Thursday, September 25, 2014

How to Pray for Yourself and Others - Part 2

Part 2 – How to Pray for Yourself and Others

What do YOU pray for? A friend recently bemoaned a circumstance where she felt stuck and trapped. I said, "Well, why didn't you ask (for help)?" Her reply was, "Well, I'm not supposed to ask (spiritually speaking, that is)." I said, "Listen, you've proved yourself by a lifetime of dedicated service and self-sacrifice. The help you need is not for you only personally, but for the work you are doing as part of Ananda and part of a team. So, of course, you should ask."

So, what to do? When should we pray for help for ourselves and when, not? This is clearly very personal. There is no one or right answer. Yogananda counseled that the highest prayer is to pray for God to come to us and for us to share God's presence with others (I'm paraphrasing a bit.) This includes the prayer of Jesus, "Thy will be done." (Sometimes stated as "Thy will, not my will.")

We should begin each day and each project with a prayer that we be divinely guided in all that we do and say. Swami Kriyananda's formula could be stated another way: pray for those things, material or spiritual, that will help us serve and grow spiritually. Take, for example, a case of ill health......if by becoming healthy again, you can better meditate and serve a divine work, then pray for that (while prefacing your prayer with "Thy will be done.").

This formula works also in respect to purifying and transcending material desires. To use another example: if you have a habit of buying things that you don't really need and if you find it difficult to curtail this habit, then try shopping for others who are in need, or for a spiritual work that you otherwise support. Giving money to an inspired spiritual work is an excellent and karma-transforming way of dissolving karmic blocks around money. And you know something? The best time to be generous is when you have the least to give! Same with illness: that's the best time to think of others (using common sense, of course). When the body and ego is most inclined to withdraw into fear or suffering THAT'S the best time to affirm a larger reality. By that affirmation (which is, itself, a kind of prayer), your expanding sympathies and awareness can magnetically draw to you what you need. Remember Jesus' words: "Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, ....., and all these things shall be added unto you."

Let's say you are out of job. That's the best time to volunteer, to help your family, neighbors, friends, church, school or community. If you are inclined to pray for a job, why not see the fact of having a job in terms of allowing you funds for an annual retreat, or to support a spiritual work, to go on a pilgrimage. Try to expand the horizon of your self-interest to include Self-interest, in other words. Visualize your employment as a means of serving God in others and as an act of devotion. (I believe that the tragedy of homelessness and street beggars is not so much their lack of food and shelter (not difficult to obtain in America, anyway), but the inability (or lack of interest and awareness) in being creatively engaged in serving others.)

How about, then, praying for others? You've perhaps heard it said that "A cure is not a healing." (Or, is it the other way around?) You might pray that your friend be cured of cancer but if the cancer has its roots in some negative behavior pattern, there may be no healing and the cancer may reoccur if the lesson hasn't be learned on a deeper level. (Or, whether the disease reappears or not, the negative pattern may continue.) Put in an opposite form, one sometimes hear of cancer or AIDS "victims" coming to an understanding that, despite their illness being labelled terminal, they feel healed by the opportunity to pay attention to more important things (usually relationships, personal or divine) in their lives. There's nothing like a life-threatening circumstance to put into proper perspective the details of our lives and our self-involved habits of thinking and acting!

When we pray, then, for others we should send the prayer-energy with the thought that the energy itself contains the intelligence to bring about the best results. Don't, in other words, try to "wish for" or visualize specific physical results but send, instead, the intention/energy of your prayer to the higher knowing faculty of that person (their soul, in other words) so that the best and spiritually optimum outcome be the result. Do you see the difference?

As suggested in my recent article on karma (good or bad?), the burden of disease or suffering isn't necessarily "bad" or "good." Our response to it determines whether we respond with faith, hope, and even-mindedness or something less.

It is not my purpose in this article to teach a specific healing prayer technique, but I will share a simplified version of a powerful technique taught by Paramhansa Yogananda. Sit up and calm yourself of any anxious or fearful emotions. Meditate at least a few minutes. Concentrate behind closed eyes by focusing on the "point-between-the-eyebrows" in the forehead: this is the psychic "broadcasting" station of will power and the mind. Visualize the person*** in need (by form, by name, by feeling) at that point. Surround him (her) with radiant light (blue, white, or gold). Rub your palms together briskly creating a sensation of warmth in your hands. Raise your hands facing outward and chanting AUM (aloud, preferably) three times, send the healing vibrations to your friend or loved one. Try to feel that the healing energy is not yours, but enters your body at the base of the brain (medulla oblongata) as a result of your action and intention. Imagine that this healing life force energy (prana) enters there and descends the spine through the arms to the hands and thence outward into the subtle realm of light and thought (astral and causal spheres) directly to your friend's subtle body of light and intelligence.

*** If praying for yourself, visualize the injured or diseased parts as whole and well, or the trait or delusion you wish to transcend in its positive manifestation.....

Returning to prayers for oneself, the highest prayer could also be in the simple form of "Reveal Thyself, reveal Thyself." "Come to me." "I seek Thee that I might share Thee with all."

Do you know the story of the man who presumed upon divine protection when he ignored the shouts of the mahoot (elephant driver) to get out of his way because the elephant was rampaging? He found himself trampled nearly to death! Bruised and bleeding, he prayed and asked God, "What happened? Why didn't you protect me?" The Lord answered saying, "I tried to warn you through the shouts of the mahoot! Why didn't you listen?"

Like my friend, therefore, see God in your life's circumstances, friends, enemies, and loved ones. God can speak and guide you in many ways but until we learn to "listen" to His voice through others, we shouldn't presume that He will speak to us directly. It is OK to ask for help, but do so with a childlike expectation that He listens and will come to your aid. Also, however, ask with the willingness to accept what God sends to you, understanding that perhaps that help will come to you in some unexpected form. Do what you can to improve your health, life, and circumstances in ways that are reasonable and appropriate, but accept, in any case, your troubles, trials and difficulties with equanimity and faith in the ultimate goodness of God coming to you through life's adventures.


Swami Hrimananda

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What may I pray for? Myself? Others? - Part 1

Part 1 - Stories

Admittedly, most "praying" people wouldn't think twice about praying for their own needs. After all, "there are no atheists in foxholes" as the saying goes. When in crises, even non-prayers find themselves praying--sometimes making promises if they can get rescued from their crises.

Reminds me of a joke about an Irishman who is desperately looking for a parking place because he's late for an important meeting. He prays, "Lord, if you can find me a parking place, I'll stop drinking." Suddenly, he sees a space opening up, and he prays, "Never mind, Lord, I found one!" (I think that as a child I probably reneged on a few prayers, too!)

My teacher, Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013) describes a kidney stone attack one Sunday morning. He was doubled over with pain but refused to pray for himself, but he was scheduled to give the Sunday morning homily. As the time for the Service approached, though shaking with pain and unable to move, he had the inspiration to pray, "Divine Mother, if you want me to give the Service and not disappoint those who have come today, you'll have to do something about this."

Suddenly and in a flash, the pain vanished. While formerly he was too much pain to even speak, he found that when he went to do the Service he was in too much bliss to speak! And, as he pointed out, it was not because the pain had gone but because of the joy of Divine Mother's caring response. Later he reflected that perhaps She approved of his prayer which was directed on behalf of others!

In his book, "Awaken to Superconsciousness," he tells this story but then adds that he wouldn't expect to hold most people to such a high standard in respect to their personal needs, fears, and desires. Once, when he was a young monk, he had the thought of "wouldn't it be nice" to taste one of those Swiss chocolates he remembered from his childhood growing up in Europe. (This was in the early 1950's when Swiss chocolate wasn't common in American stores.)

What was "sweet" was that on or around his birthday that year, a box of Swiss chocolates showed up from someone who could not have known it was both his birthday and his wish for them. With joy, he shared them with his fellow monks. When God rescues us from fatal harm, well, you can "kinda" expect that, but when a small desire is fulfilled in a way that only God could have known about and fulfilled, well, that's especially touching.

I have tried to live my life in this spirit, though I freely pray for liberation and freedom from delusion. This desire, too, must be fulfilled, Paramhansa Yogananda said! I also pray that if I must reincarnate again, that I find my guru and spiritual path quickly before delusion swallows me up again (or at least delays unnecessarily my journey to Self-realization).

There was a time in the early years of my life at Ananda Village in California, when I felt it was time to move on from the administrative work I was doing at the fledgling community. I wasn't sure what form the next step would take but I had reached the point where no opportunity for change was presenting itself. Given that, at the time, there wasn't anyone else obviously capable of taking my place, it seemed (to me) that I was stuck for a long time to come.

My dilemma was that I didn't want to "ask for myself" or to cause any hardship to the Community. In his famous Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says "what is ours will surely come to us." Thus I was hesitant to speak up for myself to anyone, feeling that if Divine Mother wants me to serve in administrative functions for the rest of my life, well, I guess I'd better embrace it and be happy about it!

Then one day in the 1980's when Padma and I had traveled to our center in Italy (we were with Swami Kriyananda, Ananda's founder, on Ananda business), I felt to share with him my feelings on the matter. We were having a quiet lunch together in Rome at a friend's house and were soon to part ways: we back to California and he on to another leg of a lecture tour. He nodded sympathetically and seemed to agree that a change was needed but nothing was decided or even put into motion as a result. But, interestingly, after that conversation, there soon appeared on the scene a new member who had the precise credentials needed! I had simply stated my case, as it were.

A year ago I had a sudden paralysis of my right hand. It was disconcerting at first. I didn't know what it was or whether it was short-term or permanent. After my initial shock, an inspiration came to me: "This must be my guru's grace!" An improbable thought, perhaps, but it was more than an affirmation: the thought rang with truth.

From that point forward and though I did all the exercises and therapies suggested to me, I let go of any expectation of recovery. It was no "mere" inconvenience. I do constant typing (emails, compositions, planning, etc.) but was limited to one finger typing which for me, as a lifelong very fast typist, was excruciating. Many ordinary tasks were impossible. With my limp hand I'd constantly send objects flying across the room. In my frequent classes I couldn't play the harmonium and had to ask for help. Yet help was there, without any need for me to seek it.

For weeks while struggling to carry on my ordinary activities and conceal, as best I could, my disability, I kept affirming "Guru's grace." Then after six weeks long weeks and only one day before my annual seclusion I found I could move my fingers sufficiently to play the harmonium once again. Within a week or two the paralysis disappeared!

Part 2 - Continued in the blog article: How to Pray for Your Self & Others

Swami Hrimananda....praying that you'll read the next one......:-)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reflections on our Pilgrimage to Italy!

Padma and I sent this note to our friends and fellow pilgrims going in early October for two weeks to visit the shrines of St. Francis and other saints, visit Rome & Florence, and stay at the Ananda Center near Assisi.

Dear Fellow Pilgrims to Italy,

The time for our departure is soon. We encourage you to pace yourself this next ten or so days. You don't want to get on the airplane exhausted from getting everything in your life caught up or having packed merely the night before!

Make lists, pull out your luggage, start making piles of stuff! When you pack, leave behind a third of it!​​

Hopefully some of you have been reading up on the life of St. Francis and other things related to our travels.

One thought we'd like to share with you has to do with integrating what we experience with our own path. Almost every town in Italy has its patron saint whose body may be deemed incorruptible or whose relics have witnessed miraculous healings. Stories of these saints tell us of lives of great penances, martyrdom, or suffering.

Most of humanity (though not the true saints) during Kali Yuga considered the body as their only reality. Thus it was that the dogma/teaching of the resurrection of the physical body at the end of time made perfect, simple sense and was very appealing to them. The concept of future lives beyond the current one had little appeal to those without imagination, unless perhaps to grant more time to fulfill desires. It is no coincidence that Jesus' last great act was to resurrect his physical body. The deeper message of his resurrection (power of spirit over nature and the promise of our soul’s immortality in God) was simply lost on the Christians of medieval consciousness.

Not surprisingly, one of the most popular and ubiquitous divine graces given to saints of that era was the incorruptibility (after death) of their physical body. Another measure of sanctity (consistent with the consciousness of the times) was the degree of physical suffering. Again, it was no coincidence that Jesus, a great avatar with a dispensation for Kali Yuga, "suffered" on the cross "for our sins."
(Both suffering and incorruptibility found favor in India, too, during Kali Yuga, but India is not our cultural destination.)

How are we, on this upcoming pilgrimage, going to find inspiration from the saints of the medieval era? How can we relate to such lives, so distant not only in time, not only in culture, but in the very manifestation of divine consciousness? 

It is in the Festival of Light, which we read every Sunday, that we find our bridge: "For whereas in the past the coin of man's redemption was pain and suffering, for us, now, the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy."

Master teaches us and St. Francis showed this in his life, too, that joy in the midst of suffering is the measure of sanctity, not the suffering itself. This joy is not a denial of suffering, nor does it blot it out. But soul joy co-exists in our souls no matter what our body or ego may be experiencing in the realm of maya. Sister Gyanamata, at her death, sinking into the watchful state even as her body was wracked with pain, could only mutter, “Joy, joy, too much joy.”

In Swami Kriyananda’s life, too, we saw dynamically illustrated the co-existence of bliss with physical hardship and the victory of bliss over bodily limitations.

We can find that joy-space-presence as we live more and more in the eternal NOW. It’s like a football player who takes in stride the brutal effects of his sport while, if you or I were to go out in the field, we would be carried out of the game on a stretcher in the first play! The soul sees suffering first as maya and then as but the divine hand (perhaps well disguised).

Master said that evil, Satan, and suffering all play a role in helping us move, as we choose, toward God and toward the truth (that shall make us free). Even Jesus cautioned us not to seek suffering for its own sake: “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

All the true Christian saints illustrated this in their lives. Those whose lives demonstrated states of ecstatic inner communion (superconsciousness) are generally the ones we honor particularly as "in our line."

Even if Kali Yuga consciousness could relate only to the body and its comforts, we, on the threshold of Dwapara and disciples of a great guru, are not so limited.

Thus it is the shrines we will visit will tend to emphasize the miracles and/or the penances performed. As Master's own, we would do well to intuit and unearth the treasure of true joy of which St. Francis and other great saints of his time experienced. St. Francis, even as he was dying and seemingly in great pain, could not contain his joy. For this he was reprimanded by Brother Elias (as being an unseemly posture for a dying saint), the pompous administrator of the now large Franciscan Order. But Francis ignored him.

It is this divine presence that lingers at the shrines and relics of St. Francis, Sister Clare and so many others. Even the great works of art and architecture testify to the victory of Joy over suffering. Kali Yuga was truly a dark time for the average person, yet these saints and the marvels they inspired yet ring with transcendence: the soul of man reaching up to his Creator.

Blessings, Hriman and Padma

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Fall 2014 Equinox : A Message of Faith

This evening, Saturday, September 20, 2014, I will share some words on the theme of the Fall Equinox. I write these notes as part of my preparation. My theme is faith.

I have long been struck by the subtle but tangible feeling of upliftment and general energy that surrounds the four points of the solar year which are the two equinoxes and two solstices. I had never noticed them before until 2001 when my wife Padma, inspired by the description in "Autobiography of a Yogi" (by Paramhansa Yogananda) of how his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, celebrated the equinox and solstices, proposed we start the tradition of holding these celebrations here as well (at Ananda in the greater Seattle, WA area).

At that first celebration, September 22, 2001, which took place at the Ananda Community in Lynnwood (a place very much off the beaten path and towards which many first-time visitors seem to get lost enroute), we were standing outside the meditation hall minutes before the celebration service was to begin and no one had arrived! So, a little deflated, we went inside to wait. By 6:10 p.m., the room was full! Ever since then we have found that these celebrations attract many people, often for the first time, or whom we never see throughout the year, otherwise.

In case you are unaware of it, these four points of the solar year represent the passing hours when the sun and earth hover in very specific relationships. Speaking of the northern hemisphere, the two solstices are the points when the sun is "highest" (June 21, summer) in the sky and the hours of daylight are at their height and the point (December 21, winter) when the sun is at its lowest point and daylight hours are the fewest. The Spring (March 21) and Fall (September 21) equinoxes are when the hours of day and night are equal.

On an energetic level and in respect to human consciousness, the summer solstice represents the height of our vitality and creative energies. We are filled with both energy and en-joy-ment as we work in hopeful expectation of "profitable" and "productive" results (come Fall). The Fall equinox, we are filled with gratitude for the harvest as we also introspect upon the fruits of our labor as to how to improve our efforts in the period to come. In the Fall, we know that the winter is coming and we must gather, store, and protect our harvest to sustain us through the dark months ahead. We draw upon our faith that by our efforts and by divine grace, we will be sustained as we endure challenges and difficulties.

The Winter solstice celebrates the fact that soon the sun will now begin its journey of return. In the darkness is born new life, in the darkness of the womb where the seed fertilizes the embryo, in the ground where seeds lie, seemingly infertile but awaiting the Spring, and in our hearts where, at the center of our trials and difficulties, there resides the light of truth and of love. It is in our hearts and in the midst of the darkness, that the Christ child of love and wisdom is reborn. In this universal love which is the essence of life, unseen and in the apparent darkness of non-material realities (consciousness, itself), we celebrate our fellowship, our families, and our kinship in God.

The Spring equinox is a celebration of hope in the most obvious way. The new buds of growth, the beautiful and fresh flowers, and the birth of new life offers to us the promise of redemption, rebirth, and hope for lasting happiness. Life is reborn for those who have planted seeds of hope, faith and goodness and who have nourished those seeds with the sunlight of wisdom and the water of love.

Each of these four celebrations affirms our kinship as children of God. Whether recumbent or active, whether hopeful or retiring, sensitive souls rejoice in the fellowship of all life which has sprung from the unseen but intuited divine presence which resides in all.

I intend to share a little of a remarkable life, that of Louis Zamperini. The book and soon-to-be released movie of the same name, "Unbroken," chronicles a life of great struggle which, endured with faith, hope and vitality, proved victorious. Louis, born in 1917, and against great odds, became an Olympic runner and met Adolph Hitler in 1936 at the Berlin Olympics. In World War II, his bomber crashed in the Pacific and he endured 47 days at sea, harassed constantly by sharks and strafed by Japanese warplanes, floating without food or water. Picked up near the Marshall Islands by the Japanese, he endured torture, beatings, starvation and indignities beyond imagination until the conclusion of that war. Hailed a hero upon his return to California, the toll of indignity and torture held him captive until, hearing Billy Graham one day in Los Angeles, the dark night of his prayers in captivity blossomed into flowers of forgiveness.

In October, 1950, he went to Japan to meet, once again, his (now imprisoned) tormentors and to offer forgiveness. He spent the rest of his life in service to others. In 1981, he carried the Olympic torch in Japan (quite near his former POW camp). He died last July 2, 2014. A movie, directed by Angelina Jolie, will be released this December.

Our lives are lives of privilege, compared to what Louie endured and that of many millions throughout world today. Our privilege grants us the opportunity to transcend comfort and to seek the "truth that shall make you free." I've often wondered how and why some people, "," Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, "out of a thousand," turn within, look up and seek God in truth and in right action. I think it is because the seed of faith has been planted in our hearts, nourished in our bosom, often silently, most likely in past lives, and then begins to sprout when conditions are right.

Jesus told the story that "in a field two are working, one is taken and the other left behind." By this he means, that among people, otherwise identical outwardly in appearance or activity, perhaps one will find his faith awakened and will "leave" the field (meaning leave his mundane existence, if not in actuality, then in spirit). We never know the time or the place when God, "like a thief in the night," will call us from within.

Fall is an excellent time to go on retreat; to take personal and private seclusion: even, if, just for day when no one else is around. Take the time to reflect upon the harvest of your life, the seeds you have planted in this life: what blossoms and fruits will they bear? Is this fruit what you seek? Pray for the inspiration to be guided and the strength to be lead by faith from within.

Perhaps I see you this evening!



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Why Celebrate the Fall Equinox?

Every year on or around the Fall Equinox (September 21, more or less) are celebrations or activities related to the "fall of the leaves" and the moment when the waning hours of summer sunlight equal the increasing hours of darkness. This time of year (ok, for the northern hemisphere) the daytime summer high temperatures have subsided; the nights are cooling down, the leaves (of deciduous trees) begin to turn browns, yellows, reds and golds; crops come into their final stages of harvest (grapes, apples, and the like) and even the sunlight has a sparkle, a twinkle, a reflective glow as the sun lowers in the sky on its journey to the south.

In former times the need to harvest and store in preparation for the cold winds, snows and earth's coming sterility would certainly weigh upon the minds of the citizenry. But in all times, sensitive souls are reminded that "life is short and uncertain." You never know when the winter time of lack, of ill health, of death or Fate's disfavor will be-fall you.

It is time not only to harvest but to assess, account for, weigh, sell, trade, or share the harvest. As Krishna says in the first stanza or so of the Bhagavad Gita, "How did we this day upon the field....of battle..." Reflective souls are invited to assess the fruits of our labors, our actions, our good, or not so good, karma and ask how we might improve. A farmer, too, takes note of how his decisions of what to plant, where to plant, to irrigate, fertilize and when to harvest did on the field of his labor. If our "harvest" (whether material fruits or spiritual fruits) is bountiful, we give thanks to the great Provider of Life, to "Providence."

We gather, therefore, on this occasion to celebrate the harvest of the "summer" of our self-efforts to live by truth, by compassion, creativity, service, and devotion. We give thanks for the gift of life, health, vitality, love and friendship.

For thousands of years humanity has been drawn to the pairs of equinoctial and solstice points of each solar year: where light and dark are equal (March and September), and, where light reigns (summer) and dark prevails (winter). Objectively one can only say these are simply astronomical facts. Subjectively (in terms of human response), some would say that our notice of these events are related to humanity's dependence upon agriculture. But spiritually, we say that these four points, while natural moments of pause in the astronomical relationships of earth to sun, give our souls' pause for reflection. Autumn being literally a reflective time, while Winter solstice we celebrate the sun's intention to return (north) (and the light that shines within us eternally), Spring, the joy and promise of rebirth, and Summer, the vitality and abundance of life itself.

Many feel, though fewer express, in outer, communal celebration the change of seasons and their significance. When we gather, this Saturday, September 20, at the Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell, we do so with millions around the globe. This momentary still-point in nature brings to us an expanded sympathy and greater, sensitive awareness of our life and our connections with all life.

Pause, then, at this time to reflect upon the summer of your life's energies, activities, and commitments. Are they yielding to you the fruits of inner peace, wisdom, calmness, vitality and true happiness? Prepare yourself for the winter of self-discipline. Renew your commitment to self-improvement (going back to "school"). Withdrawing from the exuberance of summer's intensity and play, settle into even-mindedness and calm cheerfulness for whatever life may bring you in contrast to summer's fun and creative engagement. Attempt to transcend your bundle of self-definitions: you are not a man or woman, young or old, vital or unwell, successful or sluggish. Time to ask, "Who am I?" If my "luck" turns south, will I be the same?

Be, then, grateful, too: whether sun has shined upon you or rain has drenched your hopes with sorrows. Life is a great Teacher and it is time to ask: "What have I learned?" "How can I find true happiness (which lives within you)?"

Life is short and happiness comes by the victorious affirmation of the truth that you are not merely an ego bottled up in a human form. Life is God. Life is Joy. Life simply IS. Be the Light of Joy that shines within your Life! Revel in the light of the Fall colors as rainbows of the many facets and stages of life through which we travel but from which we live untouched by the fleeting play of shadow and light. Don't "Fall" for the illusion of their permanence.

Take a retreat, a day of silence, of prayer and meditation. Before the snow comes, hike to the top of any mountain and see the panorama of many lives from the One Life above.

Reflecting your Self,

Swami Hrimananda

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Bad Karma" - Another Word for "Sin"? What is "Karma?"

In the Book of Job (in the Old Testament of Jewish and Christian faiths), Satan comes to God and wants to make a bet! (Yes, really!) Satan says, "God, I see your faithful servant Job down there on earth. But I bet you that if you let me take away his wealth, his health, his reputation, and his loved ones, Job will lose faith in You. You wanna bet? Hmm, hmmm, hmmmm?"

So, as you can imagine, God couldn't turn down this one from the old buster, the devil his-self! So He, the Almighty, says, "Satan, you're ON!" So, sure enough, poor old Job, innocent as a lamb, loses his health, his wealth, and his loved ones. Then his so-called friends come to him and say: "Job, old boy, what great sins did YOU commit to deserve this obvious displeasure of Jehovah?"

Poor old Job protests his innocence. Despite all his suffering he holds on to his faith in God's wisdom and goodness. God, in the end, therefore wins the bet with Satan. Whew!

All of Chapter 9 of the gospel of St. John describes a curious incident in which Jesus comes upon a man "blind since birth." Jesus is asked by his usual taunters, "Who sinned, this man, or his parents?" Now, mind you, the poor fellow was blind SINCE BIRTH. So if it was he, he must have sinner in a past life! While Jesus here has a perfect opportunity to endorse reincarnation, Jesus ducks the issue and says, "Neither has sinned!" Jesus explains that this man was born blind for the glory of God! What!!!! You kidding? Lucky guy, eh? Jesus then heals the man of his blindness. The story that follows is very touching and poignant but not needed for this article.

So what do we have here? Let's pause for "station identification."

Old Age'ers (fundamentalists) might tend to think that misfortune heaped upon a good Christian is a sign of God's disfavor. Some Christians, to turn this around, think that material success, health, wealth, position, and a loving family are a sign of one's virtue and one's finding favor in the good Lord's eyes. New Age'ers might tend to view a fellow meta-physician's troubles as a sure sign of some past bad karma. Neither view is necessarily correct.

The law of karma, it is said, is exacting. Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the famous "Autobiography of a Yogi") said the metaphysical law of karma finds expression in Newton's third law of motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In Vedanta and metaphysics, this is the law of duality as well as part of the law of karma. St. Paul wrote, famously, of the law of karma saying "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap." (Galatians 6:7).

So look at what we have: by the law of karma one would naturally think that Job and the man born blind since birth must have done something to have earned their suffering. But by Jesus' explanation and by the story of Job, there appears to be a third option: a divine source. I call this the "Third Rail."

Think of karma as a pendulum: good and bad karma. (Never mind, for now, which is which. For the moment just think that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Or, to quote from Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, "What is day to the yogi is night to the worldly man; what is night to the yogi, is day to the worldly man.") In the centerpoint of the pendulum lies, however momentarily, a rest point: a point from which the pendulum begins, and ends, its motion. This point we call God.

According to the dogma of man's free will, we understand that God has given us the power to choose good or evil. ("To eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.") This is like pushing the pendulum for the first time. It begins with the appearance of material and ego-active desires, likes, and dislikes. In this we abandon the God's eye view of Oneness: seeing God in all and, as a result, seeing "through" the illusion that the senses, matter, and ego have any intrinsic reality and attraction (or repulsion). 

Once the pendulum swings into motion, the interplay of good and bad karma, action and reaction, will keep the pendulum moving essentially forever until, suspicious and wary, worn and torn, we decide not "to play" the "Great Game" of ego.

When the prodigal son of Jesus' story in the new testament decided to return to his father's home, he had a long way to go on his journey. But his decision to return is the starting point. It says (and not just once) in Revelations (3:12), "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out." This "pillar" is like the shaft and center point of our pendulum.

It is then by our choice that we begin to slow the pendulum and with sustained effort and divine grace that pendulum will come to rest in God, in our own center. God will not step into our lives as He has in Job's or that of the man born blind since birth until we invite Him into our lives.

This "third rail" of divine neutrality is God's invisible hand giving to the devotee what seems like troubles and suffering but which, if the soul will "overcome" the test with faith in God, with wisdom and equanimity, it will be the means by which the soul will not have to "go no more out" in repeated reincarnations to continue to work out its karma (whether good or bad). 

The threads of past action (karma) are subtle. The question of karma vs. grace may be somewhat a false dichotomy. Think about Job, or that blind man. Nothing in their respective stories suggests that they are souls already freed from karma ("saints," you might say). That means that they certainly have karma to overcome. Thus the fact that they each encounter troubles can logically, at least, be attributed to such karma. 

Where God's grace (the "Third Rail") enters is the timing and nature of those troubles: testing their faith and equanimity at time and in a proportion they can digest. By passing their tests with the flying colors of faith and equanimity, they have become free of some of their past karma. You see: BOTH-AND. Both-And is the nature of Infinity (while EITHER-OR is the product of the play of duality and the limited view of the intellect using logic and reason). Nonetheless, there is an element of divine intervention. It is the "good" karma of reaching upward to God: we make one step in His direction and He takes two in ours. "Faith is the most practical thing of all." I once heard my teacher, Swami Kriyananda say that when I was still quite new and it puzzled me to no end. I think, now, I understand it much better.

The worldly person will usually attribute blame to God, or to life, or to others for his troubles. He is miserable or angry when trials come and seeks however he can to get away from trouble and find pleasure and happiness. So, for this soul, the pendulum continues on and on and on until it seems like an eternity of hell.

When troubles come to you, as in every life they must, "what comes of itself, let it come" and stand tall "amidst the crash of breaking worlds" with faith, hope, and charity (even-mindedness). When success, pleasure and human happiness arrive on our doorstep, accept them gratefully but also with equanimity, for all "things must pass." This is the way we must face our tests and our successes if we are to neutralize our karma. In this way we convert what might seem to be our "bad" karma into the "good" karma of soul wisdom and eventually freedom in God. 

Krysta Gibson, editor and publisher of the New Spirit Journal, wrote an article (that inspired this one) and I thought you might enjoy reading it too:

Meditate on a great pillar, a shaft of light, as the symbol of the inner spine. This is, in part, the meaning of the Hindu "lingam" (a stone pillar....too often, but incorrectly, likened to a phallic symbol). This "pillar" is our own center, our subtle spine, to which if we withdraw mentally and with good posture gives us psychic protection, spiritual fortitude and insights.

Om namoh Shivaya!

Swami Hrimananda

Friday, September 5, 2014

Marriage: Is it Necessary?

Did I get your attention? Truthfully now: cohabitation is as acceptable as blue skies and sun (or, in my case, here in Seattle, grey clouds and rain). So why do couples go through all the fuss and bother and expense (and stress) of a marriage ceremony? Is it a tax savings device? Hardly!

Is it guilt or some social hangover from centuries of sentimentality and hopelessly repetitive traditions? I hope not, or at least I don't think so. Modern, educated and conscious-lifestyle couples step up to the marriage altar for many reasons, of course, but also, I believe, owing to impulses that run deep in the human psyche.

When I say "deep," I am NOT referring to some lizard brained, Darwinian ape-like impulse to, ah, what: survive? I am not aware of any other species who uses a ceremony to establish a committed relationship. Or as I sometimes put it when sometime trots out a survival-related reason for various profound, ennobling or genius-like human activities: "Speak for yourself!."

The impulse to memorialize and consecrate a couple's relationship comes from a higher plane of consciousness. It affirms the sacredness of commitment, of trust, of responsibility to and for one another. On a metaphysical level the two become One, thus re-affirming the highest (or deepest) truth precept humankind has ever, often, and repeatedly averred: as God is one, we are one, and, as children of God, we, too, in our souls, at least, are One with the Father-Mother, Infinite Power. Oneness, in other words, is the supreme teaching of the universe.

Marriage affirms a corollary precept: that love is the essence of truth and of reality. Love is the elemental divine impulse that put into motion the creation of the universe and it is to love that consciousness aspires in its long journey through time and space and endless seeming incarnations from lower life forms to the human form.

Love is the answer, the solution. Love it is that procreates: whether human children, acts of kindness, of enthusiastic creativity in arts, science, and all worthwhile human endeavors.

Some couples are, of course, of a lower consciousness and the most they can make of this impulse is to hold a bacchanalian orgy of loud music, guffaws, hard drinking, and all the innuendo around what follows. This false and fantasized lower form of bliss is inevitably paid for with the coin of the realm of our health, vitality, and happiness and returns to them in time with boredom, bitterness, disillusionment and, all too often, divorce.

Other couples, perhaps more sober and mature, see sacredness in their lives as limited to ceremonies of marriage, funerals and perhaps baptisms, but otherwise live their lives unaware or unaffected by their few minutes of religious traditional rites. Their marital affirmation is a pale affirmation and a fleeting vision of spiritual beauty just like a wedding dress which, though ethereal and shimmering with beauty and promise, is worn but once and then put into the closet for decades.

At Ananda, we have a beautiful wedding ceremony that is truly sacred and affirms the highest ideals of soul union with God and divine friendship with each other. Visitors and guests consistently remark on the universality, the poetic and visual beauty of the vows, rituals and music, and the sacredness they feel during the ceremony. We use the symbols of nature (earth, water, fire and air) to affirm our connection with all life and with the qualities these elements invite us to express: loyalty, adaptability, non-attachment and wisdom. The couple consecrates their partnership by affirming their love for God and that the love they feel for each other should be corollary expression of God's love, retaining the unselfish purity of God's unconditional love.

Just because we are as yet imperfect in realization of our spiritual ideals doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't affirm them, indeed, declare them with friends, family and congregation as witnesses and in those who wish to add their sincere blessings as a free gift. A spiritual marriage (I have earlier written on this subject: August 2014: Human Love: Delusion or Doorway to Heaven?) is one that strives to see the highest in one another and to serve and share in divine friendship. True friendship is practical and serviceful, one to the other; it is self-giving and self-sacrificing, even while remaining centered within and free from expectations of reciprocity. (A high bar of attainment, I grant you.) A spiritual marriage is founded in respect and a love born of the unconditional love which is innate to our soul's nature.

Tomorrow Padma and I are officiants at a wedding of dear friends who strive to live by these ideals and who seek the blessing of friends and family and the blessings of God through Christ and the Masters of Self-realization.

Marriage will survive for a long time to come! It will do so for reasons not generally clearly understood but deeply felt because true.

Blessings and joy to our friends and to all,

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, September 1, 2014

Am I "Spiritual?"

We hear frequently the term "spiritual but not religious." Some say we are spiritual beings having a human experience and, accordingly, "Of course I am spiritual!" Paramhansa Yogananda once addressed a person's concern about leaving the spiritual path by reassuring this person that "we are all on the spiritual path." I think he was being "nice" while at the same time affirming a metaphysical truth.

Coming back to earth, however, I read a quote from Mark Twain who supposedly quipped that "If Jesus Christ were alive today, there is definitely one thing he would not be: a Christian!" Cute, and, understandable! Jesus' consciousness ("I and my Father are One") could not abide by narrow sectarianism in any form (such as we see all too often among some self-defined "Christians").

What makes a person "spiritual?" In the New Testament (Matthew 25:40), Jesus says that if you help others in need you have done it for God and will have earned the kingdom of heaven. By this yardstick, some will say that an atheist can be a Christian, well, or at least "spiritual." I'm not about to argue with this deeply compassionate and inspired teaching from the New Testament. From the standpoint of Vedanta we would say that it is more "sattwic" (uplifting) to help others in need than to be selfish. According to such good actions (karma), one can advance spiritually. Any good and kind and virtuous person, therefore, can gain merit and is, spiritually speaking, above someone who lives selfishly. "Above" here means that such a one has a consciousness that is expanded beyond the little ego-self and includes the needs of others.

Again, this is the "long view" born of the teaching that we are souls (eternal and perfect) made in the image of God. I won't debate that teaching but it still doesn't answer my question satisfactorily. This view, admittedly, is essential and I do not reject it.

Still I am probing to go beyond what could be called "liberal theology" or an egalitarian theology that says blithely "I'm ok, you're ok (as you are)." My daughter's blog ( has an article "Going for Good or Going for God" that addresses my question squarely. Is virtue enough? Is virtue the same as spirituality?

I've heard the quote that "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." This medieval cliche can mean, to me, that good karma may balance or mitigate bad karma but once it's used up you start all over again. Unless we consciously seek God (which is to say, "transcendence of duality, ego, and mortality"), we are locked onto the wheel of samsara (repeated rounds of birth) for what might as well be termed an eternity.

In "Autobiography of a Yogi," Paramhansa Yogananda writes something to the effect that only when the soul awakens to the "anguishing monotony" of repeated rounds of rebirth does it cry out for freedom. Once when I was discouraged, I wondered if that was enough to grant me spiritual freedom. Of course it is not. You have to want God: eternal bliss. Rejection is not enough, else, suicide would be our ticket to salvation.

Infinity embraces and IS everything. Nothing in God is foreign or evil. But when we are caught in duality, good and evil are very real. God IS and HAS everything, but one thing: our attention; our love; our sincere yearning to reunite with our Father-Mother, Beloved in Oneness.

There are good and virtuous people whose lives are a great inspiration and blessing to this world but who have no desire for God. There are devotees who are selfish, irritable and sometimes even proud but who deeply love God and seek to know God as their very Self. Such is the endless and complex play of karma and delusion. But only those who seek freedom, find freedom. How long that takes or how arduous depends in part upon the intensity of their effort.

Where each soul is on the journey home to God cannot be seen except by a true saint. The virtuous man might have an epiphany and rise to freedom: perhaps he would be blessed to meet a saint and instantly have the vision of God or superconsciousness, thus igniting his fervor for transcendence. The devotee might encounter a karmic bomb that would blast from her all her devotion and send her plummeting into the living hades of depression, anger, or fear. Or.............the opposite...........the virtuous is hit with the karmic bomb and the devotee is uplifted into an ecstatic divine vision. In all cases, it is we who must make the choice in response to life's tests and opportunities.

Karma is exacting and not whimsical, however. The fact we cannot see it doesn't mean it doesn't function, just as the law of gravity works just fine without our consent.

For, returning to our metaphysical truths, we are not our karma; we are not our ego or body or personality. Our soul here and now is already free. Time and space are a product of God's consciousness. We could be free right now, Yogananda claimed, if in declaring it so we realized it without reservation and in every cell of our being. Try it: it's not so easy. Hunger and desires and fears rise up instantly, clinging to us like ghouls from the underworld trying to pull us into their haunts.

But this much we can say: no one achieves God consciousness by accident or without choosing it. When someone called Jesus "good," his reply was curt: "Why do you call me good. No one is good but God." The Bhagavad Gita proclaims that all human virtue and excellence comes from God. Only those who acknowledge this and seek God alone can rise to God consciousness.

Yogananda stated that "The drama of life has for its lesson that it is simply that: a drama." If we can laugh and cry watching a movie and, when it is finished, call it good, why cannot we do this for our life? God plays all the parts but we cheer the hero and hiss the villains. Play your part as a hero and when the play of your life is ended, walk off the stage free and into the Director's loving embrace.

Yes, you, too, ARE spiritual.


Nayaswami Hriman