Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2016 : A Year of Hope and Opportunity; Chanting is Half the Battle

It is easy to be uneasy about the prospects for 2016. But uncertainty provides an opportunity for assessing one's priorities, and nothing like the New Year for new resolve and intentions!

Making predictions about the future is about the most ill-conceived use of one's time and risk to one's reputation as ever can be conceived. Fortunately, most predictions are soon forgotten and rarely held to account -- a lot like campaign promises, I suppose.

I feel safe in predicting less and less stability in all areas of human activity and life: political, economic, climate, health, technology, and so on. The opportunity in this is to become increasingly self-reliant and, as odd as this may sound, self-reliance includes making connections and commitments with others who are engaged in the same efforts and hold the same goals and ideals as your own.

Government protections will continue to erode, whether in emergencies, security, or in safety net services. But, have no fear because few people will heed warnings; most will simply react to present circumstances and will likely be unprepared or under-prepared. So, like Alfred E. Neuman used to say: "What, me worry?"

Spiritually, there's no one who comes around and makes you pray, meditate, or serve others selflessly. So many well intention-ed meditators therefore imagine they can do that later, when time allows, as they are busy with more immediate concerns. You can spend a lifetime putting things off, and many, if not most, do. (The classic example is preparing one's will and medical directives.)

When I returned from my seclusion during the first week of December I wrote a number of "Ah yes, I remember that! in my blog. One of them is the uselessness of 99% of our random and fleeting thoughts which are forgotten almost as soon as they pass by. 

Instead, I reaffirmed that the best use of my mind when not engaged in the task at hand or the person at hand is to chant and pray inwardly. When I think of the infinite variety of thoughts, activities, social positions, wealth, poverty, and circumstances in which billions of my fellows live, and when I think of all that as but a fraction of infinity, and as infinity as the just one aspect of the nature of God, why should I give my circumstances or my random thoughts so much importance or my thoughts, well, any thought at all?

The vibration (level) of my consciousness is everything. My consciousness and consequent magnetism infuses and empowers my actions and thoughts with appropriate consequences. All else is so much less. The support of the overarching energy and consciousness of which I am but a minuscule part is far more valuable than much of what I can bring to bear using only my ego-centric will power or mere desire. 

So, why not chant and be happy? There is nothing and no one who is not part of the fabric of reality seen or unseen which both manifests and hides the Infinite Spirit at the same time. There's nowhere to hide and nothing to fear. Armed with this veil-piercing realization, even if, at first, it is but fleeting, one's spirit and joy can experience a taste of freedom. 

It is no coincidence that Paramhansa Yogananda counseled that "Chanting is half the battle."

So, if chanting's half the battle, what's the other half? Why, silence, of course. Prayer, chanting, mantra, "japa," and mentally affirming the divine presence all have as their deeper purpose to prepare us to enter the Holy of Holies: inner silence. It is in silence that the voice of God, the presence of God, is experienced.

At first we are likely to have the impersonal experience of soul-satisfying states of awareness such as joy, unconditional love, deep calmness, the inner sounds and divine light. There comes a time in our soul's awakening when God takes human form: whether in vision or in person. But, in the end, God is beyond form and the particulars (whatever form of perfection we strive for, worship, or have experienced up to that point) must melt into the bliss of the Infinite Spirit!

So, when practicing chanting during the day, I always take it toward silence: even moments of silence. In meditation, of course, this is the Holy Grail prerequisite cup from which the true intoxicating "spirits" are to be imbibed.

This, and not success in the long list of my duties or improvement in my attitude or habits, is my New Year's Resolution. Give it some thought or not, but happiness is what we truly seek, whether we get a long or a short life. Or, an easy or difficult one. 

I just happen to know that if I "Seek 'Thee' first, all these (other) things, will be added" and my duties and habits will find completion, success or appropriate resolution with the power of divine help and power.

As Swami Kriyananda's great musical piece, "Life Mantra," affirms: "God is Life; God is Joy; Joy is Life; Joy is God."

Happy New Year friends!

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why We Celebrate Christmas

Tomorrow, Sunday, December 20, 2015, the Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell, WA will host our annual Festive Family Service, replete with the pageantry of the Three Wise Men, shepherds, angels and the Holy Family! Why, then, as kriya yogis, do we celebrate Christmas when so many yoga people and New Thought types eschew traditional religious traditions?

At places like Ananda's East West Bookshop in nearby Seattle, it is common, in fact, likely even the default, that their customers don't bother with traditional the trappings of Christmas, like Christmas trees, carols, or anything of that sort. (I'm guessing, however, that EVERYONE hangs on to the gift-giving! Gee, why's that?)

Ananda's guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, enjoyed and celebrated Christmas with joy and gusto! He'd wait until midnight on Christmas Eve just to go through the halls of his headquarters at Mt. Washington in Los Angeles to happily cry "Merry Christmas!" He shopped throughout the year for little bargains that he stored in a large chest to wrap and give to his close friends and ashram residents. There could be no thought of his merely appeasing his American students. He clearly loved it even as he introduced a new custom: a day of meditation as the "spiritual" Christmas (as distinct from the social one).

In Yogananda's commentary on the life of Jesus, the New and Old Testament, he generally laid aside the temptation to criticize or make claims of tampering with the text. He tended to accept the basic testimony of the scripture and, instead, offered a deeper, sometimes symbolic, often yogic, interpretation. 

He did frequently, however, distinguish the deeper teachings of the Bible from what he humorously called "Churchianity." By this he referred to orthodox religiosity, ritual and dogmatism that encrusts and entombs the spirit behind the revelations of God-realized souls which (later) become accepted as scripture.

His approach was BOTH-AND and life affirming. He didn't take issue with Jesus' miracles nor even the resurrection, though as to Mary's virgin birth, he was largely silent. (He spoke of highly evolved souls capable of conception through non-sexual means, however.)

Yogananda was showing us how to accept traditions that affirm a positive message (like the joy and fellowship of the Christmas spirit, the celebrations, family gatherings, gift-giving to friends and strangers, etc.) while at the same time going deeper to re-affirm the universal message behind them. 

In his ministry and therefore in the work of Ananda, this affirmation includes and is enhanced by the practice of meditation. In his (and our) view, Christmas can and should be celebrated by all those who love God and truth, regardless of other outward beliefs or affiliations.

He was also showing how seeing the One in all doesn't mean we forsake any, specific spiritual path in the name of universality! Every true path expresses universal principles but we cannot achieve enlightenment on the basis of principles alone. We must commit our hearts and hands to the task of purification and selflessness. To do so alone without attuning ourselves to a specific ray of divine light that seeks to uplift us from the self-enclosure of the ego is to wander in the fogs of endless spiritual cul-de-sacs. As he put it, "Your beliefs won't save you." 

Just because people of goodwill respect all traditions and no traditions and are basically good people is NOT enough to achieve soul liberation.

Yogananda did not view Jesus as a founder of a specific religion that distinguishes itself from other religions, and considers itself superior to those religions. Instead, Yogananda taught that Jesus Christ, a true savior and avatar, is but one of many such who are sent back to earth in every age to re-affirm the central message that we are children of the one Father-Mother, Friend-God! 

He taught, further, that Jesus was not a God-made puppet (only begotten son of God) but a soul and individual like you and me. In his case and like other avatars, his soul had achieved its hard-won God-realization in some distant past life but was now "commissioned" to return again and again to help other "lost sheep."

Jesus, Yogananda taught, had received the title "Christ" (Anointed One) because his soul was united with God and with the God-presence in every atom of creation. This indwelling, immanent manifestation of God in all of creation, in every atom and every heart, is called "the Christ" (or, the Krishna). It is this universal "Christ consciousness" that is the "only-begotten" of the Father-Spirit who is otherwise "beyond" and "untouched" by His creation. Not Jesus as a man. Nor yet Krishna as a man; or Buddha, or Yogananda, etc.

Yogananda frequently quoted St. John in the gospel saying, "And as many as received Him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God." We are ALL potential sons of God, for the indwelling Christ presence lives in us as well. We need only to nurture this Christ-light with the uplifting guidance of a Christ-like savior who can help us, too, to become Self-realized.

The story of the birth of Christ, then, is a metaphor for the journey of every soul to God-realization. A wise soul is willing to journey far to find that Christ within. A wise soul follows the star in the east for the "east" is the point of enlightenment in the body: the point between the eyebrows. It is here that one focuses behind closed eyes in prayer and meditation. The Old Testament (and other scriptures) is filled with guidance to "life up your eyes......" A wise person is willing to give all that he is and possesses to the service of this Christ-light within.

Those who would help others are like shepherds tending a flock. A spiritual teacher, minister, rabbi, etc. and, indeed anyone who would help others spiritually, should be unassuming, humble and garbed in the robe of inner peace, content to live in the hills of solitude (meaning not being a worldly, egotistical person), in the nighttime of introspection, in the company of angels and guided by the stars of inner, spiritual intuition.

There's no room at the "Hotel California" of fame, wealth, pleasure and position. Instead, This infant Christ consciousness can only be born in the lowly stable of our quiet and humble heart. Even the lowly domesticated animals of our subconscious habits are pacified and transformed in the presence of this inner Christ.

The evil King Ego served by his loyal (if mindless) subconscious soldiers of ego-protective habit, will stop at nothing to kill this infant. We must flee to places and people of spiritual vibrations, if this child is to live and grow strong. 

Thus "The Greatest Story Ever Told" is the story of the birth of the Christ Consciousness in each and every one of us.

May yours be a happy, and blessed, Christmas!

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Meditation Reflections: What I Learned in Seclusion Last Week

I just returned from my annual week of private, silent seclusion. We are blessed to have a home on Camano Island, the "Hermitage," that we make available to other meditators, friends, and family. My week, weather-wise, was very dark and dreary, rainy but unusually warm for this time of year. Perfect, in short, for long meditations. Sunny days would have been, hey, just awful!

I wanted to share with excerpts from a note I wrote to friends here in Seattle about my seclusion experience.

“As the years go by, a week's seclusion gets shorter and shorter. The more inward, God peace-space comes back and envelopes you like a warm and comfortable old sweater; or, like sitting on a couch with an old friend, sitting in silence, content just to be together. 

Among the dear friends I was fortunate to have a reunion with included:

1. Eating very little and mostly fresh and uncooked. My mind cleared, my heart slowed down, and my meditations stayed focused and sweet.

2. Exercising a little bit every day is refreshing, relaxing and blesses one with contentment. 

3. It is easier to feel the invisible presence of God in the expansive vistas of nature. (At the Hermitage one looks out over the bay, Port Susan, and up onto the high volcanic peak of Mt. Baker at 10,781')  

4. Practicing slowly and deeply one's meditation techniques is like re-learning to chew your food slowly and consciously. They really work when you concentrate, with devotion!

5. Having the time to pray to God in the form of one's guru, especially with a picture or painting, makes God’s presence more real and personal. 

6. Getting perspective on your life. One's responsibilities continue to be important, at least to oneself, though hardly to anyone else and certainly nothing to the vast universe that surrounds and inhabits us; but, yet, somehow, you know things will work out. "I'm not indispensable. I'll try my best.” In all things "karma rules" while the guru's grace over-rules. Both, indeed, are far more true than most of us are aware. 

7. Opinions are like trash: useless and best disposed of quickly. Listen, observe calmly, consider both sides, but odds are most people, including myself, are wrong most of the time, and,..........well, who knows what is true, anyway.........instead, stick to the task at hand and don't overreact. Simply BE....."you have to be Present to "win" (to know)." A word of caution: apply this counsel primarily to your own opinions!

8. When the conscious mind isn't needed, dump it; instead, train your mind to chant (silently or aloud) whenever your conscious mind isn't needed in what you have to do at that moment. Lift your vibration with prayer or mantra or japa. Nothing else is important. You won't remember your thoughts from two minutes ago, so why pretend now they have any real value?

9. Attunement to God (through the guru) is everything. Nothing else is important by comparison. We cannot find happiness anywhere else; peace, anywhere else; success, anywhere else. Feeling His presence is everything. If I die tomorrow this world and its problems and my duties and my problems are gone, at least for me, for the time being. But as I awaken, my vision grows, my heart expands, and the power of God working through me increases. Only then can I be or do anything worthwhile.

10. Everyone is entitled to their craziness. Leave them alone and not judge, unless they are causing trouble to others, and you happen to have both the duty and ability to do something about it. Otherwise, let them be and appreciate their highest potential as if just waiting, hidden, in the wings of their heart to fly out and surprise you.

11. As the world around us seems to get crazier and more unbalanced, be careful that it doesn't affect you, as each of us, too, have our own craziness to deal with. It's very easy right now to think that the whole world is in line at Disneyland for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. So get God attuned, stay positive and avoid gossip like the proverbial plague. Imagine the worst to come and turn to God, within, and to God in selfless service without (in the world around). “There’s no getting out alive,” I like to say.

12. Ananda's worldwide spiritual directors, Jyotish and Devi Novak, have just returned from India inspired towards longer, deeper meditations. It would be wise for us, too, to take advantage of this holy season and prepare ourselves to be ever greater instruments of peace and healing to others in need. 

Oh, and, go on retreat or take a seclusion! See if your wise-old-friends come back to be with you and to render comfort and spiritual aid."

Until we "meet" in seclusion again!

Swami Hrimananda


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Preparing the Cradle of Your Heart for Christmas!

If ever in recent years has the need to purify ourselves to become more Christ-like, this is certainly it. The world we live in is so connected that who can hide, and why would they? If spiritual awakening includes a growing awareness of the totality of reality (and the hidden, divine essence of all things), then our hearts should be expanding and sharing.

Yogis and other traditions teach us to face east for meditation. Also: to meditate at dawn, noon, dusk, and midnight. And, other subtle "tricks" as well. Even if I cannot say definitively how much these tricks add to the depth of meditation I can say for sure that I need all the help I can get!

So it is with the Winter Solstice season: the annual period of outer darkness is ideal for seeking the light within, where, in fact, it can always be found. Whatever month Jesus Christ was actually born in is not the real point. The inner, Christ-light of our innate divinity is always born in the humble manager of our softened heart.

There is a universally accessible "worm-hole" of divine consciousness that descends during this darkest season. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna says, "To the yogi, day is night while to the worldly man, night is day." What this means is that material consciousness that attaches such value to possessions, sense experiences, and ego recognition is like a smothering, dark fog to the soul. By contrast, the state of humility, devotion, and openness is anathema, like darkness, to the ego.

So when the outer light of the sun is partially obscured, the inner light of the soul can be more easily seen with the "third eye" of intuition (in meditation, at the point between the eyebrows). There the light, like a 1,000 million suns, can appear. This is the light that gives light to the outer world.

This time of year is the time for reflection and deeper meditation. The world around us does not tug as persistently upon the sleeve of our attention. (I find it interesting, however, that the world of egos has created such "buzz" and frenetic activity around Christmas in a desperate attempt to eclipse the soul's more natural inclination to go inward.)

Paramhansa Yogananda did not spurn the joyful and social aspects of Christmas. He enjoyed giving gifts, singing carols, and having a Christmas banquet. Rather than put the one thing "down," he added a day-long meditation as the true, and spiritual Christmas.

The Ananda communities throughout the world have continued this tradition. In the beginning, Yogananda (his disciples addressed him as "Master" in the way Christ's disciples did: master of himself!) held the 8-hour meditation on Christmas Eve. But this made it difficult for the disciples in his ashram to prepare the Christmas banquet (which took all night).

So Master moved the meditation day back to December 23. Some Ananda Communities continue this latter tradition; others, like Seattle, hold the Christmas meditation on the Saturday preceding Christmas Day. For 2015, for example, the Christmas Meditation takes place on December 19, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell. (www.AnandaWA.org

Don't see this meditation as a standalone feature of Christmas. NOW is the time to prepare yourself to receive the blessings of the Christmas / Solstice season. Here are some tips to spiritualize your holidays:

1.  Get up a little earlier each morning to sit in prayer and meditation. The amount of time is less important than the heartfelt effort.
2.  Take time, at least once, during the day to pause, internalize, pray and be still. Jesus may have been born in a humble stable long ago, but the Christ (immanent in each atom of creation) can be born in your heart at any moment, and indeed, in every moment.
3.  At night or at the same time every day, offer prayers for peace, sending vibrations of peace to loving hearts yearning for peace and willing to be peaceful "warriors" standing up for the light in the face of darkness, crises, and troubles. The Christ light needs lightbearers to combat the darkness of our times.
4.  One day a week do a fast. Some can do a water fast; others should do a juice fast (using ground almonds for protein); others, yet can fast until lunch, eating raw or freshly cooked food for lunch; skip or repeat same for dinner. Fasting is not only extremely healthy for your body, but see it more as a deliberate act of will: an affirmation of your soul's freedom from bodily imperatives; and, finally, as an act of sacrifice to help others. Good for the body; good for the soul! [For some, simply fasting from sweets or junk or processed foods one day a week would be a victory in itself. Choose your weapon, make sure you know how to use it, and then enter the fray!]
5.  There's only a few weeks before the Christmas meditation day. Begin lengthening your meditation periods or at least do a two to three hour meditation once a week. I have a handout we use for "How to take Longer Meditations" I can send you: let me know.
6.  Your gift-giving is important but let it be from your heart. Money is not the measure of value. Goodwill is. Let your gift be something you feel good about giving and let it be not merely a thing, but a container of soul joy: heart to heart. It need not be overtly "spiritual."
7.  Let your Christmas spirit flow out in practical ways: at work; at school; in your neighborhood, church, and while shopping. Give the precious gift of your smile to all (when "safe" to do so, of course!). Good deeds, especially unseen by others, are precious to the living Christ in your heart.
8.  Visualize the infant Christ resting in the cradle, the manger, of your own softened heart. Do this anytime and all the time! Expand this to see the infant in the hearts of others.

Remember: it is not a coincidence that down through the centuries acts of kindness and devotion are received or felt by all, even those who otherwise never express or feel the same during the rest of the year. The "Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens pays silent homage to this reality. Dive deep and consciously, therefore, into the darkness of the solstice to discover the candle light of Christ within you and within all. Nurture that infant light by devotion, kindness and goodwill, and by meditation upon the inner light. It will grow and will light your life far beyond the solstice time.

May the light of Christ shine within you,

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, November 23, 2015

Occupy Thanksgiving with Gratitude

In America, this is the week of Thanksgiving. Just when the world (of America and Europe) seems upended with violence, fear, hate, confusion, and conflicting views, we might be far from inclined to give thanks.
A recent message from Ananda’s worldwide spiritual directors, Jyotish and Devi Novak, contained the counsel to work consciously on responding to all challenges in life with the attitude that “Everything that happens to you is a blessing from the Divine meant for your spiritual evolution.”
This message struck a chord with members around the world and was well received. It was weeks later that the comfortable world of Paris erupted into chaos. To integrate their message into our response to these hate-filled actions is, well, not easy, to say the least. I don’t expect that most people who lost loved ones are ready to hear that particular message, but each of us would do well to practice this more in our daily lives in preparation for the larger “blessings” that surely will come into our own lives. Our challenges won’t make international news but they will be on the front page of your life, and mine, to be sure.
Let us “Occupy Thanksgiving” by coming together consciously to stand up to the divisiveness, hate, and prejudice that exists in all countries, and not just “other” countries!
Material benefits, health and security are blessings that humans celebrate and appreciate. This is natural, of course. But there is more to life than comfort, for life itself, even under difficult circumstances, is a blessing. Life has been given to us that we might have it, as Jesus put it, “more abundantly.” By this he means that we might know the joy of the universal Christ presence in ourselves, in others, and in the world around.
Padma and I watched a documentary on the lives of Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand of Romania. During the Communist era behind the “Iron Curtain,” they experienced imprisonment, hard labor, torture, starvation, and isolation for many years just for being a Christian, for conducting an open (but illegal) ministry (even preaching to occupying Russian soldiers), and for speaking out against the godlessness and heartlessness of communism.
The years of torture that Richard Wurmbrand endured is beyond what most of us can even imagine. Yet, there came a point where, with his fellow prisoners tapping their chains for rhythm while singing hymns in their crowded cell, he experienced intense divine light and bliss. In later years, as he travelled around the world sharing his message, he said nowhere had he found the joy and the beauty that he experienced in that cell. (Read more in their book, “Tortured for Christ.”)
Though such experiences of grace “under pressure” are rare, they do exist. Consider how Jesus, from the cross, forgave his self-appointed enemies. Our troubles by comparison are not so great, though to us they seem at times more than we can endure.
Let us therefore celebrate life, love, and friendship as evidence of God’s presence in the world and in our lives. Let us not celebrate Thanksgiving only to enjoy a tasty banquet. To eat only for pleasure and satiety is a mockery of the spirit of Thanksgiving. (I know the turkeys of the nation thank us vegetarians; we are happy to free them from their jailor’s sentence!)
Let us this Thanksgiving affirm life over death; light over darkness; love over hate; unity over divisiveness — by coming together in gratitude and friendship. Let us give thanks to the Giver of Life; let us express friendship and love to one another; and let us express the joy of the One who is in All.
Joy to you and peace to all,
Swami Hrimananda

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A World at War : A Message of Hope

There is a psychic storm throughout America and Europe of fear, confusion, and chaos triggered by the killings in Paris. It's true that acts of terrorism take place throughout the world but it's also not surprising that the attacks in Paris hit "home" in a closer and more personal way for many.
Where are we headed and how should we respond? Though our teacher, Paramhansa Yogananda, left this world in 1952, he nonetheless predicted that a time was coming when "international criminals" would cause much suffering and chaos. What he knew and "saw" we cannot say but his prediction is eerily prescient. He predicted other catastrophic events and wars as well. All this, he said, would be necessary before the world would enter a prolonged period of peace.
He advised that allied nations who shared basic human values form a kind of international police force to aid oppressed people suffering under lawless regimes. Despite the obvious risks, it seems right, also, that countries who can afford to do so, take in eligible refugees from troubled parts of the world. Who can, any longer in this increasingly small world, pretend to hide from or attempt to ignore, the woes of the innocent?
Yogananda's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, was the first to proclaim, in 1894, that a new age (of increased material, mental and spiritual energy) was about to dawn. And, looking back, so it has. But as humanity's consciousness awakens to a new level of awareness, it is also burdened by old ways of thinking. Thus, in the early stages of this planetary awakening, entrenched interests and prejudices of all kinds (e.g., political, cultural, and religious) are energized rather than transformed.
Those, like ourselves, who affirm individual freedoms, the rule of law, and the acceptance of all people as children of God regardless of race, gender, religion or culture, are a minority, but a rapidly growing minority.
There is no question, then, of the outcome of the planetary conflict between a new paradigm of consciousness and the old forms, narrow and prejudiced. Nor are the new and old thought forms restricted to any nation, religion or group of people. We live side-by-side with one another, even if certain groups of people epitomize or specialize in one form or the other.
The new consciousness will prevail but it is obvious that humanity will continue to go through many trials, challenges and cataclysms. Though somewhat and appropriately silent, the spread of meditation and yoga throughout the world holds the greatest promise of fostering a new consciousness. Change from within is an individual transformation, not a legislative, military, political or cultural one. Sometimes changes in consciousness are reflected in political action, but lasting and peaceful change is inevitably personal and one-by-one.
Let each and every one of us reaffirm faith in ourselves, faith in the divine in one another, and faith in the power of like-minded and high-minded souls to affect planetary consciousness for the better. Great changes in history are always initiated by a small minority! Let us be, as Mahatma Gandhi counseled us, "the change we seek."
Though Yogananda predicted that "no corner of the planet would be safe," true security lies in the fortress of God's inner presence, whether in times of war or peace.
At home, at work, let us show respect for one another; let us learn to cooperate with "what is trying to happen" for the good of others as well as ourselves; to listen to the other person and the other side to see what truth or circumstantial realities he/they perceive; let us fulfill our personal duties with care, with excellence, and with creativity guided by the spiritual power of intuition and divine attunement. Let us also pray for those who suffer and render aid how and where we can.
May the light of universal Christ-Krishna peace fill the skies of our hearts and minds, guiding our hands to serve the divine in one another.

Nayaswamis Hriman and Padma

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Story of the Prodigal Son : The Journey Home

Jesus' story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) is among the most beloved of the New Testament. It is a promise of God's eternal love and forgiveness. In it there is no mention of hell or punishment. Instead it a story of atonement, forgiveness and redemption. This is the archetypal drama of human life. It is this that lifts this story above so many others. 

But let's review the basics of the story:

A father has two sons. His younger son requests early receipt of his inheritance. He takes it and leaves his father's home, traveling to "foreign" lands. There he squanders his inheritance in "riotous" living.

When the land where he now dwells is hit with famine and he is impoverished, the younger son takes a job on a farm feeding husks to swine.

One day it dawns on him that even his father's servants are better fed and treated than he. "Why not go back to my father and beg forgiveness. I will ask to be but a hired hand." Brightened, then, with hope and calmly confident, he sets out on his journey home. 

The father sees his younger son coming up the road from along a long way off and, rejoicing, runs out to meet and welcome him. The father orders that a feast and celebration be held: for his once lost son has been found. 

Later during the feast, the elder son (who remained home all this time) approaches the father to ask why, he, the loyal, elder son, has never been so honored. The father doesn't "skip a beat." He simply explains to his elder son the joy he feels at the return of the prodigal, younger son.

Commentary: The context for this beautiful story takes place when Jesus incurs the criticism of religious elders who disdainfully note that Jesus is spending time in the company of lower caste sinners. 

In response to their critique, Jesus tells this prodigal son story, plus two other similar stories. Jesus explains to his audience (and therefore to his critics) that his work (ministry) is to bring home the "lost sheep." So, what does this story mean to us, metaphorically: 

The father symbolizes God the Father. His sons are, of course, ourselves: God's children! As per the story, then, we begin our existence and our life in our father's home. God's home isn't merely the beautiful astral heaven we hear about, but the true heaven of God-consciousness: bliss eternal. 

This beginning echoes the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis. They, too, began existence in a state of perfect harmony with God. This true home isn't a paradisaical place on earth (between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers!) but the the paradise of purity and inner peace. According to the story, then, either our first existence or our present life began in the company (consciousness) of God. 

Since most of us dimly know that our present lives did not begin in God's bliss, we must conclude that in its echo of Genesis, the correct interpretation would be that this story refers to our first appearance on the stage of existence. Like Adam and Eve, the story implies that we, too, must have made the obvious poorer choice long ago. Present, and likely intervening incarnations, must therefore reflect the consequences of that (and many other) choice(s). 

Inasmuch as our story is a metaphor, we would interpret the "wealth" demanded by the younger son as a symbol for the legacy of God's bliss and wisdom that is or was ours as a child of God. 

Similarly, then, the "foreign" land is that state of consciousness that chooses the lures of matter over the bliss of our home in God. That it is "foreign" to us affirms our true nature as a child of God.

We dissipate the wealth of divine bliss by investing our life energy and creativity in material and sensory experiences and possessions. Only belatedly do we discover that inert things and fleeting sensory impulses can never return to us even a fraction of what we give to them (by way of expectations and our commitment of energy). In short, our poor choice of investment, like gambling, ultimately depletes our treasury of life vitality and joy. Like Yudisthira in the Mahabharata, we gamble the kingdom of soul bliss on a course of "dead reckoning" that leads into the rocks of disillusionment and suffering.

The famine experienced by the younger son comes after he has exhausted his wealth. Deprived even of the pitiful pleasures of material existence, he begins to feel the deeper hunger that occurs when our divine vitality is exhausted, for it can only be replenished by virtue and God-contact.

Having to feed swine (swine, in Biblical and Jewish terms, being unclean) represents the disgust and disillusionment that accompanies addictive sense habits even when they no longer bring us any satisfaction. This gives rise to despair for the fact that we have lost all sense of self-respect, groveling in the mud of delusion with soul-numbing repetition.

Sometimes we have to hit bottom before God's grace reaches out to us in a flash of soul-memory (smriti). Then we suddenly recollect (intuitively) our former life in our Father's home. There we were perfectly happy in the peace and joy of the soul, basking in the light of the Father's presence. It is then that we cognize the truth of the errors we have made. It is then that we seek atonement for the "light of truth has dawned."

That flash memory silently whispers to us that, "Yes, but I CAN return." The sudden flood of light brings energy and hope to our heart. Fired up by this intuitive expectation of redemption, we begin taking our first steps back to our home in God. We can only return by taking steps in the right direction of virtue, cleanliness, and commitment to righteousness.

But in fact and in truth, we don't have to wait until we hit "bottom." Alternatively, we each have our own version of what constitutes "bottom." Either way, the choice of return always remains ours. We can, at any time, make that choice and begin that journey.

In this beautiful story, Jesus assures us that God will welcome us as his very own, his beloved son, like Jesus himself.

The elder son who complains of the welcome received by his younger brother represents those people who only conform to the outer rules of religion but who lack the love and acceptance of God and inwardly judge others. I suspect this part of the story was a poke at Jesus' critics.

In this story there is no mention of eternal damnation. But the teaching of God's eternal love, forever ours is clear. 

How many people in their hearts carry the regrets and guilt of past error? How many people have lost a child, a parent, a friend, or partner and suffer the emptiness of grief and loss? How many adopted children wonder and yearn for the love of the unknown parent?

Whatever our loss or guilt, we yearn for completion; for redemption; to be made whole, or clean, once again. Whatever our loss there remains deep within us not just the mere hope but the conviction that we can be, must be, made whole.

The greatest story ever told is of the redemption of the soul in the embrace of God's love. No other only human redemption can suffice. Mostly such wholeness is impossible in merely human terms. For who can bring a loved one back to life, erase suffering that has been inflicted, or resurrect health which has been destroyed?

Even when life provides a "happy ending," it is, ultimately, all too brief, and all too often, even, an illusion all together.

In God alone can we find true love, forgiveness, acceptance, and the rejoicing of true joy.

The prodigal son is the greatest story ever told because it is the story of each and every one of us. Let us learn its lesson sooner rather than later.

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Friday, November 13, 2015

Egos Rising : the Kriya Yoga solution

According to the explanation of the cycles of human consciousness (called the Yugas **), we are only about 1,600 years into an ascending cycle of some 12,000 years. In this theory, the good news is that the darkest era of consciousness lasts the least number of centuries (12, to be exact).

Whereas in that dark era (called the Kali Yuga), human beings had names and stations in life that were generic, dictated by birth, and tribe-related, now, as we begin the second era (the Dwapara Yuga..."dwa" meaning second), we have a veritable explosion of choices and the egoism to match.

We speak glibly about selfies, the Me generation, and in general, "me" this, and "me" that. In many cultures now, we have so many choices that it can be overwhelming and down-right stressful. Left unchecked by education, the enlightenment of reason, or the bounty of intuitive grace, we might easily destroy our planet.

The divine intelligence within us offers to sensitive and attuned hearts the message that we are all connected; we are, beneath the superficial differences of race, religion, culture and gender, partakers of the same One Life, the same Spirit.

No other traditional religion or spiritual path has as much to offer to scientific and rational minds as the path of yoga. Meditation, and including physical yoga, can and is being clinically tested and proven to reduce stress, increase longevity and intelligence, and nurture well-being, connection and happiness. Mere belief is not required. Experience through personal practice is the only entrance requirement.

In a world of 6 billion egos rising with energy and intelligence, we need an antidote to the potentially destructive and chaos-producing impulses being unleashed upon our planet. 

Kriya Yoga is an advanced meditation practice and way of life that is universal and universally enlightening. Brought to the west and out into public accessibility initially by Paramhansa Yogananda, kriya yoga is rapidly becoming the most sought after meditation technique in the world. 

It comes to us from an unblemished lineage that is incomprehensibly ancient and held in high repute.

Soothing the restlessness of the human mind and body's natural inclinations toward ego-protectiveness and assertiveness, kriya yoga awakens us to an unshakable state of inner peace, a natural love flowing from the heart, and the wisdom-filled whispers of intuition.

Admittedly, the practice of kriya will appeal primarily to sensitive and receptive hearts but the good news is that even if only 5 or 10% of the world's population seeks divine solace and enlightenment through daily kriya practice, this planet can be spared the worst effects of the challenges we presently face.

Those who wonder why the Ananda communities worldwide are not as focused on humanitarian relief as we are on the spread of kriya yoga might do well to understand the deeper and practical significance of our public service.

Reality begins with intention and consciousness. Material reality reflects consciousness. While this precept is far beyond the scope of realization of the vast majority of the earth's human inhabitants at this early stage in the 12,000 year upward cycle of awakening, it takes only a relative small number of souls to enable changes in human behavior.

The spread of kriya is part of the divine succor and plan for this age. It constitutes, in no small part, the hope for a better world. 

Fortunately for all, the underlying precepts of cooperation and sustainable living are resonating with far more people than even the practice of kriya. The consciousness of unity and cooperation are a natural outgrowth of the new spirit descending like healing balm upon this planet with its billions of "egos rising" and bristling with energy "looking out for No 1."

The word "kriya" means "action" and is, itself, a call to right action: action guided by wisdom and inspired by high ideals.

There is hope for a better world. Yoga practice can strengthen our "aura," our courage and confidence that, no matter what comes of its own, we can stand firm "amidst the crash of breaking worlds." Lightbearers are needed, spreading the light of yoga far and wide.

Tomorrow, November 14, Ananda Seattle conducts our annual kriya yoga initiation as we do our part to spread the light of kriya yoga to truthseeking souls.

Joy to you,

Nayaswami Hriman

** see the book, "The Yugas," by Joseph Selbie and David Steinmetz. Available wherever good books are sold and published by Crystal Clarity Publishers. You might also enjoy the book by Swami Kriyananda: "Hope for a Better World," also published by Crystal Clarity.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Yogis, Zombies and Halloween!

Jesus Christ said, “Let the dead bury the dead!” Uh oh, was he already into zombies long before us?   I think so and let me tell you why.
Zombies DO walk the earth and yes they are all around us! Zombies, the living “dead,” are those apparently human beings who are un-self-aware. They walk around as if dead, doing the same things, saying the same things, day after day. Paramhansa Yogananda called them “psychological antiques!”

We all know some: they repeat the same old opinions, clich├ęs, stories, and trite conversational subjects day in and day out with bluff and bravado. What was good for their parents is good enough for them: religion, race, gender, nationality, occupation and on and on.

The zombie movies simply mimic the great war that is taking place on this planet between those hanging on with zeal and fanaticism to old tribal-like paradigms and those, however confused and lacking of a moral compass they may sometimes be, breaking all barriers (of race, gender, religion, etc.) and taboos handed unconsciously down from the past. Zombies mimic and mock the unthinking, unfeeling state of human consciousness. They are hard to kill because so blind and unconscious that there’s little life in them to begin with.

Werewolves are those people who, like Jekyll and Hyde, flip flop in their character and loyalties, or who are perhaps (effectively, if not officially) manic-depressive, going from one extreme of behavior to another often with little warning. They are easily influenced to the extreme by the moon of negative emotions.

Skeletons warn us of identification and attachment to our physical body, saying, in effect, “Beware to those who live just for today, to ‘eat, drink, and be merry.’” “The time will come when your body, too, becomes but a bag of bones.”

All those monsters, witches, super heroes and temptresses warn us, by their mocking exaggeration, of the foolishness of our own fantasies, fears and excesses.

And last but not least are the ghosts and ghouls flitting about in sheets with holes for eyes shouting “Boo!” Our fear of ghosts reminds us of our fear of death and of the state that lies beyond it. Ghosts also symbolize our past karma returning to haunt us.

Yogis sometimes meditate in graveyards, for not only are such places quiet places to meditate but they serve as stark reminders of our mortality and the transient nature of material existence in human bodies. Medieval monks used to keep a human skull in their cells for the same purpose. Paramhansa Yogananda, too, as a young monk would meditate in such places.

In “Autobiography of a Yogi,” Yogananda’s guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, told a childhood story of when his own mother tried to scare him by saying there was a ghost in the closet. Yukteswar’s response was to march over to the closet and open the door! So Halloween’s playful summoning of our worst fears offer us a vicarious vehicle for confronting those fears by humorous exaggeration.

If I could revise Halloween, perhaps only for yogis, I would move the date to November 1 – the traditional Christian day of “All Saints,” and have parties where we dress up as saints of east or west to affirm our aspiration and ideals. We could choose that saint who characterizes qualities we aspire towards. We could do readings or act out skits taken from their lives.

Others might prefer to dress up as famous, admirable, and noble characters from history, in science, the arts, governance, medicine or the humanities.

And if some were committed to their ghoulish foolishness, they could, at the party, start out as ghouls and show, by their change of costume and with a little acted out drama, how they would evolve and be transformed into a noble or saintly character.

So perhaps as the modern age evolves, Halloween, too, can move in a more positive and life and soul affirming direction. From its current “hollow” meaninglessness, it could ‘tween times, become truly “hallow.”

May the Holy Ghost be with you this Hallowed time Tween darkness and light.

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, October 26, 2015

To Whom Do We Pray?

As it was commonly said during World War II, "There are no atheists in foxholes." Most pray when in need though whom exactly they address is often secondary to their desperation.

You've heard the joke about the Irishman who was late for a job interview in Dublin with Microsoft and couldn't find a parking place? He prayed, "Lord Jesus Christ and Mother Mary, help me find a parking place and I'll go to church on Sunday instead of O'Reilly's Pub." Suddenly an empty space appeared and he said, "Oh, never mind, I've got one, thanks." That reminds me of the kind of prayers I said as a child when I knew I was in trouble. I was no more faithful to my pledges than that Irishman.

A story told in India is of a disciple who was inspired by his guru's complete dependence and surrender to God for protection and sustenance in all matters. The next day this disciple is walking along a forest path and behind him he hears someone shouting, "Watch out, get out of the way, this elephant is running wild!"

Blissful (and ignorant) in the "safety" of God's omnipresent protection in all matters, the disciple ignores the shouts and continues walking. The elephant, bearing down upon him, throws him roughly into the bushes with a flick of his trunk. Bruised and battered the man returns to his guru's ashram confused and hurt. "But, my son," the guru explained, "God DID speak to you through the mahoot (elephant driver): "Get out of my way!"

We are all better at praying for (usually) minor material desires or needs than listening for God's answer or feeling the divine presence as an act of devotion. It is no coincidence that on the path of Self-realization only upon taking discipleship to Yogananda and his line of gurus is one taught the technique of "Aum" whereby, using a special mudra and arm rest, one is able (with practice and with concentration) to hear the Aum sound and other subtle sounds (of the chakras). Most of us are great talkers but poor listeners! Listening is the hallmark characteristic of one who enters onto the spiritual path consciously and with deep sincerity. Offering up our attachment to our own likes and dislikes in favor of the daily practice of asking for guidance and seeking attunement, one gradually becomes a true disciple.

But how, then, should we attune ourselves to God? How can we love someone or something that we do not yet know? In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna, the archetypal disciple, asks his guru, Lord Krishna, "What is the best approach to God: with devotion to God in some form, or, striving to realize the Infinite beyond all form?" Mind you, now, this question appears in the text just after  Arjuna has this mind-blowing experience of "Krishna" as the Infinite Spirit! At the end of that experience, Arjuna pleads with Krishna to return to his familiar, human form! It was simply too much!

Krishna's response is appropriately personal and comforting--not just to Arjuna--but to you and I. He says that for embodied souls, the way of devotion ("I-Thou" relationship) is far easier. Rare is that soul who, striving assiduously to Self-realization by the formless path of seeking the Absolute, succeeds swiftly. Indeed to such a one, even the practice of meditation is taboo for all efforts in duality are tainted with delusion. Yogananda stated that such rare souls are already highly advanced spiritually.

How does this happen, then? To what form of God should we seek as a doorway to Infinity? Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras, says that to one who sincerely and with intensity seeks to find God there comes to him that perfect form of God, suited to the soul's special needs, called the Ishta Devata, to lead the soul to freedom. As the adage suggests, "When the disciple is ready the guru appears." Down through the ages saints have prayed to God in every admissible form: Father, Mother, Beloved, Friend, child.......as Light, Peace, Joy, Love.......forms both personal and abstract, but always some form.

Yet, God has no form. As Jesus put it: "God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." Yes, but.......God manifested creation out of Himself and therefore IS the creation even while hidden BY the creation. God is omnipresent. God is both infinite and untouched by creation and immanent within creation. As Ananda Moyi Ma put it (in the form of a koan): "It is, and it isn't." To quote Ram Gopal Muzimdar in "Autobiography of a Yogi, [God is] "all pervading, eh?" Yes but that philosophically correct point is not personally all that useful (witness the devotee and the rogue elephant).

This is one reason we each need our own wayshower; another reason is simply that "tat twam asi": you are THAT! We, each one of us, is also a potential Christ, Krishna, Buddha or Yogananda. God is very personal where we are concerned for God has manifested himself AS us but we have yet to perfect our realization of that profound and ego-shattering fact. Because "heaven is within you" (to quote Jesus Christ) we must perforce begin right where and who we are!

Just as we identify with our physical form and personality, with our race, religion, gender, nationality, age, talents, upbringing, family characteristics and much more, therefore it is more natural for us to gradually refine our self-definition and to seek to transform every lower identification to an increasingly expanded form which, at every present point along the way, is necessarily "Other."

[The other direction of our efforts can be to annihilate the ego but this contractive approach, while equally valid, is contrary and contraindicated for most of us owing to the expansive direction of consciousness innate to the age in which we live. This was the hallmark characteristic of spirituality in the former, "Kali," age wherein sincere spiritual aspirants left the world for caves, forests and monasteries in order to achieve any measure of God realization in their lives.]

There's another angle, moreover, to the need to focus our devotion on that which is "Other." And that is the need for concentration in meditation. Concentration in meditation is both a prerequisite and a result. To pray deeply, therefore, we need to have some form to concentrate on? Otherwise, the mind becomes vague if it has no notion of what it seeks to know or unite with.

Yes, it is true that we are not our self-definitions nor is God limited by the form that appeals and inspires us, but, to use an expression from India, "Use a thorn to remove a thorn." On the spiritual path, then, God as "Thou" becomes the oarsman in the boat that takes us across the river of delusion to the shore of Infinite bliss. Achieving Self-realization, we transcend all forms when "Knower, knowing, known" become One.

Our Ishta Devata is like the gravitational pull of a planet that a spaceship that uses to propel it further along in its journey deeper into space.

As God IS the creation so any form will, strictly speaking, suffice for our spiritual journey. However (and there's always a "but" in duality), praying to a sacred alligator is far less likely to uplift us into superconsciousness than praying to a true guru, saint, or avatar! As Paramhansa Yogananda once put it (wryly), "Stupid people will never [sic] find God." (Well, so long as they ARE stupid!)

A more practical point relates to our love of nature and desire for harmony in and with the natural world. Nature, in her mineral, vegetable and animal forms, contains qualities which we admire: calmness, sensitivity, beauty, grace, strength, intelligence and many more qualities. Yet nature is SUB-conscious and, while inspiring to us, not yet self-aware. A saint is awakened in God and a savior is one with God! So while nature's admirable qualities can inspire us with gratitude we cannot "find" God through a form which is not yet self-aware, what to mention God-conscious! Let our love of nature be God-quality-reminding!

In "Art and Science of Raja Yoga," by Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, "It's not what we love but how purely we love." The natural emphasis upon our special form of devotion (Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, etc.) is what can create fanaticism or dogmatism. Better to focus on refining and expanding the love of God in our chosen form to include all beings, all life than to place exclusive emphasis on the uniqueness of that form. In God all are equal, whether or not the roles they play seem greater or lesser on the stage of human history.

It is helpful, therefore, to recall the story from the life of Krishna where his adopted mother, Yasoda, tries to tie up the naughty boy Krishna but finds that every piece of rope she uses is always just TOO short! We cannot define or contain in form that which is beyond form. Nor can we, in duality, "see" God (or limit God to) any one of the divine forms of the great God-realized saviors, or avatars, on earth.

Someone once asked Paramhansa Yogananda, "Where does all spiritual striving end? "It ends in endlessness," the great guru replied!

We grow in stages: we begin to admire, love, and emulate goodness and virtue. We hear God spoken of in scripture, books, and, in time, from the lips of God-fired messengers. We seek to know God for ourselves and He responds by sending to us one who knows and shows the way. We go within to "find" Him and discover "tat twam asi:" We are THAT!

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda