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

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Ego: the Last Temptation! The Dark Night of the Soul

Some of you may wonder why I would write about something so distant from our own state of consciousness and the pressing needs of our daily life? 

And you would do right to ask this question. But as someone wise once put it, "If you don't know where you're going, anywhere will get you there."

Or to quote the old Hermetic doctrine: "As above, so below."

We can learn much from the lives of those who have gone before us on the spiritual path and achieved soul liberation. 

In exploring this subject, please permit me a certain randomness befitting of reflections that are necessarily intuitive or, at worst, speculative.

I've mentioned this before, but I've always found it curious that both Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. considered themselves a failure just about the time each was assassinated. (Though Rev. King seemed to have had a deep spiritual experience the afternoon of his last speech (before his assassination), in general he was disheartened about his life's work.)

Paramhansa Yogananda told Swami Kriyananda in answer to Swamiji's question to his guru, "When will I find God?" that "You will find God in this lifetime but death will be your final sacrifice."

Success in any endeavor, whether material, scientific, inventive, artistic, or spiritual, requires effort and self-sacrifice. (Never mind those born with the proverbial "silver spoon." Such cases have nothing practical to offer us by way of example.) For "the pearl of great price" is not to be purchased cheaply. 

Christianity may have had a corner on the market of institutional organization and succession, but India has cornered the "market" on building a "database" of the unfoldment of the soul's inner life. 

The yogic traditions have evolved a veritable science which details changes in consciousness and their manifestations as the soul progresses towards "moksha" (freedom). 

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is among the most renown and most clinical of such chronicles but by no means the only one. Countless stories from the lives of great saints form a body of knowledge illustrating the stages of awakening. 

The Bhagavad Gita depicts the "Everyman devotee" as losing heart early on in the spiritual journey, especially when encountering the army of habits, attitudes, and past actions which stand between him and "heaven." The beloved scripture of the Gita assures us that no spiritual effort is ever lost and should one fail to achieve freedom in one life, the next life will afford the opportunity to continue the journey.

Among the key ingredients of the climb up "Mount Carmel" (or, if you prefer, Mt. Meru) is faith and courage. Also essential is devotion. The fact that the devotee's devotion, faith, and/or courage fails him or her with cyclical frequency is the story of the soul: the "Greatest Story on Earth." The need for a guide to take us up the mountain of karma is a prerequisite that we see in the lives of those who conquered the peak of liberation.

Yoga describes this upward journey through the unfoldment of certain soul qualities and through their outward manifestation in certain gifts or powers. This article doesn't intend to explore these but a simplified description for illustration purposes might be useful.

We must first be convinced that false, deceptive or hurtful attitudes and actions must be released. We must learn the importance of truth-telling, contentment, non-violence, moderation and the like.

This leads us to being centered within our selves: self-contained, as it were. It's like preparing to climb Mt. Everest: we must decide to go and to let go of all other activities; we must gather our supplies and our strength for the climb. Our commitment must be unshakeable and we must have training for the rigors ahead. Our intention must be one-pointed and courageously heart-felt and pure of any other motives and distractions.

Once the climb begins in earnest and as we ascend our mind's focus becomes narrow: narrow in the sense of what a climber experiences from one moment to the next; one hand-hold, one toe-hold, one ice axe arrest; one cable hold to the next. The world around us recedes as our mind focuses on the present moment with great intensity. Far below us in the plains lie the busy-ness of the world but here, on the steep slopes of ice, snow and wind, there is only our next step. 

Death by cold, avalanche, starvation, or fall lurk around us every inch of the way. We increasingly rely upon our mountain guide for the way is narrow and steep. 

The spiritual path, as most truthseekers experience it, is a battle that takes place back down on the plains, long before our arduous ascent up the mountain. The gathering of supplies and training has to do with releasing false and hurtful habits and adopting new and spiritually healthy ones. 

Using the symbol of the cross, with its vertical and horizontal planes, these first stages deal mostly with the horizontal. Arms outstretched, we draw in and away from identification with and attachment to the world of the senses and the world of desires and fears which are centered around the ego and body.

But the climb up the mountain deals with the vertical plane of the cross. The preparations for and training for the ascent is crucial. Unprepared we might never make it. Hence, most of us are dealing with the horizontal: our relationship with the world around us.

Suffice to say, how often on the horizontal plane does our courage and faith fail us, even if momentarily. Preparing for the vertical ascent is itself a great victory (and a necessary one). The failures, discouragements, and doubts are, in themselves, mini-versions of the dark night of the soul (even if nowhere near the "last temptation").

Do you recall the temptation of Christ in the New Testament? Thus had Jesus conquered and cauterized all human attachments and, in the desert wilderness of inner silence was poised or at least "fit" to ascend to the Father, Satan ("Maya" or the Conscious Delusive Force) appears to test him. The horizontal plane had been withdrawn inward and only the vertical remained.

Satan then tempts Jesus to use his dominion over all nature (the power indicative of conquering the horizontal plane of earthly attachments) to bring him food (after his 40-day fast); to exercise earthly and material powers (e.g. as a conqueror or emperor). 

This is the last test: the test of ego and the test of power over all creation. Buddha faced the same test under the bodhi tree: Maya also appeared to him to test him. Buddha, too, responded exactly as Jesus did: "Mara (Maya), Mara, I have conquered thee (or, "Get thee behind me Satan").

In the science of yoga, the negative pole of the sixth chakra is the seat of ego-consciousness in the body. It is located at the medulla oblongata at the base of the brain (seat of our lower brain functions, the so-called "reptile" or "fight or flight" functions). 

In the rising power of Kundalini ("the entrenched vitality of our mortal delusion" - Swami Kriyananda, "Art and Science of Raja Yoga), it has one last test: to offer itself into the Divine Light. In the soul's journey, the ego slowly and in fits and starts intuits the goal of life as transcendence from both the horizontal plane of creation AND the vertical plane of separate existence. 

As step by step, the ego invites the hidden and locked Kundalini power to uncoil, together they win victories on both the horizontal plane and the vertical plane. At first, as mentioned above, the horizontal plane is the primary focus. But at each step the soul force of divine grace is what vitalizes the ego's will and intention to victory. 

As the horizontal "plains" far below in the lower psychic centers of the chakras fall away, the soul increasingly focuses on ascending the vertical plane. Here too there are many knots to be untied in the invisible world of consciousness. Far more subtle and spiritually dangerous are the distractions and temptations which lie in the upper centers (chakras).

"Pride goeth before the fall." While pride associated with worldly wealth, power or pleasures is continually under assault from other egos and the forces of duality in the world, spiritual power emanates from within and cannot so easily be taken from us. India's spiritual wealth is filled with stories of the temptations of pride from spiritual power.

But when the ego is stripped and made clean of all attributes, self-definitions and attachments, what remains is pure consciousness and consciousness is its own vitalizing reward. Many saints remain in an I-Thou relationship with God for even lifetimes.

In the life of Paramhansa Ramakrishna, it was his guru, Totapuri, who with great force broke the spell of Ramakrishna's love affair with Goddess Kali so that Ramakrishna could enter cosmic consciousness in the state of samadhi.

As the great master, Moses, led his "people" to the Promised Land but could not, himself, enter into it, so too the ego can lead the "people" of its own self-definitions but must die before the Promised Land can be entered. 

So, too, the great warrior, Bhishma, on the battlefield of Kurukshetra (in the epic of the Mahabharata) had the boon to die only when he willingly surrendered. For he also symbolized the ego.

The stories from the lives of saints continue in this vein to state that the final sacrifice the soul is asked to make is to surrender its separate identity (the ego) into the great Light of God.

Paramhansa Yogananda's most advanced disciple, whom he named Rajarsi Janakananda, faced the darkness before entering final liberation. After years of spiritual consolations afforded him by visions and visitations by his guru and great saints and many other deep inner experiences, there, at last, came a time when only darkness appeared within. 

He had to face this darkness. The darkness that faces the soul is the seemingly real possibility of extinction, of complete annihilation of one's existence. With no guiding, welcoming light, nor the smiling countenance of his guru, neither reason nor logic, nor books on the subject could assure him that the darkness was not real; at this moment, one's "rod and staff" are solely faith and courage. 

We can write or talk about this all day but, just as when most humans face the very real possibility of physical death, there's no play acting left, so too the soul must confront its own extinction in order to pass the last test of its life. 

St. Anthony of the Desert faced this after decades of prayer and solitude in the Egyptian desert. When the tomb which was his home began to crack and crumble, he cried out to his guru, Jesus. 

After Anthony had passed this final test, Jesus appeared to him. Anthony asked Jesus, "Where have you been all these years?" Jesus smiled reassuringly, "Anthony, I have always been with you!" But we, like Anthony, are not permitted to know that until we have passed the final test of darkness. And why is this? Because only in complete oneness is our realization safe from doubts. 

We have no choice in life but to someday face the death of our human body. But we can postpone forever facing the dark night of the soul. "I will wait," says God. But our destiny is to conquer Maya and so shall we conquer, for time itself is but an illusion. But so long as we measure time, why wait? 

When the great Buddha encountered the three-fold sufferings of human life (illness, old age and death), he vowed to conquer them. And so must we. When our soul tires of repeated rounds of rebirth on the wheel of samsara, it too will cry out to Divine Mother for help. Why wait?

The little darknesses of our daily or weekly crises of faith and courage are "baby steps" which can prepare us for the big step. Whether it be lifetimes or this life, let us remain "awake and ready" for we can never know the hour or the place, for "He comes like a thief in the night!"

The realm of Infinity is beyond light or dark. It is the realm of eternal bliss which is God. When we conquer Mara, we will view our past lives of joy and sorrow as but a great novel with a victorious ending!

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda


Saturday, October 27, 2018

So Much Depressing News! What's a Yogi to Do?

Recently I hear many friends and students who express frustration, confusion, anger or depression in the face of a constant stream of bad news, public craziness, and endless catastrophes. The destructive effects of climate change, ignorance, negativity and selfishness have combined forces like a relentless tsunami spreading despair everywhere!

What to do? How does a person with high ideals, goodwill towards all, and desire to help others cope with what seems like a growing fogbank of darkness?

How can one not imagine the destructive cumulative effects of all this craziness? How can one be optimistic, cheerful, and even-minded "amidst the crash of breaking worlds?"

For this opportunity, we were born: you and me. To develop wisdom, non-attachment, faith, courage, hope, forgiveness and to take positive action in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds: wow, what a gift! What a GREAT time to be alive and conscious! For us, the choices are clear and compelling.

Think of the founders, families, soldiers and others who confronted the British Empire in a revolution in 1776 that changed the world. They could NOT have won on the basis of any logic or resources other than their own conviction, faith and courage (and the grace of God and a karmic destiny to be fulfilled).

Here and now is an armed revolution NOT the need; what is needed is a spiritual revolution. As Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. faced an empire and a nation without the weapons of violence and "overcame," so we, a nation of peaceful warriors, can overthrow the ignorance and selfishness of a nation and a world.

Neither Gandhi nor King saw the fruits of their labors during their lifetimes, and so must we understand that we, too, may not see "righteousness rain down like a river" in our lifetimes. Not just those of us over sixty years of age, but many others of you may not see "the shift." It is not ours to measure our success though success is assured. 

Spiritual success comes from non-attachment to the results of our efforts. So we mustn't think ahead (only to be temporarily frustrated) to the manifestation of the forms of success. It is our spirit, attitudes, and consciousness (and living example), that will stem the tide and reverse the tsunami. It is our love for God and love for God in all that is the only true measure of "success."

Nor must we imagine that this fair planet will achieve in its outward form the paradise or perfection that we ourselves may imagine is the goal. As Jesus Christ, a man of great compassion and love for all, nonetheless admitted: "The poor ye shall have always." Same can be said of all evil and suffering.

For this world is simply a school and we've come here to learn lessons and graduate. We didn't come here to make a perfect school. We should make the school a better place if we can, for sure, but it is only a school. We were not created to stay in school forever. We were created, as my childhood Baltimore (Catholic) catechism taught me, "to know, love, and serve God in this world."

"The drama of life," Paramhansa Yogananda stated, "has for its lesson that it is simply that: a drama." As Swami Kriyananda (Ananda's founder and a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda) would sometimes explain: imagine you begin to read a novel. Everything is just perfect and there is no conflict. You'd put the novel down after a few pages or chapters. The drama of creation and human life requires conflicts and opposites to keep it interesting and ongoing. 

God does not permit us to use reason alone to figure out that He's really behind the drama. He wants us to choose to seek Him for His love, not for the gifts of His creation and not for obtaining His power over creation. The magnetism of creation's maya (delusive nature) is far more powerful than the separative, ego consciousness of any individual. Why? Because ego is itself "maya." Thus, neither the report of our senses nor our reason can "pierce the veil."

Yogananda, who lived in and around Hollywood during its heydays between the 1920's and 1950, compared the creation as the play of light and dark projected on the screen of our sense perception.

Sitting in the movie theatre, he'd tap a friend on the shoulder and say, "Look into the beam of light from the booth of eternity." It's all a light show. During the movie, we laugh and cry and are wholly engrossed. But it's only light pouring through the film. When we leave the theatre of life, it no longer has any real impact on our lives.

I was thinking recently about the despair friends feel. Imagine, I said, that everything in the world around was made perfect: climate, health, sustainability, harmony with nature and among nations and peoples. For a while, those who remembered the times of disharmony would revel in the newly found peace. But, after a time, then what? Would we be happy, inside? In ourselves? Relieved, yes. Glad the turmoil is over, yes. But happy?

And what about the next generation; or the next. Soon no one would remember what it was like. Would THEY be happy? They would likely be bored, restless and spoiling for a fight with someone.

The truthful answer is: NO. Why? Because outward circumstances cannot, by themselves, bring us anything other than passing sorrow or joy. The eternal and lasting and unconditional joy that our souls remember is "an inside job." "The kingdom of heaven is within you," Jesus taught. "Not Lo here, or there."

During troubled times in the mid-twentieth century, two great saints of modern India were asked the same question by despairing men and women around them. "What are we to do in the midst of the chaos, violence, starvation and suffering that surrounds us?"

Each, Ananda Moyi Ma and Ramana Maharshi, independently, gave the same response: "Don't you think that He who has created this world knows how to deal with it?

You might, understandably, retort: "Apparently, "he" does NOT!" But, friends, think again. Step back from this drama and know that light and dark, war and peace, and joy and sorrow will continue to ebb and flow, in conflict, trading places for an eternity. 

This non-attached view does not mean we reject God's creation, for God Himself, as we read in the Bible, declared it to be "good." Indeed, we can only make peace with the ceaseless flux when we have the God's eye view that all creation is a manifestation of God's own consciousness. In God consciousness, life is joy but in ego consciousness life is suffering. 

Our effectiveness in times of crises is greatly enhanced by remaining calm. If that is true of daily life, how much more is it true for our worldview?
The characters, good and evil, on the stage of life, are playing their parts for a time and then withdraw behind the curtain to change costumes and exchange roles. Bad actors imagine they are the roles they play. But the great actors know it is but a play. Such ones can return home untouched by the drama. The deluded, evil ones must come back until they want to reform.

The virtuous players find out sooner because by the nature of virtue their consciousness expands beyond the ego. But even virtue is insufficient because "virtue is [merely] its own reward." We must also seek to know, love and serve God who is above good and evil. We do this through the process of ego transcendence and by inner communion with God. Only in this way can we achieve the permanent beatitude that banishes all suffering forever, just as the great Buddha did. 

We should strive to make this earth a better place and our lives ever more serene, virtuous, and pleasing to the God within our souls. We do this for our upliftment and as an example to others who are struggling with sorrow, pain, or poverty of body, mind, or soul. But we do this without false expectation and without attachment to the outward consequences of our efforts. For God is the Doer. Dissolving the sense of doership in favor of being a channel of Divine Light is the way to freedom from all action and for rest in the Self.

The Way of Return is shown to us by the Wayshowers: those who, themselves in a past life, achieved the cosmic vision of God and who return to share the "glad tidings" of our freedom and salvation from all suffering. This is not accomplished en masse in history by some great eschatological event like the "Rapture," but soul-by-soul.

Paramhansa Yogananda predicted difficult times ahead for humanity. After a period of great turmoil, he said a period of relative peace would descend upon humanity who at last would have tired of conflict. But, never mind these outward things, rejoice for the opportunity to see clearly the upward path to soul freedom. Be of good cheer. Do your part. Link with others of like mind. Pray and meditate daily. Seek divine attunement and inner guidance in all that you do. You are not who you think you are. You are the eternal Atman, the pure Soul, a spark of Infinity, as "old" as God "Himself." You are the I AM.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda




Sunday, August 12, 2018

Illness & Depression: Karma or Chemistry?

I have observed that if I am ailing and it's serious enough to go to a doctor I find immediate relief even with the simple statement of a diagnosis: giving what I have a name! There is no doubt more than one reason for this relief (which is felt in spite of pain, discomfort or seriousness of the ailment), but what I take from this is that the name objectifies the ailment as separate from "me."

In a similar way, it's more comforting to believe that the reason I have high blood pressure, or diabetes, or colon cancer is because it "runs in the family." Somehow this relieves me of responsibility. I suppose that because each of these psychological ruses brings some relief that they, therefore, have some merit, a bit like taking Ibuprofen or another pain reliever.

But then there's the question of karma. Do I have cancer because of my family history? Or, because of my own actions? Am I depressed because my brain doesn't produce the right chemical balance, or because bad things have happened to me, or was it something I did that attracted to me unbalanced chemicals, bad things happening to me, and/or this depressed state?

The metaphysical teaching of karma and reincarnation (which most of the readers of this article will no doubt take for granted as a given, a truth, and a reality) offers a potential challenge to the "pain" relieving results of attributing my illness to external causes.

And yet there is an irony here because even in the worldview of Vedanta, the belief that this illness isn't me is ALSO taught! "Tat twam asi!" I am THAT (which is eternal, beyond suffering, beyond the body and ego). Reconciling the teaching of karma with the affirmation of my soul's perfection requires and invites us to a level of self-honest, awareness and intuition beyond that of the average person.

Returning to the earth plane of the body and ego, let us consider that the fact that taking two aspirin will cure my headache doesn't mean I didn't do something (like forget to drink water; get stressed out; have too much sugar, etc.) to trigger it. Just because my brain chemistry is off doesn't necessarily limit the cause of my depression to mere chemistry even if balancing that chemistry alleviates (some of) my depression. Just because my mother had high blood pressure doesn't mean she's the only reason my body has high blood pressure.

Even when the solution to my illness is a straightforward medical one, the simple fact that I have access to that solution is part of my karmic matrix. There are billions of people on our planet who don't have access to the medical care that many of us are blessed to have.

The solution for a broken bone is fairly straightforward but does not in any way explain why I slipped in the first place. Perhaps I was careless; perhaps it was a freak accident; maybe some child left his toy in my path.

The reason for remembering the metaphysical law of cause and effect is not to blame oneself; nor is it to necessarily or reasonably expected to uncover the past actions which may have given rise to my current health issues.

Rather, the value of taking responsibility is to remind ourselves that what we created we can uncreate. "A prod to pride" rather than passive submission is how Yogananda described the lesson of astrology ("Outwitting the Stars," a chapter in Autobiography of a Yogi)

This "prod to pride" to undo what we have done does not mean that we can defy death or always defeat cancer or depression. We are a soul who happens to have a body. This reality is a two-edged sword. When appropriate, we either dismiss the body and its troubles to affirm our soul, or, other times we assert the power of the soul (divine) force over even life and death! In both cases, our body troubles are meant to strengthen our consciousness of the soul as our true Self. The body, by contrast, is short-lived. "There's no getting out alive!" But the soul is eternal.

The test of illness is not just the medical one in front of us, but may, in fact, be a test of courage; faith; energy; joy; trust; or, even, acceptance! Sometimes, one conquers a disease by accepting it with equanimity and faith. Other times, we do so by putting up a good fight, even if our body loses the fight to death itself! And sometimes BOTH are true: we calmly deal with our body's ills using medicine, on the one hand, and God-communion on the other hand, but both with equanimity and faith.

I happened to stumble on an article about a book by Johann Hari: "Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression -- and the Unexpected Solutions." The author traces the root cause of depression to attitudes and actions that lead to a lack of connection with other people. Of the nine contributing factors to depression that he uncovers, only two have to do with brain chemistry.

https://upliftconnect.com/the-root-cause-of-depression-and-how-to-heal-it/?utm_source=UPLIFT

If I were to boil down the gist of this author's analysis in metaphysical terms I would conclude that ego transcendence is, ultimately, the solution! This doesn't deny either the value of medicine nor the many intervening steps at reconnection suggested by the author. But separation (ego from the soul) is the elemental dis-ease of the soul. Overcoming our existential malaise requires energy. Expanding our consciousness beyond the little ego to include others is the ultimate cure for all dis-ease.

It takes willpower, energy, commitment, and intelligence to cope with the downward pulling tendencies of illness. Paramhansa Yogananda is often quoted saying, "The greater the will, the greater the flow of energy."

On the other hand, the simple acceptance that my past action (pre-natal, past lives, or postnatal current life) is the root cause doesn't mean we can know what action(s) were the cause; nor, more importantly, does dwelling on the fact of our being the cause necessarily help deal with my present situation. Why beat ourselves up (even more)?

Yogananda's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, put it this way: “Forget the past. The vanished lives of all men are dark with many shames. Human conduct is ever unreliable until anchored in the Divine. Everything in future will improve if you are making a spiritual effort now.” ("Autobiography of a Yogi," by Paramhansa Yogananda, the first edition)

The point of this article is that to overcome our problems we must exercise our own, God-given willpower, at least as the first step. Calling on the Divine Power and attuning ourselves and our prayer with the Divine Will is the second step. 

What does it mean to seek divine power and the divine will? In part, this refers to the intuitive understanding that God alone is the First Cause, the essential Doer and the underlying Reality of all things. In this remembrance, God is, at first, separate from us. But in the deeper our realization of this truth, God becomes not just the Doer but also the instrument. Our prayer becomes not so much a desire for health but a prayer to be "in tune" and that "Thy will be done." 

If the solution to any problem is as simple as taking medicine, or having a surgery, or reach out for help, well fine, of course! Sometimes the karmic test involved with our illness is the obvious one: to draw upon the intelligence and willingness; forsake the temptation of denial; deal responsibly with the present reality; and, then take action to rise above that reality. 

Another aspect of dealing with illness comes as we advance spiritually: "What comes of itself, let it come" Yogananda also counselled. While few people, even devotees, are ready for this stage, it is a true state of being wherein we don't even consider our karma to be ours: instead, what comes is the blessing of God's grace, the Divine Alchemist, refining the crude ore of our consciousness in the crucible of divine love. 

One must, however, be sure not to hide behind this attitude to disguise fear, paralysis, or passivity. This state comes only with heroic self-giving to God in all matters of daily life. Swami Kriyananda, Ananda's founder, never prayed for healing for himself when illness struck or death threatened. His life provided countless opportunities to test his resolution. (He admitted that he did not expect others to be ready to live this way but simply stated that it was, for him, necessary and right.)

In the Old Testament, the Book of Job, the righteous man Job is tested by Satan to see if Job will remain faithful "to the Lord" if his health, wealth, wife, and reputation are taken away. (He does.) But Job's "friends" taunt him insisting that Job must have done something to deserve his troubles. Job insists he has not! This complex, hard, and subtle tale invites us to see all our tests as tests of our faith in God's goodness and wisdom, and our love for God. It took tremendous willpower and faith for Job to overcome the test he was given.

A devotee, then, sees illness not even as a test but ultimately as God's grace drawing us closer to Him. This does in NO way imply passivity. Swami Kriyananda described all tests as invitations to raise our energy. A saint may already be living in, for, with and AS God but the rest of us will have to go through some kind of step by step process.

I suppose there's no harm in dealing with illness only on medical terms: at least one is dealing with it on its own apparent level. But our emotional reaction to illness is the subtler and more important point. We have two opposing responses: on the one hand, objectifying illness as not ours can be a subterfuge for denial while, on the other hand, dwelling on one's "fault" can paralyze the willpower. So, the right response, well, depends on whether your intention and attitude lead you towards wisdom or ignorance. 

Yogananda described depression as the result of past sense indulgence (prenatal or postnatal). That may seem simplistic but as the article cited above suggests, some cases of depression, perhaps many cases, involve a loss of connection with the world and people in our lives triggered or worsened by self-absorption and self-involvement. Unlike a traumatic accident like an automobile crash wherein the hospital treats your body without regard to your involvement (especially if unconscious), depression, like other addictions, requires the willpower and motivation on the part of the one who is ill. One has to WANT to reconnect with life again.

As we all know, depression sometimes results in suicide. Yogananda commented that a baby who dies at childbirth or in early childhood (and perhaps even later as a young adult) may have been a soul reborn who previously committed suicide. The premature death in a later life, he said, is intended by the law of karma to reawaken the soul's desire for and appreciation of life again. 

Medical science, has, I am told, corroborated the anecdotal evidence that a patient's will to live can be a crucial factor in regaining health. In any case, however, attitude, even in the face of death, is the soul's challenge, blessing and opportunity. 

May the the Divine Light shine ever within you,

Swami Hrimananda



Thursday, August 2, 2018

Why Spirituality Needs Religion

In the world of meditation and yoga, we find many, no doubt millions of practitioners, whose attitude toward religion ranges from "anti" to neutral to "spiritual but not religious."

Like the "God" word, "religion" is a hot-button loaded with baggage. In the world I live in, the term "spirituality" generally substitutes for the term "religion." 

As a writer and one sensitive and appreciative of the poetry and power of words, I feel that words ARE important. My thesis for this article is that there is more at stake than just rejecting religion with all of its baggage. There's no point in even describing why so many reject religion. We can assume we (who are reading this) already HAVE rejected it in its orthodox forms. 

I have long suspected that the unfortunate consequence and too often unconscious reason New Agers have thrown the baby of "God" out with the bathwater of religion is that it gives so many an excuse to turn their back on God and embrace their own ego-centric lives. 

For one thing, we live in an age of ego-affirmation. I've written other articles on this aspect of emerging consciousness. The rigid caste systems of the past centuries defined us by our birth, parentage, gender, skills, language, and social status.

The American experience symbolizes the emergence of the recognition of the value of the individual. This is a good thing, for sure. At long last eclipsed in this renaissance of individuality is the old forms of "tribe" wherein individuality was subsumed to the identity of the tribe. 

But in the world where all things must balance, there has to be a counterbalance to the potential of rampaging egoism to shoot and bomb the human race out of existence. Thus we see in the movements and consciousness surrounding ecology, climate change, sustainable energy, wildlife conservation, concern for the preservation of all species, peace and nonviolence movements, yoga and meditation, and humanitarian efforts: a heightened sense of responsibility; yes, a sense of belonging. Some even use the term "tribe" (though for me it conjures up images of beating drums and stomping feet). But in this case even the tribes are conscious and voluntary associations whose motive power lies with individual initiative and commitment.

On the issue, then, of "spirituality" vs "religion" we can discover a need for balance. The former represents the importance of individual consciousness while the latter refers to our need to share with and/or receive from others.

Just as gender-neutral champions keep searching for words in our language that are neutral (like "staffing the booth" rather than "manning the booth"), so too spiritually minded people use the term "spiritual" instead of "religious." But something is lost in translation. It's not "either-or" but "both-and."

On an egoic level, one can can consider oneself "spiritual" AND also "share or be involved with others." But the deeper spirituality attested to since ancient times by the custodians of religion (the saints, masters, rishis and avatars) is that spiritual consciousness is ego transcendent. 

Otherwise, if it is only the ego sharing spiritual practices or values it amounts to living the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have them unto you" is beautiful but it is little more than "scratch my back and I'll scratch yours." It is reasonable but inadequate to lift consciousness beyond the ego. 

The Golden Rule, being sufficiently demonstrable through logic alone, amounts to a contractual quid pro quo arrangement that fits rather too snugly the merchant-consciousness of our times and culture. The reason it is insufficient to save humanity from selfishness, greed and violence is that the Golden Rule breaks down when under attack by personal desire, addiction, stress and fear. Reason will never be enough except in times of peace and prosperity to re-direct "fight or flight" impulses into constructive channels.

What is needed, because our deeper nature craves it (not because it is imposed upon us), is contact with and communion with our higher, soul nature--which is divine; which is God in human form. 

Thus it is that a world teacher, Paramhansa Yogananda, came to the West to teach meditation and the ancient (and universal) truths of Vedanta ("All is One; All is God"). So, too, the teachings of New Thought and many other wave-forms of consciousness.

What too many forward-thinking people have rejected in the name of their personal freedoms is nothing less than God. This is as true for those who might associate themselves with New Thought as it is for the Self-Help crowd. Thus what might be termed "liberalism" is all too often agnostic, atheistical or simply self-involved. 

Humanistic ideals, absent attunement to the higher reality of Spirit, can sometimes be used as a psychological shield to keep God out of the picture. Humanitarian ideals and activities can become a kind of false god.

Jesus Christ clearly taught compassion and the importance of helping those in need; yet, he also said, "The poor ye have always, but Me you do not have always." Apart from what the "me" refers to, he is saying, to use his own words but more clearly for my purposes: "Seek ye FIRST the kingdom of God......and all these things shall be added unto you." 

No quantity of enlightened living, hiking, kayaking, adventure travel, protesting, consensus building, or feeding the poor and housing the homeless will satisfy the heart’s need for the unconditional love and joy of God in our own soul. In the immortal words of St. Augustine: “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” 

True lovers of God are few: Krishna admits as much in the Bhagavad Gita: "Out of a thousand, one seeks me." Nonetheless as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah attest, even one true devotee can influence the consciousness and karma of a large group of people. Paramhansa Yogananda asserts that the hallowed resiliency of India (the world's oldest and continuous culture and religion) is based on her unbroken line of saints and rishis.

"Saints," Yogananda averred, "are the true custodians of religion." But saints do not live in a vacuum. Like a rare flower, they "grow" in the garden of receptive hearts. A culture or a group of people whose united prayer is to know God magnetizes the appearance of saintly souls in their midst. Spirituality needs religion like plants need soil. The tragedy of religion in modern times is that religion is has lost touch with its true purpose: to bring God to earth so we can ascend to "heaven!" ("Heaven" meaning to resurrect our own soul's divinity in our consciousness.)

Quoting the words from the weekly Festival of Light ceremony conducted at Ananda centers throughout the world:


A prayer of love went up from earth, and You responded.
A ray of Your light flashed out from the heart of Infinity,
Burst downward through night skies of consciousness,
And was born on earth for the redemption of mankind
In human form.
Many times has that light descended,
Drawn to earth by the call of aspiring love.
Your “chosen people” have always been those of every race and nation 
Who, with deep love, chose Thee.


The forms and customs of religion will vary from time to time, and place to place, but its essential message remains the same: to awaken us to the divine presence within and in all creation. 

Yogananda put it this way: "Church is the hive; God is the honey!" Only a soul already firmly on the path to God-realization can turn away from others in the search for God alone. There are very few such souls at this time in history.

For it is also an undeniable truth, that ultimately, the soul sheds the ego not in church but within: essentially, alone. This is the paradox of life that Jesus taught that God is not found outside ourselves, crying "Lo here, lo there, for the kingdom of heaven is within you!" 

So divinity is found within, in the silence of meditation; yet, how do we get there: through teachings and teachers. And where do such come from? From religion and all that surrounds it.

When Paramhansa Yogananda complained that organized religion is a nest of troubles, his guru chided him, asking where would he be were it not for other true gurus dedicating their lives to living and sharing the divine teachings. Yogananda then silently vowed to dedicate his life to helping others as he himself had been helped. 


Religion has failed to uplift humanity because it has fallen into idolatry: mistaking the form for the Spirit behind the form. Just as others worship money or pleasure or position, religionists have “worshipped” their own faith to the exclusion of other faiths. The solution is not to abandon religion but to restore it to its true calling. No other human activity raises consciousness and brings inner peace with the same life-changing effectiveness. 

We no more abandon our personal integrity and uniqueness by our love of others than religion need exist at the expense of spirituality. Quite the contrary, just as our own uniqueness is nurtured by a loving family, friends, and community, so religion and spirituality are two sides of a sacred coin or contract between our soul and God; our soul and all creation; our soul and all souls. 

"Environment is stronger than will" as Yogananda put it. The company you keep will have more influence on your life than your beliefs, for your "beliefs will not save you" from negative influences and your karma.

Truth is one and eternal. Realize oneness with it in your deathless Self, within.

Swami Hrimananda

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Politics, Yoga, Self-Realization and Ananda

From the view of the soul (the God's-I view), all things are appropriate if done with attunement to the divine will. The core mission of Ananda worldwide is to achieve soul freedom in God through the application of the scientific techniques of raja yoga (which can include hatha and kriya yoga); to establish intentional spiritual communities demonstrating that simplicity of living guided by high ideals brings the greatest happiness; to have land in the country where we grow our own food; to live and serve in harmony, cooperation, simplicity, moderation, creativity and divine attunement; and to show how to apply this way of life in business, relationships, health and healing, education and all aspects of daily life.

When it comes to social issues, politics, and social activism, the outer work of Ananda is so young that thus far in our brief 50 years we've had to build (literally) communities, teaching centers, retreats, our publishing arm, schools for children, and the attendant outreach and infrastructure such activities require.

Views on the issues of the day can legitimately vary according to individual points of view between sincere and equally intelligent people. 

Paramhansa Yogananda, the inspiration behind the Ananda work worldwide, said he was in the party of Abraham Lincoln (a Republican). In his day, Yogananda was wary of social reforms instituted by the then president, "FDR." Yogananda was not enthusiastic about the long-term effects or social implications of the New Deal, the welfare state, and other so-called progressive initiatives; he was concerned about the intrusion of government into private lives; for the dependency that a welfare state can create; and for the potential loss of creativity and initiative in individuals.

But how he would respond today on questions of universal health care, social security, and the many other social services, who can truly say? His teachings and Ananda's work is with individuals, primarily: developing personal responsibility; willpower, devotion, meditation, selflessness in service and attitude and, yes, certainly compassion. But our emphasis will always lean towards the personal and taking personal responsibility. Public entitlements that are enacted to "buy" votes or which deplete the personal initiative and sense of individual responsibility will always be suspect. In general, I can say with confidence that any program that helps an individual to help himself is far better than a handout that deprives that person of dignity and initiative.

Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Yogananda and the founder of Ananda, quietly and respectfully guided us in his example and words to be more conservative and circumspect especially on "new deals" that promised us what we might imagine were free handouts from the government. He remarked that Yogananda's school at Ranchi declined in its spiritual ardor and educational excellence when the school accepted funding (with strings attached) from the Indian government.

We, disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda, seek to achieve the spiritual goal of Self-realization. Meditation, introspection and God-communion require a personal commitment, initiative, energy, and creativity. The personal freedom to step away from the "maddening crowd" is a natural and generally necessary step. Life on the path of Self-realization is very personal. Not surprisingly, we seek the company of others of like mind since support for the inner life is not to be found in society at large. 

Naturally, therefore, the help we give to others is more likely to be to those we know rather than enthusiastically trumpeting new legislation and new governmental initiatives. I wonder if socially progressive ideas would be as enthusiastically endorsed if their votaries had to pay for them personally. Do you too sometimes wonder if promoting new government schemes subconsciously relieves their proponents of the burden of guilt for any personal commitment? 

Swami Kriyananda often said: "Peace is my bottom line!" Not social peace but inner peace. If one can march as Gandhi or King marched--with courage and with love so great that even being struck, humiliated, spit upon, or jailed could not trigger in them the quid pro quo of hate--then let it be. This is the path of a Christ. But, you see, for them, too, peace was the bottom line. 

Recently, our center hosted a prayer vigil for the families separated at the southern border of the United States. Our emphasis was on using prayer and meditation to offer these families on a soul level strength and spiritual support. It was also to provide a sanctuary for those who wanted to come together in prayer and meditation as their personal response to this unfortunate situation. While our position on immigration policies was implied, it was not the focal point of our gathering. Therein lies an important difference. 

Government policies and conflicts in society can take many forms but often, if not always, the resolution is the result of a compromise between opposite points of view: a compromise that can be assumed to satisfy neither point of view. The very fact of compromise is, indeed, as much the lesson as the resulting policy. In general, a wise person will tend favor compromise because it supports harmony and provides at least some directional movement in place of continued conflict or simply paralysis. Wisdom understands that we live in a world of opposites which unceasingly vie for, and alternate in, supremacy. 

Thus when one stakes out a position on a social issue, it may be appropriate to articulate the principles and the goals of your position but one should also acknowledge (even if only to himself) that any practical movement forward in the direction of your goal will require some compromise. As Yogananda put it, "Fools argue; the wise will discuss." 

Both Gandhi and King showed remarkable courage and ability to do both. “Be wise as serpents,” Jesus counseled, “and harmless as doves.” Those who defend dogma will tend to end up both disappointed and angry. This world is poorly arranged to achieve perfection or lasting victory to one side or the other.

During World War II, Yogananda was supportive of the war effort but focused his energies on continuing to uplift and inspire people, and bring them closer to God through the science of raja and kriya yoga. He enthusiastically supported Mahatma Gandhi's efforts to free India from British rule but stayed centered on his own life's work.

In Yogananda's famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," he gave a rare rebuke to the rising trend of humanitarian works: "Refusing a monotheistic love to God, the nations disguise their infidelity by punctilious respect before the outward shrines of charity. These humanitarian gestures are virtuous, because for a moment they divert man's attention from himself, but they do not free him from his single responsibility in life, referred to by Jesus as the first commandment." 

Those who guide the work of Ananda understand the complexity of having institutional positions on social issues. Given the path of Self-realization that we strive to follow, it behooves us to give wide latitude to individual members to make their own personal choices. 

It seems likely that the years ahead will see increasing civil unrest owing to the continued state of polarization in our country and other countries with whom we are aligned culturally and politically. Yogananda gave notable utterance to predictions of future challenges to America and other nations in the forms of economic depression, war, and natural calamities. It will take wisdom, courage, and faith to act in attunement with divine guidance if issues and positions continue to intensify. 

There can be no fixed policy on whether, or to the extent, Ananda, or parts of Ananda, take or support political action, social policies or partake in mass movements for or against any such positions. In all representative actions, we must seek attunement with God and gurus.

As the work of Ananda becomes increasingly established, individual members will naturally express their dharma in many new forms, including humanitarian, social, and political activities. But we must not lose sight of the single greatest contribution the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda offer the world: health, happiness, harmony, energy, creativity and divine freedom in Bliss through kriya yoga. To quote Lord Krishna from the Bhagavad Gita: "Even a little practice (of this inner yoga) will free one from dire fears and colossal sufferings." A way of life that requires no legislation, no government handouts, nor yet will incite war, exploitation or greed and will bestow a natural inclination towards living in harmony with the natural world and with our co-inhabitants (in all forms)........what can be a greater gift to the world than this?

May the light of yoga enlighten your consciousness,

Swami Hrimananda



Monday, July 2, 2018

Has Yoga in the West Been Inappropriately Appropriated by Westeners?

I confess I only learned of the concept of "cultural appropriation" last year. The Oxford Dictionaries defines cultural appropriation as the "the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society."

For starters, there's no secret that yoga came from India. One cannot say this is not acknowledged. As to inappropriate, well, where does "goat yoga" or "beer yoga" fit? I feel that serving wine after yoga class is inappropriate when I contemplate the history, the tradition, and the intention behind yoga practice. 

Therefore, while certain applications and adaptions of yoga seem inappropriate (culturally or not), the question in my mind is whether the very practice of yoga itself falls under this criticism. For that matter, are all adaptations or modifications or new uses for yoga inappropriate?

I happen to be a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now famous classic story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." Yogananda taught hatha yoga but did not become famous or associated with hatha in the same way, say, as B.K.S. Iyengar. (There is a yoga style associated, however, with what Yogananda taught. It is called Ananda Yoga and was initially developed by Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Yogananda, and the founder of the worldwide network of communities and yoga teaching centers called "Ananda.")

Any student of the modern history of yoga in the West will easily discover that renowned yoga teachers came to the West specifically to teach yoga and in the process bestowed upon key students the mantle of continuing that work in the West.

Far, therefore, from yoga's being unilaterally appropriated by westerners, teachers from India have intentionally brought yoga for the purpose of its perpetuation to the West. 

But there are additional points I'd like to make. Millions of have read "Autobiography of a Yogi." In his life story, Yogananda makes several statements indicating that a high spiritual purpose existed for the dissemination of yoga practices (principally, so far as his life's mission was concerned, its meditation aspects) in the West. Indeed, it was, Yogananda taught, in the divine Will that the best of East and West be distilled for the upliftment and evolution of human consciousness.

Many a qualified yoga teacher, both east and west, claim that yoga is a universal and nonsectarian science for physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Suited to every time and clime, the principles of yoga are discoverable by any sincere seeker. 

More than this is the assertion, and one that I endorse from my own research and intuition, that India's contact with the West, as painful as it was in many respects (having been conquered, etc.), helped revive, energize and even improve yoga (including meditation) practice. 

I say "improve" on the basis of two things: one, the particular analytical and scientific genius of western culture, and secondly, the assertion (made by Yogananda and his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar and one readily endorsed, however instinctively, by most of the planet's human inhabitants), that we are in an ascendant age of increasing knowledge and (re-)discovery. 

Yogananda, in speaking of the existence and practice of "kriya yoga," stated that it was almost forgotten through human indifference and priestly secrecy. Western medical testing of yoga and meditation has contributed significantly to the validation of its benefits for all the world to see. 

In India, yoga practice in the past has been burdened with unscientific claims of some of its proponents. Few westerners are aware that during the British Raj yoga practice and yogis had fallen into such disrepute as to be viewed as veritable gangs of thugs and reprobates that it was banned. (That this ban was also based on politics and prejudice cannot be denied. Further, such a view did not invalidate the true practice of yoga even if by but a few.)

The long-standing and deeply-held Asian and Indian respect for one's teacher (guru) is deeply embedded in the yoga tradition. In its contact with the West which doesn't have that cultural orientation, confusion and friction have sometimes resulted. 

Yogananda attempted to clarify the use of the term "guru" by applying the term to refer to the "sat guru." This is a reference to a spiritual "savior" on the level of Jesus Christ, Buddha and the like. 

Yet in the east and throughout the world, the ordinary term "guru" can be applied to financial or computer "gurus!" In the late 19th century and early 20th century, in India, a trend began that was influenced both with western physical body-building culture and with the renewal of pride in Indian culture that began to teach hatha yoga from a more strictly physical health point of view. 

In this process, the guru concept and its concomitant spiritual purposes began to weaken but did not dissolve. While the cultural relationship to the teacher continued in the tradition of deep respect and implicit obedience to the teacher, the reality was that few (if any) such teachers, even among the most popular (or perhaps "especially") were true, sat gurus: avatars or liberated masters. The clash with western culture was inevitable and took the uniquely western form of lawsuits and scandals.

Yogananda knew that the spread of yoga and meditation would not be met by a concomitant rising quantity of true, liberated masters. He himself employed printed lessons to teach the precepts of Vedanta, Shankhya and the practices of Yoga (especially raja and kriya yoga).

Moreover, he knew that the egalitarian consciousness of the west would spread eventually throughout the world and would tend to consign to the past the sacred tradition of guru-disciple. Nor is it a matter of too few true gurus. Rather, in a fiercely egalitarian society, it is a matter of too few true disciples.

The point here is that in an evolving and expanding age of consciousness, change is not only more rapid but unstoppable. Yoga has come to the world to uplift society at large. That it will not resemble the forest hermitages and ashrams of tradition may be regrettable to some but inevitable to many. This is not "appropriation." It is change and evolution.

There will always be those souls who incarnate with a pre-existing understanding of the need for a true guru. The need for a guru and the role of a disciple will not disappear because not only will there always be some of have "eyes to see," but because in an ascendant age more and more people will awaken spiritually. This will happen through yoga practice. We see this every day at the Ananda yoga centers worldwide.

Nor is such an awakening the expectation (much less a prerequisite) in the teaching and practice of yoga (including meditation). "When the disciple is ready, the guru appears." Keeping the tradition alive and held out as an example is the role of those (relatively) few (in this culture). But this truth-teaching is not well served by mere proselytizing. Truth "simply is."

In his life story, Yogananda describes how he, while meditating in a dusty storeroom (to escape temporarily from the boys in his school!), had a vision of American faces: souls he would meet when he was soon to go to America. 

Souls who, in past lives practiced yoga-meditation in India where the tradition was kept alive (even if barely), are now being born in the West. How then can anyone truly claim "appropriation."

Yogananda would thunder from his "pulpit" to crowds of thousands: "The time for knowing God (through kriya yoga) has come!" Yoga is indeed for all. 

Let us put aside divisive accusations of appropriation, at least as it relates to yoga. Yoga is for the world and for anyone, regardless of skin color or birth, who armed with respect for its traditions and origin, and with sincere dedication to its practice "goes within."

With joy and the light of yoga,

Swami Hrimananda










Sunday, June 10, 2018

Pride Goeth Before the Fall : Can We Ever Really Fail (Spiritually)?

Paramhansa Yogananda was once asked by a disciple: "Will I ever fall from the spiritual path?" Gazing compassionately at him, Yogananda answered: "How could you? Everyone is on the spiritual path!"

That was certainly a kind response and also a true one in that we can learn and grow (spiritually) from our mistakes. 

Yogananda spoke of the betrayal of Jesus by his disciple Judas. He said that inasmuch as Judas was one of the twelve disciples, he must have been spiritually advanced. In fact, Yogananda used the term "prophet" to describe Judas.

At the risk of a tangent, Yogananda stated that Judas finally achieved enlightenment in the 19th century under the guidance of a well-known guru.

The topic here is not how ordinary worldly men and women fail spiritually, for such aren't even trying to do otherwise. The Seven Deadly Sins are, more or less, positively being sought (or is it "sot"?) by most people. (slight exaggeration)

The subject, then, is with respect to those who ARE trying to grow spiritually. Arjuna asks his guru, Krishna (in the dialogue of the Bhagavad Gita), what is the fate of those who, though seeking enlightenment, yet fail to achieve the goal in a given lifetime? What is their fate? 

Are they worse off? Do they have to start over? Krishna assures Arjuna (which is to say, you and me) that no spiritual effort is lost. (Chapter 6: 37-47) Krishna reassures devotees: "I make good your deficiencies and render permanent your gains." (Chapter 9:22) We can never lose our soul's eternal perfection. Any contact with it can never be lost.

Swami Kriyananda, the founder of the worldwide work of Ananda and a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, wrote about Judas in his book, "Promise of Immortality." His explanation is a priceless and deep examination of the slippery slope from heaven to, uh, perdition! (Chapter 23)

Inspired by the famous verses from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 2:61-63) that describe the step-by-step process by which one falls into error, in "Promise of Immortality" Swami Kriyananda examines the likely thought processes of Judas to show us how we are drawn progressively to the point of (apparent) no return.

(Note: there is no absolute point of no return for the perfect and eternal soul. But the dark enclosure of soul-negation can last a long time, even lifetimes.)

Coming back to pride a little later, let us turn, instead, to doubt: self-doubt. Elsewhere in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that the doubter is the most miserable of devotees for such cannot step forward nor can go back for he simply cannot make up his mind. (Chapter 4:40)

Given our predilection for making mistakes, no wonder we doubt ourselves. Given the plethora of philosophies, lifestyles, religions, politics, cultures, no wonder we are confused. Given the abundance of fake news, no wonder we’re sceptical. Given the wide range of choices in life, no wonder we cannot choose one from the other. Given the constant distractions of life in the fast-device-lane, no wonder we cannot focus long enough to see "the forest through the trees!" 

Krishna goes on to say: “For the peaceless, how is happiness possible?” (Chapter 2:66)

Swami Kriyananda was told by Paramhansa Yogananda that doubting was his greatest challenge in past lives. With his guru's blessings, Swami overcame that obstacle and in this lifetime paid in the coin of the spiritual realm by a lifetime of teaching. Swamiji said, numerous times, that there probably wasn't one doubt that anyone could come up with that he hadn't faced at some point in the past. Thus by teaching and giving others faith, he could expiate the karma of the past. 

There are two kinds of doubt: constructive and destructive. Constructive doubt sincerely wants to know what is true and is open to truth and to taking action. So, here, then, in this article we are speaking of destructive or paralyzing doubt. 

Paralyzing doubt, too, has two faces: we doubt ourselves, OR, when we tire of that, we doubt (that is, criticize) others. But as Yogananda put it in the psychological terms of his day, "superiority or inferiority complex" are simply two sides of the same coin of egoity.

In the last year, a young man came to our yoga center and took some courses. He was so apt to measure himself with respect to others that, finding yoga and meditation challenging for his restless mind and body, he decided it was easier to find fault with others. Others must have been faking it somehow (he concluded). And so he left and retreated to a more fundamental view where mere belief was sufficient for acceptance (and "salvation," I suppose). The hard work of changing himself was simply to much for his fragile ego.

Speaking of our temptation to be critical of others, it is useful to make a distinction. There is a difference between calm, detached observation of a flaw or shortcoming in another person and your claim to superiority over them or your dislike of that person on the basis of your observation. Superiority or dislike constitutes being judgmental. Simply observing is neutral and discerning. 

Jesus put it this way: "Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves!" (Matthew 10:16). Too many people "throw out the baby (of discernment) out with the (dirty) bathwater (to avoid being judgemental)." 

By contrast, to admire the spiritual qualities of another person can inspire you to emulate those qualities and doesn't have to put that person on a false pedestal of your own creation.  The perceived spirituality of another should not be a reason to be discouraged in your own progress. Who can truly judge the heart of another; or, their karma; but God alone? If someone you once admired (spiritually) suffers a fall (in your eyes at least), be grateful for the inspiration you received by their example and simply pray for them to recover quickly from whatever spiritual test they may have failed.

Another common cause for seeming to fail spiritually is guilt. Guilt is only useful if it motivates you to make amends and to change. Like pain, guilt exists to spur us to reform and do better. Don't be like those who imagine that feeling guilty is sufficient compensation for their missteps.

The consequences of error must also be understood directionally. A slip may not be a fall if we make amends; if take action to change for the better; and, if we don't identify with our mistakes. But, be careful, because our ignorance, negativity, or ego-affirming habits open the door to influences that may increase the momentum in the direction first taken. A strong, even heroic, effort must be made to draw the grace that will lift us back up on our spiritual feet.

"Thoughts are universally and not individually rooted." Yogananda makes this profound statement in Chapter 15 of "Autobiography of a Yogi." As we express anger, for example, then we attract to ourselves the support of the preexisting and overarching consciousness of anger. We do not invent anger. It already exists in the cosmos of consciousness. Human addictive tendencies exist not merely because of individual past habits but because of their universally attractive magnetism and vibration. 

A dramatic and historical example of this brings us back to Swami Kriyananda's analysis of Judas. He writes that Judas’ betrayal of Jesus set into motion a karmic pattern that was to haunt Christianity: the betrayal of spirituality in favor of worldly power, money and position. 

The spread of Christianity into the authority-and-law-consciousness of Roman culture and its acceptance as the state religion prematurely bestowed upon the young religion the mantle of power and self-importance. 

The acceptance of these worldly powers steadily eroded the true spirit of Christ which, in time, was eclipsed in the hierarchy of "churchianity," though partly salvaged from time to time by great saints like St. Francis and St. Teresa of Avila. (Saints are the true custodians of religion! Not theologians, clerics or bishops.)

Our betrayal or fall from our own spiritual ideals can begin with pride (“which goes before a fall”). Think of some talent or knowledge that you are good at. In your association with others of like mind and your spiritual service together with them, beware of the opinion and critique that might rise as a consequence of your skills and knowledge being employed in that service. Notice with whom you share your perfidy in the quiet corners and whispered voices of conspiratorial negativity.

Judas’ pathway to his fall was his affirmation of superior insight and wisdom. He alone knew best how spread his guru's teachings. His guru, Jesus Christ, was deluded; ignorant; out of touch and could not see what benefits would accrue to his mission if he could but win over the rich and powerful priestly caste. Or so Judas must have thought. Anger then arose as Judas perceived Jesus' intransigence. And on it went until it ended in tragedy.

The downward path of critical comparing of oneself to others sows the seeds of pride, discouragement, self-doubt, and provides, in time if indulged, all the reasons for you to give up and turn away. Oh, and how many have turned away.

In the last years of Yogananda's life, how many came and went, imagining Yogananda did not meet their standards, or, alternatively, not feeling they could live up to his. Of one who left the ashram, the Master said it would take him another two hundred years to regain his current spiritual consciousness. Of another, he said that if she had stayed just twenty-four more hours that temptation would have past.

As a teacher who over decades has seen so many bright lights appear and then fade out to dullness and then disappear from whence they came, I sometimes chant Yogananda's chant that begins with the words: “Whence do they come….whither do they go?”

There's an even far more subtle betrayal amongst devotees. One that cannot be seen with the eyes. It is the story of Martha and Mary. How many Marthas in churches, ashrams, monasteries and sanghas busy themselves in service, and even in meditation and devotion but with their minds far from God. 

Even in outward ritual, prayer, and service, we can avoid the divine summons and awakening of the soul-Self, thus postponing our divine destiny. The inner Voice says, wordlessly, "I will wait. I have given you this freedom and when you seek Me for my love alone and not my gifts, then I will come."

You can meditate every day and never even think of God. Never even go beyond your own, restless thoughts. Never offer yourself wholly into the Unknown where awaits you the light and bliss of your soul: a spark of the Infinite Bliss. God is the Divine Elephant in the Cosmic Room of your Mind; yet, even devotees see him not.

Yogas chitta vritti nirodha” We must neutralize the reactive thought and emotional processes of the ego-mind by calm, inner awareness. And that we can do, like Bhishma in the epic "Mahabharata," only by the free choice of our heart.

There are two kinds of meditation: emptiness and fullness. In general, we teach fullness. It’s easier for most people. In fullness we use chants, affirmations, mantra, prayer and devotion to re-direct our natural restlessness and self-preoccupations. Stillness is not empty; it is full: full of energy, joy, and love.

The path of emptiness is “neti, neti” – not this, not that! It too is a valid path. Both emptiness and fullness are actual states of consciousness which alternate in the life of a meditator; or, from the point of view of the path of ascension, can represent steps or stages. 

Yogananda clarified that those who teach emptiness as the final state are incorrect. For while emptiness (the apparent threat of personal extinction) is the final challenge to the ego’s willingness to surrender, when we do surrender with faith, courage and energy, bliss flows into us like a relentless tsunami or a thousand suns crushed into one.

In fact, however, we should understand and approach each state for each are valid and necessary: both emptiness AND fullness. Thus, after our practice of techniques, we should empty ourselves of all thoughts and let the divine states of Superconsciousness appear like the stars that come out after sunset: at first they are dim, and then gradually, they get brighter. Then the moon appears on the horizon of our consciousness. As it rises it outshines the stars with the comforting brilliance and cooling rays of peace. If we welcome its all-embracing rays into our mind soon we too—our sense of separateness—will be eclipsed into Divine Love.

And so it also with God as personal or impersonal. Some begin their journey approaching God in personal form: perhaps as the guru, e.g. Others, the impersonal as light, peace, joy, energy, love, e.g. But God has no form and is all forms and so cannot be limited by either. Thus, as we advance spiritually our chosen form morphs into its opposite. 

Here we tell the story of Totapuri, the guru of Ramakrishna. Totapuri helped (rather dramatically) Ramakrishna go beyond the "I-Thou" relationship with Divine Mother into the formless state of samadhi.

We are destined to know God; to be free. Just as in sleep we are free from the burdens of our conscience, our karma, and our past, so too in Super-consciousness we are free. But freedom in subconscious sleep is temporary and is not life-changing. By contrast, the freedom experienced in super-consciousness grows on us gradually and, with ever deeper immersion, replaces our separate identity with that of the freedman! No longer a slave to the body and ego! We are TAT TWAM ASI. EKAM SAT! God alone.

Behind our self-doubt, our judgments of others and ourselves lies the realm of the land of the free reached only by those of  brave heart: the land beyond the duality of our dream-world of matter, thought, and emotion.

It is in our souls that we are One. It is to this affirmation that our July 14th day of celebration of East Meets West is directed. This day is a celebratory fest of like-minds and open-hearts. Outwardly we may appear different and separate but inwardly we are ONE.

The divine awaits us and haunts our soul-dreams. Let me close this overly long article with the first paragraph of this much beloved poem:

THE HOUND OF HEAVEN-1893
Francis Thompson



I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
   I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
   Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
             Up vistaed hopes I sped;
             And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
   From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
             But with unhurrying chase,
             And unperturb√®d pace,
     Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
             They beat—and a Voice beat
             More instant than the Feet—
     'All things betray thee, who betrayest Me'.


Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda