Saturday, April 24, 2010

How High Should We Aspire?

This topic is based on a reading from the book by Swami Kriyananda, "Rays of the Same Light." (We use these readings at the Ananda Sunday Services around the world.) This particular reading begins with Jesus Christ counseling his disciples that their spirituality ought to be something greater than that of his (self-styled) enemies, the Pharisees, who were religious leaders in Israel in his time. Kriyananda comments that surely surpassing the superficial sanctity of these hypocrites could not have been the yardstick of spirituality Jesus was offering his disciples! It is their self-righteousness that Jesus was warning his disciples concerning, Kriyananda explains.

There are many approaches to this topic but one certainly has to do with the "holier-than-thou" spirituality that masquerades throughout religion everywhere. It is all too common the tendency of religionists to condemn others, sadly those of other religions more adamantly than unbelievers! Or, to preen themselves on the regularity of their church attendance, the size of their gifts to the church, or, closer to home (at Ananda), the length of time they sit in meditation (in full view of others, of course!).

These are the most obvious, almost comical, examples of what is simply religious hypocrisy. More subtly and presumably more useful to most of us is the value in understanding what true spirituality means. One could even take this in the direction of "What is right action?" Or, "What is good (vs. bad) karma?"

Paramhansa Yogananda tells the story of a man who was bothered by a demon and who was given a mantra to say in blessing upon a special powder that he was then instructed to throw upon the demon. When he tried it the demon laughed derisively saying that before the man could intone the mantra he, the demon, entered into the powder! Yogananda explained that the meaning of the story was that we are infected with the very disease we are attempting to rid ourselves of: the ego!

A joke one hears from time to time (with variations) goes something like this: one afternoon in the synagogue the rabbi and his assistant were praying while the janitor quietly went about his work in the room. Suddenly, the rabbi, infused with spiritual zeal, leapt to his feet, ran to the altar, and prostrated himself crying aloud, "I am nothing, I am nothing!" His assistant, suitably impressed and feeling similarly inspired, then leapt to his feet and ran to the altar with the same cry. As they both lay prostrate, the janitor then came rushing to the altar and prostrated himself next to them, saying "I am nothing, I am nothing." In the quiet that followed, the rabbi turns to his assistant and says, "So, look who thinks he's nothing?"

Swami Kriyananda tells the story on himself (in his autobiography, "The New Path") that after working to develop humility he woke up one day to find himself proud of his (new-found) humility!

We caught in the bondage of ego and it is impossible to lift ourselves up, to redeem ourselves by our power alone. This is what St. Paul meant when he famously wrote that "For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast." He did not mean that we should not strive, indeed, with heart, mind, soul and strength, to do that which is right, and to love and seek God. For, in the sentences that followed that more famous quotation, he writes that we are God's handiwork, created to devote ourselves to the good deed which God has designed for us.

In the centuries from which we have come most orthodox faith traditions portrayed the goal of a God-fearing life to enshrine the ego for eternity in heavenly realms, strumming harps, praising the Lord, or enjoying all manner of heavenly delights (which sometimes bore a curious resemblance to sensory indulges here on earth).

Religion in the past, and to a large degree today still, emphasized carrying one's cross, of giving up pleasures and eschewing an ordinary worldly life. How often one hears how this sect forbids smoking, another drinking, another eating meat, another dancing, and on and on. It is the ego, not the soul, that sees the giving up as a burden. The soul thrives on freedom. It seems that making the distinction between our outward acts and our inward consciousness (intention) has been perhaps just too subtle a point to make to the masses. Yet saintly souls have been known to live in palaces or ruled kingdoms both in the East and the West. Some religious leaders, by contrast, have lived in luxury and self-indulgence, contemptuous of others and arrogantly asserting their authority and demanding obedience of others.

The same Sunday reading from "Rays of the Same Light" ends with a stanza from the Bhagavad Gita in which Krishna extols that rare, wise sage who achieves the realization that "All is Vasudev!" The goal of religion is to find God; to achieve union with the Divine by love for God and by love for God through selfless service to all. Union with God is achieved through our efforts and God's grace applied to the inextricably linked processes of ego-transcendence and devotion.

Blessings to you from Ananda,


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What is Ananda?

The following was written for those who have not visited or experienced Ananda. It is a general overview. Our reference here is to Ananda in the Seattle area and located at the Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell. Visit for more details.

Welcome to Ananda!

What IS Ananda? Ananda is more than a teaching center for meditation or yoga. Ananda is different things to different people. Most of all, at Ananda we aspire to see that people are more important than things: even so-called “important” things like the classes we give, the projects we undertake, the services we offer, the buildings we occupy, or whether our efforts meet with success or acceptance. So, speaking of people, then, who are we?

Ananda members and students tend to be well educated, compassionate, and ardent supporters of conscious, healthy, sustainable, spiritual living. Differing points of view, backgrounds, and nationalities can be found here and are typically expressed articulately, respectfully, thoughtfully, and, perhaps most importantly, with a desire to share and learn.

You’ll find students coming every week to take hatha yoga classes. Ananda Yoga uses classic postures (asanas) and directs their use in an uplifting way, towards greater Self-awareness. We begin with relaxation, move to energy control and awareness, and then flow upward toward inner peace. Each student learns to develop his or her own strength and unique expression of the postures.

You’ll find students taking classes in how to meditate. Ananda meditation techniques emphasize the spiritual purpose of meditation but just as many students come for stress reduction, concentration, calmness or health benefits. Our most popular course is the Raja and Hatha Yoga Intensive: a 3-month weekly program that combines hatha yoga, diet, healing, breath work, meditation, chanting, and much more under the timeless and timely umbrella of Patanjali's famous Yoga Sutras (the 8-Fold Path of Enlightenment).

People come from a variety of traditions to meditate because the upstairs, high-domed meditation and yoga space beckons the soul to soar into skies of inner freedom!

First-time visitors come daily to the Meditation Temple in Bothell. They are attracted by the beautiful, blue-tiled 8-sided dome that so dynamically communicates a sense of joy and high aspiration. They want to know, "What IS this lovely place and who are you folks?"

In nearby Lynnwood there is an intentional, spiritual community where some Ananda members live and support one another in a lifestyle of meditation, service, simple living and high ideals. Residents have started a CSA: community supported food growing coop. Ananda is known throughout the world for its network of independent, intentional communities which are among the most successful in the world today.

You'll find students coming to the Ananda Institute of Living Yoga to receive certification in teacher training programs for hatha yoga or for meditation.

Ananda is also part of a worldwide work of self-supporting teaching, residential, and retreat centers. Aspects of this worldwide work exist in the Seattle area as well. For example, local members have founded the Living Wisdom School for children in Shoreline, WA. It is affiliated with the worldwide Ananda network of the same name. Other members have established the East West Bookshop in Seattle which was patterned after the first Ananda East West Bookshop near San Francisco, California.

Legally, the local ministry is organized under the Ananda Church of Self-Realization of Seattle which is a Washington state nonprofit organization recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a church. Ananda Church is locally governed by its ministers and senior members, and is supported by pledges and tithes from local members. (Income from classes and products constitutes only 25% of total general revenue.)

The spiritual philosophy and meditation techniques taught at Ananda are based upon the teachings of the world renowned spiritual yoga-master, Paramhansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi). The ministry of Ananda is guided by its founder, Swami Kriyananda and those who work closely with him. He lives in India now but is American and is one of the few remaining (and best known) direct disciples of Yogananda. Swami Kriyananda is the author of some one hundred popular books and hundreds of musical compositions (which figure prominently in programs and services at Ananda).

The primary focus of Ananda is what might be called realized spirituality! By this we mean that we feel it is more important to experience our higher Self rather than only talk about or believe in it. This comes with the greatest clarity and consistency through daily meditation. Once having tasted the nectar of soul-bliss, it is our nature to share it with others in service and fellowship. Thus we combine “Self-realization” with “fellowship.” This is shorthand for the two basic commandments of the Old Testament and of Jesus Christ: love the Lord Thy God with heart, mind, soul, and strength, AND, love your neighbor AS your Self!

Ananda has evolved from an ancient tradition whose roots are in India but whose essence is universal and nonsectarian. We honor our guru-preceptor, Paramhansa Yogananda, who came to the West (America) with this tradition. He brought with him the science of Kriya yoga through which we might commune inwardly with the divine presence in us and in all creation.

Yogananda’s teachings reflect a special connection between the yoga science taught by Krishna (in the Bhagavad Gita, India’s beloved “bible”) and the teachings of Jesus Christ. You will therefore find that at Ananda we make frequent references to Jesus’ teachings as illumined by Yogananda and the line of Kriya yoga masters in India who sent him to the West.

Strictly speaking, however, Ananda is neither Christian nor Hindu. Rather, we see in the original teachings of these faiths, and, indeed, in the teachings of the saints of all religions, universal precepts that are timeless. For this, we use the Sanskrit term, Sanaatan Dharma: the eternal religion. Sanaatan Dharma avers that we, and indeed, the entire cosmos, are a manifestation of the consciousness of the Infinite Spirit. Those who have realized Oneness with Spirit teach us that we were created to achieve realization of our “son-ship” as children of God and to reunite our seemingly separate consciousness with that of our Creator. There is a “high road,” or “airplane” that can accelerate this realization and it is meditation, especially the advanced “pranayama” known simply as Kriya yoga. This technique (which includes its wisdom-teachings and other supportive techniques) was resurrected in modern times by the Self-realization masters in India from centuries of neglect, indifference, and priestly secrecy to fulfill the spiritual needs of millions of souls in this modern, and new age.

But the practice of meditation is not only a science. It is an art. There is a subtle, powerful, and necessary transmission of consciousness that takes place through the receptivity of the meditator to the grace of the preceptor, or guru. Kriya yoga is thus taught not only as a meditation technique but is given in the bond of discipleship. Discipleship refers to a personal connection to God through an inner relationship with one who knows God and who can transmit that knowing. It was the purpose of Paramhansa Yogananda, at the behest of those who sent him to bestow the kriya-key that unlocks "the power to become the sons of God" to all those who sincerely and humbly seek it with devotion and attunement with him.

So, Ananda is different things to different people. The word “Ananda” means “joy:” the joy of our true, divine Self! If the practice of (hatha) yoga is your interest, come for a "stretch"; if you want to learn to meditate, Ananda meditation techniques are available to all and can help you to establish an effective daily practice. If you seek fellowship in worship, in timeless and universal wisdom, or in selfless service, Ananda has opportunities every day of the week! If finding friends who share high ideals, who prefer living simply and sustainably, or families who want a wholesome and Spirit-centered education for their children, then the Ananda spiritual family welcomes you. If you are drawn to the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, then Ananda can help you deepen your connection to God through them. And, if you seek the kriya-key to soul freedom, the doors are open!

Nayaswamis Hriman and Padma McGilloway are the spiritual directors of Ananda's work in the greater Seattle area and were appointed to this position in 1993 by Swami Kriyananda. As Ananda reflects a community and family spirit, you'll find an entire staff of ministers and teachers who take turns with Sunday Services and classes. Each of the core members and leaders of the Ananda Seattle Sangha (Fellowship) have been part of this spiritual heritage for decades and reflect a calm and joyful commitment to this way of life and a respect for all. Ananda would not exist without the many volunteers who staff the desk, answer phones, teach classes, sing and play music, sweep and clean, prepare meals and who enjoy meeting new friends. A typical Sunday Service involves some twenty volunteers alone!

We invite you, therefore to come and explore whatever aspect of Ananda inspires or appeals to you. Each person who participates has a unique relationship to this work and to this spiritual family. We are not membership driven and have no interest in converting anyone except to his or her own higher Self! We treasure harmony, inspiration, fun, and sharing, perhaps a meal, a conversation, a service project, practicing meditation or yoga, or the timeless wisdom we have been blessed to share. If you would like to experience this growing family of joy-affirming friends, come by for a visit. Better yet, come on any Sunday at 10 a.m. and experience Ananda in action!

Blessings to you, from Ananda......

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A New Dawn - Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010

On this day (the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox) each year, we celebrate Easter as a commemoration of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his death by crucifixion some two thousand years ago.

This event though distant in time and space remains for millions of people worldwide, a day of joyful celebration. I wonder, however, how many give any thought to its meaning. I imagine that for most it is a holiday replete with church-going, sartorial splendor, colorful decorations, family gathering and, of course, eggs, chocolate, and feasting. No harm in any of this, of course, considering what else most people usually do with their free time, but surely there's more to it than that!

I believe that the Easter holiday persists due to some deeper joy, some deeper celebration, that we feel even if we do not take the time to contemplate it. The sunrise symbolizes a new dawn, a new beginning. The Vernal Equinox during which Mother Nature puts on her colorful array brings hope for new life, for success in our efforts, and for harmony and cooperation in our lives. The fresh buds of Spring hint of the promise of a bountiful harvest to come.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ goes far beyond the diurnal awakening of nature, however! While appropriately coincident, the latter remains locked into the cycles of unceasing flux while the former reveals a transcendent and eternal Spring. It is not easy for us, armed with our college degrees, our rational science, and our skeptical pragmatism, to seriously accept that one who is pronounced dead can rise again after three days into a living body that, at the same time, can be de-materialized at will or transported over space and through walls. Yet do not the invisible radio, television, and cell phone waves resurrect life-like to our sight and hearing the living presence of others far away? Do not even these, however familiar though not well understood, hint at a power far greater than the power of the five senses? Do not the wonders of the invisible atom and its entourage of quirky quarks and pesky particles hint of undreamed of worlds and powers? Does not the vastness of space, the existence of billions of galaxies, and the fathomless epochs of time awaken in us hints of immortality?

In the Self-realization line of Christ-like masters, the immortal Babaji has lived in his physical body for untold centuries and promises to retain his form for the duration of this age (which he does not define but which can only be far beyond our lifespan). Babaji's life is chronicled in Paramhansa Yogananda's famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," in which he describes the deathless Mahavatar's consciousness as beyond comprehension. In that same book, he describes how both Lahiri Mahasaya and his disciple Swami Sri Yukteswar (the latter being Yogananda's guru) appeared to close disciples after their deaths, Lahiri's body having been cremated and Sri Yukteswar's, buried. In 1952, the director of Forest Lawn Mortguary attested to the fact of Yogananda's own body remaining uncorrupted by decay for nearly a month -- a first in the annals of modern mortuary science. In Europe and throughout the world are revered the undecaying remains of saints, testimonies, albeit shocking to see, to the saintly consciousness of their former inhabitants!

Despite the extraordinary testimony of such Christ-like souls, we, each and individually, have an opportunity to contemplate the mystery and the gift of resurrection in our own lives. For surely the celebration of Easter must have some personal, and indeed redemptive, significance in our lives?

Swami Sri Yukteswar counseled thusly: "The vanished lives of all men are dark with many shames. Human conduct is ever unreliable until anchored in the Divine. Everything in future will improve if you are making a spiritual effort now." Easter resonates with us joyfully because on a higher than conscious level we know that we are not bound forever to our past actions and to our present self-limiting definitions. We yearn for redemption from egoity, from suffering, from limitations of all kinds. Even science with its continuous advances in the speed and distance of travel and instant communication offers hints of our potential for omnipresence and expansion of consciousness. Our successes and past pleasures, too, are but fleeting and are no guarantee for the future. Their ephemeral nature incites in us sadness and remorse as well as ever fresh desires.

We seek a lasting peace, an Eternal knowing and security, an unbroken and ever-new joy. We know instinctively that disease and failure and suffering are but temporary (even if self-inflicted) impositions on the fulfillment that surely is our very own.

Even if in Christian theology the resurrection of Jesus was but a miracle, there exists an inextricable link between his crucifixion and his resurrection. Even if the crucifixion has more greatly occupied the inspiration, devotion, art, and imagination of Christians, the resurrection remains its fulfillment. In Chapter 30 (The Law of Miracles) of the aforementioned "Autobiography," Yogananda explains the process of life force control by which a true master can materialize a physical body, or bring back to life one who has died. As our modern inventions, which we take for granted now, would seem like miracles to a medieval peasant, what we think of as the miracle of Christ's resurrection is understood by the scientific men (and women) of God-realization.

The crucifixion, for all of its drama and shocking intensity, nonetheless symbolizes for us the manner in which we should accept the tests, trials, tribulations, and suffering that comes to our body, mind, and ego through the experience we call living. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." When on the cross, he cried out "Why hast Thou forsaken me?" Jesus knew of the manner of his impending death and, for a moment, attachment to the body and human nature, prompted him to take pause. On the cross, too, he had a fleeting experience of the withdrawal of his omnipresent Oneness with the Father and felt the bleakness of mere egoic consciousness, as well as, of course, the intensity of physical pain. Nonetheless, the triumph of his Spirit did not have to wait until the resurrection three days later. From the cross itself he gave blessing to those who humiliated and killed him. From the garden itself before that, he humbly submitted to the will of the Father. He did not require, for himself, the testimony of bodily resurrection but did so for the upliftment and faith of true disciples then and for the ages.

It is in this manner that resurrection comes to all of us: faith in God, acceptance of God's will, and blessing to all, even those who misunderstand or dislike or hurt us. While Jesus' story is obviously high drama, our own, however invisible or uninteresting to others, is surely high drama for us. How little it takes to upset us or to trigger in us fear, irritation, or anger. How self-preoccupied are our thoughts and the motivations behind our words and actions.

The resurrection is no mere miracle. It is the fruit of love for God. Our innate response of celebration in the "light" of the Easter holiday is our soul's response to the promise of our immortality and our ever-new joy as children of God. For this we were created, for this we seek, and to this shall we be re-born forever. The daily free-will, faith-guided, and love-inspired crucifixion of our body-attachments and ego-protective affirmations is the price for everlasting glory in God-consciousness. Our journey to God-realization is the greatest story ever told, the grandest spectacle ever beheld, and has the happiest of endings.

Happy Easter to you this and every moment of every day.

Om, Christ, Amen........Joy to you, Hriman