Saturday, August 3, 2013

Spiritual Teachings in the Marketplace - for all? for the elite? free, or costly?

Originally published in 1925, Bruce Barton, one of the founding members of the advertising agency Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborne (known today as BBDO worldwide), presents Jesus Christ as a leader, role model, and a successful salesman. Paramhansa Yogananda, who came to America in 1920 from India, to bring the teachings of Vedanta and the practice of Raja Yoga (including the now popular Kriya Yoga meditation technique), intersected and endorsed Bruce Barton's book as he, Yogananda, who was frequently compared to a modern Jesus Christ, struggled to present his teachings to the dynamic, creative, diverse and all-too materialistic American culture.

Yogananda delighted in the fresh and dynamic portrayal of Jesus by Barton. It contrasted sharply with the depiction of Jesus as dour and "acquainted with grief," and as one who was crucified for our sins and perpetually carrying his cross on our behalf. Jesus was, after all, a young man who hiked up and down ancient Palestine with a band of brothers. Why would hundreds, even thousands, of his fellow countrymen be attracted to this young man if his message was one that reminded them (as if they needed reminding) of the need for suffering? Of course not! He and his band had to have been vibrant, joyful, and enthusiastically learning, practicing and sharing the "good news" of our soul's eternal birthright in God's joy and love.

Yogananda, author of his world renowned life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," came from India, he said, at the behest of Jesus Christ who, in cooperation with the deathless and great (maha) avatar, Babaji, were guiding the evolution of consciousness here on earth by resurrecting the previously hidden scientific techniques of God communion through yoga practice. Babaji was asked to train and send someone to the West to help bring together the best of the east and the best of west -- the material efficiency of the west with the spiritual efficiency of India's timeless science of yoga introspection and concentration. As the west was uncovering the secrets of Mother Nature ("Prakriti") through observation and measurement, so too have the yogis of India, since ancient times, uncovered the secrets of consciousness ("Purusha") through yoga concentration and observation.

The parallels between Yogananda's life in establishing himself and his teachings in America and Jesus Christ bringing his "new testament" to the Jews are interesting. Each had no choice (because possessing no institution or other network or orthodox endorsement) but to traipse across their respective countries, speaking to those with "ears to hear and eyes to see." We don't know how Jesus' travels and ministry were supported but we do know that Judas "kept the purse." So, presumably, some of his wealthier students and disciples were helping. Perhaps even Matthew, the tax collector (one who would presumably have had some accumulated wealth), had helped sweeten the pot.

According to Phillip Goldberg (author of "American Veda") who has studied the various Vedantic teachers who have come to the West with yoga, Yogananda made a major innovation when he instituted his printed lessons in Vedanta and Yoga and sent them through the mail. Goldberg compares this innovation to the landmark invention by Sears and Roebuck of their catalog some decades before. They were the equivalent in their time to online classes of our age of the internet.  

Yogananda's printed lessons allowed him to come to a city, stay and give classes for a week or several weeks, and enroll students in his lessons which would then be sent bi-weekly from his headquarters in Los Angeles. The lessons at the time (say, 1930) cost $25.00 which according to is worth $352 in today's dollars! Yogananda printed photos of himself which he sold at his lectures and even had billboards with his photo to advertise his classes and lectures. It would hardly surprise anyone that he encountered no small amount of criticism, and not just from Christian fundamentalists, but even more so from fellow Vedantins. 

Yogananda stated that "If Mr. Wrigley could sell chewing gum with billboards than I can use the same to sell good ideas for people to chew on." Quoting, in effect, Barton's very popular book, Yogananda declared that "if Jesus Christ were to come today he would employ modern advertising methods to share his message." Indeed! He made the distinction that to use business methods for God's work was right and proper but to use God's work to get rich was not. It is, thus, the intention and consequence of one's efforts that form the basis for assessing their righteousness before God and conscience.

In his autobiography he relates how Lahiri Mahasaya, upon being initiated in kriya yoga and empowered to teach it to others, requested from his guru, Babaji, that the ancient requirements of monasticism and renunciation be lifted so that oppressed and stressed householders might also benefit. Babaji endorsed this request as an expression of the divine will and empowered Lahiri to give to those disciples who were sincere the kriya "keys" to "heaven." On the first page of the same chapter (Chapter 26), however, Yogananda states that owing to "ancient injunctions," he could not reveal the technique in the pages of a book for the general public. (He taught the techniques in his lessons, however.) He explained that the technique must be learned from someone who knows the technique (correctly, presumably!). In his own organization and training of kriya ministers ("kriyacharyas"), Yogananda had developed a system whereby the initiate was taught a series of progressive yoga techniques in preparation for learning the kriya technique.

Jesus, famously, remonstrated to his disciples not to throw that which is holy to dogs, or pearls before swine. The New Testament reveals that Judas was less concerned about the poor (when he objected to the costly ointment used to bathe Jesus' feet) than his own attachment to money and to the good opinion of religious authorities. 

Yogananda's spiritual heir and most advanced disciple, James J. Lynn, to whom Yogananda gave the spiritual title and name of "Rajarsi Janakananda," endowed Yogananda's work, through the organization he founded (Self-Realization Fellows) on the basis of Lynn's spectacular rise from poverty to wealth through business. He was, in short, a self-made millionaire (when that was a lot of money). Letters from Yogananda and the testimony of close disciples reveal that Yogananda was persistent in his urging of Rajarsi to make contributions to the work and that Yogananda expressed concern that satanic forces would find ways to defeat this endeavor for which Rajarsi was incarnated to accomplish in service to the new dispensation which Yogananda declared was his mission in the West.

Ours is an age of freedom, individual liberties, universal education, and free exchange of ideas and information. The internet is the most obvious and dynamic engine of this free exchange. Notwithstanding Yogananda's refusal to publish the details of the kriya technique publicly, others, primarily from lineages other than his own (Lahiri Mahasaya's, principally), have reportedly done so. Some people, as if to fulfill ancient patterns of religious and commercial rivalry and competition, will claim that their revelations are of the "original" or correct technique, implying or stating that Yogananda changed or diluted Lahiri Mahasaya's actual instructions and techniques!

Human nature doesn't change much, does it? So which is right: public and free dissemination, or, training, discipline and paying (a modern day symbol of giving back in gratitude and recognition). 

According to Yogananda, his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, made a major revelation and calendar correction that essentially asserted that which we, in the west, readily accept as self-evident: the human race has entered a new age of information and globalization based on rapid advances in technology and new and inexpensive sources of energy. This revelation, however, isn't confined to science but includes the evolution of consciousness.

Fundamentalists of all religions more or less disagree, for they see the breakdown of their religious hegemony over their adherents in the light of moral disintegration--hardly a sign, they say, of upward evolution! But to Yogananda's followers, and many others besides, this disintegration has been the necessary accompaniment to the dissolution of institutional authority (especially religious) in favor of the a resurgence of spirituality independent of traditional religions.

Yogananda's essential and original message was to teach the "Science of Religion" which would free sincere seekers from the rigid enclosure of religion and bestow the blessing of direct, intuitive and personal perception of God who is, as Jesus himself taught, "within you." 

Thus in this new age (called the Second, or "Dwa-para"), humankind would rediscover universal (and therefor nonsectarian) ethical and moral values on the basis of their harmonizing effects upon consciousness and, by extension, upon society. It would be through meditation that this social upliftment would occur -- person by person, soul to soul -- as the Self of all becomes realized within. Hence, Yogananda termed this movement "Self-realization." Yogananda's essential message linked meditation through kriya yoga with the universal search for true and lasting happiness--that soul impelled impulse that unites us all.

He said that it would encircle the globe and, in time, refresh and reinvigorate faith among all peoples. It would also help rejuvenate orthodox religions towards a fresh and new life for those still attracted to them. He said that "Self-realization" would become the religion of Dwapara Yuga. (Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple and founder of Ananda's worldwide work, insisted that this did not mean a prediction of a new "Catholic" church but that this statement had to be understood on a personal and individual level.)

How, then, after this long and windy tome from me, do we reconcile Jesus' not throwing pearls before swine with the age of the internet and the free dissemination of yoga techniques? Between Yogananda's own method of training disciples in Kriya (over a period of months up to a year or more) and those who have published what they claim are kriya methods in books, in weekend workshops or in person on the spot?

For starters, we can't. That is we must accept this new age of Dwapara as it is an age of relative chaos that includes both freedoms and license. The true races of humankind are not based on color or class but on levels of consciousness. The merchants of the world of spiritual seekers will simply buy or get what they want. The sincere devotees whose refinement of consciousness intuit a need for more than facts and methods but of spiritual (cosmic) consciousness itself will seek others who they perceive can bestow what they really seek.

Many meditation and other techniques can help one advance spiritually. This includes serving humanity and loving God with body, mind, strength and heart. Each according to his need, in other words. There isn't one "best" technique or "best" teacher, certainly not, at least, as it relates to the individual soul. The basic meditation technique of watching the breath has been given by some true teachers as the sole technique. In Yogananda's kriya yoga system it is but the basic technique. Yet he himself acknowledged that one could find God through the basic breath technique which he called "Hong Sau."

Not only does personal instruction and specific, focused training help preserve the correctness of a given technique and help ensure its accuracy down through the generations, but it fulfills the ancient and intuitive principle of "transmission." Universities, professional and trade accreditation boards, and governmental authority procedures are everyday examples of transmission by proper authority. Religion (think Pope, bishops, priests and its institutional arm, the curia and the Holy See), too, contains the symbols of ordination and transmission. Whether in monarchies or democracies the legitimate transfer and recognition of authority has supreme value and importance in human affairs.

It is true that great prophets, including Jesus Christ, might be said or might appear to have sprung to life free from transmission, but for the most part, any such examples are the exception. Jesus received several endorsements: at birth, the Three Wise Men (from the East---gee, could that have been, well, like, INDIA?), and from John the Baptist. While neither had the imprimatur of Jewish orthodoxy, each, at least according to the New Testament, had the direct recognition of such other sources as the Star of Bethlehem, the angelic hosts, and the appearance in vision and form of the archangel (Joseph, Zacharia, Mary, & the shepherds).

The same is true for the birth of Buddha, Moses and many others. Divine transmission and recognition figure prominently, in other words, in all important aspects of authority, both temporal and spiritual. 

Our age of liberty, life and pursuit of happiness is of course testing the limits of such ancient and universal truths. Self-appointed spiritual teachers spring up like weeds in May, often claiming some hidden or personal inspiration and transmission. "Buyer beware!" In respect to life and to the internet, the truth isn't "out there." Jesus said to Peter, after Peter, and only Peter, correctly hailed Jesus as the Messiah that "upon this rock" (of inner, intuitive, direct, personal perception of truth) will "I build my church" (of cosmic consciousness).

Thus, in the end, each one of us are free to and required to make our own choice regarding our spiritual path. Those (the "merchants" or "Vaishyas") who want things free and cheap will get them: free and cheap. Those (the "warriors" or "Kshatrias") willing to give their lives in service, devotion, and meditation, even at great personal cost, will get their reward in the heaven of Self-realization born of ego transcendence. The "peasants" ("Sudras") will get little to nothing because they don't want to put out energy. They come to lectures, workshops and classes but make little to no effort to change from within. They (the "priests" or "Brahmins") who know, know. Those who say they know, don't. Those who say they don't, don't.

Joy and blessings to you and apologies for the length of this.........I write only by inspiration, not by demand or popularity or conformance with any one else's standards.

Like you, I AM THAT I AM.

Swami Hrimananda (aka Hriman)

"Religion and the New Age," by Swami Kriyananda. Available at Ananda, or the East West Bookshop nearest you, or from the publisher: