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In the last one or two centuries this is sometimes sentimentalized by concepts of the "noble savage" or some other, now out of date, and somewhat "politically incorrect" stereotypes.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