Showing posts with label Krishna. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Krishna. Show all posts

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Scarlet Letter (Attraction) meets Krishna in the Mahabharata!

When I was a teenager, perhaps even in college by then, I recall reading the classic story, "The Scarlet Letter," by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The novel is set in the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony of the mid 17th century. The condemnation of the protagonist, Hester Prynne for having a child out of wedlock, and the cowardice of her lover (a local minister) to confess and defend her, represented for me (at that impressionable age) the conflict between social mores and the "way of the heart." At the conclusion of the novel, the lovers reunite, albeit temporarily and even somewhat tragically.

In my life, the timeline for my reading of this famous novel took place during the explosion of America's own "cultural revolution" of the Sixties. Many in my generation eagerly and adamantly rejected any and all social mores as old fashioned and part of the controlling establishment or so-called "Puritan ethic." Youthful passion and exuberance, to be sure! (In case you don't know, the attempt mostly failed because truth is "one and eternal.")

But recently, Murali Venkatrao graced me with an astonishingly captivating re-write of India's great epic, the Mahabharata. The book is called "The Great Golden Sacrifice of the Mahabharata" by author Maggi Lidchi-Grassi. It is written in the first person as told by Arjuna. Utterly delightful and compelling, a kind of "we were there" historical (and spiritual) "novel" wrapped in God-consciousness-vibrations!!!!!

One of the predominant themes of this world-famous epic is discerning what is righteous action ("duty" or "dharma"). Unlike the adolescent rebellion of the Sixties, the Mahabharata is concerned with the soul's journey to Self-realization.

Arjuna, Krishna's beloved disciple and hero of the epic, seeks Krishna's counsel at every crucial turn of the epic's long and twisting tale because knowing what is right action in advance of taking action is very, very difficult!

One example can be seen in the death of Dronacharya ("D"). D is the teacher, or Acharya, of the young warriors, both the Pandava brothers (think: "good guys") and the Kaurava brothers (think: "bad guys"). In the allegory of the Mahabharata ("M"), D represents the subconscious mind and its power to create and sustain one's habits. But, being a product of the subconscious mind, habit generally sides with the "bad guys" ("K") in part because the duty and function of the subconscious mind is to defend and protect the ego.

(In life, we find that good habits are generally not powerful enough to sustain us when confronted by temptation or opposing negative tendencies. In fact, good habits are both established and sustained by inspiration from the soul (aka superconscious mind). Good habits are sustained only by fresh inspirations and affirmations whereas bad habits exist as a kind of default ("fight or flight" mechanism).)

Returning to the story, D is loved by all his students who are now adult warriors opposing each other. Yet D holds the key to victory for the K's. He has taught them all the arts of war and he knows and has all the powerful weapons. The "good guys" (Pandavas: "P") know that, despite their love and respect for D, he must be killed in the war if they are to win.

It occurs to the P's that one way to dishearten D's power and will to fight is to kill his son, Ashwatthama. But that's not so easy because, like his father, he is a fierce and unbeatable warrior. On Krishna's advice, a ruse is hatched wherein D is to be informed that D's son, Ashwatthama, has been killed in the battle (presumably elsewhere in that large and chaotic battlefield).

An elephant who happens to be named "Ashwatthama" is purposely killed so that Bhima, one of the P brothers, can boast that Ashwatthama is dead! D asks Yudhishthira, "Is this true?" Yudhishthira, the incarnation of truthfulness, says "Yes!" D then sits to meditate and while meditating one of the warriors cuts off the head of D! Both a "lie" and a breach of the rules of engagement takes place. A breach of social mores?

[Interestingly, the P warrior who cuts of the head of D is Dhrishtadyumna whose name relates, allegorically, to the soul quality of the calm, inner light--slayer of the force of habit.]

The real Ashwatthama, D's son, survives the war. In the allegory, he represents the quality of attraction. The explanation given for the fact that Ashwatthama survives, even though he is one of the K's who are all eventually slain, is that when the soul emerges victorious over the ego and achieves enlightenment, this quality remains in the form of the attraction to bliss, to goodness and all that is spiritually elevating. "Attraction," you see, never dies! It is the offspring of habit because attraction is the necessary ingredient for the sustaining power of any habit, good or bad.

But after the war has ended and the P's are victorious, Arjuna, in a fit and mood of self-doubt and regret, accuses his elder brother Yudhishthira of having lied and broken the law of dharma of which he, Yudhishthira, is supposed to be the living embodiment. A heated argument ensues among the brothers and others. Once again, Krishna intervenes to remind them all that the ruse was necessary for victory (the soul over ego-bondage).

Hence the saying: "All is fair in love and war."

Thus it was that the love between Hester Prynne and the minister had to be revealed and fulfilled even though it went against social taboos (neither was married to someone else at the time--the taboo itself was the mere product of "caste consciousness").

Nonetheless, in the death of D, a "white" lie and a violation of battlefield ethics were needed to effect the desired outcome. Sometimes it is useful when one is attempting to overcome a negative habit to calmly affirm victory even though, at present, it is not entirely true (yet).

Swami Kriyananda would tell the story of how he quit smoking (when he was a young man and before he became a monk). As often as he reverted to smoking after trying to quit, he simply and calmly affirmed that he would stop smoking even though he hadn't achieved his goal quite yet.

One day, without any outward assistance or sign, his affirmation proved to be true. He never smoked from that day forward. He could not have predicted when that day would arrive but intuitively he knew that it would. Indeed, his attitude, despite setbacks, was that it was true already!

In this way, Dronacharya, the master of habit, can be defeated by calmly and repeatedly telling him that his offspring, attraction to a wrong habit, has died. By feigning disinterest in the temptation to indulge, one deflates its power over you. This can be extended even into the indulgence itself when it overtakes you: keep a part of your mind detached from identification with the act.

They say "love makes the world go 'round" and true as that it is, one can also say that it is DESIRE that makes the world go round. Desire is of the heart and its power cannot be extinguished, only re-directed. Paramhansa Yogananda taught that the desire to know (and love) God, too, must be fulfilled. Nurture right desires and you shall find ever greater happiness.

Use the power of attraction, then, wisely and whatever you do to re-direct your attention from the lower to the higher, from ego to soul, is fair and wise. Live AS IF you are already free and Self-realized for indeed such is the nature of your soul. "Tat twam asi!" ("Thou art THAT!)

Swami Hrimananda




Monday, June 17, 2019

How Can I Find that Perfect Job?

A person wrote to us with this question:

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

My response to this question was put this way:

Dear Friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings and joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, June 8, 2019

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Indecisive? Doubting Thomas? Bhagavad Gita Speaks to You!


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

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

May the Force be with you!
Swami Hrimananda




Saturday, May 4, 2019

Oh God, you devil, you! Sanaatan Dharma

Oh God, you devil, you!

Oh Lord, how much confusion exists throughout the world surrounding who and what to worship? What name? What gender? What shape or form? Abstract or anthropomorphic? Personal or impersonal? Cosmic ground of Being? Infinite Spirit? Father, mother, lover, friend?

Truly, it is overwhelmingly confusing and to such an extent that intellectually minded people just throw up their hands and say, "Oh hell with them all!"

Add to the name, form or formless definition of your version of God the question of whether God is both good and evil, responsible for both, or beyond both, or only interested in good, leaving evil to Beelzebub, and you surely have good "reason" to run to a pub and drown the maelstrom of your thoughts in a foamy draft beer and your ears in mindless "rock" music (music for rocks, that is).

The cosmos is so incomprehensibly vast and varied that maybe God who made the whole thing is incomprehensibly vast and varied, or at least beyond easy definition. Or, not.

India is home to the world's most ancient religion and a culture which has existed continuously since before time. The term Hinduism was given to India's native religion by foreigners. The indigenous name is Sanaatan Dharma, and may be loosely translated the "Eternal Religion." This isn't the cheesy boast that it may seem to be at first glance.

As science purports to discern laws of nature that are universally applicable, so any religion calling itself "eternal" should attempt the same. And, indeed, among the seers of Indian spirituality (as opposed to her priests and clerics), the scope of vision offered to the world by their texts that come to us out of the mists of pre-history have a distinctly scientific and universal quality to them. For a long time, we called their writings "Eastern philosophy" (not religion).

As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of the Bhagavad Gita in his journal of 1845:
“It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.”

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna states: "I am the Source of everything. From Me all creation emerges. Realizing this great truth, the wise, awe-stricken, adore Me." (10.8) Krishna is not speaking in the voice of a mere human but in the overarching Self of Spirit similar to statements by Jesus Christ such as "I am the way, the truth and the life." Both were speaking in the voice of the transcendent God, not as mere mortals boasting of themselves. Both were speaking in the I AM consciousness of all that is and ever will be. And as many of us that will "receive" this into our own consciousness, will be "the power to become the sons of God." (John 1:12).

Religionists take for granted that God created the universe but rarely, if ever, ask: How? Until quantum physics, with its dark matter, dark energy, string theory and God particle, there was no means for even merely rational speculation beyond, "Gee whiz! A miracle!" At least now we have the BIG BANG theory, and a point of singularity (sounding very God-like) preceding it. What else could be cosmically "singular" if not God? (Tongue half-way in cheek.) Does not the postulation by science that a point of singularity might have been the starting point for creation stand as, at least, a metaphor for God the Creator?

The ancient teachings say "God did not create the universe; God BECAME the universe!" There was no building materials store to draw from. There were no particles, atoms, molecules. God isn't a thing but a consciousness. Thus, just as you or I might have an idea that turns into a reality, God must have had the "idea" to create, or more correctly, to become. In fact, the ancient teachings of India say that God is "dreaming" this great universe and all beings in it. For just as we can dream a complex plot in our nightly forays into the subconscious, so, we are told, God dreamt this whole thing up!

To the dream characters, the dream is, until we awaken from it, VERY real! The boogie man chasing us in our dream can cause our heart to race and our breath to seize up. The movie, "The Matrix," hints rather well at this very same concept. 

Incredible? Well, yes, of course. Why would you not think this cosmos is incredible? Why would you think it is simple? Easy to figure out? If we could realize the dream nature of creation easily, we wouldn't be here. Why did He do it? Well, let's save at least some questions for when we meet Him. (Him, Her, It? Gender is irrelevant in discussing "God," isn't it?)

If indeed, the creation is but a dream in the consciousness of God, then anything and anyone could be and, to some extent at least, already IS God. So whether you worship cats or alligators, or deities with a million names, it is all, potentially at least, valid. But some have more power over the dream than others!

Worshipping money, power, pleasure is certainly a popular form of "worship" (human craving), but their votaries don't find much satisfaction in these "gods." For one thing, these human desires are not so easy to fulfil or sustain. Only so many people can achieve wealth, for example; or fame; or beauty; or genius. 

For another, and for those who make it to the top of their desired heap, the satisfaction wanes rather quickly. Worse yet, with the attainment of these "heavenly realms" too often comes misery and suffering in their wake. Desires become addictions and addictions soon wane in their capacity to satisfy until one hits bottom, disgusted with oneself and one's addiction. There are more suicides among the wealthy than among the poor.

In other words, some "gods" are better than others! The caution to "be careful what you wish for" applies to the gods as well as desires. Hence the strong affirmation attendant to monotheism, ascribing to the entire creation a "point of singularity" in the form of the one and true God ("Hear O Israel, the Lord is One!"), and warning that any lesser may leave them short-changed.

But monotheism, also, if too strictly defined, leaves Infinity one mile short of perfection! God or gods can be classified as good, better, best. The "good" ones get you off the couch and moving towards a goal of right action and attitude (health, healing, etc.); the better ones encompass goals that are expansive (compassion, self-giving, devotional); the best ones are those to which and from which flow unconditional love in seeking union with God. (I suppose one would have to admit that there are bad, worse, and way-worst gods, too, but why go there?)

Like marriage and family, it's a matter of the heart, not the head. There's a saying, perhaps attributed to Swami Vivekananda, that "it may be a blessing, indeed, to be born into a religion, but a misfortune to die in one." But the verb "to die"  means, in this context, to die spiritually by virtue of narrowness, bigotry, and dogmatism. 

That version of God, spirituality or religion that expands your heart in sympathy and understanding is probably "yours." Just as your biological family can be a large tree with branches spreading across continents, so too there are vast spiritual families. Far too many people, put off by the dogmatic zeal or bad faith of religionists, feel their religion is only personal to them. But in refusing to associate with others who share their faith, they lose out on the powerful influence of others to support the very ideals to which they ascribe. We are not islands unto ourselves, except by outer appearance only. Even islands are connected by the earth beneath the sea. Those who eschew association with other spiritually minded souls are in effect "throwing the baby out with the bath water." 

Why is this? Because in my own mind I can pretend I am very spiritual when I don't have around me others of like mind trying to grow spiritually and acting as mirrors to my conscience. Most of the world could care less, so my association with indifferent people makes me seem (to myself) super-spiritual. I can also enhance this view because so easy to judge all those "slackers." On my own, I'm not spiritually accountable to anyone but my own ego who is pretending to be divine.

It's not enough to say all religions or forms of spirituality are the same. They are not. They may have much in common but some are made-up religions (saying all the right words) and some are messed-up religions (by human interference). 

Besides, each of us, even if we are part of a spiritual family, have a unique spiritual journey to walk. Some pursue their spiritual path wisely; others, ignorantly. Billy Sunday (the famous evangelist) may have claimed he sent a lot of people to heaven through his preaching, but it has been rumoured that God's response to his assertion was "Well, he may have sent them but they didn't arrive." 

As Paramhansa Yogananda put it: "Jesus was crucified once, but his teachings have been crucified daily ever since." Indeed, the only true "custodians" of the "word of God" are the saints, not the theologians or the administrators. Yogananda called the institutions of Christianity (and religion, generally) "Churchianity." 

But Sanaatan Dharma encourages all who are sincere to pursue their genuine spiritual ideals in whatever way appeals to them. There is a universality to all faiths that can be a measure of authenticity. No true religion teaches hate or violence based on prejudice, for example. The Golden Rule ("Treat others as you would wish to be treated.") has for its basis our oneness in God. Virtues of compassion, sympathy, kindness, harmony, calmness, peacefulness, patience, forgiveness and devotion are but a few of the core and universal values of true religion, and thus of Sanaatan Dharma.

It is a mistake, however, to leave the subject of religion and spirituality at a place of mere platitude or philosophy. As I have a name, a body, a human family, talents, skills, shortcomings, language, culture and nationality, so must I clothe my spiritual efforts in very specific ways. As these attributes of myself are also basic attributes of millions of others, so should I make real and grounded my commitment to Self-realization in cooperation with others who share my "way." Thus I give and thus I receive.

God may or may not be "out there," but God is surely within you and within all. We may not yet have entered that point of singularity from which we and all things have come, but we can start right here and now finding that point of singularity in the BE STILL AND KNOW I AM. From this point radiates the magnetism to draw to myself those people, those practices, and those experiences which act as wayshowers to Self-realization. 

May the Fourth (of May) be with you!

Swami Hrimananda




Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Bhagavad Gita: A Timely Gem

The Bhagavad Gita: A Timely Gem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the song of God flow through you!

Swami Hrimananda



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









Monday, February 11, 2019

The Avatar in You and Me! Friends in God

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jai guru,

Swami Hrimananda






Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Jesus the Yogi Christ : Why Celebrate the Birth of Jesus?

Christmas is for Everyone

Perhaps You-Too have discovered You-Tube? There you can learn that Jesus didn't really die on the cross but escaped to either India (Kashmir to be exact) or, to the south of France (with Mary Magdeline, of course). You might be surprised to know that an exact reckoning determined that Jesus was born on March 2, 4 B.C. (They forgot to calculate the time?) Like the Never Ending Story of science (which blows our minds every few years or decades), who knows: maybe they are right!

But what novelists, speculators, con men, scoffers or archaeologists will never change is the fact that Jesus Christ changed world history. His message and example conquered the Roman Empire (which crucified him), and in the process changed western history (and by extension, world history). More importantly, given that such “conquest” proved a mix bag to say the least, he “conquered” the hearts of countless souls down through the centuries. Witnesses to his life and thousands of others who only heard about him have given their lives willingly and joyfully to bear witness to their faith.  

Never mind that atrocities have been committed in his name or that countless followers are glued to their unyielding and untested beliefs, for ignorance and ego can be found everywhere, and not just in religion and spirituality. Never mind the “miracles” described in the life of Jesus, though, are not the discoveries of modern science every bit a miraculous to us even today? Just because we use technology doesn’t mean we have a clue about how it works! Imagine a time traveller from, say, just two hundred years ago coming to Seattle. Has not science so opened our imaginations that we can imagine “raising” the dead? Why just consider the testimony of near-death experiencers!

Truth is more vital than facts. Truth changes lives. Facts soon get lost. Eyewitness accounts demonstrate the unreliability of our five senses, our perception, and our memory! In contrast to mere facts, what about the miracle of forgiveness? The miracle of returning love for hatred? I think of Gandhi or Martin Luther King. What about helping a neighbor in need?

The spirit of Christmas is the simple, but life-changing, recognition of our shared humanity. That tiny babe in a manger so long ago is but a symbol, for what new-born is unlovable? No matter what your beliefs about that tiny babe, the reminder and the affirmation that love can be (re)born even in spite of those who would seek to destroy it, is a truth that we resonate with on a deeper level than ego. That both common “shepherds” (i.e. ordinary people) and “kings from afar” would both come to a humble manger to bow down to this truth is a symbol more powerful than any platitude eloquently expressed.

Who among us would fail to welcome society’s celebration and a reminder of our shared humanity? Especially now in these times where “getting mine first” is elevated to a philosophy, a veritable religion. Yes, like all things, Christmas can be materialistically milked for money or mere feasting.  But this “greatest story ever told” (why the greatest? Because it’s your story and mine, too), is a truth worthy of celebrating.

How should we celebrate Christmas? With gift giving, Christmas decorations, and feasting? All of those have their place for many. Who doesn’t enjoy an exuberant show of beautiful Christmas lights? By the way, did you know that the very first time a nativity scene (a live one, by the way) was created was by St. Francis in Italy in 1223?

All outward celebrations aside, followers of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now famous book, “Autobiography of a Yogi participate in a tradition that he began which is to set aside a day of meditation on the “formless Christ”. By “formless Christ” he meant the universal divine consciousness, intelligent and wise, that resides in every person and, indeed, in every atom of creation. This divine Self, he taught, is the invisible intelligence and the pure and noble impulses that have their source in the Creator and Sustainer of all life. Yogananda taught that the “second coming of Christ” is an event that takes place in the human heart after first having been awakened by the “Christ” in human form (i.e., the guru) which can be designated as his “first” coming.

“Jesus” was the man’s name but “Christ” was the title bestowed upon him. “Christ” signifies that he had achieved realization of his innate divine nature. While we all possess this innate divine nature, few have sought it, and fewer have yet to “become One with the Father.” Whether this takes one lifetime or a thousand, it is for this purpose we were created. It is our destiny to achieve this oneness, but it is only by the free choice of our hearts that we begin the journey “home” to claim our royal birthright just as in the beautiful story of the Prodigal Son. (You might find it interesting to know that the title of “Christ” is etymologically connected with the word “Krishna” and carries the same significance.)

Let us, then, honor the tiny babe in a manger whose shining face is our face when we love all without condition. Let the purity of a newborn’s trust and openness be nurtured in our hearts during this holy season and in every day of our life. Love is the redeeming power of the universe and it never fails to resurface no matter how dark the days may get. 


Happy Christmas to all!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Why Celebrate Labor Day?

Welcome to America's annual celebration of labor: Labor Day! What exactly is there to celebrate? Or, to contemplate?

1. Swami Sri Yukteswar is quoted by Paramhansa Yogananda in "Autobiography of a Yogi" saying, "Those who are too good for this world are adorning some other. So long as you breathe the free air of earth, you are under obligation to render grateful service. He alone who has fully mastered the breathless state is freed from cosmic imperatives. I will not fail to let you know when you have attained the final perfection." Whew! 

2. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna counsels Arjuna: "Action is a duty, but let not your ego crave the fruits of action. Be not attached either to action or to inaction." (2:40). "No one can remain actionless for even a moment; all are compelled (by Nature), whether willingly or unwillingly, to be active, driven by the qualities (impulses) of Nature. One who forsakes work (in the name of divine aloofness from activity) cannot reach perfection. (3:4,5). Our physical nature compels us to feed, clothe, shelter, and protect our bodies. We are dependent upon and an integral part of the world around us.

3. When I see a person begging on the street I think to myself, is not the real tragedy the lack or failure to be creatively engaged and serviceful? In America, at least, finding food, shelter and clothing isn't (technically) all that difficult. While such is the basic prerequisite to being serviceful and engaged, it's the lack of creative engagement that drains the spirit. How often have you wondered, seeing such a person, "If he would only ask for work, then perhaps he could feed himself!" Well, of course, I am greatly oversimplifying a complex and very individual situation (consider, e.g., substance addiction, mental illness, and lack of basic needs) but I think replacing beggary with service holds a secret to overcoming the karma that puts one in such a depressing circumstance.

4. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosover believeth in Him will not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) The creation is a great drama and not just for the comedies, tragedies, joys and sorrows that vie constantly for supremacy. We should cherish the world, life, and our legitimate duties and creative impulses and inspirations as a means of rejoicing, acknowledging, and fulfilling the manifestation of the "Son" (the indwelling divinity within us and all creation). The creation IS God in vibration and in joyful intelligence. Serving and doing our best to live a God-centered life, a life of joy, wisdom,, compassion and creative activity honors the "Christ" in creation and in our souls. We potentially manifest "Christ consciousness" in joyful, creative service.

5. It used to be common for acquaintances to greet one another with the question, "How are you, keeping busy?" I used to wonder what was so special about "keeping busy?" Most people I know feel they have "too much on my plate." Maybe this (mindless) greeting was a holdover from the Depression of the 1930's when fear of losing or having a job was uppermost. We should learn to be "calmly active, and actively calm" as Yogananda would put it. Let, therefore, our "labor" be one that is calm, conscious, "present," and intentional!

6. Lastly, should you be burdened by what strikes you as an unsatisfactory role in life, begin first by affirming gratitude for the opportunity to serve in whatever way life gives to you. By accepting what is, you can fulfil your duties or experience your circumstances with a pleasant state of mind. This is the first step to working out whatever past action of your own that has placed you in this situationThink about how you can do better or how you can help others, even if in silent thought and prayer. Draw into your consciousness the love of God and share that love with all. Even if you are bedridden and cannot serve in any obvious outward way, you can serve those who serve you with your smile, your love, your gratitude and your sincere wish to help them through prayer.

Let us, then, honor "Labor Day" as the creative manifestation of God IN and AS creation through the active engagement of our soul expressing itself through the vehicle of the human form in the great play ("lila") of life. Celebrate whatever health, intelligence, education or talents you might have been blessed to receive in this life that you might serve as a channel of divine blessing bringing joy, intelligence, and love into this world of duality. Be grateful for the creative energy of countless others whose contributions and discoveries make our own life safer, more healthy, and more productive.

Let us "honor" the labor of love out of which God has become this creation by "laboring" with His love!

Blessings,

Swami Hrimananda

PS: Tomorrow (Sep 2, 2018) is the day on which Hindus celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Politics, Yoga, Self-Realization and Ananda

From the view of the soul (the God's-I view), all things are appropriate if done with attunement to the divine will. The core mission of Ananda worldwide is to achieve soul freedom in God through the application of the scientific techniques of raja yoga (which can include hatha and kriya yoga); to establish intentional spiritual communities demonstrating that simplicity of living guided by high ideals brings the greatest happiness; to have land in the country where we grow our own food; to live and serve in harmony, cooperation, simplicity, moderation, creativity and divine attunement; and to show how to apply this way of life in business, relationships, health and healing, education and all aspects of daily life.

When it comes to social issues, politics, and social activism, the outer work of Ananda is so young that thus far in our brief 50 years we've had to build (literally) communities, teaching centers, retreats, our publishing arm, schools for children, and the attendant outreach and infrastructure such activities require.

Views on the issues of the day can legitimately vary according to individual points of view between sincere and equally intelligent people. 

Paramhansa Yogananda, the inspiration behind the Ananda work worldwide, said he was in the party of Abraham Lincoln (a Republican). In his day, Yogananda was wary of social reforms instituted by the then president, "FDR." Yogananda was not enthusiastic about the long-term effects or social implications of the New Deal, the welfare state, and other so-called progressive initiatives; he was concerned about the intrusion of government into private lives; for the dependency that a welfare state can create; and for the potential loss of creativity and initiative in individuals.

But how he would respond today on questions of universal health care, social security, and the many other social services, who can truly say? His teachings and Ananda's work is with individuals, primarily: developing personal responsibility; willpower, devotion, meditation, selflessness in service and attitude and, yes, certainly compassion. But our emphasis will always lean towards the personal and taking personal responsibility. Public entitlements that are enacted to "buy" votes or which deplete the personal initiative and sense of individual responsibility will always be suspect. In general, I can say with confidence that any program that helps an individual to help himself is far better than a handout that deprives that person of dignity and initiative.

Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Yogananda and the founder of Ananda, quietly and respectfully guided us in his example and words to be more conservative and circumspect especially on "new deals" that promised us what we might imagine were free handouts from the government. He remarked that Yogananda's school at Ranchi declined in its spiritual ardor and educational excellence when the school accepted funding (with strings attached) from the Indian government.

We, disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda, seek to achieve the spiritual goal of Self-realization. Meditation, introspection and God-communion require a personal commitment, initiative, energy, and creativity. The personal freedom to step away from the "maddening crowd" is a natural and generally necessary step. Life on the path of Self-realization is very personal. Not surprisingly, we seek the company of others of like mind since support for the inner life is not to be found in society at large. 

Naturally, therefore, the help we give to others is more likely to be to those we know rather than enthusiastically trumpeting new legislation and new governmental initiatives. I wonder if socially progressive ideas would be as enthusiastically endorsed if their votaries had to pay for them personally. Do you too sometimes wonder if promoting new government schemes subconsciously relieves their proponents of the burden of guilt for any personal commitment? 

Swami Kriyananda often said: "Peace is my bottom line!" Not social peace but inner peace. If one can march as Gandhi or King marched--with courage and with love so great that even being struck, humiliated, spit upon, or jailed could not trigger in them the quid pro quo of hate--then let it be. This is the path of a Christ. But, you see, for them, too, peace was the bottom line. 

Recently, our center hosted a prayer vigil for the families separated at the southern border of the United States. Our emphasis was on using prayer and meditation to offer these families on a soul level strength and spiritual support. It was also to provide a sanctuary for those who wanted to come together in prayer and meditation as their personal response to this unfortunate situation. While our position on immigration policies was implied, it was not the focal point of our gathering. Therein lies an important difference. 

Government policies and conflicts in society can take many forms but often, if not always, the resolution is the result of a compromise between opposite points of view: a compromise that can be assumed to satisfy neither point of view. The very fact of compromise is, indeed, as much the lesson as the resulting policy. In general, a wise person will tend favor compromise because it supports harmony and provides at least some directional movement in place of continued conflict or simply paralysis. Wisdom understands that we live in a world of opposites which unceasingly vie for, and alternate in, supremacy. 

Thus when one stakes out a position on a social issue, it may be appropriate to articulate the principles and the goals of your position but one should also acknowledge (even if only to himself) that any practical movement forward in the direction of your goal will require some compromise. As Yogananda put it, "Fools argue; the wise will discuss." 

Both Gandhi and King showed remarkable courage and ability to do both. “Be wise as serpents,” Jesus counseled, “and harmless as doves.” Those who defend dogma will tend to end up both disappointed and angry. This world is poorly arranged to achieve perfection or lasting victory to one side or the other.

During World War II, Yogananda was supportive of the war effort but focused his energies on continuing to uplift and inspire people, and bring them closer to God through the science of raja and kriya yoga. He enthusiastically supported Mahatma Gandhi's efforts to free India from British rule but stayed centered on his own life's work.

In Yogananda's famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," he gave a rare rebuke to the rising trend of humanitarian works: "Refusing a monotheistic love to God, the nations disguise their infidelity by punctilious respect before the outward shrines of charity. These humanitarian gestures are virtuous, because for a moment they divert man's attention from himself, but they do not free him from his single responsibility in life, referred to by Jesus as the first commandment." 

Those who guide the work of Ananda understand the complexity of having institutional positions on social issues. Given the path of Self-realization that we strive to follow, it behooves us to give wide latitude to individual members to make their own personal choices. 

It seems likely that the years ahead will see increasing civil unrest owing to the continued state of polarization in our country and other countries with whom we are aligned culturally and politically. Yogananda gave notable utterance to predictions of future challenges to America and other nations in the forms of economic depression, war, and natural calamities. It will take wisdom, courage, and faith to act in attunement with divine guidance if issues and positions continue to intensify. 

There can be no fixed policy on whether, or to the extent, Ananda, or parts of Ananda, take or support political action, social policies or partake in mass movements for or against any such positions. In all representative actions, we must seek attunement with God and gurus.

As the work of Ananda becomes increasingly established, individual members will naturally express their dharma in many new forms, including humanitarian, social, and political activities. But we must not lose sight of the single greatest contribution the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda offer the world: health, happiness, harmony, energy, creativity and divine freedom in Bliss through kriya yoga. To quote Lord Krishna from the Bhagavad Gita: "Even a little practice (of this inner yoga) will free one from dire fears and colossal sufferings." A way of life that requires no legislation, no government handouts, nor yet will incite war, exploitation or greed and will bestow a natural inclination towards living in harmony with the natural world and with our co-inhabitants (in all forms)........what can be a greater gift to the world than this?

May the light of yoga enlighten your consciousness,

Swami Hrimananda