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

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Scarlet Letter (Attraction) meets Krishna in the Mahabharata!

When I was a teenager, perhaps even in college by then, I recall reading the classic story, "The Scarlet Letter," by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The novel is set in the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony of the mid 17th century. The condemnation of the protagonist, Hester Prynne for having a child out of wedlock, and the cowardice of her lover (a local minister) to confess and defend her, represented for me (at that impressionable age) the conflict between social mores and the "way of the heart." At the conclusion of the novel, the lovers reunite, albeit temporarily and even somewhat tragically.

In my life, the timeline for my reading of this famous novel took place during the explosion of America's own "cultural revolution" of the Sixties. Many in my generation eagerly and adamantly rejected any and all social mores as old fashioned and part of the controlling establishment or so-called "Puritan ethic." Youthful passion and exuberance, to be sure! (In case you don't know, the attempt mostly failed because truth is "one and eternal.")

But recently, Murali Venkatrao graced me with an astonishingly captivating re-write of India's great epic, the Mahabharata. The book is called "The Great Golden Sacrifice of the Mahabharata" by author Maggi Lidchi-Grassi. It is written in the first person as told by Arjuna. Utterly delightful and compelling, a kind of "we were there" historical (and spiritual) "novel" wrapped in God-consciousness-vibrations!!!!!

One of the predominant themes of this world-famous epic is discerning what is righteous action ("duty" or "dharma"). Unlike the adolescent rebellion of the Sixties, the Mahabharata is concerned with the soul's journey to Self-realization.

Arjuna, Krishna's beloved disciple and hero of the epic, seeks Krishna's counsel at every crucial turn of the epic's long and twisting tale because knowing what is right action in advance of taking action is very, very difficult!

One example can be seen in the death of Dronacharya ("D"). D is the teacher, or Acharya, of the young warriors, both the Pandava brothers (think: "good guys") and the Kaurava brothers (think: "bad guys"). In the allegory of the Mahabharata ("M"), D represents the subconscious mind and its power to create and sustain one's habits. But, being a product of the subconscious mind, habit generally sides with the "bad guys" ("K") in part because the duty and function of the subconscious mind is to defend and protect the ego.

(In life, we find that good habits are generally not powerful enough to sustain us when confronted by temptation or opposing negative tendencies. In fact, good habits are both established and sustained by inspiration from the soul (aka superconscious mind). Good habits are sustained only by fresh inspirations and affirmations whereas bad habits exist as a kind of default ("fight or flight" mechanism).)

Returning to the story, D is loved by all his students who are now adult warriors opposing each other. Yet D holds the key to victory for the K's. He has taught them all the arts of war and he knows and has all the powerful weapons. The "good guys" (Pandavas: "P") know that, despite their love and respect for D, he must be killed in the war if they are to win.

It occurs to the P's that one way to dishearten D's power and will to fight is to kill his son, Ashwatthama. But that's not so easy because, like his father, he is a fierce and unbeatable warrior. On Krishna's advice, a ruse is hatched wherein D is to be informed that D's son, Ashwatthama, has been killed in the battle (presumably elsewhere in that large and chaotic battlefield).

An elephant who happens to be named "Ashwatthama" is purposely killed so that Bhima, one of the P brothers, can boast that Ashwatthama is dead! D asks Yudhishthira, "Is this true?" Yudhishthira, the incarnation of truthfulness, says "Yes!" D then sits to meditate and while meditating one of the warriors cuts off the head of D! Both a "lie" and a breach of the rules of engagement takes place. A breach of social mores?

[Interestingly, the P warrior who cuts of the head of D is Dhrishtadyumna whose name relates, allegorically, to the soul quality of the calm, inner light--slayer of the force of habit.]

The real Ashwatthama, D's son, survives the war. In the allegory, he represents the quality of attraction. The explanation given for the fact that Ashwatthama survives, even though he is one of the K's who are all eventually slain, is that when the soul emerges victorious over the ego and achieves enlightenment, this quality remains in the form of the attraction to bliss, to goodness and all that is spiritually elevating. "Attraction," you see, never dies! It is the offspring of habit because attraction is the necessary ingredient for the sustaining power of any habit, good or bad.

But after the war has ended and the P's are victorious, Arjuna, in a fit and mood of self-doubt and regret, accuses his elder brother Yudhishthira of having lied and broken the law of dharma of which he, Yudhishthira, is supposed to be the living embodiment. A heated argument ensues among the brothers and others. Once again, Krishna intervenes to remind them all that the ruse was necessary for victory (the soul over ego-bondage).

Hence the saying: "All is fair in love and war."

Thus it was that the love between Hester Prynne and the minister had to be revealed and fulfilled even though it went against social taboos (neither was married to someone else at the time--the taboo itself was the mere product of "caste consciousness").

Nonetheless, in the death of D, a "white" lie and a violation of battlefield ethics were needed to effect the desired outcome. Sometimes it is useful when one is attempting to overcome a negative habit to calmly affirm victory even though, at present, it is not entirely true (yet).

Swami Kriyananda would tell the story of how he quit smoking (when he was a young man and before he became a monk). As often as he reverted to smoking after trying to quit, he simply and calmly affirmed that he would stop smoking even though he hadn't achieved his goal quite yet.

One day, without any outward assistance or sign, his affirmation proved to be true. He never smoked from that day forward. He could not have predicted when that day would arrive but intuitively he knew that it would. Indeed, his attitude, despite setbacks, was that it was true already!

In this way, Dronacharya, the master of habit, can be defeated by calmly and repeatedly telling him that his offspring, attraction to a wrong habit, has died. By feigning disinterest in the temptation to indulge, one deflates its power over you. This can be extended even into the indulgence itself when it overtakes you: keep a part of your mind detached from identification with the act.

They say "love makes the world go 'round" and true as that it is, one can also say that it is DESIRE that makes the world go round. Desire is of the heart and its power cannot be extinguished, only re-directed. Paramhansa Yogananda taught that the desire to know (and love) God, too, must be fulfilled. Nurture right desires and you shall find ever greater happiness.

Use the power of attraction, then, wisely and whatever you do to re-direct your attention from the lower to the higher, from ego to soul, is fair and wise. Live AS IF you are already free and Self-realized for indeed such is the nature of your soul. "Tat twam asi!" ("Thou art THAT!)

Swami Hrimananda




Saturday, May 25, 2019

Memorial Day in America: The Great Yagya, Wheel of Life!


The purpose of Memorial Day (celebrated in America) is to remember and honor the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in defense of their country. Whether or not you, or me, or history judges their sacrifice as justified, they gave their full measure and thus honor is due to all.

I think of the great and noble man, and war hero, General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate army.
He is quoted as saying “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it. Duty then is the sublimest word in the English language. You should do your duty in all things. You can never do more and you should never wish to do less.” 

History may judge that he made the wrong choice (he had been offered the leadership of the Union army), but he followed what he deemed to be his duty and to that degree, then, he was victorious. Both then, and ever since, he has been adjudged in error. In recent years, statutes to his honor have been removed in various cities in the American South. America’s Civil War was anything but civil and it was a holy war to free enslaved peoples: of this there is no doubt. Yet each must act in accordance with his own sense of duty.

Or, as Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita puts it: Perform those actions which your duty dictates, for action is better than inaction. Without action, indeed, even the act of maintaining life in the body would not be possible. (Gita 3: 8)

I once asked Swami Kriyananda (founder of Ananda and a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda) about the righteousness and karma of the Allies in WWII having unleashed the atom bomb in Japan and having firebombed the cities of Germany. He dismissed my unspoken but critical view of these decisions with the equivalent of “all is fair in …. war.” 

Difficult times call for difficult decisions. You can only hope to do your best. The outcome is what determines the rightness of a decision. The victory of the Allies gave birth to the Iron Curtain but nonetheless deflected for a time the spectre of greater enslavement and hopelessness.

It is no coincidence that India’s greatest scripture, the Bhagavad Gita takes place on a battlefield where the first question asked is whether it is righteous to fight. But military warfare and its righteousness is not my real topic this day of remembrance.

Let us also remember those great saints and avatars who have given their lives to spread the message of Self-realization (our soul’s eternal life in God) to all “with ears to hear.” When a soul has become freed from all present and past karma but elects to answer God’s call to return into human form for the upliftment of others, it must bear the burden of the limitations of earthly existence even if that burden is not engendered by its own past actions. Human existence, even for a freed soul, entails some loss of divine contact, just as Jesus on the cross momentarily cried out to Elias or as Yogananda wept inconsolably for the death of his earthly mother. 

While that loss is never permanent nor is it the cause of actions fired by desire, the temporary eclipse of the immortal and omniscient bliss of that soul is surely a painful or burdensome loss. Even avatars, however briefly, confront their impending death with some trepidation; such was the case of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and both Lahiri Mahasaya and Swami Sri Yukteswar (as recorded in “Autobiography of a Yogi”).

Whether soldiers or saints, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13. The intention that motivates a conscious action ties the consequences to the doer of the act. The results of that act shape the nature of the act’s consequences. (If one (a saint or master) has dissolved the sense of doership, then the consequences of his action accrue to the benefit of others.)

Jesus’ response to God’s call to sacrifice his human life on the cross was faced in a different circumstance by Abraham who was asked by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. The sacrifice of one level of existence to achieve or for the benefit of a higher level of consciousness is the way by which God has created the world.

In Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains to devotee Everyman (Arjuna) the purpose of “yagya,” or self-offering:

10. Prajapati (God in the aspect of Creator) brought mankind into manifestation, and in so doing gave man the potential for self-offering into a higher (than human) awareness (through yagya). Along with this gift He enjoined mankind, “Whatever you desire, seek it by offering energy back to the source of all energy.
Let this sacrifice (yagya) be your milch cow of fulfillment.”

11. (Prajapati continued:) “With this offering, commune with the devas (shining angels), that they may commune also with you. Through such mutual communion you will arrive at the highest good.”

12. (Prajapati concluded:) “By communion with the devas you will receive from them the (earthly) fulfillments you desire. He who enjoys the gifts of the gods without returning due offering (of energy) to them is, verily, a thief.”

The above is, for westerners, an unusual, even odd way of stating what we know of sacrificing the present for the future. It is investing in our future by refraining from present enjoyment. We in the West know all about “investing” whether for retirement; or investing in a college education, or the future of our children and so on.

Nature too teaches us that all life offers itself into the greater life of others as an integral part of the cycle of life. The great “water wagons” of rain clouds unleash their precious cargo that life might be revivified. The sun consumes itself to give us energy and light. Microscopic life forms are consumed by larger life forms all the way up the food chain. Plants grow, live, and die for the nourishment of other life forms. And, returning to our beginning, soldiers give their lives in defense of their nation and their people.

To lose weight we must sacrifice a few simple pleasures! To sustain bodily strength we must take the time and make the effort to exercise. To nourish a friendship we must learn to hold our tongue and to accept others as they are before considering how we might help them (if they are open to our help).

To fulfill our duties in work and service, we must sacrifice some of the time we might otherwise give to relaxation and recreational pursuits. Parents sacrifice the pleasure of one another’s company and many personal pursuits and friendships by serving the daily needs of their children.
   
The great wheel of life is sustained by sacrifice. From the saints to the soldiers, this is one of our soul’s great lessons and therefore we celebrate this day of Memory.

May each and every one of us surrender to the great wheel of Divine Life, offering ourselves into the fire of dharma and purification that leads to our soul’s true home in Bliss.

Swami Hrimananda
USA Memorial Day 2019
   

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Lessons from the Life of Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013)

Today, May 19, 2019, Ananda Sangha in Seattle celebrated the anniversary of the birth of its founder, Swami Kriyananda. He lived a long life and founded the Ananda communities fifty years ago. At a talk today in his honor at Sunday Service, here are a few salient points of things I learned that are relevant to us today:

1. Leadership. In an era of egalitarianism, especially in the annals of intentional communities, a strong leader is to be avoided. Instead, consensus decision making is considered best and safest. There are good reasons for this on paper but the "jury" is out as to whether consensus actually works. There are reasons to suppose it does not! 

Swamiji showed us that leadership could be both inspired (meaning strong in a positive way) AND supportive. Leadership is simply a role like all the other roles necessary for a group to succeed in its goals. If supportiveness is the tenor of the group's dynamics and begins with leadership, far more can be accomplished creatively and harmoniously. A supportive leader doesn't intend to make all the decisions. Rather it means that the leader takes responsibility to guide the group towards good decisions, whether or not the ideas originate from him or from others.

2. Discipleship. Swamiji stated that there are plenty of "wannabe" gurus, but far too few good disciples. His goal in life, so to speak, was to be a good disciple. As to others who looked to him for guidance and counsel, he saw himself primarily as their friend. I would add that it is easier for most of us to talk and state our views but too few of us at least as eager to listen (outwardly and inwardly).

3. Creativity. In the life of a disciple, creativity has its place. Self-denial, too, has its place, certainly, but far more powerful for most people is finding a way to channel our energy creatively and with attunement and harmony to fulfil our dharma and release us from karma. Swamiji demonstrated in his life, and, indeed at great personal cost to his acceptance by others, that true discipleship should indeed be creative while also attuned to the divine will.

4. Dharma. Paramhansa Yogananda told Swamiji repeatedly, "You have a great work to do." Several times, Yogananda told Swamiji that he intended to take him to India. It didn't happen then, but from then on Swamiji felt his guru wanted him to serve and to reinvigorate the work in India. In the early years of Ananda, he foresaw the expansion of Ananda's work from the west coast, to the east coast, to Europe and finally to India. Even toward the end of Swamiji's life, when suddenly he felt his guru calling him at long last to begin a work in India (at age 77), he dropped everything and moved to India.

5. Condemnation and Critique. Throughout his life of discipleship, Swami Kriyananda encountered intense resistance, critique and persecution from those who he deeply respected and from others. How he handled opprobium--with calm acceptance and creative resistance (when principles or the work of his guru was at stake)--is a lesson to all of us. Returning love for hate is an eternal lesson and a path of transformation modelled to humanity by great saints down through the ages.

6. Soul Affirmation. No matter what changes his body, age, activity, or circumstances brought to him, Swamiji always affirmed the unchangeable reality of his soul. Never did accept for himself or from others a self-definition less than that of the eternal, ever-blissful Atman as his "soul" reality. 

How many of us owe our spiritual awakening in this lifetime to Swami Kriyananda? Surely the number is beyond counting or measurement of any kind. Gratitude, love, respect, and honor goes to one who, in the name of God and gurus, ignites the flame of divine love in the human heart!

Happy birthday, Swamiji!

Swami Hrimananda

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Bhagavad Gita: A Timely Gem

The Bhagavad Gita: A Timely Gem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the song of God flow through you!

Swami Hrimananda



Here in the Seattle area, Murali Venakatrao and I will begin a 5-week course in the essentials of the Bhagavad Gita. It takes place on Thursday evenings beginning May 9th, 7.30 to 9.30 p.m. We will record this class for those who enroll on our website but who are at a distance on planet Earth: https://www.anandawashington.org/?event=essence-of-the-bhagavad-gita-bothell&event_date=2019-05-16   Our recording will be either audio or video or both. Our text will be the landmark book by Swami Kriyananda, Essence of Self-Realization.









Friday, April 12, 2019

What is the Deeper Meaning of Easter?

Why Celebrate Easter?

The feast of Easter is observed primarily with images of bunnies, chocolate goodies, beautiful flowers, colorful new clothes, and for millions, a once-a-year visit to a church service. Few contemplate seriously the meaning of Easter beyond its outward observance. So let us step back and take a few minutes to consider the meaning of Easter to our own lives.

For starters, let us acknowledge that Easter is inextricably linked to the tragedy of the crucifixion. This is the way of the world where light alternates with darkness. But it’s deeper than that because, for one thing, the crucifixion was not a tragedy except in a very human sense, and for another, the resurrection of Jesus Christ has far more significance to us personally than its simple (if dramatic) narrative would suggest.

Jesus’ resurrection represented a victory: a victory over physical death; a victory over those who condemned him to death; a victory over those who accused him of blasphemy for affirming his own divine nature; a victory over those who doubted or scorned his legitimacy as a spiritual teacher.

But that victory could not have been a reality were it not for his crucifixion. It is not necessary to believe the story of Jesus’ resurrection to distil meaning from it. By contrast, it is not as difficult to accept the reality of Jesus’ crucifixion! But let’s see them as symbols for realities in our own, personal lives.

The ever-present and timeless message of these dramatic events is that the “death” of selfishness and egoity is the price of the soul’s resurrection. Egoity and selfishness we are familiar with, but the existence and nature of the soul is elusive to our day-to-day conscious awareness. For most people, the soul is only experienced in peak moments of transcendent joy, unconditional love, or the intensity of sacred experiences. Few people seek ego transcendence as a means to achieve soul-realization because few have awakened to the truth that the soul is the source of finding lasting happiness.

This message is the eternal “religion” and it is the core message of the movement known as Self-realization. Meditation is the means to this end. Stilling the natural tumult of our senses and mind reveals the eternal, changeless, blissful light of our soul.

Jesus accepted the divine will in accepting the yoke of crucifixion. Prior to his capture by his self-styled enemies, he briefly prayed that this yoke might be lifted. The answer to his prayer could not be granted and he accepted it without resistance. This models for us our response to the yoke of our karma, the suffering that comes inevitably in living life in a human body. Suffering can be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual but we have no need to define suffering. Pleasure and happiness can also find expression in these ways and, however transient, should also be accepted calmly. Only spiritual “happiness” requires no opposite in order to exist because it is our very nature.

This has nothing to do with whether we should seek abatement of suffering or the righting of wrongs. It is our ego-instinct to deny or repulse (or, for pleasure or happiness, our instinct to grasp) that creates the pendulum of unceasing action and reaction which is called karma. By calm acceptance and by neutralizing the reactive process through daily meditation, we achieve the freedom from all suffering and the state of true joy. This neutralizing process is enhanced by devotion and selflessness. Whatever proper action is dictated by the experience of sorrow or happiness is a separate matter and is not precluded by the fact of our acceptance.

The meaning of Easter is also embodied in the acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as a true “son of God.” Not the ONLY son of God, but an avatar: a descent into human form of a perfected soul sent back to transmit to truth seekers the hope, promise and power of transcendence. Other souls, too, such as Buddha, Krishna, Moses, and Yogananda, to name but a few, have come and will return again and again to guide entire families of souls toward the Light.

Jesus’ narrative is a dramatic one for he came at a time in human history where only an extreme example could awaken sleeping souls to their own highest potential as “sons of God.” As stated in the first chapter of the gospel of John: “And as many as received Him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God.”

The Easter celebration thus holds a two-fold message for all humankind: the way to lasting happiness lies in overcoming egoity in order to achieve Self-realization; and, that wayshowers such as Jesus the Christ show us the way to live in this world; they stand poised to transmit the power of soul consciousness to those who “receive them.” We cannot achieve the “pearl of great price” by our efforts alone. More is needed to break the cyclotron of ego magnetism with its sheaths of karma which bind us.

Easter reflects the universal promise of immortality which is our soul’s true nature. Let us then celebrate this message as it has been embodied in the dramatic events of Jesus’ last days on earth.

[For more inspiration on this subject drawn from the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda and his disciple, Swami Kriyananda, I highly recommend the book, "Promise of Immortality." Written by Swami Kriyananda, it can be found at an East West Bookshop near you or at www.CrystalClarity.com. At Ananda near Seattle, we have a day-long retreat on Saturday, April 20, and a celebratory Easter Service on Sunday, April 21. www.AnandaWashington.org]  

Friday, February 8, 2019

Meditation for the Thought-full

Where do we go when we sleep? When we die? When we daydream and the stream of thoughts vanishes into no-thought as we gaze outward?

Is it: "I think therefore I AM," or is it "I AM therefore I think?"

Our bodies, our impulses, and our world invite us to look outward through our eyes; to hear outer sounds through our ears; to feel objects around us using the sense of touch; to smell invisible fragrances in the air and to put objects of taste into our mouths.

But what if we turn inward, instead? If we remove our skin and see into our organs do we see ourselves? No, we see only these organs, arteries, veins, and blood. Most or many of these can be removed and even replaced, leaving the "I" of myself intact and untouched. We look at these body parts but don't see ourselves.

We can view our own bodies from the outside and make certain conclusions that may affect our sense of who we are and may affect how we act. We might conclude that we are old, young, beautiful or not so, strong, or weak. But then on any given day or hour, we are so preoccupied with other things and thoughts that our appearance is of no particular interest even to us. We may preen one day and want to hide from view the next.

In fact, our thoughts and emotions, and our attitude towards our own self-worth are constantly changing hour to hour, day to day, week to week and year to year. Over a period of years we might look back and see a gradual evolution of our attitudes and opinions but we can never, if ever we give this some thought, know when and how our current views will change.

Look into the mirror. Usually, we look away quickly, perhaps embarrassed or not wanting to face the fact that who we see reflected there is but a stranger to us. But, try it: face the face before you. 

At first, we might be preoccupied with observing our facial features but it won't take long to tire of this, for it reveals little of ourself. 

Ok, then, what about our life history? Does our biography tell us very much? Well, yes, some things for sure. Mostly we can only recollect key events which, even if considered significant (birth, school, prom, wedding, birth, deaths) rarely consume much of our time and interest in day-to-day life.

So, still, we ask, "Who am I?"

I suppose I have to concede that most human beings never ask this question and if they were asked, they'd shrug it off as a useless one. I can imagine one of them saying, "What difference would the answer make?" And that's a good question, too. Let's find out, eh? ("Eh": a concession to my Canadian friends just north of here.)

If staring at yourself in the mirror is a "non-starter," try staring out a window. What do you see? A panorama, or slice of human life passing by? A scene of nature? A parking lot? A lawn? Clouds and sky? A mountain, lake or ocean?

Can you gaze outward and after taking it in, commentary and all, simply look at what you see without mental self-talk?

And, since this is a blog about meditation, can you close your eyes while sitting erect but relaxed and have your thoughts vanish like fog beneath the mid-day sun? It will help if you lift your inner gaze just a little bit. (To do this, touch a finger lightly at the point between the eyebrows, or just slightly above that spot--just for a few seconds. Focus as if peering out at a point a few feet away as your eyes are closed).

With a little practice, you'll get the position just right and comfortable where there is no tension, just inward gazing. What you'll usually see is nothing! Or, at least no-thing. It is usually dark, with maybe splotches of light or even color. As you get calmer any jumpiness of the images should slow down. Gaze in this way with keen interest, and yet, with an air of contentment and relaxation. 

If this is new to you, you'll need to do this daily for a week or more. As a general rule, even with eyes open, if I look up, my stream of thoughts tend to pause, as if waiting for instruction or an answer to a question (even a question unasked). Hold on and exploit this natural reaction, even from time to time throughout the day. The monkey-mind is a curious being and is always interested in something new. The gaze, when lifted, is the nature-given "mudra" (position) of seeking an answer. The mind pauses, eager for a response; eager for some new idea.

We do this all the time during the day when, for example, we wonder where we left our car keys, or what time was that appointment. We might also knit our eyebrows and purse our lips in sudden consternation of something important we may have forgotten. At such times, the mind begins to search on "the hard disk" of memory and tells the monkey to "shut up for a sec."

Getting back to this "mudra" for meditation, you can also practice "looking up" with eyes open instead of closed. The drawback here are the distractions born of visual input. But for some people, or at least to learn where the "sweet spot" of meditation gazing can be found, open eyes can be helpful. You just have to experiment a bit. Once you find the spot and get comfortable with it, it should be practiced with eyes closed.

In this position, eyes upward for meditation, it is often taught that one should hold that position and add to it an awareness of the simple movements of our breath: whether in the lungs or as the breath flows up and down through the nostrils. The breath is a natural point of focus for beginning meditation. 

For my purposes in writing this article, we are now at the beginning point of the "thoughtless state." Thought-full, or, thought-less, it matters not. When I say "full," however, I am not referring to the usual avalanche of thoughts that pours through our mind in every minute of our waking hours, but the innate "fullness" one experiences in a state of pure mind-full-ness: a state where the normal stream of thoughts has vanished.

This state of self-awareness is the foundational state for higher consciousness. But those higher states are secondary for my subject here today.

Achieving this state of quietude is not the result of the intensity of will power or effort. It can only be done with calm, attentive, intentional relaxation of body and mind. Yet for all of its innate relaxation, it isn't usually helpful to lie down because what I am describing takes a special kind of concentration. Not the kind of concentration where we are facing a deadline and we are tensed with will and the grit of determination, "come hell or high water." 

It's the kind of concentration as most experience in watching a good movie (though not an edge-of-the seat thriller). Or, the kind you might experience while ice skating, skiing, or in the zone where body and mind are one-pointedly focused, both relaxed but keenly engaged at the same time. 

It has to be something you want to do; that you've been waiting all day to find the time and opportunity to do. It has to be something you enjoy; something that takes and gives you energy, joy and flow! 

Whatever it takes to get there, the consequent state of keen, pure self-awareness is a singular state of observation and witnessing. There's no self-talk; no judgement; no assessment or mental commentary. Though neutral, there is an underlying sense of empathy, satisfaction and contentment, like a warm bath or a weightless and invisible waterfall in and all around you. 

In this state, there is a heightened sense of awareness: not "of," but "with." It takes practice, for sure but after a time, try turning your inner gaze upon itself: as if you were looking into your own eyes (like in the bathroom mirror experiment). You can feel your "eyes," the eyes of your attention, looking back at you.

It's an odd feeling at first, isn't it? Just as staring at another person gets quickly uncomfortable, causing one or both to look away, you might experience something similar at first.

In fact, and as stated earlier, you can only sustain this state by relaxing, not by tense will power.

And now, you ask, "Well, so what?" "What's it all about?" Like Moses who could not enter the Promised Land, I cannot take you past this point. In this state of emptiness, what fills it (apart from the pernickety monkey-mind eager to retake the stage) is for you to discover.

I can't promise it will always be wonderful. You will undoubtedly encounter resistance and very likely a kind of fear. The ego and subconscious are fearful of being extinguished by the state of no-thought, because the ego is addicted to thoughts, sensations, emotions and drama from which it derives its self-identity, its role, and its existential being. "It's my job," the ego and subconscious protests. 

Paramhansa Yogananda put it bluntly: "The soul loves to meditate; the ego HATES to meditate."

But for the courageous of heart who can gently smile in the face of the abyss, and who can remain conscious in the face of darkness, the light and joy of the indwelling soul, which itself is but a spark of the Infinite Light, awaits.

More than this is that "added into you" are all the "things" needful for your life's journey, including a protective aura of calm acceptance and inner joy.

The more often your mind is baptized in this state of no-thought, washing away the stain and grime of self-involved, ego-affirming mental activities, memories, and inclinations, the purer you become. You grow in wisdom and intuitive insights; in confidence; in connectedness to all life; to the state of loving without condition. All "these things," too, are "added unto you."

Why? Because this is our essential BEING. It is the I AM before I think (to re-purpose Descartes). This is our homeland; our origins and our birthright which is always there behind our thoughts for us to reclaim. In this state, we have a portal, a kind of psychic "worm hole," to higher states of unitive consciousness. These states cannot be pre-defined or controlled by the ego mind or its intentions or will power.

"By steadfast meditation on Me" (Bhagavad Gita) we come quickly to this portal through which inspiration, insight, wisdom, joy, love, and "all these things added unto you" pour forth into our body, mind, and our life. 

"Is that all there is?" No: infinity is Infinite, timeless, and endless. We can bathe in its gifts but as it pours its blessings into us, we take on its nature and thus we increasingly will be drawn and invited to give ourselves to it wholly. But this doesn't happen without our conscious will.  Though Infinity silently beckons us to surrender or enter into it for no reason or gift beyond itself whose nature is bliss, the ego cannot enter except willingly and except without facing the seeming reality of its own extinction. Paramhansa Yogananda and all the great saints down through the ages offer us assurance that we will not regret our surrender, but in the moment of our surrender we are alone and must face not the dark night of the soul, but the dark night of the ego. (Dark night of the soul is actually a misnomer. The soul's nature IS light!)

You have nothing to fear from entering the "thoughtless-zone." No one or nothing will come to sweep you away into the abyss. You need only "to be present to win." (Stay conscious, in other words!) Indeed, wouldn't it be wonderful if Divine Mother came to scoop us out of our delusion! No, She wants only our love; the only thing she doesn't possess and only we can give it: willingly, consciously. Union with the Infinite must be sought and won by earnest effort, attunement with divine consciousness, and the grace of God and guru.

Go then through your day, then, with the eyes of awareness; non-judgement; with the all-seeing-I. Fear not the journey of awakening. You can take lifetimes or move switfly to the goal. It's always up to you.

Swami Hrimananda.

NB: the state beyond thought can come "like a thief in the night" with or without apparent intention or cause. The description given above is simply an explanation with a recipe. But the state of pre-thought consciousness knows no boundaries. By devotion, self-giving, and in any number of triggering activities, mundane, spiritual or meditative, it can steal upon us. So long as we remain conscious and present, no harm can ever come to us. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Stand up to shine the Light!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy and blessings to you,

Swami Hrimananda

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