Showing posts with label Mahabharata. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mahabharata. 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




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!

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.









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


Thursday, April 28, 2016

For Wisdom, too, We Hunger! The Battle of Life

Paraphrasing in the title above the words of Paramhansa Yogananda in "Autobiography of a Yogi," we are reminded that all the material success, pleasure, security and popularity in the world can never bring us lasting contentment and true happiness.

Long ago, in the mists of pre-history, on the eve of a great battle between the forces of light and darkness on the Gangetic plain of northern India, a warrior in his chariot, driven by his friend and mentor, pulled up to a stop between the lines of opposing warriors: thousands of warriors, war horses and elephants in armor, death dealing weapons, their sharp edged steel glinting in the sun, mighty chariots bedecked in regal symbols and flags of certain victory, all arrayed for the dreadful moment that was soon to begin.

Troubled by the sight of his own kith and kin against whom he must fight and the thousands he would send to their doom, this warrior, the famous archer, Arjuna, slumped in his chariot in despair for the ugliness, violence, and seeming uselessness of the pending slaughter.

"Why must life be such a struggle?" he, speaking for you and I, echoing humanity's ageless paradox, asked his guide and guru, the avatar and prince, Lord Krishna. Life is so unfair: sunny, today; stormy, tomorrow. Bright and promising in our youth; burdensome and complex in middle age; bitter tasting with regrets and ills in old age.

"I'm not greedy and don't need that much from life," he said. "Can't we just live in peace with one another?" "Can't we just talk this through?" But no, the Dark One is selfish and wants it all. He doesn't like you; he doesn't trust you; he wants you to disappear.

Oh think how easily the competition and rivalry among siblings, nations, the haves and have nots, and competitors could be settled to mutual benefit if we could just learn to get along! Can't the leaders of political parties and factions just sit down and work out compromises in the name of serving the citizens of the nation they are pledged to defend, protect and serve?

Why can't the Golden Rule hold sway over the hearts of all? I pray my way and you pray yours but we both pray our own way each and every day. So why are we not friends? Can we please the Lord of Life with our prayers at odds? Surely not!

Paramhansa Yogananda wrote: "The drama of life has for its lesson the fact that it is but a drama." It is not the destiny of this planet and its incarnate humanity to achieve ever-lasting peace. Who can persuasively say why this must be. But it has ever been so since dawn of time. He who rests comfortably on the laurels of his life may find his bed soon wreathed in the flames of destruction.

Life, earth, water, fire and air vie ceaselessly in endless ever-changing forms. Change is the constant of incarnate life.

The simple pleasures and goals of life all too often betray their true nature by overtaking our, at first innocent, enjoyment and modest intentions with ever increasingly obsessive indulgence and desire. The pleasure of drink becomes the horror of hangover and grows to a compulsive addiction; the pleasure of sex turns dark with selfishness, moods, fights and betrayal. The joy of romance may lead to family life, with its bills, screaming children, and fighting parents. The goal of financial success and security yields but ceaseless struggles to get ahead, the fruit of which is mounting debt and endless responsibilities eclipsing all hope of a balanced and stress-free life. Years of saving for retirement may bring early death from cancer. Such are in the insecurities inherent in material life.

Always the fly lands in the soup; the ants invade the picnic; the neighbor is a schmuck. Famine, war, plague and depression visit our lands with unpredictable predictability.

Yes: there are many moments of peace and enjoyment. But just as much, most people live for the future, always hopeful that things will be better. Self-reflection, however, and only a little is needed, prods us to stay focused and centered, for "you never know!" (My favorite saying!)

"The only way out is IN" it has been said. Not in an escape FROM reality but an escape TO reality. The center pole around which life swirls is our own self-awareness. When things are too good to be true, the "I" of the knowing Self knows this to be so. When things are bad beyond belief, the "I" knows this too "will pass." Only the Self endures all. You were you as a child; a teen; a young adult; and so, on to old age and to your deathbed. The great movie of your life is for your, and for others', entertainment. Have you enjoyed it (yet)?

We receive respite in sleep but no relief from the troubles that spring upon us by day. To those dogmatists of orthodox Hinduism who claim that bathing in the Ganges will forgive sins, the rishis, knowers of the Self, say that one's sins hide in the trees on the banks and jump on you when you come out of the Ganges! "There's no getting out of it, alive!" I like to say.

Is this all too pessimistic? Perhaps. But likely those content with life have either achieved the wisdom of which I speak, or simply haven't suffered in the way that millions, indeed billions, of others on this planet have or living in right now, today. Good karma, for now, but even now you are using up your storehouse of it.

When the soul awakens "to the anguishing monotony" of endless rounds of rebirth, then it cries out in rebellion for a way to freedom.

Imagine yourself gazing out at a glorious panorama: perhaps the Grand Canyon, a sunset at the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii or Big Sur, California! You gaze out, soon lost contemplation and enjoyment (meaning all thoughts have ceased), and suddenly the conscious enjoyment of the scene simply vanishes and there's nothing left but "I." Like staring out a window, daydreaming at first, but soon the daydream vanishes and you are simply "self" aware. No thoughts intrude, no object in the field of vision (or touch, taste, smell or hearing) is being studied......just "I, I, I, everywhere."

This is what it is like to return to your core; to your consciousness; to your spirit. It is not an end in itself; in fact, it's only a beginning. With practice, we call this meditation. Various techniques, especially using thought or focusing on the breath, exist to make this experience a regular and consistent foray into the land of Self-awareness.

As this experience deepens, our awareness of "I" grows beyond I and enters the field of being that encompasses past, present, future, all space and beyond. For many, indeed, most, this state of consciousness is approached in a devotional way. We seek the deep connection that we give a name, and even in image or symbol: God, Divine Mother, a deity, or our guru. Since "infinity" is a pretty large thing (being no-thing at all), there's no end to how it can approached or described, but, like good art and good food, we know it when we see or taste it!

To win the battle of life we need the right weapons; we need to be on the side of the good guys; and, we need to know what we are fighting for. Our most powerful weapon is the mind; it activates right attitude and right action. (To develop the power of the mind we have the tool of meditation.) The good guys are those seek harmony with all life and especially those souls who have achieved the goal. The goal is lasting happiness, unbroken by the vicissitudes, the ups and downs, and simple facts of material life.

Be not afraid, O Arjuna: take up the battle of life and be victorious!

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda


Monday, March 16, 2015

Does Meditation Have a Dark Side?

Everything has a dark side. But this is because people are not perfect. Whether politics, business, religion or family, our ideals and goals are wonderful but the people striving for them are flawed. As the practice of meditation continues to grow exponentially, this aspect will become increasingly visible.

There's an internet article on aspects of the downsides or shortcomings of meditation. If you are interested (and I didn't find it very illuminating) here it is: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/28278-the-mcmindfulness-craze-the-shadow-side-of-the-mindfulness-revolution

In fact, it's a bit like whining! None of us who teach meditation should ever hold out meditation as the singular cure for our personal shortcomings and psychological cracks. Nonetheless, meditation CAN change your life and I maintain it is (as my previous blog article asserts) the FUTURE, holding out great promise for humanity. Historically, in fact, so has religion functioned, however flawed, to uplift society and rescue many from utter darkness. So, let's not whine about the reality of the human experience.

But, then, since "you" brought the subject up, let's focus on it.

I've been on a campaign for many years to get meditators to be mindful of the purpose of their meditation practice-----and not mistake the practice for the goal. Meditation is not merely the temporary cessation of ego-active mental and emotional meanderings and self-identities. The fact that becoming still and mindful brings relief to stress and other self-involved emotions doesn't guarantee anything more profound than the effects of sleep: a temporary cessation or suspension of our problems!

Well, perhaps I exaggerate. Yes, the daily practice of mindfulness gives us a tool to become more conscious and aware of our mental processes and unexamined habits. It certainly helps give us greater range of choices in behavior and attitude: all towards the more positive. But, as the practice grows in popularity, you can be sure that most will eagerly accept that diluted promises of "only 15 or 20 minutes" a day benefits! Or, the promise that it's not "religious" (meaning, don't worry, there's no god whose going to tell you what to do or to whom you are accountable!). In other words: no threat to the ego.

Well, Bud, I've got news for you! Meditation is a greater threat to the ego than suicide! Yes, ok, I again exaggerate. (In the metaphysical tradition of reincarnation, the ego never dies until it voluntarily surrenders! No "outside" force or God will "kill" or "destroy" the ego!)

But as meditation grows in popularity, its true intention and tradition will become known. The clinical practice of meditation is largely taken from and influenced by Buddhist traditions. I respect and love these traditions as truth and compassion but the real reason our culture is attracted to them (according to our spin upon them) is that they "appear" not to ask the ego to surrender its control. Ha, ha, ha! Wrong, again!

Long before our beloved Buddha appeared in India, yogis were meditating and seeking Self-realization. The Indian tradition is less appealing to our western ego-affirming culture because in India there is a confusing plethora of deities and ego-surrendering vocabulary and imagery. Buddha simplified all of that in favor of focusing on what our job is, without regard to more subtle realities that we had not yet encountered nor yet are our responsibility. Yet, the Buddha himself, at the last moment of his enlightenment was beset by alluring demons of temptation. His role in spiritual tradition was to emphasize self-effort: chop wood, carry water. Forget the rest. A wonderful, practical and life-saving tradition, to be sure!

For the millions and some day billions who meditate for health and sanity, none of these issues need surface. Meditation will be a part of physical and mental hygiene and that's enough. But because of this far more limited use of meditation, many of our other human shortcomings will only be addressed superficially or even inadequately.

But even clinical mindfulness is not, technically, suppression. Hence its value in achieving greater self-awareness. And hence the invaluable contribution to the evolution of human consciousness on a mass scale.

But so long as the true and highest purpose of meditation is ignored or suppressed or denied, no single human will make notable or permanent progress toward full integration of their humanity into action. 15 to 20 minutes a day is child's play. Yet, transcendence (enlightenment) cannot be cheaply bought by the clock. Too many of those who are sincerely seeking enlightenment imagine the mere act of sitting for a longer time will do it. Not that simple, Bud!

If you want to ignore the time-honored and otherwise undeniable tradition of surrender to divine consciousness, well, fine! Good for you! Keep "coming back" for more, lifetime after lifetime. Your choice! The pathway to enlightenment is too narrow for both ego and soul to walk. Moses, and those born in "captivity," could not enter the Promised Land because (in the allegory of the story), ego consciousness is, by definition, held captive by delusion (of separateness). It must surrender by self-offering. When it does so, it discovers, like the after-death experience itself, that not only has it not died but it has never lived so fully before! The great irony and paradox of enlightenment.

Like Abraham being asked to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, his faith and humanity was challenged but when he passed the test, he was rewarded. When life challenges us, we think we are "going to die (fail)" but when we rise to occasion with faith and energy, we find that we can be victorious and strengthened by the experience.

In the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata, the warrior Bhishma represents ego. As such, Bhishma is gifted with the boon that he can never die until he surrenders. On his deathbed, his body riddled with arrows, he gives a great speech on leadership and governance before he surrenders his life.

The real "dark side" of meditation lies not in the seeming failure meditation supposedly has in solving a person's psychological hang ups. The real dark side is that the path to enlightenment requires engaging and strengthening the ego (via will power, self-discipline, non-attachment, etc.). At various points in the process of purification, the ego can rise like a "demon" and tempt one to use one's newly found psychic abilities for ego gratification. Worldly fame, power, beauty, wealth and influence have their natural enemies in the form of time and competition (which we call "karma" and "duality"). But spiritual power has no equal for it is our true Self and is the only real "wealth," because "god-like."

When, therefore, the ego is tempted to keep spiritual power for itself, it can and will inevitably "fall." Hence the long history in drama, mythology and in real life where spiritually advancing person (teacher, etc.) is tested and sometimes falls. (I will add, in place of "sometimes," "always." Enlightenment is not, nor cannot be, a straight line. Space-time is curved!) The inner path of meditation has for its most obvious flaws arrogance, indifference, and aloofness. These the true devotee combats by developing the natural love of heart: through devotion, compassion, and servicefulness.

Thus, until meditation becomes prayer; becomes self-offering; becomes uplifted by devotion, courage and faith into a greater Power (named, unnamed, defined, or undefined according to your own lights), we cannot truly make notable progress in achieving our true humanity, which is, in its essence, divine.

In my last blog post, "Meditation: A Revolution Rising," I commented that ours is an age of Individuality. The dark side of that is, obviously, egotism! The antidote of that isn't only unselfishness or humility, as the ego itself might imagine (though both are fine, so far as they can take us), it is the recognition of a higher Power! To quote Paramhansa Yogananda, "How can there be humility when there's no ego." True "humility" is self (ego) - forgetfulness. So long as there is a sense of personal doership, even in virtue, we are bound by the constraints of our hypnosis of ego-identity and existential separateness. Perhaps in a future article I will discuss the "Confrontation with God."

Any unwillingness to be open to and to, later, acknowledge the natural limitations of ego-born self-effort, is doomed to failure. Thus we find in the 12 Step Recovery tradition the acknowledgement of a Higher Power and the need for us to turn and look up (unto the hills) for divine assistance.

Lastly, just as we scan the universe perceiving hundreds of billions of galaxies, so too, perhaps, we might have the openness to imagine that our personal evolution towards true greatness might take, shall we say, more than one lifetime! We are greater in size, time and space than we can possibly imagine when we limit ourselves only to view one another as human bodies and egos, defined and constrained by gender, age, health, talents, and culture.

I know this "thesis" transcends the appropriate limits of clinical research and vocabulary, and ego-protective consciousness, but this is "the truth that shall make us free." And this is the truth that meditators will, eventually, see (or come to learn about). So, stop whining and keep meditating.

Blessings,

Swami Hrimananda!

Monday, December 23, 2013

That Night When Christ was Born!

What a wonderful story the birth of Jesus is! Did you know, however, that the custom of erecting a nativity scene in honor of Jesus' birth did not begin for a thousand years and was started by St. Francis near Assisi, Italy?

Now, two thousand years later, how relevant is it to assert or deny the virgin birth? Or, the appearance of the heavenly hosts? Or, the presentation of the Three Wise Men from the East?

Joseph Campbell, the famous "mythologist," has helped modern Americans reconnect with the reality that a story can be meaningful and true with or without being a fact. The Bible stories, the Hindu Ramayana and Mahabharata, creation myths and on on show us that "truth is greater and more true than mere facts."

The power of the nativity lies in its hidden message. Like art, including music, it affirms a reality that our intellect is too dull (or distracted) to comprehend (or notice) but which our heart and soul knows, embraces and celebrates.

Orthodox Christians, viewing the nativity story from the point of view of theology and belief, limit their understanding to a literal interpretation of what they believe are the facts of Jesus' birth. I don't have a problem with that but it doesn't address the real issue: the power of this story to uplift generations for centuries in the embrace of its power, love, and light.

Really, after all: millions go to Christmas Eve Services and many don't normally go to church or have an orthodox religious life at all. Is their attendance merely a well worn habit? For some, yes. But for all? No, I don't think so. Millions, some not even Christians, surely feel a special grace or blessing of kinship with all during the Christmas season. There is a famous story from World War I when the close-by but opposing armies in the trenches came out to celebrate with one another one dark and cold Christmas Eve. Stories of spontaneous generosity are so omnipresent during Christmas that it makes no special point to remember any of them!

It is true that babies always attract a fair amount of ooohing and aaahing but Gee Whiz, two thousand years ago? We wax wistful and brotherly (sisterly) at the sight or thought of this child -- his birth, his life, his death, and resurrection. We know this child has for us a message that is true. It is a message of hope, of reassurance, of safety, of security, of love without condition and without end.

The hidden message is, at least in part, said plainly in Sanskrit, from India, from the Chandogya Upanishad: Tat Twam Asi. This "grand pronouncement" of the eternal teaching (Sanaatan Dharma) means, simply, "Thou art That." 

We recognize ourselves in that child for we, too, are eternal and "Before Abraham, I AM." (John 8:15) Further, Psalm 82:6 reminds us that "I have said, ye are gods, and all of you are children of the most high."

None of this denies the divinity of Jesus, the Christ (the annointed). The Star of Bethlehem, "His star," presages and symbolizes that this one is a true "son of God" and "one with the Father." So, too, the meaning of the virgin birth. But the difference between Jesus' spiritual realization and our own is matter of degree not kind. We have yet to awaken fully to our sonship in God. And that awakening was the purpose of his birth, and the incarnation of every such son of God whether it be Buddha, Krishna, or any number of world teachers, avatars, who come fully awakened in God. They come for but one purpose: to bring prodigal souls, souls thirsty and hungry for truth and God-realization, back to their home in God consciousness.

This is the hidden message of the nativity. It follows, though more by deduction, than intuition, that the birth of the hidden Christ within us requires action on our part. We must imitate His birth in the meaning of the symbols of his birth: the manger which was but a stable represents humility. Humility is the first condition of our spiritual awakening. Humility does not mean self-deprecation but realization of the wonder of creation, the smallness of our ego, and our need for and desire to love God, that Being of Love who is Infinite and the essence of all Life. To have this realization is the perspective of Infinity and it must needs be a form of humility for the ego.

The quietness of the animals in the stable means that our animal appetites must lie down and render service to this inner Christ. We have need of food, for example, but only in the context of nourishment not food greed, and to keep the body fit as a temple of our God!

The shepherds who watch over the flocks are our thoughts which herd (direct) our actions. These shepherds must come and worship this Christ and in so doing become protectors of our thoughts and actions directed toward selflessness, toward nobility, and toward devotion.

The Three Wise Men who come to worship the Christ child reveal to us that to our aid will come, if we seek and let them, wise teachers, both living and now gone, whose teachings can assist us to develop wisdom, devotion, and self-control.

King Herod, or King Ego, stands ready to massacre this child, and indeed, this child as it is born in others around us. We must flee to Egypt until he dies. Egypt here means we must seek the company of other truth seekers and avoid the soul-killing company of worldly people and circumstances. Until the ego has died (at least sufficiently to no longer challenge Christ the (inner) King), we must remain in the protection of the like-minded. Indeed, spiritually speaking, only highly advanced souls can afford to live apart from society or, in any case, without the ongoing support of other spiritually mind people.

As any newborn child, this inner Christ will need protection and nurturing until he can be "about my Father's business!" We must have daily prayer and meditation, and develop right attitudes of servicefulness, devotion, and right living: compassionate and kindly.

This is the good news of Jesus' birth. What it does mean to be good news because we are "saved?" The appearance of divinity in human form and in one who has achieved oneness with the Father through many incarnations is good news because it means we can do it too. It's also good news because (the bad news is) we can't do it by ourselves alone. It is the ego that awakens to the possibility of soul freedom but it is already trapped. A true savior, or guru-preceptor, has the spiritual power to "lift up the serpent in the wilderness" and thus to lift the serpent of delusion up in the wilderness of spiritual purification, prayer, meditation and self-offering, and, to transform the base metal of ego consciousness into the gold (brass) of the soul.

The good news of the birth of such a one is therefore two-fold: one, "we can do it, too," and two, " And, He is here to help us." Some are more attracted and in tune with other such avatars, like Buddha, Krishna, and in our times Paramhansa Yogananda, or others like Paramhansa Ramakrishna, and even great saints who, while not entirely free, serve to help others spiritually. The realization of others is not our concern. We must walk the path to freedom according to our heart's direction: to Jesus, or to others. Thousands were disciples of St. Francis but he was, in turn, a disciple of Jesus and one of the greatest (and the first to receive the stigmata, the wounds of Christ on his own body).

Let us both celebrate and get to work on achieving soul freedom. "The time for knowing God has come" Paramhansa Yogananda declared. Meditation, including Kriya Yoga, is for everyone and is the greatest single aid to soul freedom through self-effort.

A blessed and bliss-ed Christmas and New Year to all,

Swami Hrimananda aka Hriman


















Monday, February 4, 2013

Essence of the Bhagavad Gita

Essence of the Bhagavad Gita

India’s most beloved scripture consists of one chapter of the world’s longest epic story, the Mahabharata. This chapter of some seven hundred verses is composed as a dialogue between Lord Krishna and his disciple, Prince Arjuna. It takes place as they are sitting in Arjuna’s chariot surveying the opposing armies: theirs, the Pandavas (think, “good guys in white helmets”) and the Kauravas, (the quintessential “bad guys”).

Of course the scene is allegorical although the battle of Kurukshetra is considered a historical one. The exhortation to do battle is a metaphor for the battle of life to which the soul is called in its mission to seek freedom through reuniting its consciousness with that of its Creator.

As each culture is divinely guided to its highest potential, it is curious to contemplate that the Hindu “Bible” is a call to war while the Christian bible (New Testament) is a call to “turn the other cheek.” East and West, respectively, embody certain attitudes that would do well to seek balance: the one, perhaps too passive; the other, too aggressive.

The are many great themes in this wonderful scripture for the instruction of souls in all times and places . Among the themes in the Gita (that I will explore in a 3-week class series—see below) are the soul’s very first encounter with suffering and good and evil. Arjuna, seeing that the opposing forces consist of his very own cousins with whom he was raised, questions the rightness of killing them in battle. Are they not, his very own?

Did not Jesus ask, “Who are my family but those who walk the path toward God with me?” The "family" may be taken literally as one’s birth family who typically resists the effort to dedicate oneself to the search for God. Or, more deeply and more importantly, the "family" is our  own subconscious material desires. The soul, upon reaching adolescence or early adulthood, comes face to face with the need to separate himself from his past in order to begin his spiritual journey aligning the conscious mind towards the guidance of superconscious (guru) mind. And yet, this past, these familiar traits, are my “family!”

Krishna eschews all sentimentality and urges his devotee to take up his “bow” and fight in this just and noble cause -- the very purpose of our creation. All habits and traits which are of the ego are never killed but their energies transmuted and sublimated into higher forms, just as in the teaching of the law of karma and reincarnation, the soul never dies but is simply reborn into new forms. In the wilderness and silence of meditation, we don’t “die” but in fact are reborn into the kingdom of the soul’s consciousness. 

Our fears are groundless -- that without our past, subconscious or ego affirming traits there is no "I." But everyone must confront this existential dilemma face-to-face.

What, then, Arjuna asks, is right action? How can you know what is right or wrong? Outwardly it is difficult, Krishna admits, but that action which is not in pursuit of ego-motivated results, which is offered to God in self-offering and devotion and with no thought of personal gain, will guide us to the heights of Self-realization more surely than any other.

The grace of God and guru, the preceptor, must be sought in silent, inner communion and in righteous outward action. In attunement with the silent flow of grace and wisdom, which like the quiet sound of oil pouring from a drum, guides our thoughts, feelings, and actions, we will sail our raft of life toward the seemingly distant shores of freedom.

The greatest wisdom is found through the practice of yoga: silence of mind and body in contemplation of the divine Presence. The greatest action is that which is offered without thought of self in devotion at the feet of Infinity. The greatest feeling is love for God and for God in all, given without condition and expressed in daily life with humility, compassion, and the wisdom of the soul.

Krishna gives Arjuna a taste of his overarching, infinite consciousness as Spirit but the experience proves so overwhelming that Arjuna at last asks to see his beloved friend, Krishna, again! Thus it is that we do best if we approach God in form: as the preceptor, or in the impersonal forms of love, light, sound, peace, etc., or in the form of a beloved deity. The abstract thought of infinity is too much for the human mind and heart to bear, much less to love.

Much, much more wisdom is shared in the Gita: the qualities of nature and consciousness and how to distinguish the higher from the lower, whether in religion or in daily life.

Tuesday night, at the East West Bookshop, 7:30 p.m., February 5 (12, & 19th), I will share these beloved teachings with friends. My text is Swami Kriyananda’s most inspired work, based on the wisdom of Paramhansa Yogananda, Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, (Crystal Clarity Publishers, Nevada City). We will film the series and the hope is to make it available online at a future date.

Blessings to you,

Nayaswami Hriman