Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How to Know God!

How to Know God!

We have inherited a medieval mindset when we unthinkingly relegate “God” to some distant universe of indifference or even some unfathomably vast distance from our own daily life and concerns. Yet the life and teachings of God-realized saints and masters are vibrant testimonies to God’s being our closest, and our nearest and dearest friend. God, Yogananda and others have reminded us, has everything, indeed, IS everything in creation. The only one thing God doesn’t possess is our love, our interest, and our attention. This only we can give of our own, free will.

We do not “see” God, or feel God’s presence in our lives, because of our preoccupation with our own thoughts, fears, desires, and activities. As Swami Sri Yukteswar noted in a meeting with a skeptical chemist who couldn’t isolate God in the laboratory, if you could but watch your thoughts for one day you would know why you haven’t “found” God!

In the chapter, “An Experience in Cosmic Consciousness” (in Autobiography of a Yogi), Paramhansa Yogananda was given that supernal experience by the grace of his guru, Sri Yukteswar. He was given the key to entering that blessed state at will, and to bestow that state upon others whose intuition was sufficiently developed to handle the experience. He would enter that state, he wrote, for months at a time. (Incredible to even think of it!).

Nonetheless, after some time, he asked his guru, “When will I find God?” Sri Yukteswar chuckled and commented that surely Mukunda (Yogananda’s pre-monastic, birth name) didn’t expect some bearded man on a throne in some corner of antiseptic space? Sri Yukteswar explained that meditation furnishes a two-fold proof of God: ever-new joy, convincing to one’s very atoms, and His adequate guidance to our every need. Yogananda replied that indeed he had found the joy of meditation bubbling up from the subconscious during daily activities, guiding him even in the smallest detail of his actions.

In fact, the superconscious state of our soul manifests itself to us in eight distinct forms of consciousness and feeling (Chitta): peace, wisdom, energy, love, calmness, Aum sound, light, and bliss. Each of these corresponds to the one of the chakras in ascending order (the sixth chakra has a negative pole at the medulla and a positive pole at the spiritual eye, hence “eight”). Each of these levels of consciousness gives us a gift, both an inward beatitude and an outward one.

For example, peace, the guardian of the higher seven states, washes us clean in meditation of the attachments of daily life, even while, outwardly it blesses us with peace emanations in our work and at home: such emanations are sometimes felt and appreciated by those around us. Wisdom is more than mere intellectual knowledge. It is grace. It is the vibration of purity and knowing: gnosis. The highest wisdom is to know the Self as the soul. Energy is the fire element that ignites our desire to find God in meditation and to walk the path of daily life with integrity. Love is devotion to God and love for God through our fellow man. Calmness gives us confidence and insight under stress and deep expansive vistas of space in meditation, as well as the beatitude felt when restless thoughts at last subside during meditation. The Aum vibration begins the last stage of our ascent to Oneness, for communion with Aum is entrance to higher realms, including communion with its companion, light, and final entrance into the final state of union in unalloyed Bliss.

When we contact any level of these eight aspects of God when are in direct contact with God. Thus even the beginning meditator can access the Divine presence easily. “The time for knowing God has come” Paramhansa Yogananda declared.

Blessings to you,

Nayaswami Hriman

note: this was taken from a Sunday Service talk I gave on February 21. See to listen to the audio version.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Should one reject religion?

Sorry if this first post is longer than blogs usually offer, but this is new to me:

Religion vs. Spirituality

It is increasingly common to hear a distinction made between religion and spirituality. In general, spirituality refers to an individual's personal relationship with God while religion is considered organized spirituality. For some people the two are opposites (and in opposition!). There can be no definition of spirituality but I would tentatively describe it as having either its goal or its source in a personal experience of God or some transcendent state of consciousness. When this connection is sought through specific disciplines and practices such as daily prayer and meditation it may be described as "my spiritual path." But sometimes the experience comes to a person unexpectedly. It might then become the turning point for a lifelong spiritual journey or it may be simply treasured in one's heart without an additional effort to recapture it.

Humans need more than food, shelter, and the usual comforts that occupy such the vast percentage of our activities.There exists also a need for wisdom. Not the kind of wisdom that we think of as being "smart" or knowledgeable. Rather, true wisdom is nothing less than the experience of Oneness, the true and sole truth of all creation. While, so far as we know, plants, rocks, and animals are content to merely exist or to operate on instinct alone and presumably never question their own awareness or existence, at the human level there exists the capacity to become self-aware and the concomitant desire to seek the source and meaning of our awareness and existence.

In the experience of transcendence, the usual ego-affirming and ego-protective instincts are sublimated and absorbed into an overarching experience of Oneness. This produces ineffable joy, intensity of Being-ness, and great vitality, among other things. In any case, beyond any necessarily feeble attempt to describe it, essential spirituality has its roots in this experience whose levels are unendingly vast, indeed: infinite. But the history of spirituality in individual lives shows that there are gradations of transcendence and therefore saints, seers, prophets, masters, rishis, and sages express different levels or different aspects of this essential truth that we are One.

But, regardless of gradations, it is the testimony, the teachings, and the example of the lives of such witnesses that form the seed that germinates into what we call religion. Accepting that the seed grows up and outward from its roots in transcendence, it is obvious it moves progressively away from its origins. In the process, many souls are inspired, redeemed, and helped even if, in certain circumstances, varying degrees of harm or betrayal of the seed revelation also occurs.

Thus it is that the transcendent experience of saints and sages in every age functions to refresh, re-inspire, and re-direct the impulses and forms of religions. Though the representatives of religion claim for themselves the protection of their particular seed revelation and the right to interpret, teach, and otherwise keep it “pure,” it is only those in whom transcendence flowers for this specific, divine purpose who are the true custodians of religion.

Transcendent experiences draw from Infinity and can never be fixed into a single credo or ritual. The needs of humans, both individual and groups, change over time and the wisdom guidance of transcendence can take many directions, though none that are true can ever be essentially contradictory, for all should point back to Oneness. It would be no surprise, therefore, that different faith traditions , teachers, teachings, and techniques will exist at any one time or down through the ages according to the spiritual needs and levels of maturity of the souls they serve to uplift.

But many who are aware of this distinction (between religion and spirituality) reject religion. But perhaps it is a mistake to reject what religion has to offer. Is it not the impulse of the One to become many? And does not the impulse to love but the impulse of One to draw the many back into One? To serve the One in many is the duty and necessity of the individual soul in its journey to become reunited with Infinity. Still, it is not difficult to understand why some people are reluctant to expand their personal spirituality into the seemingly complex social strata of religion. Such people decry that too many orthodox religionists have betrayed their founders' revelations and teachings. But sometimes spiritual dillettantes revel in their critique of orthodoxy only to justify their refusal (or fear) to commit to any form of spiritual discipline.

To believe in an ideal or cause but refuse to take action to manifest or support it, is either cowardice or ignorance. As Lord Krishna proclaims in the Bhagavad Gita we cannot achieve the actionless state (of transcendence) without taking action (without ego-directed motivation). It is our nature and duty to participate in the great drama of creation bringing into manifestation the divine in human form. In India, this is called the avatara. When we have an idea, an inspiration, or, in meditation, a potentially life transforming experience, we naturally seek to manifest or express it, lest it become stillborn and its vital glow wane into darkness.

We see in the lives of saints the general tendency to endorse the rituals, beliefs, and customs into which he (she) is born in order to help others. Sometimes, a saint comes to deliver a course correction to the errors of orthodox religion. But even, so, such a saint would clothe his inspiration in some form recognizable to his culture. Jesus, for example, initiated the sacrament of the Eucharist by using bread and wine - common everyday forms of material sustenance which served to convey both the symbol and the means for divine, inner communion. Jesus also declared that he came to fulfill the law and the prophets (and not to destroy them), and yet, for all of that, he declared something radically new, so radical in fact, that he was condemned to death by the religious leaders of his time! Saints will often uphold the valid and helpful traditions into which they are born even if they, personally, are not dependent upon those rituals and credos for their own inspiration. Yet others enter states of superconscious in performing such rituals!

Bear in mind that we cannot bind transcendence to any rules. But as the saints speak the language of their culture taking that which is common and elevating it to the divine, so too might we responsibly express our spirituality using the symbols that speak to us and others. Thus in our commitment to sharing, we expand our hearts and our consciousness.

Therefore what is needed today, in this age where old forms are being rejected is the understanding that the new dispensation of spirituality which is sweeping our planet must take new forms. Not necessarily radical or unrecognizable forms, however. Whatever forms we choose, the result and the intention should not be sectarian. We must attempt to understand that although the form and language we use may be specific (just as our name, body, and personality are specific), the intention can still be a universal one. There need not be a contradiction or irony in this. It's just that we have grown accustomed to associating specific beliefs, rituals, devotions, and practices with sectarianism. Consider that the process of the ego offering itself into God consciousness might be reflected in the way that an enlightened religion in its teachings and practices might invite its adherents to individually seek Oneness. Think BOTH-AND, rather than EITHER-OR!

The other modern tendency that stems from the rejection of the forms of religion is the the temptation to view spirituality as only personal or simply democratic, as though truth were subject to vote or merely subjective. Instead, let us look to those great souls who have been sent into our age by the divine for that specific purpose for guidance in creating new expressions. In this way the sacred tradition of incarnation, or avatara (divine descent) is upheld and strengthened offering great blessings to those of us who serve its cause.

While there has been no lack of spiritual teachers in the 20th century, few combine tradition with a new dispensation, and who demonstrate the tangible spiritual power to uplift many souls. For this power is the hallmark of the avatar who is a world teacher. In 1920, Paramhansa Yogananda came to America from India. He took up residence in Los Angeles, California, a world center of innovation and creativity. Yogananda was a swami and a master of yoga. He demonstrated publicly and to his disciples power over life and death! Though he was raised in India as a Hindu, he did not reject his roots, nor yet did he stick doggedly or rigidly to Hindu customs and orthodoxy. Indeed, he was criticised by orthodox Hindus both in India and in America. He taught yoga (both the physical culture of "hatha yoga," and meditation, "raja yoga"). He brought to America (and to the West generally) the technique known simply as Kriya Yoga, an advanced breath control technique for individual spiritual evolution. He said he came not to convert people to Hinduism, but to their own, higher Self.

He wrote, taught, and experimented on all aspects of modern daily life, from home life, to education, to business, politics, leadership, the arts, and, of course, religion and spirituality. He openly took on the traditional role of a guru, even if, at the same time, his charm, charisma, kindness, and transparent humility made him a friend and a servant to all. His religious services were not Brahminical but were simple and recognizable to anyone who attended a church, temple, or mosque. His message was unreservedly an affirmation of transcendence but also practical. He encouraged the customary practices of scriptural studies, fellowship, sefless service, financial support, and devotion. His was an all-mbracing life and teaching that co-existed comfortably based upon meditation and Self-realization. His message of universal fellowship of all races, creeds, and nations was hardly unique but it was clearly, creatively, and powerfully affirmed both by precept and by example. He taught what he called the "science" of religion: a science based on breath awareness, which he called India's unique contribution to humanity, which could be practiced by anyone, regardless of religious affiliation.

In what he taught and by his personal example, there was nothing lacking for the upliftment of humanity in our new and modern age. To be his follower is not to turn one's back in rejection of any other faith tradition. Yogananda is admired by millions and is acknowledged by many as the world spiritual teacher for this new age of globalization. For those who are personally attracted and committed to what he taught, discipleship is the form of their spirituality. But his is not a path of yet another sect. It is a (but not "the") doorway to the Infinite consciousness of God.

In this seeming dichotomy lies, then, the new dispensation for our age. Spirituality must take a form just as our soul, eternal and changeless, takes the form of our human body. When Yogananda was a young monk in training with his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, his guru asked him why he disdained organizational work. Had not he too come to these teachings through a line of teachers who gave of themselves to teach others? Yogananda said he vowed from that moment on to do what he could to disseminate the kriya yoga teachings of the line of masters through whom it had been resurrected in the modern era. He did so knowing the disappointments, betrayals, and overwhelming odds and prejudice to be faced by a lone Hindu swami coming to the West.

This idea of universal spirituality taking specific form while not losing either its universality or its form, is a new teaching, not seen ever before on a mass scale in known human history. We urge those of goodwill who affirm their own spirituality not to reject religion or association with others of like mind. We need not fear the enclosure of form so long as, armed with a new understanding, we see all forms as potential windows onto Infinity. The need for this new age is for people of high-mindedness to become visible and strong by association and commitment to one another. If a million people meditate privately and on their own, the impact on society might be felt over time but if they form a conscious, harmonious association in service and devotion, imagine the much greater impact.