Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Welcome 2015: Adieu to 2014!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A blessed and ever-New Year!

Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Do You Believe in Christmas? In Santa Claus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A blessed Christmas on Christmas Eve, 2014,

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, December 19, 2014

How to Have A Deeper, Longer Meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Christ light of Peace shine upon you!

Swami Hrimananda

Monday, December 15, 2014

Did Jesus Die for our Sins?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Why Do We Celebrate Christmas at Ananda?

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

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

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

Here are some thoughts and facts to share:

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

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

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

Swami Hrimananda

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