Monday, February 24, 2014

Ahimsa: What is Non-Violence? Is Killing ever Justified?

Ahimsa, or the practice of non-violence, as taught by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, is not an absolute standard of behavior, but a relative one. The absolute standard lies in the realm of intention and consciousness. In a world of relativities (aka "duality" or "dwaita") it is often impossible to apply a precept "absolutely."

Thus it is that India's most famous and beloved scripture, the Bhagavad Gita ("The Song Celestial), teaches that one must fulfill his duties to fight injustice and evil by taking up arms against his enemy. Now I am purposely misquoting that scripture because my interpretation is merely a literal one, for the scripture (a dialogue between Lord Krishna and his disciple, Arjuna) takes place on a battlefield (a historical one, in fact) but the dialogue (and the teaching) is allegorical. Nonetheless, Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now famous Autobiography of a Yogi), and many other respected teachers, concur that in human history and ethics there are times when self-defense and killing one's attackers, when necessary, is the lesser evil and the greater duty than the literal practice of non-violence.

In American culture these last thirty or forty years, the issue of abortion has pitted non-violence against freedom of individual choice. In the mainstream of traditional yoga, it is taught that the soul enters the embryo at time of conception. Hence abortion is traditionally frowned upon. Yet, the astrological chart for the newborn is cast at the time of the first breath, at birth. Add to that all the issues around the mother's or fetuses' health, cases of rape or incest and on and on, and well, you have a very challenging issue on your hands. I am not here to propose a resolution to this social debate. Yoga stands for the principle of individual choice and accountability in the pursuit of an individual soul's many lifetimes of evolution up and down the ladder and spiral staircase of consciousness. The discussion goes beyond my topic today and, even if it did, would do little, if anything, to contribute to the social debate.

A student in one of our classes raised the issue of the killing of a doctor in an abortion clinic. Was the murder of this abortion doctor an example of the lesser "sin" of killing in self-defense (of the unborn children)? Talk about a chicken and the egg intellectual bull fight!

For starters, intuition is the only means by which we can discover the truth of something like this. For another, intuition occurs only through an individual (and yes, perhaps through many individuals). Can two people intuitively arrive at opposite results? In theory, no; in practice, yes. In theory, intuition is unitive but in practice our individual karma and dharma is directional. We only get the guidance from our higher, intuitive self that pertains to us. "Take steps northward" (if you are south of the equator and wanting to go there); "Take steps southward" (if you are north of the equator and wanting to go there).

In society, the murder of the abortion doctor is, simply, that: murder, and a crime punishable by imprisonment. That speaks for itself but while very important, it is not the final statement as to an individual act. 

In the language of yoga, we speak of karma and reincarnation as two sides of the same coin of right action. In a worldview that sees the soul's evolution as extending in time beyond anything we can easily relate to, right action can be extremely subtle. "Karma: represents seeds of past actions which, on the basis of actions taken in egoic self-affirmation, wait, hidden, for their final resolution in the forms of their natural and appropriate opposite responses. If I kill someone, I plant the seed for being killed in return (whether by that soul or another). "Those who live by the sword, will die by the sword." Yet many killers, Joseph Stalin, e.g., die peacefully in their beds. The Bible cautions us not to imagine that one does "not sow what one reaps." This is why many lifetimes are needed. For our actions, which include our thoughts, run into the billions even in one lifetime! (Let's not go there right now, ok?)

The abortion doctor who was murdered presumably, however cruel or clinical the conclusion might seem to others (like to his wife or children), earned that sentence by his actions, not least of which could possibly be the work of performing abortions. We simply cannot "see" the threads of karma and those threads might not have anything to do with his performing abortions. That conclusion is possibly too "pat" and too obvious. The karmic thread may even lie between the doctor and his murderer: meaning, "it's personal."

Such karma may account for the fact of the doctor's murder but what does that fact mean to his killer and the killer's karma? Indeed, it may be the doctor's karma to be killed, but the one through whom, as an instrument of karmic repayment, that repayment is delivered may incur the burden of his own karmic debt for having taken a life! The killer presumably was a fanatical opponent of abortion and we probably do not know wherein lay the seeds of such intensity but it would not be difficult to speculate if one takes the perspective of many lives. Does that "justify" the killing? No, but it might "explain" it. That's all. 

How then do we ever extricate ourselves from the entanglements of karma? Well, that's a big subject. But a few words are necessary here. The one centripetal fact of karma is not so much the act but the intention, or, put another way: the ego. An act which is done without regard to self-interest and which is not an affirmation of the ego principle, but is performed dutifully and in harmony with one's true and higher Self, does not incur a karmic debt or plant a karmic seed. Such acts, however, might, indeed, neutralize or cauterize seeds of past karma, however. Hence the value of such actions in the process of purification and repayment of karmic debts as the soul rises towards ego transcendence. Thus "good works" are useful. But good works performed with the expectation of reward, including recognition, still revolve, at least to some degree, around the ego principle. Nonetheless, it is better to do something good for the wrong reason than not to do good out of fear of incurring more karma. Karmic release is always directional, never absolute. The teaching of karma is such that it recognizes that over many lives we have the karmic burden of "sin" (ego-encased ignorance, in fact) that must be repaid by right action and by the uplifting and redeeming power of grace.

Is it possible to imagine a religious fanatic who kills others (and himself) as making a forward direction towards karmic release? In theory, yes, though the act be condemned in all other respects. Perhaps in a prior life, this terrorist killed others for sport or for money or for revenge. In this lifetime, this karmically inclined murderer kills others and sacrifices his own life for a higher reward or in the name of a higher cause. However ignorant and evil-seeming that intention may be to us, it is at least theoretically possible that it is a step forward for that soul. Could such an act be recompense for cowardliness in past lives? All of these things are theoretically possible but such a person is obviously incurring even more karmic debt by hurting others. 

No wise counselor would suggest such actions. There are other, better, and purer forms of karmic release than killing more people! Nonetheless, the world of human actions is just as subject to the law of cause and effect as are the laws of nature. The difference is that reason and intuition, whether coming from within, or arising from the influence and counsel of others, can accelerate the soul's progress faster than the bullock cart of fulfilling every desire and paying every debt on their own terms and on their own level. We can "outwit the stars" of our karmic debt by other means.

This latter statement is the "promise of immortality" and grace offered, with whatever terminology or spiritual precepts and through whatever means of "being saved," that all great religions and their greatest teachers aver. In part, this power of redemption lies in the existential reality that our soul is eternal, changeless and ever untouched (as God "himself" is) by our ignorant and even evil actions. This doesn't mean we are free to murder and create mayhem but it does offer a back door, so to speak, to win karmic release without cracking rocks day after day in the prison of past karma. We are trapped in the ego and if the ego turns to find the back door for itself, it has already condemned itself. 

Thus in the story of Moses who led his "people" from bondage, he could not enter the promised land. For while the ego may awaken to the desire to win karmic release, the ego, itself, cannot "go there." The ego, like Bhishma in the Mahabharata, must surrender himself to the soul (to God) by self-offering. Hence too the symbol of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac. There is no real destruction or sacrifice of the ego, but the ego doesn't and cannot know this. That takes faith and intuition: only the soul knows that the ego has no intrinsic, existential reality.

In God, we are free and nothing about us is ever lost. Our release is not destructive to our self-awareness. It is blissful release.

As humans, as egos, we cannot but decry the murder of that abortion doctor even if we, ourselves, do not, perhaps, counsel abortion as a day-to-day means of contraception or family planning. Each act is an individual choice and each act brings to itself its natural and metaphysical consequences. In this we have the opportunity to gain compassion for all beings and wisdom to guide our own actions. It is through the power of grace, which is the divine and latent power within us and which is awakened and transmitted to us soul-to-soul from those who have achieved it, that we can win our freedom from the prison of karma.

Bless all who have done wrong, including any of may have hurt you, that their own actions awaken within them the desire to be free and that you be shown how to be an instrument of that awakening to others. Live in the thought and consciousness of freedom and you will attract the power and light of freedom into your mind, heart and soul.

Blessings to all,

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, February 15, 2014

What does it mean to say, "I love you!"?

"Love certainly makes the world go 'round." Well, ok, love and its opposite: war (which includes hate, anger, dislike and repulsion). Between these two extremes lies the "soft center" which fills our days with endless preoccupations and activities.

I'm not saying that our daily duties and interests aren't important (to us, at least), but I am saying that they wouldn't exist if it were not for our feelings and our desire for and capacity for feeling.

Do we do anything for which we don't have a compelling "interest," or need, desire, or dislike? Even the most trivial things, like hanging up our clothes, are motivated by some sense of need or feeling for improving or fixing something or avoiding an undesirable result.

So yes, love, feeling, desire, dislike, anger: the emotional and feeling aspect of our consciousness do indeed make us go round and round. Not just spinning moment to moment, day to day, but also, as billions see it and great masters aver, lifetime to lifetime.

"The law was given through Moses, but truth and grace came by Jesus Christ." (New Testament, John 1:17). Or as has been said by others, "love is above the law."

So where does this apparent tangent fit in? Love (ok, "emotions") running amuck are our greatest foe. "Loose lips sink ships." Or, another: "a (wo)man with a six inch tongue can destroy a man six feet tall." All of these cliches point to the power of not just words, but, more importantly, the emotion, feeling, and energy behind our words AND their power to destroy or uplift.

How many crowds of people rioting and making mayhem are whipped into their insane frenzy by slogans, chanting and even martial music? It seems that mass genocide, being itself a form of insanity, dictates such intense froth.

The law fits in to give us a framework of reference and behavior for the channeling and clarifying of our emotional nature. "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" my mother used to say!

But that's not possible nor even appropriate sometimes. Nonetheless, calmness, respect, a sense of perspective and even a sense of humor all point to the need to lift the present moment of our emotions into a higher and more impersonal atmosphere. The "law" refers to "right" behavior. Right behavior is calm, respectful and sees the long picture and sees the little self (especially when warped by the intensity of extreme emotions) as biased and even harmful.

When we do respect and feel truly connected to and supportive of another person (regardless of any other aspects of our relationship: child, parent, spouse, employee, employer, etc.), then we are allowed (by the "law") greater latitude to say things which, under other circumstances, would be inappropriate or at best unhelpful.

When we try to tune into divine love, God's love, and when we actually experience a taste of it, we realize both its power and its unconditional, or impersonal, attribute. Oh, it's VERY personal in the sense that "It is I" who am experiencing it. But it's available to all, equally, without personal preference. When I am feeling that love, or even in general feeling "loving," I feel kindly towards others even, sometimes, when they are unkind to me! (A tall order for most people, but not that difficult to experience for those who have an inner spiritual life or are, in any case, dedicated to loving all without condition, for whatever reason or philosophy or inner awareness may motivate them!)

Unconditional and impersonal are more or less synonymous. The "without condition" and the impersonal are in respect to our personal preferences and biases. It is not manifested by aloofness, what to say arrogance, disdain, or indifference! It's the power to forgive, for example. Forgiveness is certainly one of life's greatest tests at least for one who seeks inner peace and divine attunement. "Do not even the tax collectors" love their own friends?, Jesus quipped!

When we say "I love you" our culture and our language tends to reserve this expression for romantic or familial love. Fair and fine so far as that goes. Nor should you go around saying this to just anyone. But what is love, anyway--as distinguished from the forms of relationships it may pour into?

Heck, how mental can a guy get to ask such a question? Well, here I am, and I'm askin' it! What does an orange taste like? Shall we dissect an orange? Love, too?

Heck, why not? Love is perhaps best understood by its synonyms. I say this because of the association of the word "love" all too often exclusively with its romantic or at least intimate forms, such as parent-child.

Love begins within you. If you have calm respect for your own thoughts, feelings and core self, this is a good beginning. Without a sense of well-being (another synonym), you cannot really feel or express love, unless you mean an impure, co-dependent, needy kind of love. And is lust, co-dependency, neediness worthy of the name love? If so, it is only so in the debased and common currency of our culture and language. But not in the language of the soul, of angels, and of the immanent divine within all creation!

What I experienced in the person of my spiritual teacher (founder of Ananda and direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda), Swami Kriyananda,, was an aura or attitude of one who was loving by nature and by temperament. When we simply and without outer condition including the condition of being loved by another or being in the presence of a loved one, feel "loving," this, for me, is the experience of love.

It is an inner state that is hardly distinguishable from inner joy and it is effervescent. It simply bubbles over, as it were, in a mellow light of kindness. Whereas as joy might incline in the direct of energy, even laughter, and may bubble "up and down," love bubbles outward you might say spherically, calmly, and with warmth. Joy is "gay" and love is "warm." But they are, essentially, like two sides of a coin: distinguishable but connected.

Spiritually speaking, however, it is deemed safer to focus more on joy than on love because we are so invested by habit towards conditional love. At Ananda Village in California (Ananda's first intentional community), a rule, honored in the breach, is that new members in training (who are single) are asked to not enter into new relationships during their year of training. As one enters the spiritual path and the inner experience of meditation, one works on developing and expressing devotion: love for God. In the awakening of the heart's natural love, its long-established habit of affixing itself to an outer, human form too often means that one "falls in love with the first person one meets!" This is very distracting to the one-pointed focus of one's year of spiritual transition! Like Queen Titania in Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer's Night Dram, the pixie dust of spiritual awakening (of kundalini) can accidentally cause us to mistake the form for the spirit behind the form.

This tendency includes the tendency to place a spiritual teacher or other devotees on a pedestal of one's own making. You can guess what the "end of that story" always comes to! The same ending that infatuation comes to!

So, yes, seeking joy is safer. The litmus test of unconditional love has two sides like that coin: the effervescence of a loving nature and the adamantine ability to accept impartially criticism, dislike, hatred and even injury from others without responding in kind.

"I love you" means I love you as a manifestation of God in human form, and as a reflection of the divine love I feel in my own heart.

Happy Valentine's Day (weekend),

Swami Hrimananda aka Hriman aka Terry aka your own Self!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Seattle Seahawks Secret Weapon: Meditation!

Ok, now that we know the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl, we can let the secret out that under the direction of their coach, Pete Caroll. Former coach of the New York Jets and the Boston Patriots, Pete had a change of heart some time ago about how to motivate his team. He realized that rather than berating his players, he need to encourage and support them.

One thing led to another and now he encourages his team to meditate together which many, if not most do, and the players like to practice yoga as well.

The benefits of yoga and meditation are too numerous and too well documented to bother to list, but there it is. Their secret is out and guess what happens next? Soon you'll find meditation and yoga spreading like wildfire throughout the sports world. In fact, that's not really news for those of us in the yoga world, but it will come as big news to many.

Go Seahawks and congratulations. You had a roomful of otherwise calm and dispassionate yogis cheering our heads off (with non attachment and inner joy, of course) this afternoon.

Paramhansa Yogananda predicted that some day the practice of meditation would encircle the globe bringing healing and harmony to a world which knows too much strife.


Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Who will win the Super Bowl? God knows. Reflections on the Super Bowl Battle of Life

Super Bowl Sunday, February 2, 2014:  Seattle SeaHawks against the Denver Broncos

The Divine Incarnation: the Avatara

Today we come to contemplate the great battle of life, between the people of the sea and the people of the mountains. The people of the sea are like hawks flying high and swooping low to snatch and harass their prey, the wild and bucking broncos who are of earth and mountains. The people of the sea are swift, flexible, and wise; the people of the mountain are hard, obstinate, and tough. Who will win?
Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita taught that we must take up arms and fight the battle of the Super Bowl of life. He taught that the owner of the game sent his son, the manager, as the brains behind the whole creation and that the son’s divine mother cheerleads and inspires the quarterback, God’s own prophet, to take the team to victory.

We live in an age of individualism. It’s every person for himself. All knowledge can found and accessed by anyone willing to make the effort. Social barriers, prejudices, glass ceilings: all impediments created by socially imposed rules have been dismantled or are under attack. Hierarchy, rulership, and leadership are looked upon with suspicion and disfavor. Cultures are in varying degrees embracing, fighting, or otherwise adapting to this new wave of consciousness that, so far as we know, has never occurred on a mass scale before in human history.

The freedom to do what we like and want is assumed and what we do is presumed to be our right until proven otherwise. That’s a revolution and a half, for sure.

And it isn’t wrong. But it can be misunderstood and abused, causing harm to oneself and others. It can foster selfishness, laziness, and narrow mindedness. Freedom can also inspire one to reach for the heights of one’s potential.

In former times, the imposition of social castes and taboos forced people to live within tight constraints of action and attitude. In this confinement, unnecessary desires and impulses were suppressed or redirected into the channels of one’s narrowly defined station in life. One could go deep into dharma or suffer greatly under the lash of adharma. The image of God projected in such times and out of such attitudes is not surprisingly one of King to his subjects; one of absolute ruler whose mandates were not questioned and were eternal and fixed. Religion in such circumstances is characterized by ritual, formal prayers, highly stylized music, and rigid forms of art. It is top-down and hierarchical. God as King delegates to others a portion of his absolute authority over his subjects. This is of course the priestly class who claimed sway even over kings and princes.

This rigidity of authority is fast crumbling and is rapidly being eroded by those in every walk of life as well as religion who want to take matters in their own hands. This is generally a positive step. The democratization of religion is called “spiritual but not religious.”

What we potentially lose in this new-found freedom to think and act for ourselves is the remembrance that “truth simply is.” Like the law of gravity, its existence does not depend upon our acknowledgement. It’s not just the laws of nature that exist outside our assent, but the moral laws that guide the unfoldment of our consciousness. After the twentieth century’s experimentation with the outside boundaries of behavior, we have seen a rise in conservatism which affirms traditional values.  Unfortunately with this affirmation has come all the trappings of hierarchy and dogma. Thus a great struggle is taking place in the world today: between earth and water, between rigidity and fluidity, between social rules and individual freedom.

The age of individualism is, however, unstoppable though its dark side of violence and selfishness will always result in a reactionary step backwards whenever the dark side threatens too greatly that status quo.

So we come, then, at last to today’s subject: Does God incarnate in human form?

Such a teaching has been with humanity as far back as one can determine. It is expressed literally but also indirectly, as in when God speaks to and through his human prophets. The teaching of God’s involvement in human history and human lives has always had a place in spirituality and religion.

Some religionists will say God “Himself” incarnates in human form. One obvious example would be the Christian teaching that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God and that God, in creating the universe, manifests Himself as One in Three: the Trinity. Another would be the dogma that great prophets like Krishna are literal incarnations of the Hindu god, Vishnu, preserver of dharma and creation.

In the other direction we have Buddha and Mohammed being described only as human messengers. But in various sects of Buddhism we see the Buddha revered every bit as much as Jesus Christ or Krishna, even if the theology can get a little murky. Buddha, unlike Jesus or Krishna, made no overt claim of divinity. The thrust of the Buddha’s teaching is to emphasize self-effort, not dependency upon grace or higher powers.

But no matter how narrow or wide the slice of dogmatic pie may be, the intercession of God, divinity or truth into the affairs of human lives and history is an undeniable tenet of the world’s major religions and most of the lesser branches of spirituality.

Here at Ananda we are in the lineage that includes Krishna, Lord Rama, and many other great prophets of India. Our lineage includes Jesus Christ and a link-up between east and west. We sit squarely in the traditional teaching that God descends into human form. Well, perhaps not exactly that way!

Paramhansa Yogananda refined the teaching of the avatara (descent of God into human form) toward a middle path. He taught that the human incarnation of divinity occurs through an individual soul who, though many lives, has achieved Self-realization. In achieving the realization that he and all creation are but manifestations of the one and sole reality, God, such a one becomes a true “son” of the Infinite Spirit of God beyond all creation. In this distinction, a Jesus Christ, Buddha or Krishna is not a divinely created puppet who is almost non-human and more like an alien but is, instead, a soul like you and I. Not different in kind but in level of soul realization and Oneness with the Father.

On a sidebar, Yogananda also explained that the entire cosmos and creation is “avatara” in the sense that God didn’t make the universe like a carpenter who goes out to obtain building materials. God became the universe by vibrating His consciousness from its eternal rest in bliss. In doing so, he became triune because Bliss remains untouched (as God the Father) by creation; the vibration itself creates the illusion of separate objects and yet is God in vibration (as the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, the Aum, the Witness and the Word), while His intelligence and consciousness which remain immanent at the still heart and center of vibration constitute His reflection in creation as the “only-begotten son.”

This sidebar relates more to the cosmogony and cosmology of creation and isn’t directly related to the avatara as the savior and guru-preceptor.

But it relates in this way: we, as souls, as are as much “God” as the avatar and as the Trinity because nothing within or without creation is ever “wholly other.” All is God: God alone is the sole substance of reality.
But as a wave cannot claim to be the ocean, but can only claim to be a part of the ocean, so too neither the savior nor you or I, or any single and separate aspect of creation, can claim to “be God.” “He who says he is God, isn’t. He who says he isn’t, isn’t. He who knows, knows.”

And yet, Jesus did claim, as does Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, that he is “one with the Father.” When chastened for boasting, Jesus retorted that he knew of what he spoke but they did not. So, yes, claims are sometimes made by the avatar. And, unfortunately, so are such claims sometimes made by those who are not Self-realized.

The history of religion is as much about frauds and wanna bees as the real thing. Such is the human drama and the inherent illusionary nature of creation. When Jesus asked his disciples “Who do men say I am,” it was Peter who declared Jesus to be the “son of God.” Jesus remarked that Peter’s gnosis came not from outside himself but was erected on the “rock” of his soul intuition. It is through intuition, ultimately, that we know God: whether in human form or in the formless state of our own soul.

God cannot be proved. “Ishwar ashidhha.” And of course this is where religion and spirituality get sticky. But are the material sciences free from constant doubt and paradox? Hardly. Ultimately the verdict lies with each and every one of us to find our path and our way to the truth.

To ignore sources of wisdom in the name of going on alone or being free from false teachings and teachers is simply not possible for truth is One (though men call it by many names). Truth is something we open ourselves to. We don’t create it to suit our personality, biases, or temperament. Truth comes to us both from outside ourselves as scripture, teachers, life experience and, yes, in the form of the Godhead in human form.

Yet its ultimate reality is as much in ourselves as in every atom and in the form of the guru-preceptor.
We need to start where we are and do so with an attitude of listening, of openness, and freedom from personal bias, likes or dislikes. To receive truth we go step by step shedding every vestige of ego attachment or self-identity. In the end we receive the pearl of great price by offering the “human sacrifice” of body and personality into soul and soul into Infinity.  This is the deeper meaning of the many and varied forms of sacrifice: harvest, animals or human. We offer all matter, all lower forms of consciousness, all materiality back into the consciousness from which all things derive.

This is not a condemnation or denial of matter or form but a recognition of the only reality that is absolute, eternal and unchanging. Ever-existing, ever-self-aware, and ever in the bliss of Spirit — this describes our true Self as unique manifestations of God.

The existence of the avatar is the promise of our own immortality in God. If such a one did not exist, how could we possibly aspire to such a realization? To acknowledge divinity in such a form is to acknowledge our own potential.

The “first-coming” of the Christ divinity is thus in the human form of the avatar. The “second-coming” is the awakening of the Christ within ourselves which is sparked and nurtured by the spiritual teachings and consciousness of the living Christ in human form. There is no “third coming” in the sense that the creation itself ever becomes Self-realized. It may be dissolved wholly or in part by the forces of nature and the divine will, but only consciousness can become Self-realized because to be realized is an awakening of consciousness, not matter as matter.

It could be said that the first descent, or avatar, is the creation itself, but this gets confusing since the creation as creation is not, as such, Self-realized.

The Super Bowl of Life then is the cosmic battle of the forces of matter which are empowered to go outward and multiply versus the Spirit’s invitation to awaken and go within to find itself and reveal itself to the inquiring Mind. In Self-realization all paradox and duality and conflict are resolved in the One. But in the creation itself, the pendulum of the opposites means we will have Super Bowls onto eternity. As water is more fluid than earth, may the hawks of the sea prevail!

May the best team win!
Nayaswami Hriman