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

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


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