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baseboard trim is not straight, the painter, that the paint is peeling, the interior decorator, that the furniture is out of date, the mother, that her child is far too quiet, and the father, that he’s late for work and can’t find his car keys!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