Showing posts with label Yogananda. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yogananda. Show all posts

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Swami Kriyananda : Testament to Authenticity

When you have made the acquaintance of a saint (a rare thing for most people), or even have studied the lives of many saints, you find that each one is simply him or her self. Some saints are rather eccentric, too, but in all cases, especially in real life (versus the one-dimensional biographies that are too often written), saints are creative, energetic, imaginative, and, in a divine way, unpredictable.

Here at Ananda in the Seattle area, we are studying the recently published book by Asha Nayaswami: "Swami Kriyananda: Lightbearer - The Life and Legacy of a Disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda.



It is an extraordinary account of the life of an extraordinary man. It is a study in discipleship in our lifetimes. It is difficult to write a post-mortem account of Spirit "dwelling amongst us" without whitewashing a human being into an icon. Fortunately, Asha Nayaswami has done an excellent job at sharing the fully human being who was called Swami Kriyananda.

In the book, which I highly recommend to everyone, not just Ananda members, Swamiji's life is shown as it was lived: transparently! In the countless gatherings ("satsangs") and in numerous letters to members, friends, and even to a few self-appointed adversaries, he was self-honest, fair to all, courageous, and insightful but never bombastic or emotional. He clung to and affirmed his soul's living reality and potential no matter what others would think of him or what others accused him of. Even if he ever disappointed himself, he rose to affirm ultimate soul victory. He also respected the right of others to be themselves, even if at his expense, and viewed each from their highest potential regardless of their current behavior or attitude.

One of the earliest statements I heard him make in a talk he gave long ago (late 1970s?) was to the effect that saints come to demolish the false notions devotees have of what it means to be spiritual. For those who are sincere but who also struggle with living the spiritual life, this was reassuring and supportive.

And he lived his life in that authentic way. For each of us, our path, our tests and victories, are unique. The delusions of Maya are innumerable but all too recognizable (at least by others!). There are, moreover, some delusions that are bigger or more deeply embedded than others.

Swamiji's lifestyle of complete openness and transparency are vividly reported in Asha's book and serve not just as the obvious and general example of discipleship but the practical and concomitant example of living authentically as a human being (on the way to becoming fully human). The two cannot be separated.

Like a great ship, whether moving its way through a storm or becalmed on a glassy sea, the polestar of Swamiji's soul-ship was Self-realization. Swamiji showed the balance between self-acceptance and Self-acceptance on a larger than life public "stage." This he did notwithstanding numerous hurdles, opposition, and challenges. That his "saving grace" flowed from his attunement to his guru (Yogananda) is, of course, the basis for his life and a core message of his life story.

While no book can ever substitute for the actual experience of another person, especially a saintly one, Asha's book is a masterpiece not just for the future of Ananda, or future disciples of Yogananda, but for anyone seeking to view authentic spirituality.

To define "authentic spirituality" is, by definition, impossible. To be "spiritual" means to live by grace; to live with faith; to seek divine attunement. By "definition," therefore, there can be NO yardstick of what, outwardly, constitutes "authentic"! In fact, the term "spiritual authenticity" is redundant for no authenticity can exist except for that which proceeds from soul guidance. Those who claim authenticity on the mere basis of expressing subconscious and ego impulses betray the very concept of authenticity.

Swamiji could play the video game, "Pong," on an Apple II Plus; he could arm or leg wrestle the "guys" or play "shoulder wars" in the pool; all in a competitive good spirit with laughter all 'round.

But he could also see your higher potential and nurture your soul, bringing tears of gratitude to your eyes. He could magnetize a network of eight or nine intentional communities around the world, write music and books and give lectures in many languages.

But these above are only outward facts. By "authentic" I will simply say that his transparency opened him up to be seen even if all too often the result was that he would be judged by the world around him. There's no point in recalling stories from the book: you should get the book and read it. His transparency challenged some whose definition of spirituality was rigid and one-dimensional. His life was a continuous effort at divine attunement and as it poured through him he answered its summons regardless of personal convenience or outward orthodoxy. (Nonetheless, he was strictly orthodox when it came to techniques taught by Yogananda and the counsel he received from his guru.)

It didn't matter if the action he took or the statement he made turned out to be, or seem to be, in error. He accepted that too, though he seemed to accept all things gratefully as part of the hidden divine hand. In a deeper sense, there were no mistakes. (This was not a denial on his part; rather, it was an affirmation of the deepest truth of the soul.)

Some devotees are not even honest with their own consciences as if one could hide one's most hidden secrets from God. Never mind those whose conscience yields easily to convenience or desire. Swamiji's example, therefore, is nothing less than extraordinary.

In addition, to his example of discipleship and the heroic service he rendered his guru to the world, and in addition to the deep gratitude I and countless others feel for his friendship, I honor the example of his courage, his inner Self-sufficiency, his transparency, and the resulting authenticity of his being fully human. Accepting that the soul is nothing less than authentic, too many spiritual seekers cannot see the forest of Spirit through the trees of religious convention.

The "romance of religion" (as Yogananda called it) is viewed by too many to be in the robes and rituals and outward piety common to all faiths. To those attracted to the trappings of religion, Yogananda counseled "Make your heart a hermitage, and your robe, your love for God."

There is a story from India of the husband of a famous woman bhakti, Mirabai. For years she had prayed for her husband's religious conversion, thinking him to be an agnostic for lack of outward religiosity. But one night, when he cried out in his sleep to God, she woke him to say that she now knew his secret. He pleaded with her to not to say it but when she did, he sat upright in meditation and left his body (for he had vowed to do so if ever his love for God were discovered).

Extreme, to be sure. But do not "judge the book (of the soul) by its cover." Some saints appear even a bit grumpy or as martinets but they have their reasons to do so. Look into their eyes for they will twinkle like stars with inner joy. Note further how others around them are spiritually transformed and uplifted.

The deeper your love for God and the stronger your attunement with the Divine Will, the safer you will be in your spontaneous and intuitive expression of the soul's innate wisdom, joy, peace or love. Ultimately there can be no difference. For Swamiji's courageous example of expressing inspiration, I am deeply grateful.

Jai Guru! Jai Swamiji!

Swami Hrimananda



Friday, October 11, 2019

"Food of the Future" by Swami Yogananda


Paramhansa Yogananda wrote several mail-order courses. One of them he called ADVANCED SUPER COSMIC SCIENCE COURSE (1934). I've shared below from:

Lesson 1 - Healing by Spiritual Affirmation and by Astral Food


I've excerpted the segment on astral food as follows:

Food in the future -- Energy.


            The future food of the world will all come by receiving different rays from Cosmic Energy, Cosmic Rays, electrons, atoms, and air, drawn through different openings of the body. [Yogananda's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar revealed that our planet is in an upward arc of increasing awareness based on certain planetary and astronomical phenomenon. He predicted that our current age, called Dwapara (dwa=second), would see rapid advances of knowledge as to the existence and use of subtle energy and atomic forces or rays.]

From Cosmic Energy.


            1. If one constantly keeps his mind concentrated on the point between the eyebrows (at the Christ Center) and sees there the Spiritual Eye and commands it to recharge the body with strength, it will do so. By doing this, people would cease growing old. [Comment: the "spiritual eye" referred to here is a specific image that can be seen by anyone regardless of belief or religion. Most readers of this blog will not require a description of the three concentric circles of gold, blue and a white, five-pointed star. More importantly and richly rewarding is the effort to maintain an awareness of the point between the eyebrows during waking hours, including meditation. By so doing, one's intuitive awareness both in general but also of subtle energy steadily increases. Practicing recharging the body at will as described above comes more easily when our awareness of this point in the body becomes stronger.]

            2. Drawing energy from the cerebrum and medulla by connecting the tip of the big tongue with the little tongue (uvula). [Comment: this is a preliminary stage of the advanced and powerful technique known as kechari mudra. See Swami Kriyananda's classic text, "Art and Science of Raja Yoga," Step 13, Yoga Postures, for an explanation.]

From the Sun.


            3. Energy may be drawn from the sun by covering the whole body with a piece of thick blue silk or a blanket and keeping the medulla exposed with the sun shining there, on the back of the head. Concentrate on the back of the head and feel it getting warmer and warmer. Feel the energy being stored in the brain and distributed through the body. [Yogananda elsewhere describes the valuable technique known as "Sun-Gazing." In the first or final minutes of sunrise or sunset it consists of gazing into the sun in a very specific manner at a time when it is safe to do so.]

            4. Take a sunbath and concentrate deeply upon the sun-bathed surface of the body, and drink the sunshine in through every pore of the body. Concentration on the sun rays gives one hundred times greater results than taking a sunbath absentmindedly. [Comment: in Yogananda's day concern for cancer from sun-bathing was more or less unknown. In some of his other lessons, he was careful to suggest as few as ten minutes exposure. Each person should determine what is best for themself.]

From Electrons.


            In order to receive electronic energy from the ether, expel the breath, remain calm while sitting in the erect posture, and feel the electronic energy surrounding your body and entering through your body cells, or receive energy through your fingers while your hands are lifted over your head.

From Oxygen.


            Sit upright on a chair. Close your eyes. Expel the breath quickly, but start inhaling very slowly through nostrils, thinking that the air is filling your brain, lungs, heart, spine, stomach, abdomen, thighs, legs, arms, and so forth. You can also inhale quickly and fill the whole body with the atomic power in the oxygen. [In his now-famous "Energization Exercises," Yogananda combined a quick "double" inhalation (short-long) with tensing the entire body, vibrating the entire body, then exhale through the mouth (and nose) with a double exhalation. "Tense with will; relax and feel" he instructed.]

[Below is an affirmation which Yogananda gave as part of this lesson]

"I am Thy son; I am wise.
Thou art happy; I am Thy child, therefore I am a happy child.
Father, Thou hast everthing. I am Thy child; I have everything.
Thou art ever-well; I am well, I am well.
We are Thy children; I wish all to be happy.
Thou art power; I am power."

I hope you will profit from this "food for thought" by Paramhansa Yogananda!

Swami Hrimananda




Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Is the Bliss of Meditation for Real? "No-Bliss-Oblige?"

I began my life of meditation from the orientation of snippets of Buddhism. I say "snippets" because whatever I thought I learned was most likely inaccurate or at least spiritually untested. 

But when in my search I also encountered the Yoga-Vedanta-Sankhya traditions, I was suspicious because the references to bliss or divine joy seemed to me to smack of duality. 

In fact, just the other day, after a talk I gave at a Sunday Service at a Unity church, someone politely cornered me to question my references to bliss and the joy of the soul. This couple challenged me, in a friendly sporting way, relying as they did on teachings from a more Buddhist perspective. They described the ultimate state of the soul as beyond states of joy or bliss.

I've heard it said that in some Buddhist teachings bliss is said to be but a stage on the journey to enlightenment but not the final state of consciousness.

The very language we use when we use the word "bliss" or "joy" naturally seems to suggest a dual state in which someone, an "I" is feeling some feeling called blissful. Hence, by the very definition of non-duality, the very self-awareness of such a feeling cannot be the final state of being. Or so the logic goes.

Paramhansa Yogananda described eight aspects of higher consciousness, one of which is joy and another, love. Swami Kriyananda would comment occasionally in describing love as, in some subtle way, almost a lower state than joy (or bliss) for the very same, or nearly same reason: love suggests a relationship: I-Thou. I don't think he meant this literally because even I can feel "loving" without the necessity of a person or a thing being the object towards which my love is directed or from which my feeling of love is stimulated. Feeling "loving" can arise from within.

Swami Kriyananda did quote Yogananda as saying joy is a safer aspect of the soul's nature to emulate or strive to express than love because humans all too easily "fall in love" with another person (or thing).

Then there is the testimony of saints that say that immediately prior to their enlightenment comes the "dark night of the soul" or the tempter (Satan, maya, etc.) during which the inner light (another of the eight aspects) vanishes and only darkness remains. 

There are saints, including Lahiri Mahasaya, who make references to high states of consciousness as places of dark-less light, light-less dark and so on. 

Finally, all great mystics admit, one way or another, that the final state of being is beyond name, form or description (even if they try by poetry or imagery to convey).

And on a more mundane but at least a relatively more accessible level of human experience, the testimony of deeply sincere meditators over decades of living and practice demonstrates that while they may be generally described as joyful persons, they do not laugh off pain and suffering, whether their own or that of others. 

When Swami Kriyananda first wrote the ceremony Festival of Light (used on Sundays at Ananda churches especially in America), he had a sentence that read: And whereas suffering and sorrow, in the past, were the coin of man’s redemption, for us now the payment has been exchanged for joy.

A few years later he edited the end of that sentence to read ...."has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy."

As with the word "love" connotes merely human love, so the term "joy" cannot be extricated from the our response to, say, winning the lottery. Thus the term "bliss" is often used to elevate the implied meaning of divine joy to something more than merely egoic or of the conscious mind.

Partly then we have an issue of language. And partly the question remains whether or not the dissolution of the separate ego-self results in any awareness that includes a "feeling" experience such as joy.

Well, let's face it: the testimony of the masters, the saviors, the avatars, gurus, and saintly souls tells us that what they have found or become is worth every bit of the effort taken to re-discover it. I think that qualifies to be called "bliss?" 

Paramhansa Yogananda said "Yes." The Adi Shankaracharya said "Yes." He described the non-dual state with the term Sat-chit-ananda. Loosely translated by Yogananda as "ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new joy." It might be stretched to say it is a state of immortality, omniscience, and bliss. The term describes the nature of God, the state of samadhi, and the nature of the soul.

Yet it is also true and discoverable by any serious devotee and meditator, that there ARE states of consciousness, in prayer and meditation, wherein feeling of any kind is held in abeyance; feeling is latent like an undercurrent, just behind one's steadfast awareness. It cannot be said to be no-thing, nor can it be said to be any-thing. It simply IS. 

In his autobiography, Yogananda was challenged by a saint when asked: "You go often into the silence, but have you developed anubhava? Don't mistake the path for the goal. Yogananda commented that the saint was reminding him to love God more than meditation. Perfect stillness (awareness without a manifested feeling of any kind), then, is not, itself the goal. It is not a state of Oneness beyond one's personal consciousness.

Then there are other experiences wherein one is absorbed in a feeling state such as peace, calmness, joy, love or subsumed in the power of subtle sound or inner light, or transported in a flash of instantaneous perceptive images or insights (similar to what is described as the life review at death or near-death). 

Such experiences can enter one's consciousness as if about to dissolve one's separateness; or, one's little self expands into the experience such that the self no longer matters and barely exists. Time begins to slow to a standstill.

Put another way: Infinity embraces all! As Ananda-moyi-ma described God: “It (the Spirit) is, and It isn’t, and neither is It, nor is It not.”

A saint can manifest dryness or joy, asceticism and renunciation, or enthusiastic engagement, creativity, compassion and joy. It is and it isn't!

The ray of divine vibration which descended through Paramhansa Yogananda and the lineage which preceded him is, however, characterized by joy!  But that joy, like devotion, like the higher inner states of meditation, can nonetheless be subtle or hidden from outward view in a particular devotee. Look at the eyes, however: do they glow with joy? Infinity? Light? Calmness?  

It is not surprising that in our efforts to share the teachings of Yogananda we frequently reference or express joy as an overarching characteristic. Yet power, too, is an aspect of God. Yogananda could be very powerful at times. 

Great saints do differ in what qualities are made manifest in their lives and thus in the lives of disciples who are in tune with them. Yet as Swami Sri Yukteswar, the guru of Paramhansa Yogananda, was a Gyanavatar, he didn't "convert" Yogananda from being a bhakti, a Prem-avatar (of love and joy).

Yogananda had a life such that he was at ease in a wide variety of situations and seeming "moods." He was, in a sense, very "human." Indeed, fully human. 

Unlike aspiring saints who may have to hold back or to express austerity as part of their journey to enlightenment, Yogananda was born free, a purna avatar. It's not that he flaunted proper behavior, ethics, and the do's and don'ts of life (like some aspiring saints have done to show their avowed non-attachment to sense indulgences or unethical acts). 

Rather, he was freely expressive. His behavior was natural and unpretentious. These qualities, too, can be seen in his disciples. Swami Kriyananda, founder of Ananda, was a friend to all; unpretentious and natural in his actions according to circumstances.

Finally, we must simply admit that terms like "bliss" or "joy" only really have meaning in their being manifested in observable human consciousness and actions. 

By contrast, in an uplifted state of consciousness, in a state of samadhi, applying the adjectives of "bliss" or "joy" simply no longer apply except perhaps afterwards in an effort to share some aspect of what the soul experienced. 

It is and it yet it isn't. We can say samadhi is blissful and yet we must also say samadhi isn't limited by anything, including bliss. It simply IS. When awareness and feeling merge in pure consciousness, you cannot extract the one from the other. But neither would you trade it for any dual state of consciousness.

The "beamers of bliss" are right and the "no-bliss-obligers" are right. My lifelong mantra and response to life's ups and downs remains intact: BOTH-AND.

Joy or no-joy, I remain unshakeably the same, your own Self,

Swami Hriman-non-Da! 


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Ode to Forrest, Forrest Gump!

The movie, "Forrest Gump," is based on the 1986 novel by Winston Groom and was made into a movie in 1994 starring Tom Hanks. Quite apart from the scenes of a historic period in America (the 1960's, the Vietnam War and the presidency of Richard M. Nixon), the movie's enduring charm stems from the inspiring, timeless, and yet timely messages bottled within the labyrinth of its plot.

"Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get." This is perhaps the most popular quote for which Forrest Gump is famous. It is a lesson he learned from his "momma." In this simple metaphor of a box of chocolates, we are reminded to take life as it comes, with non-attachment and even-minded cheerfulness. Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now-famous classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi") put it this way: "What comes of itself, let it come. All circumstances are neutral, he went on to say, but appear positive or negative according to the attitude of the mind. I'm sure Forrest (if he were to think about it but probably wouldn't bother) would agree with Yogananda's statement that there are "no obstacles; only opportunities" in life.

In the movie, Forrest carries with him that box of chocolates. It's as if, with each new episode, he reaches into the box with his eyes closed to select another piece of chocolate. This box of chocolates is, metaphorically speaking, the source of Forrest's ability to take life as it comes to him. It is detachment worthy of a great yogi!

With this "yogic siddhi" of non-attachment (psycho-physiological power) comes to Forrest additional qualities such as acceptance: self-acceptance and acceptance of others and of life as it flows by him. He is a witness to history even as yogis are a witness to their thoughts and the flow of life's energy within themselves and all around. But he is also a willing participant in history, doing what life calls him to do in each moment. He's an unwitting football star when that is needed; an unselfconscious hero in battle; a friend in need and even when rejected.

This power of acceptance is vibrantly clear in his relationships: with his love, Jenny; with his war-friend, Bubba; and with Lt. Dan. In each case, he takes his friends as they are and himself at face value: as his own sincere and well-meaning Self.

With Jenny, he feels her childhood pain from abuse and wants only to protect her. He wants nothing from her, though everyone else seems to. His love is selfless and without condition.

With Bubba, neither race nor social status means a thing to Forrest. He risks his own life in the Vietnam War to rescue his friend Bubba. And when that fails, he immortalizes Bubba by buying a boat to do shrimp fishing (which was Bubba's hope and dream when he returned home). This lead to his establishing the financially successful Bubba-Gump Company and sharing the profits with Bubba's impoverished family!

With Lt. Dan whom he also saves from certain death in the same war, he receives nothing but anger, reproach, and verbal abuse. Yet, later, when Forrest is shrimp fishing, Lt. Dan suddenly appears on the scene. Forrest immediately accepts and embraces his friend who while "shrimping" together with the ever-content Forrest is at last healed of his grief, resentment, and anger at life's cruelty.

While I surely am not the first person to express these responses to the otherwise simple, if popular, movie, Forrest Gump, it struck me anew the other day to write these words.

I like to imagine (in jest) that Forrest single-handedly created behavioural psychology when he responds to being called "stupid" saying: "Stupid is as stupid does!" (One's consciousness is manifested by one's actions!)

Simplicity; purity of heart; willingness and practicality in action; acceptance; loyalty to friends and purpose; spontaneity (as when he suddenly is prompted from within to begin running: running back and forth across America with no thought of "tomorrow" or how he would survive, eat, or be sheltered).

"O Father, Lord of Heaven, you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes." (Matt 11:25) Forrest Gump's life revealed the secrets of happiness. It would not have fit the movie to have introduced a religious theme because, for the message the movie conveys, it is complete. Forrest could have easily been re-cast into a saint but then the movie would never have achieved any recognition or popularity.

Forrest Gump symbolizes everything our society is not: innocence. It's wonderful that moviegoers enjoyed an evening's entertainment, but I think Forrest Gump has much more to say to us. Each generation needs a movie like Forrest, Forrest Gump. Don't you think?

"Life is like a box of chocolates" whose sweetness is found in innocence and acceptance.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Can God Be Known?


How to Know God!

The word “God” may only be three letters but this little Word carries a lot of weight in emotional and intellectual baggage. Scoffers and materialists naturally tend to say, “There’s no proof? Where is He? Searching for God, are you? I didn’t know He was lost?”

For many years I hesitated to use the “G” word for all of the confusion and objections inherent in its use. “Who could speak of God who doesn’t know Him,” I would ask myself.

Gravity cannot be seen; radio waves cannot be seen; the solar wind cannot be seen. Yet, we “know” they exist by observation and measurement of their effects. 

We can test their existence and assess their attributes.
Why should God be any different? Gravity doesn’t need our approval or recognition to exist. Why should God be pining away for our belief in Him? In order to explore deep space, the intricacies of higher mathematics and algorithms, split the atom, search for the Higgs Boson particle (the “God” particle), search for the cure for cancer, a person needs a highly specialized education, skills and equipment and must make intense efforts to be qualified even to try. 

It shouldn’t surprise us, therefore, if making direct contact with the Creator of this vast universe is going to take a bit of effort, education, skill, and dedication! God doesn’t owe us anything, does He? After all, humanity’s interest in Him is rather lacklustre, wouldn’t you agree?

To know God you have to have refined the most delicate and sensitive instrument in existence: your consciousness! Just as only trained personnel can fly a commercial airliner or operate a chemical plant or work on a nuclear reactor, so too those who know God are those who have put in the effort and acquired the skill and are “eligible.” Those who reach the “top” are called saints: scientists of the soul and cosmos.

Nonetheless, you might object and point out that unlike flying a jet airplane or doing brain surgery, God is (or is supposed to be) for everyone! But given “who” and “what” God is, he’s not going to be like the actor George Burns at the grocery store (who played the part of God in several movies). By any imagined or real definition of God you’re talking about a “pretty big guy!” Just as you’re not going to be able to fly to Washington, D.C. and walk into the president’s office to have a chat over a cup of coffee, God is kinda BIG; POWERFUL; AWESOME; INDESCRIBABLE; INFINITE; even if also charming, loving, and compassionate once you get on a “first-name basis.”

As gravity is evidenced by a falling apple, so God is evidenced by the magnitude, complexity, intelligence, beauty and power of the universe. As love can trump hate, and nature rises above destruction, and life renews in spite of death, so God’s presence can be intuited as the invisible and unifying Force of love and life behind all creation.

The joy of having skills, achieving success, experiencing human love, the companionship of pets, the touch of sunlight, breezes, sand and ocean and so much in life…..even life’s tragedies, perhaps especially life’s tragedies..... touch the human heart and bestow a sense of connection to a greater reality.

But, nonetheless, we have to admit that all of these attributes or signs are indirect: hints of cosmic Joy, intimations of the play of an invisible Hand.

But there are those who aver, indeed, insist that God CAN be experienced directly. In the gospel of St. John, he quotes Jesus saying: “But a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such as these to worship Him.” God is a Spirit and direct contact with God must be made by and in Spirit. What is “spirit?” God is Consciousness: infinite, immanent, and pure and without condition; beyond or underlying restless thoughts, heaving emotions and ceaseless activity. “Be still and know that I AM God.” (Psalm 46:10)

The yoga of meditation has become accessible worldwide because, as Paramhansa Yogananda put it, “The time for knowing God has come.” In his famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi,” Yogananda’s guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar explains to Yogananda: “After the mind has been cleared by yoga of sensory obstacles (restlessness), meditation furnishes a twofold proof of God. Ever-new joy is evidence of His existence, convincing to our very atoms. Also, in meditation one finds His instant guidance, His adequate response to every difficulty.” [Chapter 14 – Experience in Cosmic Consciousness]

“Faith is evidence of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith is acceptance, surrender and cooperation with the hidden but tangibly felt joy and presence of God moving through and informing one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. Our bodies and ego are but vessels, containers, and transformers of God’s infinite power being brought to a practical focus here and now in the present moment and context. Like an electrical transformer that steps the voltage down to where it won’t damage appliances in our home, we are literally transformers of grace……..IF we choose to be.

We receive the gift of life in our bodies and minds but it is up to us to look behind the appearance of our own separate existence for the source of life. We have the opportunity to realize that it is a gift. Life isn’t ours; we receive it. From that awareness, we can choose to attune ourselves to that power, to that grace, to that divine life. By consciously inviting God’s grace into our lives to be used according to “Thy will (not my will),” the endless demands of the little ego are gradually dissolved like salt crystals in water. The result is increasing calm inner joy and strength.

Yes, we can know God. But the choice is ours. God says, “I will wait.” God has and IS all things but awaits our interest, our search, and, ultimately, our love. The skills to conduct the search can be learned; the knowledge is available. Meditation is the key to the search, but so also is purity of heart. It is the heart that must open, like a lotus, to the “truth that shall make us free.”

Be happy; be free!

Swami Hrimananda



Saturday, September 7, 2019

Is Ego Good or Bad?


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 you.

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 that personality. 

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. 

Without 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

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Yin and Yang of Meditation

Meditation has many benefits and no drawbacks (except for those not mentally balanced). But there are certainly yin and yang aspects of meditation. 

For example, meditation can be used for the benefit of the ego: concentration for the mind and vitality and self-awareness for the body. Or, meditation can be used to attune oneself to the higher Mind of the soul. 

Most of what is taught and most of those who practice meditation are seeking ego-oriented benefits such as calmness, inner peace, and mindfulness. Their meditation practice begins with the intention of  "I want.....this or that result." Since this intention is the basis for practically all ego-directed actions, few ever consider an alternative.

Among those who seek higher consciousness, meditation can take the form of an act of devotion, focusing on some form or image such as one's guru, a deity, or even a state of consciousness (such as samadhi, nirvana, moksha, etc.). The devotional approach can remain in the realm of an "I-Thou" act of worship or it can intend to or simply evolve into, merging into one's form of devotion.

There are those meditators who seek spiritual upliftment, consciousness, or even psychic powers for personal (ego) gratification! This can be the initial motivation behind meditation, or, it can be the result of back-sliding when the ego claims for itself the insights or powers which may appear as a result of one's otherwise sincere meditation practice. Such are the temptations that await the dedicated practitioner. 

And, let's face the truth here: the ego is our starting point even while ego transcendence is the well-established goal! A paradox to be sure. 

Let's pause for a moment to consider this "ego thing." Paramhansa Yogananda, the now-famous author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," defined the ego as "the soul identified with the body." Since ancient times and in the highest spiritual teachings of all great civilizations, our true nature and the goal of our existence is to "know thyself" as greater than the ego: as a child of the Infinite! As from the Vedas: "Tat twam asi." ("Thou art THAT!)

Admittedly, the details of what THAT is and how we realize THAT may vary in the fine print of scripture, commentary, and intellectual permutations. But beyond THAT there is no argument!

Returning now to where we left off: "devotion." As devotion is, in an energetic sense, the equivalent of dedication, a meditator (aka a "yogi") may not think of herself as being of a devotional temperament but the intensity of her focused dedication to meditation amounts to the same thing. A meditation intention and practice that seeks to still the mind by way of one-pointed focus on a mantra, sound, or other "meditation-object," and which essentially seeks to dissolve the ego-identity and sense of separateness, can be said to be a form of devotion, albeit more by concentration of the mind than by focusing upon expanding the heart's "natural love," though in fact the latter may be, and ultimately must be, the consequence.

Put another way, progress in meditation takes dedication and devotion to the goal and to the practice. Such dedication is surely a form of love as much as any classical feelings or forms that devotion might traditionally assume.

It can also be said that one always begins upon the spiritual path (and meditation) from the only point of reference we have: the ego! Gradually, as we progress, we morph into self-offering of the little self into the great Self as one's consciousness expands beyond the ego and body.

We see this transformation taking place in the lives of meditators who truly go deep into the practice. We even see amongst some of those who practice yoga postures a certain level of awakening that can rightly be called "spiritual" even if, initially, unintended.

At the risk of going into deep philosophical territory, there is another aspect of the yin and yang of meditation. It goes something like this (using non-technical terms whether from Vedanta, Shankhya, yoga, or Buddhism):

There's a part of ourselves that yearns for stability, constancy, and unchanging reality and truth. There's also a part of ourselves, which like all nature around us, that is always changing and which delights and invigorates in our creativity and engagement in life.

The reconciliation of these two could be described as the awakening of our ever-watchful Self (soul) into the awareness of and participation with the ever-changing reality of creation which swirls in flux around us.

By contrast, the ego, that part of our consciousness which identifies with the body, personality, and the seeming separateness of all created things (physical and mental), isn't so much watchful but wholly engaged. The difference between the ego's desires and emotions and itself simply doesn't exist. As a result, the ego experiences the ups, downs, boredom, and occasional peace in an unceasing and ultimately exhausting and monotonous inevitability. In short, we suffer, for no pleasure can be known without fearing and later experiencing its ending or its opposite. Pain, by contrast, feels "eternal" when we are overcome by it.  

The alternative to being awash in the ocean of emotion and change is to dive deep into the ocean of peace within. Thus is born the practice of entering into the mindful or watchful state. In the meditative state of quietude, the ceaseless rising and falling of our thoughts, energies and responses comes under our calm scrutiny. We can see flux for what it is: empty, fleeting, and separate from the Self. The deeper we go into this state the more we realize that we are and can be untouched by the waves at the surface of the sea of our senses (and our mind). 

The Shiva Self, recumbent and watchful, penetrates the center of the Shakti Self of prana, energy and creation even as the Shakti Self, in the presence of Shiva, inclines to be still to receive Shiva within her Self. 

This uniting of Observer, observing and observed
becomes a dance of Bliss, sometimes withdrawn and sometimes immanent in all creation. Even those descriptions which separate God the Father (the Infinite Spirit) from creation cannot fully satisfy the continuum of consciousness both within and without. 

Paramhansa Yogananda's famous poem, "Samadhi," flows in and out of creation even if it is also understood that Bliss stands apart and whole from the creation and serves as creation's Father-Mother. 

But such philosophical niceties go beyond, far beyond, anything practical and helpful for those engaged in meditation practices. Even for us, we find we flow in and out of our own creation (our mind's activity). 

Nonetheless, to experience a state unconditioned by awareness of body and ego identity is powerfully transforming, healing, and enlightening. Few meditators, I suspect, aspire to this state; fewer experience it. But not because it is beyond our means.

For indeed, this unconditioned state is the center of our Being and is always present. Whether by Self-inquiry ("Who am I?") or by inner stillness achieved through meditation practice, it exists perennially behind our mental flux. "Be still and know that I AM God." (Psalm 46:10).

Watching one's thoughts is a frequent instruction given as the practice of meditation. But I wonder how many of those using this technique are not, in fact, drawn forcibly into participating with their thoughts and their reactions to those thoughts (rather than remaining truly watchful and unaffected). 

The challenge of watching our thoughts is that our thoughts are the basis for our separateness. Our emotional response to our perceptions, moreover, cements our identity to those so-called realities. Like the oft given image of perceiving a snake in the dim light of dusk in the path ahead when in fact it is only a rope, we make our share of false conclusions and all too often proclaim, "That's my story and I'm sticking with it." The sense of separateness and its cocoon of beliefs, memories, opinions, desires, impressions, and fears is deeply embedded into our the matrix of our sense of self-identity.

In the East, the mind is considered the sixth sense: separate and apart from the Self. In the West, we think, as Descartes declared, "I think, therefore I am!"

Therefore, because thoughts are the issue, it is generally more useful to have and to focus upon a "meditation object." Universally, the breath is the simplest and most available "object" because we all breathe and no beliefs are necessary. There are other reasons as well. The watching of breath can be with or without a word formula or mantra. 

Other reasons for watching the breath include the observable fact that in the effort to concentrate deeply, we naturally hold or quiet the breath. It is the last obstacle to complete concentration. It is also, ironically, an excellent "object" of meditation for the reason that focusing on the breath can quiet the mind and when restless thoughts subside, the breath becomes quiet. Anyone who is given even a modest amount of training can demonstrate these facts and benefit from this practice immediately.

Thus it is that the breath has become (and likely always has been) the most common focus for meditation throughout time and the world.

But, it remains an "object" until or unless our sense of separateness begins to dissolve. One can say, intellectually, that we enter the breath or the breath enters us or anything else you want to say. But nothing that can be said can truly describe the experience of oneness. (All words require subject, verb, and object and this very logical necessity is inadequate to describe the state of being that is actually experienced in real time.)

The experience of oneness can occur spontaneously and does happen to many people, whether as children or adults. It can happen in meditation even when not held out as a goal or a possibility. But mostly it is best if the meditator seeks the state and has some training and intuition in the possibility.

Nothing is lost in such a state even if on a profound level the ego-mind suspects that it is an existential threat to its separateness. In this, the ego is both correct and incorrect. Testimony of the ages and the sages is that nothing is lost in the realization of the state of oneness and everything worthwhile in life (happiness, that is!) is found. But such is the price of the pearl of great price: the very real-seeming threat of extinction.

No wonder some teachers and traditions describe this state in negative terms: "nirvana" (no vanas, or no mental activities of the ego-construct). Buddha gave no description of the undescribable. The yogis, however, describe the state as satchidanandam: ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss. 

Some aver that bliss is a passing phase on the path to nirvana; some say (as Yogananda does) that samadhi IS the state of bliss. Well, no matter because all who have achieved it say it is the end of all striving, the end of suffering, and the summum bonum of existence. Let us not split the hairs of Holy Grail!

In this, there is neither yin nor yang. Nor is this state the annihilation of our functionality in the human body and in this world. Quite the opposite: freed from the delusion of the limited ego-self, we are free to act in harmony with the divine Self.

The awakened Mind then participates freely in the swirl of creation's eternal flux. Stability at the center; movement at the periphery. A dance choreographed by the Higher Mind of God.

Yogananda stated "I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this form but He."

And why not? Is not both the outer world and the inner world a ceaseless flux inextricably linked in both energy and form? We only separate ourselves in the limited realm of the five (six, actually, including the mind) senses? Our sense of separateness is an illusion, one not difficult to unmask by paying attention, even by reason, and certainly by intuition: for those courageous enough to enter a brave new world.

For those who might benefit from several excellent videos on this subject (and much more, both science and metaphysics), I direct your attention to the movie Inner Worlds Outer Worlds. It can be viewed in four half hour segments for free on YouTube or the entire move for $3.99: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1LtuE8zRMo

Aligned with this is another movie called simply Samadhi. It is followed by four guided video meditations. Although these are strongly influenced by Buddhism terminology, Vedanta, Sankhya and Yoga terminology are also included. References to Egypt, native American, Christian terminology are also presented. 

In YouTube.com search for "Samadhi." The two-hour movie is in two one-hour parts and in various languages as well.

Similarly, four guided Samadhi meditations are excellent and are based on watching the breath. Search on Samadhi meditation.

While I personally and most of the readers of this blog practice the techniques taught by Paramhansa Yogananda and therefore don't "need" the resources above, they are well done and in their essence are not contradictory to what Yogananda taught, though their emphases and terminology may differ in parts.

Joy to you!

Nayaswami Hrimananda




Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Bhagavad Gita: A Timely Gem

The Bhagavad Gita: A Timely Gem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the song of God flow through you!

Swami Hrimananda



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









Sunday, March 10, 2019

HOW TO CONTACT DEPARTED-DISEMBODIED SOULS

Dear Friends, I have shared below an excerpt from this lesson by Swami Yogananda. Originally intended for his students (those taking his written lessons) I have felt to omit certain parts of the lesson to honor his intention. Nonetheless, it is well worth the read.


Advanced Super Cosmic Science Course (1934): Lesson 5—How to Contact Departed-Disembodied Souls
BY SWAMI YOGANANDA

HOW TO CONTACT DEPARTED-DISEMBODIED SOULS

What happens ten minutes after death.
              When the ordinary person dies, his whole body usually becomes paralyzed, just as a part of your body sometimes “goes to sleep.” When your foot goes to sleep, you see it, you know that it is yours, but you cannot move or use it. So, at the approach of death, most people feel an entire paralysis, or a going-to sleep state of the entire body--limbs, muscles, and even internal organs, including heart, lungs, and diaphragm.

              In the beginning, the dying man is conscious of the slowly falling asleep of the muscles and limbs. When the heart begins to grow numb there is a sense of suffocation, for, without heart action the lungs cannot operate. This sense of suffocation is a little painful for about one to three seconds, and causes a great fear of death. Because souls reincarnate many times, and necessarily have to experience death in passing from an old body into the body of a little child, they retain the memory of the feeling of suffocation and pain at death. This memory of pain causes fear of death.
Physical and psychological states at death.
              The ordinary man, at the time of death, experiences the following sensations:
              1. Gradual numbness of the limbs, muscles, heart, lungs, diaphragm, and so forth.

              2. During the spreading of numbness in the limbs and muscles, a sense of sadness and helplessness, and a desire to live, comes into the mind.

              3. When the numbness reaches the heart and muscles, a sense of pain and suffocation is experienced which causes an extreme fear of death, and an attachment toward possessions and loved ones strongly comes upon the soul and causes extreme mental grief.

              4. With the pain of suffocation, there is a great mental struggle to bring the breath back again. At this time, a condensed review of all the good and bad actions of his lifetime comes up in the mind of the dying man. This mental introspection changes into a tabloid tendency which serves to be the guiding tendency in determining the kind of rebirth that the dying man is to obtain in the next life.

              5. At this time, the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing vanish in succession. The sense of hearing is the last to leave the consciousness of the dying man. That is why it is extremely unwise to even whisper within the hearing of a dying person: “All is over; he is about to die.”

              6. Since the last predominating thought of a dying man is weighted down with the habit tendency of a lifetime, it is not good to overburden this consciousness with the fear of death.

              7. The dying man should be told nothing, or, if he is a brave man, and wants to die, whisper into his ear: “Cross the portal of this woesome life into the vista of an everlastingly happy life.”

              8. The ordinary person, after he experiences the sense of suffocation, finds himself suddenly relieved of the weight of his body, of the necessity of breathing, and of any physical pain.

              9. After that, the soul of the dead man enters into a state of oblivious sleep a million times deeper and more enjoyable than the state of ordinary deep sleep.

              10. A sense of soaring through a very peaceful tunnel of gloom is experienced by the soul.

              11. Sometimes, when a man dies quickly, for instance, by hanging or electrocution, or guillotine, or from a shot or sudden accident, he experiences practically no physical pain.

              12. The suffering is purely mental when the soul remembers it cannot breathe or live. An imaginary sense of suffocation and pain at death turns into a most painful mental nightmare, which for some time tortures the mental feeling of the dead man, but after a little while, when the soul realizes that its body is gone, it becomes reconciled. If a good soul is murdered, he seldom suffers even any mental agony after a sudden death.

Different souls experience different kinds of death.
              When deep thinkers die, they retain their consciousness very slightly after death. Those who are used to thinking only through the machine of the physical cerebrum encased in flesh, cannot think consciously when that brain is missing. However, due to the fact that deep thinkers have a strong imagination and power of concentration, they can unconsciously materialize their thoughts into astral dreams--in the astral realm of death. Deep thinkers sometimes get beautiful dreams in the astral realm after death. They seldom go through astral nightmares.

              As in ordinary sleep, a man may experience dreams or nightmares, so during the big sleep, that is, death, a soul may experience either beautiful dreams or nightmares. As dreams or nightmares are experienced during the unconsciousness of sleep with the physical brain as the base, so, also, the ego experiences dreams or nightmares during the unconsciousness of the death-sleep, with the astral brain and latent memory as the base.

The astral body becomes the base of operation after death.
              The astral body is a dream within a dream of the physical body. As the dream of the physical body can have human dreams, so, also, the astral body by itself (without the physical body) can create any dream within itself. Though the physical body is a dream of God, still it seems real when it is owned by the ego. Likewise, the astral body in death becomes real and the base of operation for the ego.

              Q: Does anybody become conscious after death?

              A: Yes. Saints and people of concentration who, during their earthly existence, have practised the technique of meditation, can retain their consciousness even when the heart slows down or stops, and they are eligible to retain their consciousness during the state of deathly sleep. Just as we can enjoy a deep sleep, or watch the working of a beautiful dream, semi-consciously, so, also, in conscious death all astral experiences can be consciously or semi-consciously watched.

              Q: What are the experiences of souls who can consciously work in the astral land after death?

              A: If, while living in this world, one has hallucinations of living in a different land, that land of illusion becomes real to him, and this world becomes unreal. Likewise, the astral land becomes real to the disembodied soul. [He is not comparing hallucinations with the astral world except as a metaphor.]
Astral climate.
              This astral land appears to the soul as a very beautiful garden of will. Here he finds an astral climate evenly hot and cold, capable of being controlled by the power of the will, just as modern people can create the warmth of the summer indoors by means of steam heat during winter time, and on warm summer days, they can cool their homes by refrigeration. There is astral winter, spring, rainy season, and summer. The astral winter consists of exquisitely beautiful, fairly cool, white fleecy clouds, or rays, floating around the astral land. The astral snow is ordered by the astral inhabitants mostly for decorating the astral scenery. This astral snow changes the temperature according to the will of the astral inhabitants.

              The astral spring and summer are filled with an infinite variety of celestial blossoms smiling on the soil of transparent frozen golden light. The astral flowers blossom and change, or vanish, with an endless variety of blended colours, according to the fancy of the astral gardener. They never die. They only vanish or change when not wanted.

              In the astral rainy season, the rays pour down over the golden soil, emanating an ineffable variety of music of the spheres. They form flower shapes as they fall on the astral soil so that during the astral rain one can perceive a sheet of silver threads dangling daisies and roses of light, and showering them on the astral land. Flower-shaped pools of astral light bedeck the astral streets during an astral rain.

Astral houses.
              In the astral land, there are many mansions or spheres of various multi-coloured luminous vibrations. Just like different neighbourhoods--the aristocratic and slum districts of a city--so the astral kingdom has many quarters of different kinds of dwellings. Unlike clay brick buildings, the astral abodes are made of bricks composed of condensed atoms. The saints live in the aristocratic refined astral realms. Here ordinary souls would freeze to death or suffocate, but the saints can live in extremely cold or extremely warm ways, free from magnetic disturbances. In the astral slums, wicked souls live, unable to enter into the refined atmosphere of the priceless spiritual aristocrats.

Astral animals.
              Just as insects live in the solidified atoms or earth, and fish live in liquefied atoms or water, and man lives in gaseous atoms or air, and saints live in the luminous electric atoms of space, where there is neither soil, water, nor air, so also in the astral land some astral animals live in solidified rays, some astral amphibians live in an astral ocean, and some astral souls live in astral atmosphere, and some live in glittering astral ether, where there is no astral soil, gas, or astral water. The astral animals live more in harmony than earthly animals and are superior to them. That is why, in the visions of St. John’s Apocalypse, and in the yoga books, we find mention of beasts. Saints in the astral realm can travel in any sphere of vibration, just as the President of the United States is welcome to travel in any part of America.

How long do souls stay in the astral land?
              Just as some people do not sleep at all, and others sleep ten; hours a day, and some sleep all the time in sleeping sickness, so ordinary souls get quick rebirths after a short rest in the astral land. Suicide souls are forced to stay longer, experiencing the nightmares of astral life, impelled by their own bad karma. Good souls can remain in the world as long as they want to, and can be reborn on this earth, or may plunge into the Infinite. It is not true that all souls wait hundreds of years after death before rebirth.

Is there marriage in the astral land?
              There is an affinity of true souls who commune with each other by uniting their positive and negative life forces. Astral children are born by materializing thought tendencies and life force into astral bodies.

There is reincarnation in the astral land.
              There is birth and death and reincarnation in the astral land, just as there is in earth life, only in the astral land life is very long and death, or any change, is not forced upon any advanced soul--the wicked astral souls excepted.
              When the soul lovingly remembers earthly experiences, it may have to go back again and experience life and death in the physical world. The astral death has no pain or fear, such as physical death has.

Astral diseases.
              Astral diseases consist mostly of mental moods and mental deficiencies, or astral mal-nutrition. These astral diseases are easily remedied by the powerful minds of almost all astral inhabitants.

What is eaten in the astral world?
              In the astral land, the inhabitants eat solidified rays. They drink liquid light. They breathe astral air and roam in the pure, etheric skies. The astral inhabitants study and help one another and send help to the earth, or to different planets that are in trouble, through the invisible mind radio. It is their goodwill and virtue that keeps the earth from exploding with sin.

Astral crime.
              Astral crime consists in ignorance and in seeking selfish happiness. There are no judges to punish anyone. Souls punish themselves, when they are wrong, by self-imposed discipline.

How can we get in touch with the dead?
              Do not try to contact tramp souls who infest the ether with their presence. As tramps can occupy and run to destruction an empty, unlocked automobile, so tramp souls can get into absentminded, shallow-brained people who try to invoke spirits through a passive state of mind. Such tramp souls can possess the brain and wreck it.

              Only true souls who loved you, and who continue to love you, should be invited. You need good souls to help you, and you can also send them help. Commune with only the highest saints. The tramp souls who come to you uninvited only want a free ride on your brain-car in order to wreck it. That is why people who passively allow themselves to be possessed usually lose their character, mind, and spiritual power.

How to distinguish between true spirit control and subconscious hallucinations.
              In subconscious hallucinations, the sub-mind, through self-suggestion or the suggestion of others, may receive a suggestion by telepathy to act as a dead grandfather or grandmother. In such change of personality a man, through self-hypnosis, or mental derangement, or subconsciousness, thinks himself to be somebody else.

              Once a Boston clergyman was sick, and when he became well again, he felt that he was a grocery man, and he disappeared and lived elsewhere with a different name, and sold groceries. Later he became sick again, his mind changed, and he came back to his home, where he remembered that he was a clergyman. These states are marked by extreme emotions.

              In real communication with a spirit, one should not lose consciousness, but should consciously commune with the invited soul. These states are usually devoid of exciting emotions. Do not try quick, magic tricks to get in touch with departed souls. That is a great spiritual crime against God and humanity. By deep, incessant meditation try to get in touch with your dear dead ones. Only meditation, and months, and sometimes years, of patience can bring them to you.

              The life after death is the greatest mystery guarded by nature, because people would never use their family-cultivated love of one life to give it to new brother souls of another life if they could find their lost lived ones of previous lives. Only broad, all-living, concentrated souls can solve the mystery of life after death.

                        Q: Can souls be contacted if they leave the astral plane and are reborn on earth?
              A: Yes. Even if some of your dead loved ones have reincarnated, you can signal to their ever-awake astral bodies and receive an answer in the form of a dream in sleep, or a vision in meditation.

              Thus, by finding friends in this life and following them up in the astral sphere after death, you will learn the mystery of life after death. Then you will know that death separated your loved ones from you so that you might love, not only them and exclude all your other human brothers, but that you might give your love to all the people in all incarnations. Thus when your heart becomes big enough to love all, you will then know the Father who loves all His children alike, and knowing Him, you will know all your many parents and friends that you loved before. With that intense love you will learn to love all your animate and inanimate brothers as your brothers and children of your one, ever-kind, ever-mysterious Father-God.