, Paramhansa (Swami) Yogananda, born in India in 1893, was only 53 years old when he wrote it. Having arrived in 1920 to the shores of America, he returned to India only once, in no small part to gather the material needed to write this book. Otherwise he came to America to stay. The completion of his autobiography was to mark the beginning of the last few years of his life. (He left this earth in 1952, only six years later.)

The "AY" as many of its devotees lovingly refer to it, seamlessly blends charming and inspiring stories with deep, spiritual teachings drawn from ancient India and offered with the immediacy of a flash of revelation. 

My own personal search for truth took me to India in 1975-76. I traveled the length and breadth of India "In search of Secret India" (the book that inspired me, by Paul Brunton). Alas, like Dorothy and Toto (her little dog) in the famous movie, "The Wizard of Oz," I did not find what I sought there, in India, but, instead, the "AY" was handed to me upon my return home to the U.S. Years later I was forced to conclude that "when the disciple is ready, the guru appears" applied to me as well! Naturally I don't for one moment regret that life changing adventure to India.

How many readers have commented on the perspicacity of that great work. I say, "perspicacity," because I include the frequency with which unfamiliar, even obscure words are employed amongst its pages. Even apart from its spiritual subject matter, the AY is a marvelous work of literature which will remain in the annals of literature for centuries to come. It deserves to be read, whenever possible, in its "native" language: English.

Its first sentence encapsulates its intention in these memorable words, at once both personal and cosmic: 

"The characteristic features of Indian culture have long been a search for ultimate verities and the concomitant disciple-guru relationship."

As Genesis of the Old Testament begins Chapter 1 with cosmology and descends with lighting speed to the personal story of Adam and Eve (meaning your story and mind) in Chapter 2, so also does the AY rotate between the precepts of India's universal and ancient revelations, Sanaatan Dharma (the eternal truth revelation) and their application to the individual lives of Mukunda Lal Ghosh (later Paramhansa Yogananda), his family, friends, and spiritual teachers.

I too laughed one moment and cried tears of joy or sadness the next. I too could NOT put the story down. Even the footnotes wear the robe of wisdom, connecting the dots between modern science and the hoary Vedas.

The reader is carried to India, to the feet of its timeless tradition and through the veils of its otherwise impenetrable mysteries. Having just returned from India myself in 1976, from its villages, cities, temples, plains, seas, and mountains which I visited on the eve of its explosion into the 21st century, I embraced this book and its author as my very own and have never looked back: not once. 

Like millions of its readers I closed its pages wondering "What on earth do I do now? How will I ever be the same again? Will I forget and revert to striving to fulfill the American dream (and thus falling back to sleep, spiritually)? Never!" came the silent reply.

With my introduction to the AV in 1976 came two other life-changing gifts: my future wife, and her introduction of me to Swami Kriyananda and to the Ananda Village community near Nevada City, CA which he founded. I was blessed with an immediate pathway for my inspiration. 

Swami Kriyananda (1926 to 2013) was a direct disciple of Yogananda's. He came to Yogananda less than two years after the publication of the AY. After reading it, he immediately took a bus from New York City to Los Angeles! This pattern of "read and act" has been repeated so often by readers of the AY that it is all but a "standard issue" discipleship tale! 

I recognize, however, that for countless readers of the AY no immediate pathway for action seems evident. In fact, the most common refrain I hear from students coming to Ananda goes something like this: when asked if they'd ever heard or read the AY, the stock reply is, "Oh, yeah, I read it twenty years ago......" I no longer ask the obvious question, "Well, what happened?" because life's compelling needs, desires, and activities take over in most cases. Thus I count my blessings with those who, like me, found an immediate pathway for our inspiration.

Strangely enough, Paramhansa Yogananda's compelling life story hides from most readers his own spiritual greatness. He appears on the stage of his story as mere seeker, blessed with opportunities to meet modern saints and sages of India. The "story behind the story" is that the saints he met recognized him, the boy Mukunda, to be a great saint. 

As the world teacher he became, Yogananda brings reconciliation and understanding to the core issues that have long separated the religious traditions that we have inherited. And yet, in the AY and in his public teachings, his insights are so natural and so self-evident that few grasp the revolutionary insights he has offered to the world. 

Some of those issues include monotheism vs. polytheism; monism vs. dualism; God as personal or impersonal; the dual nature of Jesus Christ and of other world teachers and avatars; is an avatar a special creation, indeed, God "himself," or a fully God-realized soul like you and I? 

Does heaven and hell really exist? Do we go there for an eternity or? Is our soul absolutely and forever separate from God? Or, does the ego get obliterated in cosmic consciousness? Is the creation an illusion and a mere dream and, if so, therefore are we not responsible for our actions? What is free will? 

Does reincarnation exist and, if so, is it arbitrary and whimsical? Did Jesus believe in reincarnation? Has creation always existed or did it have a beginning? He even answered the question of "What comes first, the chicken or the egg (A: the chicken). 

In the AY Yogananda demonstrates by example the true nature of the disciple-guru relationship as one of divine friendship, not one of master and obedient slave. It is one in which both guru and disciple help one another and fulfill the divinely guided destiny of one another. 

He also explains the inner workings of so-called miraculous powers and their relationship to the findings of modern science. Death is shown for what it is: a change, merely, and an opportunity for most to simply rest before continuing the adventure of Self-awakening. 

Yogananda affirmed the life, teachings, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He shows that other avatars have demonstrated similar power of life and death. 

The AY is truly and clearly a scripture for a new age and a new consciousness. It will remain so for centuries to come, though the impact of its revelations has only begun, its influence will continue to grow exponentially. The AY is the herald of the world-changing meditation technique of Kriya Yoga. Kriya Yoga is spreading throughout the planet and will steadily become available for sincere seekers of every race and nation, and every faith tradition as well. 

Jai Guru!

In joy and with deep gratitude at Thy feet,

Swami Hrimananda







Saturday, September 17, 2016

Joy or Sorrow? Cup half full, or, half empty? Eeyore or Tigger?

This evening we celebrate the Harvest (both moon and equinox) at Ananda in Bothell, WA. It's a popular and celebratory event led, this year, by the staff of Ananda Farms on Camano Island.

Tomorrow's Sunday Service theme revolves around intellect vs intuition. It has often been said that "There are two kinds of people in this world...." For those of us with a bent toward "eastern philosophy" and its doctrine of duality, we find this common dichotomy fairly useful, even if sometimes humorous and generally superficial. Such, then is the "half empty or half full cup" of life.

There are the Eeyore's of the world (the somewhat melancholy and doubtful donkey from the tales of Winnie the Pooh) and there are the Tiggers (the unfailingly bouncy, optimistic "tiger" in the same series).

We are often asked which are we? Which do we aspire to be? (One does imagine there are some other choices, but, well, never mind!)

But life, like you and I, are unendingly a mixed bag: both within our moods and consciousness, and, in the circumstances that befall us. We can no more banish sorrow than we can manufacture happiness by affirmation alone. Rather, the question becomes at what latitude do we normally live: at the frozen poles, the temperate zone, or the equator?

The great sage Patanjali, author of the "Yoga Sutras," the "bible" of meditation and higher consciousness, defined the state of yoga (unbroken joyful contentment and God-realization) as the result of a permanent state of being which is unaffected by the flux of nature and the flow of opposites (whether sensory or mental).

In medieval times, the cup was half-empty. The emphasis toward this state (whether in eastern or western philosophy) was on endurance; fortitude; forbearance; self-discipline; and faith. These were the means to overcome the exigencies of the flux of nature and life.

I have long been deeply inspired by a 20th century mystic who embodied the "path of the cross" so beautifully: Padre Pio. (A friend gave me a book on his life, though I have many times studied Padre Pio's life.) Having been raised a devout Catholic during the '50's, this "path" is familiar to me and not entirely off-putting. The cross of suffering that he accepted, he accepted with calm acceptance and joy. His sense of humor was delightful. His guru, Jesus Christ, enabled and epitomized this stoic path of even-mindedness amidst pain and suffering long ago for the benefit of the West. While Jesus is depicted historically as a "man of sorrows" how could he have attracted hundreds if not with what we all want: joy? Nonetheless, the path of the cross is a true path. 

"For us now the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy." These words from the Festival of Light ceremony which we conduct every Sunday,  in turn, reveal the new dispensation of truth that has dawned upon humanity at the beginning of a new age of awareness. The Festival of Light continues saying, "Thus may we understand that pain is the fruit of self-love, whereas joy is the fruit of love for God."

It is the ego that experiences physical pain, or the pangs of self-mortification and discipline. "The ego hates to meditate; the soul loves to meditate," taught Paramhansa Yogananda (author of "Autobiography of a Yogi"). Yogananda taught that Jesus' suffering on the cross, for example, was not for himself but for the ignorance and suffering of those who rejected him. That he experienced a moment of the "dark night of the soul" when divine consciousness fled from him on the cross shows not his spiritual weakness but the final exam each soul must face before the resurrection of his soul's realization that "I and my Father are One." He demonstrated this test for those who would follow him and take up their cross.

Yogananda stated that he came to proclaim this new dispensation of greater understanding. No longer does endurance and rock-like faith alone characterize spirituality in this age; no longer does that "way" inspire true devotees. Instead, the joy of seeking Him and sharing Him is the "way" for our times.

We Americans and the West are "tiggers:" optimistic; upbeat; eager to overcome obstacles that a better way of life might be found. "Eventually, eventually? Why not NOW?" This was how Yogananda delightfully described the American culture which he so admired.

But both "ways" are valid and true; each must be balanced and embraced. In the life of Swami Kriyananda, we see the joy of his soul overcoming tremendous obstacles such as physical pain and suffering, persecution, misunderstanding, financial hurdles and restrictions, and the obstinacy, ignorance and unwillingness of some who professed to support his public work and serve with him. Despite enormous challenges, Swamiji's productivity spiritually and creativity would have been the work of four Swami Kriyanandas in most people. Spiritually he helped inspire and uplift countless souls; creatively he authored many books, a new genre of music, and a worldwide network of intentional communities.

He explained to us that although Yogananda was known publicly as charming, magnetic, loving and a charistmatic spiritual teacher, to his close disciples he emphasized both attunement and the necessity to "carry one's cross." He himself took onto his body physical suffering for the sake of his disciples' karma saying that "astral entities" (Padre Pio might say, "devils" or "demons") were attacking him. He pointed out that the agony of the cross lasted three hours but that his own (and others') suffering lasted much longer.

Swami Kriyananda, thus, too carried many crosses throughout his lifetime. Yet, the grace of divine attunement to God and gurus manifested as light and joy, even-mindedness and energy, that outshone the darkness of challenges. To give birth to Ananda worldwide, he performed years of "tapasya": the redemptive and creative power of accepting suffering with faith and equanimity.

My "zen" way of putting this goes like this: "You can't get out alive!" Meaning: to achieve Self-realization, the ego must die. What seems like "death" to the ego is nothing more than the alchemy of transformation. In God, nothing really dies or is lost. (How can infinity exclude anything?) But we are made to believe that by the hypnotic power of the delusion of separateness (one of the definitions of "kundalini") we will "die." This is the final test: the dark night of the soul.

Infinity is BOTH-AND. We must untie the knots of past, bad karma AND find the joy of the soul as the guiding light of action.

Now: raise your cup and drink it to the lees and beyond!

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda!