Sunday, March 21, 2010

Planting a Garden of Self-Realization!

The Spring Equinox is here and the promise of the returning warmth of the sun and the emerging delights of nature's colors thrills us! Some years ago I wanted to make a garden out of the patch of ground behind our apartment at the Ananda Community in Lynnwood (WA). But, not being skilled at gardening, I was encouraged when I saw these cans of spring flower seeds at the check out line in the nearby Lowe’s Hardware Store. So I told my wife, Padma, about this idea of an instant garden where you just open the can, sprinkle the seeds around, and voila, you have a colorful garden! Well, “Hriman,” she said politely, “I don’t think that’s one of your better ideas!”

Fortunately I was rescued from my predicament by the good graces and generosity of our next door neighbor – Susan - who is a real gardener. She offered to re-do our backyard garden with some low maintenance, hardy, but also colorful shrubs and plants. It was a lot of work on her part and since and over the years I do my part by weeding, trimming, and bringing touches of Spring and Summer color with annuals. And, you know, that is a lot like life itself: to be successful and to find satisfaction in life, we have to have high ideals, make wise choices, seek good counsel, plant the right seeds, and then tend and care for them with loyal, loving, and disciplined effort. Our efforts draw the life-sustaining support and love of God, and God through His children!

Recently at one the classes in meditation that I teach, I described how often I'd heard students say how they had been spiritually inspired earlier in life (perhaps having read Paramhansa Yogananda's now famous story, "Autobiography of a Yogi") but had gotten distracted from their spiritual quest by the demands of daily life, marriage, family, work, health and so many other things. Often it would be twenty or more years later when their former, but short-lived interest would return with enough inspiration to give them the energy and will to begin meditating again. A discussion among us ensued and one of the students asked whether or not the seeming detour that I described mightn’t in fact be simply part of the spiritual journey. And, of course, that’s true also, isn’t it. Sometimes seeds sprout but don’t blossom because they came up too early before the last frosts of Winter.

And thus we come to the dilemma of good (life) gardening: is it nature, or nurture? Does life just happen "if it's meant to be" or do we have to step up and in to make it so? Perhaps life is a bit of both, for at times we observe the operation of one or the other. Still, we could not be human and dismiss the necessity of our acting consciously and wisely on the basis of some measure of free will and ability to choose, lest we sink into a pit of pre-destined apathy. Besides, in my own experience of such students, they almost all feel that something in their life was lost by their detour, even if it was perhaps also true that at an earlier age they weren't ready to pursue their spiritual inclinations and interests.

Springtime is a time of renewal, rebirth and hope. I will never forget attending the very first reunion of Padma's Jewish relatives in Europe. Not since World War II had the family been in touch or together. The tragic memories of the Holocaust, and the disapora that followed for the few who survived it, meant that some fifty years had passed without meaningful contact. In a collection of family photographs that had been assembled I came upon one of a wedding held just after the end of the war (in 1945). I was touched and moved for the fact that after so much loss, cruelty, hatred, and suffering, love could still flower and with it, the promise and hope of a better future. As Gandhi often stated, in the midst of death, life persists; in the midst of hatred, love survives. This surely hints to us that life is good and love is our true nature.

We are faced today with the rising tide of two great forces, one balancing the other. On the grand scale of national and international forces, we see that coping with global warming and ecological issues, economic depression, spreading diseases, universal health care, immigration reform and other such issues requires the emergence of strong and centralized leadership and power. But this in turn triggers questions of individual liberties and privacy. One of the responses to the privacy issues can be seen symbolically portrayed by the rise of reality TV and social networks like Facebook. These symbols effectively cry out, “Look, I have nothing to hide!”

Apart from privacy issues, however, are the challenges themselves and how to meet them. Even as growing power coalesces into the hands of government, institutions, and multi-national corporations, they are hampered by inefficiency, political competition, corruption, and an alarming lack of resources and mounting debt. Ultimately the challenges that humanity faces will be most effectively addressed by a change in consciousness in the hearts and minds of individuals and not by legislative fiat or monetary muscle. The real solution is one of individual choice, initiative, and intention.

A recent article in TIME Magazine ("The Dropout Economy" by Reihan Salam) described the growing possibility of millions of dropouts from school who see only futility in pursuing their education. The writer predicts that the long term fallout of a generation of young adults dropping out will be large scale changes in lifestyles. People living "off the grid," living cooperatively together in intentional communities, trading goods and service off the tax grid, homeschooling their own children, and engaging in occupations mostly from home and in jobs never before dreamed of. Much of what he describes has been happening below the radar of public awareness, but the pace and size of it will soon accelerate and grow. Indeed much of what the author of the article describes is reflected in the lifestyles of residents of the Ananda Communities for the last forty years.

Paramhansa Yogananda, sent by Jesus (of the West) and Babaji (an incarnation of Krishna from the East), brought a ray of divine light that the powers acquired by humanity through science might be guided by wisdom and the spiritual power made manifest on earth through God’s incarnated instruments. Just as Springtime is the time for planting and nurturing the flowers of Self-realization, so now is the time become instruments of Light. The time is now to sow seeds of a new and superconscious lifestyle.

Blessings to all, Hriman

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mahasamadhi of Paramhansa Yogananda

On or around March 7 of each year and around the world, disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda commemorate his dramatic death on that day in 1952 at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles at a banquet he gave in honor of the recently appointed ambassador to the United State from India. But the commemoration is more than a remembrance: it is a celebration. For in life and in the manner and circumstances surrounding his death, Yogananda demonstrated his realization of God as the sole reality of life.

By his foreknowledge (which he communicated to numerous close disciples and friends), and by his actions that evening, and by the testimony of officials of Forest Lawn Mortuary as to the subsequent incorruptibility of his body, he taught us that death is not the final curtain of life. In the great tradition of saints and sages since time immemorial, he upheld the promise of our soul's immortality. As St. John the Apostle writes in the first chapter of his gospel, "To as many as received him, gave he the power to become the sons of God."

On the playing fields of earthly life, duality and maya (delusion) hold sway, the opposites of life and death vying alternatingly for supremcy. With our mortal eyes hypnotized by the seeming reality, though ever changing, of human life, we cannot see the unchanging Spirit hidden and eternal. Paramhansa Yogananda was sent by Jesus Christ and by Babaji (masters of west and east) to remind us that we are more than a physical form: we are children of God, made in the image of God, as light, as joy! Yogananda, as so many before him, demonstrated this power to those with eyes to see. Time and again he showed his ability to know their thoughts, the power to assist them in untying the knots of their karmic destiny, and in at least two dramatic instances, the power to bring the living back from the dead. It was not to show his power but our own potential that that God-realized souls are empowered to perform such "miracles.".

St. Francis praised God while wracked with pain; He sang with joy upon his deathbed; the Sufi mystic, Omar Khayyam, revealed the secrets of life, death, and destiny through the veiled imagery of the tavern of meditation, the bliss-intoxication of wine, and the divine romance of the soul with God; Swami Sri Yukteswar, Yogananda's guru, resurrected in flesh and blood, months after his burial; Lord Buddha achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, and discovered the secret of how to overcome suffering; Moses gave his people the law that led to the Promised Land of divine attunement; Jesus proved the victory of unconditional love from the cross, the love of God appearing in human form and the victory of Spirit with his bodily resurrection. In the lives of these and many other great saints and avatars, we see the testimony of the redeeming power of God's love and the promise of our soul's immortality in God.

This is what we celebrate! And although the struggles of mortal existence will never cease upon this playing field of duality, we also celebrate the beginnings of a new age of increasing awareness of life's threads of connection and unity with an ever growing number of souls on earth. Growth in education, knowledge, life span, health, travel, communication, economic, governmental and social interdependency and cooperation and general awareness of other races, nations, and religions cannot but offer hope for a better world. This increase in awareness has its source in the divine energy being offered to souls on this planet.

But at times, and for now, contact among nations produces as much heat as light. But the devastating and mounting cost of competition, exploitation, greed, prejudice and war dictate that these trends cannot triumph (or we shall perish). A balancing is needed and a higher level of understanding is all but assured, though the cost to achieve it is most certainly going to be great for there are many, still, who resist the rising tide of harmony and connectedness.

Yogananda sometimes spoke in terms of world unity. There are those who are threatened by such concepts as an affront to national sovereignty. But his vision was of a world of united hearts, not a one-world government. He recognized that each nation had specialized in its language, customs, dress, cuisine and attitudes on behalf of other nations, and that the faith traditions of earth suited the needs and temperaments of different people. Rather, therefore, than achieving unity in an outward, organizational sense, he saw unity as flowering from within people as a sconsequence of greater awareness and understanding. Hence, cooperation would supplant competition. Peoples and nations would work together to solve mutual problems and create a better, though never a perfect, world. He forsaw no mere utopia but a higher age of awareness, suitable and necessary for the evolving circumstances of our planet.

Disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda and sincere, committed devotees everywhere are the light-bearers of this new age and level of consciousness. It is valuable and helpful that individual souls understand the nature of their discipleship to life, to God, to Guru. For we are not alone in this world or in this life. It is not a time to remain apart from others of like-mindedness. Communities, both real and virtual, must form that this light become visible to all and that it be a guide out of the labyrinth of conflict that threatends to engulf our planet.

The message of our Oneness in God and the promise of our soul's immortality is a universal and timeless message but it needs repetition and context at the dawn (and throughout) each evolving age of consciousness. In celebrating Paramhansa Yogananda's life and mission, we celebrate our own and honor that of all world teachers and of the divine love which is the source and goal of creation.

Blessings to you,