Showing posts with label sex. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sex. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Human Love: Delusion or Stairway to Heaven?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Anniversary with many more to come!

Swami Hrimananda! :-)

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

Monday, March 26, 2012

Yoga, Sex, & Spiritual Teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, February 27, 2012

How to Love Another without Attachment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings and joy to you,
Nayaswami Hriman


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