Saturday, August 30, 2014

What is the best meditation technique? What is Kriya Yoga?

What is the best meditation technique? Can a device with sound or images or other electronic stimulation really deepen your meditation? Should I use a pre-recorded, guided meditation aid? Are all the techniques which use the term "kriya" the same? There are so many mantras and pranayams and gurus, where does one even begin?

The short answer ("All roads lead to Rome") has some validity and is a tempting rejoinder and end to all these questions, but . . . . the "real answer" is both subjective (personal) and objective (demonstrable).

A proper response also requires an understanding of the purpose of meditation, whether, too, from the one's personal motivation or from the tradition and history of meditation itself. But I have addressed the question of "What is Meditation" in other articles on this site. For my purposes, I will assume that our shared understanding of the purpose of meditation is primarily a spiritual one.

"What works best for you" is a fair yardstick although be forewarned that you risk "the blind leading the blind and both falling in a ditch" of ignorance. It's like practicing hatha (physical) yoga because it's a good body workout experience: just because everybody does it, it still misses the true purpose of yoga by a "country mile."

Let's start with the personal: the meditation technique that is right for you has to work for you; it has to appeal to you: enough in the beginning to be attracted to it, and enough in the end to stick with it. This is not the same thing as saying your technique is effortless, easy, and blissful. Think of marriage (or a meaningful profession or career) as a comparison.

Notwithstanding the internet, CD's, DVD's and old-fashioned books, it is also worth noting that no effective (and long-term) meditation technique is divorced from its source: the teacher (or tradition). Partly it's a matter of your own confidence and faith in that technique. If John Smith down the street writes a book on meditation, it might strike your curiosity but I doubt it's going to change your life through daily, deep practice. Both the message and messenger are equally important. Meditation is personal: never forget that!

Not only, therefore, must the technique appeal to you and work sustain-ably for you but you must feel a connection, confidence, inspiration and/or faith in the teacher and/or tradition from which your chosen technique has come. I will stop short of talking about gurus and a disciple-guru relationship. I have written of that in other articles on this site.

There is one further point on the question of personal: the teachings and philosophy that surrounds your technique and teacher. Meditation, viewed in the vacuum of this article discussing technique (as such), might seem disconnected from the need for philosophy, theology, or teaching. Indeed, many meditation teachers say just that: you can be an atheist and practice meditation. Fine: who would argue with that! (I've said it myself!) But that, too, is a philosophy and a teaching. And maybe that really inspires you!

Thus some meditators practice under the auspices of one of the many Buddhist traditions; or Indian traditions; or Christian monastic traditions, or Sufi, Taoist, or Shinto and so on.

So, on a personal level, and as my own teacher, Swami Kriyananda put it in a talk he gave: we need to find the "right teacher, right teaching and right technique" for US and OUR spiritual evolution. All three (like Father, Son and Holy Ghost) are integral components of a successful (i.e. life changing) meditation practice.

Now, let's move on to the "objective" aspects of techniques. Almost any sincere and intelligent effort to meditate will produce positive results. That being said, we enter into the science of meditation. Keeping this article to a reasonable length, let us simplistically say that a successful technique or sitting in meditation experience will yield a mind that is focused and free from random thoughts; a body that is perfectly still (being relaxed but alert); and a "heart" or "mind" that experiences an expansion of consciousness and/or deep satisfaction in the form of inner peace (joy, love, etc.). Let's just leave it at that for now, ok?

The science of meditation teaches us that there is an intimate connection between our mind and body through the medium of breath. Our breath (in its various and measurable attributes of inhalation and exhalation) reflects our state of mind. Our state of mind affects our breath. This relationship is the bedrock of meditation.

The mind, however, can be influenced by conscious and intentional body movements (think yoga, martial arts), by mental concentration (mantra, visualization and affirmation), and by inspiration (chanting, prayer, and devotional images). Each of these, relative to breath, are still somewhat "outside" ourselves. They are effective when employed intelligently, consistently, and as guided intuitively. But the ultimate tool and the source (both) is the mind which in its purest form transcends any specific mental image or physical form. The breath has more directly than any of these other techniques a psycho-physiological impact upon the mind.

I am not saying that breath techniques are BETTER than mantra or devotion, for example. Rather, I am saying that the breath, relatively uncolored and free from the image-making faculties of the mind (which, in the end are abandoned in the higher states of meditation), works directly upon the mind. In the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, the core sutra states that oneness is achieved when the mind transcends creating and reacting to stimuli (mental or otherwise): Stanza 2: "Yogas chitta vritti nirodha."

That fact doesn't invalidate the wide range of meditation techniques. St. Teresa of Avila discovered from direct experience how to go from formulaic prayer to silent, inner prayer and finally beyond all mentation into ecstatic, breathless states of divine communion. She was known to levitate and even bi-locate.

Nonetheless, the discovery of the mind-breath-body connection IS the science of meditation. It is HOW the mind rediscovers the transcendent state of pure consciousness even while in a body. Thus it is that breath techniques (aka "pranayama") abound and are very often at least part of the most effective and popular meditation techniques that are taught and practiced today.

I practice the popular Kriya Yoga technique as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda and his lineage (Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Swami Sri Yukteswar). It has been made known principally through his famous story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." Chapter 26 of that book ("Kriya Yoga") can be read for free online:

While most of the popularly used pranayams focus on the breath, diaphragm, and lungs, Kriya Yoga focuses on the internal, subtle breath whose movements, yogis tell us, cause the physical breath. These currents of energy (known as "prana") revolve up and down in the subtle (or "astral") body which inhabits (creates, sustains, and, at death, leaves) the physical body. The intelligent vital Life Force of prana flows out to the physical body through doorways known as "chakras." Kriya Yoga organically and gradually teaches one how to control this life force so as to consciously coax it inward and away from its captivity in the organs and tissues of the physical body so its power and intelligence (which is divine) can reunite with its commander-in-chief, the Soul, residing in the higher(est) chakras in and around the head. This goal is the state of yoga: union with the Soul and then, eventually, with the Infinite Oversoul which is God.

Each conscious rotation of the prana in the astral body through the chakras is equivalent to living one full solar year in perfect harmony with the body, with the world and with the soul. Excluding the seventh chakra, the soul, the remaining six chakras becomes twelve by the polarity of the movement of prana up and down and through these chakras (producing, in turn, in each rotation, one breath cycle of inhalation and exhalation). These twelve constitute the true inner astrological constellations under which our karma (past actions) reside and which must be untied and released so their energy may seek soul-union above in the seventh chakra.

In this manner, Yogananda taught that the practice of Kriya Yoga is the "airplane route" to God because it accelerates our spiritual evolution by resolving karmic patterns without having to wait many lifetimes to work out each and every desire and make good each and every debt.

Kriya Yoga is not only a technique: it is a spiritual path. It therefore uses devotion, chanting, affirmation, mantra and good works, right short all the tools of the spiritual "trade" that one sees universally employed. By adding this direct perception and control of our inner, soul anatomy, we have a meditation technique suited to our cultural inclination toward science (and away from sectarianism).

I will not conclude by saying "Kriya Yoga is the BEST technique" but it is a great gift to the world for those who feel drawn to it and inspired by its preceptors and precepts.

Blessings to you,

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, August 25, 2014

Meditation: Is Effort & Technique Enough?

One of the great themes of spirituality is "self-effort vs. grace." This can be stated another way: "Who is the Doer?" Christians might quote St. Paul in support of "By grace alone are you saved." Yet Jesus himself said not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven but those who do the will of God.

In one sense, it is obvious that we must strive to grow spirituality by our own will! It's as true in spirituality as it is true in business. Human life would be unbearable if we did not believe innately in "truth and consequences," in cause-and-effect. Imagine if we really believed that nothing we could ever do would improve our circumstances, our health, our happiness? Life would not be worth living.

So, of course self-effort and will power is needed. It is axiomatic in the practice of yoga (and meditation---which is true yoga) that by the knowledge and use of the science of meditation one can advance spiritually. The "bible" of yoga is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. These have little, if anything, to do with yoga postures and everything to do with meditation and the unfoldment of human consciousness toward divine consciousness and union with God, the Infinite Power. Paramhansa Yogananda, renowned for his life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," and bearer of the now famous technique of Kriya Yoga to the world, would claim that he could essentially transform anyone, no matter how unspiritual, if he or she would faithfully and correctly and regularly practice kriya yoga. Swami Kebalananda, an advanced disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, claimed that “I myself consider Kriya the most effective device of salvation through self-effort ever to be evolved in man’s search for the Infinite.”

I have practiced Kriya Yoga since 1978 - 36 years: twice daily. I know how the transforming and illuminating impact of this advanced technique. Yet........

Yet........."from whence cometh the Lord!" Deep spiritual experiences come, as Jesus put it, "like a thief in the night." One cannot force from "superconsciousness" its blessings in the form of deep peace and greater states of consciousness, no matter how "hard" one meditates. One can no more achieve higher states of consciousness through will power than can one "try" to go to sleep. Swami Kriyananda describes meditation in his excellent book, "Awaken to Superconsciousness," as "the upward relaxation into superconsciousness." In meditation, we offer our energy, our will, our act of devotional self-effort into the flow of grace from "above."

Kriya Yoga is given as a form of initiation into discipleship. The opening sentence of Yogananda's autobiography says: "The characteristic features of Indian culture have long been a search for ultimate verities and the concomitant disciple-guru relationship." We cannot escape the reality that God has manifested this cosmos by the power of his illusion (known as "maya"). We are not the ultimate Doer or force behind our own life.

Thus our effort may be every ounce of will but the final result of liberation is largely the flow of grace. It is not whimsical: our effort is the trigger, but neither can it be commanded by our will, for we cannot see or know either the obstacles or the channels through which in time or in space that grace will flow. Yogananda gave this formula for our salvation: 25% our effort; 25% the guru's effort on our behalf; and 50% God's grace!

So I add my testimony to that of wiser ones when I acknowledge that the peace and inspiration of meditation flows "where the wind willeth" and not under my control. As one practices kriya yoga or any form of valid spiritual seeking, one learns, bit by bit, that the true Doer is the Divine Will and when we place our will at the feet of the Infinite Power, the little self is transformed by the Great Self of All.

In your meditation, then, offer yourself at the feet of Infinity and ask that God, in the form of a true teacher, come into human form with right teachings, right technique and as the right teacher (for you), to guide you to the Infinite shores of Self-realization.

Joy to you,


Monday, August 18, 2014

Diversity vs. Depth

I had a conversation the other day that brought up a subject I'd like to share. The subject is not reflective so much of the conversation as it was prompted by the conversation. It goes something like this: a sincere person seeks to live a spiritual life and wonders if he or she should renounce or withdraw from his or her current environment and seek a more spiritually supportive one. Some of the issues include loyalty to friends, neighbors and present occupation, including the service one renders to others or could potentially render if one embarks upon a deeper spiritual life of service.

I remember a man in one of my raja yoga classes years ago: he was older, close to retirement, and very inspired by the path of meditation and raja yoga. At the end of the course he disclosed that he had made a decision to remain "in the world" serving people "on the street" rather than continue with his studies with Ananda and with deepening his meditation practices (presumably in the direction of learning kriya yoga, which we teach).

Though few articulate their choices in this way, many, I have come to see, struggle with a similar choice. Ok, it's fine to say that some people are not ready to make a deeper spiritual commitment in their life. So, sure, we can say there's no "right" or "wrong" choice here. But, by contrast, we can say that some actions lead us toward God and others don't or at least are less likely to. From stories of Paramhansa Yogananda as told by my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, I understand that sometimes a choice like this might impact one for many, many incarnations to come. A spark of spiritual awakening might not recur for a very long time.

It is also true to say that very, very, very few people come to a fork in the road with this as their choice. Few, in other words, have an interest in a deeper spiritual life to begin with. Few have the opportunity, as well. So it is not an unimportant question from the standpoint of karma and reincarnation, and many, many lives of "soul searching."

As the famous story of Martha and Mary illustrates, it is a false dichotomy to see the spiritual path as a choice that eschews involvement and service in the world. (Jesus chides Martha for being too busy in the kitchen, praising Mary for sitting at his feet and absorbing his spiritual vibrations. The issue is not one of service but of attitude and consciousness. Martha was all "hot and bothered" and wanted Jesus to tell Mary to come and help her. For all we know, maybe he did!)

It is the ego, in fact, or at least ignorance, that, in subtly resisting a deeper spiritual commitment, views that commitment as judging the world and giving up on one's friends, family, and ordinary activities and occupation. The important thing, spiritually, is whether one's heart, mind, and hands are drawn toward God or towards ego motivated desires. The details: how, where, when, etc., are secondary.

Getting back to the conversation I had and admitting that I'm not really sure what possibly hidden motivations triggered it, the term "diversity" was used. At first, it seemed that the "diversity" alluded to was a racial one, implying that in city life one is exposed to different races and types of people and how wonderful (and spiritual?) that is. Whether accurately or not, I extended the term, in my mind, to the diversity inherent in city life: amusements, activities, people, and so on. All over the planet, people are drawn to cities for the opportunities in employment, comforts, a better life, and, yes, amusements and worse, that a city offers. There's no doubt that such a move has freed millions from the bondage of village life with its monotony, prejudice, and ignorance.

It is also true that cities are spiritual cesspools at least as much as they are spiritual oases!  (And that assessment is rather generous, I'd say.) So, yes, one's motivation and attraction to move to and remain in a city will differ greatly. But, from years of teaching (in the city) and counseling, I have also seen where the issue is a false one.

It is, for most, a false dichotomy. The activity, the restlessness, the delusions of the world around us are what most people (asking this question) are familiar with. The outward forms of spirituality (group meditations, living in an ashram-like community, serving in a spiritual work, living, perhaps, in the country away from cities -- these being typical aspects of Ananda, at least) are unfamiliar. Standing on the precipice of a choice between the familiar and the unfamiliar, most people prefer the familiar. That one can excuse this using the spiritual rationale that one might accomplish greater good by remaining in the world is essentially just that: an excuse. Like the famous warrior-disciple Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra confronting his kith and kinsmen arrayed for battle, we question our commitment to the "battle of life" inasmuch as it appears to require the destruction of that which is most familiar to us. (A scene from the scripture, the Bhagavad Gita.)

It is axiomatic in lifestyle changes of any importance that one's new way life must be protected, like a young plant, from the foraging marauders of past habits and associations, including former friends. If it is, in fact, one's dharma to serve (spiritually) in a worldly environment then one's dharma will find you. But to have a period of time, perhaps several years, even more, in a spiritually saturated environment where new habits of devotion, daily meditation, God-reminding service, and the company of high-minded souls can take root and go deep is necessary so that whatever one's future service may be, can flower from the spiritual depths within you. (To raise a child in such an environment is a great spiritual boon; whatever "sacrifice" in diversity might be more than gained in spiritual depth and consciousness that sees "unity in diversity.")

This is a fair and good question and of course the "answer" always must be, "It depends.....on you." It is not untypical of a human life cycle that as the years go by, interest in "diversity" wanes and acceptance and preference for routine and stability wax. Most people probably become what Paramhansa Yogananda called "psychological antiques" as a result of this all too common tendency.

But there is a spiritual side to it, too. For the awakening soul, worldly diversions and diversity lose their glamor and attraction. The Bhagavad Gita puts it this way in the words of Krishna: "What is day for the worldly man, is night for the yogi and what is day for the yogi is night for the worldly person." A devotee might see the unchanging Atman or Spirit in all of the world's outward diversity and thus no longer find any profit in the exercise of this inner sight. Thus the yogi might indeed withdrawn from active involvement in the world, no longer needing it for spiritual growth.

More likely, however, is that, as Jesus put it so well, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God......and all these things will be added unto you." Wherever you are, and whatever you do, put God "first" by daily prayer and meditation; offer yourself, your actions, your thoughts and your feelings up to God every morning, throughout the day, and at the end day......give it to God. God can come to you wherever you are.

But, if your life allows you to "put God first" in a dynamic way, immersing yourself with like-minded souls, don't turn your back on this by excusing your own unfulfilled desires or restlessness saying "I can do more good by remaining in the world." To do so is more likely to jeopardize the inspiration that led you to have a choice and to ask the questions.

There is another aspect to it which is, as Paramhansa Yogananda put it, "Environment is stronger than will." One whose worldly desires are still present and magnetic will be influenced in that direction in an environment filled with disparate vibrations of consciousness. Such a one would do well to be surrounded by others of like-mind to strengthen one's aspirations toward truth such that one becomes strong spiritually.

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Can Meditation Make You Happier?

This year's "Spiritual Renewal Week" ( at the Expanding Light Retreat (located at Ananda Village near Nevada City, CA USA), has for its theme, "Finding Happiness." Numerous speakers will share thoughts on many aspects of the increasingly vital topic, "how to find happiness." It just so happens that "Finding Happiness" is the title of the movie about Ananda's worldwide network of intentional communities, but it also presents to us in these days of great uncertainty, countless lifestyle options, and turmoil, a timely AND timeless subject.

It is difficult to keep up with the published studies on the effects of meditation on the brain, the mind, the body, and general "spirits." But the question is worth asking: "Can meditation make you happier?"

My favorite answer to these types of questions is, "It depends......on you!" Let's start by saying meditation can help you become calmer. Being calmer allows you to be clearer in both emotions and thoughts (two sides of the coin, I'd say). Being calmer allows you to make choices about your response to stress or anything that might make you UNhappy or LESS happy. To activate this potential, you have to make the effort to retain that calmness sufficiently well enough to use your will to remain even-minded, and to choose your response rather than react. Rather than bite someone's "head off," you might take a deep breath and remaining calm, patiently explain your thoughts. Etc. etc.

But meditation can take us deeper than simply remaining "mindful" and calm. There are stages of meditation and much of what's taught under the stress reduction category of "mindfulness" is just an entry level stage....unless practiced "longer and deeper," that is. Other techniques (combining attitude, feeling, intention, and the technical aspects of the deeper meditation science) can accelerate the depth of your meditation. But not merely mechanically. There's more to it than mere mechanics.

Many prior blog articles have explored aspects of meditation but for this blog, on finding happiness, let me say that a deeper experience of meditation partakes of the nectar of true happiness directly, without intervention of thoughts, intentions or techniques. It's like taking a bath or shower; standing under a weightless waterfall of joy and peace! Experiencing a form of happiness that is not circumstantial and not conditioned by any outer situation, one "knows" a joy that slowly begins to percolate through one's body cells and consciousness. Bit by bit, day by day, the bubble of happiness permeates your thoughts, attitudes and actions and, by so doing, magnetizes to you even greater opportunities for joy, for gratitude, for service, for self-forgetfulness..........for lasting happiness.

It would be fair to ask whether this deeper experience requires a belief system, a faith ideal, or any form of religious or spiritual affiliation or inclination. I want to say "Yes," but, in fact, it does not. But, which came first, the "chicken or the egg?" The one can lead to the other and vice versa. I cannot say for sure that deep and regular immersion in this state of consciousness can remain always a subjective experience with no intuition about God or "other" arising, but let me say, rather, that the search for meaning (and what is meaning if not happiness) will ineluctably, inevitably and indubitably lead us to the "truth that shall make us free." I think that's all I need to say because each soul's path to truth (and what is truth if not God) is unique and is his own. I can speculate but, no matter.

I will say this, however, those souls who intuitively are drawn to seek the "other" (as I have frequently commented upon in other blogs), who are open to the presence of God, Christ or the masters, in whatever form, and have an innate devotional awareness will have in place an important piece of this thing we call "truth." That's as much as I can say.

So, yes, meditation can help you find the wellspring of happiness that is, as we often say at Ananda, "within you."

I believe some of the key events are video streamed on the internet. Classes begin Monday mid-morning, August 18. See the link above for more information.

Blessings to all,


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Human Love: Delusion or Stairway to Heaven?

Tomorrow is the 36th wedding anniversary for Padma and I - August, 6, 1978. We were married by Swami Kriyananda at the Ananda Meditation Retreat. So this topic is appropriate. It is also popular, surprisingly (to me, at least). As one small example on this blog, one of the most popular articles I have written, even though two and a half years ago, is on the subject of "How to Love Another without Attachment." On a grander scale, the whole of human history reveals that vast amounts of literature, art, music and movies are devoted to this subject, from the most degraded to the most elevated. The only serious competitor to the subject of human love is, fittingly, war. But today, to celebrate the occasion, let us "make love, not war." (Perhaps I'll be inspired some day on the latter subject, though don't hold your breath.)

No subject is more fraught with complexity and variables than that of human love. Human love ranges from its misuse to describe lust all the way to the most sublime of human feelings culminating even in the willingness to give one's life for another: and, a lot in between. It knows no end of unique expression and defies any and all definition.

Lest I be forced to write a book (and, I promise you, I will never wrote a book on this subject), I am going to honor my anniversary and focus on human love in its traditional form between a man and woman in marriage. It's my right to do so and it's just easier than to make constant alternative and inclusive pronoun and noun references. So my readers who are touchy on this subject of gender and preference, well, give me some scope. All you have to do is substitute your own gender preferences and I don't think you will see any difference.

What characterizes human love above all else is that of a compelling and a specific kind of attraction between two people. This attraction is not that of creative collaborators such as at a workplace but is personal and contains a spark of polarization that might as well be simply described as sexual. I use this term, sexual, both in its obvious and traditional sense but also with the understanding that its presence does not require that its physical form of expression is uppermost or has a special emphasis between two such people. It's the "spark" that we see between two people that flames into a long-term and committed relationship and includes some element of sexuality, even if just in the beginning. Call it "chemistry." I say this so that we know we are not talking about a platonic relationship or that better described as friendship.

The question for the moment is whether this spark of attraction is, from the spiritual point of view of the soul, merely delusional or whether it can be a steppingstone to divine love. Not surprisingly the answer to this is, "It depends."

It truly surprises me how difficult it is for human beings to love each other beyond the narrow confines of their selfish needs and attachments. Ok, so you say "Why does THAT surprise you?" Well, perhaps I am, underneath my logical exterior, so to speak, a sentimentalist at heart. Or, not. It's just that I encounter so many otherwise lovable people who seem incapable of loving in return and far from happy in that fact. I may lack many needful virtues but the inability to love another person (appropriately or otherwise) is not one of them.

There are two kinds of people: those who seek love and those who don't! Ha, ha, I fooled you. You thought I was about to say something profound, huh?

I will wax personal and impersonal as the keystrokes here demand of me. Personally, my life's outer activities have been merely a canvas on which to paint the hidden themes of my life. And, human love is certainly one of those themes. In high school, I fell love with my "high school sweetheart" (how out-of-date a phrase, eh?) but it didn't last. The more intensely I felt attracted to her, the more she withdrew emotionally. She was, in my view (no longer culturally correct, I suppose) at least at the time, the quintessentially irrational female who while maddeningly attractive remains uncommunicative, moody, and beyond all understanding and reason. As my own spiritual yearnings grew, she withdrew even more. It was time to leave and so I simply left. To this day, I do not know what she wanted or why she seemed unhappy. But I vowed from that day never to be fooled by a pretty face or figure but to seek a friend and a partner with whom I could speak with reason and intellect and with whom I could share my own (gradually emerging) higher ideals. In that resolve, I am content to say Divine Mother answered my prayer "an hundredfold."

My point in disclosing the above is to illustrate, even if you don't resonate with my stereotyping description, the conundrum between the outer attraction and the inner resonance between two people. It goes without saying that superficial attraction is dangerously misleading to one's higher Self. Yet, how many marriages begin with but a merely outward basis and yet can evolve and turn into something deeply harmonious and respectful? That's the rub isn't it? You can never really be sure until, well, it becomes obvious.

For example, in old-fashioned views on marriage, a young woman might yield to the forbidden fruit of pre-marital temptations in the hope that by so yielding she would catch "her man." And, sometimes at least, I am sure she did. But how many such liaisons produced the fruit of marital harmony? Few, I would guess.

How many men, in the former times, wanted to seduce a woman only to find, having done so, having fallen in love. (Though more likely not and being, instead, left empty, angry and troubled.)

The merry-go-round goes 'round endlessly, doesn't it? Even today's modern hook-up without hang-up culture is mostly a pretense and a gateway to risk, hurt and harm. Sex never satisfies, as an end in itself. Eventually, it shows its inadequacies and falsehood in a million different ways. How many divorced couples once boasted of having great sex! Ditto for romance as romance for its own sake.

Sex and romance are simply variations on a theme: the theme being the fleeting satisfaction of intense emotions, the pleasure of indulging in mere fantasy, and sensory stimulation, none of which can last very long and both of which produce the fruit of their opposites: boredom, disgust, moodiness, lethargy, and the longer-term effects of dissipation (mental, emotional and/or physical).

(Lest you feel in these words a bludgeon of condemnation, let us admit that sex and romance have their place in the grand scheme of things and, whether they do or not, they unmistakably "make the world go 'round." It is better to deal plainly and clearly with forces that are far greater than the mental virtue of the merely conscious mind. When either sex or romance are divorced from a deeper, soul resonance between people and become ends in themselves, this is when we eventually suffer.)

Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now famous classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," describes in a book of stories (collected and edited by my teacher, and founder of Ananda, Swami Kriyananda) called "Conversations with Yogananda," how American culture differs from Indian culture (at least during his lifetime). He said that in India where the parents choose a marriage partner for their child divorce is uncommon and marriages tend to be stable and generally more harmonious. In America he experienced the turmoil and tumult of rising divorce rates and marriages based on nothing more, as he wryly put it, than "a pretty shade of lipstick and a bowtie."

Yet, he concluded that in this culture we could find out more quickly the innate shortcomings of human love as a solution to our search for happiness. He didn't, in other words, slam the door in our face, decrying our western superficiality and fickleness (both of which he also acknowledged). Yet, he taught that "loyalty is the first law of God." That's a bit heavy sounding for my likes, but by this he refers to the need to stick to what one commits as the necessary prerequisite to success in all human endeavors.

In the arena of human love, we find that it is natural to "date" and "shop around" when one is young (or available) but if this phase goes on for a decade or two, one's friends will begin to wonder whether that friend is capable of "settling down." So, we intuitively know that life invites, indeed, demands, a commitment of creative energies. "Be fruitful and multiply" as the Old Testament commands. (I am not limiting to this to having children, but to getting "engaged" with life.)

So, now, which is it: delusion or doorway? I already told you: "It depends."

My marriage to Padma was born in the clear light of spiritual idealism in the shared commitment to the practice of meditation, to discipleship to Paramhansa Yogananda, to the guidance of Swami Kriyananda, and to a lifetime of community living at Ananda. That doesn't and didn't substitute for the attraction we felt to one another. It was a both-and. The one, immediate and compelling, found its directional expression in the form of the other. In this, I have to say we embodied a perfect balance and it has borne much fruit, in all and in many ways: from our wonderful children to our friendship and service to and with Swami Kriyananda, the countless friendships with fellow devotees around the world, and a gradually expansion of consciousness in wisdom, clarity, and true, impersonal love.

But a marriage with such high ideals holds aloft a bar that is ever out-of-reach and which, therefore, too often eludes one's reaching grasp. The result is too easily and too often a stumbling from that height where a fall can hurt. There's no easy path to enlightenment and we've been greatly blessed in having every spiritual advantage in this regard (with the possible exception of not having present and in the body our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda).

As I look around and view fellow devotees who are unmarried and ask myself: which is the easier path, I see that the unmarried devotee has the freedom to focus one-pointedly on meditation and service while we marrieds are constantly having to also please and relate, compromisingly, to our partner's needs and demands. But I perceive that the unmarrieds indulge readily in their likes and dislikes of others, shutting their door naturally and easily upon the world when others and life itself displeases them. Behind our doors, we must continue to live our path: there is no relaxation of intensity unless a couple agrees to do so. In the latter case, the fall can be quick and deep if one is not careful.

Swami Kriyananda was definitely not starry eyed on the subject of marital bliss. Yogananda taught that those who are compelled by desire to marry must find, over time and repeated forays and incarnations, the inadequacy of human love to satisfy the soul's memory of perfect, infinite love. Nonetheless, the great guru Lahiri Mahasaya, disciple of the peerless Babaji, was married and had at least four children. Yogananda's most advanced disciples all had been, at one time or another, married. So also, the gyanavatar, Swami Sri Yukteswar, the proxy guru of Yogananda.

In this new age of expanding awareness, Yogananda and Kriyananda have taught us that marriage is not forbidden to or necessarily a bar to those seeking enlightenment. The Divine Will and guiding hand of Spirit invites us to bring "Spirit to work and home." It is time to infuse human life with grace, harmony and wisdom. The rise of women in society is, no less, an indication of the need to achieve balance in society and in marriage.

Couples dedicated to high ideals both in their service outwardly in the world but also to the high ideals of respect for one another are needed to serve as wayshowers for a new society. Instead of men and women at war with each other, using and abusing each other in co-dependent relationships, what is needed for both individual spiritual growth and the harmony of society at large are couples who are strong in themselves, centered in themselves (not self-centered!), and respectful of each other.

The sexual attraction between two people is here to stay. It's a question, rather, of how strongly such attraction rules relationships, for how long it governs the relationship, and how far down the scale of priority and attachment it goes. The more conscious elements of society are raising children to be self-aware and self-respecting: of themselves and their bodies, and of others. This is a good though tiny trend. The Ananda Living Wisdom Schools are a part of this important trend.

To know that the compelling force of attraction can be either a gateway to hell (harmful emotions, destructive habits, disease, suffering, etc.) or a doorway to greater happiness is a function of intuition (and karma). Children raised in calm, nurturing and wholesome environments will stand a better chance of "knowing" and distinguishing truth from glamor.

Before marrying, I asked Swami Kriyananda's blessing and permission. No one wants to return to arranged marriages, but blessed marriages are those that seek and obtain the support of friends, family, and, most of all, the wise. This is the happy blend between the risk and compelling power of love-marriages and the wisdom but potential for lifelessness in arranged marriages. In the Ananda Communities (nine throughout the world), we encourage prospective couples to seek counsel, blessing, and support from like-minded and wisdom-guided gurubhais.

Life is what we make of it, no doubt. Marriage is here to stay, despite society's permission for ignoring its outer forms. No longer is one compelled to marry by sexual desire . Loyalty, too, means commitment and while one can never know where the path of life will lead, the sincere effort to walk it with harmony and with wisdom is all that one can aspire to do. Marriage embodies this principle of loyalty. A ceremony is but an affirmation seeking divine and human blessings. It is not a guarantee.

Swami Kriyananda was married for a few years. His marriage ennobled the fledgling householder community of Ananda Village in the '80's. But as he later admitted, he was not cut out for marriage and a time came when it ended. Ananda couples, as others throughout the world, sincerely strive to have a spiritual marriage without suppressing its complete, human nature. Led by conscious intention and prayerful aspiration, marriage, for all of its shortcomings and challenges, can help us grow spiritually. That a conscious marriage will tend to cure us of false notions of marital bliss should be expected but not decried. We must learn that true happiness and perfect love cannot be limited by human, or any, outer form.

Happy Anniversary with many more to come!

Swami Hrimananda! :-)

P.S. Having taken our vows in the Nayaswami Order, ours is now a celibate marriage. As the fact of our children can attest, it wasn't always so!