Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Mind: friend or foe?

I “Don’t Mind” – Mind: friend or foe?
Spiritual consciousness might be described as that level of awareness that lifts us from ego-protective/affirmative consciousness towards Oneness. Clinically or medically it might be described as the quieting of lower brain activity in favor of higher brain (pre-frontal lobe) activity. The variety of descriptions is potentially unlimited. I would like to explore spirituality from the inside view of our thoughts and images and their attendant emotions.

Our minds are a most wonderful invention. We can create fantasy images and worlds, write novels and sci-fi stories, get involved in the lives and details of fictitious television characters, rant at world events or leaders so far away or removed from our daily life that they have no effect on us at all, weep at the sufferings of peoples long ago whom we have never met, obsess upon the defects and imagined critiques of friends, family, or co-workers without any regard to their actual personalities or thoughts, and on and on into infinity with no relationship to anything else but our minds.

Indeed, I would aver that most people live more in their minds than in the objective reality around them. More in a world of mental images and thoughts with only a nominal relationship to objective facts, than in any reality viewable by other human beings. This isn’t necessarily problematic in most people, at least from a functional point of view. But from the existential view of “what is reality” and “how to achieve true happiness” this fact is what makes us all a little crazy. It’s just that, as Paramhansa Yogananda put it so charmingly, “crazy people of one type tend to mix with crazy people of the same type.”

To grow up means, in part, to separate our reaction to circumstances (which includes people) from the circumstances themselves. To hold one’s tongue is the better part of wisdom, for example. To bide one’s time before responding is the diplomat’s way of coping with his world. But, in fact, I believe that very few people on this planet make the distinction between their reactions (likes and dislikes) and the objective facts, circumstances, or people who, in their view, trigger those reactions. Obviously if I think my mother-in-law is a pill, she most certainly must be a pill. It may never occur to me that she is a “pill” only to me because I fear or dislike her critique of me. She may be revered by others and maybe in fact a kindly person, but my own hyper-sensitivity to being accepted or receiving her approval may make me reactively judgmental or negative towards her. Thus I conclude that she is a “bad” person. I might, instead, have concluded that it’s my problem and if I were to make an effort to get to know and understand her, or to be friendly and helpful towards her, that the issue I feel may exist may in fact dissipate!

Most people, therefore, do not distinguish between their response to circumstances from the circumstances themselves. How, then, is it possible to examine critically and with detachment my own stream of thoughts and images with which I reconstruct what I am pleased to call reality? This is a tall order for “tall” people of great courage, mental strength, and an expanded consciousness.

The process of growing spiritual consciousness was defined long ago by the great sage Patanjali (author of the famous “Yoga Sutras” which contains the even more famous “8-Fold Path”) as the dissolving of the mental images and emotional responses that the mind creates in response to sense-inputs, memory, thoughts, and impressions. Medical science understands that sensory input is reconstructed in the brain (or mind) for the purposes of evaluating and responding to its meaning (threat or promise) to the ego/body. All sense impressions are essentially experienced vicariously, in the mind. My hand may report a hot sensation when I place near a flame but it’s my mind that tells me what it is and why I need to move my hand away from it. 

Now admittedly in this example it happens so fast that it seems like the hand itself contains the intelligence. And, heck, why argue: hands are really valuable things and of course the entire body is a body of intelligence. But nonetheless, without the supportive functions of the brain and mind it is at least possible theoretically possible that we might not know immediately that the heat sensation is a threat. And this is more so the case when we perceive potential threats in the form of critique from the casual or subtle remarks of our supervisor or spouse.

Mental imbalances or immaturity demonstrate these principles best. A child throws a tantrum (practicing “tantrum yoga”) over not being given another cookie. We dismiss this as immature. If an adult did this we’d wonder about his sanity. A person who hallucinates and sees threats where none exist is clearly living in a false reality of the mind. Being overly sensitive and feeling critique at the slightest hint of disapproval creates fear, anger, and anxiety in a person when absolutely nothing was intended by a casual remark.

Watch the 10 o’clock news sometime and analytically determine how many statements are factual and how many are opinions expressed with qualitative adjectives. Very little news and much speculation and opinion are what feeds the beast of what sells the “news.” Heated arguments between conservatives and liberals can occur when the people involved have little if any involvement or power in changing things. It’s so easy to get worked up, whether compassionately or in condemnation, over issues and people with whom we have no relationship and no influence. It’s all in our heads.

Maturity and spiritual growth are not essentially all that different (at least up to a point). Disengaging from one’s own opinions and reactions comes as we grow in understanding and appreciating different points of view. Not surprisingly, there is a general correlation between levels of education and the ability to see different points of view.

I know that some view the spiritual path as focusing on realities far removed from daily life. I wouldn’t argue with the fact that for some people that is unquestionably the case. Buddha and other great spiritual teachers, however, counseled “chop wood and carry water.” This means: get real, stay grounded in present realities, and don’t obsess over subtler realities that you haven’t experienced. Good advice, certainly. It would be mistake, however, to assume that this counsel implies that wood and water are the only realities worthy of our interest. Quite the contrary. Focusing on the present moment is intended to relax the feverish tendencies of the monkey mind to create realities that have nothing to do with, well, realities.

The mind is like a factory: it churns out all sorts of useless products and some helpful ones. It inclines to constant interpretation (a Darwinian would say in “self-defense”), analysis and response. Whatever its Darwinian utility and proclivities, it may be fine for skiing down a slope, taking an exam, being interviewed, driving down the freeway and all sorts of other practical functions. But it does tend to take control and continue spinning out possibilities long after its contribution is useful.

To grow in maturity and to grow towards spiritual consciousness (of “Oneness”) requires calming this ego-active, ego-reactive, functionality of the mind. As Patanjali put it, “Yogas chitta vrittis nirodha.” (Peace and Oneness are achieved when the reactive processes of the mind and emotions are permanently dissolved.)

We can attempt to discipline the mind and we can concentrate the mind. These efforts form the basis for much of the techniques of meditation: using breath, using mantra, using mindfulness, for example. In addition to this is a tool which is demonstrably powerful: feelings! It’s our emotional response to perceived realities that sends the mind into the hyperdrive of ego-active, ego-protective, and ego-affirming vortices. In extremis we might even create alternative fantasy realities. Thus if we can access and stimulate feelings of devotion and expansion of consciousness while also concentrating the mind in this direction we find that the calming and expanding of feelings does more to dissolve the feverish activity of the mind than only discipline or concentration.

Paramhansa Yogananda stated, “Chanting is half the battle.” By this he meant not just the traditional act of devotional chanting, but the repetition of a meaningful and feeling saturated image or word formula as a form of both concentration and expansion of consciousness. I am using words that a bit clinical and cold for some but the effect remains “effective” no matter how described.

Thus we have the irony that to achieve sanity, maturity and spiritual growth we use the mind to focus on a reality that is transcendent to sense realities and, from the materialists’ point of view at least, unreal all together! Go figure and yet, the truth of this has been proved repeatedly since the dawn of humanity. Saints have demonstrated power over death, over matter, over gravity, over bodily functions time and again in ways that defy the materialists or mere philosophers again and again.

Thus it is that devotion to God whether in the form of the guru, a deity or the impersonal form of Light, Sound, Love, Peace, or Energy can so concentrate the mind as to dissolve its ego active tendencies. Even science admits that the five senses that report the different objects in our world are lying to us. Beneath the appearance of separateness is the underlying reality of energy (chemical, atomic, etc.) that renders all things as having the same essential substance!

We may survive better for the ego-active mind but we cannot find happiness through mere survival. Wealth, beauty, pleasure, power, name and fame bring no lasting happiness. This is proved time and again. Only the saints give consistent testimony regarding the summum bonum of life, the brass ring of true success comes only through ego transcendence. This is what meditation and devotion, one and the same, offer to us.

The mind is our greatest friend and greatest foe. To bring the mind to heel takes the courage and strength of a true hero. Meditation and the power of the grace that flows through the true guru are the keys to expansion of consciousness that can make us free. Learn to check and rein in the mind’s restless tendencies, both through meditation and during outer activity. Test your endurance and re-direct your sensitivities towards even-mindedness under all circumstances. The less we identify with the body and ego in favor of serving the needs of a greater reality (without unnecessarily endangering the body or ego), the greater happiness we shall achieve. For beneath the surface of the appearance of our separateness is the One.

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, June 11, 2012

Happy Anniversary Ananda Community!

Happy 20 Year Anniversary Ananda Community (near) Seattle

Saturday, June 16, Ananda Community in Lynnwood, Washington (USA) celebrates its 20th anniversary. Ananda Community is part of a network of independent but affiliated intentional communities around the world. The first of nine communities was begun in 1968 by Swami Kriyananda, direct disciple of the world teacher, Paramhansa Yogananda, whose life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, has become a worldwide classic. Yogananda was a strong promoter of the ideals of intentional community. He called them “world brotherhood colonies” and decades before the term sustainability came into vogue and into a compelling necessity and worldwide movement, he encouraged audiences to pool their resources, buy land in the country, grow food, and create a self-sustaining way of life. Did he foresee globalization, global warming, pollution, depersonalization of modern society, health hazards of processed food, economic disruptions, and so many other ills of modern life? One imagines so, for the simple reason that his advice fits so perfectly the needs and yearnings of high-minded yet practical individuals.

In July 1992, members of the Ananda in the Seattle area combined their individual resources and purchased a 32-unit apartment complex just outside the Lynnwood city limits (about 10 miles north of Seattle, just off Interstate 5, the main northwest freeway from Canada to Mexico!). Ideally located at the north end of the greater Seattle metropolitan area, near the junction of two major freeways, the property retains the feeling of its rural roots with an abundance of trees on five and one-half acres. It was in need, however, of a facelift and it would take time to renovate and relocate the existing tenants to make room for Ananda members and friends. Within a year, however, Ananda Community was fully engaged as Ananda’s latest intentional community.

There are three rural Ananda Communities: the first was established in the Sierra foothills near Nevada City / Grass Valley in California. It resides upon some 900 acres with some three hundred residents and many others in the surrounding areas. It has a wide range of activities and employment opportunities and includes community-owned businesses, member-owned businesses, professionals, self-employeds, school through high school, a college, a small village, publishing, yoga retreat and much more. A similar community exists in central Italy in the Umbrian hills just south of Assisi, Italy, and the newest community is being built west of the city of Pune in India along the eastern slopes of the so-called Western ghats (coastal hills). In addition, there is a new educational community east of Portland (Laurelwood Academy) and an ashram community in south Delhi, India (Guargon).

There are four urban apartment-style communities: Sacramento & Mountain View, California, Portland, Oregon, and Lynnwood (near Seattle), Washington. It is the latter community whose 20-year anniversary we celebrate this Saturday, June 16. The urban communities are owned by Ananda members in cooperation with the local Ananda organization. The rural Ananda communities are generally owned only by the Ananda organization, but members build their homes either as donations or in the form of an informal, unsecured loan.

For several years the Ananda (Lynnwood) Community has combined a Solstice Service with a Community Open House. We’ve added an art exhibit as the seedling for a Festival of the Joyful Arts which includes live music. We hope that over the years to come this will grow to include art and performances by members and friends whose art expresses a deeper connection with all life and a hope for a better world based on universal values and a Spirit-centered life. But this year we have our 20-year anniversary to celebrate.

It is commonplace among free and progressive thinkers, and people of good will and high ideals, to acknowledge the shortcomings of our materialistic and mechanistic western culture. It is commonplace to view the rising tide of popularity for eastern thought and spirituality as a natural counterpoint to our culture which seems hell-bent on self-destruction. But fewer have identified the human need and value for community. It’s important that we learn to seek quality of life, not just quantity of consumption and possessions. But quality of life cannot exist independent of people and of meaningful relationships with others. Good health, food, job, home, security and personal liberties are all important but, in fact, secondary to personal relationships. Even amidst the horrors of Nazi concentration camps the saving grace for those few who survived was a combination of personal, inner strength and cooperation and sympathy with others. You can achieve fame, fortune, wealth or beauty and yet be miserable, lonely and without friendship and love.

Traditional village or family life has the shortcomings of abuse, gossip, and narrow-mindedness. Intentional community has the advantage of being a conscious choice based on one’s ideals and shared interests. In an intentional community one can find a variety of skills, temperaments and points of view that can enrich one’s own life rather than narrow it. Of course, a community can become self-enclosed and cult-like, but it doesn’t have to be.

The Ananda communities have been established and guided by Swami Kriyananda to be inclusive, not exclusive. While these particular communities are comprised of individuals who are (generally) disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda, they are, nonetheless, open to all who are sincerely interested in the way of life that has evolved in these communities. Residents may invite parents who are in need of assistance and otherwise at least neutral to the ideals of the community. In the urban (apartment-style) communities, there are typically residents who are friendly but not necessarily involved in Ananda as such. It so happens that at Ananda Community in Lynnwood the residents are all members of Ananda, but it is not a requirement, though it is an obvious preference for the sake of harmony and magnetism.

If you were to survey the backgrounds and ethnicity of Ananda residents in the nine Ananda residential communities you would find every race and ethnic background in residence. You would find among the residents a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, education, interests, skills, and temperaments. Some are more hermit like; others, more gregarious. Some deeply involved, or leaders, while others are retired or engaged in their own occupations or businesses.

Think of what this world faces: globalization means that your job can be outsourced to another country and all the efforts and education you’ve invested in can evaporate forever. Who can accept such serfdom? Intentional communities are not an effort to go back to an agricultural way of life and abandoning all technology. Rather, it is to establish a cooperative lifestyle that engages the creative commitment of a wide variety of individuals for a greater good. There may be some communities that are self-sustaining in an agricultural context but we haven’t seen that happen at Ananda. We have computer programmers, writers, dramatists, publicists, teachers, and so many skills. That makes more sense to me.

This takes me to a slight but important detour. Paramhansa Yogananda, before his death in 1952, repeatedly warned his audiences and students that great calamities (war, depression, and cataclysms) awaited America and many other nations before there could be an era of relative peace. Just as importantly, it is not possible to separate his warnings from his advice and prediction about communities. The two are inextricably linked. Not permanently, but practically, in terms of what will motivate some people to form such communities in our present age.

Mind you, too, that neither Yogananda nor Ananda foresee that the rapid spread of communities will necessarily have anything to do with Ananda or with disciples of Yogananda. The motivation and inspiration behind the communities movement and the necessity for them is far broader than that. Even to this date, Swami Kriyananda has counseled the Ananda communities to remain independent from each other, cooperating in many ways but not interdependent or under any central control.

So, this Saturday we celebrate our twenty years of cooperative living. We also celebrate the communities ideal and have invited other communitarians to celebrate with us. As guest speakers we have Nancy Lanphear, co-founder of nearby Songaia Community, and John Hoff, co-founder of the well known Goodenough Community based in Seattle. Two other virtual communitarians and guest speakers are Krysta Gibson (founder of the New Spirit Journal) and Brenda Michaels, co-host of Conscious Talk Radio. (See and )

We have two free yoga sessions, tours of homes, gardens, and the subscription farm (“CSA”). There will creative and fun activities for children, an art gallery, live music, and refreshments. At 5 p.m., we will conduct the Solstice Celebration with our guest speakers and at 6 p.m. a dinner (free) for all.

So please come and celebrate this important movement in consciousness. You don’t have to live in an intentional community to live in a virtual community of like-minded friends. There are many forms of communities but the residential form is easier for people to see and to experience, and, by extension, to establish for themselves in whatever form inspires them.

For directions to Ananda Community (20715 Larch Way, Lynnwood, WA 98036), visit and go to the contact info page. Then see the “directions to Ananda Community in Lynnwood.” Or, call (425) 806-3700.

Blessings to you,
Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Do I Need a Guru?

This question and subject is far bigger than a blog article can do justice to but I had a few thoughts. Tomorrow we conduct a discipleship initiation for about a dozen souls taking discipleship to Paramhansa Yogananda through Ananda and my mind is dwelling on the subject for the purpose of sharing a few remarks on that occasion.

There is, on this subject, much talk of gurus but little, if any talk, about disciples. The first sentence of Paramhansa Yogananda's famous "Autobiography of a Yogi" refers to the "disciple-guru" relationship as the "concomitant" aspect of the Indian culture's search for eternal verities. The question has to be "What is and am I a good disciple" of life, of truth, of God (in whatever form I aspire to know)?

It is only when we have struggled and aspired to know God that we come to discover two inextricably linked realities of that search:  1) it is very, very difficult, and 2) the aspiration presupposes the desire and possibility of becoming one with God.

Until a person has made a sincere and sustained effort one cannot possibly achieve these two discoveries. And, not only sincere and sustained but an intelligent and intelligently guided effort, rather than something random and halting in fits and starts.

When God is "wholly other" we are free to imagine just about anything, including how great we are for imagining it. Then we can say we speak to God and that our ideas and impulses are surely God-ordained inspirations and no one is the wiser, including us!

But when we strive arduously and intelligently towards perfection and ego transcendence then not only do we see what herculean challenge we face but we also get glimpses of that very same divinity and realizations of our own potential. It is then, and only then, that the "guru appears." It has been well and frequently said that "When the disciple is ready, the guru appears."

This appearance of guru includes the appearance in our thoughts and in our heart that we "accept" our need for a guide. For as we begin to see our Self, then, and yes, only then, can we "see" the guru. The guru is a flawless mirror of our own, higher Self. We must have this twin epiphany that we need help and yet at the same time we see the possibility of divinity in human form. Until then we are like Don Quixote, jousting windmills of our own febrile imagination about what is God, what is the spiritual path, and what it is all about.

When I returned from India in 1976 after over a year of spiritual searching and sat in the darkened and nearly empty airplane somewhere over Tehran, there arose in my heart the silent acceptance that I could not do this on my own. It was soon thereafter that I discovered Yogananda's autobiography and the existence of the fledgling Ananda Community, founded by a direct disciple, Swami Kriyananda.

Returning to the guru's appearance, then, it may come through a book, such as "Autobiography of a Yogi." It may come more dramatically in meeting one's guru. I have had some aspiring devotees proclaim that "I am ready to meet my guru and be guided." But I can easily, sometimes at least, perceive that they would collapse like a house of cards at one tiny poke at their ego. Most have no idea of what it is like to not only be in the presence of a true guru but to live and serve under his guidance on a day-to-day basis. Disciples there can be many, perhaps far and wide, but close disciples are always very few.

So to those taking discipleship tomorrow I say "Congratulations" for you have seen the "promised land." On some level you have seen what it takes and where it goes. What it takes is help and where it goes is to freedom and true happiness.

A guru seeks only to be our friend and guide, nothing more. How sad or simply ignorant are those who resent, resist and repudiate the concept all together on the basis of their independence. They have no idea of what it takes. They have no idea how bound they are to their own karma, likes, and dislikes. And that's ok, too. But for those who are inspired to open their hearts and minds to the intelligent, sometimes stern, but always seeking only our own highest good, divine friendship of a true guru (whether in human form or cosmic form), I say to you, "blessings!"

Nayaswami Hriman