Showing posts with label raja yoga. Show all posts
Showing posts with label raja yoga. Show all posts

Monday, October 16, 2017

Ananda Yoga : Path to Awakening

Why is it many students who attend yoga classes strictly for exercise and health reasons discover that, over time, their attitudes have become more positive and past, not-so-healthy, habits have fallen away?

One of the great debates that swirl around the practice of yoga is whether it is a religious (or spiritual) practice or whether it is only a physical exercise. The experience of millions demonstrates a  resounding answer: "It depends!"

Yes, it all depends on a student's sensitivity and interest. Yoga (or, technically, yoga postures or its more official name, hatha yoga) can be just an exercise, or, it can be a practice that prepares one for meditation and inner, spiritual growth. 

But even as exercise, its benefits are more than physical. The point of this article is not to list its benefits but to point out its deeper purpose.

First, it is useful to point out the bias inherent in the evolution of human consciousness. Think of the medieval times; think further in time to the industrial age; think further in time to the relative crudity of science, medicine, the short life span of humans, and our poor dietary habits. Note how in each of these areas of human life, we have become more aware and sensitive. (True, not each and every person on the planet but, we could say, "on average!" And certainly in respect to you, the reader!)

The bias I am referring to is that we have come from a long period of time in which our ancestors were, by and large, relatively insensitive and unaware, and relatively ignorant, of how nature and the human body functions. This could be called a materialistic bias: a bias in favor of the outward form of things rather than their inner and energetic realities (be they chemical, biological, atomic, electrical or in terms of emotions, feelings and consciousness). 

Not surprisingly, then, the practice of hatha yoga, coming as it has, from India but also from centuries of relative obscurity, is wrapped in a physical orientation. Its popularity stems in part from its appeal to our physical bias which desires and values strength, health and vitality. 

Would it surprise us that a closer examination of the history of yoga reveals its link to a higher, more sensitive and spiritual, point of view? Of course not! India, no less than any other culture on the planet, has also come up through this materialistic evolution returning to a higher awareness. The difference however is simply this: India, and the knowledge of yoga, retained, even if dimly, the memory that there once existed a time (and throughout all time existed at least some individuals) when the practice of yoga was an extension of and an outward expression of a very sublime and lofty spiritual view of reality.

When the first English translations of such works as the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Vedas, and the Yoga Sutras came to the West, scholars, philosophers, religionists, poets and artists were deeply inspired by their breadth and depth. More than mere love of wisdom (philos-ophy), these were revelations of reality greater and more subtle than psychology or logic or philosophical speculation.

A series of spiritual teachers came, one by one, to the West. Among them we find Swami Vivekananda (1893) and Paramhansa Yogananda (1920). Paramhansa Yogananda (1893-1952) was a world teacher. His primary emphasis was on original yoga: which is, in its essence, a spiritual practice and as such, was focused primarily upon meditation, not yoga postures.

Yet, to his male disciples in his Los Angeles ashram, he taught yoga postures. He had his "boys" demonstrate the postures at public gatherings and he had articles printed on their use and benefits in his magazines that were distributed to members and to the public during his lifetime.

But there are other teachers from India better known for their work in hatha yoga. Notables such as K. Patthabi Jois or B.K.S. Iyengar. Paramhansa Yogananda must have known that had he put greater emphasis on hatha yoga his essential mission to teach kriya yoga (a meditation technique and a spiritual path) would have been obscured by the public's greater interest in the yoga postures.

So whereas Jois and Iyengar were also deeply spiritual, their dharma was to make hatha yoga primary. But in their work, the popularity of hatha subsumed their spiritual emphasis. 

In any event, Yogananda's successors (after his passing in 1952) appear to have dropped the whole thing like a hot potato. His most advanced disciple and his immediate successor, Rajarsi Janakananda (James J. Lynn) was in fact a yoga adept. But his guru, Yogananda, cautioned him from too much yoga practice. Rajarsi was already an enlightened soul and evidently, further yoga practice was an unnecessary distraction to him.

Yogananda taught his disciples that hatha yoga was optional for kriyabans (practitioners of kriya). He noted that it was easier for younger people to practice hatha. Besides, it makes sense that for those who practice meditation to achieve Self-realization, time spent meditating is more precious than time spent doing yoga postures. In part for this reason, Yogananda had discovered and created a system of 39 exercises now called Energization Exercises that take about ten to twelve minutes to complete. These are sufficient preparation for meditation and can take the place of an asana (yoga posture) practice that, to be complete, might require forty-five to seventy-five minutes of precious time in the busy life of the twenty-first century.

Hatha yoga particularly emphasizes physical exertion and effort, even when seen as a spiritual preparation. Its origins are, however, specifically that: a spiritual preparation. This does not deny their value as exercise. Nor does it deny that exercise alone can be one's motivation for practicing them. Yogananda taught his students and disciples to "Keep the body fit for Self-realization!" He was not only himself an adept at yoga, but he taught their many physical and mental benefits to his "boys."

When I came to age in yoga, during the 70's, yoga was often noted as being "integral." This was a recognition of their power to integrate body, mind and spirit. It seemed to me that as yoga postures became increasingly popular, the emphasis given to them was downgraded in favor of health, good looks, fashion and fad.

In the late 70’s as Swami Kriyananda first purchased parcels of land that were later to become Ananda Village, his earnings from teaching yoga postures paid the bills and mortgages, especially before residents of the fledgling community began to chip in. 

Swami Kriyananda taught classes in hatha yoga throughout northern California, principally Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. Back then, hatha was new and a hot item, and there weren’t the yoga studios on every corner that we have now. And he, being a disciple of the well known author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," (Paramhansa Yogananda), and being himself an excellent teacher, found that his classes were well attended. 

In those years, Swami Kriyananda combined his yoga classes with an optional addition of meditation classes. After the yoga class there would be a short snack break. Then the meditation and philosophy class would take place. It was during these early years of teaching yoga that he wrote his now classic text, ART AND SCIENCE OF RAJA YOGA.

To illustrate the deeper power of hatha practice, Swami Kriyananda liked to tell the story of how one of his yoga students in Sacramento confessed to him that at first she took the class because it would give her something to talk about at her bridge club! "Now," she said, "I realize that THIS IS REALLY SERIOUS STUFF!!!!! He simply smiled knowingly!

Just as hatha faded from visibility after Yogananda's passing, a similar miasma in regard to hatha yoga took place in Ananda's history. Swami Kriyananda may have helped begin Ananda’s work with his success in hatha yoga but he never intended it to dominate his life’s work of communities and the Master’s teachings. So after the fledgling Ananda Village community was up and running, he stepped away from Ananda Yoga, letting some of his students take the lead. The need to lead the community and get it established on firmer ground occupied his energy along with the need to train the community's residents in the core teachings of Yogananda, viz., kriya yoga. 

So hatha yoga once again became a kind of orphan. Though always taught at Ananda's retreat center (later many such centers and communities), hatha was never front and center in the way that kriya yoga was (and is).

And yet, the practice of hatha yoga continued and continues to awaken students' interest in meditation and in kriya yoga! 

Slowly and quietly through the 1980's, 1990's and into the new century, a few key Ananda members took the lead in developing what was to be called, "Ananda Yoga." While the term has since been copyrighted, the term is actually redundant! Ananda means "joy" and the state of yoga IS joy! But, well, why quibble as the general public doesn't know this and we needed a name for our style of yoga.

Paramhansa Yogananda never really explained his hatha system to anyone (that we know of). Nor have we ever seen any accounts of how and from whom he learned hatha yoga. He only lived 3.5 years after Swami Kriyananda’s arrival in 1948. One or two of the monks were, at first, better versed in hatha at the time but by the Master’s grace Swami Kriyananda quickly became the leading representative. 

Presumably Yogananda taught Kriyananda many aspects of the postures but if so Swamiji never distinctly explained that to us. Yet, Swami Kriyananda found that when his guru would ask him to assume a specific (and difficult) pose before guests, he could do so effortlessly, even though he was not practiced in the pose. 

A discerning yogi, reading Swami Kriyananda's books such as "Yoga Postures for Higher Awareness," and "Art and Science of Raja Yoga," discovers that Swamiji tuned in to many subtle aspects of both individual poses (pranayams, bandhas and mudras) AND into the system of hatha yoga. We simply don't really know the details!

Ananda Moyi Ma, a woman saint, however illiterate, and featured in Yogananda's life story (Autobiography of a Yogi), was known to assume yoga positions as a girl by virtue of energy (prana) in her body, without her conscious control. The yoga poses are said to have been formed in a much higher age (or higher state of consciousness) when certain highly advanced souls could, like the articulated sound of mantras (but instead using the human body), give physical shape to specific aspects of higher consciousness.

Thus we come at last in this article to my central point and thesis: hatha yoga, if practiced safely and with correct understanding, can stimulate states (attitudes) of consciousness because the body-mind-soul spectrum is a continuum (in either direction), and the human body, a hologram. Ananda Yoga is characterized by the use of specific and individual affirmations with each yoga pose. These affirmations are related to the consciousness from which the pose was created.

When, therefore, a yoga pose is practiced with the intention of attuning oneself to its characteristic consciousness (or attitude), the precision, the exactitude, and the perfection of the posture becomes less significant (though still valuable) because its inherent consciousness is latent and innate. Ananda Yoga can thus operate to awaken higher awareness in the normal range of body types and abilities for this very reason! It is truly for every-body!

Ananda Yoga classes remain focused on classic yoga postures. The affirmations are enjoyed by students for their obvious positiveness. Notwithstanding the gist of this article, our teachers don't preach. They practice! The awakening potential of hatha yoga is something that cannot be imposed upon another person. If it is to be awakened, it takes place individually, from within. If a student is primarily interested in health and well-being, then these benefits are there for him or her also.

Ananda Yoga is sometimes described as "spiritual yoga." This, too, however is redundant though not entirely unfair, given how hatha yoga is generally viewed and taught to the general public. We are essentially spiritual beings inhabiting a human form. Hatha Yoga can awaken us, individually, to that latent joy which is our true nature. Ananda Yoga is taught and practiced with this understanding at its core.

Joy and blessings to you!

Swami Hrimananda!



Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"Oh God" - How to Get Over the "God" Word!

Teaching meditation and the spiritual teachings of raja yoga for many years, I have come to experience, frequently, the negative reaction and association that students have to the word "God."

I appreciate their dilemma and sometimes chide a class of students to "get over it" because I intend to use the term in part because it's so easy to use as shorthand.

The question is, though, "God" is shorthand for what, exactly?

My prior blog article spoke of a new dispensation wherein a growing understanding is evolving of "God" as something far different than the anthropomorphic "man" on a throne far away who watches our every move, eager to toss most of us into the fiery dustbin at the slightest infraction!

So if you, or a friend or family member, bristles at the notorious "God" word, I have a few simple suggestions:

1. Should we use a new word? That's been tried and like the gender thing (she, he, "they" etc.) it's still a bit awkward. Fellow teachers I know often like to use the phrase "the Divine," and I use it too, but it seems so lifeless, so pallid. God isn't a mere "thing" or dumb "force" like "the Force" or electricity. There IS a personal element to "the Force." Who can love the Cosmic Ground of Being? At Ananda we often follow Yogananda's lead (and Swami Kriyananda's, our founder) in referring to God as Divine Mother. I do too but that's most comfortable among fellow members and less comfortable in public settings (though I still use it there, too). But it can prompt further questions of its own.


2. I am of a mind to simply educate others and help them to "get over it."

3. Think of God, then as the pure joy of a smile; the pure joy of pure joy; the beauty and harmony of nature; kindness; the innocence and wonder of a small child or young pet or animal; I see all these pet and animal and nature pictures on Facebook: see the face of God in such as these!

4. Think of God as the pure love of true friendship: respectful, considerate, sympathetic, yet wise, and mutually serviceful. You may have to imagine such friendship for it is rare. But the exercise is worth it!

5. Think of God as the intelligence, bounty, and joy of the life "flowing through your veins!" The heartbeat of your life, or the vitality, health and energy, within in you; in others, in nature and in the cosmos itself! 

6. Think of God as the summation of all the sound and power in the universe, like a mighty roar, the power, awe and beauty of thunder and lightning!

7. Think of God as the light of the sun, all suns, stars, galaxies and the colors of the infinite rainbow of color. A thousand million suns into One!

8. Think of God as the seemingly infinite space of the cosmos: deeply calm and expanding toward infinity in all directions; in which all objects float like island universes! Feel your awareness of space expanding outward spherically. Yogananda wrote, the body of God is space. If you want to feel God's presence feel the space all around you and expand it outward to infinity. Feel the space within your own body, knowing that science tells us that the quantifiable matter of our body, emptied of the space between all particles, would fill but a thimble!

9. See the presence and hand of God in all circumstances, positive or negative; all life flows to and through us according to the magnetism of our own patterns, past and present, in its unending process of becoming. Through life's experiences God is talking to us: have a "conversation with God."

10. Hear God's voice in the voice of His messengers; read His words in the true teachings of saints, masters and avatars; see His actions in the lives of such great souls and apply their lessons to your daily life. Call on those great ones whom your heart feels attuned to for inner guidance. These more than any other manifestation of God in this world are the purest channels and guides to our soul awakening.

Like a hippie friend once said: "Good God, man, get over "It!" "

Or as I like to plagiarize: "There's no god but God. There's no good but God; there's no thing but God; God alone, God in All."

Or, as Jesus put it: "And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God."

Joy is within you,

Swami Hrimananda


Saturday, June 7, 2014

"What do you mean by "yoga"?

In the past two articles I made the case that the practice of (true) yoga is the future of spirituality, whether in the context of established faiths or no faith. Obviously I am referring to something beyond the practice of the physical stretches and poses (the physical branch of yoga, known as hatha yoga). Just as obviously, by "future" I don't mean next year but perhaps the next century!

While I attempted to explain this prediction, I did NOT really describe "What is this yoga I speak of and how is it practiced?" I only really went so far as to explain that the term yoga is a reference to a state of consciousness that, for a shortcut, one could call God but which, in fact, is called by many names but, allowing that poor 'ol "God" carries a lot of baggage (owing principally to some stone tablets, I'm told...there's no "d" at the end of stone, btw), let's use the term Oneness.

Further, I explained that the term "yoga" (which means "yoke" or "bind") refers both to certain psycho-physiological disciplines that lead to Oneness as well as to Oneness itself.  This interesting fact warrants explanation but I refuse to give it, as I know you, the reader, are so perspicacious as to have already drawn the correct conclusion.

Unfortunately, that left a lot of readers hanging very high and very dry: both "shaken" and "stirred." Some of you muttered, "What's that got to do about 'What's for dinner?'" Or, "Why is Putin causing so much trouble in Ukraine?" In short, my prior article begs the question, "Is there a takeaway here?"

Yes, there is! For starters, let's start with where "we" are: the worldwide popularity of the yoga postures! Hatha yoga demonstrates a very practical takeaway, even if hatha yoga is only a toe in the yoga-water. Add to this the exponentially growing practice of meditation, and you've dipped an entire foot in.

[Now: I want to pause here and make my language simpler. Despite the fact that it must be obvious that I am on a campaign to educate the world that "yoga" is more than hatha yoga, I will henceforth drop using the term "yoga" to refer to true yoga. Instead, I will use the term "meditation" even though as my prior article pointed out, the term "meditation" is unsatisfactory.]

I stated before that one of the attributes of meditation that makes it a good candidate for universal adaptation by religionists and "spiritual but not religionist" is that meditation is "scientific." Meditation techniques are simple, demonstrable, and specific. Virtually anyone can receive instruction in its simple breathing or concentration techniques. Anyone who practices the techniques (as taught to them) will achieve similar and consistent results. No faith or belief system is required to get consistent results. Just search on the internet for "benefits of meditation" or "benefits of yoga."

While the same could be said of fitness routines or time-tested diets, meditation works directly with and upon our mind. By "mind" I include emotions, feelings, thoughts, insights, and levels of consciousness (ranging from dreamy subconsciousness to clear-minded everyday consciousnesss to elevated states of heighted awareness and intense feelings of joy, or peace). Meditation can produce experiences that are readily and commonly compared with, and considered to be, states of spiritual consciousness. And, it requires no drug use. Because it can produce feelings associated with spirituality and because it doesn't require or derive from any specific faith or ritual, it is ideal as a universal spiritual practice that can be integrated into any faith or no faith.

The primary tool of meditation is self-awareness. But traditional meditation practices often include some physical component to relax and energize the body. Like most faiths in general, there are guidelines regarding fasting and diet. It is much easier to meditate when the body is fit and healthy and the brain well oxygenated and the blood stream decarbonized. Indeed, hatha yoga is an excellent preparation for meditation. It can assist the body in sitting for long periods of time without discomfort.

But this primary tool of consciousness is linked to the physical body via the breath. Breath is more than oxygen and carbon dioxide; the one flowing into the body, the other out of the body. Breath includes the circulation of oxygen and of intelligent vitality the subtler aspect of which is termed "prana" (or "chi"). The awakening of one's awareness and control of this "life force" (prana) is one of the cornerstones of meditation.

Breath is life. A person is alive (usually!) when breathing and not alive when not breathing. Our breath links our mind (consisting of feeling, perception and self-awareness) to our body and this mind-breath-body conversation operates in both directions. It is easily demonstrated that quieting and calming the breath quiets and clears the mind. But the reverse is true, also: a quiet mind reflects in a calm breath. When we are excited or upset, our breathing is out of control, uneven, ragged. If in extreme fear, our "heart" leaps into our throat! (A figure of speech, merely.)

Paramhansa Yogananda in his now famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," quotes his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar describing the highly advanced technique of kriya yoga as: “Kriya Yoga is an instrument through which human evolution can be quickened. The ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness is intimately linked with breath mastery. This is India’s unique and deathless contribution to the world’s treasury of knowledge. The life force, which is ordinarily absorbed in maintaining the heart-pump, must be freed for higher activities by a method of calming and stilling the ceaseless demands of the breath.”

At an earlier point in his story, he wrote: "Like any other science, yoga is applicable to people of every clime and time. Yoga is a method for restraining the natural turbulence of thoughts, which otherwise impartially prevent all men, of all lands, from glimpsing their true nature of Spirit. So long as man possesses a mind with its restless thoughts, so long will there be a universal need for yoga or control."

Meditation shows that a very effective way to calm one's restless thoughts (spurred on by our emotions) is to work with the breath in very specific ways. Thus, the real secret of yoga is to bring the breath under control using time-tested, simple, and scientific breathing methods. As the breath becomes calm, then the emotions and consequent restless thoughts begin to subside.

Once the mind is reasonably stable, it is often the next step to focus the mind on a single object, usually internal to the mind itself. Chanting a mantra, or a syllable, or an affirmation can be very effective for focusing the mind and awakening inspiration (usually done mentally, silently). Visualizing a deity, the eyes of one's guru, or an image from nature, or an abstract quality or state such as peace or love.........all of these mental images can calm the mind and in turn calm the breath. Where one goes, the other follows! They are two sides of the same coin. Visualizing the moonlight, a vast ocean, rushing water, a majestic mountain, the rising sun......all of these images drawn from nature convey higher states of awareness such as peace, power, adaptability, wisdom, strength and so on. In deeper states of meditation and using special mudras or other techniques, one can attune oneself and meditate upon certain subtle, astral sounds universally recognized in all traditions and symbolized by the sounds and images of a bell, a reed or plucked instrument, sounds of water or wind, a motor, or a bee and so on.

In some traditions one is simply given a mantra, nothing else. In others (my own, e.g.), we combine a mantra with watching the breath (two for the price of one!) The combinations are endless.

Imagine standing in a field at the base of a tall mountain, like Mt. Everest or Mt. Rainier or Mt. McKinley. It's a long way up but many people have done it: one step at a time. The peak is that state of Oneness where our ego-separateness is expanded (or dissolved, if you prefer) into Infinity! Just as one takes one step at a time to ascend the mountain, so one takes one breath at time to transcend the bondage of heart/breath that ties our awareness to the body and its five sense telephones, ringing incessantly! As we are given life when we take our first breath and as we leave this body with our last, so it is that while the breath ties us to the body it is also the only way out! What at first is an elemental obstacle soon becomes with the science of breath and mind, the way of transcendence! As I have heard it said: "The only way out, is in!"

As the breath is calmed, thoughts subside; as thoughts subside, our awareness expands (or shrinks away from the body). We do something similar every night when we sleep. We "dump" the consciousness of our physical body and personality into the peaceful realm of deep, dreamless sleep. But sleep only refreshes us; it doesn't change our consciousness. For that we must expand our consciousness, raise the level of our awareness past the formidable and thick barrier of skin, bones, organs and ego-self-involvement and everything represented by them.

Advanced meditation techniques, like kriya yoga, might start with the physical breath but then leave the physical breath behind in favor of working with the astral breath (a term that describes the life force, subtle energy, prana or chi). As the physical breath subsides, this subtle energy is withdrawn from the senses and the periphery of the body and organs and is directed by advanced techniques to return to its main spinal channel through specific psychic plexuses (doors) located along the spine called "chakras." From there, life force is coaxed or magnetized up the subtle spine to re-unite with cosmic energy at the point between the eyebrows. It is here that enlightenment occurs. But to go further in this aspect of meditation is to go beyond the scope of this article.

The fact that the techniques of meditation bring enhanced health and well-being even to the veriest beginner attest to the substantial and elemental nature of the techniques and their goal. It feels like home; like Om; like the real "me."

But meditation is more than hygiene for the mind, kind of like brushing your teeth everyday. Instead, it becomes a way of life, a life of living yoga. Why seek inner peace through daily meditation if during the day (when you are not meditating), you are angry, irritable and selfish? Makes no sense! Hence, meditation as a way of life is supported by a lifestyle that includes a simple diet, pure thoughts, calm emotions and harmonious actions. As we become transformed by meditation, we become less and less self-referencing and more and more Self-realized. We become more joyful, happy, content, compassionate, wise, and on and on!

There's another aspect to meditation. This aspect is more personal. It is also easily misunderstood and is most certainly rejected by the ego. (Yogananda described meditation, in general, thusly: The soul loves to meditate but the ego hates to meditate.) And yet for all its subtlety it is also essential, even if the form it takes is unique to each person. It's called devotion and it's the fuel that powers the engine of meditational motivation. If the fuel is diluted by a weak will or unclear intention, the engine runs rough and has no pulling power up the mountains of life's challenges and temptations. If the fuel is high octane it drives us quickly up the Mt. Carmel of the soul's aspiration toward liberation in God!

In its traditional and outward forms throughout the world and throughout history, you will see devotion expressed in poetry, dance, prayers, hymns, chanting, rituals and sometimes extravagant displays of self-offering and even, seemingly, self-abasement. Ok, so, I've let it all out. These outer forms are NOT the essence of devotion; they are but its husk. Sometimes a husk is dry and empty, other times it is like the discarded first stage of a rocket.

Devotion is related, in some ways, to the disciple-guru relationship. We see Buddha, the founder of Buddhism; or Jesus, the founder of Christianity. We see the great disciples of these world teachers as great devotees, whether they lived with their "christ" or whether they lived a thousand years afterward (like St. Francis).

I say devotion and discipleship are related and I mean this in many different ways, but for now I mean it in the sense that both are personal and neither can really be faked (except to outer appearances, that is). For God watches the heart.

What we have here is the intuitive recognition by the ego that it must die or at least surrender to the higher power of grace, of God, or of God in the form of the savior/guru (who leads us to God and who is God incarnate for this purpose).

Admittedly, most meditators, most spiritual aspirants, most orthodox religionists are considered candidates for heavenly reward if they just try to be good; go to church on Sunday; take the sacraments, punch their meditational time card, and so on. But devotion and discipleship are the inner "meat" of what meditating for long hours every day symbolizes for the average meditator who struggles to do so for even just a few minutes each day. But we don't gain much by measuring ourselves by the yardstick of giants. We might only get discouraged (much to the delight of the ego). Yet, if we don't have the courage to see where the path leads we are far less likely to get there anytime soon (in relation to repeated rounds of rebirth, that is).

Real devotion is what you see in the lives of great saints, like Milarepa, Tibet's greatest yogi. Fortunately for us, we are encouraged to start where the sign says, "You are HERE!" Krishna promises us in the Bhagavad Gita that "even a little bit of this practice (of meditation), will save us from dire fears..."

However hot or tepid may be your inspiration and devotion, you can be sure that without at least some of it, regardless of what form of expression it may take, one cannot make real progress on any spiritual path. Dedication to truth, my teacher, Swami Kriyananda once said, is a form of devotion. Dedication to your daily meditation practice, too, is a kind of devotion. Don't fret about it. Your inspiration to meditate is already a kind of devotion. Let it guide you but be open to what the real winners (the saints) have modeled for us.

Indeed, as stated in the beginning, yoga presents such a high goal that it, too, suffers from the same tendencies of being dumbed down to feed the ego just as much as other high ideals or other forms of religion and spirituality. Someone told me, for example, that there exist yoga classes called "naked" yoga classes (I guess you practice sans clothes for some reason not difficult to imagine.) All aspects of spirituality can be polluted by ego consciousness.

The essential appeal and beauty of true yoga is that it really is for everyone. You can start with the motivation to improve your health, both physical and mental. As you "awaken" to the "joy within you," you may "fall in love with your (higher) Self!" You begin to identify and realize that happiness is within you; it is a conscious choice! This is increasingly freeing. Bit by bit your are bitten by the cosmic snake of divine joy lifted up the brass staff of the straight spine (a reference to Moses in the Old Testament) and cured of the satanic bite of delusion.

Just as life begins with the first breath, you can say that yoga begins with the first conscious breath! Start with "watching your breath". There is a pleasure, a little bubble of happiness that comes when we come self-aware. Follow that thread, like Theseus in the labyrinth, to inner freedom!

Joy to you,

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!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

To What Should We Aspire?

In recent months I’ve shared links to my blog articles with internet discussion groups organized around the subjects of meditation and yoga. The groups are comprised of mostly yoga and meditation teachers, so I suppose I expected a higher level of consciousness than what I observed. So it wasn’t long before I withdrew for lack of interest and time.

[To view the Sunday Service talk in which aspects of this topic were given, go to Ustream.com and search on AnandaSeattle. Look for the date 4/22/12.]



For example, when the subject of the history of hatha yoga was floated, one teacher opined that yoga postures must have derived long ago during the days of cave men when, as hunters, they stood poised, waiting for their prey to appear or for the hunt to begin. At first I thought it was a tongue-in-cheek joke. Turns out it was not. Then I figured, well, he’s just giving his opinion  -- which he most certainly was. That he’s entitled to. But what was so disappointing is that the writer showed no interest in whether his speculation was true or not. It was enough that it was his opinion. No quotation of scholarly research or the insight of a wise guru. He seemed completely oblivious to the distinction between his opinion and reality. That was the real shock for me. And those who joined the conversation were no different. It was entirely speculation and opinion, with no interest whatsoever in discovering what might actually be the truth! I won’t bother to share my contribution but between scholarly research and the teaching of the rishis there’s plenty of more intelligently and elevated resources to draw upon!

Another conversation generated several hundred threads of commentary! A male yogi started it all by declaring that it was unspiritual to have an orgasm and yogis should avoid this sort of thing. Here, again, I don’t intend to weigh in on the declaration, but suffice to say the range of opinions on this one were not only all over the map but, well, how else to put it, except to say orgasmic!

On one side were the female tantra yoginis insisting upon their rights and the intrinsic spirituality, indeed, necessity, of such experiences and on the other side were the austerely dogmatic male yogis equally insistent upon the necessity of total abstinence. I couldn’t decide whether the debate was a comedy or a tragedy (though I confess it was a bit entertaining), but I suspect the reality behind the computer screens on both sides of the argument would have been, well, pardon the pun, revealing, to say the least. I thought to myself, “Don’t these people have a life, or better things to do?” (But, then, there I was reading this stuff!)

Another thread involved whether enlightened beings make mistakes. Someone stated that Yogananda’s selection of his successor (Rajarsi Janakananda, who died within two years of his becoming President of Yogananda’s organization) was just one example of a mistake that Yogananda obviously made! (I mean, couldn’t he have “seen” that his heir would not live very long and his mission would be thwarted?)

Well this was the straw that lead me to discontinue my interest in these conversations. But before I did, I had to weigh in. It was just too dumb and insulting. Even a  casual reading of Yogananda’s life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” reveals plenty of examples of the seeming de facto fallibility of great masters in mundane matters. Swami Sri Yukteswar, for example, having one day revealed an incredible telepathic power, the next day was nonplussed and suffused with merriment in having to report he had no idea where a kerosene lamp had been misplaced!
But that implication in the other writer’s statements was that the avatar’s fallibility just shows that they, too, are like us and not really all that enlightened! A great saint is a saint not because of his efficiency or human intelligence or material success in every venture he undertakes. You’d think Jesus was a failure for having been tried, convicted and crucified! What makes a saint or master great is his or her consciousness. This is true whether or not one has a public mission, disciples, or a formal teaching.Even the miracles they manifest (mostly to close disciples) are not the mark of their spiritual freedom.It is their God-given power to awaken souls to their divine destiny; to bestow the gift of soul freedom!

Yogananda endured a procession of teachers who left him and a few who, in leaving, attacked him. Against the counsel of his own guru, he encouraged and gave a position of authority to a man who later betrayed him. He attempted to start a school for children and later a householder community but in both cases he was, outwardly, unsuccessful. The time wasn’t right but his example inspired Swami Kriyananda to found the first (of many) communities and the first (of many) schools for children based on yogic precepts. The true guru works with the karma of those whom he comes to help. He respects the free will and courage of disciples to cooperate or reject his saving grace. So, was Yogananda’s decision to close down his experimental “world brotherhood colony” indicative of a failure? Or, was it a success because Swami Kriyananda, inspired by Yogananda’s dream for such communities, started the first of many?

Unseasoned yogis and devotees sometimes mistakenly believe that a spiritually advanced person must be in perfect health, perfect outward joy, constant bliss and have at his command the power of the universe. This is not the case. Instead, It is the willingness of such souls to live amidst the cosmic play of maya (delusion) that is one evidence of their greatness. Yogananda wore his wisdom like a comfortable old coat! To close disciples they may reveal their true nature (as Self-realized souls) but to the world, generally, they live as ordinary mortals, subject to the universal play of duality.

In observing the life of our founder and teacher, Swami Kriyananda, I, and many of you, and many throughout the world, have been blessed to see seen the very human face of spiritual striving and growth. During the last twenty-five years or so of his life he has endured health challenges that would crush in most people the will, the equanimity, and the energy to be serviceful and creative. Yet, Kriyananda has never stopped his writing, speaking, counseling, traveling and his guidance to countless souls and to the Ananda communities worldwide! His bliss only grows even as his body wanes in strength and vitality. He is periodically brought to death’s door or to near incapacity by physical challenges, but he has just as often bounced back unfazed. He is like a fruit tree which, when shaken by storms, only showers its fragrant blossoms in greater abundance.

As the practice of meditation and yoga spreads to every town and city around the globe we cannot but help see and expect a certain dilution of its original power and purpose. Indeed, the health and fashion culture that surrounds hatha yoga has all but eclipsed its higher, more spiritual purposes. Some Yoga lineages such as Ananda continue, however, to uphold the triune purpose of yoga to unite body, mind, and soul into a harmonious whole.

One distinct disadvantage of the high spiritual teaching of liberation and return of our soul to cosmic consciousness is that the goal is seemingly so high and so distant that we become discouraged and may find ourselves defining our spirituality as a cup of morning tea sipped in quiet and comfort.

Indeed, Yogananda said Jesus Christ was crucified once but his teachings have been crucified daily ever since. But the same can be said of the high teachings of Vedanta and Yoga. Yoga is trivialized everyday not just in selling insurance or cars but in the yoga field itself where bright and beautiful teachers vie for popularity, fame and fortune.

To do good and to do what is right is our duty in life. The Bhagavad Gita says that we have no right to the fruit of our good works. Those belong to God who is the true Doer and are those very works. The soul seeks no credit. Remember no good deed goes unpunished. This means that all the good you do will fade away, outwardly. There will always some opposition, some “fly in the ointment,” of every good thing you attempt or accomplish. Every great and successful person knows defeat and failure in at least equal measure. But to strive for good is to climb the ladder of ascension towards transcendence. Pay your dues with joy for your victory is assured if you strive with joy and seek divine grace as your guide and sustenance.

Humility means to forget your ego demands and offer all at the feet of the Infinity of Love which has given us life and joy.

Lahiri Mahasaya, param guru to Yogananda, said the natural fragrance of God-realization will attract the honey bees of devotees to enter the hive of meditation and enjoy the nectar of divine awakening. He encouraged his disciples to forsake scriptural debate in favor of Self-realization.

Never think of your spiritual liberation as far away, distant either in time or space. Instead every day and as often as you can through the day, affirm by quietude of heart and mind the Infinite Beloved who resides in your heart, with each heart beat. He is the nearest of the near and dearest of the dear. He is your own Self.

Meditation, practiced with concentration and devotion, is our most creative act, for it puts us in touch with the cosmic creative vibration of Om, from which all things and ideas flow. Creativity is to create love and harmony which is OM, for OM unites all life in one harmonic chord of life and love.

Aum, Shanti, Amen,

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Yoga Sutras - Part 2


This week we hold class 2 on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. My last blog article described the Yoga Sutras (“YS”) as both intimidating AND inspiring. Well, that comment is only further justified by my ongoing study. I’d like to share some key points, insights, and inspirations as they have occurred to me. As this blog format is rather truncated (neither a class nor a book), I cannot begin to pretend to share comprehensively, both for the depth of the YS which is beyond my ken and for its very content which requires more time and space.

The first thing that hits one in book 1 of the YS (“Samadhi Pada”), is the necessity and power of concentration. Like shooting a gun or cannon to take down a target (person, plane or ship, e.g.), all you need do is combine force (will) with a steady aim at only one key portion of the “body” you are attempting to obliterate, and the whole thing comes down. [Now I know some of more pacific readers just blanched, but this is Patanjali’s point: get over it. I’ll explain in a minute.] You don’t need to wrestle every inch of it, only the heart or head!
It is through the power of meditative concentration that the arrow of our attention pierces the body armor of maya (the delusive force and masking power of matter and the creation which hides “the Lord,” the Spirit who is, alone, all that Is). There is a well known sentence in Paramhansa Yogananda’s classic story, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” that I believe is inspired by a sloka in some Indian scripture that says “divine vision is center everywhere, circumference, nowhere.”

You could spend lifetimes trying to achieve realization of this key point. But for now, let me say the insightful point is you don’t have to acquire all the knowledge and wisdom of the world or to become scrupulously virtuous in thought, word, and deed to achieve freedom from this world of suffering, unceasing flux, and unending cycles of birth and death. To enter the transcendent state of Superconsciousness (and ultimately, cosmic consciousness), you need only one doorway: one “object” of concentration with which your entire being becomes One with.

I’ve heard my teacher (Swami Kriyananda, direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda and founder of the Ananda communities worldwide) lightly joke that you could worship a crocodile — indeed, anything. Why? Because the transcendent consciousness of Spirit is at the heart of every atom (“center everywhere”).

The second sutra (aphorism) of Patanjali is one of two most famous and most valuable: (and I paraphrase it) Suffering is transcended and Oneness with Bliss achieved by rising above identification with one’s body, matter, sense impressions, memories, fantasies, sleep (and all drug-induced states), likes, dislikes, attachments and desires. This second sutra (literally translated as “Yoga is the restraining, or calming, of the reactive process (mind-stuff) from taking various forms (vrittis)) states the concentration principle described above in negative terms. This isn’t a description of what to do. It is an explanation of what is necessary.

Because immediately thereafter, Patanjali launches into the subject of concentration. While it is true that our concentration in meditation is disrupted by our matter identifications (listed above).  And yes it is true, therefore, as Patanjali enumerates in his most famous sutra (listing the 8 stages of enlightenment) we must work on achieving right attitude and right action. And, yet (and this is the beauty and power of yoga concentration), we can combine those efforts to release the hold of maya upon our minds by the power of concentration. We do not have to fight to the death every delusion that pops up like so many assassins in a James Bond movie.

As we identify with matter, we lose touch with our true Self. It’s really that simple. By steady concentration upon any single object (in meditation), the hypnotic influence of maya dissolves and we enter a portal into Oneness.

Patanjali enumerates and defines the obstacles to Oneness and he also describes some of the stages of realization. These stages are not permanent but represent the process by which, step by step, we achieve true knowledge. First, we question, doubt or reason based on our inner perceptions. Then, we receive (intuitively) true knowledge about that which we are contemplating. From that knowledge we experience happiness or some level of satisfaction and bliss. Finally, that knowledge becomes permanently realized as our own Self.

Beyond such realization is the “seedless” realization which a state of Oneness without any process or object used or intervening. This is true transcendence. He also acknowledges that the speed with which enlightenment takes place is the result of our energetic commitment (or lack thereof).

Patanjali gives a one-liner acknowledgement that, despite his clinical analysis, Oneness can be achieved by devotion to God! (He adds no comment or explanation.)But, to be fair, he then goes on for several sutras to describe the Supreme Ruler (or Power) who is the true teacher of all rishis and gurus and whose name (and word) is AUM! Repetition and communion with the seed sound of OM is “the way.”

To remedy our shortcomings and attachments, he recommends deep concentration upon one object (OM being previously suggested). Another approach, he says, is to control the breath (pranayama, including kriya yoga). Meditating upon the inner Light (“Jyoti”), or upon a pure heart, or on the message of dreams (that all life is a dream), or upon the bliss of the dreamless state (of sleep), or “on anything that appeals to one as good!”

Wow! Dr. Patanjali, here, at your service! I make house calls. Can you imagine it? That's enough medicine for us all right now. Until next week, your own Self.

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, October 31, 2011

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


This Wednesday, November 2, I begin a four-week course on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. It's nothing less than both intimidating and inspiring. I don't know of any other work that penetrates the veil of the mind and traces the trajectory of soul-awakening with such (almost brutal) clarity, power, and wisdom. 

The array of available books and literature on the YS is bewildering. True, it's nothing like the quantity written on the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita, but it's prodigious nonetheless. No one really knows (or agrees) when the YS were written, or even by whom, exactly. Evidently there is more than one "Patanjali." But this much is certain: whoever wrote it and whenever it was written, it didn't just appear out of nowhere. It is the distillation of a long history of exploration by the scientists of consciousness (the rishis of India). You might say it's as if after centuries (millennia, probably) of experimentation, someone wrote a concluding and summarizing "paper" on their accumulated findings!

The YS are a roadmap to enlightenment. The highway to the infinite portrayed in the YS is also called the 8-Fold (or Limbed) Path. Other synonyms include Raja Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga. These all refer to the description of the path of enlightenment given in the YS. (As I cannot be sure of the knowledge of all of my readers, let me say that the true meaning of the term "yoga" is "union." It refers to achievement of Self-realization by uniting one's individual soul with the oversoul of Spirit. By contrast, the more common man-on-the-street uses the term "yoga" to describe the physical postures, positions, or asanas that were developed in more recent centuries and which have the purpose of developing one's health and inner awareness as a foundation for the spiritual discipline of meditation and the spiritual path generally.)

Over the centuries many forms of yoga discipline have emerged with different names and different emphases. All too often they attempt (or appear) to compete or to be distinctly unique. Just as science has enlightened us in the understanding that energy, contrary to the report of our five senses, is the essential and unifying reality of matter, so too the different "yogas" are but different approaches to the same central truth: we are One!

Bhakti yoga is the way of the heart: approaching the Oneness of Spirit through devotion (pure feeling). Gyana yoga is the way of the mind: approaching the Oneness of Spirit through the power of concentration (pure consciousness). Karma yoga is the way of service: approaching the Oneness of Spirit through self-giving and acting as a pure instrument of Spirit. Laya yoga is the way of dissolution of the ego. Mantra yoga is expansion of consciousness through Oneness with the primordial vibration of Spirit (known as Aum). Uniting them all, however, is Raja yoga: the science of meditation which arises when, in combination with one or more of the aforementioned disciplines, we seek "to be still and know (that I AM God)." Raja means royal, or that which rules (or unites) the others. (Ashtanga means, simply, 8-Fold or 8-Limbed.)

As must be obvious to the reader, even the practice of calling these "paths" by their yogic names suggests they come from and are only accessible to devotees attracted to all things Indian. Of course not: devotion, concentration, selfless service, egolessness, and silent inner, prayerful communion are universally manifest in all spiritual traditions.

The YS are aphorisms but unlike stand-alone platitudes there are linked, like threads, creating a chain or path from delusion to enlightenment. The word "sutra" means "thread" (think suture). There are less than 200 hundred sutras. They are divided into four books ("pada"): samadhi pada; sadhana pada; vibhuti pada; and kaivalya pada. Whew! What the heck?

For those of you who stayed the course with me on Swami Sri Yukteswar's book, THE HOLY SCIENCE, you will recognize a pattern. I suppose the ancients must have developed their themes along these lines: describing the process and benefits; outlining the methods; describing the consequences (fruits) ("powers attained"), and giving a glimpse at the goal (Oneness).

At the same time, the unfolding sutras are not linear or strictly a logical progression, either. There is some repetition, some further development, and some detours or tangents along the way. This patterns the simple fact that the path to enlightenment is, itself, NOT a straight-line. Reality and consciousness is more a hologram: each aspect containing something of the whole within itself. God is not in some distant corner of space. Enlightenment is ours right now if . . . . . .  It is, and it isn't! Lifetimes accumulation of error and ignorance can be swept away instantly in a flood of grace but that grace does not come upon the command or will of the ego. And yet, we start where we are: in ego consciousness. A conundrum certainly.

This Wednesday night we will begin our journey. Like the sutras themselves and like our own path to enlightenment, I am not planning with any strictness what we will cover, what we will skip, and how we will develop our themes. This class is based upon Paramhansa Yogananda's teachings of the YS. He studied with his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar. Yogananda explained that after about only 12 sutras his guru said, :"That's enough. You now have the key." (Yogananda never said exactly WHICH twelve!!!!) So neither are we compelled to read and study all nearly 200 sutras, either!

Yogananda never wrote a summary (a book) on the Yoga Sutras. That's too bad and there must be some overarching reason. Swami Kriyananda did, however and it is a renowned classic in its own right: THE ART AND SCIENCE OF RAJA YOGA (Crystal Clarity, Publishers, Nevada City, CA USA). (Swami Kriyananda is a direct disciple of Yogananda and one of the very few still living and teaching today.) This book does not, however, discuss or analyze the sutras directly. There are unpublished transcriptions of Yogananda's lectures on Patanjali however.

This series will be our second experiment with internet streaming. You can go online and sign up and pay for this class and attend it in real time (7:30 to 9 p.m. PST). Be sure to do this before about 3 p.m. this Wednesday. If we or you encounter technical difficulties we will provide a link to the audio recording as a substitute. I prefer students come in person, of course, but if you are reading this from India or Russia or New York, we at least have something to offer to you.

More blog articles will flow as they, well, flow!

Blessings,

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Prodigal Son Returns!

The story told by Jesus in the New Testament of the prodigal son who returns to and is welcomed back home by his father is one of the most inspiring allegories of the scriptures of east and west.

Where in this story is there any hint of eternal damnation? Is not error, ignorance, and self-destructive attitudes and behaviors hell enough? How many millions suffer from poverty, addictions, abuse, disease, and exploitation? Hell, who needs hell? It can be right here in our own hearts and minds! Besides, when you are truly in the midst of suffering, does it not SEEM like it will never end?

Are WE the cause of our suffering? How can we explain the suffering of a child? The annihilation of an entire culture? Is life itself to blame? Is suffering just built into the matrix of life? Is it God who punishes us? If so, do we deserve it or is God capricious?

These are among the great questions of life, to be sure. Just as only a handful of people in this world can truly comprehend the grand mysteries of science such as string theory, quantum physics, relativity, and the time-space continuum, so too only a few great souls truly grasp the grand mysteries of our human experience. Who, among millions who use computers or cell phones, truly understand the inner workings of even these (now) mundane devices we so depend upon?

The pearl of life's wisdom is not sold cheaply in the marketplace of bookshops but is only found, hard-won, in even-mindedness and calmness on the threshing floor of daily life and in the hermitage of inner silence.

Why, then, should we be surprised if the great drama of life is veiled and seems to us a mystery, an enigma? Paramhansa Yogananda was once asked about a possible "short-cut" to wisdom. He smiled and replied that such a short-cut would make it too easy and that God has so veiled the truth that we might seek Him for his love, not merely his wisdom. Besides, he quipped, most people, if given a chance to talk to God, would only argue.

He went on to say God HAS everything; God IS everything. He "lacks" only our love, our personal interest, and our attention. Most humans on this planet wouldn't have it any other way, so engrossed in the pursuit of life, liberty, pleasure, and human happiness are they.

Yet, like the prodigal son, when the famine of disappointment or disatisfaction strikes again (whether clothed as material success, or, failure) and we gnash our teeth in despair at the thought of the anguishing monotony of continued rebirth, and we look heavenward (inward) for the truth that can make us free.......then the dawn of wisdom appears in the eastern sky.

You see, until we have stepped out of the drama, we cannot see the drama for what it really is: a drama. Caught up in our roles, we cannot see that both the villain and the good guy are but actors. It's true that the villain is slain and the hero victorious but even that doesn't necessarily appear so from the outside looking in. We cannot see the cause of our suffering or the seeming whimsey of success as but part of the drama and our likes and dislikes of it all as the result of our identification with it.

But there is a way out. Someone once said, "The only way OUT is IN!" Indeed! The story of prodigal son describes the pathway home.

Turning now to the story itself in the New Testament, at first, famished as our souls become for kernels of wisdom, we take apprenticeship with spiritual teachers, teachings, and practices; in this process, we may be asked to feed others who are even more needy than we (the "swine" in the story). Then, as the Bible describes, we "come to ourself" and remember the happiness (bliss) we once knew in our Father's home.

Then, armed with that remembrance, we begin our journey, retracing our steps homeward. In what direction do those steps lead? As Jesus put it elsewhere: "The kingdom of heaven is within you." Thus he, a great yogi, counsels as does Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, the inner path of meditation.

The door the leads to "heaven" are the doorways of the subtle (astral) spine known as the chakras. These lead to the inner kingdom which, in turn, leads us to our home in God's eternal presence. Kriya yoga is an advanced technique of meditation that is aptly described as the key to these doorways. It is designed to accelerate our inner path and ability to become sensitive to this inner world of energy and consciousness. This is the "stuff" of the higher worlds from which the material world appears and is sustained.

We retrace our steps in a way not unlike reversing the process of birth, or, as is often said, becoming "born again." Not physically of course, but energetically. We become baptised in this inner spine of energy and divine consciousness. The rest of this description is the teaching of raja yoga training and need not be dwelled upon here.

Be ye of good cheer, for the good news (paraphrasing Christian vocabulary) is that the keys to the inner kingdom have been given. Meditation is for everyone and kriya yoga unlocks the power to be free.

Blessings to all! Hriman