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

Monday, October 16, 2017

Ananda Yoga : Path to Awakening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy and blessings to you!

Swami Hrimananda!



Monday, September 11, 2017

Happy Anniversary, Swamiji! September 12 1948

Happy 69th Anniversary, Swamiji (Kriyananda)! 69 years since you first met your guru, Paramhansa Yogananda and were accepted by him as a renunciate and disciple. Your time with him was to be only three and a half years but these years were as many as had the disciples of Jesus with their master! 

It was enough: enough for you to go on to establish in your guru's name a worldwide network of intentional, spiritual communities whose residents (and their fellow, non resident Ananda members) were instructed and inspired in the path of Kriya Yoga as taught to you by Yogananda.

Who can possibly number the miles you've traveled throughout the world? The talks and lectures? Yoga classes; meditation classes, classes and initiations in the techniques of Kriya Yoga! The time spent counseling with individuals and with the leaders of the various organizations you established? Who can chronicle the depth and breadth of the musical compositions and concerts--a new form of music--both instrumental and vocal--Songs of Divine Joy that came through your attunement and talent? Who can count the wisdom insights expressed through your writings--hundreds of pieces from articles and papers to published books? They are beyond measure and offer wisdom and inspiration that spans the breadth of the human experience, its challenges and aspirations. "Crystal Clarity" you called your writing and editing work, and crystal clear it is for those with "eyes to see" and "ears to hear."

All of these efforts were infused with the vibrations of wisdom and joy of the world spiritual teacher, Paramhansa Yogananda, and the line of preceptors who sent and trained Yogananda a century ago. 

You revealed that Yogananda told you more than once that "You have a great work to do!" And when Yogananda's most advanced disciple (Rajasi Janakananda) repeated this to you after the death of Yogananda, he added, "And Master will give you the strength to do it," that strength was amply demonstrated throughout your life. 

Who can know the untold burdens of body troubles that beset you; the years of diatribes and accusations from fellow disciples who might as well have wished upon you and condemned you (if they could) to eternal hell fire! Yes, "tapasya" (self-sacrifice) is the price of spiritual service and soul freedom but you always knew it was Divine Mother's gift for it meant your freedom and the upliftment of countless sincerely-seeking souls.

And oh what blessings to us to have received all of these things and more: opportunities to serve with you; to serve the "great work" you have done; to serve with one another in divine friendship; and to practice the art of discipleship. You never accepted the role of guru (for God is the guru through the last of the Self-realization line: Paramhansa Yogananda) but you gave us a window on to what living discipleship looked like. You gave to us who accepted the opportunity to give our lives to our guru's work through Ananda, living lessons in the attitudes and roles of a disciple.

We thank you and offer back to you (wherever your soul may be roaming now in freedom), our gratitude and love for we will go on until the end where we will meet again. We vow to do our best to honor the spirit and the letter of your legacy and instructions to us in carrying on this great work. 

Happy Anniversary, Swamiji!

Nayaswami Hriman

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Joy is no "Object" : The Land Beyond Our Dreams

How odd it is that in the English language we say: "Money is no object" when we mean to say "Don't worry about the money, spend what you want or need!"
Image result for gold coins
But it is also true that money is indeed not an object, as such. Yes, you can hold in your hand a 10 rupee note or a $100 bill or a gold coin. But as an "object" these things have no intrinsic value beyond the idea and perception we have of them and which is shared with others. Money is essentially an abstraction. A mere idea. We could use sea shells or cows as money for all the difference it makes to the idea.

Well, when I say "Joy is no object" I do NOT mean that joy is a mere thought or abstraction. Rather, I mean that true joy cannot be found and held fast in any thought, emotion, object, or sense experience!

Yogis discovered long ago a secret that even our bodies do not know: we can live without or with very little breathing. Normally our bodies are designed to keep us breathing at all costs and I, for one, wouldn't argue with its design and intention.

But, as I say, long ago yogis discovered that by specific and exacting methods one could suspend the breath and not "just" remain alive but in fact enter into a blissful experience that, with regular practice, can be summoned at will even later while breathing and acting normally in daily life.

This is not merely some healthy way to get "high." Discovering that life exists more fully in a state that is transcendent of the physical body is an enormous release of self awareness from the prison of mortality itself.

Like so many things in life: it's a step by step process. Yogis tell us, moreover, that this is the reason we have been created: to discover who we really are. We are to discover that we are not the personality confined to one human form and condemned to live impermanently and all too precariously, chained by our breath and heart beat to this form.

Admittedly, the vast majority of human beings are quite eager to pursue as much pleasure and accumulation as they can get. Few are ready to embark on an inward journey towards consciousness Itself: to our Creator, Consciousness and Bliss, one and the same.

Nonetheless, the spread of yoga and meditation throughout the world heralds the awakening of an innate and intuitive desire for universality in both self-definition and in society in an increasing number of people. The history of yoga and the existence of great yogis--masters of life force--provide a continuous testimony down through the ages of what is possible.

I recall as a boy being taught that the term "Catholic" meant "universal." I found the idea thrilling though only later did I discover it wasn't quite the case for my Catholic faith as such! But all faiths more or less teach that we are children of God and in this lies the seed of the actual, inner experience, born of meditation (and cessation of breath) that we are One; we are not this body.

Therese Neumann
In a similar vein, we have modern evidence that it is possible to live without food or water. In the person and life of Therese Neumann, we have validated proof of this fact. For more see: http://www.mysticsofthechurch.com/2009/12/therese-neumann-mystic-victim-soul.html


Using the methods of yoga-meditation, bringing the breath steadily and naturally under control we approach the zone where our thoughts are stilled and, not unlike the pleasure of sleep but while remaining conscious (indeed, MORE than merely conscious: intensely aware), we experience a state of wholeness, of satisfaction, of security that is incomparable, persuasive, and pervasive like no other worldly pleasure or accomplishment can ever match. It is ours; our home; no one can take it and it depends on no outward circumstance!

Image result for the last smile
Paramhansa Yogananda - "Last Smile"
What is interesting is that daily forays into this "land beyond my dreams" begins to transform one consciousness with an all pervading sense of calmness; quiet joy; confidence (without ego); insights and love for all without thought of self.

Paramhansa Yogananda coined the phrase "land beyond my dreams" to express this state of "super" consciousness, as opposed to the dreamy state of subconsciousness. 

With proper training, focused discipline, and a pure motive linked with intense yearning, it's not difficult to achieve the beginning states. These alone are worth the effort even if going beyond them into states described down through ages (using terms like cosmic consciousness, samadhi, moksha, liberation and the like) has yet to arrive.

For the sake of description, if not for instruction, imagine your mind crystallizing into a simple but pure state of quiet, inner awareness. Your thoughts have gone to rest, like thrashing waves that have become becalmed and that have dissolved into the resting sea. It's somewhat like gazing out the window at a panoramic scene. But, instead of your gaze going out and away from yourself, it is turned inward as if upon the mind or the awareness itself as an "object" of contemplation. 

Imagine gazing inwardly at your own awareness. Consider the image of looking into a mirror when there's a mirror behind you and the images are multiplied toward infinity. This is more complex than I would actually suggest beyond the simple idea that you are looking at your own awareness which, not being a thing at all, leads you into this "land," a place of feeling which is thrilling in a deeply calm and knowing way: like coming home.

Such experiences can come upon us under any number of circumstances in life. Much poetry is written about such things, being described in an infinity of ways for it brings us to the hem of infinity itself.

But the yogis discovered how to reach this land by the daily practice of specific, often called scientific, methods of breath awareness and control. Yogananda's most famous and most advanced meditation technique is called Kriya Yoga. See Chapter 26, "Kriya Yoga," in his landmark story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." https://www.ananda.org/autobiography/#chap26 Yet most any time-tested technique that suits one will suffice for the beginning stages of meditation. 

Yogananda taught a mindfulness technique of concentration using the mantra, Hong Sau (which loosely means "I am He" or "I am Spirit" Peace" etc). Hence the technique itself is called "Hong Sau." Its essence however appears in every tradition of meditation, east or west, down through the ages. It does so for the simple reason that breath awareness is the key and the link between ordinary consciousness (of body and personality) and the higher state of awareness whose most notable outward characteristic is absence of or reduced breath. To learn Hong Sau you can go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaoRRg0gxr0&t=128s

As the breath, so the mind. "Heavy breathing" is intense and passionate body or ego awareness. By contrast, deep mental concentration requires or is accompanied by quietness of breath. Thus body transcendence requires stilling the breath and heart. It's truly that simple, though the vistas of awareness that open up are Infinite! 

I'll stop now for I have accomplished my main point of inspiration and sharing.

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Sunday, April 2, 2017

WHY AM I HOPEFUL?

I am hopeful because "black lives matter." I am hopeful because thousands of women around the country marched to affirm cooperation and respect for people of every race, nation, and persuasion.

I am hopeful because everyday more people learn to meditate or practice yoga. I am hopeful because I see groups of people and individuals helping others each and every day.

I am hopeful because millions around the world have regular contact with people of other nations, races, religions, and cultures. I am hopeful because millions have the opportunity to travel and experience other cultures and see that we, as humans, are basically the same. 

As Mahatma Gandhi put it and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. affirmed, if violence and prejudice were uppermost, the human race would have disappeared long ago.

I am hopeful because I see knowledge and awareness spreading like the dawn's early light around the world. At first the light exposes our ignorance and our darkness but soon enough the light enlightens our conscience. 

I am hopeful because while I expect many challenges will result from humanity's refusal to heed the signs that we must live in greater harmony with our planet and one another, I also expect those challenges to serve as instruments to prod our "pride" to embrace change with faith and courage. 

I am hopeful because a line of yoga masters assures us that humanity is NOT in a descending spiral of brutishness (as many fundamentalist types aver) but that, instead, we are in an ascending arc of ever greater knowledge and awareness. It may be slow but it is inexorable. It may be two steps forward and one step back but like a silent tsunami it is unstoppable and will, in time, overcome all that is not of itself. Swami Sri Yukteswar, the guru of Paramhansa Yogananda and a renowned astrologer, predicted that in this age (2,000 years long beginning around 1900 A.D.) humanity will gain self-respect. A simple statement but with profound implications.

I am hopeful because I see that "the divine light has ascended anew**" and though it is crucified daily by ignorance it continues to grow just as the early light of dawn can only grow as the hours pass.

I am hopeful because I believe that even the present regressiveness of otherwise progressive nations (like America) will incite people of goodwill to rise up, band together, and stand up for what is true and good for all. When I see the expansiveness and open heartedness of young adults and when I see the intelligence and light in the eyes of the youngest barely new-born generation, I am hopeful.

I am hopeful because even though my own youthful expectations could not have foreseen current events and trends, I know that there are millions, perhaps a billion or two, who, once in their youths, also cherished the same dream of peace and brotherhood for all.

I am hopeful because even though now in the life cycle commonly (and formerly) considered "retirement age" I know that good and evil, happiness and sorrow, and success and failure will always and eternally vie for supremacy, I also know that true joy is within me and awaits discovery by all who would seek the "pearl of great price."

I am hopeful even as I am prepared for what others may insist is the worst. It is darkest, it is said, before the dawn. Progress cannot be made without sacrifice and that includes lives, not just money or dedicated effort. My eyes are open; my heart is calm; my spirit is glad. In God, we are One. 

I am hopeful, how about you?

Swami Hrimananda!

** a quote from the Festival of Light ceremony referencing the birth and life of modern saints and especially those in the lineage of Paramhansa Yogannada. The Festival of Light is recited and sung each Sunday at an Ananda center and temple near you.






Thursday, March 30, 2017

Religion: Problem or Solution?

After the blog I wrote the other day ("A Call to Link Arms") I reflected on a couple of sentences I read in the book I bought in India recently about the time period before, during, and immediately after Indian independence from Britain. It's called "Indian Summer" (by Alex Von Tunzelmann) and chronicles the lives of the last viceroy and his wife ("Dickie" and Edwina Mountbatten) and the events of that time.

In the book there was a passing reference to a long standing debate in Indian political history of whether the British were at fault for the communal violence of that time owing to their reputation for "divide and conquer" in stirring up religious and tribal feelings during the 20th century or whether there was (also) a rise in religious self-identity in Indian culture during that time.

No matter what one's opinion on the matter, it triggered in me the thought (related to my key point in the previous blog) that this "call to link arms" is, in effect, a recognition of the power of spirituality (and yes, "religion," if you must use the term!) to change the course of history. Jesus Christ did it. Buddha did it. Mohammed did it. Or, if you wish: Christianity did it; Buddhism; Islam; etc. Human history was unalterably changed from these religious trends. Better or worse, doesn't matter (though I say, on the whole, better, given the times during which they appeared).

What have we seen in the 20th and 21st century in re religion? Two things: the first, ironic to some degree, is a growing fragmentation and divisiveness born of increased contact and integration. This refers to a need groups have to assert their identifies and, perhaps therefore, to defend their values (as they view it). The second, also ironic, is the decline of people's identification with established faiths as a result of education, travel, and intermingling with other cultures and faiths! Each of those reasons seem opposite if strictly defined but in fact I believe each can be viewed as true in its own way.

The same might be said of nationalism vs globalism. Globalism has been on the rise since the end of World War II and now, somewhat recently, is the counter trend of a rise in nationalism. Both are valid even if somewhat opposite trends.

I'm not at present interested in the globalism trend but I am interested in the trend in religion, religious views, and spirituality. (I wish I didn't have to keep making those distinctions but it seems I have no real choice given the current use and meaning of these terms.)

Finally to get to my real point: if the spiritual (and YES, religious) point of view is that "God" ("the Divine" or whatever WORD you want) is the essence of all reality and the "point" of ALL established religions is to make contact with and experience for your Self, then this is, effectively, a new "religion" and one that knows no boundaries, requires no religious affiliation, and stems from inner experience born of prayer and meditation (especially the latter). (This thought is not new to most of you reading this but it's the context I want to share.)

Thus what occurred to me is that my prior blog articles ("A Call to Link Arms") is actually a reference to a new "world religion" of sorts that, like the internet itself, has no pope and has no priestly hierarchy. That doesn't mean there aren't spiritual teachers, prophets, or saints to whom an aspirant might look or affiliate with (via a personal relationship or formal organization) for the sake of his or her deepening spiritual consciousness. But, this new "religion" has the potential to uplift the human race at a time we desperately need a unifying view of one another of life's meaning.

There is a "credo" of sorts for this new religion but it is a simple one and its essence can be expressed as Oneness or connection. The (relatively) new science of ecology is something of its partner, born of science. Other aspects of cutting age science also lend rational support even if Oneness defies rational or sensory "proof." Our connection with life is something we feel, just as millions and billions are steadily acquiring a feeling for their love of nature, the environment, and the impact of human behavior on our planet and our health.

In short we are moving toward greater feeling, balancing the rational emphasis that has enabled a mindset of exploitation of nature and of other people. When I say rational I should use quotes but concepts like survival of the fittest lean towards master race ideas and on and on can and have been used to justify genocide or, at "best," racial prejudice.

Feeling in turns leads to recognition of the intuitive (direct knowing) part of human consciousness. The caveat on this feeling idea is its emotional aspect. As we humans begin to allow for our feeling nature to rise to the surface probably the first thing that arises is emotions, fanaticism, and violence. But these, like all mere emotions, are unsustainable even as much as our consumption of natural resources is ultimately unsustainable at today's pace and form.

In this view, will this new religion destroy established faiths? I don't think so. Survival being each entity's core instinct, I believe that established faiths will incorporate the concept of our Oneness as a necessity and as a self-evident reality. They will no doubt cling to the idea that their particular faith is better suited to assist people toward realization of Oneness, but much of the heat that surrounds their claims and causes divisiveness will be dissipated as each struggles to reclaim and hold members drawn away by the many independent expressions of Oneness (ironic, eh?).

The point in my prior blog ("A Call to Link Arms") is that the trend toward non-affiliation among adherents of Oneness weakens the potential of this new and I believe divinely inspired intuition to heal humanity of the many crises which we face. Religion, in its own context, is the only aspect of human consciousness that uplifts people toward people and harmony. Nationalism is far more limited in this respect and generally fosters wars, not peace. Globalism which has already shown itself as exploitative in nature could never do this as such except on the basis of near-universal realization and affirmation of Oneness.

I don't know if these thoughts make any sense but I feel compelled to share them. It interests me that millions practice hatha (physical) yoga in all manner of venues from fitness centers to yoga studios but apparently few have yet come to realize that what they are practicing is the physical expression of Oneness. By linking mind with body, we affirm a unity within ourselves. "Yoga" refers to "union," the integration of mind-body-spirit. The very images of yoga poses suggest quite openly respect for all life and our connection with all life through life itself; through life force or energy ("prana") or in Spirit. The endless flow of scientific studies showing the medical and psychological benefits of physical yoga and its concomitant practice, meditation, are more than a hint of how both individuals and the human race can find a way to "link arms."

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Friday, March 17, 2017

I've Just Returned from a Pilgrimage to India

Two days ago I returned from helping to lead a trip to India for 24 Ananda members and students, most from the Seattle area. I've been many times to India but I would say that this trip was a highlight for me. I think I may, at last, have some perspective on these trips worth sharing.

Here's a few general things that have come clear:
1.    A true pilgrimage always involves "tapasya." Tapasya can, in this case, equate to the hardship and self-sacrifice that is entailed in leaving home, comforts and routine to travel a long distance to a foreign country for the sake of spiritual purification and upliftment. As one of the pilgrims put it, "it's not what you put in the brochure!" Maybe it should be, but we didn't! (We DID talk about it, however.) You can start with the simple fact that it is expensive to take such a trip but that's only one kind of tapasya. There's the discomfort and weariness of travel; the exposure to illness, disease, and general malaise associated with bacteria of a far distant country. There's heat, humidity and coldness: and we had it all, though truthfully, the heat was no by no means extreme, nor the cold, though we were near to literally freezing in the Himalaya (there was an unseaonable snow in Ranikhet). There are unlimited opportunities for annoyances specific to travel and to traveling in groups (where's there's bound to be one or more fellow travelers who get on your nerves).
2.    There's the unrealistic expectation that you are going to go into "samadhi" (a high spiritual state) at these holy shrines or in the presence of saintly people; or, that you might have visions or deep insights into your life's drama or into universal truth. Even though, in fact, you might have such experiences, the issue is one of expectations. What then is a realistic expectation in regards to the spiritual "fruit" of pilgrimage? Let me share some thoughts a little ways further on this very important topic.
3.    The bonds of friendships that derive from sharing meaningful, adventurous and new experiences, both mundane and sublime, cannot be understated. The value of learning patience with others and acceptance of self are enduring, practical, and life-long traits.
4.    Entering into a culture that is so different than one's own is expansive to the mind and heart. The importance of, as one pilgrim put it, "getting out of the bus" (from where we look out at Indian street culture, separate and safe), is paramount to the instinctive impulse in signing on to such a trip. Immersion is what the pilgrim seeks: both material and spiritual. It is empowering to ride local transportation; to visit the homes and families of locals; to learn about their history and way of life, and, more importantly, to experience their way of life: these are also essential. As visitors this is not easy and attempts to induce this integration can be all too false (like tourists attending a luau organized by their five star hotel in Hawaii). There are risks, both to health and person. But making the effort (which takes some courage, common sense, and intuition) is important. Five our pilgrims accepted the auto rickshaw driver's invitation to his home. They were all women. On paper, at least, it was risky, perhaps foolish. But grace and intuition seems to have guided them to a genuine and heart opening experience.
5.    India is changing rapidly. New apartment buildings are rising to surround temples, ashrams, and other sacred sites. Don't put off unnecessarily your inspiration to go on pilgrimage. Our travel to and our devotion to these holy places will help them survive and thrive. The Indian people take notice of our sincere interest in preserving and honoring these holy sites. A culture that historically and instinctively honors saints and sacredness seems wonderfully unusual to us. We may be stunned when we meet an Indian professional man or woman (perhaps in fields such as medicine or technology) who, while well educated and traveled, spontaneously and naturally expresses deep devotion to the guru, deities, or shrines. Same for the rickshaw driver. Either way, we contribute not only to developing our own devotion but preserving theirs by our example and our pilgrimage.
6.    No pilgrim from western countries can avoid the intensity of encountering first hand the contrast and seeming conflict and injustice between luxury and poverty; health and disease; life and death; self-indulgence and hunger, to name a few. To return each night to one's four or five star hotel after walking the streets where trash, hardship, and poverty run amuck is a contrast guaranteed to generate tears of sorrow or guilt, anger at injustice, or worst of all, deadening indifference. 
It is our intention that dictates the consequences. If we go truly on pilgrimage, offering ourselves and any tapasya that comes, into the flames of devotion, self-sacrifice, and desire for soul-freedom (ours and others), then the results are "guaranteed" but not in any way we can or should expect. Non-attachment to the fruits of pilgrimage must be our starting point. 

Spiritual consciousness and insight come "like a thief in the night" Jesus warns us. We must be prepared but not expectant. "Two are working in a field; one is taken, the other remains." This paraphrase of another of Jesus' metaphors reminds us that our consciousness (including intention) is more important than any outward (travel) or position (role). Prayer, meditation, humility, openness, equanimity under stress or success........these reflect the ways we must approach our pilgrimage if its spiritual fruit is to be tasted.

Spiritual blessings from pilgrimage may well be experienced after, even long after, the trip itself. The power to suddenly make important changes in your personal life may be felt almost immediately. For some, time is needed for the seeds of grace planted during the pilgrimage to sprout. The joy of pilgrimage may appear like flowers in the Spring but may not even be noticed by you until you return home when the contrast with your pre-pilgimage state becomes noticeable. Meditating in Babaji’s cave may be, for some, a contemplation of discomfort rather than bliss. But the effort may produce spontaneous wisdom or joy under otherwise challenging circumstances just when you need it most.

When we travelled to the Himalayas to visit Babaji's cave on Drongiri Mountain, northeast of the hill station of Ranikhet, we were met by unseasonable and near winter conditions. Hope of even ascending the path to the cave was silently at stake, potentially crushing our highest hopes. But, all in all, our group remained cheerful and confident regardless of weather conditions. But the following morning dawned bright and sunny, even if still cold. Our climb that day, and the next day's trip back down to the plains, was met with gorgeous, sunny weather!

Every culture has its own tailor-made ways and karmic patterns which produce misery for its people. India is no exception. Once one of the richest countries in former times, centuries of foreign occupation had reduced the subcontinent to the poorest of the poor countries. A rigid class (caste) system nurtured exploitation and prejudice even as it stifled freedom, creativity and energy for far too long. 

But all of this is steadily, even rapidly, changing. One cannot but experience the vibrancy and creativity of modern India. While loss of spiritual values attends growing material prosperity everywhere, it is a necessary stage in India's recovery and in overcoming past karma. Underlying this obvious trend, a pilgrim finds the innate sweetness, kindness, devotion to saints and sacredness, and hospitality very much alive today. India's avatars and saints, nurtured by the native devotion of its people, has, as Yogananda put it in his "Autobiography of a Yogi," bulwarked India against the fates of Egypt, Rome, Greece and other past civilizations.

The pilgrims' discomfort in encountering a culture that tolerates widespread beggary is not so easily resolved or dismissed. Each pilgrim must confront his response to extreme poverty in his or her own way. While we cannot end injustice or hunger by our own individual actions, we mustn't let this reality excuse our own indifference.

Share, then, as or if you feel to do so and under whatever circumstances confront your conscience. There is no one way; no pat response. I've seen the simple act of giving a few "cents" to a beggar create an onrush of fellow beggars grasping and pawing at the hapless foreigner whose confusion and discomfort grow to the point of panic or even anger.

At a train stop, some of us, with meal plates in front us in our seats, were confronted with a little boy outside our window on the platform asking for food. We had eaten a banquet only hours before and had little need for the meal placed in front of us on the train. There was no time to jump up and try to give our meal to this boy as the train was about to lurch forward. The feeling of helplessness: both his, and our own in responding to his need, produced tears and averted eyes. This is the price of expanding our awareness of realities far from our own. It is the price of opening one's heart to the realities of others. For this we have traveled so far.

The bonds of friendship in a holy and sacred effort last far beyond the few weeks of a pilgrimage. The simple exchanges of kindness with those in India whom we encountered in our journey, too, are heart-opening. We need not measure "success" by visions or superconscious experiences but by the yardstick of the open heart. Open not merely to sentiments or personalities but to the great Giver of Life, Love, and Joy from which the transforming power of love and friendship come. To attune ourselves to that divine power as manifested especially in the lives of those great saints whose lives reflect this power so perfectly is find a channel, a life-spring, to the Source.

We, who are, in a sense, privileged, have put our karmic inheritance to good use in fulfilling the timeless inspiration to leave all, risk all, and go on pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is a metaphor of the soul’s journey back to God. Not only do the destinations offer to us priceless blessings but the very journey itself opens our hearts and minds to the greater reality which we call Life: the divine Life.

It’s good to be back and it’s a blessing to have gone!

Nayaswami Hriman



Monday, October 17, 2016

What is free will?

How much choice do we have in life? How conscious are we when we act?

Let's start with the simple fact that despite good intentions, we make mistakes; we have accidents; we cause suffering, intentionally or unintentionally, whether to ourselves or others. People hurt us; things hurt us; we don't know why or what, if anything, we might have done to deserve it. "Stuff happens," in other words.

There's a lot about our world and our lives that is much, much, much bigger than we. Long before we commit a consciously and an intentionally selfish or hurtful act, there are lots of other, less conscious and less intentional acts, that cause suffering.

Read any classic novel or myth or modern drama and we see life is filled with strange twists and turns of so-called fate.

This world, we must conclude, is not of our own doing. Whoever we are and wherever we have come from or go to, the world around us imposes and impinges upon us in ways that we must simply deal with. Then there are the actions we take and initiate into the little tiny world of our lives that, to some degree, imposes and impinges upon others, or, helps and serves others or improves our own lives.

But consider how little is our impact on the world around us and, by contrast, how big the impact the world and the circumstances into which we find ourselves has upon us! It seems a bit out of proportion.

True there are giants of will power and dominion and influence who create for themselves an entire world view and reality. Yet the more self-centered are these "giants" the more their influence is soon washed away by time and opposing forces. Think of all the politicians, actors, artists that have come and gone. Few, only a few, withstand the eroding effects of time. Those whose impact is lasting are those whose imprint was far bigger than self-interest.

Like the narrow bandwidth of atmosphere that surrounds our tiny planet whirling through space, we operate in a very narrow bandwidth of freedom of choice. Most of what we do, say, like or dislike we cannot really account for logically unless it's universal like fearing death or illness or criticism or liking praise, pleasure or money. Why do you like red sports cars, or I, pistachio ice cream? Who can say?

And yet.....and yet......without human commitment to the precept that we can change our life for the better and that we are accountable for our actions, life would become unbearable. Within this narrow bandwidth of freedom, therefore, is our life, small as it may be and separate as we may view it to be from that great big, sometimes threatening world, around us.

We are confronted by the conditions in which we live, including our bodies, their age, gender, health and abilities, and we must face the conditions we ourselves have created. Complex stuff, eh and, in the the big picture, we must admit that our choices in life have been very narrow. And yet, how impactful upon our lives are those choices: who we marry; what career choices we make or accept; what addictions we fall into; what habits, good or bad. A narrow but potent bandwidth. Does not happiness, itself, exist inside a narrow bandwidth of attitude where the cup is either half empty or half full?

Consciousness itself exists in a very narrow bandwidth of self-awareness. How close to existence of non-existence do we live? My friend who was "randomly" struck by a car that jumped the curb as he was walking along the sidewalk? How many cars whiz past us......the margin of life is indeed narrow.

More than one saint has stated that the only freedom we possess is whether to turn toward God or away from God. All else is more or less the function of our past actions (aka karma). Ananda Moi Ma, the now famous woman saint of 20th century India, described our free will as the equivalent of being on a speeding train and having the choice to walk up or back inside the passenger cars while yet remaining on the speeding train.

But what does it mean to turn TOWARD or AWAY from God? "God" is a pretty BIG idea if you consider "God" deeply and if you can get past the baggage that the "poor fellow" has to carry.

Instead, let's start with something more useful. Let say that our choice is whether to respond positively, or to respond negatively, to life's circumstances.

Ok, then, what does "positive" mean? Or, "negative?" What does it mean to respond "positively" to the fact that you are born into a wealthy family? Or with excellent health? Talent? Beauty? "Positively" means expansively....unselfishly......with non-attachment....with a desire to help others.......

Let's say you are indeed born into a wealthy home, or at least one with comfort and advantages and therefore choices like education, hobbies, health, security, and also into a loving family. Do you recall the phrase (seemingly out of date), noblesse oblige? It recalls the implicit obligation that those of privilege bear to help others. (Yes, that's not really so old fashioned is it?) To see your life as a privilege and an opportunity to do something meaningful would be a good example of a positive response. A negative one would be the all too familiar one of feeling entitlement and becoming lazy, mean, or selfish as a result of your otherwise favorable birth.

Thus "toward" God can begin with the concept of expanding one's awareness to include the needs of others. Call this, therefore, an expansive response. A selfish response would be contractive, meaning ego-centric, selfish, or self-absorbed.

Faced with disease or illness, a positive response would be to be calm; to have faith in the ultimate goodness and value of the inherent lessons of one's challenges; to think even first of others, than of yourself; to affirm your love for God.

[It should be pointed out also, as I have in other articles, that acting or responding positively is not sufficient for those seeking eternal freedom in God. The latter is a far bigger subject and is one derived from faith and intuition (or, more commonly, starts at least from belief). "Virtue may be its own reward" but in the teachings of "Sanaatan Dharma" good karma that derives from the sense of personal doership (ego) is insufficient to win freedom for the soul. For that, "yagya," or personal self-offering with devotion to God (inter alia) is necessary.] 

The line between passive acceptance and a dynamic outpouring of energy to confront challenging circumstances may seem obvious but it's ultimately a matter of expansive or contractive. Acceptance can be expansive if it's calm, joyful and even-minded, and, willing to do what is needed; it is contractive if submissive and fatalistic. Dynamic energy can be contractive if ego-active and ego-protective but expansive if joyful, enthusiastic, creative and without rancor or pride.

Our real choice is remain "in the Self," untouched by outer circumstances. This, more correctly, defines a saint but it is a goal brought steadily into manifestation by the practice of meditation, the company of others of like mind, and the spiritual power of grace born of our attunement with a true "son of God."

"The only way out is IN." This is our real choice, for "tat twam asi," -- "Thou art THAT (Spirit)."

Swami Hrimananda


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