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!