Showing posts with label Moses. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Moses. Show all posts

Thursday, February 28, 2019

5 Paths to Enlightenment

Last Sunday, I gave a talk on "God" that included a summary of Paramhansa Yogananda's summary of five core aspects of the path to enlightenment. They are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, should be seen as facets of the diamond of Self-realization.

The talk itself, in video form, can be found: 
https://www.anandawashington.org/?sermons=can-man-see-god-2

Here are the five "paths" summarized:

1. Way of the Heart - the Social way to God. By expanding our sympathies and service from ourselves and our family outward to neighbors, town, country, and the world, our ego-active tendencies are softened and eventually dissolved in divine love. To be real, we must be able to love even those who do not love us; those who criticize, blame, or hurt us in some way. Forgiveness is a given on this path. A more complete expression of this would be to include both aspects of divine love: "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind, strength and soul; and, love thy neighbor AS thy Self. Love includes service, thus combining "Bhakti Yoga" with "Karma Yoga" as sympathy and compassion are not complete without action.

2. Way of the Mind - the Stoic or Ascetic way to God. Dissolution of the ego-active tendencies is a valid, indeed, virtually traditional path. It is not as suited to the consciousness of our culture at this time but it is valid, to some degree, to every devotee. This path uses a sharply focused, mindful intensity to practice what in India is called "neti, neti". (Not this, not this, I am NOT these thoughts, actions, emotions, body, etc.) A form of gyana yoga that includes the tantric practice of calmly observing oneself during all thoughts and actions, the Path of the Stoic is focused on self-discipline: disciplining the palate; the tongue, the senses, practicing austerities of one sort or another. All are mental and some have physical manifestations. With practice, the mind becomes still and enters the non-reactive state of pure observation. In its strictest form, there are no meditation practices as such. But this path, taken to its logical extreme, is arduous and eschews imagery, visualization, devotional practices, chants and all outward forms of spirituality. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita answers Arjuna's question about this path by saying that it is better for embodied souls to seek God through the I-Thou relationship. Nonetheless, disciplining our ego active patterns and habits remains a necessary aspect of spiritual growth.

3. Way of the Yogi. Kriya yoga, whether seen in the form taught by Paramhansa Yogananda, or in the overarching view of control of life force ("pranayama") in meditation. Put another way, one could say, simply: the path of meditation. Described more fully, the yogi learns to withdraw his attention from the physical body using specific techniques in order to enter and identify with the subtle, or astral, body wherein begins the path of ascension of the soul to God through the astral and causal realms of creation. From the micro reality of the soul to the macro reality of the Oversoul. 

4. Metaphysical or Transcendental Path to God. The power of thought, imagination, and intention describes the "how" of God's creation. It also gives to us the means to return to God. Paramhansa Yogananda gave a wide variety of "metaphysical meditations" that teach us how to experience an expansion of our consciousness into the creation and beyond to God. His book with the same name is very popular. This path guides one to use the power of creative visualization to attune ourselves broadly and deeply with all creation with the goal to pass through the stages of creation and enter the Kingdom of Bliss beyond all vibration. It is a valid and powerful practice and path. It is, practically speaking, a form of meditation.

5. Way of the Disciple. It is axiomatic in the teachings of India that one needs a guru to achieve enlightenment. While recognized implicitly or explicitly in other spiritual traditions, India's ancient tradition of "Sanaatan Dharma" (the Eternal Religion) posits this as a precept. One who is blessed to attract a true (or "sat") guru (one who is fully liberated, an avatar) and who "receives" the guru's blessings fully, receives the power "to become the son of God." If our incarnate souls are, in essence, a spark of God's Infinite Bliss, then the proof of this must be the appearance in human form and in human history of some souls who can truly say, "I and my Father are One." The transmission of liberation takes place through the only medium in which liberation exists: consciousness. No mantra, no prayer, no rite or ritual can substitute or purely transmit God consciousness. Only consciousness can do this. The ego, like Moses who led "his people" (his mental citizens) to (but not into) the Promised Land (of enlightenment), cannot, itself, become enlightened. The ego must surrender the kingdom of the mind to the Infinite Bliss of God. By will power alone we cannot scale the heights of cosmic consciousness but by the grace of God incarnate.

These five "paths" are not independent and separate. During the soul's many incarnations after it begins consciously to seek liberation from delusion, it will emphasize one or more of the paths as part of the process of purification and release of karma. The five work together and perhaps align (though I have not thought deeply about this) with the five pranas (energies) of the human body. 

Therefore, respect your own, and others, natural inclinations to pursue and express different aspects and forms of these core paths and practices.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda


Thursday, March 15, 2018

An oratorio: Christ Lives in the Holy Land, and in You & Me!


An oratorio: Christ Lives in the Holy Land, and in You & Me!

Every second year the choirs and musicians of Ananda Portland and Ananda Seattle combine alternatingly at each other’s temple/sanctuaries to perform Swami Kriyananda’s acclaimed oratorio inspired by the life of Jesus Christ. How can we understand the inspiration behind this powerful tribute in song? 

How can we understand the seemingly prominent role Jesus Christ has at Ananda throughout the world? What makes the music of this oratorio so like a deep meditation?

A sensitive reading of Paramhansa Yogananda’s "Autobiography of a Yogi" hints at his spiritual connection with Jesus. He makes reference to Jesus at least sixteen times and even reveals that John the Baptist was Elijah and thus Jesus’ guru from a past life. He states that Jesus taught kriya yoga or “a similar technique” to his close disciples. Further, he stated publicly that the three Wise Men were none other than Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya and Sri Yukteswar (where does this revelation place him, Yogananda?)

When, during the writing of his commentaries on the Bible, Yogananda prayed to Jesus to ask that his words be in tune with Jesus’ teachings, he received a vision of Jesus who gave his blessings and corroboration.

Jesus proclaimed to the crowds that he came “not to destroy the law and prophets” but to fulfill them. To “fulfill” must surely mean to carry on their message and vibration. (While it might also mean to “complete” this interpretation is not absolute.) Paramhansa Yogananda’s obvious connection to Jesus suggests the same on his part in relation to Jesus. More than this, he gave the title “Second Coming of Christ” to his own ministry! (If that didn’t get him crucified, I don’t know what would have!) I don’t think it could be clearer than that.

I have had guests and new students occasionally object or at least express surprise how they felt the Ananda Sunday Service, or some of our events and classes are Christian in feeling. All of this is understandable given the deeper connections described above. I’ve had one reader in the public challenge an article I wrote in respect to Jesus’ atonement of sins on the cross for failing to quote similar examples from other faiths. Neither I, nor other Ananda representatives, are particularly required to hand select passages from every faith when sharing Yogananda’s teachings. But drawing upon the life and teachings of Jesus Christ is specifically appropriate.

In his book, “Conversations with Yogananda, Swami Kriyananda quotes Yogananda answering this question (“Why do you emphasize the teachings of Jesus Christ.”) by replying only, “It was Babaji’s wish that I do so.” [Pretty cagey, I’d say! I suspect the paucity of his reply was related more to the questioner than to the question. That’s my opinion, anyway!]

We do know that Babaji commissioned Swami Sri Yukteswar to write a book showing the underlying unity in Jesus’ teachings and those of India’s rishis. Just read that book, Holy Science, and you’ll see!

Returning now to Swamiji’s oratorio, Christ Lives, we can more easily understand how the masters worked through Swamiji to create a Handel-esque musical work that proclaims a new understanding (Yogananda called it a “New Dispensation”) of Jesus’ teachings. It is, in its own way, a “fulfillment.”

I won’t be so bold as to attempt to describe this oratorio in musical terms. The point of this article is to entice you to come and hear it for yourself! Music isn’t my language, particularly.

In the libretto (words to the songs) you’ll find repeated references to “light,” “joy,” and “peace.” Extending the universal and deeply metaphysical theme of the gospel of St. John (“In the beginning was the Word…..the light of men”), the oratorio guides us to understand Jesus as not the ONLY begotten son of God but a soul, like you and me, who has achieved Oneness with the Light of God. The “Light of Christ” is the indwelling divinity in every atom; in every heart and soul. With this light, Jesus had become wholly identified.

The song “In the Spirit” describes the great vision of St. John in the last book of the New Testament as an ecstatic experience. John was “caught up in ecstasy.” Yogananda dedicated an entire lesson to interpreting the so-called Apocaplyse in metaphysical and Vedantic terms.

From the Old Testament’s frequent commands to “look up” the oratorio describes King David in terms of meditation and the looking up through the point between the eyebrows: the doorway to the divine light. At least four songs dwell upon the feminine nature of God both in general and in the form of Mary, the mother of Jesus. John the Baptist is described as living in solitude and seclusion and achieving his wisdom and faith through the inner life of prayer and meditation.

The temptation of Jesus by the devil in the desert is perhaps one of the most poignant and beautiful songs. A foursome—Jesus, Satan, and two devotee witnesses—sing of the opposing pulls, one divine, the other satanic, upon Jesus’ soul and of Jesus’ rejection of the satanic force. This not only gives recognition (Yogananda proclaimed: “I add my testimony to that of all before me that Satan exists.”) to the power of maya but to its power to become personal both within us and objectively. It also models to us how to deal with maya’s power: seek the love of God!

Another aspect is the very personal relationship Jesus had to his disciples. In song, their life together, wandering the countryside of Judea, is shown to be a celebration, a joyful troupe of disciples with their guru. Rejected is the “man of sorrows” who could never have inspired large crowds. This personal touch is also reflected in songs that speak of the poignant uplifting of souls such as Mary Magdalene, caught in sin and of her rejoicing when freed by his love.

Even the miracle of turning water into wine (the first story after his ministry began) shows Jesus’ care and concern, and love, for all. 
Rather than have the wedding couple be embarrassed by running out, Jesus quietly “refills” the jugs with wine!

Another of the many deeply inspired and musically moving pieces is “Living Water.” This is the story of the woman of Samaria whom Jesus meets at the well. Yogananda explained that this woman was a fallen disciple from a past life. Jesus’ detour into Samaria was intended to find her. The bond of guru and disciple is eternal.

In what is normally considered a triumphal day—Palm Sunday—the music reveals the darker undertone of rejection that is soon to befall the heralded “King of the Jews.”

In the songs of this oratorio, Jesus is depicted in both his overarching divine nature and his very personal, human nature. The juxtaposition of these two has for its message: “Tat twam asi!” “Thou ART THAT!” His nature is our nature. As John the Beloved proclaims in his gospel: “To as many as received Him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God.”

“You Remain Our Friend” is a song sung every Sunday. For that reason members might no longer appreciate the power of its message: both personal and universal. We reject the Christ in the form of the guru and in the abstract, indwelling form of light by our daily busy-ness, indifference, and material desires and fears. While we may yet be fickle, God remains forever our Friend.

But in the end, Jesus is transfixed into pure Light and in the company of his eternal guru, Elijah, and the great prophet Moses. Resurrected is his soul as master of life and death. This is the promise of immortality given us by the saints and masters in every religion. This truth is one and eternal. We need only realize our oneness with it in our deathless Self within!

May the Light of Christ, the Infinite Consciousness, be with 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!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

"What do you mean by "yoga"?

In the past two articles I made the case that the practice of (true) yoga is the future of spirituality, whether in the context of established faiths or no faith. Obviously I am referring to something beyond the practice of the physical stretches and poses (the physical branch of yoga, known as hatha yoga). Just as obviously, by "future" I don't mean next year but perhaps the next century!

While I attempted to explain this prediction, I did NOT really describe "What is this yoga I speak of and how is it practiced?" I only really went so far as to explain that the term yoga is a reference to a state of consciousness that, for a shortcut, one could call God but which, in fact, is called by many names but, allowing that poor 'ol "God" carries a lot of baggage (owing principally to some stone tablets, I'm told...there's no "d" at the end of stone, btw), let's use the term Oneness.

Further, I explained that the term "yoga" (which means "yoke" or "bind") refers both to certain psycho-physiological disciplines that lead to Oneness as well as to Oneness itself.  This interesting fact warrants explanation but I refuse to give it, as I know you, the reader, are so perspicacious as to have already drawn the correct conclusion.

Unfortunately, that left a lot of readers hanging very high and very dry: both "shaken" and "stirred." Some of you muttered, "What's that got to do about 'What's for dinner?'" Or, "Why is Putin causing so much trouble in Ukraine?" In short, my prior article begs the question, "Is there a takeaway here?"

Yes, there is! For starters, let's start with where "we" are: the worldwide popularity of the yoga postures! Hatha yoga demonstrates a very practical takeaway, even if hatha yoga is only a toe in the yoga-water. Add to this the exponentially growing practice of meditation, and you've dipped an entire foot in.

[Now: I want to pause here and make my language simpler. Despite the fact that it must be obvious that I am on a campaign to educate the world that "yoga" is more than hatha yoga, I will henceforth drop using the term "yoga" to refer to true yoga. Instead, I will use the term "meditation" even though as my prior article pointed out, the term "meditation" is unsatisfactory.]

I stated before that one of the attributes of meditation that makes it a good candidate for universal adaptation by religionists and "spiritual but not religionist" is that meditation is "scientific." Meditation techniques are simple, demonstrable, and specific. Virtually anyone can receive instruction in its simple breathing or concentration techniques. Anyone who practices the techniques (as taught to them) will achieve similar and consistent results. No faith or belief system is required to get consistent results. Just search on the internet for "benefits of meditation" or "benefits of yoga."

While the same could be said of fitness routines or time-tested diets, meditation works directly with and upon our mind. By "mind" I include emotions, feelings, thoughts, insights, and levels of consciousness (ranging from dreamy subconsciousness to clear-minded everyday consciousnesss to elevated states of heighted awareness and intense feelings of joy, or peace). Meditation can produce experiences that are readily and commonly compared with, and considered to be, states of spiritual consciousness. And, it requires no drug use. Because it can produce feelings associated with spirituality and because it doesn't require or derive from any specific faith or ritual, it is ideal as a universal spiritual practice that can be integrated into any faith or no faith.

The primary tool of meditation is self-awareness. But traditional meditation practices often include some physical component to relax and energize the body. Like most faiths in general, there are guidelines regarding fasting and diet. It is much easier to meditate when the body is fit and healthy and the brain well oxygenated and the blood stream decarbonized. Indeed, hatha yoga is an excellent preparation for meditation. It can assist the body in sitting for long periods of time without discomfort.

But this primary tool of consciousness is linked to the physical body via the breath. Breath is more than oxygen and carbon dioxide; the one flowing into the body, the other out of the body. Breath includes the circulation of oxygen and of intelligent vitality the subtler aspect of which is termed "prana" (or "chi"). The awakening of one's awareness and control of this "life force" (prana) is one of the cornerstones of meditation.

Breath is life. A person is alive (usually!) when breathing and not alive when not breathing. Our breath links our mind (consisting of feeling, perception and self-awareness) to our body and this mind-breath-body conversation operates in both directions. It is easily demonstrated that quieting and calming the breath quiets and clears the mind. But the reverse is true, also: a quiet mind reflects in a calm breath. When we are excited or upset, our breathing is out of control, uneven, ragged. If in extreme fear, our "heart" leaps into our throat! (A figure of speech, merely.)

Paramhansa Yogananda in his now famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," quotes his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar describing the highly advanced technique of kriya yoga as: “Kriya Yoga is an instrument through which human evolution can be quickened. The ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness is intimately linked with breath mastery. This is India’s unique and deathless contribution to the world’s treasury of knowledge. The life force, which is ordinarily absorbed in maintaining the heart-pump, must be freed for higher activities by a method of calming and stilling the ceaseless demands of the breath.”

At an earlier point in his story, he wrote: "Like any other science, yoga is applicable to people of every clime and time. Yoga is a method for restraining the natural turbulence of thoughts, which otherwise impartially prevent all men, of all lands, from glimpsing their true nature of Spirit. So long as man possesses a mind with its restless thoughts, so long will there be a universal need for yoga or control."

Meditation shows that a very effective way to calm one's restless thoughts (spurred on by our emotions) is to work with the breath in very specific ways. Thus, the real secret of yoga is to bring the breath under control using time-tested, simple, and scientific breathing methods. As the breath becomes calm, then the emotions and consequent restless thoughts begin to subside.

Once the mind is reasonably stable, it is often the next step to focus the mind on a single object, usually internal to the mind itself. Chanting a mantra, or a syllable, or an affirmation can be very effective for focusing the mind and awakening inspiration (usually done mentally, silently). Visualizing a deity, the eyes of one's guru, or an image from nature, or an abstract quality or state such as peace or love.........all of these mental images can calm the mind and in turn calm the breath. Where one goes, the other follows! They are two sides of the same coin. Visualizing the moonlight, a vast ocean, rushing water, a majestic mountain, the rising sun......all of these images drawn from nature convey higher states of awareness such as peace, power, adaptability, wisdom, strength and so on. In deeper states of meditation and using special mudras or other techniques, one can attune oneself and meditate upon certain subtle, astral sounds universally recognized in all traditions and symbolized by the sounds and images of a bell, a reed or plucked instrument, sounds of water or wind, a motor, or a bee and so on.

In some traditions one is simply given a mantra, nothing else. In others (my own, e.g.), we combine a mantra with watching the breath (two for the price of one!) The combinations are endless.

Imagine standing in a field at the base of a tall mountain, like Mt. Everest or Mt. Rainier or Mt. McKinley. It's a long way up but many people have done it: one step at a time. The peak is that state of Oneness where our ego-separateness is expanded (or dissolved, if you prefer) into Infinity! Just as one takes one step at a time to ascend the mountain, so one takes one breath at time to transcend the bondage of heart/breath that ties our awareness to the body and its five sense telephones, ringing incessantly! As we are given life when we take our first breath and as we leave this body with our last, so it is that while the breath ties us to the body it is also the only way out! What at first is an elemental obstacle soon becomes with the science of breath and mind, the way of transcendence! As I have heard it said: "The only way out, is in!"

As the breath is calmed, thoughts subside; as thoughts subside, our awareness expands (or shrinks away from the body). We do something similar every night when we sleep. We "dump" the consciousness of our physical body and personality into the peaceful realm of deep, dreamless sleep. But sleep only refreshes us; it doesn't change our consciousness. For that we must expand our consciousness, raise the level of our awareness past the formidable and thick barrier of skin, bones, organs and ego-self-involvement and everything represented by them.

Advanced meditation techniques, like kriya yoga, might start with the physical breath but then leave the physical breath behind in favor of working with the astral breath (a term that describes the life force, subtle energy, prana or chi). As the physical breath subsides, this subtle energy is withdrawn from the senses and the periphery of the body and organs and is directed by advanced techniques to return to its main spinal channel through specific psychic plexuses (doors) located along the spine called "chakras." From there, life force is coaxed or magnetized up the subtle spine to re-unite with cosmic energy at the point between the eyebrows. It is here that enlightenment occurs. But to go further in this aspect of meditation is to go beyond the scope of this article.

The fact that the techniques of meditation bring enhanced health and well-being even to the veriest beginner attest to the substantial and elemental nature of the techniques and their goal. It feels like home; like Om; like the real "me."

But meditation is more than hygiene for the mind, kind of like brushing your teeth everyday. Instead, it becomes a way of life, a life of living yoga. Why seek inner peace through daily meditation if during the day (when you are not meditating), you are angry, irritable and selfish? Makes no sense! Hence, meditation as a way of life is supported by a lifestyle that includes a simple diet, pure thoughts, calm emotions and harmonious actions. As we become transformed by meditation, we become less and less self-referencing and more and more Self-realized. We become more joyful, happy, content, compassionate, wise, and on and on!

There's another aspect to meditation. This aspect is more personal. It is also easily misunderstood and is most certainly rejected by the ego. (Yogananda described meditation, in general, thusly: The soul loves to meditate but the ego hates to meditate.) And yet for all its subtlety it is also essential, even if the form it takes is unique to each person. It's called devotion and it's the fuel that powers the engine of meditational motivation. If the fuel is diluted by a weak will or unclear intention, the engine runs rough and has no pulling power up the mountains of life's challenges and temptations. If the fuel is high octane it drives us quickly up the Mt. Carmel of the soul's aspiration toward liberation in God!

In its traditional and outward forms throughout the world and throughout history, you will see devotion expressed in poetry, dance, prayers, hymns, chanting, rituals and sometimes extravagant displays of self-offering and even, seemingly, self-abasement. Ok, so, I've let it all out. These outer forms are NOT the essence of devotion; they are but its husk. Sometimes a husk is dry and empty, other times it is like the discarded first stage of a rocket.

Devotion is related, in some ways, to the disciple-guru relationship. We see Buddha, the founder of Buddhism; or Jesus, the founder of Christianity. We see the great disciples of these world teachers as great devotees, whether they lived with their "christ" or whether they lived a thousand years afterward (like St. Francis).

I say devotion and discipleship are related and I mean this in many different ways, but for now I mean it in the sense that both are personal and neither can really be faked (except to outer appearances, that is). For God watches the heart.

What we have here is the intuitive recognition by the ego that it must die or at least surrender to the higher power of grace, of God, or of God in the form of the savior/guru (who leads us to God and who is God incarnate for this purpose).

Admittedly, most meditators, most spiritual aspirants, most orthodox religionists are considered candidates for heavenly reward if they just try to be good; go to church on Sunday; take the sacraments, punch their meditational time card, and so on. But devotion and discipleship are the inner "meat" of what meditating for long hours every day symbolizes for the average meditator who struggles to do so for even just a few minutes each day. But we don't gain much by measuring ourselves by the yardstick of giants. We might only get discouraged (much to the delight of the ego). Yet, if we don't have the courage to see where the path leads we are far less likely to get there anytime soon (in relation to repeated rounds of rebirth, that is).

Real devotion is what you see in the lives of great saints, like Milarepa, Tibet's greatest yogi. Fortunately for us, we are encouraged to start where the sign says, "You are HERE!" Krishna promises us in the Bhagavad Gita that "even a little bit of this practice (of meditation), will save us from dire fears..."

However hot or tepid may be your inspiration and devotion, you can be sure that without at least some of it, regardless of what form of expression it may take, one cannot make real progress on any spiritual path. Dedication to truth, my teacher, Swami Kriyananda once said, is a form of devotion. Dedication to your daily meditation practice, too, is a kind of devotion. Don't fret about it. Your inspiration to meditate is already a kind of devotion. Let it guide you but be open to what the real winners (the saints) have modeled for us.

Indeed, as stated in the beginning, yoga presents such a high goal that it, too, suffers from the same tendencies of being dumbed down to feed the ego just as much as other high ideals or other forms of religion and spirituality. Someone told me, for example, that there exist yoga classes called "naked" yoga classes (I guess you practice sans clothes for some reason not difficult to imagine.) All aspects of spirituality can be polluted by ego consciousness.

The essential appeal and beauty of true yoga is that it really is for everyone. You can start with the motivation to improve your health, both physical and mental. As you "awaken" to the "joy within you," you may "fall in love with your (higher) Self!" You begin to identify and realize that happiness is within you; it is a conscious choice! This is increasingly freeing. Bit by bit your are bitten by the cosmic snake of divine joy lifted up the brass staff of the straight spine (a reference to Moses in the Old Testament) and cured of the satanic bite of delusion.

Just as life begins with the first breath, you can say that yoga begins with the first conscious breath! Start with "watching your breath". There is a pleasure, a little bubble of happiness that comes when we come self-aware. Follow that thread, like Theseus in the labyrinth, to inner freedom!

Joy to you,

Hriman

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Why does God permit Suffering? Why did He create this mess?

A friend wrote:

Dear Hriman, I was cruising along in the Bhagavad Gita until a day or so ago. As soon as I came to a certain part I suddenly was stopped dead in my tracks. "Legend has it that when God first manifested the universe He made it perfect. Men and women, realizing the need for living in perfection, sat in meditation and soon merged back into Brahman. One or more similar attempts were made, all of them with the same result. God then decided, 'I must impose delusion on people. They must struggle, advance by trial and error, and discover that kind of action, and that attitude toward it, which will lead them to bliss and freedom'. Thus it is that we find ourselves in this 'pickle'".

I don't know about you, but this doesn't make sense to me. Is this "impose delusion" strategy the Bhagavad Gita's version of the temptation of Eve? It seems like a queer way for a Creator to act. So maybe this is all just a story and does not pretend to describe what really happened? 

But it did bring up to me a question I've never stopped to think about. Why should we love God? by whatever name you want to use for It. We didn't ask to be created. In a sense we are in this world at the behest of Something else entirely. And 'frankly my dear' this isn't such a great place! So am I supposed to love a God that put me and the rest of us here? Why? There's still no reason for us being at all. All the answers of all the religions and spiritual "classics" haven't yet come up with one that satisfies me in some simple way.

So I'm stuck at present. Not only with the Bhagavad Gita and Sanaatan  Dharma, but also with Christianity. Anyway, since my quandry came out of reading the B.G., and you encouraged me to read it, I figured I might as well ask you for your viewpoint.

Here are some thoughts I shared:

Yogananda often encountered this (doesn't anyone who thinks more deeply about wonder, "Why?") and on at least one recording says "I often fight with Divine Mother. You made this mess. You must free us!"

But he, as others before him, also said "When you achieve salvation, you will know, and you will not regret one bit of the journey, saying "What a great show it was." Yogananda also taught that "The drama of life has for its lesson that it is but a drama."

Stuck in duality, in suffering, separateness, and death, we cry out and say, "Why?" It seems all wrong somehow. God may be in bliss, but we aren't and He made us all, so isn't He responsible for it?

Religion doesn't exist to rob us of inspiration and the strength to overcome negativity, sadness, and despair. Religion doesn't exist to teach us that God is evil, or doesn't care about us, or doesn't feel our pain.

It has been said that God created the universe that He might know and love Himself through many; that He might play the game of hide n seek in the divine romance of duality. Swami Kriyananda writes that "it is the nature of Bliss to want to express and share itself."

Imagine you are immensely creative: perhaps like Shakespeare. You possess a love of life. Though perfectly happy in yourself, you are brimming with joy and ideas. So, like the mighty Bard, you set pen to paper to write the greatest story ever told. To make the story believable and interesting, exciting and inspiring, you need a hero and villain; you need tragedy and comedy. No one would bother to participate in a play that was all sweetness and light: way too dull.

As the playwright you are not evil for having created a believable evil villain to bring conflict and tension into the plot. Nor are you necessarily the swashbuckling handsome hero for the fact that you can write for him good lines and heroic deeds. You are untouched by the drama, for it, after all, is just a drama.

Now good actors know that they just play their parts, following the script even as they enhance it with their skill. Despite public adulation and attention, they remain are just themselves and are not fooled by appearances and plays which for them is simply their job, even if they can also enjoy because they do it well and skillfully. 

If they are but B grade actors, they begin to think of themselves as those roles and in time find themselves typecast, coming again and again to the theater to play those kinds of parts until they grow out of them.

In creating the universe God had to BECOME it. There can be nothing created that is separate from God, for God alone IS: I AM. Yet, God is untouched by the universe He created, while yet immanent in it, while yet the very essence of it: in short, the Trinity. God the Father beyond and untouched by creation; God the son, the innate and immanent intelligence, silent and still at the heart of all motion and in the center of all atoms and hearts; and, God the Holy Ghost, the invisible motion whose rotations and movements spin off all objects and thoughts.

Thus the creation is endowed with the same desireless impulse to create, share, and expand with infinite variety while yet remaining in Himself as the Creator. Armed also with the intelligence to perpetuate that existence, there comes a point in the outgoing power of the Holy Ghost that the emerging separateness gradually becomes "satanic," meaning self-aware, self-affirming and rebellious, seeking to be One unto itself, seeking knowledge and power, and seeking happiness on and as its own in the forms and activities of creation, rather than in communion with the Creator. 

As God is immortal, eternal, Self-aware and blissful in Himself, and as we are but sparks of that Infinity consciousness so we, though deluded to imagine our fulfillment in but His echo (the creation), naturally have the impulse to perpetuate ourselves, self-aware and happy. But in turning our backs on Infinity we grow small and in time as the wheel of birth, life and death, pleasure and pain turns ceaselessly and crushes our hopes repeatedly, we cry out for release from bondage. 

Until such time, however, most souls wouldn't have it any other way. With the endless variety show of creation, it takes countless incarnations before we grow weary of the toys of creation. Like the baby who eventually tires of the new toys his mother drops into his crib to keep him busy while she performs the housework of creation, the baby at last wails and cries for the mother to come pick him up and put him on her lap. 

God remains silent until we, like the prodigal son, rise up from our prison of suffering and want, and begin the long journey home, willing to serve our Father, even as his hired hands. When He sees that we are coming, He will run out to embrace us as His own Son. 

From another angle, then, and returning to your comment about the story of God making his maya more powerful, it might as well have been us choosing to play in the dream of creation rather than come home "before dark." For are we not "like gods?"  ("Do not your scriptures say, 'Ye are gods?'")

No explanation can satisfy the intellect. Only the heart can find satisfaction in opening up to God's love. We can't really love someone we don't know. But we can pray to receive that love that we might return that love in joy and true happiness.  "Thou art the living Christ," said only Peter (of the disciples) when Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do men say I am." Only the heart knows the truth that "can set us free."

No man has revealed to us our birthright as children of Light, but our souls remember that we are not pauper but a prince. And so, in the long history of time, we begin to awaken. Great souls, living Christ-like saviors, walk the earth in every age to bring to humanity the good news of God's eternal promise of our immortality. The touch of God "made flesh" quickens our souls, lighting the lamp of divine love in our hearts.

The intellect can only walk us in the general direction but like Moses, it cannot enter the promised land of divine bliss. The ego (incl. intellect) must at last surrender. To slay the serpent of maya we must enter the desert of inner solitude, stripped and bleached of human desires and passions by the inner sun of wisdom. 

There we can lift this serpent of delusion upon the staff of the straight spine seated in meditation, in silent, inner communion. There, beyond the duality of intellect and the pull of the senses, there in the humble manger of the open heart, the Christ is born. In time, with self-effort and the blessings of grace, this universal, indwelling and eternal Christ will be resurrected.

Blessings,

Hriman


Friday, March 21, 2014

Exploring: Do You Mind?

In the renowned spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," the author, Paramhansa Yogananda, relates how a skeptical scientist once visited Yogananda's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, and expressed his disbelief in God. Sri Yukteswar responded with the suggestion that the scientist spend a day carefully tracking and examining his thoughts. Then, Sri Yukteswar posited, wonder no more at the absence of the godhead!

By this he meant that our thoughts are so restless, random and self-involving that we have no interest or space for perceiving a higher reality and consciousness. In the same book is a quotation of an ancient poem that avers that conquering nations or wild animals pales in comparison to taming the mind.

No one who has attempted to meditate deeply and consistently can fail to recognize the truth herein. While some meditators may struggle with physical discomforts or distractions, all meditators struggle with restless, random, and even negative thoughts and their royal attendants, the emotions.

Am I less aware if I stop thinking? Or more aware? When we are distracted, busy, or frantic, we lack the clarity to address tasks successfully. When emotionally upset we can't think straight and we make mistakes. If you have ever stopped to gaze at a sunset or an entrancing scene in nature, you can only appreciate it deeply if you let your thoughts be still and drink it all in, isn't it so?

Those who have had experiences that are often described as "peak experiences" enter into a state of awareness that goes beyond thought but includes an heightened sense of awareness.

Take a moment to try something: Look up (as if peering a foot or so just past the upper eyebrows). Do so with an attitude of curiosity, of interest, and even calm adventure.  Let a subtle smile play upon your lips as you do this. Cock your head to the side as if attempting to listen to someone soft-spoken (or a distant sound) whose words are important to you. Or, hold this pose (looking up and turning your head as if to listen) as if you need a moment to remember some past event or task you wanted to accomplish (but couldn't yet remember). In this pose, we automatically and instinctively release our thought processes in order to focus on recall (or perceive) something important. It's not unlike a computer which, when you click to retrieve a file, the cursor spins and all other computations or processes halt while it searches the hard disk for a file.

Try this little experiment sitting in your car waiting for the light to turn green. Or, before turning to the next task at your desk when you've just finished some other. Turn and gaze out the window with this "mudra" pose of curiosity, interest and listening! Each time you'll find that the mind obediently relinquishes its tight grip on your consciousness so that you can focus.

Another experiment is to imagine yourself attempting to thread the eye of a sewing needle. After wetting and curling the tip of the thread, you position it in front of the needle's eye and very carefully attempt to ease the thread through. At that moment your breath and heart becomes quiet and your thoughts quiet while focused on your task!

All this is fine in respect to outward tasks but when we sit to meditate, close our eyes, with the body relaxed into an upright natural position, we find almost immediately that we can barely count (mentally) to 10 without wandering off like some little curious monkey or puppy.

To meditate deeply one needs an effective technique and proper and sustained training with someone who has experience. No recorded meditation, book, or online lessons can substitute. Such things can "tell" you what to do but cannot convey the art of doing it.

While a heightened state of meditative awareness supercedes any techniques, the techniques prepare the body and mind to transcend the pressing and habitual demands of the body and mind. A superior athlete or performer uses warming up exercises and routines to get into "shape," both mentally and physically. So, too, does the yogi: one who undertakes the consistent disciplining of the mind as part of the journey towards self-understanding, increased awareness and Self-realization. A yogi is a kind of metaphysical scientist, exploring the realm and realities of consciousness using the tools of body and mind conditioning. The body needs conditioning in order that it cooperate rather than fight the effort to explore the mind. In fact, it goes much deeper than that but let's hold that for later, or, not.

Ultimately the state of true meditation is aptly stated as a kind of aphorism from the Old Testament, "Be still and KNOW THAT I AM---GOD!" I don't want to run off on a God-subject right now, and so for my purposes here, I want to stay on the theme of how to still restless thoughts in order that we can see, and therefore become a SEER (of reality) in an enhanced state of self-awareness and perception. The point is well made and more clinically by Patanjali in the second stanza of the Yoga Sutras: "The state of yoga-oneness is achieved by stilling all physical and mental processes." (Warning: loose translation!)

To explore the mind we have to transcend the mind: the lower, ego-active mind (and emotions, preoccupations, fight or flight, likes and dislikes). It is pure consciousness that the yogi-scientist seeks to look. It's the "Holy Grail" of absolute zero (aka perfect stillness), the speed of light (aka infinity).

The mind is bound to the body and its sense organs and its subconscious and conscious mind through the breath and everything the breath represents: ego. To untie the breath from body is not to physically die for the yogi-scientists of old discovered how to work with the breath and the mind to achieve states of deep quiescence. The masters of yoga can stop their breath and heart at will without any damage to the body, brain or nervous system. During the 19th and 20th centuries in India such demonstrations were conducted in the presence of western doctors and scientists.

As Paramhansa Yogananda wrote in his now famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," India's contribution to the treasury of human knowledge is breath mastery. So long as we are breathing in the normal way and the heart is beating, we are fighting "city hall" to achieve focus of the mind without outer activity.

Thus the yogis gave us various breath and mind control techniques. Absolute breathlessness may be the gold standard but long before achieving such a state, deep insights and states of expanded consciousness are achieved even as the breath and heart gradually come under our control.

But, you have to want it and you have to be trained on how to do it! The subconscious mind and the ego DON'T WANT TO DO IT. They want to stay in the driver's seat and feed upon random thoughts like small animals who move about constantly sniffing out morsels on the ground to munch on. These small "animals," if threatened, band together and in their combined numbers, though individually small, will bare their teeth and push you around, even kick you around, once you try to re-gain control over your own mind. "I don't mind" means I give up and succumb to the passivity of the subconscious and the reactive processes of my likes and dislikes and self-preoccupations.

Enter the bullfighter: MINDFULNESS! He's going to combat the stubborn bull of the ego-mind. He's a good fighter but he doesn't wrestle the bull with his bare hands. He's too smart for that. Instead, he uses consummate skill in handling his red cape to bring the bull under his control and command. The red cape attracts the bull's attention and by using it repeatedly, the torero can tire the bull and bring him into submission.

The bullfighter employs psychological techniques, displaying confidence, charm, and courage. For all his daring, however, he knows the bull is much bigger and can kill him, so he must be patient and skillful.

What we mean by this metaphor is that meditation techniques typically give the monkey mind something to focus on: the breath, a mantra, an image, or a sound....or some combination of these. By this internally focused approach, the mind and breath and heart begin to slow and become deeply calm. But, unlike a bull who lives only by instinct, our mind is of two minds: when it is time to meditate, part of the mind wants to and part does not! (You can guess "Who's who.")

You have to nurture and encourage the higher mind so that it can assert itself. You have to want to BE STILL and know! There's a further thing, here, too: achieving a deeper state is not just mere matter of manipulating the breathing and heart. The state we seek is super-conscious and we cannot force it to obey our mere will by whipping its more mechanical parts. This state pre-exists our awareness of it. We have to enter, then, into a conscious, loving and giving relationship with it. At first, then, it is dual: I-Thou. Only in time, do we enter and become that state, which is non-dual. To do this abstractly is unsuitable for most people. Thus it is natural, indeed, necessary for most, that this state take on human form, or at least some form! This can take the form of a deity, one's guru (living or in Spirit only), or even a quality such as peace, love, or joy.

We must first clear the deck of the mind of restlessness. We must seek to be still. Only in the quiet chamber of the still heart and mind, in the relaxed body temple of the soul, will our Beloved enter. This state of perfect stillness must not only be desired, it must be "felt." This is where the art comes in and where one who has had some success with this proves far more valuable in the role of teacher than detailed instructions written in a book (or in a blog!). The intuitive "feeling" of a meditative state can be conveyed one-on-one to one who seeks it and does so with sensitive awareness and openness. (As an aside, this "transmission" need not require the physical presence of one's teacher, if such teacher is spiritually advanced. Attunement is, itself, first and foremost, an intuitive state of consciousness and intuition knows no barriers of time and space. This is why devotion to saints long departed from this earth can bestow tangible blessings on a sincere devotee.)

Do you remember how it was in the Old Testament that Moses, while leading the Israelites from captivity, could, nonetheless NOT enter the promised land? This means that our ego, no matter how sincere and energized through will power and desire, must subside in favor of receptivity and openness to receive a state of consciousness that is more expansive and that already exists. It too must, as we do when we meet someone, bow where spectators only stand and watch. Thus the essential and foundational requirement of humility, receptivity, and openness.

In more dramatic depictions of the self-sacrifice of ego, we have images such as Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac, his only son at the request of God--something no father would ordinarily consider. Martyrdom, intense prayer, personal sacrifice and self-deprivations and on and on.....all of these at least symbolize the core necessity that the ego submit itself to the flow of grace. These specific examples are not demanded or expected of mere beginning meditators, of course, and for most of us they are but illustrative. But, if one would stop for a moment, and consider the entry fee to achieve infinite consciousness, well, guess what the price is: yes, the ultimate. Fear not, when that time comes, even if, like Jesus himself who prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "May this cup pass from me," you, too, will likely conclude, "Thy will be done."

Be not doubtful that the ego will resist this invitation (each time one meditates, what to mention at the final step of liberation!), but the irony is that our consciousness is not obliterated or submerged in the state of superconsciousness. Indeed, it expands with great joy into the Sea of Consciousness from which it has been sent! In God, nothing is ever lost. There is no time, no dimensions, no past, no future. All that we have been remains PRESENT. We simply expand and return home to Infinite consciousness. But the ego can never be convinced of this. It takes an act of faith, not just will, to meditate deeply. There is an intuitive gnosis, knowing, a remembrance (Patanjali calls it "smriti") that awakens and nurtures an individual to want to meditate

Ah, but I digress to the depths. Let us return, then, to the surface of our subject where the breeze is fresh and the sunlight bright, where birds chirp with delight, sitting on the patio in the morning sun, cappuccino and croissant at the ready.

Next time, then, let us explore the eight stages of meditation, inspired and given to us by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.

Enough a 'ready..........blessings abound as Spring flowers surround us!

Nayaswami Hriman