Monday, December 23, 2013

That Night When Christ was Born!

What a wonderful story the birth of Jesus is! Did you know, however, that the custom of erecting a nativity scene in honor of Jesus' birth did not begin for a thousand years and was started by St. Francis near Assisi, Italy?

Now, two thousand years later, how relevant is it to assert or deny the virgin birth? Or, the appearance of the heavenly hosts? Or, the presentation of the Three Wise Men from the East?

Joseph Campbell, the famous "mythologist," has helped modern Americans reconnect with the reality that a story can be meaningful and true with or without being a fact. The Bible stories, the Hindu Ramayana and Mahabharata, creation myths and on on show us that "truth is greater and more true than mere facts."

The power of the nativity lies in its hidden message. Like art, including music, it affirms a reality that our intellect is too dull (or distracted) to comprehend (or notice) but which our heart and soul knows, embraces and celebrates.

Orthodox Christians, viewing the nativity story from the point of view of theology and belief, limit their understanding to a literal interpretation of what they believe are the facts of Jesus' birth. I don't have a problem with that but it doesn't address the real issue: the power of this story to uplift generations for centuries in the embrace of its power, love, and light.

Really, after all: millions go to Christmas Eve Services and many don't normally go to church or have an orthodox religious life at all. Is their attendance merely a well worn habit? For some, yes. But for all? No, I don't think so. Millions, some not even Christians, surely feel a special grace or blessing of kinship with all during the Christmas season. There is a famous story from World War I when the close-by but opposing armies in the trenches came out to celebrate with one another one dark and cold Christmas Eve. Stories of spontaneous generosity are so omnipresent during Christmas that it makes no special point to remember any of them!

It is true that babies always attract a fair amount of ooohing and aaahing but Gee Whiz, two thousand years ago? We wax wistful and brotherly (sisterly) at the sight or thought of this child -- his birth, his life, his death, and resurrection. We know this child has for us a message that is true. It is a message of hope, of reassurance, of safety, of security, of love without condition and without end.

The hidden message is, at least in part, said plainly in Sanskrit, from India, from the Chandogya Upanishad: Tat Twam Asi. This "grand pronouncement" of the eternal teaching (Sanaatan Dharma) means, simply, "Thou art That." 

We recognize ourselves in that child for we, too, are eternal and "Before Abraham, I AM." (John 8:15) Further, Psalm 82:6 reminds us that "I have said, ye are gods, and all of you are children of the most high."

None of this denies the divinity of Jesus, the Christ (the annointed). The Star of Bethlehem, "His star," presages and symbolizes that this one is a true "son of God" and "one with the Father." So, too, the meaning of the virgin birth. But the difference between Jesus' spiritual realization and our own is matter of degree not kind. We have yet to awaken fully to our sonship in God. And that awakening was the purpose of his birth, and the incarnation of every such son of God whether it be Buddha, Krishna, or any number of world teachers, avatars, who come fully awakened in God. They come for but one purpose: to bring prodigal souls, souls thirsty and hungry for truth and God-realization, back to their home in God consciousness.

This is the hidden message of the nativity. It follows, though more by deduction, than intuition, that the birth of the hidden Christ within us requires action on our part. We must imitate His birth in the meaning of the symbols of his birth: the manger which was but a stable represents humility. Humility is the first condition of our spiritual awakening. Humility does not mean self-deprecation but realization of the wonder of creation, the smallness of our ego, and our need for and desire to love God, that Being of Love who is Infinite and the essence of all Life. To have this realization is the perspective of Infinity and it must needs be a form of humility for the ego.

The quietness of the animals in the stable means that our animal appetites must lie down and render service to this inner Christ. We have need of food, for example, but only in the context of nourishment not food greed, and to keep the body fit as a temple of our God!

The shepherds who watch over the flocks are our thoughts which herd (direct) our actions. These shepherds must come and worship this Christ and in so doing become protectors of our thoughts and actions directed toward selflessness, toward nobility, and toward devotion.

The Three Wise Men who come to worship the Christ child reveal to us that to our aid will come, if we seek and let them, wise teachers, both living and now gone, whose teachings can assist us to develop wisdom, devotion, and self-control.

King Herod, or King Ego, stands ready to massacre this child, and indeed, this child as it is born in others around us. We must flee to Egypt until he dies. Egypt here means we must seek the company of other truth seekers and avoid the soul-killing company of worldly people and circumstances. Until the ego has died (at least sufficiently to no longer challenge Christ the (inner) King), we must remain in the protection of the like-minded. Indeed, spiritually speaking, only highly advanced souls can afford to live apart from society or, in any case, without the ongoing support of other spiritually mind people.

As any newborn child, this inner Christ will need protection and nurturing until he can be "about my Father's business!" We must have daily prayer and meditation, and develop right attitudes of servicefulness, devotion, and right living: compassionate and kindly.

This is the good news of Jesus' birth. What it does mean to be good news because we are "saved?" The appearance of divinity in human form and in one who has achieved oneness with the Father through many incarnations is good news because it means we can do it too. It's also good news because (the bad news is) we can't do it by ourselves alone. It is the ego that awakens to the possibility of soul freedom but it is already trapped. A true savior, or guru-preceptor, has the spiritual power to "lift up the serpent in the wilderness" and thus to lift the serpent of delusion up in the wilderness of spiritual purification, prayer, meditation and self-offering, and, to transform the base metal of ego consciousness into the gold (brass) of the soul.

The good news of the birth of such a one is therefore two-fold: one, "we can do it, too," and two, " And, He is here to help us." Some are more attracted and in tune with other such avatars, like Buddha, Krishna, and in our times Paramhansa Yogananda, or others like Paramhansa Ramakrishna, and even great saints who, while not entirely free, serve to help others spiritually. The realization of others is not our concern. We must walk the path to freedom according to our heart's direction: to Jesus, or to others. Thousands were disciples of St. Francis but he was, in turn, a disciple of Jesus and one of the greatest (and the first to receive the stigmata, the wounds of Christ on his own body).

Let us both celebrate and get to work on achieving soul freedom. "The time for knowing God has come" Paramhansa Yogananda declared. Meditation, including Kriya Yoga, is for everyone and is the greatest single aid to soul freedom through self-effort.

A blessed and bliss-ed Christmas and New Year to all,

Swami Hrimananda aka Hriman

Friday, December 20, 2013

Will the Real Christ Please Come to Christmas this Year!

A door that leads to the outside also leads to the inside. A cup is said to be either half empty or half full. Both are true, but one may be more useful than the other.If you are trying to get outside the house, the fact that the door goes outside is keenly of interest to you. If you are dying of thirst, the half cup of water is earnestly appreciated.

The famous interchange in the New Testament that begins with Jesus asking his disciples, "Who do men say I am," is like that door or that cup. Most people, whether during Jesus' life or down through the centuries, see only the man Jesus, who lived in a particular time, said specific things, and lived in Palestine under Roman occupation. Others see his form, his words, and his actions as doorways to divinity itself. I would go further and say, as I have often said, that the answer to Jesus' question to his disciples is the same for him as it is for you or me. The one disciple who answered Jesus' question correctly was, as you probably know, Peter who said, "Thou art the Christ, son of the living God."

The Hindu "bible," the Bhagavad Gita, is a conversation between Lord Krishna (the Hindu equivalent of Jesus), and Arjuna (Krishna's Peter). In both scriptural conversations ("Who do men say I am?") and the Bhagavad Gita, the master (the guru: Jesus, or Krishna) reveals his divine nature as "one with the Spirit (Father)."

The incarnate form of divinity is like that door or that cup of water. As it is Christmas, we'll stick now to the subject of Jesus. Jesus, you, and I, and metaphysically speaking, every atom of creation, are what I say, tongue-in-cheek, "bi-polar." We have a dual nature. (In fact, like the Trinity, we have a triune nature, but let's hold that thought for now.)

While Christians may insist that Jesus' claim was an exclusive one, a careful and intuitive reading of the New Testament reveals this cannot be so. For example, St. John's gospel in Chapter 1 asserts that "As many as received Him gave he the power to become the sons of God." (Note "sons" is plural.) Jesus told his disciples "these things I do (miracles etc.), greater things will you do."

For the human soul to aspire to know God directly, as a Spirit -- infinite, omnipresent, omniscient, all-pervading etc. etc. -- is a tall order. How can you love or even approach something so abstract, so beyond human comprehension? By seeing God, God-consciousness, God's goodness, wisdom, love and so on incarnate in a human being we can relate more meaningfully. Nor does such a fact demean either us or God, for the very universe itself is a manifestation of God's intention, consciousness, and goodness. Yet form (whether subtle such as various forms of energy or gross such a physical objects and human bodies), the universe also cloaks that divinity.

The world, including our bodies and acquired personality traits, dutiful activities, and desires, is both a doorway into and toward the hidden divinity, and, a door that keeps us outside and apart from that divinity. Well meaning adherents or disciples of a great teacher all too often miss the point, mistaking the form of their guru (his appearance, his words, his actions) as the essence and that essence as to be distinguished from all other forms, teachers, teachings and so on. Only true and wise disciples see through the form to the divinity which animates the form and in that broad perspective recognize the divinity in other forms, other great teachers, and, indeed, in all people and all creation.

Is Jesus Christ, however, the "only" begotten son of God? Is he somehow qualitatively different than Krishna, Buddha, and others? Is Jesus Christ, or Krishna, or Buddha direct incarnations of God: God taking on human form?

God has already taken human form in you and I! And, in all creation. This has already happened, in other words. The only greater thing that can happen is for those forms to become self-aware of that divine nature, to become as Paramhansa Yogananda and others have described it, Self-realized in our divine nature. This doesn't deny or reject our form (our human form and nature); rather, it elevates and ennobles the human body and persona to true goodness and godlike qualities.

Jesus announced that "I and my Father are One!" For this alleged blasphemy he was killed by the religious authorities for whom such a claim was the ultimate threat to their privileged lives and positions. Yet he had a body and, one presumes and can sense from reading his words and considering his actions, a personality of his very own.

Thus Paramhansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi), whose own followers including me, believe that he was also "one with the Father," taught that when the soul, after countless incarnations, at last achieves Self-realization, the soul retains characteristically unique traits which, in order to be incarnate at all, are both necessary and part and parcel, eternally, of the soul's Being. Oneness, in other words, does not destroy or sublimate the soul into some amorphous mass consciousness. The soul can plunge into God, swimming in Infinity, but is not destroyed and may, if called upon by other souls (not yet free in God) seeking spiritual enlightenment through the vehicle of that soul and the deep bond between them, reemerge with its unique traits as yet intact. This free soul may take physical form (then becoming an "avatar") or appear in vision, or render assistance through thought-inspirations. In this way devotees have prayed to their respective gurus for many centuries after the guru's human incarnation. In so doing, they have been uplifted, taught, and received true communion with God.

Our nature, then, is divinity in form and therefore dual (or as I like put it, "bi-polar"). But it is also triune because the bridge between these two is the vibration of God from which all forms manifest. God beyond and untouched by creation (as "the Father"), vibrates His consciousness with intention, intelligence, and love in order to "boot-up" or initialize creation. All things in form are moving on the atomic, sub-atomic, chemical and electrical levels, if not in outward appearances (think rocks or minerals). The intelligence of a star, a tree, or a human is hidden because intelligence is "no thing." But the evidence of its intelligence is the form and its functions (including self-perpetuation) that clothes (even as it cloaks) that intelligence. Trees look like trees; chickens, chickens, and so on.

This vibratory energy of creation has many names. It is chanted as Aum, Amen, Amin, Hum, or Ahunavar. It is called the Holy Ghost or the Divine Mother because being holy, pure, a virgin it is the "stem cell" vibration underlying and out which all things become differentiated and take separate form.

The divine intelligence or nature that exists in creation is the only begotten and true son of God. Like a true human son, this intelligence reflects the image of its father, having the intention and attributes of divinity, at least in latent potential. Jesus was the Christ, or anointed one, because he had realized his divinity both within his form and beyond his form in the Father. We all are Christs but we, by contrast, have not yet realized that and cannot yet demonstrate mastery over life and death itself, as Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, and Yogananda demonstrated to close disciples.

Yogananda called his mission to the world the Second Coming of Christ not because he claimed to be Jesus but because the second coming takes place in the birth of the Christ child of divine consciousness in our own heart and mind and soul.

So, will the real Christ come to Christmas? That depends on you! "Tat twam asi." "Thou art That," it says in the scriptures of India. This is who we should say we are! Who am I? I am the Christ, the son of the living God! (Then behave accordingly!) Be careful, however, for he who says he is, isn't. He who says he isn't, isn't. He who knows, knows. One should not boast nor say "I am God." Rather, "God has become this form."

With the blessings of the great ones of self-mastery, we can be guided to Self-realization. Attune yourself to them. Study their lives, teachings, and actions, and make them your own. Walk like St. Francis in the footsteps of the master and He will help you to be free as He is Now.

Meditate daily, serve selflessly, endure hardship and difficulties with equanimity and cheerfulness, and watch and wait, for, "like a thief in the night, He will come!

Christmas blessings to all, and to all, a good night!

Swami Hrimananda aka Hriman

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Why I Believe in Santa Claus--and so does Patanjali from the Yoga Sutras!

In Paramhansa Yogananda's commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, specifically the yamas and niyamas (the "do's" and the "don'ts"), he emphasizes the consciousness underlying the precept and not merely its literal application to daily life. Not surprisingly, therefore, his foremost public service teaching disciple, Swami Kriyananda (founder of Ananda's worldwide work), carries this theme into his now classic text, The Art and Science of Raja Yoga. 

So, for example, in the yama of non-lying (satya), Yogananda asked the question (pertinent to his lifetime) that if you were living in Germany and hiding Jews from the Gestapo, would it be dharmic (righteous) to tell the Gestapo who show up at your door that "Oh, yes, I've been hiding them.....look behind that wall"? The obvious answer is NO! Thus, he would explain that to be truthful can't always be applied literally.

Swami Kriyananda gave the additional example that it can be a dharmic application of the yama of ahimsa (non-violence) to act in either self-defense (including a just war) or for the defense of others for whom you have the duty of protection to even have to kill another person. Self-defense in a just cause does not presume or require one to hate, he would add. To be harmless is to be devoid of the impulse, desire or tendency to get revenge, to hurt other people whom you don't like, to gossip or be judgmental. To be truthful includes ridding oneself of the tendency to wish things were different than they are, or to dwell in merely imaginary wishful thinking, or holding on to the past, which cannot be changed. And so on through the different yamas.

Patanjali was speaking therefore of a state of consciousness and to the reality that we need only to step away from false identifications and impulses to realize or become what we are already when we are centered not in things or sense experience but in the Self within: kind, truthful, and appropriate in thought and deed.

Swami Kriyananda told the story that, as a small boy, he asked his father whether Santa Claus was real. His father was more literal in his application of being truthful and confessed that "No, Santa Claus is not real." Swamiji (then, little Donald) was crushed. Later in his own life, indeed as an elderly man, Swamiji in telling that story would add, with an appropriate twinkle in his eye, "I still believe in Santa Claus."

Who is Santa Claus? We read stories of St. Nicholas, taking different names and with variations on the story of his compassion and charity, from different cultures. His story and persona persist Christmas after Christmas despite all reason, all facts, all knowledge about sleighs, reindeer, and chimneys. "A fact is not a truth." Truth is beneficial; it is healing; it connects with a greater and broader truth.

Is not Santa Claus the ideal and the embodiment, indeed, the human incarnation of generosity, compassion, kindness and everything good and jolly about him?

Can we not say, therefore, on the basis of a higher truth, that "Yes, Santa Claus exists." He is in you and me. He lives in us to the degree we express his lovable qualities of kindness, humor, self-giving and so on. Therefore, he lives on!

So next time your son or daughter, niece or nephew, or a small child anywhere asks, "Is Santa Claus real" or "Do you believe in Santa Claus" you can say YES, and, if helpful, quote Patanjali.

Ho, ho, ho.......Merry Christmas, and to all goodwill and peace on earth!

Swami Hrimananda!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Seclusion is the Price of Greatness: My Week, and How & Why to Do It!

I have just completed my annual week of seclusion. By seclusion I mean a personal and private spiritual retreat in prayer, meditation, study and silence (both outward and inward). It was Paramhansa Yogananda (whose teachings I follow as a disciple) who uttered the words which are the title of this piece: “Seclusion is the Price of Greatness.”

So, yes, I had a “great” seclusion! Ok, that’s a funny. By “greatness” I suppose Yogananda (PY) must have meant many things but for me I see that in this time spent alone with God and Guru, the greatness of one’s spirit are “made manifest.” When one’s only task is to “go within,” one has the opportunity to feel the vastness of Spirit that lies behind the mundane details and preoccupations of daily life.

Is it easy? Is it fun? Well, no, and no. There’s a lot more than just “joy within you”. One must combat desires, restlessness, aching limbs and back, gnawing hunger, withdrawal symptoms from one’s minor vices, and on and on. There are fears, too. As PY put it, “the soul LOVES to meditate but the ego hates to meditate.” There is a fear of losing oneself in the inner silence; there arises sudden and inexplicable “needs” to do housework, to get up from meditation and adjust the curtains, or to cook something one has never bothered to make (or even liked) before! Demons of regrets and self-judgment rise to slay the peace of meditation. They must be grappled with and the best solution is to call upon God and guru and to remain steadfastly calm and focused at the spiritual eye. One must refuse to yield to their portrayal of your self as unworthy or unfit for spiritual freedom and upliftment.   

Yet, for all the obstacles, there come meditation periods when grace kicks in, thoughts mysteriously retreat into silence, and the inner light of joy dawns like the rising sun in summer! Deep and long prayers to the guru, by visualization or inner feeling, bring floods of peace and wisdom-insights. Calmness, deep and abiding, descends into every body cell like invisible healing rays of divine life. Life bubbles up like a spring of crystal clarity, with eyes seeing the world afresh and anew.

During seclusion I can chant without having to keep in rhythm for others chanting with me. I can go into deep whisper chanting; single-note chanting, off-key, on-key but all welling up as if the words were never sung before by anyone except perhaps my guru, and my teacher, Swami Kriyananda. If I awaken in the middle of night I can sit up and meditate without disturbing anyone!

This last week’s seclusion is the first to take place for me after the death of Swami Kriyananda last April (2013). He feels more present now because he is freed from the confines of his frail and elderly body.

Most years I bring one deeper book of Yogananda’s or Kriyananda’s to study from and find inspiration. This year I felt to dispense with reading except a little light reading (about the history of India) to give my mind a period break from the intensity of meditation and inner silence.

In my seclusions (which I have taken each year for a week since, hmmm, the late 80’s) food is greatly simplified. I used to do strict fasting but that puts more attention on the body and feeding it than a simple, light, fresh fare. Food is fortunately for me not much of a distraction, as I have never been a cook. In seclusion and at home I use my Vitamix blender which easily combines fresh fruit and vegetables for rapid and painless consumption. I also steam some veggies but minimize carbohydrates (avoiding bread or rice), eliminate sweets, and use few spices. I still have my morning cup of coffee.

In some past years I come into seclusion very tired and spent from intense activity. Not this year, fortunately. At such times it is not uncommon to need one or two days of rest before commencing more seriously longer periods of meditation. Concentration in meditation is “hard work, but good work!” This year I felt a touch of fatigue, mostly mental, but I also felt the effects of detoxing as I began my lean fast of wheatgrass and other green-healthy yummies after Thanksgiving feasting. This past quickly, however.

During seclusion I have the opportunity to go much deeper in my yoga practices: a daily stretching routine, for sure, but, more importantly meditation. This includes various pranayams as commonly taught and the particular ones emphasized by Yogananda and my teacher. The most important of these is kriya yoga, for which there are several levels of kriya. I can take the time to explore, go deep and go beyond all techniques into silence. I have the luxury, too, born of the depth and time and space of seclusion together with guru’s grace to practice as inwardly guided. Perfect stillness steals upon one at the most surprising moments. The end of any given exhalation may be blessed with perfect stillness of breath and mind into One.

Alone with God, the day (indeed, the week) is yours and His. I find, therefore, that I follow a natural rhythm of concentration and relaxation, both in meditation and in calm, inward activities between meditation periods. Such activities include going for a run, doing yoga stretches, splitting wood and tending the wood stove (it’s quite cold this year here), preparing and having my simple meals, showering and even taking rest breaks. I follow the inner movement of energy and thereby establish a natural pace that isn’t forced or apt to create inner tension. In meditation I can alter techniques and even suspend them if I sense the approach of the King of Peace.

This year I’ve been especially inspired to focus on Yogananda’s presence and that too of Swami Kriyananda. Asking each for guidance at various points during meditation and throughout the day. I do this by silent, inner dialogue or prayer; or, other times, by visualizing their image in silence, wordlessly asking for guidance or for the feeling of their presence. While this is always a part of any disciple’s sadhana (“spiritual practices”), for me this year it taken front and center place.

I have returned home now, today, Friday, December 6. For days with temperatures below freezing the mountains with a carpet of fresh snow, and Mt. Baker, were in their glory. At dawn and dusk, they’d be wreathed in pink and red hues, as if to “reach up for the heights!” I have been blessed with two special graces in this week: both very private, but both fundamental to my life’s unfoldment. I pray that I can carry them forward as a permanent grace.

So, how do you take a seclusion? Well: one day at time? I suggest you start at home with a morning (or a few hours) of meditation, prayer and study. Chose a time when no one else is around. Do this once or more during the year. As you feel, expand into a whole day and then, later, into a weekend.

In addition, go on retreat with others at least once a year (twice a year is better). On retreat you get accustomed to deeper spiritual practices and maintaining an uplifted consciousness. Some retreats are silent retreats and these are very helpful. (Here in Seattle all of our retreats are silent retreats.)

If you try to bite off too much too fast, you might crash and burn. By this I mean that the mind (and body), unaccustomed to sensory deprivation, will rebel and you might find yourself plopping down and reading a romance novel, sitting at the computer surfing the net, binging on junk food, or otherwise becoming discouraged for not feeling any inspiration, or being able to meditate deeply etc. etc. Build your seclusion muscles naturally and gradually because outer and inner relaxation is the key to success.

Most yogi-friends who I know don’t take their first real seclusion sometimes for years after establishing the daily habit of meditation and adopting a yogic lifestyle (usually vegetarian diet, plus fellowship with like-minded souls, selfless service to the work of yoga and so on).

In addition to having spiritual reading material, plan to do some journaling, too. Meditate in bite size chunks so as not to exhaust the brain and nervous system, or to create aches and pains in the protesting body joints.

Should you take seclusion at home? Only if that’s your best choice. In principle and practice, best to get away from your usual environment. Find a place that is sacred and dedicated to meditation and devotion. Ananda’s retreat centers (near Assisi, Italy, Pune, India, and Nevada City, CA) have various ways to accommodate retreats (including classes, workshops and training) and personal retreat or seclusion. Recently, the Ananda Meditation Retreat near Nevada City re-opened for personal retreat and private, personal seclusion. Here in the greater Seattle area on Camano Island, we have a Hermitage (a single family home) dedicated and available for this purpose. As a result of having the Hermitage so near to the Ananda Community in Lynnwood, WA, many more members have begun the practice of taking seclusion than ever before.

The “greatness” PY speaks of has, as I said initially, many levels of meaning. When we are too much around others, too much involved and identified with our work and family, we lose sight of the innate greatness of our soul (and that of others!). Most people on this planet have never been alone for more than a short time. So, for some it can be daunting even to think about. The price of greatness is to know that we are never alone, for God is always with us, within us, and all around. The price of knowing is seclusion. The opportunity for seclusion is privilege and a grace. Embrace it!

Your very Self,

Swami Hrimananda!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Day of Thanksgiving!

Here in America we have the excellent and inspired tradition of a day of giving Thanks to God for the bounty of life. The (perhaps) apocryphal story of the Native Americans bringing food to the settlers in New England expresses the essential theme and ideal of America as a place where all can live in harmony. An affirmation, mind you, but one that has brought millions of immigrants to this continent and nation and has inspired untold others to dream of freedom from oppression.

It isn’t necessary that that America and its citizens and government express this ideal perfectly or imperfectly. Do not you and I but imperfectly do so in our personal lives? It does matter that we as a nation and a people aspire to the best of our ability to do so, however.

Many, including myself, feel that America has lost touch with the ideals upon which it was so grandly founded. I suppose our very success undermined our commitment and understanding. I for one and only one among millions both here and throughout the world, feel that the need to uphold these principles of liberty, respect, equality, and justice is greater now than ever before.

My prayer today and everyday is that America and its citizens may someday re-establish our connection with these high ideals. For now, however, I doubt this is possible until or unless we are reinvigorated by the compelling necessity of challenges and tragedy. Such is the stubborn and somewhat perverse nature of habit. But I still believe it is America’s destiny to do so and if it takes strong medicine than “what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger.”

I won’t say I am “grateful” on this day of Thanksgiving for our national loss of idealism, but I accept that it, too, can be used by the Divine Wisdom and Will for a greater good because there are sufficient numbers of us who are open to being instruments of that will — however imperfectly may be our efforts.

The best way to express, energize, and uplift our national consciousness is to live it in our own, daily lives. This means to be accepting of others and their rights and opinions; to be willing to dialogue with them when appropriate; to participate calmly and responsibly in your civic duties, to be a visible and willing participant in your local community (and church or other such forms of fellowship), to be a caretaker and steward for our natural resources and environment, and generally to live these ideals in thought, word, and deed. Honesty and integrity in your work, applying your talents and intelligence productively and creatively, to mentor and help co-workers as appropriate, to be a peace maker and not a gossip or negative influence at work (or school etc.), and to live within your means, to be generous and charitable with your material resources, to be prepared to help yourself and neighbors in the event of natural or other disasters, grow your own food, and generally to live simply and with contentment!

Paramhansa Yogananda, the renowned teacher from India whose life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi” has been read by millions, championed the future spread of small intentional communities outside of the cities. In such environments with like-minded people, he predicted, the negative influences of unhealthy city life and the pressures of globalization could be mitigated by simple living and high ideals. I believe that time is fast approaching. Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013) and the members of Ananda worldwide have established nine such communities on three continents. Countless other communities ranging from co-housing to spiritual communities exist and flourish on every continent. Such is the natural instinct of human nature to seek others of like-mind. In this new age of universal education, advancing technology, communication, and travel, this tendency is necessary to balance the scales of global and impersonal forces, of galloping consumption, and a tragic and threatening disconnection from the world of nature and the world of other people as equals and individuals.

Let us give thanks, then, for the Divine wisdom that appears in hearts and minds seeking truth and harmony. Let us give thanks to those divine messengers who, in every age, race and nation, come to trumpet the “truth that shall make us free.” Finally, let us give thanks for our own efforts and those of others who strive to live by high ideals of honesty, integrity, compassion, creativity, and devotion to the Supreme Giver and Creator!

Joy to You, my very Self,

Swami Hrimananda, Thanksgiving, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Kriya Yoga and World Evolution & Revolution!

Since the dawn of the scientific and industrial era on this planet, orthodox religion has been in retreat, defeated at every encounter, by reason and its applied powers of experimentation, proof, and practicality. No matter that our reason can also be ruthless and used for exploitation, violence, and destruction. The potential for reason to show the futility of negative or harmful behavior is touted as sufficient -- no other-worldly God, needed, thank you very much!

Humanity is in a race against time and the inadequacies of reason. The godless scientific attitudes of survival of the fittest, the clash of the classes, materialism, win-at-all-costs politics and power, ruthless competition, and the sacred cows of entitlement and self-interest are rushing us like lemmings to our mutual destruction over the cliff of “what’s in it for me?”

Sorry to have to tell you, atheists and scoffing humanists: reason alone is inadequate to the task of seeing the golden rule applied universally among nations and peoples. Put more bluntly: it ain’t gonna happen. What our reasoning minds have yet to admit or even see is that greed, violence, poverty, and abuse (inter alia evils) are powers or levels of consciousness that, while appearing in individual humans and their actions, are greater than any single individual. We are influenced by our family, our culture, and, more importantly (since individual actions often cannot be traced to these environmental or even genetic influences), by subtle influences which can only generally described as “radio stations” of varying types of consciousness enabling prenatal tendencies (from past lives). Why, e.g., might a child raised in a “good home,” turn to a criminal lifestyle? Why do substance addictions or pornography or human trafficking persist (or even grow) in the face of so-called “modern education?”

I will admit together with those who are also “spiritual but not religious” that orthodox religion deserves its fate of declining adherents. But like all institutions of influence it is struggling mightily to keep its place. I read of one church that serves beer as a focal point of interest to attract its congregation!

The body, mind and spirit-numbing and harmful effects of industrialization and now globalization (though not without their benefits) have prompted sensitive souls throughout the world to cry out for inspiration and true spiritual upliftment. As a young Catholic boy studying the life of Jesus and the saints, I recall bemoaning what seemed to be the absence of saints and sanctity in a world that has placed even rainbows in the catalog of ordinary things explained analytically.

Scriptures and saints of east and west have always attested to the role of God, through human  instruments, to intervene in human and planetary history. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna promises to appear “whenever virtue declines and vice predominates.” The Christian Bible, both Old and New Testaments, are nothing less than a story of the “Word made flesh and dwelt amongst us.”

In response to this call of aspiring hearts, there took place in a cave in the Himalayan foothills in 1861, a meeting between renowned but secretive yoga master -- the peerless and now famous “Babaji” -- and a humble accountant from Benares who was initiated into a powerful and central meditation technique to which was given the generic name, “Kriya Yoga.” Babaji told this married-with-children householder, Shyama Charan Lahiri, that this technique would spread throughout all lands and would aid in establishing world peace based upon direct perception of one’s indwelling divinity and kinship with God and God-in-all.

The spread of kriya yoga is now a historical fact. Its use grows exponentially throughout the world. First brought to America and the West by the renowned yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the popular “Autobiography of a Yogi,” kriya yoga is spreading through not only Yogananda and his disciples but through many branches of teachers related in various ways to Babaji and Lahiri Mahasaya. (Not all techniques labelled “kriya” are the same, however. Best to do one’s homework in this regard. The internet, travel and communication have their downside, too,of course.)

Kriya Yoga expresses the spiritual science which is the corollary to the material sciences. As the natural sciences reveal a vast outer universe, so the yoga science reveals the far vaster inner world of consciousness: the source of all created things. As materialistic scientific “progress” brings comforts and knowledge, so meditation brings inner peace and wisdom. As control of nature can yield material wealth, so control of the mind yields happiness free of outer circumstances. As our planet searches desperately for clean, cheap, and abundant energy sources, so Kriya Yoga puts the yogi in touch with cosmic energy: the source of life, creativity, health and divinity.

As Yogananda put it, it is time in the history of humanity for the best of East and West to be united in the common and divine purpose of uplifting humanity in material and spiritual realms. Harmony of earth and heaven and spirit and nature is needed for the survival and sustainability of humanity and all life on earth.

As 19th and 20th century material “progress” shouted down the “old time religions” with promises of unending prosperity, health, security and pleasure, and as science proclaimed the insignificance of human life in the face of the scientific facts and the inviolate rule of the law of survival as the mechanism of life itself, tens of millions suffered or perished in the struggles between socialism, communism, and capitalism. But as science purported to show our insignificance in the face of a vast cosmos and of epochs of geologic time, so meditation reveals the vastness of human consciousness which is “center everywhere, circumference nowhere.” (Autobiography of a Yogi) Our significance is not as an ego with a human body that is tiny and lasts only a brief time, but as a spark of Infinite consciousness out of which this vast universe has come.

Yogananda predicted many challenges for humanity before his death in 1952. Though he didn’t specifically use terms like global warming, he saw the materialistic and exploitative trends of modern society, big business, war-enriched industries, and global power. He foresaw an economic depression on scale far exceeding the 1930’s during which the dollar would become all but worthless. He saw many wars to come and the appearance of what he called international criminals (and we call terrorists). After much worldwide suffering, he said humanity would experience two hundred years of peace--so sick of warfare would we become.

The pace of consumption of natural resources on this planet is unsustainable. The lifestyles of countries whose relative wealth and comfort was leveraged by cheap and plentiful energy resources (both natural and human) at the expense of other nations is doomed. Wealth creation by fiat money without regard to any measure of value or useful productivity cannot last. Many governments, national and local, around the world are de facto bankrupt. So-called democracies are being strangled by their dependency on constituents who demand their entitlements in return for their vote without regard for the fiscal consequences, the greater good or their own civic and personal responsibilities. Increasingly it would appear that multi-national corporations, including makers of weapons of vast destruction, hold the reins of apparent power.

There is, however, a rising tsunami of shifting consciousness that is forming to fight these crushing global forces. We lovers of peace are not yet strong and haven’t learned the necessity of personal sacrifice as modelled to us by Gandhi and M.L. King, but our time is coming to enable the worldwide revolution that is needed and is coming. We are not interested in simply replacing ourselves in positions of power (political, economic, or religious). We are forming networks of sustainable communities (of all types) that emphasize the importance of individual creativity and initiative, and our essential unity as children of God. We are the hope for a better world. But we, too, must pass through the “valley of the shadow of death,” meaning personal commitment and self-sacrifice. Meditation, however, including kriya yoga, is at the heart of our revolution. This not another “ ism “ but a shift in consciousness based not on mere belief but actual, individual experience and Self-realization.  Yogananda predicted that in the centuries ahead the concept of “Self-realization” (the necessity of personal, direct, intuitive perception of divinity) would be accepted by religionists of every stripe. This is seen already in what is now accepted as a growing tide of “spiritual but not religious.”

There are practical ways to prepare for challenging circumstances but that is another subject altogether. The greatest protection, however, lies within you, and meditation is the key. Learn to meditate; check out kriya yoga; find others who share your ideals and practices; move out of cities if you can, especially with others; grow your own food; live simply; be prepared for difficult times; don’t depend on the government!

Meditation is for everyone, regardless of belief or religious affiliation. With meditation one readily comprehends his unity with all life and with Giver of life. No special distinctive creed or ritual is needed. Chapter 26 of Yogananda’s autobiography describes kriya well (read online for free at It is the science of how higher consciousness is developed, experienced, and nurtured in the holy temple of the human body and consciousness. It is the science of “finding happiness.” (A movie of this title has just been released: the story of Ananda and finding happiness within. (

Joy is our “gun!” Stand tall and smile wide! Rejoice, for “We are Won!”

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The All Seeing " I " or "not"? What is Mind-full-ness?

A fellow meditation teacher commented that in the midst of a recent class that he was teaching, he suddenly became self-conscious and found that the flow of inspiration stopped. Being also a professional artist with a very creative and visual way of self-expression, he described it this way when I asked him to write it up:

 ....everything was going fine, until the eyeball turned around and looked at me. Then I found my mouth talking words but now without meaning.  Empty words....A little later, this happened a second time, the eyeball turned around to look at me.  The words again became empty, words without anything behind them.  I knew what to do this time.  Just turn the eyeball back around. It was the ego.  It's empty.  It has nothing.  In trying to do the words, it had nothing to say....So, the the flow needs to be towards others, for others...."

As I have no issue with or need to add further to the comment "the ego is empty and has nothing (of its own)," I feel the subject worth here pursuing is "What is mindfulness?" We hear the term often in articles and books and conversations on meditation. It's more likely to be associated with Buddhist forms of meditation than with yoga lineages. For example, in the tradition that I represent (Kriya Yoga as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda), that term is used only occasionally. 

So what IS mindfulness?

Did my friend, in mid-sentence, suddenly become mindful? Shouldn't mindfulness bring greater calm and sense of connection? For him, his experience emptied his words of both meaning and feeling. He suddenly felt disconnected from himself. In a flash he had a kind of existential crises of meaning. No doubt some self-described intellectual would laud that experience as an authentic encounter. But my friend didn't see it that way, and I trust his "take" on it. 

There are two kinds of mindfulness, just as there are two kinds of flow. In ego consciousness, mindfulness inclines to becoming self-conscious and, as my friend noted above, being self-conscious is when you "freeze-up," so to speak, and no more words come out (or they stumble out like drunks at 2 a.m.). The other kind of mindfulness is of the Self-aware variety which produces the calm out of which words (or actions) flow, to quote Patanjali's "Yoga Sutras," like oil from a drum.

The flow of action similarly can be either "mind-less" as when we get all caught up, avidly or in a panic, in the moment and lose Self-awareness entirely, or, there is a unitive energy flow in which the present Self is fully engaged, as in "one with," the action. A downhill skier or ice skater (or that type of action) would be a typical example where intensity of attention reflects both being "in control" (Self-aware) while the art, grace and responsive skill reflect the flow aspect. BOTH-AND!

As you can "see," the higher mindfulness in both cases is essentially the same. And, I might add, that should be no surprise because "oneness" has no "other."

Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita that one cannot achieve the "actionless state" of Oneness by not acting (or by refusing to engage with life's demands, one's "karma," or one's legitimate duties). Stillness is the precursor to oneness. But stillness is not merely or not only the cessation of motion. It also includes the elimination of the ego principle, or to say it differently, the sense of "doer-ship" and the sense of separateness from the act (of perception) itself.  

Just as playing a video game of race cars doesn't make the race cars real, so too our bodies and personalities are like vehicles which our higher Self uses to drive our Car-ma (Karma) around to complete the errands and lessons for which we incarnated. Just as too many car crashes in the video game will make the game end too soon and we a "loser" because of our lack of skill, so too must we learn how to drive our vehicle with precision and skill so we can complete the tasks we've been given as we grow towards enlightenment and freedom.

The regular practice of scientific meditation techniques which can take us to a deep and calm inner awareness are the most effective way to gradually transform ordinary "fight or fright" ego self-involvement into the state of calm confidence from which we can flow through daily life (including meditation) with greater and greater ease, naturalness, and harmony.

With practice we become aware that this state is not merely our own, but something greater. But trying to describe this in words is where experience ends and philosophy or belief enters. Both belief and philosophy are helpful, but neither should substitute for the only thing that really counts: the actual realization of this harmonic state of Being.

Thus, now, we return to the subject of mindfulness. Is it empty or is it full? To quote the woman saint, Ananda Moyi Ma (see "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramhansa Yogananda), "It IS; and yet, it ISN'T." In fact, there are times when it feels empty and times when emptiness is dynamic with latent potentiality; and, everything in between. "No-thing," sometimes described as Infinity, has neither form nor beginning nor an end, you see?

In many meditation traditions, the techniques taught involve various objects of contemplation, concentration, and meditation. Emptying the mind is just one of many techniques or goals of meditation. Stilling the conscious and subconscious flow of thoughts, mental images, and feelings is best accomplished, for many (if not most of us), by having an alternative focus rather than forcing by will or by relaxation the restless mind from doing what the ego and body-bound mind does best (which is to affirm and protect its separate identity). 

It is no coincidence nor a mere mental trick that the usual "objects" of meditative concentration have their own attraction and often possess an innate psycho-physiological or vibrational power of their own. Examples include watching the breath, feeling the energy within the body, focusing on a mental image either abstract (light or sound) or personal (the guru or a deity), or, a mental repetition of a mantra, affirmation or prayer.

The purpose of one-pointed concentration is to, ultimately, go beyond and merge into and beyond that object into the state of oneness. (Patanjali enumerates some of the stages and aspects of this progression.)

Here, then, we see yet another example of Krishna's advice: how the "action" of concentrating inwardly (combining intention and will with reverence and devotion) leads to the actionless, non-dual state of oneness. Merely "trying" to empty the mind, while certainly possessing worthwhile aspects, is more difficult for our over-stimulated, often toxic, stressed, and electrified (cell phones, computers, EMF's of all kinds) state of mind and body. We are accustomed to acting towards a goal and even if it must be admitted that the meditative state is not the kind of goal that is outside our self,  like winning a promotion. Indeed, the state of oneness, sometimes called superconsciousness, is a state "realized" as always present at the still center of the the merry-go-round of ego involvement. Thus, Krishna's counsel remains as practical today as it was 3,ooo years ago.

Blessings and joy to you who is not, but simply IS I AM,

:-)  Swami Hrimananda

Monday, October 21, 2013

Who Will Win? Republicans or Democrats?

Sometimes they are difficult to tell one from the other. But these days, so polarized are they that it isn’t quite so difficult. Nonetheless to define or characterize them is not easy. There are high-minded, noble partisans and there are the others, as diverse as human nature can be. If I left it at that, I wouldn’t have an article to write, however, And for those who stick with me on this, I assure you there’s point somewhere to be made.

Republicans tend to describe themselves as conservatives: fiscal conservatives, traditional values, mainline religion, God and country first, and finally, “hands off my stuff!” (my business, my family, etc.) Democrats tend to be associated with plurality, diversity, acceptance of alternative lifestyles, compassionate and desirous to help those in need. Well, I know that just as in the rest of politics we could split hairs and argue about these distinctions but I ask, if I must, for your forbearance for the sake brevity and simplicity, lest whatever point I might have, be buried in the “ifs, ands, and buts.”

Conservative, status quo and tradition has been on the run since the very dawn of modernism. Perhaps it began with the Italian Renaissance when men of genius and curiosity stepped out the darkness of medieval consciousness and began boldly to explore the natural world of the human body, biology, astronomy, non-religious philosophy, chemistry and much more. Hot on its heels came the great Protestant revolution (beginning with Martin Luther) and simultaneously the age of world exploration and conquest. The medieval era of unchanging tradition and rigid social and religious castes and customs began to crumble. Advances in knowledge, technology, arts, sciences, medicine and, of course, war, gave birth to the hope for freedom with the appearance of the initially weak but dynamic 13 colonies, now the United States of America.
Change and innovation by men and women of genius, courage, and commitment have been upsetting conservative bastions of “this is how it’s always been” in every generation since!

Still, orthodoxy and conservatism have always managed to regain the reins of power even if new ideas and new forms of populist activism temporarily wrested those reins away. Indeed, in the halls of power, this is the reason most of typically see little difference between the blues and the reds. Once in power, it’s “the same old, same old” song.

The reason the blues and the reds alternate in dominance every so many years is that each has a piece of the trending puzzle of consciousness and change. By definition, neither will ever in the course of history win permanently and forever. From the point of view of consciousness and metaphysical truths, Democrats represent the growing awareness, initiative and energy of the common man, flinging off the shackles of caste and of the past. We are living in the early stages of a long cycle (thousands of years) during which human consciousness (slowly at first, and then with increasing intensity) grows in the awareness of individuality, personal initiative, and an internal yardstick of right action, increasingly independent from external or traditional laws, customs, or forms.

Republicans represent the stability inherent in the calm acceptance of the law (law of karma and right action). “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” With experience and wisdom, a person who early in life was a maverick finds that he becomes, later in life, a conservative. This is for the simple reason that some people realize that basic truths of behavior don’t really change. One might find, later in life, that the most valuable things in life aren’t money or pleasure, but health and friendship—just to describe one common realization.

A person who starts adult life as a stickler for the rules and apt to pounce on those who don’t uphold the “ol-time religion” (whether ethics, politics, caste, or religion) may, later in life, after some struggles and disillusionment, relax and become more accepting of others’ realities and their need to find their own way in life.

Our government today is in a great crises. What is to come will affect not only the fortunes of this nation but of many nations, some of whom share our predicament, and others who will be affected by it. We are bankrupt. The momentum of habit, the existence of ignorance, and the paralysis of fear of change, both in this country and abroad, have kept the masses from hearing the little boy whimpering, “The emperor (dollar) has no clothes!”

The debt crises has galvanized some Republicans over Obamacare for, among other reasons, the fear that it will create an exponential increase in mandated federal entitlements at a time in history, regardless of Obamacare’s long overdue status and intrinsic merits, when it could be the proverbial “straw” which when added to our deficits and consequent debt will topple the dollar into the dustbin and trigger a financial and commercial collapse never before seen in the history of the world.

With so many economies of developed countries in equivalent or worse shape, only blind, habitual, and fear-anchored “faith” in the dollar holds the world’s fragile “fiat” fictionalized trading and lending activities in an evanescent and virtual chimera.

Add to this a wide range of concerns about global warming, declining energy and other natural resources, erosion of water, air and soil quality, exponential increases in population, and the potential for pandemics or mega-cataclysms, one can see why artists in the entertainment and creative arts have produced, for decades now, an unending parade of futuristic movies and books depicting a depleted, ugly and sterile earth, devoid of all but a handful of humans living like beasts! Warning or reality?

Yet millions hope for a better world. Millions associate themselves with trends, ideas, organizations and a culture of stewardship for the earth and responsibility to be channels for the descent of an expanded consciousness from above.

If the Republicans “win” it won’t be against Obamacare but “for” the need to rein in government spending. This goal is now impossible, however. Voters don’t have a clue, any more than their on-paper representatives. No one has the moral authority or political power to stop the train wreck that is coming. The only politically feasible option is to let the government careen out of control and bottom out. Only then will the voters stop arguing about entitlements; the military industrial–industrial complex be temporarily paralyzed; and the pork barrel farm and industry subsidies will shrivel up like crops in a draught. Just imagine, however, the consequences.

The power of big government will be permanently shaken, though in time it will attempt to bestir itself to its former glory. But like the zig-zagging chart of the Dow-Jones Industrials, which though it regains some of its value, the overall trend is southward, or the mad beast who keeps getting back up and shot again but finally succumbs, the long term trend of destiny shines on the individual and on smaller groupings of people. Though I suspect a dark period of “Big Brother” is yet to come, no matter how bleak the winter of our discontent, the Spring of individual initiative is the real hope for a better world.

Blue and Red will always have parts to play in the drama of human affairs. We mustn’t fuss so overly much over their their ever-changing ascendancies and seeming demise. Nor yet will the world end anytime soon.

Have faith not in the dollar of matter but in the gold of Divine Love, Divine Will, and the Divine Presence which, as Jesus and the great ones of east and west have always proclaimed is the “good news” and is the “truth that shall make us free.” Meditation offers the most effective way that anyone, anywhere, and anytime can use to find these pearls “of great price.” Move away from the city if you can. Grow your own food, but in all circumstances, associate with people of like-mind, and you will have a wealth more precious than a king’s ransom.

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Should We be Optimistic or Pessimistic?

Well, both are, at least, "mystics!" By this, I mean now "vague" and "uneasy." There is little more fraught with error than predicting the future. And that's my point, really. It's not the predicted or potential future scenario that should suggest our state of mind. As I enjoy saying: "You have to be present to win." And to take a bad joke further down, it's not the present "tense!"

Be present, then. Be calm, content (without being passive), even-minded (even in adversity), enthusiastic (without dependency on outcomes).......well, you get the idea.

In my last post, I described Dmitry Orlov's book, The Five Stages of Collapse. No doubt someone out there in a digital listening post has already taken note, for this book is subversive to the power status quo. Whereas Facebook postings of my sweet, newborn granddaughter attracted well over one hundred 'likes,' my blog on this book was almost entirely ignored.

Think how few Jews in Germany, even among the small percentage who had the means, got out? To quote Frank Zappa, the weird 60's rock musician social commentator, most think "It can't happen here."

Orlov's admittedly dire predictions based on a worldwide scarce resources consuming binge and red hot government printing presses desperate to hope for never ending economic growth and productivity gains in the future to pay our escalating present debt, are neither shocking nor new. We just think that "it can't happen here!" Those of us of the post world war "baby-boom" have no yardstick of comparable measure for the more commonplace boom and bust and wars and pestilences to which the human drama down through the ages is subject. We have lived truly in a bubble. Travel and communication reveals a very different reality for most of the billions of other inhabitants with whom we share this planet.

It is really NOT a question of optimistic or pessimistic; rather: realistic. The Ananda Community movement has succeeded or has been required to succeed at the margins of mainstream developing countries by banding together, pooling skills and resources, and coming up with products and services to serve the alternative and conscious, simple living community worldwide.

Bear in mind, that Ananda's "mission" is first and foremost a spiritual one: sharing kriya yoga and the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda and his foremost public spokesperson (disciple), Swami Kriyananda. However, it is not entirely possible to separate the two messages. Yogananda was bold in spreading the message of a new age (based on the astrological and intuitive wisdom of his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar) but he was equally blunt in saying it wouldn't be pretty (at first). As spiritual transformation is nothing less than annihilation of the petty ego, the dawn of new age of higher conscious won't be born without birth pangs.

While the spiritual message is indeed for everyone "with ears to hear," so is the second message: be prepared. I, as much as most, do not wish to be associated with some cultish group announcing the end of the world as we know it! But Orlov's book confirms the value of small groups of people helping one another, and others, and developing a new and sustainable way of life for human life on this planet, that we might not only survive to tell a happy story, but that human consciousness might grow towards a greater awareness of the oneness of all life, in outer harmony of action and relationship, in use and consumption of resources, energy, and creative endeavors, and, finally in attunement with God, our creator and true Self. It's a public service, so to speak, where everyone wins!

What part each of us plays in this tide is as unique as we are. But what is offered to see is the radical transformation in us as souls and in society at large, at least in its outer appearance.

It's good news, not bad least for those who can read the "head-lines." "What is Thy will, Lord?" "How can I serve Thee in others?"

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Five Stages of Collapse - Survivors' Toolkit

I am reading the book with this title by Dmitry Orlov. It was given to me as a birthday gift by my friend Cliff Kushler. It's definitely only for the "good, bad and the ugly" nonconformist. I don't challenge anyone to read about the collapse of society as we know it, but if you were open to exploring what it might look like in both theoretical and practical terms, you might find it interesting, at least.

Orlov was born in Russia came to the United States in the 1970's. You can "Google" him and find YouTube videos and Wikipedia.

My spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda, spoke for decades about predictions made by his guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, about the collapse of society and various countries as we know it. Yogananda didn't specify a time frame though he did point to specific countries which would be devastated and to a third world war. He also predicted a "depression" far greater than that of the 1930's.

Orlov, however, brings to a clear and practical focus the possible scenario that Swami Kriyananda warned audiences of to his dying day (earlier this year!). I've known Kriyananda since the 70's myself and not until recent years did it seem to at least possible that a perfect storm of global economic events might possibly produce the catastrophes (war and depression) predicted by Yogananda (up until his death in 1952).

American financial markets came very close to a complete meltdown in the Fall of 2008. Reading various economic accounts in the years since forces me to conclude that the so-called safeguards enacted by legislation since that time are without teeth and all but useless to prevent a recurrence. I cannot pretend to understand the complexity of such things as derivatives, but, according to others, neither can the regulators nor yet even the markets themselves. Yet such financial instruments were left more or less untouched by the so-called market reforms. Warren Buffet is often quoted as calling these instruments "weapons of mass financial destruction."

I don't feel to recount the various global soft spots, economically. This is beyond my frame of interest and knowledge. But I point to you to Orlov's book for a more intelligent and thorough analysis.

What is interesting to me is that one of Yogananda's predictions was that the time would come when intentional communities would "spread like wildfire." Orlov describes in amazing detail what amounts to intentional communities of people who would be needed to rebuild society in the event of the collapse of currency values, financial markets, and especially commercial trading activities. The five stages, by the way, are 1) collapse of financial markets and trust in them; 2) collapse of commercial activity (trading, importing, shipping etc.); 3) collapse of political institutions (dependent on tax revenues); 4) collapse of faith in social structures; 5) collapse of cultural values. The last two are extreme and can be avoided, the author believes, if people can prepare for the possibility of the first two, and even, the third.

If this subject intrigues you, please simply read his book! Again, what interests me is that he sees the reconstitution of society and survival itself as being on the basis of interacting with people you trust. To whatever degree of the five stages of collapse might occur, interacting with people you know and trust is the essence of stability, prosperity (in simple and sustainable living), security, and happiness. So, yes, "like wildfire" may true community spread!

Never before have I read such a focused and detailed analysis of what might lie ahead of us in such a way as to balance the "bad news" with the "good news," and to give practical, down-to-earth suggestions about how to prepare.

I cannot say from my own intuitive insight what may lay ahead. But between my guru's (Yogananda's) warnings, my teacher's counsel, Orlov's writings, and my own instincts, I cannot help but feel this world will be unrecognizable in the next few decades. Scanning the history of human culture, we in the West have lived in a bubble of prosperity, health and relative security and the statement by many that this is, at least in part, based on cheap and plentiful energy sources seems indisputable. As does, the concomitant reality that these cheap energy sources are steadily waning even as the world's population is exploding. A train wreck seems inevitable. Throw into the mix, global warming, terrorism, and possible pandemics, and I think we have a deadly brew inclining to mass loss of life, destruction, and colossally rapid change on a scale unprecedented in human memory.

We in the West are living on borrowed money, borrowed time, and depleted resources. Our comeuppance is due, as if we have tried to cash a check that cannot be cleared. What greater counsel can there be to form communities, especially with rural, food-producing land, with friends who share high ideals and seek to life simply and creatively. The future belongs to the brave and the daring.

Blessings to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Interfaith Outreach: a cup half empty, or half full?

Tonight I accepted the invitation of Michael Trice and the School of Theology and Ministry of Seattle University to attend a dinner and talk by Father Francis X. Clooney (Jesuit priest). Father Clooney's credentials are quite impressive, not least of which is living in Nepal and India and learning Sanskrit and Tamil! He's written fifteen books on the subject of Hinduism and Christianity (Catholicism, esp.) and had much to share with the group about the points of intersection between them.

The group was more or less representative of the Seattle metropolitan area "Hindu" community. I didn't get a full range of names or temples represented but the Vedanta Society was certainly there and many others as well. The intention behind the evening was to initiate dialog between our local groups with Seattle University and its forward thinking interfaith activities and curriculum, with Fr. Clooney as the magnet and spokesperson.

Fr. Clooney's story is compelling. You can "google" him and find a great deal of information. Here's just one link to Harvard Divinity School where he is a faculty member:

Interfaith efforts are a mixed bag, however. In part because only the faithful come. The ignorant or bigoted simply do not. Nonetheless, even at such gathering, there are those who want to pound their chests in saying "My way is the best way (because the most universal!)" and others, who, though likely possibly much to contribute, do not do so because respectfulness is the essence of interfaith! Then there are those who secretly hope to promote their own cause in case there are newbies present who are searching. Sigh!

Ananda Sangha in the greater Seattle area promotes interfaith through two doorways: for adults, we operate the East West Bookshop (; for children, the Living Wisdom School (  In both places, Ananda members share the traditions of spirituality of east and west which honor one another with a broader view.

Interfaith education is useful whether for children or interested adults. Only by understanding the faith traditions of others can we find bridges and links to our own and thereby wipe away ignorance and sow seeds of mutual respect.

Most orthodox believers however have no interest in learning about other faiths: afterall, even if a few were to imagine other faiths at least equally efficacious, they themselves aren't interested. But most don't think that, I suspect and therefore not only lack an interest but harbor, perhaps, a suspicion that to expose themselves would be to risk catching a disease.

In this they are, perhaps, correct, oddly enough. In listening to Fr. Clooney's remarkable story it was obvious he is not the usual Catholic Jesuit priest. His life was most certainly influenced, indeed transformed, by his exposure to Indian traditions and scriptures. One of the participants asked him if he'd encountered any push back from higher ups or the Vatican but he said he hadn't. Nonetheless, he is not typical: whether of priests or laity. Those dogmas of his church which would tend to hold Hinduism at bay were clearly sublimated by those aspects of each faith which were shared in common: and they are many.

Thus at the heart of interfaith dialog is the very "clear and present danger" of influence and transformation. In Fr. Clooney's case he would probably say that the experience deepened his own faith. Interestingly enough, however, he didn't say that. But, for his sake, I would assume it to be true. But he would be the exception, because both intelligent and spiritually mature.

Fr. Clooney was clearly suspicious of the typical response to interfaith education which says, "Well, all faiths are the same, then!" This dilutes all faiths at the risk of not deepening one's own. He obviously has this issue "down!"

Thus there exists a resistance based on fear by religionists in exposing themselves to interfaith. To make it worse, there's nothing more cheesy (in my opinion) then participating in the rituals and prayers of another faith for the sake of doing so for its own sake. There sometimes exists in the goodwill and good faith of interfaith proponents an inclination toward syncretism: concatenating dissimilar rituals and beliefs in the hopes of honoring each of them! To me that lacks vibration and sanctity. Well, admittedly this is a personal opinion. I don't mind someone demonstrating their ritual or telling their stories provided they can universalize their meaning so I can understand and appreciate it.

My point here is that interfaith efforts, though needed and high minded, are somewhat artificial and very much like "preaching to the choir." If individual faith traditions themselves introduced an unbiased survey of other faiths in order to help their adherents place their own faith in the broader context of humanity and culture, then that makes sense to me. Or, if individuals seek out interfaith activities for the same purpose or during their personal search, that makes perfect sense.

The gatherings I've gone to, however, are typically of those of various traditions coming together, all too often with mixed motives, objectives, and their own prejudices, owing in part to the fact that each one is a representative of his or her tradition and thus feels a certain need to uphold, defend, or promote it.

On the other hand, so-called scholars who attempt to objectively represent such traditions do so poorly, because lacking in the heart quality of intuition that understands not only the form but the spirit behind the form.

Interfaith is like a teenager: all arms and legs, awkward, and unsure of itself. It must needs be done and I will support it when I can. I applaud those dedicated to its mission of education and mutual respect. I am grateful that the Sanaatan Dharma tradition brought to the West in the form of Kriya Yoga by Paramhansa Yogananda is innately universalist and respectful. I don't personally have a pressing need to delve into the details of other faith traditions for I respect them all and recognize, when exposed to them, the core precepts which true spirituality necessarily affirms.

I believe that the best form of interfaith lies within each faith to find at its own core the same truth precepts that have inspired other traditions. Honoring its own tradition and expression of faith, let each reach out in gratitude, recognition and respect while yet diving deep for the pearls of wisdom and love within itself. Teach one another these core precepts and to recognize them in all, and little more will be needed.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda aka Hriman