Showing posts with label Patanjali. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Patanjali. Show all posts

Monday, May 29, 2017

Seven Stages of Meditation

I find it helpful to “look under the hood” so that I feel more comfortable and confident about what I am doing. Having created the local version (Seattle, WA) of Meditation Teacher Training, I explain to prospective students that in that course we “look under the hood” of meditation to learn the “how’s” and the “why’s” of the different practices and the stages through which we practice them. In that way, they might better understand and appreciate their practice and go deeper, and, by extension, to help others as well.
I’d like to offer to you a description of seven stages of meditation. My caveat is to acknowledge that inasmuch as we are speaking of levels of consciousness, one could say these are infinity, or, at least, infinitely more complex than a mere seven. That having been said (well, ok, “written”), see if you find this helpful:
Seven stages of meditation:
1.       SELF-AWARENESS / INTROSPECTION. The classic form of mindfulness is to simply sit quietly, usually eyes closed, and observe your thoughts. This might be in conjunction with observing or controlling your breath. In other meditation practices, the focus might supposed to be somewhere else but, in fact, the intrusion of monkey mind thoughts has the same effect (at least if the thoughts win the day). I call this phase of meditation: “Getting to know you!”[1] In this first level of meditation, it may be pleasant; it might even offer some “aha” moments; it can also be upsetting if past traumas or chronic fears arise unexpectedly. But, for my purposes, its salient characteristic is that the ego-I is self-enclosed, running somewhat if not entirely on the engine of the sub-conscious mind throwing out a random stream of consciousness or directed by the conscious mind munching on its own agenda. This type of “meditation” has its place; more than that, it demands its space. For those who have no higher intention than this space, well, mostly, that’s all there is. It is possible, however, that superconscious images or inspirations (even visions) might appear, but the chances of that are rather slim. I’ve heard that such a practice can lead to life changes but, well, never mind. No comment.
2.       CONSCIOUS QUIESCENCE.  A practice or technique that guides the meditator to quiet the monkey mind is the beginning of more traditional and time-honored meditations. By whatever technique (mantra, devotion, visualization, breath work) this state is achieved, it is refreshing, to say the least. It remains however in the realm of the ego-mind. The subconscious and conscious narrative functions may have diminished or ceased, but the ego remains King of the I. This state of conscious quiescence can be the launch pad for the higher states potentially yet to come. It is not always thus, however, as in the example of Ramakrishna gazing up at flock of geese and going into Samadhi suggests! Seriously, however, one might be chanting or praying or practicing any number of techniques and be drawn upward into a higher state without having to stop at the launch pad.
3.       ASTRAL PERCEPTIONS. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, he states that concentration upon astral perceptions can be a helpful focal point for going into deeper states. These astral perceptions might easily appear to one’s inner sight or subtle senses as a direct consequence of the quiet mind described in #2 above. While I hesitate to insist upon the following point, it is a good place to bring it up. The psycho-physiological subtle centers known as the chakras mark (for me at least) the transition from beginning meditation techniques to advanced ones. There is a relationship between astral perceptions and the functions of the chakras. The most notable ones being color and sound, but there are subtle perceptions of taste and smell, to name just a few of the more common ones. Thus, (and again I don’t insist on this point), one could say that the stage of meditation wherein astral perceptions become common or consistent is the stage where advanced techniques are employed (or at least that the meditator is achieving a more subtle or refined level of meditative awareness). This does not mean the ego has abdicated the throne quite yet but it is coming closer. This stage has a further relationship with the sixth stage on the Eight-Fold Path (described in the Yoga Sutras) of dharana. It is where the ego is aware that “I” am experiencing or perceiving these astral phenomenons. Subtle perceptions can also be glimpses into qualities of the soul (aka "aspects of God") which can be wholly entered into as described below.
4.       SUPERCONSCIOUSNESS. If the meditator is one who is seeking inner communion with God or some aspect of God (by whatever name or form), the next stage is well plotted for us in the seventh stage of the Eight-Fold Path: dhyana. This is where the formerly “I am feeling peaceful” becomes simply PEACE. It is where, to quote Paramhansa Yogananda’s famous poem Samadhi, “Knowing, Knower, Known as One!” In this stage, impossible to describe in words with reason and intellectual integrity, one does not LOSE Self-awareness; instead, one BECOMES the object of his focus, such as peace, wisdom, energy, love, calmness, (astral) sound or light, or bliss. One feels more alive than we could possible experience in ordinary states of waking or sleeping. This experience takes place not in the physical body; not even in the astral body, but in the causal body of ideation or thought, which is the Soul. But as yet, the Soul has not broken out of its identity or connection with the physical and astral bodies even if momentarily those bodies are as if asleep.
5.       SABIKALPA SAMADHI. Here I cannot but stumble on the simple fact that I am over simplifying the entire subject so much that I almost feel guilty. There are countless steps within this step. But, anyway, let me move forward because now we come to when the Soul begins to merge step by step: first in achieving oneness with the astral cosmos on a vibratory level; then achieving oneness with the causal world of the Kutastha or Christ Consciousness level of ideation; then at last going beyond all phenomenal worlds into the Infinite Spirit whose nature is Bliss itself: ever-existing (immortal and omnipresent); ever-conscious (omniscient); and ever-new Bliss. This is experienced as a state of meditation during which the physical body (at least) is moribund, held in a state of suspended animation or trance-like (immobile). This experience is probably repeated endlessly and perhaps over more than one, even many, incarnations. One can “fall” from this state at any time by the influence of desire or past karmas. It might take incarnations before once again achieving this blessed experience.
6.       NIRBIKALPA SAMADHI with KARMA. At last, like the caged bird whose multiple but brief forays outside the cage end when the bird flies away free for good, the state of cosmic consciousness becomes  permanent. But there’s still a catch: the astral and causal bodies remain intact because the astral body contains the unresolved seeds of past karma. Being, however, “free,” and not a care in the three worlds, the now jivan mukta (“free soul”) may have no reason to worry or be in a hurry to release his baggage. He might even keep some of his connections with other souls so that he can continue to assist them in their upward path to freedom. Patanjali mentions that such a one might, by contrast, incarnate into multiple bodies to work out that big bad past karma! At this point time becomes irrelevant but there is no chance of falling, spiritually speaking.
7.       NIRBIKALPA SAMADHI WITHOUT KARMA: When the jivan mukta achieves final liberation, he (she) (what matters gender at such a point!) becomes a param mukta or a siddha. Paramhansa Yogananda stated that if such a one does reincarnate he does so without any karmic compulsion and can therefore be declared an avatar! An avatar has limitless powers to uplift other souls. His role may be that of world teacher or savior or he may be all but completely undetected for reasons of the Divine Will.
Paramhansa Yogananda counseled us to memorized his poem, Samadhi. I have said it every day for many years. I believe that it gives to me the vibration of the final stage of freedom such that I draw a bit of it into my consciousness every day. I leave it with now and bid you adieu! 
 /s/ Swami Hrimananda

                    Samadhi
Vanished the veils of light and shade,
            Lifted every vapor of sorrow,
            Sailed away all dawns of fleeting joy,
            Gone the dim sensory mirage.
            Love, hate, health, disease, life, death,
            Perished these false shadows on the screen of duality.
            Waves of laughter, scyllas of sarcasm, melancholic whirlpools,
            Melting in the vast sea of bliss.
            The storm of maya stilled
            By magic wand of intuition deep.
            The universe, forgotten dream, subconsciously lurks,
            Ready to invade my newly-wakened memory divine.
            I live without the cosmic shadow,
            But it is not, bereft of me;
            As the sea exists without the waves,
            But they breathe not without the sea.
            Dreams, wakings, states of deep turia sleep,
            Present, past, future, no more for me,
            But ever-present, all-flowing I, I, everywhere.
            Planets, stars, stardust, earth,
            Volcanic bursts of doomsday cataclysms,
            Creation’s molding furnace,
            Glaciers of silent x-rays, burning electron floods,
            Thoughts of all men, past, present, to come,
            Every blade of grass, myself, mankind,
            Each particle of universal dust,
            Anger, greed, good, bad, salvation, lust,
            I swallowed, transmuted all
            Into a vast ocean of blood of my own one Being!
            Smoldering joy, oft-puffed by meditation
            Blinding my tearful eyes,
            Burst into immortal flames of bliss,
            Consumed my tears, my frame, my all.
            Thou art I, I am Thou,
            Knowing, Knower, Known, as One!
            Tranquilled, unbroken thrill, eternally living, ever-new peace!
            Enjoyable beyond imagination of expectancy, samadhi bliss!
            Not an unconscious state
            Or mental chloroform without wilful return,
            Samadhi but extends my conscious realm
            Beyond limits of the mortal frame
            To farthest boundary of eternity
            Where I, the Cosmic Sea,
            Watch the little ego floating in Me.
            The sparrow, each grain of sand, fall not without My sight.
            All space floats like an iceberg in My mental sea.
            Colossal Container, I, of all things made.
            By deeper, longer, thirsty, guru-given meditation
            Comes this celestial samadhi.
            Mobile murmurs of atoms are heard,
            The dark earth, mountains, vales, lo! molten liquid!
            Flowing seas change into vapors of nebulae!
            Aum blows upon vapors, opening wondrously their veils,
            Oceans stand revealed, shining electrons,
            Till, at last sound of the cosmic drum,
            Vanish the grosser lights into eternal rays
            Of all-pervading bliss.
            From joy I came, for joy I live, in sacred joy I melt.
            Ocean of mind, I drink all creation’s waves.
            Four veils of solid, liquid, vapor, light,
            Lift aright.
            Myself, in everything, enters the Great Myself.
            Gone forever, fitful, flickering shadows of mortal memory.
            Spotless is my mental sky, below, ahead, and high above.
            Eternity and I, one united ray.
            A tiny bubble of laughter, I
            Am become the Sea of Mirth Itself.

Note: taken from the Crystal Clarity Publishers reprint of the original 1946 edition of "Autobiography of a Yogi"
           
           




[1] I believe that was a song in the 1992 musical, King and I (Rodgers & Hammerstein) sung by Julie Andrews.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Meditation: Are You Missing the Point?

I had an interesting discussion with a friend the other day. The topic we discussed is one that is very common among meditators but while there are lots of opinions, there is very little consensus. Here are some of the ways it is approached:

1. I have very little time. Should I spend my time practicing my technique(s) or should I simply sit in meditation?

2. I struggle with following the prescribed meditation routine that I have been taught. Practicing the routine can require more concentration than I have or want to give, or, I find them tedious and uninspiring.

3. I am faithful to my daily meditation routine but I don't feel I am making any progress or at least don't feel very much inspiration. 

4. I have very little time to devote to meditation; I have many responsibilities; but I feel guilty about not fulfilling my pledge to meditate, including completing the practices I have committed to.

No matter how it’s stated, the basic issue is how to find inspiration from one's meditation.

Before I comment more usefully on this subject, let me remind us that meditation which is practiced "because I have to," or, "in the expectation of results" is already bound to be unsatisfying.

Why is this? This is because the very nature of inner peace is unconditional. It is devoid of compulsion or expectation.

I have lived in the ashram-like communities of Ananda most of my adult life. In meditating frequently, often daily, with others (often the same people day in and out), and, having taught meditation for many years, I understand how easy it is to mistake the practice of techniques for the goal of meditation.

There is a dialogue in AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI between the young Mukunda (Yogananda's name as a boy) and a saint he would frequently visit. The saint says to Mukunda: "You often go into the silence, but have you developed anubhava? He was reminding me,” Yogananda wrote, “to love God more than meditation. Do not mistake the technique for the goal."

Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras warns us (tongue in cheek, no doubt) against "missing the point."

We live in a technology and technique oriented culture. As one who teaches the family of meditation techniques that includes Kriya Yoga as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda, I see students come seeking to learn these techniques.

Too often a student imagines that the techniques themselves hold the promised reward of enlightenment. Because we tell them that belief is secondary to experience, they assume the experience of meditation born of the techniques of meditation will bring them what they seek.

Again, frequent articles based on scientific studies encourages the expectation that meditation is a panacea for all sorts of physical and mental maladies. Few stop to consider that even the most healthy, well-balanced, active, peace-loving, compassionate and creative individual may be very far from enlightened or unendingly blissful. Happy, well, yes but how dependable is human happiness in the face of Buddha’s threefold suffering: illness, aging, and death? (What to mention a veritable plethora of potential human woes around every corner!)

I would be a fool to attempt to define enlightenment but for the purposes of points I wish to make, let us posit the thesis that the purpose of meditation is to experience perfect stillness, Oneness or a state of ego transcendence. Obviously, then, perfect health (physical and mental) is none of these states.

Between the psycho-physiological benefits of meditation and a state of perfect stillness or ego transcendence lie recognizable and identifiable experiences in meditation. Most experienced meditators, for example, know what is inner peace, joy, love, or expanded awareness.

Therefore, for my purposes let's call these states the "goal" of meditation techniques and routines. Making it even simpler, let's say for the purposes of this article that INNER PEACE in meditation is my goal.

Therefore it must be the case that the technique(s) or routines of meditation that I practice are SECONDARY to my goal. They may of course help to achieve my goal. But are they ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY?

At first, when we learn to meditate, the routine and technique ARE substantially necessary and certainly useful to achieve consistent results with meditation. A person too lazy or lacking energy or intelligence, or one who cannot or refuses to learn the science of meditation, cannot thereby fault his "tools."

But with dedicated practice, the meditator learns to summon (mostly) at will the state of inner peace. To be clear, I am NOT saying that one should expect to be able to abandon meditation techniques or routines. A true technique (especially "guru-given") can take one to ever deeper states of meditation which are, in fact, “endless” because Oneness equates to Infinity and there’s no end to Infinity!!!! "Those too perfect for this world, adorn some other" the dry-witted Swami Sri Yukteswar (guru of Yogananda) once remarked.

What I AM saying, is that when pressed for time, or when internal resistance to the discipline of technique surfaces strongly, the meditator who can should simply enter at will the happy state of inner peace which is, in fact, our true goal. Of course, if he cannot do this, then it would be best to reach back into his tool kit of affirmations, prayer, chanting, mantra, or pranayama to kick start the energy needed to lift off (up).

My real point is that many meditators MISS the point and get bogged down in their own unhappy resistance to routine, or to the pressure of limited time, when, if they were more aware, could simply sit and realize they can enter into INNER PEACE at will! Or, if they are already feeling that deep peace even as they begin to sit, but believe they have to go through their routine first before being rewarded by inner peace, they should consider going with the flow of peace first.

If time allows and that peace wanes, then, by all means, go back to your routine to once again prime the pump!

The purpose of learning the techniques of one's profession, craft or art, is to go beyond them into the art of it. As a raft is left behind once one reaches the opposite shore, so are meditation techniques put aside when higher states appear.

Don't fool yourself in imagining that one or two blissful meditations means you can throw out your kriya beads. Nor should you imagine that feeling inner peace is the end game of true meditation. (Infinity, remember?) While meditation is both a science and an art, the science leads to the art (and not the other way around). 

But real meditators struggle to find time for meditation. Real meditators struggle with guilt over not being able to practice the way they "should." Real meditators can sometimes get into a rut, practicing the same routine every day until it becomes stale.

Let us not, therefore, "miss the point" of meditation.

Joy and blessings,

Swami Hrimananda

Postscript: In another article I will share thoughts on making every moment of the active day a meditation; and, perhaps another article on specific ideas on how to keep your meditation routine fresh and inspired! A deeper aspect of this apparent dichotomy between technique and the goal is the integration of the two when “being” enters the “doing” and “doing” becomes “being.” This little phrase comes to me at this moment: “No-thing is the way to where Fullness comes to stay.”




Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Easter: We Shall Overcome!

Divine Mother in her form as Mother Nature blossoms forth each springtime to give us hope, to charm us with Her beauty, and to remind us that no winter is so dark that light, joy, and love can never return.

All spring festivals and spiritual holidays, from whatever tradition, celebrate Spring's renewal of life and light from the throes of death and darkness. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is perhaps the most dramatic story of renewal in human form. It has inspired and uplifted countless devotees down through two millennia. 

Our western, rational, and "prove it to me" culture may cast doubt upon the literalness of Jesus' life, crucifixion and bodily resurrection from death but no less than Paramhansa Yogananda (no orthodox Christian fundamentalist) insisted that it was real. In a the very same culture that speaks of geologic time, space travel, quantum physics, black holes, multiple universes, and billions of galaxies why would the New Testament account be so difficult to contemplate? 

Direct disciples gave their lives in witness to it. Great saints down through these past centuries testify to the living presence and reality of the very same Jesus who conquered death itself. In Jesus' name countless saints have healed others and even raised the dead! Do not modern scientists speak of ways by which the human body might be frozen and resurrected at a later date?

Jesus' resurrection, in any case, literal or otherwise, stands for the power of love to conquer hate; light over darkness; joy over sorrow; life over death. Do we not see that no matter how much pain we humans may inflict on one another, or how much we might suffer from acts of nature and external circumstances, life returns; the power to love rises to the occasion; and, in time, joy and laughter resound. 

In a profound and unique choral piece called "Life Mantra" by Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda), the words to the song include phrases such as "God is Life; God is Love; God is Joy; Life is God" and so on. This revelation, this perspective, this insight into God's presence in the world as Life itself brings the much-abused and much maligned "God" into our hearts, into everyday life. In the last sentence of Chapter 35 ("Autobiography of a Yogi," The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya) referring to the meditation technique of kriya yoga, Yogananda writes: "Through use of the Kriya key, persons who cannot bring themselves to believe in the divinity of any man will behold at last the full divinity of their own selves."

Paramhansa Yogananda declared that the second coming of Christ is the awakening of divinity in our own hearts and consciousness. (The "first coming" is the descent of divinity in human form: in the form of the guru, such as was Jesus Christ, Buddha, and many others. Their role is to re-awaken the "Christ" in human hearts.) 

The resurrection of this universal, omnipresent, omniscient and blissful Life, this "Christ" consciousness is the remembrance, or "smriti" (see Patanjali's Yoga Sutras) of it within ourselves. It flows and is transmitted by the guru to the disciple so that in time and with effort we too can say as Jesus, Krishna, Yogananda and others have said: "I and my Father are One." (John 10:30)

"To as many as received Him to them gave He power to become the sons of God." (John, 1:12)


The "good news" is declared also in the ancient scriptures of India as for example, "Tat twam asi" ("Thou art That") (Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7 of the Sama Veda); and also: aham brahmāsmi - "I am Brahman", or "I am Divine" (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 of the Yajur Veda)

It is a mistake that some believe that Jesus' resurrection teaches us that our physical bodies will rise from graves at some time in the future. Not only is such an idea absurd and morbid, but it misses the point. The real message of Jesus' resurrection is to demonstrate that spiritual consciousness can conquer even death itself; that love conquers hate ("Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Luke 23:34). To one identified with the eternal soul, death itself is but a transition from one form encasing our soul to another (a more fluid form: the astral body). 

In short, the human spirit, which is to say the divine power behind the human spirit, has the power to overcome all difficulties, hurts, and challenges. Having faith in God, faith in the innate goodness of Life, and faith in oneself can guide us through the most difficult times.

If you, like so many, are disillusioned by current events, think of the darkness during the difficult times of, say, World War II. These things, like winter, spring, summer and fall, ebb and flow. If we remain even-minded and cheerful, centered in the Self, nothing can touch us. Live in the "truth that can make us free," which is to say, we are not this short-lived body and this ever-changing personality. 

"And the Light shineth in darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not" (John 1:5) Behind trials and troubles the Light always shines. If we turn our sights toward the Light even to death we can say, "Where is thy sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55)

Let us then rejoice with the beauty of Spring reminding us of the eternal Beauty of the soul. Let me end quoting the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2:22-24:

(2:22) Just as a person removes a worn-out garment and dons a new one, so the soul living in a physical body (removes and) discards it when it becomes outworn, and replaces it with a new one.
      (2:23) Weapons cannot cut the soul; fire cannot burn it; water cannot drown it; wind cannot wither it away!

      (2:24) The soul is never touched; it is immutable, all-pervading, calm, unshakable; its existence is eternal.**

A blessed and happy Easter to all,

Swami Hrimananda

** "Essence of the Bhagavad Gita," Explained by Paramhansa Yogananda, as Remembered by Swami Kriyananda

Monday, January 9, 2017

Yoga Sutras, Dualism, Shankhya, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Mind over Brain!

Dear friends, this piece evolved on its own. The seed thought came to me in a picture or mental image. Strangely, I no longer recall the image but it conveyed the ego-mind dissolving beyond its boundaries into the Overarching Consciousness of God and Life. That’s as much as I can describe it, though it sounds clunky to write it this way. But it took a month or two to find the time and the mental courage to attempt to work with it. It doesn’t fit into politics, the world of Ananda, or Happy New Year, nor does it come “straight out” of Paramhansa Yogananda’s teachings. I continue to be drawn towards the boundaries of science and mind, wondering how to dissolve these boundaries. I don’t know why, but here are my reflections. I tried posting in five parts but blogpost is just not very smart. So, regrettably, it's all in one giant post. 


Key words: Yoga Sutras, Patanjali, meditation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Paramhansa Yogananda, "Autobiography of a Yogi", dualism, nondualism, near-death experience, Albert Einstein, Kali Yuga, Dwapara Yuga, Shankhya, Yoga, Vedanta, Swami Sri Yukteswar

Part 1 – Yoga Sutras: Miracles that Matter

The science of meditation is most famously codified in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Unfortunately, the “sutras” are frustratingly abstruse, hampered by poor translations and hammered by dry, intellectual commentaries. But this much one can say as succinctly and distinctly as the sutras themselves: they affirm the reality of transcendent states of consciousness that go beyond the ordinary human mind and, indeed, beyond dependency on the physical form all together.

“The proof of the pudding (the sutras, that is) is in the eating.” Their purpose is to point towards the mind beyond the brain. In their own context and history, they are not considered speculative philosophy. They purport to describe that which is true and has been experienced. They constitute enigmatic revelations of the highest states of consciousness. They are a time capsule both in relation to a higher age long past, and in relation to a higher state of being not known to ordinary human consciousness.

The sutras’ authorship is ascribed to a man called Patanjali. I believe that he created this time capsule because he knew its wisdom was about to vanish owing to general, human ignorance and secrecy. He intended to preserve it for a future age when more enlightened souls would appreciate and strive to achieve its promise and potential. 

Powers over nature (aka “miracles”) are described in book three of the sutras. The history of the lives of saints are filled with such stories. Testimony regarding these feats come from the lips of veracious men and women. Raising the dead; walking on water or on fire; bi-location; levitation; spontaneous healings; telepathy and other psychic powers; surviving long periods without breath, heart rate or recordable brain activity: these are powers described in the sutras and in the annals of the lives of the saints, east and west.

The now famous and world renowned spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramhansa Yogananda also relates miracles on every page. But its stories are from the 19th and 20th centuries! And during the twentieth century there are well documented accounts of such saintly souls as Therese Neumann (Bavaria, Germany, 1898-1962) or Padre Pio (Italy, 1887-1968), and others in India.

Science understandably sets such things aside, lacking as it does, both an explanation and the ability to recreate the phenomenon in a controlled environment. But another factor in the reluctance of scientists to investigate includes their own fear of being ostracized in their profession for being seen to stray outside accepted norms. 

In this, they are not unlike orthodox religionists! The accepted dogma of science is that consciousness is a mere byproduct of brain activity. According to their orthodoxy, every human action and ability must be explained away by reference to survival and procreative impulses.

For the sake of discussion, if we contemplate the possibility of “mind beyond brain,” how could consciousness which has its origins in the “blind” evolution of matter outstrip its very own parameters such as the five senses and even the brain itself? Is it like the worm which sheds its cocoon and flies off, now a butterfly? But that metamorphosis is at least a material one. Its cause and effect process observable and understandable.

The mind (transcendent of the body and brain) has no form; no matter; no material connections. What about the increasing documentation surrounding near-death experiences when a human body is officially declared dead but the person revives and describes hearing and seeing when his body could not have either heard or seen (according to medical science)?

While we cannot expect that science will ever bridge this gap with an explanation that satisfies its own legitimate standards, we, of the human race at large, are under no such burden. It seems more likely that behind the great drama of cosmic nature with its vast stretches of time and space, both incomprehensibly large and infinitesimal, there exists an unseen force guiding evolution towards an ever awakening consciousness. Given enough time and space, this propelling intention may be the root cause of the evolution of forms from inanimate to animate to conscious, then self-aware. At last, the power of  reason, inventiveness, abstract speculation, and religious impulses appear—as if these were intended.

Part 2 – Dualism and Nondualism

We, as humans, share a multitude of common characteristics while each of us remains unique. Consciousness, too, is simply consciousness but to express itself it comes into, or inhabits various forms. Consciousness BECOMES visible, and thereby, appears separate. Self-expression requires both a “self” and an “expression.” Subject and object in a state of becoming. Our selfhood, in order to become identifiable, must appear to be separate even if our source is in the great Being of Consciousness.

This dichotomy between form and spirit is at least one aspect of the philosophy called “dualism.” Dualistic philosophy says that the objective world of matter and the subjective world of consciousness co-exist equally and intertwine: both in macro and micro forms and states. The opposing and competing philosophy is nondualism. Nondualism avers that the objective world of form is but a manifestation of Consciousness.

Consciousness underlies, gives rise to, sustains, and finally dissolves all matter back into itself. Thus only Consciousness is said to be real and eternal while matter is unendingly in flux. I’m not here to argue these because in most respects they are essentially a matter of taste. What is, simply IS. But, for the record, I ascribe to the nondual view though I don’t think my life or happiness depends on it.

Inasmuch as ordinary humans do not experience transcendence except perhaps fleetingly, this suggests, to my mind, at least, that the underlying basis of reality is essentially nondual because to achieve it requires a directional effort away from separateness to oneness. The ordinary day-to-day human experience is pierced as I-Thou, by the appearance of separateness. No philosophy is required to experience this, even if only instinctively.

If humans alternatively experienced the two states, more or less equally, it would be a different “story.” Transcendent, religious experience is usually considered the apex of human consciousness. It may well be that in the world of duality in which science operates, no “theory of everything” (such as Einstein pursued unsuccessfully his entire life) can ever be found. By contrast, the unitive experience of pure and unconditional Consciousness speaks for itself, if it speaks at all! It is not as popular as the dual theory because relative rare, and, at that, it is beyond words in any case (except, of course, to poets and saints!).

And for those of us who subscribe to the Yoga Sutras, the very definition of reality given in the second stanza of Patanjali states that the goal of yoga (and of life and evolution) is transcendence, and that transcendence results from the cessation of all motion: physical, mental, emotional. This cessation is not what we call death. It is not even the VOID sometimes spoken in various metaphysical, meditative, or poetic traditions.

Far from snuffing out consciousness, it is clear, at least from the Yoga Sutras, that only consciousness remains. It may be the negation of ego (separative) consciousness, but this is hardly the equivalent of nothingness, strictly defined. Rather, it is said to be everything and nothing simultaneously.

[As an addendum to this discussion, let me turn your attention to the teaching of the triune nature of God: the Trinity. God the Father (Sat) is equivalent to the One (nondual); adding the Holy Ghost (Aum vibration), the visible aspect of creation (matter), we have two (dual); within the vibratory sphere resides the “son,” (Tat), or invisible, still reflection (only-begotten) of the Father, bridging the two opposites in a continuous spectrum of Consciousness. Thus both nondual and dual coexist as one. “Just sayin’”]

Part 3 – Piercing the Veil of Matter Near to Death

Imagine that as we inhabit the physical, human form, it’s apperance both requires and, in turn, generates an electro-magnetic, psycho-physiological force field (called the “aura” when “seen” by another). This powerful force field both protects “us” as a separate psychic entity but also forms an invisible, seemingly impenetrable barrier that separates us from other psyches and the ocean of consciousness that surrounds us. This is as true for us as it is for chairs, tables, atoms, molecules and electrons (to name just a few).

Imagine, too, that long ago it was discovered that there is a scientific, psycho-physiological method of piercing this psychic shield by controlling and slowing the breath and heart rate to near absolute stillness. The psyche, otherwise locked in form, can be released to enter the stream of consciousness from which it came and is sustained even in form.

Just as a non-conductive material can become a superconductor of electricity when its temperature is lowered towards absolute zero, consider that as we dissolve all mental, emotional, and physical activities the “shield” is lowered sufficiently to escape mortality (confinement in a physical form) and experience a cosmic state of Being (without loss of consciousness)!

To a limited degree this happens every night in sleep but the state of sleep is sub-conscious and thus we are generally unaware of what is going on. But because of the lowered mental and physical activity, sleep mimics, indeed hints at the possibility of, a state of super-consciousness!  

The question naturally occurs whether this altered state suppresses (like sleep) our self-awareness or, instead, enhances and magnifies it. Anyone who has sincerely and deeply meditated knows that the answer is the latter. We are MORE aware when our thoughts, emotions and body are completely still. 
As Paramhansa Yogananda writes in his now famous autobiography, quoting his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, “The ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness is intimately linked with breath mastery. This is India’s unique and deathless contribution to the world’s treasury of knowledge. The life force, which is ordinarily absorbed in maintaining the heart-pump, must be freed for higher activities by a method of calming and stilling the ceaseless demands of the breath.”
Thus it is that near-death states also induce, however involuntarily, a similar “out-of-body” but yet hyper-aware experience. For some who experience this it is a spiritual turning point, but, admittedly, not for everyone.
Meditation has been shown, clinically, to slow and even reverse the effects of aging. This is just one in addition to numerous other positive consequences for the body, mind, and general well-being. These proven results hint to us that the “fountain of youth” and the “elixir of life” is truly “within us” and that superconscious, vibrant life-vitality is the essence of health, life, happiness, and consciousness.
The price of this eternal freedom and paradise is nothing less than everything. It cannot be achieved for the mere wishing; nor is it transmitted as some would imagine it to be from the mere tap on the chest by a passing guru. Intensity of effort, as Patanjali writes, is the main criterion. Many lifetimes are needed to dissolve, or purify, the ego’s endless likes and dislikes (the reactive process). 

Purification includes purifying the body and bloodstream of carbon dioxide and achieving such deep concentration and relaxation that all breathing ceases. This is followed by stopping of the heart. The result is the metamorphosis of the caterpillar of ego consciousness into the butterfly of eternal Consciousness. The result is that consciousness is then freed from the confines of the body and re-unites with the omnipresent and ego-less consciousness that exists at the heart of all creation.

I have vastly oversimplified these stages (see the Yogas Sutras’ the 8-Fold Path) and its many attributes but two notable and final stages were often remarked upon by Paramhansa Yogananda. The initial stage of cosmic consciousness involves fixity of the body in a death-like, trance state even as the consciousness soars in omnipresence. The final and permanent state requires no fixity of body but is omnipresence itself: with, or without physical form.

Part 4 – Shankhya, Yoga, and Vedanta

The Yoga Sutras make no argument with the obvious fact that it takes a human body, endowed with its highly advanced nervous system, for consciousness to become self-aware. Nor do the aphorisms concern themselves with how that came to be, or even, why (though the ‘why’ is implied by the transcendent states of consciousness which the sutras obviously consider the summum bonum of existence).

In fact, the very first sutra is “And now, we come to the practice of yoga.” Thus, much is implied as having preceded the “practice of yoga.” Paramhansa Yogananda and his line of teachers explain that the system of thought known as Shankhya precedes Yoga. Shankhya is an entire body of cosmology and cosmogony and could be, practically speaking, viewed as a belief system that describes creation as a manifestation of God through the dualistic principles or forces of consciousness and matter.

Pundits claim that the Yoga Sutras AND Shankhya are inherently dualistic. There’s even a quote in Shankhya that says God cannot be proved (Ishwara ashiddha). But as Yogananda explained this quote, this is not a denial of God; it simply means God cannot be explained by reason (or the senses) alone. As to being dualistic, well, let the pundits continue to argue about this but perhaps Shankhya and the Sutras are simply unconcerned about such questions. They evolved from and stand in relation to supporting the Vedantic philosophy of Oneness: Shankhya, Yoga, and Vedanta, are, as Yogananda put it, like the three legs of a stool.

The puzzle we face is this: the human body appears to be the prerequisite for human consciousness and self-awareness. On the basis, therefore, of outer appearances it would seem that the materialists might be correct in saying that consciousness is produced by matter. Yet, there are some (yogis and saints down the ages) who have shown inexplicable powers over the human body and over objective nature; indeed, over death, itself.

Which, then, is superior: matter, or consciousness? Is it “mind over matter” or “mind matters matter?” Or, as a dualist might insist: are they equals?

The saints make it clear what the answer to this is. But, in this age, science is our god. Then, if not to the saints, let us turn to the scientists. Scientists now tell us, quite confidently, and we are quite pleased to accept it, that there is an underlying substrata to matter itself that is more elemental. We (or, is it Einstein) call it, generically, “energy.” There are various forms of energy, some gross, others rather subtle. Science seems to be steadily going deeper and deeper into the subtleties of energy to the point where the trail seems to disappear into, what, vibrating strings that even science admits can never be “proved”?

The question that recurs, but from which science, as science, must recoil, is whether consciousness underlies energy? Unfortunately for science, consciousness can only really recognize itself in being self-aware. A man lying in a ditch might be sleeping; might be dead; might be drunk; or might be in “Samadhi.” For the average onlooker, only by his behavior can give a hint.

Part 5 – Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Consciousness

It has been predicted that a day is coming when we will not be able to distinguish artificial intelligence from human consciousness. I believe that could easily be the case. But will artificial intelligence ever produce an original great work of art? Can a machine sit and meditate? Can it feel? 

Or, have a unique idea? It will no doubt be able to appropriately mimic a wide range of human emotions, but does it actually feel those emotions? Will it dream?

Just because human emotions are triggered by passing thoughts or circumstances and thus have very little enduring reality, that doesn’t mean that the ability of AI to mimic these responses under similar circumstances are actually “felt.” The core issue in the debates surrounding AI boils down to “what is consciousness?” Like God “Himself,” it can only be known intuitively and given evidence by the movements and actions it stimulates through recognizable and distinct forms. Iswara ashiddha. To misquote Forrest, Forrest Gump: “consciousness is what consciousness does.”

Only with psychic ability can one detect consciousness in a formless state such as a disincarnate entity (aka ghost) or in dreams or visions. Such psychic abilities are, of course, rare, but by no means unknown. Telepathy has been proven in countless experiments, yet it defies the law of science as to time, distance and space. Because science has no explanation, it simply ignores the evidence. (Nothing new on this account, just good ‘ol human emotions.)

Humanity’s collective experience and history provides ample evidence of the higher status of consciousness, of mind over matter. In the world of dogs, it’s not the biggest brute but the smartest dog that leads the pack. But at this time, our reason and scientific methods cannot go past their frozen (and largely legitimate) boundaries. They are thus inclined to dismiss evidence of higher consciousness for the “crime” of not knowing how to explain it. That doesn’t, however, mean it isn’t true. Just because science cannot isolate God in a test tube doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist.

If scientists were as rigorous and objective as they purport to be in following their own methodology, they would admit they can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, nor yet disprove the precedence of consciousness over energy and matter. Just because they claim that their rather mundane observations do not require a god to fulfill the dictates of reason and measurement, doesn’t mean they can provide any answer to “why?”

If you are willing to believe Einstein’s formula E=mc2 without even remotely comprehending what it means, why not accept what the greatest of spiritual scientists have discovered? This creation, your body, and your consciousness are far vaster than what our senses can suggest, just as the material universe itself is. Why not be open to the wisdom of ages and sages?

Swami Sri Yukteswar, guru to Paramhansa Yogananda and the greatest gyani yoga of modern times, stated that “without love, one cannot take one step on the spiritual path.” Someone once said to me, somewhat sarcastically when our relationship ended because of my insistence upon my spiritual search, “Well, it’s all a matter of taste.” In a way, yes: it’s really a matter of intuition: the subtle “taste” of truth and inspiration. Logic and reason can never convince anyone who isn’t already “open.” For many, inspiration and devotion opens the doors of truth. The rest is just details.

Joy to you from a point of singularity! I hope you've enjoyed this series!

Swami Hrimananda



Yoga Sutras, meditation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Paramhansa Yogananda, "Autobiography of a Yogi", dualism, nondualism, Shankhya, Yoga, Vedanta, Swami Sri Yukteswar,