Showing posts with label Swami Kriyananda. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Swami Kriyananda. Show all posts

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Christmas Spirit Comes from Living in the Presence of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps you know this story:  

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



Friday, November 3, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us then be “spiritual AND religious!”

Joy to you (and you, and you …. )


Swami Hrimananda

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

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Friendship: the New Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

Friendship is noble, fruitful, holy—

When two separate souls march in difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friendship, then, is the New Marriage paradigm.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swami Hrimananda!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Of guns and war : Self-realization

Last week (Sep 23 – Sep 30), my family and I went on vacation to Mazatlan, Mexico. A long story but it was wonderful and relaxing. The place we stayed in was almost embarrassingly luxurious and that’s what makes these blog thoughts so, well, interesting (to me).

For starters I “never” read novels. But last week I read three of them. A good friend recommended these to my wife, Padma. Padma downloaded them into our Kindle account and I, wanting something relaxing to read, found them in my Kindle. So, I promptly began to chew through them: each one feeding my appetite for the next.

For starters, the three novels were as follows: “Beneath a Scarlet Sky,” by Mark Sullivan; “The Nightingale,” by Kristin Hannah; and, “All the Light We Cannot See,” by Anthony Doerr. The subject of each novel was the hardships and moral dilemmas faced by the various protagonists during World War II. The first was a teenage boy who came of age in Milan in the latter half of the war. He helped Jews escape to Switzerland and later became a spy as an attachĂ© for a Nazi general. The basic person and story is true but much had to be “novelized” to complete the story. The second takes place in France and is the story of two sisters coping with the hardships and moral dilemmas of resistance vs safety during the German occupation. The third, like the second, was strictly a novel but was a captivating account of a young man who also came of age in Germany. He and his sister were orphans. The boy was trained and drafted into the army but was plagued by moral doubts about the righteousness of the Nazi cause. I won’t say more but I will say that this third one was more like a painting than a story. It not only contained the tragedy and horror of the times but a palpable love for beauty and truth.

My brief summary above does brutal injustice to these compelling stories. But they are only catalysts for my thoughts today. Do I recommend these to you to read? Hmmmm, I think my position is only to mention them as a source for my thoughts below.

So, what’s the point, you ask? There I was amidst natural and man-made beauty, relaxing at the beach or pool in Mexico, and lounging about in what would be considered luxury by 98% of the world’s population while reading about experiences of starvation, abuse, rape, betrayal, murder and butchery on a scale unimaginable to Americans. The contrast could be considered absurd but the point couldn’t be missed: who can read of such conditions and not ask himself, “What would I have done?”

Most of us have never had to face the intensity of the moral dilemmas or hardships millions encountered during that war, and, for that matter, faced by people in every other war ever since. If one’s country is conquered by your enemy, you can hunker down, endure what you must, and ignore the atrocities around (in order to keep safe) or you can attempt to resist and risk your life (and that of your family’s) against impossible odds. Some will cooperate with the conquerors in order simply to feed their family. They might simply say, “Someone has to do it.” A rare few of these might join the resistance, using their insider’s knowledge (at great risk to themselves and family). Let’s face it, the easy way out is to keep your head down, ignore the injustices all around you, and hope the bad people go away eventually.

The awful decisions people had to make and the terrible things they witnessed and did, including soldiers, were so intense that, typically, many never spoke to anyone after the war about their experiences.

Anyone who will read this blog will have likely been born after that war. Many of you have grown up in America. We have lived thus far in a bubble of relative security, peace, prosperity, and health. I believe that someday historians will bench mark September 11, 2001 as the beginning of the step-by-step deflation of that bubble. I have also stated that I think history will designate Hurricane Katrina as the time when Americans began to wake up to the fact that we are on our own and must help one another.

The lesson of war (in this case, World War II) is the same, essentially, as that of the great scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. That lesson is simply that one cannot remain a bystander; to remain neutral in the drama of life. Life itself is a war and by nature and by honor one must fight. At the same time, it is not a simply story of bad guys vs good guys. It can be incredibly subtle, as subtle as the mind itself. Self-justification or personal honor? The protagonist in the first novel (a true person), was nearly captured and killed by partisans after the German surrender for the fact that he wore the Nazi uniform. They killed his fiancé who was but a maid to the mistress of the German officer to whom he was attached and from whom he gleaned information useful to the Allied cause. How could they know he had been a spy for the Allies? Why would she be deserving of death? Throughout Europe during the collapse of Germany, countless revenge killings took place at the hands of partisans against collaborators, real or imagined. No doubt some were deserved but who can know?

In our country’s increasingly polarized atmosphere, we see lines drawn between one political party and the other. Yet each party embodies certain valid principles which while actually or seemingly at odds with each other, nonetheless contain elements of truth. Compassion and justice must alternatingly give way one to the other in order to keep society in some form of balance. But when the natural give and take ossifies into hardened positions, the ship of state becomes rudderless, susceptible to rogue waves of emotions welling up from the depths of the body politic. In human life, we make quantum leaps of faith either by the magic wand of inspiration or the knobby-hard stick of hardship or suffering. But remaining neutral or paralyzed is to expose us to the vicissitudes of fate and destiny.

Some say we need stricter gun laws to prevent outrageous mass killings by crazy gunmen. Others say there’s no reliable way to identify and neutralize crazy people and that murderers will always find “weapons,” whether they be airplanes, trucks or rifles. Some say that had there been registered gun control in 1774, the American Revolution might never have succeeded. The “right to bear arms” is deeply embedded into the American psyche. With spy technology and the increasing militarization of police forces in our country, can citizens really rest easily when our leader is bombastic and pugilistic or when our representatives are increasingly exposed as corrupt? Do we really want “THEM” to have a list of every person who owns a gun? Maybe we do right now, but, will that day come when increasing mayhem and betrayal provoke another revolution? 

It takes no crystal ball to predict increasing social unrest in America with each passing month and year. There are no simplistic answers in a world that ceaselessly fluctuates from one opposite to the other. Stay calm, even-minded, and positive.

Standing up for what you believe in is risky. It’s also nuanced. A revolution can simply be the exchange of one group of thugs for another. On a personal level, there’s also the risk is that you can become the very thing you fight against! Yet not to stand up for what is right is to be, potentially at least, a coward.

In a world of fake news we have the opportunity to be true to ourselves: right or wrong! What else can we do? Where are the great journalists like Walter Cronkite or Edward R Murrow? Held captive, I understand, by special corporate interests. Just as terrorists hold common beliefs and tenets, so can people of goodwill. Some Christian religionists believe you will go to hell for eternity unless you are saved by Jesus Christ. It may not appeal to me or you but it’s not the worst thing in life to ascribe to if it can make you a better person. Even indifference is a kind of belief system. We cannot avoid living out our own “philosophy.”
Those who stand on the sidelines waiting for the truth to be delivered to them with the morning paper are not likely to stand up for anything. Weighing every alleged fact on the scale of their personal opinion they assign themselves to be judge and jury, never soiling their hands one way or the other.

When I think of the hardships and horrors experienced by millions during World War II (and of course many other conflicts, ongoing as I type), I think that in these challenging times of ours we of goodwill need to stand up and be counted. For me and for many of you who might read this, we have committed ourselves to a positive, new direction and movement of consciousness based on meditation and a belief in the interconnectedness of all life united by the Supreme Spirit, the Infinite Consciousness out of which all creation and beings have been made manifest.

The “heart” of Ananda contains two core elements: one subjective; one objective. The subjective heart of Ananda is the goal of Self-realization. This is entirely personal and has nothing to do with history, culture or outward circumstances. The objective heart is “like unto the first.” We are in this world to learn our lessons and serve the divine plan of “salvation” for all beings. For Ananda, the essence of our outward mission includes sharing the path of meditation (especially kriya yoga) but also to establish a new pattern of living for the age in which we live: intentional, spiritual communities (called “World Brotherhood Colonies” by Paramhansa Yogananda).

We are not “missionaries” in the Christian sense of proselytizers, but it is a mission in the “corporate” sense of “mission statement.” As God is One, so our subjective and objective goals are inextricably linked. No one can find freedom in God without helping others. The life work of Paramhansa Yogananda is not limited to a few disciples or renunciates. He came as a world teacher bringing a revolutionary (because universally applicable to all truth seekers) new dispensation of the timeless truths. He represents no “ism,” not even Hinduism. Meditation (yoga) is for everyone, regardless of belief or affiliation.

Our outward work, then, may presently appear unnoticed by society at large or even appear irrelevant to the pressing issues of our day, but nothing could be further from the truth. Self-realization through meditation and fellowship with others of like mind is no less revolutionary than anything accomplished with a gun. “The pen may be mightier than the sword,” but the pen is a product of consciousness. No revolution is accomplished however without great sacrifices. Our work is no less a “war” than any other. Instead of being forced upon us, however, we have the choice to take up our positions of faith and service.

I arrived at Ananda’s first community (Ananda Village, Nevada City, CA) in 1977, less than a year after a devastating forest fire destroyed most of the homes. Outwardly it looked bleak. Jobs were scarce. To rebuild, dozens of members moved to nearby Nevada City to live and to start businesses or find work. (** Ananda's worldwide work was founded by Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda.)

Yet, if you were to visit today, you would find a thriving and high spirited community of hundreds of people, including swamis, monks, nuns, single people, couples, and children everywhere! Ananda Village did not arrive at this point, like the Phoenix, on the basis of any large donations or patrimony. One by one, each person doing his or her part, giving generously, indeed heroically. By meditation, prayer, service to others, step by step the community re-built. Years later the entire community was pushed to the verge of bankruptcy by vicious lawsuits. From this brink of total destruction, too, we recovered by effort and grace.

Now, Ananda members serve this work from cities around India to towns in America, in Mexico, Europe, South America, China, Japan and basically just about everywhere. As symbols of our outward mission, simple but beautiful temples are being built by the generosity of members in India, Italy, and at Ananda Village. Here in the Seattle area, we have already built our “Temple of Light” in Bothell but have just completed the Yoga Hall which is a symbol of the application of inner yoga to the broader community of our fellow citizens. Places of peace and sanctuary, symbols of our highest aspirations toward Self-realization, are needed in the world today. Temples of Light are needed all over the world where seekers can gather in prayer, song, and silence to witness the Supreme Spirit dwelling in our hearts, in all hearts and in all creation.

Studies have demonstrated the truth that if only a small percentage of a given population meditate daily, crime is substantially reduced and harmony among citizens greatly increased. The pressing problems of our age are not difficult to solve if our consciousness is open to harmony and solutions. This is the work of Ananda (and of millions of others and groups). As Jesus called his disciples, “Will you follow me?” so too Paramhansa Yogananda declares for “those with ears to hear:” “The time for knowing God is NOW!” The pearl of happiness cannot be purchased with the debased currency of clinging to comfort and security. Peaceful warriors are being called and others being born. Et tu?

Blessings of light and courage upon you,

Swami Hrimananda

Reading references from the writings of Swami Kriyananda included: "Religion in the New Age," "Hope for a Better World," "God is for Everyone!"

Monday, September 11, 2017

Happy Anniversary, Swamiji! September 12 1948

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Anniversary, Swamiji!

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Does the Moon of Emotions Eclipse the Sun of Wisdom?

[We've been away three weeks plus a few days. A recap of thoughts shared with the local Ananda Community in Lynnwood, WA]
What a time this is! The eclipse mania is acting as a lightning rod for intensity and a certain amount of craziness. 

The other day during an idle moment (what was I thinking?) I posted some random thoughts on the eclipse [which honestly doesn't interest me that much (that statement in itself prompted objections)] and my Facebook posting was eclipsed by intense and critical comments from the "left" and from the "right" and everywhere in between. I found it more amusing than anything except in respect to the consciousness of those who posted.

I might as well share with you that I prefer to stay indoors for the 1.5 hours or so of the eclipse. I have both personal issues with the sun (skin and cancer) but also have read with interest some postings from the Vedic tradition (www.VedicHealing.com) that lend more support than superstitions would suggest. In general, and without denying that much of the world has been burdened by many taboos and superstitions, I would say that our own tradition of past higher ages (aka the "Yuga cycles" as affirmed by all great civilizations of the past] suggests that in the dim past there may have been more valid if rather subtle reasons behind what later became mere superstitions during the so-called dark ages (which correspond more or less to what we are pleased to call history, roughly 1000 BC to present time). In any case, and for what's worth, that's my take on it.

As a yogi I do find it interesting to contemplate what it means for the moon (symbol of ego and/or emotions) to eclipse the sun (symbol of God or soul)! That alone would give rise to the "dark side" of the eclipse's interpretation. But of course in duality there's always TWO sides: the other being, possibly, the opportunity to examine the dark or unexamined side of our own consciousness (or culture). Your choice, as always.

I read that the last time a solar eclipse crossed America (and ONLY America) was in 1776. I find that, too, rather curious. To say that we in America are in a political maelstrom is to put it mildly, though here, too, I do my best to ignore the brouhahas that seem to swirl continuously every week. I must say that our president has a way of keeping himself on the "front page." Never forget that this fellow is, like the eclipse itself, only a symbol of forces and consciousness out of which he arose. With his departure, those forces do not suddenly vanish.

And finally, given Ananda's long, long history of dire predictions, well, what can I possibly add! What is to come is to come and I for one cannot doubt that at some point we as a nation have some karma to pay. If the eclipse is to mean anything at all as to foreboding, well, there it is for the taking. [Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, frequently repeated predictions by Paramhansa Yogananda regarding future wars, depressions and cataclysms to come. No prediction is ever necessarily literal. True predictions are designed to help others change. One doesn't have to be a guru to wonder about things like climate, economy, war, and the like!] 

Those of you who are Facebook devotees have seen many pictures etc of Spiritual Renewal Week at Ananda Village, CA. The groundbreaking exceeded ALL expectations both in vibration and in outward form. As the testimony of all present is far more adequate than any single expression of it, we do, in any case, add our own testimony of gratitude and upliftment. It was an historic moment for all of Ananda and I will make this prediction, at least: that it will be seen as a turning point in our history. Padma and I were privileged to be among those who turned a shovel of earth! Our daughter Gita oversaw the entire event with the help of the miracle of many hands. The program that followed the groundbreaking into the setting sun was totally astral. Swamiji and the Masters were truly present and smiling.  

Our personal time at the Camano Hermitage (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/18078785) was much appreciated though, looking back, it was nothing less than a working vacation with phone calls, emails, maintenance of the property, and planning our talks for SRW, though we took off for two nights up the coast for our anniversary and most nights we enjoyed a movie at home. Next year and for the first time ever we think we'll take time off AFTER SRW instead, Lord willing! Padma and I both got sick at SRW: a first ever in a non stop attendance at SRW over decades! After the day long Sevaka retreat, August 5, I got dehydrated but recovered quickly. 

We had a few days in Monterey, staying at Padma's brother's (Roy) home and visiting with my brothers, sister and families and then two nights in Portland seeing the grandkids there.

There's nothing however like home and the northwest! We all have a busy week coming up. Let not our soul's joy be eclipsed by the darkness and confusion that surrounds us. We are privileged to live in "Satya Yuga" in our hearts and in our homes and places of service and devotion together.

Blessings to all, and may force of maya (delusion) never eclipse the sunshine of God's indwelling, omni-presence!

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, July 15, 2017

How to Pray Effectively

A favorite Sufi poem, attributed to Hazrat Inayat Khan,
I asked for strength
And God gave me difficulties to make me strong.
I asked for wisdom
And God gave me problems to solve
I asked for prosperity
And God gave me a brain and brawn to use
I asked for courage
And God gave me dangers to overcome
I asked for love
And God gave me people to help.
I asked for favors
And God gave me opportunities
I received nothing I wanted.
I received everything I needed.
And I would add:
I asked to know God
And God taught me how to meditate!
Paramhansa Yogananda, world teacher and author of the renowned classic, Autobiography of a Yogi, composed a book, Whispers from Eternity, filled with what he called “prayer-demands!” As Jesus taught, long ago, “Pray believing!” Calm confidence in the power of prayer; the love of God; and the worthiness of oneself and one’s need are all vital aspects of prayer.
Yet most people think of God only when a material need or crises occurs. “T’aint no atheists in fox holes” they say. Such prayers, however desperate, beggar the question of one’s being a beggar, an outsider, to the loving heart and omnipresence of God. Not surprisingly, such prayers are not very effective, though I suspect, in truth more effective than perhaps they “ought” to be!
An Irishman was once late for a job interview—a job he desperately needed in order to support his family. As he circled the parking lot in his car, anxious for a parking space, he resolved upon an ancient and time-honored solution: he prayed for help! “Dear God, I know I don’t go often to Sunday mass and I drink too much, but if You can find me a parking place right away, I WILL reform!” Suddenly to his happy amazement, a car backed out and a space opened up. He cried out in joy, “Oh never mind, Lord, I found one!”
I suspect that’s how a lot of desperate prayers go: into the dustbin of forgetfulness and ingratitude. As the poem above suggests, we get what we NEED, not what we WANT. And by need, I refer less to our material needs and more to the needs of our soul to grow in wisdom, compassion, and divine love.
The highest prayer, Yogananda taught, was to know God; to have devotion and pure faith; and to serve God in all people and circumstances. After that we can also pray for our material or emotional needs, or for healing for our self or others, but always subject to that result which provides the most effective route to spiritual awakening and knowledge of God (whether for us or others).
Swami Kriyananda tells the story how he had sudden kidney stone (or gall bladder) attack on a Sunday morning when he was to give the Service. He was in agony but he refused to pray for himself. Then as the hour came closer to the time of Service, he prayed to Divine Mother, “I can’t give the Service in this condition, so if you want me to give the Service you have to do something about this pain!” Almost before the words were finished, the pain suddenly ceased. So filled with bliss was he (and not merely from the cessation of pain but from the instant consolation of such a divine response and presence), that, ironically, though he conducted the Service, he couldn’t really give much of talk!
I cannot recommend highly enough the book of prayer-demands, Whispers from Eternity. A year or two ago, our weekly study groups at Ananda Seattle studied this book together. The inspiration was so great that we, too, could hardly say or add anything to the poems we read except to enter into them in inner silence.
Let us close with this excerpt from prayer demand number 19 from the edited version published by Crystal Clarity Publishers of Whispers from Eternity:
Prayer for Expanding Love from Myself to all my Brethren
O Divine Mother, teach me to use the gift of Thy love, which I feel in my heart, to love the members of my family more than myself. Bless me, that I may love my neighbors more than my family. Expand my heart’s feelings, that I love my country more than my neighbors, and my world and all my human brethren more than my country, neighbors, family and my own self.
Lastly, teach me to love Thee more than anything else, for it is only Thy love that enables me to love everything.

 Blessings, and joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Training the Monkey Mind!

Can anyone count how many random thoughts go through our minds each day? Must be a few thousand, don't you think?

How many of them can you recall? How many of them are so important you need to capture them? How many are simply responses to sense impressions? Or, are so trivial as to be almost embarrassing? Oh, and how many would BE embarrassing if you posted them? 

OK, nature more or less made our brains and nervous systems reactive, restless, and endlessly imaginative. But 99.98% of them are "Much Ado About Nothing!" Aren't they?

By contrast, when we really focus our minds, whether by necessity or by keen interest, we feel refreshed and, depending on the circumstances, even relaxed. Let me give you some examples: you get wholly absorbed in a movie; in a book, in meditation, in enjoying nature, in a stimulating conversation or lecture............the mind finds such experiences to be on the razor's edge of both stimulating and relaxing. "Calm absorption," if you will, brings satisfaction to the mind. 

But, yes, there are some people who mistake mutli-tasking, daily dramas ("he said, she said"), periodic life crises, "being busy," or riding a roller coaster of emotional intensity for being either productive or for living life to the fullest. Some even get anxious if their life is too calm and there's nothing to do! However, I think close examination of such people and such habits readily proves that restlessness is an addiction. Its long-term consequences are nervousness, fatigue, moodiness, and depression.

For those who meditate, we have to admit that easing out of the monkey mind into the watchful state is not easy! We quickly discover that watching our thoughts reveals, often to our dismay, "where our head's at." In the famous "Autobiography of a Yogi," the author, Paramhansa Yogananda, relates how his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, once challenged a skeptical scientist by suggesting that the scientist consider this experiment: "Watch your thoughts for a full day and wonder no more at God's absence!"

Swami Kriyananda, my teacher and the founder of Ananda's worldwide network of intentional, spiritual communities, shared this technique that he learned during the early years of Ananda's first community when the demands upon his time and his mind were especially intense with planning and managing the fledgling community. He placed a notebook at his side in his meditation room with the promise to his subconscious mind that if any important idea or thought arose, he would be sure to write it down if only the subconscious would then agree to let him meditate in peace! The trick worked. I have used this mind-trick myself with very good results. You might try it, too.

When through meditation and introspection we discover that our mental chatter and self-talk are mostly useless white noise, if not worse, then we find ourselves open to real solutions. Mindfulness techniques, whether mental, devotional or energetic, really work! And, not just while meditating!

It's like the axiom from the east: "Use a thorn to remove a thorn." Focusing the mind during daily activity on a prayer, mantra, affirmation or chant steadies the mind and allows it to be more self-aware. 

It might seem counter to logic but then logic is part of the issue, isn't it? Logic assumes that will power and intention alone should shut the chatter up. But it doesn't. 

Here are some of the things I find uplifting, calming, inspiring, and useful in my daily life:


  • As soon as I awaken, I begin mental chanting. It varies but if I sense any resistance to getting out of bed, it might be the series of 6 affirmations that go with the "superconscious living exercises" Most readers know what these are but here's one of them: "I am awake and ready!" (Said with vigor and said repeatedly!) If you want to learn these, write to me.
  • As I go about my morning ablutions I chant the Gayatri mantra. (I can send the words to you or just Google it.)
  • When I shower I recite Yogananda's poem, "Samadhi." (Ditto)
  • As I walk to the meditation room (in the Ananda Community, Lynnwood) I chant or pray.
  • Ditto for when I am driving to work to the Ananda Temple in Bothell.
  • Otherwise I follow Swami Kriyananda's counsel of mentally chanting such things as "Om guru"; "Om Babaji" or "I love you!"
  • My car has an IPOD which is almost always playing chants or talks by Swami Kriyananda or Paramhansa Yogananda.
So, am I, as a result of all of this chanting, mantra, and japa, forgetful and uncreative? Well, maybe a little forgetful, but heck, no one has ever accused me of not having new ideas on a consistent basis. (As my friend, Prem Shanti, would say to her husband, "Dear, some of your ideas are better than others!' Fair enough!) But, I am WAY happier!

The truth is--a truth that anyone can verify for himself--such a mental focus being in no small measure a devotional or uplifting one, produces far greater calmness, satisfaction, mindfulness, and creativity than all the mental worries and fussing that pass for normality (aka "monkey mind") in these times of "smart" phones, Facebook, Instagram, email, tests, and YouTube.

I suggest a trial period of one week. Plot out your attack with a variety of affirmations, chants and/or mantras. Write them down or print them out and have them always with or around you. 

As you chant (etc.) focus your awareness in the forehead (not so much with your eyes for if driving a car, you might crash, but with "feeling" that area between the eyebrows) and you'll find it easier to remember, and enjoy, your mantra (etc). Should I repeat that? (ha, ha!)

Yogananda stated this profound truth: a truth you could spend a lifetime exploring intuitively: "Thoughts are universally, not individually, rooted." As you attune your mind to what he called the superconscious sphere, you become super-conscious. Yes, it's as simple as that.

The only caveat I would add is not to forget the purpose of all this: to go beyond mental activity and into the stillness; into the divine presence. So my last suggestion is to follow the bio-rhythm of nature and of our own metabolism: apply your will, then relax and feel. See if your mantra (etc) can guide you into total and complete presence of mind. Whether minutes, hours or seconds, the technique you employ to focus your mind (and heart) will vanish into the "land beyond my dreams" (the inner silence).

Joy to you (I think),

Swami Hrimananda




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.