Showing posts with label samadhi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label samadhi. Show all posts

Monday, May 29, 2017

Seven Stages of Meditation

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

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

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




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

Monday, September 26, 2016

Self-acceptance vs self-acceptance! All life is a play

Note: today, September 26, is the anniversary date in 1895 when the great yogi, Yogavatar, Lahiri Mahasaya (Shyama Charan Lahiri) left his physical body in the conscious exit known as "mahasamadhi" of a great saint. To ready about his life and service and spiritual attainments visit the newly created website: www.Lahiri-Mahasaya.org.

In a few days I will have attained the ripe old age of 66! Fortunately for me, 66 is the new 56 (or younger). What I find characterizes this stage of life is the need for self-acceptance.

Actually, there is a need for both self-acceptance AND Self-acceptance.

During one's middle life, working-type years, one is constantly pushing and striving. For most people that effort is to acquire material possessions, human love, family, success, health and recognition of one sort or another. Nothing wrong with these goals up to a point, as they are both natural and necessary for the development of character and maturity for most people.

It's like walking against a strong wind in your face. You lean into the wind, head down, pushing with all your strength and effort. If, after hours of struggle, the wind were suddenly to abate, you might even fall flat on your face! Certainly you'd feel some relief but also some disorientation. 

When fighting a battle it isn't the time to assess the costs or other consequences. Only when victory or defeat becomes a fact, do we stand up, take a deep breath, and view the result.

So it often is with life itself. There comes a point where "effort ends in ease." Let me explain: first, not for everyone, of course, nor am I talking about the classic point of one's retirement from active, working life. Nowadays with 66 - 76 being the new 56-66, it is common for many to want to continue working, even if they don't need to. Why? Because being still healthy and creative, and even at the pinnacle of one's skills, there's simply no desire to step down and do what......exactly?

Nonetheless, therefore, even for those who continue an active, service-full life, there will likely be a shift in consciousness. One finds stories from one's past popping into your head and speech (only in later years do they start repeating themselves with little or no prompting or context!!!!)

One begins to reflect upon one's life and experiences naturally and spontaneously. The metabolism perhaps slows, wisdom flows naturally as do opportunities (and the need) for mentoring or guiding others, perhaps one's future successors. 

But something else is likely to happen, and, even before what I describe above is in full force: the "chickens come home to roost." This means that unfulfilled desires, perhaps shoved aside in the process of making life choices, such as marriage and family, and contending with life's middle-aged duties and obligations and intense activities, raise their flag as if to say, "Remember me? The clock of your life is ticking and little time is left to fulfill your 'bucket list'"!

This is not dissimilar to a "mid-life crises" and in fact that may even be when these chickens return to roost. That's why I say this stage is likely to happen BEFORE the reflective stage.

In this crises of self-examination and self-awareness, we may stumble a bit with moods, depression, anger, frustration and even some pretty dumb things done or said impulsively.

For those who set about emptying their bucket list, they may be simply postponing the stage of self-acceptance or perhaps their adventures in pursuing their list is an active form of self-acceptance.

Whether self-acceptance takes the form of contentment, calmness and wisdom or the somewhat more active form of pursuing one's not-yet-achieved dreams (travel, e.g., being typical), the process is more or less the same though I am speaking more of the reflective stage than the active stage (which by necessity is short-lived usually---due to health, money or a list that is finally completed). 

Reflectively, like the wake of a speed boat whose waves slow and spread out as the boat comes gradually to a stop, we now begin to see our life and our personality (habits, tendencies, and even our now aging appearance) in a clearer light and perspective (than when, during middle life, we were constantly in motion pursuing fulfillment in the future tense of life). 

No doubt we won't like everything we see. A variety of emotions will surface: denial, anger, grief....the usual litany.....all leading (one hopes) to self-acceptance. Self-acceptance leads to contentment. Contentment to reflection and reflection to wisdom. This is where most people stop.

For the yogi and the devotee who seeks Truth, who seeks to know God, joy, the light of the soul or eternal freedom in infinite bliss, self-acceptance leads to Self-acceptance.

As a grandfather I find it natural to delight in my grandchildren's innocence and childhood even as I reflect on their budding traits and their possible evolution and challenges as they grow towards adulthood. 

As a yogi, these flower-buds of traits are but a sampling of the infinite variety of traits, experiences, attitudes, and lives our souls can pursue. 

It is natural therefore to step away from identification with my own life story and personality and re-affirm more deeply and with greater interest (as the clock of life is ticking away) my soul's call to awaken in the perfect bliss of God. 

"The drama of life has for its lesson that it is but a drama," Paramhansa Yogananda stated. At this stage of life, that's all life seems to be: a drama. Whether this year's politics, last year's wars and catastrophes----all a great play wherein tears and laughter, pleasure and pain alternate like actors changing costumes and roles.

The lesson in this insight is to turn away (not in rejection but with contentment and gratitude for having been part of a good show) and climb the spiral staircase (of the spine) to the "heaven (as Jesus put it) that is within you." We must now more soberly contemplate that, for us, the play is in its final act(s). The time is coming when we must "exit, stage right."

Joy and grace upon a sun-kissed Seattle day whose hidden melancholy whispers that "winter is coming."

Swami Hrimananda

Friday, March 21, 2014

8-Fold Path to Transcending the "I don't Mind"

In the past two blogs I've described the importance of transcending thoughts in order to have a deeper experience of meditation. Now, there's much more to it than that, but this isn't supposed to be a book: I have to remind myself that this is just a blog!

Inspired by Patanjali's famous 8-Fold Path (it wasn't entirely original with him either), may I offer these suggestions and steps to achieve a deeper, more satisfying and consistent meditation experience:

  1. Yama (control). Start with the clear intention to achieve peace in meditation and to gently, but firmly, put aside, just temporarily, the seemingly important thoughts and preoccupations that assail you. Be somewhat firm with your mind in this respect. Start with an affirmation such as "I am strong in myself. I am complete in my Self. All that I seek await discovery within my inner being (through meditation!). In this affirmation, feel the blessing of inner peace rising within you as you stand firm in your resolution. Take a few moments to enjoy it.
  2. Niyama (non-control). Relax! Welcome the idea and feeling of going within, of being centered in your Self, in your inner (subtle) spine. Experience contentment and the clean feeling that arises from being inwardly at rest -- as if being cleansed by a weightless waterfall of wisdom. Take a few moments to enjoy this image and the insight it offers to you as to "Who am I." 
  3. Asana. (sitting). Ignite the "fire of pure desire" for transcending the roller coaster of likes and dislikes and for being seated in the asana (position) of meditation--as if for hours, days, weeks and more, burning up the seeds of ignorance and material desire. Let your efforts blaze with the power of God-uniting energy.
  4. Pranayama (life force control). Here begin your yoga practices of regular (diaphragmatic) breathing and any combination of breath techniques that you have learned and feel comfortable with. Don't be content with huffing and puffing, however. Control of breath is just the beginning and most outward form by which we can bring the reactive process of ego-driven likes and dislikes under control and, with God-inspired devotion,  re-directing their energy, and the feeling-desires that drive them, upwards toward the seat of enlightenment at the spiritual eye. Purify your heart and offer it to God.
  5. Pratyahara (concentration of the mind). As the winds of breath and heart subside owing to your efforts with pranayam, the mind will begin to clear of restless thoughts like fog vanishing beneath the rising summer sun. Shift from breath control (prana-yama) to watching the breath (ni-yama). Yogananda taught this universal technique with the seed mantra, Hong (chanted silently with the incoming breath) Sau (with the outgoing breath). Challenge yourself to re-direct your mind back to the breath whenever thoughts take your focus hostage. This is where you train the monkey mind directly: gentle but resolute. Don't allow frustration or impatience to creep in when the lower mind gets the upper hand! Never give up. As the flow of breath subsides, so will the thought-invaders (and vice versa).
  6. Dharana (inner awareness). When you feel that you have become satisfactorily calm, cease the watching of the breath and rest in the silence. Peer upward with happy, active, interested intensity, gazing as if with curiosity through the point between the eyebrows---at a point one or two feet past the eyebrows (and perhaps slightly raised)--eyes are still closed, however. From that resting point, now settle in and become sensitively aware: feeling peaceful? Calm? Feeling subtle energy within or around you? Feel in the heart, too.......perhaps a bubble of joy, loving acceptance.....
  7. Dhyana (meditation). Relax so deeply and naturally into your meditation that the sense of "I am feeling peaceful (or XXXX) subsides and what remains is only the "nectar" of the feeling itself--nothing else. 
  8. Samadhi. (oneness). Now, let even the feeling of peace (or XXXX) vanish too. What is left is "I, I, everywhere" and the joy of Pure Consciousness. When you feel time is up, take a moment to bless friends, family, co-workers and anyone in need whose name or image appears.
I can't guarantee every meditation will be like this, but this 8-Fold Path to transcendence will serve you well if you dive deep, energetically, creatively, with intelligence and devotion into the Sea of Peace. As a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, I practice Kriya Yoga as my central pranayam while "watching" includes listening to the inner sounds of the chakras or AUM. I call upon Yogananda to guide me. I will visualize or try to feel his presence; his guidance; his power--lifting me up into the lap of Divine Mother (as he addressed God).

I read an interview with a rapper named Russell Simmons who has practiced meditation and yoga for twenty years. It changed his life and he is helping to change the lives of others for the better. Meditation can change your life, too, no matter what you've been through or have done. "Tat twan asi." "Thou art That (peace and serenity and bliss) which is God, for you are made in the image of Spirit.

Blessings and joy in meditation and in service and in love for God and truth!

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, November 12, 2012

What to do with your Enlightened Brother-in-Law?


What to do if your brother-in-law is enlightened? - The world's longest blog article. Apologies in advance for being a nerd. 

What is enlightenment? How to achieve it? Is it easy to do? What is nothingness?

Any resemblance to any living “brother-in-law”  is entirely coincidental.

Since a large number of people on this planet have a brother-in-law, it seems to me that it is about time this important subject be squarely addressed, for, given the large number of brother-in-laws on the planet, there must surely be quite a number who consider themselves “enlightened.” In fact, recent studies have shown that there is a veritable epidemic of enlightenment occurring in the population of brothers-in-law. I feel it is my duty to take on this subject straight up.

Notwithstanding the current pandemic of enlightenment in this group, there have always been some in every age and culture who consider themselves enlightened and who, moreover, consider any and all religious or spiritual doctrines, practices, or promotion as, to quote P.G. Wodehouse, “bilge.” Some, using stronger language, shout “poppycock!”

True devotees everywhere and in every age are plagued by at least one know-it-all scofflaw and self-described enlightened brother-in-law. Since presumably your gentle nature and your firmly held beliefs preclude you from knocking the ‘ol buster off (and putting him out his misery while saving civilization from this blight upon humanity), this article may offer you some solace and alternatives.

Perhaps you are plagued, as I have been, by one such who, while adamantly rejecting any label, would easily fit into the target range of the dreaded “nondualist.” These blighters fancy themselves godlike and omniscient, gazing down upon creation and its creatures with a sardonic and all-knowing hauteur. Their disdain and dismissal of practices such as meditation, dogma, ritual, prayer and the like is, well, “absolute.”

And what makes his assertion that religion is unnecessary (and, in fact, worse than unnecessary) so clever is that there is a some level of truth here. Starting with the well known evils and disadvantages, prejudices, and narrow-mindedness of religion and its practitioners and representatives, there is the deeper truth that in the nondualistic state of consciousness there is no longer any distinctions of “I or Thou” or ego or separateness. In the state of Oneness, there is only Consciousness itself! It almost absurd to spend a lot time describing the state because by “definition” this state is beyond words. Still, for my purposes and I hope for yours too I will use these words as synonyms or markers and these include Oneness and God. Other terms (and there are many more) include Self-realization, samadhi, satori, nirvana, heaven, or mystical marriage (etc. etc.). (Keep in mind that users of these terms may well make distinctions among them.)

In the tradition of Vedanta, the scriptures of India, and among yogis (rishis, masters, etc.) the attitude of our nondualist is the approach to God (or Oneness) called gyana yoga. A modern Christian who approaches God as the “Cosmic Ground of Being” might similarly be called a gyana yogi. So, too, a Buddhist who refuses to describe the ultimate state as any-thing at all except perhaps as nirvana.

As Krishna notes in the Bhagavad Gita, this approach, however, is austere to an extreme (like being a spiritual stoic) and comments that the path to the Absolute should be walked only by a few advanced souls for it is “arduous” for most embodied beings. Easier for humans is to approach the Unapproachable through the “I-Thou” relationship. To be a true nondualist one must deny the very existence of all objects in the field or sphere of duality, including one’s own body, emotions, thoughts and so on! Rare and difficult indeed! For those who attempt it prematurely (and that includes, in my humble opinion, just about everyone who does) they seem to fall into a pit of self-delusion. Those attracted to this path are, admittedly, those who possess a keen and sharp and discerning mind. In the attempt to cut off the report of the senses and emotions (too soon), the mind can drift and pretend to establish its own alternative reality. The consequences, as any amateur psychologist can tell you, are disastrous for as Krishna also notes in Bhagavad Gita, “suppression availeth nothing.” The sphere of the mind is far vaster and more labyrinthian than that of the physical cosmos.

Our aspiring nondualist might even, with a sarcastic grin, quote sages who say, of enlightenment, that “it is, and, it isn’t!” In this they pretend to be deep and profound, hoping by this koan to stump you into submission. Our nondualist will mock all forms of spirituality as tainted with duality and thus doomed by their opposite! And, again, there is some truth to this. One who emphasizes devotion in an unbalanced way may become fanatical, for example. One who emphasizes ritual or dogma may become dogmatic, and one who treasures selflfess service may become restless and disillusioned.

Hiding behind the pretense of nonduality may impress a few, but enlightenment is not a put up job. Yes, it is that an enlightened master can make himself appear very ordinary to ordinary and materialistic people but those of refined consciousness will always catch his scent! It is absurd to claim enlightenment but to have no noticeable traits of an expanded consciousness.

Still, we must confess that enlightenment is unconditional and it expresses itself uniquely in each soul who achieves it. Swami Kriyananda once asked an enlightened yogi why he didn’t seem to have any disciples or conduct any ministry. The yogi’s simple reply was, “God has done what He wants with this body.”

Another feature of the state of Oneness is that it exists independent of any efforts to achieve it. Will power or mental power or affirmation alone cannot command it. But the scoffer mistakenly concludes that any effort to achieve it is futile, and that any effort to share “the path to it,” is nothing but self-serving propaganda. Pointing to the many shortcomings of religion and religionists, and their all-too-human representatives, he claims to have “proof.”

In this we encounter yet another of mankind’s existential dilemmas: how can the ego transcend itself? Can any action ever be other than in self-interest? Is anyone who strives for salvation or seeks to help others towards the same goal simply self-deluded because he or she is so plainly NOT (yet) enlightened himself? Is there a way out of this conundrum? The relationship of spiritual growth to effort and even to grace is so difficult to establish objectively that it is not difficult to look at all the religious craziness that abounds and dismiss it all as useless. Add to this the overpowering satisfaction and relief it offers to the ego which can rise up and shout, “I told you so!” “I’m perfect just the way I AM!” “I don’t have to do a thing!” But is it true?

Human life is not worth living if we abandon the nexus between action and consequence. The law of action and reaction has its metaphysical counterpart in the law of karma. Problem is, the nondualist proclaims, leaping into the breach, action only produces reaction and it never ends. Or does it?

Sleep may be the opposite of activity, but yogis claims that Oneness is achieved through the state of breathlessness -- a state that doesn’t produce death to the physical body. “Be still and know that I AM GOD” says the Old Testament. To admit a nondual state is, itself, logically even, to yield to the affirmation that there exists a state of being, of consciousness that has no second, no dual, and that this state is transcendent of duality.

Other great spiritual teachers and scriptures further proclaim that from this state of Oneness is manifested the whole of creation itself. This cannot be proved logically, they admit, but only realized in the state itself. By definition, moreover, this would have to be the case.

The power of Oneness holds the key to our imprisonment in the body and ego. “It takes One to Know One.” It has been both a universal precept and an easily observed fact in the history of the spiritual giants of planet Earth that each soul, imprisoned, is eventually awakened from its delusive dream of duality and separateness by the influence, wisdom, and compassion of another who has already awakened from the dream. Thus the power of the myths such as the prince and the pauper. We are all royalty but we find ourselves paupers and have forgotten our true nature. Someone or somehow we must awaken from this error, this nightmare of mistaken identity.

This, too, is the meaning of the famous story by Jesus Christ: the Prodigal Son. A true guru (known as a “Sat” guru, or savior) comes in every age (measured in thousand or more year increments) to re-awaken the forgotten memory of our Oneness in those souls who, during that time, are ready and “have ears to hear” (as Jesus put it repeatedly). Such a One also has the power to attract and completely liberate those who have incarnated in that time and place in readiness to ascend.

But the pseudo guru of the Big Easy to Oneness is not finished yet, for he also has the testimony of some spiritual teachers (and seekers) who quote scriptures such as I AM THAT I AM (Old Testament), or, “Tat twam asi” (Thou art THAT! - Hindu scriptures) to bolster their claim that no personal effort is needed for we are already enlightened and only have to realize it.

This claim, though misplaced, nonetheless has its source in the truth that the state of Oneness both preexists and coexists with material reality. Out of Oneness, out of nonduality, and out of God has come creation’s duality. (Out of the One, comes two; from two, three!) Nonduality (God) is both the source and sustainer of duality and at the same untouched by it. This is as deep and profound a truth (and mystery to our duality-bound intellect and body-bound sense experiences) as any mankind has intuited. It is taught in various ways in every great faith and metaphysical tradition. On its basis, some have falsely concluded that we can simply declare ourselves “free” and thereby be proclaimed “enlightened.” But again I ask you, is it so? And if it is, how do you we know it’s true? Are there are any proofs of enlightenment?

Given that religion will always have its share of frauds and flawed human beings (as we find in all human endeavors), and given that there are ignorant and superstitious people who practice religion out of fear, suffering or for ego or material gain, it’s not so difficult, if so inclined, to conclude along with Karl Marx that religion is “the opiate of the people.” When one has a taste of nonduality and in relation to it, it is true that all spiritual efforts and beliefs seem unnecessary. If one achieves enlightenment and it is a permanent beatitude, well, why argue? But the mere contemplation or passing experience of Oneness does not thereby render one exempt from the challenge and effort needed for purification of ego consciousness in order to enjoy the permanent blessing of soul freedom. The coexistence of nondual and dual states of consciousness (and passing back and forth between) can give rise to pride and self-delusion.

In fact, this is a commonly reported challenge to spiritual seekers even if they never use these somewhat dry and technical terms. Swami Kriyananda, my teacher, has pointed out that in the last stages of liberation the final test is that of pride--in this case, pride in the very real lofty heights of vision and power granted to the soul before it merges into the stream of Bliss forever. The Christian analogy is the temptation of Christ during which Satan shows to him all the earth and offers him dominion over all things if Jesus will worship him, Satan, Lord of Creation. Jesus says, simply, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” The test of pride is both the soul’s first and last temptation.

And because many people, including your brother-in-law, may have in fact had some peak experience of a nondual or nonverbal reality, it tempts one to so declare the inadequacy and unessential need for self-effort, religion or spiritual activities or beliefs. If well read, our scoffer might quote Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita who (like Buddha centuries later) who decried the common reliance upon Vedic rituals and prayers in substitution for the effort to seek God as the sole reality.

Is all spiritual striving and sharing, therefore, simply a delusion, like your brother-in-law avers?

There’s a corollary to this line of false but egoically convenient reasoning. The corollary is the long standing appearance of the teaching of emptiness. The state of the void or emptiness is indeed a state of consciousness. It includes trance states or states induced medically or otherwise. Every night in deep sleep we enter the dreamless sleep state in which yogis say we touch upon our soul nature as Bliss. Yet far from being unconscious, when we awaken from a good sleep we are aware that we slept well (or not), having entered this important and essential state. Yogis have long used comparisons to sleep to hint at higher states of consciousness. Unfortunately, in sleep we cannot progress spiritually because enlightenment by definition is a higher, more aware state.

If all things are a manifestation of consciousness, this must include rocks. Rocks don’t appear especially conscious. Therefore, we can conclude that in this relative world, consciousness itself is relative but that unconsciousness, taken literally, is impossible.

But some clever scoffers aver that emptiness is de facto the state of enlightenment. This is convenient because it, too, absolves the scoffer of any guilt, remorse or need for effort or right action. This false teaching is well rooted in that agnostics, atheists and materialists believe that at death we disappear and no longer exist. Hard to argue with the obvious physical evidence (or lack of it) supporting this point of view. But in this article I don’t want to get into the afterlife issue, not for fear, but it’s a much bigger topic. In this article I want to focus on enlightenment as a present state of consciousness while living in a human body. I am only saying that the lack of belief in an afterlife is another point of view that would seem to support the idea that enlightenment is a state of emptiness.

This concept of no-thing-ness is, however, a valid teaching because, as a state of being, it can be experienced by meditative efforts. But is it enlightenment? Emptiness is a feature of and typically associated with Buddhistic teachings, though it appears throughout history and in human thinking. But it is flawed, both logically and intuitively. For no one, except perhaps a suicide, seeks permanent loss of consciousness. Survival is the most deeply rooted instinct to be found anywhere in creation. If it is false then the creation itself is false. And yes that teaching is common, too, but we are not here to discuss whether the creation is true or false. A useless debate. We can simply say that it is impermanent so far as our experience of it is concerned. We can say that intrudes impressively upon our senses and our thoughts, and, indeed, even our dreams. Whether anything is, ultimately, “real” begs the question and no doubt pleases mental midgets but not true seekers who, in the end, want practical results to their sincere seeking.

Let us therefore say that the creation is false in the sense of always changing, alternating between opposites and not absolute in the sense that Oneness, pure Consciousness, and God are unchanging and eternal. Whether or not the creation is self-perpetuating is also a “relatively” useless question for midget minds and dry hearts.

Returning now to emptiness, my teacher (Swami Kriyananda) has put it so well with his tongue-(firmly)-in-cheek: Commenting on the Buddhistic belief that the end of suffering and the goal of life is to achieve the void, he says, “No wonder that in that tradition they came up with the concept of Boddhisattva: one who postpones his enlightenment to help others. Seeking no-thing-ness is more likely to prompt a request for a rain check from what amounts to an act of suicide. Who would aspire to no-thing-ness? Why, moreover, would one who achieved emptiness feel such deep and abiding compassion for the sufferings of others?

That emptiness is in fact a state of consciousness and can be experienced is not worth denying. Many great spiritual teachers so attest to it. Most express this state as a steppingstone, a way station to the goal. But if the price to end suffering is to end consciousness as we know it, well, hmmmm, I think most of us would want put in a request for that rain check.

Like Frank Sinatra sang, “Is that all there is?” Hardly: saints down through ages don’t exhibit love, compassion and joy as aspects of an enlightened consciousness “for nothing!” The “nothing” that is real and true is the dissolution of ego, “nothing” less. But when ego is dissolved (or expanded into Infinity--either image works for the sake of describing the indescribable), the result is the one thing all beings seek: pure, unconditioned Bliss. Not a loss of consciousness but Consciousness itself. Satchidananda: God is, and we are, and we seek immortality (Sat), unbroken Self-awareness (Chit) and Bliss (Ananda): Ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss.

Our survival instinct isn’t present for the sake of mere survival. We survive that we may live; we live only as we are self-aware, and we seek to live to enjoy living. The ancient teachings of India, including the adi (first) Swami Shankycharya, in seeking to dispell the growing atheism among the adherents of Buddhism, declare that God is Sat-Chit-Ananda: ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss. This is the nature of absolute reality and is the eternal promise and striving of all creation and of our souls.

But no matter how cogent your response to the scoffer is, be prepared for his “ultimate defense strategy.”  When shaken, he will deploy his golden parachute of silent nonduality to dismiss your explanations as born in the “captivity” of duality.

Putting the scoffer aside, smug in his inertial blanket of theoretical nonduality, I do think he does us a service by helping us clarify some important questions. The effort can highlight for us both the limits of intellectual discovery and the potential for the intellect to point us in the right direction when used wisely. But, like Moses who could not enter the Promised Land because born in captivity (duality), the intellect must be set aside. Only the heart can “know” and can enter into God (Oneness). “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”

So I see at least three useful inquiries offered to me by my (self-proclaimed) enlightened brother-in-law:

1.    What does it mean to be enlightened?
2.    Are there any objective signs of an enlightened consciousness?
3.    What, if anything, can I (as ego) do to transcend ego and achieve enlightenment?

Human life would be insufferable if we didn’t have the intuitive wisdom that we can improve our lives and that we can discover what is true (whether it be in respect to material, psychological or spiritual matters). The intuitive knowledge and common shared experience that intention and attitude markedly affect a person’s actions (and that one’s actions reflect one’s consciousness) is fundamental to the human experience.

Many sages, saints, poets and ordinary people have attempted to describe the indescribable state of nonduality. “Nonduality” is a coldly rational word and I prefer “God” or, at worst, Oneness. But it would the height of folly to “mince words” when describing God!

I suppose that many humans, indeed, perhaps most, have had some peak experience in their lives. In every field of human activity you find beginners, experienced people, and “masters” of their art or craft. This, too, is fundamental to the human experience.

So, therefore, it is not unreasonable to presuppose that enlightenment, too, has its stages of progressive development. You might object along rational lines saying that an experience of nonduality must surely be, by “definition,” the same for everyone. That may be logical but it defies the testimony and experience of human beings. Love, too, might be said to be the same, but in fact it isn’t. There are degrees of depth and feeling.

Paramhansa Yogananda was once asked if there is an end to striving (in achieving enlightenment). He said, effectively, that there is no end but one goes on into endlessness. What else, after all, would “Infinity” suggest?

John Paul Sartre may have declared himself “radically free” to act from his own inner creative impulse, unaffected by outer circumstances but in this he betrayed both common sense and truth. Nothing about his life, should you be so unfortunate to study it, suggests the truth of his self-declaration.

True saints may indeed have “seen” God but each and everyone of them are unique and their lives, examples, and message was surely conditioned by, because appropriate to, outer circumstances and the needs of others. Always appropriate to the circumstance is the wise one.

What can enlightenment possibly mean if it isn’t life changing? It may be that it transforms each person uniquely but states of anger, jealousy, lust and dishonesty are not aspects of an enlightened consciousness. This is not only common sense but it is, in fact, the testimony of the lives of thousands of souls who have been recognized as having a desirable and elevated state of consciousness worthy of being called enlightened.

I won’t attempt to go further and speak of the “miracles” performed by saints for I know those cannot be “proved” although a sincere study of their lives and the testimony of credible witnesses may prove surprisingly persuasive.

In the Bhagavad Gita, the disciple, Arjuna, in fact asks his guru, Krishna, “What are the signs of the one who has achieved liberation?” In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, he describes numerous signs of enlightenment which demonstrate power of nature and power over life and death. But again, such things are beyond the experience of most people.

“He who says he knows, doesn’t. He who says he doesn’t, doesn’t. He who knows, knows.”

I have purposely avoided attempting to define enlightenment. I would have to quote my guru and others who are Self-realized and consistent in their roundabout descriptions. But I cannot speak of it from my own experience. But how can I “know” who is Self-realized. We can point at the blue sky above, but until we can fly, we remain earth bound.

It is foolish to buy into the clever and ego-affirming dogma that enlightenment is easy of attainment; that it costs nothing (in terms of effort or discipline); that it eschews the need for religion, spiritual teachings, prayer, meditation, or a spiritual teacher. Such assertions will always be made by some but simply examine their lives and see with what degree of non-attachment, even-mindedness, inner peace, compassion and wisdom do they conduct their lives? Their philosophy is simply a state of self-delusion, for it comforts and coddles the ego and excuses it of any meaningful effort, devotion to anything greater than themselves, or grateful, compassionate service to others. In Oneness we see all life as a part of ourselves.

In the duality of human life, we have the opposites but this does not mean that anger is just as valuable as love. We find greater happiness in love than in hatred. They may be opposites but what separates them from Oneness is the link to ego desire and involvement. Love connects and unites; hatred, separates.

Peace and love draw one closer to Oneness because the ego-active principle is soothed and smoothed. As we express more and more virtue and self-less-ness we become calmer and stronger in ourselves. At the center point between opposites is the still state of Oneness and while logic dictates that the opposites should be equal as well as opposing, goodness brings us closer to ego transcendence than evil.

But there is a catch, for “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” As long as even our goodness is ego-centric and ego-affirming, we are still caught and the pendulum of duality will, in time, force us back. Only when we consciously give ourselves to God with love and self-offering can the power of grace (of Oneness, of nonduality) meet us halfway to draw us ever deeply toward the still point within. Only when we consciously surrender into Oneness with an open heart can we enter, and, when we are ready, remain, in that beatitude.

So don’t let your scoffer brother-in-law get to you. Disdain and contempt is difficult to bear, but only by the ego. Instead, consider it a glorious path to God. Meet disdain with love and even-mindedness. Indeed, feel but compassion, for a dry, loveless heart and overly intellectual mind has no room, no appetite for God, no chance for true happiness. Like one used to eating stale cheese, the armchair philosopher substitutes his cleverness for truth and, in time, finds the harvest but a bitter fruit of stillborn emptiness, devoid of happiness.

Be of good cheer! The truth shall make you free!

Blessings,

Nayaswami Hriman