Showing posts with label Phillip Goldberg. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Phillip Goldberg. Show all posts

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Bhagavad Gita: A Timely Gem

The Bhagavad Gita: A Timely Gem

When the first translations of the Bhagavad Gita into English arrived on the shores of America in the early 19th century, visionaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau pounced upon its timely and timeless message. 

Thus began what historian Arnold Toynbee described as the reverse "conquest of the West" by the East. The teachings of Vedanta (and Shankhya and Yoga) began to seep into western culture and have been steadily and increasingly transforming the consciousness of millions. Words such as karma and guru and, of course, yoga are now commonplace as are concepts such as reincarnation and practices like meditation. 

[The history of this transformation is excellently summarized in the book, American Veda, by Phillip Goldberg.]

Swami Kriyananda, founder of Ananda and direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now-famous Autobiography of a Yogi), points out that for a book to be considered a true scripture it must address the core issues facing humanity: how and why was the creation brought into being? What is the purpose of life, and especially human life? What is the cause and purpose of suffering? How can suffering be transcended and happiness be found?

He brings up other points, as well, as to what constitutes a scripture: are its precepts in line with other great scriptures and the universal values and virtues espoused by great saints of east and west? Does the scripture convey a vibration of upliftment, inspiration and light?

By all measures (and no doubt there are others), the Bhagavad Gita measures up! Among Hindus, the "Gita" as it is sometimes called is perhaps the most beloved of their many scriptures. Its name means, simply, the Song of God! It is one chapter in the world's longest and perhaps most famous epic: the Mahabharata! 

It consists of a dialogue between God and "Everyman devotee," or, more precisely, between Lord Krishna and his disciple, Arjuna. The conversation takes place on the eve of one of India's most famous historic battles (in the first millennium BC) as Krishna, Arjuna's charioteer, is asked by Arjuna to draw their chariot between the battle lines that Arjuna might survey the respective armies poised and destined to transform the dusty plain into "killing fields."

Isn't it ironic that India's most famous scripture takes place on a battlefield yet produces a culture known for non-violence? And, ironic, too, that while Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, the civilization most influenced by his followers is known for its combative nature and its desire for conquest of the world and of nature? 

Not surprisingly, therefore, the Gita begins with the portrayal of life as a battle: a battle between our lower and higher natures. Inner and outer conflict is the nature of this world and our inner world. No one can avoid taking sides. No one can avoid suffering. Everyone is seeking happiness. Is there a way out?

Our life decisions must be guided by "what is right." But how to know "what is right?" The result of our decisions and the actions which follow have specific consequences, both in the world around us and upon our inner consciousness. In a universe ruled by the inexorable law of action and reaction, we cannot avoid the consequences but we can choose how to respond to them.

Our ticket "out" lies in our true, inner nature and the nature of creation itself: the Divine Self. Immortal, imperishable, eternal, and ever-blissful, the way out of suffering and the way to lasting happiness lies, as Jesus himself put it so succinctly, "within us."

We must develop wisdom and discernment to know how to act; how to respond and how to draw upon the power of our own higher Self. The science of right action is found in the mastery of the science of "yoga." ("Yoga" here refers not merely to physical exercises but the practices of life control that guide us to identify increasingly with the transcendent nature of our soul.) Intuition, born of meditation and right action, can guide us to freedom from all action. The secret link between the lower self (ego) and the higher Self (soul) is the breath: that which brings us into the world and that by which we leave the world.

The pathways of yoga can include or emphasize our feeling nature; our thinking and perceiving nature; and our active nature. All three portals to objective reality can be reversed to flow inward into the royal (raja) stream of "pranava" (or Spirit) in the astral spine. Entering this sacred channel through the doorways of the psychic energy centers (chakras), we can direct this life force upward to unite the lower self with the Divine Self.

One cannot achieve freedom, however, by refusing to act. We must breath; eat; exercise; care for our body; deal responsibly with our own impulses, desires and fears and respond to life's vicissitudes, including illness, old age, death, fortune and misfortune: the fate of all beings. The yoga science offers to us the right action of how to internalize our consciousness and life force to achieve enlightenment in far shorter time than it takes by merely responding to our karma as it presents itself.

Three levels of consciousness, motivation, feeling, and action are described throughout the Gita: inertia (form), activity (energy and feeling), and wisdom (calm perception). These levels, or gunas, pervade all beings and all forms of creation. The Gita classifies a wide range of actions and intentions according to the predominating guna of each. This becomes a valuable guide to those on the journey of soul awakening. 

As rain clouds disgorge their gifts of nourishment to the earth; as the sun consumes itself to sustain us; as parents sacrifice themselves to care for and raise their children; as lower forms of life are consumed by higher forms; so the great wheel of life is sustained by self-sacrifice. So, we too grow and expand our wisdom, powers, and love by self-offering to God and higher beings (as manifestations of God).

Devotion to the Supreme Lord is the highest such offering. Those who sacrifice to lower gods (such as wealth, pleasure, success), "go to those gods" but do not achieve the final state of eternal happiness. All material goals offer happiness but always break their promise.

The key to breaking the energy spiral, the cyclotron of ego, comes through the instrument of the avatar, the sat guru, the one sent to us by God to liberate us and to show us that freedom can be ours.

The end-game and end-goal of our creation is to pierce the veil of mystery that hides the Lord of creation from our view and to know that we, too, are "that!" Tat twam asi-Thou art That!"

The Gita contains counsel to every level of awakening: body, mind, and soul. Its highest teaching is to seek God alone and its greatest gift is the science of yoga, the "how-to" of the eternal truth-teachings known in India as "Sanaatan Dharma."

May the song of God flow through you!

Swami Hrimananda

Here in the Seattle area, Murali Venakatrao and I will begin a 5-week course in the essentials of the Bhagavad Gita. It takes place on Thursday evenings beginning May 9th, 7.30 to 9.30 p.m. We will record this class for those who enroll on our website but who are at a distance on planet Earth:   Our recording will be either audio or video or both. Our text will be the landmark book by Swami Kriyananda, Essence of Self-Realization.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Spiritual Teachings in the Marketplace - for all? for the elite? free, or costly?

Originally published in 1925, Bruce Barton, one of the founding members of the advertising agency Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborne (known today as BBDO worldwide), presents Jesus Christ as a leader, role model, and a successful salesman. Paramhansa Yogananda, who came to America in 1920 from India, to bring the teachings of Vedanta and the practice of Raja Yoga (including the now popular Kriya Yoga meditation technique), intersected and endorsed Bruce Barton's book as he, Yogananda, who was frequently compared to a modern Jesus Christ, struggled to present his teachings to the dynamic, creative, diverse and all-too materialistic American culture.

Yogananda delighted in the fresh and dynamic portrayal of Jesus by Barton. It contrasted sharply with the depiction of Jesus as dour and "acquainted with grief," and as one who was crucified for our sins and perpetually carrying his cross on our behalf. Jesus was, after all, a young man who hiked up and down ancient Palestine with a band of brothers. Why would hundreds, even thousands, of his fellow countrymen be attracted to this young man if his message was one that reminded them (as if they needed reminding) of the need for suffering? Of course not! He and his band had to have been vibrant, joyful, and enthusiastically learning, practicing and sharing the "good news" of our soul's eternal birthright in God's joy and love.

Yogananda, author of his world renowned life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," came from India, he said, at the behest of Jesus Christ who, in cooperation with the deathless and great (maha) avatar, Babaji, were guiding the evolution of consciousness here on earth by resurrecting the previously hidden scientific techniques of God communion through yoga practice. Babaji was asked to train and send someone to the West to help bring together the best of the east and the best of west -- the material efficiency of the west with the spiritual efficiency of India's timeless science of yoga introspection and concentration. As the west was uncovering the secrets of Mother Nature ("Prakriti") through observation and measurement, so too have the yogis of India, since ancient times, uncovered the secrets of consciousness ("Purusha") through yoga concentration and observation.

The parallels between Yogananda's life in establishing himself and his teachings in America and Jesus Christ bringing his "new testament" to the Jews are interesting. Each had no choice (because possessing no institution or other network or orthodox endorsement) but to traipse across their respective countries, speaking to those with "ears to hear and eyes to see." We don't know how Jesus' travels and ministry were supported but we do know that Judas "kept the purse." So, presumably, some of his wealthier students and disciples were helping. Perhaps even Matthew, the tax collector (one who would presumably have had some accumulated wealth), had helped sweeten the pot.

According to Phillip Goldberg (author of "American Veda") who has studied the various Vedantic teachers who have come to the West with yoga, Yogananda made a major innovation when he instituted his printed lessons in Vedanta and Yoga and sent them through the mail. Goldberg compares this innovation to the landmark invention by Sears and Roebuck of their catalog some decades before. They were the equivalent in their time to online classes of our age of the internet.  

Yogananda's printed lessons allowed him to come to a city, stay and give classes for a week or several weeks, and enroll students in his lessons which would then be sent bi-weekly from his headquarters in Los Angeles. The lessons at the time (say, 1930) cost $25.00 which according to is worth $352 in today's dollars! Yogananda printed photos of himself which he sold at his lectures and even had billboards with his photo to advertise his classes and lectures. It would hardly surprise anyone that he encountered no small amount of criticism, and not just from Christian fundamentalists, but even more so from fellow Vedantins. 

Yogananda stated that "If Mr. Wrigley could sell chewing gum with billboards than I can use the same to sell good ideas for people to chew on." Quoting, in effect, Barton's very popular book, Yogananda declared that "if Jesus Christ were to come today he would employ modern advertising methods to share his message." Indeed! He made the distinction that to use business methods for God's work was right and proper but to use God's work to get rich was not. It is, thus, the intention and consequence of one's efforts that form the basis for assessing their righteousness before God and conscience.

In his autobiography he relates how Lahiri Mahasaya, upon being initiated in kriya yoga and empowered to teach it to others, requested from his guru, Babaji, that the ancient requirements of monasticism and renunciation be lifted so that oppressed and stressed householders might also benefit. Babaji endorsed this request as an expression of the divine will and empowered Lahiri to give to those disciples who were sincere the kriya "keys" to "heaven." On the first page of the same chapter (Chapter 26), however, Yogananda states that owing to "ancient injunctions," he could not reveal the technique in the pages of a book for the general public. (He taught the techniques in his lessons, however.) He explained that the technique must be learned from someone who knows the technique (correctly, presumably!). In his own organization and training of kriya ministers ("kriyacharyas"), Yogananda had developed a system whereby the initiate was taught a series of progressive yoga techniques in preparation for learning the kriya technique.

Jesus, famously, remonstrated to his disciples not to throw that which is holy to dogs, or pearls before swine. The New Testament reveals that Judas was less concerned about the poor (when he objected to the costly ointment used to bathe Jesus' feet) than his own attachment to money and to the good opinion of religious authorities. 

Yogananda's spiritual heir and most advanced disciple, James J. Lynn, to whom Yogananda gave the spiritual title and name of "Rajarsi Janakananda," endowed Yogananda's work, through the organization he founded (Self-Realization Fellows) on the basis of Lynn's spectacular rise from poverty to wealth through business. He was, in short, a self-made millionaire (when that was a lot of money). Letters from Yogananda and the testimony of close disciples reveal that Yogananda was persistent in his urging of Rajarsi to make contributions to the work and that Yogananda expressed concern that satanic forces would find ways to defeat this endeavor for which Rajarsi was incarnated to accomplish in service to the new dispensation which Yogananda declared was his mission in the West.

Ours is an age of freedom, individual liberties, universal education, and free exchange of ideas and information. The internet is the most obvious and dynamic engine of this free exchange. Notwithstanding Yogananda's refusal to publish the details of the kriya technique publicly, others, primarily from lineages other than his own (Lahiri Mahasaya's, principally), have reportedly done so. Some people, as if to fulfill ancient patterns of religious and commercial rivalry and competition, will claim that their revelations are of the "original" or correct technique, implying or stating that Yogananda changed or diluted Lahiri Mahasaya's actual instructions and techniques!

Human nature doesn't change much, does it? So which is right: public and free dissemination, or, training, discipline and paying (a modern day symbol of giving back in gratitude and recognition). 

According to Yogananda, his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, made a major revelation and calendar correction that essentially asserted that which we, in the west, readily accept as self-evident: the human race has entered a new age of information and globalization based on rapid advances in technology and new and inexpensive sources of energy. This revelation, however, isn't confined to science but includes the evolution of consciousness.

Fundamentalists of all religions more or less disagree, for they see the breakdown of their religious hegemony over their adherents in the light of moral disintegration--hardly a sign, they say, of upward evolution! But to Yogananda's followers, and many others besides, this disintegration has been the necessary accompaniment to the dissolution of institutional authority (especially religious) in favor of the a resurgence of spirituality independent of traditional religions.

Yogananda's essential and original message was to teach the "Science of Religion" which would free sincere seekers from the rigid enclosure of religion and bestow the blessing of direct, intuitive and personal perception of God who is, as Jesus himself taught, "within you." 

Thus in this new age (called the Second, or "Dwa-para"), humankind would rediscover universal (and therefor nonsectarian) ethical and moral values on the basis of their harmonizing effects upon consciousness and, by extension, upon society. It would be through meditation that this social upliftment would occur -- person by person, soul to soul -- as the Self of all becomes realized within. Hence, Yogananda termed this movement "Self-realization." Yogananda's essential message linked meditation through kriya yoga with the universal search for true and lasting happiness--that soul impelled impulse that unites us all.

He said that it would encircle the globe and, in time, refresh and reinvigorate faith among all peoples. It would also help rejuvenate orthodox religions towards a fresh and new life for those still attracted to them. He said that "Self-realization" would become the religion of Dwapara Yuga. (Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple and founder of Ananda's worldwide work, insisted that this did not mean a prediction of a new "Catholic" church but that this statement had to be understood on a personal and individual level.)

How, then, after this long and windy tome from me, do we reconcile Jesus' not throwing pearls before swine with the age of the internet and the free dissemination of yoga techniques? Between Yogananda's own method of training disciples in Kriya (over a period of months up to a year or more) and those who have published what they claim are kriya methods in books, in weekend workshops or in person on the spot?

For starters, we can't. That is we must accept this new age of Dwapara as it is an age of relative chaos that includes both freedoms and license. The true races of humankind are not based on color or class but on levels of consciousness. The merchants of the world of spiritual seekers will simply buy or get what they want. The sincere devotees whose refinement of consciousness intuit a need for more than facts and methods but of spiritual (cosmic) consciousness itself will seek others who they perceive can bestow what they really seek.

Many meditation and other techniques can help one advance spiritually. This includes serving humanity and loving God with body, mind, strength and heart. Each according to his need, in other words. There isn't one "best" technique or "best" teacher, certainly not, at least, as it relates to the individual soul. The basic meditation technique of watching the breath has been given by some true teachers as the sole technique. In Yogananda's kriya yoga system it is but the basic technique. Yet he himself acknowledged that one could find God through the basic breath technique which he called "Hong Sau."

Not only does personal instruction and specific, focused training help preserve the correctness of a given technique and help ensure its accuracy down through the generations, but it fulfills the ancient and intuitive principle of "transmission." Universities, professional and trade accreditation boards, and governmental authority procedures are everyday examples of transmission by proper authority. Religion (think Pope, bishops, priests and its institutional arm, the curia and the Holy See), too, contains the symbols of ordination and transmission. Whether in monarchies or democracies the legitimate transfer and recognition of authority has supreme value and importance in human affairs.

It is true that great prophets, including Jesus Christ, might be said or might appear to have sprung to life free from transmission, but for the most part, any such examples are the exception. Jesus received several endorsements: at birth, the Three Wise Men (from the East---gee, could that have been, well, like, INDIA?), and from John the Baptist. While neither had the imprimatur of Jewish orthodoxy, each, at least according to the New Testament, had the direct recognition of such other sources as the Star of Bethlehem, the angelic hosts, and the appearance in vision and form of the archangel (Joseph, Zacharia, Mary, & the shepherds).

The same is true for the birth of Buddha, Moses and many others. Divine transmission and recognition figure prominently, in other words, in all important aspects of authority, both temporal and spiritual. 

Our age of liberty, life and pursuit of happiness is of course testing the limits of such ancient and universal truths. Self-appointed spiritual teachers spring up like weeds in May, often claiming some hidden or personal inspiration and transmission. "Buyer beware!" In respect to life and to the internet, the truth isn't "out there." Jesus said to Peter, after Peter, and only Peter, correctly hailed Jesus as the Messiah that "upon this rock" (of inner, intuitive, direct, personal perception of truth) will "I build my church" (of cosmic consciousness).

Thus, in the end, each one of us are free to and required to make our own choice regarding our spiritual path. Those (the "merchants" or "Vaishyas") who want things free and cheap will get them: free and cheap. Those (the "warriors" or "Kshatrias") willing to give their lives in service, devotion, and meditation, even at great personal cost, will get their reward in the heaven of Self-realization born of ego transcendence. The "peasants" ("Sudras") will get little to nothing because they don't want to put out energy. They come to lectures, workshops and classes but make little to no effort to change from within. They (the "priests" or "Brahmins") who know, know. Those who say they know, don't. Those who say they don't, don't.

Joy and blessings to you and apologies for the length of this.........I write only by inspiration, not by demand or popularity or conformance with any one else's standards.

Like you, I AM THAT I AM.

Swami Hrimananda (aka Hriman)

"Religion and the New Age," by Swami Kriyananda. Available at Ananda, or the East West Bookshop nearest you, or from the publisher: 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tower of Babel - the Art of Communication

I am reading a book I can recommend to you: America Veda, by Phillip Goldberg. I haven't finished it so I may have a different opinion by the time I'm done, but I doubt it. It traces the history of Indian teachings in America. It's informative, well-written, and inspiring for the fact that the eastern teachings are so well suited to life in the 21st century and offer such promise of harmony and peace in our conflict-ridden world.

Reading about the various teachings and teachers I am struck with wonder of how many points of view and emphases there exist on what otherwise are basic key points: in this case around metaphysics and the idea that all creation is a manifestation of divinity. Now, I don't particularly want to talk about metaphysics here, but rather, the amazing diversity of points of view that can exist around what is generally perceive to be an experience of Oneness that, well, for lack of other words, one imagines would be the same for every One!

Again, putting aside whether Oneness is One for every One (a matter hardly worth debating!), the point remains. How is it we humans ever get anything done or haven't already destroyed ourselves given what seems to be an endless  variety of opinions on even the most mundane matters. (Does the mundane matter? Is the mundane matter? Well, see what I mean?)

Now that I've tricked you into thinking I'm not going to talk about metaphysics, guess what? I imagine that the only way we humans can survive ourselves is because of our Self. Beyond the endless stream of words and infinite varieties of human experience there does in fact, must in fact, exist a level of connection underyling the human experience. This underlayment, like the silence out which words come, like the evanescent sunlight and the crystal clear water which bring forth life, must surely give us a level of certitude, trust, and stability that encourages us to interact even when we are uncertain of the results or the dependability of those we cooperate with.

My teacher, Swami Kriyananda, wrote a book, Do it Now! It is out of print and was upgrade and replaced by a newer version called Living Wisely, Living Well. Both are excellent but the older version I had all but memorized by repetition (it had 365 wise sayings). Among my favorite groups of daily counsel was the advice to listen, feel, and notice the silence and the space between words; the space between activities; between breaths; and so on. Meditation essentially helps us find that "space between our thoughts." I have found that the more I contact and seek that space (whether in meditation or in outward activity) the more I can trust that the right outcome will follow. This brings to me calmness, confidence, and solution-oriented ideas when I need them.

The Tower of Babel is the Tower of Ego affirmation. It's the experience of being in a crowded room of people and everyone talking at the same time. That's the crowded marketplace of human egos competing, vying for supremacy, attention, survival, and fulfillment of seething desires; we see it on the oversized stage of politics: everyone shouting at each other, spinning and nuancing every word to their own advantage or to the disadvantage of the other "guy."

The secret of success and happiness begins with listening. Listening means to "feel," to "sense," to be aware, and to develop the art and habit of looking for reality by tuning into intuition which hovers in a silent space just "above" us. It means shunning or calming the tendency to react to words and appearances, to imaginings, to speculation, to fears and to countless "what if" scenarios. It means to be receptive to and to accept "what is" rather than to substitute one's mental machinations for reality.

To be a listener and to live intuitively means to live on a subtler plane of feeling, sensitivity, awareness and consciousness. There's no point getting overly metaphysical about it: just start by listening. And when no one's talking, listen to your own stream of thoughts. Don't buy into the marketplace of your own opinions, desires, and fears. The yogis say practice the inward response of "Neti, neti." "Not this, not that," translated literally. But this means "don't buy in." Remain aloof or a little apart from your own reactive tendencies. Hear yourself think or talk or watch how you behave.

Yes, I think the only way life is bearable is similar to how we need sleep every night lest daytime life become hopelessly burdensome. The soul needs the refreshment that comes from the "listening" and from the "spacious" mind which exists in the blue skies of quietude that exist all around us. The talking mind is the ego mind: dissecting, weighing, counting, measuring, computing the odds and placing bets.

I say to my Self, "You don't mind, do you?" I ask my Self this question as a "re-mind-er to "mind" my own "Self."

In order to develop this trait, it is best to start slowly, one mind at a time. Let the talking mind talk for a while and then ask it to "shut up" (whether your mouth or your talking mind) and "listen." Listen not just with your ears, but your body, your senses, your heart, and your higher Self. Together these act as a kind of crystal radio set, provided they are are synchronized with each other.

After some practice you can go the next level which is to be both mind-ful (listening) and talking or acting more or less at the same time. When I give a talk at a class, for example, I try to pay attention in a calm, inner feeling sort of way as I am speaking. I am not analyzing what I imagine are the listeners' response but I keep my "inner ear" attuned. In this way I will be more likely to say things that will be in tune with their needs and the whispered counsel of their own higher Self.

So, let's come down from the Tower of Babel where everyone is shouting all at once. Walk calmly amidst the crowd of your thoughts or the cacaphony of outer sounds and listen. Don't judge just BE. In that space you will be everyone's Friend and your own best Friend. You'll be amazed how much better you communicate even in difficult situations.

Like the railroad crossings used to say: "Stop, look, listen!"


Nayaswami Hriman