Friday, May 31, 2013

How to Work with a Spiritual Teacher

The New Spirit Journal published an article I wrote about my life and lessons learned with my spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda.

I refer you to the June 2013 print edition or the online edition at

The article is on pages 8 and 9.

In joy,

Swami Hrimananda!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Practicing the Presence: present tense? or mind full?

Is the Present tense? Or is the mind full?

"You have to be present to win!"

I had lunch with a friend the other day. I don’t see him often because of he lives at a distance. He works for Boeing in a repair consulting role that fields calls from airline maintenance crews worldwide.

Like firemen who work long shifts with days off in between, my friend has to be on hand for these calls and the long shift days makes meditation time difficult. He has to get up quite early and gets home very late. Consequently, the goal of meditating twice a day is, well, honored “in the breach.” When the days off finally come, he needs rest and, in addition, may have to drive several hours to his first home where his wife is. She’s not a meditator.

I suggested to him that he accept what he can do in re meditation and be grateful for the time he can profitably take. Put aside the “ought” and embrace the reality he’s got. Hopefully by greater appreciation of the time he can take for meditation, he will have a deeper and more satisfying meditation than fussing over what he didn’t and can’t do!

But this brought up the subject of “how to be mindful, and practice the presence of God” during those long shift days. He reported, as do most meditators, that his mind is restless (not just in meditation but during the day), and with the kind of work he does (sitting by the phone waiting for emergency repair calls!), he is lured into daydreaming or otherwise drifting off, as it were.

The mind is a terrific foe even as it can be our guide and mentor. But we must learn to rein it in by focusing it upon interests that feed our ideals, our rightful preoccupations, and our higher aspirations. This takes patience. Did I say “patience?” If not, let me repeat that: it takes PATIENCE!

A couple of points came to the fore spontaneously in our conversation:

  1. The basis of mindfulness is calmness and concentration. These attributes of the mind are most effectively developed through meditation. Thus meditation is essential to mindfulness during activity. In fact, practicing the presence is a form of meditation and an extension of meditation from sitting into activity. The more of the one, the easier for the other, and vice versa!
  2. In coming out of meditation, make it a practice to extend the quiet mind born of meditation into the minutes, and with practice, the hours that follow. Move deliberately, even slowly. Think deliberately, even slowly. Do one thing at a time. As you shower or have breakfast after rising from sleep and meditating, do so in a calm, focused meditative mood.
  3. During the day, return to this space as often as it returns to your mind to do so. Alternatively, using a watch or a smartphone, get a timer (try, and set a soothing chime sound on the hour to bring you back to that space.
  4. Mindfulness should be practiced a little bit at a time. Calmly, carefully, and patiently. Let it grow organically from the spiritual pleasure and well-being it brings.
  5. “Chanting is half the battle,” to quote Paramhansa Yogananda. Chanting throughout the day, or whenever you can remember, is very powerful and enjoyable. You can use mantras, mantra put to melody, mantra chanted rhythmically, affirmations, or, as we do at Ananda, chants with English words such as the entire collection given to the world by Paramhansa Yogananda or Swami Kriyananda. Or, you can chant your favorite Indian bhajan.
  6. You can chant silently to yourself, or “under your breath,” or, in some cases (like in the car or walking down a noisy city street), aloud!
  7. Mantras to choose from are endless but begin and end, literally, and otherwise, with the mother of all mantras: AUM. Aum can be surreptitiously chanted by simply humming softly wherever you are. For energy and spiritual strength, try Aum namoh Shivaya. For dharma and right action, Sri Ram, jai Ram. For devotion try either the Mahamantra (Hare, hare, Krishna, hare, hare; hare, hare Rama, hare Rama) or Om namoh Bhagavate Vasudeva. Or, simply, Aum guru.
  8. Word phrases, affirmations, or chant words should be simple, especially if your activities require mental engagement. “I am Thine; be Thou mine.” “Lord I am Thine, Be Thou mine.” “I want only Thee, Lord; Thee, only Thee.” “Door of my heart, open wide I keep for Thee.” “I am strong in myself, I am free.” These are just some examples.
  9. Don’t begin by expecting you can do this all day. Start with one minute and build your mental strength from there.
  10. Avoid lapsing into a mechanical repetition, however. It’s not only ok, but perhaps better, to practice for X number of minutes; pause for a bit and absorb the effect.
  11. Forms of mindfulness are also numerous but for those who are not devotionally inclined and who seek to be more present and conscious during activity consider the following:
  12. At natural pauses between activities (closing a file or case or project; finishing a phone call or a meeting, e.g.), do some conscious breathing. Breath techniques abound but what we at Ananda call the “double breath” (tensing the whole body, while standing or seated, while holding the breath after a vigorous inhalation) is great for energy. Long, slow diaphragmatic breathing is good for calmness and presence of mind; alternate breathing, for balance.
  13. Do a mini-meditation: BEE: B reathe;  E nergize; E njoy. Take a couple of deep breaths (of your choice, e.g., see #12 above); internalize your awareness and feel the energy of the body; and then be still for a moment and enjoy the experience. Time lapse 30 seconds to 2 minutes!

Am I losing my mind?
A few words on losing your mind. (Huh?) There is a distinct pleasure and satisfaction from “losing yourself” in your activity. It can even be relaxing and refreshing. So what I am saying is that there are two ways to go: set a part of your mind apart from your activity into the watchful state; or, immerse yourself in what you are doing. Thus far in this article I have addressed only the former, not the latter. It comes to me now as an after-thought. But this losing your mind thing needs some clarification.

There are, in turn, two ways to lose your mind. One is to do so frantically, being anxious for the result or engrossing oneself into the experience and descending into subconsciousness. Becoming frantic and anxious and upset is hardly a satisfying experience. Descending into the subconscious mind is what happens when you tuck into your favorite tub of ice cream (when no one is looking) and fifteen minutes later you come up for air realizing that “I ate the whole thing.”

These two examples above of losing your mind are NOT what I am talking about.  Here’s what I mean:

Start with calmness and a quiet confidence as you approach the task at hand. If you are devotionally inclined, silently ask for divine guidance in what you are about to do. Silently offer your forthcoming action to God in whatever form you hold dear. Otherwise, simply mentally state your intention and how it fulfills your duty or ideal and fits into your priorities.

Then, as you go about your task, do so with a quiet mind, with calm concentration, and quiet sense of competency and confidence. Don’t be like most people who are of two minds when a difficult or troublesome (or boring) task must be done and can no longer be avoided. Enter fully into what must be done. Palpable enthusiasm is very helpful but sometimes you are simply doing what must be done. Either way do so with your entire BEING.

When you are finished you will find that refreshing sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from doing what is right. Resist the temptation to congratulate yourself: you simply did what was needed. If you are devotional by temperament, thank God for the opportunity and offer the results to God, thus freeing your ego from attachment. In any case, once finished, relax or move on and give it no more thought. Be free of whatever action you engage in once you are finished.

Well, that’s all my mind wants to say today! Remember:

You have to be present to win!


Swami Hrimananda!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Reality is a state of consciousness

Our minds are so conditioned, so hypnotized to view our responses to the world around as real and correct that we rarely stop to separate our response from our perception of the facts or the truth we think we see. If at dusk while walking we see ahead on our path what appears to be a snake that is only, upon closer inspection, a rope, then we can relax from our response of fright and say that this response was in error. Rarely, however, is life so simple or clear.

Our frightened response, however, is, in the moment, at least, true for us, regardless of the correctness of our perception. All too often the amount time between perception and reaction is so tiny that we get used to equating our reaction with the reality. It takes the habit of calmness and mindfulness, born of meditation and practiced throughout the day during activity, for us to remain sufficiently calm so as not to fall into the habit of confusing response with reality.

Paramhansa Yogananda counseled students: “Circumstances are always neutral. It is how you react to them that makes them seem either happy or sad.” If you dislike someone, you are much more likely to be critical of his every sentence or action without ever stopping to consider that the source of your criticism lies in your dislike, not necessarily in what he has said or done.

Indeed, someone who admires this person will either defend the person or not even notice anything worthy of comment, what to mention criticism. Further, he may even find something admirable rather than critical!

Although I don’t hear this expression much anymore, it used to be asked of someone who was having a bad day, “Did you get up on the wrong side of bed this morning?” By this we acknowledge the influence of our moods and attitudes on our response to life’s daily challenges and activities.

But my subject goes deeper than this obvious and simple fact of human psychology. Although still far from existential, it is also true that upon entering a room a carpenter notices the baseboard trim is not straight, the painter, that the paint is peeling, the interior decorator, that the furniture is out of date, the mother, that her child is far too quiet, and the father, that he’s late for work and can’t find his car keys!

Is it true, then, that we see only ourselves, then? That we see only what we are interested in? What we are capable of seeing? Most certainly it is: at least for most people on this planet. Observing simple facts like a crooked baseboard or peeling paint is not significantly meaningful to our lives. Think then how much reality we lose when it comes to gut reactions on the hot, emotional buttons of our lives?

I observed, more than once, that my spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda, upon entering a room, rarely seemed to notice (even less to comment upon) the details of a room, unless he did so for instructive purposes. Once, when he was our guest in our home, he commented that hotels that were run by thoughtful people remembered to put hooks in the bathroom for clothes or one’s bathrobe. (We immediately went out and installed a hook on the inside of the bathroom door!) By contrast, most people entering another’s home for first time, literally “jump” on every detail, painting, furniture, wall colors--eager to pass judgement, either “ooohing” and “aaaahing” or turning up the proverbial nose (“Such Cretans!”). If we do this for such relatively trivial objects in our field of vision, how much more are we at sea for the important things?

Yogananda taught that the law of magnetism determined what circumstances and people were drawn to you. By magnetism, he meant the vibrational (attractive or repulsing) aspect of karma. By karma, he means the cumulative impact of past and current actions. Thus a person who, whether in past lives or the current life, has dedicated his energies to making money is, at least eventually (if he pursues his monied goal with intelligence, intensity, and sensitive awareness) going to attract financial success.

This law of vibrational resonance is what some “new agers” refer to as the Secret or what they mean by “creating your own reality.” Contrast staying in a five-star hotel with sauntering through a crowded, noisy slum on a hot, sultry day at high noon. We live in different worlds. Imagine paying $10,000 for a first class airline ticket for a flight of, perhaps, eight to sixteen hours! What is the life of a paraplegic in comparison to a wealthy heiress or globe-trotting financier? Different worlds, indeed.

Outwardly, at least! The more extreme our outer circumstances the more intensely we will tend to identify with them. For those on the path of mindfulness, however, we discover fairly quickly that the more we experience our core consciousness, stripped of name, body, ceaseless flux of thoughts and emotions, the closer we come to pure consciousness. We find, in time and with dedicated effort, that the reactive processes begin to fall away and we simply observe what is “ours” to observe without filtering it through the strainer of our fears and attractions.

There is no objective reality in the sense that the “pure mind” intends to visually observe every possible mundane fact in his immediate environment, from baseboards to dust to the art work on the wall! To one seeking higher consciousness (defined as God or in any other way, e.g., bliss, joy, and even emptiness), the most important reality is to first perceive, and then to become,  that consciousness. Are we not all seeking happiness? And how could true happiness be anything else if not unalloyed, ever-new, and permanent?

Reality in other words cannot be separated from the consciousness that perceives it. The highest reality is when separation between the knower, the known and the knowing melts into Oneness!

All we really possess, then, is our consciousness. There isn’t anything else. That doesn’t mean we can eat junk food and escape the consequences; or steal someone else’s car; or lie or cheat. Those actions presuppose the very separateness that brings us dis-ease, discontentment, and ultimately pain.

Rather, this means that, even if it means at first just affirming it, positive, inclusive and expanded states of consciousness will bring us greater and greater happiness. We are happier loving than hating; giving rather than taking; sharing rather than hoarding.

Our evolutionary path upward from the rocks, plants and animals has endowed us with the necessary and highly refined instincts for survival and for sensory pleasure and, on the human level, ego self-aggrandizement. All this works rather nicely to get us to the human level and, at that level, to excel and expand our horizons. But these become a glass ceiling when it comes to transcending the wheel of birth and death, and the ceaseless flux of opposite states of pleasure and pain.

We cannot but define happiness as permanent but the happiness we know through the body and the ego is anything but permanent. We have a profound, existential dilemma, for knowing this fact dilutes the fleeting pleasure or success or human happiness that comes our way.

Thus spiritual consciousness and awareness (which, when formalized and organized, coalesces into religion) invites our dissatisfied ego to rise toward a transcended state of consciousness.

This, then, is what is meant by “reality is a state of consciousness.” Meditation is the surest form of experiencing transcendence. Transcendence, being consciousness itself, is most effectively known (experienced) by consciousness itself. Further, it is most readily contacted by association and attunement with one who embodies, contains, and holds that consciousness. Thus the long-standing acknowledgement of sanctity personified and embodied in saints and masters.

Transcendence, so far as we are concerned (and we are concerned!), can only exist in embodiment. Not because it is limited but because we are limited. When we look at a beautiful sunset, we can enjoy it but we cannot, for the enjoyment of it, become one with it. Same, too, with someone we love. We are forced by nature and duality to be prevented from merging with the object of our love by the very electro-magnetic field that surrounds our body and its attendant, ego, and keeps our Spirit imprisoned. On the level of I-am-loving-you we must forever be separate.

We must first discover transcendence in the field of our body and, being locked in, that requires a transfusion, a transmission of transcendence not from nowhere in space but from its embodiment in space. Thus the power of a true guru who transmits this “knowing” and awakens it so, like a seed, it can grow from within. While a true guru, being transcendent, is not limited by his or her physical vehicle, it is we who need the vehicle through which to “tune in.” Thus, even after the physical death of such a one, a true disciple can draw inspiration and magnetism through meditation, prayer, and service. Ultimately, this transmission is only an “inside” job but we have to start where we are.

Further, it is the creative and loving desire of the Creator that this transcendence be awakened and experienced in the creation and not separate from it. We don’t have to die to “go to heaven.” This too is another reason that the transmission occurs from embodiment to embodiment.

Well, time to go!

Blessings to you,

Nayaswami Hriman
aka Swami Hrimananda

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Tomorrow is a Tide that Sweeps Away the Past

As I stood on the banks of the Ganges in the world's most ancient (and continuously inhabited) city -- Varanasi, India -- I scanned the ancient riverside ashrams and crematory grounds, the orange-clad or naked sadhus tending their ritual fires, and the devotees bathing in the Ganges to remove their sins. The thought that came to me is that all of this will be swept away by the rising tide of change. Change is happening at an accelerated pace, especially visible in up and coming countries like India, but de facto everywhere.

In Varanasi, as everywhere, developers will see profits and opportunities in this haven of tourism and pilgrimage. Civic boosters will want to clean it up and give visitors have more comfortable places to have lunch, shop, and spend their tourist rupees. A few showcase sadhus can be reassigned to a special section for posterity's sake and authenticity. Mimic the old architecture but build anew and make it nicer for visitors. Whole blocks of the twisting and turning alleyway-streets will be razed for modern hotels, with pools and lawns (oh, and underground parking). Oh, yes...........can't you see it?

On my last two trips to India I went up into the Himalayas. I could see that the hill stations nearest the plains will soon be developed into second homes, gated communities, resorts, and yoga retreat centers. Many of them were created by the British precisely for recreation and vacation, and, a relief from the heat, squalor, and intensity of the plains. Are middle class Indians wanting anything different? They'll widen and straighten out some of the roads and voila! The rising middle class of India will escape to their beloved (and beautiful) Himalayan foothills. I can see it now. Ok, then, soon, or not too far off.

We can see this trend in America where nothing is very old. We can see it well established in Europe. They preserve and yet simultaneously upgrade and modernize a core area of some historical value and then let development proceed all around it. I think however looking far ahead -- afterall things do deteriorate --- these core areas will gradually shrink. More importantly, so will the interest of future generations in them. Do you see among today's young a burning interest in antiquity? I don't. They are more interested in their computer games, gadgets, and, of course, one another. I wouldn't be surprised that future city planners will find it convenient to preserve these old monuments virtually in a kind of digital museum where you can "walk" through the old Roman fort or castle wearing a 3-D sitting in a comfortable chair.

You don't need to be an avatar or rishi to see this kind of change everywhere. But in fact there are some avatars who have already predicted it. In the lineage of Paramhansa Yogananda, his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, announced a major correction to the Hindu calendar which, during several thousand years of the Kali Yuga -- the low ebb of consciousness in the unending cycle of time -- had gotten off, mathematically.

Sri Yukteswar, himself a great sage and astrologer, proclaimed that on or around the year 1900 the earth entered the second age ("Dwa" - Dwapara) and would begin its ascent into an age whose theme would be "energy." Soon thereafter Einstein announced that energy is the underlying reality of matter. The twentieth century saw the dawning of nuclear energy and the head-over-heels extraction of oil for energy which fueled an unprecedented surge in human development in all fields (including warfare). We have energy medicine and energy healing. Energy is all the rage, in fact.

How many indigenous cultures and languages have already been destroyed. Those few who remain are dwindling in their commitment to traditional lifestyles. In the years and centuries to come they will all essentially vanish, leaving only remnants in the form of stylized, special-occasion cultural events or preserved places. Traditional religions, steeped in their vestments and robes and rituals, will steadily fade from relevancy, leaving also only traces of their past.

Nations, cultures, languages with their distinctive cuisine, clothing and uniqueness will surely retain vestiges of their past habits, attitudes, and history but they will be like the transplanted New Yorker living in Los Angeles who still has a detectable New York accent. It will be quaint and recognizable but like the Indian in the adjoining cubicle at Microsoft, his accent doesn't get in the way of his enjoyment of going to the gym or hiking in the mountains with the guy from Peoria next to him.

Travel, education, communication, technology and consciousness cannot but erode the isolation and uniqueness of formerly far-flung and exotic cultures. I sincerely hope that doesn't put Starbucks and MacDonalds on every corner from here to Timbuktu but, for a time, it might. It certainly is happening now, anyway.

Is the destruction of these traditional ways to be decried? Well, no doubt for many. But it would be like crying over spilled milk. Nothing can stop the rising tsunami of change and connectedness. The down side to the status quo is the status quo: warfare, terrorism, exploitation, prejudice, ignorance, distrust and hatred. Do we have a choice? I doubt it. We cannot have it both ways: on the one hand we want to see the world change for the better; on the other hand, we don't want to lose distinctive differences in cultures. These distinctions, unless paraded out only for entertainment of visitors, are also what separate us.

Will Indians stop wearing saris and Peruvians abandon their colored cloth? Already in India, modern young women don't wear traditional saris. They've taken some of the colors and fabrics and made them into more practical forms. Cultural characteristics and attitudes will survive just as blue eyes and blonde hair get passed from generation to generation. But they will survive only as remnants, reminders.

Already the world's cultures live and work together. For now that's mostly in the cities, but look again and travel again, the intermixture is seeping into every village, and even more so into remote corners because remote corners are strongly attractive to the adventurous! How many pop culture T-shirrts and baseball caps do you already see in the villages of India, Tibet, Nepal, Africa?

The ancient medieval church structures may be preserved here and there around the world. But with wars, famine, natural forces of deterioration, and economic depressions, one by one they will fall by the wayside because we are looking to the future now, not to the past, for guidance and unfolding wisdom. Our past history teaches us many lessons but it is the future that beckons us, for the past will be submerged in the rising tide of consciousness that is the ascending cycle into which this planet has just barely begun.

Every 80 to 100 years the entire planet's inhabitants is refreshed with new human beings. How much do you about your grandfather's life, character, problems and victories? Probably next to nothing apart from being your grandfather. Certainly this would be true of your great grandfather. For some it may be true of your father or mother!

In future centuries worshipers of each faith will honor their traditions and symbols and credos but will relegate these to a secondary status in favor of direct, inner communion with their "God" through meditation, acts of humanitarian and personal service, and fellowship with like-minded individuals.

The first Ananda movie, Finding Happiness, shows how small communities will flourish in coming times as a practical and natural balance to the crushing forces of modernization and globalization. We need practical ways to express our creative idealism even as we live in this new, global village.

So, feast not your eyes with too great sentiment upon the monuments and traditions of the past. Appreciate them for their universal impulse and ideals but look anew and look within for fresh expressions of the divine here and now! For as your body and mind will soon be buried in the sands of time, so too all this will vanish from our sight. Extract from the present, the past, and even the future the unchangeable NOW of God's presence. Saints and devotees have come into this Dwapara Yuga to create new portals, new shrines, new sacred places of pilgrimage where God's presence and grace, ever-new in flow and form, can be tapped. We can be a part of that effort to establish and affirm anew the sacredness of life, investing that grace into living forms and new sacred places.

Mostly, of course, it is within you. But as we are a part of a greater reality all around, it is also to be found all around! Rejoice and put your shoulder to the wheel of divine creative service and reflection.


Swami Hrimananda

reference: Religion in the New Age by Swami Kriyananda.