Showing posts with label chakras. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chakras. Show all posts

Monday, May 29, 2017

Seven Stages of Meditation

I find it helpful to “look under the hood” so that I feel more comfortable and confident about what I am doing. Having created the local version (Seattle, WA) of Meditation Teacher Training, I explain to prospective students that in that course we “look under the hood” of meditation to learn the “how’s” and the “why’s” of the different practices and the stages through which we practice them. In that way, they might better understand and appreciate their practice and go deeper, and, by extension, to help others as well.
I’d like to offer to you a description of seven stages of meditation. My caveat is to acknowledge that inasmuch as we are speaking of levels of consciousness, one could say these are infinity, or, at least, infinitely more complex than a mere seven. That having been said (well, ok, “written”), see if you find this helpful:
Seven stages of meditation:
1.       SELF-AWARENESS / INTROSPECTION. The classic form of mindfulness is to simply sit quietly, usually eyes closed, and observe your thoughts. This might be in conjunction with observing or controlling your breath. In other meditation practices, the focus might supposed to be somewhere else but, in fact, the intrusion of monkey mind thoughts has the same effect (at least if the thoughts win the day). I call this phase of meditation: “Getting to know you!”[1] In this first level of meditation, it may be pleasant; it might even offer some “aha” moments; it can also be upsetting if past traumas or chronic fears arise unexpectedly. But, for my purposes, its salient characteristic is that the ego-I is self-enclosed, running somewhat if not entirely on the engine of the sub-conscious mind throwing out a random stream of consciousness or directed by the conscious mind munching on its own agenda. This type of “meditation” has its place; more than that, it demands its space. For those who have no higher intention than this space, well, mostly, that’s all there is. It is possible, however, that superconscious images or inspirations (even visions) might appear, but the chances of that are rather slim. I’ve heard that such a practice can lead to life changes but, well, never mind. No comment.
2.       CONSCIOUS QUIESCENCE.  A practice or technique that guides the meditator to quiet the monkey mind is the beginning of more traditional and time-honored meditations. By whatever technique (mantra, devotion, visualization, breath work) this state is achieved, it is refreshing, to say the least. It remains however in the realm of the ego-mind. The subconscious and conscious narrative functions may have diminished or ceased, but the ego remains King of the I. This state of conscious quiescence can be the launch pad for the higher states potentially yet to come. It is not always thus, however, as in the example of Ramakrishna gazing up at flock of geese and going into Samadhi suggests! Seriously, however, one might be chanting or praying or practicing any number of techniques and be drawn upward into a higher state without having to stop at the launch pad.
3.       ASTRAL PERCEPTIONS. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, he states that concentration upon astral perceptions can be a helpful focal point for going into deeper states. These astral perceptions might easily appear to one’s inner sight or subtle senses as a direct consequence of the quiet mind described in #2 above. While I hesitate to insist upon the following point, it is a good place to bring it up. The psycho-physiological subtle centers known as the chakras mark (for me at least) the transition from beginning meditation techniques to advanced ones. There is a relationship between astral perceptions and the functions of the chakras. The most notable ones being color and sound, but there are subtle perceptions of taste and smell, to name just a few of the more common ones. Thus, (and again I don’t insist on this point), one could say that the stage of meditation wherein astral perceptions become common or consistent is the stage where advanced techniques are employed (or at least that the meditator is achieving a more subtle or refined level of meditative awareness). This does not mean the ego has abdicated the throne quite yet but it is coming closer. This stage has a further relationship with the sixth stage on the Eight-Fold Path (described in the Yoga Sutras) of dharana. It is where the ego is aware that “I” am experiencing or perceiving these astral phenomenons. Subtle perceptions can also be glimpses into qualities of the soul (aka "aspects of God") which can be wholly entered into as described below.
4.       SUPERCONSCIOUSNESS. If the meditator is one who is seeking inner communion with God or some aspect of God (by whatever name or form), the next stage is well plotted for us in the seventh stage of the Eight-Fold Path: dhyana. This is where the formerly “I am feeling peaceful” becomes simply PEACE. It is where, to quote Paramhansa Yogananda’s famous poem Samadhi, “Knowing, Knower, Known as One!” In this stage, impossible to describe in words with reason and intellectual integrity, one does not LOSE Self-awareness; instead, one BECOMES the object of his focus, such as peace, wisdom, energy, love, calmness, (astral) sound or light, or bliss. One feels more alive than we could possible experience in ordinary states of waking or sleeping. This experience takes place not in the physical body; not even in the astral body, but in the causal body of ideation or thought, which is the Soul. But as yet, the Soul has not broken out of its identity or connection with the physical and astral bodies even if momentarily those bodies are as if asleep.
5.       SABIKALPA SAMADHI. Here I cannot but stumble on the simple fact that I am over simplifying the entire subject so much that I almost feel guilty. There are countless steps within this step. But, anyway, let me move forward because now we come to when the Soul begins to merge step by step: first in achieving oneness with the astral cosmos on a vibratory level; then achieving oneness with the causal world of the Kutastha or Christ Consciousness level of ideation; then at last going beyond all phenomenal worlds into the Infinite Spirit whose nature is Bliss itself: ever-existing (immortal and omnipresent); ever-conscious (omniscient); and ever-new Bliss. This is experienced as a state of meditation during which the physical body (at least) is moribund, held in a state of suspended animation or trance-like (immobile). This experience is probably repeated endlessly and perhaps over more than one, even many, incarnations. One can “fall” from this state at any time by the influence of desire or past karmas. It might take incarnations before once again achieving this blessed experience.
6.       NIRBIKALPA SAMADHI with KARMA. At last, like the caged bird whose multiple but brief forays outside the cage end when the bird flies away free for good, the state of cosmic consciousness becomes  permanent. But there’s still a catch: the astral and causal bodies remain intact because the astral body contains the unresolved seeds of past karma. Being, however, “free,” and not a care in the three worlds, the now jivan mukta (“free soul”) may have no reason to worry or be in a hurry to release his baggage. He might even keep some of his connections with other souls so that he can continue to assist them in their upward path to freedom. Patanjali mentions that such a one might, by contrast, incarnate into multiple bodies to work out that big bad past karma! At this point time becomes irrelevant but there is no chance of falling, spiritually speaking.
7.       NIRBIKALPA SAMADHI WITHOUT KARMA: When the jivan mukta achieves final liberation, he (she) (what matters gender at such a point!) becomes a param mukta or a siddha. Paramhansa Yogananda stated that if such a one does reincarnate he does so without any karmic compulsion and can therefore be declared an avatar! An avatar has limitless powers to uplift other souls. His role may be that of world teacher or savior or he may be all but completely undetected for reasons of the Divine Will.
Paramhansa Yogananda counseled us to memorized his poem, Samadhi. I have said it every day for many years. I believe that it gives to me the vibration of the final stage of freedom such that I draw a bit of it into my consciousness every day. I leave it with now and bid you adieu! 
 /s/ Swami Hrimananda

                    Samadhi
Vanished the veils of light and shade,
            Lifted every vapor of sorrow,
            Sailed away all dawns of fleeting joy,
            Gone the dim sensory mirage.
            Love, hate, health, disease, life, death,
            Perished these false shadows on the screen of duality.
            Waves of laughter, scyllas of sarcasm, melancholic whirlpools,
            Melting in the vast sea of bliss.
            The storm of maya stilled
            By magic wand of intuition deep.
            The universe, forgotten dream, subconsciously lurks,
            Ready to invade my newly-wakened memory divine.
            I live without the cosmic shadow,
            But it is not, bereft of me;
            As the sea exists without the waves,
            But they breathe not without the sea.
            Dreams, wakings, states of deep turia sleep,
            Present, past, future, no more for me,
            But ever-present, all-flowing I, I, everywhere.
            Planets, stars, stardust, earth,
            Volcanic bursts of doomsday cataclysms,
            Creation’s molding furnace,
            Glaciers of silent x-rays, burning electron floods,
            Thoughts of all men, past, present, to come,
            Every blade of grass, myself, mankind,
            Each particle of universal dust,
            Anger, greed, good, bad, salvation, lust,
            I swallowed, transmuted all
            Into a vast ocean of blood of my own one Being!
            Smoldering joy, oft-puffed by meditation
            Blinding my tearful eyes,
            Burst into immortal flames of bliss,
            Consumed my tears, my frame, my all.
            Thou art I, I am Thou,
            Knowing, Knower, Known, as One!
            Tranquilled, unbroken thrill, eternally living, ever-new peace!
            Enjoyable beyond imagination of expectancy, samadhi bliss!
            Not an unconscious state
            Or mental chloroform without wilful return,
            Samadhi but extends my conscious realm
            Beyond limits of the mortal frame
            To farthest boundary of eternity
            Where I, the Cosmic Sea,
            Watch the little ego floating in Me.
            The sparrow, each grain of sand, fall not without My sight.
            All space floats like an iceberg in My mental sea.
            Colossal Container, I, of all things made.
            By deeper, longer, thirsty, guru-given meditation
            Comes this celestial samadhi.
            Mobile murmurs of atoms are heard,
            The dark earth, mountains, vales, lo! molten liquid!
            Flowing seas change into vapors of nebulae!
            Aum blows upon vapors, opening wondrously their veils,
            Oceans stand revealed, shining electrons,
            Till, at last sound of the cosmic drum,
            Vanish the grosser lights into eternal rays
            Of all-pervading bliss.
            From joy I came, for joy I live, in sacred joy I melt.
            Ocean of mind, I drink all creation’s waves.
            Four veils of solid, liquid, vapor, light,
            Lift aright.
            Myself, in everything, enters the Great Myself.
            Gone forever, fitful, flickering shadows of mortal memory.
            Spotless is my mental sky, below, ahead, and high above.
            Eternity and I, one united ray.
            A tiny bubble of laughter, I
            Am become the Sea of Mirth Itself.

Note: taken from the Crystal Clarity Publishers reprint of the original 1946 edition of "Autobiography of a Yogi"
           
           




[1] I believe that was a song in the 1992 musical, King and I (Rodgers & Hammerstein) sung by Julie Andrews.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What is the best meditation technique? What is Kriya Yoga?

What is the best meditation technique? Can a device with sound or images or other electronic stimulation really deepen your meditation? Should I use a pre-recorded, guided meditation aid? Are all the techniques which use the term "kriya" the same? There are so many mantras and pranayams and gurus, where does one even begin?

The short answer ("All roads lead to Rome") has some validity and is a tempting rejoinder and end to all these questions, but . . . . the "real answer" is both subjective (personal) and objective (demonstrable).

A proper response also requires an understanding of the purpose of meditation, whether, too, from the one's personal motivation or from the tradition and history of meditation itself. But I have addressed the question of "What is Meditation" in other articles on this site. For my purposes, I will assume that our shared understanding of the purpose of meditation is primarily a spiritual one.

"What works best for you" is a fair yardstick although be forewarned that you risk "the blind leading the blind and both falling in a ditch" of ignorance. It's like practicing hatha (physical) yoga because it's a good body workout experience: just because everybody does it, it still misses the true purpose of yoga by a "country mile."

Let's start with the personal: the meditation technique that is right for you has to work for you; it has to appeal to you: enough in the beginning to be attracted to it, and enough in the end to stick with it. This is not the same thing as saying your technique is effortless, easy, and blissful. Think of marriage (or a meaningful profession or career) as a comparison.

Notwithstanding the internet, CD's, DVD's and old-fashioned books, it is also worth noting that no effective (and long-term) meditation technique is divorced from its source: the teacher (or tradition). Partly it's a matter of your own confidence and faith in that technique. If John Smith down the street writes a book on meditation, it might strike your curiosity but I doubt it's going to change your life through daily, deep practice. Both the message and messenger are equally important. Meditation is personal: never forget that!

Not only, therefore, must the technique appeal to you and work sustain-ably for you but you must feel a connection, confidence, inspiration and/or faith in the teacher and/or tradition from which your chosen technique has come. I will stop short of talking about gurus and a disciple-guru relationship. I have written of that in other articles on this site.

There is one further point on the question of personal: the teachings and philosophy that surrounds your technique and teacher. Meditation, viewed in the vacuum of this article discussing technique (as such), might seem disconnected from the need for philosophy, theology, or teaching. Indeed, many meditation teachers say just that: you can be an atheist and practice meditation. Fine: who would argue with that! (I've said it myself!) But that, too, is a philosophy and a teaching. And maybe that really inspires you!

Thus some meditators practice under the auspices of one of the many Buddhist traditions; or Indian traditions; or Christian monastic traditions, or Sufi, Taoist, or Shinto and so on.

So, on a personal level, and as my own teacher, Swami Kriyananda put it in a talk he gave: we need to find the "right teacher, right teaching and right technique" for US and OUR spiritual evolution. All three (like Father, Son and Holy Ghost) are integral components of a successful (i.e. life changing) meditation practice.

Now, let's move on to the "objective" aspects of techniques. Almost any sincere and intelligent effort to meditate will produce positive results. That being said, we enter into the science of meditation. Keeping this article to a reasonable length, let us simplistically say that a successful technique or sitting in meditation experience will yield a mind that is focused and free from random thoughts; a body that is perfectly still (being relaxed but alert); and a "heart" or "mind" that experiences an expansion of consciousness and/or deep satisfaction in the form of inner peace (joy, love, etc.). Let's just leave it at that for now, ok?

The science of meditation teaches us that there is an intimate connection between our mind and body through the medium of breath. Our breath (in its various and measurable attributes of inhalation and exhalation) reflects our state of mind. Our state of mind affects our breath. This relationship is the bedrock of meditation.

The mind, however, can be influenced by conscious and intentional body movements (think yoga, martial arts), by mental concentration (mantra, visualization and affirmation), and by inspiration (chanting, prayer, and devotional images). Each of these, relative to breath, are still somewhat "outside" ourselves. They are effective when employed intelligently, consistently, and as guided intuitively. But the ultimate tool and the source (both) is the mind which in its purest form transcends any specific mental image or physical form. The breath has more directly than any of these other techniques a psycho-physiological impact upon the mind.

I am not saying that breath techniques are BETTER than mantra or devotion, for example. Rather, I am saying that the breath, relatively uncolored and free from the image-making faculties of the mind (which, in the end are abandoned in the higher states of meditation), works directly upon the mind. In the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, the core sutra states that oneness is achieved when the mind transcends creating and reacting to stimuli (mental or otherwise): Stanza 2: "Yogas chitta vritti nirodha."

That fact doesn't invalidate the wide range of meditation techniques. St. Teresa of Avila discovered from direct experience how to go from formulaic prayer to silent, inner prayer and finally beyond all mentation into ecstatic, breathless states of divine communion. She was known to levitate and even bi-locate.

Nonetheless, the discovery of the mind-breath-body connection IS the science of meditation. It is HOW the mind rediscovers the transcendent state of pure consciousness even while in a body. Thus it is that breath techniques (aka "pranayama") abound and are very often at least part of the most effective and popular meditation techniques that are taught and practiced today.

I practice the popular Kriya Yoga technique as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda and his lineage (Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Swami Sri Yukteswar). It has been made known principally through his famous story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." Chapter 26 of that book ("Kriya Yoga") can be read for free online: http://www.ananda.org/free-inspiration/books/autobiography-of-a-yogi/.

While most of the popularly used pranayams focus on the breath, diaphragm, and lungs, Kriya Yoga focuses on the internal, subtle breath whose movements, yogis tell us, cause the physical breath. These currents of energy (known as "prana") revolve up and down in the subtle (or "astral") body which inhabits (creates, sustains, and, at death, leaves) the physical body. The intelligent vital Life Force of prana flows out to the physical body through doorways known as "chakras." Kriya Yoga organically and gradually teaches one how to control this life force so as to consciously coax it inward and away from its captivity in the organs and tissues of the physical body so its power and intelligence (which is divine) can reunite with its commander-in-chief, the Soul, residing in the higher(est) chakras in and around the head. This goal is the state of yoga: union with the Soul and then, eventually, with the Infinite Oversoul which is God.

Each conscious rotation of the prana in the astral body through the chakras is equivalent to living one full solar year in perfect harmony with the body, with the world and with the soul. Excluding the seventh chakra, the soul, the remaining six chakras becomes twelve by the polarity of the movement of prana up and down and through these chakras (producing, in turn, in each rotation, one breath cycle of inhalation and exhalation). These twelve constitute the true inner astrological constellations under which our karma (past actions) reside and which must be untied and released so their energy may seek soul-union above in the seventh chakra.

In this manner, Yogananda taught that the practice of Kriya Yoga is the "airplane route" to God because it accelerates our spiritual evolution by resolving karmic patterns without having to wait many lifetimes to work out each and every desire and make good each and every debt.

Kriya Yoga is not only a technique: it is a spiritual path. It therefore uses devotion, chanting, affirmation, mantra and good works, right attitude....in short all the tools of the spiritual "trade" that one sees universally employed. By adding this direct perception and control of our inner, soul anatomy, we have a meditation technique suited to our cultural inclination toward science (and away from sectarianism).

I will not conclude by saying "Kriya Yoga is the BEST technique" but it is a great gift to the world for those who feel drawn to it and inspired by its preceptors and precepts.

Blessings to you,

Nayaswami Hriman


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How to Quiet the Monkey Mind (in meditation)

Once a person decides he or she wants to meditate, there's no question that the most common struggle for meditators, both new and seasoned, is the restless, "monkey" mind. If I could give you a prescription that would solve that I would be, ah, 'er, well............but, there are ways to tame the monkey.

But be forewarned that there's no pill, no bio-feedback device, no music or guided CD that's going to make restless thoughts go away effortlessly. There's no substitute for your own, finely-attuned, sensitive efforts linking mental focus, clear intention, and refined feeling.

But let's review some steps and basics that can help you. "Mind you," there's no lack of them, either:

Part 1 - The Basics

  1. Do you meditate consistently, day in and day out? Without consistency of effort there can be no progress.
  2. Why do you meditate? Remind yourself frequently of "why." This will include a quick review of the benefits and intentions. Without the motivation to meditate we become burdened by ambivalence or mental resistance and it is difficult to go deep. Paramhansa Yogananda put it bluntly when he said "The soul loves to meditate, but the ego hates to meditate." Be clear; be firm; be inspired!
  3. What is meditation? It is not thinking things over and, ultimately, it's not simply sitting with eyes closed enjoying a steady, random stream of consciousness thoughts, however interesting or pleasurable such an act may be. If you don't know what meditation is, any meditative efforts can be called "good." I am not going to be so presumptuous as to define the undefinable but let us say (as I paraphrase my spiritual preceptor, Paramhansa Yogananda) that real meditation (only) begins when thoughts subside into stillness. Hang onto this concept because it's the baseline measure of meditation. Yes, there are times when in a given sitting we never achieve this, or, only do so for brief fleeting moments, but it is important to know "what meditation IS" and what it is NOT. [Quoting Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, "Even a little practice of this (meditation), will free you from dire fears and colossal sufferings."]
  4. Re-directing points 2 and 3 above, your calm but focused intention with each sitting should be to achieve quietness of mind (when thoughts subside into clear but silent perception) with each sitting. Be clear and firm about this EACH TIME! Don't be tense about it, however: that is counter productive.
  5. The Secret. The secret is this: you have to want to achieve stillness. Note the word "want." This is similar to "desire." Desire is similar to emotion and emotion, when refined towards true meditation, becomes devotion: intensity of aspiration that is, as yet, calm and non-attached. The secret to a calm mind is calm feeling. "Reason" (or thoughts) follow "feeling," my guru, Yogananda, often said. Jesus said that before going to the temple to pray, reconcile yourself with your brother with whom you've had a disagreement. When our emotions are calm and refined towards devotional aspiration, it's much easier for the mind to let go. Awaken, then, the desire to meditate before beginning to meditate. You will need to figure out how to activate this "desireless desire" to meditate according to your practice and temperament, but it is essential.
  6. My mind, a kingdom is. According to evolutionary biology, our human body and brain has developed in response to the impulse, among other things, to survive. Our brain, as investigated by science, is incredibly efficient and designed to watch for and respond to both internal and external threats, pleasure and pain, and ego satisfactions. Meditation, by contrast, seeks transcendence of the body-bound, instinct-driven mind. This takes time and re-training. What we have been given is a very good thing but what we seek is not only better, it is our truer essence. The "pearl of great price" cannot be bought with the debased currency of "that was easy!"
  7. I am of three minds. Our mind has three basic expressions: subconscious, conscious and super-conscious! Restless thoughts originate from the chatter and influence of the subconscious. Being "sub" conscious, this part of the mind is more like a restless child, hence the monkey analogy (and an apt one, pun intended). Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but generally restless and wanting attention and often mischievous. We should no more smack a child when he keeps whining at us for more candy than we should attempt to "sit on" the monkey mind. We have to coax it, train it patiently, and reward it for good behavior. The conscious mind is what "wants" to meditate (being inspired by the silent inspiration from the higher, or superconscious mind). Meditation is quieting the monkey mind, then turning the conscious mind to "look up" and offer itself to receive the inspiration, grace, power, and transforming influence of the superconscious, intuitive mind. 
Part 2 - Suggestions

  1. Take note. In your at-home and private meditation, have a small notebook and pen nearby. Promise your subconscious mind that should an important thought or reminder appear during meditation you will be happy to write it down provided the subconscious then subsides into silence. This is an agreement that each side must honor. 
  2. Counting. I can't know from here what techniques you use, but there are a ba-zillion breath control techniques (pranayams) and mantras. Most meditation routines do something or another with breath or heart rate. So, without wanting you to change the technique as you've been taught, I would propose that you consider this suggestion (i.e., counting) as a warm-up to your technique and not a substitute for it......
  3. Counting con't. Let's say you are doing simple, diaphragmatic breathing as a warm up. Mentally count your inhalation, retention (if any), exhalation, post-exhalation retention (if any). Counting can help your mind focus. There are variations from the equal count system (equal length of inhalation, hold, and exhalation) so let your counting follow the pattern of your choice or as you've been instructed. Important: your goal is to be counting without intrusion of thought(s). If you discover thoughts taking place, stop, and begin again. Start by setting a goal of between 5 and 10 breaths (counting all the while) without an intruding thought. If at breath number 3, a thought intrudes, stop and begin again. Continue until you achieve your goal. (Set the goal lower if need be to get some momentum and success in this. Set a higher goal if you can.)
  4. From here....Do not allow yourself to enter into your usual meditation routine until your mind cooperates  and settles down according to the goal you've set in your counting. 
  5. Other. Yes, it is true that the general recommendations include doing some yoga or stretches first, a prayer, chanting, and so on. I certainly don't exclude these items but it may be that for you, you do all of these things and still have the monkey on your mind. So, let's not exclude these more standard suggestions. It may be that you are jumping too quickly into meditation without making the requisite transitional steps like stretching, prayer and chanting to relax and energize the body, awaken inspiration and set your intention. (see part 1 above re intention). If you are ill or upset, the most you can accomplish in meditation may be only to chant, do affirmations, or read inspirational thoughts and be quiet but momentarily. (But this is a temporary condition, whereas we are speaking of longer term monkey mind syndrome.)
  6. Positive focus. I don't want to interfere with your meditation technique  but there are two points of internal focus that are most helpful (on several levels). The first is the heart (chakra) and the second is the "third eye" (point between the eyebrows). In my tradition (of raja/kriya yoga), the latter is the most important but one's focus in the prefrontal lobes must be energetically supported by the calm and refined feelings of the heart lifted upward to that point. They must be, in all events, balanced or at least both activated.
  7. Heart centered meditation. If you tend to be feeling oriented by temperament, rest in the heart center (not the physical heart, but opposite near or above the sternum, in the center of the body) for a good portion of your sitting time, especially in the beginning, and touching in, as it were, throughout your sitting time. As you do so, feel the heart relax and an invisible, inner smile appear, relaxing your face.
  8. Oneness meditation. Focusing (gazing inwardly) at the point between the eyebrows must be done correctly in order to achieve optimum effect. I can say that to the degree my attention is wholly engaged there, random thoughts evaporate or are, at least, kept at bay. (In the latter situation it's like being in one room and hearing the sounds of voices from another room nearby.) With complete, one-pointed, heart-supported focus, thoughts don't have a chance. This fool proof method, however, is among the most difficult even if ultimately the best. For starters, too much will power tends to "hurt." You can even get a headache or feel sore in the forehead. For another, you have to know exactly where to focus your gaze. This blog is too clumsy to get into this aspect. (You can make a special point of warming up with a few minutes of inner gazing at the spiritual eye, adjusting to the relative darkness behind closed eyes, calming your mind so that you can hold in a steady gaze whatever visual sensations you observe at that point.) Write to me if you want to know where to focus. But gazing through the point between the eyebrows should be the kind of intensive interest that you equate with fascination, aroused curiosity, and positive interest. In short, it should seem natural, interesting and engaging, not forced. Connect it with the heart's energy and power by offering your calm feeling upward into the (as yet unseen) inner light at the point between the eyebrows.  
  9. Two-ness leads to One-ness. Thus it is that the two-ness of the two energy centers (heart and spiritual eye) can gradually lead to complete, steady, absorption in which all subconscious, random thoughts vanish. Another and more complex variation on the technique of gazing through the point between the eyebrows (and another way in which 2 becomes 1) is to use the power of visualization at that point. You might practice a little bit visualizing the eyes of your guru gazing back at you at that point; or your image of God, whether personal or abstract. By abstract I mean you might visualize a golden light bathing your mind with enlightenment. Or, you might visualize a sacred mountain, the ocean, a rainbow or other aspect of nature that suggests to you certain qualities of higher consciousness: such as peace, wisdom, vitality, love, calmness and so on. Practice this technique to steady the mind. Again, use this as a concentration tool separate and apart from any techniques you've been given and are otherwise committed to. This way it is a warm-up for your real practice(s).
  10. Counting on steroids. To return to counting, a more complex technique, perhaps for more experienced meditators who are familiar with various chakra meditation techniques is to chant syllables or mantric words with the breath. This is complex enough that there's little chance for the subconscious mind to get a word in edgewise! I'll give one example but there are countless ways to apply this. My example is to take the eight words (in Sanskrit) which comprise the stages of Patanjali's famous 8-Fold Path. For my example I'll use the fourth stage which is called "pranayama." Thus each cycle will take eight breaths. As you inhale you mentally and slowly chant the word (in my example, then): "pra--na--yam--a." Pause and hold the breath if you wish, or not, but with the exhalation you slowly and mentally repeat the syllables of that stage. Gradually let the inhalation and exhalations equalize. Continue through the eight stages of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. Repeat at least four cycles, perhaps eight, (as you feel) until your mind quiets down. (I use an even more complex version of this not fit for blogs.) Keep in mind that this is not merely mechanical. The Sanskrit words of the 8-Fold Path from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras are incredibly ancient and more or less constitute the equivalent of mantras. In any case, there is power and vibration and deep meaning in each one. You draw into your consciousness their vibration if you practice this not just as a mental exercise but as a meditation. You can choose other "lists" such as the Sanskrit names of the chakras, a line of gurus or masters, chakra qualities and on and on. Try to keep it simple enough that you can get it down fairly quickly, though.
Conclusion. You can see from these suggestions that we are giving the conscious mind something more interesting and meditational to focus on. The suggestions above may be warm-ups for those of you who have been given a sacred or otherwise effective technique but are struggling with the monkey. Ultimately however, true meditation transcends any meditation technique as an experience of superconsciousness which might be described as intuitive perception and realization of higher states of consciousness in which "knower, knowing, and known" merge into one. And even a little bit of this experience will bring you back to the cushion day after day drinking in the nectar of soul-bliss.

Bliss-filled meditations to you,

Hriman

Monday, March 26, 2012

Yoga, Sex, & Spiritual Teachers

It is disappointing to read of esteemed yoga teachers having sex with their students, to hear of titillating nude yoga videos and calendars, and even to see the photos of sexy yoga teachers, both male and female, selling everything from themselves to cars. Fame, fortune and beauty, promoted by yoga magazines and advertisers and enjoyed by their readers, infiltrate even the rarified pure heights of yoga.

For clarity purposes, let me begin by explaining that I use the term “yoga” not just to refer to the physical postures known as “hatha yoga,” but to yoga’s true and original reference (which has a double meaning): first, to those disciplines of body and mind intended to refine and elevate one’s consciousness above identification with body and personality, and second, to the state of oneness with pure Consciousness which is the goal of such practices.

To those who share spiritual-truth teachings, including the ancient and sacred art and science of yoga, Jesus Christ gave this warning: (paraphrasing) “all those who go before me are thieves and robbers.” Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now classic, Autobiography of a Yogi) explained that Jesus’ words refer to those teachers who draw the attention of their students to themselves – rather than to the pursuit of Self-realization.

In one book review I scanned, the author claimed that the origins of hatha yoga came from certain sexual tantric practices. I am not versed enough in the history of hatha yoga to offer any factual rebuttal except to respond with dismay and disdain. That author’s analysis is as shallow and transparent as his motivation seems to be, but his assertion, however ignorant, poses a question that I feel ought to be addressed squarely: is there some hidden or intrinsic connection between the practice of yoga and sexual stimulation?

According to both modern research and local tradition, yoga practice (whether physical or mental) comes to us from at least five thousand years ago. It is widely believed that yoga precepts and disciplines originated in an age of higher consciousness. That some debase these practices (indeed any and all spiritual practices, not just yoga) for ego gratification is not a new story — this has happened in religion and spirituality since time immemorial. History provides ample proof that a religious vocation as teacher or priest is no guarantee of freedom from sexual desire or temptation. In most traditional and orthodox religious practices, the taboo barring sexual contact between teachers (including priests etc.) and students (members, parishioners, etc.) is fixed and absolute. Given human shortcomings, it is no wonder that some renunciates resort to suppression, and no wonder, as we know all too well, that sometimes even tragic consequences can result.

Yoga, by contrast, is, in certain respects, just the opposite. Rather than reject the body and the material world, yoga guides us toward greater awareness of the powerful and intelligent energies of the body. The purpose of this stimulation, however, is not sensual indulgence. The risk of temptation to do so, however, is the nub of the issue here today.

Yoga has, since ancient times, affirmed a truth that modern science has only recently validated: that matter is a form of energy. Yogis go further to say that energy, in its turn, is a manifestation of consciousness. The deeper purpose of yoga is to redirect our identification with the physical body (and its senses) into, first, an awareness of and identification with the energy of life force that animates the body, and, then, more deeply still, into an awareness and self-identity with the consciousness that intelligently guides that energy.

This process, admittedly esoteric for most westerners, is the explanation for the process through which the soul rediscovers its innate divinity, its true nature as a child of God. The ultimate goal of this realization of our higher and true Self is to achieve Oneness with the Godhead.

People are drawn to yoga for its many benefits: physical, mental, and spiritual. In the physical practices of hatha yoga the body is, superficially, the object of one’s interest and attention. In modern yoga classes, men and women mix together and the clothing worn during such classes for the practice of hatha yoga generally tends to reveal male and female physiques. While this might be distracting, for most students it is of no more than a passing interest.

As the yoga student progresses, he or she becomes more inwardly self-aware, and discovers the innate intelligence, joyful vitality, and latent powers which animate the physical body and its senses. In time (or for some even initially), the focus may shift from physical health to the goal of achieving lasting and consistent contact with the suprasensory states of higher (and blissful) consciousness.

In yogic terminology, one learns how to withdraw his consciousness from the physical senses inward to the “tree (or river) of life” (one’s “center”) where the fruits of the (Holy) Spirit are tasted: joy, calmness, peace, love, and healing vitality, to name a few. In time and with deeper practice the yogi offers his energies, consciousness, and life upward to God in the spirit of devotion and self-offering.

Not surprisingly, therefore, wise yoga teachers warn us that yogic practices will enhance the power of the senses and one must be careful to not lose sight of the longer-term goal. Yoga devotees are schooled in the need for devotion and humility and are taught that self-effort alone is not enough to achieve salvation. Grace, too, is needed. The liberating power of divine grace comes in response to the intensity of our effort and the purity of our intention. (Some fundamentalist Christians, in fact, accuse yoga as denying the power of grace, relying, instead, upon ego-motivated self-will. But this is not a correct understanding of yoga.)

There is yet another spiritual trap that awaits the aspiring yogi: one that is even more deeply embedded into our psyche: the ego! The ego is necessarily energized as our intelligent life force ascends through yoga practice towards the brain on its journey to the highest spiritual energy center at the point between the eyebrows. It would be a detour to launch into further explanation of these energy centers (known as “chakras”). Suffice to say that the gift of free will and individual self-awareness is ours to keep lifetime after lifetime until we willingly offer ourselves into the transforming and liberating power of the divinity. In the end we give up nothing and in return we gain infinity itself. But the long-entrenched vitality of our mortal delusion resists mightily, fearing its own dissolution.

Advanced stages of yoga practice bring with them both expanded consciousness and powers even over objective reality. Patanjali , the Indian sage who wrote the “bible” of yoga (the Yoga Sutras), enumerates these powers that come as the soul advances toward freedom, and, by implication, the temptations. As Jesus Christ was tempted by Satan with dominion over all creation, so, too, Patanjali warns us, will we when we, too, stand on the brink of Infinity. Do we not face a similar choice every day, when we are tempted to act selfishly instead of nobly?

As “pride goeth before the fall,” ego is the first and last hurdle of the soul to overcome. Greater than sensory temptation is this foe who is also our greatest friend on our prodigal soul’s journey back to God.

Not surprisingly, and not unlike spiritual and religious traditions everywhere, celibacy (or at least moderation) and ethical behavior are among the prerequisites for receiving the knowledge of the yoga science. “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” Patanjali details the “rules” in his description of the Eight-Fold Path in its first two steps: the “yamas” and “niyamas.”

Unfortunately, the practice of yoga in the West is too often presented on the basis of health (which is easily turned in the direction of bodily glorification) and thus finds itself stripped of its foundation in devotion, self-control, and openness to the transforming power of divine grace.

Further, we in the West emphasize self-effort and personal liberties. We expect, perhaps even demand, that all knowledge should be ours with the only barrier to it being, at most, a monetary one. Viewing yoga as health culture, we aren’t inclined to consider the importance of right spiritual attitudes.

We in the west still think of our bodies as mechanisms. The successes of allopathic medicine in fact derive in part from the detailed analysis of illness using a mechanistic model. Thus much of hatha yoga practice centers on physical safety, spinal alignment and strength. Our culture is only beginning to see the connection between health and consciousness, between body and mind. (Thus Ananda Yoga employs the use of affirmations to help direct a student’s awareness towards higher consciousness.)

Traditionally the relationship between teacher and student was formal and conducted with reverence, respect, and openness. By contrast, our society treats teachers as equals and inclines towards familiarity between teacher and student. (As a child, I could never have addressed my grade school teacher by her first name; to encounter her in the grocery store as a normal human being would have been almost traumatic. How much our culture has changed!) While the American attitude in this regard has its refreshing side, it also removes a veil of protection from the teacher and student relationship.

Western culture, moreover, is bereft of any philosophical or cultural handle for the concept of enlightenment. We imagine that a teacher who is articulate, magnetic, attractive, charming and popular must be spiritually advanced.  My teacher, Swami Kriyananda, once visited a temple in India and was approached by a “sadhu” (so called holy man) dressed in orange robes, long beard, and looking like something out of picture book. This man said said to Swamiji, “Picture? Five rupees!”

With our genius for organization we tend to equate leadership in an organization with wisdom. How often has the wearing of a robe or clerical collar proved itself no protection from egotism, anger, or lust.

We in the west do not realize how few spiritual teachers are God-realized. Claiming to be enlightened does not make it so. I don’t mean to denigrate those who are both sincere and wise. But only one who is Self-realized can truthfully recognize another. Millions of followers do not a true guru make! When Jesus asked, “Who do men say I am?” only Peter drew upon soul-inspired intuition to recognize Jesus as a true christ and master, more than a charismatic teacher with spiritual powers. By the end of Jesus’ ministry, “many walked with him no more.”

Because our Christian heritage is ignorant or in denial of the concept of reincarnation, we have yet to adjust our vision of the purpose and journey of human life to the vast span of time it takes for the soul to achieve freedom in God. A soul can be saintly but not yet free. A powerful intellect, magnetism, or wisdom can be used in the service of God and humanity, but are no guarantee of inner freedom. Until the soul achieves permanent emancipation in God-consciousness, it can still fall spiritually.

The road is long and the temptations and pitfalls remain until the end. Therefore, condemn no one and be, as Jesus counseled us, “Wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” If I have no personal knowledge of the facts of another person’s sexual misdeeds, I try to remain apart from the chorus of outraged voices. Walk the spiritual path yourself first and long enough and be sure, as Jesus said (paraphrasing) that you are without sin before you throw the first stone.

Allegations of sexual misconduct are notoriously difficult to prove, being, by nature, intimate and apt to incite intense emotions. Such cases sell newspapers and make for sensationalist courtroom drama. Some continue to claim that Jesus Christ had an affair or marriage with Mary Magdalene. It’s not my business and I wouldn’t condemn him if he did. Without the intuition of a Peter, how would I know?

The power of sex force is second only to self-preservation. It is essential to life in countless ways. It brings to us vitality and creativity. It is sacred, for it is life itself. It shouldn’t be condemned, nor, of course misused. The ego, and indeed our present society at large, revels in celebrating sex for its pleasure alone and, not surprisingly — to balance the psychological scales — is quick to condemn those who fall for its false allure!

The same life force that gives us sexual energy can also be redirected into serving a greater good. In yoga and in ancient tradition we are taught how to transmute sex force through exercise, right diet, noble deeds, creative pursuits, meditation, and devotion. It is not to be suppressed but offered upward into a higher octave of egoless, unconditional love and service. This force has given us life itself and is therefore the basis of energy for our spiritual salvation if we use it rightly. The fact that yoga can be helpful in this effort doesn’t diminish the hold sex and romance possesses upon human consciousness. (Yogananda added his testimony to that of the ages when he commented that the three great ills of humanity are misuse of “sex, wine, and money.” Their magnetism and power holds in delusion and suffering a significant percentage of humanity.)

Unfortunately the profound and sacred reality of the creative life force is too often mistaken for permission to pretend that sexual indulgence is somehow a path to enlightenment. This convenient dogma will persist through the centuries for the simple fact that the ego is so clever in its delusion. Books, workshops and videos abound promising enlightenment through enjoyment of sex. This false teaching will always be with us and its devotees will, no doubt, protest indignantly at my effrontery.

But for those who are sincerely seeking enlightenment yet while also in a committed love relationship, it is, nonetheless, spiritually right to bring sacredness and mindfulness into the expression of love through sexuality. Yogis even teach couples how to prepare themselves to conceive a spiritually minded child.

But until the soul achieves final liberation, this life force can and will tempt us. St. Francis once warned a woman disciple (who was getting too attached to him personally), “I can still father children!” Lord Buddha was tempted by sexually alluring female forms at the very moment of his liberation at which point, free from temptation, he cried: “Mara, Mara, I have conquered thee!” Jesus, when tempted with dominion over all nature commanded: “Satan, get thee behind me!”

This is not to lay fault at the feet of the woman student who has had an affair or inappropriate contact with her teacher. We are souls first; bodies only temporarily. The woman may have indeed been betrayed by the teacher who used his position and magnetism for selfish ends. But she too betrays her higher Self in yielding to the lure of any number of human desires and dead-end delusions. The Lord’s prayer which says “Lead us not into temptation” suggests that while we may be “led” it is we who consent.

What may have begun with admiration and inspiration was perhaps sidetracked into a moral and egoic cul-de-sac by forces as old as Adam and Eve. I add my belief to that of many others who view the rising influence of women in the world as the hope for a better world. In the Ananda communities where I live and serve, it has been customary for couples to share the spiritual leadership. This has worked well, spiritually, both for them and for the communities they serve.

And let us not forget that men and women, serving together, can accomplish great things. In business, science, the arts, academia, humanitarianism, in public service, and in spirituality, men and women can and do inspire in one another creativity, high energy, and the practical manifestation of high ideals. Is not friendship and mutual service the ideal to which even marriage should aspire?

And what of the teacher? In this society of ours where intimate relationships are easy and common, are men not vulnerable, too? Have you never observed even small boys responding brightly to the presence of a pretty teenage girl? In my counseling of men, many admit being bothered by the compulsion to gaze longingly at attractive women. (Are women any different, this way? I doubt it!) What more magnetic power is there between a man and a woman than she who admires his success, and he who is attracted by her winsome intelligence?

For a teacher “caught in the act,” maybe it’s time to take a break, or, even, a hike! Either way, one who is sincere should strengthen his resolve, make amends as he can, and find the support he needs for protection and for self-discipline. (There are of course legal and organizational considerations. These are, however, outside the scope of my own interest.)

From the soul’s perspective our failings are fertile ground for introspection and growth. From the standpoint of karma and reincarnation what yogi wouldn’t opine that the teacher and student must have had some “karma to work out?” Our spiritual lessons are never easy but always potentially liberating if we will remain even-minded, calm, compassionate, forgiving, and always seeking the divine will and lesson. Blaming others and claiming to be a victim are not the hallmarks of a refined consciousness, certainly not those of a true yogi.

Ultimately, it is God alone, speaking through our refined and sensitive conscience, who must be satisfied, not the dictates of the fickle mob crying, “Crucify him!” For one who is seeking soul freedom, whether teacher or student, the ultimate “foe” is ego. The temptation of sex, the allure of popularity, money, possessions, and fame are ultimately secondary manifestations of ego affirmation. From the point of view of the soul, is it any greater “sin” to have not yet overcome sexual desire than to seek popularity or approval, or money and influence through one’s successful teaching of yoga?

One could argue that sex, at least, represents the impulse to love and be loved; it is compelled by the desire for companionship and intimacy. Do not some saints seek God as their Beloved? Indian scriptures say that God created this universe that “He might share his Bliss with many.” The Bible says “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son” that we might see Spirit everywhere and in everyone. Sex is closer to our existential consciousness and essential feeling nature than money or fame, which are, by comparison, sterile because abstract.

We live in a fish bowl where celebrities are concerned. We expect to know every intimate detail of their lives. We see leadership as power over others rather than an opportunity to serve them. We don’t see the personal sacrifice that is required and too often view leadership as an opportunity for self-indulgence. No wonder we are quick to judge, for wouldn’t this justify our own lack of dedication to serving a greater good?

Yoga practice brings rewards and risks, no doubt about it. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna warns his disciple Arjuna that “suppression avails nothing. Even sages must act according to their nature.” Yoga is a form of universal and scientific spiritual awakening. It is powerful and effective. Patanjali describes the great powers that come on the spiritual path but warns against seeking (and misusing) those powers.

So, yes, yoga teachers, on the path to freedom, will be tempted and will slip. But yoga affirms our true Self as the only reality. It therefore emphasizes directional progress rather than condemnation. Yoga precepts acknowledge the power of delusion as the very fabric of the universe. Thus the soul, as described in the Bhagavad Gita must, as a warrior-devotee, do battle with the powerful energies which rise, like demons, as we advance towards transcendence.

My teacher, Swami Kriyananda (direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, and founder of the worldwide network of Ananda communities) experienced the trials and tribulations of such accusations. To his credit, he did not deny his actions. Instead, he courageously disclosed the facts heedless of the consequences. Ananda members and communities, knowing his true nature, did not turn away from him but offered to him the support and loyalty due to one who, with divine attunement and deep sincerity, has shared and lived wisdom through self-sacrifice and divine grace. By so doing, we affirmed and lived the truth of our own higher Self, as well. As Paramhansa Yogananda put it, “it is a sin to call yourself a sinner. A saint is a sinner who never gave up!” To be a true “swami” is to live sincerely and courageously, walking one’s path toward perfection in the Self (“Swa”).

For the soul, there is no eternal hellfire and there are no victims, only opportunities to learn and grow. This isn’t to say that one should necessarily remain silent in the face of wrong doing. Helping others is part of helping our Self. Our motto should always be the second stanza (and the most important) of the Yoga Sutras: “yoga comes from the steadfast poise of even-mindedness and centeredness in the Self within.” 

Avoid the intensity of emotions such as condemnation, pride, self-loathing or shame, for a slip is not a fall.
Bless all those who have ever harmed you that they too find their way to freedom. Be free in yourself. Let us walk the path of yoga with our eyes clear, our hearts open, and our posture strong and tall.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Hriman