Saturday, July 28, 2012

Swami Kriyananda Comes to Seattle. How shall we "receive" him?

Swami kriyananda comes to seattle – september 8, 2012         

He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward. Matt. 10:39-42
It is a mark of maturity and spiritual refinement to acknowledge, respect, and honor the genuine and useful accomplishments and elevated consciousness of another person. To likewise respect all beings as one’s own and as manifestations of divinity is the characteristic feature of a truly spiritual person.
It is to this honor and acknowledgement that I would like to share some thoughts as we prepare for the coming of Swami Kriyananda to Seattle. He will speak at the Ananda Meditation Temple on September 8 and will attend an outdoor luncheon at the nearby Ananda Community the following day. (See for tickets)
Most readers know that Swami Kriyananda is one of the few living direct disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the renowned classic, Autobiography of a Yogi. Most know, too, that “Swamiji” (as we call him, endearingly and respectfully) is the founder of the worldwide network of Ananda residential communities, temples, and retreat centers.
Around the person of a celebrity or spiritual teacher there always exists a certain level of “buzz,” fuss, and jockeying. People are people, and with a certain degree of fame comes an equally certain level of attention to the person. This can’t be helped.
In Swamiji’s case, it is not something he encourages and not something he welcomes. He  accepts these attentions as a regrettable, if necessary, fact of the spiritual work that is his to do. At age 86 and after decades of serving without thought of his own comfort or needs, and while in constant travel around the world under often difficult conditions, he does also need support, care and attention from his staff.
It is not our task, as truthseekers and devotees, to assess the spiritual realization of others, including spiritual teachers like Swamiji. Wiser is it for us to appreciate the opportunity to see and receive such a one mostly for what he symbolizes (dedication to spiritual principles) and for the example he offers to us, than for anything he has done, or is in himself, or has to “give” us in the sense of something we may lack.
A true spiritual teacher comes to reflect to us the light which is our own soul. To honor that intention and the heroic effort behind it, is to affirm that intention and goal in ourselves. Swamiji does not say he is a guru, nor does he claim any specific level of spiritual realization. He will tell us that what he has to offer is that which comes through him from his guru, Paramhansa Yogananda  — a true master and avatar.
Swamiji doesn’t claim that his divine attunement is flawless or perfect or that everyone who comes to him will receive some ineffable blessing or life changing transformation. He is not going to hug you, give you shaktipad, or give you anything that you don’t already have within you. He is content if, as a representative of Paramhansa Yogananda and the principles his guru lived by, we receive him in that spirit and find from our time with him, inspiration to carry on our own unique spiritual journey with renewed effort and courage.
It is true that Swamiji’s life has been an instrument of blessing in countless ways to many, many souls. It is true that he has written well over a hundred books, hundreds of pieces of music, founded nine residential communities, and the worldwide spiritual ministry of Ananda, but, for that, he feels little sense of “doer-ship” and feels that it is far more important that he be blessed to experience and share the bliss of our soul’s immortal promise and eternal state.
After all, he might have been born with no special creative or organizational talents. To be blessed with God-consciousness is be the greatest gift any soul can offer to another.
So, I urge you to come to see him; to honor him as you would honor your own, higher Self; to honor him as a living vehicle for conveying the presence and the blessings of Paramhansa Yogananda. It is an interesting fact that as we honor him (or any other such soul), we honor our Self. Thus it is in the words of Jesus that “He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward.” That reward is bliss for he who is in bliss is a prophet proclaiming the coming of the kingdom which, as Jesus also put it, “is within you.”
Blessings to you,
Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, July 20, 2012

Do I Need a Guru? Part 2

Swami Kriyananda (my teacher and founder of Ananda) was once asked by an interviewer, “Do I need a guru?” He smiled, paused, and replied: “No — — — unless you want to find God!”

You see that’s the problem with this question. Imagine someone asking himself, “Do I really want a life partner?” Most people don’t even question their desire for a life partner. In fact, they are eager (often, too eager) to find him or her.

There’s a story about Mozart. He was asked how it was he composed symphonies at a young age. His answer was, “I didn’t have to ask that question!”

Yes, we can speak philosophically about the need for a guru. I did that somewhat in the first article. And that is helpful for some people to understand more about what a true guru is and what a true disciple-guru relationship is really like. Such knowledge can plant a seed of receptivity. But so long as you are asking the question, you probably aren’t ready.

But when a person falls in love with someone, he doesn’t have to ask the question, “Do I want a partner.” (If he does, then, well, can he really say he has fallen in love?”)

But as to the question, “Do I need a guru?,” it can’t be answered on its own terms. The cliché “When the disciple is ready, the guru appears” is the only real “answer” to the question.

As a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda I am bereft of the actual physical presence of my guru and his personal guidance in my life as another human being. When my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, speaks or writes of his experience of Yogananda (whom we refer to as “Master”) it is very inspiring and instructive. Yet, I cannot easily put into direct practice these lessons because Yogananda (“Master”) is not here in my life in the same way.

I have met disciples of other, living gurus, however. While many have had at least one physical contact (meeting) with their guru, few have had direct, daily or even at-a-distance personal access to their guru. Some have been given specific and important guidance but most have only received general guidance, or a mantra and others no direct guidance at all. In fact, this is not uncommon. Some gurus don’t even speak. The number of direct disciples of a true master (not just a popular spiritual teacher) are very, very, very few.

The number of great saints (indeed, avatars, or saviors) are fewer still. But among disciples, only some are receptive on a deep level (or, put another way, “advanced” disciples). Read books on the lives of great saints (East or West) written by disciples and you’ll see immediately the truth of what I speak. Read the gospels and see how clumsy, ignorant, dense or stubborn were Jesus’ own disciples. Judas betrayed him directly but Peter denied him three times. Thomas was the doubter. All of them failed at different points along the way.

For many years I have taught classes based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. I find that many students are wary or put off by the guru word. Many have ceased their studies at the crucial moment of being invited into discipleship. (Our meditation and raja yoga classes are not intended to “convert” students into disciples. The precepts of raja yoga are for everyone. But one of those precepts is that one needs a guru to achieve union with God. So as a matter of principle we teach the precepts of discipleship.)

Just so, many more are put off by the “God” word. But the reasons are as misplaced in the one case as in the other. Both are just words, but words that carry far more baggage than their three or four letters should be burdened with. (I won’t veer off the track and talk about the “God” word just now, however!)

It saddens me to see so many sincere souls turn away at the point where their desire to learn kriya yoga requires them to take discipleship to Yogananda and the line of Self-realization masters who sent him to America. For just as the “God” word can be understood from endless points of view — at least one of which would satisfy even the most hardened scoffer, so too discipleship is not at all the enclosure or imposition that so many students image it to be (usually without the slightest thought, but only reactively).

I don’t intend to dilute the guru principle or to suggest that students just wave their hand past the image saying “What ho!” as they take kriya initiation. Rather I am saying that most simply have no idea that what is being offered to them is the farthest thing from a threat to their freedom and character, for the guru holds the key to their own Self-discovery. But here, too, I don’t mean to so glamorize the idea that readers will immediately turn away from yet another pie-in-the-sky spiritual platitude. So if you’re interested, have a seat. Light up a peace pipe of curiosity and open-mindedness.

Let’s go to the beginning. You know, the Big Bang and all those cosmic gases. OK, then, let’s not. Let try another tact. When we look at this vast universe or the marvelous microcosm of the human body and mind, it is at least equally possible that the creation is a manifestation of a grand conscious intention as it likely that all this stuff came from nowhere and randomly evolved (driven in part by impulses of survival and procreation). The fact that we (indeed humanity since time immemorial) can sit here and can ponder the question as much as suggests that there is a tad bit greater likelihood of the former hypothesis than the latter.  

So, if for the sake of discussion and contemplation, we posit that the universe and we ourselves are manifestations of consciousness (some objects being more successfully self-aware than others, say people vs. rocks), than we can say that some species (and some among such species) are likely to be more aware, more intelligent, and more creative than others. We might step upon the high mountain of perspective and see that evolution seems to go in the general direction of greater and greater intelligence and self-awareness. The mental boundaries of a child would be suffocating to an educated, world-traveling, sophisticated and mature adult. Heroes of justice and compassion break the boundaries and self-enclosure of ego-affirmation and self-interest to include the well-being of others, yea, the whole world, with their own. Such heroes inspire others to break free from ego as well.

In every field of human striving, we see the greatest of these breaking self-enclosing boundaries of culture, tradition, or orthodoxy. If God is consciousness itself, and we find ourselves conscious and self-aware, and we can observe that there are some who transcend what is considered normal ego satisfactions for a much greater reward, it shouldn’t threaten us that there may be some souls who have “found God” (meaning an overarching field or state of consciousness). Why should this be a threat? Is it not, in fact, a promise? Is it not a promise that our own immortality lies beyond the confines of the ego and the physical body, just as the energy that animates our body is the same energy in all bodies and in all objects? That energy is neither created nor destroyed, but only changes form -- or so science tells us!

The question legitimately asked is whether such a state of being precludes, destroys, or eclipses that which we call “I?” Again, like the “God” word, maybe the question is misleading and unhelpful? If energy cannot be destroyed, certainly the consciousness out of which the energy arises cannot be destroyed either. It may change form; it may expand (like gas when heated), but it is still consciousness! In fact, it is just as likely that what we call “I” is simply that universal consciousness particularized (like water vapor cooled and made hard into ice) and identified with the limited life span and appearance of one physical form.

Still, the question haunts us: if I expand my consciousness into God consciousness am “I” not destroyed? Who could not but admit that the “ego” as we know it would evaporate? But instead of being destroyed, consider that it is being released from its frozen and locked state to expand towards infinite consciousness. If consciousness underlies all matter than ours is freed from its prison of ego identity! And, as all things come from, exist in, are sustained by, and are withdrawn back into pure consciousness, even the very memory of the limited “I” remains forever in the universal consciousness. What a liberating thought!

Put this another way: when I was a child, my world was a small world of playthings, my house, and my family. Now, as an adult, my world is much bigger. I am still the same person and my childhood memories and experiences are still part of me and are not lessened by the experiences which I have gained as an adult. I have expanded and I have not lost, but instead I have gained. For most of us who are far from perfected beings we seem to have lost the specific memories of childhood but experiments have shown that under hypnosis memory of many things is rediscovered and was always there.

This is why, in part, one can have a guru who is in a human body or not in human body. What the guru has to offer is not limited by a human body because consciousness is infinite and a true guru has achieved Oneness with the Infinite Consciousness. “I killed Yogananda long ago,” he said. “No one dwells in this form now but Spirit.” But, at the same time, for those of us still trapped in human form, it is far easier and effective to invoke God-consciousness in a form that we can either see with our eyes or visualize with our inner eye or invoke through devotion (the latter two powers being more subtle, more of consciousness itself, are actually more effective than merely “laying eyes upon” another human being). Many people meet a true guru while he or she lives but are not changed. It’s an “inside” job, so to speak.

You see it is ALL CONSCIOUSNESS. The guru is like a swimmer with a mask on who can swim and see the fish under the surface while we, without our diving masks on, cannot see the fish below. To us the depths are opaque, mysterious, even threatening. To see, to become a seer, is what we were born to achieve and this is one reason why it is taught that we must have true guru — because “tat twam asi,” Thou art THAT. The purpose of God’s creation is for souls to become Self-realized. It is not, as is commonly thought and taught, to escape the creation in rejection. It is to realize that the creation is but a dream of the Creator. Therefore there must be some who have achieved this goal and it is such souls who can teach others how to do the same. That's not a threat. It's a promise, though, to the ego, it is a threat, for sure!

And, it is they who come to awaken our lost memory of our true Self. God comes to us in human form because this creation IS God made flesh and dwelling among us and within us. But He is hidden in most things and people, but becomes Self-aware in those who have become Self-realized. Thus from soul-to-soul, one-by-one, we awaken like dreamers back to life from our dreams. The idea, so common to many, that “Why can’t I go to God directly? Why do I need a guru?” is again a case of asking the wrong question. Like Dorothy and Toto in the Wizard of Oz, what we are seeking is right here.

And if you are thinking (as I know you are), “Well if God is within me, I ask again, why do I need a guru?” Ok, fair enough, but have you found God? How do you know that by self-effort alone you will achieve success? Upon whose testimony in this effort are you relying? The testimony of the ages is that God sends his prophets, his messengers, his saviors to bring us "salvation!" Why is that so difficult to accept? We see its equivalent in every field of human activity that is worth pursuing. Every field has its masters, its geniuses, its wayshowers. You see this is where the rubber of self-effort meets the road of God’s grace in the form of the guru. 

Only those who have tried with great effort, common sense, and intelligence come to the realization that they need help! Such ones are “ready” and, sure enough, the guru appears! Do you see now?

If you find yourself drawn to a great guru, like Paramhansa Yogananda and the path of Kriya Yoga, what is stopping you? Toss aside false notions of being imposed upon or limiting your choices. When you commit to someone in marriage do you bargain for the right to keep shopping? If you seek the help of a world famous doctor to help cure you of a potentially fatal disease, do you pick and choose among his treatments, going, at the same time to others?

Blessings to you,
Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pitfalls of Meditation Revealed!

As one who has meditated for most of my adult life and who has taught meditation for some twenty-five years, you might not expect me to bring up the subject of meditation’s pitfalls or shortcomings. Perhaps it’s a truth in advertising campaign.

A very good friend of mine and I were discussing the spiritual path and brought up a common issue for those on the meditation path: the dark side. But let me digress and build a foundation, because there are many forms and approaches to meditation.

I practice and represent the kriya yoga meditation taught by Paramhansa Yogananda. I was ordained to teach and initiate others into the kriya yoga technique and path by Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda, who was ordained personally by Paramhansa Yogananda.

Millions have read and have found inspiration from Yogananda’s now famous life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, and from his teachings which are very positive and emphasize “ananda,” the joy of the soul which is discoverable with special efficacy through the art and science of meditation and the advanced technique of kriya yoga. (Worry not, however, there is no claim to exclusivity here.)

Yogananda taught that in this new age (which in India is termed “Dwapara Yuga” – the second age), the impulse of spiritually minded souls would be to bring “Spirit to work” rather than to withdraw from the material world in search of God. Few people today are spiritually inspired by extreme forms of penance, austerity, or suffering. Rather, we find that love for God and love for all beings and all creation is what inspires and motivates us to embrace high ideals.

In the Ananda Sunday Service, the Festival of Light, we read aloud that “whereas suffering and sorrow, in the past, were the coin of man’s redemption, for us now the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy.” It goes on to say that “pain is the fruit of self-love, whereas joy is the fruit of love for God.” Yogananda emphasized therefore the positive aspects of the spiritual life.

Kriya yoga is a part of raja yoga which is, in turn, an outgrowth of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras from which comes the 8-Fold Path of spiritual awakening. In the raja yoga techniques of meditation, concentration is emphasized together with devotion. Both are practiced in the context of raising our energy and consciousness from the lower centers in the body to the brain wherein resides the seat of enlightenment. What this implies is a strong and positive focal point and direction for one’s meditation.

Raja yoga meditation (which by definition includes kriya yoga) is directional. While all meditation must be mindful, for what else is meditation if not an expansion of self-awareness, it is not passive or contemplative. This may seem contradictory or paradoxical but it is a both-and experience. The more important point, however, is that it is not primarily focused on the dark side, so to speak. It is not an effort to plumb the depths of our delusions and blindnesses in an effort to root them out like weeds. By holding our consciousness and energy up to the light of the superconscious level of our soul we banish blindness and darkness, in effect, we turn on the “light” and the “darkness” vanishes.

Or, does it?

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras have much to say about the obstacles and delusions of the mind, the subconscious, of delusion, and of past life karma. He has much to say about the need to be truthful, non-attached, kind etc. etc. There is nothing in the 8-Fold Path that suggests suppression or denial of negativity or darkness.

So while the emphasis in raja yoga may indeed be a positive one and once that works with moving “energy” upward, there is no lack of tools or awareness of that which holds us down.

My teacher, Swami Kriyananda, has pointed out that in raising energy to the brain (to the higher wisdom centers), we risk inflating the ego’s self-involvement. Indeed, meditation can even enhance enjoyment of sense pleasures. The ego (sense of separateness) is the first aspect of our soul’s fall from grace (from the beginning of time) and its last great struggle.

This is just one of many reasons why humility and devotion to God and guru is so essential and part and parcel of the path of meditation and the spiritual path in general. Patanjali enumerates at great length the powers that come to one who rises in wisdom towards enlightenment. Many, perhaps all, who seek God with increasing success must encounter the temptations that come with spiritual power. Jesus was tempted that he might have dominion over all creation if he would but worship Satan (creation itself) for its own sake, separate from God.

It is no coincidence that Yogananda linked meditation with fellowship. (So, of course, did Jesus Christ in quoting the Old Testament he summarized his teachings in two parts: love God and love others as oneself.) At Ananda this includes one of our central aspects: intentional community. But not everyone is going to live in an intentional community. But for all of us, association with others like-mind (which includes the company of those of greater wisdom) is necessary and essential. Only a highly advanced soul can spiritually afford to go on alone.

I have made it a campaign from time to time over the years to help remind meditators not to mistake meditation for the goal of meditation: union with God. It is so very easy to enjoy meditation for its own sake. It is so very easy to reap the benefits and rewards of meditation for that good alone: health, creativity, energy, vitality, intuition, peace, and joy (to name but a few). We might indeed gain dominion over all matter but lose our soul to the “devil” of material delusion or to the affirmation of ego separateness.

The final frontier is to offer ourselves completely to God, risking what, to the ego, seems to be annihilation but to the soul is completion, oneness, and fulfillment, indeed, the gaining of Infinity and the loss of absolutely nothing! It takes great courage, however, and the grace of God and guru to step out of the cage and fly towards the Light.

In the positive upward thrust of meditation practice it is sometimes a fact that the meditator loses touch with self-awareness, rather than gaining self-awareness. For most meditators this is because they fall into the habit of becoming semi-subconscious. This is when thoughts take over or one enters a stream of consciousness state. Real meditation begins when our thoughts are still. Patanjali’s most famous sutra, Yogas chitta vrittis nirodha, could be interpreted as “One enters the state of superconsciousness only when thoughts, mental-images, and feelings related thereto cease.” There are also states of blankness, including at least one termed jada samadhi, that do nothing spiritually but which demonstrate the power to enter a suspended state of consciousness where time, motion, and decay stand still. 

Long-term meditators who fall prey to subconscious states are sometimes seen meditating with a a slumped posture, a head that droops down or sometimes to the side, by bobbing downward or to the side, rocking back and forth (a pseudo-kundalini movement), or a sudden shift (marked by a brief, sharp breath) in breath pattern to a long slow exhalation indicating entry into semi-subconsciousness. They might experience burning eyes, and their upward gaze begins to lower from their superconscious position (which consists of gazing intently but serenely into the point-between-the-eyebrows). As thoughts subside in true meditation, the breath becomes almost invisible, even ceasing for periods of time. In meditation one feels more dynamically conscious even if time, surroundings, or body-consciousness slips away. One never comes out of true meditation wondering, “Where was I?” In meditation the “I” is always present: at first, separate and self-aware of the process of meditation; later, expanded into higher states without sense of separation but with complete and total consciousness.

Swami Kriyananda tells the story of a businessman in Vancouver, Canada who decried his day job of making money while yearning for his meditation time at home. “What a waste,” Kriyananda thought. Outward activity should help our meditation and meditation should help our daily life. Meditation should be an attitude, a complete way of life. What we do during the day should feed, inspire, and inform our inner peace and meditation practice, just as meditation should enliven with even-mindedness, creativity, and calmness, our activities.

When there exists a firewall between what we experience in meditation and what we experience during activity, we find that we go “nowhere fast” (spiritually speaking). Sadly, I suspect this is the reality for most meditators who are not yet integrated.

Ananda Community residents are blessed with unceasing opportunities to do spiritual work together, to live and meditate together, to worship together, and to study together. This is an integrated way of life that will be the pattern of dedicated spiritual living in this age. Not necessarily by monks and nuns, but including couples and couples with children, this complete way of life offers great promise to millions in the hundreds of years to come.

When I first came to Ananda Village in 1977, I did not understand this. Raised as a Catholic, I understood monasticism but didn’t yet appreciate this new form of ashram, this new form of religious dedication, and indeed a new way of life and religious “order.” Yogananda put it this way: “Church, work, and family” all in one!

Getting back to our subject, then, meditators (whether Ananda Community residents or everyone else) are challenged by the need to include contemplation, introspection, mindfulness, and spiritual counseling in their toolbox for the path of meditation. In addition, regular selfless spiritual service and association with others is needful wherever you are.

A book (indeed books have been) could be written, on making the day more meditatively mindful. I dare not launch in this direction for there are so many tips and techniques. But my real point is that there may well be some psychological obstacles, pitfalls, delusions, or addictions so strong that one should seek counsel and contemplation, as well, as activating will power to deal creatively and energetically with them.

If you have an anger problem and are a meditator, you need to find creative ways to connect the dots between them. Hold your anger as calmly as possible in your meditation and offer it to God and guru. Work actively when it flashes to bring it under your control. It astonishes me how many long-term meditators are as yet unaware of their attitudes and behavior. Swami Sri Yukteswar (Yogananda’s guru) was famous for saying, “Learn to behave.” We must walk our talk but we can’t do this unless we are aware that there’s a yawning gap. “Mind the gap,” I like to say: we all have a gap between our self-image and our actions. That can be good if it is an incentive to close the gap but once the gap widens too much, we disconnect.

It’s ok and indeed helpful to hold up to the superconscious mind and to your guru’s grace, your problems, your delusions, your shortcoming for healing and light. Don’t make a big focus of it but don’t suppress, deny or ignore them either. Do this, typically, at the end of your meditation when you are hopefully the calmest and most uplifted.

“Connect the dots” between all the chakras; raise the “kundalini” of separateness into the Light of God. Be at peace not just in meditation but in speech, emotions, thoughts, and action.

Blessings to you,
Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Law of Success

For a tree to grow strong and bear good fruit, it needs sunlight, water, and good soil. No success is ever achieved in a vacuum. While success can mean achieving any goal one has chosen, true success is that which brings lasting satisfaction of body, mind, and soul. To achieve name and fame or wealth at the expense of others by greed, lies, or exploitation is a one-sided and a fragile kind of success. It is not true success and whatever satisfaction it may bring is hollow.

Success requires a sensitive balance and dance between self-will and harmonious cooperation with other people, environment and circumstances. The sapling tree can be killed by too much water or not enough water; too intense of sunlight or insufficient sunlight. Scientists opine that the chemical and other combinations of ingredients that makes planet Earth habitable for humans is both complex and very delicate. We’ve yet to find another planet such as ours.

Success comes by creating friendships. When Paramhansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi) came to America in 1920, he made friends everywhere he went because he was friendly. He addressed people’s needs, from cooking a meal for them to giving them wisdom and practical teachings. He never used people but saw others equally as God manifesting in specific forms. He thus served God in others and did not think of himself.

Success also requires concentration upon the goal and the means to the goal, sometimes to the exclusion of all else but always by keeping one’s priorities clearly in view. Meditation serves one superbly to open the floodgates to a flow of intuition onto a field of calm sensitive awareness guiding that rive-like flow, laser-like, in the direction of one’s goal.

I have lived in an Ananda Community for over thirty-five years and have seen the power that comes from the combination of high ideals, practicality, and “the many hands that can a miracle.” Unless you happen to be an Albert Einstein, most of us would do well to understand that success comes when we work with and through and for others. At your workplace, be helpful. Think of the needs of your co-workers, your supervisor, and the legitimate goals of the company or organization. Do your best with excellence, creativity, and enthusiasm.

After a forest fire destroyed most of the first Ananda Community (Ananda Village, near Nevada City, CA), we banded together (eschewing the opportunity to sue the local county — a faulty spark arrestor on a county vehicle caused the fire) to find new ways to raise the money we needed to rebuild. Yes, some donations came in but most of it came through old fashioned hard work. But we were relatively inexperienced and without financial resources. We studied business methods, financing, and marketing, and we encouraged one another and our businesses to tithe and to use affirmations and prayers. We started a health food store, a café, a print shop, a gift shop and a clothing store. Each of the these enterprises struggled greatly but bit by bit they came up and our member-employees found viable, if simple, means of support.

In time, the Community rose from the ashes and today when one visits you see a beautiful Village nestled in the hills, forests, and meadows of the Sierra Mountains. Homes of many types, shapes and sizes house families, monks, and singles in a charming and harmonious life of creativity, service, and devotion. A retreat center, office complex, grocery store, farm, dairy and community center serve the needs of both residents and neighbors alike.

Our local East West Bookshop in Seattle, too, is a testimony to the efforts of many individuals serving high ideals and attracting the grace to be successful. While the independent bookstore industry has been decimated this store has survived and flourished. It is the largest and most successful bookstore of its kind in Washington State. It is a resource center for new thought truth seekers and offers classes, books, gifts and, perhaps most of all, an uplifted environment staffed with devotees who see customers as their friends.

Here in the Seattle area we are engaged in purchasing a rural area farm. Some twenty individuals have pooled their resources. Small scale, organic farming is a tricky and risky business if seen from the standpoint of profits. But with the many hands and resources of a committed group of people which includes the talent and skills of a few who can guide the fledgling farm, we can create a success because we understand success is sharing and serving. In our case we are committed to principles and practices of sustainability and stewardship, serving God through our fellow man and in harmony with the earth and all creatures.

So it takes the initiative, courage and faith of individuals combined with the cooperation and support of others of like mind — God helping God — to achieve true success. This is an unbeatable combination, not only to achieve success but to achieve the success of weathering and resurrecting from in the inevitable setbacks, failures, and disasters which life can dish out.

The key, spiritually, is to offer the self to the Self of all. “I will reason, I will will, I will act, but guide Thou my reason, will and activity to the right step in all that I do.”

In the life of Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda, now age 86, but still outpacing his staff and members in the worldwide network of Ananda Communities in the unceasing flow of writings, lectures, radio and TV shows, guidance, and inspiration, we see in real life the power of grace that comes from discipleship to life and to truth. “What’s trying to happen here” is the question he has taught us to ask in all things. Yet for all of his creativity, intelligence and talent, it is now primarily the outpouring of divine Bliss that one experiences in his presence. For a lifetime of living for God has brought to him the peace and lasting fulfillment that the soul was created to re-discover.

Initially the effort to view oneself as part of a greater reality and to cooperate with grace is an effort of will. As I have seen in recent Facebook postings, “Life begins outside your comfort zone!” But in time and as seen in Swami Kriyananda, that dance of Spirit and Nature becomes a powerful flow of Light and Joy.
When I first came to live at Ananda Village (just after the 1976 forest fire), it was definitely outside my comfort zone. But just having returned from over a year of travel in Europe, near East and India, I understood the value of stepping outside that zone to find the truth that “could make me free.” I never hesitated though I could not then know where it would lead.

In a more cosmic or Vedantic sense, rishis (both ancient and modern, like Paramhansa Yogananda) have taught that this universe is a manifestation of God. God is dreaming this material world and we, as sparks of His intelligence and joy, are co-creators. Yogananda used the analogy of the movies. You sit in the theatre and become engrossed in the movie, laughing and crying. You forget that the whole movie is a projection of light from the booth behind you (unseen). A beam of white light, merely, projecting the true-to- life sound and sight pictures of the movie. We need only turn our heads to the back (turn within, that is), and follow the beam of light to its source in Oneness if we would awaken from the movie-dream of life.

The other day, puttering in the kitchen at home, I suddenly had this intense feeling-experience of that flow of cosmic energy oscillating and vibrating all the objects around and I felt on the precipice of having it all disappear, just as would happen if the electricity in the movie theatre were suddenly to go out. It was both unnerving and thrilling at the same time. It was also brief!

The more we see ourselves as energy, and behind that energy, the Bliss of God oscillating all the forms and actions of life, the less we need to be always thinking about ourselves and the more we enter that flow that brings to us the true happiness (Bliss) that we seek. This, ultimately, is success and the law of success.

Bliss-ings to you,
Nayaswami Hriman

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

4th of July Reflections

Fourth of July for Yogis!
Which is Better: Republican or Democrat?

I would venture to say that most of us who are practitioners and proponents of the practices and precepts of yoga are overwhelmingly self-identified as Democrats. While yoga is all but synonymous with the so-called “New Age” or with the “Green Movement,” yoga itself is as “old as the hills” and teaches precepts, morals and ethics that are unquestionably traditional (and universal). The cliché, “Even the devil quotes the scriptures,” is as true for yoga as it is for Bible thumpers. We tend to view reality through the filter of our own tendencies and biases, even in our search for truth.

Consider that conservatism in its emphasis upon tradition and the status quo represents the caution that derives from an understanding that fundamental values never change and that change for the sake of change often derives from restlessness and infatuation with novelty both for its own sake and as an excuse to reject reality as it is (or at least due to ignorance, inexperience, or rebelliousness). Conservatism in American culture emphasizes the need and opportunity for each person to take responsibility for himself whether in failure or success. To that end, the conservative ethos distrusts government intervention. Of course we know that under the banner of such values can hide selfishness, greed, and a lack of compassion by those in power and wealth whose status is threatened by any effort on those less privileged to assert themselves.

Democratic values emphasize individual worth, too, of course. But here the emphasis is tempered by the inclusion of the good of all arising from compassion and desire to share the freedom and prosperity with those less fortunate. Such compassion is clearly a fundamental value. One of the core differences lies in the role of government to effectuate justice and promote freedom and prosperity. In truth the difference is more ephemeral than real, since both political parties have initiated many government reforms, policies, and programs to one end or another for the betterment of those less fortunate.

Paramhansa Yogananda, the legendary master of yoga and author of the world renowned classic, Autobiography of a Yogi, stated he was a Republican, a member of the party of Abraham Lincoln. He decried the seed planted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression which was to sprout into what he might (had he lived longer) have also termed the modern “Welfare State.” Every few years there’s some movement to reform the gargantuan entitlement systems that have their origins in FDR’s seemingly compassionate desire to create safety nets through social security and government funded work projects. 

Even the pressing issue of health care in the United States has as its core issue the tension between the need for individual initiative, participation and responsibility, and the compelling social value and obligation to help those less fortunate. A health care system that simply dispenses care without thought of individual initiative is, let’s face it, unaffordable and, given the limitations inherent in the scarcity of resources, therefore unfair, as perhaps everyone may get something but many have too little and quality suffers deplorably. By contrast, a health care system based solely on individual initiative and financial wherewithal isn’t a health care system at all and is both unfair in that many suffer needlessly when even but “reasonable” acts of sharing and compassion would alleviate much suffering.

Those who practice yoga (the term which more correctly refers to meditation than to physical exercises) know full well that no one can do it for you. No one can “make” you meditate or practice yoga poses. The intention, the desire, the motivation, and, yes, the grace to practice disciplines of bodily, mental and emotional self-control, offering the ego into the Spirit can only come from within — just like creativity, ambition and any number of impulses that bring health, success, and happiness to the human spirit. At the same time, almost no one would practice yoga if others didn’t share the art and science selflessly. This starts with the rishis and great masters of yoga and includes many, if not most, yoga teachers who serve without material recompense.

Jesus Christ said, as if running on the Republican ticket, “To those who have, more will be given, and to those who lack, that which they have will be taken.” Energy attracts success; lack breeds inertia. Only the spark of desire can ignite the fuel of Life Force to drive the engine of self-effort towards fulfillment and self-improvement. Government assistance can spark or enhance self-effort in one but stifle it in another. Entitlement is the necessary legal and social consequence of legislated assistance which tends to dehumanize its recipients and rob them of the opportunity of giving back or of attracting it by merit. This fact alone doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t the obligation of society to render aid to others in need, however.

It has well said that to feed a man who is hungry is to allay his hunger for a few hours; to teach a man to feed himself (through a skill, e.g.) is yet a greater gift; to open the heart and mind of another to the power of the universe (of Spirit) is the greatest gift. Jesus Christ openly counseled the value of compassion, of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned.

So, you see, it’s a spectrum that, once we exclude the extremes of heartless insensitivity or naked greed as well as the useless bleeding heart effort to save others from themselves (Jesus said, “The poor ye shall have always….”) against even their own will (for which they will only “bite the hand that feeds them”), we see that one’s attitude derives from one’s individual temperament. Thus it is that you can be either a Republican or Democrat in good faith, goodwill, and in good conscience as a practitioner of yoga. I suppose it could be said the former is more masculine (emphasizing justice) and the latter more feminine (emphasizing mercy). But of course someone is sure to object to that analogy!

A Republican yogi might be more inclined towards valuing self-discipline and the ten commandments of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (the “yamas,” rules of self-restraint, and the “niyamas,” the rules of right behavior). He might tend to think in terms of karma and reincarnation wherein one’s past actions lay the groundwork for one’s present circumstances and inclinations and against which only self-effort (united to Divine grace) can lift us from the consequences of past actions. This yogi would tend to see withdrawal from the ways of the world and nonattachment as guiding precepts. Ego-transcendence and desirelessness would be important values and practices. Such a one might feel in tune with Krishna’s statement in the Bhagavad Gita that “it is better to fail in the effort to perform one’s own dharma (duty) then to succeed in performing the duties of another.” If this yogi becomes too focused on these values however, he may become cold, ruthless, unfeeling, and insensitive to the needs of others. Yogis are cautioned that without the balancing qualities of the heart the ego becomes inflated and the yogi may be tempted to seek yogic powers rather than soul freedom in God.

A Democratic yogi would tend to go more by heart, by devotion, by seeing God in all. Krishna counsels us the “Gita” that a true yogi feels the joys and sorrows of all as her own. She would understand the need to expand her sympathies and consciousness to embrace the whole world as her own true Self. Thus expansion of consciousness through the heart (rather than annihilation of ego through mental effort and will power) would be the preferred path to freedom by the Democratic yogi. She might, however, tend to rescue others, to do things for them that they ought best to do for themselves. She might find herself subject to mood swings, from enthusiasm and compassion to self-doubt, depression, and self-induglence unless she is guided calmly by reason and wisdom and avoids becoming too attached to individuals or particulars.

Of course I am stretching a point and placing the tongue securely in the cheekiness of the eye’s twinkle! For what unites both of these is the wisdom to respond to life’s opportunities, challenges and perceptions with the flow of God’s grace, whether taking the form of justice or compassion. For a mother, too, must learn to discipline her children even as a father must, at times, act with mercy. For in our souls we are neither mother nor father. The middle path (which indeed is found in the spine of the yogi!) necessarily activates wisdom, compassion, and practicality in measures appropriate to the rising current of Life Force of our own karmic needs.

“Oh, Arjuna, be thou a yogi!” Eschew superficial self-limiting identities such as “democrat” or “republican.” While American culture inclines perhaps more to individual liberties and self-initiative, we also embody a spirit of cooperation and enlightened reason, guided by God. Such is the grace and wisdom of our founding Fathers. We have much to celebrate and be thankful for in our heritage and culture, but also much yet to learn and much effort needed to balance justice with mercy.

May we understand that true freedom is freedom from delusion and is found only in the transcendent, redeeming power of Oneness in God. As chains cannot bind the human spirit neither can personal liberties to express desire driven likes and dislikes free the soul. Let us seek freedom of the soul and share the bounty of our liberty with all.

Blessings to you this 4th of July!
Nayaswami Hriman