Showing posts with label Sanaatan Dharma. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sanaatan Dharma. Show all posts

Monday, January 28, 2019

Stand up to shine the Light!

The paradox contained in the great spiritual teachings of East and West is how to reconcile our divine origins (and destiny, as children of God) with the reality of our day-to-day ego-active and Self-forgetful lives. Whether we refer to the Sanaatan Dharma teachings of India ("Tat twam asi" - "Thou art THAT!" One of the grand pronouncements of the Vedas) or the gospel of St. John ("As many as received Him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God" Chapter 1:12) or any number of other great scriptures, the question of "Who do men say I am?" (Mark 8:27) applies as much to us as it did to Jesus Christ.

This paradox is directly addressed in St. John's statement in the first chapter of his gospel: "The light shineth in darkness but the darkness comprehended it not." (John 1:12)

This is saying, among other profound precepts, that within each of us shines the light of Life; the light of divinity. And yet, in the darkness of matter and ego consciousness, we are generally unaware of that inner light and thus do not "comprehend" that it even exists (what to mention being willing to "receive" its influence in our lives).

I heard an inspiring story recently. There's an organization, Homeboy Industries, in Los Angeles founded by a Jesuit priest, Fr. Greg, that helps released prisoners and reformed gang members. He takes the "boys" occasionally to conferences to have them share their stories. At one such conference, Mario, who was covered head to foot in tattoos and the kind of young man you might move to the other side of the street to avoid, shared his story of "redemption" to a crowd of about one thousand people.

In the Question and Answer session which followed, Mario, unaccustomed to public speaking, was quite nervous. Out of the crowd, a woman stood to ask Mario what advice would he give to her two teenage boys. Mario fumbled a bit and finally blurted out: "Don't be like me!

The woman was silent for a moment. Then she spoke again: "Why?" she said, having heard his remarkable story. "You are kind, wise, and giving. I would want my boys to be like you!" For a brief moment, the room was utterly silent. Then, the crowd burst into appreciative applause and support for Mario.

Mario had not yet recognized that inner divine light in himself. But he was clearly ready and receptive when the woman in the crowd "called it out." Our potential, and indeed divine duty, is to discover that "Light" within us, and to share, reflect, and call it out in others.

This reminds me of another story I came across just as recently. There's a Jewish woman doctor, Dr Racel Naomi Remen, whose life work is to bring caring and feeling back into the practice of medicine. In one of her talks, she recounts the story of her grandfather who, in each of his weekly visits during her childhood, would reveal to her one aspect of her own goodness and higher potential (her "light") His influence upon her was life transforming and in turn she has helped uplift countless others in her life's work. In the talk she gave that I watched, the theme of her talk was to encourage us all to be what she called "blessers."

In the grand scheme of spiritual teachings, this role of "blesser" is distinctly, though not exclusively, the role of the "satguru." The satguru is one who is of the spiritual stature of Jesus Christ, Buddha, Krishna, Paramhansa Yogananda and others. In India, such souls who return to earth to help others and who are, themselves, free from all past karma, are called purna avatars.

That innate divinity may be purely expressed in the consciousness of the avatar, but all who have "seen the Light" should also strive to emulate their example. 

Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, says spiritual awakening is the function of our soul's memory: Smriti. We don't create a truth we recognize it. And we recognize it only when we are ready to do so. Surely you've heard the expression "When the disciple is ready, the guru appears."

The sharing of universal truth-teachings (which can be called Sanatan Dharma) is not a process of proselytizing. It is the process of that "light shining in the darkness" and, at last, the darkness beginning to "comprehend" its existence! That light shines most purely through the vibration of consciousness. To shine, the Light does not need words though words and actions can be a medium to express it. The vibration of divine Light is, however, subtle. It is no surprise, then, that spiritual works like Ananda are not attracting millions for millions are not yet ready. "Out of a thousand," Krishna declares, "one seeks Me."

In the worldwide Ananda communities (www.Ananda.org), its founder, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda) taught us to work with positive people. Give little, if any, energy to negativity, he counselled. Negativity is not, by its nature, cohesive and constructive. This doesn't mean we should snub or ostracize detractors or naysayers. What works the best is when you focus on working with others who share a common and worthwhile goal.

At the risk of a tangent, I responded to a question from someone in India who wrote to ask about psychic experiences both in and out of meditation. Some of these were interesting; some positive; some somewhat threatening. I responded saying that as we awaken spiritually, we awaken to a realm of reality far more vast than the physical one our bodies inhabit. We can easily get sidetracked, spiritually or psychically. "The spiritual path," Yogananda stated, "is not a circus." Sages from ancient times warn aspirants that they may be tempted by powers over nature or by beings who seek to flatter or to use them for their own purposes.

Yogananda confirmed the existence of disincarnate entities ranging from angels and fairies to demons and ghosts. Nothing to be afraid of but a reality to be aware of. In responding to her questions, I suggested that she should focus on her devotion to God and her intention to achieve God-realization through her meditation practices. She should live increasingly "in the spine," I said, and "centered in the Self within."

I explained that the guiding wisdom and power of the Divine Light pouring into her "spine" would infuse her with focused, centered, Self-awareness. Being "in the Light" put into proper perspective the presence of lower entities and her need, if any, to respond. 

Like the famous mathematician, John Forbes Nash, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, he said, later in life, that although the delusions of his disease were still present he simply didn't "give them any energy."

Recently, in Seattle at the East West Bookshop, we gave a Tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. After the program, one of the attendees commented to my friend (Rick Johnston) that some years ago (when he worked there), his kind remark and counsel regarding the death of this woman's mother, changed her life and helped her immensely at the time of her grief. How many times has each of us, even casually, perhaps not even remembering the incident afterwards, has shed "light" into the life of another person?

We can each be a light-bearer, in other words. This doesn't suggest that we set ourselves up on soapboxes on the street corner. Let the Light shine through us by our attunement and those with "eyes to see" will come to the Light. 

In my years of teaching meditation and these precepts, I find that there are some who draw from me inspiration I didn't think I had. The law of magnetism operates very well on its own. All we have to do is be willing to cooperate with it.  

By contrast, there are others who are not interested or, worse, just want to counter anything I say. (Paramhansa Yogananda stated, partly "tongue-in-cheek," that the reason God doesn't appear to most people is that they would just argue with him.) In the early days of Ananda's first community in California, the fledgeling community was struggling to find its own identity. Swami Kriyananda said that there was a time when every time he opened his mouth his self-styled opponents "would jump into it!"

Another reason for us to be open to being light-bearers in this world is that Yogananda affirmed an ancient and long-held precept from the yogis of India: to achieve enlightenment, one must "free" at least six others. Haven't you found that there is one or more people who seem to turn to you for inspiration and guidance? Don't let it get to your "head," but be open to be a channel of light. 

When, in the Bhagavad Gita (4:7-8), Krishna says that the Divine Light descends to "destroy evil and re-establish virtue" he does not mean to destroy people (evil doers, that is). Rather, it is the upliftment of consciousness, like bad seed falling on stony ground, that weakens the power of delusion and makes it difficult to sprout and flourish.

Nonetheless, there is this "combative" element to the avatara (and therefore to our own lives, as well): Krishna was a warrior. In his life, he is said to have battled numerous so-called demons. (Leaving aside the objective manifestation of demons for another lifetime, are there not demons in human form to be found in every city and nation? Are there not inner demons, as well?) Yogananda claimed he had been William the Conqueror; and, later, a King in Spain fighting the Moors. Later in his life, Yogananda thought there should be an international police force to counter the evil of "international criminals."

We, too, are part of the avatara. We, too, must confront not just our own inner demons, but, if your circumstances and dharma suggest it, the demons of injustice that surround you just as Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. did. This isn't about "fighting," it's about "witnessing." To witness is to act as a mirror and reflect back what you see from a higher perspective of Light.

Whatever form our spiritual battles take, both outward and inward, we need to find our "spine" wherein we draw the strength, grace, and wisdom to do what is needful.

Too often we emphasize the softness or the love and acceptance aspects of the spiritual path but ignore our own, internal need for self-discipline and courage in daily life. 

Don't try to convert negativity unless you are truly strong in yourself. Worst yet, don't accept their critical point of view just on the basis of your wanting to be liked, accepted, open-minded, or "nice."

So while it is better to let the vibration of your inner light beam its rays upon those whom you live and serve with (rather than to proselytize), we should be willing to stand up against the darkness of ignorance or intentional evil. Stand up and defend the ideals for which you live or serve; or for those who have inspired and taught you; or others who are defenceless (even if for the simple reason they are not present in the conversation to defend themselves). 

Don't in the name of supposed fairness, remain silent considering merely the possibility of "two sides of the story." Intelligent negativity begins with a kernel of fact and creates from it the pretence of a righteous cause. What makes it negativity is that its motivation is born of envy, resentment, prejudice or dislike. Loyalty is basic to success in relationships, health, career, and in seeking enlightenment. Cowardice or self-doubt sometimes uses silence (not-witnessing) to hide behind wanting to consider all sides.

To grow in the Light, attune yourselves to those great souls whose Light is pure and without taint of ego or karma. Then, associate with others of like-mind, seeking the Light. Finally, be a Light unto the world!

Joy and blessings to you,

Swami Hrimananda

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?

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

Friday, August 21, 2015

Meditation Beyond the Brain!

updated: Sun, 8-23-15

Studying the teachings and life of Lahiri Mahasaya, and the teachings of one of his great disciples, Swami Sri Yukteswar, and finally, their emissary to the West and to the modern age, Paramhansa Yogananda, one encounters a tradition with very ancient roots. The teachings of India are almost impossibly complex and variegated. But here I am speaking more of the breadth and depth of yoga techniques, almost as a subset of the theology and philosophy of India which is known as Sanaatan Dharma. Yoga is the applied spirituality of India. The essential message and purpose of the yogic science was announced at the beginning of Yogananda's public life in America with the publication of his first book, which he called The Science of Religion.

This line of great spiritual teachers, who we view as the greatest of teachers--avatars--represent a tradition that focuses on techniques ("yoga") that utilize subtle aspects of the human body and mind to achieve states of consciousness that exist beyond and independent of the human body, including its nervous system and the brain.

It is no coincidence that scientific studies of the brain and the effects of meditation upon the body and brain are growing exponentially. Looking back we can see that Yogananda and his guru and param guru were tuning into the consciousness of a new age even as they are, simultaneously, carrying on a teaching that is incomprehensibly ancient. Not only carrying on, but clarifying and unwrapping this science from the dustbin of indifference and medieval secrecy. The clarifying aspect includes stripping away, as one who prunes branches from a rose bush or apple tree, techniques, superstitions and non-essential elements from the yogic treasury which had become dusty, hoary, misunderstood, and "overweight."

Science is taking human knowledge and awareness to the very edge of matter and energy: indeed, beyond the fringe of what can be observed, verified, experimented upon and proven. In this, science is beginning to hit a wall beyond which it will find exponentially increasing difficulty to penetrate. I have read, for example, that "string theory," though the current best guess explanation for certain esoteric (to most of us) phenomenon, cannot, the scientists admit, ever be "proven," at least not in the conventional sense we attribute to testing of drugs, rockets, and the human brain.

It is the human mind that is driven by curiosity and thirsting for knowledge. Beyond the edge of matter and energy is a realm of subtlety that can easily be viewed as "mind" or consciousness. At least it has suspiciously similar characteristics. It's like time and space being curved and turning in on itself. We've gone so far in our search for the essence of matter and energy that we find ourselves facing ourselves: the observer of the experiment cannot but effect, even by his expectations, the result of the experiment!!!! And that's not even attempting to describe what we discover out past the fringes of matter and energy.

The mind, seeking ultimate knowledge, finds its Self. Mind turned inward upon observing its Self finds its Self looking into a mirror. Like two mirrors facing each other, the image goes on and on into Infinity.

Yogananda was very much a "bhakti:" a lover of God, especially in the aspect of Divine Mother. Yet, like his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar and like Lahiri Mahasaya, he explored and shared the yoga techniques as a science. A science is something anyone can explore and use and discover the same basic results. In the science of mind, however, the only laboratory is the mind itself and the tools in the lab of consciousness are the human body, the mind, and self-awareness. The mind-body-breath of the yogi scientist must be refined and honed no less precisely than than the calibration of the Hadron Collider or any of the most sophisticated electron microscope or the most esoteric mathematical formulae.

Modern science requires a high degree of education and dedication. Higher education is costly. The tools of science, like the Hadron Collider, costs billions of dollars. Yoga techniques don't require expensive tools but the price of exploration to the edge of discovery is no less in terms of dedication and personal commitment. Just as only a few can be top level, leading edge quantum physicists, so there are but a few yogis who would be masters of the yoga science. As Yogananda's guru put it, "Saints are not produced in batches each semester like accountants." Just as millions of people work in scientific fields (engineering, medicine, research, etc.) so only a handful can be "Einsteins" in their area of expertise.

But that doesn't mean that millions can't benefit from the discoveries of the yogi-scientists, just as millions benefit from the fruits of scientific advances and discoveries. Few of the millions of those now meditating intend to, want to, or even contemplate the existence of highest states of consciousness achieved by advanced yogis and saints. Yet, they benefit in countless ways -- physically, mentally, and spiritually -- from their daily practice.

Scientists are grappling with trying to understand the human brain. Their professional dogmas and their tools dictate that they must look only to what they can see and touch (i.e., the brain) for the source of human thought, emotions, memories and health. And they are right to do so. Even common sense suggests to our minds, whether from the overarching evidence of biological evolution, or from the functions of the human body itself, that the brain produces consciousness and not the other way around. For now, they must even largely ignore the growing body of evidence that consciousness exists outside the brain. That's ok -- for now, and, for their present purposes.

But the yogi-scientists have proved otherwise using their tools and techniques to reach those conclusions. These conclusions -- that consciousness exists outside and independent of the brain -- are just as provable as the experiments of the scientists, provided you use the only tool and method that exists to discover this reality: consciousness itself. This tool needs sophisticated calibration through a strict diet and vibrant healthy lifestyle, a strong moral and ethical code that assists in overcoming narrow self-interest and helps gain mental detachment from the body, the senses, and personality.  It requires wholehearted commitment to the pursuit of a level of consciousness that is ego and body transcendent. It requires one-pointed attention to the details of one's training and the regimen given by one's highly advanced teacher.

Let me digress for a moment. My son, Kashi, recently described a scene (from a movie? I'm not sure.) where three robots were talking to one another. One of them declared something like, "I know that it was I who just said that." Kashi reported that the consensus was that this proved that the robot was self-aware. "Really," I said, "does it?" I believe that most people today, being exposed to the rising rash of robot-awareness but not having thought particularly deeply about AI (artificial intelligence), have yet to make the most basic distinction there is: the distinction between the appearance of consciousness and self-awareness itself.

Just as a drunken person might talk or act but not remember what he said or did, so self-awareness is personal and individual. It cannot be detected or proven outside of itself (meaning by others) unless it takes on the appearance of sentience. Walking, talking, writing, typing, moving, etc. all are signs of life and life suggests some degree of awareness. By mechanical or electronic means (preprogramming), no matter how sophisticated is your imitation of consciousness, the appearance is NOT proof of the reality! Only I can say of myself, I am conscious. Yet saying it doesn't prove it. Only "I" can know it.

A movie may seem lifelike but we know, when watching it, that it is only a movie. And even though we get caught up in the movie, laughing and crying, getting carried by the story, its impact very quickly fades away, just like all the other emotions and thoughts that we, ourselves, have. You see, not even our thoughts and emotions are, themselves, the proof of our self-awareness. They are like leaves on a tree, bright and green for the summer, then fading into Fall and falling away in winter while yet the trunk and roots of the tree remain impervious to outer, superficial change.

Descartes said, "I think therefore I am," and, pardon me, old friend, but it is truer to say "I am conscious, therefore I can think." With our cleverness our robots may be able to imitate life and art and intelligence, but we can NEVER create self-awareness. Great art and ideas descend from a higher level of reality where no form, no logic, no past memory nor merely regurgitated conglomeration of preprogrammed data can be substituted for the flow of intelligent, self-conscious awareness. I say, "I had an idea." This is true, but it is truer to say that an "idea appeared in the mind." It might be a melody, or formula, or a solution to a problem.

What science cannot and presumably will never detect with instruments is that invisibly encoded in the flow of energy which is called many things (say, for now, "Life Force"), similar to DNA, is innate intelligence and the impulse power of intention. (After all, nothing that science can observe or test will ever explain "Why we exist at all.") Like wires inside conduit, or language embedded in a digital cell phone signal, ideas and intelligence exist within the very channel of life's energy from conception to our departure at death. Let me ask you this: "Will robots have "ideas?"

I admit that I don't know where the boundary is in the distant future between biological, human genetic material (sperm and ovum) and human, self-aware life. But I do know that no amount of data or manipulation of data can create inspiration or consciousness.

Returning now to the science of yoga, the yogi-scientist, in addition to the regimen outlined above, uses the breath and the mind as vehicles or highways that can take the human mind back to the place of awareness that transcends the functions of the brain. Life in the human body begins with our first breath and ends with our last breath. It is the most fundamental sign of life and consciousness. (BTW, robots don't breathe!) Wherever life comes from and wherever it may go when it leaves the body, it comes and goes evidenced by and carried upon the back of our breath. In Paramhansa Yogananda's famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," he wrote "The ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness [consciousness beyond the brain] is intimately linked with breath mastery. This is India's unique and deathless contribution to the world's treasury of knowledge."

The brain and nervous system are designed to operate the physical body, to protect, sustain, and defend the body. But these fulfill, for human life at least, a dual role: not only to create and protect the human body, but also, endowed with the power of abstract thought, logic, reason, and memory, to explore and question the very essence and basis of life itself. In the highly developed and advanced potential of the human brain and nervous system, consciousness finds the means, an organ, fit to express and reveal itself as it Self: self-aware and, ultimately, independent of its own vehicle.

Just as most of us cannot survey the heavens above or the intricacies of life within without a sense of awe at the overwhelming power, majesty, intelligence and beauty that cannot but be the motive force behind it all, so too the evolution of life has for its highest purpose, the yogis tell us, the revelation of Self-discovery: a game of divine "hide-n-seek." No matter that this Infinite Consciousness bides its time through incomprehensibly long eons of time and seemingly microscopically slow evolutionary processes, for in the mind of Mind it is all but an idea, a dream: real seeming only to the players in the dream but not to the playwright.

Every night in sleep, the world and our body is whisked away on a magic carpet of subconsciousness. Our troubles are, for a few hours, gone as we sleep in space unmindful of the bag of bones which is our prison. In this prison the bars of bones and walls of flesh prevent us from seeing the blue skies of omnipresence. The yogi learns conscious sleep wherein the alpha brain waves and the theta brain waves are brought into equilibrium between conscious and subconscious states.

For brain transcendence is, like the horizon line at the sea, a thin line between the ocean of subconscious and the sky of the conscious mind. The yogi learns to "escape" through the worm hole that lies thinly between the two. The vehicle that takes him there is the breath. For when the breath can be made to be quieted (by consistency and intensity of yoga practice), the brain functions that tie him to the body are sufficiently quieted that the "escape route" appears.

In conscious freedom from the pounding heart and breath which tie us to the body, the yogi's consciousness can soar and feel a joy that is without sensory or circumstantial conditions. Tasting this frequently and then daily, the yogi gradually achieves control of autonomic functions of the body and eventually this state of consciousness can be retained regardless of outer involvements and activities.

This in brief and narrowly described summary is the science of religion. No use of religious terminology is needed to free us, though it contributes greatly given the fullness of the human character and its need for feeling, inspiration, and self-giving. One cannot aspire or love or be devoted to a merely abstract concept. The effort it takes and hinted at above demand a dedication beyond any form of human self-giving to a cause or person. Love for the guru (as in incarnation of God); love for God as joy or peace; love for God in any sincere and pure form...........love, as dedication and commitment and as the willingness to sacrifice all lesser things for the pearl of great price.......love is the beginning and bliss is the end.

"Think" beyond the brain; beyond the ego; soar in breathlessness outside of the prison of ego. Think freedom; be free; give your all to the All. Meditation will take us beyond the brain; beyond the body; beyond the ego, and, finally, beyond the mind and perceive objects into pure and infinite Consciousness. No matter how much time; effort (whether mild or intense); how many lives.....for, indeed, God is always with us; God IS us; God is within us, forever.

When does it all end? Yogananda, when asked this question replied, "When we achieve endlessness."

Joy to you in the contemplation of No-thing!

Swami Hrimananda


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Interfaith Outreach: a cup half empty, or half full?

Tonight I accepted the invitation of Michael Trice and the School of Theology and Ministry of Seattle University to attend a dinner and talk by Father Francis X. Clooney (Jesuit priest). Father Clooney's credentials are quite impressive, not least of which is living in Nepal and India and learning Sanskrit and Tamil! He's written fifteen books on the subject of Hinduism and Christianity (Catholicism, esp.) and had much to share with the group about the points of intersection between them.

The group was more or less representative of the Seattle metropolitan area "Hindu" community. I didn't get a full range of names or temples represented but the Vedanta Society was certainly there and many others as well. The intention behind the evening was to initiate dialog between our local groups with Seattle University and its forward thinking interfaith activities and curriculum, with Fr. Clooney as the magnet and spokesperson.

Fr. Clooney's story is compelling. You can "google" him and find a great deal of information. Here's just one link to Harvard Divinity School where he is a faculty member: http://www.hds.harvard.edu/people/faculty/francis-x-clooney-sj

Interfaith efforts are a mixed bag, however. In part because only the faithful come. The ignorant or bigoted simply do not. Nonetheless, even at such gathering, there are those who want to pound their chests in saying "My way is the best way (because the most universal!)" and others, who, though likely possibly much to contribute, do not do so because respectfulness is the essence of interfaith! Then there are those who secretly hope to promote their own cause in case there are newbies present who are searching. Sigh!

Ananda Sangha in the greater Seattle area promotes interfaith through two doorways: for adults, we operate the East West Bookshop (www.EastWestBookshop.com); for children, the Living Wisdom School (http://livingwisdomschoolseattle.org/)  In both places, Ananda members share the traditions of spirituality of east and west which honor one another with a broader view.

Interfaith education is useful whether for children or interested adults. Only by understanding the faith traditions of others can we find bridges and links to our own and thereby wipe away ignorance and sow seeds of mutual respect.

Most orthodox believers however have no interest in learning about other faiths: afterall, even if a few were to imagine other faiths at least equally efficacious, they themselves aren't interested. But most don't think that, I suspect and therefore not only lack an interest but harbor, perhaps, a suspicion that to expose themselves would be to risk catching a disease.

In this they are, perhaps, correct, oddly enough. In listening to Fr. Clooney's remarkable story it was obvious he is not the usual Catholic Jesuit priest. His life was most certainly influenced, indeed transformed, by his exposure to Indian traditions and scriptures. One of the participants asked him if he'd encountered any push back from higher ups or the Vatican but he said he hadn't. Nonetheless, he is not typical: whether of priests or laity. Those dogmas of his church which would tend to hold Hinduism at bay were clearly sublimated by those aspects of each faith which were shared in common: and they are many.

Thus at the heart of interfaith dialog is the very "clear and present danger" of influence and transformation. In Fr. Clooney's case he would probably say that the experience deepened his own faith. Interestingly enough, however, he didn't say that. But, for his sake, I would assume it to be true. But he would be the exception, because both intelligent and spiritually mature.

Fr. Clooney was clearly suspicious of the typical response to interfaith education which says, "Well, all faiths are the same, then!" This dilutes all faiths at the risk of not deepening one's own. He obviously has this issue "down!"

Thus there exists a resistance based on fear by religionists in exposing themselves to interfaith. To make it worse, there's nothing more cheesy (in my opinion) then participating in the rituals and prayers of another faith for the sake of doing so for its own sake. There sometimes exists in the goodwill and good faith of interfaith proponents an inclination toward syncretism: concatenating dissimilar rituals and beliefs in the hopes of honoring each of them! To me that lacks vibration and sanctity. Well, admittedly this is a personal opinion. I don't mind someone demonstrating their ritual or telling their stories provided they can universalize their meaning so I can understand and appreciate it.

My point here is that interfaith efforts, though needed and high minded, are somewhat artificial and very much like "preaching to the choir." If individual faith traditions themselves introduced an unbiased survey of other faiths in order to help their adherents place their own faith in the broader context of humanity and culture, then that makes sense to me. Or, if individuals seek out interfaith activities for the same purpose or during their personal search, that makes perfect sense.

The gatherings I've gone to, however, are typically of those of various traditions coming together, all too often with mixed motives, objectives, and their own prejudices, owing in part to the fact that each one is a representative of his or her tradition and thus feels a certain need to uphold, defend, or promote it.

On the other hand, so-called scholars who attempt to objectively represent such traditions do so poorly, because lacking in the heart quality of intuition that understands not only the form but the spirit behind the form.

Interfaith is like a teenager: all arms and legs, awkward, and unsure of itself. It must needs be done and I will support it when I can. I applaud those dedicated to its mission of education and mutual respect. I am grateful that the Sanaatan Dharma tradition brought to the West in the form of Kriya Yoga by Paramhansa Yogananda is innately universalist and respectful. I don't personally have a pressing need to delve into the details of other faith traditions for I respect them all and recognize, when exposed to them, the core precepts which true spirituality necessarily affirms.

I believe that the best form of interfaith lies within each faith to find at its own core the same truth precepts that have inspired other traditions. Honoring its own tradition and expression of faith, let each reach out in gratitude, recognition and respect while yet diving deep for the pearls of wisdom and love within itself. Teach one another these core precepts and to recognize them in all, and little more will be needed.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda aka Hriman