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

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Yin and Yang of Meditation

Meditation has many benefits and no drawbacks (except for those not mentally balanced). But there are certainly yin and yang aspects of meditation. 

For example, meditation can be used for the benefit of the ego: concentration for the mind and vitality and self-awareness for the body. Or, meditation can be used to attune oneself to the higher Mind of the soul. 

Most of what is taught and most of those who practice meditation are seeking ego-oriented benefits such as calmness, inner peace, and mindfulness. Their meditation practice begins with the intention of  "I want.....this or that result." Since this intention is the basis for practically all ego-directed actions, few ever consider an alternative.

Among those who seek higher consciousness, meditation can take the form of an act of devotion, focusing on some form or image such as one's guru, a deity, or even a state of consciousness (such as samadhi, nirvana, moksha, etc.). The devotional approach can remain in the realm of an "I-Thou" act of worship or it can intend to or simply evolve into, merging into one's form of devotion.

There are those meditators who seek spiritual upliftment, consciousness, or even psychic powers for personal (ego) gratification! This can be the initial motivation behind meditation, or, it can be the result of back-sliding when the ego claims for itself the insights or powers which may appear as a result of one's otherwise sincere meditation practice. Such are the temptations that await the dedicated practitioner. 

And, let's face the truth here: the ego is our starting point even while ego transcendence is the well-established goal! A paradox to be sure. 

Let's pause for a moment to consider this "ego thing." Paramhansa Yogananda, the now-famous author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," defined the ego as "the soul identified with the body." Since ancient times and in the highest spiritual teachings of all great civilizations, our true nature and the goal of our existence is to "know thyself" as greater than the ego: as a child of the Infinite! As from the Vedas: "Tat twam asi." ("Thou art THAT!)

Admittedly, the details of what THAT is and how we realize THAT may vary in the fine print of scripture, commentary, and intellectual permutations. But beyond THAT there is no argument!

Returning now to where we left off: "devotion." As devotion is, in an energetic sense, the equivalent of dedication, a meditator (aka a "yogi") may not think of herself as being of a devotional temperament but the intensity of her focused dedication to meditation amounts to the same thing. A meditation intention and practice that seeks to still the mind by way of one-pointed focus on a mantra, sound, or other "meditation-object," and which essentially seeks to dissolve the ego-identity and sense of separateness, can be said to be a form of devotion, albeit more by concentration of the mind than by focusing upon expanding the heart's "natural love," though in fact the latter may be, and ultimately must be, the consequence.

Put another way, progress in meditation takes dedication and devotion to the goal and to the practice. Such dedication is surely a form of love as much as any classical feelings or forms that devotion might traditionally assume.

It can also be said that one always begins upon the spiritual path (and meditation) from the only point of reference we have: the ego! Gradually, as we progress, we morph into self-offering of the little self into the great Self as one's consciousness expands beyond the ego and body.

We see this transformation taking place in the lives of meditators who truly go deep into the practice. We even see amongst some of those who practice yoga postures a certain level of awakening that can rightly be called "spiritual" even if, initially, unintended.

At the risk of going into deep philosophical territory, there is another aspect of the yin and yang of meditation. It goes something like this (using non-technical terms whether from Vedanta, Shankhya, yoga, or Buddhism):

There's a part of ourselves that yearns for stability, constancy, and unchanging reality and truth. There's also a part of ourselves, which like all nature around us, that is always changing and which delights and invigorates in our creativity and engagement in life.

The reconciliation of these two could be described as the awakening of our ever-watchful Self (soul) into the awareness of and participation with the ever-changing reality of creation which swirls in flux around us.

By contrast, the ego, that part of our consciousness which identifies with the body, personality, and the seeming separateness of all created things (physical and mental), isn't so much watchful but wholly engaged. The difference between the ego's desires and emotions and itself simply doesn't exist. As a result, the ego experiences the ups, downs, boredom, and occasional peace in an unceasing and ultimately exhausting and monotonous inevitability. In short, we suffer, for no pleasure can be known without fearing and later experiencing its ending or its opposite. Pain, by contrast, feels "eternal" when we are overcome by it.  

The alternative to being awash in the ocean of emotion and change is to dive deep into the ocean of peace within. Thus is born the practice of entering into the mindful or watchful state. In the meditative state of quietude, the ceaseless rising and falling of our thoughts, energies and responses comes under our calm scrutiny. We can see flux for what it is: empty, fleeting, and separate from the Self. The deeper we go into this state the more we realize that we are and can be untouched by the waves at the surface of the sea of our senses (and our mind). 

The Shiva Self, recumbent and watchful, penetrates the center of the Shakti Self of prana, energy and creation even as the Shakti Self, in the presence of Shiva, inclines to be still to receive Shiva within her Self. 

This uniting of Observer, observing and observed
becomes a dance of Bliss, sometimes withdrawn and sometimes immanent in all creation. Even those descriptions which separate God the Father (the Infinite Spirit) from creation cannot fully satisfy the continuum of consciousness both within and without. 

Paramhansa Yogananda's famous poem, "Samadhi," flows in and out of creation even if it is also understood that Bliss stands apart and whole from the creation and serves as creation's Father-Mother. 

But such philosophical niceties go beyond, far beyond, anything practical and helpful for those engaged in meditation practices. Even for us, we find we flow in and out of our own creation (our mind's activity). 

Nonetheless, to experience a state unconditioned by awareness of body and ego identity is powerfully transforming, healing, and enlightening. Few meditators, I suspect, aspire to this state; fewer experience it. But not because it is beyond our means.

For indeed, this unconditioned state is the center of our Being and is always present. Whether by Self-inquiry ("Who am I?") or by inner stillness achieved through meditation practice, it exists perennially behind our mental flux. "Be still and know that I AM God." (Psalm 46:10).

Watching one's thoughts is a frequent instruction given as the practice of meditation. But I wonder how many of those using this technique are not, in fact, drawn forcibly into participating with their thoughts and their reactions to those thoughts (rather than remaining truly watchful and unaffected). 

The challenge of watching our thoughts is that our thoughts are the basis for our separateness. Our emotional response to our perceptions, moreover, cements our identity to those so-called realities. Like the oft given image of perceiving a snake in the dim light of dusk in the path ahead when in fact it is only a rope, we make our share of false conclusions and all too often proclaim, "That's my story and I'm sticking with it." The sense of separateness and its cocoon of beliefs, memories, opinions, desires, impressions, and fears is deeply embedded into our the matrix of our sense of self-identity.

In the East, the mind is considered the sixth sense: separate and apart from the Self. In the West, we think, as Descartes declared, "I think, therefore I am!"

Therefore, because thoughts are the issue, it is generally more useful to have and to focus upon a "meditation object." Universally, the breath is the simplest and most available "object" because we all breathe and no beliefs are necessary. There are other reasons as well. The watching of breath can be with or without a word formula or mantra. 

Other reasons for watching the breath include the observable fact that in the effort to concentrate deeply, we naturally hold or quiet the breath. It is the last obstacle to complete concentration. It is also, ironically, an excellent "object" of meditation for the reason that focusing on the breath can quiet the mind and when restless thoughts subside, the breath becomes quiet. Anyone who is given even a modest amount of training can demonstrate these facts and benefit from this practice immediately.

Thus it is that the breath has become (and likely always has been) the most common focus for meditation throughout time and the world.

But, it remains an "object" until or unless our sense of separateness begins to dissolve. One can say, intellectually, that we enter the breath or the breath enters us or anything else you want to say. But nothing that can be said can truly describe the experience of oneness. (All words require subject, verb, and object and this very logical necessity is inadequate to describe the state of being that is actually experienced in real time.)

The experience of oneness can occur spontaneously and does happen to many people, whether as children or adults. It can happen in meditation even when not held out as a goal or a possibility. But mostly it is best if the meditator seeks the state and has some training and intuition in the possibility.

Nothing is lost in such a state even if on a profound level the ego-mind suspects that it is an existential threat to its separateness. In this, the ego is both correct and incorrect. Testimony of the ages and the sages is that nothing is lost in the realization of the state of oneness and everything worthwhile in life (happiness, that is!) is found. But such is the price of the pearl of great price: the very real-seeming threat of extinction.

No wonder some teachers and traditions describe this state in negative terms: "nirvana" (no vanas, or no mental activities of the ego-construct). Buddha gave no description of the undescribable. The yogis, however, describe the state as satchidanandam: ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss. 

Some aver that bliss is a passing phase on the path to nirvana; some say (as Yogananda does) that samadhi IS the state of bliss. Well, no matter because all who have achieved it say it is the end of all striving, the end of suffering, and the summum bonum of existence. Let us not split the hairs of Holy Grail!

In this, there is neither yin nor yang. Nor is this state the annihilation of our functionality in the human body and in this world. Quite the opposite: freed from the delusion of the limited ego-self, we are free to act in harmony with the divine Self.

The awakened Mind then participates freely in the swirl of creation's eternal flux. Stability at the center; movement at the periphery. A dance choreographed by the Higher Mind of God.

Yogananda stated "I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this form but He."

And why not? Is not both the outer world and the inner world a ceaseless flux inextricably linked in both energy and form? We only separate ourselves in the limited realm of the five (six, actually, including the mind) senses? Our sense of separateness is an illusion, one not difficult to unmask by paying attention, even by reason, and certainly by intuition: for those courageous enough to enter a brave new world.

For those who might benefit from several excellent videos on this subject (and much more, both science and metaphysics), I direct your attention to the movie Inner Worlds Outer Worlds. It can be viewed in four half hour segments for free on YouTube or the entire move for $3.99: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1LtuE8zRMo

Aligned with this is another movie called simply Samadhi. It is followed by four guided video meditations. Although these are strongly influenced by Buddhism terminology, Vedanta, Sankhya and Yoga terminology are also included. References to Egypt, native American, Christian terminology are also presented. 

In YouTube.com search for "Samadhi." The two-hour movie is in two one-hour parts and in various languages as well.

Similarly, four guided Samadhi meditations are excellent and are based on watching the breath. Search on Samadhi meditation.

While I personally and most of the readers of this blog practice the techniques taught by Paramhansa Yogananda and therefore don't "need" the resources above, they are well done and in their essence are not contradictory to what Yogananda taught, though their emphases and terminology may differ in parts.

Joy to you!

Nayaswami Hrimananda




Thursday, February 28, 2019

5 Paths to Enlightenment

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

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

Here are the five "paths" summarized:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda


Monday, 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!