Showing posts with label avatar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label avatar. Show all posts

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Avatar in You and Me! Friends in God

O Bharata, whenever virtue declines and vice predominates, I incarnate on earth. Taking visible form, I come to destroy evil and re-establish virtue. (Bhagavad Gita, 4:7-8)



In this passage, Lord Krishna speaks to us about the ancient teaching from India of the "avatara": the descent of God into human form in response to the needs of humankind.

While Hinduism and Christianity view their respective avatars as "actual" incarnations of God, the more nuanced teaching as elucidated by Paramhansa Yogananda is that the "saviour" ("Avatar") is a soul like you and me with but one difference: the avatar has, in a prior life, achieved oneness with God and worked out all past karma. Thus, the avatar returns to human form solely for the sake of helping souls still in delusion.

[Why or how the term has come to mean one's "alter ego" as in "my avatar" in gaming or social network circles is beyond me. But that's neither the term's original meaning nor my own in this article.]

The avatar's prior dissolution of ego consciousness implies that the ego has merged wholly into soul consciousness and, from there, has become "one with God." Thus Jesus Christ could declare, "I and my Father are One!" The distinction, then, between saying "God has incarnated in human form" and "Another soul, like me, has achieved God-realization" is, in fact, not great so far as the avatar's state of consciousness is concerned. But it IS important so far as WE are concerned because this truth affirms or reminds us that WE can also achieve that state!

By contrast, if God simply "incarnates Himself" into human form, as a special divine creation, it tells us that we are inherently separate from God. No difference for God who is omnipresent, but a big obstacle for us who are not yet omnipresent! 

This is, in fact, the "good news" which God sends to humankind through those who "have seen Him."

But for the promise of immortality represented in this "good news," only those with "eyes to see and ears to hear" can see and hear this good news.

God does not interfere with the karma and desires of those souls whom He has created. Only those who are ready to remember their soul's immortality hear the news. Of course, "many turned away" as the New Testament said of the life of Jesus towards the end of his ministry for they could not fathom his radical call to sonship in God (especially when he spoke of "eating my flesh" and "drinking my blood!").

In Yogananda's life, too, Swami Kriyananda said that it was like a hotel at the headquarters at Mt. Washington in Los Angeles: "people checking in and out." They did not recognize the spiritual stature and promise of Yogananda who, evidently, did not live up to their expectations! 


Even during Yogananda's "barnstorming days" around America when thousands would line up to hear him speak, only a few remained after the novelty of this popular motivational speaker from India had been satisfied.

Much more could be said on the nature of the soul and the saviour, but I would like to go back to the quote from the Bhagavad Gita above. 

What does Krishna mean when he says he comes "to destroy evil?" Swami Kriyananda in his landmark book, Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, points out that Krishna does NOT say he will destroy EVILDOERS! He takes aim at EVIL itself. Destroying "evil" and "re-establishing virtue" is a reference to consciousness. 

This means, then, that the avatar's purpose is to uplift human consciousness. This takes place on two planes: that of the individual souls (presumably disciples from past lives) and that of humanity at large. In looking back over history, we can see that the avatar must address the realities and needs of those specific places and cultures into which he/she is born. Yet, over time, the avatar's influence expands worldwide as in the case of Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, and now we see also in respect to Yogananda, to name a few. The power of such a descent, a "purna avatar," lingers for centuries, even millennia! 

But the medium through which this power spreads and continues over time is the "avatara" that occurs in the hearts and minds of those who are awakened. 

As the avatar's consciousness is that of God consciousness and as the disciple seeks to attune to God consciousness, we, too, can see ourselves, in a sense, as part of the avatara. Thus our life's purpose includes helping to help uplift humanity, on a scale appropriate to our own lives. 

While we devotees naturally focus on the "virtue" element of the avatar's mission, I'd like to consider the evil-destroying element. 

Yogananda said that in a past life he was William the Conqueror. And after that lifetime he said he was a king in Spain (probably Ferdinand III). It is, admittedly, difficult to overlay what we know of the lives of these men with the concept of an avatar. But, whatever the case may be historically or otherwise, it suggests some aspects of the evil-destroying purpose of their incarnation. 

Stories of the life of Krishna are filled with episodes where he destroys this or that demon (incarnations of evil). We, too, have our demons. Attunement to the avatar means we, too, should do our best to destroy our bad habits or ignorance. 

In the lives of Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr we see two great souls battling the demons of injustice and social evils. I don't hold them out as avatars but as souls who took up the avatar's sword for themselves. Gandhi took kriya initiation from Yogananda and King considered himself a disciple of Gandhi. Gandhi had a special love for Lord Rama, and King, for Jesus Christ. Both Rama and Jesus are considered avatars.

While history celebrates their social justice accomplishments, they were candid about their own inner struggles as well. Thus they stand as excellent examples of the avatara "destroying evil." 

In yoga, we speak frequently about the importance of being centered in the spine (both physical and astral spine) The spine is a symbol of strength, self-discipline, and one-pointed upward focus. While spirituality as expressed in these times and as emphasized by Yogananda is focused on the positive, life-affirming results and process of spiritual growth, he also made it clear to his close disciples of the need for self-discipline and ego transcendence.

Swami Kriyananda would sometimes counsel us saying, "Be a little stern with yourself." He told the story of how one evening, sick of the little prancing prince of the ego, he cried out in meditation, commanding his ego, "GET OUT!" Later, walking outside in the dark he came upon Yogananda. Kneeling before him, Yogananda said quietly to Kriyananda, "Very good." 

But as a caveat: just be sure you direct your self-discipline towards yourself, not others! Your efforts are between you and your soul.

Practice "titiksha": disciplining your senses in regard to sensations such as heat or cold; or the likes and dislikes of flavours; or the opinions (perceived or actual) of others; of your own opinions. By practising on little things we prepare ourselves to hold in check the ego's preening on the stage of your life. 

Receptivity to the avatar should include both sides of the equation for spiritual growth: ego transcendence and the transforming power of unconditional love and joy. Our soul's journey is necessarily unique and individual. It's expression, therefore, must remain true to your Self. 

But one thing common to all of us, because we are united by God, is found in one of the greatest treasures of the journey: the gift of true friendship. Friends-in-God are those who act as soul-mirrors to one another. The company you keep, both inwardly and outwardly, determine to a great extent the direction of your attention: whether upward toward God, or, downward toward ego and the senses.

Let us remember that the purpose of the "descent" is to enable us to rise. "Rise O My Soul in Freedom."

Jai guru,

Swami Hrimananda






Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Angels on High: the Fall from Grace and the Soul's Rise to Freedom

In the 1947 movie, “The Bishop’s Wife,” an angel (in the form of actor, Cary Grant) comes to the family of a Protestant bishop in an answer to their prayers. 

Problem is, the angel finds himself attracted to the bishop’s wife (played by Loretta Young). After answering the couple's prayers (with a few twists), the angel departs knowing that an immortal cannot be with a mortal. This plot, mostly na├»ve and innocent by today’s standards, struck a chord with me in respect to the great themes of history related to the “Humanity’s Fall from Grace.”

Are we not taught that we, too, are angels, children of God, made in the divine image? As immortals, do we not inadvertently “fall in love” with the mortal scene and imagine happiness will come through the never-ending, ever-changing passing drama of life? Are we therefore not unlike that angel, Cary Grant? Except that we take much longer to wake up from the illusion before withdrawing and vowing, some day, “never to return.”

Like the more modern movie, “Groundhog Day,” we tend to make the same mistake over and over, year after year, lifetime after lifetime. Paramhansa Yogananda wrote that until the ever-watchful soul awakens the ego to the prospect of the “anguishing monotony” of repeated rounds of birth and death, we are not ready to begin the journey, like the prodigal son, back home to our soul’s eternal joy in God.

This seemingly circular track of life, this broken and repeating record, is the “hell” that is spoken of in scripture. Hell is not a forever place but it certainly feels like one when we are caught in the addiction to matter and to soul-stultifying ego identifications. The pathways to perdition are endlessly labyrinthine, but the way to freedom is “straight and narrow.”

Thus it is that the “Fall” is easy but the climb back is more difficult. Mired by habit and circumscribed by the hypnosis of countless lives as a spiritual “pauper” imprisoned in the cage of the human body, the royal soul needs help: first to be reminded of its royal status, and second to be given the tools and the power to rise! This help which “cometh from the Lord” comes in the form of the true guru, one who is Self-realized.

Here, now, in the season of Christmas, we celebrate the birth of one who comes to free others. But Jesus is not the only such a one, because in every age to all people, according to their heartfelt prayers for redemption, God sends such a one to help.

Christmas is not just an abstract event far away in time and space which is endowed with spiritual significance. It is a very human event. Indeed, what could be more natural than the birth of a child! 

This newborn “Christ” is, like all infants, innocent and sweet. As we humans see in newborns new hope and promise, so this divine child brings new hope and promise to our souls. But unlike the hope most newborns bring to their human parents, the birth of an avatar brings the promise of the soul's redemption and return to its spiritual home, a "kingdom not of this world.” 

But like all infants, this newborn will need protection, care, feeding and training. Thus, too, do our souls need protection, care and feeding. And this is the role of the avatar, whether in the form of Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Yogananda or others.

The claim that Jesus is the “only” one narrows the Christmas celebration to professed Christians. This makes Christmas a merely sectarian religious holiday. But Paramhansa Yogananda explained that the term “Only begotten” refers to the divine consciousness that underlies every atom. Our souls were created to re-discover that truth of who we are. And any soul which has achieved this realization is, like Jesus and the others, a living “son of God” but none can contain the Infinite. None can be the “only” one. 

“Only” refers to the omnipresent, omniscient, and eternal consciousness of God present at the still heart of all creation. It is the “only” reality that exists in the creation that is without flux or change. It is the “only” reflection of the Infinite Spirit, who is the progenitor beyond all creation and who remains untouched by the creation of which it is an invisible part! 

When an individual soul achieves this Self-identity, he can say, as Jesus and the other immortals have said, “I and my Father are One.”

May you in-joy a blessed celebration of the living Christ within and without!

Swami Hrimananda





Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday Reflection: Did Jesus Die for Our Sins?

(I interrupt the 3-part "What If I were President" series for today's inspiration, Good Friday, 2015)

Did Jesus Die for Our Sins?

This question is among those that challenge established dogma: not just in religion, but in science, art, culture and business, we find little " 'ism's" or cliches that get repeated down through generations (or even centuries) that gradually lose touch with their original or deeper meaning, if indeed, they ever had such!

An example of an absurdity that springs to mind is the response-question "How could Jesus have died for my sins two thousand years before I committed them?" (Please don't attempt to answer that with another absurdity!)

Yet even in this seemingly absurd but oft-quoted dogma there lies a mustard seed of truth: great saints of the stature of Jesus Christ are said to take on the "karma" (translate: "sins") of their close disciples. Just as a rich parent can pay off the debts of his wayward (but presumably repentant) son, so a great saint can take some of the burden of a disciples' karma, or so it is taught in the yoga tradition. 

Now, a paradox here, too, is that it is the "good karma" of a disciple to have this burden lifted! Good karma means the disciple has put out effort of the type that would have this result!!!!

St. John, the beloved disciple, wrote in Chapter 1 of his gospel a famous statement oft quoted by Paramhansa Yogananda (author of "Autobiography of a Yogi"): "As many as received Him, to them gave He the power to become the sons of God, even those that believe on His name!"

Whatever the meaning behind becoming a "son of God" may be, it is clear that a powerful grace or blessing attends one who "receives" the guru. By "receive" must be meant to be open to the teachings, the guidance, and the vibration and consciousness of the guru, and, where and however appropriate, to serve the guru's work.

Do you see, now, how each of these phrases is fraught with deeper meaning even if the words are simple: "die for our sins"....."take on the karma"........"receive Him".........simple words but not necessarily obvious meanings.

Let's take this further in what seems the direction of absurdity: can I "receive" my Lord and Savior (i.e. guru, whether Jesus Christ, Buddha, Lord Krishna, Yogananda, etc.) AFTER the time in which he (or she) lived?

What does it mean "lived?" Mystics down through ages report the living presence of great saints and masters long after their passing. Some are reported to have resurrected their former bodies, whether in vision or in flesh! 

Christians pay reverence and worship to Jesus Christ two thousand years after his life on earth. They have no problem praying to Jesus today; nor does a devout Hindu to Lord Krishna, etc. etc.

So, we must conclude that, to them, YES: I can still "receive Him"and thus I can still be a recipient of divine grace through my attunement: by following in His footsteps and teachings.

Have you noticed "the catch-22" yet? To be "saved" (whatever that means) you must "receive Him." The phrase "even those that believe on His name" certainly suggests a fairly easy pathway to salvation. Is there, then, a "free lunch" here? Are the loaves and fishes of grace miraculously multiplied and distributed?

What about the law of karma? Whew! Are YOU as confused as I? (Gee, I hope not!)

Let me digress (just for a 'minute'): Paramhansa Yogananda taught that true baptism takes place when our consciousness is uplifted into God consciousness. This isn't the only form of "baptism," but for my purposes it is the essence of what he taught on baptism. In "yogi" terms this is translated to say that when we enter a state of superconsciousness (a feat achieved not only with devotion and right action but specially enhanced by the science of advanced meditation techniques, such as kriya yoga), we experience a kind of temporary baptism. Repeated dunkings into the River (or Tree) of Life in the astral spine gradually deepens and renders increasingly lasting (and eventually permanent) our attunement with God.

As God comes to earth through the human vehicles of souls like Jesus Christ who are sent and who have become God-realized ("one with the Father"), it is God, then, who gives to us the teachings and now, in this age, the science of yoga by which we can accelerate our path to freedom in God.

Thus to "receive Him" is really meant to be uplifted into and toward God-consciousness. Our effort, it has well and often been said, is met by an even greater effort by God to reach and uplift us. Yogananda gave this mathematical formula of 25% our effort; 25% the effort of the guru on our behalf; and 50% the grace of God. And yet, even having belief (hopefully leading to true faith) in the living God in human form ("in His name") brings some grace...according to St. John.....it is, potentially at least, a beginning.

The point here, and in every tradition, no matter how differently or vaguely expressed, is that we are "not saved by effort alone" but by grace. But both are needed. But as the power of God required to manifest this universe is far, far greater than our own, and as we did not create ourselves, so too our effort can never be but a portion of the total energy required to free us (from our past karma; our "sins").

Now, back to our subject:

Did Jesus DIE for our sins? He certainly didn't "deserve" to do so!!! If he hadn't "died for our sins," would He be powerless to uplift us, then, or now? What, then, is the connection between His crucifixion and our "resurrection?" Why didn't Buddha die for our sins?

He was not crucified BECAUSE we sinned. Jesus' death on the cross serves as a dramatic act and symbol of how we should meet the tests of our life: as He did......with forgiveness and equanimity and faith in God....."into your hands I commend my Spirit." His dramatic death and subsequent resurrection illustrate the power He possesses to help free those who “receive” Him. It was not necessary to be illustrated so dramatically but it was the divine will so that, in subsequent centuries, millions might believe “in His name.”

The night before his death, he prayed, briefly, that the bitter cup of his death be taken, but he immediately affirmed "Thy will be done." By this he showed us he was not a God-made puppet, but flesh and blood. When he called out from the cross, "Elias, why have you forsaken me," he showed that he, too, could, however temporarily, experience the separateness from God that is our own, deepest existential form of suffering.

Neither his prayer for relief nor his cry of loss of God-contact suggest that he was any less than a God-realized soul. Rather, it shows that those great ones who have achieved Self-realization sacrifice, to a degree, their hard-won God-bliss by taking on human form. By this act, they too feel the pangs of human life even as they are, nonetheless, free from past karma compelling their incarnation. This is, as it were, Part 1, of their gift to those with ears to hear and eyes to see.

Jesus died on the cross that we might know how to carry our cross and how to overcome our past bad karma--our sins. In that sense, YES, he died to show us the way to be free. But Part 2 is our effort for he, like other avatars (saviors), has the power to lift us if we will but “receive” them into our hearts, minds, daily action and souls.

Part 3 is the transforming baptism of grace that lifts and purifies us. When it does we look back and realize that, while essential, our effort was but a small part of the power of redemption.

A blessed Easter to all,

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, March 7, 2015

What is "Mahasamadhi" and Are Miracles Real?

Today, Saturday March 7, is the 63rd anniversary of the day that Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now famous life story: "Autobiography of a Yogi") "left his body" (died) at a banquet at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles in the presence of a large gathering to honor the newly appointed ambassador to the United States from India.

The term used (Sanskrit) is "mahasamadhi" - the Great Samadhi. This describes the conscious exit from the body by a saint. Samadhi is a term that refers to the ultimate state of God consciousness, a state of oneness with God (and, by extension, all creation which is a manifestation of God's consciousness).

You may rightly ask: "Many people die consciously, so how does this differ?" Yes, it's true many people die a peaceful and otherwise conscious death and they are not necessarily considered great saints. Since we are talking in terms of consciousness it is not so easy to observe by outer signs. By definition, the act of dying entails no necessary physical movements. So, to a degree the designation of an act of "mahasamadhi" is, at least to a casual observer, a statement of belief.

Since Yogananda ("PY") lived in recent times and until the death of Ananda's founder in 2013, Swami Kriyananda ("SK"), we personally knew someone who was present at PY's death in 1952, we can take his mahasamadhi as our example. At the moment PY slipped to the floor while reciting his poem, "My India," SK had his head down writing down PY's words as he addressed the gathering at the Biltmore Hotel. SK said he knew instantly however that PY had exited his body. In SK's own autobiography, "The New Path," he describes numerous instances in the preceding days, weeks, months and even years that PY dropped hints of the nature of his exit.

Among the hints that he gave was his statement that he would go by a heart attack (stopping his heart, that is; something he demonstrated repeatedly publicly, though temporarily, of course); another was that he would leave his body while reciting his poem, "My India." And on and on like that. But these are but hints. The real essence of the appellation of mahasamadhi comes not only in the striking manner of death but more importantly in the power of his life.

I occasionally come across a student at our Ananda center who, while enjoying the practice of yoga and meditation, is resistant to the idea of miracles. Such folks object to the stories in "Autobiography of a Yogi" wherein saints materialize from nowhere, or bi-locate, cure the sick or raise the dead. And, in some way, who can argue?

SK, at age 22, had similar reservations; so did I, at age 26. For many of us, we simply put such things on a mental shelf to be dealt with later as we continued to enjoy the stories, wisdom, humor and inspiration of what surely must be one of the greatest spiritual classics of the modern era.

Now, mind you: I have no intention of convincing anyone that miracles happen. In fact, I would direct your attention to that chapter in the "Autobiography" ("AY") called "The Law of Miracles." As excellent a discourse on miracles you will not find anywhere! Bar none!

It has been well said by others wiser than me that "Either everything is a miracle, or nothing is a miracle." The one defense I would offer in favor of what we call miracles is simply that: what we call miracles are phenomenon that we simply do not yet have an explanation for! Most of what passes for our daily use in technology would be shockingly miraculous in prior centuries. And, we've only just begun to explore nature and the cosmos! I am long past fussing over how it is possible for Jesus Christ to resurrect his body from the portals of death and any other similar miracle. Whether he did so as a matter of fact, is, for me, secondary, to the possibility that it can be done.

Getting back to "mahasamadhi," did PY choose that moment or was that moment chosen for him? According to the theology of oneness that he and others in the Vedantic lineages have professed, a liberated soul who returns to human form is an "avatar." Avatara is the descent into a human body of a soul that has, as Jesus said of himself, become "one with the Father." "Self-realization" is a term now used for that state of consciousness. As God can be both infinite and infinitesimal, so God-consciousness now permanently resident in the vehicle of a unique and eternal soul can incarnate into human form. Not a puppet or a divinely-created automaton, but a soul, like you and I. In such a one, however, his consciousness is united to God's infinite consciousness. Such a soul comes to play a part on earth, like you and I, but the part he plays is not compelled by ignorance and attachment, but is guided by divine impulse even as filtered through the unique qualities and past tendencies of that soul.

Thus the question of whether PY committed an act of spiritual suicide (as someone once asked me) or whether God "took him out" is a non-question. Such a one would easily have, or be given, glimpses of his final exit and, like many people on earth, might have an inkling for the timing of it. There is no separate "ego" to decide such a thing apart from the divine mind.

As all action creates reaction ("karma"), the action of a Self-realized soul accrues to the benefit of others but nonetheless follows certain patterns appropriate to itself. In PY's life work, it was entirely fitting that he leave this world speaking, as he predicted that he would, of "my India and my America" and, in the presence of the ambassador from India! Like a great story or play, his end was as fitting and appropriate as any inspired ending should have been. In God there are no coincidences, only God "choosing to remain anonymous."

PY was a public figure a part of whose public mission was to highlight and bring together the best of east and west. He taught that soon America and India would lead the world in their respective contributions to the evolution of human consciousness: the one in the discovery of natural laws, efficiency and individual liberties, and the other in the science of mind (yoga) leading to the true freedom and happiness born of direct, personal perception of our true Self.

During his life, PY demonstrated to those close to him that could enter, at will, the state of oneness (samadhi). During the last years of his life, he was in seclusion much more than before and close disciples experienced or perceived that during such times he would be in an elevated state of consciousness and oblivious to his own body and the world around him.

Adding to that his predictions of his exit from this world, it is the custom among yogis to label the death of such a one a conscious act and the final great-samadhi (for that lifetime). With the power to unite his consciousness (confined in the physical form) with the consciousness of Infinity, such a one could enter that state and permanently (rather than temporarily) exit the body. This, at least, is one way of describing what is said to have taken place.

Of course, it can't be proved in an objective sense. It is an article of faith. Faith, however, is not the same as the more tentative hypothesis inherent in mere belief. The faith of his disciples rested in their actual experience of PY as a human being in daily life. To those close to him, PY demonstrated that he knew their every thought. That proof and impact of that accrued only to those individuals. It can be described but not proven to anyone else.

The so-called miracles of saints are only rarely demonstrated on a large public scale. But even when it does happen, those people die off soon enough and nothing is left but their testimony. Whether to one or a handful of close disciples (who witness, say, the raising of a person from death), or whether a group of diners being given full glasses of carrot juice from a small half-filled pitcher, it inevitably comes down to someone's personal experience and testimony.

God, it is said, does not win devotees by performing circus stunts. God has and is everything. We have only our love to give or withhold--for eternity if we choose.

SK suggested that we, at Ananda, use the occasion of PY's mahasamadhi to honor the life, teachings and consciousness of great saints in every tradition, east and west, past and present. Self-realized saints (we use the term "masters" -- having achieved Self-mastery) are, in effect, God incarnate. They demonstrate that we, too, are God incarnate but still mostly asleep. It is the purpose of creation that we awaken. Simply to "die and go to heaven" and to turn our backs on the creation as a sham, is not the divine intention. The creation is beautiful to the extent God who is the creation awakens to become Self-aware.

It is, therefore, in the fitness of things that souls do, in fact, by self-effort and the power of grace, achieve Self-realization while in human form. In this way, then, God speaks and teaches others and gives upliftment and hope to those who "have ears to hear and eyes to see." To honor such living examples is to honor ourselves, our souls and all souls. Too many sects have abandoned the devotion to God through the saints (especially the true masters.....many others are but saints still "in-the-making"). Thus, we take this day to pay such tribute in song, prayer, chanting and inner communion (in meditation).

Blessings to all this sacred special day!

Nayaswami Hriman















Monday, January 5, 2015

Happy Birthday Gurudeva, Paramhansa Yogananda!

Today, Monday, is January 5, the day, in 1893, Mukunda Lal Ghosh (later Swami Yogananda and in 1936 given the title "Paramhansa" by his guru) was born in India. His birth is celebrated throughout the world by his followers and by many others for whom he has been an inspiration. Having left this earth in 1952, Yogananda is now best known for his life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." It remains, even today, a strong selling book title throughout the world and has become a literary and spiritual classic. In fact, many, myself included, revere that book as a scripture for a new age! It is well worth the read, by anyone.

There have been and are still many true and wise spiritual teachers in the world. It is folly to try to compare them for the purposes of deciding who's the best, or, the most enlightened! Popularity is hardly a safe measure: the crowd in Jerusalem called out for Jesus to be crucified, remember? Most true saints have some following but always, during their lifetimes, it is only a relatively small number. Rock stars and football heroes have far more fans, these days! While in many ways regrettable, one can understand why the Catholic Church thinks it best to make sure their saints are safely buried before making any pronouncements about their sanctity!!! (LOL)

Well, Yogananda is indeed safely buried! Yes, there are stories of many miracles, small and large: even raising the dead.....twice! But, miracles can't really be proven, only averred or testified to. Our souls find their way to God-realized saints in a way at least similar to why and how two people fall in love. By this I mean: "Gee, who knows?" No one can answer such questions, no more than anyone can prove to the satisfaction of reason and the senses that God exists.

Is it, then, a matter of taste? Preference? For those who come and go, it would seem so. I say that because I've seen many "devotees come, and devotees go" (words taken from a chant by Yogananda: "I Will Be Thine Always"). (Ditto for human love, yes?) But there are those true relationships, even in human love, that endure the tests of time and trials. And those are soul relationships.

Some saints serve only a few souls. Others, world teachers, perhaps, have many: even millions. Jesus Christ's mere 33 years on this planet in an obscure and confounding tiny, dusty 'burb of the Roman Empire, changed the course of history. Ditto: Buddha.

I am a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda by the operation of karma, first and foremost. Once my past karma kicked me from behind to remember, I embraced my discipleship. Since then a Divine Helmsman has taken over. At each step if I say "Yes," a gentle but discernible force shows me the "next step."

I am inspired by the universality of Yogananda's spiritual teachings; by the breadth of his wisdom; the intimacy of his love for people; by the power of kriya yoga and the raja yoga techniques that he clarified, taught and brought out of the dustbin of India's ancient yogic traditions. Yogananda set into motion a clarion call for the establishment and development of small, intentional communities. It's as if he foresaw the depersonalizing impact of globalization, Wall Street, terrorism, and "politics-as-usual."

He evidently saw the need for a new and sustainable lifestyle that fostered individual initiative and creativity; and, cooperation with others. To that end he founded small businesses and small farms, and a school for children. He emphasized natural living, including living in nature, away from cities, and vegetarianism for those who could adapt to it.

These things don't necessarily distinguish him from other spiritual leaders but they are aspects of his outer persona. They are things you can point to and emulate and learn and grow from doing them.

His devotional nature can be seen in his poems, songs, chants, writings and talks. He expresses a traditional, indeed orthodox (though nonsectarian) view of God. Some modern, forward-thinking and educated people are not ready for the "God" part, nor yet for a devotional "bhav." In this he didn't compromise but yet only showed his devotional side under circumstances and with those that were open to it.

When one reads his autobiography, one sees in his story and also in that of his guru (Swami Sri Yukteswar) and his param-guru (Lahiri Mahasaya) a distinct form of natural, even egalitarian, behavior apropos to our age. Both of these great saints, and therefore Yogananda himself, de-emphasized their own personal roles and spiritual attainment. The trappings of guru-dom are noticeably marginalized in the lives of these three Self-realized souls.

Thus another characteristic, and one also easily seen in the life of Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Yogananda), is a naturalness of being that finds ready acceptance in innumerable circumstances and with a wide range of people. Lack of spiritual pretense, in other words, characterizes Yogananda, his teachers, and the work of Ananda. This, too, I find attractive.

In this new age, the universal trajectory of consciousness is upon the individual. Hierarchy, tribe, race, religion, obedience, dogmas, blind worship: these are losing their appeal as forms of primary self-identity. Instead, there is an increasing emphasis on personal choice and freedom, on conscience, cooperation and creativity. For true devotees, however, devotion -- guided by wisdom -- is the natural outcome of a higher consciousness that sees the vastness of God beyond the littleness of time, space and individuality. Thus, the primary emphasis both overall and in spirituality in this age is upon self-effort. (Grace, the corollary of self-effort isn't ignored. Instead, it is seen as that result of self-effort. In the prior age, spiritual consciousness was seen to be primarily the product of grace, not self-effort.)

Lastly, and as extension of de-emphasizing personal virtue or his own spiritual stature (which, for Yogananda, as an avatar, is beyond normal comprehension), one finds that Yogananda's life resembles, at least in some measure, our own. Born to a middle-class family, Yogananda's father was a corporate executive, and his mother was creatively and actively engaged in her community, with her extended family and in the education and training of her children. She was known for her charitable giving.

Yogananda, in his youth, excelled in sports and traveled extensively by train throughout India. He completed his B.A. degree. In America he was a popular and charismatic lecturer and met and befriended famous and talented people wherever he went. He was active in social issues, spoke against racism of all kinds, he was involved with the founding of the United Nations, and instrumental in immigration reform. He lived in Los Angeles, a hotbed of fashion, entertainment, and forward thinking spirituality, where he had many friends and students. He visited and lectured in every major city in America and was a tourist at Yellowstone National Park, Alaska and many other famous sites. Yogananda traveled throughout Europe and Asia. All of these are aspects of modern life even today. (He evidently never flew commercially but certainly would have if he had lived longer!)

Nonetheless, these outward aspects cannot fully explain the real person, nor my own, or anyone's attraction to his teachings, his persona, and to his ever-living presence. A spiritual "giant" emanates a powerful, spiritual vibration that acts as a magnet upon souls seeking divine attunement. Like bees finding flowers, the soul-to-soul call draws us to God-consciousness in human form.

I will only mention in passing his great contributions to religious dogma and theology. An explanation of seven revolutionary teachings of Yogananda was recently written by Nayaswami Jyotish Novak, Ananda's spiritual director (worldwide). It can be found at http://www.jyotishanddevi.org/. Yogananda reconciled non-dual philosophy with dualism; the divine nature of Jesus with our own human nature; Jesus' status as "Son of God" with that of other great world teachers; the seeming disintegration of society with the apparent advances in knowledge; a personal perception of God with God's infinite nature; metaphysical with medical healing; renunciation with life in the world; biological evolution with spiritual evolution, ah, just to name, "like," a few!

Happy birthday, Gurudeva!







Friday, July 25, 2014

Do I Need a Guru?

Do I Need a Guru?

(Note: I write this inspired as I am this day, July 25, which commemorates the meeting of Mahavatar Babaji with Paramhansa Yogananda for the purpose of endorsing Yogananda's inspiration to go to America. Yogananda prayed all night for a sign that his going was the Divine will. The next morning the peerless Babaji came to him at 4 Garpar Road, Calcutta, to give his blessing to one who was destined to bring the work of kriya yoga to the West and to the world.)

Well, if that’s the question, I say, “Is the pope Catholic?” Mozart was once asked how it was he composed music at age 4 or 5? Mozart’s reply was simple: “I didn’t have to ask that question.”

If a person is seeking a partner in life and is attracted to someone, if he has to ask, “Am I in love?” I’d say, “Wait.” If you have to ask a question like that, it means the answer is no. Important things in life aren’t answered by listing out the “pros” and “cons” on a sheet of paper.

One who asks, “Do I need a guru,” doesn’t. And, not because he doesn’t, but because he isn’t ready. When he is ready, he won’t ask the question.

Now, many a person approaches the marriage altar unsure of herself. Self-doubt is certainly an obstacle. Things might work out just fine. Or, not! Yet, despite the doubt, the very fact of approaching altar speaks for itself. Others approach with great certitude only to later encounter stormy waters and crushing disappointment. Whether falsely confident or unnecessarily doubting, the mental static of each thwarts the power of intuition to know what is true.

When I read Autobiography of a Yogi the first time, I simply knew. It wasn’t that I said, “I have found my guru.” Rather, it was that “I knew.” I knew that I had to take the next step even though I didn’t know where it would lead. I had enough intuition and faith to take those steps. And, they weren’t timid steps, for these steps included leaving my birth family and moving to Ananda Village with little to no idea what I was getting into. I wasn’t thinking in terms such as “discipleship” to a person, but I was inspired by Yogananda’s teachings and by the opportunity to live those teachings with others in community. I was fired with calm enthusiasm and confidence. 

Besides, Yogananda, as a person, died in 1952 when I was less than two years old. I had not yet met Swami Kriyananda but that didn’t seem to matter much either. I was blessed with a knowing. I never gave one thought to the details. In fact, it was 1977, one year after the fire at Ananda Village: there were no homes and fewer jobs in a remote corner of Nevada County in the Sierra foothills where Ananda Village was located. There wasn’t much there to see: besides a few tepees and huts, there was the Publications building, a very old farmhouse that was the tiny grocery store, a two-room Village office, an old barn and a schoolhouse on a hill.

My attraction may have included inspirational ideas but my response was, and had to be, very personal. One’s response to grace is always personal. For starters, it was personal because a person, Padma, was the one who introduced me to the "Autobiography;" for another, she introduced me to Swami Kriyananda and Ananda! For another, she was interested in me! It doesn’t get more personal than that. My life was about to change drastically and it was very personal!

Nonetheless, though I wasn’t averse or reactive to the word “discipleship,” discipleship wasn’t, for me, the operative word. It would have been too formal for my vocabulary at that time. But that is certainly what it was. And so, bit by bit, step by step, Paramhansa Yogananda came into my life and consciousness.

No response to grace by one person can define the spiritual path. But human life, in its conscious and intentional and intuitive forms, is a constant cycle back and forth between the impersonal and the personal. 

For those who, like myself, begin at the point of ideas, the path becomes increasingly personal. For those who begin at the point of an inspired personal relationship, the path, in order to become whole and complete, becomes increasingly idealistic. But this cycle has to balance and is never static.

I have come full circle in my life on this issue, for, year after year I practiced kriya yoga; year after year I served at the first Ananda Community near Nevada City, CA; year after year I served with, listened to, was taught by and learned from Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda. You could say it kept getting more and more personal! It HAS to because WE ARE personally involved. Our very soul is struggling to emerge from the cocoon of ego. All the abstractions and metaphysical precepts in the universe can’t change the personal nature of spiritual growth.

I have come full circle on this in my life. Many students question why it is that to learn kriya yoga one must accept the disciple-guru relationship with Paramhansa Yogananda and the line of preceptors who sent him. With personal experience, I have come to know why.

I have said to others who question this need, “Go ahead: try to advance spiritually on your own.” Anyone who makes an ardent, sincere and intelligent effort will discover the truth (“that will make you free”): we are not alone and we cannot transcend the ego with the ego’s best efforts alone. Something else — a greater power — is needed. It’s like the website “Kickstarter.” To get a successful venture off the ground, you need spiritual “financing.”

All the kriyas, all the donations, all the creative, tireless, self-less service one performs for spiritual growth are necessary but they constitute only 1/4th of what it takes. For one thing, the doing of such activities are sticky: they stick to the sense of personal, egoic doership.

On the 8-Fold Path of Patanjali, among the five items he lists as the “Do’s” is devotion. Devotion is what propels self-effort towards the soul by way of ego transcendence. Recognition of the “otherness” of the soul, of superconsciousness, of God, and heartfelt self-offering into the guidance and power of the “Other” is the necessary “spice” that makes the soup of spiritual growth nutritious and soul-satisfying.

As I have stated earlier, the spiritual path is personal. Devotion becomes personal when, in response to our heartfelt efforts and devotion, God’s grace and presence flows to us and comes to us through the guru. Timing is everything. Timing includes the question of when we meet the guru face-to-face in the body. It’s not that the true guru is limited by time or space but one’s readiness to encounter the guru in human form varies from person to person. 

We, at Ananda, are disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda but he left his body in 1952. Through the touch of his direct disciple, Swami Kriyananda, we have been inspired and instructed. A time will no doubt come in a future life or on a higher plane when our meeting will be complete in every way. So while the guru is already transcendent and doesn’t need a physical body, we need the guru to appear in human form for our own instruction and inspiration. Otherwise, without incarnation, how would I know anything about the guru: the teachings, the techniques, the life example and stories?

The fact of avatara (divine incarnation) is also the promise of our soul’s immortality. It also hints at how God created and sustains all creation: by an act of becoming. It is logically and philosophically necessary that a soul in human form has achieved Self-realization. This demonstrates the eternal promise, the covenant between God and man that we are His children, made in His image.

The guru is an incarnation of divinity. No single guru can circumscribe or otherwise limit the Infinite Power of God. Nonetheless, one who has “become one with the Father” (in a previous life), returns to human incarnation with the full power of divinity. As God has become the entire universe but the forms and beings of creation have not yet realized this truth, so God incarnates on earth in human form through the vehicle of a soul who has reunited with “the Father” and become Self-realized as a son of God.

Each true (or “sat”) guru remains unique, as each snowflake is unique. This is the law of creation and duality. Thus each guru in any given life will uniquely express God’s will and vibration appropriate both to the unique nature of that Self-realized soul and to the needs of those to whom that guru is sent. No one guru has the final “say.”

It has been well said that “idolatry is the bane of religion.” But so is dogmatism, sectarianism and just about every other vice that infests human consciousness. In the case of idolatry, it is the all too common error of mistaking the form (the human persona of the guru) for the divine spirit which animates the guru’s consciousness. Thus, some object to what they view as the “worship” of the guru for the fact that such devotion belongs solely to God and for the fact that human beings are imperfect.

No point “arguing” with that objection. A good disciple should try always see God as acting through the guru. Yogananda repeatedly reminded disciples that “God is the guru. I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this form but He.” Still, if a sincere but somewhat less than clear-minded disciple lavishes his devotion somewhat too personally upon the guru, forgetting the correct philosophical attitude, it seems hair-splitting so long as the disciple harms no one in his devotions. The problem for such a disciple is that too personal an attitude will, in time, affirm the very ego that the disciple seeks to transcend by virtue of his devotion!

I have come, as I have said, full circle. I will do my kriyas; I will serve; I will do my best to attune my will to the divine will, but it is the mindful, affirmative, and real-time sense of the guru’s presence that is more important than anything that this “I” can do.

In meditation, I try to feel his presence; I try to visualize his eyes, his face, or feel that special state that, for me, says “He is here.” I go from my inner self-talk, monologue, to a dialog with him. I tell him my secrets; I ask his advice; I laugh and cry with him. The world around me may go up or down and all around, but so long as I have my guru at my side, I am whole. I am safe in the arms of his grace.

No, you don’t need a guru……..unless you want to know God; unless you want to be free from the limitations of duality, of the ego, and of your karma. But you may have to wait. You won’t find your guru by chasing and seeking but by becoming a better seeker, a living disciple of truth, of life, of God’s will. “When the disciple is ready, the guru appears.”


Jai Guru!.....blessings,

Nayaswami Hriman


Thursday, September 15, 2011

What does an Avatar Know? or, Feel?

[[edited and revised Saturday, Sept 17]]

The nature of divinity incarnate must surely remain one of humankind's greatest questions and mysteries. You may question that statement but the key to understanding it lies in the simple realization that our "answer" reveals our own nature as well.

I often state in my classes and talks that the answer to "Who is Jesus Christ?" shows us "Who am I?" Is the avatar a divine creation, a puppet? God descended into human form? Is the avatar human like us, and if so, to what degree, to what extent? How did such a one come into being an avatar? By divine fiat or by self-effort? Is such a state unique or do all of us have the potential to achieve it?

We are, to ourselves, also a mysterious concatenation of moods, ideas, actions and feelings. Our sublime states all too frequently descend to the mundane, or lower. We want our deity (our image of perfection) to be clear, clean, and essentially one-dimensional. Look what inevitably happens after the avatar leaves this earth. Even Yogananda who died only in 1952 has been cast by some of his disciples in the one dimensional terms of a strict disciplinarian, or as the founder, merely, of a monastery. In Swami Kriyananda's latest book, "Restoring the Legacy of Paramhansa Yogananda," he describes how in a few decades Yogananda's own disciples have been steadily re-making his image in their own image.


Jesus Christ was crucified once but his image, teachings, and persona have been crucified daily for centuries such that for many Christians and non-Christians he’s been reduced to a wooden crucifix or a spiritual victrola in a sad monotone of “Thou shalt!” Gone is the joyful camaraderie he had with his disciples, the adventure of living and learning from him, the joy and inspiration they felt in his presence. Who would be attracted to a sad and somber saint?
 
Life is dual; life is messy, and when divinity incarnates, He (She) plays by the rules She has created. Just as Oneness is a state of consciousness that transcends duality, so too the only way to pierce the veil of divinity incarnate is to aspire and to approach the deity via an upward effort and flow towards transcendence. Thus it was that the apostle Peter was the only one who answered Jesus’ question (Who do men say I am?) correctly when he responded from intuition, saying: Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God. That Jesus was One with the Father was more than his critics could handle. For his revelation, he was crucified. His own response to his accusers who saw only blasphemy in his claim, he said “Do not your scriptures say, ‘Ye are gods?’”.
 
Thus it is that our attempts to identify divinity or perfection in a living spiritual teacher, or in one now gone from sight, in another person, or in ourselves are fraught with peril. To pierce the veil of duality, we, ourselves, must achieve some degree of intuition born of our soul’s state of knowing-ness. Armed now with this tool of in-sight, let’s now turn directly to our subject of the avatara: the descent of divinity into human form.
If an avatar is "one with God" does the avatar feel pain? Grief? Does he make mistakes? Does he get angry like you or I? Is an avatar above delusion, material desires, hurt feelings, or judging other people?
It is taught in India and is taught by Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the popular and renowned spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi") that an avatar is free from karma and acts in freedom (without personal desire). Is this always and under all circumstances? Is personal desire different than the influences of or appropriate responses to circumstances?


To what degree does such a one feel human joys and sorrows? A further question is this: to what degree does an avatar have access to omniscience? Let's explore this multi-faceted diamond of consciousness where infinity is crystallized into human form. Swami Kriyananda once used the example of an inverted triangle wherein the tip (pointing downward) touches earth in human form and the base (above) stretches to infinity.

Here are some examples (mostly from "Autobiography of a Yogi") for us to consider:
  1. Jesus was crucified and cried out in his agony, "Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani" (Loosely translated: "Lord, why have you abandoned me?").
  2. Paramhansa Yogananda grieved inconsolably (by his own account) at the loss of his mother when he was still a boy.
  3. Babaji told Lahiri Mahasaya that the reason he (Babaji) materialized a golden palace for Lahiri at the time of their meeting and Lahiri's initiation was that Lahiri had had a past life desire for a golden palace.
  4. According to the story of Lahiri's life, one gets the impression that until age 33, when he met Babaji and Babaji reawakened Lahiri's memory of his past life, he was somehow unaware of his own mission and consciousness as an avatar.
  5. Paramhansa Yogananda recounts in his famous story ("Autobiography of a Yogi") that the day after his own guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar had manifested pyschic and telephathic powers in the charming story of the "Cauliflower Robbery," Sri Yukteswar was unable to state the location of a misplaced lantern, disclaiming his own power to do so.
  6. When Sri Yukteswar and Lahiri Mahasaya were each informed of their impending death, they were temporarily taken aback and had to recollect themselves.
  7. In the garden of Gethesmane, Jesus prayed that "this cup be taken from me."
  8. Paramhansa Yogananda claimed that he was, in past lives, William the Conqueror, a famous Spanish king and general, and Arjuna, the Pandava warrior whose archery skills in warfare (and discipleship to Krishna) were legendary.
  9. Swami Sri Yukteswar tells the story how, as a boy, he wanted to have an ugly dog and his mother was powerless to entice him by more attractive canine substitutes.
And yet, each of these (Jesus, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteswar, and Paramhansa Yogananda) are believed to be avatars.


What do the rishis and scriptures tell us about the avatar? An avatar is considered to be an incarnation of divinity. In the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda this definition is clarified to state that such an soul is like you and I, but has achieved Oneness with God and cosmic consciousness. This achievement occurs over many lifetimes and its victory is the combination of self-effort and divine grace. An avatar is freed from all past karma and has the power to help an unlimited number of souls and to dispense any and all levels of God-realization according to the will of "the Father who" sends him.

Others speak of an avatar as a direct manifestation of God or some aspect or diety (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva), but Yogananda did not use the term in that way. This is more or less how Christian theology defines the nature of Jesus Christ. But Yogananda pointed out that Jesus and his direct disciples made it clear numerous times that what Jesus attained all souls have the potential to become ("sons of God"). The avatars, Yogananda taught, do not come to show off, but to show to us our own highest potential.

Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita describes how he (and others) have come repeatedly down through history and may play a visible role on the stage of human history or be behind the scenes (like Babaji). Therefore it is clear that an avatar comes and takes on many different roles and personalities. Discerning the chain of incarnation is beyond the scope of any except the most spiritually advanced and probably is only truly made known by the avatar himself.

Swami Kriyananda, contemplating the paradox of Yogananda having once been William the Conqueror, once asked Paramhansa Yogananda what it means to be an avatar under such circumstances. Yogananda's terse reply was that "one never loses his sense of inner freedom." The clear iimplication is that, as William, he did not necessarily access (openly at least) his omniscience and prescience. So far as we know, he made no disclosure of knowledge of his longer-term purpose or his spiritual stature. Perhaps such knowledge was simply unnecessary to the fulfillment and conduct of his role as William.

[As an historical aside, historians show that William set into motion a chain of events whose significance grew over time. The government that he established and that was brought to greater completion by his youngest son Henry I created a new political form that, in time, produced the Magna Carta and subjected even kings to the rule of law and due process, and, established the concept of inalienable human rights and liberties. The political stability and power of Britain was to eventually give birth to the founding of America, to the beginnings of globalization and exchange of knowledge between east and west (through its empire), and to the spread of the English language as the linga franca of the world.]

In the book, "Conversations with Yogananda," Swami Kriyananda reports that Yogananda also clarified that an avatar does not necessarily act or have at his disposal in every moment cosmic and omniscient knowledge. Functioning as he must in a physical body, he, like ourselves, must deal with the material realities and human egos which surround him. In fact, while enjoying, let's say, a meal, he may be calmly present and enjoying that experience, chatting away merrily, without regard for or need to elevate himself to a transcendent level. If you ask him "What year did Columbus sail the ocean blue?", he may pause, try to remember, and even get the date wrong! For in that setting, there's no compelling spiritual need to prove anything or help anyone, so his ordinary human memory suffices for the task at hand.

But that's a far cry from what many people do: avidly wolfing down a sandwich, completely forgetful of the Self! For when the need arises, the avatar has a "divine security clearance" and higher access to cosmic knowledge! They demonstrate this time and again, certainly at least to those "with eyes to see."

But when and how does he access that higher knowledge? Can he just "dial up" God the Father and ask him about so-and-so? What is difficult for us to understand is the "I-ness" of an avatar. Yogananda said that even an avatar has to have an ego to deal responsibly with his body and in this world. Thus our inquiry today is the attempt to discern that spectrum of motivation and awareness possessed by one who is free in God.

We see in the life of Jesus, of Yogananda, and many others that they prayed frequently to God (as Father, Mother or in other forms dear to them) for guidance. They attribute their miraculous powers to God, not to themselves. So whether in reality or for our benefit, there seems to be a veil in place between omniscience and their level of consciousness in human form. But many avatars have raised the dead, healed the sick, spoke prophetically, or disclosed the thoughts or past lives of others. Sometimes these incidents were spontaneous; other times, the avatar prayed beforehand or otherwise showed himself going within for divine sanction or power.

Yogananda said of himself (and Jesus and Krishna similarly), "I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this form but He." There seems therefore to be a flow of energy between the avatar in his human form and the avatar in his cosmic consciousness. There seems to be an I-Thou interchange which, while different in degree, is not different in kind from our own efforts to attune ourselves to God's presence in our lives.

Absence of personal motive would be another approach to trying to discern the consciousness of the avatar. Thus we see illustrated in the life of William the Conqueror a steady flow of actions based on moral, ethical, political, and religious rules, precepts, and standards of behavior. Although some of his actions, looked at through the lens of 21st century mores may seem ruthless, living as he did in the Dark Ages ruthlessness (as we would define it) was not only accepted in his time but expected, for few royal subjects would respond to anything less. Reluctance to take on battle would only have been interpreted as weakness; likewise, as would anything less than the commitment to win and to be victorious or the willingness to punish enemies in accordance with standards of the time. (In fact, however, both William and his youngest son, Henry I, showed remarkable forebearance and magnanimity over their self-styled enemies.)

An analysis of history shows us that William was no mere interloper taking advantage of political instability to expand his dominion but the rightful heir and protector of the British crown. He was supported by all the princes of Europe and by the papacy in his claim. Similarly Henry I (who may very well have been Swami Kriyananda in that past life) conducted his royal affairs in a manner that showed that he was fulfilling "the will of his father" in establishing the British kingdom and Normandy on principled grounds. [See the fascinating account of their lives in Catherine Kairavi's newly published account, "Two Souls, Four Lives."]

An avatar willing accepts the limitations inherent in human form when he incarnates. This includes going through the human stages of infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. The avatar experiences the joys and sorrows of human existence. But the avatar's incarnation is not propelled by karmic complusions or ego-oriented desires, and, instead, is inspired by a desire to help others and fulfill the divine law.

If you willingly went to jail, though innocent of any crime, in an effort to spare another person who might have been wrongly accused or who would suffer unnecessarily from the experience of incarceration, you would still be innocent of the crime. But there you would be in jail and you'd have to accept the limitations, rules, and daily humiliations of prison life. Were you to protest your innocence, you would be ignored by fellow inmates and jailers alike, for we all know that in prison, "everyone's innocent!"

A grandparent might thoroughly enjoy playing catch with his grandson or a father wrestling with his son without ever losing the sense of his role. Even in the spirit of rivalry or competition, the grandparent or parent probably experiences the "game" with a greater sense of detachment than the child who perhaps plays in earnest or with abandon.

An actor, practiced and well honed in his skills, might with confidence play his role upon the stage with immersion into the role while acting. While doing so it is unncessary for him to remind himself that he's not, say, Hamlet, for on an existential level there is no confusion. Moreover, arriving home after work, he greets his wife and children as himself, and no taint of his stage persona or role lurks or stains his own consciousness.

Yogananda taught that Jesus did not suffer on the cross for himself but felt grief for the ignorance and the consequent (if future) suffering of his tormentors. Jesus' greatest victory was not even his resurrection but the forgiveness he expressed even while hanging on the cross. Yogananda went further to state that Jesus could have, at any time, transcended the physical pain of his agony. As Christians teach that "Jesus died for our sins," so Yogananda taught that a true guru (an avatar) can take on karma of his disciples. He himself endured physical illness and explained that it was for the purpose of taking on karma of his disciples. Such is the great gift of love and divine friendship the guru offers.

If your friend loses a loved one to illness or a sudden, fatal accident, will you tell her that "The soul is eternal and does not suffer? Or, that death has no true reality and therefore she shouldn't grieve?" Well, I hope not! Yogananda as a boy felt the grief natural to a child when he lost his mother. Later Divine Mother appeared to him to reveal that it was She, herself, who was his mother in that life. This consolation would have dissipated any vestige of sadness that may have been retained. But his grief need not have been merely the grief of human delusion but the grief appropriate to his condition and his circumstances. I believe that such a one, like the actor, can genuinely experience grief while remaining untouched within. This is demonstrated by the lack of residual or recollected pain in the future. The ordinary human being takes many years to recover from grief and very often re-experiences again and again, perhaps, over time, less often, or less intensely but all too often for the remainder of his or her lifetime! The avatar, by contrast, like writing on water, undergoes the human experience and then moves on, untouched.

Remaining in his human "self" and eschewing the power to withdraw to his omniscient Self, I believe that Yogananda experienced and expressed his loss as a child, even as the quiet, inner, watchful Self remained intact and withdrawn from the drama. 

Swami Kriyananda has also commented on what might be somewhat particular to Yogananda's "lila" (the way he behaved and related to the world around him). Kriyananda explains that Yogananda willingly experienced various human emotions and circumstances even when he could have just as easily chosen to transcend them. Being free, he was unafraid or had no need to protect himself from the power of maya. He wore his wisdom like a comfortable old coat and had no need to affirm his transcendence. This was demonstrated at times when he was mistreated, misunderstood, humiliated, incurred or accepted physical pain, human grief, or enjoyed the simple pleasures of good food, in his infectious humor, beautiful scenery, sports, and the pleasure of the company of friends.

Sri Yukteswar tells the story of his childhood attachment to an ugly dog and how he could not be dissuaded from wanting that dog by more attractive substitutes! Lahiri may have had a past life desire for a golden palace but perhaps that desire was gone and perhaps Babaji simply resurrected that past desire to honor Lahiri's re-awakening and initiation in the form of that golden, bejeweled palace on Drongiri Mountain?

Still, let's assume that each them actually had, as avatars, these desires. Is that possible? Imagine that you are an avatar and that you are free from the delusion and shackles of desire. But then you willingly incarnate to help others. In so doing, you must cloak your cosmic spirit in maya. Your cosmic consciousness must be "squeezed" into a human body, so to speak. You descend into the womb of maya for the sake of struggling souls. This means you will be surrounded by and even temporarily exposed to and tempted by maya's power. Remember, for example, the temptation of Jesus (Yogananda said Jesus had long ago been liberated). An avatar, being free and retaining that freedom, can "play" in the storm of delusion with a kind of absolute impunity while even yet allowing the law of duality to influence or circumscribe his inner freedom during the "lila" of the experience.

Thus, should the circumstances surrounding the avatar (as a child, a warrior, a husband, etc.) call for grief, desire, warfare, he can enter the fray and may be, for a time, wholly or seemingly immersed in it. But when he "comes out of it" he can instantly detach the vrittis, the energies, from his consciousness, just as a professional football player can pound the heck out of the other team, leave the field satisfied and not be the least bit personally angry with his opponents. In the great epic of India, the Mahabharata, it is said that the good guys and bad guys met in Swarga (heaven) afterwards for a party! An avatar is perhaps like you and I working in the garden. We necessarily get dirty, but we can come inside the house, take a shower and the dirt is gone. It has no ultimate power to affect us.

Have you ever been in an embarrassing situation while yet laughing at yourself or mentally saying to yourself ("This will make a good story!")? Have you ever had a great idea and you knew instantly it was just perfect? Then, as you go about sharing, energizing and manifesting that idea you find that there is little or no sense of ego or pride in the idea: just the joy and satisfaction of its manifestation? In the midst of the flow of inspiration, talent, and skill we can feel "the force" without necessarily involving the ego beyond the necessity to stay present and focused on the task at hand. Isn't it so?

Some people (maybe in their business life, artistic talents, or inventiveness) just seem "to know." There's no great angst involved. There's no agony of reasoned analysis, or impassioned affirmation. "He who knows, knows." It doesn't require hindsight (conscious analysis of how you know) or foresight (conscious awareness of what it all means or what will result). It simply IS. We all have probably had this experience sometime, somewhere! Imagine the level of calm, inner confidence an avatar must possess! What freedom!

With these examples and illustration, perhaps we can intuitively sense even a fragment of the consciousness of an avatar who lives and acts in this world of duality. At the same time, we must be careful not to imagine we can define or in any way limit that consciousness, for it expresses Infinity itself! Their lives offer to us a window onto the uniqueness which is our true Self, and the permission and duty to play our roles with passion, creativity, joy and yet, like a great actor, without ever being touched by its drama.

Yet for us to "see" who is an avatar, to detect divinity in another person, and to finally uncover divinity in ourselves we mustn't be fooled by outer appearances. (Like the picture-perfect sadhu in India who approached Swami Kriyananda to say, "Want a picture? 40 rupees!") It takes sincere and sustained "sadhana" (meditation, introspection, right attitude and right action) to develop the intuition that we may have "eyes to see, and ears to hear."

Imagine it! Act it! Be-come free!

Blessings,


Nayaswami Hriman