Monday, November 26, 2012

Reflections: Atheism & Agnosticism

Last week's blog article was on the subject of meditation and atheism. In that article I suggested that even an atheist can practice meditation because meditation is an art and science and it presupposes no religious belief or affiliation. It is internal to one's own consciousness, using self-awareness as a tool for exploring consciousness wherein consciousness is gradually stripped of "objects" of mentation. (Indeed, Patanjali, the great exponent of meditation -- his book of aphorisms being the "Yoga Sutras" -- describes the process of meditation as the gradual dissolving of all mental image making and their concomitant reactions. Surely something anyone can attempt.)

It mildly surprises me to see the intensity with which some atheists proclaim not only their lack of belief in God (fair enough) but their insistence that "God doesn't exist." Richard Dawkins is one of the more visible scientists claiming to debunk religious belief. None of that is new. What amuses me is that these more vehement atheists sound as fundamentalist as the fundamentalists, each insisting on something that in all events cannot be proved through reason or the senses.

I might say that to me it seems "reasonable" that the vast wonders of the creation hint at the existence of a very powerful and intentional consciousness but I certainly can't prove it. No more, however, can our scientists say anything more than that they cannot "find" God in their explorations, calculations, or experiments. The most they can say is they "see" no evidence for God's existence. That doesn't, however, disprove God's existence. It's merely a shrug.

I've long preferred the more honest agnostics: those who say that they haven't "found" God so how can they possibly say that God exists, or not?

It is the simplest thing in the world to scientifically demonstrate that we humans see what we want to see, hear what we think we are supposed to be hearing and so on. Tests upon eyewitnesses show conclusively that not everyone "sees" the same facts.

A person sensitive to color can choose and decorate a room with exquisite success such that most others can only but admire but would be nonplussed to replicate. Visionaries in every key field of human activity see things that few others can see. We can easily demonstrate that expectations influence outcomes, even in the efficacy of allopathic drugs.Sensory sensitivity is even more highly developed in some animals than in humankind. The wave lengths of various radiations are unseen by human eyes or unfelt by the human body even as they pass through us conveying telephone conversations or television images. We see objects as  separate but cannot see their underlying unity on the level of electro-magnetic forces or quantum physics.

So, yes, there is much in what we know or at least accept as real that could hint at realities far beyond currently accepted knowledge.

Consider the process of creativity. No, I don't mean of Beethoven or Bach. Consider how ideas "enter your mind." Granted, let's say you have a problem to solve and it is important to you. You ponder it. At some point you relax and let it go. And, as studies have shown us, then, voila! The answer appears in your head! It's not unlike a computer command to the hard disk in search of a word or a file or a program. Sometimes it's a little slow but then, voila, the answer appears.

However, unlike the hard disk where the answer to your query already exists for having been put there, a creative idea isn't merely (or at least not necessarily) something cobbled together from pre-existing data or past experience. Many people will no doubt agree that in some cases a new idea seems to have appeared literally from nowhere because so completely unique to our past experience or current expectations. If important ideas in the arts and sciences can appear from "nowhere," well, what does that tell you? Where did those ideas come from? Some of them have changed the course of history.

Studies of creative people will frequently show that such people develop the habit of expecting solutions and meeting them halfway, so to speak. Like Google, "feeling lucky?" There is a sense with such creative people that answers "lurk" as it were in a realm just beyond our sight but which, with practice, we can learn to access. It seems as if such people have a relationship to this unseen world of solutions. Suffice to say the world of human experiences is filled with a wide range of spectacularly unexplained psychic phenomenon.

It's really a matter of taste, you see. Perhaps you are inclined, for reasons of your own, to dismiss the concept of God. It simply doesn't please you; you find it irritating and uninteresting; irrelevant, that is to say, to what is important to you in your life. Well, then, why didn't you just say so!

Others pray to God constantly and attest to God's intercession in their lives. Some people are romantic and sentimental; others, hard-headed and pragmatic. These differences in temperaments may incline one to reject God and another to seek Him, but the question of His existence supercedes them both. Just because people used to believe the world was flat didn't make it so.

This distinction between "what I like" and "what is" is all too often ignored even by otherwise intelligent people. Sadly, few people distinguish between their opinion and the truth. I think Democrats are better than Republicans so of course Democrats are better! (So much for logic!) The simple fact that my inclination and temperament are in the direction that supports the Democratic platform is, as I have said, a matter of taste. Others may believe in the importance of law and order, and preservation of long-standing values.

The proper inquiry of science is how things work. The proper inquiry of religionists is why, for what purpose? There may be areas of overlap of common ground but each has its own field of exploration. I fail to understand why they don't leave each alone and in peace!

Science can never prove, e.g., that the universe has always existed. They might not be able to conclusively find a starting point and presumably the end point hasn't been reached, but how far back do you search before you decide "it's turtles all the way!" (Meaning: there is no beginning!) That might be your conclusion but it is not thereby conclusive! How and who measures infinity? And, even if you did, what impact would it have on the existence of God, who, by all accounts, is also eternal, with no beginning and end? How do you know that we, like the movie The Matrix, aren't but a dream of the Creator? Can you prove that? Or, disprove it?

No saint, moreover, can define God so as to contain Him. No religion, no dogma, no rite or ritual can claim monopoly of His favor. How can that which is Infinite and which has made all things be remotely defined except in the most vague ways: omniscient, omnipresent, infinite, infinitessimal, personal or impersonal. That hasn't stopped 99.9% of religionists from doing exactly that: defining God in ways that please themselves and make their religion the "top dog." But in this they reveal their ignorance as much as those chest pounding scientists who declare that "God is dead."

I say, therefore, that we should simply agree to disagree. I believe in God because it seems "obvious" to me that this vast and complex universe (including my inner universe of thought and feeling) couldn't possibly be devoid of goodness, purpose, and consciousness. But, I can't prove it, and even less so, to you, if you, by contrast, are a hard-nosed self-defined scoffer! I say, well, let's talk about the weather instead.

There is another line of inquiry that is slowly developing on the planet and I call it the "happiness" proof. Gradually, studies are showing that people with faith in God tend to be happier. Now a scoffer's going to have a field day with this, but, for the sake of a good discussion, what if it were actually true? The scoffer will quote Karl Marx's quip about "religion being the opiate of the people" while the religionist will cry "Aha--proof!" But in this case who is the one being pragmatic? The religionist or the scoffer?

This line of inquiry is similar to the observation that the natural development of human consciousness from infancy to adulthood includes an ever expanding sphere of interest and sympathies. Oh, well, of course not with everyone, but in the archetypal sense that we progress from the self-involved infant, the tantrum throwing toddler, and the emotional child to the teen who interests in the world around him, to the young adult who marries, has children, takes on responsibilities (civic, community and familial). We see the fatherly patriarch or matriarch of a clan, a community, or a nation overseeing with benign and wise interest the affairs of his or her "children." In this (admittedly) fanciful world, we view this as well adjusted and as happy a life as we can envision. (Only a dedicated narcissist would maintain through life a commitment to selfish self-indulgence as the summum bonum of life. By the end of life, measure his cup of happiness and see for yourself.)

What if, for example, we could demonstrate that those who include the welfare of others with their own tend to be happier and even more successful? We have the all but universally accepted "Golden Rule" that is suggestive of the truth that our happiness is related to an expansion of self-interest to an enlightened self-interest.

Thus it might be supposed that by this rule of thumb (expanding self-interest) the greatest happiness is achieved when we embrace all life as our own, perhaps even to Infinity (if that were possible). How, then will the Darwin-driven scoffer factor in human happiness? Do not we admire those who give their lives to defend or protect others? To call human love the product of dancing hormones racing to be first to perpetuate themselves may be an acceptable mechanical model (if only because it is causally self-evident) but few human beings would leave it at that. Why is it the testimony of our own race is so airily dismissed by those pretending to be objective in the pursuit of truth?

Well, as I said in the beginning, I can't prove to you that God exists but I am not alone in saying I am happier to make God a part of my life, not just in thought but in deed.


Nayaswami Hriman

P.S. I have purposely left out the testimony of saints and sages of east and west and in every century for presumably to the logician their lives fall outside the scope of their admitted interest. In truth, however, it is only because such people of "science" decide a priori that saints must be discarded. That is as unobjective and as biased discarding of available facts as anything in religion is capable of. Sigh.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Meditation for Atheists & Agnostics

It has been frequently observed that what many atheists and agnostics object to in religion, inter alia, is the image and concept of an anthropomorphic deity eager to inflict eternal punishment on a hapless humanity stupid enough to embrace the wrong religion, the wrong ritual or disobey the clerical brahmins. My teacher, Swami Kriyananda (founder of the worldwide spiritual work of Ananda and a direct disciple of the world teacher, Paramhansa Yogananda) was once asked in Australia (after a lecture) what, if anything, had he to say to an atheist? Kriyananda paused, reflected for a moment, and then responded with the suggestion that "Why don't you hold for yourself the goal of being the best you can be; to live up to your own highest potential?" Our Australian atheist said in his thick Aussie accent, "I think I can live with that, mate!" He then strode off into the night pleased and satisfied.

But what about meditation? Can a self-proclaimed atheist or agnostic practice meditation without violating their conscientious objections to religion and belief in a Supreme Deity? Well of course: I wouldn't be writing this if I didn't think so.

To such a one, what is the purpose, goal and benefit of meditation, and, how does one meditate with this point of view?

Stress reduction is too simplistic a goal for my purposes, but it is worthwhile enough for just about anyone. Meditation has been amply and scientifically proven to be useful in mitigating the effects of stress. But that would hardly be worth writing a blog article about.

I would offer that meditation is a courageous experiment to explore consciousness at its most primal level of self-awareness. There is a level of awareness that precedes the appearance of thoughts and emotions and which if entered into can bring to one greater intuition, calmness, and dynamic self-awareness. It is not necessary to label this state of consciousness in terms of metaphysics or spirituality. It is not difficult to obtain though it takes training and self-discipline to enter into on a consistent and prolonged basis.

When we stare off into the distance or pause from the intensity of our activities we often have a moment of pure reflective self-awareness where thoughts and reactions are temporarily suspended. The benefits of this state are not immediately apparent in part because we don't think about it and partly because we don't do it purposely and partly because we don't do it long enough nor intentionally to reap its potential rewards.

It is had been said that meditation (and yoga) require no belief system nor religious affiliation to practice and to gain benefits. Thus their popularity. At the same time, there is much discussion and debate in various circles about the underlying and inherently spiritual basis of these practices from India. Some say these practices are not inherently religious while others vehemently insist that all you have to do is consider their source and context in India and in the east generally. A similar back-and-forth exists in respect to Buddhism, too.

Part of what makes Buddhism so popular among educated westerners, especially professionals and therapists, is its (relative) absence of the outer trappings of religion. While I find that view debatable and as much a function of selective "seeing" as reality, it is undeniably true that the Buddha's reticence about God and all things immaterial allow for a wider range of appeal than its senior cousin, Hinduism and its esoteric offshoot, yoga (which is far more meditation than movement).

The deeper truth is that metaphysical realities (viewed as philosophy or as the nature of reality) are considered by their exponents to be the source and basis for material realities. According to this line of thinking, therefore, there exists no essential difference between the here and now and the hereafter or the "other." The most essential metaphysical teaching is that all creation is a manifestation of consciousness and that this consciousness is infinite and cosmic and, by definition, divine and benign, both impersonal and infinite as well as personal and infinitessimal.

The point here simply is that the important and essential impulse is to experience and contact this level of reality rather than only merely talk about or define it. If there is an underlying and universal "Truth" or "Consciousness," the only valid undertaking is to "know" "It." Furthermore, that which is true does not depend upon anyone's belief in it. Therefore, any experiment or activity that is likely to reveal its presence is something that anyone who is courageous or open enough ought to be willing to undertake.

The scriptures of India (Shankhya) aver that "God cannot be proved." This is not the same as saying "God does not exist." It is an admission of the obvious: the intellect cannot prove ultimate reality; only consciousness itself can intuit consciousness. No test tube, no experiment, no chemical will reveal God or consciousness on its own level (as opposed to the various manifestations of consciousness such as thought, feeling, emotion, brain activity, motion, and innumerable appearances of intelligence and perception).

On this basis, therefore, it is consciousness that intuits itself, and meditation, viewed as awareness focused in upon itself, is the preeminent "tool" of perception and consciousness. It may very well be that meditation is perhaps the best and most consistent activity that can bring to one an experience of an underlying strata of pre-thought consciousness.  Such an activity has little, if anything, to do with an a priori belief or assumption as to the nature of that pre-thought level or that such a level should be called "God." I won't deny, however, that many forms of meditation are taught with the assumption that one desires union with God or some other supreme Consciousness. Masters of the science of meditation have frequently (though not always) testified to the experience of a higher Being or levels of realities. But if such is the truth, it should be discoverable without regard to belief. But what is true should be true for all.

As a lifelong meditator myself, I know the difficulty and challenges to meditation. The restless, monkey mind categorically rejects mental quietude, unless it be of a lower or subconscious level, induced by sleep, drugs or daydreaming. Thus it is that it is fair to ask oneself, "Why would anyone undertake the arduous journey away from the senses and natural mental activity into the depths of pure consciousness? Traditionally only those who held a strong belief (or intuition?) regarding the superior merits of the results (including "seeking God") undertake the sustained effort. But philosophically speaking, no such expectation or belief is necessary to do it.

Because of the difficulties of achieving deep states of one pointed meditation, the great teachers of meditation resort to promises of health, energy, creativity and, more to the point today, union with the Supreme Being.

Nonetheless I hold true to my assertion that any atheist or agnostic who is courageous enough to explore the boundaries of self-awareness can find great benefit by whatever technique of meditation appeals to him or her. Let me say succinctly that the experience of resting in the state of pure self-awareness, devoid of self-created mental images and their attendant ego-affirming associations, can yield many practical benefits to those who offer themselves into this felicitous state of being. And, if, perchance, he or she were to encounter the Supreme Power, well, I trust they will presumably reassess their position happily! If not, nothing is lost and I know that much can be gained in self-understanding, creativity, and joy.

Perhaps in another article I can suggest some exercises for our friends in "AA", "Atheists and agnostics not so anonymous.


Nayaswami Hriman

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving of Thanks this Thanksgiving Day

America's tradition of a national day of giving Thanks is one that all nations and people would be well counseled to observe. This was the comment today by Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, in an email message from India to members and friends around the world.

I have heard it said that in Indian culture family members do not (or perhaps did not) traditionally thank each other for small services rendered in the home on a routine basis, e.g., thanking mother for a delicious dinner. The idea is, I suppose, that it is both mother's duty and honor to serve her family in the name of God (as manifestations of God), or as Paramhansa Yogananda put it when he thanked disciples for assisting him and they objected thanking him in turn, "God serving God."

But it is surely sweeter and also helpful that we express our gratitude even when it is not expected or needed.  I have observed Swami Kriyananda doing so with no great fanfare or mawkish sentimentality, but simply and quietly, thanking someone, for example, who served him a cup of tea. Such acknowledgements can help us stay mindful and intentional.

A gyani yogi (a nondualist) might understandably see all outward forms and activities "merely" as manifestations of the One and in so doing find it unnecessary, or, even unhelpful, to acknowledge a service rendered to him, as the person were different and separate. Such austerity of demeanor and attitude is dry and lacks warmth and heart quality. Better it would be to observe the outward formalities of acknowledgement and gratitude, paying inward obeisance to the One in all.

Surely a bhakti yogi (a devotee) would thank another for a service rendered seeing in that person the Divine Mother while a karma yogi (one who serves others humbly and happily) would perhaps be the one so serving others!

So long as we breath the free air of earth we should render grateful service and take up the yoke of dharma, supporting ourselves, helping others, and leaving this world a better place.

I have long felt that the greatest tragedy that befalls the homeless is not lack of food or shelter, but lack of love and opportunity to render creative, grateful service to God through others. In America and most other countries, only a little effort is required to find food and shelter, even if temporarily. But lacking no means to serve and be creatively engaged in the large world of life, well, that is the greater loss.

As Swami Kriyananda and so many others on this earth committed to service have said, "I will die with my boots on!" That may not be for everyone, but certainly let us be grateful for the opportunities we have to give of ourselves to God through our fellow creatures.

To you, a blessed day of giving Thanks!

Nayaswami Hriman

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Proof of Heaven" - A Near Hopeful Experience

I recently finished reading the book, “Proof of Heaven,” by the neurosurgeon Eben Alexander. Eben fell into a life-threatening coma and miraculously survived but even more than that had a very revealing, profound, and conscious experience of higher realms in one of the more interesting NDE’s (near-death experiences) reported to date.

It doesn’t terribly much matter to me how true it is. No one but Eben can know that. But what interested me, for today’s purpose, was his statement that during his sojourn into heavenly realms he learned that although evil does certainly exist, it is a small portion or proportion of the good that exists.

Now in some ways this contradicts my (perhaps limited) understanding of the law duality wherein the play of opposites are equal and necessary to the appearance of substance in the drama of creation.

So his statement was pause for reflection (if not downright concern). In Paramhansa Yogananda’s teachings, including as they have been expressed by his direct disciple and Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda, evil is described as a “conscious force” flowing out from Spirit towards matter. As this force flows outward it does so in a continuum of consciousness whose direction is towards the affirmation of separation and the perpetuation of the creation.

Thus “evil” is relative in several ways. For today’s topic, what strikes me is that much of this continuum is “relatively” neutral and far from “evil” as we normally define or experience it. A tree is “evil” only in the sense that its very character hides from our sight its underlying spiritual essence both as energy (“vibration and Life Force”) AND as conscious, and divinely intelligent and self-aware.

So, too, therefore are most objects and most human thoughts, feelings, and actions: relatively neutral (relative to classically “evil” behavior). With this understanding, then, the creation is largely benign and in its “awesomeness,” beauty, and transparent intelligence and order, a reflection of Divine Love and Harmony.

In this view, evil, as an intentional and consciously harmful force and action, is “relatively” small portion of the cosmos in the realms of thought, emotions, feelings, electricities, atomic energies, and physical forms and actions.

In Sanaatan Dharma, the “eternal and universal precepts” of Vedanta, the outflowing force is more or less matched by the inflowing force. I say more or less because its real importance is in the realm of human consciousness. We don’t expect much from planets and stars, rocks, trees, plants or animals in the way of good or evil, except in relation to their harm or their benefit to us as humans.

A person can be dedicated to humanitarian causes but, being perhaps an atheist or agnostic, has no desire to seek God or higher states of inner communion with “the universe.” Only consciousness can desire to commune with Consciousness. There’s obviously nothing “evil” about being a dedicated humanitarian. Sympathies for the suffering of others manifesting as practical and self-sacrificing action is surely pleasing to God as all great spiritual teachers have averred. But only by conscious, intentional seeking can the individual approach the Godhead (by whatever name). Yes, we can have peak experiences of Oneness, but unless such an experience(s) changes our life forever in the direction seeking “more of That,” we return to ego consciousness and to our life’s work, karma and dharma.

But good works can reinforce pride and cause attachment to results which, when thwarted by other worldly forces, might cause disillusionment, discouragement, anger and, at last, giving up and in. I think of the image of a “peace protester” marching angrily and shouting slogans or inflicting harm on others or their property. An oxy-moron, in other words.

So, both are true: good and evil vie equally from the metaphysical standpoint of the outflowing energy towards matter and separateness and the inflowing force towards union. But, on the whole, the creation is also largely neutral or benign and only a small portion of its actually evil in the more limited and normal sense of that term.

Most people are basically good, even if, in truth, the main reason they are good is that they don’t possess enough energy and creative initiative to be bad!

Still, I find this reflection, inspired by Proof of Heaven, a happy and hopeful one! I “hope “ you agree!


Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, November 12, 2012

What to do with your Enlightened Brother-in-Law?

What to do if your brother-in-law is enlightened? - The world's longest blog article. Apologies in advance for being a nerd. 

What is enlightenment? How to achieve it? Is it easy to do? What is nothingness?

Any resemblance to any living “brother-in-law”  is entirely coincidental.

Since a large number of people on this planet have a brother-in-law, it seems to me that it is about time this important subject be squarely addressed, for, given the large number of brother-in-laws on the planet, there must surely be quite a number who consider themselves “enlightened.” In fact, recent studies have shown that there is a veritable epidemic of enlightenment occurring in the population of brothers-in-law. I feel it is my duty to take on this subject straight up.

Notwithstanding the current pandemic of enlightenment in this group, there have always been some in every age and culture who consider themselves enlightened and who, moreover, consider any and all religious or spiritual doctrines, practices, or promotion as, to quote P.G. Wodehouse, “bilge.” Some, using stronger language, shout “poppycock!”

True devotees everywhere and in every age are plagued by at least one know-it-all scofflaw and self-described enlightened brother-in-law. Since presumably your gentle nature and your firmly held beliefs preclude you from knocking the ‘ol buster off (and putting him out his misery while saving civilization from this blight upon humanity), this article may offer you some solace and alternatives.

Perhaps you are plagued, as I have been, by one such who, while adamantly rejecting any label, would easily fit into the target range of the dreaded “nondualist.” These blighters fancy themselves godlike and omniscient, gazing down upon creation and its creatures with a sardonic and all-knowing hauteur. Their disdain and dismissal of practices such as meditation, dogma, ritual, prayer and the like is, well, “absolute.”

And what makes his assertion that religion is unnecessary (and, in fact, worse than unnecessary) so clever is that there is a some level of truth here. Starting with the well known evils and disadvantages, prejudices, and narrow-mindedness of religion and its practitioners and representatives, there is the deeper truth that in the nondualistic state of consciousness there is no longer any distinctions of “I or Thou” or ego or separateness. In the state of Oneness, there is only Consciousness itself! It almost absurd to spend a lot time describing the state because by “definition” this state is beyond words. Still, for my purposes and I hope for yours too I will use these words as synonyms or markers and these include Oneness and God. Other terms (and there are many more) include Self-realization, samadhi, satori, nirvana, heaven, or mystical marriage (etc. etc.). (Keep in mind that users of these terms may well make distinctions among them.)

In the tradition of Vedanta, the scriptures of India, and among yogis (rishis, masters, etc.) the attitude of our nondualist is the approach to God (or Oneness) called gyana yoga. A modern Christian who approaches God as the “Cosmic Ground of Being” might similarly be called a gyana yogi. So, too, a Buddhist who refuses to describe the ultimate state as any-thing at all except perhaps as nirvana.

As Krishna notes in the Bhagavad Gita, this approach, however, is austere to an extreme (like being a spiritual stoic) and comments that the path to the Absolute should be walked only by a few advanced souls for it is “arduous” for most embodied beings. Easier for humans is to approach the Unapproachable through the “I-Thou” relationship. To be a true nondualist one must deny the very existence of all objects in the field or sphere of duality, including one’s own body, emotions, thoughts and so on! Rare and difficult indeed! For those who attempt it prematurely (and that includes, in my humble opinion, just about everyone who does) they seem to fall into a pit of self-delusion. Those attracted to this path are, admittedly, those who possess a keen and sharp and discerning mind. In the attempt to cut off the report of the senses and emotions (too soon), the mind can drift and pretend to establish its own alternative reality. The consequences, as any amateur psychologist can tell you, are disastrous for as Krishna also notes in Bhagavad Gita, “suppression availeth nothing.” The sphere of the mind is far vaster and more labyrinthian than that of the physical cosmos.

Our aspiring nondualist might even, with a sarcastic grin, quote sages who say, of enlightenment, that “it is, and, it isn’t!” In this they pretend to be deep and profound, hoping by this koan to stump you into submission. Our nondualist will mock all forms of spirituality as tainted with duality and thus doomed by their opposite! And, again, there is some truth to this. One who emphasizes devotion in an unbalanced way may become fanatical, for example. One who emphasizes ritual or dogma may become dogmatic, and one who treasures selflfess service may become restless and disillusioned.

Hiding behind the pretense of nonduality may impress a few, but enlightenment is not a put up job. Yes, it is that an enlightened master can make himself appear very ordinary to ordinary and materialistic people but those of refined consciousness will always catch his scent! It is absurd to claim enlightenment but to have no noticeable traits of an expanded consciousness.

Still, we must confess that enlightenment is unconditional and it expresses itself uniquely in each soul who achieves it. Swami Kriyananda once asked an enlightened yogi why he didn’t seem to have any disciples or conduct any ministry. The yogi’s simple reply was, “God has done what He wants with this body.”

Another feature of the state of Oneness is that it exists independent of any efforts to achieve it. Will power or mental power or affirmation alone cannot command it. But the scoffer mistakenly concludes that any effort to achieve it is futile, and that any effort to share “the path to it,” is nothing but self-serving propaganda. Pointing to the many shortcomings of religion and religionists, and their all-too-human representatives, he claims to have “proof.”

In this we encounter yet another of mankind’s existential dilemmas: how can the ego transcend itself? Can any action ever be other than in self-interest? Is anyone who strives for salvation or seeks to help others towards the same goal simply self-deluded because he or she is so plainly NOT (yet) enlightened himself? Is there a way out of this conundrum? The relationship of spiritual growth to effort and even to grace is so difficult to establish objectively that it is not difficult to look at all the religious craziness that abounds and dismiss it all as useless. Add to this the overpowering satisfaction and relief it offers to the ego which can rise up and shout, “I told you so!” “I’m perfect just the way I AM!” “I don’t have to do a thing!” But is it true?

Human life is not worth living if we abandon the nexus between action and consequence. The law of action and reaction has its metaphysical counterpart in the law of karma. Problem is, the nondualist proclaims, leaping into the breach, action only produces reaction and it never ends. Or does it?

Sleep may be the opposite of activity, but yogis claims that Oneness is achieved through the state of breathlessness -- a state that doesn’t produce death to the physical body. “Be still and know that I AM GOD” says the Old Testament. To admit a nondual state is, itself, logically even, to yield to the affirmation that there exists a state of being, of consciousness that has no second, no dual, and that this state is transcendent of duality.

Other great spiritual teachers and scriptures further proclaim that from this state of Oneness is manifested the whole of creation itself. This cannot be proved logically, they admit, but only realized in the state itself. By definition, moreover, this would have to be the case.

The power of Oneness holds the key to our imprisonment in the body and ego. “It takes One to Know One.” It has been both a universal precept and an easily observed fact in the history of the spiritual giants of planet Earth that each soul, imprisoned, is eventually awakened from its delusive dream of duality and separateness by the influence, wisdom, and compassion of another who has already awakened from the dream. Thus the power of the myths such as the prince and the pauper. We are all royalty but we find ourselves paupers and have forgotten our true nature. Someone or somehow we must awaken from this error, this nightmare of mistaken identity.

This, too, is the meaning of the famous story by Jesus Christ: the Prodigal Son. A true guru (known as a “Sat” guru, or savior) comes in every age (measured in thousand or more year increments) to re-awaken the forgotten memory of our Oneness in those souls who, during that time, are ready and “have ears to hear” (as Jesus put it repeatedly). Such a One also has the power to attract and completely liberate those who have incarnated in that time and place in readiness to ascend.

But the pseudo guru of the Big Easy to Oneness is not finished yet, for he also has the testimony of some spiritual teachers (and seekers) who quote scriptures such as I AM THAT I AM (Old Testament), or, “Tat twam asi” (Thou art THAT! - Hindu scriptures) to bolster their claim that no personal effort is needed for we are already enlightened and only have to realize it.

This claim, though misplaced, nonetheless has its source in the truth that the state of Oneness both preexists and coexists with material reality. Out of Oneness, out of nonduality, and out of God has come creation’s duality. (Out of the One, comes two; from two, three!) Nonduality (God) is both the source and sustainer of duality and at the same untouched by it. This is as deep and profound a truth (and mystery to our duality-bound intellect and body-bound sense experiences) as any mankind has intuited. It is taught in various ways in every great faith and metaphysical tradition. On its basis, some have falsely concluded that we can simply declare ourselves “free” and thereby be proclaimed “enlightened.” But again I ask you, is it so? And if it is, how do you we know it’s true? Are there are any proofs of enlightenment?

Given that religion will always have its share of frauds and flawed human beings (as we find in all human endeavors), and given that there are ignorant and superstitious people who practice religion out of fear, suffering or for ego or material gain, it’s not so difficult, if so inclined, to conclude along with Karl Marx that religion is “the opiate of the people.” When one has a taste of nonduality and in relation to it, it is true that all spiritual efforts and beliefs seem unnecessary. If one achieves enlightenment and it is a permanent beatitude, well, why argue? But the mere contemplation or passing experience of Oneness does not thereby render one exempt from the challenge and effort needed for purification of ego consciousness in order to enjoy the permanent blessing of soul freedom. The coexistence of nondual and dual states of consciousness (and passing back and forth between) can give rise to pride and self-delusion.

In fact, this is a commonly reported challenge to spiritual seekers even if they never use these somewhat dry and technical terms. Swami Kriyananda, my teacher, has pointed out that in the last stages of liberation the final test is that of pride--in this case, pride in the very real lofty heights of vision and power granted to the soul before it merges into the stream of Bliss forever. The Christian analogy is the temptation of Christ during which Satan shows to him all the earth and offers him dominion over all things if Jesus will worship him, Satan, Lord of Creation. Jesus says, simply, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” The test of pride is both the soul’s first and last temptation.

And because many people, including your brother-in-law, may have in fact had some peak experience of a nondual or nonverbal reality, it tempts one to so declare the inadequacy and unessential need for self-effort, religion or spiritual activities or beliefs. If well read, our scoffer might quote Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita who (like Buddha centuries later) who decried the common reliance upon Vedic rituals and prayers in substitution for the effort to seek God as the sole reality.

Is all spiritual striving and sharing, therefore, simply a delusion, like your brother-in-law avers?

There’s a corollary to this line of false but egoically convenient reasoning. The corollary is the long standing appearance of the teaching of emptiness. The state of the void or emptiness is indeed a state of consciousness. It includes trance states or states induced medically or otherwise. Every night in deep sleep we enter the dreamless sleep state in which yogis say we touch upon our soul nature as Bliss. Yet far from being unconscious, when we awaken from a good sleep we are aware that we slept well (or not), having entered this important and essential state. Yogis have long used comparisons to sleep to hint at higher states of consciousness. Unfortunately, in sleep we cannot progress spiritually because enlightenment by definition is a higher, more aware state.

If all things are a manifestation of consciousness, this must include rocks. Rocks don’t appear especially conscious. Therefore, we can conclude that in this relative world, consciousness itself is relative but that unconsciousness, taken literally, is impossible.

But some clever scoffers aver that emptiness is de facto the state of enlightenment. This is convenient because it, too, absolves the scoffer of any guilt, remorse or need for effort or right action. This false teaching is well rooted in that agnostics, atheists and materialists believe that at death we disappear and no longer exist. Hard to argue with the obvious physical evidence (or lack of it) supporting this point of view. But in this article I don’t want to get into the afterlife issue, not for fear, but it’s a much bigger topic. In this article I want to focus on enlightenment as a present state of consciousness while living in a human body. I am only saying that the lack of belief in an afterlife is another point of view that would seem to support the idea that enlightenment is a state of emptiness.

This concept of no-thing-ness is, however, a valid teaching because, as a state of being, it can be experienced by meditative efforts. But is it enlightenment? Emptiness is a feature of and typically associated with Buddhistic teachings, though it appears throughout history and in human thinking. But it is flawed, both logically and intuitively. For no one, except perhaps a suicide, seeks permanent loss of consciousness. Survival is the most deeply rooted instinct to be found anywhere in creation. If it is false then the creation itself is false. And yes that teaching is common, too, but we are not here to discuss whether the creation is true or false. A useless debate. We can simply say that it is impermanent so far as our experience of it is concerned. We can say that intrudes impressively upon our senses and our thoughts, and, indeed, even our dreams. Whether anything is, ultimately, “real” begs the question and no doubt pleases mental midgets but not true seekers who, in the end, want practical results to their sincere seeking.

Let us therefore say that the creation is false in the sense of always changing, alternating between opposites and not absolute in the sense that Oneness, pure Consciousness, and God are unchanging and eternal. Whether or not the creation is self-perpetuating is also a “relatively” useless question for midget minds and dry hearts.

Returning now to emptiness, my teacher (Swami Kriyananda) has put it so well with his tongue-(firmly)-in-cheek: Commenting on the Buddhistic belief that the end of suffering and the goal of life is to achieve the void, he says, “No wonder that in that tradition they came up with the concept of Boddhisattva: one who postpones his enlightenment to help others. Seeking no-thing-ness is more likely to prompt a request for a rain check from what amounts to an act of suicide. Who would aspire to no-thing-ness? Why, moreover, would one who achieved emptiness feel such deep and abiding compassion for the sufferings of others?

That emptiness is in fact a state of consciousness and can be experienced is not worth denying. Many great spiritual teachers so attest to it. Most express this state as a steppingstone, a way station to the goal. But if the price to end suffering is to end consciousness as we know it, well, hmmmm, I think most of us would want put in a request for that rain check.

Like Frank Sinatra sang, “Is that all there is?” Hardly: saints down through ages don’t exhibit love, compassion and joy as aspects of an enlightened consciousness “for nothing!” The “nothing” that is real and true is the dissolution of ego, “nothing” less. But when ego is dissolved (or expanded into Infinity--either image works for the sake of describing the indescribable), the result is the one thing all beings seek: pure, unconditioned Bliss. Not a loss of consciousness but Consciousness itself. Satchidananda: God is, and we are, and we seek immortality (Sat), unbroken Self-awareness (Chit) and Bliss (Ananda): Ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss.

Our survival instinct isn’t present for the sake of mere survival. We survive that we may live; we live only as we are self-aware, and we seek to live to enjoy living. The ancient teachings of India, including the adi (first) Swami Shankycharya, in seeking to dispell the growing atheism among the adherents of Buddhism, declare that God is Sat-Chit-Ananda: ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss. This is the nature of absolute reality and is the eternal promise and striving of all creation and of our souls.

But no matter how cogent your response to the scoffer is, be prepared for his “ultimate defense strategy.”  When shaken, he will deploy his golden parachute of silent nonduality to dismiss your explanations as born in the “captivity” of duality.

Putting the scoffer aside, smug in his inertial blanket of theoretical nonduality, I do think he does us a service by helping us clarify some important questions. The effort can highlight for us both the limits of intellectual discovery and the potential for the intellect to point us in the right direction when used wisely. But, like Moses who could not enter the Promised Land because born in captivity (duality), the intellect must be set aside. Only the heart can “know” and can enter into God (Oneness). “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”

So I see at least three useful inquiries offered to me by my (self-proclaimed) enlightened brother-in-law:

1.    What does it mean to be enlightened?
2.    Are there any objective signs of an enlightened consciousness?
3.    What, if anything, can I (as ego) do to transcend ego and achieve enlightenment?

Human life would be insufferable if we didn’t have the intuitive wisdom that we can improve our lives and that we can discover what is true (whether it be in respect to material, psychological or spiritual matters). The intuitive knowledge and common shared experience that intention and attitude markedly affect a person’s actions (and that one’s actions reflect one’s consciousness) is fundamental to the human experience.

Many sages, saints, poets and ordinary people have attempted to describe the indescribable state of nonduality. “Nonduality” is a coldly rational word and I prefer “God” or, at worst, Oneness. But it would the height of folly to “mince words” when describing God!

I suppose that many humans, indeed, perhaps most, have had some peak experience in their lives. In every field of human activity you find beginners, experienced people, and “masters” of their art or craft. This, too, is fundamental to the human experience.

So, therefore, it is not unreasonable to presuppose that enlightenment, too, has its stages of progressive development. You might object along rational lines saying that an experience of nonduality must surely be, by “definition,” the same for everyone. That may be logical but it defies the testimony and experience of human beings. Love, too, might be said to be the same, but in fact it isn’t. There are degrees of depth and feeling.

Paramhansa Yogananda was once asked if there is an end to striving (in achieving enlightenment). He said, effectively, that there is no end but one goes on into endlessness. What else, after all, would “Infinity” suggest?

John Paul Sartre may have declared himself “radically free” to act from his own inner creative impulse, unaffected by outer circumstances but in this he betrayed both common sense and truth. Nothing about his life, should you be so unfortunate to study it, suggests the truth of his self-declaration.

True saints may indeed have “seen” God but each and everyone of them are unique and their lives, examples, and message was surely conditioned by, because appropriate to, outer circumstances and the needs of others. Always appropriate to the circumstance is the wise one.

What can enlightenment possibly mean if it isn’t life changing? It may be that it transforms each person uniquely but states of anger, jealousy, lust and dishonesty are not aspects of an enlightened consciousness. This is not only common sense but it is, in fact, the testimony of the lives of thousands of souls who have been recognized as having a desirable and elevated state of consciousness worthy of being called enlightened.

I won’t attempt to go further and speak of the “miracles” performed by saints for I know those cannot be “proved” although a sincere study of their lives and the testimony of credible witnesses may prove surprisingly persuasive.

In the Bhagavad Gita, the disciple, Arjuna, in fact asks his guru, Krishna, “What are the signs of the one who has achieved liberation?” In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, he describes numerous signs of enlightenment which demonstrate power of nature and power over life and death. But again, such things are beyond the experience of most people.

“He who says he knows, doesn’t. He who says he doesn’t, doesn’t. He who knows, knows.”

I have purposely avoided attempting to define enlightenment. I would have to quote my guru and others who are Self-realized and consistent in their roundabout descriptions. But I cannot speak of it from my own experience. But how can I “know” who is Self-realized. We can point at the blue sky above, but until we can fly, we remain earth bound.

It is foolish to buy into the clever and ego-affirming dogma that enlightenment is easy of attainment; that it costs nothing (in terms of effort or discipline); that it eschews the need for religion, spiritual teachings, prayer, meditation, or a spiritual teacher. Such assertions will always be made by some but simply examine their lives and see with what degree of non-attachment, even-mindedness, inner peace, compassion and wisdom do they conduct their lives? Their philosophy is simply a state of self-delusion, for it comforts and coddles the ego and excuses it of any meaningful effort, devotion to anything greater than themselves, or grateful, compassionate service to others. In Oneness we see all life as a part of ourselves.

In the duality of human life, we have the opposites but this does not mean that anger is just as valuable as love. We find greater happiness in love than in hatred. They may be opposites but what separates them from Oneness is the link to ego desire and involvement. Love connects and unites; hatred, separates.

Peace and love draw one closer to Oneness because the ego-active principle is soothed and smoothed. As we express more and more virtue and self-less-ness we become calmer and stronger in ourselves. At the center point between opposites is the still state of Oneness and while logic dictates that the opposites should be equal as well as opposing, goodness brings us closer to ego transcendence than evil.

But there is a catch, for “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” As long as even our goodness is ego-centric and ego-affirming, we are still caught and the pendulum of duality will, in time, force us back. Only when we consciously give ourselves to God with love and self-offering can the power of grace (of Oneness, of nonduality) meet us halfway to draw us ever deeply toward the still point within. Only when we consciously surrender into Oneness with an open heart can we enter, and, when we are ready, remain, in that beatitude.

So don’t let your scoffer brother-in-law get to you. Disdain and contempt is difficult to bear, but only by the ego. Instead, consider it a glorious path to God. Meet disdain with love and even-mindedness. Indeed, feel but compassion, for a dry, loveless heart and overly intellectual mind has no room, no appetite for God, no chance for true happiness. Like one used to eating stale cheese, the armchair philosopher substitutes his cleverness for truth and, in time, finds the harvest but a bitter fruit of stillborn emptiness, devoid of happiness.

Be of good cheer! The truth shall make you free!


Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, November 5, 2012

Reflections from a Retreat to Inner Silence!

Recently some thirty plus folks went on a silent meditation and yoga retreat at the Ananda Community in Lynnwood, WA.

On Saturday afternoon we conducted an inspiration-writing exercise and I am hoping others will share their experiences and let me share them sometime.

In these exercises, each person had a book of inspiration and most of those books were purposely made available to retreatants and consisted of one of the six books in the Wisdom of Yogananda series published by Crystal Clarity Publishers.

In the first exercise we each held our book with eyes closed in meditation. This was an effort to tune into the subtler vibrations of the book and to ask for a personal message for each of us. Then, when we were individually ready, we opened the book at random and read the first thing we saw. After we had absorbed its message we then were invited to write whatever thoughts came to us.

My experience, and I believe that of many others present that day, was very touching and validating. In my case, the night before, after the retreat orientation and meditation, I came back to my apartment in the Community and after some additional meditation was inspired to write a blog article on “How to Know God.”

And yes, sure enough, the next afternoon (still on retreat), when I opened my book at random my eyes fell upon the title of the next selection in my book which was, How to Know God! But there was a bonus in store because the message was essentially a point that I hadn’t included, at least not so directly, in my article the previous night. It was that God can be known by those whose hearts are pure, like that of a child. The theme of that message was importance of simplicity. The author (who is my teacher and founder of Ananda, Swami Kriyananda) went on to write that to have the simplicity of a child one must not prejudge other people or life’s challenges and circumstances. We must approach life with the eyes of faith, hope, and charity! Not only was the message a valid contribution to the topic but, better still, a much valued message for me.

The next exercise was for each person to look through the book and select a segment that appealed or spoke to you. Then, after a brief meditation on what you had selected, we were encouraged to write whatever thoughts came. Not wanting to deplete the selection of books provided to other retreatants, I had brought from home Swami Kriyananda’s popular book, Living Wisely, Living Well. It has an inspirational and instructional thought for each day of the year. So, I simply turned to the days noted for our retreat: November 2 and 3rd. The topic for those two days were reflections upon the difference between “egoism” and “egotism.” The latter reflects pride but the former refers to ego itself: a much more subtle and (spiritually) insidious aspect of consciousness. As I began to write my thoughts what came to me is a definition of Kundalini that occurs in Kriyananda’s class text on Raja Yoga. In that book he describes the Kundalini life force as “the entrenched vitality of our mortal delusion.” This, I saw, is another way of viewing egoism: our commitment to our separateness. It empowers our life and with its innate power re-directed upward towards soul consciousness and freedom in God, it is our savior.

In my most recent Sunday Service talk, I spoke of how transcendence of ego(ism) implies no loss of anything but an expansion into everything. Thus, in Kriyananda’s thoughts for these two days from the book he notes that the cure for both egoism and egotism is an attitude of self-giving, or as I put it in my talk, self-expansion.

Again: a wonderful gift and a personally meaningful message.

The third exercise was to meditate and come up with some spiritual challenge or spiritual quality that is meaningful to you and hold the book and meditate asking that, through one’s book, some personal message on this challenge or quality be received. When each of us were ready, we individually opened our book at random to see what it had to say. Once more, we were invited to write at will those thoughts that came to us.

In this case, I hold my exercise and personal message to be a private one. But I will say that, at first, I was disappointed because it didn’t seem that the words that I read from the book addressed my spiritual challenge for which I sought inspiration. But, with faith that grace wouldn’t fail me, it only took a brief moment to look more deeply and I instantly saw that its message (which was that one should affirm inner peace when tempted or challenged and that one should live more from one’s own center) was, in fact, exactly perfect for my need.

At this point in the program, I realized we had moved more quickly through the allotted time than I had planned. So, “necessity being the mother of invention," there dawned upon me the idea to suggest a fourth and final exercise. I asked everyone to use this technique and the book in each of our hands to pray for inspiration to help each of us cope with our frustration over the world’s ills and problems. The question to ask of our “book” was, “What can I do to be an instrument of peace in this peaceless world of ours?

Once again I found delight and inspiration because when I opened the book at random there was a selection for one of the days of the year on the subject of the color WHITE! Hmmm, you might say, and???? Well, Kriyananda describes the positive and negative aspects of the color white: the positive aspect of white is a reference to a rising current of energy in the spine. Now for those who are yogis, you know exactly what this! In meditation and especially using advanced meditation techniques such as Kriya Yoga, one can experience a flow of energy rising in the subtle spine. (The negative aspect of the color white, Kriyananda wrote, is sinking into passivity.) But for me, as a Kriya Yoga and Raja Yoga teacher (one who has dedicated his life to teaching such techniques), what more perfect answer to my question! My way of serving God and humanity in challenging times is to share the deeper aspects of meditation! As most of my readers know all too well, I am a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda’, and his mission to the West was to bring the practice of kriya yoga into the world to help mankind cope with the challenges of a new and connected world—finding peace in a world turning faster and faster. All I can say is WOW!

Try these exercises yourself sometime on some quiet, personal retreat day of your own.

As a kind of postscript, one of the retreatants reported to me her zen koan “Aha” moment was related to raking of leaves. For an hour or so on Saturday, and in silence, we were invited to partake in some simple task like cleaning or raking leaves and doing so in a mindful manner. Imagine her delight when she later realized, after lunch and after the wind came up, that all the raking she had done had been erased as if it had never happened. Talk about non-attachment and living as if “writing on water!”

Ready for a retreat for your Self?

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, November 2, 2012

How Can I Know God?

The Indian scriptures state that “God cannot be proved.” Jesus said “No man hath seen God.”

But neither tradition is remotely atheistical and great saints of East and West have faithfully told of their experiences of mystical union with God in many forms and in many ways.

When I was a boy I read the lives of the Christian saints but I despaired for the fact that they all lived long ago. “Where is Jesus Christ now” I wondered? “Why are there no saints living today” I cried! But no one could answer me.

Most orthodox faiths pray to or praise God, Christ or others but few affirm that we can know God. Fewer instruct their adherents in how to know God. Instead we are counseled to obey the scriptures, go to church or temple, be good, help others and, with a little luck (grace), we will go to heaven and receive our reward!

Admittedly that’s a lot like what happens on earth. We are taught to study hard, work hard, and, if we are very good, we will be successful, we will be liked and respected, and if we save our money we can retire and live happily ever after at our cottage by the sea.

Hmmmm……makes you wonder, don’t it?

It might work that way on earth, or, it might not. It depends. So why would we believe that line in regards to something we don’t know and can’t see: heaven?

One of my favorite chapters in “Autobiography of a Yogi” contains a story wherein Paramhansa Yogananda has this mind-blowing experience of cosmic consciousness given to him by his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar. 

Sometime afterwards however, he begins to doubt and question his experience. One day he asks his guru, “When will I find God?” His guru chuckled merrily saying, “What did you expect to find, a venerable personage sitting on a throne in some antiseptic corner of the universe?”

Then, consolingly he explained to young Mukunda (Yogananda’s birth name) that God is the joy born of meditation and the adequate response to every need.

God is not limited to these manifestations (God is infinite and all pervading, eh?) but certainly that quiet, bubbly life giving joy one can feel in and as a result of deep meditation is as tangible as the fingers of my right hand. Further, a life of faith yields in every circumstance the subtle and hidden guidance, comfort, and insight of the divine hand.

It was a stunning revelation to me when I first read Yogananda’s autobiography that God could be known as joy, as peace, as a deep and pure love in my heart, as an expanding light or an expanding sense of power or calmness. No more would I have to pine away thinking God as “other” and beyond the pale of possible knowing.

Later as a disciple of Yogananda and as my attunement to him (and his life and teachings) grew, I began to see that in knowing him, and in feeling his presence in subtle but consistent ways, by this too, I had the direct perception of God’s presence. For as Yogananda said to his disciples, “I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this form but He.”

Many people like to imagine or feel God’s presence in nature, in kindness, and in creativity. This too is possible, certainly, and saints have so testified.

How can we distinguish our desire and active imagination or subconscious promptings from the real deal?

That takes practice, calmness, and intense self-honesty. But it is not as difficult as you might think. To know God, we must be still and very quiet; humble and reverent; we must ask that He come to us; we must be open to His coming in any form but especially open to His coming in the form of those whom he sends: those Christ-like saviors who in every age descend for the upliftment of mankind.

To “worship God in spirit and in truth” means also that we must act in God-like ways: charitably, without ego, unselfishly, acting in moderation and self-control, and actively seeking His will in everything we do.

As Krishna promises devotees everywhere, “Even a little practice of this inward religion will free you from dire fears and colossal sufferings.” And as St. John the Apostle wrote in the first chapter of his gospel, “As many as received Him gave He the power to become the sons of God.”

Meditation is the science of religion. If we will learn a tried and true technique and follow the counsel given above in attitude and in activity, we WILL KNOW GOD. Paramhansa Yogananda said, “The time for knowing God has come!” The means he brought from India for this is the technique he called Kriya Yoga.

For more information on Kriya Yoga, you can begin at our website:

Blessings and joy to you,
Nayaswami Hriman