Saturday, August 7, 2021

Pride Befalls the Devotee?

"Sadhu, Beware" is one of the books (of nearly 150) that Swami Kriyananda (founder of Ananda and direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda) wrote. It, together with the Nayaswami Order that he founded in 2009 ( outlines the new dispensation of consciousness that truthseekers and true devotees manifest in this new era of awakening. In both books, the key is to recognize the need to strive for ego transcendence but only in the context of seeking the true happiness, the bliss, of the immortal soul.

Paramhansa Yogananda noted that renunciates have long had the tendency to become proud of their outward renunciation of family and material life, viewing mere householders as having not made the spiritual grade. The respect and support of society towards monasteries, convents, churches, priests, nuns and monks was sometimes considered owed to them as their monastic right and their ofttimes privileges. I grew up around priests and nuns and later, after nearly two years in a preparatory seminary for the study of the priesthood, when I decided it wasn't for me, there could be no erasing the sense of spiritual failure. As I grew into adulthood I observed many (if in fact thousands or millions worldwide) monks and nuns leaving the monasteries during the turbulent '60's and '70's. The first thing most of them did was to find a partner to marry. Curiously, however, very few abandoned their spiritual goals and idealism. Like me, the old form of renunciation no longer held sway over our heart's inspiration.

Many years later, in 1978 Padma and I were married at Ananda Village, with Swami Kriyananda officiating (today as I write it is our 43rd anniversary). Even then, there was for me a lingering sense that the householder state was, spiritually, a concession to merely human needs and desires. Besides, at that time as for so many centuries before, a dynamic group of monks and especially nuns guided by Swami Kriyananda were the storm troopers during those first challenging but intensely joyful years of Ananda's history. But Ananda was destined to become a community not merely a monastery and so a few years later most of the monks and nuns married (generally, one another). Swamiji taught us that Yogananda's vision of what he called "World Brotherhood Colonies" included individuals in all stations of life and ages. Swamiji felt that the success of Ananda was aided by not having too many rules and not insisting that all community residents live communally, though the example and experience can be very helpful for individuals for at least a period of time.

Paramhansa Yogananda taught that, in accordance with the dispensation given by Mahavatar Babaji to Lahiri Mahasaya (founder of Kriya Yoga in the modern age), all sincere seekers would have access to the highest spiritual teachings and techniques. No longer would priestly secrecy combine with human ignorance and indifference to cause the practical yoga teachings of higher ages to disappear or be relegated to a few monastics in caves and forests.

One would think that the new egalitarian spirit of the modern age would have swept away the pride that can come with spiritual growth. And to a very large extent, it has: especially in the Ananda communities where social status or spiritual roles are not emphasized. But human nature hasn't changed.

I recall Swami Kriyananda noting that the acceleration of spiritual growth that comes with the higher yoga teachings such as Kriya Yoga can, in some people, energize one's ego involvement. The example he would use would be the sunlight streaming through a stained glass window. At night when little light comes through the stained glass, the glass is dark and the panes are not distinguishable. But in the day, all the colors stand out. Thus when more energy goes through the body and mind from deep yoga practice and the intensity of divine service, it illuminates both the beautiful panes of our personality but also the other ones. Hence it is, he taught, that sometimes a person can make significant spiritual advancement and as a consequence and there appears not-so-spiritual traits such as impatience, irritability, and pride, to name a few. 

Swami Kriyananda pointed out the last great test before enlightenment is the surrender of the separate sense of self which we call the ego, In the yoga teachings, spiritual awakening is described as an upward movement of Life Force through spinal centers called chakras in the astral channel called the Sushumna. The last chakra, energy-center, before the Life Force unites with the higher Self is also the location of the ego (at the base of the brain in the region of the medulla oblongata). Enlightenment occurs when, by daily repeated self-surrender, our center of "gravity" moves from the medulla to its positive pole in the forehead: the seat of enlightenment and the location of the Divine Ego

But the steps to enlightenment never proceed in a linear way. Like a great battle between the soldiers of soul vs. ego, there are skirmishes when one side or the other advances and perhaps later retreats. Sometimes lesser identifications and attachments can be washed away by a full-frontal assault on the castle of inner peace by the rising power of the purified ego (sometimes called the power of Kundalini).

Swami Kriyananda pointed out that pride of worldly accomplishment or position is always assailed by the law of duality in the forms of competition, misfortune, personal flaws, or simply by one's death. The example of a successful company that crumbles after the death of its founder is an all-too-common one. History is the study of the rise and fall of nations: rising because of high energy and falling because of pride and inner conflict.

But, Swamiji, continued: the devotee who rises in spiritual power meets no self-balancing pendulum because spiritual power is the very nature of the soul. Wisdom, compassion, intuition, energy, and joy are derived from divine consciousness. It is powerfully magnetic and can bring to one public acclaim. Therefore, the only stain on spiritual awakening until it can be overcome is that usual self-promoter, the ego: the interloper who claims for himself the spiritual powers that have arisen. 

This is just one reason why self-offering (devotion) and humility (self-forgetfulness) are the necessary safeguards recommended to the devotee.  

One form of ego activity, pernicious indeed though hardly limited to devotees, is the tendency to compare ourselves with others. Since Ananda's core mission includes intentional spiritual communities, groups of devotees living and serving in close quarters are especially vulnerable, as were (are) traditional renunciates in monasteries in former times. Generally, most of us, if we do compare our spiritual growth with others, find fault with ourselves. But as Yogananda would put it, "inferiority complex or superiority complex" are two sides of the same coin of the ego. 

Thus, when we tire of berating ourselves, we, "in for a penny, in for a pound," usually become quite aware of the spiritual and human failings of our brothers and sisters. In order to prevent fostering this oscillating ego-centric wheel, each person in the community is encouraged to take seriously the effort to gently re-direct our thoughts God-ward and, in respect to a fellow devotee-friend who might temporarily have entered the magic circle of Maya, to do the same.

Since time immemorial devotees have been divided along such lines as devotion, intelligence (wisdom) and service. Those who go by devotion consider intelligence to be dry and pridefully heady, and service as simply busywork, unmindful of God. Those who go by service tend to think of intelligence or devotion as lacking in usefulness and compassion. Those who go by intelligence look down at devotion as simple-minded and service as using brawn instead of brains, as if in service one forgets the higher purpose of that service, or imagines their service to be more important than that of others. 

Then there are basic differences between those who incline to be more personal and those who incline to be more impersonal. Given that we have a body and personality, these distinctions can never be absolute. But this parallels the ages-old debate of whether God is personal or impersonal. Each side scoffs at the other as if one side of a coin could call the other side debased!.

Those whose tendency is more personal imagine those who work impersonally in organizing, planning or outreach ministry to be lacking devotion or, worse, seeking ego aggrandizement. Those who incline to be more impersonal see those who are personal as ego-active and lacking in non-attachment, preferring one person over another and dividing people into camps. 

Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda spent a large portion of their lives giving public lectures, writing books and traveling to share the teachings of this new dispensation of Kriya Yoga. Yet, they had innumerable personal relationships that were deeply meaningful, loving and supportive. Each encouraged their respective members to find ways to serve that were suitable to their own natures and dharma. The wide range of activities that were spawned in selfless service of the high principles of Self-realization included cafes, farms, bookstores, retreats, publishing, workshops, books, clothing store, and yoga centers. 

Both are necessary. God is personal in you and me and impersonal in Infinity and in creation. God doesn't care that much WHAT we do but HOW (and with what devotion) we conduct our activities. Yogananda was vilified for using modern business methods to share his teachings. His response was, among other things, to insist that were Jesus alive today he would do the same. The error, he said, is to use religion to make money. It is acceptable, he said, to use modern business methods to share spiritual teachings. 

Swami Kriyananda would sometimes remind us that some "name" on the Ananda mailing list might be the greatest saint among us. He gave examples of what an important service it is to let the world know about Yogananda's teachings for our new age.

Whether in the medieval times in the heyday of worldwide monasticism or in everyday organizational dynamics, 20% are the tried and true. But these would not find an outlet for their lifestyle were it not for the public or larger support of the 80%. The 80%, in turn, benefit from the inspiration and example of the 20%. Both are needed just as in the same way we rest at night; have hobbies; playtime; downtime as well as focused time.

Our world is rapidly changing. To say so is almost trite, these days. The transformation from aggressive self-interest and depletion of natural resources to a more balanced, healthy, and cooperative lifestyle is taking place in different forms and venues throughout the world: from the boardroom to the classroom to the village, jungle, mountains, and plains. The very inclusive outlook that is the essence of the precepts of Vedanta and the "Perennial Philosophy", as well as the very essence of science, suggests that we view all as parts of a great symphony of Life where the real Doer is God working through those who will offer themselves to the Divine will. Respect and appreciation for the individual's right to walk their path of life are essential for the benefit of all.

Joy and blessings to all,

Swami Hrimananda!

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Do You Need a Guru? Celebrating Guru Purnima

Today as I write it is the full moon and with it India's annual mid-summer day of honoring and celebrating one's teacher, especially one's guru! If I understand the festival, Guru Purnima, correctly, Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists celebrate this holy day. It just so happens that the weekly readings at the Ananda temples around the world land on this very same subject: Do You Need A Guru? Tomorrow, Sunday, July 25 is the day Ananda holds dear as "Babaji Day." To add yet more to this, tomorrow at our temple near Seattle we will conduct, coincidentally, a discipleship initiation for a few aspiring souls. So these are at least four good reasons to write this article!

I use these excuses and this occasion to talk not generally about the role of a guru but more specifically about the life and role of one such great yoga master of the twentieth century: Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now-famous "Autobiography of a Yogi").

Most of you who will read this already know that Yogananda's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar of Serampore, Bengal (India), made an important and shocking correction to the Hindu calendar in 1894 in his book, "The Holy Science." In the introduction to this book, he announced that according to Hindu astrology and Oriental astronomy planet Earth entered the ascending cycle of the second of four ages called Dwapara on about the year A.D. 1900.

Any student of the history of science and technology would not be the least bit surprised. The defining discovery of the twentieth century took place only a few years later by Albert Einstein who in effect declared the death of matter and the birth of the age of atomic energy.  

Religionists, on the other hand, eyeing the decline of adherence to traditional values and religions and the rise of atheism and materialism have declared the death of God-fearing civilization and the birth of an age that surely will culminate in the end times.

From the standpoint of spiritual awakening, this new age would certainly seem ripe for the appearance of a new Buddha or Christ. Swami Kriyananda, the founder of Ananda's worldwide work, lived with and was trained and commissioned by Paramhansa Yogananda in the last years of Yogananda's life (1893-1952). Swami Kriyananda concluded that Yogananda must surely be a world teacher for this new age of Dwapara. 

But unlike the personality cult surrounding the religion that revolved around Jesus Christ, it is far more likely that Yogananda's role will be seen somewhat more like that of the Buddha: a wayshower. Of course, true disciples will tune into Yogananda as true disciples always do to their guru but by virtue of Yogananda's teachings their understanding will already be grounded in a more universal understanding that Yogananda is one of many avatars sent by God to fulfill specific missions of spiritual upliftment in times of need.  

There are many reasons to see in Yogananda the role of a world teacher for this age. And there were during his life and are now many spiritual teachers on the planet. Comparisons are odious and unnecessary. Instead, some of the characteristics that identify Yogananda as having an important role in human spiritual evolution include that he struck a careful balance between East and West; indeed, he consciously lauded the best aspects of each. He didn't seek to convert his followers into Hindus nor yet did he pretend to be a converted Christian. He taught yoga and meditation and yet built churches and held services remarkably familiar to Westerners. He drew inspiration from the Christian Bible as well as from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. He showed their underlying similarity rather than declaring one greater than the other. 

He expressed great devotion to his guru-lineage as well as to the One God, the Infinite Spirit. He affirmed Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism) while at the same time taught that the way to the One was through the Other (I-Thou). He loved saints while he had experiences of cosmic consciousness. He spoke of heaven and hell but as temporary waiting stations on the soul's long journey to God. He spoke of the evolution of the species but averred the special creation and status of the human form.  He affirmed the truth of all religions yet discerned that not all affirmed the highest teaching of union with God. He recognized the equality and yet the differences of the sexes and yet insisted the soul has no gender before God. He taught union with God as the goal of the soul's creation while explaining that consciousness is forever and nothing of our past lives is ever destroyed or obliterated. 

He praised Western technological and commercial efficiency but bemoaned our sectarianism and materialism. He loved India's deep spirituality but hoped that India would raise its standard of living through education, hygiene, and renouncing stifling caste taboos.

Yogananda urged students to get back to the land and form small self-sustaining communities which would grow their own food and have a lifestyle that was both efficient and God-centered. He didn't reject modern labor-saving technology but decried "installment method" consumerism as a modern form of servitude. 

Yogananda created devotional chants and poetry; started gardens and farms; schools for children; a yoga university; encouraged art and theatre with an uplifting message.

Interestingly, apart from the popularity of his life story and notwithstanding the universal respect for him and his contributions, very few outside his own followers, students, and modern-day disciples seem to acknowledge his role in this new and very uncertain age. Phillip Goldberg did the first real biography of Yogananda and included a chapter about Yogananda in his book, "American Veda," but overall it seems that Yogananda has not yet taken his place in history. But history is written "post facto" and many of us believe that in the future Yogananda's life will be seen as a pivotal contributor to the awakening consciousness of Dwapara Yuga.

For members of Ananda worldwide, we also believe that his strong emphasis on the importance of small, intentional communities (which he said would one day "spread like wildfire") will bear the fruit of recognition at some future date. Many alive today agree that humanity's lifestyle is in an unsustainable downward spiral of the consumption of earthly resources. This can only end in great calamity and presumably great suffering. Yogananda himself predicted as much. One easily imagines that this is what it will take for humanity to change our entrenched attitudes and habits. But this particular story also has yet to play out. 

As with all the great world saviors, Yogananda is alive and well on planet earth but perhaps more so for he came especially for us and in our times. He no longer requires a human form to guide anyone who seeks his help. You need not be or consider yourself to be his disciple because his love and wisdom are available to all just as it was when he walked the earth and thousands flocked to hear his words and be in his aura.

Jai guru! 

Swami Hrimananda

Friday, July 16, 2021

Yogic Brain Washing! The Power of Meditation

 At night we cleanse our minds of our daily thoughts and preoccupations. This is especially so when we enter the dreamless state of our sleep cycle. For our computer hard disk, we periodically are advised to run the programs DISK CLEAN, or DEFRAG or run a VIRUS SCAN. 

Meditation, properly practiced, does for the mind what deep sleep and these software maintenance programs do for our computer and hard disk.

It is difficult to overcome the chatter of the subconscious mind during meditation. Dubbed the "Monkey Mind," restless thoughts are perhaps the greatest obstacle to satisfyingly deep meditations. The problem is not just restlessness, however. It is not just a habit. The mind is programmed to remain conscious and in control, presumably for the maintenance and protection of the body. This simple fact accounts, at least metaphysically, for why some people have difficulty surrendering to the sleep state.

And yet the gift of meditation comes, like the sleep state, when we surrender our thoughts into the silence of a higher, more conscious state of awareness. Consider what it is like to stare out the window at a lovely garden or a panoramic scene, a sunset, a mountain. For a few seconds, you gaze at the scene and it takes your breath away, or, at least your thoughts--even if just for a moment. Watching an engrossing movie or video can do something similar; so, also when engrossed in a book or writing a story, painting a picture, or dancing.

In other words, we experience this state of mind that is above our active thoughts in various activities even though we don't contemplate why or its effects (which are very calming and satisfying). Like the sleep state, however, being engrossed in an activity, while pleasant, isn't pure in the sense that the object of our attention is something outside our own awareness.

Meditation can turn our attention to the state of awareness it-self: without color, name, form, condition, or expectation. To enter and deeply relax into this state of pure awareness is to wash the fevered brain of many impurities of anxiety, likes, dislikes, desires, fears and fantasies. It is truly an existential experience.

For many meditators, this description does not appeal or invite. Instead, many prefer to enter that state in the presence of a divine being by some name or form. Alternatively, one can meditate upon an idea (like peace) or any mental object that inspires one. 

Such a practice is equally rewarding even if the testimony of great rishis and masters suggests that there comes a point when the guru or deity vanishes and we are left on our own at least temporarily to face our own face; or, the face of seeming emptiness, or darkness. But few meditators actually get to this point for it takes great courage of heart and strength of will to meditate to such a deep state. Nonetheless, it is a matter of, shall I say, disclosure to mention it.

For the rest of us, however, even "a little practice of this" will cleanse the heart and mind of the burden of our ego's preoccupations. Seconds or minutes of mindful clarity, transcendent of the intrusion of thoughts, clear as the vast blue sky and swept clean by pure, cooling summer breezes of Being will wash the brain and revitalize the soul's innate happiness.

Is it easy to achieve this experience? Yes, and, well, No! For starters, guess what? You have to actually WANT to enter into this space. The "wanting" has to be positive and energized, grounded in calm feeling, and propelled by what I call "soft" willpower. 

Here are a few hints that you may find helpful. Whatever else is your meditation technique, during your practice make sure your inward gaze is raised just slightly as if you are peering through the point between the eyebrows at some not too distant object. This position needs to be soft and gentle, not strained or forced. Think about how we often look up when we are trying to remember something. During meditation, the goal in the use of this technique is to remain in visual contact with that point behind closed eyes throughout your meditation. Normally, the eyes will "drop" whenever thoughts intrude or your attention goes elsewhere. When that happens just bring your visual focus back to this point without making a mental fuss over it. Don't give up. Just keep on re-directing.

Secondly, focus one-pointedly on the details of your technique: for example, observing the flow of breath; inwardly chanting a mantra; visualizing a divine Being. Most techniques will require two or more focal points of awareness.

Generally, at least two, or preferably three "objects" of focus are needed to create a magnetic aura of concentration that has enough magnetism to cauterize or hold at bay thoughts popping up like ads on YouTube. Beneath these focal points of concentration is the underlying feeling of calm but joyful expectation of entering the sanctum sanctorum of "thoughtlessness" (pun). This feeling acts as a motivator or generator of that soft willpower I mentioned earlier. You cannot force a higher state of mind. It comes, as Jesus put it, "like a thief in the night" just when you don't expect it. And when it does, feel free to abandon your technique or simply continue it if you feel too.

But after your technique, the gold standard is to be able to drop all "doing" and enter "being." Rest in the after-poise of your meditation technique sitting in the sunlight of calm Self-awareness above the clouds of interposing thoughts. Even a few seconds of this spacious mind will bring relief and cleansing to the brain.

Is this the end-game, then, of meditation? No, not even close. Rather, clearing the deck of conscious and subconscious thoughts is simply to clean and prepare the vessel of your awareness to receive inspiration from what Paramhansa Yogananda dubbed the Superconscious Mind. You could call this the soul or the atman or anything else if you prefer. 

Is this the end game? By no means. The end-game is endlessness and the purpose of this article is to talk about the process of "brain-washing!" Whatever else may come is between you and your divine Self. First things first!

Blessings to you,

Swami Hrimananda, your own Self