Friday, February 25, 2011

If Your're Seeking Freedom

It is encouraging to see citizens of several middle eastern countries stand up to their dictators. The joy such people feel in their political success is naturally tempered, at least by observers, with the question "What next?" Still I think most applaud their sacrifices, courage, and victories.

We tend to think of these changes in terms of their outer form and effects. We don't necessarily reflect on the change of attitude and awareness that precedes and allows for the outrage and revolt that follows. The American revolution which has been studied by so many and so well documented shows how the emerging sense of self-identity and universal principles of individual liberties and self-worth were the basis for the explosion of energy that made that revolution a success. The odds, statistical, economic, military, and strategic, against the revolution's success were overwhelming.

The real revolution which could be said to have begun (admittedly an artifice of creating a sense of time and history) with the American revolution is far from over. That which we take for granted in a country like America, is far from the norm in most countries. In this country, the boundaries of individual liberty are outwardly affirmed but in reality exist only upon the fragile membrane of consciousness, attitude, and social consensus. The raw tools of governmental control or abuse exist like bacteria or parasites that inhabit our bodies. It would take only an infection of fear, economic collapse, threat of war, pandemic or natural disaster to trigger the forces of governmental control. Those tools are the immense structure of law enforcement, surveillance, and raw military power.

My real point and thought for this day, however, is that action, change, and revolution flow from a rising tide of human consciousness that sparks courageous, self-sacrificing action. This can be expressed by heroic spiritual dedication, creative and bold new scientific, artistic, or business ventures, as well as political movements.

A revolution in religion is growing like a slowly moving tsunami far out at sea heading towards land. More and more people are tired of sectarianism, empty ritual, and fragile dogmas. The clash of religious cultures which we see around the world is nothing compared to what's coming. An outer "enemy" is the easiest to identify and to attack, especially when inhabiting a separate continent, nation, or culture. The more difficult challenges are those which come from within. Religionists save their greatest venom for their own rivals, just as in politics, business, art, and science.

In time, those who think in more universal terms (and I don't mean the uncommitted armchair philosophers) will be the target of more traditional religionists. In every traditional faith there are those (and their numbers are, I believe, growing steadily) who reject the narrowness of the majority of their faith. The practice of meditation, e.g., represents a revolution against the need to depend upon a priestly class, outward rituals, or dogmas and creeds. When the meditation revolution rises to general visibility, the intensity of attacks in the sphere of religion, such as we have seen in politics in the last one hundred years, will be seen.

Trouble is the "new thought" movement represented by meditation and attitudes of universality does not, by its very nature, engage in fighting. Yet, nonetheless, within the ranks of traditional faiths such people will naturally rise to positions of leadership and visibility and their acceptance by hierarchy will be far from easy.

So, whether you hope for revolution in ecology or global warming acceptance and change, politics, religion, art or science, understand that it is a change in consciousness that is the foundation for all lasting and meaningful change. Much more and much greater change is needed on our planet if humanity (and its non-human fellow inhabitants) are to survive and thrive.

Prepare yourself for great changes. Change is by defintion destructive. Don't think this recent string of seemingly "easy" political victories is a sign of the ease by which other changes will come. Don't forget that many gave their lives, were imprisoned, tortured, or deprived of liberty and means of support to affect the changes we've been witnessing.

It takes courage and cooperation with others of like mind. Don't hide in the sand. Prepare yourself; change yourself; and work with others. Ultimately, it is God's power that sustains this universe and our heartbeats. Live more in God-consciousness and you will be free already and secure forever.

Blessings, Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Singularity is Near?

I just learned a new phrase, The Singularity! It's not a new concept, however, because though it is a term borrowed from astrophysics describing a point in time-space where none of the usual rules of physics applies, it now refers to the prediction that computers will someday be smarter than we. With the exponential growth in their computing power Raymond Kurzweil author of a book by the title of this article thinks, as evidently some others, that in the year 2045 computers will overtake us and the end of civilization as we know it will occur. Golly, as if we didn't have enough to worry about!

It's hard not to laugh at such hubris. Oh, I don't mean that computers won't keep getting smarter and do lots of things, both beneficial and potentially destructive, but that such seemingly "smart" people can be so "dumb." I don't mean to be arrogant or unkind, here (after all I hardly know the fellow), but only that our super-rational scientific types still thoroughly believe that consciousness is a by-product of the process of evolution that has produced the human brain. I admit that why should they bother with the concept that this vast, complex, beautiful and awesome universe could be, itself, the manifestation of a supreme, overarching, or infinite consciousness?

But it's not as if they can admit that it's just as possible as their own theory, and, in fact, given our interest in the subject, probably slightly more likely than theirs. All the lightning fast intelligent computations imaginable are not going to randomly produce the Mona Lisa or the Tempest or the Bhagavad Gita, unless by prior (human) programming.

I don't really want to argue with anyone, nor will I pretend to know anything. It feels silly for a chump like me to take exception to smart guys like him, but I posit for your contemplation that the essence of consciousness is a combination of self-awareness and feeling. I, at least, cannot fathom how any machine, no matter how intelligent, can feel or be self-aware except mechanically by being programmed to label certain processes or conclusions as being one or both.

Some might say, "How can a computer have a soul?" Problem is, who knows what a soul is? Well, that's true for happiness, too, or, for that matter, consciousness itself. Only intuition attests to the state of happiness or self-awareness. It cannot be proved. So too the Indian scriptures aver: "Iswar Ashidha" - God cannot be proved. Does that mean neither you nor I can say that the computer ain't got one? Well, ok.....we've painted ourselves perhaps into a corner. Sure, the computer might insist it has feelings, or a soul ..... does that make it so?

Well, perhaps this is all too academic for most of our problems today! I just thought I'd share with you something I read about in my weekly TIME MAGAZINE (how embarrassing to admit I read it at all!). I find it slightly amusing, that's all. I suppose what harm can these nerdy types inflict as a result of their grand predictions? I'm sure their machines will inflict all sorts of harm but I won't blame the machines.

I was alive (or I think I was) when TIME MAGAZINE pronounced GOD IS DEAD. Now it has declared that humanity - our bodies, our minds, our civilization - will be completely and irreversibly transformed. Not only inevitably but imminently. "Beam me up, Scotty!" I'd be age 95 in 2045, so sorry, friends, I'll probably miss the event.

Blessings, Hriman

Sunday, February 6, 2011

On the Value of Silence

Today about forty friends returned from a weekend retreat in the country (north of Seattle). This is an annual meditation and yoga retreat held in silence. Padma and I have led this retreat for some fifteen years. Each year some who come have never experienced a retreat, what to mention a silent one, but all, despite any prior concerns, report what a welcome experience and cleansing it is to be in silence. Silence here means not merely not talking to one another, but being mentally quiet, mindful and, according to one's temperament, devotionally focused within while walking in the woods, during meals, and, of course, during the meditation and yoga sessions.

Why is silence so reinvigorating to the spirit? Yogis such as Paramhansa Yogananda, have long compared meditation to the nightly state of sleep. Sleep refreshes us but doesn't have a lasting transforming affect because in sleep we rest in the subconscious mind. But everyone, upon waking, knows how he slept. The peace and enjoyment of sleep is due in part to the freedom we feel from the burden of the body, its compelling needs, ego identity, gender affirmation and so much else. In sleep, we return to a state where we are free.

In meditation we strive for the state of super-consciousness in which we not only retain but expand our consciousness even as we transcend the narrow confines of the body, senses, and ego identifications. Hence its affect is transforming because we can clearly remember this state and can consciously live in and draw from it intuitions, inspirations, and peace during our conscious activities.

Thus silence of mind, though not itself a superconscious state, nonetheless, brings great calmness to the emotions and nervous system, clarity to the mind, and opens the door to inspirations from superconsciousness and a blissful awareness of our divine, higher Self.

I selected for this year's retreat theme the suggestion to the retreatants that we practice the Presence by reflecting on the idea that God is watching us at every moment. Not, of course, in an invasive or nosey way but in a loving and wisdom guiding way. The image that prompted this inspiration comes from India where one sees idols covered in "eyes" or pictures of just a pair of eyes. Yogananda's beautiful poem, The Two Dark Eyes, is a tribute to Divine Mother through the eyes and form of his earthly mother.

Haven't you suddenly turned around on some unknown instinct to find yourself face to face with someone who is looking at you? Now, in human terms this isn't necessarily a pleasant thing, but that initial feeling wakes us up, as it were, to the presence of "Another." It is this feeling that I invited retreatants to hold, but in a divine way. That God, or guru, is ever with you, watching over you, ready to offer guidance, comfort, or companionship.

There is a recording of Yogananda's voice in which he tells the story of St. Anthony. The charm and the power of Yogananda's voice are impossible to convey on a blog, but it remains with me even as I write this. After Satan threatens to destroy St. Anthony and tries to convince Anthony that there is no God and that Anthony's forty years of prayer and fasting were for naught (if only Anthony would worship Satan.....), Jesus appears in the nick of time to banish Satan. St. Anthony asks Jesus where he had been all those (forty) years of Anthony's desert solitude, and Jesus says, "Anthony, I was always with you. I am the same with you always.”

God is always with us. It we whose thoughts and desires wander far from Him. A noted chemist once came to Swami Sri Yukteswar (Yogananda's guru) and insisted that there was no God. Sri Yukteswar commented, "So, you haven't isolated God in your test tubes?" Sri Yukteswar suggested the chemist try an unheard of experiment: watch his own thoughts for a full day and then he would wonder no longer at God's absence.

Thus it is on retreat or in personal seclusion that we have the opportunity to be mindful of our thoughts and to continually re-direct them in silent searching for the two lost dark eyes of Divine Mother. Try this for a week: imagine looking over your shoulder, or looking up, periodically, to catch a glimpse of One who is watching out for you, who is awaiting your interest, love and attention. Yogananda once charmingly put it this way: God has an inferiority complex because He thinks no one loves Him!

Throughout Yogananda's popular book of poems and "prayer-demands," "Whispers from Eternity," he uses poetic phrases to the effect that God hides behind nature, behind the smiles of friends, behind the energy of our activities, the intelligence of our thoughts, and the power of our emotions. God is the nearest of the near and the dearest of the dear.

As mental illness might be said to a fragmentation and discontinuation of our self-identity causing us to fail to act consistently and appropriately, so superconsciousness might be said to be the state wherein our consciousness remains unbrokenly self-aware. So, look again! God is right there with you. God is seated in your heart! Be a seer and see the truth that shall make you free!

Try it for one week: money back guarantee!

No longer (officially) in silence, Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Yogis: fundamentalists or liberals?

Who are Yogis?

Is the practice of meditation and yoga fundamentalist? Progressive? Liberal? Is it lacking in a moral creed? Is it neutral to social and political trends, democracy, technology or ecology?

There are as many positions on such matters as there are yogis. Yoga is not indifferent to the suffering of others, or to the activities of daily life. Rather yoga posits that one can only find one’s right relationship to this world by ever deepening contact with the transcendent consciousness which gives birth and intention to this world.

A yogi can therefore be a Republican, a Democrat, a monarchist, or just about any kind of “ist” on the basis of core values of calmness, wisdom, compassion, and a sense of Oneness and connection with all. A yogi is just as likely to discipline his children as not; to rail against governmental interference in the lives of citizens as to vote to have government correct abuses, extend charity or education to the disenfranchised and so on.

Paramhansa Yogananda considered himself a Republican: the party of Abraham Lincoln is how he put it. He questioned the wisdom of the New Deal for undermining personal responsibility and initiative and creating institutional dependency and a sense of entitlement all in the name of charity and compassion. But he was certainly not against charity and compassion, however. He demonstrated plenty of both during his life. Yogananda was strongly in favor of abolishing institutional forms of racial discrimination (what to mention individual prejudices).

Yogananda taught that the soul entered the womb at conception not just at birth and that abortion, therefore, was not something to be encouraged. A true yogi would naturally promote self-control, moderation, and responsible forms of sexuality. But a yogi also affirms freedom of choice and its corollary of personal responsibility. This stems in part from an understanding of the law of karma and its companion, reincarnation. But who can say what his position would be in respect to the passing of laws for, or against, abortion. He would certainly make his views known but I, at least, tend to doubt he would campaign in a political way in respect to laws. His interest was in changing consciousness through individuals and their own personal desire to awaken and change.

Yoga is fundamentalism in the sense of the fundamentals of proper behavior that are universal and timeless, and not dependent on fads, trends, or social custom. Yoga is fundamental in the sense of affirming the Oneness of God and the ultimate purpose of human life is (to quote the Baltimore Catholic catechism) to “know, love, and serve God.” (For the yogi, “knowing” includes striving for inner, divine communion and ultimately mystical union in Oneness.)

At the same time, yogis, taking the perspective of countless human incarnations, incline towards acceptance of others and tolerance, for the fact of feeling that each soul has the right to choose and to learn his or her own lessons in the vast expanse of time. Some yogis would espouse complete nonviolence or pacifism in the face of evil, whereas others, including Paramhansa Yogananda, in affirming the value of human life, would caution that in this relative world there are times when self-defense is the right course of action. This can mean that there are times when a just war may be required. It includes the efforts of police to prevent or apprehend perpetrators of violence or criminality. The karma for violence can include the punishment by man for acts of violence.

A yogi, above all, tries to be practical: both in his yoga practice (balanced and sustainable, health-inducing and peace-filled) and in his view of action in daily life. There is no career or job barred to the practicing yogi (assuming it isn’t unethical, immoral, or criminal.

Yoga practice bestows patience and self-acceptance even as it inspires the yogi to strive for the highest in himself.

Thus yogis are not necessarily distinguishable from others in the marketplace of daily life unless it be by an aura of calmness or peace, openness to truth (rather than mere opinion), and respect for others. Yes, many are vegetarians. But there are many vegetarians who are not yogis, are there not? Will yogis ever be a political force? That’s difficult to say, for yogis are not constrained to ignore politics. But yogis’ understanding of the relativity of good and evil in the creation will generally give a longer-view perspective, on the one hand, yet no yogi is excused from turning a blind eye to injustice or evil, especially when personally involved or a sense of personal dharma is awakened in his conscience.

Nonetheless, at this stage of history, yogis are (generally) committed to spreading the message and practice of yoga as their duty and contribution to the health, well-being, and peace of Planet Earth. While some social activists may dismiss this as a cop-out or irrelevant, yogis feel that changing consciousness is the real need for humanity and that legislation, education, and scientific advances are important and at best equal, but in many ways secondary for all three have shown themselves poor substitutes for individual goodwill and integrity.

If even only half of earth’s citizens were in touch with their higher self, in harmony with themselves, felt a kinship with the planet and a respect and acceptance of others, how much less exploitation, greed, obesity, anger, hatred, war, and pollution would there automatically be?

Yes, yoga, therefore IS for everyone. It requires no religious, political, racial, or social affiliation. Yoga practice invites us “inward” to discover our calm, wise, compassionate and ultimately transcendent higher Self. This Self is the Self of all. By living in harmony with this higher Self we perform the dutiful actions of daily life in an increasing spirit and attitude of calmness, nonattachment, and effectiveness. What greater or more universally accessible lifestyle for a new age can there possibly be?

Religion is on the rocks of divisiveness. Individual spirituality is in the ascendant. Yet somewhere the twain must meet so that a new expression of universal spirituality can in fact be a force for change on this planet. Yogis must "unite" (after all "yoga" means "union!") to help give birth to a more peace filled and harmonious planet. But, as Mahatma Gandhi is now so popularly known to have counseled, "Be the change you seek." Or as Jesus Christ put it: "The kingdom of heaven is within you." Or, as Ananda's motto puts it: "Joy is within you."

Blessings, Nayaswami Hriman