Monday, October 31, 2011

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

This Wednesday, November 2, I begin a four-week course on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. It's nothing less than both intimidating and inspiring. I don't know of any other work that penetrates the veil of the mind and traces the trajectory of soul-awakening with such (almost brutal) clarity, power, and wisdom. 

The array of available books and literature on the YS is bewildering. True, it's nothing like the quantity written on the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita, but it's prodigious nonetheless. No one really knows (or agrees) when the YS were written, or even by whom, exactly. Evidently there is more than one "Patanjali." But this much is certain: whoever wrote it and whenever it was written, it didn't just appear out of nowhere. It is the distillation of a long history of exploration by the scientists of consciousness (the rishis of India). You might say it's as if after centuries (millennia, probably) of experimentation, someone wrote a concluding and summarizing "paper" on their accumulated findings!

The YS are a roadmap to enlightenment. The highway to the infinite portrayed in the YS is also called the 8-Fold (or Limbed) Path. Other synonyms include Raja Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga. These all refer to the description of the path of enlightenment given in the YS. (As I cannot be sure of the knowledge of all of my readers, let me say that the true meaning of the term "yoga" is "union." It refers to achievement of Self-realization by uniting one's individual soul with the oversoul of Spirit. By contrast, the more common man-on-the-street uses the term "yoga" to describe the physical postures, positions, or asanas that were developed in more recent centuries and which have the purpose of developing one's health and inner awareness as a foundation for the spiritual discipline of meditation and the spiritual path generally.)

Over the centuries many forms of yoga discipline have emerged with different names and different emphases. All too often they attempt (or appear) to compete or to be distinctly unique. Just as science has enlightened us in the understanding that energy, contrary to the report of our five senses, is the essential and unifying reality of matter, so too the different "yogas" are but different approaches to the same central truth: we are One!

Bhakti yoga is the way of the heart: approaching the Oneness of Spirit through devotion (pure feeling). Gyana yoga is the way of the mind: approaching the Oneness of Spirit through the power of concentration (pure consciousness). Karma yoga is the way of service: approaching the Oneness of Spirit through self-giving and acting as a pure instrument of Spirit. Laya yoga is the way of dissolution of the ego. Mantra yoga is expansion of consciousness through Oneness with the primordial vibration of Spirit (known as Aum). Uniting them all, however, is Raja yoga: the science of meditation which arises when, in combination with one or more of the aforementioned disciplines, we seek "to be still and know (that I AM God)." Raja means royal, or that which rules (or unites) the others. (Ashtanga means, simply, 8-Fold or 8-Limbed.)

As must be obvious to the reader, even the practice of calling these "paths" by their yogic names suggests they come from and are only accessible to devotees attracted to all things Indian. Of course not: devotion, concentration, selfless service, egolessness, and silent inner, prayerful communion are universally manifest in all spiritual traditions.

The YS are aphorisms but unlike stand-alone platitudes there are linked, like threads, creating a chain or path from delusion to enlightenment. The word "sutra" means "thread" (think suture). There are less than 200 hundred sutras. They are divided into four books ("pada"): samadhi pada; sadhana pada; vibhuti pada; and kaivalya pada. Whew! What the heck?

For those of you who stayed the course with me on Swami Sri Yukteswar's book, THE HOLY SCIENCE, you will recognize a pattern. I suppose the ancients must have developed their themes along these lines: describing the process and benefits; outlining the methods; describing the consequences (fruits) ("powers attained"), and giving a glimpse at the goal (Oneness).

At the same time, the unfolding sutras are not linear or strictly a logical progression, either. There is some repetition, some further development, and some detours or tangents along the way. This patterns the simple fact that the path to enlightenment is, itself, NOT a straight-line. Reality and consciousness is more a hologram: each aspect containing something of the whole within itself. God is not in some distant corner of space. Enlightenment is ours right now if . . . . . .  It is, and it isn't! Lifetimes accumulation of error and ignorance can be swept away instantly in a flood of grace but that grace does not come upon the command or will of the ego. And yet, we start where we are: in ego consciousness. A conundrum certainly.

This Wednesday night we will begin our journey. Like the sutras themselves and like our own path to enlightenment, I am not planning with any strictness what we will cover, what we will skip, and how we will develop our themes. This class is based upon Paramhansa Yogananda's teachings of the YS. He studied with his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar. Yogananda explained that after about only 12 sutras his guru said, :"That's enough. You now have the key." (Yogananda never said exactly WHICH twelve!!!!) So neither are we compelled to read and study all nearly 200 sutras, either!

Yogananda never wrote a summary (a book) on the Yoga Sutras. That's too bad and there must be some overarching reason. Swami Kriyananda did, however and it is a renowned classic in its own right: THE ART AND SCIENCE OF RAJA YOGA (Crystal Clarity, Publishers, Nevada City, CA USA). (Swami Kriyananda is a direct disciple of Yogananda and one of the very few still living and teaching today.) This book does not, however, discuss or analyze the sutras directly. There are unpublished transcriptions of Yogananda's lectures on Patanjali however.

This series will be our second experiment with internet streaming. You can go online and sign up and pay for this class and attend it in real time (7:30 to 9 p.m. PST). Be sure to do this before about 3 p.m. this Wednesday. If we or you encounter technical difficulties we will provide a link to the audio recording as a substitute. I prefer students come in person, of course, but if you are reading this from India or Russia or New York, we at least have something to offer to you.

More blog articles will flow as they, well, flow!


Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Power of Now!

"The Power of Now" written by Eckhart Tolle

I would imagine many of you have read this book. It's not new (1997) and it's quite famous and rightly so. A friend lent it to me quite some time ago and as I have large stack of reading-in-process I didn't get to it until our annual trip to Frankfurt, Germany. (I go each year with Padma to display sample reading copies of books published (mostly) by Crystal Clarity Publishers to publishers from other countries.) Fact is I was reading a fascinating book, "Parting the Waters," by Taylor Branch (about Martin Luther King, Jr.) but I left my Kindle in the hotel in Frankfurt. So on the flight home I switched to the POWER OF NOW in actual paper copy which I had brought as a backup!

With minor exceptions I found nothing in Tolle's inspired and wisdom-filled book that didn't resonate with my own understanding and experience of meditation and introspection, and with the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda and his disciple Swami Kriyananda (which are my life's work to share). I recommend it therefore without reservation. While nothing in it can't also be found in what we practice and share at Ananda, its language and approach may in fact be helpful to anyone.

The Power of Now expresses what is called, in the teachings of yoga, the "path of gyana yoga." Gyana Yoga is frequently associated with philosophy, theology, and cosmology and consequent hair-splitting intellectual analysis and debates. That association is understandable as gyana yoga represents the refraction of our powers of perception onto the goal of ultimate wisdom.

The drawback with traditional scriptural or philosophical studies, comparisons, and debate lies with the inherent limits of the intellect itself. For true gyana yoga has for its focus the dissolution of the ego itself. The intellect, by itself, cannot accomplish this herculean task (though it is proud to try and proudly imagines that by thinking about it, it has succeeded!).

And this is what makes Tolle's book both useful and wise: while necessarily using words as symbols and employing intellectual (philosophical and psychological) concepts, he makes it clear that the fulfillment and happiness we seek as humans lies in a realm beyond and above mere thought. It is the identification of ourselves with our mind (and our emotional reactions to thoughts and sense inputs) that creates a veil between us and "reality."

His suggested meditation exercises are simple and are all but identical to similar meditation exercises taught by Paramhansa Yogananda. He uses terms that are generally not used in the yoga teachings but are clearly recognizable. For example he speaks of the "inner body" or "energy body" when, in yoga, we speak of the astral body or prana. He does reference the term "chi" from the Chinese tradition but he doesn't rely upon it in his explanations. 

Tolle speaks of two basic stages of withdrawal from the domination of the ego-mind: awareness and identity with the inner (astral) body and, then, going beyond that, into perfect stillness or the state which he calls, alternatingly, the Unmanifest or Being. In yoga we would speak of the astral (energy) body and the causal (consciousness or idea) body.

I don't want this article to be a book report so I won't continue further lest I be tempted to cover its key points (which are many and which are excellent). For my purpose is to acknowledge this wonderful spiritual handbook and its practical wisdom.

I would like to share a few statements I found inspiring and helpful, however: 
  1. Time and mind are inseparable. 
  2. The present moment is all you have. 
  3. Unconsciousness is the absence of the observer. 
  4. Time is not precious because it is an illusion. 
  5. The past cannot survive in Your Presence. 
  6. The second coming (of Christ) is the transformation of human consciousness from time to eternity, not the arrival of a person on earth.
  7. Egos are drawn to bigger egos (explaining why enlightened persons are often ignored or unseen)
  8. If only the avatar is an incarnation of God, then who are you?
  9. The (astral) body is an access point into Being.
  10. Would a fish ask, "What is water?"
  11. To be conscious of Being you need to reclaim the consciousness from the mind.
  12. Portals into Being, in addition to the (astral) body include space, silence, cessation of thought, and surrender to what is.
Blessings to you!

Nayaswami Hriman

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Jesus Christ: the ONLY?

Religion has been plagued by sectarianism and no religion has been so organized and so intellectually self-enclosed and bullet-proof than the traditional Catholic Faith. A recent conversation with my ultra-conservative Catholic priest and brother served only to remind me of both the limits of the intellect and the dangers of the sheer magnetism of two thousand years of accumulated tradition and self-enclosed logic.

The trouble begins with Jesus' use of the personal pronoun "I" in his statement that "I am the way, the life, and the truth" (not an exact quote). It continues with states like "upon my church I shall build my church and the powers of darkness shall not prevail against it" (approximate quote). An entire theology has been built around such quotations, and, added to that, the testimony of (church-ordained) "saints" adds proof to the pudding!

Paramhansa Yogananda, a great yogi who came to America and who brought a new dispensation of a broader vision of divinity and truth, showed how Jesus' words and teachings can be understood in a broader context. Yet the weight of tradition and the apparent testimony of the saints would seem to shun any new interpretation or understanding. Add to this the fear of the "anti-Christ" and associated breakdown of traditional values and you have a retrenchment from which there seems no return, no reconciliation, no hope for raproachment.

From my brother's point of view, there isn't any such bridge. There is no way to reconcile. Theirs is the only way, and the rest of us are condemned to you-know-where or, with some theological fine print, can be saved by natural living and grace based on our ignorance and God's mercy.

The combination of the erosion of traditional ("Catholic" or "Christian") values and the emergence of Eastern religions with their overarching and universalist tendencies makes for trouble all 'round. It drives the traditional Christians crazy to think that Buddha or Krishna might be elevated to the stature of Jesus Christ!

No blog article is sufficient in length to tackle these questions. For reference I direct your attention to Swami Kriyananda's book, "Revelations of Christ," or Self-Realization Fellowship's (shortened) "The Yoga of Jesus."

The gulf that divides east and west (universalist vs dogmatist) is a very deep one. We mustn't fool ourselves into thinking reconciliation is just around the corner. We of metaphysical persuasion tend to be non-violent, even pacifist, but not so (many of) the representatives of orthodox religion.

I told my brother I would rather love him than argue with him. But he never seems to give up on his insistence that the Catholic Church is the only one true church and after the anti-Christ and the dark days to come it will emerge victorious!

Rather than argue our way through the Jesus' teachings, why not find it in our hearts to unite in our love for truth, our dedication (self-sacrifice) to serving God and higher ideals, and in our personal life of prayer, meditation, and introspection? Are not the so-called traditional Christian values essentially universal ones?

Sadly, however, the path ahead of us is not a bed of roses. While mainstream religion has largely ignored us, laughed at us, scorned or condemned us, its response will be much more intense when the time comes that it feels threatened by those who dare to meditate (without their sanction) and who see in all faiths the underlying unity of truth.

As unpleasant as it may seem to many of us, we must be willing, at least, to stand up for a truth that is needed on our planet today. We are all children of the Infinite One God. All life, all faiths are but a manifestation of that One consciousness. Life has but its purpose the realization that we are but sparks of the Infinite Flame.

There is no real argument among the great Ones who come to declare the eternal truths. Even if saints encourage their followers to be true to the faith they are born in, an examination of their lives finds them preoccupied with ego-transcendence and love for God. A new dispensation of revelation has come in answer to the prayer of sincere hearts that a universal understanding in matters spiritual be found that is comparable to the universal acceptance of natural laws discovered by scientists.

This new revelation, like the "new" science that replaced medieval superstitions and blind beliefs, is not intended and need not destroy the faith of traditional religionists. In fact, it can free them from the narrow confines of sectarianism. Let each faith honor its own tradition while it yet sees its beliefs and rituals in the broader vision of God's love and wisdom.


Nayaswami Hriman

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Search for Farmland in Seattle area

Since the first Ananda Community was established in 1967 in Nevada County, California, organic farming has been a part of community life. This is common to probably most intentional communities formed at that time and ever since. Farming is always difficult work, a definite science, and an art form whose canvas is Mother Nature and whose secrets are forever elusive. While the essence of the worldwide network of Ananda Communities is to create a supportive environment for spiritual growth through meditation and service, gardening and farming as a part of intentional community is seriously relevant to our age and reflects the need to develop a new and sustainable lifestyle.

We, the post-World War II generation, have grown up amidst relative prosperity and security and, more than that, in a bubble of excess consumption and detachment from the realities of nature and natural living. Hence, in the Sixties as this generation began to come of age there were some who rebelled against the "plastic" culture in which we lived. But our timing was premature. Several more decades of living "high" were yet to come. Now the compelling need to find a more sustainable lifestyle not only looms large but threatens ominously the culture of galloping consumption (and debt) and the health and safety of life on this planet.

At the urging of Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, a renewed emphasis on farming has inspired a re-dedication to organic farming in the Ananda Communities worldwide. Ananda's community in Lynnwood (north of Seattle, WA) is no exception. Two years ago, a subscriber supported farming cooperative (CSA) was begun in the Community. Now we are looking for additional acreage (perhaps five net farmable acres) not too far from Lynnwood in order to expand.

Such property can provide housing, education, and training, as well as be the base of operations for a larger and more effective small-scale family type farm. We are thinking that those who can support this by purchasing the land obtain the twin benefits of a sensible investment in farm land with the support of small-scale, local organic farms. While we don't anticipate a "profit" for the owners of the land from farming operations, their investment should be a form of capital preservation in the face of the strong possibility of several years or more of severe financial instability and risk combined with little or no investment return from traditional sources. Whether hyper-inflation or deflation, everyone eats food and farmland near a major metropolitan area should hold its own relative value (if not, in fact, gain in value).

The farming co-op, meantime, can use, maintain, and improve the land and property and would cover all costs of holding the property (taxes, e.g.). In time, and as individual owners need to liquidate their investment, we would expect there would be others who would be willing to replace them at a fair price.

This arrangement would no doubt be altered under different economic conditions but for now it seems a fair exchange. We already have pledges of investments greater than a normal down payment but insofar as we do not want to acquire property with a mortgage or debt, we are still looking for others to participate. If this would interest you and you would like more information, please let me know!

A new paradigm of cooperative living (that includes investing) needs to emerge. Making money by tossing ones and zeroes into the Wall Street and Big Bank gambling casino is no way to create a sustainable lifestyle and a planet fit for habitation. The real return on investment should be the satisfaction and universal return of support that flows naturally from one's own creative and energetic commitment to high ideals, whether through investing, creativity, or participation in serviceful and useful endeavors. Our culture needs to regain our how-to-live skills, fulfilling the proper needs of body, mind, and spirit through self-effort, savings, cooperation, creativity, natural living, and love for God and the divine essence of all life.


Nayaswami Hriman