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

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Avatar in You and Me! Friends in God

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jai guru,

Swami Hrimananda






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



Sunday, June 10, 2018

Pride Goeth Before the Fall : Can We Ever Really Fail (Spiritually)?

Paramhansa Yogananda was once asked by a disciple: "Will I ever fall from the spiritual path?" Gazing compassionately at him, Yogananda answered: "How could you? Everyone is on the spiritual path!"

That was certainly a kind response and also a true one in that we can learn and grow (spiritually) from our mistakes. 

Yogananda spoke of the betrayal of Jesus by his disciple Judas. He said that inasmuch as Judas was one of the twelve disciples, he must have been spiritually advanced. In fact, Yogananda used the term "prophet" to describe Judas.

At the risk of a tangent, Yogananda stated that Judas finally achieved enlightenment in the 19th century under the guidance of a well-known guru.

The topic here is not how ordinary worldly men and women fail spiritually, for such aren't even trying to do otherwise. The Seven Deadly Sins are, more or less, positively being sought (or is it "sot"?) by most people. (slight exaggeration)

The subject, then, is with respect to those who ARE trying to grow spiritually. Arjuna asks his guru, Krishna (in the dialogue of the Bhagavad Gita), what is the fate of those who, though seeking enlightenment, yet fail to achieve the goal in a given lifetime? What is their fate? 

Are they worse off? Do they have to start over? Krishna assures Arjuna (which is to say, you and me) that no spiritual effort is lost. (Chapter 6: 37-47) Krishna reassures devotees: "I make good your deficiencies and render permanent your gains." (Chapter 9:22) We can never lose our soul's eternal perfection. Any contact with it can never be lost.

Swami Kriyananda, the founder of the worldwide work of Ananda and a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, wrote about Judas in his book, "Promise of Immortality." His explanation is a priceless and deep examination of the slippery slope from heaven to, uh, perdition! (Chapter 23)

Inspired by the famous verses from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 2:61-63) that describe the step-by-step process by which one falls into error, in "Promise of Immortality" Swami Kriyananda examines the likely thought processes of Judas to show us how we are drawn progressively to the point of (apparent) no return.

(Note: there is no absolute point of no return for the perfect and eternal soul. But the dark enclosure of soul-negation can last a long time, even lifetimes.)

Coming back to pride a little later, let us turn, instead, to doubt: self-doubt. Elsewhere in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that the doubter is the most miserable of devotees for such cannot step forward nor can go back for he simply cannot make up his mind. (Chapter 4:40)

Given our predilection for making mistakes, no wonder we doubt ourselves. Given the plethora of philosophies, lifestyles, religions, politics, cultures, no wonder we are confused. Given the abundance of fake news, no wonder we’re sceptical. Given the wide range of choices in life, no wonder we cannot choose one from the other. Given the constant distractions of life in the fast-device-lane, no wonder we cannot focus long enough to see "the forest through the trees!" 

Krishna goes on to say: “For the peaceless, how is happiness possible?” (Chapter 2:66)

Swami Kriyananda was told by Paramhansa Yogananda that doubting was his greatest challenge in past lives. With his guru's blessings, Swami overcame that obstacle and in this lifetime paid in the coin of the spiritual realm by a lifetime of teaching. Swamiji said, numerous times, that there probably wasn't one doubt that anyone could come up with that he hadn't faced at some point in the past. Thus by teaching and giving others faith, he could expiate the karma of the past. 

There are two kinds of doubt: constructive and destructive. Constructive doubt sincerely wants to know what is true and is open to truth and to taking action. So, here, then, in this article we are speaking of destructive or paralyzing doubt. 

Paralyzing doubt, too, has two faces: we doubt ourselves, OR, when we tire of that, we doubt (that is, criticize) others. But as Yogananda put it in the psychological terms of his day, "superiority or inferiority complex" are simply two sides of the same coin of egoity.

In the last year, a young man came to our yoga center and took some courses. He was so apt to measure himself with respect to others that, finding yoga and meditation challenging for his restless mind and body, he decided it was easier to find fault with others. Others must have been faking it somehow (he concluded). And so he left and retreated to a more fundamental view where mere belief was sufficient for acceptance (and "salvation," I suppose). The hard work of changing himself was simply to much for his fragile ego.

Speaking of our temptation to be critical of others, it is useful to make a distinction. There is a difference between calm, detached observation of a flaw or shortcoming in another person and your claim to superiority over them or your dislike of that person on the basis of your observation. Superiority or dislike constitutes being judgmental. Simply observing is neutral and discerning. 

Jesus put it this way: "Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves!" (Matthew 10:16). Too many people "throw out the baby (of discernment) out with the (dirty) bathwater (to avoid being judgemental)." 

By contrast, to admire the spiritual qualities of another person can inspire you to emulate those qualities and doesn't have to put that person on a false pedestal of your own creation.  The perceived spirituality of another should not be a reason to be discouraged in your own progress. Who can truly judge the heart of another; or, their karma; but God alone? If someone you once admired (spiritually) suffers a fall (in your eyes at least), be grateful for the inspiration you received by their example and simply pray for them to recover quickly from whatever spiritual test they may have failed.

Another common cause for seeming to fail spiritually is guilt. Guilt is only useful if it motivates you to make amends and to change. Like pain, guilt exists to spur us to reform and do better. Don't be like those who imagine that feeling guilty is sufficient compensation for their missteps.

The consequences of error must also be understood directionally. A slip may not be a fall if we make amends; if take action to change for the better; and, if we don't identify with our mistakes. But, be careful, because our ignorance, negativity, or ego-affirming habits open the door to influences that may increase the momentum in the direction first taken. A strong, even heroic, effort must be made to draw the grace that will lift us back up on our spiritual feet.

"Thoughts are universally and not individually rooted." Yogananda makes this profound statement in Chapter 15 of "Autobiography of a Yogi." As we express anger, for example, then we attract to ourselves the support of the preexisting and overarching consciousness of anger. We do not invent anger. It already exists in the cosmos of consciousness. Human addictive tendencies exist not merely because of individual past habits but because of their universally attractive magnetism and vibration. 

A dramatic and historical example of this brings us back to Swami Kriyananda's analysis of Judas. He writes that Judas’ betrayal of Jesus set into motion a karmic pattern that was to haunt Christianity: the betrayal of spirituality in favor of worldly power, money and position. 

The spread of Christianity into the authority-and-law-consciousness of Roman culture and its acceptance as the state religion prematurely bestowed upon the young religion the mantle of power and self-importance. 

The acceptance of these worldly powers steadily eroded the true spirit of Christ which, in time, was eclipsed in the hierarchy of "churchianity," though partly salvaged from time to time by great saints like St. Francis and St. Teresa of Avila. (Saints are the true custodians of religion! Not theologians, clerics or bishops.)

Our betrayal or fall from our own spiritual ideals can begin with pride (“which goes before a fall”). Think of some talent or knowledge that you are good at. In your association with others of like mind and your spiritual service together with them, beware of the opinion and critique that might rise as a consequence of your skills and knowledge being employed in that service. Notice with whom you share your perfidy in the quiet corners and whispered voices of conspiratorial negativity.

Judas’ pathway to his fall was his affirmation of superior insight and wisdom. He alone knew best how spread his guru's teachings. His guru, Jesus Christ, was deluded; ignorant; out of touch and could not see what benefits would accrue to his mission if he could but win over the rich and powerful priestly caste. Or so Judas must have thought. Anger then arose as Judas perceived Jesus' intransigence. And on it went until it ended in tragedy.

The downward path of critical comparing of oneself to others sows the seeds of pride, discouragement, self-doubt, and provides, in time if indulged, all the reasons for you to give up and turn away. Oh, and how many have turned away.

In the last years of Yogananda's life, how many came and went, imagining Yogananda did not meet their standards, or, alternatively, not feeling they could live up to his. Of one who left the ashram, the Master said it would take him another two hundred years to regain his current spiritual consciousness. Of another, he said that if she had stayed just twenty-four more hours that temptation would have past.

As a teacher who over decades has seen so many bright lights appear and then fade out to dullness and then disappear from whence they came, I sometimes chant Yogananda's chant that begins with the words: “Whence do they come….whither do they go?”

There's an even far more subtle betrayal amongst devotees. One that cannot be seen with the eyes. It is the story of Martha and Mary. How many Marthas in churches, ashrams, monasteries and sanghas busy themselves in service, and even in meditation and devotion but with their minds far from God. 

Even in outward ritual, prayer, and service, we can avoid the divine summons and awakening of the soul-Self, thus postponing our divine destiny. The inner Voice says, wordlessly, "I will wait. I have given you this freedom and when you seek Me for my love alone and not my gifts, then I will come."

You can meditate every day and never even think of God. Never even go beyond your own, restless thoughts. Never offer yourself wholly into the Unknown where awaits you the light and bliss of your soul: a spark of the Infinite Bliss. God is the Divine Elephant in the Cosmic Room of your Mind; yet, even devotees see him not.

Yogas chitta vritti nirodha” We must neutralize the reactive thought and emotional processes of the ego-mind by calm, inner awareness. And that we can do, like Bhishma in the epic "Mahabharata," only by the free choice of our heart.

There are two kinds of meditation: emptiness and fullness. In general, we teach fullness. It’s easier for most people. In fullness we use chants, affirmations, mantra, prayer and devotion to re-direct our natural restlessness and self-preoccupations. Stillness is not empty; it is full: full of energy, joy, and love.

The path of emptiness is “neti, neti” – not this, not that! It too is a valid path. Both emptiness and fullness are actual states of consciousness which alternate in the life of a meditator; or, from the point of view of the path of ascension, can represent steps or stages. 

Yogananda clarified that those who teach emptiness as the final state are incorrect. For while emptiness (the apparent threat of personal extinction) is the final challenge to the ego’s willingness to surrender, when we do surrender with faith, courage and energy, bliss flows into us like a relentless tsunami or a thousand suns crushed into one.

In fact, however, we should understand and approach each state for each are valid and necessary: both emptiness AND fullness. Thus, after our practice of techniques, we should empty ourselves of all thoughts and let the divine states of Superconsciousness appear like the stars that come out after sunset: at first they are dim, and then gradually, they get brighter. Then the moon appears on the horizon of our consciousness. As it rises it outshines the stars with the comforting brilliance and cooling rays of peace. If we welcome its all-embracing rays into our mind soon we too—our sense of separateness—will be eclipsed into Divine Love.

And so it also with God as personal or impersonal. Some begin their journey approaching God in personal form: perhaps as the guru, e.g. Others, the impersonal as light, peace, joy, energy, love, e.g. But God has no form and is all forms and so cannot be limited by either. Thus, as we advance spiritually our chosen form morphs into its opposite. 

Here we tell the story of Totapuri, the guru of Ramakrishna. Totapuri helped (rather dramatically) Ramakrishna go beyond the "I-Thou" relationship with Divine Mother into the formless state of samadhi.

We are destined to know God; to be free. Just as in sleep we are free from the burdens of our conscience, our karma, and our past, so too in Super-consciousness we are free. But freedom in subconscious sleep is temporary and is not life-changing. By contrast, the freedom experienced in super-consciousness grows on us gradually and, with ever deeper immersion, replaces our separate identity with that of the freedman! No longer a slave to the body and ego! We are TAT TWAM ASI. EKAM SAT! God alone.

Behind our self-doubt, our judgments of others and ourselves lies the realm of the land of the free reached only by those of  brave heart: the land beyond the duality of our dream-world of matter, thought, and emotion.

It is in our souls that we are One. It is to this affirmation that our July 14th day of celebration of East Meets West is directed. This day is a celebratory fest of like-minds and open-hearts. Outwardly we may appear different and separate but inwardly we are ONE.

The divine awaits us and haunts our soul-dreams. Let me close this overly long article with the first paragraph of this much beloved poem:

THE HOUND OF HEAVEN-1893
Francis Thompson



I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
   I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
   Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
             Up vistaed hopes I sped;
             And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
   From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
             But with unhurrying chase,
             And unperturb√®d pace,
     Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
             They beat—and a Voice beat
             More instant than the Feet—
     'All things betray thee, who betrayest Me'.


Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda



Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Bhagavad Gita : The Voice of the Ancients “Calls to Us to Awaken in Him”

Once again, the following article is taken from an email to Ananda members in the Seattle-area Sangha:


Each Sunday at the weekly Service we read a stanza from the Bhagavad Gita. What is this text, this “The Song of God,” quoted by so many great people of influence?

Ralph Waldo Emerson said of the Bhagavad Gita:  "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.”

Henry David Thoreau wrote, "In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial.”

Mahatma Gandhi confessed that "When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to Bhagavad-Gita and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. Those who meditate on the Gita will derive fresh joy and new meanings from it every day".

And finally, J. Robert Oppenheimer, American physicist and director of the Manhattan Project (that created the world’s first atom bomb), learned Sanskrit in 1933 and read the Bhagavad Gita in the original, citing it as one of the most influential books in his life. Upon witnessing the first nuclear test in 1945, he quoted the Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

What is this extraordinary work of literature, allegory and divine inspiration? The “Gita” is the most beloved of the great scriptures of India. It is one chapter in the midst of the world’s longest epic, the Mahabharata (over 100,000 couplets). The Gita itself has about 700 verses arranged in 18 chapters: not very long in itself. The Mahabharata makes an allegory of an actual historic and apocalyptic battle that took place not far from what is now New Delhi sometime after the first millennia B.C.  It’s a “good guys” vs the “bad guys” story, with the good guys winning, but just barely.

The Gita itself consists of a dialogue between Lord Krishna, the charioteer and guru for Prince Arjuna (a good guy), one of the fiercest warriors of the two opposing clans. Their conversation takes place on the eve of battle.

Arrayed against his own cousins (who usurped his and his brothers’ rule of the kingdom), Arjuna asks his guru, “What virtue, what victory is there to be found in killing my own family? They are far from perfect, but I don’t seek riches or power? Why must I fight?”

And thus begins the greatest story ever told: your story, and mine. This is the story of the challenges we face, the victories and defeats we experience, and our quest for the Holy Grail of Happiness.

The greatest work ever written by Swami Kriyananda, “Essence of the Bhagavad Gita,” was inspired by the commentary on the Gita dictated by Paramhansa Yogananda in the early months of 1950 at his desert retreat in 29 Palms, CA. This book will change your life. At the completion of his dictation efforts, Paramhansa Yogananda declared to Swamiji “Millions will find God through this work. Not just thousands: millions! I have seen it. I know!”

Joy to you,

Nayaswamis Hriman and Padma


Friday, May 6, 2016

Divine Mother's Day!

Sunday, May 8 we celebrate "Mother's Day." It may interest you to research the history of Mother's Day. It is interesting though it is not my subject today.

Somewhere in Bhagavad Gita, Krishna laments the consequence to society when gender roles and energies are out of balance. Well there's good news and there's bad news and both are based in the same reality: gender roles on this planet ARE out of balance, but the good news is that society is heading in the direction of balance and equality.

Imagine if you were to step away from this earth and see the hot spots and troubles we face on this planet in an entirely new light. Conflicts in our homes, offices, schools, battlefields, cities.....anywhere where arguments, violence, disagreements and fighting take place ...... and ..... then ....   Imagine these conflicts as reflecting an imbalance of male and female energies. I won't take the risk to attempt to define the positive and negative aspects of each gender. We know it when we experience it. Just take any conflict anywhere and see if you can't view the conflict as having its roots in a gender imbalance (one way or the other).

Just some of the ways today's conflicts can be viewed in gender terms:

  • Hierarchical political and leadership models being replaced by more cooperative approaches
  • Warfare as a solution being mitigated by efforts to dialogue, respect, and appreciate differences 
  • Movement toward social, economic, and legal equality between men and women
  • Religion vs spirituality (the latter being viewed as universal)
  • Sustainable utilization of natural resources 
  • Holistic approach to health and healing
  • Each of the above has multiple applications: e.g.: in sports, science, military, earnings
Not all expressions of the rising equality are equally positive or beneficial but nothing can stop this up-thrust of energy for it comes as if from the womb of earth itself. Though I prefer to see the image as a descent of divine grace and light upon the planet, I'd have to admit that thus far it's a mixture of earth, water, and fire! But it IS increasing.

At the Ananda communities, centers and groups, we honor the Indian tradition of approaching God in the feminine form (though not exclusively). Paramhansa Yogananda worshiped the goddess Kali of his Bengali heritage. "The mother," he said, "is closer to the children than the father." But these archetypal roles are changing, too. Nowadays, hardly a nod is given to that father who plays the role of "mom" while mother goes off to work.

However, it must also be pointed out that the highest view of gender roles is to transcend them altogether. This trend, too, in society can be seen: the trend toward gender neutral. One notable characteristic of the Ananda Communities (there are nine throughout the world) is the natural way men and women relate to one another without pretense or competition.

Let's, then, celebrate Mother's Day not only to honor our own mothers but to honor the Divine Mother who has descended to earth in many forms (both male and female) to invite us to live together with respect, harmony, and cooperation.

Happy Mother's Day!

Nayaswami Hriman


Monday, October 26, 2015

To Whom Do We Pray?

As it was commonly said during World War II, "There are no atheists in foxholes." Most pray when in need though whom exactly they address is often secondary to their desperation.

You've heard the joke about the Irishman who was late for a job interview in Dublin with Microsoft and couldn't find a parking place? He prayed, "Lord Jesus Christ and Mother Mary, help me find a parking place and I'll go to church on Sunday instead of O'Reilly's Pub." Suddenly an empty space appeared and he said, "Oh, never mind, I've got one, thanks." That reminds me of the kind of prayers I said as a child when I knew I was in trouble. I was no more faithful to my pledges than that Irishman.

A story told in India is of a disciple who was inspired by his guru's complete dependence and surrender to God for protection and sustenance in all matters. The next day this disciple is walking along a forest path and behind him he hears someone shouting, "Watch out, get out of the way, this elephant is running wild!"

Blissful (and ignorant) in the "safety" of God's omnipresent protection in all matters, the disciple ignores the shouts and continues walking. The elephant, bearing down upon him, throws him roughly into the bushes with a flick of his trunk. Bruised and battered the man returns to his guru's ashram confused and hurt. "But, my son," the guru explained, "God DID speak to you through the mahoot (elephant driver): "Get out of my way!"

We are all better at praying for (usually) minor material desires or needs than listening for God's answer or feeling the divine presence as an act of devotion. It is no coincidence that on the path of Self-realization only upon taking discipleship to Yogananda and his line of gurus is one taught the technique of "Aum" whereby, using a special mudra and arm rest, one is able (with practice and with concentration) to hear the Aum sound and other subtle sounds (of the chakras). Most of us are great talkers but poor listeners! Listening is the hallmark characteristic of one who enters onto the spiritual path consciously and with deep sincerity. Offering up our attachment to our own likes and dislikes in favor of the daily practice of asking for guidance and seeking attunement, one gradually becomes a true disciple.

But how, then, should we attune ourselves to God? How can we love someone or something that we do not yet know? In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna, the archetypal disciple, asks his guru, Lord Krishna, "What is the best approach to God: with devotion to God in some form, or, striving to realize the Infinite beyond all form?" Mind you, now, this question appears in the text just after  Arjuna has this mind-blowing experience of "Krishna" as the Infinite Spirit! At the end of that experience, Arjuna pleads with Krishna to return to his familiar, human form! It was simply too much!

Krishna's response is appropriately personal and comforting--not just to Arjuna--but to you and I. He says that for embodied souls, the way of devotion ("I-Thou" relationship) is far easier. Rare is that soul who, striving assiduously to Self-realization by the formless path of seeking the Absolute, succeeds swiftly. Indeed to such a one, even the practice of meditation is taboo for all efforts in duality are tainted with delusion. Yogananda stated that such rare souls are already highly advanced spiritually.

How does this happen, then? To what form of God should we seek as a doorway to Infinity? Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras, says that to one who sincerely and with intensity seeks to find God there comes to him that perfect form of God, suited to the soul's special needs, called the Ishta Devata, to lead the soul to freedom. As the adage suggests, "When the disciple is ready the guru appears." Down through the ages saints have prayed to God in every admissible form: Father, Mother, Beloved, Friend, child.......as Light, Peace, Joy, Love.......forms both personal and abstract, but always some form.

Yet, God has no form. As Jesus put it: "God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." Yes, but.......God manifested creation out of Himself and therefore IS the creation even while hidden BY the creation. God is omnipresent. God is both infinite and untouched by creation and immanent within creation. As Ananda Moyi Ma put it (in the form of a koan): "It is, and it isn't." To quote Ram Gopal Muzimdar in "Autobiography of a Yogi, [God is] "all pervading, eh?" Yes but that philosophically correct point is not personally all that useful (witness the devotee and the rogue elephant).

This is one reason we each need our own wayshower; another reason is simply that "tat twam asi": you are THAT! We, each one of us, is also a potential Christ, Krishna, Buddha or Yogananda. God is very personal where we are concerned for God has manifested himself AS us but we have yet to perfect our realization of that profound and ego-shattering fact. Because "heaven is within you" (to quote Jesus Christ) we must perforce begin right where and who we are!

Just as we identify with our physical form and personality, with our race, religion, gender, nationality, age, talents, upbringing, family characteristics and much more, therefore it is more natural for us to gradually refine our self-definition and to seek to transform every lower identification to an increasingly expanded form which, at every present point along the way, is necessarily "Other."

[The other direction of our efforts can be to annihilate the ego but this contractive approach, while equally valid, is contrary and contraindicated for most of us owing to the expansive direction of consciousness innate to the age in which we live. This was the hallmark characteristic of spirituality in the former, "Kali," age wherein sincere spiritual aspirants left the world for caves, forests and monasteries in order to achieve any measure of God realization in their lives.]

There's another angle, moreover, to the need to focus our devotion on that which is "Other." And that is the need for concentration in meditation. Concentration in meditation is both a prerequisite and a result. To pray deeply, therefore, we need to have some form to concentrate on? Otherwise, the mind becomes vague if it has no notion of what it seeks to know or unite with.

Yes, it is true that we are not our self-definitions nor is God limited by the form that appeals and inspires us, but, to use an expression from India, "Use a thorn to remove a thorn." On the spiritual path, then, God as "Thou" becomes the oarsman in the boat that takes us across the river of delusion to the shore of Infinite bliss. Achieving Self-realization, we transcend all forms when "Knower, knowing, known" become One.

Our Ishta Devata is like the gravitational pull of a planet that a spaceship that uses to propel it further along in its journey deeper into space.

As God IS the creation so any form will, strictly speaking, suffice for our spiritual journey. However (and there's always a "but" in duality), praying to a sacred alligator is far less likely to uplift us into superconsciousness than praying to a true guru, saint, or avatar! As Paramhansa Yogananda once put it (wryly), "Stupid people will never [sic] find God." (Well, so long as they ARE stupid!)

A more practical point relates to our love of nature and desire for harmony in and with the natural world. Nature, in her mineral, vegetable and animal forms, contains qualities which we admire: calmness, sensitivity, beauty, grace, strength, intelligence and many more qualities. Yet nature is SUB-conscious and, while inspiring to us, not yet self-aware. A saint is awakened in God and a savior is one with God! So while nature's admirable qualities can inspire us with gratitude we cannot "find" God through a form which is not yet self-aware, what to mention God-conscious! Let our love of nature be God-quality-reminding!

In "Art and Science of Raja Yoga," by Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, "It's not what we love but how purely we love." The natural emphasis upon our special form of devotion (Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, etc.) is what can create fanaticism or dogmatism. Better to focus on refining and expanding the love of God in our chosen form to include all beings, all life than to place exclusive emphasis on the uniqueness of that form. In God all are equal, whether or not the roles they play seem greater or lesser on the stage of human history.

It is helpful, therefore, to recall the story from the life of Krishna where his adopted mother, Yasoda, tries to tie up the naughty boy Krishna but finds that every piece of rope she uses is always just TOO short! We cannot define or contain in form that which is beyond form. Nor can we, in duality, "see" God (or limit God to) any one of the divine forms of the great God-realized saviors, or avatars, on earth.

Someone once asked Paramhansa Yogananda, "Where does all spiritual striving end? "It ends in endlessness," the great guru replied!

We grow in stages: we begin to admire, love, and emulate goodness and virtue. We hear God spoken of in scripture, books, and, in time, from the lips of God-fired messengers. We seek to know God for ourselves and He responds by sending to us one who knows and shows the way. We go within to "find" Him and discover "tat twam asi:" We are THAT!

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Love: Fifty Shades of Red

It has been well said that "love makes the world go round." More accurate to say, attraction, and its corollary, repulsion, makes the world go round: and literally, at that. Right now, outside my window, two squirrels are playing on the tree, playmates, I suppose.

Today is the day Americans call Valentine's Day: a celebration of romantic love. Our language, and I think many other languages, also, use this word love but it has many shades of red and ultimately describes the attraction one feels towards something or someone else. The shades of red are virtually limitless in human relations. Some might say "pure" love is but platonic (not physical) and exists, assuming it is mutual, only in the heart and mind of the lovers. That sounds wonderful from a spiritual perspective but I can think of adolescent love being platonic but very, very unreal and but a fantasy. So, even here, at the more extreme edge of this amazing thing called human love, we find shades of red. Love is not love that doesn't draw fire: meaning that doesn't draw two people closer together in meaningful relationship, whether constructive or otherwise.

In the metaphysical terms that are part and parcel of my daily life as a meditator and a nondualist (a Vedantan), love is dual. We can speak of Bliss as the nature of God and the essence of pure consciousness but we cannot speak of love in terms of Oneness: only You-ness!

And yet the power of love, when reciprocated, draws the two in the direction of becoming One! Thus, love seeks fulfillment in the bliss of the union of two into one! Our wedding rings are a circle because the circle suggests infinity and oneness.

It is only in our relationship with the One, that is to say, God, that this impulse finds fulfillment. Lord Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, when asked whether we should relate to God as absolute and nondual or whether we should love God in the I-Thou form, replied that for embodied souls (that's you and me), the I-Thou relationship is more helpful and practical. "Arduous," Krishna warns, is the way to the absolute. Our very separateness from God who is all Love and all that is ("I AM that I AM") means that our starting point necessitates a movement and distance. And yet, it is also true that in God we are One and Eternal and have always been so. As Jesus said of himself, "Before Abraham was, I AM."

On the human level, however, there's an intrinsic limit: an unscalable wall. Drawn as we are to another person, we can never become one with another human because it's our very differences, our separateness, that generates the attraction even as it necessarily and simultaneously prevents our union. Our desire to be united has the darker potential of smothering one another! We humans, you see, are trapped in this thing called love. It is one of life's greatest paradoxes.

Human love, to exist and be maintained and appreciated, must operate in a precarious and fragile magnetic zone. Think of the earth and the sun. Each are held in their respective orbits by the opposite forces of gravity and the centrifugal force of their respective orbits.

As an experiment, try holding two strong magnets apart (the one positive, the other negative) at just the exact distance needed to feel the attraction but prevent their crashing together. Human love will always be one or more steps short of satisfaction because we must keep the beloved at arms length in order to see and appreciate her! Just as the atomic structure of our bodies prevents them from merging, so to the electromagnetic forces of our psyche do the same. Strange, isn't it?

Those, who like Icarus, fly too close to the sun of human love, will crash and burn. When couples seek, through lust or friendship, to come and remain too close, strange distortions occur, like the gravitational force of a black hole that bends light rays into itself, absorbing the light. Dominance, submission, loss of respect, boredom, moodiness, or the familiarity that breeds only contempt: these are the fruit of being too much attached to one another. (The same is true for friends, parents, or children.)

Two people simply cannot literally become one. The very power to become attracted to another has its roots in the power which creates and maintains our separateness. Thus on a level of magnetism, when we attempt to merge, there are sparks: heat and light, and a mixture of both, much like the effect of a "short circuit."

Sometimes it is difficult even to know the difference between pleasure and pain. (Like scratching a mosquito bite.) No two people can be everything needed to another. No two people could live solely in isolation with each other, locked in perpetual love. It simply cannot and does not happen, though this doesn't prevent endless numbers of couples from trying.

It is not only for the protection of children and perpetuation of the human species that societies put boundaries around this thing called love. It is a force which is powerful but which must be subject to restraints, lest it turn destructive. The just released movie, "Fifty Shades of Grey" demonstrates by its popularity that eroticism has a primal power to attract. But like an rogue wave in the wide expanse of the ocean of human consciousness, its power must dissipate. As it does, it drowns those who try to stay on top of it hoping that the excitement and stimulation will not cease. And, when it does, we are not thereby returned to our self so easily. We are stained, lessened by our intense but false effort to lose ourselves in the outward experience. Even the story line, itself, is but a fiction. Such activities can only end in boredom and self-loathing, if not violence or exploitation.

A person desperate for human love tends to magnetically repulse potential worthy suitors because human love, being so constrained by its own terms, can only thrive to the extent each person is strong in himself (herself). One who desires to be worshiped is one who desires to dominate. One who desires to worship another is one destined to be dominated. Both will lose self-respect and will ultimately suffer. The best marriage is between two persons who, while they share an affinity and appreciate and respect one another, are centered in themselves. Better yet: centered in love for God.

Human love, therefore, can help us to become strong if we honor its paradoxical constraints: holding our heart's magnetic attraction close, but not too close, to its desired object. To do so takes creative commitment and mindfulness. A few of the qualities of true human love include mutual respect and mutual service; self-giving; forgiving; caring; wisdom; calmness; and, appreciation.No wonder there are so few truly blessed partnerships!

In the Ananda communities (nine, worldwide), couples have the opportunity to place their human love in relation to divine love and divine service to others. By emphasizing our souls and not just gender differences and personalities, we find our natural love becomes expansive. We can grow beyond the self-limiting boundaries of "us four and no more." We have friends of like-mind who share our ideals and way of life.

This new model reflects the emerging trend of spirituality in this new age. Ego transcendence becomes a tool that re-directs our attention toward the bliss of soul-consciousness. It reduces the competition between the sexes which is born of the emphasis upon our differences. We focus, instead, on cooperation, simplicity and moderation so that our higher nature can emerge and be made manifest. Thus can be found a satisfaction and harmony in relationship that is not commonly found.

Yogananda's param-guru, Lahiri Mahasaya, by living in the world as a householder with children and a career, established the model of an ideal life in the world but not 'of' the world. He demonstrated how we might find freedom in God through meditation (kriya yoga) while fulfilling our natural, human responsibilities without attachment or ego-identification.

Our hearts, born of and reflecting the infinite love of God, can never be fully satisfied by the oscillating magnetism of even faithful and true human love. Worse than this is the fact that such friendships are relatively rare. So how much less satisfying therefore are the more fickle, insecure, and co-dependent relationships that pass for human love on the broad expanse of human lives?

This does not mean our relationships have no spiritual value, however. Just as Krishna prescribes the I-Thou relationship to God, so too the divine purpose of human love is to help us refine our love to become steady, true, and harmonious. Those who do not bother or care to love others in a self-giving way, cannot attract the love of God, Paramhansa Yogananda warned. Human love is a stepping stone to perfect, divine love.

The fastest way to purify and clarify our heart's natural love is to follow the two great commandments of the Bible (Old and New Testaments): love God with heart, mind, soul and strength and love others as your very Self. Put in another way, don't think that you have to get it just right in human love before you can even think about loving God. That doesn't work because the attractions of human love are infinite. And, while we have infinity to find God, who would wisely want an infinity of disappointment, disillusionment and suffering? Only a fool!

If we must, therefore, celebrate Valentine's Day, let us celebrate it as a reminder that human love offers to us of the perfect love of God. Let us see in our partner, whether real, merely desired or viewed at a distance, the living presence of God as Divine Mother or the Heavenly Father. God comes to us in the human forms of one another. The human qualities which we find so compellingly attractive, such as strength, wisdom, beauty, and kindness, and which we see or imagine in others, are there to remind us that all goodness comes from God-ness. ("Go-od-ness" is dual; God-ness is One.) As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, (to paraphrase), all admirable traits are rays of God's Light reflected in the consciousness of human beings.

So every time a handsome or beautiful face strikes your fancy, or you are tempted to admire another person for their wisdom, talent, or gentleness, train your mind to think of God as the Doer behind all appearances. Mentally bow to God in that form. Never think that any trait of attractiveness is unique to that one person.

Furthermore, any such trait to which you are attracted should be a trait that you begin to develop within yourself. Perhaps you need to be more beauty-oriented in your life: not for vanity's sake, but perhaps you can more consciously combine pleasing colors in your wardrobe, in your home and your surroundings. Beauty derives from harmony. Think, harmony in thought, feelings, actions and surroundings.

Perhaps you need to develop your strength: physical or mental; or, wisdom by study and association with the wise; or, kindness in thought and (random) acts; or, gentleness in your words and empathy. It is in ourselves, which is to say, in our souls, that these traits, though appearing to our view outwardly, are calling us to develop in ourselves.

The purpose of the attraction between men and women, finally, has for its purpose the soul's call to become One within ourselves: to bring wisdom and love, reason and feeling, into harmony, united in self-giving, in devotion, and in seeking God alone.

"May Thy love shine forever, on the sanctuary of my devotion" (a prayer by Paramhansa Yogananda, author of "Autobiography of a Yogi" and the preceptor of the kriya yoga work of Ananda worldwide.)

Blessings,

Swami Hrimananda! ("Joy through devotion")