Showing posts with label marriage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label marriage. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Case Against Marriage! (Happy Valentine's Day!)


Did I get your attention?

Let me begin by saying my own marriage is inextricably linked to my spiritual path and whatever growth towards divine wisdom and love has unfolded in forty years of marriage is due in no small part to the love, loyalty, perseverance and divine attunement of my wife.

For this my gratitude knows no bounds. The high bar of high ideals in daily life and unconditional, divine love in marriage are, however, more than a little daunting and I make no personal claims beyond my gratitude for the opportunity to change and grow, however slowly. 

Who can deny the depth of human desire for love? Is not so much of history, drama, literature, and daily life imbued with its impulses? Deep though it be, we are taught that its depth is depthless, for it is rooted in the memory of perfect, unconditional divine love. It can never be permanently extinguished. It can only be perfected in union with God, the source of all love. 

So embedded is the human desire, that even those whose own marriage is less than successful will shed a tear or two at a wedding of the younger generation. Or gaze longingly at the beauty and charm of youth, sex, and romance.

Despite the obvious mundane-ness of marriage in daily life; despite the arguments, the gradual loss of beauty, dignity, and mutual respect; the cross over of boundaries, demands, and selfishness; it is truly astonishing that such an "institution" should remain with us. Modern culture and mores no longer insist upon formal marriage yet it persists. 

Paramhansa Yogananda used to wax a bit skeptical in the face of those who sigh longingly at the image and fantasy of forever romance. In his day (1920's and 1930's when divorce was beginning to be more common), he described American marriages as too often a marriage between "a pretty shade of lipstick and a bow tie!" (Meaning: a case of superficial attraction).

Swami Kriyananda often described marriage as an enormous "compromise of the ideal of unconditional love." "No two people could possibly be all and all for one another unless they each were impossibly dull or stupid."

"Best of friends" -- yes, ok, for sure. But today, Valentine's Day, we contemplate romance.

Marriage even by the force of nature begins with attraction, romance and sex, then moves to having children, a mortgage, bountiful troubles of innumerable kinds, and, if it survives all that, smooths over towards a wonderful friendship: and that's if it goes well. Most do not. Or, from what I keep hearing: half do not!

But as Yogananda put it, "Those who have to marry by compulsion of desire will have to experience disillusionment until someday (one assumes this requires countless lifetimes) the desire fades away."

On the long journey from desire to dharma, which is to say from subconscious compulsions to maturity, one's relationships change accordingly. Disillusionment is insufficient grounds for soul liberation. The "take-away" must be balanced by a "take-up": love for God, increasing in both intensity and purity.

Our souls are neither male nor female. Our souls are "sparks" of the Infinite Flame of unconditional love. As St. Augustine put it, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."

Most people (say, what, 98%?) should marry. As St. Paul put it (somewhat crudely), "Better to marry than to burn." Why, well, just look at the unremitting parade of scandals from religious circles to Hollywood Bowl: testimony to the power of attraction and consequence of both suppression and indulgence.

When respect, moderation, and high ideals enfold a couple like a cocoon of Light at the Altar of Friendship, then they will nurture their love to grow towards the perfect love of God.

On this Valentine's Day it would be appropriate to affirm the ideal of divine love. To see in one another the Divine Presence of Father or Mother or Divine Beloved.

Divine Mother is the Cupid who instills in our hearts a "shot" of Her unconditional and eternal love. Her arrow, straight from the heart of eternity, can remind us, too, to be a straight "shooter," seeking Her love alone, even if also through those who love us and those to whom we are naturally attracted.

It is God's love that has been made manifest in the impulse for human love. When we forget that, we will suffer the inexorable law of karma, duality, and separateness.

We are compelled by the law of karma to seek to manifest and perfect human love until it becomes the perfect love of God.

We cannot achieve God's love if we cannot love and be loved by others.

Let, then, Divine Mother be our Valentine! 

"May Thy love shine forever on the sanctuary of my devotion!"

Swami Hrimananda


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Friendship: the New Marriage

(Note: I speak here of marriage between a man and a woman. This form of marriage remains the dominant form of marriage, social changes notwithstanding, and, besides, it's simply easier to write nouns and pronouns in our language which has not yet figured out a natural way of addressing these new norms. My choice then is not a philosophical or social one but a practical one.)

"The only true marriage is between souls who have no compulsion of desire or need to be married!" (anonymous) 

Well, ok, so there aren't any such marriages to be found! (At least not commonly.) 

Human nature or perhaps only human culture bestows upon us an idealized image of marriage, cast in terms of romance and "happily ever after." While no one with life experience would buy into that in a sober state of mind, lots of people buy into it emotionally (at least when attending weddings, or deep into romance novels or movies).

Paramhansa Yogananda wrote a poem called "Friendship." Here is an excerpt:

Friendship is noble, fruitful, holy—

When two separate souls march in difference

Yet in harmony, agreeing and disagreeing,
Glowingly improving diversely,
With one common longing to find solace in true pleasure.
When ne’er the lover seeks
Self-comfort at cost of the one beloved,
Then, in that garden of selflessness
Fragrant friendship perfectly flowers.
For friendship is a hybrid, born of two souls,
The blended fragrance of two unlike flowers
Blown together in love’s caressing breeze.
Friendship is born from the very core
Of secret, inexplicable likings.
Friendship is the fountain of true feelings.
Friendship grows in both likeness and difference.

With the easy accessibility our culture offers for pursuing romantic and sexual urges, we find that marriage is taking place later in life and we see a greater recognition of the importance of friendship (over the intoxication of "being in love"). Perhaps this is the modern form of "arranged" marriage: arranged by higher values and interests rather the compulsion of hormones or a "pretty shade of lipstick and a handsome bow tie." 

I don't know the stats but I bet more couples meet by the arrangement of dating sites than by random bumps in a bar. 

The candid atmosphere of conversation around sex has the positive effect of shedding light on its darker sides such as aggressive and inappropriate behavior, abuse of position, disease, and pornography, not to mention an long list of criminal activities. 

Being in love may seem a harmless form of intoxication, but note that we "fall" in love. All forms of intoxication are similar, even experiencially. All involve a hangover! Taking another step downward, alcohol (or other drug use), sex, and violence can become a kind of demonic triad that clearly has aspects in common. Thus, societies worldwide seek in some way to re-direct sexual impulses into more positive expressions. 

Besides, in our calm and sober nature, we are all genderless souls. As we mature, our attractions, to the extent based on gender differences (however much we regale them at the time of our anniversary or at weddings), will naturally subside. Romantic love is designed, even by nature, to evolve into friendship.

Friendship, then, is the New Marriage paradigm.  

Romance may be the spark of ignition but once the motor of friendship is running smoothly the sparks become secondary and, over the years, even tiresome or artificial to re-ignite. This is not news but it is becoming increasingly true and conscious in society, or so I maintain (whether now or in the years to come).

Indeed, it is easily demonstrated by observation that unless friendship does kick in, the sparks of sex and romance are insufficient to keep the motor of a close and committed relationship running smoothly. 

Some of the natural characteristics of friendship include loyalty, service to one another, shared ideals and interests. And, as Yogananda's "Friendship" poem recounts, it includes acceptance of differences and disagreements. It also involves, increasingly, a shared commitment to community service or other high ideals, including spiritual growth and attunement.

When I opened this article by saying that the only true marriage is between two souls who are not under any compulsion of desire to marry, I am essentially describing two people who are secure in themselves.

This maturity and inner security frees one from the normal and usual neediness and co-dependence that characterizes most [immature] relationships. The freedom implied here allows these two friends to give each other space to evolve and grow while yet retaining respect for their differences in habits and opinions. It also means having the courage to work out or at least attempt to reconcile differences in a harmonious, respectful way.

I do not mean to describe an open-ended marriage. Loyalty will naturally be the basis of a mature marriage. I am referring to the all-too-common fears and insecurities that compel one spouse to fear or resist, or, alternatively, demand, changes in the other. And, when I say "changes" I refer to essentially positive and expansive changes in consciousness or habits (rather than self-destructive tendencies which too often emerge during the course of marriage).

Some of the changes that I've seen that are typical include a change in profession or career (which might require further education), diet or exercise, extreme sports, a spiritual awakening, foreign travel or residency, a hobby, and any number of positive changes in habits.

In this society where men and women mix freely and long-standing taboos around proximity and association are at an all-time minimum, a rising issue in marriage centers on friendships with others. 

Yogananda warned that "magnetism [between a man and woman] is the law," and too close of contact (physical, digital, etc.) between two people might flare into a relationship which could erode the trust and commitment of one's marriage. We bristle at the thought of being told "NO," but we have yet to learn that the new "taboos" require a greater personal and internal awareness of the need for self-regulated boundaries. These boundaries are not formed by custom or society. They exist in the mind, in the form of thought, contact, imagination, and feeling. American society, it seems to me, is largely unaware of this more subtle reality of human nature. Look at the issues arising in daily news around inappropriate behavior in the workplace. 

Another increasingly common change in marriage is facing a decision to end the marriage. Divorce is already common but friendship emphasizes harmony not contractual rights. If a parting of the ways must happen, a commitment to friendship means the separation should be, if possible, mutual, and in any case, as harmonious as any such sundering can be. Joined at the hip for years, even decades, means the dissolution of marriage will require surgery, and surgery is going to generate some pain and discomfort no matter what. 

It is not uncommon now to see separation taking place in the later stages of life when mature couples seek to nurture the impulse to be alone, and free from unnecessary obligations. The need to prepare for the "Final Exam" by pursing spiritual pursuits (prayer, pilgrimage, meditation) or, more mundanely, a bucket list, is an important reality for some. 

It seems to me, however, that if a couple enters marriage with friendship on the altar, they will do relatively well no matter how long the marriage endures. 

Only acceptance and respect for one another's independence and freedom to make, or unmake friendship and the strength and courage to enter into such a relationship can the house of marriage stand as the noble and divine state it can be. To those with a belief in the law of karma (and its concomitant precept, reincarnation) and the courage to follow it through, we are better able to accept the premise that no one owes us anything. Love is a gift and any gift given for profit (with conditions) is merely a contract for goods and services. 

The Ananda communities worldwide are part of a movement in this direction. Our wedding ceremony is surely among the most beautiful not only in its poetic and musical aspects, but in its expression of the ideal of divine friendship. At the same time, it is also grounded in the acknowledgement that when differences occur there is a commitment to work things out as best one can. When men and women, generally, and therefore also in marriage, are now free to follow similar pursuits (even serving together) and increasingly share equal status in society, it is important that marriage not turn into a competitive sport at the risk of friendship. The vows in our ceremony include a "non-competition agreement!" (:-)

If you would like a copy of this ceremony, feel free to write to me.

Though a high bar for marriage partners, these ideals can also help us lift our relationship above petty demands and opinions. The lives of many Ananda couples are a testimony to this uplifting, joy-giving power which is nothing less than the power of divine grace. 

May the blessings of true friendship, in all its myriad forms, be ever yours,

Swami Hrimananda!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Marriage: Is it Necessary?

Did I get your attention? Truthfully now: cohabitation is as acceptable as blue skies and sun (or, in my case, here in Seattle, grey clouds and rain). So why do couples go through all the fuss and bother and expense (and stress) of a marriage ceremony? Is it a tax savings device? Hardly!

Is it guilt or some social hangover from centuries of sentimentality and hopelessly repetitive traditions? I hope not, or at least I don't think so. Modern, educated and conscious-lifestyle couples step up to the marriage altar for many reasons, of course, but also, I believe, owing to impulses that run deep in the human psyche.

When I say "deep," I am NOT referring to some lizard brained, Darwinian ape-like impulse to, ah, what: survive? I am not aware of any other species who uses a ceremony to establish a committed relationship. Or as I sometimes put it when sometime trots out a survival-related reason for various profound, ennobling or genius-like human activities: "Speak for yourself!."

The impulse to memorialize and consecrate a couple's relationship comes from a higher plane of consciousness. It affirms the sacredness of commitment, of trust, of responsibility to and for one another. On a metaphysical level the two become One, thus re-affirming the highest (or deepest) truth precept humankind has ever, often, and repeatedly averred: as God is one, we are one, and, as children of God, we, too, in our souls, at least, are One with the Father-Mother, Infinite Power. Oneness, in other words, is the supreme teaching of the universe.

Marriage affirms a corollary precept: that love is the essence of truth and of reality. Love is the elemental divine impulse that put into motion the creation of the universe and it is to love that consciousness aspires in its long journey through time and space and endless seeming incarnations from lower life forms to the human form.

Love is the answer, the solution. Love it is that procreates: whether human children, acts of kindness, of enthusiastic creativity in arts, science, and all worthwhile human endeavors.

Some couples are, of course, of a lower consciousness and the most they can make of this impulse is to hold a bacchanalian orgy of loud music, guffaws, hard drinking, and all the innuendo around what follows. This false and fantasized lower form of bliss is inevitably paid for with the coin of the realm of our health, vitality, and happiness and returns to them in time with boredom, bitterness, disillusionment and, all too often, divorce.

Other couples, perhaps more sober and mature, see sacredness in their lives as limited to ceremonies of marriage, funerals and perhaps baptisms, but otherwise live their lives unaware or unaffected by their few minutes of religious traditional rites. Their marital affirmation is a pale affirmation and a fleeting vision of spiritual beauty just like a wedding dress which, though ethereal and shimmering with beauty and promise, is worn but once and then put into the closet for decades.

At Ananda, we have a beautiful wedding ceremony that is truly sacred and affirms the highest ideals of soul union with God and divine friendship with each other. Visitors and guests consistently remark on the universality, the poetic and visual beauty of the vows, rituals and music, and the sacredness they feel during the ceremony. We use the symbols of nature (earth, water, fire and air) to affirm our connection with all life and with the qualities these elements invite us to express: loyalty, adaptability, non-attachment and wisdom. The couple consecrates their partnership by affirming their love for God and that the love they feel for each other should be corollary expression of God's love, retaining the unselfish purity of God's unconditional love.

Just because we are as yet imperfect in realization of our spiritual ideals doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't affirm them, indeed, declare them with friends, family and congregation as witnesses and in those who wish to add their sincere blessings as a free gift. A spiritual marriage (I have earlier written on this subject: August 2014: Human Love: Delusion or Doorway to Heaven?) is one that strives to see the highest in one another and to serve and share in divine friendship. True friendship is practical and serviceful, one to the other; it is self-giving and self-sacrificing, even while remaining centered within and free from expectations of reciprocity. (A high bar of attainment, I grant you.) A spiritual marriage is founded in respect and a love born of the unconditional love which is innate to our soul's nature.

Tomorrow Padma and I are officiants at a wedding of dear friends who strive to live by these ideals and who seek the blessing of friends and family and the blessings of God through Christ and the Masters of Self-realization.

Marriage will survive for a long time to come! It will do so for reasons not generally clearly understood but deeply felt because true.

Blessings and joy to our friends and to all,

Nayaswami Hriman


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Human Love: Delusion or Stairway to Heaven?

Tomorrow is the 36th wedding anniversary for Padma and I - August, 6, 1978. We were married by Swami Kriyananda at the Ananda Meditation Retreat. So this topic is appropriate. It is also popular, surprisingly (to me, at least). As one small example on this blog, one of the most popular articles I have written, even though two and a half years ago, is on the subject of "How to Love Another without Attachment." On a grander scale, the whole of human history reveals that vast amounts of literature, art, music and movies are devoted to this subject, from the most degraded to the most elevated. The only serious competitor to the subject of human love is, fittingly, war. But today, to celebrate the occasion, let us "make love, not war." (Perhaps I'll be inspired some day on the latter subject, though don't hold your breath.)

No subject is more fraught with complexity and variables than that of human love. Human love ranges from its misuse to describe lust all the way to the most sublime of human feelings culminating even in the willingness to give one's life for another: and, a lot in between. It knows no end of unique expression and defies any and all definition.

Lest I be forced to write a book (and, I promise you, I will never wrote a book on this subject), I am going to honor my anniversary and focus on human love in its traditional form between a man and woman in marriage. It's my right to do so and it's just easier than to make constant alternative and inclusive pronoun and noun references. So my readers who are touchy on this subject of gender and preference, well, give me some scope. All you have to do is substitute your own gender preferences and I don't think you will see any difference.

What characterizes human love above all else is that of a compelling and a specific kind of attraction between two people. This attraction is not that of creative collaborators such as at a workplace but is personal and contains a spark of polarization that might as well be simply described as sexual. I use this term, sexual, both in its obvious and traditional sense but also with the understanding that its presence does not require that its physical form of expression is uppermost or has a special emphasis between two such people. It's the "spark" that we see between two people that flames into a long-term and committed relationship and includes some element of sexuality, even if just in the beginning. Call it "chemistry." I say this so that we know we are not talking about a platonic relationship or that better described as friendship.

The question for the moment is whether this spark of attraction is, from the spiritual point of view of the soul, merely delusional or whether it can be a steppingstone to divine love. Not surprisingly the answer to this is, "It depends."

It truly surprises me how difficult it is for human beings to love each other beyond the narrow confines of their selfish needs and attachments. Ok, so you say "Why does THAT surprise you?" Well, perhaps I am, underneath my logical exterior, so to speak, a sentimentalist at heart. Or, not. It's just that I encounter so many otherwise lovable people who seem incapable of loving in return and far from happy in that fact. I may lack many needful virtues but the inability to love another person (appropriately or otherwise) is not one of them.

There are two kinds of people: those who seek love and those who don't! Ha, ha, I fooled you. You thought I was about to say something profound, huh?

I will wax personal and impersonal as the keystrokes here demand of me. Personally, my life's outer activities have been merely a canvas on which to paint the hidden themes of my life. And, human love is certainly one of those themes. In high school, I fell love with my "high school sweetheart" (how out-of-date a phrase, eh?) but it didn't last. The more intensely I felt attracted to her, the more she withdrew emotionally. She was, in my view (no longer culturally correct, I suppose) at least at the time, the quintessentially irrational female who while maddeningly attractive remains uncommunicative, moody, and beyond all understanding and reason. As my own spiritual yearnings grew, she withdrew even more. It was time to leave and so I simply left. To this day, I do not know what she wanted or why she seemed unhappy. But I vowed from that day never to be fooled by a pretty face or figure but to seek a friend and a partner with whom I could speak with reason and intellect and with whom I could share my own (gradually emerging) higher ideals. In that resolve, I am content to say Divine Mother answered my prayer "an hundredfold."

My point in disclosing the above is to illustrate, even if you don't resonate with my stereotyping description, the conundrum between the outer attraction and the inner resonance between two people. It goes without saying that superficial attraction is dangerously misleading to one's higher Self. Yet, how many marriages begin with but a merely outward basis and yet can evolve and turn into something deeply harmonious and respectful? That's the rub isn't it? You can never really be sure until, well, it becomes obvious.

For example, in old-fashioned views on marriage, a young woman might yield to the forbidden fruit of pre-marital temptations in the hope that by so yielding she would catch "her man." And, sometimes at least, I am sure she did. But how many such liaisons produced the fruit of marital harmony? Few, I would guess.

How many men, in the former times, wanted to seduce a woman only to find, having done so, having fallen in love. (Though more likely not and being, instead, left empty, angry and troubled.)

The merry-go-round goes 'round endlessly, doesn't it? Even today's modern hook-up without hang-up culture is mostly a pretense and a gateway to risk, hurt and harm. Sex never satisfies, as an end in itself. Eventually, it shows its inadequacies and falsehood in a million different ways. How many divorced couples once boasted of having great sex! Ditto for romance as romance for its own sake.

Sex and romance are simply variations on a theme: the theme being the fleeting satisfaction of intense emotions, the pleasure of indulging in mere fantasy, and sensory stimulation, none of which can last very long and both of which produce the fruit of their opposites: boredom, disgust, moodiness, lethargy, and the longer-term effects of dissipation (mental, emotional and/or physical).

(Lest you feel in these words a bludgeon of condemnation, let us admit that sex and romance have their place in the grand scheme of things and, whether they do or not, they unmistakably "make the world go 'round." It is better to deal plainly and clearly with forces that are far greater than the mental virtue of the merely conscious mind. When either sex or romance are divorced from a deeper, soul resonance between people and become ends in themselves, this is when we eventually suffer.)

Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now famous classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," describes in a book of stories (collected and edited by my teacher, and founder of Ananda, Swami Kriyananda) called "Conversations with Yogananda," how American culture differs from Indian culture (at least during his lifetime). He said that in India where the parents choose a marriage partner for their child divorce is uncommon and marriages tend to be stable and generally more harmonious. In America he experienced the turmoil and tumult of rising divorce rates and marriages based on nothing more, as he wryly put it, than "a pretty shade of lipstick and a bowtie."

Yet, he concluded that in this culture we could find out more quickly the innate shortcomings of human love as a solution to our search for happiness. He didn't, in other words, slam the door in our face, decrying our western superficiality and fickleness (both of which he also acknowledged). Yet, he taught that "loyalty is the first law of God." That's a bit heavy sounding for my likes, but by this he refers to the need to stick to what one commits as the necessary prerequisite to success in all human endeavors.

In the arena of human love, we find that it is natural to "date" and "shop around" when one is young (or available) but if this phase goes on for a decade or two, one's friends will begin to wonder whether that friend is capable of "settling down." So, we intuitively know that life invites, indeed, demands, a commitment of creative energies. "Be fruitful and multiply" as the Old Testament commands. (I am not limiting to this to having children, but to getting "engaged" with life.)

So, now, which is it: delusion or doorway? I already told you: "It depends."

My marriage to Padma was born in the clear light of spiritual idealism in the shared commitment to the practice of meditation, to discipleship to Paramhansa Yogananda, to the guidance of Swami Kriyananda, and to a lifetime of community living at Ananda. That doesn't and didn't substitute for the attraction we felt to one another. It was a both-and. The one, immediate and compelling, found its directional expression in the form of the other. In this, I have to say we embodied a perfect balance and it has borne much fruit, in all and in many ways: from our wonderful children to our friendship and service to and with Swami Kriyananda, the countless friendships with fellow devotees around the world, and a gradually expansion of consciousness in wisdom, clarity, and true, impersonal love.

But a marriage with such high ideals holds aloft a bar that is ever out-of-reach and which, therefore, too often eludes one's reaching grasp. The result is too easily and too often a stumbling from that height where a fall can hurt. There's no easy path to enlightenment and we've been greatly blessed in having every spiritual advantage in this regard (with the possible exception of not having present and in the body our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda).

As I look around and view fellow devotees who are unmarried and ask myself: which is the easier path, I see that the unmarried devotee has the freedom to focus one-pointedly on meditation and service while we marrieds are constantly having to also please and relate, compromisingly, to our partner's needs and demands. But I perceive that the unmarrieds indulge readily in their likes and dislikes of others, shutting their door naturally and easily upon the world when others and life itself displeases them. Behind our doors, we must continue to live our path: there is no relaxation of intensity unless a couple agrees to do so. In the latter case, the fall can be quick and deep if one is not careful.

Swami Kriyananda was definitely not starry eyed on the subject of marital bliss. Yogananda taught that those who are compelled by desire to marry must find, over time and repeated forays and incarnations, the inadequacy of human love to satisfy the soul's memory of perfect, infinite love. Nonetheless, the great guru Lahiri Mahasaya, disciple of the peerless Babaji, was married and had at least four children. Yogananda's most advanced disciples all had been, at one time or another, married. So also, the gyanavatar, Swami Sri Yukteswar, the proxy guru of Yogananda.

In this new age of expanding awareness, Yogananda and Kriyananda have taught us that marriage is not forbidden to or necessarily a bar to those seeking enlightenment. The Divine Will and guiding hand of Spirit invites us to bring "Spirit to work and home." It is time to infuse human life with grace, harmony and wisdom. The rise of women in society is, no less, an indication of the need to achieve balance in society and in marriage.

Couples dedicated to high ideals both in their service outwardly in the world but also to the high ideals of respect for one another are needed to serve as wayshowers for a new society. Instead of men and women at war with each other, using and abusing each other in co-dependent relationships, what is needed for both individual spiritual growth and the harmony of society at large are couples who are strong in themselves, centered in themselves (not self-centered!), and respectful of each other.

The sexual attraction between two people is here to stay. It's a question, rather, of how strongly such attraction rules relationships, for how long it governs the relationship, and how far down the scale of priority and attachment it goes. The more conscious elements of society are raising children to be self-aware and self-respecting: of themselves and their bodies, and of others. This is a good though tiny trend. The Ananda Living Wisdom Schools are a part of this important trend.

To know that the compelling force of attraction can be either a gateway to hell (harmful emotions, destructive habits, disease, suffering, etc.) or a doorway to greater happiness is a function of intuition (and karma). Children raised in calm, nurturing and wholesome environments will stand a better chance of "knowing" and distinguishing truth from glamor.

Before marrying, I asked Swami Kriyananda's blessing and permission. No one wants to return to arranged marriages, but blessed marriages are those that seek and obtain the support of friends, family, and, most of all, the wise. This is the happy blend between the risk and compelling power of love-marriages and the wisdom but potential for lifelessness in arranged marriages. In the Ananda Communities (nine throughout the world), we encourage prospective couples to seek counsel, blessing, and support from like-minded and wisdom-guided gurubhais.

Life is what we make of it, no doubt. Marriage is here to stay, despite society's permission for ignoring its outer forms. No longer is one compelled to marry by sexual desire . Loyalty, too, means commitment and while one can never know where the path of life will lead, the sincere effort to walk it with harmony and with wisdom is all that one can aspire to do. Marriage embodies this principle of loyalty. A ceremony is but an affirmation seeking divine and human blessings. It is not a guarantee.

Swami Kriyananda was married for a few years. His marriage ennobled the fledgling householder community of Ananda Village in the '80's. But as he later admitted, he was not cut out for marriage and a time came when it ended. Ananda couples, as others throughout the world, sincerely strive to have a spiritual marriage without suppressing its complete, human nature. Led by conscious intention and prayerful aspiration, marriage, for all of its shortcomings and challenges, can help us grow spiritually. That a conscious marriage will tend to cure us of false notions of marital bliss should be expected but not decried. We must learn that true happiness and perfect love cannot be limited by human, or any, outer form.

Happy Anniversary with many more to come!

Swami Hrimananda! :-)

P.S. Having taken our vows in the Nayaswami Order, ours is now a celibate marriage. As the fact of our children can attest, it wasn't always so!

Monday, February 27, 2012

How to Love Another without Attachment

Last week at each (separate) session of the Raja Yoga Intensive that I teach, I was asked “What does it mean to love another person ‘without attachment’?”

A very good question, indeed. For the record, we’ve been studying the first two stages on the 8-Fold Path toward enlightenment (as described in the famous Yoga Sutras by the sage Patanjali). The first two stages outline something often described in short-hand form with the phrase, the “do’s and the don’t’s.”

The question cited above was not specific to any of the yamas or niyamas (the names of the first two stages: each has five aspects of what to avoid and what to do). But the combination of discussing the need for self-control and moderation in sexual matters with the goal of seeing all as the divine, and striving for transcendence through devotion and non-attachment: all of these aspects conjoined in a kind of “OMG!” (“O my God!”)

Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the classic Autobiography of a Yogi and the guru whose teachings I am privileged to share, stated in his own life story that he was, as a young boy, disconsolate at the unexpected and premature death of his (very holy) mother. Later in life, it was known that he had to absent himself from the presence of those close to him who were dying (in order that they might be “allowed to go”).

Was he, therefore, “attached” even though his disciples, such as myself, consider him to be the avatar (God-realized master) of this “new” age? Was he just faking it so we could relate to him as a human being, like ourselves?

To plumb of the depths of understanding of the human and divine nature of an avatar has puzzled devotees down through the ages. Did not Jesus Christ cry out from the cross, “Why hast Thou forsaken me?” And, knowing of his fate that night in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from me?”

We will return to the avatars in a minute. Let us, however, return to the ground zero of our own, everyday lives.

I’ve frequently thought to myself that the only perfect marriage on earth is one between two people who don’t need to be married at all! (Ok, so that’s partly a joke!) But my point, I think, you see clearly: marriage plays upon and preys upon the strengths and weaknesses, and the attraction and repulsion inherent between, two different individuals.  An unhealthy relationship is a co-dependent one. I’m no therapist and I wouldn’t want to pretend to define co-dependency, but from where I sit (on the sidelines), an unhealthy relationship is one where the boundaries are more than fuzzy between two people and where two people are consistently projecting their issues, their insecurities, and their needs onto one another. Put another way, we are speaking of two people who are not yet quite mature and not yet centered in their own self (Self).

Returning then to the question of non-attachment vs. love I think of what my own spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda, has said from time to time: (I paraphrase) “Impersonal love is impersonal with respect to my own desires; it is not cold or insensitive to the needs and well-being of others.”

So what this means is that I “love” another person not for what I get from him/her but for what I find in that person to be admirable, inspiring, worth emulating and worthy of consideration and practical service (without thought or expectation of personal return, acknowledgement or another other “quid pro quo”).

Is this TOO perfect? To, to…..as it were? Well, sure it is. Most love and family relationships are contractual: you do this; I do that. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. We are merchants, in other words. And, society calls this “love?” Well society calls unabashed and uninhibited lust love too. So there!

Helicopter parents are generally considered to be loving and doting parents. But are they not perhaps simply projecting their own desires and insecurities onto their hapless children?

Would a parent not be a better parent by trying to objectively “tune-into” the child’s own nature, tendencies, and life directions without regard to his/her own? A highly educated and articulate parent might end up with an autistic child. Is this not all too common these days? Is not the spiritual purpose of this, at least in some small measure, perhaps, to help the parent to open his/her heart and serve this needful child unselfishly devoid of the usual hope and expectation that the child will “be a chip off the old block?”

Does not the typical teacher prefer the child who is attentive and obedient? Are not the rebellious or restless ones a tad bit too creative and troublesome? The files of school history are crammed with the stories of geniuses who were only recognized as such later in life (perhaps after overcoming whatever setbacks their education imposed upon them).

Are not the weekly tabloids which feature the marriages of the rich and famous strewn with the beautiful bodies of those who had great sex but a lousy marriage? Drug addiction, alcoholism, infidelity: are these not the fruits of such glamorous unions?

Well, for all of that, who can stem the tide of attraction between, say, men and women? Why bother to fight City Hall? We each have the right to learn our lessons our way: that is, the hard way! None of that, and indeed, all of that suggests that true love exists on a higher plane, even if it need not deny the magnetism of the lower.

Rather as marriage is a union of people, and as Self-realization is the union of body, mind and soul, so too a spiritual marriage can unite as parts of body, mind and soul. We just have to know what we are looking for and what actually works (brings greater fulfillment).

But, no matter how successful our marriage is or our relationship with our children, no relationship can fulfill the nature of the soul’s longing for omnipresence and onenesss. So long as our love is based upon differences we will be forced to play the part of the yo-yo, which is to say, the fool. As we love, so we suffer.

Interestingly, however, there is no way out EXCEPT to love. Jesus forgave a woman her sins and said, “For her sins, which are many, she is forgiven for she has loved much.”

We cannot find God by rejecting our brothers and sisters. Rather we must strive to perfect our love until it “becomes the perfect love of God.”[1]

That perfection includes seeing in all, seeing in the “other,” the Divine presence. It means loving that unique expression of God without condition, without contractual expectation. A tall order, of course. Jesus said, hanging from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

We, who are far less than perfect as Jesus was, have plenty of reasons to “hang” without anyone crucifying us without cause! Yet, therefore, can we not forgive? Accept? Love without condition? Infidelity? Rebelliousness? Lack of charity? Rejection?

Do you see, now, perhaps, even a little more clearly, what we speak of? Yogananda grieved at the loss of his mother, for he was, at that point, a child. He didn’t pretend or need to pretend he was anything less. But in his overarching nature, to the degree he contacted it, he was free, in Bliss. The same holds true, at least potentially, for you and me.

Jesus suffered not for himself or his body but for those who lashed out at him and would suffer themselves on account of it.

We only need to try. Just like meditation. Just like the spiritual path at large. Non-attachment doesn’t mean to be impervious to pain, it means to strive to realize the Self which is beyond pain. It means to unite in one seamless experience both pain and transcendence, denying neither. The one is now, the other, eternally NOW. They co-exist only to the degree that they Co-Exist in our consciousness.

As Krishna says to Arjuna, his disciple, in the Bhagavad Gita, “Even a little bit of this practice, will save you from dire fires and colossal sufferings.”

Give your Self to God, to your Cosmic Beloved. See in all whom you love, the shining Face and perfection of your own true Self.

Blessings and joy to you,
Nayaswami Hriman


[1] This phrase is taken from the marriage ceremony written by Swami Kriyananda.