Friday, July 26, 2013

The Meditator's Monkey Mind - Or, Stop and enjoy a banana!

As a meditation teacher for some 25 years and a meditator for 40 years, I think I know what the "monkey mind" is like, and, in fact, so does everyone who sincerely tries to meditate and achieve stillness of mind as part of meditation.

Restless thoughts are unquestionably the most frequent single complaint of meditation students. Is there a solution? Well, not one single solution, but, given our own mental complexity, a bowl of bananas' worth of solutions.

I have lived for many years of my life in one of two of the nine Ananda intentional communities (Nevada City and Seattle). I have thus the experience of meditating, day in and day out, with the same people. Add to that leading meditations in classes too numerous to quantify, and participating in large-group meditations, one becomes sensitive to the meditative consciousness of others. I have, thus, from time to time, found myself feeling the need (and having the responsibility) to remind other meditators not to mistake the techniques and practice of meditation for the goal.

Since meditation requires mental effort, it is not surprising that the more years one persists in daily meditation the more likely one has developed a certain degree of will power. Few people on this planet have the desire or the will to meditate, for whatever reason (and there are many!). But putting out energy can sometimes become an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. We can get so used to "pushing" that we may forget where we are pushing toward! If there is too much self-will involved in meditation than the meditative experience is all about "me."

At the same time, daily repetition of any kind can result in what becomes simply an ingrained habit. It is easier than some might imagine to fall into a mechanical meditation routine and into a semi-sub-conscious state of mind during meditation. By definition, subconsciousness means less than conscious and therefore if we slip into even a semi-subconscious state (like daydreaming vs sleeping), we lose the mindfulness necessary to even know where we've gone or that we aren't doing what we came to do! Our thoughts then drift along, pleasantly or aimlessly.

I've noticed that other meditators simply "enjoy the self." By this I mean, I can sometimes feel that a meditator is calm and centered within and focused pleasurably on his or her inner experience of peace or selfhood without making any effort of will and devotion in self-offering or prayerfulness. It's all about "What I am feeling," in other words. No harm, but very little spiritual progress. It is axiomatic, however described, that superconscious states are achieved by attuning ourselves to those states and that those experiences come from the combination of self-effort and grace---which could be defined as the descent of superconsciousness as a loving response to sincere and heartfelt effort (but never as a result of the ego affrirmation and will power).

I won't attempt to define the purpose of meditation but suffice to say, and there is an almost infinity of ways to do so, that one seeks to experience something greater than one's own ego. Such a state (Paramhansa Yogananda call it "superconsciousness") is the "holy grail" and, by definition, is quest not easily or consistently achieved. Long term meditators, therefore, often settle for far less and lapse into either habit or self-comfort. Never mind the philosophical aspects of delusion, maya, satan, or ego.......meaning the internal resistance to seeking Self-expansion. Yes, of course, this is the existential aspect of our deeply embedded unwillingness to give ourselves into a greater reality. But, for this article, I assume a meditator, at least in principle, seeks such a higher state, however described (whether philosophically, devotionally, or energetically).

"If you don't know where you went, you didn't go there (into superconsciousness)." I am quoting only myself, but I admit it looks good on paper (this is paper?).  I tell this to students: meditation is not spacing out or blanking out, or drifting off into some pleasant place or daydream. Superconsciousness is a state of intense inner awareness: not "tense" with "tension," but vibrantly alive and far more so than in ordinary conscious awareness.

"To achieve perfect stillness of mind, you have to want it." (Did I really say that? Rather deep, don't you agree?) Regular meditators can slip into the habit of merely practicing and forget to focus on the goal. Patanjali (author of the "Yoga Sutras") describes one of the obstacles to spiritual growth as "missing the point." I find this amusing given the deep nature of the sutras and it is one of the rare moments in which Patanjali lapses into the vernacular, so to speak, talking with the guys at the clubhouse. But this is so true: in all aspects of life, not just meditation! When you sit to meditate, affirm your desire and intention "To be still and know that I AM ......" To go beyond the labyrinth of the mind, you have to want to: and I mean really, really want to. We have untold numbers of lifetimes fending off threats to our survival and asserting ourselves and our desires.

(Patanjai's famous "Yoga Sutras" are the unquestioned "bible" of meditation and the stages of spiritual evolution. Swami Kriyananda's last major written work, "Demystifying Patanjali: The Yoga Sutras," should be studied by every serious meditator. Padma and I are giving an 8-week course beginning September 11. We will have audio, if not video, available for those at a distance. Email if interested at a distance. To obtain the book visit your local Ananda center or East West Bookshop or the publisher at

Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013), founder of Ananda and the most publicly visible and accessible direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, taught that the secret to stilling restless thoughts lies not in the mind but in the heart! This is the secret I wish to share. When you begin your meditation, open the doors of your heart, going deeper and deeper into stillness and calmness. Peel away layers of restlessness, anxiety, fear, regrets and find the eternal baseline of inner peace and security. Then, lift your consciousness to the Christ center (the point between the eyebrows) and commence your personal meditation practice.

This can be expressed, of course, also in devotional terms. For some people, in fact, it's far easier to do so. That's where focusing lovingly upon the image, feeling, form or vibration of one's guru provides a mental and heart-based focus for meditation that takes us beyond the petty machinations of the monkey mind. Feed this monkey devotion! Yearn for God; yearn for peace; yearn for the state of bliss! You have to want it. The mind doesn't want it. The ego doesn't want it. Hey, you've got problems, remember? Lots of problems. See what I mean?

The feeling aspect of consciousness can also be directed more impersonally toward superconsciousness using creative imagery to evoke inner peace, unconditional love, deep and expansive calmness and true bliss and joy. Imagery from nature contains archetypal elements of vibratory consciousness: the majesty of a mountain; the aspirational strength of tall trees; the expansiveness of the great and calm ocean; the power of crashing surf; the peace and acceptance of the moonrise; the power and wisdom of the sun; the freedom of blue sky; the eternity of the star-studded universe above, below and all around!

For us mental types (and being a meditation teacher), I find it helpful, and you might also, to do a self-guided meditation. While practicing self-talk yourself through your routine: your prayer, your pranayams, your various techniques and finally into silence. Talk to your guru (mentally). See him practicing through you: it's his breath, not yours. He knows the techniques better than you, so ask him to practice and you'll simply watch! Imagine him sitting next to you; or in front; or on your head, or, in your heart! Self-talk your way into silence!

Learn to love being still. When I experience perfect stillness of the mind, it, well, to quote a phrase, "blows my mind!" Really, it does. It is thrilling! Even if it lasts only seconds or minutes. You just want to burst with joy! Embrace silence like an old friend sitting next to you on the park bench or on the couch at home.

Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says famously that "even a little of this practice will save you from dire fears." Aspire always in each meditation to touch the hem of infinity in the form of peace, or perfect stillness, or loving acceptance. Even if for a moment, it will guarantee you will return to meditation with joyful expectation and confidence.

If you gaze intently but calmly into the point between the eyebrows and fix your gaze there, unwaveringly, you simply cannot fall into lower states, and you can hold errant thoughts at bay. Focused steadily but in a relaxed and enjoyable way, at this point (known as the Kutastha or Christ center: the center of our eternal and unchanging divinity, will power and knowing), with hardly a flicker of movement, distracting thoughts subside and evaporate like fog in the rising sun of a summer day.

In the process, it is sometimes like standing out in the hallway from a room filled with people chattering. You can hear the sounds of talking but you don't necessarily hear all the words. Thus the monkey mind can sometimes chatter in the background but you don't have to listen. In time it simply evaporates. It's the calm focus at the spiritual eye (between the eyebrows, as though gazing through that point and out a little bit) that silences the monkey mind (because you are not listening) . Looking up, inwardly, also re-directs the mind into "Huh, what'd you say?" mode.  The "listening mudra" is extremely effective in achieving inner silence.

Think about it: you hear something or someone slightly at a distance, and like the old train crossings, you "stop, look, and listen." Cock your head to the side as if listening and the mind shuts off and "listens up." Try it in meditation. It really works.

I will go even deeper before I sign off. Get off now, unless you want to really do this. Whether you practice mantra meditation, breath awareness, concentration on inner light or sound, Kriya Yoga and so on, it is the same. There are two aspects to higher consciousness: one is perfect stillness (the reflected bliss of divine consciousness) and the other is ever-moving, vibrating power of Spirit in manifestation. Causal and astral; unmoving and moving; male and female; thought and feeling; Kutastha and Aum. No matter what form of yoga meditation you practice, we essentially contact the movements of divine consciousness (prana, vibration, Aum, Divine Mother) and rotate this energy around the inner Sun (Son) at the spiritual eye. In time the rotation begins to slow and finally becomes still as the energy merges into pure thought, pure consciousness. "Meditate so deeply," Paramhansa Yogananda counseled, "until breath (prana) becomes mind (conscoiusness). I better stop here.

These are just some of the ways we can feed bananas to the monkey mind and keep him preoccupied. And, don't forget to reassure the monkey that when you are done meditating, you'll get right back to all of his big problems. "They are, like, SO IMPORTANT!" (hee, hee, hee).

Well, time for a banana.


Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, July 8, 2013

Is God Dead? Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

I’ve been studying the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: the Lutheran theologian and pastor who opposed Hitler and who was executed by the SS two weeks before the concentration camp where he was interred was liberated by Allied troops.[1]

As a young Catholic, raised in the ‘50’s bubble of the west coast version of the “Bells of St. Mary’s, the surging debates and trends of Protestantism were unknown to me, though modernism in religion was. By modernism or what is sometimes referred to as liberalism, Christianity is reinterpreted socially and generally with little, no or minimal regard to dogma, saints, miracles or transcendental realities.

The impact of rationalism and the scientific method are well known to us. The 20th century saw the explosion of materialism even into the sanctuaries of religion. Frank Laubach, a well known pastor in the first half of the 20th century, campaigned to remind ministers to mention God and Christ in their sermons.[2] I used to think this was probably an exaggeration until I began reading about Bonhoeffer’s life. While there were (are?) many variations in the forms of religious liberalism, it was at the heart of the famous 1966 Time Magazine cover that asked, “Is God Dead?” The “dead” part essentially meant, “Is God irrelevant to modern life?” How many, even religionists of the 20th century, held high hopes for the unrelenting march of scientific and economic progress? The hope was that all there could be left to affirm were basic human virtues and Christian ethics. There surely was no need for belief in unprovable dogmas that bore little relevance to the vicissitudes and demands of modern, daily life! The liberals championed progress as the solution to the ills of society and saw ethical and social idealism as the real mission of religion for the modern age. Modernist religion, taking its cue from scientific and social materialism, essentially agreed with Karl Marx and atheists everywhere in saying that the most important thing in life is food, shelter, and security, oh, and, sure, maybe beseeching God for the good things of life. Indeed a part of this “theology” equates material prosperity with Divine favor.

Ah, but does not the slaughter of perhaps two hundred million people in the name of this glorious age of reason, equality, prosperity and the greatest good for the greatest number surely shows the lie of this philosophy? For all the knowledge and education today, are we happier? Are we no less prone to the demons of abuse, addiction and violence? Has reason produced the Nietzschean super race?  

Bonhoeffer was an impressive thinker and theologian who became a martyr and, in his own way, a saintly man, given to doing the will of God at all costs. In the strictest forms of religious liberalism during Bonhoeffer’s higher education, belief even in God was subject to question because unprovable. That left all other Christian “traditionalist” beliefs pretty much hanging in mid-air. Bonhoeffer struggled against that heartless, devotionless trend that relegated God to outward shows of socially acceptable piety and dry, empty rituals. When the mainline German churches succumbed to Hitler’s authority and accepted Nazi revisionist thinking, Bonhoeffer declared religion the enemy of spirituality. He vainly attempted to persuade fellow church leaders that it was the German church’s obligation to oppose Nazi segregation and persecution of the Jews and, going further, to actively oppose the Nazi regime.

Another impressive fact of his life was that Bonhoeffer had an abiding desire to go to India to meet Mahatma Gandhi. Twice he attempted the trip and in both cases his efforts were thwarted by either circumstances or his own conscience calling him back to Germany. Clearly, however, he was wanting to find an alternative to the spirit of conquest and superiority his own so-called Christian culture had forged as heirs to Christ.

While in America, he was put off by the American church which embraced religious liberalism uncritically even while viciously attacking fundamentalism (which naturally paid the return compliment).

On the other hand, he was deeply moved by his encounter with the negro churches, both their music and the deep and heartfelt devotion he felt there. The experience changed his life. The contrast between America’s founding ideals and the ugliness of its de facto racism put the aristocratic Bonhoeffer firmly on the road to appreciating and, by degrees, exploring the relationship of suffering to the integrity of one’s spiritual search.

When Paramhansa Yogananda came to America in 1920 the battle between religious liberals and fundamentals was in full swing, with the fundamentalists in retreat (at least in the northern cities among so-called intellectuals). It was therefore in the divine plan, answering the call of sensitive souls for God to show himself, as it were, that such a one as Paramhansa Yogananda was sent. Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita “that whenever virtue declines and vice predominates, I incarnate to combat evil.”

The seemingly irreconcilable struggle between spirit and nature, between science and religion, between belief and rationalism could not be resolved by debate nor by the intellect. It could only be resolved by one “who has seen Him.” It reminds me of the story of St. Anthony of the desert who helped resolve the first great challenge in early Christianity[3] when, being called out from his self-imposed desert seclusion, declared in front of hundreds, “I have seen Him.”

Therese Neumann, a Bavarian woman, who lived during Nazi Germany, had the wounds of Christ and ate neither food nor water except in taking the communion host on Fridays while in a trance reliving the crucifixion of Christ.[4] She was examined by medical doctors and even by one doctor who set out to prove her a fraud but who converted to her defense. Paramhansa Yogananda met her and explained that the purpose of her life was to be a living testimony to “I have seen him.” Yogananda, in his visit to Germany in 1935, attempted to have an interview with de Fuhrer in hopes of stimulating Hitler’s latent interest in eastern philosophy—but, to no avail!

Paramhansa Yogananda came to America to teach the “science of religion.” His mission was to show that all men are seeking happiness and seeking to avoid suffering. By trial and error and experiment, he encouraged Americans, whom, he said, “loved to experiment,” to see what attitudes and lifestyle brought lasting satisfaction and which proved empty, despite their promises. An unselfish life will bring you lasting happiness while selfish, merely sensual, or materialistic behavior would disappoint you, if not immediately, then soon enough.

He brought yoga and meditation techniques to show how to be healthy, focused, creative, and connected with one’s own superconscious mind. He urged students to put aside “installment plan” living (by which he referred to the superstition that “If only I had more possessions, kept up with the Joneses, a bigger bank account, and a larger income, I’d be happy.”) “It is all right to have possessions, but don’t let them possess you!” he counseled.

In his orations, Paramhansa Yogananda thundered: “The time for knowing God has come.” Through meditation, and especially kriya yoga, the most advanced technique for this modern age, we can have a direct perception of divinity as our own Self, hidden in the silent cave of meditation, in the bubble of joy that is our heart’s natural love, and in the perception of God as sound or as light. The experience of peace or joy in meditation is living proof of the existence of God within you. By experimenting with right attitudes, as described above, he said you could prove in yourself your connection with all life.

Returning, then, to the debate of whether “God is dead,” Yogananda saw in the teaching of the triune nature of God (the Trinity) a resolution for what modernists insisted was God’s absence in the world. The concept of the Trinity has been taught in India since ancient times. It offers a way to bridge the otherwise unconquerable chasm between the human experience and infinity.

Yes, it’s true that God, as transcendent and as infinite bliss, exists beyond and untouched by his creation, even though He is its sustaining source. He accomplishes the manifestation of the universe by becoming it. To do this, he uses a trick: an illusion of movement in opposite directions from a point of rest which is His center. His “son” is His reflection in creation. His reflection is the silent and invisible intelligence and intention that rests at the heart of every atom and in every soul, endowing even the atoms with individuality. This illusory trick of motion, of vibration, in opposite directions is His Ghost;[5] it is his “consort,” the mother of creation into whose womb the seed of his reflection is sown. This movement gives rise to the illusion of separate objects just as the spinning blades of a fan or the spokes of wheel give the illusion of solidity. This illusory movement is thus the mother of creation. It produces a sound, called, Aum, the Word, the Amen, the voice of God and the true and faithful witness to God’s immanence in creation. The Word produces Light, the face of God.

And the “Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.” Those souls, sent to return to the world, in whom God’s reflection and vibration is fully realized are his messengers and his sons. As St. John the Evangelist in the first chapter of his gospel wrote, “And as many as received Him, give he the power to become the sons of God.” Jesus, and others like him, come in every age to awaken all those in tune with him and to him “by my Father.” Jesus is not essentially different than you or I, but he, and others like him down through the ages, has awakened to his sonship in God.

Towards the end of Jesus’ life, the bible tells us "And many walked with him no more.” For he challenged their credulity and their intuitive attunement with him when he said, “Eat my body and drink my blood!” In so doing, however, he spoke of the teaching of the Trinity. His body, which is sustaining “meat” is the “Christ consciousness,” which is to say, the only begotten reflection of the Father which is immanent in creation. His blood, which is the vibrating Life Force (known as “prana” in its individual form) of Aum which creates, sustains, and withdraws all atoms in the creation.

To eat the flesh of Christ is to become attuned to the divine presence within us and in silence. To drink the blood of Christ is to attune ourselves to the cosmic divine life that flows within us and within all. We are One in creation and One beyond creation and One in infinite Bliss. "Christ" is a title and a code word for divine consciousness immanent in creation.

All of the various and sundry distinctions of race, religion, gender, social status, and nation dissolve in the unifying light of God as the sole reality within and beyond creation. This experience comes in deep meditation and by meditation (and grace), God’s presence in the world can be known. This is the eternal promise and it has come again in special dispensation with meditation and kriya yoga into this world of disbelief.

Jesus taught, “I am the vine and ye are the branches. He that abideth in me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit. For without me, ye can do nothing.” To become attuned to the wisdom presence of God and to the power of God which gives us life is to have life “more abundantly.” A further understanding of the vine and branches is that God, which is infinity and bliss, is far to powerful to be known directly, at least not without the enlargement of consciousness that is the attribute of high spiritual advancement. Instead, God's presence comes through living instruments. Not only, as explained above, in the latent state and center of each atom, but in its Self-realized state in those living instruments whom he sends. In sending his “son” as Jesus Christ or any of the great masters, he sets into motion the means by which souls are to be freed: through others! So “Me” refers both to the impersonal presence of God and also the divine presence in the true guru.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer dedicated his life and sacrificed his life for those who “had ears to hear” that Christ’s teachings would become a living reality. Few are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice that Bonhoeffer made, but, as Jesus put it, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil (the challenges) thereof.”

Yogananda brought to the West the means by which we can contact this living, divine reality within us, and within all.

Joy to you,
Swami Hrimananda! (aka Hriman)

[1] “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,” Eric Metaxas, Thomas Nelson Press.
[2] “Letters by a Modern Mystic,” by Frank C. Laubach.
[3] The so-called Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.
[4] Ɓutobiography of a Yogi,” by Paramhansa Yogananda, Chapter 39.
[5][5] Old English: his spirit, soul or breath.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Inner Squirrel - How not to go Nuts!

The path of meditation is very much focused on the interaction of meditation practice and meditative consciousness, the former leading one to the latter. From the intellectual point of view, the purpose of meditation is to answer the ages old question, "Who am I?"

But as we are in the midst of a glorious summer and hopefully able to spend more time in nature (as we here in the northwest are blessed to have so close and so abundantly at hand), we might find ourselves sitting by a stream watching the squirrels intent upon their summer program of gathering nuts for the upcoming winter.

Does the squirrel ask, "Who am I?" If he does, his wife will no doubt interrupt, saying, "What a nutty question! Get back to work!" But, gee, whiz, don't most of the six or more billion humans on this earth do pretty much what the squirrel does? We Americans, when greeting a friend we haven't seen in a while, might ask, "How ya doin'? Keepin' busy?"

You get up in the morning and immediately most people embark upon their chores, busy about their lives, sometimes frantic, occasionally with a moment of rest over a meal or a cup of tea, but only briefly, for as we sit, thoughts of un-ease stir as the "what-if's" and the "to-do's" rise like phantoms from the recesses of our subconscious. It may well be that we humans spend more time obsessing nervously about our tasks than the squirrel, who seems more intent on getting his job done than fussing over the odds of success or failure. But, still, in his intensity doesn't the squirrel, too, betray a certain anxiousness? Besides, you can't say he isn't muttering under his breath, occasionally his eyes glancing up at the sky to see if the winter storm clouds, aren't all ready gathering.

Aren't we humans busy little beavers and bees, squirrels and ants, too? I've heard it said that a study showed that most humans have little, if any, abstract thoughts about life at all. That's hard for me to imagine. My dear old mother, God rest her soul, used to regale family members about how I, as a child, would harangue her with the "big" questions of life. (I don't have a specific recollection but I was a bit serious, not a bit like a squirrel in those days. I had to grow up to become a squirrel. Instead, I started life puzzled about its meaning.)

I doubt many people find happiness the result of puzzling relentlessly over the question, "Who am I?" For most it would seem more fun just to, well, go out and have fun, for heavens sake! So what gives with this never-ending "pop up" on the screen of human history--this existential inquiry about "self?"

It may be that the squirrel's worries extend only to the upcoming threat of winter and not beyond, and it may well be that few squirrels have pondered or held committee meetings or raised funds for a new IPO on the question of how to improve the efficiency of their nut gathering techniques or nut storage facilities, but we humans have a long memory for past hurts and failures. We get knocked about enough and we begin looking for how to grow bigger, better nuggets of success and happiness. Well, ok, some of the 'we's' might do that. There are others who are more in the squirrel line of living, for sure.

The inquiry into "Who am I" is proportional to the length of our memory. (I could, at this juncture, shift to the subject of elephants. But let's save that for another time.) There we are enjoying a whole handful of peanuts when the thought arises, "Gee, these are fattening. All this salt is bad for me. Will I find these high-quality peanuts ever again at Costco?" You see, we are of two minds, sometimes :-). There are some who permanently have two minds! (But that's a different subject, so, don't ask, and I won't tell.)

There are some who know, even in the midst of their pleasures, that the ax is going to fall, not only due to the inevitability of the perverseness of life, but in direct proportion to the intensity of their pleasure or happiness. Where, or where, does this seemingly illogical and perverse fear come from? Yup, long memory!

The great sage and exponent of human consciousness, the world's first and foremost psychotherapist, Patanjali, compiled the insights of his forebears -- great rishis of India's ancient golden age -- and taught that it is memory ("smriti') that cracks the cosmic nut of happiness. Memory? I hardly think so. Most elders, obsessed with their lifetime memories, are a bit dour!

No, not that memory, silly. He is not referring to the memory of facts, circumstances, pleasures and sorrows! Rather, Patanjali refers to the memory of the "Who" who is watching; the "Who" that observes these passing pleasures and sorrows. He is referring to the perception of the Perceiver behind the sense impressions, thoughts, reactions, emotions that flit by and appear briefly upon the screen of experiences. As "Horton hears a Who," Patanjali sees the You: the real You. This You remains whether appearing as a child, a vital youth, a  busy squirrel with furrowed middle-aged brow, a pleasure seeker, or an aging or dying elder. Always this You is there watching. This Who, this You, is untouched by life's passing show and drama.

Most people you get to know well, well, they tend to shrink in your esteem. But this Who, this You, only grows in size: grows in your esteem, your reverence, your awe. Because contacting the Who, the You, is at first only as fleeting as your sense impressions are upon your mind, you cannot yet claim that the Who is You. Those who do think of Who as You risk falling into the pit of solipsism, self-involvement, and increasing egotism.

It is safer to see the Who as not You, but as Thee until such time, as the Who and You are so continuously interlocked that Who are We. Another strange thing happens, two: in perceving the Who, who has no name or form, you begin to sense the Who is all a-Round and the wall begins to fall between You and Who and We. By this time you are either nuts or enlightened.

You are nuts if your mind, having seen the Who as You, insists on analyzing the Who as You. You are enlightened if you let it go, saying Nuts to You.

A happy, joyful and in-lightened summer fun in the sun,

Nayaswami Hriman, aka Swami Hrimananda!