Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A New Year is Upon Us!

A New Year is soon upon us. In my life, celebration of New Year's Eve has never been of particular interest to me. Nor yet New Year's resolutions. (I go for slow, steady, and sustainable when it comes to lifestyle choices--generally, anyway.)

Perhaps you, too, however, feel that this year, 2011, is not one to be as casual about. I feel a sense of urgency about my personal life and about the world around us. For me, personal life includes the Ananda Community where I live and the activities and things we do here.

In general what I feel is needed is strength and commitment. Our nation, as a whole, has wandered (many feel), adrift from its principles and sinking in a soup of diversity, differences, and conflicts of opinions and lifestyles. Ok, so this will probably always be true. But, not always.

There have been times of crises, threat, or celebration in which even this great nation of diversity has spoken, united in a cause, feeling, or direction. (A small victory in this direction, considered as such even with those who didn't agree with the action taken, was seen in the recent flurry of productive activity undertaken by our "lame duck" Congress.)

But this sense of "We need to get things done" I hope and pray may spread throughout our nation and, cooperatively and harmoniously, with others around the world as well. For me, and that's as much as I can handle, I want to make this New Year's something meaningful. I've never in my life felt this way about New Year's resolutions.

I see the need around me for standing up for what's right; for rising above our own troubles and problems, our smallish likes and dislikes; and, participating in relationship with others of like mind irrespective of personal convenience. As a life cycle "thing," and being now 60 and surrounded by much the same, the temptation is to fuss about one's aches and pains, regrets and affirmations of personal limitations.

But regardless of life cycle, the time in our nation and on our planet is for bold, courageous, and creative action in cooperation with others. Ironically, cooperation, not unlike its more limiting cousin, consensus, can easily work AGAINST getting anything done. But on this planet with the challenges we face, there simply is no choice. We can't (and shouldn't even try) to FORCE others to conform or shape up, neither by legislation nor by coersion.

As I said at our Christmas banquet to those assembled, I think the time has come for cooperative, intentional communities to be more visible as examples of a new way to live. The crushing forces of globalism and the paralyzing mental and emotional impact of being aware of the suffering of others all around the planet, require (and inspire) us to take meaningful, personal action to exercise the muscle of will power and personal initiative lest we fall into a pit of despair or inertia.

So, for each of us, I encourage you to take seriously the opportunity of New Year's to reflect and to commit to personal self-improvement activities, and to cooperation with others of like mind to express your idealism. Paramhansa Yogananda encouraged his disciple (and Ananda's founder) Swami Kriyananda to "Make your ideals practical." America has a solid and positive history of community involvement, giving, and high ideals.

As a nation we need to affirm and reclaim our ideals and to refine our understanding of the concept of freedom. Freedom is not entitlement; it is responsibility. Voting, for example, means for the good of all and for what is right, not merely what benefits you and your personal interests. Without the guiding light of high ideals made practical by personal action, we will lose our freedom, our intelligence, and our heart expanding compassion for the needs of others.

Blessings and a blessed New Year to all!

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thoughts on a Christmas Eve

This year the sense of silence, of an inner peace — appropriate to the holy season of Christmas — resting and watching just behind meditation and outward activity has been very tangible for me. Oddly, or so it may seem, it enhances, not detracts from my engagement in activities and connection with others even as this Presence witnesses all.

It has been a wonderful gift and I wish it for all who seek it, especially through daily meditation. Perhaps years of meditation have yielded fruits too subtle for me to notice or too slow to ripen in the chill of my own restlessness, but I am grateful for the deepening peace and wisdom that seems to be arriving like Christmas presents in the mail!

I believe that millions of people feel some measure of stillness and reverence at Christmas. Years ago at Ananda Village I used to love to get up very early and meditate on Christmas morning before our two small children would be up to see what Santa brought them. I drank in that blessed comfort and joy that hovers, like the Star of Bethlehem, over us.

What matter to us, today, if the events described in the New Testament are factual or only allegorical? At this distance in time and space, there is no difference for us. Do we not have, or at least sense, a message for the ages in this simple, beloved tale?

A dark cold night under the starry skies is the symbol of meditation. For only in the darkness behind closed eyes and in the darkness of withdrawal from outward activity can our divine nature be born. Jesus, though heralded as a King and, later as an adult, offered world dominion by Satan, was born in a lowly manger, an empty stable. So, too, can our inner divine soul-child only be born and first made manifest in the humble, quiet heart.

Shepherds keep watch over their sheep. Shepherds, then, are our conscious thoughts and conscious mind. Good shepherds watch protectively over the sheep of the subconscious body-temple, habits, duties, and outward activities. Shepherds who guard their flocks at night are those souls who remain vigilant in the night of temptations and whenever subconscious habits, predispositions and other pre or post-natal tendencies threaten to overcome their good intentions. Good shepherds also remain awake to await the angelic, intuitive promptings of their soul, through prayer and meditation. Thus the angels of intuition urge the shepherds to seek the Christ child in the quiet “stable” of inner silence.

The holy family is a symbol for the Trinity. In the story of Jesus’ birth, Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus. This symbolizes and reflects the truth that God the Father remains untouched by and uninvolved in the daily housework of the creation that he initiated. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the sacred consort, the pure virgin, mother of creation, the Holy Ghost, out of whom all creation is manifested even as she, like the Father, is untouched or undefiled by creation's myriad manifestations, whether good or evil. In her womb, which is to say, at the heart of every living thing and every moving atom, is the silent Intelligence and Bliss which is the only reflection of the Son of the Father which is beyond creation.

Paramhansa Yogananda explained this complex concept of the Trinity in this simple analogy to the nuclear family. The son of God is "only begotten" because this indwelling Christ consciousness ("Kutastha Chaitanya" in Sanskrit) is the only reflection , or echo, within creation of the Infinite Spirit beyond all vibratory creation. "God so loved the world," the Bible says, "that he gave his only begotten Son." This means that God (the Father) implanted the seed of his Bliss-Intelligence in the heart of everything.

Indeed, yogis explain that God did not merely “make” the universe, He BECAME the universe through the agency of vibration first of thought, then energy, and finally form. All vibration moves from a center of rest in opposite directions. This illustrates how all things created only appear to be real, are always in motion, producing sound and light, always polarized (or neutral), and always in an infinity of oppositional states. This becoming is also the means by which God’s one nature becomes triune.

Manifested aspects of this seed of divinity, the only begotten son of God who is this Christ child, include intelligence, free will, reason, the power of procreation, creativity in all its forms, desire (the impulse to create for love, for joy), healing power, and all that we hold dear (and tend to misuse!). A tree expresses this intelligence by doing "tree" things. Cows don't write books but do cow-like activities. (smile) And so on!

Jesus — the Christ, or Anointed One — was one with the Father in that as a soul existing through countless incarnations he achieved final Oneness with the Father in some distant past life. Re-born as a perfected soul in a human body he, being incarnate, came as the universal Christ Intelligence in human form. No human form can circumscribe or limit this universal Intelligence but the soul of Jesus remained united with it. The difference between Jesus and you or I is one of degree, not kind. For most of us and creation, that only begotten son is yet to be born, or at least has not become fully realized.

The three Wise Men come from the east because the east of the body is in the center of the forehead, at the point between the eyebrows. It is here, in meditation, that the light of wisdom, of the spiritual (third) eye, appears and, in time, guides us to the promised land of the Father (Bliss), or put differently, to the humble stable of the cosmic heart wherein the Christ child is born.

Yogis teach that in meditation we can only reach the level of consciousness of the Christ Intelligence within us and then in all creation by FIRST communing with the Mother, the Holy Ghost, the primal or first vibratory manifestation of God. Thus we ascend back to Infinity through the Trinity by "reverse engineering" or by retracing the stages of creation: first we achieve Oneness WITH creation; then Oneness with the CONSCIOUSNESS (Christ Intelligence) of creation, and then finally with the Bliss of the Father beyond the creation.

Communion WITH the creation takes place by meditating upon the Sacred Word, or Aum (or Amen, Amin, or Ahunavar--all names for the same Vibratory experience of the Holy Ghost, or Divine Mother). This is experienced within ourselves in meditation and, in time and with depth, expanding outward into all creation.

Getting back to those three Wise men, then, we have another case of THREE. Three, in this instance, is not the Trinity of God, but our own, triune nature: a reflection of the Godhead Trinity. Our triune nature consists of our intelligence, our feelings, and our actions. Students of yoga know these as the paths of Gyana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Karma Yoga. Our souls, encased in the three bodies of causal (thought), astral (energy/feeling), and physical (action), are three primary modalities or ways of relating both to the world around us and to the divine, higher realities as we ascend toward the Infinite state which, when we achieve it, is One and transcendent of these three states. The three planes of existence are macro-cosmic reflections of our triune nature which, in both instances, encloses and obscures our soul nature which remains pure and untouched by its ego and bodily mis-identities.

Thus the meaning of the Wise Men is that our triple nature should be offered up to and into a higher wisdom. Our intelligence should seek and give the gold of silence ("speech is silver; silence is golden") and thus go beyond the endless ramifications of reason and the intellect. By direct, intuitive perception born of mental stillness we begin to have "eyes that see," and "ears that hear."

Our feeling nature brings the frankincense of pure devotion, converting the emotional roller coaster of material and ego-affirming desires into the fragrance of love for God. Our active nature utilizes the bitter herb of self-discipline and self-control to entomb, or cauterize, the destructive habits of over-indulgence and identification with sense pleasures and harmful actions born of bodily identification.

As more of an aside: In the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, he said that the three wise men were from India and were previous incarnations of his three direct teachers: Swami Sri Yukteswar, Lahiri Mahasaya, and the incomparable Babaji. The specific importance of this revelation is that Jesus was recognized as an avatar by fellow avatars and that there existed a special connection between east and west.

The star which the three wise men saw in the east and followed is, in its turn, a symbol of the spiritual eye seen at the point between the eyebrows. Its two concentric circles of gold and blue (visible in the construction of our physical eyes as the white, iris, and pupil) encircle a white, five-pointed star. The gold and blue circles represent, respectively, the astral and causal spheres as successive stages of creation through which we must ascend in reverse order. Meditation upon the spiritual eye is part of the process of ascension and becomes the yogis guide.

Evil King Herod is the ego, or the satanic force, which seeks to kill the child of our soul's first awakening. One place that the story seems to me to stumble in its symbolism is the flight to Egypt. To the Israelites, Egypt symbolized materialism and ego identity from which the great master Moses once freed them. In scriptural allegories such as India's Mahabharata, Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, Dante's Paradise Lost and many others, the journey to the foreign land symbolizes the soul's fall from grace. This comes often at the onset of adulthood.

In the birth of Jesus story, however, the flight to Egypt is an effort to preserve the newly born spiritual awakening. Two alternative explanations occur to me: one, it might be that Egypt symbolized retreat to the metaphysical mysteries for which it had once been a custodian in ancient times. Two, perhaps Egypt was to have symbolized the desert which is often used to indicate the wilderness of inner silence. Thus the new-born Christ Consciousness is nurtured and protected from delusion (Herod) in the inner silence.

We have here, then, in this beautiful story an ageless allegory for life. It is this truth, and not tradition or mere sentiment that empowers the nativity story with ever-new vitality from year to year and generation to generation. For such reasons Christmas may, and indeed ought to, be celebrated by all seekers of eternal truth and lovers of God. Christmas symbolizes a universal truth, a timeless story, and an eternal promise. The power inherent in the art of storytelling that is based on deep spiritual truths is that people of all ages and temperaments, educated or illiterate, can be uplifted by them and naturally experience and express a fellow feeling of universal love.

For more on this deep subject, I direct your attention to Swami Kriyananda’s inspired and potent exposition of these metaphysical truths taught by Paramhansa Yogananda in his book, “Revelations of Christ,” available at an East West Bookshop near you (www.eastwestbookshop.com or through the publisher www.crystalclarity.com.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What was the Star of Bethlehem?

This morning in the pre-dawn night I was walking to the meditation room at the Ananda Community, Lynnwood and beheld the very bright morning star in the southeastern sky. I suppose it was Venus, but my ignorance on stars being unplumbed, I couldn't truly say. Like the Star of Bethlehem (as I imagine it), this star was so bright, hopeful, and comforting in the cold winter darkness.

I doubt any 21st century person would even bother to consider that some "star" grazed along the night sky guiding three very wise persons from the east (going west) to Palestine to a lowly stable in a nondescript village on the edge of a desert!

In 1976 I visited a planetarium in Calcutta and watched the feature show which asked "What was the Star of Bethlehem?" I guess they could roll back their star charts and program the sky to look like it might have on that starry, distant night long ago. Well, they didn't come up with much but it was a good show.

As I look around at the cars along the freeway, the shoppers at the mall, the families in the grocery store, and the faces from all nations and races which surround me in this bustling international community of Seattle, it's easy to imagine that the star of Bethlehem is not a pressing issue with anyone.

The point is that most people seem to have an instinctual sense of what's important. That's different than wisdom but it's good enough for survival. I doubt even churchgoers fuss much over whether they believe each and every dogma propounded to them by their respective churches.

Maybe the Star of Bethlehem, like the virgin birth, isn't all that important as to the facts. Maybe the specialness of Jesus Christ is accepted enough two thousand years later as to not make these stories as important to modern people as perhaps they were to the nations of the middle east and the Roman empire!

Owing to the inheritance of Christian dogma that so strongly asserts that Jesus is the son of God, there's little issue with his acceptance as a "super-saint" of some sort, or, ok, then, as the son of God, even. What's not digested, accepted, or even contemplated is the implications of Jesus' life and state of consciousness upon our own. Oh, I don't mean simply to say that Jesus' life and teachings should inspire us to be better and more saintly.

No, I mean something deeper, something profound, and life changing. Jesus himself spoke of his second coming. Many Christians teach or believe that Christ will appear on earth in much the same way the Jews of Jesus' time expected a Messiah to appear on the scene and drive away those pesky Romans!

But I suspect no Jesus Christ is about to appear in the clouds ready to scoop up the faithful in a rapture to heaven. Fortunately most Christians probably don't bet their life's retirement funds on that happening anytime soon. Indeed, no more than they grapple anxiously with whether the Star of Bethlehem really did prance around the Middle eastern sky like some traffic-directing dirigible.

No, the time has come for something else. Something to wake us up. And, no I don't mean the end of the world or Martians or anything so Hollywood-ish. What Paramhansa Yogananda taught is that the "second" coming of Christ takes place when a divine awakening is born in our own hearts and within our own consciousness. The seed which gives birth to this infant Christ-child is contained in our soul's memory of its divine nature and is "fertilized" or "watered" into new life by the teachings and living spirit of a Christ-like soul who can truly say "I and my Father are One."

Jesus declared that "Before Abraham was, I AM." Thus any claim to be the only begotten son of God must not be limited by any particular human form, including that of Jesus who, in his human, bodily form, called himself only the "son of man."

The implication for devout Christians of seeing that Jesus, son of man, was also a God-realized son of God who partook in a universal Christ consciousness which is part of the Godhead (Trinity) and which therefore has existed since the beginning of time, opens the doorway to acceptance of the appearance of Christ consciousness in many forms down through the ages. Buddha, Krishna, Rama and who knows how many countless others could also say (in fact DID say), with Jesus, "I and my Father are One."

The first chapter of St. John's gospel describes Jesus (without even naming him) as the Word ("which was [in the beginning] with God, and was God."). There can be no doubt directly from the New Testament that this consciousness far transcends any limitation the intellect might place upon its appearance in any single human being, just as God, Infinite, is in no way limited by any aspect of His creation or of his triune nature.

We have here something so profound, both personally life changing and culturally revolutionary, that though it may be many years before its implications become generally understood and visible, it is bound to change the course of history. And none too soon, either! Christianity is in desparate need of a revival. Christians desparately need a way to escape the confining limitations of dogma which separate their sympathies and acceptance of people of other faiths. Christian countries which once dominated the world are now in retreat as a rapidly growing tsunami of other faiths and cultures rises on the tide of a new world order.

Coming from the east to the west with the wisdom of the ancients, Paramhansa Yogananda is a wayshower to the healing of the nations and the survival of the planet. No mere intellectual affirmation of religious or cultural equality can supercede the barriers of deeply and long-held faith. Not until that faith (and other faiths) receives the redeeming grace to have eyes to see and ears to hear the Savior's voice in many forms and in many lands, can we of earth meet each other on equal grounds, true to our past but embracing our future, and our self as our very own Self.

More than this, even, is what it means to you and I. Through the living touch and spirit of any such son of God, we, too, can reawaken to the realization that we, though for incarnations prodigal children, are no less God's very own and heirs to His consciousness (of Bliss, of Christ-mas joy).

God is not dead. Jesus is not dead. The Christ dwells, however latently, however unknown to us, in each one of us. Through our conscious, willing, creative and whole-hearted giving of ourselves, ("Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind, and strength.") we can give birth to an infant Christ in our hearts. This infant can grow as our attunement grows and as we dissolves the countless threads of attachment, desire, and self-identification that comprises what we call our ego.

This in fact was the good news which Jesus (and all God-realized masters) proclaim. As the Hindu scriptures teach, "Tat twam asi" (Thou art THAT!). The star of Bethlehem was described as HIS star. It is also OUR star: the five pointed, brightl beacon of light outlines the five points of the body (arms, legs, head) as we are indeed "made in the image of God" (Genesis). As Jesus was born of a virgin, so we too are born of the pure light of God. As Jesus ascended the ladder of Self-realization through countless lifetimes, we, too, can ascend by truth and grace.

Christmas blessings to all,


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Practicing the Presence of God

Practicing the presence of God means to be mindful of God’s presence moment to moment throughout your waking hours. There is no end to the ways this can be practiced and experienced — after all, is God not Infinite?

Swami Kriyananda, founder of Ananda and my spiritual teacher, notes that practicing the presence is not necessarily to be IN that Presence. We should keep in mind that the purpose of our practices is to go beyond practice into the actual experience. This is a distinction we should note from the beginning. All spiritual practices, all techniques, all sadhana, cease when God comes to us!

To winnow Infinity down to manageable proportions, however, we might divide this vital and transforming sadhana into the three components: each in relation to our basic nature of perception, feeling, and action. In the yogic tradition, these aspects find expression as three “paths” to God: gyana yoga, bhakti yoga, and karma yoga. It is common, though not as expansive as it could be, to view these as separate paths to God. But in fact and in truth, they are aspects of our very own nature and as such each should be refined. One cannot each God-realization solely through just one of these aspects for our “human” nature itself is One.

To perceive God’s presence moment-to-moment means to withdraw, even a little bit, into the watchful state in the midst of your activities. Watch yourself, first, and then perceive your higher Self (rather than your egoic self) as the Watcher. That Watcher, then, is the Godhead who IS your very Self and who watches You. As you enter more fully into the reality of this state you will be filled with joy and energy!

To feel God’s presence moment-to-moment means to awaken the heart’s natural feeling, bit by bit, in the midst of your activities. First, contact this calm feeling in your heart, and then transform that feeling into devotion to God, offering everything you say, think, and do at the feet of the Infinite Lord. (God, here, can take the name and form of any saint or deity or abstraction you hold dear or find inspiring.) As you enter into this practice more deeply you will begin to feel God’s presence everywhere: in everyone you interact with and at the heart of everything you do.

To express God’s presence moment-moment-moment in your actions is to feel God’s power flowing through you as you conduct your activities. First feel that power as you move, talk, feel, and think; then feel it as God’s power; next, feel that God is Doer and you are His instrument; and lastly, and in its most elevated state, God becomes both the Doer AND the Instrument!

Each of these practices merges into the same, but ever-new, ever-changing, ever-expanding state of Oneness. One can say it’s blissful, or joyful, or loving, or peaceful, calm, powerful and on and on for in God there is no end, only endlessness.

Each of these practices, moreover, depends on some aspect of the other. To be watchful takes will power and energy. These in turn depend on the heart’s desire and motivation. Devotion itself requires and IS energy. It takes concentration and perception to hold steady the image of the Lord one seeks to unit with. To become an instrument of God’s power requires positive intention and will power motivated by love for God.

Within this simple framework you will find for yourself an infinity of ways to explore God’s presence. The most famous and traditional technique of practicing the presence is known in Sanskrit as japa. It consists of silent, mental repetition of such words as God’s name (again, God has an Infinity of names and loves them all), a mantra, a prayer, an affirmation, or chant (which of course has melody in addition to words, or melody without words but with perceptive or devotional association). Prayer beads or rosary is one means of counting when counting, well, counts (is prescribed for the practice or mantra).

The drawback to any form of repetition is its becoming mechanical and merely subconscious. This in turn is somewhat held in check for the fact that it takes a great deal of concentration to maintain the practice of japa.

Swami Kriyananda has said that his japa is the mantra “Aum, Guru!” Some of things I find helpful include developing the habit of redirecting my (ceaseless) thought processes (“self-talk”) from a monologue into a dialogue: talking to God in the form of my guru, Paramhansa Yogananda. Another is the habit of withdrawing from thoughts into inner silence, feeling God’s presence devotionally, energetically, or as stillness.
You can assign yourself a different spiritual quality each day or week. Create or find an affirmation. I like to use Swami Kriyananda’s Affirmations for Self-Healing (a book with fifty-two affirmations and prayer qualities with brief commentary). Paramhansa Yogananda’s booklet, Scientific Healing Affirmations, is popular and full of inspiring and powerful affirmations. Yogananda’s book, Whispers from Eternity, is a collection of prayer-demands which are filled with vibrant, God-infused images and phrases. So, too, is the small book, Metaphysical Meditations.

Hopefully those reading this already have a daily meditation practice. This is the foundation for the self-awareness, concentration, and devotional attitude necessary to extend your meditation into the hours of the day by practicing the presence of God in every moment.

Blessings to you,


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Jesus Christ: Part 2

When Jesus Christ declared that "I and my father are One," the outraged priests and scribes wanted to stone him for blasphemy. Jesus' retort was to quote the Old Testament, "your scripture" as he put it, the eighty-second Psalm (verse 16) in reminding them that the scriptures declare it for all of us in saying "Ye are gods." In the gospel of St. John, Chapter 1, verse 12, John writes that "As many as received him, to them gave he the power to become the sons of God..." As Paramhansa Yogananda put it, Jesus came not to merely show us who he was, but who we are potentially as souls.

From time to time, a visitor to Ananda, or a student in one of our classes, seeing the pictures of the masters (which includes Jesus) upon our altars, will comment to the effect that "How can anyone worship another human being?" This response has several levels: one is the ego's stubborn refusal to admit perfection as a possibility for the obvious fact that the ego, being far from perfect, is thereby threatened or judged. The other is related to the first and is simply that who among us has ever experienced or seen perfection in another human being? And, isn't it boasting, presumptuous, and vain to declare perfection in oneself?

Yet the testimony down through the ages in every scripture and from every great saint is that we are children of God, children of the Infinite, perfect souls, and destined for immortality!

How then can we reconcile the affirmation of our soul's perfection with the face we see in the mirror "the morning after?" What is the most helpful attitude to have towards Jesus Christ, Yogananda, or any of the great saints and saviors of humanity? Are they but messengers or prophets but otherwise not notably different than you or I (perhaps having been blessed and chosen by God)?

Isn't that the prevailing view Moslems have for Mohammed? Do not many Buddhists refuse to "pray" to Buddha for the fact that each one must seek nirvana on his own and for the fact that Buddha, having extinguished himself in nothingness is, well, nothing? Is not the Buddha-nature inherent in each of us? Do not the Jews still condemn the heresy that any man can be God?

But do not the Hindus worship Krishna or Rama and many others as incarnations of Brahma, or the Deity? Are not many of their saints deemed incarnations of one form of divinity or another?

Paramhansa Yogananda offered a reconciliation of these seemingly opposing points of view. Jesus (and other great saints), he taught, is a soul, like you and I. Down through many incarnations that soul achieved its promised immortality by gradually becoming less and less identified with the personality and body of any specific incarnation and more and more identified with the overarching spirit of its own soul nature, and then progressively, with the consciousness of Spirit underlying all creation, and finally with the eternal Bliss nature (God) out of which all creation was manifested.

In this view, then, the distinction of God vs man is a false one, at least in the ultimate sense. In the "meantime," however, and so long as our soul is yet identified, even in part, with one physical form and incarnation, we live separate from our Buddha nature and thus experience some sense of loss or dis-ease in our hearts.

The purpose of this creation, Yogananda and others have declared, is that the creation awaken (however gradually) to its own divine nature and that individual souls realize that nature (not merely intellectually) in actual and permanent fact and beatitude.

So what do we mean, then, when we place pictures and images of saints upon our altars? It means that we see these souls, which we consider perfected or Self-realized, as doorways to the ultimate Bliss which is God (and which is our own, true nature and destiny). How can any of us know whether any other soul is indeed Self-realized? Well, realistically speaking, we can't. So at the very least, we can view these images as symbols for the promise of immortality or for the potential of perfection that awaits us in the unfolding process of greater and greater soul-identity.

More than this, however, is implied by our devotional attitude towards Self-realized saints. Yogananda taught that when the soul achieves Oneness in God it isn't destroyed but perfected in Infinity. The "memory" of that soul's journey and character remains unique in Eternity and can be called forth by devotion and attunement as a unique channel or doorway to the vast and impersonal Bliss-filled Spirit beyond all form and vibration. For embodied souls it is far more satisfying and helpful to approach the Infinite through another, human form with whom we can, literally, identify, hear or read his words, see examples of how to live in daily life, and to receive techniques and ways to work toward ego transcendence.

It is also God's "law" that we do so for the simple fact that such a "law" affirms that we, as souls incarnate in these bodies, are yet perfect and to deny the possiblity of Self-realization incarnate is to deny our very nature and the very purpose of creation itself. The "law" of love says that we are taught and helped by one another. The process of achieving Self-realization incarnate then comes through the transmission of that consciousness from one egoless ego to another aspiring ego. To seek it directly from Infinity, disincarnate, is to transcend the "law" and reality of the creation, dual in nature, and appearing in the divine romance of I-Thou in the process of achieving Oneness.

There are certain signs that are given to suggest that a given spiritual teacher has achieved Self-realization. In this world of duality, however, these are not absolute, either. In the life of Jesus, such signs include the Star of Bethlehem (being a symbol of the star seen in the forehead, part of the spiritual eye), the visitation of the Magi from the east, raising the dead, fogiveness of his enemies while on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead after his crucifixion.

In the Bhagavad Gita other signs given in a general way include the ability to go breathless at will, to enter a state of samadhi at will, to have unblinking eyes (as an indication of such state), to walk without casting a shadow, and to walk without touching the ground. These last two signs are no doubt more symbolic than actual, though levitation and dematerialization of the body are certainly among such signs, at least potentially.

Whether a spiritual teacher attracts millions of followers or is the founder of one of the world's great faiths is also at least a general indication but just as many people once believed that world is flat (and that doesn't make it so), so too the adoration or beliefs of millions is far from a definite sign. But Yogananda stated that perfected beings do sometimes live in isolation or without public recognition for reasons that remain hidden from view.

In truth, however, the issue isn't who is the best or greatest saint, but who is a good disciple of truth! Who strives assiduously to offer himself into the divine hands as a willing, intelligent instrument of peace. Who sets aside his own desires, opinions and needs for a greater good in the name of God?

The greatest sign of spirituality is not to be found in miracles but in the miracle of the transformation of our iron-footed and ages-old egotism into the flower of love for God and love for God in all.

A blessed Christmas to you all,


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jesus: the Yogi-Christ

As we enter now the Christmas holiday season, it is an opportunity to reflect upon its true spiritual meaning. Many a visitor to an Ananda temple has remarked upon the picture of Jesus Christ at the center of our altar. Some in horror, others with relief, and still others, indifferently, but many simply are puzzled by it. What is its significance? Why in the center of the other pictures (Lahiri Mahasaya, Babaji, Swami Sri Yukteswar, and Paramhansa Yogananda)?

I, for one, do not consider myself a "recovering" Catholic. I was raised in a devout Catholic home. I even studied for a time for the priesthood, and completed, all told, sixteen years of Catholic education. I treasure my experience but somehow was blessed not to have either experienced or taken seriously any of its renown shortcomings: either in its priests or nuns, or in its theology. Yet, as for many like myself, it simply wasn't enough to satisfy my heart, mind, and soul.

Did Yogananda place Jesus on his altars to gain some measure of acceptance in this heathen (Christian) land to which he had come? Or is there more to it? For starters, there isn't necessarily any deep significance that Jesus' picture is at the center of the other pictures. In fact, that placement isn't universal at the various Ananda centers around the world.

Yogananda explained that Jesus appeared to the Yogavatar Babaji (an incarnation of Krishna of ancient times) and asked Babaji to send to the West someone who could resurrect the practice of silent, inner communion (meditation). This practice had once been prevalent among renunciates and monastics down through centuries but had been abandoned in favor of rationalism and in response of the Protestant rebellion against anything mystical or sacred (and beyond therefore reason). The church had wanted to seem modern and less secretive to the fastly shrinking world and clash of cultures and religions amidst the growth of science and widespread education.

But as Christianity in general turned toward conversion of the heathens in the many countries its culture had imperialistically conquered, and turned toward belief, the efficiacy of ritual, and the need for social activism, introspection and meditation all but disappeared.

Yogananda went further to state that silently Jesus and Babaji help guide the course of history through hearts and minds that are attuned to their vibrations of wisdom and peace. He said that he had telephathically conveyed to Adolf Hitler the idea to betray Russia by invasion and thus open up the needed second front that would ultimately prove his undoing. He made a similar statement in regard to the discovery of antibiotics which have saved millions from death and great suffering.

Two Catholic mystics appeared in the 20th century to give tangible testimony that Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected some two thousand years ago: Therese Neumann (Germany) and Padre Pio (Italy). Each bore the wounds of Christ and each exhibited other miraculous signs to affirm their guru's past and present reality in stark contrast to the materialism and scepticism of modern man. There are numerous books and even movies that detail their extraordinary lives and testimony.

But the science of meditation is for all peoples, all faiths, and no faith. It was, in ways unseen to our eyes, the divine plan that through the dark and destructive centuries of the last three or four thousand years, the East would retain, if even in relative secrecy, the knowledge of consciousness and the science of exploring it through meditation, while the West would specialize in the exploration of the natural world in which we live.

The time has come and the necessity to do so is clear that we unite the best of East and the best of the West for the general upliftment and benefit of our new and globally connected humanity. Religion, as we have developed through the last many centuries, has lost its elasticity and inspiration in its general decline into sectarianism and mere belief. A new "religion" or new expression of eternal and universal spiritual truths is needed and has come to the world from the east, like the three wise men.

In the life of Jesus much has been written and speculated about those missing years of his brief life of thirty-three years. The question of the identity of those three wise men and the possibility of the connection between those missing eighteen years and the wise men has arisen as well. Jesus' inexplicable relationship with John the Baptist wherein Jesus seeks his blessing upon his own ministry, lauds John's spiritual stature, while yet John himself deprecates himself as unworthy.

These and many more curious connections we will explore in an upcoming class at the Ananda Meditation Temple, Tuesday, December 14, at 7:30 p.m. To register online, go to http://www.anandaseattle.org/activities/BothellClasses. You may register and, optionally, you may prepay. If you prepay there is a 10% discount.

Questions have also arisen regarding Yogananda's own relationship to Jesus. Swami Kriyananda describes his private conversations with Yogananda regarding that relationship. Our class will explore these unpublished revelations as well.

Blessings and a holy holiday season to you!


Monday, November 22, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again: Death & Reincarnation

The mystery of death, its suffering and its cold finality, have preoccupied humans for probably longer than humanity itself. The possibility of continued existence through successive rebirths is also an ancient belief.

One minute a person, often a loved one or maybe a patient in your hospital, a passenger in a car nearby, or a soldier in the Humvee ahead of you, is there and the next moment he or she is gone. It's an eerie and startling experience.

Once in college as I was studying in my curtained off garage study and meditation room, an accident took place late at night. I heard a scream and then sudden silence. A car had struck a motorcycle outside my house and the cyclist was lying dead on the street. There was no one else around, apart from the driver of the car. The night was silent and this poor soul had been swallowed up by it.

Another time deep in the woods I watched an inexperienced canoeist paddle out to help some boys whose canoe had tipped over as they steered away from the deadly rapids and falls towards the portgage trail. But as we, and his wife and children watched in astonishment from shore, the self-appointed rescuer, not in control of his own canoe, literally paddled out and right over the falls -- never to be found. The look on his face only yards away from us as he realized in horror his slow-motion, surreal mistake will never be forgotten. His wife's tortured screams and shock still ring in my ears.

The lights go out and the building is untenanted. What a mystery.

We, identified as we are with our bodies, cannot help but feel a sense of loss and grief in the face of death's silence. Paramhansa Yogananda, the renowned master of yoga (life force) and author of the classic story "Autobiography of a Yogi," described the death experience on many occasions and in some of his writings.

Meditation as practiced by a master is, quite literally, the conscious reeanctment of the death experience but without its finality. Thus such a one is competent to speak of it. We also have descriptions from those who have had the near-death experience.

Death resembles our nightly sleep experience in some ways. Just as when we fall deeper into sleep, the body and its senses become insensate as our life vitality withdraws from the body. But at death with the last breath our life force makes its final exhalation journey to the base of the astral spine before beginning its return journey and ascension up the central spine (sushumna). In this ascension our life force is squeezed and compressed and many people feel anxious or fearful. In addition, at this moment our physical body has ceased breathing. Much of the struggle against the cessation of the breath cycle has already taken place earlier such that at the final exhalation there is not necessarily further struggle. The life force by this moment is so internalized that awareness of the body and breath has vanished.

As our life force (astral body) squeezes into the sushumna and begins to rise in its tunnel, we are entering another birth canal and often feel a similar level of stress and anxiety as we observe in a new-born during its progress through the mother's birth canal. The near-death report of going through a long dark tunnel is in fact a description of this phase. The light at the end of that tunnel is the light of the astral regions into which we are about to enter: being re-born onto the astral plane!

The light welcome us and comforts us as our life force exits through the region near the medulla oblongata at the base of the brain (the negative pole of the sixth chakra). The expansion of our astral body upon its exit is like the diver, out of breath, breaking the surface and taking in much needed air. It is a relief to come out of the tunnel!

As the physical mouth takes in food and water, the "mouth of God" at the medulla (the astral body) takes in life force to sustain the physical body. Just as food and water cannot revive a dead person or as water into a battery cannot revive a dead battery, so too does the physical body rely most essentially on life force (known as prana, chi, cosmic energy, etc.). Thus there are corroborated stories of saints who, to demonstrate this truth, are given the grace to live without food or water--for decades. Therese Neumann in Bavaria in the 20th century was one such saint who was repeatedly examined by medical doctors.

Still, the death experience can be anxiety filled and dreaded, especially to those unprepared for it especially in how they have lived. The more we live for bodily comfort and pleasure and for ego-affirmation the more we feel deprivation and fear for losing control and awareness in the body. The more a person lives on a higher mental, emotional, or spiritual plane the less attached to the body and the more likely one is to be calm and peaceful. Death, it has been well said, is the final exam of how we have lived our life.

It is not always so, of course: cases of instant death; prolonged unconsciousness and so on. But it is often the case.

One of the great mysteries is to what extent do we remain conscious and to what degree is the after-death experience a pleasant or unpleasant one. This is as varied as the cosciousness of humans and cannot be but merely generalized.

Death deprives us of the body. To the degree one cannot exist without sensory stimuli, one feels the deprivation presumably as loss, as loneliness, and as suffering. This can be temporary as part of the death process or it can remain: depending upon the intensity of one's identification with the physical body. We can call this sensory deprivation.

Like a fish out of water or a climber reaching great heights, our experience depends largely on the degree to which, during life, we have experienced the "oxygen-less" (breathless) altitudes of superconsciousness. Deep and (near) breathless states of meditation are achievable by anyone willing to make the effort to meditate using proven methods of meditation.

Those of great artistic sensitivity or scientific, inventive, philosophical, or other high states of mental concentation and ability also may remain conscious in the astral state. Those who possess great compassion rendering humanitarian service and engaged in prolonged hours of self-forgetfulness which lift them beyond bodily identification also experience more readily the airless astral regions in comfort and joy.

But most people who receive the comfort of the Light upon exiting the body cannot, for very long, sustain conscious awareness in these higher altitudes of the astral region without falling back asleep for having been deprived of the vehicle of their physical body.

Before doing so, however, first two things are commonly experienced. One is some degree of comfort: whether described as being welcomed by loved ones, previously departed, or by God, angels, or one of the masters. Relief at having survived what they thought was death is no small part of the joy one feels upon entering the astral realm.

Another is the reading of the book of life. In some timeless moment we see, if but in an instant, a re-run of the life just lived. We may discover to our surprise important scenes we hadn't noticed. But we receive as if from the soul's even but temporary awakening a God's eye view of our life.

This is the judgment so often referred to. It is Self-judgment however even if we, having failed to become acquainted with our Higher Self, experience that Self as "Other" and therfore as a Judge.

But as I say, those who cannot but briefly sustain this high altitude of superconsciousness then fall asleep. Old age can bring suffering of all levels and many in fact desire and need, as we do nightly, their earned repose. Those who can remain awake on that high plane do so. For those I refer to the chapter, in Autobiography of a Yogi, entitled "The Resurrection of Sri Yukteswar." In this chapter he describes the astral and causal regions.

A sideline to the astral realms relates to the effect of shedding the confinement of the physical body. Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple and founder of Ananda, describes how, uncorked form the physical form, our feelings and states of consciousness are greatly intensified on the astral plane. If we have a calm, peaceful and harmonious consciousness we expand joyfull into that. If we have lived with lust and desire, anger and resentment, we expand into the seemingly endless hell of such states which, deprived of a physical body, can find no outlet, no fulfillment.

Just as near dawn we begin to stir from our deep nightly slumber, so too souls begin to stir when the time of their rest is soon to be over. And, like we at night, they too may have intermitten dreams of loved ones or scenes from their prior life during this astral sleep. But near dawn, we stir, sometimes fitfully, for the next life's lessons and tasks (and desires) call to us.

Yogananda taught that when a couple unite sexually, and sperm and ovum unite (these are not necessarily simultaneous, I know), a flash of light occurs on the astral realm. I once read in National Georgraphic that when the sperm penetrates the husk of the ovum, an electrical charge goes off! At that moment, those souls whose time it is to return all rush, competitively, to enter that womb. But only those souls who have some relative vibrational harmony with the consciousness of that couple (we could say karmic resonance, too) are attracted to this light. Thus begins, as Yogananda put it, our first race for survival: a portent to the endless contention and effort required to live in a physical body.

What then is reincarnation? Reincarnation posits that individual souls return to new bodies repeatedly over vast epochs of time as the consequence of past actions (which include past desires).

It is said that this process is necessary because our immortal and changeless soul has misunderstood its true nature by identification with the passing drama of its many physical forms and the cumulative effect of the likes and dislikes, actions and reactions which arise from it. These many lives offer the soul the opportunity to learn and grow towards Self-realization (or to postone those lessons). Self-realization is the realization that we are the soul and not the body or personality. This soul, or Atman, is destined to become one with the Creator but this destiny must be obtained by its willing choice, not by compulsion.

Surveys show that the majority of humans on this planet subscribe to or accept as plausible the idea of mutliple births.

Yet the fact of death is undeniably final as it relates to our body and the personality which had inhabited it. Countless, however, are those who claim they have had some post-death contact with their loved one. Many are the stories of near-death experiences attesting to our disincarnate and deathless reality.

What aspect of our Self continues and what aspect is lost? There are remarkable and many stories of children with clear and convincing memories of their past life. (The relatively recent story, "Soul Survivor," is worth reading.)

Since we can safely say that most humans DO NOT remember their past lives (except perhaps in flitting glimpses or oddly familiar feelings about others, places, or objects....but just occasionally), something is lost, to us at least. Of course isn't memory loss in THIS lifetime a serious problem? Why should we fret, then, over loss over memory due to the intensity of the after death sojourn in astral sleep. Interestingly, it seems that dying takes place early as year after year our memories fade, as if in anticipation!

If the power goes out when your are sitting at your computer in the middle of multiple programs, your work is at least partially lost. If a program crashes and cannot be restarted, the data remains on the hard drive but, without the program, cannot typically be accessed. When you delete a file, only the index of how to find that file is erased. The file itself remains on the hard drive. Deleting that index is somewhat akin to the loss of the physical body. But the matrix of the astral body retains the data for later use and recovery. The conscious mind may have no access to it, however.

Each life is indeed unique: as to time, space, circumstances, events, and the resulting combination of attitudes, habits, and insights the grow up around this unique time-space experience. But when we die, those external circumstances whose influence is undeniable disappear and with them those merely superficial incidentals of our personality which depended upon them.

More deeply ingrained attitudes are like data files that remain intact in the matrix of the astral (energy) body of light. We are using light in modern technology as a transmitter of voice, data, and video signals. So it is not difficult to imagine a body of light in which a matrix of qualities, memories, tendencies, and attitudes reside.

Unlike computers, however, that which IS ("I AM"), the Infinite consciousness contains all thoughts, all past, present, and future. Thus in truth (in God's infinite consciousness) NOTHING is lost. But until our souls awaken and then merge into God, we only recover bits of data from our past. Hence it is that Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras explains that one who has achieved perfect non-attachment to his body and all objects remembers his past lives.

This does not mean that those children who are born with clear memories of the former life are necessarily great saints but, for reasons we cannot see, they are blessed with that memory perhaps to bestow a message to their families and others with "eyes to see."

Thus we mustn't feel badly to the degree of our grief and sense of loss, whether for ourselves or for others at the time of death. We can strive, however, to live with faith and to live on the higher plane of God-realization, compassion, concentration, and nobility of character. From the great heights of the mountain peaks of consciousness beyond bodily identification, we see the valleys and hills of life below as one great panorama.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Prodigal Son Returns!

The story told by Jesus in the New Testament of the prodigal son who returns to and is welcomed back home by his father is one of the most inspiring allegories of the scriptures of east and west.

Where in this story is there any hint of eternal damnation? Is not error, ignorance, and self-destructive attitudes and behaviors hell enough? How many millions suffer from poverty, addictions, abuse, disease, and exploitation? Hell, who needs hell? It can be right here in our own hearts and minds! Besides, when you are truly in the midst of suffering, does it not SEEM like it will never end?

Are WE the cause of our suffering? How can we explain the suffering of a child? The annihilation of an entire culture? Is life itself to blame? Is suffering just built into the matrix of life? Is it God who punishes us? If so, do we deserve it or is God capricious?

These are among the great questions of life, to be sure. Just as only a handful of people in this world can truly comprehend the grand mysteries of science such as string theory, quantum physics, relativity, and the time-space continuum, so too only a few great souls truly grasp the grand mysteries of our human experience. Who, among millions who use computers or cell phones, truly understand the inner workings of even these (now) mundane devices we so depend upon?

The pearl of life's wisdom is not sold cheaply in the marketplace of bookshops but is only found, hard-won, in even-mindedness and calmness on the threshing floor of daily life and in the hermitage of inner silence.

Why, then, should we be surprised if the great drama of life is veiled and seems to us a mystery, an enigma? Paramhansa Yogananda was once asked about a possible "short-cut" to wisdom. He smiled and replied that such a short-cut would make it too easy and that God has so veiled the truth that we might seek Him for his love, not merely his wisdom. Besides, he quipped, most people, if given a chance to talk to God, would only argue.

He went on to say God HAS everything; God IS everything. He "lacks" only our love, our personal interest, and our attention. Most humans on this planet wouldn't have it any other way, so engrossed in the pursuit of life, liberty, pleasure, and human happiness are they.

Yet, like the prodigal son, when the famine of disappointment or disatisfaction strikes again (whether clothed as material success, or, failure) and we gnash our teeth in despair at the thought of the anguishing monotony of continued rebirth, and we look heavenward (inward) for the truth that can make us free.......then the dawn of wisdom appears in the eastern sky.

You see, until we have stepped out of the drama, we cannot see the drama for what it really is: a drama. Caught up in our roles, we cannot see that both the villain and the good guy are but actors. It's true that the villain is slain and the hero victorious but even that doesn't necessarily appear so from the outside looking in. We cannot see the cause of our suffering or the seeming whimsey of success as but part of the drama and our likes and dislikes of it all as the result of our identification with it.

But there is a way out. Someone once said, "The only way OUT is IN!" Indeed! The story of prodigal son describes the pathway home.

Turning now to the story itself in the New Testament, at first, famished as our souls become for kernels of wisdom, we take apprenticeship with spiritual teachers, teachings, and practices; in this process, we may be asked to feed others who are even more needy than we (the "swine" in the story). Then, as the Bible describes, we "come to ourself" and remember the happiness (bliss) we once knew in our Father's home.

Then, armed with that remembrance, we begin our journey, retracing our steps homeward. In what direction do those steps lead? As Jesus put it elsewhere: "The kingdom of heaven is within you." Thus he, a great yogi, counsels as does Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, the inner path of meditation.

The door the leads to "heaven" are the doorways of the subtle (astral) spine known as the chakras. These lead to the inner kingdom which, in turn, leads us to our home in God's eternal presence. Kriya yoga is an advanced technique of meditation that is aptly described as the key to these doorways. It is designed to accelerate our inner path and ability to become sensitive to this inner world of energy and consciousness. This is the "stuff" of the higher worlds from which the material world appears and is sustained.

We retrace our steps in a way not unlike reversing the process of birth, or, as is often said, becoming "born again." Not physically of course, but energetically. We become baptised in this inner spine of energy and divine consciousness. The rest of this description is the teaching of raja yoga training and need not be dwelled upon here.

Be ye of good cheer, for the good news (paraphrasing Christian vocabulary) is that the keys to the inner kingdom have been given. Meditation is for everyone and kriya yoga unlocks the power to be free.

Blessings to all! Hriman

Monday, November 8, 2010

President Obama visits India!

My friend, Larry Rider, sent me quotes today from some of Obama's remarks in India. In light of Paramhansa Yogananda's oft quoted prediction that someday India and America would, together, lead the world into a new age of cooperation and balancing material with spiritual needs, I find some of the quotes rather remarkable.

But before I share them, the background for their appeal lies in a broader understanding of the needs of our rapidly changing planet.

When I think back to my childhood in the 1950's in a small town on the California coast (Pacific Grove - part of the now famous Monterey Peninsula), our lives seemed so quiet and insulated compared with today's clamoring diversity. But even then, the hints were there. For starters, Monterey was a fishing town comprised of many Sicilian descendents.

It had once been the capital of Alta California under Spanish rule and even briefly the capital of California when first a territory of the United States. As a boy I was aware that there still existed large tracts of land owned by blue-blooded, almost royal families who were descendents of the original Spanish land grants.

Spanish language, culture, cuisine, music, and dress were ubiquitous and proudly affirmed as part of our heritage. Indeed, our towns and streets were mostly Spanish named. The architecture, which I still to this day love so much, was the adobe buildings with the red-tiled roofs, geranium flower boxes, and the miniature courtyards offering greenery and respite from the dusty streets.

Pacific Grove, where I lived, had been founded as a Protestant church camp. But it had become a small town and had its own African-American quarter. Their church, which shook joyfully each Sunday with gospel music, was right up the street from my house. One of my boyhood friends went to church there every Sunday. We took turns going to one another's homes to play. No one - either in his family or mine - ever hinted that there should be anything different or awkward between us.

The residue of a former "Chinatown" was only blocks away, adjacent to the famous Cannery Row, among whose largely abandoned sardine factories, I played as a child. It had once bustled with the rich and mysterious color of the orient. As youngsters, we heard stories of opium dens and mah jong gambling establishments --all very appealing to our youthful imaginations.

On the weekends I played with the children of a family of Japanese descent who ran a dry-cleaning business and a grocery store. Their grandparents' home was filled with oriental paintings and furniture. I remember sitting quietly in the living room one day (while my friend went upstairs to speak with his grandmother) gazing at awe at the mysterious carvings, swords, and tapestry-like scenes of traditional Japan.

So, there it was, all around me. But I remained, as a child, insulated with my Irish-Catholic family and faith, with my Catholic school and parish church, and the many families who, surrounding it, comprised a kind of community. I could not have imagined the diversity we now know day-to-day in America and around the world.

Paramhansa Yogananda looked past the simple mixture of nationalities to the driving impulse of consciousness that brought them together. Yes, the promise of prosperity and freedom of America has been for two hundred or more years the engine driving this admixture. Fueled by rapid advances in science and commerce, together with heretofore seemingly inexhaustible natural resources around the world, the world has changed rapidly.

But what is missing is the heart and soul of an emerging world culture. We may have the power to change our lives and our world but not the yet the wisdom not to destroy it (and ourselves) in the process. Assimilation maybe a fact but it is not necessarily a harmonious one! What is needed is an expression of spirituality that matches our material might.

And that's where India comes in. India has nurtured and preserved an underlying spiritual revelation that matches the grand vision, both macroscopic and miscroscopic, that science offers to us. No other orthodox theology or tradition on the planet is so far reaching in its embrace as to be described more often as a philosophy than a religion.

I am not referring to India's culture, necessarily, as we encounter it in the 21st century. Nor yet even its strictly orthodox, Brahaminical theology, rituals, and deistic pantheon. I refer to what in a past higher age was self-described by India's rishis as "Sanaatan Dharma," or, the eternal religion.

This is not intended to be yet another sectarian boast. Rather, it is a revelation based on personal realization by "spiritual scientists" which are as real and as practical as the experiments of modern scientists. Sanaatan Dharma describes the universe as a manifestation of divine consciousness and the purpose of evolution as the creation of Self-awareness adequate to achieve this realization in a state of Oneness.

It is this grand vision of spiritual reality that offers humankind a concommitant spiritual version of a "unified field theory" that great scientists have sought for centuries.

So, back to President Obama! His statements are naturally politically, economically and technology oriented, but behind these is an acknowledgement of a central role that India has to play and for a special relationship in that role to America.

Here then are some of his statements that, in their essential recognition at least, echo the words of Paramhansa Yogananda several decades ago:

Obama hailed Mahatma Gandhi, who used peaceful non-violence to help India gain its independence, and he noted Gandhi's influence on Martin Luther King and the non-violent resistance that typified the American civil rights movement: Obama spoke revealingly of this by saying:

"I am mindful that I might not be standing before you today, as president of the United States, had it not been for Gandhi and the message he shared and inspired with America and the world," the president said.

Obama lauded India's rise on the world stage, saying "India is not simply emerging; India has already emerged."

He envisions, he said, U.S.-Indian relations as "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century."

He said India has overcome critics who say the country was too poor, vast and diverse to succeed, citing its Green Revolution, investments in science and technology.

Obama praised India's democratic institutions: its free electoral system, independent judiciary, the rule of law, and free press. He said India and the United States have a unique link because they are democracies and free-market economies. "When Indians vote, the whole world watches. Thousands of political parties. Hundreds of thousands of polling centers. Millions of candidates and poll workers, and 700 million voters. There's nothing like it on the planet.

Blessings, Hriman

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Thank You Darwin!

I read once in National Geographic how researchers were analyzing human love and attraction and attempting to show that this, too, was but an outgrowth of our genetically programmed impulse for survival and continuation of the species.

I've never understood all the fuss about the law of survival. It seems so obvious (to anyone perhaps but a scientist) it should never have received tha attention it has garnered.

I suppose some of these "Darwinists" also interpret great works of art and acts of personal self-sacrifice in terms of the law of survival, as well. But the attempts reek of the sterile laboratory of dry, myopic reasoning.

Consider that long before Darwin, Adam Smith published the (then) shocking assertion that self-interest was the motivation behind all human action. Ah, yes,yet another fact of human nature revealed to us that is otherwise so obvious as to never having merited particular attention by people with common sense and a higher vision of life.

And then there's the "pursuit of happiness" enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. Who's to argue with these great "revelations?"

Now all told, none of this is either shocking or blasphemous in its own right. The issue I take with it all is twofold: 1) It's simply and truly inadequate to explain anything meaningful to human existence, and 2) Scientists and nonscientists alike have made bold attempts to make a philosophy of life (and in some cases a religion) out of such pedestrian observations. The modern age seems to have gloried in the most banal realities of human existence.

Returning, then, to Darwin and his army of devotees, we can say that competition and survival have been elevated to the heights of the greatest virtue in social theories, pyschology, politics, and the arts. Both communism and capitalism owe their stark, dark, and banal dogmas to the deification of the mundane realities of self-interest and material needs.

Again, who would argue with obvious fact of competitiveness (and its potential benefits when held in check). It's just that the 19th and 20th centuries which promoted this "philosophy" managed to slaughter hundreds of millions of people, wipe out entire species of animals and plants, and bring this earth rapidly towards potential self-destruction!

In other words, philosophy DOES matter. Social values DO MATTER. The Founding Fathers of America created checks and balances to hold at bay the self-interest that they wisely knew was the engine of human motivation. At the same time, they themselves were guided by and extolled for everyone high ideals of the social good, belief in God and recognition of divine love and virtues.

According to the teaching of duality, however, all things have their opposite. I have noticed that since the Sixties, the science of ecology is reawakening a steadily growing and enlightened self-interest that is the necessary counterweight to competition and materialism. Ecology contains an implicit philosophy of interdependence and places a high value upon mutually supportive diversity. At heart, these are, arguably, spiritual values and, in fact, only to some degree, scientific ones.

Of course, religion ought to offer such insights but science and religion have been at odds for centuries, with religion steadily losing ground and science gaining respect and becoming the religion of modern culture. Religious principles founded on a priori beliefs and sectarian dogmas have earned the disdain of intelligent and high-minded people all over the world.

So, if science is the modern religion then it must needs be science that will save us! And that's where the message of ecology seems to have played a role.

Still, science, whether pedestrian or elevated, cannot satisfy the deeper and eternal questions of humankind, nor can it satisfy the heart. For wisdom, too, Paramhansa Yogananda wrote in his famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," we have a hunger (not just for food and shelter).

This is where and why the life-affirming and all-encompassing ancient Vedanta philsophy of India has encircled the globe offering hope for a better world. Vedanta is incomplete with the knowledge, science, and art of how to attains its cosmic vision of the creation and the purpose of creation.

That art and science is the personal and nonsectarian practice of meditation and Self-realization. Science will never be enough to transform civilization. At every great turn of history, it is the saints and men and women of universal vision who guide humanity away from the rocks of self-destruction towards the shores of true survival.

Blessings, Hriman

P.S. If you'd like to learn more about this subject, please obtain a copy of Swami Kriyananda's (J. Donald Walters) insightful landmark book, "Out of the Labyrinth." It's sequel, equally inspiring and forward looking, is "Hope for a Better World."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Voice of America

Now that the mid-term election has (finally) come and gone, we hear talk of the American people wanting fiscal responsibility in our government spending. Of course, who's going to argue with that, right?

On a collective level I think the message (whether in thought or speech, individual or public) reflects a kind of therapy whereby we, as a culture, are preparing ourselves to live within our OWN means. There is, I believe, a deep recognition that our standard of living is, and has been steadily, declining and will continue to do so. In part this is our "just desserts" for our excesses, and, in part, it is the process of globalization and long-term trend of balancing out the long-standing extremes of rich and poor (at least relatively).

Long-term and on an essential level we are in a process of making a cultural about face from materialism to a Spirit-centered life. Now, of course, most will be somewhere in the middle even when we arrive, but the direction remains nonetheless necessary and positive overall. Paramhansa Yogananda, before his passing in 1952, predicted a traumatic period of hyperinflation and instability and stated that Americans would be "half as rich but twice as spiritual!" (A generalization, merely)

What few seem to acknowledge in the here and now of political dialogue is that balancing government budgets means massive layoffs and removal of benefits. We see this acknowledged more openly in the budget proposed for Britain. This, combined with the massive federal deficit, will bring us, in the Biblical sense, "seven" years of famine. You can take THAT to the bank!

The hope is that individuals and businesses will be relatively relieved of burdensome taxation (don't bet on it) and thus create jobs. But interest rates are incredibly low (lowest ever) and ironically government debt is, at the moment, virtually interest free (relatively, of course).

Not that I am a pessimist. Indeed Yogananda, and Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, who has, for decades, warned audiences of this very process in a spirit of hope: hope for a better world. The one we've been living in is, in every way possible, unsustainable! A new generation of children-becoming-adults will need to, and hopefully be able to, take up the standard of a more balanced life.

Imagine some day when the nations of the world enjoy, more or less, the same or equivalent standard of living. At that point, nations or combinations of nations which form sufficiently large enough market for certain goods, will have no need to import them from afar. Say, America, or north America, as a general market or trading zone. Assuming the volume of computers needed in this market is adequate to fuel their manufacture within the trading zone, then computers will be (once again) made domestically. And so it will be for virtually every other daily necessity.

So why wait? We cannot go on forever buying from China with nothing to trade in exchange. So we either figure out what they can buy from us (rather than our debt), or we begin making our own products again. Is this protectionism? Call it what you want: how about sheer survival?

Rather than a stark and aggressive solution that would be resisted by others, why not a cooperative approach that can provide benefits to all participating nations? For example, China, faced with a slowdown in American purchases, wisely began to redirect their investments into their own country's infrastructure, consumer products, and other needs. That's a win-win, so far as I can see.

There are solutions, in other words. We just have to think bigger and more inclusively. Imagine the food, e.g., that can be grown within a 50 or 100 mile radius of your city or town? Virtually everything needed for healthy living.

For many of us as devotees and members of Ananda, this is yet another sign of the need for small communities of like-minded souls, striving for high ideals though simple living and intelligent and creative cooperation. So, why not be an optimist. Sure we need to go on a diet and that's hard, at first, but rewarding at last.

Blessings, Hriman

Sunday, October 24, 2010

New Challenges Require a New Understanding

Great changes and great conflicts are taking place throughout the world. Much dialogue surrounds topics such as changes predicted for the year 2012. To me such dialogue symbolizes a shared inner sense of a growing need for quantum change, rather than incremental changes.

In the United States and in Europe we see basic ideologies being stressed and challenged. The cradle to grave social supports of most Europe countries are becoming unaffordable just as the United States has made a somewhat belated and overdue effort to create a healthcare safety net in the midst of the largest financial crises since the Great Depression.

Hardly a year has past since the sweeping victory of Barack Obama promised great changes only to find his proposed changes largely thwarted and still-born. In the United States, the self-image of individual self-sufficiency linked to distrust of government swelled in opposition to the spectre of growing governmental influence. Somewhat anachronistic "tea parties" have been growing like mushrooms after a rain decrying big government and more deficit spending while largely suggesting nothing practical or positive beyond business as usual and life as we've always known it.

These are, indeed, challenging times. The problems this nation and much of the world faces require bold leadership and new solutions right in the face of bankruptcy and political paralysis.

Our age is and continues to evolve in the direction of being an age of individuality, individual liberties, and personal initiative. At the same time, large institutions of all types (political, business, educational, scientific, medical, and religious) still hold the reins of power, wealth, and prestige. Nor is this likely to change anytime soon.

The paralysis in national and global solutions that we face will not be broken until great hardship and suffering has occured which is to say, by sheer and dire necessity, probably handled (and badly) by such large institutions. But long-term solutions will, whether in advance or after the fact, come from individuals and small groups of individuals.

It is my feeling that karmically the United States finds itself needing to have a cohesive and strong central government in order to help initiate the lifestyle and attitude changes needed even as that government is broke, is lacking in leadership, and even as our citizens reject and distrust it.

The good news is that this deadlock will invite the kinds of solutions that will serve all us the best because in greater harmony with the needs of our age. Thus individual states, cities, and counties (and their residents) will be forced to look for solutions and not depend upon the central government. Where those solutions suggest or demand a national concensus or at least involvement, that participation will be both voluntary and cooperative, rather than imposed from above.

In fact, with both the central government and the states becoming increasingly impotent because bankrupt, cooperation among institutions and citizens will be required even if, sadly, most likely forced upon us by circumstances for the fact of our not facing realities sooner.

We need to encourage a variety of experiments or alternatives around the country in areas of health care, for example, or in welfare, in reduction of carbon emissions just to name a few obvious areas. People love choices and de-centralized alternatives will encourage the necessary fermentation to find viable solutions.

Perhaps the role of a central government therefore is (at least in these critical areas where change is badly needed) to set very general goals, directions, and guidelines for sub-entities and individuals to experiment with. Other examples include health and safety in food handling, nutrition and diet, alternative energy, energy conservation, balanced immigration policies, responsible savings habits, legitimate investments, and a balanced long-term housing strategy (vis-a-vis mortgage, tax, and other housing policies).

One subject remains perhaps too big to handle but too big to ignore: military spending and its relationship to our strategic and legitimate global interests. How many "Vietnams" must we so ignorantly initiate before we face the fact that we are not capable or worthy of being the world's self-appointed policeman of justice and democracy?

Here, too, and perhaps here especially, we must face the fact that unilateral military action is (generally) inappropriate and unfeasible. Cooperative international action with nations who share our interests and ideals is the only and obvious way to soften the rough edges of national pride, misuse of power, and naked, but ignorant, self-interest.

Military spending alone, if not common sense, past experience, or wisdom, should demolish forever this nation's (out of date) cowboy-cavalry self-image.

One last subject equally large and difficult to address is a moral one. What nation can retain its vitality and creative vigor when dissipation of its natural resources, its financial wealth past zero into debt, or its citizen's morality through self-indulgence, selfishness, or violence becomes the norm?

I believe and endorse the concept of separation of religion from political life. But we have thrown out the baby with the bath water. We don't want nor would our culture tolerate censorship but affirmation, training, and encouragement of universal values of good citizenship, healthy living, and ethics - the development of national virtue, in other words -- should be at the center of what individuals and institutions champion in ways large and small. Funding for wholesome entertainment would be a refreshing change as would public-figure examples of modesty, civility and integrity. Demonstrating and championing the practical benefits of hard work, self-respect, healthy living, education, creativity, and self-iniative would do more than money or legislation to uplift and change for the better our nation and our world.

Blessings to all, Hriman

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What's Important?

In a prior blog written over a week ago while in Frankfurt, Germany at the annual international publisher's trade show, I commented on the dizzying spectrum of attitudes, appearance, and consciousness gathered in one place from all nations, races, and cultures of the earth!

While there I met a publisher who represents a Vietnamese spiritual teacher whose ministry revolves around respect for animals. The publisher returned my visit to her booth with a visit to our own. As Padma was busy with another publisher (a regular "customer"), I agreed to be interviewed and filmed for this publisher's TV station based in Los Angeles. (Due to language difficulties I never quite got the whole picture and details and it happened so fast.)

Among the comments I made during that interview (held right in the busy aisle of a large exhibition hall and adjacent to our booth) were included the remark that seeing all these thousands of people, all seemingly so different in many ways, I could also see that each and every one of us wants the same thing: happiness.

Since the venue was that of conducting international business it was natural to project that many people there were seeking success (aka happiness) in their business dealings. But it doesn't take much awareness to see, even but visually, that a large spectrum of desires and ambitions (and hurts) are reflected in the faces and bodies of passersby.

If human beings could truly examine their own motives and realize that it's not only happiness that we seek but that the infinity of (generally) trivial, fleeting, and even petty pleasures and desires we entertain cannot possibly bring lasting satisfaction, wouldn't it be so easy to make real progress toward inner peace?

Alas, the Great Dramatist of this varied universe has put on a very good show. As actors we have to work our way up the ladder of success and recognition before we can meet the Director and see that's it's only a show. The parts we have seem very realistic and we do get very much caught up in them.

Question: is "God" for losers? For failures? Do we only turn to God when we've lost everything? This is a common perception, isn't it---especially among materialistic, self-made people?

It's certainly true that suffering makes us re-think our priorities. But it's equally true that success, which inevitably fails to bring us the happiness we seek (when sought only for its own sake), can offer an opportunity for deeper reflection. So, in this world of duality, BOTH success AND failure can be prods to awaken our desire for truth and true happiness.

One of the most famous sayings of Jesus Christ is universally in every language and in so many words the true devotee's mantra: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and its righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."

It takes a beginning affirmation (belief) but with a little "practice of this inward religion" (quote from the Bhagavad Gita), faith which is based in and grows toward Self-realization emerges to show us that when we put God first in our lives, everything else takes its proper place to support our journey.

What does this mean: put God first? It can mean, "first" of all: to put virtue first. Honesty, committed, creative effort, unselfishness, healthy living, compassion and fulfillment of one's appointed duties. But goodness and virtue, by themselves, have their limits. Based only upon our ego's sense of doership and ownership (of our very own virutes), we lay the groundwork for their opposites to rise up and strike down our growing pride.

Yet virtue, being its own reward, builds strength and character and attunes our goodly consciousness towards a more Godly one. But it is not until we seek the highest virtue, God alone, God's pure love alone, that we can begin the journey away from the opposites towards the center where no sorrow, no polarity can rob us of our peace.

It becomes a question of uplifting our sense of self identity: from the body (and ego), to the soul and to eternity. Only when anchored in changelessness and unaffected by the opposites of which this world is made, can we find release and true happiness.

This certainly does not permit us to be remiss in our God-given duties. It certainly doesn't excuse us from enthusiasm, generosity, compassion and self-sacrifice in support of worthy goals and causes (not just our own salvation).

In the Ananda Communities around the world, practicing daily meditation and self-giving service to others, we find that simple living and high ideals brings the greatest happiness. Such communities are living laboratories wherein it becomes obvious that those who give the most in devotion and service (and in self-forgetfulness) are the happiest. Those who hold back and who complain, and who put their personal comforts and concerns ahead of the needs of others, are never satisfied.

Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, has given over sixty years public service: creative, energetic, devotional and kindly. Now, at age 84, with the body-temple giving him lots of trouble, it is Bliss, not pain or regret, that he experiences.

Only the saints can "boast" of having found true happiness. A saintly life, a God and Good-centered life, brings to our bodies, nervous system, feelings, and perceptions the cooling breezes of Bliss. God first, God alone.

Blessings, Hriman

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pride or Prejudice? Two Souls, Four Lives!

Few people ever meet a person of greatness. Fewer could even define what that is. Fewer, still, in this culture of "I'm as good as anyone else" would appreciate greatness if they bumped into it.

Yet history and culture consistently uphold and recognize greatness in every field of human activity: great artists, leaders, saints and scientists. It's just safer once they are dead and gone to pronounce someone to be "great."

Millions have read the classic story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." Many are the admirers and disciples of this truly great soul, Paramhansa Yogananda. In the recently published book by Catherine Kairavi, "Two Souls, Four Lives" she chronicles and compares the lives of William the Conqueror and Paramhansa Yogananda, and, William's youngest son, Henry I, and his reincarnation as Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda). (Yogananda announced publicly that in a prior life he was William!)

I highly recommend this fascinating tale of two souls. It has many levels of truth and wisdom to plumb but the one I choose to highlight is how "greatness" may seem like pride to those unfamiliar with greatness. Thus many people feel a disdain or prejudice towards those who appear to assume such roles.

In this story, Henry I ends up waiting many years and later having to combat his two elder brothers (both literally and otherwise) before at last inheriting the kingdom of England and Normandy established by his father, William the "Conqueror." Some historians were disdainful of Henry I because his character seemed difficult to interpret. His calmness and lack of obvious signs of kingly ambition were suspect as though to assume that all rulers were motivated only by petty ambitions.

It is Henry's greatness that was so misunderstood and his high mindedness, calmness, fairness miscast as manipulative or ruthless. (Much the same treatment was given to his father William I.)

So it has continued for Swami Kriyananda in this lifetime that the public role that he feels he must assume and feels so natural toward is assumed to be based on ego motivation.

My point is not to revisit that issue directly but to invite all of us to understand what "greatness" is so that we, too, each in our own, often unseen ways, might aspire to it.

Greatness is to act without desire for the results or for recognition of our action. To act compassionately and selflessly for the simple joy of self-giving as its own reward. To act with greatness of Self rather than affirmation of ego-self. This is greatnesss.

Spiritually this is to offer, each day, our actions into the Divine Will. The prayer of peace usually ascribed to St. Francis has in fact been found to have been written by William the Conqueror and would be a fitting prayer for each of us in every day. "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace......"

As Jesus promised devotees both "heaven" and persecution, you can be sure your lack of ego-driven motives will be similarly misconstrued. "No good deed goes unpunished" is the cliche that seems to fit the facts.

For now, however, I invite and encourage you to read "Two Souls, Four Lives." For those of you who are also reading "Rescuing Yogananda" you will soon recognize that one book (Two Souls) is, in a sense, the foundation for the second (Rescuing).