Showing posts with label Swami Sri Yukteswar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Swami Sri Yukteswar. Show all posts

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Swami Sriyukteshvar Giri Maharaj - May 10, 1855

Swami Sri Yukteswar, guru to Paramhansa Yogananda, was born May 10th, 1855 in his ancestral home of Serampore (north of Calcutta). He was the only child of a middle-class family. His father was a minor landowner and businessman but died when his son, Priyanath, was still young. Priyanath (later, Swami Sri Yukteswar) had to attend to family matters from a young age.

I'd like to share some interesting aspects of Sri Yukteswar's (SY) life taken from the translated biography written by Swami Satyananda Giri, one of SY's disciples.

Not surprisingly, Priyanath was of an exacting disposition. Early in life, he made connections and friendships with a well-placed and well-off family, the Goswamis. An early incident took place at the home of the Goswamis at a time when a supposedly learned pundit was holding forth in the home. Everything the pundit stated was merely a recitation of scriptural passages. As a young teenager and tiring of this mindless parroting which lacked personal experience and commitment, Priyanath mocked the pundit by proclaiming aloud for all to hear (including the pundit) that he learned something the other day and found a quote in the shastras to prove it. He made a quick exit, laughing hysterically. The pundit was about to upbraid Priyanath, but the teenager had departed!

SY consumed knowledge voraciously and from all directions: science, medicine, art and music, and the scriptures. For a time he attended a Christian college in his home town where he delved deeply into the Christian Bible. But soon his interests turn to anatomy and medicine. When his professor couldn't satisfactorily answer his unceasing questions, he left the Bible college and went on to medical school where he studied for nearly two years.

He worked as an accountant but was so quick with numbers that he could easily finish his work and spent the remainder of the day in "chit chat!" He also soon left this occupation!

He was intrigued by homeopathy and studied the works of the German researcher, Dr. Konn. SY was proficient in helping others with their illnesses using this and other traditional forms of healing. He enjoyed horseback riding, hunting, skill with weaponry and sports.

For a short time, he studied under a man named Bankimbabu, a sort of rationalist teacher independent of sectarian religious traditions: a free thinker, of sorts. SY loved music and even played the sitar. He would be perturbed when he heard others singing or playing out of tune, for he had a "good ear" for music.

He married and had one daughter, though his wife did not live long and years later, his daughter, who also had one daughter, died young. He would say that "God made me a sannyasi the easy way!" (By circumstances, that is.)

He attended traditional religious festivals like Holi or Durga Puja and even accompanied his mother on pilgrimages. SY was attracted to sadhus, sadhakas, and siddhas: always eager to be in the presence of holy people and to learn yoga techniques. But he was also alert for fakes and frauds.

Once time in his search for yogis, he came upon a man who was said to levitate every night. So one night, SY hid under the man's bed before the man came to his room for sleep. Not surprisingly, nothing happened and a confrontation ensued!

His searches once took him to the jungles of northern India where he witnessed the moonlight dances to Krishna. He studied from tantrics, Vaishnavites, and many other traditions.

In his association with the Goswami family and other local leaders, he took note of how each would go his room to practice yoga techniques but never spoke of it. This inflamed his curiosity until finally he overhead a conversation about a yogi in Benares. Off SY went immediately to Benares and after an intense search found the residence of Lahiri Mahasaya, who, as we know, became his guru!

SY was initiated into Kriya Yoga in 1884. Thereafter he wrote a continuing stream of letters (and came also to visit often) to Lahiri Mahasaya (LM) about spiritual and yogic matters. Later as SY began writing a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, he would send chapters to LM for review, editing, and approval. His commentaries were published locally for the benefit of a growing number of students. He founded an informal organization called the "Gita Sabha" (fellowship). Its members consisted of kriyabans who studied together.

He associated with many famous yogis of his time, including Trailanga Swami. He went to visit Ramakrishna at the Dakshineswar Temple but for some reason, Ramakrishna was not there. SY was friends also with Swami Vivekananda but SY's efforts to link his own ministry with that of the Ramakrishna Mission were unsuccessful.

When he would visit LM, he sat apart and spoke very little but he admitted that even in the "chit-chat" that occasionally took place in LM's presence he felt uplifted.

SY spoke Bengali (of course), Hindi, French and English and was versed in Sanskrit. He wrote "primers" with shortcuts for the learning of English, Sanskrit and Hindi. He took an intense interest in astrology and found the art and science of it in disarray, much knowledge having been lost or misunderstood. He sometimes paid the travel expenses of renown astrologer or himself would travel to meet them.

When asked about the value of studying Sanskrit, SY made a curious statement: he said that this would be a good thing for Indians to do for the next fifty years (until, around 1950?)

SY's efforts to correct the Hindu calendar were not accepted by the pundits of his time. Even though he convinced a council of learned astrologers in Puri, the one astrologer whose assent they said was still needed died before SY could meet with him. SY then predicted that it would after his own death before the calendar correction he had offered the world would be accepted in his own land.

It was, as we know from "Autobiography of a Yogi," in 1894 that SY went to the Kumbha Mela in Allahabad where he met his param-guru, Babaji and from whom he was commissioned to write the "Holy Science."

His first attempt at writing the book commissioned by Babaji was to do so in the French language. He had hoped to attend an Exhibition in Paris that was coming up. His hoped-for travel never materialized. For this, he spent an intense six months learning French! He gave his manuscript to a French Christian missionary. This missionary immediately recognized that these writings would create an upheaval among Christians and, somehow, managed to lose the document.

SY started over again: this time in English and this time writing Sanskrit slokas inspired by ancient precepts from Vedas, Upanishads, and the Gita. "Kaivalya Darshanam" was the Sanskrit book title for the "Holy Science." He employed the assistance of two local barristers in shaping his English.

Several themes played out in the life of SY. Among them was an abiding value set upon non-sectarianism. Another was the supportive relationship between reason and faith; science and religion; efficiency and spirituality; health and consciousness.

One of his followers, Sri Motilal, played a large part in making SY better known and in helping SY spread his message of kriya yoga and Self-realization in Bengal and Benares. Motilal was a proficient organizer who, over time, became highly advanced spiritually and later in life had an awakening that turned his life's work toward humanitarian causes. SY supported him but was not directly involved in those efforts. By the end of Motilal's esteemed life, he was known as the Satchidananda Swami.

A curious incident occurred where, in association with a professor, SY met with two German scholars who travelled to India seeking secret knowledge. While Swami Satyananda's description of this part of SY's life was not wholly satisfying to me, it triggered in SY a commitment to education that would integrate health sciences, how-to-live training with academic and spiritual studies. Whatever it was the German scholars were seeking, they (like many who have travelled to India) did not find it. SY evidently was inspired to formalize or rationalize the Self-realization teachings so that everyone could benefit (even if, presumably, not all were seeking moksha).

It was in 1904 that he purchased the land in Puri that was to become the Kararashram. For the training of disciples and renunciates, he saw three stages and three separate locations for them. The young brahmacharis (up to age 25) would live and train in Puri at Kararashram. The adult sadhakas would live in Benares in Pranabashram (where Swami Pranabananda was a part) and the senior renunciates (age 50 and above) would live in Rishikesh at the Siddhashram.

In each person's life, SY saw how one moved through the yugas: kali, dwapara, treta, and satya. An interesting view of the yugas: one suited to each of us, personally! [For a description of the yugas, see the Introduction to the "Holy Science" or the expanded exploration of the yugas in the book, "The Yugas" by Steinmetz and Selbie.

The active years of SY's service were years of political ferment in India. While he supported Indian independence he, like Gandhi, was emphatic that the individual (not "the people") was the key to the social changes clearly needed.

It was on building character, right behavior, attitude, virtue and spiritual consciousness that SY saw that India would deserve its freedom. SY protested against the servile, slave-like, tamasic (lazy) tendencies that being a conquered people fostered among his countrymen. He agreed with Swami Vivekananda that in seeking (pretending?) to be sattvic (peaceful) Indian culture had become tamasic (lethargic).

His all-around educational ideals included not only the sciences but farming and agriculture, martial arts, art, music, and craft, the languages of English, Bengali and Hindi, and of course yogic practices. He saw the value of post-educational travel including air travel (which had not become a commercial reality at that point) but he decried its influence on young men of India who only returned with western habits and a loss of self-respect for Indian culture. He agreed (again) with Swami Vivekananda that "if you want to know the Bhagavad Gita, play football." (Meaning, in part, that by health culture you can improve your mental acuity and your intuitive awareness.)

Indeed, he had a strong emphasis on the need for self-respect. In his description of Dwapara Yuga (the age our planet has entered into), he predicted that "self-respect" would be one of its hallmark characteristics. (We see this in the rise of minorities, women, and people of color, etc. etc.) He, like his guru, LM, initiated all castes and religionists who were sincere. He especially emphasized the need to imbue children with self-respect. This did not mean, he said, that children shouldn't be disciplined. Tone of voice, emotion, and form of discipline are important in finding the balance.

SY travelled extensively in Bengal (Orissa, too, I imagine) to many villages where he would share his all-around teachings of health and Self-realization through kriya yoga and yoga at large. He studied asanas, mudras, pranayama and all manner of yogic practices. Always he taught Vedanta adwaita as the supreme goal and reality: Satchidananda.

SY eschewed the traditional forms of "guru-worship" and behavior. He called himself, simply, a "servant of all." He strongly encouraged seva (selfless service) by day, and God by night! He recommended to those in family life to go on retreat at least once a year. He ridiculed the pomp and lavish sartorial displays of some of the spiritual leaders of east and west though he accepted the value and necessity of the diverse forms of religion. He encouraged that we respect all forms of spirituality.

Strangely, his own efforts at organizing were not successful. He called himself a "son of Saraswati disowned by Kali." I can envision several ways to explain this but in yogic terms I would say simply that he was a gyana yogi, not a karma yogi though his karma yoga was enormous! Go figure!

"Learn to behave" was something of a motto for SY. Be polite but not subservient.

I've only extracted some tidbits from the biography and without repeating what Yogananda wrote in "Autobiography of a Yogi." As Krishna counsels in the beloved Gita, "even the wise model right behavior" past the point of their needing it for their own upliftment. To westeners whose only source of information might be the "AY," one might be led to imagine SY was only a thinker and yogi. But, in truth, he was unceasingly active in seva (karma yoga).

Thus may we honor and celebrate the birth of this Gyanavatar, Swami Sriyukteshvar Giri, May 10, 1855.

"Tat twam asi"

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Why Celebrate Labor Day?

Welcome to America's annual celebration of labor: Labor Day! What exactly is there to celebrate? Or, to contemplate?

1. Swami Sri Yukteswar is quoted by Paramhansa Yogananda in "Autobiography of a Yogi" saying, "Those who are too good for this world are adorning some other. So long as you breathe the free air of earth, you are under obligation to render grateful service. He alone who has fully mastered the breathless state is freed from cosmic imperatives. I will not fail to let you know when you have attained the final perfection." Whew! 

2. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna counsels Arjuna: "Action is a duty, but let not your ego crave the fruits of action. Be not attached either to action or to inaction." (2:40). "No one can remain actionless for even a moment; all are compelled (by Nature), whether willingly or unwillingly, to be active, driven by the qualities (impulses) of Nature. One who forsakes work (in the name of divine aloofness from activity) cannot reach perfection. (3:4,5). Our physical nature compels us to feed, clothe, shelter, and protect our bodies. We are dependent upon and an integral part of the world around us.

3. When I see a person begging on the street I think to myself, is not the real tragedy the lack or failure to be creatively engaged and serviceful? In America, at least, finding food, shelter and clothing isn't (technically) all that difficult. While such is the basic prerequisite to being serviceful and engaged, it's the lack of creative engagement that drains the spirit. How often have you wondered, seeing such a person, "If he would only ask for work, then perhaps he could feed himself!" Well, of course, I am greatly oversimplifying a complex and very individual situation (consider, e.g., substance addiction, mental illness, and lack of basic needs) but I think replacing beggary with service holds a secret to overcoming the karma that puts one in such a depressing circumstance.

4. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosover believeth in Him will not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) The creation is a great drama and not just for the comedies, tragedies, joys and sorrows that vie constantly for supremacy. We should cherish the world, life, and our legitimate duties and creative impulses and inspirations as a means of rejoicing, acknowledging, and fulfilling the manifestation of the "Son" (the indwelling divinity within us and all creation). The creation IS God in vibration and in joyful intelligence. Serving and doing our best to live a God-centered life, a life of joy, wisdom,, compassion and creative activity honors the "Christ" in creation and in our souls. We potentially manifest "Christ consciousness" in joyful, creative service.

5. It used to be common for acquaintances to greet one another with the question, "How are you, keeping busy?" I used to wonder what was so special about "keeping busy?" Most people I know feel they have "too much on my plate." Maybe this (mindless) greeting was a holdover from the Depression of the 1930's when fear of losing or having a job was uppermost. We should learn to be "calmly active, and actively calm" as Yogananda would put it. Let, therefore, our "labor" be one that is calm, conscious, "present," and intentional!

6. Lastly, should you be burdened by what strikes you as an unsatisfactory role in life, begin first by affirming gratitude for the opportunity to serve in whatever way life gives to you. By accepting what is, you can fulfil your duties or experience your circumstances with a pleasant state of mind. This is the first step to working out whatever past action of your own that has placed you in this situationThink about how you can do better or how you can help others, even if in silent thought and prayer. Draw into your consciousness the love of God and share that love with all. Even if you are bedridden and cannot serve in any obvious outward way, you can serve those who serve you with your smile, your love, your gratitude and your sincere wish to help them through prayer.

Let us, then, honor "Labor Day" as the creative manifestation of God IN and AS creation through the active engagement of our soul expressing itself through the vehicle of the human form in the great play ("lila") of life. Celebrate whatever health, intelligence, education or talents you might have been blessed to receive in this life that you might serve as a channel of divine blessing bringing joy, intelligence, and love into this world of duality. Be grateful for the creative energy of countless others whose contributions and discoveries make our own life safer, more healthy, and more productive.

Let us "honor" the labor of love out of which God has become this creation by "laboring" with His love!


Swami Hrimananda

PS: Tomorrow (Sep 2, 2018) is the day on which Hindus celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the the Divine Light shine ever within you,

Swami Hrimananda

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Self-Respect" - A New Age Is Emerging!

In 1894, a relatively unknown Swami wrote a book that even today remains a mystery. It is a time capsule for a future age or a higher consciousness. 

The book's English name is the "Holy Science." The swami was none other than the guru of the world teacher, Paramhansa Yogananda. His name? Swami Sri Yukteswar! 

In the introduction to his small and abstruse tome, Sri Yukteswar re-calibrated an ancient Hindu calendar and arrived at the controversial and revolutionary conclusion that within a few years, around 1901, human consciousness on planet earth was about to enter a new era of material and spiritual awakening.

He listed a series of predictions in regard to what was to soon to unfold in the 20th century. 

Sri Yukteswar predicted 1: that the average height of humans would increase; 2: that the life span of humans would increase; and, 3: that, among other things, scientists would discover and confirm that matter is but a manifestation of electromagnetic energy based on quantum forces. Less than twenty years later, Albert Einstein's remarkable and history changing revelations confirmed Sri Yukteswar's predictions and set off and explosion of changes in lifestyle, technology, warfare, business and culture.

But most importantly, Swami Sri Yukteswar stated that humanity would begin to acquire what he termed "self-respect." This trend had already begun, albeit slowly, characterized by events such as the Protestant reform and the American revolution. We also see the beginnings of self-confidence and bold questioning in the scientific inquiry of such greats as Sir Isaac Newton and Galileo.

But it has been in the 20th century and into our newly arrived 21st century that the trend has literally exploded in the quest for racial, religious and gender equality. 

Yet it has not been easy. Great sacrifices have been made and much violence inflicted. As Mahatma Gandhi duly noted: those who have power do not give it up or share it willingly. Established attitudes and the powers of privilege and rule, energized, ironically, by the newly unfolding knowledge and consciousness, have largely resisted the rising tide of self-respect. Worse, the "powers that be" have too often exploited the rapidly unfolding knowledge and liberties for themselves. 

The road has been and will remain a bumpy one: two steps forward; one step back. In recent years we see examples of those throwing off the yoke of oppression in movements such as Black Lives Matter or MeToo

The eight intentional communities of Ananda (America, Europe and India), inspired by Paramhansa Yogananda, are examples of this age's emerging spirit of "self-respect."

When I first arrived at Ananda Village in 1977 I was struck by the naturalness, kindness, calmness and centeredness of its residents, both male and female. Absent was the usual role playing between men and women. In its place was a calm yet natural dignity, both respectful and playful, like that between siblings. 

Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, was older than most of the original community's first residents but yet he too remained natural in his demeanor though he was both the community's founder and spiritual leader. He was our friend and guide. The early years of Ananda's first community were truly an adventure.

The polarization we see in society today would more readily fade away if calm confidence and self-respect infused the hearts and minds of our citizens. Self-respect is the only legitimate human attitude out of which respect flourishes naturally and confidently. It must, however, have taken sufficient root in a person to withstand the tests of misunderstandings and differences of opinion. 

For those seeking spiritual freedom in in transcendent consciousness, self-respect is neither an affirmation nor does it require a conscious choice for it flows readily from the true Self. 

The view and prediction of Swami Sri Yukteswar of an emerging higher consciousness is the basis upon which we, at Ananda and those on the path of Self-realization (as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda), feel optimistic about the future even as we are realistic about the strength and courage needed to help birth it.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda

Reference: I think you will enjoy and find interesting and inspiring a new book: Physics of God by Joseph Selbie. The remarkable discoveries of the 20th century that point suspiciously to a cosmos of energy are explained in terms that even I got the drift of.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

An oratorio: Christ Lives in the Holy Land, and in You & Me!

An oratorio: Christ Lives in the Holy Land, and in You & Me!

Every second year the choirs and musicians of Ananda Portland and Ananda Seattle combine alternatingly at each other’s temple/sanctuaries to perform Swami Kriyananda’s acclaimed oratorio inspired by the life of Jesus Christ. How can we understand the inspiration behind this powerful tribute in song? 

How can we understand the seemingly prominent role Jesus Christ has at Ananda throughout the world? What makes the music of this oratorio so like a deep meditation?

A sensitive reading of Paramhansa Yogananda’s "Autobiography of a Yogi" hints at his spiritual connection with Jesus. He makes reference to Jesus at least sixteen times and even reveals that John the Baptist was Elijah and thus Jesus’ guru from a past life. He states that Jesus taught kriya yoga or “a similar technique” to his close disciples. Further, he stated publicly that the three Wise Men were none other than Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya and Sri Yukteswar (where does this revelation place him, Yogananda?)

When, during the writing of his commentaries on the Bible, Yogananda prayed to Jesus to ask that his words be in tune with Jesus’ teachings, he received a vision of Jesus who gave his blessings and corroboration.

Jesus proclaimed to the crowds that he came “not to destroy the law and prophets” but to fulfill them. To “fulfill” must surely mean to carry on their message and vibration. (While it might also mean to “complete” this interpretation is not absolute.) Paramhansa Yogananda’s obvious connection to Jesus suggests the same on his part in relation to Jesus. More than this, he gave the title “Second Coming of Christ” to his own ministry! (If that didn’t get him crucified, I don’t know what would have!) I don’t think it could be clearer than that.

I have had guests and new students occasionally object or at least express surprise how they felt the Ananda Sunday Service, or some of our events and classes are Christian in feeling. All of this is understandable given the deeper connections described above. I’ve had one reader in the public challenge an article I wrote in respect to Jesus’ atonement of sins on the cross for failing to quote similar examples from other faiths. Neither I, nor other Ananda representatives, are particularly required to hand select passages from every faith when sharing Yogananda’s teachings. But drawing upon the life and teachings of Jesus Christ is specifically appropriate.

In his book, “Conversations with Yogananda, Swami Kriyananda quotes Yogananda answering this question (“Why do you emphasize the teachings of Jesus Christ.”) by replying only, “It was Babaji’s wish that I do so.” [Pretty cagey, I’d say! I suspect the paucity of his reply was related more to the questioner than to the question. That’s my opinion, anyway!]

We do know that Babaji commissioned Swami Sri Yukteswar to write a book showing the underlying unity in Jesus’ teachings and those of India’s rishis. Just read that book, Holy Science, and you’ll see!

Returning now to Swamiji’s oratorio, Christ Lives, we can more easily understand how the masters worked through Swamiji to create a Handel-esque musical work that proclaims a new understanding (Yogananda called it a “New Dispensation”) of Jesus’ teachings. It is, in its own way, a “fulfillment.”

I won’t be so bold as to attempt to describe this oratorio in musical terms. The point of this article is to entice you to come and hear it for yourself! Music isn’t my language, particularly.

In the libretto (words to the songs) you’ll find repeated references to “light,” “joy,” and “peace.” Extending the universal and deeply metaphysical theme of the gospel of St. John (“In the beginning was the Word…..the light of men”), the oratorio guides us to understand Jesus as not the ONLY begotten son of God but a soul, like you and me, who has achieved Oneness with the Light of God. The “Light of Christ” is the indwelling divinity in every atom; in every heart and soul. With this light, Jesus had become wholly identified.

The song “In the Spirit” describes the great vision of St. John in the last book of the New Testament as an ecstatic experience. John was “caught up in ecstasy.” Yogananda dedicated an entire lesson to interpreting the so-called Apocaplyse in metaphysical and Vedantic terms.

From the Old Testament’s frequent commands to “look up” the oratorio describes King David in terms of meditation and the looking up through the point between the eyebrows: the doorway to the divine light. At least four songs dwell upon the feminine nature of God both in general and in the form of Mary, the mother of Jesus. John the Baptist is described as living in solitude and seclusion and achieving his wisdom and faith through the inner life of prayer and meditation.

The temptation of Jesus by the devil in the desert is perhaps one of the most poignant and beautiful songs. A foursome—Jesus, Satan, and two devotee witnesses—sing of the opposing pulls, one divine, the other satanic, upon Jesus’ soul and of Jesus’ rejection of the satanic force. This not only gives recognition (Yogananda proclaimed: “I add my testimony to that of all before me that Satan exists.”) to the power of maya but to its power to become personal both within us and objectively. It also models to us how to deal with maya’s power: seek the love of God!

Another aspect is the very personal relationship Jesus had to his disciples. In song, their life together, wandering the countryside of Judea, is shown to be a celebration, a joyful troupe of disciples with their guru. Rejected is the “man of sorrows” who could never have inspired large crowds. This personal touch is also reflected in songs that speak of the poignant uplifting of souls such as Mary Magdalene, caught in sin and of her rejoicing when freed by his love.

Even the miracle of turning water into wine (the first story after his ministry began) shows Jesus’ care and concern, and love, for all. 
Rather than have the wedding couple be embarrassed by running out, Jesus quietly “refills” the jugs with wine!

Another of the many deeply inspired and musically moving pieces is “Living Water.” This is the story of the woman of Samaria whom Jesus meets at the well. Yogananda explained that this woman was a fallen disciple from a past life. Jesus’ detour into Samaria was intended to find her. The bond of guru and disciple is eternal.

In what is normally considered a triumphal day—Palm Sunday—the music reveals the darker undertone of rejection that is soon to befall the heralded “King of the Jews.”

In the songs of this oratorio, Jesus is depicted in both his overarching divine nature and his very personal, human nature. The juxtaposition of these two has for its message: “Tat twam asi!” “Thou ART THAT!” His nature is our nature. As John the Beloved proclaims in his gospel: “To as many as received Him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God.”

“You Remain Our Friend” is a song sung every Sunday. For that reason members might no longer appreciate the power of its message: both personal and universal. We reject the Christ in the form of the guru and in the abstract, indwelling form of light by our daily busy-ness, indifference, and material desires and fears. While we may yet be fickle, God remains forever our Friend.

But in the end, Jesus is transfixed into pure Light and in the company of his eternal guru, Elijah, and the great prophet Moses. Resurrected is his soul as master of life and death. This is the promise of immortality given us by the saints and masters in every religion. This truth is one and eternal. We need only realize our oneness with it in our deathless Self within!

May the Light of Christ, the Infinite Consciousness, be with you!

Swami Hrimananda

Friday, March 9, 2018

At Thy Feet - Loving Your Own - A Holy Science Indeed

My teacher, Swami Kriyananda, said that when, in his early years, a person would try to convert him to their religion and couldn't accept his choice, he would say, "Well, maybe yours is better than mine, but, even so, mine is mine, however second best."

The diversity of opinions on everything and anything, what to mention religion, is such that absent rank injustice or the need for self-defense, what can you do but do your best to use common sense, intelligence, and goodwill and, finally, to follow what seems right for you?

It doesn't matter to me what ranking, spiritually speaking, the universe would ascribe to Paramhansa Yogananda and the line of gurus who sent him to the West. Nor, also, what others might say about my teacher, Swami Kriyananda.

I know what I have gained and learned and I am grateful. I extend my gratitude to my family, my wife, my friends and to the dedication of so many with whom I share ideals of service, sadhana and devotion. 

It doesn't matter what they may think of me, or, I of them. 

So this very day, March 9, we honor the passing in 1936 of Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri of Serampore, India (near Kolkata). His passing (in Puri, India) took place while his disciple Paramhansa Yogananda was absent yet still in India for his year long visit from America.

I am slowly re-reading Swami Sri Yukteswar's one and only book, the Holy Science. I am doing this in preparation for a class series I will co-teach this Spring and Summer. I bow at his holy feet for the wisdom I can feel and but only partially glimpse in the depth of realization implied in his words. 

Though I fare better in inspiration, wisdom and understanding through the writings of his disciple, Paramhansa Yogananda, and, in turn, Yogananda's disciple, Swami Kriyananda, I yet perceive the hidden depths of wisdom contained in that true scripture. I believe that the Holy Science will only gradually become understood (i.e. "realized") as the centuries move toward the appearance of the third age (Treta Yuga) some two thousand years hence.

I stand, then, today in awe and gratitude for the inspiration offered to us through the line of teachers of Self-Realization. I also stand in gratitude for the lives of each and every person with whom I have come into contact in my life and service to this ray of divine light.

It doesn't matter how small in numbers we may be. It doesn't matter that the world is largely indifferent, or that "devotees may come and devotees may go" (to quote a chant). It doesn't matter that with some I find favor and others not; with some I am in tune and with others not. For they are all part of the drama of my own journey.

It is not realistic to say that one loves everyone as they are. But one can love everyone as they truly are: reflections of my karma and sparks of divine grace, all doing the best they can.

For this, on this day of March 9, 2018, I bow at Thy feet, accepting my own life, my own karma, my very own as my very own: a gift of Divine Mother. To quote a friend: it is all perfect! All as it should be.

At thy Feet,

Swami Hrimananda

Monday, March 5, 2018

“Maha-Samadhi” Celebration!

Each year on March 7, we celebrate the earthly passing of two 20th century spiritual giants: Paramhansa Yogananda (March 7, 1952), and his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar (March 9, 1936). Ours is a joyful celebration (rather than mournful) because their exit from the human body was both known beforehand and was without loss of conscious awareness. 

Maha-samadhi” (The “great” or “final” Samadhi) refers to the state of consciousness of a great saint who enters the ecstatic state of soul-bliss as a part of the process of consciously leaving their physical body. This is not a decision by the ego but a form of cooperation with the divinely guided impulses of their own soul (rather than the enforced compulsions of personal karma).

Why is this a celebration? Is it only to honor their achievement? No, not at all. We celebrate this event because their conscious and bliss-guided exit represents for us “the promise of our soul’s immortality!” Many great saints of east and west have had the blessing of mahasamadhi. While a peaceful death is a blessing and a grace experienced by many good and saintly people, it is not the same as mahasamadhi.

All life partakes in the divine essence of God’s eternal bliss: the foundation of all creation. Bliss is the vibrationless essence at the heart of all change and motion. As through (especially) meditation we grow in our identification with our eternal Self, the Atman, we too will one day pass through the portals of life and death in conscious, blissful awareness. This conscious bliss is already existent within us and all creation.

May the joy of your soul light your path to inner freedom!

Swami Hrimananda

P.S. Ananda centers around the world and centers by other organizations for whom Yogananda is their guru will celebrate the the mahasamadhis of Yogananda and Sri Yukteswar this coming week on or around March 7-9. For those in Seattle area, ours is Wednesday, March 7, meditation 5.45 and program 7 p.m.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Christmas Story for Children of All Ages

Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a faraway land, or was it a faraway galaxy, a child was born. Not in a house like yours or mine; and certainly NOT in a hospital with a midwife or doctor. 

No, nothing like that. This child was born in a small barn; a shed, really. We call it a stable because it’s where a cow and donkey stayed on cold nights. Maybe there were a few chickens; likely, too, a goat or two. There was hay piled up all around. It wasn’t warm but then outside it was…

a cold, dark, December night. The stars shone brightly in the skies above. In the surrounding hills, shepherds watched their flocks. 

They had to guard the sheep from packs of hungry wolves. To keep warm and to keep the wolves away, the shepherds had a camp fire.

This night when the child Jesus was born was both special and yet ordinary. After all, billions of babies have born on planet Earth in the two thousand years since the birth of Jesus! When you were born it was a very special event for you; your parents; your grandparents, friends and family! Even if you were born in a hospital and not a stable for farm animals, yours was still a very special event!

What made the birth of Jesus special? What does his birth have in common with yours?

Every so often, and at different times and places on Earth, there is born a soul with very special qualities. The birth event may or may not be unusual but in these cases the child is. Do you remember your birth? No, of course you don’t. I don’t either. But these special children DO remember their birth. In fact, they know all of their past lives. Who are these children? Well, Krishna; Buddha, Jesus, Rama and many others. These are children who remember! Who KNOW that they are children of God. They are children who KNOW God.

You and I are children of God, too. But just as we don’t remember our birth, we too often think we are just “who we are” as our parents named us: John, Sally, Ramesh, Gita, Noah. We have forgotten that we have lived many lives and have been called by many different names. God, too, is called by many names. But essentially God is simply I AM. We have forgotten that our true nature is that of God’s own nature: joy! We have forgotten that we are an incarnation of joy and not just a physical body. But these special children who are born from time to time have remembered.

In the case of Jesus’ birth, the event had several distinct features we are told from the bible. In the stories written by Matthew and by Luke, the Greek physician, we hear that nearby shepherds heard and saw angels singing. The angels told the shepherds that this Christ child—a child who remembered—had just been born in that nearby stable!

And from far, far away, perhaps as far away as India, wise sages journeyed to pay homage to the child Jesus. But how did they know? There wasn’t email or internet! There weren’t even old fashioned newspapers or TV news!!!!! A wise sage is one who just knows – knows from inside. Like the child Jesus or Buddha who remembers who they were and have always been, these “three wise men” (the bible doesn’t say there were three of them; it only says there were three gifts given to the child Jesus) said they saw “His” star in the east where they lived, far away.

Well, you know how sign language works? Certain hand gestures or positions symbolize words. Bring your hand to your mouth and move your hand like your mouth is chewing and you have the sign language symbol for “I want to eat!” 

Well, the word “east” is sign language for seeing and knowing. The sun rises in the East and we awaken! One who knows and sees is called a Seer! And what did these wise sages see? A star! Not in the sky, but in their mind’s eye: right here, at the point between the eyebrows! The five-pointed white star that they saw in meditation told them in wordless words that an avatar, a true child of God, was about to be born. It told them the approximate location: near the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea in the land of Israel.

These wise men of India were summoned by the star to find and honor the birth of this avatar, Jesus. And thus it was that they journeyed a long way, perhaps as much as 2,000 miles: on camels, no less! Hmmm, or maybe they had a faster way to travel.

Who were these Wise Men? Our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, said the three wise men were his own gurus. Their names in the incarnations of 19th and 20th century were none other than Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Swami Sri Yukteswar. It was they who came to honor the baby Jesus. This means all four of them knew each other from past lives. We don’t know where Yogananda himself was at this time and he didn’t or wouldn’t tell us.

There was another curious feature of Jesus’ birth. It is a part of the story that we also find told in regards to the birth of Lord Krishna, centuries before the birth of Jesus. Not everyone was so happy that a great king-like soul was to be born. In each case, the local king was jealous and wanted to kill the child. In each case, the child had to be taken away and hidden.

What makes this story special to us is that it isn’t just the story of Jesus’ birth. It is the story of your birth, and mine as well. For we are also children of God. And, if we want to remember that truth-- just as Jesus, Krishna, Buddha and others have--we have to give birth to that memory in the knowing and remembering silence of our hearts and minds: especially in meditation. Not just once, but every day. Meditation is the humble “stable” where our soul-nature and memory can be rediscovered, reborn.

The shepherds are the mindful, conscience-guiding guardians of the sheep of our thoughts. We build a fire of devotion in the dark night of meditation to keep away the subconscious wolves of restless thoughts, desires and fears. If we do that, angels of God will come and sing to us, instructing and encouraging us to seek this Christ-child in our hearts. The wise men and saints of the past have given us teachings that will enable us to give as gifts to our soul-child our thoughts, feelings, and actions. But King Ego will want to kill this child and, at first, we must hide our Christ consciousness in the quiet safe place of meditation and prayer until he can grow strong and come out and play openly in daily life, declaring, “I and my Father are one!”

We are each a king and queen but we think, instead, that we are commoners, subjects of the demands of earth, water, heat and air; subject to the demands of food, water, comfort and restless desires. 

But we are more than this; more than mere humans who live only a short time subjected to the frailties of age, health, and forces of luck and destiny.

Christmas reminds us that we too are a King (or Queen). This reminder is cause for celebration. And of course it needs be said that if “I am a King” then so are you! We are all that: “tat twam asi!” (Sanskrit: "Thou art That!") On this basis we are reminded to live in this world with nobility, goodness and goodwill for all.

If everyone, or even just many, truly give birth to this remembrance of the inner and universal Christ (the living presence of God in us and in all creation and AS creation itself), the human race would truly live in peace and goodwill.

May the light of Christ be born in you this Christmas and every day a Christmas!

Swami Hrimananda

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Meditation: Are You Missing the Point?

I had an interesting discussion with a friend the other day. The topic we discussed is one that is very common among meditators but while there are lots of opinions, there is very little consensus. Here are some of the ways it is approached:

1. I have very little time. Should I spend my time practicing my technique(s) or should I simply sit in meditation?

2. I struggle with following the prescribed meditation routine that I have been taught. Practicing the routine can require more concentration than I have or want to give, or, I find them tedious and uninspiring.

3. I am faithful to my daily meditation routine but I don't feel I am making any progress or at least don't feel very much inspiration. 

4. I have very little time to devote to meditation; I have many responsibilities; but I feel guilty about not fulfilling my pledge to meditate, including completing the practices I have committed to.

No matter how it’s stated, the basic issue is how to find inspiration from one's meditation.

Before I comment more usefully on this subject, let me remind us that meditation which is practiced "because I have to," or, "in the expectation of results" is already bound to be unsatisfying.

Why is this? This is because the very nature of inner peace is unconditional. It is devoid of compulsion or expectation.

I have lived in the ashram-like communities of Ananda most of my adult life. In meditating frequently, often daily, with others (often the same people day in and out), and, having taught meditation for many years, I understand how easy it is to mistake the practice of techniques for the goal of meditation.

There is a dialogue in AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI between the young Mukunda (Yogananda's name as a boy) and a saint he would frequently visit. The saint says to Mukunda: "You often go into the silence, but have you developed anubhava? He was reminding me,” Yogananda wrote, “to love God more than meditation. Do not mistake the technique for the goal."

Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras warns us (tongue in cheek, no doubt) against "missing the point."

We live in a technology and technique oriented culture. As one who teaches the family of meditation techniques that includes Kriya Yoga as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda, I see students come seeking to learn these techniques.

Too often a student imagines that the techniques themselves hold the promised reward of enlightenment. Because we tell them that belief is secondary to experience, they assume the experience of meditation born of the techniques of meditation will bring them what they seek.

Again, frequent articles based on scientific studies encourages the expectation that meditation is a panacea for all sorts of physical and mental maladies. Few stop to consider that even the most healthy, well-balanced, active, peace-loving, compassionate and creative individual may be very far from enlightened or unendingly blissful. Happy, well, yes but how dependable is human happiness in the face of Buddha’s threefold suffering: illness, aging, and death? (What to mention a veritable plethora of potential human woes around every corner!)

I would be a fool to attempt to define enlightenment but for the purposes of points I wish to make, let us posit the thesis that the purpose of meditation is to experience perfect stillness, Oneness or a state of ego transcendence. Obviously, then, perfect health (physical and mental) is none of these states.

Between the psycho-physiological benefits of meditation and a state of perfect stillness or ego transcendence lie recognizable and identifiable experiences in meditation. Most experienced meditators, for example, know what is inner peace, joy, love, or expanded awareness.

Therefore, for my purposes let's call these states the "goal" of meditation techniques and routines. Making it even simpler, let's say for the purposes of this article that INNER PEACE in meditation is my goal.

Therefore it must be the case that the technique(s) or routines of meditation that I practice are SECONDARY to my goal. They may of course help to achieve my goal. But are they ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY?

At first, when we learn to meditate, the routine and technique ARE substantially necessary and certainly useful to achieve consistent results with meditation. A person too lazy or lacking energy or intelligence, or one who cannot or refuses to learn the science of meditation, cannot thereby fault his "tools."

But with dedicated practice, the meditator learns to summon (mostly) at will the state of inner peace. To be clear, I am NOT saying that one should expect to be able to abandon meditation techniques or routines. A true technique (especially "guru-given") can take one to ever deeper states of meditation which are, in fact, “endless” because Oneness equates to Infinity and there’s no end to Infinity!!!! "Those too perfect for this world, adorn some other" the dry-witted Swami Sri Yukteswar (guru of Yogananda) once remarked.

What I AM saying, is that when pressed for time, or when internal resistance to the discipline of technique surfaces strongly, the meditator who can should simply enter at will the happy state of inner peace which is, in fact, our true goal. Of course, if he cannot do this, then it would be best to reach back into his tool kit of affirmations, prayer, chanting, mantra, or pranayama to kick start the energy needed to lift off (up).

My real point is that many meditators MISS the point and get bogged down in their own unhappy resistance to routine, or to the pressure of limited time, when, if they were more aware, could simply sit and realize they can enter into INNER PEACE at will! Or, if they are already feeling that deep peace even as they begin to sit, but believe they have to go through their routine first before being rewarded by inner peace, they should consider going with the flow of peace first.

If time allows and that peace wanes, then, by all means, go back to your routine to once again prime the pump!

The purpose of learning the techniques of one's profession, craft or art, is to go beyond them into the art of it. As a raft is left behind once one reaches the opposite shore, so are meditation techniques put aside when higher states appear.

Don't fool yourself in imagining that one or two blissful meditations means you can throw out your kriya beads. Nor should you imagine that feeling inner peace is the end game of true meditation. (Infinity, remember?) While meditation is both a science and an art, the science leads to the art (and not the other way around). 

But real meditators struggle to find time for meditation. Real meditators struggle with guilt over not being able to practice the way they "should." Real meditators can sometimes get into a rut, practicing the same routine every day until it becomes stale.

Let us not, therefore, "miss the point" of meditation.

Joy and blessings,

Swami Hrimananda

Postscript: In another article I will share thoughts on making every moment of the active day a meditation; and, perhaps another article on specific ideas on how to keep your meditation routine fresh and inspired! A deeper aspect of this apparent dichotomy between technique and the goal is the integration of the two when “being” enters the “doing” and “doing” becomes “being.” This little phrase comes to me at this moment: “No-thing is the way to where Fullness comes to stay.”

Sunday, April 2, 2017


I am hopeful because "black lives matter." I am hopeful because thousands of women around the country marched to affirm cooperation and respect for people of every race, nation, and persuasion.

I am hopeful because everyday more people learn to meditate or practice yoga. I am hopeful because I see groups of people and individuals helping others each and every day.

I am hopeful because millions around the world have regular contact with people of other nations, races, religions, and cultures. I am hopeful because millions have the opportunity to travel and experience other cultures and see that we, as humans, are basically the same. 

As Mahatma Gandhi put it and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. affirmed, if violence and prejudice were uppermost, the human race would have disappeared long ago.

I am hopeful because I see knowledge and awareness spreading like the dawn's early light around the world. At first the light exposes our ignorance and our darkness but soon enough the light enlightens our conscience. 

I am hopeful because while I expect many challenges will result from humanity's refusal to heed the signs that we must live in greater harmony with our planet and one another, I also expect those challenges to serve as instruments to prod our "pride" to embrace change with faith and courage. 

I am hopeful because a line of yoga masters assures us that humanity is NOT in a descending spiral of brutishness (as many fundamentalist types aver) but that, instead, we are in an ascending arc of ever greater knowledge and awareness. It may be slow but it is inexorable. It may be two steps forward and one step back but like a silent tsunami it is unstoppable and will, in time, overcome all that is not of itself. Swami Sri Yukteswar, the guru of Paramhansa Yogananda and a renowned astrologer, predicted that in this age (2,000 years long beginning around 1900 A.D.) humanity will gain self-respect. A simple statement but with profound implications.

I am hopeful because I see that "the divine light has ascended anew**" and though it is crucified daily by ignorance it continues to grow just as the early light of dawn can only grow as the hours pass.

I am hopeful because I believe that even the present regressiveness of otherwise progressive nations (like America) will incite people of goodwill to rise up, band together, and stand up for what is true and good for all. When I see the expansiveness and open heartedness of young adults and when I see the intelligence and light in the eyes of the youngest barely new-born generation, I am hopeful.

I am hopeful because even though my own youthful expectations could not have foreseen current events and trends, I know that there are millions, perhaps a billion or two, who, once in their youths, also cherished the same dream of peace and brotherhood for all.

I am hopeful because even though now in the life cycle commonly (and formerly) considered "retirement age" I know that good and evil, happiness and sorrow, and success and failure will always and eternally vie for supremacy, I also know that true joy is within me and awaits discovery by all who would seek the "pearl of great price."

I am hopeful even as I am prepared for what others may insist is the worst. It is darkest, it is said, before the dawn. Progress cannot be made without sacrifice and that includes lives, not just money or dedicated effort. My eyes are open; my heart is calm; my spirit is glad. In God, we are One. 

I am hopeful, how about you?

Swami Hrimananda!

** a quote from the Festival of Light ceremony referencing the birth and life of modern saints and especially those in the lineage of Paramhansa Yogannada. The Festival of Light is recited and sung each Sunday at an Ananda center and temple near you.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Pilgrimage to India: Assembly of Email Posts

Dear Friends, [this is NOT the relfections article; that is the blog preceding this one......go down to 'older posts' or click on]

I’ve  put together in one blog article the series of spontaneous emails I sent to the Ananda Community residents in Lynnwood and to our staff at the Ananda Meditation Center in Bothell. I’ve done some editing but not much. Because I only dared send these to a few close friends, I thought to paste them all together and post 'em for whoever dared read them. The blog, as such, is long but rather than a series of articles each day. Read as you feel. It’s simply too much for to add pictures, so, instead here’s a link to photos:

Pilgrimage Begins – Trip to Puri

Friday, February 24 – Monday the 27th No pilgrimage to India can be the same as another. Perhaps we change; perhaps India changes.

We've had a very harmonious group, notwithstanding many have not met each other before. From Will and Wendy from Ananda Michigan (Lansing), to Angela Muir from San Francisco, to recent YTT graduate Sabrina Hamilton and her boyfriend, Aman, (adopted from India), to Helen Moran from Bellingham, Joyce Eleanor in Kriya Prep training, we have a disparate group of souls.

And yet nothing unites people more strongly and more quickly that a shared openness to the presence of God in their hearts, lives, and on earth at those special "worm holes" that descend from eternity!

Yes, good food, exotic surroundings mixed with the familiar (ATM machines, hotel lobbies, and airports), make for a yin and yang spicy intensity that forms bonds in shared experiences.

The airplane trip over was wonderfully boring and familiar airplane stuff...a 14.5 hour flight  can either "fly by" or "hang-over" the earth. Meaning it was happily uneventful. The very brief stop in Dubai gave us a chance to descend from the glaciers of Greenland and, the snow clad peaks of eastern Europe, Turkey to the vast brown desserts of Iran and Saudi Arabia. We left Seattle and headed north for Canada and Greenland. Somewhere east of Britain we descended in a straight line over Scandinavia, Russia, eastern Europe until we reached hazy Dubai.

The 3.5 hr flight to Kolkata was a cake walk after a 14.5 hour marathon. Barely had time for a cup of coffee!

Kolkata immigration was our first experience of India's relatively new online 30 day visa system. Though the airport is brand new and modern, the process was medieval. Partly too few officers, partly the process requires photographing you and fingerprinting you on machines that, well, don't function well, let's just say. 

I think for many of our souls the dusk drive through the streets of Kolkata were something of an eye opener. The bus was very, very quiet.

Hotel group check-ins are always a test of patience: "we were fresh from the plane, a figure of speech, merely: we were dog tired."

We had dinner right away and right to bed. I didn't get past my emails and unpacking (yes, I tend to putter: let's see where best to put my extra Vitamin C) and into bed until midnight or so. About 30 hours up. Sleeping on an airplane is, for most of us, yet another euphemism for a cricked neck, bleary eyes, and a bad hair day.

It was a little after 5 am that I awoke with “boing!!!” My meditation: in front of my 6th floor window as the sun rose over Howrah Bridge was shockingly blissful. I felt as if the vibration of Master (Paramhansa Yogananda), Sri Yukteswar, and so many great saints poured from the outlying districts where they lived like a bliss-carrying mist. (Yes, the air was so thick you could see it and the sun so red, you almost couldn't.)

That day, passing over minor details like a fabulous breakfast, a heart welcoming opening get acquainted, whats-your-story satsang, we visited Mother Teresa's convent where she lived and died. To say it was special would be trite but true. Tears came to all, both from inspiration and overwhelming compassion. For me standing at her room with its tiny writing table and crude bed in which she died was a deep experience.
On a Sunday busloads were pouring into the tiny shrine, chapel, courtyard, and tomb. People from all over the world where the "sacred heart" of Jesus resided both in her and in those she served, the poorest of the poor.

Monday was a travel adventure back to the airport. The flight was shorter than the drive to the airport and the interminable check in and boarding. 

Bhubaneshwar is not quite tropical but certainly exotic. To change our money (probably thousands 27 x $250 avg.) stopped in middle of town at a statuary shop that was worth a stop by itself: Nataraj's, tiny paintings, deities from Buddha to Rama all sizes; hand carved in stone......any way: take your turn: the money changer asks how mucho mucho you wanno and with a flick o' the wrist out comes 1,000 rupee notes in a flash.

Before that we stopped at an eye-popping hotel (same chain as ours in Puri) for our lunch. It was exquisite and our pilgrims were in fine and high spirits. We were surrounded by beautiful art work amidst a tropical paradise bubble.

Nonetheless, by the time we reach Puri in darkness, hot and humid, our puppies were too pooped to peep. Somehow we sat for another meal before collapsing in bed, trying to adjust our air conditioners.

After unpacking, I traded rooms with Angie who had an allergic reaction to what was s'posed to be her room. I didn't notice a thing; I guess I was comatose already. Using trash cans I schlepped my junk down the hall and re-commenced my puttering. It's serious business arranging one's things as if for a permanent stay. It was rather late, again, and the sun pops up like an irritable rooster so there I was, sleep deprived (again).

But of course what you are waiting all this time patiently reading is to hear about our first retreat day. 6 to 8 pm yoga and meditation; went beautifully. After breakfast we had Mr Toad's wild ride: none of the pilgrims had been given a warning or a hint (beyond the prospect of meditating at Swami Sri Yukteswar’s ashram) of what they had to experience first :and they loved it! Hanging on for dear life in 5 or 6 auto rickshaws buzzing through Puri swerving and honking and being honked the whole way!

Immediately after that we had to shift from the utmost rajas to the deepest sattwa guna arranging ourselves around the little mandir where Swami Sri Yukteswar’s body is buried in lotus posture in the sands below the mandir. 

Our time there wasn't long: about an hour of meditation but for a very mixed group it was just right. For me, I felt able to go deeper than ever. It was absolute stillness that characterized the experience. Yes, it was hot and even noisy, for the dear ashram is engulfed by apartment buildings gazing down upon like larger than life grouches sitting on the haunches.

But we entered our own world.

Now I take a break while some are off on a shopping experience. We reconvene on the beach at 5 pm to energize, chant and meditate. Dinner of course follows while rest pursues to sleep once again.

Tomorrow AM we go to the beach instead of our sadhana room. We will greet the rising sun with sun salutations,gayatri mantra and meditation.

I hear it's snowing there in Seattle. A contrast I simply cannot conceive beyond the words.

Joy to all,

Hriman and all the souls on our journey
On to Puri

Monday, February 27th:   We were up bright and early in Kolkata and out the door on our bus to the airport for our flight to Bhubaneshwar (sp?). Airport time is all hurry up and wait but we eventually got on the plane and flew less than 1 hour to Bhubaneshwar.

There we boarded our bus and stopped at a nearby hotel, a cousin of ours here in Puri (the Mayfair Heritage) where we had a wonderful meal but even more we enjoyed the tropical gardens, the amazing works of art, and time together.

Bhubaneshwar has a nearby white tiger reserve and another reserve nearby for elephants. Had I known that in advance I would have attempted to schedule visits this week. It is also a city of temples. A smaller city and a less populated stated (Odisha, formerl Orissa) it is generally clean and tidy.

We stopped at a statue store where we exchanged bazilliions of dollares and were much impressed with the beautiful carved statues. Some folks bought some carry-able items.

Then on to Puri which we reached after dark, very tired. Checked into our rooms and had a dinner no one needed.

UP early tomorrow to begin our 6 day retreat with yoga, meditation, our first visit to Karar Ashram (Sri Yukteswar's).

A few minor discomforts here and there but the spirits are high and folks are really getting to connect and enjoy each other's company. 

Blessings and joy to all, 

Retreat to Puri – Sunrise/Sunset Meditations

February 28 – March 1st : Last night, and then again, this morning we moved to the beach for our sadhana.

Each at sunset or sunrise.......the hotel, the Mayfair Heritage in Puri (look it up on the internet), puts out plastic chairs and a large tarp on the sand. Last night we energized to the setting sun; chanted and meditated. It was still light but growing dark quickly and afterward we sat and enjoyed the coolness of the end of the day (no, we don't have snow).

Vendors of conches, rudraksha beads, and stones are a bit of pest but the hotel staff acted a bit as bouncers. A few pilgrims waded into the delightfully warm ocean, headless of what might seem dusk.

This morning up before 5 a.m. and out to the beach, Murali led us in sun salutations in the near darkness but growing light by the minute. Then we chanted and when the sun finally made his appearance we stood and chanted the Gayatri with Swami on Murali's cell phone with a portable speaker. 

We meditated, then, and afterwards many went in for a refreshing swim: given safety and comfort by those who stayed with their things and kept an eye on them. There were some serious crasher waves out there but those who swam loved it.

So, off to breakfast; then later we go to Ananda Moy Ma's local ashram to meditate and meet the local Swami; we may peek in the crematory grounds next door (last night on the beach at sunset a parade of people marched by up the beach beating a drum and carrying a body on a stretcher. Some eyes opened wide.)

We will visit the street where the famous and ancient Jagganath Temple can be found and admired: the city's version of the Space Needle. One of our members, whose name I must keep secret owing to the NSA, is going to attempt to crash the temple by walking in pretending to be a devout Hindu. [Note: she later decided not tol] Likely she will be expelled but this person is determined to affirm certain principles. Search on Jagganath Temple, Puri India; it's pretty awesome. In former times the local king and royalty would pull enormous chariots holding the dieties through the streets in atonement for whatever.

Did I mention that yesterday afternoon certain persons went out for a shopping spree and had a grand 'ol time.

Some little discomforts here and there. But all is well.  Joy to ya'll........

Retreat to Puri: Ananda Moyi Ma’s Ashram & Jagganath Temple

Wednesday, March 1: Was very rewarding.

But the day started in the pre-dawn darkness. Murali led the group in Sun salutations on the lawn adjoining the beach. I went ahead to prepare for the beach meditation that followed.

On the beach Murali led us in reciting to the accompaniment of Swamiji's recording the Gayatri mantra. I did a few chants on the harmonium and we meditated in the cool morning with the thunder of the ocean right there and the rising sun upon us. It was truly blissful: between AUM as sound and AUM as light........

Afterwards, many went swimming: the water here is so warm it doesn't matter when you swim. The waves are real crashers but no one was dismayed.

Then showers and breakfast and off we went in auto rickshaws to Ananda Moyi Ma's ashram.

Some months ago Bhakti discovered that there exists a Ma ashram in Puri. To our knowledge no one was aware of it. It's in an older part of the seaside town: extremely narrow lanes; many decrepit buildings but we did find it.

Murali had previously (from America) phoned the swami who resides at the ashram a while back to vibe the place out as to whether appropriate for us to go, visit, and meditate there.

It was the real deal: off the shelf Indian ashram! Nothing modern or westernized about it....

We had to walk through narrow lanes crowded with cows, dogs, people, bikes and motorcycles: all beeping, honking, mooing, talking at once; walking past little stalls selling everything imaginable and few things not.

Near to the ashram, and as Murali warned us, were the crematory grounds. Though nothing like Benares, Puri is, nonetheless, one of the places in India where a Hindu feels blessed to die there, or at least be cremated there. What was happening at the moment was such that we didn't feel to enter the grounds. It was midday; hot; crowded and family was there with a body doing what they do. 

But such grounds are considered sacred just as one feels a special grace at the birth of a death of someone. As they say more or less here: here (at death and at the cremation) the karmas go (as in go to the astral to find fruition perhaps in future lives). Karmas as opposed to kriyas, that is (kriyas being acts that nullify past karma.)

Ma's ashram a block or two further was an oasis of serenity. It was adequately clean and tidy, though ironically no woman's touch was evident. Ma's last stay there was perhaps 1979.

The Swami was delightful. He spoke in Hindi with Murali though he had some command of English. We plied him with questions through Murali. His story is a charming one; we'll reserve that for some future occasion. [Though Ma was still alive, he had an insight of vision of Ma that said wait for her to initiate him. Before her death and because he couldn’t go to see her due to financial issues, she came to him in vision to initiate him. The devotees at Haridwar accepted his story later when he went there to live and be trained; later, he was sent to Puri and has been there, what, some 17 years.] He tells the story in an interview Murali found on YouTube!

We meditated deep in silence together with him. Ma's room is now a little shrine/altar. We had to climb first up and then down darkened hallways to get there: cool in the relative darkness and also feeling very sacred and still. Everyone was deeply touched. Spontaneously people came to him and had their photo taken. He was charmed and each time wanted to see the photo! Very innocent and childlike; the real thing, I'd say. With a toothy smile that would charm a cobra (we haven't seen one yet).

We left reluctantly but uplifted, almost (almost) speechless. I staged a photo of me pulling Bhakti out through the front gate as if upholding my promise to her husband, Bhima, that I would make sure she came home to Seattle!

The trip into the center of town to the gigantic, ancient, impressive and stern Jagganath Temple was harrowing in that it was intense, confusing, and hot. We had a run in with a temple guard (rickshaws not allowed near the temple). A parked motorcycle toppled over onto Aman's foot. The group was separated for a while and the journey was too much for Rashida though she made it. Temple street is awash with people and that's nothing compared to festival times. 

Our guide, Bijaya, talked about the temple: 7000 priests run it; non-Hindus strictly prohibited; 100,000 meals served each day.

I think we are all relieved to get back to the hotel. I was crisped and slept 3 hours straight. There are almost nonstop workshops with Murali; trips to the nearby Ayurvedic clinic for massages and consultations; 3 squares a day in luxurious banquet buffet style; sadhanas morning and night and in between. Fairly intense but surrounded by so much on every level. 

This evening, under the stars and next to the pool, magically lit, Murali regaled us with bits of Indian history on the theme of how plurality (Indian religions) differs from diversity (Judeo-Christian-Islamic) and how that underlying acceptance of plurality has influenced Indian culture; how also, America was founded on principles of plurality (oneness: all men are created equal), Hence a deep and abiding relationship between the two countries exists as Master described and predicted.

All are happy, even those with tummy issues and many friendships are being born.

I need to hit the hay; the sun dawns early (really?).

Have a great day. Our group wants to propose auto rickshaws by Uber in Seattle. You think?

Tomorrow: we visit the ashram of Sanyal Mahasaya: direct disciple of Lahiri. Near to that is the residence of one of the Hindu "popes," the Shankhacharya of Puri, Gowathan Math....this is where Swami took his renunciate vows.

Retreat to Puri: Sanyal Mahasaya

Thursday, March 2: There are statutes (murtis) located at the ashram of now deceased Sanyal Mahasaya. Sanyal was quite young while Lahiri Mahasaya was still living. His spiritual stature, however, was already recognized by Lahiri himself.

Though, like Lahiri a householder, Sanyal later in life moved to Puri and established his residence there, now an ashram.

The center statue is of Lahiri; Sanyal is to the left and Sanyal's wife to the right.

We took turns going into this tiny, tiny room where a portion of Lahiri's ashes are also kept; there we could pray briefly but otherwise meditated in the covered patio that is connected to the room.

We also took turns going upstairs into the residence where Sanyal and his wife's bedroom remains intact; there also to meditate and feel the holy vibrations of these great souls.

A wonderful surprise awaited us; two, actually: the one, a bit hard to take; the other, a great blessing

As to the first: a nearby residence was playing Bollywood tunes at a volume worthy of Bollywood. Our guide, Bijaya, asked them to nicely knock it off for an hour (which, gratefully they did, thus removing the high intensity base thumping that threatened some whose hearing had little scope for further loss).

But the other was that Murali and our guide arranged by happy serendipitous grace to have what is the resident pujari (priest) conduct a puja ceremony for our group. This was an event Murali and I had wanted on our agenda but couldn't so easily arrange from afar.

The kindly Swami did it up right: puja, arati, all the bells and whistles. It was very touching and special for our group. 4 years ago there was no resident pujari nor any temple for that. Turns out this pujari, a kriyaban, had what can only be called a vision of Lahiri who told him to move there to the ashram to do this function. (His family has been for many generations the priests for the local royal family in that region.

Retreat in Puri: Totapuri’s Ashram

Friday, March 3: I can't keep up with all the photos and videos being pass around by our pilgrims on our cool app, WhatsApp. I even have a friend in Germany who was just here with the Italian group sending me cool discoveries they found.

I'm a bit overwhelmed in the communications department. Plus with wi-fi and cell coverage both spotty and slow I could be up all night processing these wonderful things for you, my friends. So, forgive me!

Our retreat schedule has spaces which we need for rest but overall you cannot escape the intensity of India and our various outings to deeply spiritual places; add to that the special and touching interactions with fellow pilgrims; hotel staff and people we meet everywhere; and finally the special internal and external personal experiences.

One cannot describe sufficiently sunrise and sunset meditations on the beach; morning chanting of gayatri as the sun rises, e.g. Meditations to the roar of the ocean but a hundred yards and with the early morning or sunset gentle sun upon you.

Today's outing was two-fold: the second a surprise as only India can offer.

We drove through some of the poorer sections of Puri, away from the ocean to find the ashram of Totapuri. If you don't know who he is, I don't have the time or energy to explain. There were monkeys all around: don't make eye contact with monkeys and don't think about them either. You think I'm kidding????? Hah! Then you DON'T know monkeys like WE do!

There's a large banyan tree on the grounds where he gave various people samadhi. We took turns meditating "inside" the tree. His tomb is there also (I now suddenly don't recall if cremated or buried). And his bedroom. He was a giant of a man: dreadlocks, enormous very powerful. 

We sat outside the burial mandir on the marble porch and meditated and I did a few chants on the harmonium. Seems Bhakti and I are basically "it" on the harmonium.

Bijaya, our guide, showed us various fruits on the grounds, including cashew, wood apple (Bel fruit), mango trees (no fruit until May).

On the way back we had the inspiration to stop at an ashram temple of Chaitanya: one of the great reformers and influencers in Hindu history who lived in Puri. A real Krishna devotee. Beautiful temple.We participated once again in vary traditional puja and arati with the priests there. 

All 'round were monkeys again. Bhakti had to secretly eat a banana though one of them caught wind of it before she finished, but she escaped unharmed, protected, no doubt by Chaitanya himself. 

The grounds contained a lovely orchard and a swimming pool for the monkeys who were diving, swimming, and well, let me just say it, monkeying around. There were sweet young Krishna cows for everyone to pet and moo over, too. 

Several Americans showed up obviously dressed as gopis replete with all the devotional attire and movements. An Indian woman told us a story of someone who de-materialized right there on the altar and who could still be "seen".  Didn't know what to make of it.

I'm fighting some stuff and am a bit weakened but joyful. Though I could have easily remained in my room and slept longer this afternoon, I had an appointment at the Ayurvedic clinic nearby that Murali had researched. Not only is the clinic the real mccoy (I don't know any mccoy's, do you?), but it turns out the Dr. Treated Swamiji some years ago and the man who gave me my massage was from Italy and they all know Shivani, Swami and many others. For reasons unknown to me, they would not let me pay for my consultation and massage. Dr. Deba Prasad Dash!

He said my body is like a piece of wood and that when I get back to Seattle I need to get massages from time to time. Hey, Padma's been saying that for years! I told them both that and they laughed. I came back covered in oil: even had the drip treatment  on the forehead. WOW. I had an oil hair do that fortunately no one took a picture of.

It's only 8 pm but I am fading fast.

Joy to ya'll.........

Retreat to Puri: Return to Karar Ashram

Saturday, March 4:

Dear Friends,

This morning we went back to Karar Ashram (Sri Yukteswar's ashram). It has become completely surrounded by large apartment buildings, some still under construction. It was cacophonous today but by a stroke of grace as I left my room I reached for my headphones and meditated the entire time in a corner undisturbed.

Between Totapuri - an extreme nondualist-- and Sri Yukteswar - a strict gyani -- my meditations have been extremely focused and concentrated on stillness. The deeper it goes the more it morphs into expansiveness without condition of any kind. It begins with bhakti and soon sheds thought, conditions, definitions, mental motions........deeply refreshing.....all things like heat, flies, noise vanish! Most blissful and I feel rejuvenated. Murali had to tap me to say we had to leave as they close the place at noon.

At the last minute, after lunch, I decided to go on the road trip up the coast to Konark: the Sun Temple. It was a beautiful drive up a relatively quiet beach side road surrounded by forest, orchards, and quaint farms and cottages. I think the drive one way was less than one hour and it was nice to get out of the town a little bit.

The Sun Temple is, I believe, a Unesco World Heritage site and we enjoyed it. Over run with stalls selling stuff and vendors hawking stuff, it was, nonetheless, an impressive 16th century massive temple, partially in ruins. Carvings everywhere, from the erotic to the sublime. Overall very impressive though not for its spiritual vibrations. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the outing and even the drive up the coast through gentle forests and alongside lovely beaches. Perhaps someday Ananda can have an ashram just outside of town.

Tomorrow is Sunday. Our agenda is quiet: a satsang in the morning after sunrise meditation. Re packing for next week's adventure in Kolkata visiting all the highlights of the Masters.

Joy and blessings,


Conclusion to our Week-long Retreat in Puri, India

Sunday, March 5: In the pre-dawn darkness as we do sun salutations or energization on the lawn that leads to the beach, the chatter of the birds is deafening. What they all talk about so early is beyond me; besides, they all talk at once. Perhaps they are describing their dreams to one another. Whatever the conversations are,, they are quite animated. To speak to one another, we humans practically have to shout in the darkness.

The light appears steadily like the ticking of a clock: relentless and unhesitatingly. The mystery part is when precisely will the red orb suddenly appear from behind a bank of distant at sea grey clouds. If the cloud bank offshore is light, the sun can appear ten or so minutes earlier than if the bank is closer to shore or thicker. Thus we worked out a system of alternating chanting with pranayam so that at the first hint of the appearance of the Sun god, we leap to our feet and begin reciting the Gayatri mantra with hands folded. Murali's cell phone and portable speaker bring to us Swamiji's voice booming above the breakers just 50 or more yards from us.

Today our schedule was very light; at the moment, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Murali is conducting the last of 3 afternoon intermediate yoga workshops. At 9:30 a.m., our daily gathering satsang, he gave a previously postponed lesson in Sanskrit: pronunciation and grammar.

Then we segued into gathering everyone's input as to the previous 5 day retreat. Overwhelmingly the input was positive. Some helpful tweaks were suggested. The key activities were many but morning sadhanas alternated between an indoor yoga sadhana (as one would have at, say, the Expanding Light) (giving me personally some solid kriya time in my room) and sunrise sadhana described previously but including meditation.

Our 9:30 a.m. satsang begins with Keshava describing where we are going that morning and why, along with logistics.

This week, we went twice to Sri Yukteswar's; Ananda Moyi Ma's; Sanyal Mahasaya; Totapuri's; and Chaitanyas; and, the Jagganaught Temple.

Typically we are back in time for lunch near 'round 1 p.m. Then rest time for the afternoon. One afternoon included the 1 hour drive up the coast to the Sun Temple. Other afternoons alternated with the 2 hour intermediate yoga workshop. 4 afternoons included sessions at the nearby Ayurveda clinic where we met, to our enormous surprise, the doctor who had treated Swamiji in Assisi, knows Shivani and many others there. The first afternoon included an outing for shopping. 

Others went in search of statues; others, yet for Vedic astrology readings.

Two nights under the stars and by the beautiful pool Murali gave lectures on Indian culture and the history of yoga.

Somehow we had to "stomach" three squares each day: a herculean task worthy of, hmmm, Hercules? 

Fact is, however, almost all had some stomach ailments, though none were serious. This slowed people down, but just a little!

Now, another early morning on Monday but for the purposes of catching our plane in nearby Bhubaneshwar: destination: Kolkata. There's no one pronunciation of this city, but here's one: Coal-cut-a.

Most of you will know this week's agenda: Tuesday, Mahasamadhi DAy is Master's house on Garpar Road; not sure yet of timings but Hassi's house; Daksineswar; Serampore; Badhuri Mahasaya's; shopping; and so on!

Well, duty calls: a lime fizz with Keshava who just flew back from Kolkata after attending a wedding for one of the descendents of Master's brother, Ananta, in Serampore.

I have more to tell: a wild rickshaw ride invitation to the driver's little home and family that was, while crazy-risky, very touching for the 5 ladies who said yes.

Joy! Hriman-ji
March 7 – Yogananda’s Mahasamadhi Commemoration Day

Tuesday, March 7: What a day we have had! If only pictures and words could suffice. I asked two of the pilgrims -- each whose spouse is NOT on the trip -- "How will you EVER describe and share this experience?" None of us had a real answer.

We bussed to Master's house (4 Garpar Road) this morning. After a brief wait we were ushered upstairs where Somnath and Sarita Ghosh greeted us. They remembered some of us from their visit in August 2015. They were very sweet and heartfelt.

We chanted for a bit; talked about the house and about the mahasamadhi event. Then, with an occasional chant, we took turns meditating in Master's bedroom; the room where Babaji appeared to him on the eve of his departure to America in 1920, and in his upstairs attic room. 
The hushed silence felt more like the air we breathe: more like our natural medium of mind and expression....than something we had to "put on." No one wanted or needed to speak. We drank in the silence like a parched traveler in a desert drinks water at an oasis.

After some time, I have no idea how much time but perhaps 1.5 hours, we went upstairs to the kitchen and dining room where the family served us a fancy and tasty "box" lunch: neatly arranged boxes (the size and shape of a large box of chocolates) with a complete Indian meal inside! Very convenient; neat; and easy to eat.

Somnath regaled us with stories, including stories of the ouse itself; the neighborhood and incidents from Master's youthful life, and the lives of his father (Harekrishna) and grandfather, Sananda. The original painting by Sananda of Babaji is there along with many extraordinary paintings and photographs, including the year Sananda lived in Puri designing and building the mandir where Sri Yukteswar is buried. Ah, the stories! Wish I could have recorded them and in some cases even understood them.

We left refreshed in body and spirit. Our destination was Dakshineswar Temple. 

Owing to construction we could not drive into the parking lot with our bus. Our walk through the hot, dusty noisy and busy streets of Kolkata, near the banks of the Hoogley River (aka the Ganges), and through the dusty haunts of the poorest of the poor in lean-to's, shacks, and homes of branches and leaves was an adventure in remaining centered and alert. 

At last we arrived at the temple grounds. Leaving most everything we carried outside under the supervision of Bijaya's "man," Uttam, we entered the grounds. It was not especially crowded today and the weather, though warm, was pleasant enough.

We chanted in the portico opposite the Kali temple and deity doors: near the same pillar where Master had the vision of Kali on the chapter on converting his brother in law. A crowd of appreciative locals gathered around us.

Then, armed with gifts of flowers we each made our way and presented ourselves before the image of Kali that so often appeared and became real for Sri Ramakrishna, Master and others. I made special offerings: one for Karen Sherman's mother; and another for Padma's birthday, March 8.

We received the red tillak mark afterwards.

Some wandered around: there's a Krishna temple next to the Kali one and 12 small Shiva temples:each with a different aspect of Shiva!

We took turns meditating in the room where Ramakrishna lived: surrounded by pictures of great souls of his day, including Babaji, Master Mahasaya ("M" the author of the Gospel of Ramakrisha) and so many others famous in their day.

We walked down to the Ganges below the giant car and railway bridge that spans the Ganges in hopes of taking a sunset cruise on the Ganges but alas it didn't work out. Instead we watched the sunset, took photos, and relaxed. 

Our walk to the bus wasn't as long as earlier in the day but the drive home in commute hour was more than an hour. By the time we arrived at our hotel, well after dark, around 6:30 or later, my bladder was almost gone and a migraine had formed. 

I went right to bed after a much needed shower and woke up just now to write this to you!!!!!

Tomorrow, we bus 2 hours up river to Serempore. Another time; another story. BTW among the lush tropical banana trees, monkeys, and more, it is NOT, repeat, NOT, snowing.

I don't think any words can describe the sights, sounds, scenes, and smells of Kolkata. I can't even begin to do so for an ordinary drive across town. It's simply unbelievable.

Yet, the traffic is surprisingly disciplined. More so than in other Indian cities. Yes, it's true: Kolkatans OBEY traffic lights and largely drive in their own lanes provided your view of a lane is a fluid one.

I skipped dinner I was so exhausted. Many others went out and gamboled about town to nearby cafe's and restaurants. The prior night a few of us went to Chutney's: a banquet of dosa's of every description. Padma would have died and gone to heaven.

I guess I'd better get some (more) sleep.

To Tulsi Bose’s Home: Secret Temple of Kolkata

Thursday, March 9: We had a morning sadhana which was only energization and silent meditation; not the only one we've had but it was the longest and quietest. The others were sunrise meditations on the beach and the meditation length was perhaps a half hour in length or maybe a little longer.

This one being in one of the Lalit Grand Eastern hotel (orig built 1840) was quiet and very still and lasted over an hour in silence.

That might sound odd to some of my friends but a pilgrimage trip to India with a group of nearly 30 people poses some logistical issues and a few philosophical ones. Logistically hotel meeting rooms are extremely expensive worldwide at 4 to 5 star hotels. One morning even here in Kolkata we found shards of tile everywhere and workman hammering away in our room designated for yoga and meditation! (They went away and we put sheets on the floor: standard operating procedure).

For another, any outdoor or more local venue, such as a temple, is always noisy; often a trashed, and likely to be surrounded by curiosity seekers, crowds and any number of serious distractions.

For another, many of our pilgrims are new to meditation; some new to yoga itself; 

But lastly, the quasi-philosophical part, we are here to be still and feel, absorb and give back in devotion the vibrations of these grant saints and holy places. It is not a time to be emphasizing meditation techniques, unless one's trip is oriented specifically that way. Our trip was oriented more towards hatha yoga. 

Even in our typical 30 minute meditations some pilgrims left early.

Not being one who takes yoga classes or is actively deepening my practice of hatha yoga (which, at home, is short and simple), I took advantage of many mornings to have my accustomed longer kriya meditations.

We had a leisurely day today. Sadhana as described above ended at 8:45 a.m. (from 7:15 a.m.); then breakfast; then on the bus closer to 11 a.m.

We drove back to Garpar Road but not for a second visit to Master's home but for a visit to his boyhood friend's home: Tulsi Bose. Tulsi is long departed from this world. Even his son, Debi Mukerjee, is now gone. But Debi's wife, Hassi, survives along with her son, Manash, and his wife. Manash and wife, Mo, live in Chennai where Manash works in the I.T. world. His mother, Hassi, often visits for periods of time there.

What is so special about their house? It is a living temple to the spiritual greats. Over the last 100 and more years, Yogananda, his guru Sri Yukteswar, their many related gurbhais and disciples, the wife (then widow) of Sri Ramakrishna, Kebalanada (Master's Sanskrit teacher), Ananda Moy Ma, and other illuminatos too numerous and distant from us to describe have visited there for satsang, rest, food, chanting, meditation and samadhi!

This living temple cannot be found on any map or web site. Yet it is a treasure against time. Already high rise apartment buildings, just like in Seattle, and in Puri (surrounding and enclosing Sri Yukteswar's ashram), are beginning to rise and will eventually over shadow homes like Masters and Tulsi's built around 1880. 

Thanks to generous members, including from Seattle, Hassi's home is secured for the future both by extensive and ongoing renovations but also by having been purchased by Ananda India, with retained life estate held by Hassi.

There really is nothing like it, except, of course Master's own home around the corner.

So we chanted; meditated; shared a meal; and heard stories for several hours. We arrived in another monsoon-like rain but by the time we left the air was clear and cool!

We got to hold an iron trident: given by Babaji to Lahiri; Lahiri to Sri Yukteswar; and SY to Master; Master to Tulsi for safekeeping. Other relics are held in a museum at the Pune retreat center in Swamiji's home; others yet have been sent to the Shrine of the Masters at Ananda Village.

We sat on the beds once used by Sri Yukteswar and by Masters. We sat and meditated; later ate, in the tiny room where some of these saints were seen levitating; others, in samadhi at other times. 

We can't begin to share the depth of bliss, sometimes expressed as laughter but more often as silent, inner communion that we experienced.

The era of the 19th and 20th century great gurus, itself an expression of former ages, is rapidly vanishing. Almost no one lives who can personally testify as to meeting them. Only now we can tell stories but they are still close. But time is moving on.

We are deeply grateful for a glimpse into the eyes and hearts and the living presence of these saints and masters.

Upon returing to our hotel, many of us went out for strolls and shopping. A group went to Kolkata's famous and infamous shopping bazaar (not unlike Istanbol). Nearly pestered to death by hawkers, and bobble-eyed by endless saris of outrageous color schemes, and everything for sale imaginable, and almost getting lost walking home among the blaring horns and densely crowded sidewalks, we are at last ready to pack our bags for Delhi--after dinner at Chutney's: a haven for dosa fans.

We will be at the newish Ananda Center near central Delhi for a few hours: 8 or so people leave their Delhi hotel rooms at midnight to catch a 4 am plane on Saturday morning that will return them to Seattle by Saturday afternoon: chasing the sun all day.

While, arising at 4 am the rest of us will be bundled onto a train in the old and mystical Delhi training station for Kathgodam: the terminus for our bus ride up the mountains of Himalaya for the hill station of Ranikhet: gateway to Babaji's cave.

Wish us luck. I'll email you a dosa.

Joy and blessings, Hriman

Friday, March 10: I've been up all night, mostly owing to getting 7 pilgrims off top the airport at 1 am, after some ticketing drama. It's now 5 am and the train to Himalaya doesn't leave for one hour so we are sitting in silence in a darkened bus waiting to go to the platform.
We arrived at the Ananda Center south of downtown Delhi yesterday (March 9). The center is large and incredibly beautiful and artistically Done. They are all ready packed on Sundays for their service.
Weather here is cool and rainy, as it was in Kolkata. No complaints, though heading to the mountains suggests we will find things chilly and slippery!
We are on the final leg of our gloriously inspired and fun pilgrimage.
Today we are joined by some 24 Indian members for whom any opportunity to travel to the Himalaya is popular.
Signing off, all aboard!

Saturday, March 11:  We had a wonderful evening at the Ananda Centre in Delhi last night (Friday, March 9).  A tour and dinner and a satsang with a send off to home to 7 pilgrims.  I think I said all that all ready. 

Seems to me the last I shared was in the pre-dawn darkness waiting on the bus before entering the Delhi main train station. 

It was biting cold standing on the platform for over a half hour but the train was precisely on time. Pulling smoothly out of the station at 6 am. 

The much bally hooed air conditioning was of no use.  I and Murali had been up all night, choosing to use the time for meditation.  So I tried my best to nap on the train.  Will, Wendy, Angie, Bhakti and I sat around a small kitchen table,  W,W, and I facing the other three with our backs to the direction of the trains movement. So you can imagine just how conducive to deep rest it was. And here I am typing this report after 9 pm. 

After leaving the Delhi metro area we traveled through farmland including rice paddies, all green. 

There was much that was not picturesque, from garbage, to coal, to slums. 

We chatted, read, napped and regaled ourselves on the glories of train bathrooms. One marked INDIAN (a squatter), the other western, both poor choices. 

They served breakfast and then lunch, in that order. No more need be said. 

At last the foothills came into sight and soon we were on our busses chugging up the steep, narrow and precipitous Himalaya roads. With every turn it became more beautiful, fresher, more picturesque, more silently imbued with the breath of saints and sages. I reconnected with our guide from past years, Mahavir!

It began to rain, then pour. It got colder.  Buses have no heaters. We stopped at a awesome ashram, the home of Neem Karoli Baba, guru to the American baba ram Das. Thing is we have to take our shoes off: bare feet on the icy and slippery outdoor tiles.  Brrrrr.

Soon we invaded the roadside tea skip for Chai and deep fried pakoras. Back in the bus for two hours of treacherous mountain climbing. 

Murali read from the "Autobiography of a Yogi" and Bhakti and I alternated playing chants on harmonium,  weaving with every twist and turn off the bus. 

I'm frozen so will stop now.  I don't even think I can handle a hot shower lest the water freeze on me before I dry.  What's a couple of days hiking, on buses and trains without a shower? [I DID take that hot shower but no sooner had I turned off the hot now becoming cool water and my body began to shiver all over again!]

TOMORROW 8 am to Babaji's cave. Will he come? Will the sun shine and the mountains be wreathed in glory? 

Joy to you,


Climb to Babaji’s Cave

Sunday, March 12: Yesterday it was rain, hail, wind and near zero temperatures here in the mountains at Ranikhet. We were all trying to be positive. Going up to the cave in near freezing rain without the right gear was a prospect no one dared voice.

This morning dawned brilliant sunshine. Though still cold, temperatures rose rapidly. We departed at 8 am for the two hour journey to Dronagiri mountain.
The drive through mountain villages, orchards, farms, rice paddies and terraced fields rising high up was buoyed by rising hopes.

Soon Dronagiri came into view. Something magical happens on the mountain. The farms are neat and tidy, their homes brightly painted. The pine forest glistens with an astral light.
Our hike up the hill was at first in and around quaint farms, with goats, herders, children, and signs of peaceful domestication.

Then the trail turns sharply upward into the forest. The Gogash River, really a stream, is temporarily dry.
In groups of 12, we take turns meditating in the cave. It is rather cold inside the cave today, though the sun outside is healing and warm, but diving deep into the silence of Babaji and Lahiri s divine presence banishes all outer distractions. This part remains locked in our hearts or fit only for verbal expression.

I could go on but it's been a long day and tomorrow we travel all day by bus and train arriving late evening in Delhi.
We feel greatly blessed by a day most sacred in every way.

See you very soon.

Monday, March 13: We have had a long travel day but most of it was a joy, at least the mountain part.

We rose before dawn to energize out on the deck facing the Himalayan peaks as they rose to greet and bless us. It was thrilling!

Then, downstairs to the sadhana room for meditation; then breakfast in the blazing sunlight and crisp air and mountain views; naturally photos galore.

Then back onto the bus to wend our way down and out of the mountains: past quaint villages and panoramic views.

As we neared the plains but while driving through a mountain canyon along a river we saw increasing numbers of (mostly) teenage boys covered in the red and blue hues of the Holi Festival. At one point, both funny and slightly tense, our bus was forced to a stop by a band of teens who had placed boulders on the road. The bus couldn't progress; they more or less surrounded the bus thought with laughter and taunts. We were stopped for quite a while trying to be patient; our group had various reactions from concern to delight and we even had convince one member NOT to open the door.

Finally, the stand-off ceased and the boulders were moved and on we went. But in every village bands of people laughed and waved and we reciprocated as they joyously celebrated Shiva's destruction of delusion.

In said same canyon we once again stopped at the pristine and beautiful ashram of Neem karoli Baba. In the glorious sunshine, cool air, we entered a Holi celebration in full force. Murali demurred from entering the ashram as, being Indian, he would be easily targeted for getting smeared with colored powder.

But the rest of went on ahead. A few of our members entered the drumming circle which then morphed into tribal like dancing, and consequently they were blessed with the Holi colors. The rest of us attempted or pretended to meditate at the various shrines amidst the cacophony of (not very musical) chanting and drumming and shouting!

Either way it was actually a lot of fun and very interesting. I don't know what Neem Karoli thought of it but I suppose he was pretty tolerant...wherever he is now.

It is a very special place to stop and his life, made famous by his American disciple, Baba Haridas, is also deeply inspiring.

For Bhakti's birthday, it was arranged to have a birthday cake served out on the lawn of a beautiful hotel near a lake where we stopped for lunch. We had an adventure finding the hotel, circling through the small lakeside town before finding it.

But we arrived in time for our long train ride, 5.5 hours to Delhi. Nothing to report train wise except to ignore comments on the bathrooms and to mention that they serve airline style meals which most of us consumed though we had no physical need for sustenance.

At one train stop, we had just been served our dinner, airplane style. There’s a tray on the back of the chair in front, like an airplane; it folds down; the steward gives each a tray with small portions of rice, dhal, curry, chapatti, etc. We hadn’t begun our meal yet. We were, in fact, still full from our luxury meal on the lawn at the hotel for Bhakti’s birthday.

Then, suddenly, with the train still stopped but ready any second to lurch forward, a small boy appeared on the platform and in our window, only a few feet from us (but outside the train). He mouthed his hunger as he eyed our trays. We weren’t really hunger and the site was heart-wrenching. He didn’t look food deprived nor yet unhappy but he was urgent in his appeal. We couldn’t easily even stand up with the meal trays down and on our laps. The train could move any second. What could we do? Several burst into tears or averted their eyes. It was a timeless moment of anguish for all. It was the most poignant moment on our trip for a few of us.

It was close to midnight before I got to bed as being reunited with all of my luggage i spread it out all over the room. It is still that way as I leave now for one last shopping spree in Delhi. Looking for a vest just like the one Joseph Phua got in Kolkata.

We are busy checking airline tickets because of a big drama that took place Saturday morning when one of the 6 early departing pilgrims had booked for the wrong day. One cannot enter an airline terminal without having proof of ticket and passport. We are busy printing things out.

We have both lunch and dinner at the Ananda Center to which we simply walk down the busy street to reach. A final de=briefing satsang before dinner and before that another Murali induced yoga sadhana.

Then just after midnight tonight we check out of our rooms; go to the airport, 15 of us, for our long day's journey home. 4 people leave us at Dubai for other destinations: Will and Wendy to Michigan; Shanti to Bulgaria; Angie to San Francisco.

Others are staying on for additional independent touring:Taj Mahal; riverboat on the Ganges and so forth.

Joy see you soon and on Sunday.

Tuesday, March 14: Our last day in Delhi was once again mostly a shopping day. A few wandered down the street for private meditations in the lovely Ananda Center in the morning. Others came downstairs for a uncharacteristically relaxed and later breakfast. A few busied themselves on going on to other destinations in India: Taj Mahal, e.g., and other tours.

Nonetheless, a fairly large group assembled in a bus for a trip to Dilli Haat: a government organized outdoor shopping bazaar of stalls carrying Indian products from around the country. One still haggles and bargains, however and some are better at this and more comfortable with it than others! The vendors can be a bit pushy, too but overall the merchandise is vetted for quality and variety. So many purchases and treasurers were found.

Then we motored into the posh district of Delhi to a "mall" containing up scale but otherwise more or less representative features of Indian middle class mall:Khan market. Again, treaures were found including two human treasurers: Michelle Phua identified a nayaswami by the blues and it turned out to be Dhyana with Carpani from the Bay Area! Our own pilgrim Joyce who had left us for a commercial tour of India was found with her new group in the Khan market as well.

Nicole and Chad branched out to visit the Bahai Lotus Temple which later they reported was jam packed, though beautiful.

After that back to the Visaya hotel: one or two blocks down the street from the Ananda Center for the beginning stages of the tiresome but necessary packing.

We take a break with a yoga sadhana, our last, with Murali followed by a heartfelt gathering of pilgrims. If there were a theme to the remarks I'd say it focused as much on friendships as it did on spiritual experiences (as at least expected and assumed by virtue to the nature of the journey and the places we visited).

At the end of the sharing Helen Moran from Bellingham revealed that it was her birthday. By "coincidence" local Ananda members were at that moment arriving with their 11 year son to celebrate with cake: TWO cakes, in fact, HIS birthday! So, guess what? Two birthdays. And, we got to have cake BEFORE dinner!

Then the good byes to Keshava, Daya and staff and trudge back to the hotel for final packing and rest before our midnight departure.

By 12:30 a.m. Wednesday morning Delhi time, we assembled in the lobby of the hotel to be driven to the international terminal of the Delhi airport. We were NOT accompanied by our guides, neither Keshava, Bijaya, nor even Murali (who today is taking a 32 hour train ride in sleeping car to Mangalore on the west coast before going on to his home town of Bangalore).

The airport scene wasn't too bad though we were confused by certain things in the terminal. We all got through the long and snaking lines. Some of our pilgrims upgraded to business class for the return journey today!

In a few hours we'll be home. Will and Wendy off to Michigan; Angie to San Francisco; Shanti to Bulgaria. Murali comes home in a week or so and a few other pilgrims return bit by bit.

Signing off and preparing for Sunday's satsang: Hriman and the pilgrims.