Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Welcome 2015: Adieu to 2014!

Those who follow mainline world news may wonder what is there to welcome but flaming hotspots of war, disease and violence? But as each morning lets us begin a new day, so each year offers us the opportunity for a fresh perspective. Though to turn away in a yawn or a scoff may seem the better part of realism, the human spirit needs refreshment every bit as much as the human body needs nightly rest or daily nutrition.

If I were a psychic or a saint I could make some intriguing predictions about 2015, but predicting is a fool's game to play in print. But it is a good moment to step back and ask "What directions have I been taking? Are these the directions that will bring to me happiness or pain?" And, as we are part of a much larger world, we might also ask ourselves "What events in the world around me seem to hover, ready to strike? What, if anything, should I do in anticipation?" As a yogi and devotee I wonder, "What is God, through my karma and my guru (Paramhansa Yogananda), guiding me to focus on for my own spiritual growth? How can I serve Thee and to do that which will make me free?"

The more years I spend on this planet the more I am convinced that reality, happiness, truth.......are found in "God alone." This sounds a bit much unless one dives a little deeper. "God alone" is a code phrase for being centered; unruffled amidst the "crash of breaking worlds." It is code for having a "God's eye view" of life, and, more importantly, MY LIFE! Not only in "don't sweat the small stuff," but hold steadfast to faith and ultimate goodness in the big stuff, too. Devotion, prayer, meditation, and active service together build a fortress of inner peace.

It also refers to the intuitive realization born of lifetimes of living and seeking that no human dream or goal or experience, whether laudatory or debased, can bring more than a fleeting peek of true happiness. This is one of the gold rings of the true Trilogy. This is the wisdom of what, in India, is called Shankhya philosophy. It is, however, universal to the unfolding of human consciousness even if it is but the first step towards wisdom. (The second gold ring is the awakening, or "smriti," of our divine nature and of Divinity as the only reality. The third is the ever-expanding realization of that nature.)

Few people are born with this insight. In most lives it comes, if it comes at all, with living a God-centered, truth-centered (versus a Me-centered) life. However, even Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says, "Out of a thousand, one seeks Me......" And, in viewing the drama of human lives, that's probably closer to the real odds given by the "Las Vegas" wheel of human karma.

Honestly, I don't know how people find any sustaining happiness, creativity and contentment in this world without a faith that is rooted in a robust sense of centeredness and divine Presence. How many humans, by the time life comes to a natural end, have succumbed to disillusionment, ennui, and regret. Some, too, augur into self-made hells of hatred and bitterness. Others, simply into pain: physical or emotional; others, too, into the escapist world of the sub-conscious mind. And yes, admittedly, there are good people everywhere who live to a ripe old age: happy, grateful, and content. This latter group is to be commended for having done so seemingly devoid of any faith but I wonder how deeply rooted this state is (for those of us who believe in reincarnation). Who can predict whether the karmic wheel will fall on this coveted space? Is there anyone who can, by force of will power alone, ensure such a happy destiny? I doubt it. Those who have achieved it seem to have been born with it.

Looking back over 2014, can you discern a direction to your thoughts and attitudes? Actions and responses? A pattern to events and relationships? Imagine railroad tracks extending from these patterns forward past the veil which hides the future? Peer into and past that veil. Where do they lead? Was 2014 a victorious year for conscious, sustainable, ideal-focused living, or, well, is it time to renew your "vows?"

Diet? Exercise? Yoga? Meditation? Education? Service to your community? These should be on your review and to-do list. Yes? TV, movies, internet, overspending, sloth etc etc...........say no more?

Economists tell us 2015 is looking up. Being somewhat a contrarian by nature, I figure that when the bulls or the bears are stampeding, that's the best time to reverse course. The Dow at 18,000? Based on, what, exactly? I'd say be very conservative before leaping into the idea that 2015 is going to be a banner year economically. Grow food; nurture conscious-living friends and community, refresh your spirit on retreat; in nature; and, yes, for some, in pilgrimages or other ideal-inspired travel. Share generously but wisely, relative to your means, of course.

Politically: ditto all the way. More of nothing from the U.S. Congress. Poor 'ol Obama: intelligent, wise and well-meaning: stuck in the mud of a divided nation. Our national culture is suspicious of the federal government and for good reason: both on principle and on experience. Obama came on the scene when our nation was broke and bereft of consensus and confidence. Yet, some of the issues we face nationally and internationally require strong leadership and bold, though perhaps unpopular, initiatives. Sigh. Ditto internationally: east vs west (a replay?). Asia vs. the west (unfinished karma)? Hard to see our way forward, isn't it?

The solution is local, not global. The solution is individual, not collective or political. This is the hard lesson that our planet must learn. It is neither easy to do, nor pretty to watch. Ananda describes this solution in terms of intentional communities: people with shared (but universal) ideals, cooperating creatively, and with individual volition and initiative. Affirming and working with the positive.

You see: ours is an age of individualism. Yet, none are an island unto ourselves; nor could we be in this world of globalism that we have created. Individuals, not nations, must acquire conscience; integrity; self-effort; creative-thinking, health-mindedness and high-mindedness. Despite the enormous power of the "haves," the others CAN change the tide of history by being "the change we seek."

Think in longer rhythms, in other words. For the few who can leave the cities and start a new life, perhaps with others, go for it!

Last year we (Padma and I) were given Vedic astrology readings. Having reached the landmark of 60 years (ok, a tad north of that), it seemed a good time for a higher altitude perspective. Sure enough, changes are afoot! This phase of life tends naturally to be a time to begin pulling back from well-honed skills in order to mentor others and/or to serve in a broader way, and thus it was the message of the "stars" to us, as well. We expect to go further afield of the Seattle area to serve the work of Ananda. We shall see!!!!

So, time to reflect and renew and put the shoulder to the wheel of happiness, health, and "heaven."

A blessed and ever-New Year!

Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Do You Believe in Christmas? In Santa Claus?

My spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda, was once asked whether he believed in Santa Claus! With a big smile, he said "YES, I DO!" He was not referring to facts; he was referring to truth. The fact of a "real" Santa Claus is far less important than the "truth" (power, and need for) love; for compassion; for acts of kindness and generosity (unsought, unexpected)! The truth embodied in Santa Claus is the essential goodness and gift of life, of love, and of acceptance. (Yet even Santa Claus recognizes those who are "naughty or nice.")

When we view images of the Holy Family at the birth of Jesus: in the lowly manger, the humble stable with the barn animals, with the earthy shepherds in worshipful attendance.......we may feel a sense of reverence, of quiet joy, comfort and fellow feeling. We don't need to analyze our theology for the image speaks for itself.

Even if no belief system surrounded the young child Jesus, the image and its message of purity, devotion, love, protection and reverence for the sacredness of life would be truth sufficient for its celebration.

Whatever may be the shortcomings of the way Christmas is celebrated, its message remains an affirmation of a deep truth and human need. This all people of goodwill can appreciate and affirm.

In the darkness of life's crises and struggles, we put aside petty differences and focus on the important things. This image, then, of huddling in the darkness to support one another and honor with reverence one another is another, though more subtle, message. This is a part of the Solstice message saying it is darkest before the dawn and if we remain steadfast in the faith of the goodness and meaning of life, of love, of sharing, then this will be the victory regardless of the "facts" of the outcome.

The Solstice message includes a reminder that no matter how dark it may be at the moment, the sunlight of hope and the promise of joy always returns.

Our humanist interpretations cannot, however, rob Christmas of its higher, divine meaning. Many modern-thinking people attempt to sanitize Christmas of not merely any sectarian message that might be proclaimed but of any divine message, too.

What is this divine message, as I term it? It's not merely the values message expressed by the scene: the father-protector of the family; the mother, pure and selfless, the child, innocent yet wise; the caring neighbors (shepherds); idealized domestic harmony, in other words, prescribed by true and universal spiritual values.

The deeper message is, more or less, the one ascribed to it by its own context: the scriptures. God takes human form for the upliftment, redemption and salvation of His children (those with eyes to see Him and ears to hear His voice, His message of goodwill and glad tidings).

The Christian view is that Jesus is the "only" Son of God, a direct incarnation of the Godhead. Hindus and others take the same view in respect to their saviors, such as Krishna. But at least in India they accept that God has taken many human forms, not just one, down through the ages.

The more nuanced view goes beyond some divinely-created pretend-to-be-human-puppet. As Paramhansa Yogananda taught it: Jesus is not different in kind from us. He, too, is a soul, like you and me, made in the image of God. Through countless lives, however, Jesus climbed the spiral staircase, so to speak, and has achieved (realized) his true and eternal sonship, and oneness with God, the Father Spirit beyond creation. St. John in the first chapter of his gospel says, "As many as received Him, gave He them the power to become the sons of God." Jesus is only different from most of us by degree of our realization of our soul, eclipsed as it is by our identification with our form, our body, our ego and personality, and with the input of matter through the five senses.

But I have written in an earlier blog about the theology, so to speak, of Sanaatan Dharma (the yogic philosophy) of Christmas.

It is a fact that the day before Christmas Eve four people died in America from tornadoes; it is a fact that policemen have caused the death of young black men, presumably unnecessarily and owing primarily to their race. But the truth can be greater than the facts: what if the deaths, now simply regrettable facts which we cannot reverse, trigger an outpouring of compassion, sympathy and changes in attitudes....all of which can have lasting benefits. Death may be the obvious ultimate sacrifice in human terms but "no one gets out of life alive." If by one's death some lasting good and change can be affected even in one, or a few, or what to say many others, is not this reality to be honored? Given the uncertainties and recurring injustices of life, is this not this a higher truth than the mere facts? And, what if, though we cannot corroborate it directly, the deaths of those unfortunate people mitigates some unseen past karma of their own with the result that they, too, are freed to some small or large degree of a burden they had carried? This is, at least, a hope and prayer for them.

So yes, let's believe in Santa Claus and let us honor the birth of Jesus as the birth of God in human form: not just in Jesus, but in ourselves as well, which, with effort and effort's attraction of divine grace, will bear the fruit of Self-realization "by steadfast meditation on Me."

A blessed Christmas on Christmas Eve, 2014,

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, December 19, 2014

How to Have A Deeper, Longer Meditation

Tomorrow, and in the next few days, Ananda and other groups around the world will uphold a tradition begun by Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now famous "Autobiography of a Yogi") to celebrate Christmas with a day of meditation.

Yogananda began this tradition in honor of what he called "the formless Christ." This term, like a diamond, have several facets, but let us say simply that it refers to the universal Christ consciousness latent within each person (indeed, even in every atom of creation). In meditation, when one feels peace descending upon him like a weightless waterfall washing away all cares and sorrows, he can justly say that he has felt the Christ-peace within. The dynamic and uplifting experience of states such as peace, joy, love and the inner experiences of astral sound and light are aspects of a higher, divine consciousness: a manifestation of the living (and universal) Christ.

The Christ "in form" would be any avatar (true master), east or west, who appears in vision or in flesh and blood as Jesus and other great masters have in the lives of individual devotees.

This revelation of the formless divinity of our souls is one of the great teachings of all time. It has been given anew to us by Yogananda and by other great teachers to encourage us to go within wherein lies the true "kingdom of heaven."

Feeling peace in meditation, for example, is among the easiest of these higher ("superconscious") states to access, even for a beginning meditator.

The first time one attends a day-long meditation, one surely has trepidation. My teacher, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Yogananda and founder of the Ananda work worldwide) counseled us to tune into the natural rhythms of energy and consciousness during such longer meditations. By alternating meditation techniques with periods of silent, inner communion, we would more easily go deeper and into greater meditative joy than by fighting the mind to obey our will as we focus intensely upon techniques and concentration for too long.

In raja yoga we teach quite a number of simple and commonly used breath control techniques ("pranayams"). One can have an index card with their names to serve as reminders during the day to practice if we feel mental fatigue. Breaks for chanting can also revive our flagging energy and devotion. Kriyananda would advise us to stand during chanting if our body needed some change of position or relief from sitting.

The natural flow of prana during any 8-hour period of focused activity alternates concentration with relaxation. Whether you're digging a ditch or making sales calls, for example, you will break for a cup of coffee or tea, a chat with a co-worker, a bathroom break, or consult with your supervisor. The wonderful system of pranic tension exercises which we call Energization echoes and perfects this rhythm. It is the rhythm of night and day; activity and rest. You can use this, also, even sitting in meditation: as you inhale, tense the body; vibrate lightly but firmly; exhale forcibly and relax the tension; pause to feel the effects; repeat two or more times. In the Energization system there are 39 separate tension-breath movements which are ideally performed before meditation and which can be used sitting or standing, or during a break from a long meditation.

Even some brief inspiration reading material can help relax, inspire and divert the mind from the discomfort or complaints of the body or the mind in its one-pointed meditative focus.

Other spiritual practices during a long meditation include praying for others; silent, inner chanting or mantra. With open eyes, one might have periods of wordless prayer before devotional pictures or images.

On the path of Kriya Yoga, we have a veritable smorgasbord of kriya techniques: watching the breath with the Hong Sau mantra; the Aum technique of listening to the inner sounds with a special mudra; the basic kriya technique and, for some of us, advanced kriya techniques.

It is essential, however, not to barnstorm one's way, like the proverbial "bull in the china closet," through techniques. Whatever you do, technique-wise, should be followed by stillness and inner absorption of the peaceful after-poise of "pranayam" or devotional exercise. The natural pranic rhythm of which I speak here does not usually (or at least necessarily) alternate in segments of an hour or more. It can be shorter rhythms, too.

But don't take the attitude that because you "have all day," you "take all day" to get anywhere in the depth of your meditation! Many make that mistake: almost afraid, I think, to take the plunge. Go deep right away Yogananda would tell students. Remember that until thoughts cease, you are not really meditating. Gulp! I know, that's a high bar to jump over.

To describe it that way is essentially negative: not this, not that. Rather, see the goal as achieving the peace, the joy, and the love of communing inwardly with God who is within you; who IS you......in whatever form you hold dear: formless (in states of peace, joy or love, etc.) or form (as in the presence of a saint or guru or deity).

Look forward to a day of rest from worries, duties and constant motion, mental, emotional, and physical! Look forward to embracing the Silence as your Best Friend. "I am coming Home to Thee!"

A day of prayer and communion (true inner communion) will, even if it is, at times, a struggle of will power, bring blessings that, like waves from the sea to the shore, will wash over you for days, weeks, months to come.

Offer yourself at the altar of Silence! Prostrate your human littleness at the feet of your Infinite Self. Return to your Creator who is the silence behind all motion; who is the love of your own heart; the joy of your own creativity; the light of your animate life!

Wish us luck tomorrow and this coming week. We hope to offer to the world a ray of light descending to earth, taking advantage of the Christmas holiday which opens a "worm hole" to the transcendent Christ who shares the spirit of world brotherhood and universal understanding.

It is based on this day of inner communion that the social aspects of Christmas have their reality and their vibrancy!

May the Christ light of Peace shine upon you!

Swami Hrimananda

Monday, December 15, 2014

Did Jesus Die for our Sins?

Forgive me my own, instinctive reply: if He did, I hadn't sinned yet. And, besides, I've done my share without a lot of interference from Him! ha, ha, for me.........and now, for a more serious treatment:

We are taught that the Fall of Adam and Eve made it necessary for God to send his only begotten son to redeem us. That God's supreme act of "so loving the world that God sends his only-begotten" is part of the covenant between God and man. And, that, as in sacrifices since ancient times from around the world, Jesus is the "Lamb" of God being sacrificed on the altar of redemption and forgiveness.

As my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, used to quip (on this subject): "It may well be that Jesus died for our sins, but there's sure been a 'whole lot of sinnin' ever since.

As a yogi, I am taught (as my guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, affirmed from his tradition) that the guru can take on the "karma" (i.e. the sins) of a disciple. Presumably not ALL the karma, but enough to speed up the salvation (aka moksha, or liberation) of the disciple. Saints down through the ages have shown that they can take on the karma in physical ways upon their own bodies. Swami Kriyananda stated that this gurus do often towards the end of their lives (I suppose for obvious reasons: to clean things up before they go).

In the Old Testament, Elijah, at the end of his life, gave the mantle of his spiritual power to his disciple, Elisha, who requested it. Paramhansa Yogananda, upon meeting his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, asked that he be given the power to know God. There "ensued," his autobiography stated, an hour long (silent) tussle because the word of a guru is "law" and armed with the power to bestow the cosmic vision, the guru must first seek divine benediction.

So, as a yogi, I have no essential issue with the general idea that "Jesus died for our sins." I have no doubt that Jesus took on the karma of his disciples by doing so. He gave an example to all time on how to deal with spiritual tests of every kind: with acceptance of God's will, with love for whomever might deliver the unpleasant opportunity, with equanimity, and with faith and divine attunement unto death. His greatest miracle was to "forgive them for they know not what they do."

Jesus' resurrection is the symbolic victory our souls experience when we meet our tests with these same right attitudes. For therein, the power of our innate soul-divinity is raised from its slumber and bit by bit we grow and wax strong in Spirit.

But: "the sins of, like, the WHOLE WORLD?" Ah, c'mon now! That's a stretch, ain't it? Indeed!

Swami Kriyananda, quoting Paramhansa Yogananda from whom he was taught in person, said that the difference between an "ordinary" saint (even a jivan mukta: one is liberated but not yet totally free from past karma) and a savior (an avatar), is that the avatar has the spiritual power to liberate many souls, not just a handful of close disciples.

Thus we see, over two thousand years disciples of Jesus who are truly great saints: St. Francis, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Anthony of the Desert, and in modern times, Padre Pio and Therese Neumann. An avatar, whether by later centuries long since reincarnated, remains eternally accessible to true devotees through the Infinite Consciousness of God (the Eternal Now) and can even be materialized into flesh and blood form by the devotee's devotion.

But, again: the WHOLE WORLD? No! Disciples........true disciples (not pledge card membership ones, merely)....YES, some at least!

Let's back up into the realm of metaphysics now, before we leave you. "Adam and Eve" represent not only the "first humans" created by God but our own initial incarnation as pure souls, made in the image of God. Their choice has also been ours: time and again; lifetime after lifetime.

The echo of this initial stage of our existence is the innocence of childhood in which the "fruit" (consciousness) of the tree of good and evil (i.e., duality -- esp. our ego consciousness which recognizes the eternal competition between male & female principles and archetypes)--has yet to be "eaten" (absorbed into our attitudes and view of life).

The Redeemer is our soul's innate divinity. It is reawakened by the guru (including the teachings of the guru which may take an initial form in the teachings of religion). When that memory of our soul's purity is stimulated and nurtured by us, the inner light of the soul is born in the dark manger of the cold night of prayer, meditation and withdrawal from ego-active desires and ambitions.

This innate soul divinity "takes on the sins" of our world, our past karma. Though crucified by the tests and trials necessary for our purification, the soul accepts all as from God for its own awakening. In this stage, and as our soul longs for and attunes to God through the guru (Jesus, Buddha, Yogananda, etc.), the guru renders inner guidance and help. To what extend the guru "takes on our karma," cannot be easily known. The very fact that an avatar, free from all karma, comes again and again into human form, experiencing the burdens of human life and taking on the path of awakening, to some degree, each time, is sufficiently good karma (not needed for the guru's own soul) for many guru-attuned souls. The very fact that a true guru gives a teaching, techniques and models an ideal life, is also an investment into the Good Karma Bank that the disciples can cash their Karmic Checks upon.

But make no mistake: there's no free ride! The depth, the intensity, the intelligence, and the sincerity of our efforts is what attracts this grace: the guru's power--the guru's mantle!

Remember: in God all are equal; we are One! Thus the reality of our separateness is evanescent. We did not create this world of maya (delusion and satan). It is no surprise therefore that as God's power created this cosmos, it is God's power that redeems us. And this is "the good news." We may have made badly informed choices over many lifetimes but the error is not completely ours alone! The dice of creation are, however, loaded with God consciousness.

This is an aspect of why devotion to God is the key. Our devotion draws the succor, the help of God in human form, to which we can relate from our own human form. And though God is an Infinite Power and not essentially anthropomorphic, He has created us and is, indeed, our very essence. We must ascend from where we are: bound by ego consciousness. Thus, God in seemingly human, egoic form, comes to help us unmask our soul's eternal and non-egoic nature.

The indwelling presence of God in creation is what is referred to as the "only begotten son of God." On the one hand, the realization of this aspect of God (the Son, of the Trinity) is crucified by our ignorance over many lives, on the other hand, it is our irrepressible soul-Spirit that takes on, with assistance from God in the form of the guru, this past karma and works it out in order to shed the self-limiting but essentially insubstantial ego. Twice-born and twice crucified, you might say! It all balances to the Cosmic Zero of God!

This, then, is the Good News! God, through the guru, is our Redeemer and has been born both in outward human form time and time again and, then, by our acceptance, in His second coming: in our hearts.

Happy Christmas: may the Christ within you be born again and again, be nurtured and grow to maturity, in the silent, still manger of daily meditation and devotion.

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Why Do We Celebrate Christmas at Ananda?

Paramhansa Yogananda, author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," is the source of inspiration and yoga teachings for the Ananda communities, centers and groups around the world. Why, then, is Christmas, and indeed the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, such an integral part of Ananda?

Generally (though more so in western countries than in India), you will find that at Ananda during the Christmas season there are nativity scenes, the Three Wise Men, gift giving, celebrations, and the adoration of the Christ child. Why did Yogananda himself make a special point of celebrating Christmas, not just spiritually, but socially? 

There are a number of reasons. They include:
  •     A special relationship exists between Yogananda, Jesus and the three “wise men”
  •        A new dispensation of universal understanding has come to reconcile east and west
  •        A new understanding of the divinity of Christ is needed
  •        The time has come to affirm the Christ-potential of all people
  •        True communion is “inner” communion through meditation
  •        The “second coming of Christ” is personal and individual, not historical

Here are some thoughts and facts to share:

  1. Yogananda stated that the three wise men were none other than his guru-preceptors: Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Sri Yukteswar (in former incarnations). 
  2. He taught that the term "second coming of Christ" refers to the teaching and to the individual, personal realization (however slight or only intellectual, at first) that divinity is within each person, indeed, each atom of creation. (This is an extension of the Vedic teaching that in creating the world, God manifested it through "his" own consciousness, for there was no "thing" or no objects with which to "use" to create anything!")
  3.  "Christ" was not Jesus' name. It is a title. So, too, "Krishna." Indeed, the two words are linked etymologically. Each refers to the fact that these souls, and others, have fully realized their innate and eternal divinity and oneness with the "Father," the Infinite Spirit beyond and untouched by his consciousness manifesting the creation.
  4. Yogananda averred that Jesus himself, as a unique and individual soul, came to Babaji (the peerless master of the east) and asked him to anoint and send a "savior" to the West to re-ignite the teaching and how-to knowledge that divinity is "within you." This would be transmitted through the art and science of meditation: especially the advanced and nonsectarian technique of Kriya Yoga.
  5. Yogananda affirmed the Christian teaching of the Trinity: the three-fold manifestation of God and said it is the same teaching as expressed in India as "Tat...Sat....Aum." God, the Father, beyond and untouched by creation; God, the son, the "only begotten of the Father," reflected in each atom of creation and fully awakened in the greatest saints and avatars**; and the creation itself, in constant motion, or vibration, the primordial level of which is the "Holy Ghost" or Divine Mother in whose womb, hidden from casual view, resides the seed of intention and intelligence implanted by the "Father" to carry out the purpose of creation: Self-realization!

Christmas, then, is, for us at Ananda, an affirmation and celebration of our oneness as children of God. Our devotion to Jesus Christ rests upon our recognition of his realization of his soul’s innate divinity and of our own potential for Self-realization. It is with joy, then, and fellowship that we affirm and celebrate our own Christ-like potential: God’s promise to us of our immortality in Him.

As Swami Kriyananda, Ananda's founder taught us to say: "Happy Christmas"

Swami Hrimananda

** Yogananda uses the term "Christ consciousness" to express the "Tat" of the Vedas. Others might say "Krishna consciousness". It is universal and eternal and in every atom.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Interstellar Movie: The Search for Singularity! Is God in a Black Hole?

Tomorrow is America's Thanksgiving Day: the only truly American holiday. (Sure, 4th of July, but many countries have a version of independence day.) And for me, I leave for a week's retreat (personal seclusion) the day AFTER Thanksgiving. I've cleared my desk and am ready to "party with God in silence!"

I've seen Interstellar (the movie) twice, now. Very unusual for me. I couldn't quite figure out what the script meant by "singularity." It finally dawned on me, just the other day. And, even if what dawned on me isn't total square on track with science, I don't really care because what dawned wasn't about science in my view. (So, don't bother to write-in and try to explain to me. Well, ok, go ahead, write in if you think it might help me!)

In the movie, Interstellar, a black hole held the secret "singularity" that might solve the problem of how to defy gravity and lift all of the human race off our dying planet. My "aha" moment in this respect was to equate this "singularity" with the non-dual state of consciousness. Let me explain:

In science and in philosophy, there's lots of idle, speculative, studied, heated or jocular debate about what happened a nanosecond before the BIG BANG that began the universe. I'm out on a limb built of ignorance here, but, for me, the implication and the term singularity is a shorthand way of suggesting that the dual state of the cosmos had its origins in a singular state of nonduality JUST before the BANG went KABOOM. By "dual state of the comos" I mean the electrical properties of polarity (and yes, the neutral state of certain particles exists, too) found in all particles that underlie matter and finer electrical forces. "Non-dual" is code language (to meta-physicians) for God: the First Cause.

In the movie, the protagonist survives falling into a black hole (at least I think that's what happened). It was reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey and its mind-blowing segment. The hero ends up in some time-space warp where he can access the past and interact with it. Anyway, this singularity is presumably what unites time-space into one continuous state, including, of course, its endless possibilities (resulting from being able to interact with present, past, and future).

The script concludes that there's no "THEM" guiding humanity's fate; there's only US! Not exactly theism, mind you, but this state of singularity suggests to my mind a scientific kind of God-state. (My projection, entirely, however.) The script doesn't explain how the worm-hole in space got there for them to go quickly into other star systems. But these sci-fi scripts are full of "worm holes" where credulity is suspended. So I figure I can play loose and fast with its metaphysical implications.

Again, at the risk of displaying my "private parts" of complete scientific ignorance, I suppose one aspect of a fascination with black holes is precisely the implication that the center of such a thing may indeed bear some relationship with the cosmic singularity that preceded the creation. A black hole is, I suppose, the opposite of the BIG BANG, for it represents the BIG CRUNCH in which matter and energy re-congeal into near-Oneness! A good symbol, then, for God, for those of us who are God-minded (maybe scientifically feeble-minded, too).

In my simple way, approaching Absolute Zero is similarly analogous. In my meditation classes I compare the superconductivity of non-conductive materials (think plastic) under conditions of near Absolute Zero, to the state of superconsciousness that occurs when, in meditation, our mind approaches absolute stillness. (The latter being the state described in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali in verse 2 in which he declares that the state of "yoga" --- aka superconsciousness  --- is achieved when all reactive mental processes cease in perfect stillness, leaving only the Mind-Consciousness-Bliss focused upon itself in a state of Oneness. My more perspicacious readers will note that I'm being a little sloppy, here, with terminology and definitions, but never mind. This is a somewhat sloppy, holiday type article).

So, while Interstellar, the movie, is a sci-fi movie and presumably wishes to avoid metaphysical speculation (having already done enough scientific speculating), for me, I enjoyed the conjunction of singularity with God! That's my take; my right; my (humble) opinion and, I'm sticking to it! Ha, ha!

Be thankful, too, for one more thing: you've finished reading this article. I am looking forward to the singularity of inner (and outer) Silence!

Blessings to you for Thanksgiving and bless me in my seclusion!

Swami Hrimananda, beyond time and space and beyond a lot of things!

Post mortem (see comments): My friend, Oliver Shantidev Graf from Ananda Italy reminds me that in the book, Holy The Holy Science by Swami Sri Yukteswar, he describes energy and divine magnetism as emanating from the center of the galaxy. He says scientists believe or have discovered that each galaxy has at its center a black hole! See also a movie, the Black Whole by scientist Nassim Haramein.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Reincarnation: Making a Comeback!

Yes, it's true: studies show that belief in reincarnation is making a comeback. Did you know that Matt Damon believes that he'll be "bourne" again?

Anyway: here we go again. I suppose anyone reading this would have seen the movie, now rather aged, "Groundhog Day." Starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell in a romantic comedy, Groundhog Day features a story in which the protagonist must repeat one day in his life until he "gets it right." It's a comedic study on reincarnation that never mentions reincarnation. It's a delightful, if somewhat silly, movie.

It surprises me, on the one hand, that people scoff at the idea of reincarnation. Yet, on the other hand, why wouldn't they: almost no one can seriously recall even one past life. (Those who do are usually assumed to be a little "light-headed.")

Thing is: can you remember all the incidents and facts of your present life that you DON'T remember? Duh, of course not. Fact is we don't remember 99.9999% of our current life. Our early childhood probably consists of a few fleeting images. As for the rest of our years, we could only reconstruct them in soft chewy bites by referencing jobs we've held, births, deaths, divorces and on and on. It's shocking how quickly we forget the facts. What stays with us, however, is the sense of success, or failure, happiness, grief and the many small but mounting repetitions of attitudes, skills, words, and habits.

I joke with students in my classes that anyone who is a parent must surely believe in reincarnation. Watch your infant grow and pay close attention: from whence comes that fully-armed nuclear bomb of tendencies?

While I admit that most average people on the planet don't waste time speculating on the origins of the universe, the existence of God, the source of evil, and the wide disparity of wealth, health, success, failure, suffering, happiness and longevity. But some do: most likely you and I, right?

A thoughtful person, putting aside for the sake of and the joy of contemplation, the nagging need for proof, would no doubt question the "why's" of life. The answer to those facts of disparity cannot be accounted for by a person's genes. Science admits that genes only offer a sense of potential, not a blueprint of predestination. Wherefore, therefore, this disparity; the shocking injustice of birth and circumstance?

If God is the cause, well, "the hell with him!" Could we be the cause? But how? Where's the beef? (the proof, in other words).

There are many things in life -- important things -- whose cause and origins remain a mystery to us. Science has revealed a great many things about the material world, large and small, but seems impotent to reveal the things of life that matter the most to us: health, love, birth, death and so on.

I'm reading a book right now: it's called "Why Does the World Exist?" (by Jim Holt) When I "googled" this as a question I got 118,000,000 "hits." The efforts by scientists and philosophers to answer this question seem ludicrous to me (as a Vedantin), but it's obvious the question of our existence is far from ludicrous to the deepest thinkers of humanity down through the ages. Like most of humanity who seeks happiness through the fleeting pleasures of the senses or the ego-affirming victories of wealth, status, or power, it may well be that philosophers and scientists are asking the wrong question and/or looking for the answer in the wrong places. Fortunately for you, I won't attempt to weigh in on this subject.

But what I want to suggest is that, in general, a thoughtful person ought to be, at very least, agnostic: which is to say, willing to say, "I don't know, but I am open to the truth, whatever it is and whatever its source." The truth and source could be fundamentalist, orthodox, or entirely nonconformist. What I have observed in the heated dialogues among scientists, religionists and philosophers is, well, just that: heated dialogue. That alone tells me that some are not being objective while others are being dogmatic.

In Chapter 35 of the now famous book, "Autobiography of a Yogi," in the beginning paragraphs of Chapter 35, The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya, you will find a succinct but extraordinary proof that Jesus, in the New Testament, acknowledges the teaching of reincarnation and you will discover a cogent and persuasive revelation of the name of Jesus' guru. Visit http://www.ananda.org/autobiography/#chap35

In a charming recorded talk by Paramhansa Yogananda (author of "Autobiography" cited above) entitled "One Life versus Reincarnation," he presents arguments for both sides: that we live only one life, and, that we live many lives. (You can listen to a five minute clip here: http://www.yogananda-srf.org/listentopy/Listen_to_Paramahansa_Yogananda.aspx#.VHFWz9LF-So )

Fact is, however, we DON'T remember past incarnations. Fact is: we cannot know the future. Fact is: we only have the present to live. Not for the present, but in the present. Through mindfulness of our attitudes and actions, and especially by the power of daily meditation, we can know the consequences (though not the details) of our past actions ("karma") and we can learn how to improve ourselves thereby. That's all that matters.

It has been said, no doubt well and truly, that if we COULD remember past lives we would be horribly burdened. People tend to dwell on their mistakes and few claim their victories. Our lack of memory gives to us a fresh start with each life. Yogananda was once presented an infant to hold. He said he almost dropped the kid because he "saw" the consciousness of a murderer residing in that sweet, little body!

It is here and now that we exist. "Now" is the alpha and omega of our conscious actions. Past and future lay hidden behind a veil. The ability to know our past lives arises, we are told by Patanjali, author of the "Yoga Sutras," to the degree we become unidentified with our present life (body and personality). Only in the expanded and free consciousness of nonattachment can we bear the burden of the past and with that power we can free ourselves from its chains and our identification with it.

While the doctrine of reincarnation and its corollary, the law of karma, can help comfort us and help us accept the disparities of life's manifold destinies, it remains for us but speculative philosophy, albeit the best there is on the market of human understanding. There are those, however, who can see, or even catch glimpses, of the subtle threads of karma which intrude upon the present. For us, too, this will come if we make the right effort now to expand our consciousness from its identification with the little self, its tiny and temporary flesh-cage, and its strutting ego upon the brief stage of life.

Look, perhaps, instead at the patterns of life: yours, and others. You see how we repeat and repeat our mistakes, our successes, our habits and thoughts. One generation abuses the next, and the next abuses the next. Sooner or later someone down the line rebels and breaks the chain of karma through heroic struggle and, I might add, grace from a higher Power. We see repetition also in nature and all around. Repetition also fosters change, growth and evolution. Reincarnation is more like a spiral staircase: going up, or, in some cases, going down.....all according to the law of cause and effect (karma).

Every day can be a new life. Every night our miseries are dismissed from our mind. Reincarnation is all around us. Take it where we find it and probe its secrets. The secret is, simply, to "wake-up." Patanjali says the path to enlightenment is the result of smriti, memory: recollectedness (mindfulness).

The repeating patterns of thought and behavior can be broken by watching, observing, feeling and intuiting their goodness or their harm. Forget the "Thou shalt not...." and substitute "Awareness precedes change." This should be our guide, looking neither left nor right but straight ahead. If what we find no longer serves our true happiness, then we can resolve, in concert with a higher Power (God, Christ, guru) to change it.

If you're still not sure, then rent "Groundhog Day." It will at least be entertaining. Yogananda said God made this world for our entertainment. We must not be caught up in the drama, for it is only a play; a dream of God. Remember: "the good guy gets the girl and the bad guy goes to jail!" So be a good guy and play your role with attention to the script and following the cues of the Director. Someday your movie career will end in an Oscar of bliss-applause presented to you by Divine Mother (the "girl")!

Joy to you, joy to you, joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Thanks & Giving! Not Necessarily the Same Thing!

The American holiday -- Thanksgiving -- is soon to arrive. Many will pause, however briefly, to give "thanks"............there's "thanks" but there's also "giving."

It just so happens the Ananda center here (near Seattle, WA) is hosting a Gala Fundraising dinner Sunday night (November 16). We are starting a three-year campaign of pledge-raising to service loans for the construction of a building known as the Fellowship Hall. The Hall will be next to the meditation temple and completes the original site plan for the use of the property here.

Our Sangha (or "fellowship" or "congregation") here in the greater Seattle and Washington state area has long been an active, creative, and forward thinking group. I think this must reflect a characteristic common to the northwest: self-initiative for the good of all. Both the Temple (which opened in December 2006) and, next year, the Fellowship Hall are tangible, practical expressions of our members active and generous "giving." If we were to count our membership for and by itself, we do not need these buildings for our own purposes. They are a gift to untold numbers yet to be blessed and inspired.

Reflecting, as indeed one does and should this time of year, upon the many reasons to be thankful, let us also reflect how we can be "giving." Gratitude without giving back is like offering sympathy from a safe distance (and taking no action). And if there's one thing our planet needs, it is an attitude of giving back, rather than taking or feeling a sense of entitlement.

One of the great currents of consciousness on our planet is the slowly growing realization that all life is interdependent and we can live and prosper best if we think and act for the good of all. Voluntary cooperation -- creative and intelligent -- for a greater good allocates resources far better than Adam Smith's narrowly defined self-interest. Self-interest is expansive when it goes outward to include the well-being of others and it is contractive when it is limited to oneself, or stops at a predefined boundary such as one's family ("Us four and no more"), tribe or group.

Much of the twentieth century saw the involuntary imposition of "giving" and sharing in the form of communism. Nothing imposed upon others against their will can be said to be "giving." 

I admit that some days when I survey the headlines from around the world I can get discouraged, but that's not really the big picture. How could it be, what with the extensive travel, education, and admixture of cultures in every city and country in the world? 

It is grim, admittedly to consider this, but I am certain that if you were to graph the numbers of people, military and civilian, who have died during the twentieth century in and around wars, purges, pogroms, pandemics, famines, and genocide, we would see a decline in those grisly statistics as the twentieth century progressed and has moved into the twenty-first century. (That's not to say that trend is unalterable and permanent, but, for now, at least, it's in the right direction. I strongly suspect our planet will have to suffer much, much more before the tide towards peace and cooperation turns strongly enough to remain for a very long time.)

It's the "giving" part of Thanks-Giving that I am thinking about. I live in the Ananda Community near Seattle, WA and our community is part of a worldwide network of intentional communities with a supportive and interconnected web of businesses, services and organizations. To create this from nothing has taken the efforts and resources of thousands of dedicated people for whom narrow self-interest has been sublimated into a greater cause. The result is a bunch of joyful and creative people -- not just here in Seattle, but all over the world! Our first movie, in fact, is called Finding Happiness! (see the masthead for this blog)

Americans are a practical people. Ananda has never been funded or endowed and we've had to learn to be practical at the grass roots where real people have to work together to create and sustain themselves and our services to the public. Paramhansa Yogananda, the twentieth century spiritual leader and author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," counseled Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, to "make your ideals practical." That counsel and that necessity has been integral to our experiences in America, in Europe and, more recently, in India.  

One who receives a precious gift and says only "Thank you," but does not otherwise reciprocate in some meaningful form dilutes the meaning of the gift. (Of course, a precious gift should only be given in appropriate circumstances!) Nonetheless, let's not just give thanks alone but give to an ideal and cause greater than our own in practical ways of time, money, creativity and harmony!  Gratitude is an appropriate and necessary beginning to the awakening of consciousness and recognition of our connection with others. It should ignite, however, the desire to give in return!

This world, sorely pressed as it is, by plagues, natural disasters, war, hunger, homelessness, violence, abuse and injustice, sorely needs Givers to spread the message of our Oneness in God: the message of Self-realization. Wish us "well" in our building of the Fellowship Hall, too!

Thanks for reading.....


Monday, November 3, 2014

Doing Good: Is there a Downer Side?

Warning: this article will be more personal than some......, My kids, when they were kids (long ago), when I would warn them of dire things to come in the world we live, they would say, "Oh Dad, you're such a Downer!" Gita, especially, who's very upbeat and positive was particularly annoyed by what she called "Downer Dad." Well, I hope I'm not really that way but at a meeting yesterday, when our meeting worked out ok and I declaimed: "Gosh, I really thought that was going to be mess," someone in the group piped up, "Pessimist!" Well, so, there you have it! Downer Dad!

Living in a spiritual community as I have most of my adult life and teaching mediation and yogic philosophy as I do, and being a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda as I am, you'd expect that I would reflect the upbeat, positive, life-affirming, joyful qualities that Yogananda, and my teacher (founder of Ananda), Swami Kriyananda, and, indeed as Ananda members worldwide do. And, yes I do.

Early in my life, as a college student of the 60's studying comparative religions in "smoke-filled" rooms, I was attracted, at first, to the dour existentialists and the stone-faced Buddhists. But, at such a young age, with a life before me, it wasn't fitting or even easy to continually wear the forlorn long face of the stoics. The shoe simply did not fit, future "Downer Dad" notwithstanding.

It wasn't long, then before I turned, to India: to its color, its chaos, its cacophony, to its exuberant embrace of life. My heart needed something more than "chop wood, carry water." But, at first, I was suspicious of all this joy. Isn't joy, I asked, merely the opposite of sadness? In affirming joy, would I not condemn myself to its dual?

In time, and after encountering Yogananda's now famous story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," and becoming a student of Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Yogananda) and experiencing the infectious joy each, and so many other Ananda members, exuded, I gradually relaxed into the understanding and the actual experience of joy as a non-dual state of consciousness! "Joy is Within You," is the slogan of Ananda!

But even this nearly insufferable up-beat-ness (:-) could not so easily erase episodes of that existential dread or anxiety born of ego consciousness. My "Yes, but........." would always, has always, tempered my view of things lest on wings of hope I fly too close to the sun that I have not yet fully realized.

Well, getting back to my intention, and, in fact, as Yogananda and Kriyananda have also taught, virtue is not sufficient to find God. Virtue is a stepping stone. Is not the energetic enforcer of the law more likely, in a former life, a criminal now making good his past misdeeds? Virtue results from the use of will power applied by the ego toward goodness. This effort is right and true and just.

But how many churches and humanitarian organizations are infested by do-gooders? Oh, yes, without them the good deeds wouldn't happen: I know THAT! Why, then, do I say "infested." Because what comes with good deeds and their doers is just that: the doers! The sense of doership: the "I" principle is, for most, inextricably tied up with the doing of good. Admittedly, it's a step up from evil and from indifference or selfishness. But doing good deeds are, for most people, still born of ego. Nonetheless, good deeds are necessary to expunge one's past bad karma.

But good deeds do not necessarily derive from superconsciousness. In fact, their own, innate "evil" is the reinforcement of ego. "I am doing good." The pitfall that awaits do-gooders is judgement of their fellows. If I am working hard, I will hardly fail to notice that you are a slacker. If I am meditating three hours a day, I will certainly be sure to notice that rest of the devotees around me are NOT! Thus it is, that a judgmental attitude rises up among do-gooders. The habit of being judgmental is what "infests" religion and humanitarian efforts, and, in fact, every group of human activity.

A true devotee knows that his highest duty is to realize that God, not ego, is the Doer. We strive to be mindful of the divine presence within. The light of wisdom that radiates from this inner awareness shows us the divine light in all other beings, creatures and circumstances. Whereas many a do-gooder meddles in everyone else's business, mentally, verbally, or otherwise....in the name of doing good......a true devotee remains centered within. Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita that to "do" someone else's dharma is to fail, even when doing one's own dharma is difficult, unpleasant or we are not yet successful. Uplifting our consciousness is our sole duty in life.

When our consciousness is uplifted, the good we do comes naturally and without expectation or judgment. It is a gift of the soul. It is guided by wisdom and by love.

Shifting the subject, then, and at the risk of seeming in self-defense, someone commented recently that many who work with me and for whom I am supposed to give guidance have experienced my "directness." Our subject was how to be a supportive leader. The question was whether being supportive always meant being "nice" and talking things out in a reasonable and understanding manner. Who would question the value of that? The laudable trend of conflict resolution through respectful interchange and the seeking of mutual understanding for differing points of view is essential. This is wonderful and an invaluable tool in group dynamics.

But among true devotees, bent upon achieving God-realization through superconsciousness, and living by intuitive, inner guidance, we sometimes act in ways that, to the ego, may be abrupt or unwelcome. A self-defensive insistence upon respect can also be, for the devotee, a smokescreen for ego protection. Many a spiritual teacher, enlightened or not, wisely or unwisely, have been known to give a psychic blow to the student's ego. In today's psychological, ego protective culture, the seemingly harsh training given by gurus in former times would be labelled abuse! (And, no doubt, it must have been in some instances.)

My teacher sometimes took advantage of (what turned out later to be) inaccurate accusations against a student to upbraid or correct a student without making any effort to hear other points of view. Unfair? Yes, apparently! An opportunity to develop ego-detachment and dissolve ego-defensive impulses? Absolutely! I've witnessed fellow students receiving such a corrective from him and, yet, whether immediately or upon reflection, expressing gratitude for having learned an important lesson from one whom they viewed as their best friend. I'm not describing wimps but people of will power and intelligence. (A "wimp" wouldn't attract a valuable lesson so directly nor would handle it so wisely.) Such instances were testimonies to the greatness of each of them.

Any such correction to another ought to be arising from a calm, inner detachment free from likes or dislikes. A perfect world, this is not. A perfect opportunity, it might be: for both! To rephrase Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, "One cannot achieve spiritual victory be refraining from action." This may seem self-justification and it might seem risky behavior, spiritually. I agree. In my own life, if I have dispensed it, it has been infrequent and it has always been sincere. More often, my emotions have not been involved, but sometimes they have been, but always under some degree of self-control and awareness. Almost always the circumstances arose that allowed me to say something that has waited for a long time to be said. Perfect? Wise? Effective? Well, sometimes, at least!

(Is this not, in fact, the duty and obligation of parents, and not just supervisors and leaders? A parent is often compelled to correct a child under circumstances where his or her own emotions are involved. The correction will be increasingly effective as those emotions are dissolved by wisdom and a foundation of love and deep respect. But sometimes, whether towards a child or an adult, "tough love" demands a display of urgency and intensity .... though best rendered with self-control and conscious intention.)

The downer side is that most people will long remember words of censure from another. The ego holds tightly its hurts. There have been times I had to be willing to sacrifice the goodwill of a person, perhaps lifelong, by rendering a correction to him that circumstances demanded. Or, to risk the support of others by taking a strong position. But leadership is not a popularity contest: whether in the spiritual or material realm. Making errors in judgment should be assumed but responsibility too often demands timely action and gives not the luxury of inaction. The spiritual path is not for sissies. As it is, and for all of us, on the spiritual path or not, the world dishes out plenty of censure, hard knocks and more. That isn't the issue. It is always a question of our response to life: faith, hope and charity; or, self-justification, revenge, and anger?

Do good; be good; but reach upward beyond goodness. The ego's progressive steps from unawareness, indifference, and evil, and finally to good can only be ultimately resolved in God alone; in Oneness; in superconsciousness. This is why and how meditation can powerfully accelerate our freedom in God. Kriya Yoga and similar advanced techniques can more rapidly dissolve the knots of doership inherent in both good and evil.

In prayer, meditation and right action, strip away the bark of ego, that the Tree of Life might grow taller and ever more beautiful. If we give to God our failures, He will take them. To those who come to God with love and self-offering, He promises that "I will make good your deficiencies and render permanent your gains" (words of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.)


Swami Hrimananda

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Does Satan Exist? Do Demons Exist?

Having just returned from a visit to the shrines of St. Francis and other saints in Italy, I am “inspired” to ask this question: Do demons exist?

From what I understand, a great questioning took place during the 20th century among Protestant theologians, ministers and members regarding the core beliefs of the Christian faith. Without wishing to explore the history of Protestantism, let us simply say that the rationally-minded skepticism of the 20th century found expression among religionists to the point of questioning all of the miracles of the Bible, both New and Old Testament. The existence of Satan, likewise, was among the debates. So pervasive was the skepticism among ministers that the self-described “modern mystic, Frank Laubach, conducted a campaign among ministers to remind them to even mention God in their sermons!

Catholics were not permitted most of these questions but even amongst them, in the form of what I believe is called, “scholasticism,” questions were raised. In the life of the famous stigmatist, Padre Pio from southern Italy, for example, Vatican hierarchy sought to question, ostracize and distance themselves from what some felt were medieval and superstitious beliefs in miracles such as the stigmata, the devil, bi-location, psychic powers, levitation and so forth. Catholic hierarchy was sensitive, reactive, or influenced by the thinking and the accusations of Protestants, what to mention science-inspired rationalism, and therefore were eager to hush up claims of miracles so that Catholicism could be seen as a rational and appropriate in the 20th century world of politics and “‘isms.”

Paramhansa Yogananda, a world teacher from India, lived in this same 20th century. In his teachings he stated that the saints are true custodians of truth, not the bishops or theologians, or worse. The great saints of east and west down through the ages (including the twentieth century) testify to the existence of evil as a conscious Force that can sometimes take on human or individual appearance.

I contend that whether evil is personified as outside oneself or “merely” a projection of the subconscious mind, the difference is not as significant as one might imagine, at least not to the person “imagining” it! I say this early on so that we don’t get into a sparring contest over “how many angels fit on the end of a needle.”

Human incarnations of evil can perhaps be recognized in the form of great evil-doers such as Stalin, Hitler or serial killers who inflict suffering intentionally and repeatedly, even wantonly. Metaphysically or ethically, at least, are these people not, in effect, human incarnations of the overarching consciousness of evil? The other side of this coin might be viewed in the long-standing religious teaching that the greatest of saints and saviors are considered direct incarnations of God! On a lesser note, we sometimes refer to special people as “angels in disguise!” On a deep level, humans sometimes reveal that we do understand that each of us is an incarnation of a greater spirit than what our physical form, our habits and personality might suggest.

Turning now to mental illness, such as schizophrenia, multiple personalities, and other forms of extreme mental illness, (adolescence count in this?), it seems just as plausible to at least consider these illnesses to be the result of possession by disincarnate entities as it is to puzzle it out medically, behaviorally or environmentally, doesn’t it? Even if mental illness can be traced to aberrations in the brain, are these aberrations the cause, or the result? It’s not as if modern medicine has been all that successful in finding wonder drugs for mental illness! Maybe something else is going on?

I just read, moments ago, that Pope Francis sent an encouraging message to a convention of exorcists, thanking them for their important work and acknowledging that their case loads are growing rapidly in today’s stressed and extreme world!

How about drunkenness or drug addiction? At least in more extreme cases, doesn’t it seem as though the person is not himself, to put it mildly? Unrecognizable, in fact? Yogananda taught (and I don’t imagine only he did so) that in bars and other places (proverbial “opium dens”), “ghosts” hover to find bodies to inhabit in order to have a taste of sensory experiences. Yogananda was not alone in warning people from trance channeling or, worse yet, parlor seance "games." I personally know of a case in which a person went too far into using a pendulum to help him become a medium. In time he lost his job, his marriage, his health and his mind -- to whom?

James van Praagh, “ghostbuster” and author of “Ghosts Among Us,” seems to be a credible witness to the presence of disincarnate entities who, for various reasons, refuse to leave us and move on to the “other side” in order to continue their journey. He has found ways to help them detach. His description of such entities, their motives and behavior match, in most respects, that of Yogananda's experience.

We can speculate at length but we might also at least consider the testimony of Jesus Christ, Buddha, Yogananda, St. Anthony of the Desert, Padre Pio, many others, and even Martin Luther (who threw an ink pot at the devil — the spot is still on the wall in his room): Satan DOES exist and can take a human form. The essence of evil is not a person with cloven hoofs, a red suit, and a pointy tail, however, but a Conscious Force that has the power to take any form or no form.

Such witnesses of evil incarnate or disincarnate are people who, themselves, demonstrated power over material objects; psychic power (seeing at a distance; knowing the future; bi-location; levitation, even, in some cases, raising the dead) and more. What do we think of that supposedly scientific attitude of inquiry that dismisses such testimony on the basis of an a priori assumption that the evidence must be false simply because they can’t replicate it?

For all the impotence of modern medicine to treat extreme mental illness with drugs, why not consider what indeed might be an obvious, if alternative, explanation? If so, and applying appropriate techniques of exorcism (not just rituals) but the power of an intuitive person, to work with the “victim,” might not equal or better results be found?

It is my understanding, derived from the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, and from things I have heard my spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda, say (or write) that the reason most of us have no commerce with demons is that we are not worth their time! We have our own demons of desire, anger, revenge, lust, jealousy and so on —already within us, so to speak. Indeed, the teaching as I understand it is this: when our spiritual consciousness is so advanced that we come close to achieving Self-realization, the delusive force of “maya” takes note and takes human form in a last ditch effort to dissuade us from dissolving forever our identification with our body, our ego, and the world of matter over which maya rules. Thus Jesus was tempted with having dominion over the world, and power over the angels (disincarnate entities, however benign), and power of matter (stones into break).

The reason most humans do not encounter demons of anger, lust, revenge (etc.) attempting to dance upon our soul’s grave is that we simply don’t have sufficient mental energy and psychic sight to call such to appear before us. We are neither terribly bad nor exceedingly good to matter much. We don’t warrant a visitation! We are not yet royalty, you might say. 

Our physical brain is the accepted seat of intelligence. In raja yoga, we practice techniques of breath and mind control (the two are inextricably linked!) which effectively raise “energy” to the brain (re-directing it, as it were, from the body, the tissues, and the senses). By stilling the natural turbulence of our thoughts and related metabolism, caused by the constant interaction with the world around us and the mind within us through our senses and our ego-directed fears and desires, we can “raise our energy” (and consciousness) from identification with body and ego to a higher and more subtle level of awareness.

Just as a child, becoming an adult, outgrows the interests and preoccupations of childhood, so too the adult — striving for maturity — accepts an ever expanding awareness of the world in which we live. We are concerned about wars and poverty in other parts of the world; we read about Ebola and terrorism as threats to our world. The yogi, by raising his energy within, to the inner world of consciousness (sans tangible objects and personal emotions), becomes increasingly aware of the subtle realities of consciousness and the forms taken by consciousness. This can include not just a subtle awareness of divine realities but also lesser forms, including such beings that are traditionally given names as angels, devas, or demons.

As the soul gradually expunges from its aura behaviors that are sense and ego affirming, subtle forces and beings and states of consciousness become increasingly apparent and real to us. Lest you dismiss such a description as being hallucinatory or self-deluding, I can say with assurance that to achieve such a level is to have the power to accomplish material goals far more effectively than the average person. Psychic power and sight are not debilitating but empowering. The mind rules matter. Intelligence and genius have more power not less.

If I have forever banished from my consciousness inclinations to be competitive, angry, or sensual, I begin to experience states of consciousness as preexisting their manifestation in one form or another. Lust is a universal state of consciousness that beings, including human, experience from time to time. If I have worked to overcome this particular tendency, I may find that in the final stages of my looming victory, lust incarnates in either human or a subtle form as part of my last temptations. The magnetism of my efforts (my karma) might attract to me some final opportunities to either re-affirm it or expunge it forever. The form of temptation might come as a person, or, if by this time, I live almost exclusively in the subtle atmosphere of consciousness, it may take the form of an apparition of one sort or another. Besides, you don’t have to be a saint to become aware of the fact that sexual desire is “all in the mind” anyway! A cow in its pasture happening upon the centerfold page of Playboy Magazine is going to walk right by it towards the greener pasture beyond it.

If good and evil exist in human form, then, according to metaphysical precepts, they preexist in subtler forms. All that exists already exists in latent form or else it could not come into form.

Fortunately for us, we need not fear the appearance of the Great Deceiver any time soon. But, sufficient unto today are the demons of temptation and habit within us. When the time comes when we are soon to merge into pure goodness, we will certainly be tested then, too. At such time, we must not imagine our reason or will is sufficient to outwit the powers of darkness. We must call upon God and guru with faith, even if, temporarily, our inner sight goes dark. It is only a test. It might be the final test! 

Thus while St. Anthony of the desert (in Egypt) was being attacked by demonic forces, he called upon God and Christ to save him. Though they failed to appear at his call, the evil One was nonetheless vanquished by his faith. Anthony, when Jesus finally appeared to him, asked Jesus “Where were you when I needed you?” Jesus replied, “Anthony, I was always with you!” 

Faith, you see, is the ultimate test. Before our moment of final victory, it is our faith that must, at last, be tested. All else is taken from us, even the consolation of God’s presence that has otherwise grown steadily in our soul’s evolution. This final test is the true "dark night of the soul." We must give up everything, even what might seem our very existence and consciousness, even (seemingly) what we have come to rely upon as God's protection in that final test. Our choice to enter into God's bliss must be an act of complete self-offering: given freely and dynamically. Jacob's being tested by God to sacrifice his own son is a metaphor for this final act of faith.

Like St. Anthony, we will discover that we have never been separate from God, for God is all there is. “God alone,” as Sister Gyanamata (advanced disciple of Yogananda) put it.

So, yes, demons do exist; angels do exist; saints exist; God exists! We have nothing to fear but let us be, as Jesus counseled, “Wise as serpents but harmless as doves.”

Blessings of Light,

Swami Hrimananda

Friday, October 24, 2014

At La Verna, St Francis asks: Must Devotees Suffer?

So, now we come to my last blog installment on our trip "In the footsteps of St. Francis." We come, at last, to his hilltop retreat, La Verna, in the Tuscan hills. Two years before his death, St. Francis, while on retreat there, received the wounds of Jesus Christ upon his body. He was undertaking a forty day fast when he had an intense vision in which he simultaneously experienced compassion for the suffering of Jesus on the cross AND great love for Christ and joy in the experience itself. After this, his body was left with the five wounds (feet, hands and side) of Christ. Francis was the first in history to receive this "grace" known as the "stigmata." At another occasion, Jesus Christ appeared to Francis in the flesh and sat with him upon a rock and conversed.

For these, and other, sacred events in Francis' life, La Verna has been a place of pilgrimage for eight centuries. Right before his death and as he left La Verna for the last time, he assigned to the brothers the duty to hold La Verna in perpetuity as a sacred place in memory of the blessings received there.

We pilgrims have been progressing deeper and deeper into our souls on this trip: first the fun and inspiration and amazement of Rome and Florence. Then to Assisi, to Ananda, and to the shrines there. And now, in our final days on this trip, we had two nights on these sacred grounds. The two nights allowed us to dedicate an entire day in silence, unscheduled, that we might individually go deep in prayer, meditation and contemplation. It is here that the metal of our journey's intention would be burnished in the flame of devotion and inner communion. It was to be here that the stigmata of our spiritual efforts would be imprinted upon our hearts, tested in the crucible of inner silence.

I cannot, of course, speak for other individuals in this but for those who saw the opportunity for what it was -- the apex or focal point of concentration for the intentions of our pilgrimage  -- it was a golden, if intense, time. Perhaps some did not find it necessary, but surely some felt hovering over them the reflection of St. Francis' life in the mirror of our own. His complete, indeed radical, commitment to God cannot help but expose our own to inner review.

Another challenge hovers, too: must we, also, carry such a cross of self-abnegation to achieve Self-realization? Does the spiritual path truly call us, require from us, exact from us such human deprivation as we see in the lives of St. Francis, St. Clare and many others? In such a place where God met man, where the "Word was made flesh, where heaven came to earth, the question begs an answer and anything less is evasion. The gauntlet of our life's purpose was thrown, as it were, in our face, on this mountain of spiritual aspiration.

Amusingly, however, visitors are conveniently offered a shield from this inner questioning by the disingenuous fact of large quantities of excellent food served daily -- as if Francis had complained of his treatment there (while fasting) and the monks felt they needed to make amends to all future generations. A bar, too, graces the dining room where not just coffee but alcoholic drinks can be ordered, along with a pleasing selection of candies, chocolates and goodies lest one's retreat be too great a cross to bear! Amazing, eh? "Reality runs up your spine," to quote Elton John! (The Franciscans evidently outsourced the operations to a commercial establishment.) At times, the din in the halls and dining room rivaled the Colosseum! Strange, eh? I even saw an upstairs room marked "TV Room." In another room was a vending machine for coffee and espresso.

But we pilgrims didn't come all this way to duck and run. We were not inclined to evade the shadow of the cross. Our strength, however, lie in the "joy of seeking Him," the joy of meditation. We had already been meditating frequently and deeply together and individually throughout the trip, at Ananda and in Assisi. Our joy level was both our shield from self-delusion and our sword of inner awareness.

What means the Christian (over) emphasis upon suffering, crucifixion, and pain? Is suffering the hallmark of the Christian life? Hmmmm: Is not to live, to suffer? Did not the Buddha discover that life for all beings was marked by disease, old age and death? Can anyone escape this three-fold suffering? No! But suffering is not the exclusive mark of a Christian: millions suffer and not because they are truthseekers! [I won't deny the teaching, however, that one who, to the degree of his earnestness, seeks freedom in God, will, by choice and by the necessity to overcome past, bad karma and pay for the "pearl of great price," attract tests necessary for purification.]

In former times and according to a view of history which Paramhansa Yogananda taught (having received it from his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar), the time of Jesus Christ and the centuries which we call medieval times represented a low point in a long and recurring cycle (some 24,000 years) of consciousness on this planet. This relatively dark cycle (or "yuga") is called (in India), the "Kali Yuga." In this cycle, the general run of humanity cannot perceive subtleties beyond physical appearances. Buildings are large and made of rock, built with human hands, by slaves. Social mobility is non-existent. Authority is absolute. Humans identify themselves only with their physical bodies and thus imagine that if there's a heaven they will go there in their current physical bodies, forever an ego and separate from God, strumming harps and praising Him for an eternity!

God responds to human needs according to the capacity of our "eyes to see and our ears hear." Thus, in an age of such relative dark consciousness, Jesus' body had to be resurrected as a sort "ultimate" proof of his divinity; the penultimate mark of sanctity became the incorruptibility of the saints' bodies; physical suffering came to characterize the spiritual life. To be spiritual required rejecting family life in favor of a monastery; it required celibacy and living in poverty under strict obedience. One would practice all manner of physical and mental austerities such as self-flagellation and self-abasement to suppress sense temptations and root out any ego-active tendencies.

These attitudes and practices no longer inspire sincere seekers of truth, devotees of God, and servants of humanity. Fact is, and using, as we must, St. Francis as an example, he was a saint of great joy, as, indeed, are all true saints, east and west. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was (and is) loved by all because he loved all as children of God. Even Jesus Christ, so often depicted as a "man of sorrows," could not have attracted a large following with a sour and somber attitude. "A sad saint is a sorry saint, indeed" said Francis de Sales (a Christian saint). Or, as Teresa of Avila put it, "A sad nun is a bad nun!"

"What comes of its own, let it come" Paramhansa Yogananda counseled. In this new age, called the second age, Dwapara Yuga, an age of high energy, intelligence, and expanding consciousness, it is happiness (joy) that we seek. We see our potential; we have faith in ourselves, and in the future (because we are in now an ascending cycle of consciousness where things can only get "better," or so we are wont to affirm). It is joy that inspires us. And yet, when pain, disappointment, failure, suffering, or death touch us, as they must at some point, our joy, if it is true and of the Self, will allow us to remain "standing amidst the crash of breaking worlds."

The test of the crucifixion, of human suffering in general, is whether it crushes us, or whether we can transcend that temptation by remaining even-minded, cheerful and calmly holding on to our faith in the goodness (God-ness) that lies at the heart of all creation, and of all circumstances. Easier said than done, I grant you, but this is not only a test of spiritual path but it is the only way to live and remain sane!

The ability of the human spirit to contend with and transcend suffering, defeat and challenges of all kinds is the greatest witness to our own, innate divinity. THIS is what the saints (and others) can model for us. During Kali Yuga the spiritual aspirant was tested "by the cross." But for us now, "the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy." (Quoting the Festival of Light ceremony used at Ananda temples and centers at Sunday Services.)

We can, therefore, honor and celebrate the victory of Jesus' resurrection (the power of love) over hatred (crucifixion & death), the victory of martyrdom (a test of faith and courage) over persecution (misunderstanding), and the attainment of perfect joy in the midst of troubles because we know that "joy is the fruit of love for God." We may, now in Dwapara Yuga, be motivated not by the courage and strength to endure difficulties in the imitation of Christ, but for the bliss and joy inherent in God and in the superconscious state of our soul. For this we undertake the discipline of meditation, the willingness to serve high ideals selflessly, the commitment of living simply and with self-control, and a life of prayer and devotion. But for all of that, so, too, will come tests and trials. In pleasure or in pain, we remain: even-minded and cheerful!

Oh, gee, did I mention La Verna, yet? I'll plop some pictures into this soon, but let me return to earth with some descriptions. La Verna is somewhere between Assisi and Florence in the Tuscan Apennines, at about 4,000 feet altitude on the flanks of Mt. Penna. It's not difficult to get to but you're talking winding country roads, beautiful countryside, and not too far from a nearby autostrada. I doubt there's public transportation to it, but we had our rented vans, so I don't really know.

The complex of buildings and facilities, though somewhat hidden in the lovely forest, is surprisingly large. I was told of another complete complex of buildings with lodgings apart from ours. But ours is at the center of the important chapels and shrines. These buildings are of stone and are of a monastic origin and design. Labyrinthine hallways, with arched ceilings in the gothic style, weave to and fro, with staircases going up and down and all around; courtyards appear from nowhere, whether inside the four walls or outside. There is a maze of rambling and mysterious rooms, many with locked, heavy wooden doors, closed to our natural curiosity but open to our fertile imaginations. Nuns and monks can be envisioned darting furtively in and out of secret rooms, setting, as it were, the stage for a classic Agatha Christie novel! One is prepared to hear voices from locations untraceable. Add a heavy dose of fog and, all in all, it's quite a place!!!!!

There's a patio, plaza or piazza outside the mini-Basilica that overlooks the Cosentino Valley, which at our visit, was beginning to unveil the lovely colors of Fall. Overlooking that valley, as if to remind, chastise, or inspire the villagers below, stands a very tall, but stark, wooden cross. The basilica has a number of lovely art pieces by Andrea della Robbia. Adjacent to it is a small chapel (St. Mary of the Angels) which, in a vision, St. Francis was told by the Blessed Mother to build. He was given its dimensions which were exactly the same as that of the tiny chapel of the Porziuncula near Assisi. Its walls contain the choir seats for monks and nuns: there are no pews. I meditated there, and we as a group, several times. It is very still and deeply precious.

The most sacred spot is the Chapel of the Stigmata. It encloses the rock on which Francis received the stigmata. The rock has been covered by glass to prevent pilgrims from chiseling pieces off of it! A slightly hidden room off to the side contains within it a jutting segment of the actual rock. If you are bold, you unhook the rope and try the latch to see if it's unlocked, going inside to meditate and pray. The Stigmata Chapel also has the wooden choir seats along the sides. This is where you want to meditate, for sure! I, and others, found, that despite there being plenty of visitors and retreatants on the grounds at large, one could meditate there all by oneself for, say, an hour or more with no one else there! I cannot begin to describe that experience but I prayed for the strength to remain unceasingly in self-offering to God's presence and will in my life; and, to go ever deeper towards God's love and joy that I might share with others as I have received.

On the outer perimeter of the Stigmata Chapel are tiny cells (now tiny chapels) where various saintly monks had once lived. One door leads out along a rock ledge perched high up on the edge of the rock on which the building sits. It winds around the outside wall giving spectacular views before returning inside through an almost secret chapel. Fortunately, there is a hand rail but it's a straight drop down to the forest below! It is positively and stunningly breathtaking.

A long covered hallway protects pilgrims walking from the basilica to the stigmata chapel. It has murals depicting important events from Francis' life. Along the wide passageway there is a tiny doorway that opens into an inner courtyard of giant rock formations. The path leads a few yards down under some of these huge boulders to a spot where Francis was known to sleep. A grate has protectively been placed upon the spot: again, to protect it from relic hounds. But, wow, the energy there is enormous and the silence is as thick as the rocks themselves.

Across from the basilica doors and down some slippery stone steps one finds another, somewhat primitive domed chapel -- the Chapel of Mary Magdalene -- maybe twenty feet in diameter; a few crude wooden chairs have been placed in there. The stone altar contains, under glass, the stone where Jesus sat, in the flesh, talking with Francis! Like: wow! We had two group meditations there and I meditated there on my own as well. It's almost, well, spooky, especially late at night when the wind is howling!

If you follow the steps past the path to this chapel you go down amidst another group of gigantic rocks called the Sasso Spico: the Projecting Rock. Here is a place where Francis prayed and meditated. One time, while meditating on the passion of Christ, it was revealed to Francis that the dramatic rock formations and chasms of La Verna were created at the time of Jesus' crucifixion as indicated in the New Testament: "the rocks split" (Matt: 27:14). Who knows, but as many believe that there are on the earth "power spots," it is not so difficult to imagine that La Verne was destined to attract and hold the sacred vibrations of St. Francis' spiritual glory. A simple wooden cross marks the spot, under the overhang of an enormous rock, where Francis would pray.

When I was there, I saw no one. With the wetness of fog and drizzle dripping off the rocks and ferns, I settled in for a very deep meditation where no footsteps or outer sounds dare intrude!

I did find some free time to hike up Mt. Penna through the forest. This is more primitive, though friars did meditate and live up along parts of this, too. It is a solitary walk, very peaceful and entrancing in its colors of green, brown, yellow and red; its carpet of leaves, its ancient, gnarly roots, intertwining the path like some aged and great snake.

On our second night, after dinner (when we broke our silence to share a little bit), a storm descended upon us with blowing, cold fog and rain. Fog hugged the outdoor lights and the feeling of antiquity and mystery came upon the place like a kind of "Twilight Zone," a kind of alternate universe without tick, tock or clock. I attempted to brave the elements and find thrill in the the storm by going out after dinner for a walk but with the wind and rain, blowing sideways, I could barely stand and my thin Fall apparel seemed to melt into my skin. I meditated briefly at a tiny chapel lit only with candlelight but as I had heard stories of being locked out of the facility and having to stay outside overnight, my "second thoughts" returned me to my room. The whole place was "dead" silent. All had returned to their rooms after dinner.

Early the next morning we were supposed to meditate in the simple stone chapel of Mary Magdalene with the rock where Jesus appeared but the storm was so intense, the fog so thick, that we decided to move the morning meditation to the chapel St. Mary of the Angels. After breakfast and after checking out, we were going to allow ourselves more time to be there but the weather was so inclement that we packed up the vans and headed south to Rome.

By late afternoon we were at the seacoast of Ostia (near Rome and the airport), relaxing in the warm, humid Mediterranean air, watching a glorious sunset, before having dinner outside at the waterfront under the stars: pizza, salad, pasta and laughter born of open hearts. All in all, we were refreshed in body, mind and soul! It was difficult to contrast the morning wind and fog with the afternoon beach weather and view.

Thank you for hanging in there with these articles. Stay tuned for future pilgrimages! Here, then are some pictures!






May the stigmata of your victories over delusion be your badge of soul-honor!
Nayaswami Hriman