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Blessings, Nayaswami Hriman
We say someone has a “big ego” and we know that this is not
a good thing. Yet, we probably also know that some of those who have
accomplished great things in the world could be described as having “a big ego”
or at least a “big aura,” and maybe more of the former than the latter.
Some years ago there was a lot of talk about building self-esteem
in children. Indeed, much of the training and education of a child is directed
towards learning skills and gaining self-confidence. Now that I am a
grandparent I watch with some interest and a newfound nonattachment to how
much effort adults expend eliciting a child’s likes or dislikes. It seems instinctual
to help a child to develop their ego from its amorphous and helpless state at
birth to that of a strong, balanced, intelligent, healthy adult.
Among the traits of the ego that are helpful and necessary is
taking responsibility for one’s life, developing will power, not blaming
others, learning to forgive, learning to accept what can’t be changed: just to
name a few. Among the valuable traits that reflect both a strong ego and one
that is not excessively self-involved are kindness, thinking of the needs and
realities of others, unselfishness, generosity, and creative solution-seeking:
in short, the Golden Rule!
Is that all there is, then, to this ego-thing? Pet dogs and
kiss babies, so to speak? Be good and you’ll surely go to heaven? If you are
reading this you already know that’s not where this conversation is going!
The Vedantic path and teachings of the ages and sages offer
to us a vision of reality that avers that the ultimate creator and purpose of
the creation is to pierce the veil of illusion of our separateness and reunite
with the only reality that is permanent, beyond suffering, and permanently
satisfying: God (or Bliss or whatever name you prefer).
So on the ego-thing, we have some who say the ultimate state of
existence (usually called heaven) is that we keep our egos and we rest happily
forever praising the Lord, strumming harps, engaging in angel-like good deeds,
or enjoying the everlasting pleasures of heaven.
Others say, “No way!” We “kill” the illusion of a separate self (ego)
and disappear into the great Void.
Photo by Patricia DeAnguera
And, they say further, that on the threshold of this dissolution we
experience momentarily the bliss of release from suffering caused by egoic consciousness but
then we vanish without a trace into the No-thing-ness out of which all things
have come. Hmmmm: a kind of spiritual suicide wish? I’ll take rain check, thank
Another version of egoic dissolution says that the Void is
actually not empty but full: full of bliss! Bliss, in other words, is not
temporary or born of the duality of separateness. Instead, the very nature of God
(the ultimate state or reality) is Sat-chit-anandam: ever-existing (immortal),
ever-conscious (omniscient), ever-new bliss. At least in this version we have
something to look forward to.
This is the Vedantic version espoused by Paramhansa
Yogananda. While this is a one version of ego transcendence, Yogananda took the explanation one step
further in an interesting twist. Yogananda added that inasmuch as Infinite
consciousness must, by definition, contain all that is past, present or will be
or can be in the future, then there must be contained in Infinity the living “memory”
of all those lifetimes during which my soul was
misidentified AS the doer, as the ego. Well, ok, you say, but so what?
The “but” here is intended to provide an explanation for another
phenomenon of the spiritual path. The explanation starts with this precept: no
one can achieve Self-realization without helping others. It’s not that your
final liberation awaits their own but nonetheless, you must become, towards the
end of your journey, the guru to other souls. Yogananda said, in fact, that the
minimum number of souls is six.
(I have no idea why
six. Six chakras? Who knows. I am fairly certain he was not the first to make
this statement but I accept that the principle is intact even if "why the number six" eludes me.)
The annals of spirituality include innumerable
testimonies that to disciples the guru comes in vision or in actual living form even though the guru is no longer on the planet in human form, having “died” days, weeks,
or centuries past. Some, like Krishna or Jesus, may well have even incarnated
into new human forms since the time of that particular incarnation as Jesus or Krishna.
Yet, they appear in the form held dear by their devotee.
Yogananda thus says that out of the Infinite (the Akasha),
the devotee’s devotion calls forth the past form of the guru, notwithstanding
that the guru is no longer in that form, or perhaps in any form whatsoever.
There is, as a bypath, testimony that saints, while still living in
their human body, can appear in vision or dreams to disciples and yet they have no awareness or recollection of this fact, having perhaps been even asleep at that particular moment! It
is the soul, in other words, that is ever-awake and eternally present.
Lastly, Yogananda stated that even an avatar—one freed from
all karma and who returns to human form as a savior—must don the trappings of
ego in order to function distinctly in a human form. The difference between
the avatar and most of us is the degree of identification with that form and
In his famous poem, “Samadhi,” he writes “I, the Cosmic Sea,
watch the little ego floating in Me.” Yogananda defined ego as the soul identified
with the body (which includes the personality).
So we are still faced with the question: is the ego real or
not? Is it “bad” or “good”? The answer? It depends!
Like Moses in the Old Testament of the Bible or Bhishma of
the Indian epic the Mahabharata, the ego can awaken to the desire to be free of
its own limitations and hypnosis of separateness but its very nature IS
separateness. The ego can work to grow spiritually but there comes a point
(after countless efforts to do so) where it must offer itself into
the Infinite (or at the feet of the guru, the Lord, etc etc).
We are given the survival instinct for a reason greater than
just the survival of the body. No such instinct could be at odds with the truth
of our Self. If all reality has as its basis pure Consciousness than the “I can
never die.” The question is “Who am I?” Am “I” the body and personality?
As Bhishma, symbol of the ego in all, was heralded as a
great hero and a man of dharma, so too our ego, in its essence, need not be identified
with the material world, the body, likes and dislikes, and the senses.
the power of individuation, this world could not exist. The so-called “Divine
Ego” is the pure ego, free of identification with thoughts, emotions, and the
world of matter and senses.
But while the ego has great power it can obviously greatly
become steeped in delusion. For its re-awakening, another outside influence is
needed. The power of God using the human channel of the guru can resurrect the
soul’s memory of its true nature. The soul, in attunement with the guru, can
then direct the ego in right action and right attitude until the ego at last
offers itself in final surrender into the Infinite at which point the ego can
be said to dissolve or to expand into Bliss.
At the moment of final surrender, the ego must accept the possibility of its extinguishment but this is its final test. It must face the abyss of nothingness and surrender to it before it can enter into "the kingdom of heavenly bliss." I call this moment the "dark night of the ego."
May you slay the Og(r)e of Ego that the Soul may reign on the Throne of God's Bliss, our true home! Swami Hrimananda
Paramhansa Yogananda once stated that “I remembered my incarnation as a diamond!”
What do you do with THAT? Does every grain of dirt or rock possess a soul? If our souls are “as old as God” how do we get to the human level? Did we start at some exalted level and then became dumber, rock-like, as it were?
These are, admittedly, seriously Unimportant questions. Fitting for a lazy, summer afternoon when all of the world’s problems have finally been solved while sitting on the deck enjoying the view.
Here are some things as I believe I have learned them in the context of Vedanta and the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda:
God created all things.
God created all things by becoming them and planted within them the seed of His own intention to create. And why? It is the nature of Bliss to share.
God is beyond His own creation and remains untouched by it. God is Satchidanandam: ever-existing (immortal), ever-conscious (omniscient), and ever-new bliss (omnipresent).
God’s nature is triune: FIRST: There is the “Father” Spirit who is the source of creation and yet beyond and untouched by His creation. SECOND: There is the Mother of creation, or Holy Ghost, the initial and primordial vibration of God out of which all creation is made manifest, sustained, and withdrawn. This is the “Word” or “Comforter” in whom (by deep experiential attunement) “all things are known.” As all things in creation are vibrating, so the Aum Vibration (the Divine Mother) is the underlying reality, undifferentiated, of all things and thus described as a “virgin,” meaning untouched by the specific qualities (good, bad, indifferent) subsequently manifested by each item in creation. THIRD: There is the “only begotten son of God” which is the vibrationless reflection of the Father-Spirit which resides as the indwelling divine intelligence at the still, unmoving heart of every atom of creation. By planting His “seed” (or “His vibrationless bliss & His intention to create) in the womb of the (vibrating) Mother of creation, God ensures creation’s perpetuation.
The outflowing pulsation of the Holy Ghost (the Aum vibration) into creation steadily picks up “speed and substance” as it moves through the levels of creation. It begins to acquire a sense of its separateness, enjoys that I-ness, and begins to actively pursue perpetuating itself and the creation as a separate force, being, and entity from God. It is called maya, or the satanic force. It seeks others of like mind to further draw away from God into its own orbit of increasing darkness, no longer comprehending the light which gave it initial birth.
This outflowing force is countered by the soothing sound of the in-flowing power of Aum to draw all beings back to its Source in Bliss.
We are made in the image of God. We must, therefore, possess a triune nature as well.
There are three levels of creation: FIRST is thought (causal-intentional-idea-blissful); SECOND is energy (feeling-finer electrical and atomic forces-light-astral-subtle and prototypical life force and subtle forms), and THIRD is matter (objectified creation).
The soul appears on the casual level; the ego appears on the astral level; the human body appears on the physical level as a necessary extension of the ego’s desires and attachments.
Paramhansa Yogananda described the ego as the “soul identified with the body.” This identification is temporary. The ego is a “bundle of self-definitions” and a bundle of countless impressions (vasanas), actions (karma producing vrittis), and samskaras (tendencies). Implicit in Yogananda’s definition is that ego possesses at least a modicum of awareness of itself as distinct from other selves: hence, a key attribute of ego is self-awareness.
Animals, nations, races, etc., have a mass karma which has its roots in their identification with their species and behavior and qualities of its nature.
Does dirt have a soul? If all things ARE God in manifestation then all things exist in the three-fold creation of casual, astral and physical. Thus all objects partake in the essence of God and thus can be said to have a soul at least in the sense of possessing at its heart the blissful intelligence and intention of God (beyond creation). It is that seed of intelligence that permits each object to manifest and sustain itself AS itself, so that dirt look like dirt, and chickens behave as chickens.
But: and there’s always a butt in the crowd, where’s the ego in dirt? The ego in dirt lacks self-awareness, so for all practical purposes you can say there’s no ego there. While certainly the divine causal consciousness of dirt has manifested the outer form of dirt, self-awareness is NOT manifested, though it is, by necessity and definition, latent. To quote an ancient sloka: “God sleeps in the rocks.” Still, dirt IS dirt and retains all of dirt’s manifold and wonderful attributes (which I will not bother to name). The existence of dirt suggests a rudimentary intelligence but there is no evidence an ego.
On the fungible level of dirt, minerals, gasses and the like, the innate God consciousness at their heart may be a kind of soul-force but they exhibit no sign of separate, self-awareness beyond the rudimentary intelligence that guides such forms of matter to behave in ways appropriate to their form and function.
Soul-force at this basic level can presumably merge and divide endlessly without distinction, gain or loss. All creation is, in effect, an infinite variety of divine sparks whose uniqueness relates to the form assumed.
We love nature and most animals because, inter alia, they are relatively ego-less. The ego arises with the perception of separateness which has latent within it the implicit potential for self-awareness. Thus a worm wriggles away if pricked with a pin just as simple cells and lower life forms attempt to avoid being eaten. The latency of self-awareness can evolve as the forms themselves contain an ever greater potential to express it. Some animals (dogs, horses, etc.) are more intelligent, or, put more correctly, more self-aware than others (think, e.g., chickens).
Yogananda claimed that the “missing link” would never be found because the appearance of the human form was not a mere accident or result of a mechanical or mindless evolutionary biology prompted by the impulse to survive and procreate. Instead, the human form, he insisted, resulted from an act of divine intervention. (I posit that his statement might have been a way to affirm that behind evolution is a superconscious, or divine, intention whose purpose was and is to evolve a form capable of achieving cosmic consciousness. But, so far as I am aware, he never explained this.)
To God, who is Infinite, time has little meaning. It might take “forever” to evolve the human body to be capable of perceiving God directly through intuition (in cosmic consciousness) but “what is time to Him?”
In the great drama of life from the God’s-I point of view, the purpose of the “drama of life is the fact that it is but a drama.” The creation exists as a great riddle the solution to which is to unmask the illusion of separateness and reveal the substance of creation as Ekam Sat: God alone exists.
As a dog becomes identified to a human and to human voices, surroundings, comforts and behavior, it is not difficult to imagine that as the dog becomes increasingly self-aware and human it will attract a human body in its next life.
Thus the ego can be seen as an emerging self-awareness that identifies increasingly with its outer form and with protecting, defending and enjoying that form. Lower life forms suffer less or perhaps not at all when killed, chopped, destroyed (by nature, other animals or by humans) because they have relatively less egoic self-awareness.
Ironically, therefore, it could be said that dirt has a “greater soul” than most people because no apparent ego! But of course, having solved all the world’s problems, we might still not get this quite right, either.
I think the obvious is obvious: dirt doesn’t really have an ego (at least so far as WE are concerned). Nor does dirt seem to have the potential to realize its essential nature as a soul. It would appear that in the ordinary course of the soul’s awakening there is a long period of many incarnations in human form wherein the ego appears, plays, and, in time, decides to play no more and, instead, chooses to seek ego transcendence (freedom in the Infinite bliss of the soul).
What a story: the greatest story ever told and it’s not a dirty story, either!
Joy to you!
Next installment might be for your summer enjoyment: “If one needs a guru to become enlightened, how did the first guru get enlightenment.” [Submissions will be judged on brevity not accuracy.]
How much choice do we have in life? How conscious are we when we act? Let's start with the simple fact that despite good intentions, we make mistakes; we have accidents; we cause suffering, intentionally or unintentionally, whether to ourselves or others. People hurt us; things hurt us; we don't know why or what, if anything, we might have done to deserve it. "Stuff happens," in other words. There's a lot about our world and our lives that is much, much, much bigger than we. Long before we commit a consciously and an intentionally selfish or hurtful act, there are lots of other, less conscious and less intentional acts, that cause suffering. Read any classic novel or myth or modern drama and we see life is filled with strange twists and turns of so-called fate. This world, we must conclude, is not of our own doing. Whoever we are and wherever we have come from or go to, the world around us imposes and impinges upon us in ways that we must simply deal with. Then there are the actions we take and initiate into the little tiny world of our lives that, to some degree, imposes and impinges upon others, or, helps and serves others or improves our own lives. But consider how little is our impact on the world around us and, by contrast, how big the impact the world and the circumstances into which we find ourselves has upon us! It seems a bit out of proportion. True there are giants of will power and dominion and influence who create for themselves an entire world view and reality. Yet the more self-centered are these "giants" the more their influence is soon washed away by time and opposing forces. Think of all the politicians, actors, artists that have come and gone. Few, only a few, withstand the eroding effects of time. Those whose impact is lasting are those whose imprint was far bigger than self-interest. Like the narrow bandwidth of atmosphere that surrounds our tiny planet whirling through space, we operate in a very narrow bandwidth of freedom of choice. Most of what we do, say, like or dislike we cannot really account for logically unless it's universal like fearing death or illness or criticism or liking praise, pleasure or money. Why do you like red sports cars, or I, pistachio ice cream? Who can say? And yet.....and yet......without human commitment to the precept that we can change our life for the better and that we are accountable for our actions, life would become unbearable. Within this narrow bandwidth of freedom, therefore, is our life, small as it may be and separate as we may view it to be from that great big, sometimes threatening world, around us. We are confronted by the conditions in which we live, including our bodies, their age, gender, health and abilities, and we must face the conditions we ourselves have created. Complex stuff, eh and, in the the big picture, we must admit that our choices in life have been very narrow. And yet, how impactful upon our lives are those choices: who we marry; what career choices we make or accept; what addictions we fall into; what habits, good or bad. A narrow but potent bandwidth. Does not happiness, itself, exist inside a narrow bandwidth of attitude where the cup is either half empty or half full? Consciousness itself exists in a very narrow bandwidth of self-awareness. How close to existence of non-existence do we live? My friend who was "randomly" struck by a car that jumped the curb as he was walking along the sidewalk? How many cars whiz past us......the margin of life is indeed narrow. More than one saint has stated that the only freedom we possess is whether to turn toward God or away from God. All else is more or less the function of our past actions (aka karma). Ananda Moi Ma, the now famous woman saint of 20th century India, described our free will as the equivalent of being on a speeding train and having the choice to walk up or back inside the passenger cars while yet remaining on the speeding train. But what does it mean to turn TOWARD or AWAY from God? "God" is a pretty BIG idea if you consider "God" deeply and if you can get past the baggage that the "poor fellow" has to carry. Instead, let's start with something more useful. Let say that our choice is whether to respond positively, or to respond negatively, to life's circumstances. Ok, then, what does "positive" mean? Or, "negative?" What does it mean to respond "positively" to the fact that you are born into a wealthy family? Or with excellent health? Talent? Beauty? "Positively" means expansively....unselfishly......with non-attachment....with a desire to help others....... Let's say you are indeed born into a wealthy home, or at least one with comfort and advantages and therefore choices like education, hobbies, health, security, and also into a loving family. Do you recall the phrase (seemingly out of date), noblesse oblige? It recalls the implicit obligation that those of privilege bear to help others. (Yes, that's not really so old fashioned is it?) To see your life as a privilege and an opportunity to do something meaningful would be a good example of a positive response. A negative one would be the all too familiar one of feeling entitlement and becoming lazy, mean, or selfish as a result of your otherwise favorable birth. Thus "toward" God can begin with the concept of expanding one's awareness to include the needs of others. Call this, therefore, an expansive response. A selfish response would be contractive, meaning ego-centric, selfish, or self-absorbed. Faced with disease or illness, a positive response would be to be calm; to have faith in the ultimate goodness and value of the inherent lessons of one's challenges; to think even first of others, than of yourself; to affirm your love for God. [It should be pointed out also, as I have in other articles, that acting or responding positively is not sufficient for those seeking eternal freedom in God. The latter is a far bigger subject and is one derived from faith and intuition (or, more commonly, starts at least from belief). "Virtue may be its own reward" but in the teachings of "Sanaatan Dharma" good karma that derives from the sense of personal doership (ego) is insufficient to win freedom for the soul. For that, "yagya," or personal self-offering with devotion to God (inter alia) is necessary.] The line between passive acceptance and a dynamic outpouring of energy to confront challenging circumstances may seem obvious but it's ultimately a matter of expansive or contractive. Acceptance can be expansive if it's calm, joyful and even-minded, and, willing to do what is needed; it is contractive if submissive and fatalistic. Dynamic energy can be contractive if ego-active and ego-protective but expansive if joyful, enthusiastic, creative and without rancor or pride. Our real choice is remain "in the Self," untouched by outer circumstances. This, more correctly, defines a saint but it is a goal brought steadily into manifestation by the practice of meditation, the company of others of like mind, and the spiritual power of grace born of our attunement with a true "son of God." "The only way out is IN." This is our real choice, for "tat twam asi," -- "Thou art THAT (Spirit)." Swami Hrimananda
The war between religion and science has been a long one and bitter one. I suppose it started with the Renaissance and man's growing interest in the natural world and in himself.
Science and its offspring and sidekick, materialism, have brought undeniable prosperity, health, security and comfort to billions. While the skirmishing continues, for the most part there is a no man's land, a kind of DMZ (De-militarized zone) between faith and science. "Never the twain shall meet" to quote Rudyard Kipling.
Scientists who have faith simply say the one has nothing to do with the other. Following Einstein's failure to put the universe neatly together in a box, they figure, well, if Einstein couldn't make sense of the natural world why should we even try to imagine there's any connection with God? Even India's ancient scriptures, those known generally as Shankhya philosophy, declare "Iswara ashidhha," God cannot be proved (to the satisfaction of the intellect or the senses, that is).
But our worship of the gods of unlimited material progress and ever-better technology has not brought the world peace nor to our hearts, harmony. Neither, for that matter, has the worship and praise of a distant and aloof God for all of our credos and rituals done much more. Worse, sectarian competition and rivalry are more like the battles between cable networks.
Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," was born in 1893. It was a time and an era when New Thought in America was born. By the time he arrived in 1920 in America to make his home here, he had declared his life's work to be based on a simple observation of what all humans possess and share: the desire to avoid pain and find happiness! And, he had a solution to offer.
No coincidence that he came to the first country in human history to be founded on the principle that its citizens should have the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Yogananda came to America to cash in the promissory note of our Founding Fathers!
Never mind that the citizens of our young nation assumed that happiness was primarily defined by materialism and self-interest. Yogananda came to help us understand something deeper and more satisfying than owning a Prius or having a second home or having an important sounding title.
By uniting the ancient Vedic teaching, endorsed down through the ages by saints and sages East and West, that we are made in the image of God with the teaching that "the kingdom of heaven is within you," Yogananda helped usher in a new dispensation of understanding.
It is happiness that bridges the otherwise impenetrable gap between God and human life. It is meditation that provides the tool to discover that happiness within and that that happiness IS God, the joy of God; the joy of our own soul's nature. Science can delight in the fact that happiness, unlike God, can be studied, analyzed, and measured!
Science proved its point and its worth. Religion, based solely upon belief and enforced by authority and expressed only through ritual, is steadily losing ground. During much of the 20th century that lost ground was still born and sterile; in its place materialism offered only emptiness; meaninglessness; and naked self-interest. The brutality of two world wars and many lesser ones only proved its "worth."
Now, however, the message of hope for a better world is growing. The search for happiness unites us. The wealth of happiness that we seek is an "inside job." Citizens of prosperous and relatively secure nations like America have demonstrated that material success cannot bring happiness. Each and every one of us, if we make the effort, can prove that happiness is within us. We need no intercession or outside authority.
Happiness, or what I will now term, joy, is the new religion. It is the spirituality that is not religious. Ananda's motto is "Joy is within you." This might as well be everyone's motto who seeks it within, especially those millions (and growing daily) who seek it through the science of religion: meditation.
Yogananda's very first book was called: "The Science of Religion." Meditation is for everyone. Even scientists and atheists want happiness, don't they?
And if there's more to it than this simple article addresses, well, that's less important than the point I seek to share. Never mind that just because happiness is an inside job that doesn't mean it's a solo flight. Nor that we don't need guidance and inspiration for the journey.
As our complex bodies work their wonderful magic without our conscious consent, so too our inner peace and happiness are already there, within us, and ultimately they can be and must be our guides. We need not be concerned about where the journey takes us and what form it will assume. We need only take one step at a time. See you there!
Yes, it's true: studies show that belief in reincarnation is making a comeback. Did you know that Matt Damon believes that he'll be "bourne" again?
Anyway: here we go again. I suppose anyone reading this would have seen the movie, now rather aged, "Groundhog Day." Starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell in a romantic comedy, Groundhog Day features a story in which the protagonist must repeat one day in his life until he "gets it right." It's a comedic study on reincarnation that never mentions reincarnation. It's a delightful, if somewhat silly, movie.
It surprises me, on the one hand, that people scoff at the idea of reincarnation. Yet, on the other hand, why wouldn't they: almost no one can seriously recall even one past life. (Those who do are usually assumed to be a little "light-headed.")
Thing is: can you remember all the incidents and facts of your present life that you DON'T remember? Duh, of course not. Fact is we don't remember 99.9999% of our current life. Our early childhood probably consists of a few fleeting images. As for the rest of our years, we could only reconstruct them in soft chewy bites by referencing jobs we've held, births, deaths, divorces and on and on. It's shocking how quickly we forget the facts. What stays with us, however, is the sense of success, or failure, happiness, grief and the many small but mounting repetitions of attitudes, skills, words, and habits.
I joke with students in my classes that anyone who is a parent must surely believe in reincarnation. Watch your infant grow and pay close attention: from whence comes that fully-armed nuclear bomb of tendencies?
While I admit that most average people on the planet don't waste time speculating on the origins of the universe, the existence of God, the source of evil, and the wide disparity of wealth, health, success, failure, suffering, happiness and longevity. But some do: most likely you and I, right?
A thoughtful person, putting aside for the sake of and the joy of contemplation, the nagging need for proof, would no doubt question the "why's" of life. The answer to those facts of disparity cannot be accounted for by a person's genes. Science admits that genes only offer a sense of potential, not a blueprint of predestination. Wherefore, therefore, this disparity; the shocking injustice of birth and circumstance?
If God is the cause, well, "the hell with him!" Could we be the cause? But how? Where's the beef? (the proof, in other words).
There are many things in life -- important things -- whose cause and origins remain a mystery to us. Science has revealed a great many things about the material world, large and small, but seems impotent to reveal the things of life that matter the most to us: health, love, birth, death and so on.
I'm reading a book right now: it's called "Why Does the World Exist?" (by Jim Holt) When I "googled" this as a question I got 118,000,000 "hits." The efforts by scientists and philosophers to answer this question seem ludicrous to me (as a Vedantin), but it's obvious the question of our existence is far from ludicrous to the deepest thinkers of humanity down through the ages. Like most of humanity who seeks happiness through the fleeting pleasures of the senses or the ego-affirming victories of wealth, status, or power, it may well be that philosophers and scientists are asking the wrong question and/or looking for the answer in the wrong places. Fortunately for you, I won't attempt to weigh in on this subject.
But what I want to suggest is that, in general, a thoughtful person ought to be, at very least, agnostic: which is to say, willing to say, "I don't know, but I am open to the truth, whatever it is and whatever its source." The truth and source could be fundamentalist, orthodox, or entirely nonconformist. What I have observed in the heated dialogues among scientists, religionists and philosophers is, well, just that: heated dialogue. That alone tells me that some are not being objective while others are being dogmatic.
In Chapter 35 of the now famous book, "Autobiography of a Yogi," in the beginning paragraphs of Chapter 35, The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya, you will find a succinct but extraordinary proof that Jesus, in the New Testament, acknowledges the teaching of reincarnation and you will discover a cogent and persuasive revelation of the name of Jesus' guru. Visit http://www.ananda.org/autobiography/#chap35
Fact is, however, we DON'T remember past incarnations. Fact is: we cannot know the future. Fact is: we only have the present to live. Not for the present, but in the present. Through mindfulness of our attitudes and actions, and especially by the power of daily meditation, we can know the consequences (though not the details) of our past actions ("karma") and we can learn how to improve ourselves thereby. That's all that matters.
It has been said, no doubt well and truly, that if we COULD remember past lives we would be horribly burdened. People tend to dwell on their mistakes and few claim their victories. Our lack of memory gives to us a fresh start with each life. Yogananda was once presented an infant to hold. He said he almost dropped the kid because he "saw" the consciousness of a murderer residing in that sweet, little body!
It is here and now that we exist. "Now" is the alpha and omega of our conscious actions. Past and future lay hidden behind a veil. The ability to know our past lives arises, we are told by Patanjali, author of the "Yoga Sutras," to the degree we become unidentified with our present life (body and personality). Only in the expanded and free consciousness of nonattachment can we bear the burden of the past and with that power we can free ourselves from its chains and our identification with it.
While the doctrine of reincarnation and its corollary, the law of karma, can help comfort us and help us accept the disparities of life's manifold destinies, it remains for us but speculative philosophy, albeit the best there is on the market of human understanding. There are those, however, who can see, or even catch glimpses, of the subtle threads of karma which intrude upon the present. For us, too, this will come if we make the right effort now to expand our consciousness from its identification with the little self, its tiny and temporary flesh-cage, and its strutting ego upon the brief stage of life.
Look, perhaps, instead at the patterns of life: yours, and others. You see how we repeat and repeat our mistakes, our successes, our habits and thoughts. One generation abuses the next, and the next abuses the next. Sooner or later someone down the line rebels and breaks the chain of karma through heroic struggle and, I might add, grace from a higher Power. We see repetition also in nature and all around. Repetition also fosters change, growth and evolution. Reincarnation is more like a spiral staircase: going up, or, in some cases, going down.....all according to the law of cause and effect (karma).
Every day can be a new life. Every night our miseries are dismissed from our mind. Reincarnation is all around us. Take it where we find it and probe its secrets. The secret is, simply, to "wake-up." Patanjali says the path to enlightenment is the result of smriti, memory: recollectedness (mindfulness).
The repeating patterns of thought and behavior can be broken by watching, observing, feeling and intuiting their goodness or their harm. Forget the "Thou shalt not...." and substitute "Awareness precedes change." This should be our guide, looking neither left nor right but straight ahead. If what we find no longer serves our true happiness, then we can resolve, in concert with a higher Power (God, Christ, guru) to change it.
If you're still not sure, then rent "Groundhog Day." It will at least be entertaining. Yogananda said God made this world for our entertainment. We must not be caught up in the drama, for it is only a play; a dream of God. Remember: "the good guy gets the girl and the bad guy goes to jail!" So be a good guy and play your role with attention to the script and following the cues of the Director. Someday your movie career will end in an Oscar of bliss-applause presented to you by Divine Mother (the "girl")!
For those of who you are "among the faithful, in the choir," these reflections are not for you. On the other hand, if you sometimes despair or at least feel frustrated by the scoffers who surround you, maybe here you can pick up a few tantalizing tidbits to use during "Happy Hour" over tea or at the breakfast table, or water cooler.
Put aside religion, now, for a moment. Put aside devotion, rituals, gurus, saviors, the Blessed Virgin (yes, there's only one left), etc. etc.
I'm not a student of science. I flunked high school physics (well, ok, I passed, but only on the curve). I find it difficult to change the oil in my car. Tires, well, no problem, but there I stop.
I remember the day that I realized that even my parents were now recycling paper, glass, and aluminum. Wow, I thought. This is like the 100th monkey. It's happening.
Somewhere between Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein, science, based on the simple credo of observation, measurement and experimentation, has revealed to us a world far stranger than fiction. String theory? Hey, they admit there will never be a proof! Billions of galaxies? Can't go there....too big. How many light years to the nearest star? What do you mean my body is mostly space? In the now outdated book, "Holographic Universe," the author avers that scientists contend that in a cubic foot of empty space is more latent energy than in the calculated mass of the entire universe. Gee, did I get that wrong? Re-read it!
I am not the first, no, on reflection, I'm the last.....person to note that science looks more like a page out of the hoary Vedas than it does resemble test tubes in a laboratory.
Albert Einstein's revelation (and it is nothing less than) that matter is the same as and has as its underlying reality ENERGY has broken down all barriers of caste, creed, race, gender, animate, inanimate and everything else in between. While some 20th century commentators at first grasped one end of the conclusive spectrum in saying that this means that nothing is real; nothing matters; it's all relative to what you want; it's all random, only electrical impulses bouncing around your brain.......do what you like; do what feels good.......
More thoughtful common taters have come to say that, ok, if there's no "there, there," no center of the universe, no intrinsic purpose for life "out there," maybe the real purpose and meaning of it all is within each and every one of us! If the universe is giant electro-magnetic and energetically pulsating machine, who's running it? If energy underlies matter, maybe consciousness (intention, awareness, purpose) underlies energy!
Only a real nerd can learn about the universe, the human body, human history, and human psychology and the heights and the depths of human behavior and say, "It is meaningless." The abiding order, beauty, power, and intelligence exhibited in nature and in the most exalted aspirations and achievements of humankind can only suggest to an intelligent and sensitive consciousness the existence of an equal, and indeed, grander Intelligence and Beneficence.
Yes, there exists evil and suffering and darkness. If that were the sum total of reality, than, well, ok.....it surely is meaningless. That there are courageous souls who have stepped up the plate of self-sacrifice, valor, compassion and inner peace shows that goodness also exists. From where? Why?
Ecological science has opened the eyes not only of my parents but of billions of souls to the intrinsic interdependence of all life: human, animal, plant and all the way down to one-celled and lower. What an incredible vision and view of life!
Coming in sideways, as it were, rushing our shores like a defensive line in football, comes Vedanta saying that "Life is One and Eternal. Realize Oneness with it in your deathless Self within!" Connect, then, the dots of ancient wisdom with modern scientific revelation.
Science is a tool of divine consciousness. Though giving us materialism and weapons of mass destruction, it has also shown us our equality and interdependence before the altar of nature. Spirit and Nature, working hand in hand!
Paramhansa Yogananda predicted that east and west will meet and the best of each would lead the world towards a greater truth. It is happening. Haltingly, for sure. but inexorably, like a silent tsunami.
Say then at your tea party: "Hasn't science shown us that we are One? That we need to co-exist, to cooperate and then we can achieve more prosperity, health, security and happiness than if we compete and conquer? The sages of yore have whispered in our ear eternal truths cloaked in the rational language of our god: the scientific method and attitude. What is true must be true for all!
The Cosmic Drama: Part One (of Five) Jesus Christ – an oriental who changed the West
This is part one of a series of articles. It has its origins in a prior blog article entitled, "Who is Jesus Christ?" You may wish to read that first, though not absolutely necessary. This series attempts to describe the Trinity, or, how God can be omniscient, omnipresent, infinite, and immanent in creation at the same time. And, what significance this has for the reality we face as individuals. As the prior article on Jesus Christ noted, "Who Jesus is says a great deal about who we are." So, too, who God is addresses who we are. The teachings of Jesus were to force a reevaluation of the fundamental teachings of Judaism. St. Paul is generally credited with the intellectual horsepower that set the stage for these changes. What was to become the teaching of the Trinity – the triune nature of God – arose in Christianity primarily to help bring a broader understanding of the Jewish teaching of the oneness of God. In the Judaism there is only one God but the separation of God from man is absolute. His messengers might be angels or prophets but God’s appearance on earth was rare and never in human form. God “appeared” to Moses as a burning bush that did not consume the bush and out of which came a voice. In some form that is unknown, God gave to Moses upon Mt. Sinai the stone tablets upon which were written the Ten Commandments. But always God was “other” and all but inaccessible.
Jesus’ appearance on earth and his declaration that he was the “son of God” was naturally a shocking and blasphemous statement to the orthodox point of view. Moreover, as history and scholarship has repeatedly attested (and as the New Testament implies), the messiah was expected to be bring the Jews political freedom (from which would come the religious renaissance) in this world, a repetition of the role not unlike that of Moses who led the Israelites from bondage in Egypt to freedom in their new land and into a new covenant with God.
The assumption that God is wholly “other” and separate from creation is an easy and understandable one, for God’s presence in creation is well hidden, to say the least. The separateness of people, one from the other, plants and animals, night and day, male and female seems so obvious that why, too, wouldn’t God Himself be “other?” In Genesis, for example, we read that God simply says, effectively, “make it so” and it was. No one seems to have had much curiosity about exactly how He did it. A carpenter who makes a chair remains separate and apart from the chair. Isn’t that obvious? Why question it?
Obvious? Or, maybe not so obvious? Unlike the carpenter, God had place to go, no trees or hardware stores, from which to gather the materials of creation. Only now, in our age, with quantum physicists exploring the very nature of the creation of matter on its most element levels has the question (and the potential answer) been raised anew and piqued the interest of intelligent and thoughtful men and women everywhere. It is perhaps our newly acquired scientific consciousness that has provoked deeper inquiries into God’s methodology. Thus far, however, scientists seem to be stumped. They are standing before an abyss of emptiness devoid of discernible matter but latent with tremendous energy, out of which pops minute particles at seemingly random intervals only to vanish as quickly as they came. Like a scene out of the Trilogy, they stand as if before a door in a mountain unable to decipher the code that unlocks that door and leads to the inner sanctum of creation’s deepest mysteries.
A table and chairs may not reveal much about its maker but their very existence reveals the fact of a maker. A work of art, a new invention, a child conceived, and a new computer chip all appear from seemingly nowhere (the human mind and heart) but with great potential consequences, just as quarks and vibrating strings exist at the very edge of pure energy and no-thing-ness, out of which all things have come. While scientists tell us that energy is the underlying substrata of all matter, they have not nor probably ever will, discover the source and motive that underlies energy itself.
By contrast, rishis and masters, down through the ages, have suffered from no such limitation, for they have not merely tried to find the source of the atom but have become the atom using a kind of reverse engineering from the process by which God created the atom to begin with. The masters achieved Self-realization and oneness with the overarching Consciousness out of which all things in creation are born, live, and to which they are withdrawn. The teachings of metaphysicians aver that the creation is a manifestation of God’s consciousness “becoming” His creation. When the Jews intone daily their great mantra (“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE!”) little do they know that the concept “God is One” means God is one with the entire cosmos as well and at the same time Being other, separate and apart from it. Oneness surely includes infinity and infinity is presumably inclusive of everything and therefore big enough to be “both-and” so that God can be both separate from creation and at the same time the very essence and sustainer of creation itself. But how? This question we will pursue in the series of four more articles to come. But it provokes more questions that need addressing, also, such as:
If God became the creation, does this mean we are but puppets and our so-called “free-will” is an illusion? What, if any, is our responsibility for our actions? From whence comes suffering and evil? Is God good, evil, indifferent or something else? Stay tuned…….for the next four articles.
For a tree
to grow strong and bear good fruit, it needs sunlight, water, and good soil. No
success is ever achieved in a vacuum. While success can mean achieving any goal
one has chosen, true success is that which brings lasting satisfaction of body,
mind, and soul. To achieve name and fame or wealth at the expense of others by
greed, lies, or exploitation is a one-sided and a fragile kind of success. It
is not true success and whatever satisfaction it may bring is hollow.
requires a sensitive balance and dance between self-will and harmonious
cooperation with other people, environment and circumstances. The sapling tree
can be killed by too much water or not enough water; too intense of sunlight or
insufficient sunlight. Scientists opine that the chemical and other
combinations of ingredients that makes planet Earth habitable for humans is
both complex and very delicate. We’ve yet to find another planet such as ours.
comes by creating friendships. When Paramhansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi) came to America
in 1920, he made friends everywhere he went because he was friendly. He
addressed people’s needs, from cooking a meal for them to giving them wisdom
and practical teachings. He never used people but saw others equally as God
manifesting in specific forms. He thus served God in others and did not think
requires concentration upon the goal and the means to the goal, sometimes to
the exclusion of all else but always by keeping one’s priorities clearly in
view. Meditation serves one superbly to open the floodgates to a flow of
intuition onto a field of calm sensitive awareness guiding that rive-like flow,
laser-like, in the direction of one’s goal.
I have lived
in an Ananda Community for over thirty-five years and have seen the power that
comes from the combination of high ideals, practicality, and “the many hands
that can a miracle.” Unless you happen to be an Albert Einstein, most of us
would do well to understand that success comes when we work with and through
and for others. At your workplace, be helpful. Think of the needs of your
co-workers, your supervisor, and the legitimate goals of the company or
organization. Do your best with excellence, creativity, and enthusiasm.
forest fire destroyed most of the first Ananda Community (Ananda Village, near
Nevada City, CA), we banded together (eschewing the opportunity to sue the
local county — a faulty spark arrestor on a county vehicle caused the fire) to
find new ways to raise the money we needed to rebuild. Yes, some donations came
in but most of it came through old fashioned hard work. But we were relatively
inexperienced and without financial resources. We studied business methods,
financing, and marketing, and we encouraged one another and our businesses to
tithe and to use affirmations and prayers. We started a health food store, a
café, a print shop, a gift shop and a clothing store. Each of the these
enterprises struggled greatly but bit by bit they came up and our member-employees
found viable, if simple, means of support.
In time, the
Community rose from the ashes and today when one visits you see a beautiful
Village nestled in the hills, forests, and meadows of the Sierra Mountains. Homes
of many types, shapes and sizes house families, monks, and singles in a
charming and harmonious life of creativity, service, and devotion. A retreat
center, office complex, grocery store, farm, dairy and community center serve
the needs of both residents and neighbors alike.
East West Bookshop in Seattle, too, is a testimony to the efforts of many
individuals serving high ideals and attracting the grace to be successful.
While the independent bookstore industry has been decimated this store has
survived and flourished. It is the largest and most successful bookstore of its
kind in Washington State. It is a resource center for new thought truth seekers
and offers classes, books, gifts and, perhaps most of all, an uplifted
environment staffed with devotees who see customers as their friends.
Here in the
Seattle area we are engaged in purchasing a rural area farm. Some twenty
individuals have pooled their resources. Small scale, organic farming is a
tricky and risky business if seen from the standpoint of profits. But with the
many hands and resources of a committed group of people which includes the
talent and skills of a few who can guide the fledgling farm, we can create a
success because we understand success is sharing and serving. In our case we
are committed to principles and practices of sustainability and stewardship,
serving God through our fellow man and in harmony with the earth and all
So it takes the
initiative, courage and faith of individuals combined with the cooperation and support
of others of like mind — God helping God — to achieve true success. This is an
unbeatable combination, not only to achieve success but to achieve the success
of weathering and resurrecting from in the inevitable setbacks, failures, and
disasters which life can dish out.
spiritually, is to offer the self to the Self of all. “I will reason, I will
will, I will act, but guide Thou my reason, will and activity to the right step
in all that I do.”
In the life
of Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda, now age 86, but still outpacing his
staff and members in the worldwide network of Ananda Communities in the
unceasing flow of writings, lectures, radio and TV shows, guidance, and
inspiration, we see in real life the power of grace that comes from
discipleship to life and to truth. “What’s trying to happen here” is the
question he has taught us to ask in all things. Yet for all of his creativity,
intelligence and talent, it is now primarily the outpouring of divine Bliss
that one experiences in his presence. For a lifetime of living for God has
brought to him the peace and lasting fulfillment that the soul was created to
the effort to view oneself as part of a greater reality and to cooperate with
grace is an effort of will. As I have seen in recent Facebook postings, “Life
begins outside your comfort zone!” But in time and as seen in Swami Kriyananda,
that dance of Spirit and Nature becomes a powerful flow of Light and Joy.
When I first
came to live at Ananda Village (just after the 1976 forest fire), it was
definitely outside my comfort zone. But just having returned from over a year
of travel in Europe, near East and India, I understood the value of stepping
outside that zone to find the truth that “could make me free.” I never
hesitated though I could not then know where it would lead.
In a more
cosmic or Vedantic sense, rishis (both ancient and modern, like Paramhansa
Yogananda) have taught that this universe is a manifestation of God. God is
dreaming this material world and we, as sparks of His intelligence and joy, are
co-creators. Yogananda used the analogy of the movies. You sit in the theatre
and become engrossed in the movie, laughing and crying. You forget that the
whole movie is a projection of light from the booth behind you (unseen). A beam
of white light, merely, projecting the true-to- life sound and sight pictures
of the movie. We need only turn our heads to the back (turn within, that is),
and follow the beam of light to its source in Oneness if we would awaken from
the movie-dream of life.
day, puttering in the kitchen at home, I suddenly had this intense feeling-experience
of that flow of cosmic energy oscillating and vibrating all the objects around
and I felt on the precipice of having it all disappear, just as would happen if
the electricity in the movie theatre were suddenly to go out. It was both
unnerving and thrilling at the same time. It was also brief!
The more we
see ourselves as energy, and behind that energy, the Bliss of God oscillating
all the forms and actions of life, the less we need to be always thinking about
ourselves and the more we enter that flow that brings to us the true happiness
(Bliss) that we seek. This, ultimately, is success and the law of success.
I read once in National Geographic how researchers were analyzing human love and attraction and attempting to show that this, too, was but an outgrowth of our genetically programmed impulse for survival and continuation of the species.
I've never understood all the fuss about the law of survival. It seems so obvious (to anyone perhaps but a scientist) it should never have received tha attention it has garnered.
I suppose some of these "Darwinists" also interpret great works of art and acts of personal self-sacrifice in terms of the law of survival, as well. But the attempts reek of the sterile laboratory of dry, myopic reasoning.
Consider that long before Darwin, Adam Smith published the (then) shocking assertion that self-interest was the motivation behind all human action. Ah, yes,yet another fact of human nature revealed to us that is otherwise so obvious as to never having merited particular attention by people with common sense and a higher vision of life.
And then there's the "pursuit of happiness" enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. Who's to argue with these great "revelations?"
Now all told, none of this is either shocking or blasphemous in its own right. The issue I take with it all is twofold: 1) It's simply and truly inadequate to explain anything meaningful to human existence, and 2) Scientists and nonscientists alike have made bold attempts to make a philosophy of life (and in some cases a religion) out of such pedestrian observations. The modern age seems to have gloried in the most banal realities of human existence.
Returning, then, to Darwin and his army of devotees, we can say that competition and survival have been elevated to the heights of the greatest virtue in social theories, pyschology, politics, and the arts. Both communism and capitalism owe their stark, dark, and banal dogmas to the deification of the mundane realities of self-interest and material needs.
Again, who would argue with obvious fact of competitiveness (and its potential benefits when held in check). It's just that the 19th and 20th centuries which promoted this "philosophy" managed to slaughter hundreds of millions of people, wipe out entire species of animals and plants, and bring this earth rapidly towards potential self-destruction!
In other words, philosophy DOES matter. Social values DO MATTER. The Founding Fathers of America created checks and balances to hold at bay the self-interest that they wisely knew was the engine of human motivation. At the same time, they themselves were guided by and extolled for everyone high ideals of the social good, belief in God and recognition of divine love and virtues.
According to the teaching of duality, however, all things have their opposite. I have noticed that since the Sixties, the science of ecology is reawakening a steadily growing and enlightened self-interest that is the necessary counterweight to competition and materialism. Ecology contains an implicit philosophy of interdependence and places a high value upon mutually supportive diversity. At heart, these are, arguably, spiritual values and, in fact, only to some degree, scientific ones.
Of course, religion ought to offer such insights but science and religion have been at odds for centuries, with religion steadily losing ground and science gaining respect and becoming the religion of modern culture. Religious principles founded on a priori beliefs and sectarian dogmas have earned the disdain of intelligent and high-minded people all over the world.
So, if science is the modern religion then it must needs be science that will save us! And that's where the message of ecology seems to have played a role.
Still, science, whether pedestrian or elevated, cannot satisfy the deeper and eternal questions of humankind, nor can it satisfy the heart. For wisdom, too, Paramhansa Yogananda wrote in his famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," we have a hunger (not just for food and shelter).
This is where and why the life-affirming and all-encompassing ancient Vedanta philsophy of India has encircled the globe offering hope for a better world. Vedanta is incomplete with the knowledge, science, and art of how to attains its cosmic vision of the creation and the purpose of creation.
That art and science is the personal and nonsectarian practice of meditation and Self-realization. Science will never be enough to transform civilization. At every great turn of history, it is the saints and men and women of universal vision who guide humanity away from the rocks of self-destruction towards the shores of true survival.
P.S. If you'd like to learn more about this subject, please obtain a copy of Swami Kriyananda's (J. Donald Walters) insightful landmark book, "Out of the Labyrinth." It's sequel, equally inspiring and forward looking, is "Hope for a Better World."