Showing posts with label consciousness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label consciousness. Show all posts

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Did God Create the World? Or, Did God Become the World?

Did God Create the World? Or, Did God Become the World?

For Ananda members worldwide who share the weekly readings from our founder’s book, “Rays of the One Light,**” we begin each year with Vedic teachings on how the world (universe) was made. (**Written by Swami Kriyananda) 

Paramhansa Yogananda came from India to the west and spoke of God becoming the world rather than merely “making” it as if He went out procured the basic materials from somewhere or something outside Himself. From the standpoint of sheer logic, it makes somewhat more sense, that God would create from within and through his own consciousness. But how? “How can something have come out of nothing?”

If God is pure Consciousness, how can consciousness produce material objects? Well, let us pause to ask, “How do I create things?” Isn’t it something like this: an idea comes to us (from nowhere, right?). We like the idea and begin to chew on it, often enthusiastically. We think about how to bring this idea into manifestation. We think about shape, materials, color, location, even the financial funding.

Our ideas have the benefit of hardware stores and other ways of procuring the materials needed to manifest our ideas. But God didn’t have this benefit. So, let’s keep exploring.

If God is Consciousness then perhaps the ultimate reality of the universe is a virtual reality. Every night in sleep don’t we create a private universe, very real seeming to us? The only difference is that our dreams are personal to us. They vanish instantly upon waking. Maybe God is dreaming this reality show? Don’t characters in our dreams seem to behave independently of our interests? (Like monsters who chase us?) Ever see the movie, the Matrix? Ever read about scientists’ speculation about multi-verses or parallel realities? And what about the brave new world soon to appear: AI (artificial intelligence). Won’t AI call into question the very nature of consciousness?

You see we humans are exploring and expanding the possibilities of what reality is as science rapidly expands our mental horizons. In one century alone we went from maybe three galaxies to a postulated billions of galaxies.

This makes this God-fellow one mighty big dude! And that’s the point: He’s not a dude at all, at least not in the human sense, along the lines of mythological gods and goddesses, replete with bad moods and naughty deeds.

In splitting the atom and exploring distant galaxies we now routinely accept sources of energy so powerful they defy anything our senses can model. Why not just keep blowing up this energy thing until it is all but infinite? Nothing stopping us if we can imagine it!

The ancient teachings of India, and other traditions, use another explanation to extend the dream metaphor: duality. Known as “maya” or the Measurer and considered to be evil or at least duplicitous (in its impact on our personal consciousness), maya divides the world into opposites and thereby creates the illusion that cold is different than heat, and that men are different than women. By subdividing what would otherwise be perceived as a cosmic unity, we dash about trying to fix things to our liking and avoid things that we don’t like. That apple with the knowledge of good and evil may have appeared tasty but biting into it, scales fall from the eyes of Oneness into duality and all things were seen as different.

In the Book of Genesis, Chapter 2, Adam and Eve suddenly felt self-conscious about their nakedness whereas before they were not. The apple in the center of the garden, Yogananda taught, was the fruit of the tree of sex nerves. Central to the propagation and procreation of maya is sex force without which the cosmic illusion cannot continue. At puberty we bite the apple and encounter the alluring touch of sex temptation. Our childhood innocence is over and our lives begin to take their course into adulthood with more karma generated and more future lifetimes being needed.

The same maya or illusion is experienced nightly in our dreams as well, of course.  

Imagine that the characters in your dream believe that they are separate from the other characters, especially the biggest character in your dream: you! Next imagine that this fact pervades our daytime world as well. Maybe we imagine we are separate and that all the mountains, forests, planets, stars and all these things are real. 

And, being in the dream, they ARE real! It’s only when you wake up that you can say the dream is not real.

When in the dream we cannot pretend the dream isn’t real. We have to act as best we can IN the dream. Only when we awake will the dream vanish.

And what, then, constitutes, being “awake?” Is it the intellectual idea such as we are discussing? No, absolutely not! Freedom means to release our consciousness into the great consciousness of God. 

At present our consciousness is locked in the human body: in the tissues, senses, and the breath. Is there a way to unlock our consciousness?

Yes, of course: glad you asked! We must steadily re-direct our attention from the body (and ego) to the indwelling God consciousness at the heart of our own consciousness. God, in the self, is quiet and still. A reflection, in fact, of the God of Pure Bliss and Consciousness out of which this dream was manifested.

To achieve this, it can be a great help to train the breath and heart to be as still as possible. The heart pump ties the mind (consciousness) to the body and senses. But, as when we are sleeping (a state of partial relaxation of the consciousness away from the senses), we free the mind to soar beyond the human body. 

In meditation this happens intentionally and consciously whereas in sleep we are thrown into the dungeon of sub-consciousness where we have virtually no control of the dream.

Thus it is, to return to the question of “How did God create the universe,” we find that individuals with great powers of concentration can be transmitters of new and history-changing ideas and inventions. It is with their relative attunement to the creative power of God-consciousness that such people do what they do. And, so can you and me, each in our own sphere of karma and dharma.

It’s fun to create things. Even dreaming is enjoyable (usually). Writing stories, creating movies, symphonies, new inventions: creativity draws from the essence of the Blissful Spirit’s factory of creativity! Of course a good story will NEED a villain or it isn’t a very interesting and gripping story. But, let’s not move into the world of evil and suffering as that would take a book to discuss it. Maybe next time.

But now we have peeked under the mask of God’s matrix. Now, with God’s help, we can begin the Journey to Self-Realization. The great show of the universe is a dream of the Creator’s. If we re-direct our attention from our little self to the indwelling and omnipresent great Self of all, we will steadily march towards soul freedom.

Joy in Being!

Nayaswami Hriman

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Breathlessness is Deathlessness!

What does "counter-intuitive" mean? Sitting on an airplane, ready for take-off, how many of us have wondered to ourselves: how can this thing, weighing 300 to 400 tons, possibly fly? And, yet it does: thousands of flights everyday, filled with hundreds of people, fuel, baggage and the airplane itself! But is this truly "counter" to our intuition? Or, is it counter to the experience of the senses?

Intuitively, in our dreams and aspirations, after all, flying is possible for us. Without the aspiration, fed by intuition which is the "knowing" that we can fly, we wouldn't even attempt it. So, instead of being counter-intuitive, it is really counter to our sensory experience! It wasn't until 1978 that two men climbed Mt. Everest without additional oxygen. Their feat may have defied (then) common sense, but it wasn't "counter-intuitive."

In this ascendant age of science and technology we are each day, each month, each year transcending limitations which, heretofore, would have seemed impossible. Some day, Paramhansa Yogananda (author of "Autobiography of a Yogi") predicted, we would figure out how to span the light years that separate us from distant planets and galaxies without paying the limitations imposed upon us currently by time and space.

Consider, too, our experience with illness, old age, death and all manner of suffering, including emotional and mental. When these things strike us, loved ones, or others, we know intuitively that this is NOT who we are; we knowingly separate ourselves from them, even when we accept them, at least calmly, as our present, but not permanent, reality.

It's not that we can't see these things are a fact of life for everyone. But at the same time we "know" that health is who we are and we know what is our true nature: happiness, freedom, goodness......all these are ours on an intuitive level.

Our intuitive knowing is the soul's power to fly and to seek freedom from all limitations. Our creative thoughts write novels, and plays, and make movies of past centuries and cultures; we imagine the life on earth in the future or on other, as yet undiscovered, planets. Every day in so many ways, we affirm our freedom from all limitations even if just in our thoughts, our desires, our fantasies.

In the past, breathing meant you were alive: the first breath of a baby, and the final exhalation of the dying signaled the appearance or disappearance of life. Yet the yogis tell us that "breathlessness is deathlessness." This is counter to our sense impressions; it is repudiated by the subconscious mind, which includes the body's autonomic system, for these are efficiently designed to keep us in the body and breathing. And this is a good thing from a common sense and daily living point of view. But we also posses an innate, intuitive sense of our immortality whenever we contemplate the mystery of death or encounter its stark but physical reality.

For a long time, lack of breathe meant a person was dead. That was disproved with the onset of CPR. In more recent times, it was said that lack of brain activity is certain death. That, too, has been disproved. One example is of a boy who drowned in icy water and had no signs of life for over an hour and a half. By intelligent and sustained efforts of the medical staff, he walked out of the hospital three and half days later.

Death, while at the same time a socially taboo subject in both family and medical circles, is yet a new frontier for science. A well known meditation researcher is investigating a phenomenon known in Tibetan circles as thukdam. A monk, knowing of his coming death, enters a deep state of meditation. All bodily and biological functions cease, yet, his body remains without decay or other signs of death for periods of a week or more. When does death actually occur?

Humanity, having descended to the nadir of what is called "Kali Yuga" (the dark or lowest cycle of human consciousness) around 499 AD and having, from that point, begun slowly our 12,000 year upward journey to greater awareness, has lost many of the treasures of the wisdom of higher ages. Even in the science of yoga, e.g., we've inherited from the relative ignorance of Kali Yuga cycle the association, almost universal around the world in today's cultures, between the term "yoga" and the physical body. Ananda Yoga, taught as a prelude to meditation, is viewed, as if almost unique, and is considered by others as "spiritual yoga." This is ironic because the term "yoga" is refers to the highest state of spiritual consciousness (and to the concomitant techniques to achieve it).

Another example from the science of yoga is the term Prana, or life force. During Kali Yuga this term became associated with the physical breath and with physical breathing exercises. Its original and correct meaning is a reference to the movements of intelligent energy that inhabit the physical body and which comprise the essence of the astral body. Physical breath is but the grossest, most outward evidence of life force in the body. Kriya Yoga, one of the world's most sought after and advanced meditation techniques, emphasizes awareness and control of these subtle currents in and around the astral spine, even if it, too, utilizes the physical breath as a doorway to the subtle, astral breath.

In the declining yugas of the BCE era, as humankind increasingly lost touch with its ability to contact divine realms and consciousness, priests of the cult of Osiris performed a ritual reenactment of the entombment and resurrection of Osiris by going into the Great Pyramid and placing the new pharoah or high priest into a coffin and sealing it with wax for a precise number of minutes. By this ritual, they would attempt to induce a near-death experience for the new pharoah so that he could experience higher realms and claim his kinship with Osiris and his lineage! A crude and dangerous ritual, to be sure, and a desperate attempt to reenact the lost mental and spiritual powers of a higher age and induce an experience of superconsciousness.

Julian Jaynes, author of "Origins of Consciousness" (1976), studied ancient traditions and writings, e.g., the Iliad, and concluded, somewhat crudely, that in former times humanity claimed to have had access to divine consciousness and "heard voices" in our heads that guided our actions. He termed this "bicameral" thinking. Thus it is that ancient scriptures, including the Old Testament, do NOT emphasize the kind of personal, egoic, existential angst and burden of personal decision making that we take for granted today. The author's view of this may not exactly coincide with our own, but it is an interesting observation. Yogananda wrote (in his autobiography) that "thoughts are universally, not individually rooted." A saint is a saint for having attuned his consciousness to divine consciousness. As the Old Testament put it, "My thoughts are not your thoughts." But a saint speaks and acts with divine attunement. The Bhagavad Gita teaches us that we who think we are the Doer (and the Thinker) are deluded for all creation is a manifestation of God, whether wisely or ignorantly.

Medical scientists are studying how to induce a kind of hibernation level so as to slow bleeding in trauma victims, to give time for heart surgery patients to regain normal function, and to resuscitate people who might even have been without a heartbeat for several hours.

Life without oxygen is possible! The wealth of testimony from the studies of near-death experiences (NDEs) shows a consistent pattern of experiences about a state of awareness never before thought possible. One study showed that a group of NDE'ers had very accurate and precise descriptions of the procedures performed on their otherwise "dead" bodies (while being resuscitated) compared with a survey of a group of medically savvy people who were nowhere near as accurate or successful when asked what procedures would likely be performed under such circumstances.

Returning now to the subject of breathlessness, quoting Chapter 26 (Kriya Yoga) of Paramhansa Yogananda's now classic story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," he wrote:

Kriya Yoga is an instrument through which human evolution can be quickened,” Sri Yukteswar explained to his students. “The ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness is intimately linked with breath mastery. This is India’s unique and deathless contribution to the world’s treasury of knowledge. The life force, which is ordinarily absorbed in maintaining the heart-pump, must be freed for higher activities by a method of calming and stilling the ceaseless demands of the breath.”

In Chapter 12 of his autobiography, his guru gives to him an experience of cosmic consciousness. Entering this state, he describes it thusly: "My body became immovably rooted; breath was drawn out of my lungs as if by some huge magnet. Soul and mind instantly lost their physical bondage, and streamed out like a fluid piercing light from my every pore. The flesh was as though dead, yet in my intense awareness I knew that never before had I been fully alive. My sense of identity was no longer narrowly confined to a body, but embraced the circumambient atoms."

Rather than the materialistic view that matter has produced consciousness, the ancient teachings of a much higher age aver that consciousness has produced matter. God has become the universe by vibrating His consciousness to create an illusion of separateness. 

Scientists debate whether the mind has an independent existence apart from the brain, More and more evidence is piling up to suggest that it is so. But the mind, then, would need a source of energy. The yogis say that this is source is the source of all things, all life and is called, in Sanskrit, prana, or Life Force. This intelligent and divine life source is both macro and micro: it is the essence of all creation and the manifestation of our individualized consciousness. 

Yogic techniques are emerging than can show us how to safely and naturally transcend the slavery of our mind to the body. Yogananda taught a mindfulness technique (watching the breath), taken from ancient times, using the mantra "Hong Sau." He called this the highest technique of concentration.

The breath is the single most obvious barrier to concentration: when we need to focus on something, we automatically quiet the breath, or even hold it temporarily. At the same time by focusing one-pointedly upon the breath, it begins to calm down and, with proper training in the technique itself, we can relatively easily experience moments of cessation of breath. It is therefore the natural focus of our meditative attention.

The respiration rates of humans and of various animals shows that the faster the rate, the shorter the life expectancy. Scientific studies are all ready showing that meditation can slow, and even reverse, the effects of aging. Though it may seem counter to our natural, biological instincts, breathing less gives us more life; more awareness; greater health; and sustainable joy. 

Certain techniques (kapalbhati pranayam, double breath exhalation, and others) can produce momentary experiences of breathlessness: not unlike the training of astronauts in weightlessness when they are taken up in an airplane as high as they can go and then begin a rapid descent during which weightlessness occurs for a brief time.

Centering one's inner, visual focus through the forehead (the point between the eyebrows....the "kutastha") can also instantly bring breath and heart to a near standstill. This, combined with other advanced meditation techniques, is powerfully effective. No such techniques should be attempted on one's own, however. Not because they are dangerous so much, as why waste time doing something worth doing but doing it ineffectively?

As explained in Chapter 26 of the "Autobiography of a Yogi," Kriya Yoga introduces an "extra atom" of oxygen to bring the metabolism into stasis and reduce the need to breathe and thus gradually become acclimatized, like those who climb Mt. Everest without oxygen, to the rarefied "atmosphere" of breathlessness.

As we approach "absolute zero" of stillness of breath, the sense of separate identity, aka the ego, begins to dissolve. Not surprisingly, the ego is sustained by the autonomic system and sometimes balks at the possibility of its own dissolution in breathlessness. A meditator might experience momentary fear, or with the very thought "I'm not breathing," the heart and lungs kick back in. 

Gradually, over time and with practice, we overcome this hesitation. The key to this is NOT however the psycho-physiological description I've offered above. Higher consciousness is not, or should not be, a "circus." These realms are for those who sincerely, and with deep devotion and self-offering of the ego at the feet of the Infinite Spirit, seek the "truth that shall make us free" (of all limitations of ego and body). This is not for the faint of heart or for those whose wounded egos require extensive surgery: we cannot offer back to God that which, we, ourselves, do not yet possess. To become Self-possessed we must first become self-possessed!

Our hearts must be cleansed and purified by right action and right understanding. Breathlessness is, itself, only a doorway to the Divine Presence. In fact, without proper training and guidance, breathlessness can descend into lower forms of subconsciousness, including trance states, which offer to us no pathway to enlightenment whatsoever. One can, I am told, press on certain nerves and induce trance-like states. There are chemical means of inducing states of hibernation or feigned death. None of these is what this article is about. 

Think of lifting your arms up high in celebration! Imagine lifting your eyes as if at the sight of a awesome panorama! Even in such simple and ordinary acts, the mind becomes instantly still and the heartbeat can become immediately quiet. "It left me breathless!" Even human love, in its deepest forms, is silent and still. In addition to the yoga science, each of us can practice "breathlessness" at any time. 

May your breath be taken away in blissful, divine ecstasy!

Swami Hrimananda

For some follow up reading you might enjoy:

also: "Closer to the Light," by Melvin Morse, M.D.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Chappie: Artificial Intelligence and Consciousness! A Missing Link?

I had the misfortune to see the movie "Chappie." I might as well admit it now for the fact will haunt me as, indeed, does the movie. (Well, not really, but it is beneath my "pay grade!"). However, I will NOT disclose the name of my companions for the sake of their prestigious reputations (ha, ha).

My spiritual teacher and friend, Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013: founder of Ananda) spoke and wrote a great deal on the subject of consciousness. Just a few of his books which discuss this include "Out of the Labyrinth," "Hope for a Better World," and "Awaken to Superconsciousness." The current scientific belief, if I may dare attempt to articulate it, is that consciousness is the product of the evolution of various species of life. It has no innate properties of its own, being dependent entirely on matter as its source and reason for being,

On the subject of the possibility that AI (Artificial Intelligence) would become so sophisticated as to become self-aware, Kriyananda simply scoffed. "Chappie," while just a dumb movie, trades on the public's gullibility (or, desire for "entertainment"), to posit a "what if" the robot became human: alternating among various feelings and behavior such as being childlike, violent, hurt, loyal and self-sacrificing!

Over dinner with a friend, we discussed, "Well, what IS the difference between we, humans, and a (very sophisticated) robot? Later, in the theatre, we saw at least one movie preview which also intends to explore the world of humans and robots. In the preview, the robots evidently intend to become human partners: emotionally, and, yes, even sexually! Egad!

Organic life forms are created by the transmission of life-giving biological material. Simply put, the fertilization of a human egg by human sperm. Science and medicine are of course exploring that process and will continue to push the limits of the bare essentials of fertilization, seeing how far conception can be removed from natural biological processes. This isn't my subject today, but however removed the process becomes, there's presumably the essence of organic life being dealt with.

In the yogic teachings, we say (Paramhansa Yogananda, at least, taught) that at the time of conception, the soul enters the embryo. Well, no matter re the details. What matters here is the assertion of an invisible and non-material substance called the soul. Even if future scientists can clone or grow human beings, metaphysicians will presumably still insist that at some critical moment, a soul enters into the process!

But a robot is not made in this manner: at least not yet. It's built from parts and programming, including programming that is (said to be able to be) adaptive and can learn from experience. There is no biological transmission of biological material, what to mention soul-force. In "Chappie" the protagonist devised a way to transfer "consciousness" (see the file: consciousness.dat) from a human to a robot. This essentially made the human (who was, of course, on his or her deathbed) immortal, for he/she awoke inside a robot body. It was assumed that "consciousness" was a substance or energy force that resided in the brain and could therefore be "sucked out" and moved elsewhere. To another human brain might have been one thing, but in this case to the "brain" of a robot.

Does the brain create consciousness, or, does the brain allow for consciousness to manifest? The difference isn't important to us day-to-day but it becomes what appears more than a curiosity when we encounter individuals who can function either without significant parts of the brain or show functionality that has nothing to do with the brain (telepathy, bi-location, and other para-normal phenomenon). These so-called anomalies, including near-death experiences, challenge some deeply held beliefs about the dependence of consciousness on the brain.

If one had such a "perfect" robot that you could not tell the difference between the robot and a human, would the robot be self-aware? This is the funny-bone part of this whole thing. Consciousness cannot be seen directly by the senses; its presence is evidenced by movement, emotions, words, and so on. A brain scan or other such machine can detect the presence of brain waves and various movements of thought, but if a machine can detect brain waves, a machine can create them, too. One can presumably mimic all the signs of life and consciousness but none of that would be proof of self-awareness. A person in a coma or asleep is generally not self-aware.

The robot may exhibit emotions but are they "real" emotions or contrived (programmed) ones? In some ways, it might be said there are no differences since our "real" emotions are as fleeting (and usually off-base) as the robot's are without feeling! Where the average movie goer or sci-fi writer may cross the line or be confused is between the appearance of emotions and the reality of self-awareness.

A sleep walker (or, hey, a zombie!) is presumably NOT self-aware! Walking down the street, however, you might not be able to tell that the sleep walker is, in fact, unaware.

Thus it is that future robots might well and easily replace human companions and co-workers rather comfortably (for us). We might chat with them and find it stimulating and helpful to us. Our only interest may be what the robot can do for us: emotionally, practically, and intellectually. But that doesn't necessarily make them "human." Only, functional! And, let's face it, isn't that how most people relate to one another? Functionally, that is?

The robot could easily mimic human love: after all, it can say "I love you" with the best of 'em. Sounds weird, I admit, but some futurists may find that completely satisfying (although at this point even I am doubtful). Nonetheless, how many real humans say "I love you" and don't mean it or stick to it very long?

Ok, you think I'm nuts. Well, that's YOUR opinion. To paraphrase Forest, Forest Gump, "Love is what love does!" Now, mind you, I don't really buy it. But I don't need to (as it is not a reality yet).

My point, rather, is that "self-awareness, "me-ness," is something only "me" can perceive and attest to you. I can't prove it to anyone else. Assuming robots someday become human-like, we will encounter the appearance of me-ness and we may not be able to know which one is "human" and which one is not. And, most of the time, we won't care, provided they do their job! (Not unlike how real people are treated.)

The difficulty in knowing the difference does not, however, erase the difference. That's what I am trying to say. Just because scientists can't isolate God in a test-tube doesn't mean God doesn't exist. If God is the essence and source of self-awareness (consciousness), it makes sense that only consciousness can know that God exists and does so through direct, intuitive perception. Like recognizes like.

No machine can detect consciousness except by its manifestations (brain waves, speech, movement etc.). But that does not necessarily mean that consciousness is always and all times detectable. Just as energy can be latent or potential, why can't consciousness be present but undetected. You can gaze out the window or meditate deeply and not be having any internal thoughts or verbalization. You can be "processing" ideas even as you focus on the conversation or task at hand, Consciousness can lay hidden.

The debate in re artificial intelligence will, I believe, rage on for a very long time: perhaps centuries. After all, as A.I. gets more sophisticated, the line will become finer and finer! Swami Kriyananda asked "Can a computer write a scripture?" (Or art, music, etc.?) Well, in fact, I suppose I could imagine a computer so powerful and with access to the world's art or scripture, that, yeah, maybe it could put something together. But that won't mean the machine is a genius or saint. Nothing you can say to me can convince me otherwise. Write me off to junk heap of history, if you will..............the difference may someday be slight in appearance but there will still be, I aver, an unbridgeable chasm of consciousness for which the "missing link" will never be found.

The link between consciousness (as "God") and the material world has always been and will probably always remain a mystery to the intellect but one revealed to the soul's intuition if it has refined and internalized its powers. Whether hidden behind the creation of the cosmos or inserted into the conception of a child, or fleeing upon the death of a body, I believe that only "God, indwelling, can perceive God, omnipresent."

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Exploring: Do You Mind?

In the renowned spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," the author, Paramhansa Yogananda, relates how a skeptical scientist once visited Yogananda's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, and expressed his disbelief in God. Sri Yukteswar responded with the suggestion that the scientist spend a day carefully tracking and examining his thoughts. Then, Sri Yukteswar posited, wonder no more at the absence of the godhead!

By this he meant that our thoughts are so restless, random and self-involving that we have no interest or space for perceiving a higher reality and consciousness. In the same book is a quotation of an ancient poem that avers that conquering nations or wild animals pales in comparison to taming the mind.

No one who has attempted to meditate deeply and consistently can fail to recognize the truth herein. While some meditators may struggle with physical discomforts or distractions, all meditators struggle with restless, random, and even negative thoughts and their royal attendants, the emotions.

Am I less aware if I stop thinking? Or more aware? When we are distracted, busy, or frantic, we lack the clarity to address tasks successfully. When emotionally upset we can't think straight and we make mistakes. If you have ever stopped to gaze at a sunset or an entrancing scene in nature, you can only appreciate it deeply if you let your thoughts be still and drink it all in, isn't it so?

Those who have had experiences that are often described as "peak experiences" enter into a state of awareness that goes beyond thought but includes an heightened sense of awareness.

Take a moment to try something: Look up (as if peering a foot or so just past the upper eyebrows). Do so with an attitude of curiosity, of interest, and even calm adventure.  Let a subtle smile play upon your lips as you do this. Cock your head to the side as if attempting to listen to someone soft-spoken (or a distant sound) whose words are important to you. Or, hold this pose (looking up and turning your head as if to listen) as if you need a moment to remember some past event or task you wanted to accomplish (but couldn't yet remember). In this pose, we automatically and instinctively release our thought processes in order to focus on recall (or perceive) something important. It's not unlike a computer which, when you click to retrieve a file, the cursor spins and all other computations or processes halt while it searches the hard disk for a file.

Try this little experiment sitting in your car waiting for the light to turn green. Or, before turning to the next task at your desk when you've just finished some other. Turn and gaze out the window with this "mudra" pose of curiosity, interest and listening! Each time you'll find that the mind obediently relinquishes its tight grip on your consciousness so that you can focus.

Another experiment is to imagine yourself attempting to thread the eye of a sewing needle. After wetting and curling the tip of the thread, you position it in front of the needle's eye and very carefully attempt to ease the thread through. At that moment your breath and heart becomes quiet and your thoughts quiet while focused on your task!

All this is fine in respect to outward tasks but when we sit to meditate, close our eyes, with the body relaxed into an upright natural position, we find almost immediately that we can barely count (mentally) to 10 without wandering off like some little curious monkey or puppy.

To meditate deeply one needs an effective technique and proper and sustained training with someone who has experience. No recorded meditation, book, or online lessons can substitute. Such things can "tell" you what to do but cannot convey the art of doing it.

While a heightened state of meditative awareness supercedes any techniques, the techniques prepare the body and mind to transcend the pressing and habitual demands of the body and mind. A superior athlete or performer uses warming up exercises and routines to get into "shape," both mentally and physically. So, too, does the yogi: one who undertakes the consistent disciplining of the mind as part of the journey towards self-understanding, increased awareness and Self-realization. A yogi is a kind of metaphysical scientist, exploring the realm and realities of consciousness using the tools of body and mind conditioning. The body needs conditioning in order that it cooperate rather than fight the effort to explore the mind. In fact, it goes much deeper than that but let's hold that for later, or, not.

Ultimately the state of true meditation is aptly stated as a kind of aphorism from the Old Testament, "Be still and KNOW THAT I AM---GOD!" I don't want to run off on a God-subject right now, and so for my purposes here, I want to stay on the theme of how to still restless thoughts in order that we can see, and therefore become a SEER (of reality) in an enhanced state of self-awareness and perception. The point is well made and more clinically by Patanjali in the second stanza of the Yoga Sutras: "The state of yoga-oneness is achieved by stilling all physical and mental processes." (Warning: loose translation!)

To explore the mind we have to transcend the mind: the lower, ego-active mind (and emotions, preoccupations, fight or flight, likes and dislikes). It is pure consciousness that the yogi-scientist seeks to look. It's the "Holy Grail" of absolute zero (aka perfect stillness), the speed of light (aka infinity).

The mind is bound to the body and its sense organs and its subconscious and conscious mind through the breath and everything the breath represents: ego. To untie the breath from body is not to physically die for the yogi-scientists of old discovered how to work with the breath and the mind to achieve states of deep quiescence. The masters of yoga can stop their breath and heart at will without any damage to the body, brain or nervous system. During the 19th and 20th centuries in India such demonstrations were conducted in the presence of western doctors and scientists.

As Paramhansa Yogananda wrote in his now famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," India's contribution to the treasury of human knowledge is breath mastery. So long as we are breathing in the normal way and the heart is beating, we are fighting "city hall" to achieve focus of the mind without outer activity.

Thus the yogis gave us various breath and mind control techniques. Absolute breathlessness may be the gold standard but long before achieving such a state, deep insights and states of expanded consciousness are achieved even as the breath and heart gradually come under our control.

But, you have to want it and you have to be trained on how to do it! The subconscious mind and the ego DON'T WANT TO DO IT. They want to stay in the driver's seat and feed upon random thoughts like small animals who move about constantly sniffing out morsels on the ground to munch on. These small "animals," if threatened, band together and in their combined numbers, though individually small, will bare their teeth and push you around, even kick you around, once you try to re-gain control over your own mind. "I don't mind" means I give up and succumb to the passivity of the subconscious and the reactive processes of my likes and dislikes and self-preoccupations.

Enter the bullfighter: MINDFULNESS! He's going to combat the stubborn bull of the ego-mind. He's a good fighter but he doesn't wrestle the bull with his bare hands. He's too smart for that. Instead, he uses consummate skill in handling his red cape to bring the bull under his control and command. The red cape attracts the bull's attention and by using it repeatedly, the torero can tire the bull and bring him into submission.

The bullfighter employs psychological techniques, displaying confidence, charm, and courage. For all his daring, however, he knows the bull is much bigger and can kill him, so he must be patient and skillful.

What we mean by this metaphor is that meditation techniques typically give the monkey mind something to focus on: the breath, a mantra, an image, or a sound....or some combination of these. By this internally focused approach, the mind and breath and heart begin to slow and become deeply calm. But, unlike a bull who lives only by instinct, our mind is of two minds: when it is time to meditate, part of the mind wants to and part does not! (You can guess "Who's who.")

You have to nurture and encourage the higher mind so that it can assert itself. You have to want to BE STILL and know! There's a further thing, here, too: achieving a deeper state is not just mere matter of manipulating the breathing and heart. The state we seek is super-conscious and we cannot force it to obey our mere will by whipping its more mechanical parts. This state pre-exists our awareness of it. We have to enter, then, into a conscious, loving and giving relationship with it. At first, then, it is dual: I-Thou. Only in time, do we enter and become that state, which is non-dual. To do this abstractly is unsuitable for most people. Thus it is natural, indeed, necessary for most, that this state take on human form, or at least some form! This can take the form of a deity, one's guru (living or in Spirit only), or even a quality such as peace, love, or joy.

We must first clear the deck of the mind of restlessness. We must seek to be still. Only in the quiet chamber of the still heart and mind, in the relaxed body temple of the soul, will our Beloved enter. This state of perfect stillness must not only be desired, it must be "felt." This is where the art comes in and where one who has had some success with this proves far more valuable in the role of teacher than detailed instructions written in a book (or in a blog!). The intuitive "feeling" of a meditative state can be conveyed one-on-one to one who seeks it and does so with sensitive awareness and openness. (As an aside, this "transmission" need not require the physical presence of one's teacher, if such teacher is spiritually advanced. Attunement is, itself, first and foremost, an intuitive state of consciousness and intuition knows no barriers of time and space. This is why devotion to saints long departed from this earth can bestow tangible blessings on a sincere devotee.)

Do you remember how it was in the Old Testament that Moses, while leading the Israelites from captivity, could, nonetheless NOT enter the promised land? This means that our ego, no matter how sincere and energized through will power and desire, must subside in favor of receptivity and openness to receive a state of consciousness that is more expansive and that already exists. It too must, as we do when we meet someone, bow where spectators only stand and watch. Thus the essential and foundational requirement of humility, receptivity, and openness.

In more dramatic depictions of the self-sacrifice of ego, we have images such as Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac, his only son at the request of God--something no father would ordinarily consider. Martyrdom, intense prayer, personal sacrifice and self-deprivations and on and on.....all of these at least symbolize the core necessity that the ego submit itself to the flow of grace. These specific examples are not demanded or expected of mere beginning meditators, of course, and for most of us they are but illustrative. But, if one would stop for a moment, and consider the entry fee to achieve infinite consciousness, well, guess what the price is: yes, the ultimate. Fear not, when that time comes, even if, like Jesus himself who prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "May this cup pass from me," you, too, will likely conclude, "Thy will be done."

Be not doubtful that the ego will resist this invitation (each time one meditates, what to mention at the final step of liberation!), but the irony is that our consciousness is not obliterated or submerged in the state of superconsciousness. Indeed, it expands with great joy into the Sea of Consciousness from which it has been sent! In God, nothing is ever lost. There is no time, no dimensions, no past, no future. All that we have been remains PRESENT. We simply expand and return home to Infinite consciousness. But the ego can never be convinced of this. It takes an act of faith, not just will, to meditate deeply. There is an intuitive gnosis, knowing, a remembrance (Patanjali calls it "smriti") that awakens and nurtures an individual to want to meditate

Ah, but I digress to the depths. Let us return, then, to the surface of our subject where the breeze is fresh and the sunlight bright, where birds chirp with delight, sitting on the patio in the morning sun, cappuccino and croissant at the ready.

Next time, then, let us explore the eight stages of meditation, inspired and given to us by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.

Enough a 'ready..........blessings abound as Spring flowers surround us!

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Mind: the Last Frontier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Search for Meaning : Final Post (7 of 7) :Meditation & Freedom

Part 7 - Meditation & Freedom

As science reveals the vastness of the cosmos, meditation reveals the vastness of thought and consciousness; as science perennially seeks new sources of energy, so meditation reveals a fount of creative energy within us; as science seeks to discover new labor-saving, life-saving, health-restoring devices and cures, so meditation reveals the subtle energy of life force which brings health and vitality into everyday life. As science seeks solutions to life’s material problems, so meditation discovers the innate joy of consciousness which is itself the greatest problem solver of them all because it brings unconditional happiness: the pearl of great price which cannot be bought cheaply at Wal-Mart.

Consider, friends, that the cosmos is an inextricable mix of matter and mind; objective and subjective; esoteric and exoteric; seen and unseen. As it has been proven by science that the observer is not separable from the observed, so too is consciousness an integral part of matter.

So, my scientific, skeptical, agnostic, atheistic friends: whether God exists, whether consciousness underlies creation, or whether consciousness persists in the midst of death is not the issue. Your interest in and open mind toward the subject is the issue. God gives us the free will to seek Him or to reject Him. For countless incarnations we can seek fulfillment in outer circumstances and yet will always find disappointment. As this universe has existed for untold billions of years, so have we. As energy can be neither created nor destroyed, so too consciousness! There is no death, only the outer appearance of change. Consciousness and Self-awareness simply IS. Indeed, given the transitory, fleeting appearance and disappearances of atoms, molecules, mountains and stars, Consciousness is the only reality.

We have nothing to fear for in our pure consciousness for we are eternal: not as bodies or egos, but as unique manifestations of Infinite Consciousness. This, admittedly, is a dogma (a precept) but it is one that can be proved, intuitively, step by step, even if, owing to distractions and outer circumstances, it might take more than one lifetime. The proof of pudding is in the eating and the eating is good, for the sincere and focused inquiry produces a more reliable and increasingly stable happiness. The eating is in the discipline of meditation and the art of seeking happiness (aka God). It is a money-back guarantee that meditation, combined with right attitude, right understanding, and right action will bring the greatest happiness possible in this life, bar none!

No saint who has achieved union with the Creator has returned to say, “Ah, what a scam!” By contrast, no single human talent or achievement can so boast. Its votaries invariably and eventually turn away with a yawn and a shrug. Like Ian Fleming said of fame, “At first was fun, but now it’s just ashes, old man, just ashes.” Same for money, pleasure, beauty, fortune and on and on. There’s always a fly somewhere in the soup! Like prostitutes, they are loyal to no one.

After hard experience, we may eventually recognize that self-indulgence and selfishness produce unhappiness and suffering. Then we turn to human virtue and goodness. These are our first, halting steps in the evolution of our consciousness. Most people and most orthodox religions more or less stop here. To go further, one must go on alone. For virtue, while its own reward, cannot satisfy our potential for lasting happiness. Through sincere seeking and studying truth from the wise, we awaken the intuition to see that no matter how virtuous I may be and no matter how satisfying to me my virtuous conduct is, I see that suffering, disease, old age and death still exist. I never know how or when my virtue may slip from my grasp under trying circumstances. Virtue isn’t arbitrary or inconsequential: it is a necessary stepping stone and a foundation for further evolution.

Something more is sought, therefore, as our soul evolves. Better to be agnostic than to embrace yet another unprovable dogma: atheism. Better yet, however, to have the rigor and self-honesty of mind to be open to realities beyond your next meal and to realize that it’s a matter of mind. Who can look up at the stars and ask “What’s for dinner?” Those who do can be excused for dinner, of course, but the rest of us will ask questions of life even if we also, later, eat our dinner. If you are uninterested, I don’t judge you. You judge (or limit) your own potential for happiness. The universe has lots of time. God will wait.

So, wise up, get a real life, and expand your consciousness. As Jesus put it, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” Discover the truth that shall make your mind free from “dire fears and colossal suffering” (Krishna, the Bhagavad Gita).

For those of you who have followed my ramblings and reflections, I applaud your valor and endurance. It is my prayer that a bit here and a bit there of these reflections will provide some inspiration to readers and, in the process, some tribute to the memory and living spirit of my teacher, Swami Kriyananda and to our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda—a beacon of hope for a better world than that offered to us by the scoffers and skeptics. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Search for Meaning - Part 6 (of 7) : God as Consciousness; God as Joy

Part 6 - God as Consciousness; God as Joy

Science, technology, education and travel have expanded our view of reality beyond our nuclear family to include not just our city, county, state, and nation but the planet Earth! Indeed, we gaze into the heavens above and consider the possibilities of intergalactic travel. Similarly, the great preceptors of humanity have taught that Consciousness is a core attribute of God, the underlying substrata of matter. As our cosmos and as space would seem to have no end, so God, as Consciousness itself, is Infinite. There is no realm limited to our imagination and thought, neither time nor space can constrain our idea-mind. By our attunement with God, we, then, too, potentially have no limit to the expansion of our awareness. Thus it may be that by admitting the independent existence of mind, consciousness, and feeling (happiness) one has articulated synonyms for “God.”

You see, the innate sense of satisfaction, fulfillment and well-being which result from an expansion of our awareness and sympathies to include others are indirect testimonies to the existence of consciousness independent of matter and, by extension, then of God. When we are angry, resentful, jealous or vindictive we are upset and unhappy. The opposite is self-evidently true. It may be true that happiness and contentment “enhance” our chances of survival (though hardly a truism) but such actions are not rooted in mere (or is it “sheer”) survival. Instead, it is the deep memory of our latent or potential for transcendent awareness. For sure, it is happiness that we seek, not only mere survival. Born from the beginning of time out of the womb of God’s bliss, we are endowed with the silent, knowing memory that happiness born of perpetual existence and self-awareness is our nature, our birthright, and our destiny.

It is simply that the drama of creation cannot perpetuate itself if all beings could achieve this final state all at once or too easily. The nature of a good drama is conflict and resolution, good and bad, birth and death. As our true nature is eternal, the impulse of the creation is to perpetuate itself. But the nature of movement is that it swings back and forth, in and out, up and down, hot and cold and, like a perpetual motion machine, it is caught in its own machinations of movement. This is the nature of creation for it is Spirit cloaked in matter. Matter cannot recognize its dilemma, only Spirit, immanent within, can cognize itself. When it withdraws back into it-Self, matter continues more or less untouched. For now, it is not important to argue or explore duality vs nonduality, for that is beyond our subject. Suffice to see that the qualities inherent in matter and creation tempt spirit-incarnate to look for itself (like the Musk deer) in all the wrong places where it cannot be found.

I say to the agnostic scientific mind, you can just as easily contemplate countless  galaxies, the history of nations, the infinitesimal world of quantum physics as to contemplate where you will go on vacation. The vacation may come and go soon enough but the galaxies remain forever (well, at least for a long time). The vacation is an unmanifested idea that has captured your fancy, while the distant galaxies are real whether you think about them or not.

Which, then, is more real? We must conclude that reality is a matter of personal interest and awareness. I am not saying that reality depends on your awareness, so much, as your perception of reality depends upon your interest and awareness.

The world teacher, Paramhansa Yogananda, taught that the joy of meditation is proof of the existence of God. That isn’t literally or logically true but it is intuitively so. The actual inner experience of a state of joy that has no outward source in pleasure, material or egoic fulfillment of any kind, and that can be experienced even in the midst of trials, tribulations, and pain shows that there exists a level of consciousness unaffected by matter. With practice and depth of intuitive perception, this strata of unconditional joy is experienced as self-existent, self-aware, and self-satisfying (needing nothing beyond itself). You need not take this on belief. Be a metaphysical scientist, and prove this for yourself.

But, there’s a catch! I cannot give this to you, like writing a check. One can inspire you; teach you; give you suggestions and counsel, but you must seek and earn it yourself, for it is within you. You have to know about it and want it. Living next door to an excellent restaurant but not being hungry does not give you the pleasure of its fare. Nor is this joy merely a product of an overactive imagination. Anyone who has experienced it would scoff at the accusation that this inner joy was imaginary. Indeed, it can transform your life. That’s reality, so far as you are concerned. And it isn’t a merely subjective reality if it helps you cope creatively, efficiently, and successfully with day to life and life’s up and downs. Nor is it merely subjective if anyone else, making a similar sustained and intelligent effort, can have the same experience. Millions of people now meditate and millions testify as to the consistent results. What more is the scientific method?

Stay tuned for our last section, Part 7 – Meditation & Freedom

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Search for Meaning: Part 5 (of 7) : Evolution of Consciousness

Part 5 - Evolution of Consciousness

What if, for just a moment, we entertain the possibility that underlying all matter and form is consciousness. What if the evolutionary purpose of creation is to become more conscious, more self aware, and more connected in sympathy and feeling with others? And what if we discover that this does not pose a threat to the impulse to survive and propagate?

Indeed: consider how survival and propagation would fit neatly into the whole idea of reincarnation! If evolution is propelled by the intention of consciousness to take on form and through that form to become gradually more self-aware, then consciousness, so clothed, needs those forms to survive long enough to make progress. Then, in order to continue its evolution when the outer form it has inhabited has run its physical course of life, and after a “nightly” rest, it reincarnates and to do so it needs to find new forms, generally at least slightly more evolved. Indeed, such a possibility has not only been averred for thousands of years by the wise of east and west but this provides the intelligent and purposeful intention behind what otherwise seems a crude, hopeless, and mechanical explanation of life on earth. The cup of life may indeed be half full! (Something to think about, eh, Darwin?) Creation, defined as the cosmos, is “old as the hills,” and the evolution of consciousness is as much a part of it as the evolution of the forms of creation. Why not, then, mightn’t we be as old as time itself?

Just the other day a friend on Facebook shared a YouTube video from “Cosmology and Consciousness Conference” in India last month (Dec 2013) with Bruce Greyson, the speaker, an expert on consciousness beyond the brain. Here’s the link: He has studied numerous cases on reincarnation and other evidence supporting the idea that consciousness exists independent of form.

Any amateur psychologist will admit that the law of cause and effect governs thoughts and emotions just as much as it does chemicals, atoms and electrons! Over the long eons of creation, in this metaphysical view, perhaps as we gradually evolve through stages of mineral, plant, animal and human, we acquire more mobility, increased awareness of our surroundings, more control over our life, and, at last in human form, become self-aware. In super-human (superconscious) awareness, we achieve the Oneness spoken of even thousands of years ago! Achieving thus “Self-realization,” we are free to go (offstage, as it were, into the “bosom of the Lord”).

Instinct presumably guides the more or less automatic evolution of lower life forms towards higher life forms. But at the human level, armed with reason but heavily influenced by past subconscious tendencies, we can evolve upward or downward over time periods too great to even imagine. But intuition gradually awakens us to learn to expand our consciousness such that, as an example, we learn to love for love’s sake alone; to care for others because it is right; because it satisfies a deep need for connection; indeed, for many “reasons.” We simply know certain things about our feelings, consciousness and life. We may not articulate them in philosophical terms; or, we may do so, instead, using religious language. But the knowing is the same, regardless of the explanation employed. The left brain, reasoning mind is unable to critically examine the realm of intuitive knowing because intuition arrives on the doorstep of our awareness complete in itself, satisfied with the finality of its perception. It requires no acceptance and needs no approval. We can of course reject it. If we do so too frequently it will retreat back into silence. We can also, admittedly, misinterpret it or mistake subconscious influences, desires, and biases for true intuition. It takes practice to learn to recognize and trust true intuition.

Intuition knows that I am happier when I am calm, self-controlled, considerate, kind, energetic, and creative and so on. Our ego, by habit or self-assertion, however, wants excitement and stimulation (and to strike out at perceived threats) and then wonders puzzled when it receives the bill in the form of an emotional (or other) hangover or in returned hurts.

All great wisdom traditions acknowledge that the human psyche is engaged in a struggle between its past (and its subconscious) and its true potential in higher consciousness. Do we cling to the goal to “get ours” or do we haltingly and gradually begin to trust our intuition that happiness requires a long-term investment in an expansion of our consciousness?

The infant science we call modern psychology began with the proposal that it was more authentic to devolve in favor of our subconscious habits and to accept that these were our true self. This “solution” has been shown to be false, and worse, for it leads into greater suffering and unhappiness.

It must also be pointed out that the evolution of consciousness is not one of a species or even a group of people, but of each person, each soul, or put another way, individually. The nature of consciousness is such that evolution cannot be imposed upon itself. It awakens to itself and must choose to do so voluntarily AND individually. We call this free will.

Gradually, if we grow in wisdom and self-understanding through life’s ups and downs, we find that our definition of happiness takes us further than the pleasure of the moment and beyond self-gratification. It  expands to include the realities of others (family, friends, community, nation, and world), Even nature conspires to guide us in the direction of expanding awareness and sympathies. The young man falls in love; marries, starts a family, a career, becomes a responsible citizen and, in time, the doting patriarch of the clan. This naturally guided expansion of awareness brings us a satisfaction that the latest Smartphone or promotion cannot offer. Many a soul learns the hard way, later in life, that money can’t buy happiness.

When we take up recycling and donating to “Save the Whales,” clearly our frame of reference and scope of self-identification has expanded beyond our five senses, our immediate egoic interests, and beyond even our lifetime for it includes the welfare and well-being of other people.

Stay tuned for Part 6: God as Consciousness; God as Joy....

Friday, January 17, 2014

Search for Meaning - Part 4 (of 7) : Inquiry into Consciousness

Part 4 - Inquiry into Consciousness

Skeptics or scientifically minded people who turn away from any inquiry into the meaning of life, into life after death, into the existence of God, or reincarnation, ought to simply admit that they lack the interest, confidence, courage and/or willingness to make the effort to investigate. Just as billions of dollars were spent on building the large Hadron Collider in Europe to conduct sophisticated experiments on subatomic particles, so too investigation of fundamental consciousness takes focused commitment and years of rigorous inquiry. Some scientists, atheists, etc. are surely as bigoted in their refusal or denial of the possibility of subtler levels of reality and consciousness as the most self-righteous religious scripture-thumping fundamentalist.

Let the rationalist consider, too, the hypotheses of science which we readily accept but which lie far beyond reason or the senses: From astrophysics, geology, genetics, and astronomy to quantum physics, string theory and the “God-particle,” we readily accept as true, realities that can only be described (from the point of view of our actual sensory experience or our reason) as “metaphysical!”

Proofs of subtler truth teachings do exist for those who are interested. It’s really that simple. Well, ok, maybe simple but not so easy. Just consider what it takes to be a top-notch physicist these days. Inquiry into consciousness can only be conducted on its own level. There are no tools or machines that can do anything other than hint at the effects of consciousness. Consciousness is the only “tool” to perceive itself. The Greeks counseled: “Know thy Self.” Only by mental and mindful inquiry might we perceive the vastness of the halls of consciousness, opening up to first contemplate and then aspire to become infinity itself.

We are taught to begin with simple inquiry: “Who am I?” Examine your every thought minutely, as if under a microscope, and wonder not at the absence of God. Our daily preoccupations with matters mundane and egocentric number into the thousands. Clear your mind of such thoughts for increasingly long periods of time, and, wonder of wonder, what appears but a window onto Superconsciousness and a universe of Inspirations, insights, creativity, vitality, and joy that has no outer conditions!

Just as to become a scientist or doctor takes years of training, so too one who would plumb the depths of consciousness would have to expend years of concentrated effort under the mentorship of one who has mastered the art. His tools would include introspection and the science of meditation

The agnostic will say “I don’t know, I am interested only in tonight’s dinner and whether I get that promotion.” Both dinner and the promotion however are but thoughts in your mind. They have no reality (at that moment, at least) outside of your mind. The educated agnostic will certainly have no problem believing in science’s tenet that there are at least a hundred BILLION galaxies and that our earth has existed for billions of years and the humans have been on this planet for some six or seven million years? He will admit that his life of eighty years in the context of the length of time humans have lived on earth isn’t all that significant. Further he must admit that his life is not more important than that of the other six billion people on this planet. His temporary delight at gobbling down turkey on Thanksgiving is no more significant than his neighbor’s enjoyment of his vegetarian nut loaf. He might fight back and conclude, claiming to be rational, that all inquiries beyond his own material, bodily, and egoic interests are unnatural and unworthy of contemplation, but he cannot say, objectively, that his personal realities are more real or more important than another’s.

The “enlightened agnostic,” by contrast, will go further and recognize that to be virtuous, honest, loyal, hardworking, and compassionate is a better and more honorable way to live. He will surely believe in the golden rule. If he writes off his belief on the basis of obtaining better treatment from others, then he is but a cynic. What satisfaction or happiness would accrue to such a one who appears friendly only to curry favor? How would he view his love for his wife, mother or his child in the context of his philosophy of life?

There are of course varying levels of such agnostics ranging from cynical to noble but they all at least recognize that we must deal responsibly with the realities we face in life. “Responsibly” is something of a subterfuge for a realization of which few such agnostics contemplate the potential implications. What is the meaning and philosophical significance of that intangible but valuable satisfaction that is achieved when we relate to others along the lines of the golden rule? Those who have lived by this rule know that life is more satisfying, more complete, and, yes, more meaningful. C’mon now: why not admit it: one is happier!

Once again, the hard crust of reason and narrow self-interest, indeed egotism, which like prison walls, begin to crumble as our heart and mind expands to include others. The law of the jungle, while presumably the fate of lions and tigers and bears, is something most of us do our best to avoid! And even in the jungles of concentration camps or in times of war, famine, or catastrophe, there were and are those who reach out to help others. To them is bestowed nobility, strength, wisdom, contentment and inner satisfaction that the bitter and selfish will never fathom.

While reason can endorse this enlargement of sympathies and self-identity, it is first and foremost a matter of the heart. Only in the crucible of testing is the metal of our character forged. Some are born with this enlargement; others earn it in their current life.

And what about the phenomenon in human experience we call the “conscience?” More survival tactics, I suppose? Based on lack of conscience, one will steal and enrich himself; based on the whispers of conscience, another will turn away from the temptation. Which, I ask you, is the more successful survivalist? The former may outlive, out-propagate, and out-prosper his more scrupulous friend. But will he be happier?

Whence cometh this realization, this power of the knowing of our shared humanity, the nobility of self-sacrifice, this reaching for the stars? As we acknowledge biological evolution, is there perhaps a psychic or soul evolution? As we cognize the ever-changing interchange between matter and energy, is it possible consciousness evolves also as it takes on new forms?

Stay tuned, then, for Part 5, Evolution of Consciousness!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Search for Meaning - Part 3 (of 7) - Consciousness, God & Intuition

Part 3 – Consciousness, God & Intuition

The “God” word is troublesome in these days of “spiritual but not religious,” of separation of church and state, and freedom to think what you want and be who you want to be. The word implies we are being watched, and, worse yet, judged. Or, that there are limits on what we can or cannot do. The strong implication is that our actions have consequences beyond the immediate.

Now don’t get too riled up. I can’t prove that God exists. Fact is, you can’t prove that God DOESN’T EXIST; you can’t even prove that YOU exist. For all you know, you live in the Matrix, or, at best, in your own mind. So forget that approach and fear not, for I have no intention of proving to anyone that God exists. (This doesn’t mean we won’t talk about it though!)

Indeed, even the scriptures of India admit that “God cannot be proved” (by the senses or by reason alone). But can science or reason prove that God does NOT exist? Surely no one expects to find Him in a test tube? God, if He exists, is not an object in His creation. He is THE SUBJECT, so to speak. That the creation appears to perpetuate itself is by no means proof of anything. Unless the painting is signed, who can know its artist? Does Shakespeare appear in his plays? Is not the father also present in the son? Science, indeed human life itself, would be untenable were it not for faith in the principle of cause and effect. How can science, of all human pursuits, dismiss a First Cause simply because they haven’t or mightn’t ever find it?

What, then is the First Cause of creation? The Big Bang? Well, they are still banging their heads around that one. No “matter” what “matter” they posit, it will only and always be a theory insofar as the beginning of creation was, ‘er, well, how do I say this: a long, long time ago? And, like, we weren’t there? But no matter what they come up with it can never answer “Why.” At most it will be the “how” but only from a starting point beyond which by definition is material or maybe abstract mathematics. Just as bad is the fact that scientists will reevaluate and change their theories with each generation!

Definitely no absolutes in nature and in creation. Nowadays they are just happy to find something that works; a formula in which Y finally finds X! (I read a joke the other day: “Y, stop trying. Your X is never coming back. Y even try?”) They will no more find God in His creation with their scientific instruments or formulae anymore than they will find “the missing link.” Consciousness cannot be proved but only identified second-hand, by its manifestations as electro-magnetic radiations, articulated thoughts, emotions, and actions.

Would the most sophisticated computer-robot ever become human? Logic does not a human make. Feeling, too, is inextricably linked, even with our logic. Feeling is the doorway to our sixth sense: intuition and is that which distinguishes us from robots. A robot could mimic emotions but cannot “feel” them. No robot will come up with ideas outside its logic circuits and programming. As my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, was fond of pointing out: even an earthworm has more consciousness than a computer, no matter how sophisticated the computer. Spike Jonze’s move, Her, notwithstanding, all the clever algorithms cannot produce consciousness: it can only mimic feeling. Feeling and perception are inextricable elements of consciousness.

Consciousness is self-aware, and self-awareness is its own proof. There is no other, for consciousness is not an object, but the observer. Intuition, our sixth sense, is the only means of arriving at that proof. Reason is inadequate to prove that we even exist. In this lies, in part, the fascination such plots as in the movie, the Matrix, challenge us to define: what is real? Who are we? Are we a part of something greater?

Intuition is the state of awareness in which “knowing” exists independent of reason or the senses. The human experience of “knowing” which appears spontaneously without being based on any material, sensory, memory-based, or intellectual rationation is personal “proof” of Mind as independent of matter. This knowing we call intuition. The existence of intuition is experienced by almost everyone at various times in life. Some draw upon it more frequently; some receive it unaware of its own nature, others, receive more consciously; others, yet, with great success.

Where do new ideas come from? It may be reasonable and acceptable for us to say “I had an idea” but it is more true and accurate to say, “An idea came to me.” And, from where did it come, may I ask? You don’t know. It’s that simple. Let me repeat it because you probably missed it: you don’t know where the idea came from. Are you willing to ponder the possibilities? Good, I thought you might. So, now, you’re still with me, then. Good.

Paramhansa Yogananda used the term superconsciousness to designate that realm of thought that might be called, in essence, the Universal Mind. From this unitive realm of pure consciousness, he taught, flow all forms and ideas. “Thoughts,” Paramhansa Yogananda wrote, “are universally, not individually, rooted.” It has been amply demonstrated that discoveries can take place more or less simultaneously by unrelated researchers.

With meditation practice we can learn to open our access to this level of Being and enhance our ability to find solutions to life’s challenges, even at will. Now, this, I admit, as stated herein, comes to you, the reader, as a theory, or even as a dogma, perhaps. But it is one that can be proven by actual experience by those willing to take the effort. Inspiration, solutions, answers can be received with greater and greater frequency, clarity and confidence with the intelligent and disciplined practice of established meditation techniques.

Paramhansa Yogananda was asked this question in his hotel room by a reporter once as he was preparing for a lecture that he was to give that evening. Yogananda turned to his secretary and said: “Write this down.” He then instantly dictated a poem. This poem subsequently appeared in a book of Yogananda’s poetry and this particular poem was singled out by a literary critic in a printed review as the best example of Yogananda’s collected works.

My teacher, and founder of Ananda, Swami Kriyananda, showed this ability to channel inspiration at will in his writing of some four hundred pieces of music and nearly 150 books. While most authors take years to a write a book, Kriyananda could write a book in days or weeks: at most a few months. Unfortunately, scientific funding for developing intuition has not yet materialized.

Yogananda described intuition as the “soul’s power to know God.” Through the sixth sense of intuition, we cognize supersensory realities. The unitive field of Mind is no less one of an infinity of possible definitions for Infinity itself, also sometimes called “God.”

 In areas of psychic abilities, however, intuition has been amply studied and proven even if given different names and even if scientists can give no rational explanation. It has been demonstrated repeatedly that telepathic communication can transcend both time and space. Material science, at a loss to explain these things, turns aside, choosing to ignore what they can neither explain nor control. This is their choice and a reasonable one at that, but few scientists have the courage and clarity to articulate the implications of both these phenomenon and their inability to explain them.

Repeated cases of reincarnation that have been critically examined around the world are so plentiful that, once again, science can only shake its head and turn elsewhere. 

Stay tuned for Part 4 - Inquiry into Consciousness

Friday, January 10, 2014

Search For Meaning - Part 1 (of 7)

This is the first of seven articles on the search for meaning, for happiness and God. This series reflects the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, and also specifically, the lifelong efforts of Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Yogananda) to see the cup of modern consciousness as half full, instead of half empty. This is a message of "Hope for a Better World," to use the title of one of Kriyananda's books.

Part 1 - To What End, Creation? Survival?

Introduction: Before I begin, I’d like to start with some acknowledgements and references. My spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda (SK), wrote nearly 150 books in his long and productive life (1926-2013). One of his first books was originally published under the title “Crises in Modern Thought.” Later revised and expanded, it was renamed, “Out of the Labyrinth.” In this book, SK grapples with the 20th century issue of meaninglessness -- a cultural and philosophical malaise which brought much suffering, both physical and mental, to millions (and a lot of meaningless art--see also his book, “Art as Hidden Message”). For those interested in going into this subject far more deeply and lucidly than I can here, I recommend this book highly (and its sequel, “Hope for a Better World”). Both can be purchased online, or from the publisher (, or from my favorite bookshop, (or an Ananda center near you!). The culmination of these two books comes in a re-write of Yogananda’s thesis, or personal mission statement: a ghost-written book he called “The Science of Religion” but which Swami Kriyananda re-wrote with the title: “God is for Everyone.”

In his own life story, originally titled “The Path” in 1979, but also revised and expanded thirty years later (2009) with the title, “The New Path,” SK describes the turning point in his life (at age 21) when walking out under the stars on the beach, desperate to understand the meaning of life. Using the only tool at his disposal and with which he felt secure--his reason--he concluded that as he is conscious and asking himself these questions about the purpose of life, so too God, if He exists, must be a larger version of himself: or, to sum it up: Consciousness Itself. As he, SK, exists, God must exist. As he is conscious, God must be Consciousness itself. Until his dying breath, SK would repeat this story to audiences time and again. He often would choke up in the telling, so deeply moving and life changing was his realization.

Matter or Consciousness? Or, does it matter? As SK would put it time and time again throughout his life in lectures and writings: either nothing is conscious, or everything is conscious. Extending that, I would add that either life is meaningless or life is meaningful. Skeptics, scoffers and materialistic scientists maintain that consciousness arises from the electrical and chemical activities of the brain in its fevered attempts to survive and prosper. Thus, for them, consciousness is merely a useful function and has no intrinsic meaning in itself. It is as useful to us as, they might aver, the trunk of an elephant is to the elephant. This is what, I believe, SK meant by the phrase “nothing is conscious.” Put another way, the materialistic view is that consciousness is a mere functional byproduct and not the very essence or the source of matter. They might say, if they had a sense of humor (and often they do not), “It doesn’t matter.”

I once read an article in National Geographic that explained, quite unselfconsciously that human love and romance were “merely” responses stemming from these core “Darwinian” impulses! The article went to great lengths to explain the chemical processes involved. It was sad, or perhaps silly, actually, but this form of explanation is the accepted dogma of science and of culture today. In many so-called intellectual circles, it is an accepted dogma that all human activity has its origins in the impulse to survive and propagate! (Speak for yourself, I say!)

But these pseudo-philosopher-scientists are not being logical or true to their own rigorous methods of reasoning and experimentation. If you want to remain logical and objective you must by sheer logic alone agree that Darwinian compulsions, while factual, do not limit other influences or possibilities. These impulses could just as logically be but aspects of a bundle of influences and elements related to the interplay of matter and consciousness. Just as we have “lower” animals so too we, humans, may possess lower impulses as well as higher ones. The two might, at times, be in conflict, but, at other times, in cooperation. Darwinism need not be the final statement on the meaning and function of life. It is not exclusive. It simply points out a demonstrable (and useful)  fact of sentient life.

Is there not more to human life and its motivating impulses and myriad activities and interests (and, demonstrably to animal life, at least the more highly developed species)? Is the possibility of higher consciousness, of preexistent intelligence really such a threat to science? Why don’t they just admit it’s outside the purview of their interests or present ability to measure or predict (with the possibility of being forever outside their control!). Just look at human emotions, even in a single day, going from angry to forgiving.

A cup half full. Is it not at least just as possible that the material universe is a manifestation of consciousness as it might be that consciousness is the product of electrical and chemical processes? That it seems to us that the brain and nervous system are prerequisites for mental processes, does not logically preclude the possibility that behind the development and evolution of such sophisticated organisms lies a hidden but guiding intelligence, like the oak tree hidden in the seed. Sensitive awareness and sophisticated analysis of high functioning or unusual (but demonstrable) mental processes discloses conditions and instances where cognition and consciousness exist independent of the body and its organs.

There’s no point disputing the existence and value of the impulse to survive or to procreate, but primal impulses cannot answer the question, “Why?” Or, “What for?” Whatever may the compelling impulse to survive and procreate, organisms, both human and otherwise, don’t necessarily spend an enormous amount of time or energy dwelling on these impulses. It’s not unlike defining the human body as a composting mechanism: a rather narrow and pedestrian point of view, and of limited utility. Why, in any case, does the instinct for either arise to begin with? What’s so great about surviving and propagating? As I like to put it, “We don’t get out alive” in this world!

Given the depth and profundities of our very inquiries, and those of humankind down through the ages, moreover, it is at least slightly more likely that consciousness is the bedrock source of matter, not the other way around! On what basis and for what Darwinian purpose would we, and untold numbers like us, be having this conversation? Why has this conversation been repeated in every generation since the dawn of human history?

Part 2 - What is Happiness? stay tuned........

Swami Hrimananda!