Showing posts with label Yoga sutras. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yoga sutras. Show all posts

Monday, October 16, 2017

Ananda Yoga : Path to Awakening

Why is it many students who attend yoga classes strictly for exercise and health reasons discover that, over time, their attitudes have become more positive and past, not-so-healthy, habits have fallen away?

One of the great debates that swirl around the practice of yoga is whether it is a religious (or spiritual) practice or whether it is only a physical exercise. The experience of millions demonstrates a  resounding answer: "It depends!"

Yes, it all depends on a student's sensitivity and interest. Yoga (or, technically, yoga postures or its more official name, hatha yoga) can be just an exercise, or, it can be a practice that prepares one for meditation and inner, spiritual growth. 

But even as exercise, its benefits are more than physical. The point of this article is not to list its benefits but to point out its deeper purpose.

First, it is useful to point out the bias inherent in the evolution of human consciousness. Think of the medieval times; think further in time to the industrial age; think further in time to the relative crudity of science, medicine, the short life span of humans, and our poor dietary habits. Note how in each of these areas of human life, we have become more aware and sensitive. (True, not each and every person on the planet but, we could say, "on average!" And certainly in respect to you, the reader!)

The bias I am referring to is that we have come from a long period of time in which our ancestors were, by and large, relatively insensitive and unaware, and relatively ignorant, of how nature and the human body functions. This could be called a materialistic bias: a bias in favor of the outward form of things rather than their inner and energetic realities (be they chemical, biological, atomic, electrical or in terms of emotions, feelings and consciousness). 

Not surprisingly, then, the practice of hatha yoga, coming as it has, from India but also from centuries of relative obscurity, is wrapped in a physical orientation. Its popularity stems in part from its appeal to our physical bias which desires and values strength, health and vitality. 

Would it surprise us that a closer examination of the history of yoga reveals its link to a higher, more sensitive and spiritual, point of view? Of course not! India, no less than any other culture on the planet, has also come up through this materialistic evolution returning to a higher awareness. The difference however is simply this: India, and the knowledge of yoga, retained, even if dimly, the memory that there once existed a time (and throughout all time existed at least some individuals) when the practice of yoga was an extension of and an outward expression of a very sublime and lofty spiritual view of reality.

When the first English translations of such works as the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Vedas, and the Yoga Sutras came to the West, scholars, philosophers, religionists, poets and artists were deeply inspired by their breadth and depth. More than mere love of wisdom (philos-ophy), these were revelations of reality greater and more subtle than psychology or logic or philosophical speculation.

A series of spiritual teachers came, one by one, to the West. Among them we find Swami Vivekananda (1893) and Paramhansa Yogananda (1920). Paramhansa Yogananda (1893-1952) was a world teacher. His primary emphasis was on original yoga: which is, in its essence, a spiritual practice and as such, was focused primarily upon meditation, not yoga postures.

Yet, to his male disciples in his Los Angeles ashram, he taught yoga postures. He had his "boys" demonstrate the postures at public gatherings and he had articles printed on their use and benefits in his magazines that were distributed to members and to the public during his lifetime.

But there are other teachers from India better known for their work in hatha yoga. Notables such as K. Patthabi Jois or B.K.S. Iyengar. Paramhansa Yogananda must have known that had he put greater emphasis on hatha yoga his essential mission to teach kriya yoga (a meditation technique and a spiritual path) would have been obscured by the public's greater interest in the yoga postures.

So whereas Jois and Iyengar were also deeply spiritual, their dharma was to make hatha yoga primary. But in their work, the popularity of hatha subsumed their spiritual emphasis. 

In any event, Yogananda's successors (after his passing in 1952) appear to have dropped the whole thing like a hot potato. His most advanced disciple and his immediate successor, Rajarsi Janakananda (James J. Lynn) was in fact a yoga adept. But his guru, Yogananda, cautioned him from too much yoga practice. Rajarsi was already an enlightened soul and evidently, further yoga practice was an unnecessary distraction to him.

Yogananda taught his disciples that hatha yoga was optional for kriyabans (practitioners of kriya). He noted that it was easier for younger people to practice hatha. Besides, it makes sense that for those who practice meditation to achieve Self-realization, time spent meditating is more precious than time spent doing yoga postures. In part for this reason, Yogananda had discovered and created a system of 39 exercises now called Energization Exercises that take about ten to twelve minutes to complete. These are sufficient preparation for meditation and can take the place of an asana (yoga posture) practice that, to be complete, might require forty-five to seventy-five minutes of precious time in the busy life of the twenty-first century.

Hatha yoga particularly emphasizes physical exertion and effort, even when seen as a spiritual preparation. Its origins are, however, specifically that: a spiritual preparation. This does not deny their value as exercise. Nor does it deny that exercise alone can be one's motivation for practicing them. Yogananda taught his students and disciples to "Keep the body fit for Self-realization!" He was not only himself an adept at yoga, but he taught their many physical and mental benefits to his "boys."

When I came to age in yoga, during the 70's, yoga was often noted as being "integral." This was a recognition of their power to integrate body, mind and spirit. It seemed to me that as yoga postures became increasingly popular, the emphasis given to them was downgraded in favor of health, good looks, fashion and fad.

In the late 70’s as Swami Kriyananda first purchased parcels of land that were later to become Ananda Village, his earnings from teaching yoga postures paid the bills and mortgages, especially before residents of the fledgling community began to chip in. 

Swami Kriyananda taught classes in hatha yoga throughout northern California, principally Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. Back then, hatha was new and a hot item, and there weren’t the yoga studios on every corner that we have now. And he, being a disciple of the well known author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," (Paramhansa Yogananda), and being himself an excellent teacher, found that his classes were well attended. 

In those years, Swami Kriyananda combined his yoga classes with an optional addition of meditation classes. After the yoga class there would be a short snack break. Then the meditation and philosophy class would take place. It was during these early years of teaching yoga that he wrote his now classic text, ART AND SCIENCE OF RAJA YOGA.

To illustrate the deeper power of hatha practice, Swami Kriyananda liked to tell the story of how one of his yoga students in Sacramento confessed to him that at first she took the class because it would give her something to talk about at her bridge club! "Now," she said, "I realize that THIS IS REALLY SERIOUS STUFF!!!!! He simply smiled knowingly!

Just as hatha faded from visibility after Yogananda's passing, a similar miasma in regard to hatha yoga took place in Ananda's history. Swami Kriyananda may have helped begin Ananda’s work with his success in hatha yoga but he never intended it to dominate his life’s work of communities and the Master’s teachings. So after the fledgling Ananda Village community was up and running, he stepped away from Ananda Yoga, letting some of his students take the lead. The need to lead the community and get it established on firmer ground occupied his energy along with the need to train the community's residents in the core teachings of Yogananda, viz., kriya yoga. 

So hatha yoga once again became a kind of orphan. Though always taught at Ananda's retreat center (later many such centers and communities), hatha was never front and center in the way that kriya yoga was (and is).

And yet, the practice of hatha yoga continued and continues to awaken students' interest in meditation and in kriya yoga! 

Slowly and quietly through the 1980's, 1990's and into the new century, a few key Ananda members took the lead in developing what was to be called, "Ananda Yoga." While the term has since been copyrighted, the term is actually redundant! Ananda means "joy" and the state of yoga IS joy! But, well, why quibble as the general public doesn't know this and we needed a name for our style of yoga.

Paramhansa Yogananda never really explained his hatha system to anyone (that we know of). Nor have we ever seen any accounts of how and from whom he learned hatha yoga. He only lived 3.5 years after Swami Kriyananda’s arrival in 1948. One or two of the monks were, at first, better versed in hatha at the time but by the Master’s grace Swami Kriyananda quickly became the leading representative. 

Presumably Yogananda taught Kriyananda many aspects of the postures but if so Swamiji never distinctly explained that to us. Yet, Swami Kriyananda found that when his guru would ask him to assume a specific (and difficult) pose before guests, he could do so effortlessly, even though he was not practiced in the pose. 

A discerning yogi, reading Swami Kriyananda's books such as "Yoga Postures for Higher Awareness," and "Art and Science of Raja Yoga," discovers that Swamiji tuned in to many subtle aspects of both individual poses (pranayams, bandhas and mudras) AND into the system of hatha yoga. We simply don't really know the details!

Ananda Moyi Ma, a woman saint, however illiterate, and featured in Yogananda's life story (Autobiography of a Yogi), was known to assume yoga positions as a girl by virtue of energy (prana) in her body, without her conscious control. The yoga poses are said to have been formed in a much higher age (or higher state of consciousness) when certain highly advanced souls could, like the articulated sound of mantras (but instead using the human body), give physical shape to specific aspects of higher consciousness.

Thus we come at last in this article to my central point and thesis: hatha yoga, if practiced safely and with correct understanding, can stimulate states (attitudes) of consciousness because the body-mind-soul spectrum is a continuum (in either direction), and the human body, a hologram. Ananda Yoga is characterized by the use of specific and individual affirmations with each yoga pose. These affirmations are related to the consciousness from which the pose was created.

When, therefore, a yoga pose is practiced with the intention of attuning oneself to its characteristic consciousness (or attitude), the precision, the exactitude, and the perfection of the posture becomes less significant (though still valuable) because its inherent consciousness is latent and innate. Ananda Yoga can thus operate to awaken higher awareness in the normal range of body types and abilities for this very reason! It is truly for every-body!

Ananda Yoga classes remain focused on classic yoga postures. The affirmations are enjoyed by students for their obvious positiveness. Notwithstanding the gist of this article, our teachers don't preach. They practice! The awakening potential of hatha yoga is something that cannot be imposed upon another person. If it is to be awakened, it takes place individually, from within. If a student is primarily interested in health and well-being, then these benefits are there for him or her also.

Ananda Yoga is sometimes described as "spiritual yoga." This, too, however is redundant though not entirely unfair, given how hatha yoga is generally viewed and taught to the general public. We are essentially spiritual beings inhabiting a human form. Hatha Yoga can awaken us, individually, to that latent joy which is our true nature. Ananda Yoga is taught and practiced with this understanding at its core.

Joy and blessings to you!

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.”




Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Easter: We Shall Overcome!

Divine Mother in her form as Mother Nature blossoms forth each springtime to give us hope, to charm us with Her beauty, and to remind us that no winter is so dark that light, joy, and love can never return.

All spring festivals and spiritual holidays, from whatever tradition, celebrate Spring's renewal of life and light from the throes of death and darkness. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is perhaps the most dramatic story of renewal in human form. It has inspired and uplifted countless devotees down through two millennia. 

Our western, rational, and "prove it to me" culture may cast doubt upon the literalness of Jesus' life, crucifixion and bodily resurrection from death but no less than Paramhansa Yogananda (no orthodox Christian fundamentalist) insisted that it was real. In a the very same culture that speaks of geologic time, space travel, quantum physics, black holes, multiple universes, and billions of galaxies why would the New Testament account be so difficult to contemplate? 

Direct disciples gave their lives in witness to it. Great saints down through these past centuries testify to the living presence and reality of the very same Jesus who conquered death itself. In Jesus' name countless saints have healed others and even raised the dead! Do not modern scientists speak of ways by which the human body might be frozen and resurrected at a later date?

Jesus' resurrection, in any case, literal or otherwise, stands for the power of love to conquer hate; light over darkness; joy over sorrow; life over death. Do we not see that no matter how much pain we humans may inflict on one another, or how much we might suffer from acts of nature and external circumstances, life returns; the power to love rises to the occasion; and, in time, joy and laughter resound. 

In a profound and unique choral piece called "Life Mantra" by Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda), the words to the song include phrases such as "God is Life; God is Love; God is Joy; Life is God" and so on. This revelation, this perspective, this insight into God's presence in the world as Life itself brings the much-abused and much maligned "God" into our hearts, into everyday life. In the last sentence of Chapter 35 ("Autobiography of a Yogi," The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya) referring to the meditation technique of kriya yoga, Yogananda writes: "Through use of the Kriya key, persons who cannot bring themselves to believe in the divinity of any man will behold at last the full divinity of their own selves."

Paramhansa Yogananda declared that the second coming of Christ is the awakening of divinity in our own hearts and consciousness. (The "first coming" is the descent of divinity in human form: in the form of the guru, such as was Jesus Christ, Buddha, and many others. Their role is to re-awaken the "Christ" in human hearts.) 

The resurrection of this universal, omnipresent, omniscient and blissful Life, this "Christ" consciousness is the remembrance, or "smriti" (see Patanjali's Yoga Sutras) of it within ourselves. It flows and is transmitted by the guru to the disciple so that in time and with effort we too can say as Jesus, Krishna, Yogananda and others have said: "I and my Father are One." (John 10:30)

"To as many as received Him to them gave He power to become the sons of God." (John, 1:12)


The "good news" is declared also in the ancient scriptures of India as for example, "Tat twam asi" ("Thou art That") (Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7 of the Sama Veda); and also: aham brahmāsmi - "I am Brahman", or "I am Divine" (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 of the Yajur Veda)

It is a mistake that some believe that Jesus' resurrection teaches us that our physical bodies will rise from graves at some time in the future. Not only is such an idea absurd and morbid, but it misses the point. The real message of Jesus' resurrection is to demonstrate that spiritual consciousness can conquer even death itself; that love conquers hate ("Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Luke 23:34). To one identified with the eternal soul, death itself is but a transition from one form encasing our soul to another (a more fluid form: the astral body). 

In short, the human spirit, which is to say the divine power behind the human spirit, has the power to overcome all difficulties, hurts, and challenges. Having faith in God, faith in the innate goodness of Life, and faith in oneself can guide us through the most difficult times.

If you, like so many, are disillusioned by current events, think of the darkness during the difficult times of, say, World War II. These things, like winter, spring, summer and fall, ebb and flow. If we remain even-minded and cheerful, centered in the Self, nothing can touch us. Live in the "truth that can make us free," which is to say, we are not this short-lived body and this ever-changing personality. 

"And the Light shineth in darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not" (John 1:5) Behind trials and troubles the Light always shines. If we turn our sights toward the Light even to death we can say, "Where is thy sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55)

Let us then rejoice with the beauty of Spring reminding us of the eternal Beauty of the soul. Let me end quoting the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2:22-24:

(2:22) Just as a person removes a worn-out garment and dons a new one, so the soul living in a physical body (removes and) discards it when it becomes outworn, and replaces it with a new one.
      (2:23) Weapons cannot cut the soul; fire cannot burn it; water cannot drown it; wind cannot wither it away!

      (2:24) The soul is never touched; it is immutable, all-pervading, calm, unshakable; its existence is eternal.**

A blessed and happy Easter to all,

Swami Hrimananda

** "Essence of the Bhagavad Gita," Explained by Paramhansa Yogananda, as Remembered by Swami Kriyananda

Monday, January 9, 2017

Yoga Sutras, Dualism, Shankhya, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Mind over Brain!

Dear friends, this piece evolved on its own. The seed thought came to me in a picture or mental image. Strangely, I no longer recall the image but it conveyed the ego-mind dissolving beyond its boundaries into the Overarching Consciousness of God and Life. That’s as much as I can describe it, though it sounds clunky to write it this way. But it took a month or two to find the time and the mental courage to attempt to work with it. It doesn’t fit into politics, the world of Ananda, or Happy New Year, nor does it come “straight out” of Paramhansa Yogananda’s teachings. I continue to be drawn towards the boundaries of science and mind, wondering how to dissolve these boundaries. I don’t know why, but here are my reflections. I tried posting in five parts but blogpost is just not very smart. So, regrettably, it's all in one giant post. 


Key words: Yoga Sutras, Patanjali, meditation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Paramhansa Yogananda, "Autobiography of a Yogi", dualism, nondualism, near-death experience, Albert Einstein, Kali Yuga, Dwapara Yuga, Shankhya, Yoga, Vedanta, Swami Sri Yukteswar

Part 1 – Yoga Sutras: Miracles that Matter

The science of meditation is most famously codified in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Unfortunately, the “sutras” are frustratingly abstruse, hampered by poor translations and hammered by dry, intellectual commentaries. But this much one can say as succinctly and distinctly as the sutras themselves: they affirm the reality of transcendent states of consciousness that go beyond the ordinary human mind and, indeed, beyond dependency on the physical form all together.

“The proof of the pudding (the sutras, that is) is in the eating.” Their purpose is to point towards the mind beyond the brain. In their own context and history, they are not considered speculative philosophy. They purport to describe that which is true and has been experienced. They constitute enigmatic revelations of the highest states of consciousness. They are a time capsule both in relation to a higher age long past, and in relation to a higher state of being not known to ordinary human consciousness.

The sutras’ authorship is ascribed to a man called Patanjali. I believe that he created this time capsule because he knew its wisdom was about to vanish owing to general, human ignorance and secrecy. He intended to preserve it for a future age when more enlightened souls would appreciate and strive to achieve its promise and potential. 

Powers over nature (aka “miracles”) are described in book three of the sutras. The history of the lives of saints are filled with such stories. Testimony regarding these feats come from the lips of veracious men and women. Raising the dead; walking on water or on fire; bi-location; levitation; spontaneous healings; telepathy and other psychic powers; surviving long periods without breath, heart rate or recordable brain activity: these are powers described in the sutras and in the annals of the lives of the saints, east and west.

The now famous and world renowned spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramhansa Yogananda also relates miracles on every page. But its stories are from the 19th and 20th centuries! And during the twentieth century there are well documented accounts of such saintly souls as Therese Neumann (Bavaria, Germany, 1898-1962) or Padre Pio (Italy, 1887-1968), and others in India.

Science understandably sets such things aside, lacking as it does, both an explanation and the ability to recreate the phenomenon in a controlled environment. But another factor in the reluctance of scientists to investigate includes their own fear of being ostracized in their profession for being seen to stray outside accepted norms. 

In this, they are not unlike orthodox religionists! The accepted dogma of science is that consciousness is a mere byproduct of brain activity. According to their orthodoxy, every human action and ability must be explained away by reference to survival and procreative impulses.

For the sake of discussion, if we contemplate the possibility of “mind beyond brain,” how could consciousness which has its origins in the “blind” evolution of matter outstrip its very own parameters such as the five senses and even the brain itself? Is it like the worm which sheds its cocoon and flies off, now a butterfly? But that metamorphosis is at least a material one. Its cause and effect process observable and understandable.

The mind (transcendent of the body and brain) has no form; no matter; no material connections. What about the increasing documentation surrounding near-death experiences when a human body is officially declared dead but the person revives and describes hearing and seeing when his body could not have either heard or seen (according to medical science)?

While we cannot expect that science will ever bridge this gap with an explanation that satisfies its own legitimate standards, we, of the human race at large, are under no such burden. It seems more likely that behind the great drama of cosmic nature with its vast stretches of time and space, both incomprehensibly large and infinitesimal, there exists an unseen force guiding evolution towards an ever awakening consciousness. Given enough time and space, this propelling intention may be the root cause of the evolution of forms from inanimate to animate to conscious, then self-aware. At last, the power of  reason, inventiveness, abstract speculation, and religious impulses appear—as if these were intended.

Part 2 – Dualism and Nondualism

We, as humans, share a multitude of common characteristics while each of us remains unique. Consciousness, too, is simply consciousness but to express itself it comes into, or inhabits various forms. Consciousness BECOMES visible, and thereby, appears separate. Self-expression requires both a “self” and an “expression.” Subject and object in a state of becoming. Our selfhood, in order to become identifiable, must appear to be separate even if our source is in the great Being of Consciousness.

This dichotomy between form and spirit is at least one aspect of the philosophy called “dualism.” Dualistic philosophy says that the objective world of matter and the subjective world of consciousness co-exist equally and intertwine: both in macro and micro forms and states. The opposing and competing philosophy is nondualism. Nondualism avers that the objective world of form is but a manifestation of Consciousness.

Consciousness underlies, gives rise to, sustains, and finally dissolves all matter back into itself. Thus only Consciousness is said to be real and eternal while matter is unendingly in flux. I’m not here to argue these because in most respects they are essentially a matter of taste. What is, simply IS. But, for the record, I ascribe to the nondual view though I don’t think my life or happiness depends on it.

Inasmuch as ordinary humans do not experience transcendence except perhaps fleetingly, this suggests, to my mind, at least, that the underlying basis of reality is essentially nondual because to achieve it requires a directional effort away from separateness to oneness. The ordinary day-to-day human experience is pierced as I-Thou, by the appearance of separateness. No philosophy is required to experience this, even if only instinctively.

If humans alternatively experienced the two states, more or less equally, it would be a different “story.” Transcendent, religious experience is usually considered the apex of human consciousness. It may well be that in the world of duality in which science operates, no “theory of everything” (such as Einstein pursued unsuccessfully his entire life) can ever be found. By contrast, the unitive experience of pure and unconditional Consciousness speaks for itself, if it speaks at all! It is not as popular as the dual theory because relative rare, and, at that, it is beyond words in any case (except, of course, to poets and saints!).

And for those of us who subscribe to the Yoga Sutras, the very definition of reality given in the second stanza of Patanjali states that the goal of yoga (and of life and evolution) is transcendence, and that transcendence results from the cessation of all motion: physical, mental, emotional. This cessation is not what we call death. It is not even the VOID sometimes spoken in various metaphysical, meditative, or poetic traditions.

Far from snuffing out consciousness, it is clear, at least from the Yoga Sutras, that only consciousness remains. It may be the negation of ego (separative) consciousness, but this is hardly the equivalent of nothingness, strictly defined. Rather, it is said to be everything and nothing simultaneously.

[As an addendum to this discussion, let me turn your attention to the teaching of the triune nature of God: the Trinity. God the Father (Sat) is equivalent to the One (nondual); adding the Holy Ghost (Aum vibration), the visible aspect of creation (matter), we have two (dual); within the vibratory sphere resides the “son,” (Tat), or invisible, still reflection (only-begotten) of the Father, bridging the two opposites in a continuous spectrum of Consciousness. Thus both nondual and dual coexist as one. “Just sayin’”]

Part 3 – Piercing the Veil of Matter Near to Death

Imagine that as we inhabit the physical, human form, it’s apperance both requires and, in turn, generates an electro-magnetic, psycho-physiological force field (called the “aura” when “seen” by another). This powerful force field both protects “us” as a separate psychic entity but also forms an invisible, seemingly impenetrable barrier that separates us from other psyches and the ocean of consciousness that surrounds us. This is as true for us as it is for chairs, tables, atoms, molecules and electrons (to name just a few).

Imagine, too, that long ago it was discovered that there is a scientific, psycho-physiological method of piercing this psychic shield by controlling and slowing the breath and heart rate to near absolute stillness. The psyche, otherwise locked in form, can be released to enter the stream of consciousness from which it came and is sustained even in form.

Just as a non-conductive material can become a superconductor of electricity when its temperature is lowered towards absolute zero, consider that as we dissolve all mental, emotional, and physical activities the “shield” is lowered sufficiently to escape mortality (confinement in a physical form) and experience a cosmic state of Being (without loss of consciousness)!

To a limited degree this happens every night in sleep but the state of sleep is sub-conscious and thus we are generally unaware of what is going on. But because of the lowered mental and physical activity, sleep mimics, indeed hints at the possibility of, a state of super-consciousness!  

The question naturally occurs whether this altered state suppresses (like sleep) our self-awareness or, instead, enhances and magnifies it. Anyone who has sincerely and deeply meditated knows that the answer is the latter. We are MORE aware when our thoughts, emotions and body are completely still. 
As Paramhansa Yogananda writes in his now famous autobiography, quoting his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, “The ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness is intimately linked with breath mastery. This is India’s unique and deathless contribution to the world’s treasury of knowledge. The life force, which is ordinarily absorbed in maintaining the heart-pump, must be freed for higher activities by a method of calming and stilling the ceaseless demands of the breath.”
Thus it is that near-death states also induce, however involuntarily, a similar “out-of-body” but yet hyper-aware experience. For some who experience this it is a spiritual turning point, but, admittedly, not for everyone.
Meditation has been shown, clinically, to slow and even reverse the effects of aging. This is just one in addition to numerous other positive consequences for the body, mind, and general well-being. These proven results hint to us that the “fountain of youth” and the “elixir of life” is truly “within us” and that superconscious, vibrant life-vitality is the essence of health, life, happiness, and consciousness.
The price of this eternal freedom and paradise is nothing less than everything. It cannot be achieved for the mere wishing; nor is it transmitted as some would imagine it to be from the mere tap on the chest by a passing guru. Intensity of effort, as Patanjali writes, is the main criterion. Many lifetimes are needed to dissolve, or purify, the ego’s endless likes and dislikes (the reactive process). 

Purification includes purifying the body and bloodstream of carbon dioxide and achieving such deep concentration and relaxation that all breathing ceases. This is followed by stopping of the heart. The result is the metamorphosis of the caterpillar of ego consciousness into the butterfly of eternal Consciousness. The result is that consciousness is then freed from the confines of the body and re-unites with the omnipresent and ego-less consciousness that exists at the heart of all creation.

I have vastly oversimplified these stages (see the Yogas Sutras’ the 8-Fold Path) and its many attributes but two notable and final stages were often remarked upon by Paramhansa Yogananda. The initial stage of cosmic consciousness involves fixity of the body in a death-like, trance state even as the consciousness soars in omnipresence. The final and permanent state requires no fixity of body but is omnipresence itself: with, or without physical form.

Part 4 – Shankhya, Yoga, and Vedanta

The Yoga Sutras make no argument with the obvious fact that it takes a human body, endowed with its highly advanced nervous system, for consciousness to become self-aware. Nor do the aphorisms concern themselves with how that came to be, or even, why (though the ‘why’ is implied by the transcendent states of consciousness which the sutras obviously consider the summum bonum of existence).

In fact, the very first sutra is “And now, we come to the practice of yoga.” Thus, much is implied as having preceded the “practice of yoga.” Paramhansa Yogananda and his line of teachers explain that the system of thought known as Shankhya precedes Yoga. Shankhya is an entire body of cosmology and cosmogony and could be, practically speaking, viewed as a belief system that describes creation as a manifestation of God through the dualistic principles or forces of consciousness and matter.

Pundits claim that the Yoga Sutras AND Shankhya are inherently dualistic. There’s even a quote in Shankhya that says God cannot be proved (Ishwara ashiddha). But as Yogananda explained this quote, this is not a denial of God; it simply means God cannot be explained by reason (or the senses) alone. As to being dualistic, well, let the pundits continue to argue about this but perhaps Shankhya and the Sutras are simply unconcerned about such questions. They evolved from and stand in relation to supporting the Vedantic philosophy of Oneness: Shankhya, Yoga, and Vedanta, are, as Yogananda put it, like the three legs of a stool.

The puzzle we face is this: the human body appears to be the prerequisite for human consciousness and self-awareness. On the basis, therefore, of outer appearances it would seem that the materialists might be correct in saying that consciousness is produced by matter. Yet, there are some (yogis and saints down the ages) who have shown inexplicable powers over the human body and over objective nature; indeed, over death, itself.

Which, then, is superior: matter, or consciousness? Is it “mind over matter” or “mind matters matter?” Or, as a dualist might insist: are they equals?

The saints make it clear what the answer to this is. But, in this age, science is our god. Then, if not to the saints, let us turn to the scientists. Scientists now tell us, quite confidently, and we are quite pleased to accept it, that there is an underlying substrata to matter itself that is more elemental. We (or, is it Einstein) call it, generically, “energy.” There are various forms of energy, some gross, others rather subtle. Science seems to be steadily going deeper and deeper into the subtleties of energy to the point where the trail seems to disappear into, what, vibrating strings that even science admits can never be “proved”?

The question that recurs, but from which science, as science, must recoil, is whether consciousness underlies energy? Unfortunately for science, consciousness can only really recognize itself in being self-aware. A man lying in a ditch might be sleeping; might be dead; might be drunk; or might be in “Samadhi.” For the average onlooker, only by his behavior can give a hint.

Part 5 – Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Consciousness

It has been predicted that a day is coming when we will not be able to distinguish artificial intelligence from human consciousness. I believe that could easily be the case. But will artificial intelligence ever produce an original great work of art? Can a machine sit and meditate? Can it feel? 

Or, have a unique idea? It will no doubt be able to appropriately mimic a wide range of human emotions, but does it actually feel those emotions? Will it dream?

Just because human emotions are triggered by passing thoughts or circumstances and thus have very little enduring reality, that doesn’t mean that the ability of AI to mimic these responses under similar circumstances are actually “felt.” The core issue in the debates surrounding AI boils down to “what is consciousness?” Like God “Himself,” it can only be known intuitively and given evidence by the movements and actions it stimulates through recognizable and distinct forms. Iswara ashiddha. To misquote Forrest, Forrest Gump: “consciousness is what consciousness does.”

Only with psychic ability can one detect consciousness in a formless state such as a disincarnate entity (aka ghost) or in dreams or visions. Such psychic abilities are, of course, rare, but by no means unknown. Telepathy has been proven in countless experiments, yet it defies the law of science as to time, distance and space. Because science has no explanation, it simply ignores the evidence. (Nothing new on this account, just good ‘ol human emotions.)

Humanity’s collective experience and history provides ample evidence of the higher status of consciousness, of mind over matter. In the world of dogs, it’s not the biggest brute but the smartest dog that leads the pack. But at this time, our reason and scientific methods cannot go past their frozen (and largely legitimate) boundaries. They are thus inclined to dismiss evidence of higher consciousness for the “crime” of not knowing how to explain it. That doesn’t, however, mean it isn’t true. Just because science cannot isolate God in a test tube doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist.

If scientists were as rigorous and objective as they purport to be in following their own methodology, they would admit they can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, nor yet disprove the precedence of consciousness over energy and matter. Just because they claim that their rather mundane observations do not require a god to fulfill the dictates of reason and measurement, doesn’t mean they can provide any answer to “why?”

If you are willing to believe Einstein’s formula E=mc2 without even remotely comprehending what it means, why not accept what the greatest of spiritual scientists have discovered? This creation, your body, and your consciousness are far vaster than what our senses can suggest, just as the material universe itself is. Why not be open to the wisdom of ages and sages?

Swami Sri Yukteswar, guru to Paramhansa Yogananda and the greatest gyani yoga of modern times, stated that “without love, one cannot take one step on the spiritual path.” Someone once said to me, somewhat sarcastically when our relationship ended because of my insistence upon my spiritual search, “Well, it’s all a matter of taste.” In a way, yes: it’s really a matter of intuition: the subtle “taste” of truth and inspiration. Logic and reason can never convince anyone who isn’t already “open.” For many, inspiration and devotion opens the doors of truth. The rest is just details.

Joy to you from a point of singularity! I hope you've enjoyed this series!

Swami Hrimananda



Yoga Sutras, meditation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Paramhansa Yogananda, "Autobiography of a Yogi", dualism, nondualism, Shankhya, Yoga, Vedanta, Swami Sri Yukteswar,



Saturday, September 17, 2016

Joy or Sorrow? Cup half full, or, half empty? Eeyore or Tigger?

This evening we celebrate the Harvest (both moon and equinox) at Ananda in Bothell, WA. It's a popular and celebratory event led, this year, by the staff of Ananda Farms on Camano Island.

Tomorrow's Sunday Service theme revolves around intellect vs intuition. It has often been said that "There are two kinds of people in this world...." For those of us with a bent toward "eastern philosophy" and its doctrine of duality, we find this common dichotomy fairly useful, even if sometimes humorous and generally superficial. Such, then is the "half empty or half full cup" of life.

There are the Eeyore's of the world (the somewhat melancholy and doubtful donkey from the tales of Winnie the Pooh) and there are the Tiggers (the unfailingly bouncy, optimistic "tiger" in the same series).

We are often asked which are we? Which do we aspire to be? (One does imagine there are some other choices, but, well, never mind!)

But life, like you and I, are unendingly a mixed bag: both within our moods and consciousness, and, in the circumstances that befall us. We can no more banish sorrow than we can manufacture happiness by affirmation alone. Rather, the question becomes at what latitude do we normally live: at the frozen poles, the temperate zone, or the equator?

The great sage Patanjali, author of the "Yoga Sutras," the "bible" of meditation and higher consciousness, defined the state of yoga (unbroken joyful contentment and God-realization) as the result of a permanent state of being which is unaffected by the flux of nature and the flow of opposites (whether sensory or mental).

In medieval times, the cup was half-empty. The emphasis toward this state (whether in eastern or western philosophy) was on endurance; fortitude; forbearance; self-discipline; and faith. These were the means to overcome the exigencies of the flux of nature and life.

I have long been deeply inspired by a 20th century mystic who embodied the "path of the cross" so beautifully: Padre Pio. (A friend gave me a book on his life, though I have many times studied Padre Pio's life.) Having been raised a devout Catholic during the '50's, this "path" is familiar to me and not entirely off-putting. The cross of suffering that he accepted, he accepted with calm acceptance and joy. His sense of humor was delightful. His guru, Jesus Christ, enabled and epitomized this stoic path of even-mindedness amidst pain and suffering long ago for the benefit of the West. While Jesus is depicted historically as a "man of sorrows" how could he have attracted hundreds if not with what we all want: joy? Nonetheless, the path of the cross is a true path. 

"For us now the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy." These words from the Festival of Light ceremony which we conduct every Sunday,  in turn, reveal the new dispensation of truth that has dawned upon humanity at the beginning of a new age of awareness. The Festival of Light continues saying, "Thus may we understand that pain is the fruit of self-love, whereas joy is the fruit of love for God."

It is the ego that experiences physical pain, or the pangs of self-mortification and discipline. "The ego hates to meditate; the soul loves to meditate," taught Paramhansa Yogananda (author of "Autobiography of a Yogi"). Yogananda taught that Jesus' suffering on the cross, for example, was not for himself but for the ignorance and suffering of those who rejected him. That he experienced a moment of the "dark night of the soul" when divine consciousness fled from him on the cross shows not his spiritual weakness but the final exam each soul must face before the resurrection of his soul's realization that "I and my Father are One." He demonstrated this test for those who would follow him and take up their cross.

Yogananda stated that he came to proclaim this new dispensation of greater understanding. No longer does endurance and rock-like faith alone characterize spirituality in this age; no longer does that "way" inspire true devotees. Instead, the joy of seeking Him and sharing Him is the "way" for our times.

We Americans and the West are "tiggers:" optimistic; upbeat; eager to overcome obstacles that a better way of life might be found. "Eventually, eventually? Why not NOW?" This was how Yogananda delightfully described the American culture which he so admired.

But both "ways" are valid and true; each must be balanced and embraced. In the life of Swami Kriyananda, we see the joy of his soul overcoming tremendous obstacles such as physical pain and suffering, persecution, misunderstanding, financial hurdles and restrictions, and the obstinacy, ignorance and unwillingness of some who professed to support his public work and serve with him. Despite enormous challenges, Swamiji's productivity spiritually and creativity would have been the work of four Swami Kriyanandas in most people. Spiritually he helped inspire and uplift countless souls; creatively he authored many books, a new genre of music, and a worldwide network of intentional communities.

He explained to us that although Yogananda was known publicly as charming, magnetic, loving and a charistmatic spiritual teacher, to his close disciples he emphasized both attunement and the necessity to "carry one's cross." He himself took onto his body physical suffering for the sake of his disciples' karma saying that "astral entities" (Padre Pio might say, "devils" or "demons") were attacking him. He pointed out that the agony of the cross lasted three hours but that his own (and others') suffering lasted much longer.

Swami Kriyananda, thus, too carried many crosses throughout his lifetime. Yet, the grace of divine attunement to God and gurus manifested as light and joy, even-mindedness and energy, that outshone the darkness of challenges. To give birth to Ananda worldwide, he performed years of "tapasya": the redemptive and creative power of accepting suffering with faith and equanimity.

My "zen" way of putting this goes like this: "You can't get out alive!" Meaning: to achieve Self-realization, the ego must die. What seems like "death" to the ego is nothing more than the alchemy of transformation. In God, nothing really dies or is lost. (How can infinity exclude anything?) But we are made to believe that by the hypnotic power of the delusion of separateness (one of the definitions of "kundalini") we will "die." This is the final test: the dark night of the soul.

Infinity is BOTH-AND. We must untie the knots of past, bad karma AND find the joy of the soul as the guiding light of action.

Now: raise your cup and drink it to the lees and beyond!

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Meditation: A Point of Singularity

There are innumerable ways of describing or defining the state of consciousness offered to us as the goal of meditation. From stress relief to enlightenment to cosmic consciousness, the terminology alone is rich with implication and promise. Modern medicine and Buddhist-inspired mindfulness suggest a state of mind set free from the negative effects of stress and resting calmly in the peace within.

Just as the process of maturity is an ever-expanding continuum of awareness, inner strength and acceptance, so meditation opens up a mind whose vista is potentially ever-new, ever-expanding, and ever-increasing in self-awareness, knowledge, empathy and wisdom.

There are also numerous meditation techniques: too numerous to attempt a list here. As a life-long meditator and teacher of meditation I feel safe and confident in affirming and corroborating the tenet that real meditation begins when our thoughts are still (and the body is relaxed, if alert). Techniques can medically, emotionally, and psychically greatly aid in bringing our mind and body to POINT OF SINGULARITY. It is the true beginning point of the adventure of meditation.

Let me state, first, however, that it would be a false expectation to imagine that the beginning point presupposes the onset of satori, samadhi, or any other "mind-blowing" experience. Rather, it resembles achieving calmness in the midst of an intense emotional crises. Calmness, in such cases, is simply the necessary beginning point for figuring out what to do next.

It's like being on a quest and being instructed to go to quiet place in the forest and sit until you receive the next instruction. The instruction may, or may not, come while sitting there. It may come after you've gone home. It may arrive in an email or phone call. Meditation, like work, starts with showing up. Showing up starts not with exercises, chanting, or other meditation techniques, but with being clear as a crystal, ready to receive the next instruction, when, and if, it comes. (This can happen in the midst of meditation exercises, too, at which point it is generally advised to discontinue the technique in favor of the experience!)

As sleep rests the body and nervous system, meditation clears the psyche of emotional and mental static (after first relaxing the body). This is my point: a point of singularity. The second aphorism in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali defines the state of yoga as a state where all reactive mental and emotional processes have ceased.

In fairness to Patanjali and the depth of meaning contained in this most important of all (the nearly) two hundred aphorisms, he is referring to BOTH the beginning AND the end point (goal) meditation. By contrast, I am referring in this article only to the beginning point. But, they are, of course, related and inextricably linked: the first being the prerequisite for the second.

When I hear the phrase "chop wood and carry water" I image a person doing something "perfectly" mundane with a "perfectly" clear and settled mind and a body so relaxed that only those movements and muscles needed for the task are engaged (not unlike true yoga posture-asana).

This is a good intuitive image for a "point of singularity." The only difference is that I am referring to it occurring in meditation, not in daily action. (This can flow naturally from it being practiced and experienced in meditation.)

Philosophers and sages down the ages have referred to the duality of creation: male & female; reason & feeling; objective & subjective; heat & cold; and so on. It is axiomatic that the uniting of the two is at least the symbol of enlightenment or some other desirable state of mind or being.

Think of a point of singularity as a point where the mind, subjective and self-aware, replete with feeling merges with the object of contemplation. You cannot literally merge with a candle flame by staring at it. But by focusing your inward awareness (usually with eyes closed) on the awareness of the self being aware, you most certainly can

Few meditators are subtle enough and settled enough in their minds to do this, however. Hence the plethora of techniques such as watching the breath, feeling the movements of subtle energy in the body, or visualizing the guru, a deity, or an abstract image or concept (light, joy, spiritual color, sacred sound, etc.) A well known technique is observe oneself observing and mentally ask "Who am I?" "Who is observing whom?"

Moses asked the burning bush, "Who are you?" Is not the burning bush the flame of our self-awareness, burning bright within us, especially in meditation? The flame answered saying, "I AM THAT I AM!" Does not the Self within answer us, wordlessly, at times?

Sometimes in my use of various "kriya" techniques based on energy currents (prana), I imagine that the energy is erasing all memory of name, form, past, personality, desires and tendencies. In this way, with each movement of prana, I am clearing and cleaning the pathways of energy so that no one remains but pure energy and self-awareness.

As I begin my meditation, I invoke the living presence of my guru-preceptor, Paramhansa Yogananda, or one (or all) of those in his line of gurus, to assist me on the subtle level or energy or consciousness in the task of ego-clearing transcendence. When I feel I am ready to settle in and past my technique(s), I might then gaze clearly and steadily into the "Spiritual I" at the point between the eyebrows to see who and what might be there: I AM THAT I AM. Go beyond words and images and BE.

Is this not the "only begotten son of God" sent to redeem us from the captivity of ego? Is this not the living Christ, or Krishna consciousness: the watcher, the observer, the witness?

This is where the me confronts the I of God. When this is successful, I can stand and "chop wood and carry water."

Blessings to I THAT AM YOU,

Nayaswami Hriman




Monday, June 2, 2014

Why Yoga is the Future of Spirituality

What do I mean by "yoga?" This is a constant and frustrating issue for those who us share the true yoga. The term refers in the common view to the physical exercises, movements and positions of but one branch of yoga: hatha yoga. Why not just say, "meditation?" Meditation connotes too narrow an image: that of just "sitting." (This term, more popular, it seems, with Buddhists, suggests a passive activity. "Mindfulness" is used by both Buddhists and the secularists seems, to me, rather banal.)

Why beat around the bush or allow the correct term to be hijacked? The correct term is "yoga!" And "yoga," which means "yoke" or "union," refers to both the practice and the goal of that practice: a state of consciousness that is not limited to confinement and identification with the body and ego. It is akin to the state referred to by such words as enlightenment, liberation, moksha, satori, nirvana, samadhi, salvation, cosmic consciousness, oneness, mystical union and on and on. This state is said to be the true state of Being and the only true reality from which all differentiated objects and states of consciousness derive. It is the underlying, primordial "soup" of God-consciousness that wills into manifestation the cosmos and which sustains, maintains, and dissolves the ceaseless flux of thoughts, emotions, and objects.

The practice of yoga includes a wide range of disciplines from the bodily positions of hatha yoga to the advanced meditation techniques of kriya yoga. It is supported by a lifestyle of high ideals, integrity, moderation, and self-control in the form of simple living and includes, by tradition, the practice of vegetarianism. Codified by the sage Patanjali in the renowned Yoga Sutras, yoga is achieved through eight stages of practice and eights levels of ever expanding consciousness.

Despite the overlap of Hindu culture with the practice of yoga, its emphasis on practice (and the results derived from practice) and on technique make it highly attractive and suitable to those "spiritual but not religious," and, to those of a results or evidence-based mindset. We in the yoga field too often say that the practice of yoga requires NO belief system and that is true enough but it also doesn't go far enough. It's true enough in the fitness centers, perhaps.

But once you start talking about the spiritual or transcendental goals of yoga -- which require a wholehearted dedication to its practice -- no one is going to make that kind of commitment without an equally serious expectation or goal! Who engages upon a diet or fast without the "belief system" that she will lose weight?

So, of course there's a belief system! Traditional yoga has come down through the ages with a clear view of its transcendent goal. Nonetheless, yoga doesn't "work" unless and to the extent one releases all expectations of what's in store. The goal itself is only in the present tense and remaining in the present is the only way to get there. A paradox, eh? Nonetheless, the gift of the rishis is a long list of sign posts and way stations that can aid the traveler on his journey to the unknown.

In addition, the dedicated yoga practitioner knows that complexity of yoga practices and their subtle relationship to consciousness dictates the need for a good teacher. The long-standing and traditional guru-disciple relationship is so interwoven with yoga's highest ideals that there is virtually no way around confronting it. Nor should one try to avoid it. But this article is not going to explore this cornerstone of yoga. The cliche "When the disciple is ready the guru appears" pretty much answers all questions. My own way of putting this goes like this: "Sure, try achieving enlightenment on your own. When you realize how difficult it is or how lost you are, come on back and we'll talk." For many, it is a gradual awakening, but for all, when that realization appears, there naturally arises an openness to and, indeed, an admiration for and an attraction to learn from those who have achieved the goal.

Returning to my thesis, ours is an age that seeks individual liberties; we are a human race increasingly impatient with monarchy, dictators, or, indeed, anyone who we think wants to tell us what to do. Ours is an age of personal initiative. Self-effort, in fact, is absolutely necessary: not only for worldly success but for enlightenment, as well.

Thus it is and for the reasons already stated above, yoga is ideally suited to become the "religion of spirituality." Already and worldwide yoga is available in person, in books, audio, video, and internet. For most people, their "guru" is whatever form it comes to them in. And for most people and for the purpose of my thesis, that is sufficient. I am speaking here of the role of yoga in the future of spirituality. (This is not the same as trying to describe the role of yoga in achieving union with God.)

Consider, after all, that in any given traditional religion, there may be millions who follow it but out of those millions how many are saints or even truly living their faith? A true ("sat") guru is for true disciples. "Out of a thousand," Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, "one seeks Me."

As described in the previous blog article, yoga has two faces: a secular face (health and well-being) and a spiritual face. Its spiritual face also has two faces: it can be highly individualistic ("spiritual but not religious") or it can be practiced in the context of other religious activities including communal worship, community service, temple-building and so on. Private practice has little cultural impact and will generally degenerate for lack of magnetism. Group practice in the context of association with others especially in serving and sharing yoga has far more magnetism both for individual transformation as well as cultural transformation (the real reason for yoga's appearance at this time of history). [Thus worldwide cooperative networks of yoga communities and centers such as Ananda already have had a noticeable impact on thousands, indeed, more.]

Paramhansa Yogananda predicted that the emphasis upon one's direct and personal perception of divinity using techniques of meditation would someday find its way into all traditional religions. His way of expressing this was "Self-realization would become the religion of the future." This may take many centuries to manifest but it doesn't seem such a far fetched idea. He didn't mean that there would be a new and worldwide church called Self-realization. Rather, it seems more likely that religionists of all types and persuasions would come to view and put a priority upon direct perception through inner communion with God. By the weight of its immense body of knowledge and centuries of experience, they would naturally draw inspiration from the science of yoga.

Consider, too, that despite the suspicion or rabid opposition today's fundamentalists might have to meditation, more thoughtful religionists in each of the main religions tend to view meditation as an appropriate form of prayer and as a practice that existed in their own tradition at least in the distant past. One can superimpose pretty much any decent religious "credo" onto meditation and, in meditation, one can pray to or seek communion with God in any form or name held dear and sincere.

Yoga is more than a pretty face and figure. Yoga is here to stay. It will grow. Someday the very term will be used in its correct and true sense. Yogananda predicted that someday lion-like swamis would come from India. That may well be but I also believe that some day great yogis will be recognized and accepted throughout the world. Some may be world leaders, artists, scientists as well as spiritual leaders. They will demonstrate feats of self-mastery and live lives of high ideals that will inspire millions. For the moment and in our lifetime, a great yogi is simply odd and irrelevant. So, for now, it's just you and me, so to speak. But this will change.

Jai Yoga!

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Mind: the Last Frontier

{Note: In a class series given by me and my wife, Padma, at the Ananda Meditation Temple near Seattle, WA, we've been exploring a revolutionary view of human history from the book "The Yugas," by Joseph Selbie and David Steinmetz--Crystal Clarity, Publishers. This article and the one or two which may follow it, are inspired by that book, even if the subject here is seemingly unrelated to it.)

Since the age of exploration in the 16th century to the present, humanity’s main focus has been to scale the heights, the depths, the remotest reaches of earth and ocean, and to soar into space. We have split the atom and are busy seeking the answers to the source and nature of matter and energy.

What we have distinctly set aside into a backwater of cultural and investigative interest is the exploration of the human mind. Psychology is one of the newest sciences, having begun as a science late in the 19th century. It hasn’t made much progress, at least to “my mind,” in comparison to the research and development of science of mind researchers in ancient times in India and other such civilizations.

To the extent our culture has shown an interest in consciousness, it has taken the form natural to our modern sciences: an interest in the brain. While certainly helpful and interesting and while admittedly productive of research into the science of meditation, it remains body-bound, interested in and relating to the human body and nervous system. It has carefully avoided anything that cannot be measured by its machines or circumscribed by ascertainable behavior patterns.

Perhaps Descartes was the last to speak of the mind in existential terms when he declared (however incorrectly), “I think, therefore I AM.” In fairness to the old buster, I suppose he may have meant something more akin to “I am self-aware and thus experience myself as an object (distinct from other objects, including people).” Maybe the English translation is lousy, I don’t know. But even a high schooler would probably catch Descartes’ error: “I AM (self-aware), therefore I can think.”

So far as my ignorance can admit, that was the last we heard of the mind (vs the brain). Ok, so the existentialists had a go at it, along with their (mostly German) predecessors. But all that nonsense about reality largely sidesteps the mind itself. Most of them, so far as my jaded college memory is concerned, seemed to assume that their reason would bring to light whatever truth there was to be found. If they could reason it out clearly, they seemed to believe they were on to something real. While I am sure some of them had doubts about how far their efforts could go in establishing reality, it is my belief that they at least hoped that reason would suffice to discover reality.

Their only real tool, after all, was reason and the age in which they lived has its roots going back to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and was deeply committed to the recent so-called Age of Reason and the Age of Enlightenment (and the age of unceasing progress). Everyone, and certainly such deep thinkers, draws on intuition but they and our culture are largely unaware and lacking the credible tools and confidence with which to explore the subtler regions of the intuitive mind.

Developments in research and growing acceptance of evidence of reincarnation and near-death experiences, together with documented cases of children being born “without brains,” is beginning to make inroads into the fortresses of Reason and Matter.

The bible of consciousness that we’ve inherited from a long-ago age is the Yoga Sutras whose authorship is attributed to one “Patanjali” about which little to nothing is known. The date of his now famous treatise is only vaguely established somewhere between the first and fifth century BCE. It is widely believed NOT to be an original composition but a synthesis or summary of teachings handed down from ancient times.

The context and purpose of these “sutras” (aphorisms) are to detail a description of the journey of the ego-mind-body towards a state of Being which gives liberation from suffering, freedom from the existential and gnawing perception of our separateness, and freedom from identification with and dependence upon corporeal  existence or even subtle states of thought or feeling entirely.

The aphorisms claim that consciousness exists independent of the body or of any form and that, inhabiting the human body, its deepest yearning is to extricate itself from the hypnosis that the body, the senses, and the material (and subtle) world is the summum bonum of existence.

It is not a claim that would labeled as solipsism: the idea that the world is my own, subjective creation. Rather, the Sutras provide a roadmap to stilling the oscillations of the sense and body-bound mind (including feelings and actions) in order to perceive, rest in, and become the indwelling, eternal, unchanging and pure Consciousness which is the true Self and the Creator of all things, whether gross or subtle. In this reunion of individual consciousness with infinite consciousness, called “yoga,” the mind achieves perfect happiness or bliss. When the Self can sustain this state unbrokenly it need not be touched by any forays it may make into inhabiting a body or in traversing the worlds of matter, movement or thought.

Getting back to the last frontier of the mind, we are saying that this level of reality is independent and untouched by material objects, electrical (gross and subtle) energies, thoughts, emotions, memories, sleep, blankness and all other temporary states of being or sense objects.

The mind as seen from this vantage point of Oneness cannot be subjected to laboratory experiments using even sensitive machines. Yes, it’s true that brain waves and related electromagnetic emanations are measurable and are proven to be associated with different states of consciousness, but these measurements are not substitutes for those states nor can they define them, except by what few behavioral characteristics might be identifiable (heart rate and so on). It is presumably true that a person, for example, who habitually accesses deep states of meditation may be shown to be relatively free from anger, stress, or egotism, and may be shown to be more kind, compassionate and creative, but those are consequences not causes. They cannot substitute for the individual’s personal experiences of those states of mind.

These states of higher mind are not, by the measurement of individual experience, merely subjective, nor are they hallucinatory or mental projections or affirmations. They are not subjective because those who can achieve such states will show similar behavioral patterns as those described above. They are not inherently projections of the mind  or hallucinatory because those who do so are consistently found to be out of touch with day to day reality whereas subjects who achieve true states of higher consciousness are demonstrably more competent, creative, and balanced in outward behavior and attitudes.

The average person makes but rare distinction between his opinion (including emotional responses) and reality. If I feel a person is dishonest, I remain committed to that as a fact even if I have no proof. If I instinctively dislike someone, I find fault with this person readily. The opposite Is true for those whom I like. Making the distinction between reality and my perception of reality is a rare, or all too uncommon, fact of the behavior of most human beings. You can see this in high drama and profile in political or religious beliefs, or in racial or other stereotypical prejudices. Likes and dislikes in food, weather, fashion or morals are seen as subjective, irrational, or lacking in objectivity.

In the next blog, we will distill some of the levels of awareness that the Yoga Sutras reveal. From that we will offer suggestions for mindfulness and meditation that can help strip away the sheaths and layers of mental activity in order to achieve states of pure Self-awareness.

May the light of wisdom shine upon your mind, may the fragrance of truth exude from the flower of your receptive heart, and may your every action emanate waves of peace and charity to all,


Nayaswami Hriman