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

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Christmas Spirit Comes from Living in the Presence of God

Bible: (Paraphrased) "As you have tendered to the needs of others, in this way you have honored Me!"

Bhagavad Gita: (Paraphrased) "He who never loses sight of Me in all things and people, I never lose sight of he."

The week after Thanksgiving I had my annual week of seclusion. Seclusion is a personal retreat: a retreat where one is alone with God in prayer and meditation. This time I didn’t even go out for a walk or a run, though I did more chores around the Hermitage house than I have in past years: cleaning, mostly. [See Facebook: Camano Hermitage]

I eat lightly, only had a few hot meals during the week, mostly because I’m a lazy (and a lousy) cook. Accordingly, I consider a cup of coffee a hot meal.

It’s humbling to attempt to sit for 5 to 6 days in meditation. Even if I don't do this unbrokenly, it is the main activity of the entire day, interspersed with chanting and the practice of kriya yoga and other techniques. I had a particular focus for this seclusion: to deepen and prolong periods of complete stillness beyond thoughts and mental images.

The subconscious mind, however, can act like a donkey. Sometimes you can coax it along with a little discipline, a bribe, or a certain amount of force, but there can come a time when you have to ease off and give it a rest. 

At such times I did a little reading (all of it spiritual reading). Other times and to engage the body so as not to get lazy, I'd do some chores (mopping the floor, sweeping, etc.) But all together, it truly amounts to many, many hours of meditation. 

The goal of meditation is, of course, to feel the presence of God: alive, vibrant, intimate and cosmic—in whatever way and form God’s consciousness will appear; in the form of Yogananda, Jesus, or one of the others. As deep inner peace; transforming, ineffable love, or a contagious joy that one imagines will last forever!

There are about four chants that call for a repetition of the names of the masters and these I find especially helpful. I take one of these chants, name by name, one by one into silent visualizations which I then let dissipate into an expectation of their actual vibrational presence. I find this practice deeply rewarding. Thus, I alternate chanting with meditation.

Among my yoga practices, having recently teamed up with Murali Venkatrao in the Advanced Pranayam class at our local Ananda Center (Institute for Living Yoga) for our level II (500 hour) Yoga Alliance students, I gave special emphasis to some of the more aggressive pranayams to take me deeper into psychological equilibrium, inclining toward breathlessness.

To feel kinship with others in this world requires more than mere sentiment or dry philosophy; for it to be real and sustainable -- even when one is under personal attack -- it must descend from the perfect love of God.

When in the New Testament Jesus gives the parable of the "King" who explains to the "elect" that whenever they helped a person in need they were serving Him, we see right away the obvious teaching that we should help those in need. Only slightly less obvious, but I suspect not often pointed out in orthodox Christian circles is the precept that God IS each person. Our charitable act should arise because God resides in that person, not only because his material need. This is the REASON to help others, because they are, "as thyself," a child of God. ("Love thy neighbor AS thy Self.").

This famous parable offers "heavenly rewards" to those of a kind and generous nature but the parable makes it clear that the compassion of the "elect" was not expressed as an act of conscious devotion to God who resides in those whom they helped. Is it enough, spiritually speaking, to be a humanitarian, perhaps an agnostic, even an atheist? Yes--but only up to a point.

We can get good karma and the heavenly rewards of heart warming satisfaction from our good deeds. But to reunite our souls with God, our Creator, requires an act of conscious devotion (and not just one!) All of our good karma for our generosity might be used up by our response when we are attacked by others for it is an axiom that "no good deed goes unpunished" in this world of duality! Good karma can work off bad karma but until we begin to yearn to step out of duality all together and into transcendence (the oneness of God's eternal love and bliss), we just remain on the merry-go-round.

It is not humanly possible to love every person we meet because not everyone we meet is lovable in a merely human way. But when our hearts are full of the unconditional love of (for) God, we are naturally loving. We are also naturally wise in how we express that love! 

Thus a loving parent may have to discipline a child (but to do so does not require being angry); a policeman may have to apprehend a criminal (but need not be cruel); a teacher, correct a student (without dislike); and a supervisor, to lay off or let go an employee (without malice). True love IS wisdom. We mustn't forget that.

Love which results from a bleeding heart simply bleeds the heart into a dearth of feeling!

This, then, is the basis for the true Spirit of Christmas: that divine love and God's presence rests at the heart of each heart, each creature, each person, indeed, each atom of creation.

The outer light of the sun may be absent from our northern hemisphere as we descend into winter, but it can remind us that the true "light of men" resides within us and can be always found, or re-born, in the stillness of the quiet heart, especially deep in meditation.

One reason I think we instinctively honor children as part of Christmas is derived from the tender feelings that arise around devotion to the Christ child. (Did you know, however, that it was a thousand years after that event that the first nativity scene was created for the purpose of devotion? It was St. Francis of Assisi who did this for the first time in Christianity's history!)

But I think there's another reason, as well. For the fellow feeling of kindness and warmth which we call the Christmas spirit is reflected in the innocence, natural love, and openness that children express. (This is also depicted in the "softly lowing" animals who share the humble stable where Jesus is said to be born.) 

Paramhansa Yogananda often quoted these words of Jesus, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven."

"For of such" is the warmth, the welcoming hospitality, graciousness, kindness and generosity we see expressed at Christmas. The social aspect, in spite of its commercialization, remains a valid and wonderful part of Christmas. But it's sustainable source comes from within us from our experience of the living presence of God, the Christ universal.

That aspect of Christmas giving that extends generosity to the poor and homeless is affirmed in the parable given to us of Jesus (above). But giving to those in need goes beyond the gift's material benefit and value. Did not Jesus also say "The poor ye have always with thee"? 

Giving to those in need affirms our kinship even with those whose circumstances differ so greatly from our own, or whose outer appearances do not attract us. We are all children of God and are equally deserving of the divine abundance of joy and self-respect.

We must not be hypocrites like the friends of suffering Job in the Old Testament who taunted him by assuming he must have sinned and thus deserved his troubles. We who might reject a teaching like Original Sin find ourselves, perhaps, all too easily invoking the law of (bad) karma when we or our friends are burdened with illness or misfortune. 

Whatever may be the roots of our present troubles, or those of others less fortunate seeming than us, each of us can turn the "sow's ear" of difficulties into a "silk purse" of spiritual growth if we respond with grace, faith, equanimity, and cheerfulness. Our tests exist to cleanse us and awaken our strength, courage and faith. 

Perhaps you know this story:  

A king had a male servant who, under all circumstances always said to him: “My king, do not be discouraged because everything God does is perfect, and He makes no mistakes.”
One day, they went hunting and a wild animal attacked the king. The servant managed to kill the animal but couldn’t prevent his majesty from losing a finger.
Furious and without showing any gratitude, the king said; “If God was good, I would not have been attacked and lose one finger”.
The servant replied: “Despite all these things, I can only tell you that God is good and everything He does is perfect; He is never wrong.”
Outraged by the response, the king ordered that the servant be imprisoned.
Later, the king left for another hunt and was captured by savages who used human beings as sacrifice. On the altar, the savages discovered that the king did not have one finger in place, so they released him because they considered him to “incomplete” to be offered to their gods.
On returning to his palace, the king authorized the release of his servant and told his servant: “My friend, God was really good to me. I was almost killed but for lack of a single finger, I was let go.”
“However, I have a question,” the king added. “If God is so good, why did He allow me to put you in prison?”
The servant wisely replied: “My king, if I had gone with you, I would have been sacrificed because I have no missing finger.”
While giving to charitable organizations is surely a good thing, anytime of year, consider also more personal acts of sharing. "Charity," my mother used to say, "begins at home." Consider the needs of a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker something he or she truly needs. Give, too, anonymously when you can. Or give to express your caring or appreciation to someone to whom you don't otherwise have an obligation or any other personal motive to do so.
One encounters beggars most everywhere in the world. Who can know if it is wise to give to this one or that. If you choose to give, do so for the awakening of the love of God in your own heart, not for any tangible need you imagine the recipient may have.
Yogananda's charity was more often in this way: more personal. So, too, Swami Kriyananda (Ananda's founder and a direct disciple of Yogananda's). 
We recently had an opportunity to give (both personal and from Ananda here in Seattle) a modest donation to a rural health clinic in northern Bangladesh. We were invited to an annual fundraiser organized by local Imam Jamal Rahman and his family for the benefit of a clinic in their ancestral village. We could see directly the practical results of our gifts and it was satisfying and meaningful.
The message that Paramhansa Yogananda was commissioned to bring to the West and to the world is that "Christ lives!" The universal Christ (or Krishna, Buddha, etc.) consciousness, which is the sole reflection within us of the Creator's bliss and consciousness, exists in all creation, and in you and me. Meditation, and especially kriya yoga (an advanced meditation technique) has come into the world and into increasing popular use to help us discover this realization for ourselves.
Thus Christmas has taken on a new meaning: a universal one and also a very practical one. It can and truly should be celebrated by everyone: of all faiths or none. It is not by legislation, reason, or philosophy that we can overcome our differences and inbred prejudices but by the Christ love of our hearts and souls.
A blessed and joyful Christmas season to all!
Nayaswami Hriman 



Monday, November 6, 2017

Are All Religions Equal?

As if religious divisiveness were not already rife with strife, do we dare ask if all religions are equal in their spiritual stature or degree of elevation (or revelation)? And, who are we to even ask such a question?

Paramhansa Yogananda was asked this question and said simply, “No, not all religions descend from the same heights of divine vision.” (I am paraphrasing.) He would sometimes tell the story of how one religion of recent vintage, and now exceedingly popular with millions of followers, was created by its founder with the ruse of burying writings underground, waiting a few years, and then miraculously finding them.
I was once received a letter from a friend who chided me for an article I wrote around Easter time comparing the sacrifice of Jesus in his crucifixion with the concept in the Bhagavad Gita (and the Vedas) of yagya (and also tapasya): self-sacrifice. The writer wanted to know why I didn’t include examples from the teachings of the Koran.
Part of my reply to the writer included a question asked of Paramhansa Yogananda: “Why do you (Paramhansa Yogananda) emphasize the teachings of Jesus Christ and those of Krishna (rather than including other teachings)?” Yogananda’s curt reply was: “It was Babaji’s wish that I do so.” In other words, he essentially refused to elaborate.
That there is a special connection between Paramhansa Yogananda and Jesus Christ is amply demonstrated in his own story, "Autobiography of a Yogi.” But no explanation of it is given.
Let us turn now to metaphysics and to the core teachings of Sanaatan Dharma. (Sanaatan Dharma is the indigenous name for Hinduism. The term means, simply, the "Eternal Religion." Its existence pre-dates much of what is recognizable to us as Hinduism. Its origins go far back in time to the Vedas and other writings which followed the Vedas in time.)
There is the core teaching that we, “man,” are made in the image of God. We find this stated plainly in the Old Testament, for example. We are thus, as many religions and saints aver, “God’s children.” We are taught, east and west, that “God” (whoever or whatever “God” is) made the universe. But in most traditions we are not given to understand exactly how God made “something from nothing.” We are told, only, that He did so.
In the traditions of India, however, it is taught that God made the universe by becoming the universe. Put more starkly, there is NO other core or fundamental reality than God alone! God is all there is![1] The teachings further aver the core concept of the Christian trinity: God is beyond and untouched by His creation, while at the same time IS his creation, and at the same time God, as God, resides silently in the still heart of every atom of creation! Father, Mother, son!
By extension, therefore, if indeed logic can be expected to kick in here, at this point, WE are aspects of God. Could then the purpose of our creation and existence be to re-discover, to re-inherit our Oneness with the only Reality there is? To unite, in other words, what only appears to be our separate consciousness with the Infinite Consciousness?
Well, surprise, surprise: this is precisely the teaching of Sanaatan Dharma!
Thus, now let us return to our challenge question: are all religions equal (spiritually speaking)? The core teachings averred above might then be the yardstick by which this question can be answered.
I do not wish to represent the teachings of the basic main faiths but I will dip my toe into the waters. First let me add something VERY VERY important: we must distinguish between orthodox theology and the lives and teachings of the most spiritually advanced saints. For it has been said and makes sense that in every religion, time and place, there have been those individual souls who have achieved the realization described by Sanaatan Dharma. This must be so if Sanaatan Dharma be true.
Putting aside then that the true “custodians” of religion (the saints, whose testimony would surely be, upon close inspection, unanimous), we now might have our yardstick hovering over our inquiry.
Christianity and Islam speak of heaven as a place where our separateness resides eternally: strumming harps, being catered to by virgins, or praising God or whatever. Buddhism and Judaism seem unsure of the whole after-death thing. Buddhism inclines to saying “nothing” and Judaism argues about it. None of these however speak of union (or Oneness) with God. Judaism has the great mantra “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE!” So far as I understand it, however, the One isn’t really one; it’s two: the Lord and me. They don’t take the mantra all the way to the goal line, in other words.
I readily admit my tongue is in my cheek and my analysis in the above paragraph is about as superficial as one could concoct but most orthodox religionists are pretty superficial when it comes to their own beliefs, aren’t they? In one religion, they don’t drink; in another, don’t smoke or dance; in another, don’t eat meat and blah blah blah! Imagine they even kill each other over these things!
It gets worse because if God is the sole Reality behind all appearances and if the goal of the soul’s existence to achieve reunion with the Oversoul, this surely must mean there exists at least one soul who has achieved this!!!!! Sanaatan Dharma says many souls have achieved this. Christianity, at least, says there’s just one: Jesus Christ.
Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam are all very conflicted about the spiritual stature of their respective founders or prophets, some of whom seem all too human (like the Roman, Greek, Hindu or other gods). The teaching of the true guru, or savior, is a teaching that essentially says that the triune God incarnates in human form even as God already IS all forms. (How else would the stated goal of creation be demonstrated?)
Even if Christianity and some Hindu believers say that God himself has incarnated, the more subtle and nuanced approach as clarified by Paramhansa Yogananda (and others) explains that Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and other true saviors are just like you and me but have in a prior lifetime achieved Oneness with God. They are sent back to human incarnation to help others. They are not divine puppets. Like each of us, they too have unique qualities and aspects. They, too, teach in the context of the times and culture in which they find themselves.
Though Christianity comes very close, only Sanaatan Dharma expresses this teaching clearly and universally (even if devout and orthodox Hindus limit this teaching to specific “avatars” as divine incarnations). When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say I am?” he asked the deepest and most important question any human can ask of himself.
It is intellectually more satisfying to say Jesus or Buddha (etc.) are EITHER God or merely HUMAN! It takes a subtler consciousness (of BOTH-AND) to see that both natures dwell in us (and in all creation) and that uniting the two is our goal and ultimate destiny (even if it take millions of lifetimes owing to other choices we make).
None of this makes one religion, as such, better than another. As the saying goes, “There’s something for everyone.” We must each walk our path on our own and, by extension, honor the right and the need for others to do so. Each faith offers and emphasizes certain qualities such as compassion, self-discipline, love, joy, or wisdom. Each faith has nurtured and infused entire nations and cultures with its particular qualities.
Joy to you!
Swami Hrimananda







[1] The nature of evil and suffering is a ubiquitous and necessary question. Essential though it is, it goes beyond the scope of this article. Maybe another time, eh?

Friday, November 3, 2017

Is "Spiritual but not Religious" Really "Spiritual"?

I have read several reports over the last many years about the growing number of Americans who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Those of us on the inner path of meditation are certainly among some of those.

Paramhansa Yogananda predicted that “Self-realization would become the religion of the future.” By this he meant, according to Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Yogananda), that in the future people in all religions would come to an intuitive understanding that the true purpose of religion is to help us evolve spiritually by having a direct, personal perception and relationship with God or one’s own Higher Self.

But notice that Yogananda’s statement used the term “religion” of the future.

Among the millions who see themselves as “spiritual but not religious” are, I would guess, many who have rejected orthodox religions. There many reasons for this rejection: reasons which my readers no doubt do not require to be enumerated. Yogananda employed the term, tongue-in-cheek, “Churchianity” to describe the orthodox sects of Christianity (and, by extension, all orthodox faiths). By this less-than-flattering term, Yogananda referred to the institutional weightiness of organized religion which tends to suffocate individual spirituality.

Indeed, in Yogananda’s teachings he claims that his coming to the West began with a communication between Jesus Christ (not in the physical human body) and Babaji (the peerless, deathless master in human form). In this dialogue between these two great masters, one of the east, the other of the west, Jesus bemoaned the loss of (in so many words) “spirituality” among his followers. He said “good works” (serving the poor, having institutions of learning, healing, and the like) were aplenty. So, too, rites and rituals. But direct, intuitive, inner communion (vs ritual, sacramental communion) had fallen by the wayside in Christianity at large.

Let's consider now this appellation: "spiritual but not religious." It's key feature is the rejection or non-involvement with organized religion. But other key is "spiritual." But what does it mean when I say (of myself), "I'm spiritual"? 

It could mean that I'm a nice person. I pet dogs, kiss babies, and help elderly folks cross the street. I pay my taxes. I believe in God or something equivalent. It might even mean I pray or meditate. I respect (or not) all faiths or at least see them as means to the same end. (BTW: is the term "organized religion" an oxymoron?)

But I wonder how many of the millions who place themselves in this category really live a life of daily prayer and meditation, self-sacrifice or ego transcendence in the name of enlightenment or other divine goal, or service to humanity as an act of devotion. It's true that few religionists do any of these things, either! 

What I've described is more what most people might imagine the life of a monk or nun might be like and how few of these there are in the world (even among monks and nuns!). And I think that's my point. 

At least a religionist participates, however wanly, in his faith and commits himself to serving its cause, attending its religious services, and giving in monetary support. By contrast, being only spiritual but not religious might mean one does nothing at all! Maybe he sips a latte on Sunday morning while reading the proverbial (digital) newspaper on the deck in the sunshine!  

What I’ve encountered in some of these people, moreover, is an attitude of judgment of religion and intellectual pride surrounding their view that all these religions are either useless or all point to the same thing (and who needs them, therefore, anyway!).

The fact that many of us feel religion has abdicated its true calling by becoming partisan, sectarian and promoting divisiveness rather than peace and harmony is wholly and truly understandable.

Nonetheless, an objective reading of history will also disclose that religion has also been a force for unity, harmony, respect, rule of law, and peace at key moments during human history. No other human activity or impulse has this power. Legislation, imposed by police force, is insufficient. Reason has limited power to change behavior. High ideals and spiritual consciousness as exhibited not by prelates and popes but by saints HAS this power.

St. Francis is one, of many, examples. “Rebuild my church” the painting of Jesus on the cross, coming alive, commanded St. Francis. He, Francis, mistakenly thought the broken down church building needed repairs. In time he was to see that his role was to re-infuse Christendom with the true spirit of Christ. At the height of his life’s work, tens of thousands of people called themselves his disciples and adopted a truly spiritual way of life of prayer, sacrifice, service and love for all. St. Francis had all the reasons in the world to condemn popery and clerical abuses of his time. Instead, through love, self-sacrifice and example, he worked to change their consciousness.

In the now famous and extremely popular modern spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," by Paramhansa Yogananda, his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, challenged Yogananda’s aversion to religious organizations in this brief interchange (the result of which has blessed and inspired millions):

“Why are you averse to organizational work?” (Sri Yukteswar)
          Master’s question startled me a bit. It is true that my private conviction at the time was that organizations were “hornets’ nests.”
          “It is a thankless task, sir,” I answered. “No matter what the leader does or does not, he is criticized.”
          “Do you want the whole divine channa (milk curd) for yourself alone?” My guru’s retort was accompanied by a stern glance. “Could you or anyone else achieve God-contact through yoga if a line of generous-hearted masters had not been willing to convey their knowledge to others?” He added, “God is the Honey, organizations are the hives; both are necessary. Any form is useless, of course, without the spirit, but why should you not start busy hives full of the spiritual nectar?”
          His counsel moved me deeply. Although I made no outward reply, an adamant resolution arose in my breast: I would share with my fellows, so far as lay in my power, the unshackling truths I had learned at my guru’s feet. “Lord,” I prayed, “may Thy Love shine forever on the sanctuary of my devotion, and may I be able to awaken that Love in other hearts.”[1]

How often in my life of teaching meditation have I seen students come and go. Having taken a class(es) in meditation they turn away, whether receiving what they sought or in disappointment, not realizing that on their own they will very likely never establish the habit of meditation in daily life. "OK," you might object, "but maybe the Self-realization path (which includes Kriya Yoga) isn’t their way." But who can say that for sure.

I don't think that Yogananda’s prediction of Self-realization as the religion of the future can be so summarily dismissed. My teacher, friend, and founder of Ananda, Swami Kriyananda expressed Yogananda’s prediction by saying that he felt Yogananda was the “guru of this age."

Let me digress to explore what Swami Kriyananda might have meant by “guru of this age.” Certainly it is subject to interpretation but it makes no sense to me to see the term “guru” as being literal in respect to the human race at large. I think it means that Yogananda’s presentation of meditation and yoga philosophy was suited to this new age. He taught in our language and in our country (and to our scientific culture). It was not a mere transportation of old ideas and language (that of India) into a culture unfamiliar with it. Yogananda gave us a spiritual view of life and a way of life that is not based on narrow-eyed sectarianism, or, indeed any 'ism.
  
Yogananda spoke on subjects of marriage and child-raising, success and career, politics and history, economics and trade and not just theology and religion. He gave deep insights into our Judaeo-Christian culture and theology, and, to a lesser degree, that of other faiths. Nor did he abandon devotion and worship as if to please agnostics, atheists or die-hard materialists. He described his work and teachings as a “new dispensation” of eternal values and truths. The term “dispensation” implies that restrictions of the past have been loosed for a fresh new start on the path to the “truth that shall make us free.”

He brought answers to the spiritual needs and questions of the modern era and consciousness. We NEED inner peace in this fragmented society. We NEED advanced but relatively simple techniques of meditation like Kriya Yoga. In fact, we don’t need GURUDOM in the traditional outer forms that we see still prevalent today [where the teacher, living a life of luxury, is the center of attention by adoring millions]. Yogananda left this world at the relatively young age of 59 and left no viable successor gurus!

In fact, he said he was “the last of this line (of gurus). He left us his life-affirming counsel in all walks of life and he gave to us, on behalf of the lineage which sent him, Kriya Yoga. Organizations like Ananda are merely “delivery vehicles.”)

Religion is not going to go away. I once heard the Dalai Lama remark that the world doesn’t need more temples. Yes, I agree with him if he means enormous and expensive temples which are paeans to “churchianity”. But what we DO need is the support of one another to turn the tide of materialism, exploitation, racism and violence in a new direction towards cooperation, peace, and harmony.

“Religion,” Swami Kriyananda, and I’m sure others, have said “is organized spirituality.” Organization is the particular genius of the West. The science of consciousness is the gift of the East. We need both. A new and grass roots spiritual force must rise. And, it won’t be any one organization, like a super Catholic church. It will be many groups of like-minded souls who can acknowledge and cooperate with one another and who can be an example of “how-to-live” in a new age.

Let us then be “spiritual AND religious!”

Joy to you (and you, and you …. )


Swami Hrimananda

[1] Chapter 27, "Founding of a Yoga School at Ranchi"

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Grow Your Own Food : the Role of Farming in Ananda Worldwide!


Ananda Farms, Camano Island, WA

I am absolutely unqualified to write this article. I hardly know a weed from a pickle. But the other day Zach Abbey (co-manager of Ananda Farms www.AnandaFarms.com) posed the rhetorical question: "What is the vision of farming in Ananda's network of communities?"

Our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, in a thundering oration, once declared that a time would come when intentional spiritual communities would "spread like wildfire." He urged audiences to "buy land in the country, grow your own food, and live together in simplicity, guided by high ideals."

That was 1949. Since that time, neither of these two powerful commands have born fruit, at least outside the Ananda communities (of which there are nine). So, what gives here?

"Timing is everything!" Ananda's work in communities is, to state it simply and in relation to my question, seminal. Our experience and our example to society at large will bear fruit, like indeed fruit is borne, at the right time.

We have been learning as we go. The first community, Ananda World Brotherhood Village (now called, simply, Ananda Village), has gone through many changes over its fifty years. The other, newer communities, are organized differently and also experience changes and new forms from time to time. 

In Seattle area, for example, we moved away from having a professional property manager to managing the apartment community ourselves. This is at least a step in the right direction of what an intentional residential community should look like.

And, thus, returning to farming, we need to patiently continue growing food on land in the country where some can live. We will learn and refine our methods as we do this. The time is surely coming, (many others affirm this also) when what we have learned will be put to widespread use. But for now, like our communities, farming seems like an expensive luxury even as it is generally ignored by society at large.

Interest in alternative lifestyles is growing, however. 

Those of us drawn to either or both of these movements which are destined to manifest more commonly in the future are "way-showers," pioneers (you know, the ones with the arrows in their back). We are practicing what in yoga is known as "tapasya" -- the self-sacrifice and self-offering of our energies into a higher cause or ideal without regard to outward success as measured by the world around us.

Farming within the Ananda communities, like the communities themselves, has evolved in its various forms. Struggle and resistance always confronts changes. Organic farms around the world largely follow modern agricultural methods of tilling the soil, automated irrigation, and mono-culture row cropping. So, too, have the organic farming methods at the Ananda Communities.

But in recent years, Zach and Hailey Abbey (in Seattle area) and Alex and Dharmdasi Forrester (Ananda Village) have initiated no-till permaculture style food growing. Setting aside considerations of whether one form is more efficient than another in terms of the "Green Revolution" (which, it can be questioned, may not be the only measure of food growing goals), this approach is guided by the desire to live in harmony with nature, not to wrest from Her hands her bounty in a struggle of the survival of the fittest! 

I dare not pretend to articulate the goals of permaculture style farming. Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008) is one of the guiding lights of this movement. Visit www.AnandaFarms.com for more on this subject. Better yet, visit Ananda Farms on Camano Island!

So now we have both methods co-existing side by side within the Ananda Communities. Acceptance of the new style was not an easy process. No one threw a punch, of course, but there's nothing more likely to generate a lot of talking than philosophy!!!!! :-)

Though I personally am an advocate of the no-till "yoga farm" approach, it isn't as important as it might seem to those who farm. Rather, the impulse, felt through the margins of society, to "grow your own," IS. Whether hydroponically or otherwise, on some level there is a perceived need to get back to the land.

Yoga is about integrating body and mind; and, earth, water, fire, air and ether! The soul of modern civilization has become "virtually" vacant from the earth, caught up in technology and ideology.

To regain our center as we do through yoga and meditation, we also need to reconnect and reintegrate into the world our bodies inhabit. 

Thus I feel, and am not alone in this, that however challenging it might be in this era to pioneer more natural methods of growing food (because the heavily subsidized agricultural industry provides food so cheaply), we must "farm-on" for the benefit and the example given to many who will come after us (whether soon or later).

Blessings,

Swami Hrimananda

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Friendship: the New Marriage

(Note: I speak here of marriage between a man and a woman. This form of marriage remains the dominant form of marriage, social changes notwithstanding, and, besides, it's simply easier to write nouns and pronouns in our language which has not yet figured out a natural way of addressing these new norms. My choice then is not a philosophical or social one but a practical one.)

"The only true marriage is between souls who have no compulsion of desire or need to be married!" (anonymous) 

Well, ok, so there aren't any such marriages to be found! (At least not commonly.) 

Human nature or perhaps only human culture bestows upon us an idealized image of marriage, cast in terms of romance and "happily ever after." While no one with life experience would buy into that in a sober state of mind, lots of people buy into it emotionally (at least when attending weddings, or deep into romance novels or movies).

Paramhansa Yogananda wrote a poem called "Friendship." Here is an excerpt:

Friendship is noble, fruitful, holy—

When two separate souls march in difference

Yet in harmony, agreeing and disagreeing,
Glowingly improving diversely,
With one common longing to find solace in true pleasure.
When ne’er the lover seeks
Self-comfort at cost of the one beloved,
Then, in that garden of selflessness
Fragrant friendship perfectly flowers.
For friendship is a hybrid, born of two souls,
The blended fragrance of two unlike flowers
Blown together in love’s caressing breeze.
Friendship is born from the very core
Of secret, inexplicable likings.
Friendship is the fountain of true feelings.
Friendship grows in both likeness and difference.

With the easy accessibility our culture offers for pursuing romantic and sexual urges, we find that marriage is taking place later in life and we see a greater recognition of the importance of friendship (over the intoxication of "being in love"). Perhaps this is the modern form of "arranged" marriage: arranged by higher values and interests rather the compulsion of hormones or a "pretty shade of lipstick and a handsome bow tie." 

I don't know the stats but I bet more couples meet by the arrangement of dating sites than by random bumps in a bar. 

The candid atmosphere of conversation around sex has the positive effect of shedding light on its darker sides such as aggressive and inappropriate behavior, abuse of position, disease, and pornography, not to mention an long list of criminal activities. 

Being in love may seem a harmless form of intoxication, but note that we "fall" in love. All forms of intoxication are similar, even experiencially. All involve a hangover! Taking another step downward, alcohol (or other drug use), sex, and violence can become a kind of demonic triad that clearly has aspects in common. Thus, societies worldwide seek in some way to re-direct sexual impulses into more positive expressions. 

Besides, in our calm and sober nature, we are all genderless souls. As we mature, our attractions, to the extent based on gender differences (however much we regale them at the time of our anniversary or at weddings), will naturally subside. Romantic love is designed, even by nature, to evolve into friendship.

Friendship, then, is the New Marriage paradigm.  

Romance may be the spark of ignition but once the motor of friendship is running smoothly the sparks become secondary and, over the years, even tiresome or artificial to re-ignite. This is not news but it is becoming increasingly true and conscious in society, or so I maintain (whether now or in the years to come).

Indeed, it is easily demonstrated by observation that unless friendship does kick in, the sparks of sex and romance are insufficient to keep the motor of a close and committed relationship running smoothly. 

Some of the natural characteristics of friendship include loyalty, service to one another, shared ideals and interests. And, as Yogananda's "Friendship" poem recounts, it includes acceptance of differences and disagreements. It also involves, increasingly, a shared commitment to community service or other high ideals, including spiritual growth and attunement.

When I opened this article by saying that the only true marriage is between two souls who are not under any compulsion of desire to marry, I am essentially describing two people who are secure in themselves.

This maturity and inner security frees one from the normal and usual neediness and co-dependence that characterizes most [immature] relationships. The freedom implied here allows these two friends to give each other space to evolve and grow while yet retaining respect for their differences in habits and opinions. It also means having the courage to work out or at least attempt to reconcile differences in a harmonious, respectful way.

I do not mean to describe an open-ended marriage. Loyalty will naturally be the basis of a mature marriage. I am referring to the all-too-common fears and insecurities that compel one spouse to fear or resist, or, alternatively, demand, changes in the other. And, when I say "changes" I refer to essentially positive and expansive changes in consciousness or habits (rather than self-destructive tendencies which too often emerge during the course of marriage).

Some of the changes that I've seen that are typical include a change in profession or career (which might require further education), diet or exercise, extreme sports, a spiritual awakening, foreign travel or residency, a hobby, and any number of positive changes in habits.

In this society where men and women mix freely and long-standing taboos around proximity and association are at an all-time minimum, a rising issue in marriage centers on friendships with others. 

Yogananda warned that "magnetism [between a man and woman] is the law," and too close of contact (physical, digital, etc.) between two people might flare into a relationship which could erode the trust and commitment of one's marriage. We bristle at the thought of being told "NO," but we have yet to learn that the new "taboos" require a greater personal and internal awareness of the need for self-regulated boundaries. These boundaries are not formed by custom or society. They exist in the mind, in the form of thought, contact, imagination, and feeling. American society, it seems to me, is largely unaware of this more subtle reality of human nature. Look at the issues arising in daily news around inappropriate behavior in the workplace. 

Another increasingly common change in marriage is facing a decision to end the marriage. Divorce is already common but friendship emphasizes harmony not contractual rights. If a parting of the ways must happen, a commitment to friendship means the separation should be, if possible, mutual, and in any case, as harmonious as any such sundering can be. Joined at the hip for years, even decades, means the dissolution of marriage will require surgery, and surgery is going to generate some pain and discomfort no matter what. 

It is not uncommon now to see separation taking place in the later stages of life when mature couples seek to nurture the impulse to be alone, and free from unnecessary obligations. The need to prepare for the "Final Exam" by pursing spiritual pursuits (prayer, pilgrimage, meditation) or, more mundanely, a bucket list, is an important reality for some. 

It seems to me, however, that if a couple enters marriage with friendship on the altar, they will do relatively well no matter how long the marriage endures. 

Only acceptance and respect for one another's independence and freedom to make, or unmake friendship and the strength and courage to enter into such a relationship can the house of marriage stand as the noble and divine state it can be. To those with a belief in the law of karma (and its concomitant precept, reincarnation) and the courage to follow it through, we are better able to accept the premise that no one owes us anything. Love is a gift and any gift given for profit (with conditions) is merely a contract for goods and services. 

The Ananda communities worldwide are part of a movement in this direction. Our wedding ceremony is surely among the most beautiful not only in its poetic and musical aspects, but in its expression of the ideal of divine friendship. At the same time, it is also grounded in the acknowledgement that when differences occur there is a commitment to work things out as best one can. When men and women, generally, and therefore also in marriage, are now free to follow similar pursuits (even serving together) and increasingly share equal status in society, it is important that marriage not turn into a competitive sport at the risk of friendship. The vows in our ceremony include a "non-competition agreement!" (:-)

If you would like a copy of this ceremony, feel free to write to me.

Though a high bar for marriage partners, these ideals can also help us lift our relationship above petty demands and opinions. The lives of many Ananda couples are a testimony to this uplifting, joy-giving power which is nothing less than the power of divine grace. 

May the blessings of true friendship, in all its myriad forms, be ever yours,

Swami Hrimananda!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Happy Anniversary, Swamiji! September 12 1948

Happy 69th Anniversary, Swamiji (Kriyananda)! 69 years since you first met your guru, Paramhansa Yogananda and were accepted by him as a renunciate and disciple. Your time with him was to be only three and a half years but these years were as many as had the disciples of Jesus with their master! 

It was enough: enough for you to go on to establish in your guru's name a worldwide network of intentional, spiritual communities whose residents (and their fellow, non resident Ananda members) were instructed and inspired in the path of Kriya Yoga as taught to you by Yogananda.

Who can possibly number the miles you've traveled throughout the world? The talks and lectures? Yoga classes; meditation classes, classes and initiations in the techniques of Kriya Yoga! The time spent counseling with individuals and with the leaders of the various organizations you established? Who can chronicle the depth and breadth of the musical compositions and concerts--a new form of music--both instrumental and vocal--Songs of Divine Joy that came through your attunement and talent? Who can count the wisdom insights expressed through your writings--hundreds of pieces from articles and papers to published books? They are beyond measure and offer wisdom and inspiration that spans the breadth of the human experience, its challenges and aspirations. "Crystal Clarity" you called your writing and editing work, and crystal clear it is for those with "eyes to see" and "ears to hear."

All of these efforts were infused with the vibrations of wisdom and joy of the world spiritual teacher, Paramhansa Yogananda, and the line of preceptors who sent and trained Yogananda a century ago. 

You revealed that Yogananda told you more than once that "You have a great work to do!" And when Yogananda's most advanced disciple (Rajasi Janakananda) repeated this to you after the death of Yogananda, he added, "And Master will give you the strength to do it," that strength was amply demonstrated throughout your life. 

Who can know the untold burdens of body troubles that beset you; the years of diatribes and accusations from fellow disciples who might as well have wished upon you and condemned you (if they could) to eternal hell fire! Yes, "tapasya" (self-sacrifice) is the price of spiritual service and soul freedom but you always knew it was Divine Mother's gift for it meant your freedom and the upliftment of countless sincerely-seeking souls.

And oh what blessings to us to have received all of these things and more: opportunities to serve with you; to serve the "great work" you have done; to serve with one another in divine friendship; and to practice the art of discipleship. You never accepted the role of guru (for God is the guru through the last of the Self-realization line: Paramhansa Yogananda) but you gave us a window on to what living discipleship looked like. You gave to us who accepted the opportunity to give our lives to our guru's work through Ananda, living lessons in the attitudes and roles of a disciple.

We thank you and offer back to you (wherever your soul may be roaming now in freedom), our gratitude and love for we will go on until the end where we will meet again. We vow to do our best to honor the spirit and the letter of your legacy and instructions to us in carrying on this great work. 

Happy Anniversary, Swamiji!

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, August 28, 2017

What is Meant by Hell? Is it Forever?

There are several key aspects of Christian dogma that require deeper understanding if ever Christianity is to be reconciled to other religions, and especially (from my interest, at least), to the Vedantic teachings of India. The Vedas and related teachings and practices predate even the appearance of Hinduism as we know it today as well as Christianity and the other major religions.

Some of those key aspects requiring deeper understanding include the Christian teaching that only by accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior can you be saved from eternal damnation. This is two-fold because it posits the concept of eternal damnation as well as the singular role of Jesus Christ and the religion founded in his name.

Reincarnation is another key teaching requiring reconciliation. Reincarnation interfaces with both eternal damnation and eternal salvation in the ego (with a resurrected human body). 

Being saved by Jesus Christ alone interfaces with the dogma that Jesus is the ONLY son of God. Being the son of God is less of an issue than being the ONLY son of God! Considering what we know of the age of the universe, of planet earth, of the existence of other religions and cultures, well, gee whiz: it just no longer makes sense that Jesus Christ is the only savior for everyone: whether born before, during, after his mere 33 years in a human body. A Christian has to purposely hide his head in the sand, ignoring the teachings and the saints of other religions to stick with that. The fate of all those billions who never heard "the good news" is either eternal damnation (no fault of their own?) or sitting somewhere in a nowhere land called "Limbo!" (What an invention THAT is!)

So perhaps you can see that this question of Hell is, well, hell, an important question! 

Here are some thoughts about hell and what it means and how it was used throughout the Bible (New and Old Testaments):


  1. You don't have to die to go to hell. Look around you: war, disease, depression, mental illness, starvation, abuse and exploitation.
  2. During suffering, it is difficult to imagine it ever ending and easy to imagine that your suffering is forever. This is as true for addictions and desires as it is for mental or physical suffering.
  3. In fact, despair is the bottomless pit of suffering. When addicted to a harmful habit or substance, you stop even enjoying it but cannot imagine yourself living without it. This realization produces a numbing state of despair and paralysis of will (along with the effects of the habit itself). What else is despair if not the feeling of eternally being dammed?
  4. "In my Father's house there are many mansions." The rishis of India, including modern saints of India such as Paramhansa Yogananda, confirm that the after-death states of the soul include places that could be described as heaven and hell. The difference is that they are not forever. Instead, and somewhat more like the Catholic teaching of Purgatory, these states, whether pleasant, unpleasant, or simply a state of sleep, are but rest stations between incarnations. But their existence is affirmed in the east and their nature is deemed temporary. 
Accepting the personal and private intensity of living in hellish states of consciousness, in pain and suffering, is it not so unimaginable that they would be described in the strongest terms in various phrases in the Bible? Even without questioning the translations and the original meanings of the words, it is easy to see that the language of Jesus and the Jews in the Bible were typically intense and strong. Witness the dialogues between Jesus and Pharisees, for example. Jesus hurled the epithet "Ye Whited sepulchers" at the Pharisees (and that was on a good day)! I think it is safe to say that the Jewish culture has a long history of intense debate and hyperbole of expression. (I think of Jewish mother jokes!)

In the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, the centuries around the life Jesus were considered periods of relative darkness as to humanity's general degree of virtue and enlightenment. Fear of hell fire was a valid form of motivation in that long dark night of ignorance that extended through medieval times up to and prior to the dawn of the Age of Reason and Science. 

I don't know of any specific surveys, but I doubt many Christians really believe in eternal damnation. In fact, Catholics had to invent Purgatory because hell is such a draconian consequence of sins so inconsequential as missing Easter mass. 

And what about those poor children dying in childbirth or before the age of reason? For them, the Catholics invented LIMBO! From the view of reincarnation and eternity these inventions seem like patching a leaking boat with band aids. Never mind the issue of a just and merciful God wherein one person is born with mental illness or deformity or in seriously disadvantaged circumstances (even just spiritually) and another born with the proverbial silver spoon. Certain core Christian beliefs will never withstand the crushing forces of actual human experience as cultures and religions collide and integrate. 

I give no advice nor challenge to orthodox Christians. Each must find his own way and those many who stay rooted head down in the sands of ignorance can stay there for this lifetime but the future belongs to Sanaatan Dharma. This can be translated (from the Sanskrit) as the "Eternal Religion." It offers eternal salvation through ego transcendence into the state of eternal Bliss in God (who is pure love and bliss) to all beings, accomplished by the combination of self-effort and grace over untold lifetimes. Such a teaching applies in every age, on every planet, to every being. Meditation is the engine that accelerates the soul's journey to Self-realization for the simple reason that God's bliss is a state of consciousness; it is not a place in time or space. It does not require a physical body, or any form of body. It is the dissolution of our separateness (ego) back into the only reality that has ever existed: God. No loss of consciousness is implied: only expansion into Infinity!

As science searches for the "theory of everything" based on a deeply rooted impulse in human nature, so Sanaatan Dharma offers the "good news" for all Beings. As science, rooted to matter and circumscribed by the law of duality, may never find the "theory of everything," so too no outward form of religion can ever circumscribe that which is eternal and infinite. But as science can nonetheless be useful, so the different religions can help those who are attracted to them to advance along their personal journey to Self-realization.

Thus Sanaatan Dharma intends no undermining of Christians or other faiths. Instead it offers to those who are ready to seek "oneness with everything" the goal of soul liberation in God through the practice of meditation. Meditation is the science of God-realization. 

Blessings and joy to all on our respective journeys to the "truth that shall make us free."

Swami Hrimananda

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Decline and Fall of Reason : an Essay

[At once I apologize for the length of this article. I could see no way to chop it up into segments.]

At the time of the American Revolution, Reason reigned on the throne of the hearts and minds of enlightened men and women. The Declaration of Independence is, if anything, a reasonable statement of self-evident precepts. From that point until the 20th century, the western world was filled with hope that the future held unstoppable advances in education, health, prosperity and peace.

That triumph of reason was stained from the beginning, however, by the bargain made with the devil of slavery. Reason began taking more pummeling later in the nineteenth century when rapid industrialization revealed the horrors of low pay, child labor, toxic work environments and mind-numbing, heart-stifling repetitive work. The first generation of the “Captains of Industry” flaunted their immense wealth squeezed from the tight fists of their vast monopolies.

The first half of the twentieth century produced not one, but two world wars, unmasking even further reason’s dark sides showing that a self-styled master race can justify any amount of violence and evil.

It is true that the Second World War was fought to defend reason in the form of freedom yet the ugliness and violence of that war (which ended with the blinding light of the atomic age) began to blur the lines between right and wrong. Wholesale destruction of the great cities (non-military targets) of Germany and the nuclear destruction of two cities in Japan were simply the quid pro quo collateral damage of an ugly war. The Cold War which followed was largely fought in a gray mist where right and wrong vanished into the murky shadows of espionage, regime change, and cynical affirmations that “the end justifies the means.”

While the 1950’s in America saw a resurgence of optimism, dark clouds of fanaticism clustered around the political purges of Senator McCarthy and rising corporate greed fueled warnings from the likes of newscaster Edward R. Murro regarding the future loss of innocence and integrity in the news media. Ditto for the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about.

The dawn of the 1960’s brought hope with a new and young president but this too was quickly marred by upheaval and turmoil in race relations and rebellious antiestablishment lifestyles. Very soon cries of despair arose over three consecutive assassinations of great leaders and anguish over the insanity and hypocrisy of the Vietnam War.

Fast forward to 2017, more or less, and what do we see? Fake news? A kind of “Battle of the Bulge” is occurring with a resurgence of prejudice, hate and suspicion of “foreigners.” On the world wide web anyone can post their craziness. Now there are more conspiracy theories than ever before. (Whatever happened to the Trilateral Commission? Out of commission?)

Whereas in former times a doctor was God and hospitals and clinics his temple, now we have to do the research and advocate for ourselves, while trying to figure out the labyrinth of insurance options and coverage. We routinely question medical and scientific studies which are too often funded by self-interest groups or tampered with by self-promoting scientists. Doctors simply give us a panoply of drugs and say, “Try this and let me know how it works!” 

We cannot trust the food we eat. We are beginning to grow our own.

Albert Einstein’s failure to find the “theory of everything” combined with theories of chaos and randomness are such that researchers either chase the almighty buck or are only interested in new but marginal breakthroughs. Quantum physics has taken science to the brink of non-matter, even to the edge of consciousness: down the rabbit hole, effectively, toppling the fortress of “either - or” reason and destroying the kingdom of matter.

Liberals are “ultra” and insist that the government owes everyone everything at no cost while the conservatives want to turn the clock back so they can protect their high caste status and their portfolios from the coming avalanche of change. All that matters is “What I want.” Or, “What I believe.” And, “What’s in it for me?”

The noble concept of a pluralistic society whose elected representatives work together to reach compromises in order to achieve a more “perfect union” is now sadly beyond our very ability to imagine it.

Only a serious threat from an enemy (military, economic, political) or a catastrophe of enormous proportions (pandemic; earthquake; gigantic and irrefutable climate change) could unite this or any other nation into concerted action.

There remains however: HOPE FOR A BETTER WORLD. Idealism is on the rise; a sense of our shared interests and kinship, whether under God or on the earth or both is small but growing. 

The popularity of yoga and meditation—veritable symbols of peace and harmony—continues unabated throughout the world. We now have an International Day of Yoga. It originated with a yogi who is the president of the largest democracy in the world (India). It is not, however, likely that sanity and enlightened reason will return to our nation or planet anytime soon.

Because, let’s face it: the god of reason has been dethroned. Frankly, it hasn’t worked very well anyway. Reason has not stemmed the tide of ignorance and prejudice. Reason has not reduced substance abuse, addiction or violence as if it were a vaccine injected by the needle of education. Reason alone, without help from religion, reveals the Golden Rule but the Golden Rule does not rule.

We of an eastern bent of mind who espouse the precept that life ebbs and flows between opposites are not in the least dismayed by these trends for we know as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus averred that Panta Rhei (all is flux). But the pendulum of opposites is never simple. If it were, then humans would see through its illusion too easily. There are also movements which we could call spirals, rising and falling which appear to make each new turn a twist and each new twist appears unique.

We are seeing a cycle that is the decline of the much vaunted and arrogantly affirmed western claim of superiority based on enlightened reason. The cycle of rational inquiry perhaps had its visible beginnings with the Renaissance, moved into the Age of Exploration and Reformation, gave birth to the Age of Enlightenment and independence, which in turn, propelled by the exponentially increasing revelations of science, birthed the industrial age and on and on.

Now, with reason cycling down into increasing disrepute, we find taking its place a rising tide of passion. Passion is crazy; intense, unpredictable; riotous; compassionate, innovative, merciful, cruel and so much more! Passion is the active manifestation of feeling. And feeling, whether mild, medium or intense, has a dark and a light side. We can call the dark side of feeling the emotions of a contractive nature and the light side the expansiveness of inclusive feeling.

By emotions I mean the contractive affirmation of selfishness or egoism as in “raw” emotions based on “fight or flight,” fear, greed, anger, prejudice, attachment (etc.) or other unexamined biases. By expansive and inclusive feeling I refer to calm certitude, unselfishness, non-attachment, and intuitive insight. Expansiveness of feeling is essentially intuitive for it sees wholeness or connection where ego-affirming emotions can see only differences. Intuition accepts (and embraces) a broader reality than only oneself, while emotions affirm the limited reality of one’s ego, opinions, desires and fears.

Expansive elation leading to connectedness with all life can found anywhere and everywhere: in nature; in being in love; in extreme sports; in tragedy or success; in space to astronauts observing our earth; in prayer and meditation; and on and on.

By contrast, negative emotions are the all too familiar emotions of polarized politics, pride and prejudice related to social status, clinging to one’s opinions, distrust and competition between nations over trade or influence, consequences of globalization, racism, abortion, gender issues, and on and on.

At the same time, we, including you, reading this article, see the gentler tsunami of rising unity, harmony, sustainability, creativity, inventiveness, kindness, humanitarian efforts, peace and harmony.

Returning to the fall of reason, we can no longer trust sources of reason. By “sources of reason” I mean facts and purveyors of facts.
Facts are supposed to be aspects of reason because objectively verifiable. But now we don’t really know what is fact and what is speculation or false. We don’t really know who to believe when the person or subject matter is unknown to us personally. Take the simple but crucial topic of climate change. Outside the scientific community of those studying the subject, we are dependent upon what we read and hear. Inside the scientific community there is no unanimity on what is a complex subject of study. Added to these reasonable difficulties are the irrational ones arising from self-interest (on both sides) and the emotions born of recalcitrant opinions (each claiming facts). The situation can be found on other issues, such as health care, welfare, gender definitions, and religion--to name just a few key topics.

The failure of religionists to practice what they preach has given rise to a growing rejection of orthodox religion in favor of being “spiritual but not religious.” Spiritual vs religious means one is oriented to one’s own personal experience (and, yes, sometimes one’s own private beliefs). The popularity of yoga and meditation are excellent examples of those seeking personal experience in preference to dogma or empty rituals.

The worldwide network of Ananda communities stands for a lifestyle that will unquestionably grow in popularity in this century because such associations give people who share their ideals or beliefs a practical way to “walk their talk” together. Communities can be residential, work-centric, issue-centric, or virtual. And yes, people with negative values can form them as well. Either way, if you can’t believe what you read and can’t trust people you don’t know, what else can you do but find others who believe as you do. I don’t say this cynically. I say this clinically! The alternative is to drown in society’s mayhem and confusion.

Looking ahead, I see a decline in centralization of power. While this decline began with a change in consciousness (the affirmation of individuality and attendant rights) as all such great shifts do, its primary symbol today is the world-wide-web. Its founding ideals are those of the United States. Here in the United States we see a shift of power from the central government to states and local governments. Paralyzed as we are at a national level, cities and states are taking positions on climate change, immigration, marijuana, and many other issues which might otherwise have been, or should be, more effectively dealt with nationally. Health care may yet join those ranks. So, too, I predict welfare and other social safety nets may go the same way. Small intentional communities are its logical and ultimate manifestation.

[As a reminder: the delicate balance between states’ rights and the power of a national government began at the birth of America! But mostly through the twentieth century power shifted to the national government with turn of the century formation of the Federal Reserve, the creation of the federal income tax, and the consequences of two world wars and the Cold War. Now it is shifting back even at the very moment when the big issues of the nation and of the world call for leadership and cooperation! Sigh!]

Splintering of large groups into smaller ones began visibly with the breakup of the Soviet Union and client states. The splintering continues throughout the world as smaller groups (ethnic, tribal, racial or religious) assert their independence, their rights, and their self-identity. They often do so violently. This will continue for a very long time, even if future wars, depressions, pandemics and catastrophes will, from time to time, give renewed, but temporary, power back to national or international governments.

The movement of consciousness in the direction of individual rights and freedom will continue even though technology provides powerful control mechanisms into the hands of centralized powers (whether governmental, private or corporate). Orson Well’s novel, 1984, had the date wrong but was an accurate prediction of future possibilities. Fortunately, technology is a two-edged sword for it has also been a key to empowering the individual through communication, education, and awareness.

In short, we are moving towards increasing disruptions and chaos. There’s no turning back. Instability is steadily rising in the United States and there’s no “reason” to foresee its abatement. Local police forces are heavily equipped and highly trained, nothing less than armed militias. Prisons, we are told, are overflowing. Can you imagine the impact of disruptions in food and fuel? Or, reductions in social security, welfare, or food stamps and other forms of entitlement? The American standard of living has nowhere to go but down as that of other nations continues to rise. We simply cannot continue to consume more than our share of natural resources nor purchase the vast majority of our goods from other countries with nothing but our over-valued currency to offer in exchange.

The advice given us by Paramhansa Yogananda (one of the great spiritual teachers of our age) is to establish a life of prayer, meditation, service to God through others, and to establish communities of like-minded friends inspired by high ideals and expressed through a simple and sustainable lifestyle. Meditation is at the heart of the inner life wherein the castle of peace can be defended and from which the unassailable joy of the soul can be shared. (For the record, Yogananda foretold difficult times but said that a time would come of several hundred years of relative peace as those who survive the turmoil vow NOT to perpetuate it.)

These solutions are God’s response and gift to those with “ears to hear” and to those with compassionate and courageous hearts. How else best to weather the woes of an age of great instability where we cannot know what is true and who is false; where, in the final analysis, nothing is real but what resides within you. From the cosmic view of the soul, these “interesting times” are wonderful opportunities for spiritual growth. Perhaps many have been, are, and will be born for this purpose and for the purpose of forming a vanguard of higher consciousness to see humanity through a difficult period of history.

There is much to be positive about, notwithstanding my catalogue of apparent pessimism above. Much depends on how quickly and extensively consciousness can shift from emotion to intuition, from “me” to “us.” Yet, at present, the weight of momentum is going in a negative direction. The passions that have been aroused run deep and run violent. And, they have found their voice in a shared, but false, legitimacy. But the long term trend in consciousness is clearly in favor of tolerance and acceptance. It’s simply a matter of how soon the battles and skirmishes can turn the tide to win the war. The more of “us” that stand tall and together, willing to make sacrifices in lifestyle and resources, in prayer and meditation, the sooner the “sun will rise in the East.”

Remember: “The only way out is IN!”

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda

Reading references from books by Swami Kriyananda and published by Crystal Clarity, Publishers include: Out of the Labyrinth, God is For Everyone, Hope for a Better World, & Religion in the New Age