Saturday, June 29, 2013

Do I Need A Guru?

I grew up along the coast in central California where snow was unseen (except once and it produced great excitement among children and adults alike). In later years, living at Ananda Village in the Sierra Nevadas northeast of Sacramento, CA, it most certainly did snow a few times each winter. I would eagerly look forward to the possibility (at least if I was home snug before the wood stove). I learned that if you have to ask yourself, "Is it snowing?" then the odds are it is not snowing. When snow falls, you see it, and like "good" art, you know it when you see it!

Many of us who are teachers for Ananda's spiritual work (worldwide) quote our founder, Swami Kriyananda, when he was once asked this question, "Do I need a guru," in replying "No, not unless you want to know God."

How many meditators, and would-be meditators, have attempted to meditate on our own, with no instruction? Such people, which included myself long ago, fill our classes at Ananda. Meditation isn't all that complicated, yet almost no one who tries it on his own sticks with it or finds it satisfactory. Many will at least read a book or, these days, go on the internet to learn. But even such sources all too often prove ineffective. If they were effective, our meditation classes would have dried up years ago.

You see, it is inescapable that even for the most routine tasks we instinctively seek human counsel if the task requires even the slightest bit of finesse or art to it. This ranges from cooking and laundry to musical composition to scientific inventiveness and research.

How much more so, then, for the art of examining one's own, inner human consciousness? I think that because introspection requires no set of monkey wrenches nor yet an advanced doctorate degree, we are lulled into thinking "I can do it myself." But the seeds of our ignorance and the filters of our biases are embedded in the very looking glass of introspection through which we peer.

There's something and someone for everyone. My wife, Padma, is from South America where, growing up, they had a saying, "Every pot has its lid." In examining both marriages and gurus, one can see that there is indeed someone for everyone, ignorant or wise. Put another way, we get what we deserve. Ignorant seekers, eager for a shortcut, find self-serving, ambitious teachers. Through their experiences, however painful, such seekers have the opportunity to learn and grow, or merely blame and sow more seeds of confusion in themselves.

Why not consider the possibility, rather likely considered from the big, broad point of view of the human experience, that this world was created intentionally and that the intention and purpose behind its creation is benign, indeed, essentially imbued with goodness, wisdom and love?

If we have questions about life, why not consider the possibility that someone else, other than our self, has found the answer? Yes, we must be true to ourselves but in seeking truth, which presumably exists whether we discover it or not, what harm is there is seeking counsel from one who has discovered it already? Why waste time or follow unnecessary or even harmful detours? Why not use our reason as a starting point?

In my early adult life of spiritual seeking I never doubted that I didn't have all the answers. That didn't stop me from having my early, male adult phase of being the world's greatest "Know-it-all," but even as I reserved the right to pronounce judgement upon all the other fools in the truth parade, I was, for all that, still reading and seeking as voraciously as I was augmentative and inclined toward self-conceit.

I was fortunate, I believe, in being guided at a young age (26) to Paramhansa Yogananda's teachings and to his most accessible direct disciple, Swami Kriyananda. Neither Yogananda's nor Kriyananda's influence at any point suffused my own right to think for myself, for even then I was not inclined to fall head over heels for anything or anyone. Rather, what they offered (the one in his writing and vibration, the other in his example as well as his writing and counsel) resonated with me on a deep, calm level that satisfied heart and mind in a balanced way. Perhaps because I was born under the sun sign of Libra, I have little of the fanatic in me. Passion and commitment, yes, fanaticism, no. So, yes, I count my blessings in this lifetime and pray that in the next I waste not my youth and years upon frivolity or worse and that I find my path to freedom as early in life as I may be blessed to do.

I have seen others fall, by their emotional temperament, into the romance of religion: the guru who hugs people; the guru who looks like the poster boy sage; the teacher with the commanding presence and charisma; the teacher who has millions of followers; the teacher who promises powers or blessings at their mere touch (perhaps for a few dollars or with a simple, almost effortless technique); the teacher who proclaims himself the world teacher, superior to all who have gone before him! Yes, I've seen it all.

There will always be followers for such people. And they are certainly not all "bad," for they, too, are working out their karma towards salvation! We are all, so we are told, inextricably linked. Buddha said that the main reason to love everyone is that we have had a relationship with everyone at some point! Egads! Yuk!

While using common sense and calm feeling, don't pretend to be able to judge the spiritual realization of a spiritual teacher. Simply go by what resonates with you deeply, and take ownership for your decisions, being grateful for what you've received, and loyal to those who have helped you, even as you may be guided in new directions. Can the soul go wrong in its sincere seeking? I doubt it!

A true teacher should reflect teachings that don't, in their essence, contradict universal truth teachings. A teacher who encourages sensuality as a doorway to spiritual freedom runs counter to well established spiritual guidance as well as accepted human values. Teachings that are "too good to be true" (because they satisfy the ego's limited longings) are just that, too good to be true. Indeed, truth teachings really aren't all that different, no matter what garb they wear.

The more important thing is that this teacher, his or her teachings, and the techniques and practices given should feel like "mine." You honor and love your mother and father (hopefully!), and yet in doing so, do not disdain others, so too, your spiritual path is that which feeds your soul's hunger, not that which is somehow the best, like products in the marketplace. You may indeed, in fact most certainly will or have been in past lives, guided to lesser paths or teachers as part of your journey. Get over it, but be real and be authentic to yourself. Maybe you need that teacher who promises pleasure as the door to truth because you need to learn that lesson! If so, when you wake up to a higher truth, don't only blame that teacher, but accept your lessons and move on.

Swami Kriyananda's autobiography, the New Path, chronicles his life with Paramhansa Yogananda, who has long been accepted internationally as a true teacher with a world teaching (Kriya Yoga and practical yogic teachings for everyone). It is rare for one to find a teacher who has achieved spiritual freedom (however defined: avatar, Self-realized, enlightened, etc.). Most teachers, even the most popular ones, are, well, works in progress, no matter what they or their followers may claim.

Thus Swami's life story is worth reading by anyone because it gives a modern day example of what life with a true teacher is like. Most of us are not ready for such a relationship because we are, as yet, still too ego and self-directed. But reading stories such as this will help attune ourselves to right attitudes and expectations around a true guru for when we reach the stage of the adage, "When the disciple is ready, the guru appears."

I recently completed listening to this book (the New Path) "on tape" (actually my IPOD) and, because it is Swami's voice, it was far more inspiring than merely reading the pages of his book. (We sell these things at Ananda and at our publisher's website,

If God exists, then God must encompass and be the source of all that is. If infinity exists, then there is nothing outside of it. To know God must be to achieve infinite consciousness. Can you honestly imagine that? Can you honestly imagine achieving a relationship with infinity?

We must begin where we are and not have false imaginings of what the ultimate end-game is. Thus it is that the universal teaching is and always has been that God sends his "prophets" to instruct humankind. Why is that such a threat? Well, because it is a threat to the domain of our ego.

But there's a further point: if God is the underlying reality of all that is, whether manifested or transcendent, then why should we reject the possibility that the soul can know God, even if in some necessarily limited way? Why should we have to discard the physical form, in what we call "death," simply to achieve God-realization? Why should we view the creation as something delusive and to be discarded, rather than something God called "good.?"

Therefore, why can there not be some souls who come to earth having previously achieved Oneness with God and who have the power to help others to be, as St. John in the the first chapter of his gospel stated, "the sons of God." If we are made in the image of God, we may indeed have been created to realize this truth and to reclaim our birthright, even in human form. Thus, at least, has been the teaching since time immemorial, stated in a variety of languages, forms, and symbols down through the ages. Don't reject this teaching out of hand, in other words.

You cannot perceive the divinity within until you accept the possibility of divinity without (in another, that is). Do not reject those sent by God to free you. Study their lives, their teachings, and their greatest disciples. It is too bad that our culture no longer treasures the lives and examples of the saints (in favor of sports stars and movie celebrities). If you want to know God, get to know those who know Him (Her) already. Serve them, study their lives, open yourself to them with intelligence, honor, and self-effort.

"Knock, and the door shall be opened. Ask, and it shall be received."

Blessings to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Life as a See-Saw: the All-Seeing-I sees All!

"May he rest in peace!" Is the grave the only way we might achieve peace? Much of the time and for most people it certainly seems so. Take diet: we want to eat healthy foods, but, gee whiz, I'm hungry and I don't have time and those potato chips are yummy and look, they are right there on the counter! "I'll just eat one."

You'd think most people were born in the June astrological sun sign of Gemini: being of two minds! I want to make changes in my life but I don't have the will power, or I'm not sure how to do it,, or I'm just too busy, or, or or.....

Sometimes we cling tenaciously to our daily routine, reveling in its quiet stability, until, well, it becomes so boring that we are desperate for some excitement! Maybe we are fortunate enough to go on a vacation but then we find we can't relax and enjoy it and by the time it's over we're actually looking forward to being home in our routine!

I remember as a kid looking forward to my summer vacation. But I also remember that by the time August was on the wane I was secretly looking forward to school.

How many people complain about how hard they work but if their boss makes noises like she's going to shift your work to someone else, how quickly we defend our turf. We complain about present circumstances but then we resist change, especially when it comes from outside ourselves.

Can't we make up our mind? Are we crazy, or what? Will we ever find contentment in our life?

This world is a see-saw, you see. There is my idea of reality, and then there is the truth about reality. Consciousness has no form or condition, no definition, no limitation. Yet, poured into the human body like an invisible fuel into a tight fitting otherwise inert form, it not only roars to life but it rapidly enters into the act of becoming........a man, a woman, an artist, a businessman, et cetera, et cetera.

So this Spirit, in taking on form, becomes that form and all too quickly the memory of itself as limitless Spirit becomes like the bathroom mirror fogged by the shower you just took. But it can't do this entirely because Spirit gives the form life and being Spirit it retains, even if randomly and fleetingly, an awareness of itself.

And so we go: back and forth, between thought and potential and matter and actuality. The world is like a see-saw. Now I see matter, but a moment ago I saw Spirit.

If it were that simple, I doubt we would take so long to unravel the puzzle of our discontentment. For, you see, what happens is that the world of our thought perception is not so much preoccupied with the unconditional experience of Spirit but with the reconstruction of the world of matter according to what matters to us. In short, this Spirit, being all but wholly identified with the body it inhabits, is keen on defending or promoting its new identity.

So, in relation to what pleases or displeases us, we begin to construct our own new reality with our thoughts  out of our perceptions of what we think "matters" in the so-called objective world around us. Thus, for example, if I conclude that so-and-so doesn't like me, I begin building my case for why this person is not likable. Everything she says is self-serving or petty or simply incorrect. Never mind that everyone else around me thinks she is a wonderful soul. To me (because she doesn't like me), she's bad news.

So we construct this world of ideas to protect, defend or promote ourselves. After a time we don't relate to others as they are but as we perceive them to be. If we hate cold weather, than it makes us grumpy. Some people enjoy the rain and find it soothing. Never mind, them!

Can this be solved? Should we enter a catatonic state and never have a thought about anything, or anybody? Never responding except dully to anything that happens? Should we just give up and say, Gee, what do I know? Maybe? Sure, whatever!

Should we simply assert our reality over others like a so-called Type A personality: a bull in a china closet?

Behind the see-saw between perception and reality is TRUTH. It simply is. That truth is the perceiving consciousness of Self. It is neither dull nor stupid. It is innately Self-content and the wellspring of creativity, willingness, wisdom and compassion. It is the Clear Mind that has no compelling identification with the body. It has no need to defend or promote that ego-body.

It is the degree to which we retain contact with this All-Seeing-I  that life begins to come into focus. There are times to defend; times to promote; times to stand tall; times to roll-over. A time to sleep; a time to get up. Well, you know the Biblical quote from Ecclesiastes, "There is a time for everything under the sun."

This Eternal Now, this All-Seeing-I, doesn't need to struggle over decisions. Knowing simply IS.

Befriending this Friend of Friend can take some practice. It doesn't take time because it is always with you and IS YOU. "Be still and know that I AM God." (Is it "you are God?" The syntax doesn't really definitively say.) But it does take practice and practice usually takes time. But that's only because we keep slipping back owing to entrenched habit of ego identification.

By now you've guessed that regular meditation practice is the one, definitive tool by which we perceive the Self! Yes, you are right. Calming the turbulence of the ego mind is not an easy task. Nature has given us well honed incentives to defend and to promote. But even these instincts have their origin in the Mind. For the Self can never die and the Self is the Self of all. Immortality and Infinity is all there IS. As such it is complete fulfillment. Indeed, we can say that Immortality and Infinity equal Bliss. True, Einstein didn't say that but some One does.

We cannot eliminate paradox, nor struggles, nor hardship, nor hurt. But we can live with realization and contact with this untouchable Self which is immortal, self-aware, and ever joyful. When saints and gurus speak of immortality they do not mean the body. They refer to this Self. We will lose our body to death eventually but we don't lose our "mind." I don't mind. And by mind, I don't mean mine. I mean this Self which is your Self. Do you see it, too? I just saw it go by, too.

And to you, blessings from your own Self.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Life Force - God Incarnate & Healer Universal!

The ancient metaphysical teachings of East and West, through the voice of the masters, have averred since time immemorial that the creation, the cosmos, and you and I are manifestations of the One Light of the Supreme Spirit. A further extension of this precept, discovered through intuition and proven by the methods of modern science by Albert Einstein, goes further to say that energy is the underlying and unifying force of all creation.

From the view point of the spiritual teachings of Vedanta, Yoga, and Shankhya (the core of the so-called "Indian philosophy") the link between Spirit (consciousness or mind) and matter is this energy. It is called "prana" in Sanskrit, and Chi, in the far East. The spiritual teaching is that this innate, intelligent, and divine Life Force takes the form of the subtle ("astral") body and is the repository of the matrix of our individual karma (ego, tendencies, life patterns). But, being in essence our higher Self, or soul, it is divine. It holds the key to our spiritual growth. By becoming increasingly aware of and sensitive to this Life Force, one grows in wisdom, peace, self-acceptance and all the other attributes of Life Force and our soul. This awareness begins with physical, mental and emotional relaxation from the distraction and hypnosis of body and ego consciousness. Specific Life Force control techniques, known as pranayama, form the heart of yoga disciplines.

This Life Force has its residence in the subtle, astral spine. This astral spine is analogous to and the subtle prototype for the physical spine and vertebrae. Advanced yogic techniques have for their focus concentration upon the astral spine. The astral spine includes along its length the "doorways" known as the chakras. Through these doors, Life Force goes out into the physical body and returns inward to its "source" or home in the subtle spine.

Thus it is that the science of yoga uses Life Force control for spiritual growth towards Self-realization. But it is also true that this very same Life Force control is the key to health and well being! The Spirit has descended into human form through the agency of prana, thus giving us birth, life, energy, intelligence and physical form. Retracing our steps through and with prana back to Spirit is the "anatomical" essence of spiritual growth. This knowledge can accelerate our spiritual awakening and is the unique contribution of yoga science to the sincere efforts of spiritual seekers regardless of religious affiliation.

Nonetheless, Paramhansa Yogananda, and his disciple and founder of Ananda (worldwide), Swami Kriyananda, dedicated much of their teachings and public service to helping people use these precepts and techniques for self-improvement, success, better relationships and, of course, health. A healthy body and ego are essential or at least greatly helpful for spiritual growth.

The now popular yoga and meditation therapy techniques are a direct result of the intuitive and experimental knowledge of Life Force as the essential element in all life and in all healing. It has become increasingly sophisticated and works in tandem with modern medical science to assist in healing body and mind. The effectiveness of allopathic medicine depends upon the degree to which modern drugs and methods stimulate the healing power of Life Force. Western medicine acknowledges, too, that patient attitude and faith has a direct and measurable effect upon healing. Nonetheless, stopping short of working with physical or mental disease (a task which requires proper medical training and teamwork with medical professionals), yoga and meditation techniques can be offered and used by anyone for personal self-improvement and general health and well-being.

It is our hope, therefore, at Ananda in the Seattle area ("Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell, WA to move in the direction of developing courses in yoga and meditation designed specifically to apply the precepts and techniques of yoga and meditation for the general health and well-being.

Beyond the obvious physical health culture is the more subtle mental culture. By improving our mental well-being -- calmness, intuition, self-awareness, concentration, positive attitudes, and creativity -- we can improve our success in business or career; in relationships; and in our ability to change habits in eating, sleeping, and behavior.

This opens the doors to courses in bringing yoga principles and techniques into business, learning the superior merits of cooperation over competition; of integrity and servicefulness over short-term profits; to understandings that true success brings greater happiness, not more tension and stress.

In dietary matters, Life Force control teaches the how and why prana-filled foods bring more energy and well-being to both body and mind; why a vegetarian diet is generally better for most people. In human relations and mental well-being, calmness and self-awareness and movement of Life Force upward in the subtle spine can help us transmute harmful emotions; to love without fear; to become more expansive, joyful and creative. Even sustainable food growing represents Life Force awareness (in nature). There is so much that can be shared and applied in practical ways for a better life.

In 2007 we created the Institute of Living Yoga - "where yoga comes to life!." At present, the Institute sponsors only the yoga teacher training and the meditation teacher training. Now we would like begin developing new courses and this new direction of using yoga (and meditation) for health of body and mind.

None of this is new to yoga; none of this is new to the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda or Swami Kriyananda (and, by extension, Ananda worldwide). But clarity of emphasis and focus can take one deeper in any direction or activity. While Ananda represents the teachings of Yogananda, this does not make the techniques themselves sectarian or narrow. The ancient yogic science is for everyone and it is universal. Nor is there any need for us to survey and represent the many excellent and varied yoga lineages in order to help others. The essence - Life Force awareness and control - is the same.

So I ask for your blessings and support for this new emphasis. It won't happen overnight and we will need help with web development, content and curriculum, and teacher development along with the tools of web supported sharing. Any sincere interest and support is welcome.

Blessings to all,

Swami Hrimananda
aka Hriman

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Meditation: Empty or Full?

One of the keen minds I enjoy chatting with the other day, queried: "I sometimes get confused whether in meditation I should be striving to be "empty" or whether I should "worship" my guru or God in some other form or abstract visualization (such as Light or Sound)? Isn't "worship" but a mental projection? I don't want to deceive myself! Which is correct?"

Hmmmm: maybe both? Paramhansa Yogananda, and his disciple, my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, taught that the concept of "nirvana" (emptiness) is all too often misunderstood. Kriyananda asks, tongue firmly in cheek, "Why would anyone want to aspire toward self-extinguishment? No wonder the Buddhist boddhisattvas decide to return to incarnations to help others: they took a "rain check" on spiritual suicide!"

We weren't created with this deeply rooted impulse to survive only to kill it, and by extension, ourselves! (Nor are we given the impulse to create, procreate, to love and to expand only to suppress it!)

Patanjali describes spiritual evolution and the desire to grow in truth and realization as smriti, or memory. The great teacher, the 19th century avatar Ramakrishna, described spiritual growth akin to peeling an onion: each layer of our delusions are peeled off until "no-thing" remains.

The process of emptying ourselves of false self-definitions and self-limiting desires, memories, and opinions is a necessary part of smriti. Ego transcendence has always been an essential element of the spiritual path in every tradition. So, YES: NIRVANA, a state where the ego is dissolved, is a true goal and a true state of consciousness.

St. John of the Cross, the great Christian mystic and contemporary of St. Teresa of Avila (being to him what St. Clare was to St. Francis, a spiritual companion on the path), spoke of this need. He wrote, now so famously:

In order to arrive at having pleasure in everything,
Desire pleasure in nothing.
In order to arrive at possessing everything,
Desire to possess nothing.
In order to arrive at being everything,
Desire to be nothing.
In order to arrive at the knowledge of everything,
Desire to know nothing.

But the question remains: is emptiness the end of all spiritual growth and seeking? Is God, as the Supreme Spirit, simply No-thing? Well, yes, as Pure Consciousness and as "thing" represents material objects, truly God might be described as "No Thing." But here the intellect, striving to reach beyond its own context of "subject-verb-object," fails to reach its goal. The intellect can describe the orange--its shape, color and sweetness and various biological attributes--but it cannot give to us the taste of the orange!

We live that we might live forever; we live that we might be conscious of life and ourselves; we live that we might enjoy Life and find unending satisfaction. To insist that we must kill our own consciousness to achieve, ah, what, exactly? This is absurd.

The great teacher, Swami Shankyacharya (the "adi" or first great teacher, or acharya, in the Indian monastic tradition) described God and the purpose and goal of God's creation and our own, human life, as one and the same: Satchidananadam: immortality, self-awareness, and joy. Or, as Paramhansa Yogananda rendered it: "ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new joy!" This is what our hearts seek through many lives and in an infinity of forms and experiences. No outer accomplishment, pleasure, or state, conditioned upon the ceaseless flux of outward conditions, can ever satisfy this eternal, God-knowing impulse.

But first we must empty ourselves of our own desires and ego self-affirmation. Our separateness, personified in the Goddess Kundalini and in her power to delude or to enlighten, is the "entrenched vitality of our mortal delusion" (quoting Swami Kriyananda from his classic text: Art and Science of Raja Yoga).

The reward of our emptying ourselves of all delusion and material desire and ego affirmation is the steady tsunami-like rise of the ocean of bliss into our consciousness. It starts as a little bubble of joy, born of meditation and right attitude in daily life. (Right attitude is self-giving and self-offering, inter alia.)

Thus meditation is both empty and full. Emptiness, as quietude and stillness experienced during meditation, is in fact felt as very dynamic, very full. There are times, however, when our emptiness is simply that: devoid of the little self and of all fluctuations. Indeed, Patanjali not only describes the spiritual path as a process of soul recollectedness (smirit-memory) but as the gradual subsiding of our energetic commitment to our likes, dislikes, desires, memories, and all self-involvement. His most famous sutra, well, second to the aphorism in which he lists the now famous eight steps of Ashtanga Yoga, is Yogas chitta vritti nirodha. Sometimes clumsily translated as "Yoga (state of Oneness) is the neutralization of the waves of mind-stuff!" (A singularly useless translation, I might add. Giving rise to more questions than answers.) But seen as the dissolution of ego involvement, it makes perfect sense.

Nor is the process and experience of meditation a linear one: first empty, then full---like doing the dishes, cleaning the kitchen or the workshop or your desk before beginning a new project. Yes it is that in the big picture but in sitting down, sometimes we are filled with devotion and longing for God; other times we are crushed by grief or disillusionment. The yin and yang of empty and full course through our psychic veins like the tides, or wind in the trees, or clouds scudding across the sky of our mind.

So, yes, friend, it is, once again,  BOTH-AND reality. God is Infinity and more! Thus no thought, no definition can contain Him. The journey, while in essence the same for all, is, in its manifestation in time and space, uniquely our own.


Swami Hrimananda aka Hriman!