Showing posts with label moksha. Show all posts
Showing posts with label moksha. Show all posts

Thursday, February 28, 2019

5 Paths to Enlightenment

Last Sunday, I gave a talk on "God" that included a summary of Paramhansa Yogananda's summary of five core aspects of the path to enlightenment. They are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, should be seen as facets of the diamond of Self-realization.

The talk itself, in video form, can be found: 
https://www.anandawashington.org/?sermons=can-man-see-god-2

Here are the five "paths" summarized:

1. Way of the Heart - the Social way to God. By expanding our sympathies and service from ourselves and our family outward to neighbors, town, country, and the world, our ego-active tendencies are softened and eventually dissolved in divine love. To be real, we must be able to love even those who do not love us; those who criticize, blame, or hurt us in some way. Forgiveness is a given on this path. A more complete expression of this would be to include both aspects of divine love: "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind, strength and soul; and, love thy neighbor AS thy Self. Love includes service, thus combining "Bhakti Yoga" with "Karma Yoga" as sympathy and compassion are not complete without action.

2. Way of the Mind - the Stoic or Ascetic way to God. Dissolution of the ego-active tendencies is a valid, indeed, virtually traditional path. It is not as suited to the consciousness of our culture at this time but it is valid, to some degree, to every devotee. This path uses a sharply focused, mindful intensity to practice what in India is called "neti, neti". (Not this, not this, I am NOT these thoughts, actions, emotions, body, etc.) A form of gyana yoga that includes the tantric practice of calmly observing oneself during all thoughts and actions, the Path of the Stoic is focused on self-discipline: disciplining the palate; the tongue, the senses, practicing austerities of one sort or another. All are mental and some have physical manifestations. With practice, the mind becomes still and enters the non-reactive state of pure observation. In its strictest form, there are no meditation practices as such. But this path, taken to its logical extreme, is arduous and eschews imagery, visualization, devotional practices, chants and all outward forms of spirituality. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita answers Arjuna's question about this path by saying that it is better for embodied souls to seek God through the I-Thou relationship. Nonetheless, disciplining our ego active patterns and habits remains a necessary aspect of spiritual growth.

3. Way of the Yogi. Kriya yoga, whether seen in the form taught by Paramhansa Yogananda, or in the overarching view of control of life force ("pranayama") in meditation. Put another way, one could say, simply: the path of meditation. Described more fully, the yogi learns to withdraw his attention from the physical body using specific techniques in order to enter and identify with the subtle, or astral, body wherein begins the path of ascension of the soul to God through the astral and causal realms of creation. From the micro reality of the soul to the macro reality of the Oversoul. 

4. Metaphysical or Transcendental Path to God. The power of thought, imagination, and intention describes the "how" of God's creation. It also gives to us the means to return to God. Paramhansa Yogananda gave a wide variety of "metaphysical meditations" that teach us how to experience an expansion of our consciousness into the creation and beyond to God. His book with the same name is very popular. This path guides one to use the power of creative visualization to attune ourselves broadly and deeply with all creation with the goal to pass through the stages of creation and enter the Kingdom of Bliss beyond all vibration. It is a valid and powerful practice and path. It is, practically speaking, a form of meditation.

5. Way of the Disciple. It is axiomatic in the teachings of India that one needs a guru to achieve enlightenment. While recognized implicitly or explicitly in other spiritual traditions, India's ancient tradition of "Sanaatan Dharma" (the Eternal Religion) posits this as a precept. One who is blessed to attract a true (or "sat") guru (one who is fully liberated, an avatar) and who "receives" the guru's blessings fully, receives the power "to become the son of God." If our incarnate souls are, in essence, a spark of God's Infinite Bliss, then the proof of this must be the appearance in human form and in human history of some souls who can truly say, "I and my Father are One." The transmission of liberation takes place through the only medium in which liberation exists: consciousness. No mantra, no prayer, no rite or ritual can substitute or purely transmit God consciousness. Only consciousness can do this. The ego, like Moses who led "his people" (his mental citizens) to (but not into) the Promised Land (of enlightenment), cannot, itself, become enlightened. The ego must surrender the kingdom of the mind to the Infinite Bliss of God. By will power alone we cannot scale the heights of cosmic consciousness but by the grace of God incarnate.

These five "paths" are not independent and separate. During the soul's many incarnations after it begins consciously to seek liberation from delusion, it will emphasize one or more of the paths as part of the process of purification and release of karma. The five work together and perhaps align (though I have not thought deeply about this) with the five pranas (energies) of the human body. 

Therefore, respect your own, and others, natural inclinations to pursue and express different aspects and forms of these core paths and practices.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda


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

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ahimsa: What is Non-Violence? Is Killing ever Justified?

Ahimsa, or the practice of non-violence, as taught by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, is not an absolute standard of behavior, but a relative one. The absolute standard lies in the realm of intention and consciousness. In a world of relativities (aka "duality" or "dwaita") it is often impossible to apply a precept "absolutely."

Thus it is that India's most famous and beloved scripture, the Bhagavad Gita ("The Song Celestial), teaches that one must fulfill his duties to fight injustice and evil by taking up arms against his enemy. Now I am purposely misquoting that scripture because my interpretation is merely a literal one, for the scripture (a dialogue between Lord Krishna and his disciple, Arjuna) takes place on a battlefield (a historical one, in fact) but the dialogue (and the teaching) is allegorical. Nonetheless, Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now famous Autobiography of a Yogi), and many other respected teachers, concur that in human history and ethics there are times when self-defense and killing one's attackers, when necessary, is the lesser evil and the greater duty than the literal practice of non-violence.

In American culture these last thirty or forty years, the issue of abortion has pitted non-violence against freedom of individual choice. In the mainstream of traditional yoga, it is taught that the soul enters the embryo at time of conception. Hence abortion is traditionally frowned upon. Yet, the astrological chart for the newborn is cast at the time of the first breath, at birth. Add to that all the issues around the mother's or fetuses' health, cases of rape or incest and on and on, and well, you have a very challenging issue on your hands. I am not here to propose a resolution to this social debate. Yoga stands for the principle of individual choice and accountability in the pursuit of an individual soul's many lifetimes of evolution up and down the ladder and spiral staircase of consciousness. The discussion goes beyond my topic today and, even if it did, would do little, if anything, to contribute to the social debate.

A student in one of our classes raised the issue of the killing of a doctor in an abortion clinic. Was the murder of this abortion doctor an example of the lesser "sin" of killing in self-defense (of the unborn children)? Talk about a chicken and the egg intellectual bull fight!

For starters, intuition is the only means by which we can discover the truth of something like this. For another, intuition occurs only through an individual (and yes, perhaps through many individuals). Can two people intuitively arrive at opposite results? In theory, no; in practice, yes. In theory, intuition is unitive but in practice our individual karma and dharma is directional. We only get the guidance from our higher, intuitive self that pertains to us. "Take steps northward" (if you are south of the equator and wanting to go there); "Take steps southward" (if you are north of the equator and wanting to go there).

In society, the murder of the abortion doctor is, simply, that: murder, and a crime punishable by imprisonment. That speaks for itself but while very important, it is not the final statement as to an individual act. 

In the language of yoga, we speak of karma and reincarnation as two sides of the same coin of right action. In a worldview that sees the soul's evolution as extending in time beyond anything we can easily relate to, right action can be extremely subtle. "Karma: represents seeds of past actions which, on the basis of actions taken in egoic self-affirmation, wait, hidden, for their final resolution in the forms of their natural and appropriate opposite responses. If I kill someone, I plant the seed for being killed in return (whether by that soul or another). "Those who live by the sword, will die by the sword." Yet many killers, Joseph Stalin, e.g., die peacefully in their beds. The Bible cautions us not to imagine that one does "not sow what one reaps." This is why many lifetimes are needed. For our actions, which include our thoughts, run into the billions even in one lifetime! (Let's not go there right now, ok?)

The abortion doctor who was murdered presumably, however cruel or clinical the conclusion might seem to others (like to his wife or children), earned that sentence by his actions, not least of which could possibly be the work of performing abortions. We simply cannot "see" the threads of karma and those threads might not have anything to do with his performing abortions. That conclusion is possibly too "pat" and too obvious. The karmic thread may even lie between the doctor and his murderer: meaning, "it's personal."

Such karma may account for the fact of the doctor's murder but what does that fact mean to his killer and the killer's karma? Indeed, it may be the doctor's karma to be killed, but the one through whom, as an instrument of karmic repayment, that repayment is delivered may incur the burden of his own karmic debt for having taken a life! The killer presumably was a fanatical opponent of abortion and we probably do not know wherein lay the seeds of such intensity but it would not be difficult to speculate if one takes the perspective of many lives. Does that "justify" the killing? No, but it might "explain" it. That's all. 

How then do we ever extricate ourselves from the entanglements of karma? Well, that's a big subject. But a few words are necessary here. The one centripetal fact of karma is not so much the act but the intention, or, put another way: the ego. An act which is done without regard to self-interest and which is not an affirmation of the ego principle, but is performed dutifully and in harmony with one's true and higher Self, does not incur a karmic debt or plant a karmic seed. Such acts, however, might, indeed, neutralize or cauterize seeds of past karma, however. Hence the value of such actions in the process of purification and repayment of karmic debts as the soul rises towards ego transcendence. Thus "good works" are useful. But good works performed with the expectation of reward, including recognition, still revolve, at least to some degree, around the ego principle. Nonetheless, it is better to do something good for the wrong reason than not to do good out of fear of incurring more karma. Karmic release is always directional, never absolute. The teaching of karma is such that it recognizes that over many lives we have the karmic burden of "sin" (ego-encased ignorance, in fact) that must be repaid by right action and by the uplifting and redeeming power of grace.

Is it possible to imagine a religious fanatic who kills others (and himself) as making a forward direction towards karmic release? In theory, yes, though the act be condemned in all other respects. Perhaps in a prior life, this terrorist killed others for sport or for money or for revenge. In this lifetime, this karmically inclined murderer kills others and sacrifices his own life for a higher reward or in the name of a higher cause. However ignorant and evil-seeming that intention may be to us, it is at least theoretically possible that it is a step forward for that soul. Could such an act be recompense for cowardliness in past lives? All of these things are theoretically possible but such a person is obviously incurring even more karmic debt by hurting others. 

No wise counselor would suggest such actions. There are other, better, and purer forms of karmic release than killing more people! Nonetheless, the world of human actions is just as subject to the law of cause and effect as are the laws of nature. The difference is that reason and intuition, whether coming from within, or arising from the influence and counsel of others, can accelerate the soul's progress faster than the bullock cart of fulfilling every desire and paying every debt on their own terms and on their own level. We can "outwit the stars" of our karmic debt by other means.

This latter statement is the "promise of immortality" and grace offered, with whatever terminology or spiritual precepts and through whatever means of "being saved," that all great religions and their greatest teachers aver. In part, this power of redemption lies in the existential reality that our soul is eternal, changeless and ever untouched (as God "himself" is) by our ignorant and even evil actions. This doesn't mean we are free to murder and create mayhem but it does offer a back door, so to speak, to win karmic release without cracking rocks day after day in the prison of past karma. We are trapped in the ego and if the ego turns to find the back door for itself, it has already condemned itself. 

Thus in the story of Moses who led his "people" from bondage, he could not enter the promised land. For while the ego may awaken to the desire to win karmic release, the ego, itself, cannot "go there." The ego, like Bhishma in the Mahabharata, must surrender himself to the soul (to God) by self-offering. Hence too the symbol of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac. There is no real destruction or sacrifice of the ego, but the ego doesn't and cannot know this. That takes faith and intuition: only the soul knows that the ego has no intrinsic, existential reality.

In God, we are free and nothing about us is ever lost. Our release is not destructive to our self-awareness. It is blissful release.

As humans, as egos, we cannot but decry the murder of that abortion doctor even if we, ourselves, do not, perhaps, counsel abortion as a day-to-day means of contraception or family planning. Each act is an individual choice and each act brings to itself its natural and metaphysical consequences. In this we have the opportunity to gain compassion for all beings and wisdom to guide our own actions. It is through the power of grace, which is the divine and latent power within us and which is awakened and transmitted to us soul-to-soul from those who have achieved it, that we can win our freedom from the prison of karma.

Bless all who have done wrong, including any of may have hurt you, that their own actions awaken within them the desire to be free and that you be shown how to be an instrument of that awakening to others. Live in the thought and consciousness of freedom and you will attract the power and light of freedom into your mind, heart and soul.

Blessings to all,

Nayaswami Hriman






Thursday, June 13, 2013

Meditation: Empty or Full?

One of the keen minds I enjoy chatting with the other day, queried: "I sometimes get confused whether in meditation I should be striving to be "empty" or whether I should "worship" my guru or God in some other form or abstract visualization (such as Light or Sound)? Isn't "worship" but a mental projection? I don't want to deceive myself! Which is correct?"

Hmmmm: maybe both? Paramhansa Yogananda, and his disciple, my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, taught that the concept of "nirvana" (emptiness) is all too often misunderstood. Kriyananda asks, tongue firmly in cheek, "Why would anyone want to aspire toward self-extinguishment? No wonder the Buddhist boddhisattvas decide to return to incarnations to help others: they took a "rain check" on spiritual suicide!"

We weren't created with this deeply rooted impulse to survive only to kill it, and by extension, ourselves! (Nor are we given the impulse to create, procreate, to love and to expand only to suppress it!)

Patanjali describes spiritual evolution and the desire to grow in truth and realization as smriti, or memory. The great teacher, the 19th century avatar Ramakrishna, described spiritual growth akin to peeling an onion: each layer of our delusions are peeled off until "no-thing" remains.

The process of emptying ourselves of false self-definitions and self-limiting desires, memories, and opinions is a necessary part of smriti. Ego transcendence has always been an essential element of the spiritual path in every tradition. So, YES: NIRVANA, a state where the ego is dissolved, is a true goal and a true state of consciousness.

St. John of the Cross, the great Christian mystic and contemporary of St. Teresa of Avila (being to him what St. Clare was to St. Francis, a spiritual companion on the path), spoke of this need. He wrote, now so famously:

In order to arrive at having pleasure in everything,
Desire pleasure in nothing.
In order to arrive at possessing everything,
Desire to possess nothing.
In order to arrive at being everything,
Desire to be nothing.
In order to arrive at the knowledge of everything,
Desire to know nothing.

But the question remains: is emptiness the end of all spiritual growth and seeking? Is God, as the Supreme Spirit, simply No-thing? Well, yes, as Pure Consciousness and as "thing" represents material objects, truly God might be described as "No Thing." But here the intellect, striving to reach beyond its own context of "subject-verb-object," fails to reach its goal. The intellect can describe the orange--its shape, color and sweetness and various biological attributes--but it cannot give to us the taste of the orange!

We live that we might live forever; we live that we might be conscious of life and ourselves; we live that we might enjoy Life and find unending satisfaction. To insist that we must kill our own consciousness to achieve, ah, what, exactly? This is absurd.

The great teacher, Swami Shankyacharya (the "adi" or first great teacher, or acharya, in the Indian monastic tradition) described God and the purpose and goal of God's creation and our own, human life, as one and the same: Satchidananadam: immortality, self-awareness, and joy. Or, as Paramhansa Yogananda rendered it: "ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new joy!" This is what our hearts seek through many lives and in an infinity of forms and experiences. No outer accomplishment, pleasure, or state, conditioned upon the ceaseless flux of outward conditions, can ever satisfy this eternal, God-knowing impulse.

But first we must empty ourselves of our own desires and ego self-affirmation. Our separateness, personified in the Goddess Kundalini and in her power to delude or to enlighten, is the "entrenched vitality of our mortal delusion" (quoting Swami Kriyananda from his classic text: Art and Science of Raja Yoga).

The reward of our emptying ourselves of all delusion and material desire and ego affirmation is the steady tsunami-like rise of the ocean of bliss into our consciousness. It starts as a little bubble of joy, born of meditation and right attitude in daily life. (Right attitude is self-giving and self-offering, inter alia.)

Thus meditation is both empty and full. Emptiness, as quietude and stillness experienced during meditation, is in fact felt as very dynamic, very full. There are times, however, when our emptiness is simply that: devoid of the little self and of all fluctuations. Indeed, Patanjali not only describes the spiritual path as a process of soul recollectedness (smirit-memory) but as the gradual subsiding of our energetic commitment to our likes, dislikes, desires, memories, and all self-involvement. His most famous sutra, well, second to the aphorism in which he lists the now famous eight steps of Ashtanga Yoga, is Yogas chitta vritti nirodha. Sometimes clumsily translated as "Yoga (state of Oneness) is the neutralization of the waves of mind-stuff!" (A singularly useless translation, I might add. Giving rise to more questions than answers.) But seen as the dissolution of ego involvement, it makes perfect sense.

Nor is the process and experience of meditation a linear one: first empty, then full---like doing the dishes, cleaning the kitchen or the workshop or your desk before beginning a new project. Yes it is that in the big picture but in sitting down, sometimes we are filled with devotion and longing for God; other times we are crushed by grief or disillusionment. The yin and yang of empty and full course through our psychic veins like the tides, or wind in the trees, or clouds scudding across the sky of our mind.

So, yes, friend, it is, once again,  BOTH-AND reality. God is Infinity and more! Thus no thought, no definition can contain Him. The journey, while in essence the same for all, is, in its manifestation in time and space, uniquely our own.

Blessings,

Swami Hrimananda aka Hriman!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Yoga, Sex, & Spiritual Teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Nayaswami Hriman

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What does an Avatar Know? or, Feel?

[[edited and revised Saturday, Sept 17]]

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine it! Act it! Be-come free!

Blessings,


Nayaswami Hriman



Wednesday, August 24, 2011

THE HOLY SCIENCE - PART 4 - THE PROCEDURE

We come now to Chapter 3 - The Procedure in our overview of Swami Sri Yukteswar's (only) book, THE HOLY SCIENCE. Swami Sri Yukteswar is best known as the guru of Paramhansa Yogananda who is the author of the world famous spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi."

Sri Yukteswar's (SY) book was written at the behest of the deathless avatar, Babaji and it shows the underlying universal themes of spirituality especially as between the Christian bible and the teachings of Sanaatan Dharma (the revelations of the rishis of India). Throughout the text he proffers quotations from the Old and New Testaments in juxtaposition to the sutras that he quotes.

In Chapter 3 (this is our fourth blog article), SY gives the necessary attitudes and practices that lead to the goal (see prior blog article). In sutras 1 - 4, SY enumerates the basics: even-mindedness under all circumstances, the study and intuitive contemplation of truth, and inner communion with the Holy Spirit in the form of the AUM vibration.

In sutras 5 and 6, SY states that Aum is heard through the cultivation of the heart's natural love. (There are specific meditation techniques that can hasten and deepen one's experience of Aum.) To commune with Aum takes courage, concentration, and devotion (and self-offering: an aspect of devotion).

It is most curious that a sage of "cold, calculating" wisdom would aver that the heart's natural love is the "principal requisite" to salvation. This divine and unconditional state of consciousness removes the fluctuations of desire and emotions, including giving strength and vitality, and expelling germs and viruses! The heart's natural love allows one to achieve true understanding and, most importantly, it magnetically draws to one the Godlike company of "divine personages."

Without the heart's natural love, one cannot live in harmony with nature or with God, SY counsels. This love gives to us courage to follow the directives and counsel of the "sat" (or true) guru. We can recognize, honor, cherish, and love those who dispel our doubts and avoid those who increase our doubts.

While others seek God in images, stones, in the heavens above, or in nature below, the Yogi seeks God within his own Self. To keep company with a true guru goes beyond physical proximity. More important is to hold the guru's presence in one's heart.

Moral courage is also strengthen by observances of the do's and don'ts of spirituality (taught by Patanjali as the "yamas" and the "niyamas").

SY then launches into a discussion of "What is Natural Living?" In this analysis he examines the teeth of humans and concludes that man is a frugivor, or fruit-eating species. This is confirmed by the relationship of the length of human bowels in relation to the length of the human body (as measured from mouth to anus). Frugivor includes vegetables, nuts, and grains.

He writes then of the calming lifestyle that brings the power of sexual desire into natural balance, and which then engenders, in turn, vitality and health. He speaks of the health value and natural instinct for fresh air in our dwelling places.

SY moves then to Sutras 12-18 in which he describes the eight bondages, or meannesses, of the heart. He lists them as hatred, shame, fear, grief, condemnation, race prejudice, pride of family, and smugness. Their removal leads, he writes, to "magnanimity of heart." This allows one to move to the next stages of the 8-Fold Path (of Patanjali): asana, pranayama, and pratyahara.

Asana is that pleasant and health filled state of the body induced by good posture and that, as a result, we can feel and think clearly.

Pranayama is described in way that far transcends the usual descriptions given in raja yoga: control over death. When we can consciously rest the involuntary nerves we can stop the decay of the material body (heart, lungs etc.).

In Pratyahara, SY describes how sense fulfillment never satisfies us. We are left hungry for more. By contrast, when we withdraw our attention from the senses inward toward the Self, we satisfy the heart's natural inclinations immediately.

SY goes on to address the 3 highest stages of the 8-Fold Path which, together, are described by Patanjali as "Samyama." By this latter term, SY means "restraint" or overcoming the egoistic self and the exchange of individuality for universality. This process includes the intuition of the heart to perceive truth, the steady concentration which results in merging with the object of contemplation and the inner communion with God as the Word (or Aum). He calls the latter "baptism" and "Bhakti yoga."

Next is described the castes, or different states of consciousness, of humankind. The dark heart, or sudra (servant) class, thinks the physical world is the only reality. This state is expressed in the evolution of human consciousness in the Kali Yuga (or dark) cycle of evolution. Interestingly, SY skips now to the Kshatriya (or warrior) class as the stage in which man struggles to know the truth and in which he is caught between the higher and lower states.

Next SY describes the states of consciousness prevalent during each of the four cycles of the yugas (described in his Introduction and in an earlier blog). He says that the consciousness of the second age, Dwapara Yuga, includes an appreciation of the finer, subtler forces of creation. In the Dwapara state the heart becomes steady and devoted to the inner world of these finer forces.

In Treta Yuga, the third age, we can comprehend magnetism and the heart, or Chitta. Man is said then to belong to the Vipra, or nearly perfect, class or Treta. Lastly we reach the "great world," or Maharloka, where the heart is clean and we become "knowers of Brahma" or Brahmans in the age of Satya (truth) Yuga.

SY concludes his third chapter (The Procedure) with a description of the 3 highest spheres of consciousness and the achievement of final release, or Kaivalya.

Thus is described the universal path to freedom in God.

Don't forget: our 4-part class in the Holy Science begins Wednesday, September 7, 7:30 p.m. at the Ananda Meditation Temple Register online for a 10% discount at www.AnandaSeattle.org. We are still working on streaming that class for those at a distance. If you are interested in the latter possibility, please contact us.

Blessings,

Hriman