Monday, March 28, 2011

8-Fold Path : Step 1 - Harmony with Earth

The practice and path of kriya yoga is based, in part, upon the universally applicable description of the stages of enlightenment propounded by Patanjali in his now famous "Yoga Sutras." Books have been written aplenty and the Raja Yoga Intensive course which I have been teaching since 1995 is based squarely upon the 8-Fold Path. I intend to write a series of article on each of the eight stages as propounded by Paramhansa Yogananda and his disciple, and founder of Ananda Swami Kriyananda.

Yama is the first stage. Yama means control and, for my purposes in this article, I will take this in the direction of embracing the earth, nature, and the world we live in from the standpoint of spiritual consciousness. "Control" then means, for this purpose, "realization" or complete oneness or understanding of the natural laws that govern this earth plane -- as seen from "above."

Patanjali describes five specific attitudes and powers which characterize such a realization. "Ahimsa" (made famous in the west by Mahatma Gandhi) means to see all beings, all creatures, and all life is our own. In this realization all impulse towards anger, violence, or judgment have vanished.

As Swami Kriyananda writes, “Non-injury embraces our oneness and is sustained by it. Harmfulness on the other hand, incites endless opposition.” We should contemplate this truth and make it more and more our own realization. He suggests this affirmation to use: "I send out the rain of blessings to all, that love be nourished in all hearts."

Satya or truthfulness is the second attitude whose power is the power of our word to be made manifest from only our statement of it. Satya goes beyond stating mere facts, for truth is of the highest order and beneficial always. It means facing reality AS IT IS and then, with complete acceptance, courageously and creatively making the effort to change it if that is appropriate.

Satya includes Ahimsa because looking for the good in all things helps us to live more in the eternal now – the ultimate truth of reality.

Try these for contemplation and affirmation of Satya: "Truthfulness means seeing things as they really are, but then looking more deeply for ways to improve those realities." Affirm: "What is simply is. Fearlessly therefore I accept the truth, knowing that, at the heart of everything, goodness can be found."

Asteya is the next attitude and refers to the absence of greed, envy, or desire for that which isn't yours. In a sense this is a variation of Satya for it recognizes self-honestly that an object, recognition, or circumstance does not presently exist in respect to oneself or around you. Non-greed is the term often used and its corollary on the second stage of the 8-Fold Path is the obvious one of contentment. As we perfect our realization of this consciousness we find all things that we need for our sustenance are drawn to us with no obvious effort on our part.

Contemplate then this truth: "Desirelessness means spurning non essentials in order that we may give our whole attention to what is lasting and true: God. We can think of renunciation as an investment of our energies for a long-term profit." Affirm: "I spurn the tempting magic of this world with its rainbow bubbles, ever ready to burst. See where I fly: high above the mountains. I am free. I am free."

Brahmacharya is the next related attitude. It generally is seen to refer to celibacy or sexual self-control but the term can be translated as “flowing with Brahma” and, in general, it also refers to all five senses. Too-frequent indulgence (mental as well as physical) in avid sensory pleasures gradually robs us of our life force and capacity for enjoyment. In the process our physical and mental health is compromised as nervousness, anxiety, depression alternates with the highs of anticipatory, imagined or indulged pleasures.

Simple experiments with truth reveal that moderation actually increases enjoyment and presence of mind during indulgence brings great calmness and a more lasting satisfaction. When we lose “ourselves” in pleasure we come out of it slightly embarrassed and our nerves and nervous system on edge and ourselves slightly uneasy. I like to put it this way (echoing aspects of Gyana yoga practices and tantra): “You have to be present to win.”

When we flow with the energy of prana and the awareness of the Self we are constantly refreshed and energized. We experience great health, vitality, and, indeed, memory "like an elephant!" When we give our power away by seeking fulfillment in objects and experiences we demean the Self which is Bliss itself. A part of ourselves is darkened and confused and in the end we lose our physical and mental vitality.

Swami Kriyananda writes: “If a lake is made to feed into too many streams it will soon become drained. The sensualist imagines that by giving up pleasures he would renounce happiness. But the more one lives in the inner Self, the more one glows with happiness, good health, and a radiance of well-being and inner freedom.” He offers us this affirmation: “I am strong in myself. I am complete in myself. All that I see await discovery within my inner being.”

Aparigraha, or, non-acceptance is the last of the five attitudes and practices which manifest through the earth center expressing realization of yama. Whereas non-greed relates to our attitudes towards things that we do not have, non-acceptance means non-attachment and non-identification with those things which are ours to steward. Most notably: our own bodies and ego. By extension, too, all objects in our possession, including skills and talents. The siddhi that arises from complete non-identification in this way is the remembrance of past lives. Thus the God’s eye perspective of this earth plane at last ascends beyond the current incarnation and backwards through time to view many lives.

Each of these vibrational aspects of yama can be practiced in the here and now wherever we are on the scale of perfect realization. Kindness, truthfulness, contentment, moderation, and even-mindedness are qualities everyone can experiment with and improve upon right now.

When you meditate, imagine your body is like the earth. In its size and weight, alone, it is immovable and fixed. In this, visualize that you are immovable in your commitment to right attitude and right action. Now visualize the earth as if from outer space. Gain the God’s eye view of our sensory and material attachments, revealing their smallness, their fleeting gains, and their inexorable erosion of our health and happiness for what they are: a part of an unending flux of opposites which in sum total leave us unsatisfied and weak. Be strong in your Self. Be free. Be blissful.


Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tsunami Maui

Last week when the earthquake and ensuing tsunami struck so tragically in Japan, Padma and I were enjoying a birthday-week for Padma on Maui, South Kihei. I penned the note below to friends at Ananda Community in Lynnwood, WA the next day after the excitement and concerns had passed along with the six foot surge that appeared on the beach down the street from our rented condo.

Who cannot be say or feel that the pace and scope of natural calamties isn't but growing. It may not be factually true, and it may be, rather, that our awareness and sympathies with others even half way round the world have grown (instead), but something seems to have grown in recent years. At Ananda we will take up collections to send off to Japan along with our many prayers.

Our little experience on Maui was both sobering and instructive. Sobering is obvious. Instructive for the importance of preparedness, calmness, grace, and community in times of crises.

Here then for other friends at a distance is the account I sent just over a week ago:

Dear friends,

Thank you for your concerns. Today here in Maui all is calm as if nothing happened. We were up all night but it seems like a dream now.

We were minding our own business last night watching the movie TITANIC (ironically) when the news came of the earthquake in japan. Normally at home we don't watch tv or have cable but we switched to the incredible scenes of the tsunami engulfing the towns of coastal japan.

Only after sometime did it occur to us that it could have any impact on us on maui. Announcements were made on tv. Emergency broadcasts interrupted the coverage and after a time the sirens along the beach front began to wail.

We are one block from the beach. I can see the waves right now as I type. But our unit is on the 4th floor and the building runs perpendicular to the beach alonside a road which runs uphill towards the mountains behind us.

It's 4000 miles to japan from here. It was hard to take the warnings seriously and easy to assume the officials were doing their civic duty.

But we kept getting concerned phone calls from friends around the country. What caught my attention was the repeated assertion on the news that the earthquake was among the largest ever recorded in history. Add to that the graphic tv images of the destructive power of the tsunami in japan and it was easy to be shaken, if not stirred: one's confidence waning with each image. The experts on TV didn't add much confidence, either, all admitting they don't really know how far away shores would be affected.

After some discussion between padma and I (she was ready to head for the hills--readily available, just up the street, so to speak), I proposed to move our rental car to higher ground. This I did right away and just in time because as I walked down the hill the road alongside our condo was suddenly a sea of cars, bumper to bumper as tourists and locals were fleeing in large numbers to higher ground. It didn't add any comfort to the decision I had proposed.

There was a news announcement on tv that the U.S. naval fleet commander for the Pacific had decided NOT to move the ships out of Pearl Harbor. That seemed to mean a lot to me as to the size and power of the waves as they perceived it.

Nonetheless, I was braced for and resigned to the possibility that the ground floor of our buildings would be inundated, partially destroyed perhaps and that the power would go out immediately. We only had a few hours left to 3 a.m., the time expected for the first wave (and not necessarily the biggest one).

So padma cooked all the food we had in the refrigerator, and we filled everything we could find with water from the tap.

With air raid (tsunami) sirens wailing every half hour, the wait began. By this time, the area around us and beach were all but abandoned. We couldn't tell who else in the condo complex had stayed but most cars in the lot, like my own, were gone. There lay upon the area an eerie calm. The TV screen was regularly blanked out and replaced by emergency broadcasts warning residents in the pre-determined tsunami danger zones to head for high ground.

They didn't want others to leave because of traffic jams (I suppose). We were told to check the phone book for the routes and for the zones. I found our phone book and saw that only the beach side of the South Kihei road (which lay between us and the beach) was in the zone. Yet the announcements said anyone within a kilometer of the beach, and that certainly included us.

I held fast to my decision and my calmness around it.

I had, just that afternoon, dropped (our son) Kashi and Jesse at the airport for their return trip to seattle. (Kashi was on business in Honolulu and they stayed with us for two days.) I texted them so that upon their arrival in Seattle they would know what had happened and of our plight.

They got right to work on searching the internet for information on what we might expect from the incoming tsunami. With the NOAH webiste and Google Earth Kashi gave me by phone all sorts of data, none of which looked very encouraging. His advice: flee! I held tight, without saying too much. I still felt quietly protected and calm.

(We didn't have internet in our room. We only had our Blackberries which are not very useful, though I determined early on that the distance from Japan to Maui was just under 4,000 miles. Seemed pretty safe, somehow!)

Astonishgly the cable tv had no local channels unless you include luau's and hulu dancers. It was all for tourists, I guess. It was difficult to get any specific information. (It never occurred to me to call down to the office reception area, though it is not a hotel but a condo, so there aren't many services after hours.)

Was our decision to stay the right one? We wondered. The beach area was dark and silent. Few cars could be seen now.

We meditated and then, between text messages and phone calls from kashi, we retired to the upper loft bedroom (4.5 stories up) to wait.

Being 4 stories up seemed ok but would we be trapped?

Well. I fell asleep after 3am when the first of 5 waves were scheduled to hit. All remained quiet and all is well.

Our prayers go to those in Japan so seriously affected by this.

Blessings from sunny and calm Maui.
Hriman and Padma

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Anxiety & Despondency: Path to Enlightenment?

March 7 each year is the anniversary of the date in 1952 when Paramhansa Yogananda left his body in the presence of a large crowd gathered at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles at a banquet in honor of the newly appointed ambassador to the United States from India.

Around this time each year, we celebrate the victory of those souls who have achieved final freedom in God. Yogananda is such a one and many great saints there have been, east and west, down through the ages and yes, even in modern times!

But the path to enlightenment is no Sunday church picnic, no tiptoeing through the tulips of life. In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna, the great warrior and one of the five Pandava brothers fighting on the side of "right" (soul aspirations), slumps in his chariot upon viewing the opposing armies in the allegorical Battle of Kurushetra.

Arjuna sees the kinsmen whom he must slay and despairs for the "sin" in killing his own kith and kin with whom he has been raised. These relatives are those qualities of ego consciousness with whom we have been "raised" in the long process of upward soul evolution. When the time comes when we must consciously confront our intention to seek enlightenment and the realization that we must outgrow material sense attachments and ego affirmations, the battle line is drawn and we experience a feinting spell, so to speak.

Trees and birds and flowers and mountains don't appear to suffer anxiety, despair, dread, shame or despondency! Hence we enjoy nature and our pets for their innocence and freedom from ego self seeking. This, for many, may represent (ok, at least in part) a subconscious desire to look backwards over the spiral staircase of soul evolution to what we imagine is a more innocent and free level of existence. (Obviously by compassion and appreciation of God's creation we can also have feelings of kindness, empathy, and love for nature.)

Even on the human level, Paramhansa Yogananda (and his disciple and founder of Ananda, Swami Kriyananda) taught, we find many gradations of consciousness. When the soul first appears in human form, it may seem more whole, happy, and free of anxiety, enjoying the blessings of a human body and its enhanced abilities and awareness. In the last one or two centuries this is sometimes sentimentalized by concepts of the "noble savage" or some other, now out of date, and somewhat "politically incorrect" stereotypes. Yet such a stage does exist, whether in blue jeans or tiger skins.

You see, the masters teach that the ego is a necessary step on the journey towards superconsciousness. On the human level, we can go up and down for what must amount to "forever" -- chasing the rainbows and will-o-the-wisps of desires, fantasies, and the healing of nursed hurts and suffering. The soul identified with the body is Yogananda's definition of the ego. All such statements are inadequate to fully explain the mystery of our delusion, but this one gives us the idea that there is a part of our "mind" that is veiled by the compulsions and concomitant desires of human existence and another part that is untouched, eternal, and blissful. It's whether we look "up" or "down", or "backwards," or "forwards" as to what we see as reality.

It should come, therefore, as no surprise that the ego experiences alternating states of inspiration and despondency on the spiritual path. When we look backwards (or down), we see what we have attempted to give up: pleasures of self-indulgence, satisfactions of ego-affirmation and the hope of recognition, and the seeming security of being surrounded by name, fame, money, and self-directed desires.

Yogananda commented that moods which come seemingly uninvited or without apparent cause are the result of past indulgences. We must, he said, accept them even-mindedly and then make the effort with will power and divine grace to be happy and cheerful under all circumstances.

Without wishing in any way to put aside chemical or organic causes, or the results of life's traumatic experiences, I believe, and so do others (there are many books on this subject) that the widespread incidence of anxiety, despondency, and fear, especially among spiritual seekers and meditators, is in part the necessary stepping stone towards enlightment.

The masters say (Ramakrishna, Yogananda, e.g.) that there does come a time when the path to soul freedom becomes "effortlessly liberating." At the same time we see in the life of Buddha and Jesus Christ the torments of maya (satan, delusion) attempting even in what seems to be the final moments before cosmic consciousness, to draw these souls back into the temptation that fulfillment can be found in the adoration and pursuit of material desires and power.

Yogananda taught that both Buddha and Jesus Christ were avatars. Hence their "temptations" could not have been "final" in the usual sense. Yet evidently even avatars enact the great dramas of the spiritual path both for the benefit of our instruction and for the fact of having taken on human form and the necessary veil that descends upon the soul even for such souls to some degree.

Do not judge yourself or your fellow devotees for the temptations they face, the temporary errors they succumb to, or the anxieties or despondencies their "enhanced" consciousness might experience. The price for growing awareness includes growing strength and energy feeding, at times, ego consciousness. This is part of the journey to liberation. Both Swami Sri Yukteswar and Lahiri Mahasaya (each considered an avatar) hesitated and experienced a wave of trepidation when informed of their imminent demise.

Yogananda experienced and expressed the fullness of his humanity in his grief for the loss of his mother and on numerous occasions in his life, including the happy and laughter-filled moments. Yet, as Swami Kriyananda observed, one could see in Yogananda's eyes the hint of dispassion, a sense of other-worldliness, or the presence of Infinity untouched by passing circumstances.

This is the great mystery of life and consciousness: how we can both be divine and human. At once untouched and yet engaged. A fully authentic life, at every stage of our soul's progress toward freedom, is one that partakes in each of these aspects, human and divine, as they appropriately manifest in our consciousness. Real progress can be made when we embark upon expressing the fullness of our Being with courage and conscious effort, offered in humility and for guidance upward to the Divine.

Happy "Mahasamadhi" for each and every one of us.

Nayaswami Hriman