Sunday, June 19, 2011

Off to India

I am leaving this afternoon for a 3-week trip to India. My daughter and I will have the blessing of Ananda's Himalyan tour guide, Mahavir, for a personal tour of four Himalayan sites sacred to Hindus for thousands of years. In addition, we will end our trip in Calcutta at the boyhood home of Paramhansa Yogananda, and a visit to other blessed sites associated with his life story there in and around Calcutta.

This trip is not for pleasure or for comfort but, with grace, we will be in the Himalaya where Spirit and Nature unit in a supreme union of outer grandeur and inner awakening. There rishis have lived and roamed since time immemorial. We hope to meditate in a cave blessed by Mahavatar Babaji whose deathless presence, to this day, permeates these sacred haunts.

So wish us "luck" that the mountains "come out" and that Babaji and the great ones bless us with their presence. Gita will be the photographer and I will do what I can to journal and bring back at least a "tithe" of the blessings we may enjoy.

This is, for me, a once-in-lifetime journey, though I have visited the Himalaya on a trek some 35 years ago. I think for me and for Gita it represents something beyond what we can know at this time.

See you when I return, July 12, by the grace of God and Gurus.

Joy, Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Rise of Intentional Communities

Tomorrow, Saturday, June 18, 2011, Ananda Community in Lynnwood, WA hosts its third annual Solstice Celebration and Open House. Tours of the Community, grounds, gardens, and farm begin at 1 p.m. and the Solstice Celebration Service begins at 5 p.m. followed by dinner. Free yoga classes, activities for children, an art exhibit, and musical performances all afternoon are some of the highlights. We expect a full house of members, friends, and neighbors.

Swami Kriyananda, founder of Ananda and direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, was present at a garden party in Beverly Hills in the late 40's when Yogananda (without warning or other context) thundered a prediction and a command that small "colonies" of like-minded people band together throughout the world to demonstrate brotherhood by example rather than only by precept. He declared that by such examples the benefits of high ideals and simplicity (I would add "sustainability") of lifestyle would produce the greatest happiness. His message of "world brotherhood colonies" was given repeatedly both before and after that famous garden party.

Yogananda also predicted economic collapse, wars, and natural calamities lay ahead as forces of enlightened self-interest struggled against established powers of exploitation and greed. Only now in the beginning of the 21st century are the issues of cooperation vs. competition, of freedom vs. exploitation, harmony vs. prejudice so heightened and intense that millions realize that courageous and bold action must be taken to avoid or lessen dire consequences for all.

In a world where a tribe, a culture, an industry, or one's livelihood can be wiped off the map by the stroke of pens, an exchange of stocks, signing of a treaty, or the impact of a satellite-guided missile in boardrooms, banks, and secret meetings, it is natural that people of intelligence and goodwill will respond by seeking an alternative lifestyle that is not dependent upon such impersonal and self-interested forces.

The time for intentional communities has arrived. In most cities we live side-by-side with people of other cultures, races, nations, and religions. It becomes difficult to hold prejudice or to entertain fears when we get to know each other simply as people. The natural races of humankind are not based upon skin color, location, or language but upon consciousness. There are those who live only the present moment, heedless of the future or the consequences of one's present actions. There are those who are self-seeking, living for future personal gain. There are those who consider the needs of others and who serve a greater cause. Finally, there are those whose sights are centered in a higher or divine reality and who live centered in the Self within.

Intentional communities tend to attract, by and large, the latter two categories of people: idealists who seek to make their ideals practical and personal. As the bumper sticker says, "Think globally; act locally." The rising insecurities on our planet will inspire people with energy, creativity, idealism and intelligence to form small communities. Hopefully most of these will not be in rejection of society at large or opposed to others, but will represent a commitment to create a sustainable, harmonious and satisfying life in cooperation with others of like-mind.

Since the end of World War II and the rise of America as a leading global economic and political power, Americas (especially) have had the luxury and opportunity to create individual and family lives that set themselves apart from others. The spread of suburban communities symbolize this "I-mine" thrust of consciousness. But this luxury to stand apart from others and from the rest of the world ended, symbolically at least, on September 11, 2001 when the world's problems and the disparity between America's lifestyle and that of others was presented like a check drawn upon the bank of our excesses.

Since then and at an increasing rate, America (and by extension other similar countries) are having to come face to face with the rest of the world and to try to integrate ourselves, our self-identity, and our behavior with that of other nations and peoples.

Paramhansa Yogananda foresaw that the time would come when humans on this planet would need to learn to live, work, and worship together in harmony. He ushered in a new dispensation of spirituality that has the potential to unite people of goodwill and spiritual-seeking under the banner of experience rather than dogma or creed. Meditation is the personal practice wherein each individual can perceive his own higher Self and from that experience to perceive that same Self in all.

An antidote and necessary balance to the crushing forces of globalism is needed today. Individuals forming intentional communities on the basis of a wide variety of commonly share interests and ideals will provide that necessary outlet for human creativity, personal commitment, and meaningful enterprise.

So, as the sun is high in the sky of the summer Solstice and as the world stands on the precipice of great changes in process and to come, we come together to celebrate and affirm the relevance, role, and necessity of intentional communities of like-minded people of high ideals and practical living.

See you tomorrow!


Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, June 11, 2011

How and What does it mean to "Grow" Spiritually?

My subject tomorrow at the Sunday Service at the Ananda Meditation Temple is "How Can Devotees Rise (Spiritually)?"

As I prepare my thoughts for tomorrow, I figured I might as well share some of them on this blog.

Just as there's no point discussing the menu at a nearby restaurant with a good reputation unless you are hungry, so too there's no point in discussing spiritual growth unless you are seeking it. So this subject presumes a shared desire for spiritual growth based on a shared understanding for its value to us individually.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna's disciple, Arjuna, asks, "What does one of spiritual realization look like, act, move, and speak?" Krishna's response is that one who has attained God-realization can maintain his equanimity under difficult circumstances; he is not shaken by desire or anger, for example, when others ordinarily would. Krishna's response, in other words, is very practical and demonstrable.

Doing good deeds is praiseworthy but neither good deeds nor religious ceremonies can bring us the permanent beatitude of perfect and permanent joy and freedom in union with God. Either have the potential to raise our consciousness above selfishness and egotism, but not necessarily very far without the inner intention and desire to do so as an act of devotion and self-offering to God. "The road to hell," it has been well said, "is paved with good intentions."

In the Sunday Service reading the quote of Jesus from the New Testament that is part of the reading is Jesus' response to Judas' criticism that Mary had spent money to buy a costly oil and herb to wash Jesus' feet when, in Judas' view, the money could have been given to the poor. The New Testament notes that Judas' view was not based on his compassion for the poor but on his attachment to the money itself (he was the treasurer for the little group's "purse"). Jesus said (famously): "The poor ye have always with thee, but me ye have not always."

Of course it's absurd to accuse Jesus of lack of compassion for the poor. This he demonstrated amply elsewhere. Besides, the text makes it clear the issue isn't the poor, at all. Instead, Jesus is saying that the challenges and sufferings of daily life (and, yes, the existence of poverty and injustice in the world) is a reality that is without end. This world, the saints and sages tell us in every age and time, is one of ceaseless flux. The unending play of the opposites (health, disease, life, death, poverty, wealth etc.) will go until the end of time.

Not that we who are incarnate in human form shouldn't strive to make this world a better place, and to alleviate the suffering of others. Such acts are the rightful response and duty of the soul whose compassion and sense of connection is based on the eternal principle of "we are one." Later in the Bhagavad Gita, in fact, Krishna describes the yogi as one who feels the joys and sorrows of all men even as, elsewhere, Krishna explains that one of wisdom remains unaffected by the vicissitudes of his own life.

Instead, Jesus is saying that when the opportunity or appearance of soul-consciousness comes into the life and consciousness of the devotee, it is the higher duty of the devotee to draw that inspiration into his own soul. Thus, Mary, who washed Jesus' feet as an act of devotion and recognition of Jesus as her guru, teacher, and a man of God-realization, made this inner communion her priority. When Jesus said "me, ye have not always" he meant it both outwardly to those disciples present but also to us -- far into the future, that we might both seek the inner Christ (and our guru whether in human form or in spirit alone),

It is this seeking (and finding) that must be the soul's priority. As St. Augustine wrote, "We were made for Thee (alone), and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee." The world will go on as it must because the drama cannot exist without the play of opposites, but each soul must "individually make love to God." We can only achieve union with God one soul at a time. We can't do it by proxy for another person, nor any other person for us. No one can meditate or pray on our behalf without our own efforts as well.

In what form, then, does God appear to us such that we ought to make our attention and receptivity to Him a priority? Well, the big philosophical answer is God is in all things and in all hearts. But that's a little TOO big to be practical. God must therefore be in a Hitler or Stalin but attempting to seek Him in those forms is probably not a wise idea. Nor in pleasure, merely, riches, fame, fortune and the usual material pursuits of humankind.

How about churches with their congregations of like-minded devotees? Well, yes, that's a good start. Especially those churches which emphasize inner communion with God, not just social activism, dogmas, or rituals. This is where meditation plays such a large role in this new and modern era of globalism. For meditation is a practice for everyone. It transcends sectarianism, just as God, the Infinite Spirit, is our Father-Mother, Beloved, Friend of all. Yogananda wanted his churches to be like hives where the devotee bees could taste the nectar of God's presence and their own Self-realization. Based on that direct perception of God within, then, and only then, could their credos, rituals, and their acts of charity and fellowship be invested with God's power of transcendence.

To conclude I will say that in case anyone has come this far and has forgotten the "why" of spiritual growth, it is simple, just as ultimate truth is simple: lasting happiness. The reason we turn to God may, at first, be due to the suffering caused by our ignorance or errors. We may even turn to God in fear of His law of karma. But the real reason to turn within is for the love of God. Our hearts can never be satisfied with material playthings which are so evanescent and which so readily betray the hope and trust we invest in them. The love we desire; the joy we know is ours; the security we wish to build around ourselves; these can only be found in the Eternal Now, in the presence of God, and in the joy of our souls' rest in Him. This is gnosis and comes only through the 6th sense of the soul's power of intuition.

No one can convince you of this by logic. This gnosis is of the heart. Our life stories may differ by extremes but those who have turned to God (in whatever form we give to Him by name or definition) is based on this one simple reality: we "know" it is right for us. That having been said, the path to God-realization is filled with traps, tests, and detours. Both St. Francis of Assisi and Paramhansa Yogananda experienced times when they thought they had lost "contact" in the intensity of their spiritual service to God in others (their ministries), but when they "came back" to mindfulness, they received God's inner reassurance, that "I AM with you until the end of time." In their lives, however, they had already "found" God. In our lives we must not lapse smug upon the victories of past inspiration and upliftment. Let us remain ever watchful at the gate for His coming.


Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Practicing the "Presence" - A Meditation

Practicing the Presence Meditation

Meditation is the art and science of learning to enter, at will, a state of deep, dynamic calmness. This requires the elimination of distracting sensory stimuli and random thoughts and feelings. As these subside, the crystal-clear pure consciousness of Self-awareness can shine like the healing rays of the sun.
A survey of meditation techniques reveals that one-pointed concentration is a common theme. Concentration can be upon a word formula (affirmation or mantra), the flow of breath, the movement of subtle energy in the body, a creative visualization, a mental image of a deity or guru, or a specific state of being (such as peace, joy, love, devotion, etc.). Either as a separate form of meditation or a preliminary technique of relaxation, one can also sit and witness one’s thoughts, feelings, body awareness, or breath.

I would like to offer a simple meditation practice that combines visualization with calm witnessing. I call it “Practicing the Presence.” Normally this phrase is used to describe various devotional techniques used during daily activity (or as a form of prayerful meditation) that involve the silent, mental repetition of a phrase or mantra. But in this instance, I offer the concept in relation to the “presence” of the body’s innate vitality, the heart’s natural love (peace or joy), and the bliss of pure, unconditioned consciousness.

So, let’s try it! Sit up-right (away from the back of your chair, or cross legged), chest up, shoulders relaxed down, spine in its natural curve, palms upward on the thighs, head level. Behind closed eyes gaze gently upward with positive interest but without tension.

Hold this thought in the forehead behind closed eyes: “My intention is to still the body, mind, and feelings, dissolving all self-involvement into the spacious One mind of pure Consciousness. There I will be refreshed and at peace. I can then share this peace with others during my daily activities.”

Beginning relaxation and breath work:
Now, inhale through the nose and tense the whole body; hold the breath while vibrating the body (briefly), now exhale forcibly through the mouth. Do this a few times until you feel refreshed and relaxed, but also energized.

Next: begin some slow, even natural (diaphragmatic) breathing. Hold the breath gently for about as long as each of the inhalation and exhalations (maybe 6 to 8 counts, or more, if you like). Do three to five of these.
Now, sit and simply enjoy the peace-filled after-poise of these simple breathing techniques. Scan the body from the feet upward (mentally and intuitively) looking for and releasing any tension. Adjust your position as needed.

Practicing the Presence in the Body.
Mentally feel your entire body. It is not necessary to move to do this. Do it through the power of self-awareness. Imagine you are as conscious in your foot as in your brain; as conscious in every cell of the body as in any other. Feel the body AS ENERGY rather than as organs, tissues, bones, or fluids. Now sit very still and PRACTICE THE PRESENCE of CONSCIOUS VITALITY which inhabits, enlivens, heals and thrills every cell of your body. It may help to imagine that with each natural, incoming breath, space is flowing into the body and with each natural exhalation it is departing. Thus is the body converted from matter into dynamic energy and space. Do this for as long as it is enjoyable and present to your awareness.

Now gently tense the whole body as you inhale; hold the breath while you vibrate the body lightly; now exhale through the mouth. Relax for a few moments.
Practicing the Presence in the Heart.

Reposition your posture and inner sight (behind closed eyes at the point between the eyebrows) as needed. Visualize your heart center (not the physical heart but the center of feeling in the region of the sternum) as having double doors. As you inhale naturally and gently, mentally open the doors of the heart, letting in fresh breezes of joy and the sunlight of peace. Imagine the breath is entering through these doors of the heart. As you exhale, feel that all tension, anxiety, fear, doubt, grief, or anger are being swept away as the breath flows out from the heart . Practice this visualization for as long as it feels cleansing and satisfying.
Then, forget the breath and rest in the heart, purified. Feel the natural love of the heart rising up from a deep place of stillness. In that stillness, feel the ever deeper and more subtle bubble of joy and that resides beneath all outer emotional turmoil. Rest in that joy, and in that love. Feel you have come “home at last!” Do this for as long as enjoyable. Imagine you are sitting in comfortable silence with your Best Friend — sitting side-by-side, holding hands.

When you are ready to move on, gently tense the whole body as you inhale; hold the breath while you vibrate the body lightly; now exhale through the mouth. Relax for a few moments.
Practicing the Presence in the Mind.

Check your posture again, do a brief body scan for recurring tension, and refocus your gaze behind closed eyes at the point between the eyebrows.
As your breath naturally comes in, imagine it is entering through the portal of the spiritual eye (in the forehead). As it does so, it sweeps away all restless, petty, and random thoughts. As you exhale, imagine the breath flowing down and out the medulla oblongata at the base of the brain. Imagine that with that exhalation, the raucous citizen-thoughts of your subconscious mind are scurrying into their hiding places at the base of the brain where they gather quietly to take in all that you are doing! As you practice this feel that your consciousness is becoming ever brighter and ever more expansive as it enters a state of crystal clarity and heightened pure awareness which is wonderfully blissful. You may find that you cannot help but smile inwardly. Soon the inflow and outflow of breath have converted your mind into pure light and joy. Feel that your awareness is expanding outward in all directions taking into its perception all objects and all space as your very own reality. Imagine this consciousness is that of the great Self of all. Commune joyfully with this, your very own Self.

When you are ready to move on, gently tense the whole body as you inhale; hold the breath while you vibrate the body lightly; now exhale through the mouth. Relax for a few moments.
Sharing the Presence.

Now before ending your meditation, bring to your mind’s inner sight your family, co-workers, or loved ones. Send to them the peace vibrations of your meditation. Share the gift of meditation on its own level to the higher awareness of others, especially anyone in need of healing of body, mind or spirit, or with whom you have had some difficulty. See them in the mellow light of the presence of conscious Peace. Now go out into daily life practicing being the Presence of peace to all whom you meet.

Aum, Shanti, shanti, amen.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How Mind-Full is Mindfulness Meditation?

My son-in-law is a transpersonal psychologist and a certified meditation teacher. He's taken training in several forms of meditation from kriya yoga to stress reduction, and in teacher training in several others. We had a conversation the other day about the effectiveness of different forms and styles of meditation. Any time-tested form of meditation is helpful, let me say from the start. Nor is any one form or technique the BEST! Always it's what works best for the individual at any given time.

That understanding having been expressed, I want to share some comments on a popular form of meditation commonly known as "mindfulness" meditation. For my purposes I am referring to the technique of "sitting" while "watching" one's thoughts. You see: the essence of meditation is a fluctuation or an oscillation between what "IS" and what really "IS!" (Of course I am being facetious, here).

In other words, should we simply rest in what we are now: our thoughts, feelings, and insights, or should we aspire to a different (translate: higher) state of Being? Are we just fine or even perfect now, as we ARE? Or, do we have a higher potential that requires transcending, or leaving behind, our present reality? This has been debated down through ages in a myriad of forms.

Another way of putting it is: self-acceptance vs. Self-acceptance? Well, let's put aside abstruse philosophy (for a moment, at least) and look at meditation techniques.

The problem with what I am calling "mindfulness" meditation is that, far from "watching" our thoughts, the beginning meditator, as yet far from detached from his outer nature, simply finds himself totally engrossed in his own thoughts. Yet, at the same time, the beginning meditator never having before become particularly self-aware, might find his train or flow of thoughts rather revealing!

Yet for all of that, in the final analysis, our train of thoughts are not especially inspiring or life transforming. If nothing else, they are a bit discouraging, revealing, primarily, our own pusillanimity (pettiness).

Thus I conclude that this kind of "mindfulness" can be helpful, perhaps in the beginning, but, in the end, takes us nowhere in terms of higher consciousness. Now, some would say that with persistence these random, petty thoughts begin to subside and a higher awareness is revealed. Well, maybe: over time and with persistent and consistent effort and commitment to longer, deeper meditations. In short, in my experience training hundreds of students, I say, and I say simply and plainly, it doesn't work that way!

Our society is too overly stimulated and not sufficiently peace-filled, non-toxic, and mind-full to ever really get to such a space except in fleeting glimpses. This brings us to the "other side." Instead of indulging in one's own random thoughts, why not use will power, concentration, and inspiration to ascend to a higher level of consciousness?

The use of a positive image, mantra, word formula, or energy to take us "higher" is, in fact, the path of Self-realization as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda. Without denying some of the positive benefits of self-awareness provided for by techniques of mindfulness, I have long ago concluded that by combining will power with concentration, right attitude, and right technique we can make faster meditative progress than by simply steeping the tea of our consciousness in the dregs of our own subconscious mind. Ok, now I've said it plain and simple, like.

I admit we need a little of both but too much of the mindfulness philosophy represents a bias against articulating and accepting a higher state of consciousness beyond mere negation of thoughts. Why not just chloroform the mind with alcohol or drugs or sleep? Is not happiness what we seek? Untrammeled, unassailable joy? Must we settle for what simply is? Must we only "chop wood and carry water?" Is that all there is? I say, and with the testimony of the masters of all paths: NO! We are much more than the mundane existence of daily life. OK, so let's accept mundane realities, but then let us move beyond them in joyful aspiration!

I began with the Buddhist paths but moved to my "home" in India where "bliss" (satchidanandam): ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss was offered as the summum bonum of life's destiny. Sadly, much of Buddhism has fallen into atheistical attitudes, though its true masters reflect the joy and compassion inherent in higher consciousness. For this, regardless of dogmas, is the truth behind all seeming and striving. It is joy that we seek.

I say, then, that with this day and age of overstimulation we need to use the frenetic energy we have to focus upon a higher reality as our truth and not merely stew in the soup of our subconscious. Sure, spend a few minutes getting "real." Then go to a higher and truer reality through chanting, visualization, watching the breath, feeling the pranic currents, and setting one's sights upon the Guru's presence, or the divine Presence as peace, wisdom, energy, love, calmness, Aum, Light, or Bliss!
Aim high lest we fall short!

Nayaswami Hriman