Showing posts with label Paramhansa Yogananda. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paramhansa Yogananda. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

How to be Thought-less!

Paramhansa Yogananda, in his now-classic life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," describes yoga as "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." (Chapter 24).

From Chapter 41 of that modern scripture Yogananda gives this challenging poem from one "of the many great saints of South India...., Thayumanavar:

You can control a mad elephant;
You can shut the mouth of the bear and the tiger;
You can ride a lion;
You can play with the cobra;
By alchemy you can eke out your livelihood;
You can wander through the universe incognito;
You can make vassals of the gods;
You can be ever youthful;
You can walk on water and live in fire;
But control of the mind is better and more difficult.

Stilling the agitations of the "monkey mind" is the subject and goal of countless meditation techniques and millions of meditators alike!

Ramana Maharshi is one of the most notable 20th-century advocates of Advaita (non-dualism), particularly in what he termed "Self-inquiry:" the quest to know "Who am I?" The great teachings of East and West essentially urge us to "Know Thyself" and discover "Tat twam asi" (That Thou Art). Watching one's thoughts and/or breath are among the ubiquitous and universal techniques of focusing the mind in order to still the "natural turbulence of thoughts."

Techniques are given, and there are many, to help focus the mind in order to reach the point beyond our thoughts. Too many meditators mistake the path for the goal and continue with their mantras, devotions, prayers, or breathwork "until the cows come home." The cows, that is, of their returning thoughts.

Why is so little attention is given to the cessation of what one teacher calls the "self-structure." The small self (ego, subconscious, etc.) is a little dictator whose mission is to keep us focused on our body, its needs, and to protect, defend and affirm the personality (ego.) It does a good job from a Darwinian point of view but it doesn't give us anything beyond a fleeting and insecure fulfilment and a deeply entrenched habit of restlessness. Praise, one day, blame, the next.

For starters, almost nobody on this planet is the slightest bit interested in the cessation of mental activity called "me." After all, didn't Rene Descartes tell us that "I think, therefore, I AM?" For another, the cessation of mental activity is very, very hard (note poem quoted above). And for those very, very few who make a deep and sincere effort, what they get for their reward is that their ego-self gets to stare into the abyss of nothingness, facing the prospect of its dissolution! So no wonder even meditators take the equivalent of a "rain check!" 

[In a humorous aside, Swami Kriyananda, in his landmark book on raja yoga, "Awaken to Superconsciousness," gently chides the Buddhistic tendency to focus on negative aspects of enlightenment (a state of no-thing-ness (nir-vana)) as the reason the enlightened ones, Bodhisattvas, chose to defer their liberation and come back to help others!]

But what, then, is the reward of making the effort? To quote Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, "Even a little practice of this inward religion will save you from dire fears and colossal sufferings." I'd add to this that the benefits of meditation, speaking generally and clinically, derive from the very effort to focus the mind inwardly and away from the senses, body, and ego. In an analogous manner, sleep too is essential for mental and physical well-being.

Thus I don't feel to dwell on the reasons the effort, challenging as it seems, is more than repaid. Besides, too great a focus on "what I get from this practice" will tend to undermine "what I get from this practice!" All great teachers of meditation caution that non-attachment to results--even of our meditation--is essential to success in every endeavor, including meditation. Besides, the reasons to meditate are as varied as those who practice it. 

How, then, best to focus the mind and transcend the thoughts? On this, too, I have to concede that the prescription is individual. There are many meditation techniques, philosophies, and, as stated just above, reasons to meditate. A strict approach, such as Ramana Maharshi's practice of self-inquiry, is probably too austere for most modern (and restless) minds. It is termed, in the yogic tradition, the approach of gyana yoga. Krishna states that meditating upon the formless (no-thought, or Absolute) is difficult for the average human. 

A devotional approach satisfies the heart's natural yearning to be loved and to love. One can meditate upon the image, feeling or thought of one's chosen deity, guru, or even an abstract principle such as love itself! But our culture is far from one that is comfortable with devotion, being, as we are, so fixed upon reason and analysis.

An energetic approach has the advantage of not requiring a complex belief system and is epitomized in the universally popular and useful approach of mindfulness: using the breath as the meditation object (with or without a word formula or mantra). In this Age of Energy, let "pranayam be your 'religion'" to quote a chant popular with Swami Sri Yukteswar!

Deeper practices of energy-meditation may involve a focus on the flow of subtle energy (prana or chi) in the chakras or the deep spine. The most well known of these is termed, simply, Kriya Yoga and was popularized by Paramhansa Yogananda (see Chapter 26 of his autobiography mentioned above).

What's wrong with thinking, you ask? The thinking and intellectual function of the human mind is a mixed gift: it is the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thinking is necessarily logical and dual: this is not that, and that is not this! The intellect is a natural extension of the ego for it focuses on naming, labelling, distinguishing, and using for its advantage or protection the objects of the senses (people or things or forces it can control).  It has been well said that the mind makes a great tool but a poor master. 

Thus it is, by tradition from higher ages of consciousness, the power of the intellect (which can reveal the secrets of nature) is supposed to be given to or used only by one who has become identified with the soul, or higher Self. In such a case, this power is used for the good of all and not for self-aggrandizement or exploitation. It is obvious that at this time in history, this is far, far from the case.

Since the mid 20th century, it has often been said that humanity stands on the brink of self-destruction owing to our mastery of the tools of thinking, reasoning, analyzing and manipulating nature's secrets but that we have yet to save our souls! We have focused too greatly on the outer world at the expense of the inner world of consciousness. To this day, scientific dogma still insists that consciousness is the mere byproduct of matter, the brain, the body and evolution of the species. Reflection, and only a little is needed, would reveal the opposite: "I AM, therefore, I think!"

Thus it was that the noted historian Arnold Toynbee stated that while the west has conquered the east with its guns, the east will conquer the heart of the west with yoga. 

And finally, let me share this simple, uh oh: thought! The Thought-less Yogi emerges from the effort to still thoughts randomly throughout the day NOT just in the practice of meditation but between activities; before a phone call or email; at a stoplight. You learn to bring the monkey-to-heel by living increasingly in the "witness box" of the higher mind. This can be achieved whether your temperament is devotional, perceptive, or active. 

The state beyond thought, the transcendently aware state, must be felt, or intuited, not conceptualized. It is the portal to higher states of superconsciousness. As in Yogananda's quote above, the still mind "glimpses" our true nature as Spirit, as the formless I AM of all humanity, all creation, and of the Godhead. 

So train your monkey to be still and FEEL the stillness wherein no thoughts intrude. You may find it helpful to bridge ego consciousness to higher consciousness through the medium of a visualization from which you then extract the FEELING of transcendence. Examples include the image of the bright blue, cloudless skies on a sunny day; the vastness of the ocean when perfectly calm; the majesty of a great mountain; the roar of wind or water overtaking you; vastness of space in all directions; or the silvery-beam of moonlight filling you with deep peace and transcendent love. 

Once the raft of techniques has brought you to the shore, discard the raft and enter into PURE FEELING; PURE AWARENESS with no name, no form, no object to behold.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Yogananda's Recipe for REJUVENATION!

From Yogananda's NEW SUPER COSMIC SCIENCE COURSE (1934) - LESSON 1 - PRINCIPLES AND EXERCISES FOR REJUVENATION!


PRINCIPLES AND EXERCISES FOR REJUVENATION

Rejuvenation exercise.
            1. Stand erect with arms stretched straight above the head. Relax while holding this position. Throw breath out and keep breath out for the duration of 14 counts. Inhale and feel that you are drawing energy through the finger tips into the medulla and body parts.
            2. Put chin on chest, tightening muscles of the throat. Slowly inhale, lifting head up and bending it backward. Relax, drop chin on chest, and exhale.
            3. The mental Rope Jumping Exercise. Swing your hands as if you are swinging a rope and jump over the imaginary rope.
            4. Exhale, and Squat on the haunches, sitting on heals. Stand, inhale, and hold breath, Counting 1 to 10. Then exhale and drop to squatting position again while exhaling. (Knees should not touch the ground and back should remain erect through whole exercise). Repeat five times.
            5. Raise arms sideward, shoulder high. Swing them forward, touching palms in front, then swing back to side position. Repeat 10 times.

Super silence method.
            Sit on a straight chair, spine straight. Expel the breath quickly, and keep breath out, counting mentally 1 to 10. Inhale slowly, hold breath, counting 1 to 10. Repeat 10 times.
            Then expel breath and forget it, not caring whether it comes in again or not. Concentrate on the toes of the left foot and say, mentally, “Om.” on each toe. Do same to the toes of the right foot. Then concentrate on the sole of the left foot. Say, “Om”. Do likewise with the right foot. Concentrate on the left and right calves, mentally saying “Om”. Do the same with the left and right thighs, left and right haunches, navel, abdomen, liver, spleen, stomach, pancreas, heart, left and right lungs, left and right hands, and arms, left side of neck, right side of neck, front throat and back of neck. Say “Om” mentally, concentrating on the pituitary gland, pineal gland, medulla, point between the eyebrows, mouth, big and little tongues, on the left and right nostrils, on the left and right eyes, left and right ears, cerebellum, and cerebrum. Then go up and down the coccygeal, sacral, lumbar, dorsal, cervical, medulla, and Christ Center at the point between the eyebrows, mentally chanting “Om” Try to feel that the whole body is surrounded within and without with the holy vibration of “Om.”

            Mentally add, multiply, subtract, or divide numbers. (For example: 12 and 123 = 246; 123 and 321 = 444; 444 divided by 2 = 222).

            Sit quiet and meditate on the joy of silence. Think of that joy as communion with God. The more you meditate, the more you will realize that nothing else can give you that refined joy but the increasing joy of Silence. That joy-contact in meditation is the contact of God. Pray deeply with devotion, first for God’s love, then for wisdom, happiness, health, prosperity, and then for the fulfilment of any specific legitimate wish.


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




Tuesday, June 25, 2019

"The Last Day" (of your life) by Paramhansa Yogananda

The Last Day
by Paramhansa Yogananda, East-West Magazine 1934



"You who are reading, and I who am writing, and all the two [now seven]  thousand million people throbbing with life today will exist a hundred years hence only as thoughts. Great and small, with highly sensitive bodies, must be buried beneath the grass or thrown into the hungry flames of cremation. We, who are so sure of our breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, will be unable to swallow or to speak. Our lips will be sealed forever.

We who love to listen to flattery, to the voice of the brook and the breeze, and to the sweet melody of music, and to the familiar words of our loved ones, must one day when absent, wax our ears so that we may never again hear any sound from this sad earth.

The roses and blossoms that you love, some day will send the messenger of sweet fragrance to knock at the door of your perfume-loving sense, but the door of that sense will open no more. You will never again be lured by the earthly perfume of Nature.

The day will arrive when all beautiful things and faces will stand mutely at the wisdom gate of your lotus gaze and will knock and knock to get into the chamber of your appreciation, but you will not see imperfect matter any more.

The chamber of wisdom will be left untenanted. The brain that controlled your 27,000 billion cells and your bodily factory will direct no more. The soft touches of the breeze and the warmth of the sunshine, the blessing of soft, kind hands, the raindrops, the ocean and the waves, and the cool and warm floods of water will soothe you no more, for your body will remain inert like a lifeless stone.

The day will come when you cannot see, when you cannot move your hands or feet, when you have no sense of smell, when your skin will not feel the touch of costly dresses, and when you will have neither good nor bad thoughts, neither success nor failure, fear nor bravery, life nor death, wisdom nor ignorance, excitement nor peace.

Since this must come to pass, why are you building so many bad habits and a conviction of permanent comfort around this melting butter-doll of a body? The heat of death will melt these frozen bodily atoms. Did you ever think that you have only this one life, this body only, this way to live just once, and that then you will join the shadows of millions of Souls who also have thought, hoped, lived, laughed, cried, and died with unfulfilled hopes?

Reincarnation is undoubtedly true, but do you realize that you will never have the same body, the same appearance, the same mind, the same friends, or the same place in which to live and laugh and die in exactly the same way as you will experience in this life once and for all?

Remember, you have to play one role for a few years of sorrow and laughter on the screen of Time, then this particular film of Life will be shelved forever, never to be played again in the same way, unless it be revamped and played on the screen of some other Incarnation.

If each and every Soul’s cheap garment of flesh must be discarded so that the Soul may put on the shining robes of immortality, then why should you cry? If great and small, immortality-declaring Saints and trembling-at-death small men must die, then why should you fear death? It is a universal experience through which all must pass.

No one except Jesus and a few other Great Ones, out of billions of lost Souls, have been allowed to come back to earth with the same body to tell all mankind that it is possible to return after death in the same body. Even Jesus and a few of the great Masters of India have never appeared on earth in the same fleshly earthly form after death and shown themselves before all the people of the world.

Think what a mystery Life is! It has its origin from the unknown, and into the unknown it merges. Think what a mystery Death is! It swallows up the hard-working man and the idle man alike, as well as the good and the bad ones, and makes them change back into ether and the elements. Think how everybody fears death, and yet death comes only to give peace and relief when life’s burden seems to be extremely heavy with grief, ill-health, or apparently incurable trouble.

Why spend all the treasure of your wisdom trying to make this uncertain, perishable body comfortable? Wake up! Try to reap the harvest of imperishable immortality and lasting, ever-new Bliss on the perishable soil of the body. You will never find lasting comfort from a slowly melting body. You can never squeeze the honey of Divine Happiness from the rock of sense pleasures. Lasting comfort ceaselessly flows into the pail of your life when you squeeze the honeycomb of Meditation and Peace with the eager, powerful hands of will, and with ever deeper Concentration.

Why are you intoxicated with material desires during your death-like sleep of ignorance? Your present material activity is like walking and working in a dream of delusion during your sleep of ignorance. Why are you so sure of yourself, and why do you devote your entire time to building a material fortune which you must leave at the instant call of death? As you know, all material riches are too heavy to be carried in your Astral car on your journey to the great Beyond. Why not prepare now for the last day on earth, when you will have to leave all the things to which you are so attached?

I do not mean that you should be a cynic and not enjoy the things of this Life. All I say is, do not be so attached to anything which you enjoy here that you will feel mental agony when you are forcibly separated from it. If you do not grieve for earthly things when your bodily garment is cast off, you will then have better things hereafter. You will also again receive from the hands of your Father, God, all the things that you lost and cherished. He takes things from you so that you will not remain earthbound and forgetful of your immortality.

Acquire the power of Meditation and the treasures of intuitional perceptions and ever-new peace and joy, which treasures will be of great use to you on your last journey. Forget the delusions of today. Get ready by making your acquaintance with God every day, so that at the end of the trail, through the portals of the last day, you may be allowed to enter the Kingdom of your Father and remain there forever.


Renunciation means the denial of the smaller things which you think are your own, for the attainment of the greater things that are truly your own. . . . If you only knew Whose son you are and how much territory you own, you would give up everything else."

—Paramhansa Yogananda

[sent to friends by Brachmachari Sagar]



Monday, June 17, 2019

How Can I Find that Perfect Job?

A person wrote to us with this question:

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

My response to this question was put this way:

Dear Friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings and joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, June 8, 2019

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Memorial Day in America: The Great Yagya, Wheel of Life!


The purpose of Memorial Day (celebrated in America) is to remember and honor the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in defense of their country. Whether or not you, or me, or history judges their sacrifice as justified, they gave their full measure and thus honor is due to all.

I think of the great and noble man, and war hero, General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate army.
He is quoted as saying “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it. Duty then is the sublimest word in the English language. You should do your duty in all things. You can never do more and you should never wish to do less.” 

History may judge that he made the wrong choice (he had been offered the leadership of the Union army), but he followed what he deemed to be his duty and to that degree, then, he was victorious. Both then, and ever since, he has been adjudged in error. In recent years, statutes to his honor have been removed in various cities in the American South. America’s Civil War was anything but civil and it was a holy war to free enslaved peoples: of this there is no doubt. Yet each must act in accordance with his own sense of duty.

Or, as Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita puts it: Perform those actions which your duty dictates, for action is better than inaction. Without action, indeed, even the act of maintaining life in the body would not be possible. (Gita 3: 8)

I once asked Swami Kriyananda (founder of Ananda and a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda) about the righteousness and karma of the Allies in WWII having unleashed the atom bomb in Japan and having firebombed the cities of Germany. He dismissed my unspoken but critical view of these decisions with the equivalent of “all is fair in …. war.” 

Difficult times call for difficult decisions. You can only hope to do your best. The outcome is what determines the rightness of a decision. The victory of the Allies gave birth to the Iron Curtain but nonetheless deflected for a time the spectre of greater enslavement and hopelessness.

It is no coincidence that India’s greatest scripture, the Bhagavad Gita takes place on a battlefield where the first question asked is whether it is righteous to fight. But military warfare and its righteousness is not my real topic this day of remembrance.

Let us also remember those great saints and avatars who have given their lives to spread the message of Self-realization (our soul’s eternal life in God) to all “with ears to hear.” When a soul has become freed from all present and past karma but elects to answer God’s call to return into human form for the upliftment of others, it must bear the burden of the limitations of earthly existence even if that burden is not engendered by its own past actions. Human existence, even for a freed soul, entails some loss of divine contact, just as Jesus on the cross momentarily cried out to Elias or as Yogananda wept inconsolably for the death of his earthly mother. 

While that loss is never permanent nor is it the cause of actions fired by desire, the temporary eclipse of the immortal and omniscient bliss of that soul is surely a painful or burdensome loss. Even avatars, however briefly, confront their impending death with some trepidation; such was the case of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and both Lahiri Mahasaya and Swami Sri Yukteswar (as recorded in “Autobiography of a Yogi”).

Whether soldiers or saints, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13. The intention that motivates a conscious action ties the consequences to the doer of the act. The results of that act shape the nature of the act’s consequences. (If one (a saint or master) has dissolved the sense of doership, then the consequences of his action accrue to the benefit of others.)

Jesus’ response to God’s call to sacrifice his human life on the cross was faced in a different circumstance by Abraham who was asked by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. The sacrifice of one level of existence to achieve or for the benefit of a higher level of consciousness is the way by which God has created the world.

In Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains to devotee Everyman (Arjuna) the purpose of “yagya,” or self-offering:

10. Prajapati (God in the aspect of Creator) brought mankind into manifestation, and in so doing gave man the potential for self-offering into a higher (than human) awareness (through yagya). Along with this gift He enjoined mankind, “Whatever you desire, seek it by offering energy back to the source of all energy.
Let this sacrifice (yagya) be your milch cow of fulfillment.”

11. (Prajapati continued:) “With this offering, commune with the devas (shining angels), that they may commune also with you. Through such mutual communion you will arrive at the highest good.”

12. (Prajapati concluded:) “By communion with the devas you will receive from them the (earthly) fulfillments you desire. He who enjoys the gifts of the gods without returning due offering (of energy) to them is, verily, a thief.”

The above is, for westerners, an unusual, even odd way of stating what we know of sacrificing the present for the future. It is investing in our future by refraining from present enjoyment. We in the West know all about “investing” whether for retirement; or investing in a college education, or the future of our children and so on.

Nature too teaches us that all life offers itself into the greater life of others as an integral part of the cycle of life. The great “water wagons” of rain clouds unleash their precious cargo that life might be revivified. The sun consumes itself to give us energy and light. Microscopic life forms are consumed by larger life forms all the way up the food chain. Plants grow, live, and die for the nourishment of other life forms. And, returning to our beginning, soldiers give their lives in defense of their nation and their people.

To lose weight we must sacrifice a few simple pleasures! To sustain bodily strength we must take the time and make the effort to exercise. To nourish a friendship we must learn to hold our tongue and to accept others as they are before considering how we might help them (if they are open to our help).

To fulfill our duties in work and service, we must sacrifice some of the time we might otherwise give to relaxation and recreational pursuits. Parents sacrifice the pleasure of one another’s company and many personal pursuits and friendships by serving the daily needs of their children.
   
The great wheel of life is sustained by sacrifice. From the saints to the soldiers, this is one of our soul’s great lessons and therefore we celebrate this day of Memory.

May each and every one of us surrender to the great wheel of Divine Life, offering ourselves into the fire of dharma and purification that leads to our soul’s true home in Bliss.

Swami Hrimananda
USA Memorial Day 2019
   

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Swami Sriyukteshvar Giri Maharaj - May 10, 1855

Swami Sri Yukteswar, guru to Paramhansa Yogananda, was born May 10th, 1855 in his ancestral home of Serampore (north of Calcutta). He was the only child of a middle-class family. His father was a minor landowner and businessman but died when his son, Priyanath, was still young. Priyanath (later, Swami Sri Yukteswar) had to attend to family matters from a young age.

I'd like to share some interesting aspects of Sri Yukteswar's (SY) life taken from the translated biography written by Swami Satyananda Giri, one of SY's disciples.

Not surprisingly, Priyanath was of an exacting disposition. Early in life, he made connections and friendships with a well-placed and well-off family, the Goswamis. An early incident took place at the home of the Goswamis at a time when a supposedly learned pundit was holding forth in the home. Everything the pundit stated was merely a recitation of scriptural passages. As a young teenager and tiring of this mindless parroting which lacked personal experience and commitment, Priyanath mocked the pundit by proclaiming aloud for all to hear (including the pundit) that he learned something the other day and found a quote in the shastras to prove it. He made a quick exit, laughing hysterically. The pundit was about to upbraid Priyanath, but the teenager had departed!

SY consumed knowledge voraciously and from all directions: science, medicine, art and music, and the scriptures. For a time he attended a Christian college in his home town where he delved deeply into the Christian Bible. But soon his interests turn to anatomy and medicine. When his professor couldn't satisfactorily answer his unceasing questions, he left the Bible college and went on to medical school where he studied for nearly two years.

He worked as an accountant but was so quick with numbers that he could easily finish his work and spent the remainder of the day in "chit chat!" He also soon left this occupation!

He was intrigued by homeopathy and studied the works of the German researcher, Dr. Konn. SY was proficient in helping others with their illnesses using this and other traditional forms of healing. He enjoyed horseback riding, hunting, skill with weaponry and sports.

For a short time, he studied under a man named Bankimbabu, a sort of rationalist teacher independent of sectarian religious traditions: a free thinker, of sorts. SY loved music and even played the sitar. He would be perturbed when he heard others singing or playing out of tune, for he had a "good ear" for music.

He married and had one daughter, though his wife did not live long and years later, his daughter, who also had one daughter, died young. He would say that "God made me a sannyasi the easy way!" (By circumstances, that is.)

He attended traditional religious festivals like Holi or Durga Puja and even accompanied his mother on pilgrimages. SY was attracted to sadhus, sadhakas, and siddhas: always eager to be in the presence of holy people and to learn yoga techniques. But he was also alert for fakes and frauds.

Once time in his search for yogis, he came upon a man who was said to levitate every night. So one night, SY hid under the man's bed before the man came to his room for sleep. Not surprisingly, nothing happened and a confrontation ensued!

His searches once took him to the jungles of northern India where he witnessed the moonlight dances to Krishna. He studied from tantrics, Vaishnavites, and many other traditions.

In his association with the Goswami family and other local leaders, he took note of how each would go his room to practice yoga techniques but never spoke of it. This inflamed his curiosity until finally he overhead a conversation about a yogi in Benares. Off SY went immediately to Benares and after an intense search found the residence of Lahiri Mahasaya, who, as we know, became his guru!

SY was initiated into Kriya Yoga in 1884. Thereafter he wrote a continuing stream of letters (and came also to visit often) to Lahiri Mahasaya (LM) about spiritual and yogic matters. Later as SY began writing a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, he would send chapters to LM for review, editing, and approval. His commentaries were published locally for the benefit of a growing number of students. He founded an informal organization called the "Gita Sabha" (fellowship). Its members consisted of kriyabans who studied together.

He associated with many famous yogis of his time, including Trailanga Swami. He went to visit Ramakrishna at the Dakshineswar Temple but for some reason, Ramakrishna was not there. SY was friends also with Swami Vivekananda but SY's efforts to link his own ministry with that of the Ramakrishna Mission were unsuccessful.

When he would visit LM, he sat apart and spoke very little but he admitted that even in the "chit-chat" that occasionally took place in LM's presence he felt uplifted.

SY spoke Bengali (of course), Hindi, French and English and was versed in Sanskrit. He wrote "primers" with shortcuts for the learning of English, Sanskrit and Hindi. He took an intense interest in astrology and found the art and science of it in disarray, much knowledge having been lost or misunderstood. He sometimes paid the travel expenses of renown astrologer or himself would travel to meet them.

When asked about the value of studying Sanskrit, SY made a curious statement: he said that this would be a good thing for Indians to do for the next fifty years (until, around 1950?)

SY's efforts to correct the Hindu calendar were not accepted by the pundits of his time. Even though he convinced a council of learned astrologers in Puri, the one astrologer whose assent they said was still needed died before SY could meet with him. SY then predicted that it would after his own death before the calendar correction he had offered the world would be accepted in his own land.

It was, as we know from "Autobiography of a Yogi," in 1894 that SY went to the Kumbha Mela in Allahabad where he met his param-guru, Babaji and from whom he was commissioned to write the "Holy Science."

His first attempt at writing the book commissioned by Babaji was to do so in the French language. He had hoped to attend an Exhibition in Paris that was coming up. His hoped-for travel never materialized. For this, he spent an intense six months learning French! He gave his manuscript to a French Christian missionary. This missionary immediately recognized that these writings would create an upheaval among Christians and, somehow, managed to lose the document.

SY started over again: this time in English and this time writing Sanskrit slokas inspired by ancient precepts from Vedas, Upanishads, and the Gita. "Kaivalya Darshanam" was the Sanskrit book title for the "Holy Science." He employed the assistance of two local barristers in shaping his English.

Several themes played out in the life of SY. Among them was an abiding value set upon non-sectarianism. Another was the supportive relationship between reason and faith; science and religion; efficiency and spirituality; health and consciousness.

One of his followers, Sri Motilal, played a large part in making SY better known and in helping SY spread his message of kriya yoga and Self-realization in Bengal and Benares. Motilal was a proficient organizer who, over time, became highly advanced spiritually and later in life had an awakening that turned his life's work toward humanitarian causes. SY supported him but was not directly involved in those efforts. By the end of Motilal's esteemed life, he was known as the Satchidananda Swami.

A curious incident occurred where, in association with a professor, SY met with two German scholars who travelled to India seeking secret knowledge. While Swami Satyananda's description of this part of SY's life was not wholly satisfying to me, it triggered in SY a commitment to education that would integrate health sciences, how-to-live training with academic and spiritual studies. Whatever it was the German scholars were seeking, they (like many who have travelled to India) did not find it. SY evidently was inspired to formalize or rationalize the Self-realization teachings so that everyone could benefit (even if, presumably, not all were seeking moksha).

It was in 1904 that he purchased the land in Puri that was to become the Kararashram. For the training of disciples and renunciates, he saw three stages and three separate locations for them. The young brahmacharis (up to age 25) would live and train in Puri at Kararashram. The adult sadhakas would live in Benares in Pranabashram (where Swami Pranabananda was a part) and the senior renunciates (age 50 and above) would live in Rishikesh at the Siddhashram.

In each person's life, SY saw how one moved through the yugas: kali, dwapara, treta, and satya. An interesting view of the yugas: one suited to each of us, personally! [For a description of the yugas, see the Introduction to the "Holy Science" or the expanded exploration of the yugas in the book, "The Yugas" by Steinmetz and Selbie.

The active years of SY's service were years of political ferment in India. While he supported Indian independence he, like Gandhi, was emphatic that the individual (not "the people") was the key to the social changes clearly needed.

It was on building character, right behavior, attitude, virtue and spiritual consciousness that SY saw that India would deserve its freedom. SY protested against the servile, slave-like, tamasic (lazy) tendencies that being a conquered people fostered among his countrymen. He agreed with Swami Vivekananda that in seeking (pretending?) to be sattvic (peaceful) Indian culture had become tamasic (lethargic).

His all-around educational ideals included not only the sciences but farming and agriculture, martial arts, art, music, and craft, the languages of English, Bengali and Hindi, and of course yogic practices. He saw the value of post-educational travel including air travel (which had not become a commercial reality at that point) but he decried its influence on young men of India who only returned with western habits and a loss of self-respect for Indian culture. He agreed (again) with Swami Vivekananda that "if you want to know the Bhagavad Gita, play football." (Meaning, in part, that by health culture you can improve your mental acuity and your intuitive awareness.)

Indeed, he had a strong emphasis on the need for self-respect. In his description of Dwapara Yuga (the age our planet has entered into), he predicted that "self-respect" would be one of its hallmark characteristics. (We see this in the rise of minorities, women, and people of color, etc. etc.) He, like his guru, LM, initiated all castes and religionists who were sincere. He especially emphasized the need to imbue children with self-respect. This did not mean, he said, that children shouldn't be disciplined. Tone of voice, emotion, and form of discipline are important in finding the balance.

SY travelled extensively in Bengal (Orissa, too, I imagine) to many villages where he would share his all-around teachings of health and Self-realization through kriya yoga and yoga at large. He studied asanas, mudras, pranayama and all manner of yogic practices. Always he taught Vedanta adwaita as the supreme goal and reality: Satchidananda.

SY eschewed the traditional forms of "guru-worship" and behavior. He called himself, simply, a "servant of all." He strongly encouraged seva (selfless service) by day, and God by night! He recommended to those in family life to go on retreat at least once a year. He ridiculed the pomp and lavish sartorial displays of some of the spiritual leaders of east and west though he accepted the value and necessity of the diverse forms of religion. He encouraged that we respect all forms of spirituality.

Strangely, his own efforts at organizing were not successful. He called himself a "son of Saraswati disowned by Kali." I can envision several ways to explain this but in yogic terms I would say simply that he was a gyana yogi, not a karma yogi though his karma yoga was enormous! Go figure!

"Learn to behave" was something of a motto for SY. Be polite but not subservient.

I've only extracted some tidbits from the biography and without repeating what Yogananda wrote in "Autobiography of a Yogi." As Krishna counsels in the beloved Gita, "even the wise model right behavior" past the point of their needing it for their own upliftment. To westeners whose only source of information might be the "AY," one might be led to imagine SY was only a thinker and yogi. But, in truth, he was unceasingly active in seva (karma yoga).

Thus may we honor and celebrate the birth of this Gyanavatar, Swami Sriyukteshvar Giri, May 10, 1855.

"Tat twam asi"

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Oh God, you devil, you! Sanaatan Dharma

Oh God, you devil, you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Fourth (of May) be with you!

Swami Hrimananda