Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Memorial Day - What is self-sacrifice?

Yes, ok, so Memorial Day was just the other day! Well, I was a bit busy but that didn't stop me from thinking about it. Now if you think this piece is about soldiers sacrificing their lives, well, it's not. But the theme of Memorial Day made me think of this topic: self-sacrifice.

Students and devotees of the Bhagavad Gita (India's most beloved scripture) are aware that the theme of sacrifice appears throughout the "Gita." The term used (from Sanskrit) and (crudely) transliterated is yagya.

The idea of sacrifice went out with sinning and hair shirts just a few years ago. Nowadays nobody talks about sins (or wears hair shirts). We just look for our bliss: it's more fun, besides. Sinning is, like, so passe. Besides, I think we got that sinning bit all wrong. "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!"

We do seem to pay lip service to servicemen (and women) who have in fact sacrificed their lives or health (physical or mental) in wartime. How many go into battle to honor and serve their country and willing to give their lives for it is difficult to say. There are as many reasons to be in military service as there are soldiers and by no means all of them do so with honor, dignity or conscious intention. That's not a criticism, it's a fact. Think of all the soldiers  and sailors down through the ages that were "inducted" (perhaps against their will), or enlist for economic or social reasons, or, even, out of complete ignorance of what they are getting into! Well, anyway. I said I wasn't going to talk about that.

My point remains that self-sacrifice is about as popular as wanting to catch a cold. On the other hand:

Few question the instinct and rightness of self-discipline for recovery from addiction, losing weight, regaining one's health, saving for retirement, going to night school to get a degree, practicing meditation, exercising and any number of other obviously useful acts of personal self-discipline.

It has been well said by others more informed and intelligent than I that our society (America and others) inclines more to indulgence than delayed gratification. I just heard today repeated on National Public Radio the relatively well known study that documented that children who postponed for fifteen minutes having a marshmellow now so they could have two of them a little later did better as young adults in achieving their goals and happiness.

It is commonplace to bemoan excessive spending and lack of savings, and, an embedded sense of personal entitlement and on and on. And I guess I'm be-moaning along with the rest of them.

But this concept of yagya, self-sacrifice for a higher good, intrigued me since long ago when I first read of it in the Bhagavad Gita. Now, being raised Catholic, I was big into sin and into Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for our sins. And I knew the story of Abraham being tested by God by being asked to sacrifice Isaac, his son (in the end, he didn't have to: "Just testing you!" God said. "What, my intelligence?").

The Bhagavad Gita talks in terms of how all worthwhile things, including material life itself, is achieved by offering oneself in gratitude to a higher Source, to God. Krishna encourage us to see all things as coming from God and seek all fulfillment in attunement with God. Jesus put it this way: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."

In other words, understand that true happiness comes from living for a greater reality (by whatever name) than self-gratification. Rather than eat for pleasure alone, eat healthy and vitality giving foods for nourishment  (lest through a junk food diet it later "eats" you!) Sex enjoyment, too, becomes perverted the more we seek it for its own sake rather than as an expression of love, friendship and commitment (and as a means of bringing to earth through love, other souls). Rather than to see your work as merely for personal gain (income or status), see it as a service to God through your fellow man. Rather than to see the earth's bounty as ours for the taking, for exploitation, see our access to it and dominion over it as a gift from God to be stewarded and sustained for all generations to enjoy in harmony. And so on.

Yagya, then, means, among other things, to live in the consciousness that we are all One. Thus to behave selfishly is to be short-sighted and to seek ephemeral, sensory or egoic satisfactions at the expense of long-term happiness. Ice cream tastes good "going down" until, after a few years, it stays down (and around the stomach and arteries, so to speak).

In the happiness of others we find freedom from ego. What we give or share with others freely opens our heart and affirms our security in a larger reality. What we receive in return is a hundredfold.

Some would say self-sacrifice is also manifested in what so many bemoan as having disappeared: the good 'ol fashion work ethic. Well, all I will say is that willingness, generosity, a creative and noble spirit, an attitude of wanting to serve and to help others appeals to me more than a good "work ethic." How much of this term came with grim sacrifices which resulted in resentments?

It is only the ego, the small and selfish self, that balks at the expansive attitude of yagya. Think of yagya as an  investment: in our long term happiness and that of others. Only a hard hearted spirit can pretend to be happy at the expense of others, or in the face of their travails.

So you see, it IS BLISS that we are talking about. The difference is that sacrificing to avoid sin is how the ego sees it, but investing in one's happiness (by investing in the happiness of all, e.g.) is just good sense and an investment in BLISS.

Of course if you are watching carefully you might just see a rat scurry by. That rat is the ego perhaps getting a little smarter and going for what we used to call "enlightened self-interest." The golden rule requires no belief in heaven, in God, or bliss eternal. So, you are right, There's a catch and you caught me.

You see the rat of ego remains. So long as we think we are the doer, being good (for a change) instead of being selfish, it's still just us. We might indeed be happier and more self-satisfied, have more friends, and better health, but it's still just me and I am as mortal and frail as before. My selfishness has just gotten more refined. But, it IS an improvement.

To truly understand and reap the rewards of God's creation, it is ultimately for our own eternal satisfaction that we understand that the essence of yagya is to offer oneself into the higher Self of All. For when we say "We are One" this means, as Paramhansa Yogananda put it, "When this "I" shall die then will I know "Whom am I."  The more the sense of doership and separateness dissolves into the greater reality of an ever expanding awareness of self, the closer to real bliss we can come. One lifetime or many lifetimes, it doesn't make much difference because "living for God" is it's own reward and if we focus too much on measuring we defeat the purpose which is to go beyond all measure.

Yagya to you,

Nayaswami Hriman

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

News from Ananda Washington!

This post will be a bit different and more on the timely rather than the eternal basis!

For starters, we will soon roll-out a new Ananda Seattle website thanks to friend and web designer Rhonda Dicksion of Indigo Dog ( This blog site will be moved to the new Ananda site sometime in the next month.

Many local Ananda members just returned from a long weekend at Ananda Village near Nevada City, CA to welcome "home" and celebrate the 86th birthday of Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda. Saturday, May 19, was his birthday and he gave a talk that morning and we had a "birthday party" in the afternoon.

We've all returned inspired and enthusiastic. Swamiji's dedication, friendship, wisdom, energy, and divine "kindliness" is a bright light in the lives of thousands throughout the world. After the dust of the weekend's activities settled, Padma and I (who were blessed to stay at Crystal Hermitage where Swamiji lives when in residence there) had some quiet time together with Swamiji. Padma made him and a few others a lovely fondue dinner Sunday night, and the next morning we met with him over breakfast to share our farewells.

We returned to find that our efforts to purchase a local organic farm have taken a few steps backwards when informed that the sellers have withdrawn their interest in selling the farm at this time. So, we're back to the real estate listings but there's plenty of properties out there with potential. We are intending to expand our food growing capacity from the small plots at Ananda Community in Lynnwood to property outside the metropolitan area (but still somewhat close by) in an adjacent rural area. This will provide not only food but opportunities for gatherings and service. It can provide education and experience in small farm operations for adults and children alike. We have substantial commitments to the purchase already but we are also still open to additional investors. If you are (seriously) interested, email me and I'll send you more information.

We returned last night from Ananda Village, CA on Alaska Air and landed at SEATAC around 6:30 p.m. We were standing in the aisle waiting our turn to de-plane (sp?) when we observed a conversation between passengers. It appeared to Padma and I that we were seated with about four Korean gentleman, all nicely dressed in suits, looking slightly older than middle age. A friendly faced woman, while waiting, asked her fellow passenger (one of the Korean men) what he was doing. He replied that he was a Christian (Methodist, perhaps?) on some kind of mission or another (I wasn't paying much attention at the beginning).

Well, this friendly Seattle-lite plunged in with innocent abandon and wondered, gee, when did Christianity hit Korea? I mean wasn't there something there before that? Like, say, Buddhism? Well, he didn't flinch or blanch or get embarrassed. In all of the conversation he was very polite and calm. It was, in its own way, very sweet. But off she went, true Seattle-ite that she was, saying how it seemed to her that all religions did more or less the same thing, I mean, don't they? Well, he hesitated a bit (I couldn't really hear him). Clearly of course he also needed to be true to his calling and like a good (if orthodox) Christian was needing to gently say, well, sure all religions are similar, but only through Jesus Christ can one be saved, etc. etc. etc.

Well, it was charming: her innocence and his patience and calmness. His three other gentleman companions of course had to listen and endure this without comment. The poor fellow was no doubt on the line, so to speak.

It was easy to sympathize with each of them. He for representing the importance of committing to the spiritual path in some form or another (we have a form, a body, a personality, temperament etc. and we have committed relationships, careers, and the need for good diet, right exercise, etc.), and she, for seeing the One behind the many. And this is such important yet challenging lesson for this age. We have the orthodox and sectarian believers, narrow and dogmatically affirming their tenets and judging everyone else. We have those who throw the "baby of soul awakening" out with the bathwater of orthodox religion.

Our age is replete with the mixture of all races, religions and cultures living and working together in (at least) major cities in every nation on earth. We need to learn how to get along with respect and also with awareness (and understanding). To turn to agnosticism or self-proclaimed atheism on the basis of the narrowness of sectarian religionists is to ignore the one aspect of human consciousness with the greatest potential to bring not only personal happiness but global harmony (and yes, even prosperity).

To say "I am spiritual" but to do nothing other than to be a nice person and say "All religions are the same" is a cop out and our "beliefs won't save us" when life throws challenges and tragedies our way. To attempt to have a genuine spiritual life on one's own is a happy thought but all too often a lame reality. Only one who could grow spiritually in a cave should even attempt to go solo to God. 

"Environment is stronger than will" proclaimed Paramhansa Yogananda. For this reason he "sowed into the ether" the divine blessings that would empower and inaugurate a new era for the establishment of intentional communities bringing together people of high ideals who sought to live sustainable, balanced lives in cooperation with one another, the earth, and with divine grace.

We can accomplish far more together (for we are One) than by segregating our ideals from our love and commitment to others. There are two aspects of the spiritual path and they were well expressed in the Old Testament and re-affirmed by Jesus Christ as the basis of his teachings: to love God and to love one's neighbor (as oneself).  We need not just spirituality but also religion (each with its shortcomings can balance the other). Those who go alone tend to develop pride and attitudes of judgment. Those who join with others do the same thing in respect to their shared beliefs and customs. But by having both an inner life (giving rise to introspection, self-awareness and intuition, for which meditation is uniquely suited) and an outer life of fellowship (in service and in devotion) helps keep us in balance. 

So, I hope those two went their own ways perhaps touched in some ways by the message and person of the other.


Nayaswami Hriman

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The "God" Word?

When you hear the word “God” do you flinch, grimace, or roll your eyes? Imagine how many books, sermons, and scriptures have been written referring to and attempting to describe (or worse yet, define) “God.” Surely you don’t expect me to join the jostling crowd of theologians, ministers and preachers?

Well, don’t look now, but . . . . .

Many people reject the word “God.” And I have been one of them for many years. But now I see the term more as a symbol, or a pictograph. As such, each person using it  or hearing or reading it can fill in his own definition, description, feeling, or intention with respect to it. (“With respect to it” has at least two meanings, by the way!)

If your temperament inclines to the impersonal you might interpret the word as a cosmic force, the primal ground of Being, an infinite Light, cosmic consciousness or any number of such terms denoting an intelligent, presumably beneficent, if impersonal, energy or force. This is all well and good and perhaps even possessing a philosophical purity, but, let’s face, it is  also rather sterile. Who in his right mind would want to love a Cosmic Ground of Being? The heart says, “And where, perchance, does one find Him?” And, “What relevance, meaning, or interest in me and my problems has such a Force?”

We might consider the life within ourselves to be the Life Eternal. When we are feeling especially vitalized, for example, whether in strenuous or otherwise energetic actions such as sports, art, drama and countless other peak experiences or where the “force is with you” and energy is flowing: here we might say God’s power is animating your form and consciousness. A nice touch, to be sure, but still somewhat mental, although the delight inherent in the feeling of energy, vitality, confidence, and accomplishment  is certainly strong and satisfying. When it inevitably wanes, however, we are left perhaps inconsolable or moody. In a more refined (and at times even devotional) way, some meditation techniques concentrate the mind upon the life force (“prana”) flowing in the body (physical and astral). 

This form of meditation is very helpful and not difficult. But the leap from “energy” to “divinity” and to a “personal God” is more of stretch for some. We can feel the joy of energy but can we say it’s God’s energy or simply our own?

The peace-feeling of meditation or prayer certainly constitutes a form of worship or mindfulness in respect to the Presence of God. Other aspects frequently identified include deep calmness, transforming love, a flow of insights and intuitive wisdom, and the appearance of the subtle astral sense perceptions such as inner sound or inner light. All of these can be viewed and enjoyed whether devotionally, energetically, or in the light of understanding. Nonetheless, these impersonal forms leave many seekers wandering the labyrinth of the mind without clear sense of direction or heartfelt satisfaction.

It becomes more complex or controversial when one’s view of God turns towards the anthropomorphic, that is, towards the human form. The more common range of such forms includes worship of the monotheistic God who sits upon a throne, dis-incarnate deities (gods or goddesses), angelic beings, incarnations of God in human form (saviors), and saints, sages, and avatars.

Here we become wary, perhaps taciturn, skeptical and stand offish. And, with good reason considering how ripe for exploitation and fraud the human psyche is when trying to convert the usual human experience into the appearance of the Godhead in human form. This latter tendency is not unlike the more normal experience of falling in love with a goddess only to be disillusioned when the goddess you formerly worshipped turns out to be a she-devil (or the god whose power you so admired turns out to be an unfaithful drunkard).

This is where the rubber of “God” meets the road of the “human experience.” It’s like the galloping horse who suddenly comes around a corner to face a face or ditch and stops dead in his tracks, throwing his rider head over heels into the bushes.

But consider this: is it God we confront here, or ourselves? Let us put aside the question of who and what God is. After all, can we really answer that question? Maybe we should start with the question: “Who am I?” Are we merely the obvious, if regrettable, reality of random and unkind thoughts, harmful emotions, and futile actions that passes for the life of most people? If so, our pusillanimity is depth less. 

On the other hand, who seriously accepts that definition of ourselves? Well, many do in saying “We are all sinners.” Falling into this camp are most of the world’s religious adherents. They accordingly  have had to conclude that salvation in one lifetime  is hopeless without a savior to redeem them by superhuman acts of grace and goodwill. Perfection lies so far beyond what any one person could aspire and accomplish that the best we can aspire to is modestly good behavior, belonging to the right church,  and clinging to  the right savior. So, “like yeah, we gotta be saved by the blood.”

In this interpretation we can try to be good but we can never be sure of our fate. The inherent uncertainty causes either disillusionment or fear. Whatever the result it is unsatisfying and leads, for all but rare souls, to sinning up to the border, so to speak: what can I get away with and still be saved?

The other direction is to affirm that we are made in God’s image. This means there is something innate in our nature and being that is godlike and inherently good. To achieve and fulfill this potential perfection cannot, however, be achieved by most people in one lifetime. Hence, onto the stage trots the doctrine of reincarnation. It would be far too involved to pursue this dogma to its intellectual lair but suffice to say that it solves a lot of human problems: injustice and suffering of innocents, just to count two immensely important questions of human existence. 

Science gives us a view of creation, time, and space that fits rather nicely with the concept of many lives and the evolution of those lives from lower life forms to the human level and upwards to Spirit. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed is a scientific version of the metaphysical doctrine that the soul is eternal and unchanging through its many lives.

If we begin to explore the possibilities of our higher, soul nature as incarnate in human form we begin to turn our face towards the face of God. If we can perhaps (in time and with sustained effort and grace) achieve perfection, we eventually are forced to imagine the possibility that there must other souls who have, in fact, achieved God-realization. The very fact that much of humankind accepts the concept of a "savior" in human form sent by God, and the universal fact of acclaimed spiritual teachers in every age, and saints and reformers in every religion suggests precisely this. That most spiritual teachers are a "work-in-process" or the fact of even frauds and imposters, nor yet the difficulty of knowing one from another, does not change the tantalizing prospect. Great men and women, true masters or geniuses, exist in every field of human endeavor. With the vastness, complexity, and unlimited possibilities of the universe before us, this possibility seems all but a fact.

Does such a prospect however in some way limit the infinity which must also be an attribute of the Deity? Well, what does infinite mean if not also infinitesimal? The testimony of great saints and mystics in every age and every religion affirms the experience of Oneness in God as the greatest beatitude and summum bonum of life, and indeed, as the only true purpose to the creation itself!

If God is One, then we are One with God. If God is One then God is all there is and the multitudinous forms of creation must be His cosmic dream and manifestation. The free will that we as souls have must reflect, however imperfectly, the power of God to act and to create. The separateness of all objects in creation must be an illusion, therefore, just as science tells us that all objects are but manifestations of energy. Monotheism is not really threatened and indeed it is a logical flaw to say "God is One" and then to ignore or reject God's presence in every atom! There is no inherent conflict between monotheism and the creation as a manifestation of God. The separateness is in appearance only and not in reality.

Besides, is this not the de facto testimony of the great Ones? Jesus Christ, Krishna and so many others?  Jesus, when condemned for claiming to be the son of God, retorted (quoting the Old Testament), "Do not your scriptures say, 'Ye are gods?'" If their words of the prophets have been twisted, crucified, and made sectarian by ignorant followers, well, that’s no surprise, is it? Why blame God for our stupidity?

The word “God” therefore ought not to be so irritating a word. It is, after all, only a word. But can also be like a vessel of pure gold reflecting God's eternal promise of our soul’s immortality. God is as much in the smallest atom as in the vast creation; as much in our passing thoughts, our daily challenges, and to our highest aspirations, all as manifestations of the One.

Most of us, however, need a clearer and sharper focus to divinity than the word God. If I place a phone call to the President of the United States I can’t possibly expect to get through. Going directly to “God” is just, if not more, unlikely. If God is One and God is everywhere why look so “far away” when His presence can be found, as Jesus put it, “within you?” And are we so puffed up with ourselves that we are unreceptive to the simple fact that there are living men and women who possess this grace, this presence and have lived it with great intensity and self-sacrifice and are willing to share it with others who are sincere? Why insist that the "old buster" is on his throne up in his heaven and not standing right in front of you? That's a bit convenient, don't you think. Even the "devil quotes the scriptures," but a living saint can correct society's misunderstandings, give guidance, and provide much needed inspiration and an example of how-to-live a spiritual life.

It may be so that it is safest for the ego, beginning its spiritual journey, to approach God with an appreciation of impersonal, divine qualities like inner peace, unconditional love, calmness and wisdom. But as we grow in spiritual understanding and the ego loosens its grip upon our mind and heart, there will come into our life others in human form who can guide us. In some lifetime, now or in the future, as we progress and advance in God consciousness we will begin to meet and train with the “pros,” the saints. We will eventually go from the local, farm teams to the major leagues.

Step by step we grow from infancy to adulthood and step by step we grow in God realization. Those steps take place here on earth amidst those of like mind doing practical God-mindfulness actions for the upliftment of ourselves and others. Seek Divinity in your Self through the science of meditation; seek Him in the beauty of flowers, in the majesty of mountains, in the hearts of all, and most of all, in the wisdom and compassion of those who can truly Know HIm as their own true Self.

Good God! That wasn’t so difficult, was it?

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, May 11, 2012

Men: How to Survive Mother's Day

Dear Fellow Men,

This article is for men only, please. So, before we begin one must use the ancient mudra, “tongue-in-cheek.” It requires entering the breathless state first wherein no critical remarks or sharp retorts are possible. So, now, let’s begin:

Yes, it’s Mother’s Day again and we’d be wise to stock up on flowers, chocolates, and thoughtfulness and be ready to dispense the stuff like, well, candy. It’s practically a cliche to say that this “new age” is becoming an age of women. The cliche further adds that “It’s about time!” And we don’t argue, do we? In fact, we remain silent in the great and long tradition of men everywhere and in all times, golden age or dark age, notwithstanding.(1)

You see our secret weapon is silence even as theirs is loquaciousness. A woman with a three-inch tongue can destroy a man over six-feet tall! As women free themselves from oppression by men, so we men must learn to free ourselves from the oppression of women. The latter takes of course a different form than ours over them.

It is commonly asserted that women are, by nature, more intelligent than men and I would be the last to argue with that, even if I would qualify it in certain ways. But why quibble? What the world needs today are people who want to relate to one another, to understand and appreciate one another, to respect each other, to cooperate harmoniously, and to create hope for a better world. And women are, for whatever reason or none at all, simply more inclined in that direction than men. The need for this is patently obvious and it is a better solution than war and ruthless competition or galloping consumption of resources. It is pointless and stupid to respond otherwise.

It doesn’t change the fact that I prefer doing tasks that I can complete myself and that don’t require me to depend upon, satisfy, communicate with, or otherwise need permission from anyone else. Which is why I am writing this dumb article. And I don’t think I am alone in this tendency. Sure it sounds egotistical and sure men are often described that way. But on this score I will stand my ground and say egotism is definitely 50:50. I simply find my own satisfaction and creativity and ability to get my ego out of the way enhanced in such circumstances. Working with others, especially in groups, for me, reinforces ego-active tendencies and brings out competition or criticism. From observing women, I would say, for them, it’s just the opposite, speaking of course (as I must), generally.

This new rising consciousness is a grass-roots movement. That is why in positions of worldly power the influence of women is less obvious. We don’t yet have, for example, a woman president in the United States. But it isn’t far off, I’m sure we would agree. But on the grass roots level I see around me that the change of status and roles are affecting both men and women.

Women are generally happy about their new found freedom and men are too, except when we are unemployed or earning less than our wives and lovers. House husbands are increasingly common and most are very happy with the opportunity. TIME Magazine ran a recent front-page lead article on how the earnings of women are outpacing those of men.

While we congratulate women on their rising status and freedom, we, as men, need to figure out where we go from here. No more bison to bring down, no more bread to bring home triumphantly at night to the admiring gaze of our womenfolk and dependent children! Ah, a sad day has dawned. Or, has it?

Our secret weapon, then, to return to our theme today, is silence. I don’t mean cold, aloof, indifference. I mean something far more elevated. Let me explain in a roundabout way (heck, I hate short articles, don’t you?).

With the freedom of self-expression that women have achieved, the initial benefit for men was a lot more available women who were eager to explore and experiment outside the dreaded commitment that used to be called marriage. It was, and remains, a candy store for some men and women. But this kind of so-called freedom comes at a high price for both men and women: whether emotionally or health-wise, or in terms of true satisfaction or happiness. Easy to enter a casual relationship but difficult to withdraw from one; then there’s those nasty and dreaded diseases. Well I could go on but in fact this part is pretty much outside my own lifestyle and life experience. But I am going somewhere, trust me.

The rising visibility of women is on all levels: from the obviously sexually titillating level to roles of leadership in business, politics and religion. This high level of activity and interaction has made women much more “in your face” for men. Gone are the armies of men-only, whether in the military, the club house, at the shop or factory, office, or corporate boardrooms.

So the first phase of this new reality can be seen in the two-steps forward, one step back evolution of rules of engagement (now called “etiquette”) in the workplace and in every place (since men and women commingle practically everywhere, even dorms and bathrooms in some places). Learning respect, professional conduct and how to be friendly without being too friendly, these are all new patterns for both men and women. But, not surprisingly, this is generally easier for women than for men. And this is where our secret weapon has to begin its hidden (from women) research and development, top-secret phase.

You see, no matter how much society and its rules insist upon equality in all matters we can never simply erase the primordial powers of magnetism and attraction between men and women. But, now, as much as in every other century or society, we have to find new ways to re-direct and circumscribe (or is it circumcise?) this powerful force. In the past these temptations, urges, and otherwise uncontrollable actions were limited by limiting contact between men and women. But that can no longer work.

Let me pause and say that I am not merely describing sexual urges, or even simply romantic ones. That would be downright silly. Studies have shown that even babies or toddlers may behave differently in the presence of the opposite sex.

No, what I mean is this: how do men avoid becoming, well, let’s say “effeminate” in this new world where men and women are equals? Forget the idea that being equals means anything literally. Yes, you might have the same title, position, pay, or rank as a woman who is your peer, but your influence and behavior around each other will, social myths about equality notwitstanding, will be marked by certain characteristic attributes (speaking, of course, generally).

Ok, now listen: during the last few decades of what is called Feminism, women tended to simply imitate the behavior and attitudes of men. Then it began to dawn on women, those who “made it” into the mens’ world, that such behavior is a betrayal of their own, innate tendencies and contributions to the workplace etc.

So, we, too, then, as men must seek to discover our own traits that are ours to contribute. That is the point of this article. But I’m not going to explore those traits because I still have another point to make.

We come back, then, to silence. As women may be quick witted, fluid, adaptable and good socially, men can learn to be adept at being non-reactive to what can only be called (at great expense to one’s life and limb, publicly) the more feeling and mood “rich” environment in which we live, work, and play. To be men, we need to be thoughtful, observant, reflective, and then, when we act, including making a decision, to do so decisively with quiet, firm conviction. We need to draw upon principles and ideals in our language and action; to behave according to what is right duty, not desire or mere feelings. To avoid being self-indulgent in word or action. We should keep our emotional distance from women, being considerate as duty and circumstances dictate, but avoiding familiarity, or “back-slapping” good ‘ol boy behavior when there are no longer any “good ‘ol boys” around.

We need distance and perspective taken with the sole intention of acting, thinking, and feeling according to the highest standards of principle that we can relate and aspire to. We need to be self-disciplined in habits of food, exercise, continuing education and improvement of our skills. We need to become good listeners. We should aspire to be wise and to understand that kindness and compassion are the wisest principles of all.

In sexual matters we need to be self-disciplined as well; appropriate, certainly; committed with integrity to a meaningful, mutually serviceful, respectful relationship. We should avoid making fools of ourselves in such matters. If we treat our wife and her body with respect and tenderness, she will respect us more, or if she prefers lascivious behavior, well, maybe that’s not the right relationship. We shouldn’t encourage our wife or girlfriend to dress in revealing ways, whether in private or public, for we sew the seeds for the cancer of familiarity, moods, and disrespect. Even at home, and yes, in bed, we should be modest in dress and comportment. The Achilles heel for men in respect to women is the eternal temptation of sex.  

Whereas women can be insatiable in their need for attention and interaction from men, men tend to be insatiable in their thoughts about and attraction to women sexually. Both benefit from being more secure in themselves and less in need of approval from one another.

As women come into their own in our society, men, too, should come into our own center of Being. The “real man” is self-contained and unemotional while yet possessing the deep commitment to and passion for truth and high ideals, including helping and protecting others.

The silence of which I speak is, ultimately, derived from the practice of meditation and prayer. To see our source of strength as coming from God, from a higher Power, brings both wisdom and perspective. To avoid one's strength (whether physical, mental or emotional) becoming the instrument of rank egotism, a man needs to be receptive to the Divine Will. It would be especially helpful for a man to approach God in the form of the Divine Mother. 

It would also be helpful to view women as mothers and sisters, even when their behavior or appearance is sexually alluring. Watch your thoughts and notice where the eyes (and mind) roam. A woman who flaunts her allure reveals only her own insecurity, debasing her own soul and inviting men to grovel in the mud of maya with her. See such, instead, as a mere child, ignorant and lost, but, of course, keep your distance mentally and otherwise. Silence. Distance. Wisdom. Self-restraint. Calm. Kind.

What we seek in our desire for companionship with a woman is to be only truly found within our own souls as children of God. To yoke our actions and intentions to the chariot of truth and to be obedient to the dictates of a compassionate, divinely inspired wisdom is to become channel of strength and grace to others: in your marriage, family, workplace and community.

So, men, deliver your flowers and candy with a smile and a gentle, respectful, and grateful kiss for Divine Mother who has given us life and love as One and the Same!

Aum! Nayaswami Hriman

[1] Withdrawing my tongue, momentarily, let me say that I, too, welcome the rising influence of women in the world today as not only beneficial to humanity at large but necessary for human survival (not to mention the world and its teeming life of plants and animals everywhere).

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Meditation for Mountain Climbers

Meditation is like climbing a mountain. Long before you take your first step, there arises the desire and interest in mountaineering. You may very likely need or want to take mountaineering classes and build up your skills and stamina on local area hills and smaller mountains. The really big stuff is high above the tree line and high above the normal oxygen range and at the peak is sometimes described as the “death zone” (because of insufficient oxygen). Mountain climbing is not for wussies.

So in the beginning of one’s life of meditation you may read books and talk a lot about meditation and the philosophy of meditation. Many people read lots of books on Vedanta philosophy, eastern religions, karma, reincarnation, gurus and states of altered (higher) consciousness. Too many people, in fact, stay at this comfortable, arm-chair level, content to use their imagination and the thrill of contemplating realities far beyond their present (and possibly not very fulfilling) reality.

I’ve taught hundreds of people to meditate and my fellow teachers, together, perhaps several thousand. We know firsthand how difficult it is for students to finally take a step to learn to meditate; then actually do it themselves; and finally sustain their daily practice for extended periods, what to mention for their lifetime. It’s not easy.

And, what is their biggest complaint? Hands down, it’s the “monkey mind.” Our Darwinian impulse to remain focused on self-defense and self-interest, desires and ambitions and sensory satisfactions is overwhelming; more so in today’s electrostatic environment of over stimulation and electronic overload. 

Hence the popularity of yoga and meditation retreats both at home and at attractive destinations from resorts to the Himalayas. We are desperate, as it were, to get “out of our skin” (which is, to say, out of our heads).

Simple fact is: you have to genuinely want to calm down. And that’s just the negative incentive. And that’s not enough. The positive incentive is what has to be continually, repeatedly, and forever (well, ok, not forever) reinforced. And here’s another earthquake fault: the ways to describe that incentive are limitless. Finding God, achieving liberation, nirvana, cosmic consciousness, samadhi, inner peace, my higher Self……well, you get the picture. And all of those are so foreign and out of touch with the preoccupations of daily life, emotions, and thoughts that these concepts (all mental, merely — and hence you see the trap — the monkey mind still wins!) are rarely sufficient to suffice.

“All right all ready,” you say? “What am I supposed to do?” To become a doctor in today’s society requires intensive commitment. Very few are interested and among those who entertain the idea (with relish, that is), only a few actually attempt it; fewer accomplish it. So, in truth, there is no easy way out because, in the end, no one can meditate for you and no one can provide what amounts to the desire for what you perceive the goal of meditation to be. You have to want to meditate and to achieve the goal promised by it.

Now let my monkey mind reverse directions and remind you that “meditation is the most natural thing in the world.” For yogis, that is! No, I prefer to be real and honest. And that means this: yes it IS the most natural thing in the world when you want to do it! Pure and simple.

To want to meditate means also to understand how to do it and where it leads. Otherwise you may fall by the wayside out of false expectations and poor training. But as we turn back to our mountaineering theme, let us also acknowledge the fear factor: the ego is convinced that it is going to "die" up on that mountain. And, in fact, it, as such, is right. For what it doesn't know is that it has no true substance apart from the soul. And it is the soul that will come to live on the mountain heights. (Ask any real mountain climber why he or she climbs? It's to get into that zone where everything else falls away and the mind is completely in the Present moment.)

So let’s get back to mountaineering. There are mountaineers who are famous for climbing to rarified heights without oxygen. Calming the body-mind-spirit to sit in silence in the rarified atmosphere of what I like to call pre-thought consciousness takes serious brain training.

Ok, you are now sitting reading this stupid article. (Oops, did I say something wrong?) Stop, look at the screen, and place your mind in “listening mode.” (When we stop to listen intently and intensely, we automatically stop our thoughts. So try it — NOW — monkey-face!) From right now and throughout this day (or tomorrow if you are an insomniac), I want you to STOP, LOOK, LISTEN at least once an hour. Stare ahead, looking up slightly, open your mouth just slightly, and listen inside your right ear almost as if straining to hear a distant or soft voice or sound. Doesn’t your mind stop for a moment?

If you are slightly more “together,” you could add to this technique being simultaneously aware of the center of your body from the navel to the sternum (and not just the outside but more towards the inside and center). This additional tweak will help you feel grounded and avoid getting too mental or spacey.

If you want to add even more to this practice, inhale slowly first, and then do the above while gently and calmly holding your breath. As you exhale continue the practice and follow through at least one full, slow and calm breath cycle.

Ok, so that’s monkey-mind training. If in your actual meditation, sitting time you are to achieve a daily experience of the rarified heights of pre-thought consciousness, you need to take sips and allow the monkey-mind to get acquainted and comfortable with being a SEER, one who sees.

You can also periodically just turn your head and stare briefly out the window, as if (but in fact NOT) thinking about something. Don’t day-dream because then the subconscious flow of images and thoughts takes over and that means “losing our mind.”

You see when we “look” at objects we normally are constantly reacting, assessing, analysising, and comparing them to other mental images (memories and associations, likes and dislikes). Thus we create a psychic world of our own that substitutes for the actual images we are viewing and which stimulate this procreative imagining. So learn to practice “looking” without mental activity. Just simply look. No mental words or feelings.

So, again, back to mountaineering. Here are the steps, the Eight-Fold Path of Meditation Mountaineering:
  1. Get your “butt in gear.” Take meditation training somewhere, learn how to sit (floor, chair, ceiling, etc.). Don’t just buy some dumb CD or book just anywhere because you happen to see it or it’s cheap or free. Make sure you feel confidence and even inspiration from the source: the teacher, the technique, the philosophy behind each. Get the right equipment (gear): meditation pillow, shawl, headphone, ear plugs, meditation bench---whatever it takes, spend it, get it, do it.
  2. Get your intention aligned. In your training (see 1. Above) understand and internalize the purpose and inspiration behind meditation. Make it your own. Begin seeing yourself and describing yourself, mentally and to others, as a meditator; as a yogi; as a seeker; etc. Understand, accept and integrate your goal as your self-identity. Get the right meditation clothes, even. Set up a meditation room or corner with all the trimmings: pictures, candle, flowers, the whole bit. Don’t hold back. (Yes, later you will shed all that but right now you are at the bottom of the mountain and you need to get your gear together. You will need a strong intention to guide you and sustain you in the tough climb ahead.)
  3. Start your training. Meditate twice a day and kick your own butt when you don’t. No matter how often and with what lousy excuses (or good ones) you have for failing, get up and keep going. Meditate with other people if at all possible and no less than weekly, if at all possible. Don’t be a slob with whatever technique and routine you’ve committed to. Do it and do it right and do it how you were taught. It could save your “life” when you are up on the mountain. Don’t be a f___-up. No beginner climbs alone. Climb with others. Find a real teacher: one who gives not just canned training but personalized training. We call 'em moutaineer gurus.
  4. Now, we begin the climb to base camp. With your basic training as your foundation, you are going to leave your comfortable and familiar environment and world of thoughts, feelings, and activities. Everything you’ve ever been is to be left behind. It will all be exposed and will die on the mountainside and will prove not only useless, but dangerous on the steep slopes ahead and above you. So drop it. This fourth stage involves immersing yourself in the determinedly focused rhythm of climbing steadily and living in the subtler region of calm, pure feelings: whether while meditating or during daily activities. You must get used to being non-reactive, even-minded, quietly cheerful UNDER ALL CIRCUMSTANCES. Your life depends on it for at any moment a crevasse of danger or a landslide of ego ambitions can kill you and end your climb. This region Patanjali calls “pranayama,” referring to refinement of feeling which is reflected in quieting the heart and breath towards their cessation in the higher states to come.
  5. As you ascend into steeper, rougher, and higher terrain, you find it difficult to breathe deeply and the need to stay focused on every step. Every step is an effort. This stage, called pratyahara (shutting off the senses and our mind’s constant response to them), requires laser-like focus of the mind in the Present Moment. It means ignoring or transcending the body’s demands for rest and its complaints about aches, pains, and fatigue. You need to keep moving up and the secret lies in focusing the mind and turning away and ignoring random thoughts that will distract you and cause you to fall, perhaps thousands feet below to your death.
  6. You are now getting frequent glimpses of the peak above you. It comes and it goes, but as you climb it is increasingly in your sights. It draws you like metal filings to a magnet. You are getting your “second wind” in this stage Patanjali calls dharana (concentration).
  7. Now you are nearing the top and beginning to enter the “death zone” of ego. There is very little oxygen here and you are fueled by your identification with the goal. You are becoming the goal: the consciousness of peace, energy, love or vibrating and entering the cosmic sound of Aum or the eternal Light which creates, sustains, and withdraws all things in creation.
  8. We have the peak itself. No words will describe this. You must fill in “the blank.”

Nayaswami Hriman