Saturday, March 30, 2013

The City of Kashi: City of the New Dawn!

I take something of an Easter break by reflections related to both Easter and Kashi (Varanasi). In my next blog, I will return to our trip to India.

We visited Kashi  (Varanasi) recently; an ancient city, hallowed by saints and sages, and uplifted by millions of pilgrims seeking moksha, liberation from endless rounds of birth, life and death. Quite nearby, just outside of town, Buddha gave his first sermon after his enlightenment. In our line of gurus, there lived or came to Kashi Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Swami Sri Yukteswar, and Paramhansa Yogananda. Legend has it that Jesus Christ, too, travelled to India, including Kashi. Few of India’s great sages for the last many thousands of years failed to at least visit Kashi at one time or another. The list of saints and sages who have walked its lanes, bathed at its ghats along the Ganges, and soared in superconsciousness is impossibly long.

We found there in our visit, therefore, a deep sense of continuity and timelessness. Indeed, my reflections this Easter Day, are that from the ancient city of Kashi has been resurrected in our times, through the instrument of Lahiri Mahasaya (at the behest of the peerless Babaji), a wisdom that is timeless, timely, universal and nonsectarian. This wisdom, and the practices which offers to each of us its revelation, has been resurrected in answer to the prayers of millions of sincere souls. Humanity, torn by greed, racism, nationalism and sectarianism, yearns for an antidote, a way out to save ourselves, our planet and our souls.

The city of Kashi (Varanasi) is so ancient that we could have just as easily walked the narrow and crowded lanes of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus Christ. Here we found hawkers selling religious articles, blessings, rituals, indeed, everything but animals for sacrifice! The hubbub is like a page right out of the New Testament.

This Easter, which has jumped up so suddenly upon us (having been in India nearly a month), I am easily transported to the days and life of Christ. At that time, two thousand years ago, the Pax Romana held sway, feeling, for those under its iron feet, like a heavy coat on a hot and sultry day.

Palestine was, like Kashi is still, a hot, dusty place. For the Romans, it was a difficult land to govern, inhabited by a querulous people with odd customs and a cultish religion. A small time preacher appeared in the rule of Caesar Augustus and made a temporary sensation in that land but fell out of favor with religious leaders who prevailed upon their Roman procurator to have this preacher condemned to death by crucifixion. So far as we know there are no records of his mock trial.

Yet, in only three hundred years, followers of this uneducated rabbi conquered the very empire that had once sought to cruelly exterminate them. Into their harsh world of “might makes right,” where human life had little value and the general populace were like slaves and serfs, came the call of God’s love, incarnated into human form, sharing their suffering and brutal life, teaching that each of them is a child of God bound for eternal life! What a revolution! The old pagan gods of Rome and Greek were already dead: made lifeless by their aloofness and capriciousness. There was little hope in that so-called Pax Romana. Only slavery and nonstop political intrigue and war.

But this descent of divine love, in the person of Jesus, carried forward into the Roman world by self-sacrificing disciples was later to merge with that particular form of Roman genius — the rule of law — to produce what was in later centuries was to become the inalienable rights of man and the freedom each person to pursue life, liberty and happiness.  Imagine! All from a guy who trod the dusty roads of Palestine and taught on the steps of the Temple of Jerusalem, who was derided and criticized, and finally condemned to an ignoble death.

This respect for the individual has its source in the simple truth that we are a soul, not a body, and, as a soul, we are a reflection, a child, of God. This truth has the been the teaching of the disciples of Christ and, rightly employed by men and women of truth and devotion, it has lit the flame of freedom around the globe.

Oppressed and exploited people in every land have found consolation and hope in a rising tide of consciousness which, today, is considered more political than spiritual but which has power only because of its source in God.

A byproduct of this dawning sense of individuality was made manifest during the European Renaissance period. This further expanded into the age of exploration and then later into the explosion of scientific inquiry, with its fruits later becoming the industrial age, then the age of commerce, the age of energy, and now the age of information.

We have extracted from Mother Nature much of her power and energy, sufficient, unfortunately, to destroy her very gifts, and, ultimately, our lives and that of many creatures and living things.

The time has come and is now for a new dispensation of divine grace and wisdom. A new ray of divine inspiration has come to earth through Paramhansa Yogananda and those who sent him to the West that our powers be harnessed for the good of all, and for the good of our own spiritual freedom.

Paramhansa Yogananda was sent to the West as we entered the twentieth century (a century of unprecedented human slaughter). In this century in earnest saw the dawn of globalization. The era of colonialism was fast outliving its purpose and was, in any case, only a transitional era which set the stage for bringing humanity together.

Now, as we see more and more nations acquiring knowledge, technology, and harnessing their natural resources, brother nations will either face mutual destruction or opt for cooperation and integration.

Interest in and practice of meditation is exploding throughout the world as high-minded souls instinctively go within to find meaning and peace. In the crush of our fast paced planet, where no one creed, philosophy, or lifestyle holds sway over disparate population groups and nations , we know intuitively that truth is within us.
The practice of meditation, and especially the liberating technique of kriya yoga, is encircling the globe in an aureole of in-lighten-ment to offer individuals a direct perception of their divinity.

Like Jesus, Paramhansa Yogananda has begun a quiet and not yet noticeable revolution: Self-realization. Now, to divinity incarnate we can add divinity within. In this way we see all nations, all peoples, races, gender, cultures, creatures and all life as our very own: united by the indwelling presence of God which alone is the only reality behind all seeming.

This teaching has been resurrected for a new age and just in time it is sweeping the globe. Those who draw upon its ray, whether conscious of Yogananda and this line, whether directly practicing the technique of Kriya Yoga which he brought, will find upliftment and some measure of freedom and inner harmony.

Cooperation, simplicity, sustainability, and moderation, united to devotion to God through personal meditation, will be the salvation of humanity and the planet.  There is much work to be done and there will be reverses and setbacks and, indeed, great suffering, as the forces of existing power and greed retaliate against the movement that empowers and enlightens individuals throughout the world.

Never miss your daily appointment “with God” in meditation. Some day all of our appointments will have to be cancelled. We don’t know the troubles which lie ahead of us as the world turns ever faster and all sense of security and prosperity hangs upon a slender thread of karma. “The time for knowing God has come!” Yogananda proclaimed.

From the ancient city of Kashi, a new dispensation, a new ray of light has appeared.

Nayaswami Hriman

Ananda Community, Pune, INDIA!

Part 3 - Pilgrimage to India - In the Footsteps of the Masters

On Friday, March 8 this year, Padma's birthday, we flew from Kolkata to Pune, stopping briefly in Allahabad.

It was long and windy drive in the bus from the Pune airport to the Ananda Community to the west of Pune city. At the very end we left the main, paved road and proceeded over a gentle river and then a stream to wind our way up a small dusty (red) dirt track along the side of a low range of hills and arrived at the Ananda Community being welcomed and enveloped with smiles and helping hands.

This small and struggling Community has eked out an existence in the hills there against great obstacles, not least of which is an uncertain water supply. A complex of retreat bungalows have been built and at a distance the beginnings of a development of "flats" to be sold to members and friends who might live or visit there.

The temple is an outdoor one, covered in netting but quite serviceable and lovely for meditating. Halfway up the hill is a flat for Swami Kriyananda, staff, and others. The terrain, though challenging, supports a semi-tropical array of trees and plants, yielding bananas, papayas, mangoes, trees, gardens and flowers. Though we arrived in dry season, it was still lush and I understand it turns very green during and after the summer monsoon.

Near the top of the hill, the monks have their "kutirs" (simple huts) and a cave. In the central area nearest the entrance is a small store, reception, offices, and kitchen. Nearby is another office and a delightful cafe and patio where coffee, expresso, ice cream, milk shakes and sandwiches are served for the enjoyment of staff and visitors alike. There one can find wi-fi and chat with virtual friends, or sit and chat with many new and old friends in person. Quite the place!

The highlight of our visit to Ananda Pune was an afternoon satsang, out of doors in a lovely amphitheatre, with Swami Kriyananda. He is the founder of the worldwide network of Ananda communities and is a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda. Not only is he one of the few direct disciples living on earth today, but in fact he has been for decades the most accessible, most creative, and most visible of the disciples serving Yogananda's work.

The land of the Community is terraced in places and especially well developed just below Swami Kriyananda's house (flat). The landscaped terraces form this natural amphitheatre in the hill just below his home. He gave a heartfelt talk and everyone basked in his joy and in the intimacy of his "conversation" with Master and Divine Mother. Here we at last had our living shrine, and not just some stone or artifact worn by or used by a saint--but the real thing. This is the real India: a place where true renunciation and living for God is honored and respected, rather than despised or questioned. Here, too, is where the transmission of spiritual power and grace through living instruments (from guru to disciple) is understood, accepted and honored. Here, then, more than anywhere else in the world, Swami Kriyananda can speak "as no other man has spoken" (to quote the Bible in respect to the observation of listeners of Jesus' sermons). Swamiji, not unlike his guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, wears the timeless wisdom of Sanaatan Dharma like a familiar, old coat and speaks of it like an old friend!

In the evening, he joined us in the amphitheatre under the stars to enjoy a concert of music from around the world! Both events were just magical and transported the devotees to a timeless space, to another dimension where saints and devotees commingled with ease and with joy. It was like entering a different world: it was safe, happy, beautiful, and filled with radiant joy and inner peace. This was India: guru to the planet: bestowing its ray of light outward to all truth-seekers, giving comfort and wisdom to all in need.

Our time there was peaceful in other respects too, for there are no honking cars, no near-fatal encounters with moving vehicles, no choking fumes, and no need to be on the traveller's constant guard. The home cooked food was a blend of Indian and western and was simple and tasty. Accommodations were rustic and, with some exceptions, adequate (there were so many of us that about ten had to be lodged down the road at a nearby "camp"). Water was in serious short supply, however. It has to be trucked, several times a day, from a nearby stream and pumped into water tanks on the land. There was never enough for showers and so on. This was challenging for the fact that the daily high temperature was mid to upper 90's and dust was everywhere, or, at least all over one's feet and pants. Though it was hot in the midday sun, it was delightful at dusk and in the evenings, and by daybreak, it could even still have a little nip of cold.

One night, however, was the annual India-wide celebration of Shiva (known as Shivaratri) and local villagers used the opportunity to party all night raucously. If there was any devotion in their noise, I missed it. Sigh. Some of our pilgrims had little sleep that night, unfortunately.

What Ananda members, both Indian and American (and European) have accomplished in manifesting a community and retreat out of "pure" red dirt is a testimony to will power, dedication, creativity and divine grace! Yet, they have yet a long way to go. At minimum is needed a long-term secure source of water. Movement is afoot to bring a pipeline in but it's not there yet and land disputes and theft (yes, including water theft) are rampant and endemic. Most visitors, at least from America, make the obvious and appropriate comparisons to the state of Ananda's original community, Ananda Village, in the Sierra Nevada foothills some thirty years ago. Who could imagined how beautiful that community was to become from its state during the '70's and '80's!

At last, our few days there in the peace and quiet of the Pune hills was over. At the break of dawn on Monday, March 11, the serviceful monks hefted our luggage onto the bus as we, after a quick breakfast, began our journey by bus and air back to Delhi.

Now we are on to India's holiest city, Varanasi, known by its spiritual name, Kashi. This city was to prove our greatest challenge and yet one of our most inspired visits. It was to prove to be action-packed and a revelation of timeless intensity.

See you in Kashi!

Nayaswami Hriman