Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spring: a Grand Child is Born!

Last Sunday, March 22, practically on the Spring Equinox, my son's wife gave birth to their first child, aptly named, Calla Lily! As a grandparent one participates in the rite of Spring whereby new life appears as one's own life is gradually ebbing away from the halcyon days of summer. I suppose I could wax sentimental about living on through one's offspring, but that's not really my thought today.

I would rather see in Spring the resurrection of our hopes and dreams beyond their usual material forms of health, happiness, success, love, and family. All of those are fine, of course, but they cannot last, assuming they appear at all in one human life. In the unpublished writings of Paramhansa Yogananda he describes hope as the precursor to faith. Hope is rooted in the divine memory of our soul's undying happiness.

While it is true that most humans find "hope springs eternal" (or, at regular intervals, at least) in the direction of the more common material desires, this universal human "hope impulse" is rooted in something deeper and more true. Whatever may be its aspiration--material or spiritual--hope can lead to the intuitive faith that things can get better or that one will be fine, no matter.

To hold a newborn is to hold a being of Light, unfettered, for the time, by earthly bonds of not-yet-established ties and attachments. The newborn is not only light in weight but light in consciousness. Clearly one see that "wheels are turning" but these wheels are not the usual and anxious verbal thoughts of self. It is the experience of light descending and groping to make contact with earth and the five senses. A window view onto infinity and through heaven itself is vouchsafed to any and all who partake of the "darshan" (blessing of beholding) of a newborn.

Yet, as I have said often, how can any parent NOT believe in reincarnation. As I held Calla Lily I could sense a bundle of traits and attitudes at the ready. I won't say I can articulate or identify those traits, nor would I want to if I could (for her sake). Yet, across her face would float doubt, questions, curiosity, and even concern---all nonverbal, of course.

As she would sometimes become active, kicking her little legs and flaying her arms, one could sense the need to get this "thing" (the little immobile, uncoordinated body) moving and functioning. In her case, she seems very well put together, everything in working order, so to speak. I would guess her persona is strong in whatever direction it will express itself.

Calla Lily has been reborn on earth for a fresh start. Whatever her past, it is past. Her parents have every means and desire to give her the best they can and naturally a grandparent hopes this will be true and that the little one will seize the opportunity "growing," as the Bible said of Jesus, "and waxing strong."

When hope dies, our spirit dies, and the body follows our spirit's lead toward the coffin of hopelessness. It is right, therefore, that "hope Springs eternal." It is natural for one of years to perhaps weary of the human parade of false hopes and constant change: birth, youth, adulthood, old age and death. Yet one can just as well rejoice in the colorful parade as turn aside with a yawn. A life led in peace finds acceptance and rightness knowing that, as poetically offered to us in the Old Testament (Ecclesiastes), "to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven!"

Tomorrow, one week from little Calla Lily's birth, we come to Palm Sunday. Who is this Son of Man who walks the streets with us and whom we hail "King of the Jews?" The hope that springs eternal is far too often misplaced. As the people of Jesus' time generally failed to understand who Jesus was, so we generally fail to recognize our true, soul nature. We see in little Calla Lily but a babe. (One time Paramhansa Yogananda was handed an infant to hold and bless. Later, he confessed he almost dropped the child for he saw in its eyes the consciousness of a murderer!).

Just as we cannot see in the seed the future tree, nor in the infant. the latent adult, so we do not see in ourselves our latent soul-nobility. We are princes thinking we are paupers. Who is this son, this daughter, this child? The miracle of birth and life is the "avatara:" the descent of divinity into human form. Imagine if we had eyes to see in one another that divinity, even if yet latent. Our world, our planet, our lives would be transformed.

Life goes on and emerges ever-new and does so in spite of tragedy, wars, death, and catastrophe. As family traits, both physical and psychological, continue with variations and also re-appear, sometimes skipping generations, we see hints of immortality and hints of continuity and reincarnation.

Imagine if we had the Self-assurance born on the knowledge we are immortal and that death cannot touch us. Whew!

Only Peter, the "rock," answered Jesus' inquiry to his disciples regarding "Who do men say I am." Peter, looking Jesus square in the eye, pronounced for all time "Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God." You and I may seem a long way from that state, but it's not as far as we might imagine for we are looking for ourselves in all the wrong places. In our latent memory-mirror of perfection, we judge our present self as wanting and thus we tend to identify with our shortcomings. These, being all too close, are seen disproportionate to our true Self.

Jesus' resurrection is the victory over death, not merely resurrection of a frail human body, but the resurrection of soul-memory over its confinement in the coffin of ego. By loving when others hated him, Jesus' soul was victorious. By doing what was asked of him in spite of its "unpleasantness," his soul "waxed strong." Is not his example obvious? The literal story of Jesus' resurrection is so beyond our own life experience that we dismiss it as a myth, irrelevant, or a one-time "miraculous" (otherwise inexplicable) event. But its lesson is present with us now.

While Paramhansa Yogananda related to this story as literally true and while he testified that his own guru was similarly resurrected, it matters not to us. In time our ability to see the truth of these things will come. But we can take from the life of Jesus and all the greatest saints, the "good news" that we are far more than these frail short-lived bodies. But we must work to transcend their influence which throws a veil (called "maya") over the eyes of our soul. We must not be so attached to the Easter eggs of pleasure or the pretty flowers of health, beauty, success and recognition. The path of the soul is universal. It doesn't really differ from faith to faith all that much. Meditation is the quickest way to contact our soul's indwelling spirit.

Rejoice then in the rebirth signified by Spring, by new life, by Calla Lily, and by the victory of Jesus' resurrection from death. As in the Indian scriptures, rejoice for "Tat twam asi" (Thou art that! Thou art Spirit).

Happy Easter,

Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Chappie: Artificial Intelligence and Consciousness! A Missing Link?

I had the misfortune to see the movie "Chappie." I might as well admit it now for the fact will haunt me as, indeed, does the movie. (Well, not really, but it is beneath my "pay grade!"). However, I will NOT disclose the name of my companions for the sake of their prestigious reputations (ha, ha).

My spiritual teacher and friend, Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013: founder of Ananda) spoke and wrote a great deal on the subject of consciousness. Just a few of his books which discuss this include "Out of the Labyrinth," "Hope for a Better World," and "Awaken to Superconsciousness." The current scientific belief, if I may dare attempt to articulate it, is that consciousness is the product of the evolution of various species of life. It has no innate properties of its own, being dependent entirely on matter as its source and reason for being,

On the subject of the possibility that AI (Artificial Intelligence) would become so sophisticated as to become self-aware, Kriyananda simply scoffed. "Chappie," while just a dumb movie, trades on the public's gullibility (or, desire for "entertainment"), to posit a "what if" the robot became human: alternating among various feelings and behavior such as being childlike, violent, hurt, loyal and self-sacrificing!

Over dinner with a friend, we discussed, "Well, what IS the difference between we, humans, and a (very sophisticated) robot? Later, in the theatre, we saw at least one movie preview which also intends to explore the world of humans and robots. In the preview, the robots evidently intend to become human partners: emotionally, and, yes, even sexually! Egad!

Organic life forms are created by the transmission of life-giving biological material. Simply put, the fertilization of a human egg by human sperm. Science and medicine are of course exploring that process and will continue to push the limits of the bare essentials of fertilization, seeing how far conception can be removed from natural biological processes. This isn't my subject today, but however removed the process becomes, there's presumably the essence of organic life being dealt with.

In the yogic teachings, we say (Paramhansa Yogananda, at least, taught) that at the time of conception, the soul enters the embryo. Well, no matter re the details. What matters here is the assertion of an invisible and non-material substance called the soul. Even if future scientists can clone or grow human beings, metaphysicians will presumably still insist that at some critical moment, a soul enters into the process!

But a robot is not made in this manner: at least not yet. It's built from parts and programming, including programming that is (said to be able to be) adaptive and can learn from experience. There is no biological transmission of biological material, what to mention soul-force. In "Chappie" the protagonist devised a way to transfer "consciousness" (see the file: consciousness.dat) from a human to a robot. This essentially made the human (who was, of course, on his or her deathbed) immortal, for he/she awoke inside a robot body. It was assumed that "consciousness" was a substance or energy force that resided in the brain and could therefore be "sucked out" and moved elsewhere. To another human brain might have been one thing, but in this case to the "brain" of a robot.

Does the brain create consciousness, or, does the brain allow for consciousness to manifest? The difference isn't important to us day-to-day but it becomes what appears more than a curiosity when we encounter individuals who can function either without significant parts of the brain or show functionality that has nothing to do with the brain (telepathy, bi-location, and other para-normal phenomenon). These so-called anomalies, including near-death experiences, challenge some deeply held beliefs about the dependence of consciousness on the brain.

If one had such a "perfect" robot that you could not tell the difference between the robot and a human, would the robot be self-aware? This is the funny-bone part of this whole thing. Consciousness cannot be seen directly by the senses; its presence is evidenced by movement, emotions, words, and so on. A brain scan or other such machine can detect the presence of brain waves and various movements of thought, but if a machine can detect brain waves, a machine can create them, too. One can presumably mimic all the signs of life and consciousness but none of that would be proof of self-awareness. A person in a coma or asleep is generally not self-aware.

The robot may exhibit emotions but are they "real" emotions or contrived (programmed) ones? In some ways, it might be said there are no differences since our "real" emotions are as fleeting (and usually off-base) as the robot's are without feeling! Where the average movie goer or sci-fi writer may cross the line or be confused is between the appearance of emotions and the reality of self-awareness.

A sleep walker (or, hey, a zombie!) is presumably NOT self-aware! Walking down the street, however, you might not be able to tell that the sleep walker is, in fact, unaware.

Thus it is that future robots might well and easily replace human companions and co-workers rather comfortably (for us). We might chat with them and find it stimulating and helpful to us. Our only interest may be what the robot can do for us: emotionally, practically, and intellectually. But that doesn't necessarily make them "human." Only, functional! And, let's face it, isn't that how most people relate to one another? Functionally, that is?

The robot could easily mimic human love: after all, it can say "I love you" with the best of 'em. Sounds weird, I admit, but some futurists may find that completely satisfying (although at this point even I am doubtful). Nonetheless, how many real humans say "I love you" and don't mean it or stick to it very long?

Ok, you think I'm nuts. Well, that's YOUR opinion. To paraphrase Forest, Forest Gump, "Love is what love does!" Now, mind you, I don't really buy it. But I don't need to (as it is not a reality yet).

My point, rather, is that "self-awareness, "me-ness," is something only "me" can perceive and attest to you. I can't prove it to anyone else. Assuming robots someday become human-like, we will encounter the appearance of me-ness and we may not be able to know which one is "human" and which one is not. And, most of the time, we won't care, provided they do their job! (Not unlike how real people are treated.)

The difficulty in knowing the difference does not, however, erase the difference. That's what I am trying to say. Just because scientists can't isolate God in a test-tube doesn't mean God doesn't exist. If God is the essence and source of self-awareness (consciousness), it makes sense that only consciousness can know that God exists and does so through direct, intuitive perception. Like recognizes like.

No machine can detect consciousness except by its manifestations (brain waves, speech, movement etc.). But that does not necessarily mean that consciousness is always and all times detectable. Just as energy can be latent or potential, why can't consciousness be present but undetected. You can gaze out the window or meditate deeply and not be having any internal thoughts or verbalization. You can be "processing" ideas even as you focus on the conversation or task at hand, Consciousness can lay hidden.

The debate in re artificial intelligence will, I believe, rage on for a very long time: perhaps centuries. After all, as A.I. gets more sophisticated, the line will become finer and finer! Swami Kriyananda asked "Can a computer write a scripture?" (Or art, music, etc.?) Well, in fact, I suppose I could imagine a computer so powerful and with access to the world's art or scripture, that, yeah, maybe it could put something together. But that won't mean the machine is a genius or saint. Nothing you can say to me can convince me otherwise. Write me off to junk heap of history, if you will..............the difference may someday be slight in appearance but there will still be, I aver, an unbridgeable chasm of consciousness for which the "missing link" will never be found.

The link between consciousness (as "God") and the material world has always been and will probably always remain a mystery to the intellect but one revealed to the soul's intuition if it has refined and internalized its powers. Whether hidden behind the creation of the cosmos or inserted into the conception of a child, or fleeing upon the death of a body, I believe that only "God, indwelling, can perceive God, omnipresent."

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Does Meditation Have a Dark Side?

Everything has a dark side. But this is because people are not perfect. Whether politics, business, religion or family, our ideals and goals are wonderful but the people striving for them are flawed. As the practice of meditation continues to grow exponentially, this aspect will become increasingly visible.

There's an internet article on aspects of the downsides or shortcomings of meditation. If you are interested (and I didn't find it very illuminating) here it is:

In fact, it's a bit like whining! None of us who teach meditation should ever hold out meditation as the singular cure for our personal shortcomings and psychological cracks. Nonetheless, meditation CAN change your life and I maintain it is (as my previous blog article asserts) the FUTURE, holding out great promise for humanity. Historically, in fact, so has religion functioned, however flawed, to uplift society and rescue many from utter darkness. So, let's not whine about the reality of the human experience.

But, then, since "you" brought the subject up, let's focus on it.

I've been on a campaign for many years to get meditators to be mindful of the purpose of their meditation practice-----and not mistake the practice for the goal. Meditation is not merely the temporary cessation of ego-active mental and emotional meanderings and self-identities. The fact that becoming still and mindful brings relief to stress and other self-involved emotions doesn't guarantee anything more profound than the effects of sleep: a temporary cessation or suspension of our problems!

Well, perhaps I exaggerate. Yes, the daily practice of mindfulness gives us a tool to become more conscious and aware of our mental processes and unexamined habits. It certainly helps give us greater range of choices in behavior and attitude: all towards the more positive. But, as the practice grows in popularity, you can be sure that most will eagerly accept that diluted promises of "only 15 or 20 minutes" a day benefits! Or, the promise that it's not "religious" (meaning, don't worry, there's no god whose going to tell you what to do or to whom you are accountable!). In other words: no threat to the ego.

Well, Bud, I've got news for you! Meditation is a greater threat to the ego than suicide! Yes, ok, I again exaggerate. (In the metaphysical tradition of reincarnation, the ego never dies until it voluntarily surrenders! No "outside" force or God will "kill" or "destroy" the ego!)

But as meditation grows in popularity, its true intention and tradition will become known. The clinical practice of meditation is largely taken from and influenced by Buddhist traditions. I respect and love these traditions as truth and compassion but the real reason our culture is attracted to them (according to our spin upon them) is that they "appear" not to ask the ego to surrender its control. Ha, ha, ha! Wrong, again!

Long before our beloved Buddha appeared in India, yogis were meditating and seeking Self-realization. The Indian tradition is less appealing to our western ego-affirming culture because in India there is a confusing plethora of deities and ego-surrendering vocabulary and imagery. Buddha simplified all of that in favor of focusing on what our job is, without regard to more subtle realities that we had not yet encountered nor yet are our responsibility. Yet, the Buddha himself, at the last moment of his enlightenment was beset by alluring demons of temptation. His role in spiritual tradition was to emphasize self-effort: chop wood, carry water. Forget the rest. A wonderful, practical and life-saving tradition, to be sure!

For the millions and some day billions who meditate for health and sanity, none of these issues need surface. Meditation will be a part of physical and mental hygiene and that's enough. But because of this far more limited use of meditation, many of our other human shortcomings will only be addressed superficially or even inadequately.

But even clinical mindfulness is not, technically, suppression. Hence its value in achieving greater self-awareness. And hence the invaluable contribution to the evolution of human consciousness on a mass scale.

But so long as the true and highest purpose of meditation is ignored or suppressed or denied, no single human will make notable or permanent progress toward full integration of their humanity into action. 15 to 20 minutes a day is child's play. Yet, transcendence (enlightenment) cannot be cheaply bought by the clock. Too many of those who are sincerely seeking enlightenment imagine the mere act of sitting for a longer time will do it. Not that simple, Bud!

If you want to ignore the time-honored and otherwise undeniable tradition of surrender to divine consciousness, well, fine! Good for you! Keep "coming back" for more, lifetime after lifetime. Your choice! The pathway to enlightenment is too narrow for both ego and soul to walk. Moses, and those born in "captivity," could not enter the Promised Land because (in the allegory of the story), ego consciousness is, by definition, held captive by delusion (of separateness). It must surrender by self-offering. When it does so, it discovers, like the after-death experience itself, that not only has it not died but it has never lived so fully before! The great irony and paradox of enlightenment.

Like Abraham being asked to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, his faith and humanity was challenged but when he passed the test, he was rewarded. When life challenges us, we think we are "going to die (fail)" but when we rise to occasion with faith and energy, we find that we can be victorious and strengthened by the experience.

In the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata, the warrior Bhishma represents ego. As such, Bhishma is gifted with the boon that he can never die until he surrenders. On his deathbed, his body riddled with arrows, he gives a great speech on leadership and governance before he surrenders his life.

The real "dark side" of meditation lies not in the seeming failure meditation supposedly has in solving a person's psychological hang ups. The real dark side is that the path to enlightenment requires engaging and strengthening the ego (via will power, self-discipline, non-attachment, etc.). At various points in the process of purification, the ego can rise like a "demon" and tempt one to use one's newly found psychic abilities for ego gratification. Worldly fame, power, beauty, wealth and influence have their natural enemies in the form of time and competition (which we call "karma" and "duality"). But spiritual power has no equal for it is our true Self and is the only real "wealth," because "god-like."

When, therefore, the ego is tempted to keep spiritual power for itself, it can and will inevitably "fall." Hence the long history in drama, mythology and in real life where spiritually advancing person (teacher, etc.) is tested and sometimes falls. (I will add, in place of "sometimes," "always." Enlightenment is not, nor cannot be, a straight line. Space-time is curved!) The inner path of meditation has for its most obvious flaws arrogance, indifference, and aloofness. These the true devotee combats by developing the natural love of heart: through devotion, compassion, and servicefulness.

Thus, until meditation becomes prayer; becomes self-offering; becomes uplifted by devotion, courage and faith into a greater Power (named, unnamed, defined, or undefined according to your own lights), we cannot truly make notable progress in achieving our true humanity, which is, in its essence, divine.

In my last blog post, "Meditation: A Revolution Rising," I commented that ours is an age of Individuality. The dark side of that is, obviously, egotism! The antidote of that isn't only unselfishness or humility, as the ego itself might imagine (though both are fine, so far as they can take us), it is the recognition of a higher Power! To quote Paramhansa Yogananda, "How can there be humility when there's no ego." True "humility" is self (ego) - forgetfulness. So long as there is a sense of personal doership, even in virtue, we are bound by the constraints of our hypnosis of ego-identity and existential separateness. Perhaps in a future article I will discuss the "Confrontation with God."

Any unwillingness to be open to and to, later, acknowledge the natural limitations of ego-born self-effort, is doomed to failure. Thus we find in the 12 Step Recovery tradition the acknowledgement of a Higher Power and the need for us to turn and look up (unto the hills) for divine assistance.

Lastly, just as we scan the universe perceiving hundreds of billions of galaxies, so too, perhaps, we might have the openness to imagine that our personal evolution towards true greatness might take, shall we say, more than one lifetime! We are greater in size, time and space than we can possibly imagine when we limit ourselves only to view one another as human bodies and egos, defined and constrained by gender, age, health, talents, and culture.

I know this "thesis" transcends the appropriate limits of clinical research and vocabulary, and ego-protective consciousness, but this is "the truth that shall make us free." And this is the truth that meditators will, eventually, see (or come to learn about). So, stop whining and keep meditating.


Swami Hrimananda!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Meditation: A Revolution Rising

If you use your Internet browser to search on "benefits of meditation" or just "meditation," I think you'll be very surprised. Between the non-stop publication of scientific studies on meditation's health benefits to the growing use of meditation in business, sports and in the lives of leaders and celebrities, there is only one conclusion you can reach: meditation is hot!

David Gelles, author of "Mindful Work," spoke at the World Post Future of Work Conference in Britain claiming "There's nothing religious about meditation!" (
So, there you have it: see?

The Transcendental Meditation people have conducted numerous tests to demonstrate that a small percentage of meditators can even reduce the local crime rate. A test case led by quantum physicist John Hagelin in Washington D.C. using 173 meditators (minimum is the square root of 1% of the local population) claimed a 23.3% reduction in violent crime during the test period.

I have frequently compared the spread of "yoga" to the growth of the Internet. (footnote: by "yoga" I mean "meditation." The physical postures of hatha yoga were originally part and parcel of that holistic discipline from ancient times that prepared a student for long periods in meditation.)

What's the connection between the Internet and yoga? Simple: both represent the rapidly spreading consciousness of "I want to know how to do things for myself." Social media, too, represents the power to make changes at the broadest, most inclusive level, devoid of hierarchy. This new self-identity of "I" and the "I can do it, too" transcends cultural, religious, or national boundaries. While not all of it is positive, the power of it remains, whether for good or ill. Both yoga and the internet, then, and not exclusively, but by analogy, represent a worldwide cultural revolution that is taking place before our eyes. Just as a powerful tsunami may travel hundreds of miles before it appears as if suddenly offshore, or, just as the 100th monkey creates a tipping point, so too does yoga represent a powerful force which is inexorably rising steadily into view and effect.

Let me digress for a paragraph: During the life of Paramhansa Yogananda (1893-1952: one of the first Indian teachers to take up residence in U.S.A.), he noted the obstinacy of the Los Angeles city building department. In a casual conversation with friends, he remarked, in frustration with the bureaucracy, "There ought to be a revolution." He paused, then added: "There will be a revolution." There are many revolutions ahead of us in the next decades and, likely, at least the next century.

Yes, a revolution is underway. America was the first nation to give practical birth, expression and scope to what is now and clearly the Age of Individuality! The American revolution was the first but by no means the last for what has been and continues to be a non-stop series of worldwide revolutions: some successful and inspired, others merely destructive and angry. Like a ring of fire of volcanoes erupting around the world, cultural revolutions seeking freedom from oppression of all kinds haven't stopped since 1776.

And yes: I do think a revolution will come to America, though it will necessarily take its own shape and form. I think the pendulum of power and "I can do it" is shifting from the federal level downward to states, counties, and cities. The formation of intentional communities, Paramhansa Yogananda predicted, would "spread like wildfire." (Whether because of widespread cataclysm or by more natural and organic means, or perhaps both, he didn't specify.)

But, having digressed, let us return to meditation! Paramhansa Yogananda predicted that in the future, faith traditions and those self-described "spiritual but not religious" individuals would use meditation as their primary form of personal spirituality. Dogma, ritual and charitable activities will no doubt play their roles but for those whose spiritual seeking go deeper than cultural observances, and there will be many for whom meditation will become their primary spiritual activity.

How can we not change in our views about spirituality? Right next door to you and me live people of different faiths. We work together; go to school together; intermarry; assume roles of leadership in every arena of human activity. The end result is guaranteed: we will learn to live together and in the process we will influence each other to think more broadly and also more deeply about what is truth, what is meaningful in life, and what does it mean to be spiritual.

Meditation is the active and natural expression of that common ground. I say active because distinct from intellectual recognition. For some the first step is, in fact, an intellectual perception that we are not really so different, one from another. But as we step away from the traditional forms of religion, we also lose something. That something was the vessel that bore the deeper truths and experience of spirituality: sacredness and upliftment of consciousness toward God, or Oneness. Meditation is one of, if not THE one most effective and consistent means to achieve such states of consciousness (no matter how they are described). Nonetheless, as humans speak, paint, dance and sculpt, we have an innate need and tendency to communicate by symbols our most deeply cherished feelings. Sacredness will no doubt evolve new symbols or bring new meaning and depth to traditional ones.

Once we "know" that being spiritual is a state of consciousness the next step is meditation and it is right in front of us. And, it is growing in recognition and usage everyday: meditation! Yes, an explosion and a revolution.

This is plenty but there's more. The great cultural god SCIENCE has declared it to be "good!: meditation is for everyone! What greater endorsement could there possibly be for a society that bows and scrapes before the cathedrals and high priests of science, medicine, and the sacred idol of double-blind evidence?

Scientific studies continue non-stop to pour forth the praises and the practical, secular benefits of meditation. They may scoff at the intervention of a nameless and invisible deity, but guess who'll get the last laugh! Paramhansa Yogananda was no fool, indeed one of the greatest spiritual teachers of our age, when he named his first book and the theme for his life's work: the Science of Religion.

The practice of yoga postures achieved an initial stage of popularity in the coming-of-age of my own generation in the Sixties and Seventies. What we observed, then, we see continuing and growing now: every week we hear someone declare, "Gee, there's more to this yoga-stuff than just exercise!"

We in the yoga field simply have to accept the downside of popularity: the celebrity-status of hip yoga teachers; the fashion trade that panders to students; and use of sexy women in yoga poses to sell not just yoga but just about anything. We accept this because we know yoga "works." Yoga is for real. Yoga can transform not just your health but your life. One out of every X number of dedicated students discovers "there's more to this yoga than just exercise." Students become calmer; more self-aware; more self-honest; happier, kinder, healthier, and on and on and on. What would the world be like if even the square root of 1% of the world's population practiced yoga? No religious affiliation or terminology is needed, even if, owing to our own human proclivities to communicate and express enthusiasm, some such terms are bound to emerge.

Physical yoga, then, can lead easily and naturally to meditation. So, too, then, with meditation itself. One may begin the practice of meditation with a secular, personal growth, health and stress-reduction motivation. But, by degrees, in becoming calmer and more centered, one finds that awareness and sympathy and insights grow daily until, looking back one day, one is a changed person.

Every day people can be heard saying that "If everyone in the world meditated daily, we would solve all of our problems!" If that's not a revolution, I don't know what is. That's my point: it IS a revolution and it IS happening before our eyes.

I am therefore hopeful for the survival of humanity. And, not just "mere survival" but growth in consciousness, happiness and relative prosperity. But, if my eyes are still wide open, I must also admit that plenty of prejudice, ignorance, violence, poverty, exploitation and hatred remains in the consciousness of humans on this planet.

Meditation, then, is like an invisible tsunami of hope rising silently (naturally!), like the sea level of expanding awareness and hope, around the world. In the meantime, however, many lessons, tragedies, wars, and suffering remain to be experienced. And, yet, given the inevitability of suffering from change, I believe that such misfortunes will only serve further incite people to seek peaceful alternatives and a higher consciousness. The best you and I can do, then, is to meditate daily. We can help ourselves in our commitment to meditation and help others, too, if we can find others to meditate with. Going further, we can each find appropriate ways to spread and support the spread of meditation.

Maybe it's at the office water cooler; in casual conversations; or, for some, learning to teach meditation to others. Assuming you do meditate already, begin visioning yourself and identifying yourself AS a meditator. While true that in the highest states of meditation, there's no meditator, no meditating, and no object of meditation left, it is also true that a more expansive self-identity can replace a narrower one (the usual self-identities, being a cause for conflict, being based on age, gender, nationality, skills and interests, etc.).

It is helpful to learn that meditation is not only an act you engage in each day by "sitting." Meditation is a way of life: a kind of "political party of consciousness" if you don't mind my using the "p" word. At a stoplight, between conversations, or between tasks, become aware of your breath. Instantly and silently enter, however briefly, the meditative state at will. For some this is prayerful and devotional; for others, more psychological; and yet others, it is simply physiological. That doesn't matter. Be true to your own meditation practice and intention.

A scientist knows that beneath the infinite variety of forms of matter lies the universal substrata of energy (in all its variety of manifestations from gravity and electromagnetism and light, to atoms, molecules and quantum particles and waves). So, the yogi (meditator) can discover and be reminded throughout the day that underlying the differences of individuals is a substrata of universal consciousness. As Paramhansa Yogananda expressed his essential message over a century ago: we are ALL seeking happiness and seeking to avoid suffering. Some more wisely than others but universally we seek the golden ring of happiness. View, therefore, all life as seeking fulfillment. Most are of course unaware that the fragrance of our goal, like the pouch of musk in the belly of the musk deer, lies within ourselves.

Meditation is a lifestyle and a philosophy that sees unity in diversity; connection in separateness. It is the inner journey to the heart of the golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have done to you."

Anyone who can more or less function in this crazy world, can (and, heck, "should") meditate. We can and will change the world.

I am a member of the Ananda communities movement (9 communities around the world), I see that what we are doing (by combining meditation with cooperative communities of like-minded souls) is to help give birth to the future: here and now. "We ARE the future!" is how I like to say. (By this I don't mean "Ananda" as an organization. I mean Ananda as reflective of the principles of meditation, sustainable living and high ideals which has inspired the work of Ananda.)

This is true even if we are, for the time being, all but invisible to the public eye. We, who have committed our lives to the lifestyle of meditation, are blessed to live, more or less, in a golden age and bubble of consciousness. We don't exclude others or the world by way of rejection or condemnation. Indeed, we openly share and invite anyone sincerely interested to enter this golden age with us or or to do so in their own way.

But, alas, and for now, "Many are called, but few 'have ears to hear.'" I do not mean to imply that this choice requires residency in an intentional community. Anyone can live in an intentional community by virtue of intention and connection with others of like mind whether that community is virtual, energetic, or residential.

Ours is the future, and the future is NOW! In this age of individuality, it's your choice!

Blessings to all,

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, March 7, 2015

What is "Mahasamadhi" and Are Miracles Real?

Today, Saturday March 7, is the 63rd anniversary of the day that Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now famous life story: "Autobiography of a Yogi") "left his body" (died) at a banquet at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles in the presence of a large gathering to honor the newly appointed ambassador to the United States from India.

The term used (Sanskrit) is "mahasamadhi" - the Great Samadhi. This describes the conscious exit from the body by a saint. Samadhi is a term that refers to the ultimate state of God consciousness, a state of oneness with God (and, by extension, all creation which is a manifestation of God's consciousness).

You may rightly ask: "Many people die consciously, so how does this differ?" Yes, it's true many people die a peaceful and otherwise conscious death and they are not necessarily considered great saints. Since we are talking in terms of consciousness it is not so easy to observe by outer signs. By definition, the act of dying entails no necessary physical movements. So, to a degree the designation of an act of "mahasamadhi" is, at least to a casual observer, a statement of belief.

Since Yogananda ("PY") lived in recent times and until the death of Ananda's founder in 2013, Swami Kriyananda ("SK"), we personally knew someone who was present at PY's death in 1952, we can take his mahasamadhi as our example. At the moment PY slipped to the floor while reciting his poem, "My India," SK had his head down writing down PY's words as he addressed the gathering at the Biltmore Hotel. SK said he knew instantly however that PY had exited his body. In SK's own autobiography, "The New Path," he describes numerous instances in the preceding days, weeks, months and even years that PY dropped hints of the nature of his exit.

Among the hints that he gave was his statement that he would go by a heart attack (stopping his heart, that is; something he demonstrated repeatedly publicly, though temporarily, of course); another was that he would leave his body while reciting his poem, "My India." And on and on like that. But these are but hints. The real essence of the appellation of mahasamadhi comes not only in the striking manner of death but more importantly in the power of his life.

I occasionally come across a student at our Ananda center who, while enjoying the practice of yoga and meditation, is resistant to the idea of miracles. Such folks object to the stories in "Autobiography of a Yogi" wherein saints materialize from nowhere, or bi-locate, cure the sick or raise the dead. And, in some way, who can argue?

SK, at age 22, had similar reservations; so did I, at age 26. For many of us, we simply put such things on a mental shelf to be dealt with later as we continued to enjoy the stories, wisdom, humor and inspiration of what surely must be one of the greatest spiritual classics of the modern era.

Now, mind you: I have no intention of convincing anyone that miracles happen. In fact, I would direct your attention to that chapter in the "Autobiography" ("AY") called "The Law of Miracles." As excellent a discourse on miracles you will not find anywhere! Bar none!

It has been well said by others wiser than me that "Either everything is a miracle, or nothing is a miracle." The one defense I would offer in favor of what we call miracles is simply that: what we call miracles are phenomenon that we simply do not yet have an explanation for! Most of what passes for our daily use in technology would be shockingly miraculous in prior centuries. And, we've only just begun to explore nature and the cosmos! I am long past fussing over how it is possible for Jesus Christ to resurrect his body from the portals of death and any other similar miracle. Whether he did so as a matter of fact, is, for me, secondary, to the possibility that it can be done.

Getting back to "mahasamadhi," did PY choose that moment or was that moment chosen for him? According to the theology of oneness that he and others in the Vedantic lineages have professed, a liberated soul who returns to human form is an "avatar." Avatara is the descent into a human body of a soul that has, as Jesus said of himself, become "one with the Father." "Self-realization" is a term now used for that state of consciousness. As God can be both infinite and infinitesimal, so God-consciousness now permanently resident in the vehicle of a unique and eternal soul can incarnate into human form. Not a puppet or a divinely-created automaton, but a soul, like you and I. In such a one, however, his consciousness is united to God's infinite consciousness. Such a soul comes to play a part on earth, like you and I, but the part he plays is not compelled by ignorance and attachment, but is guided by divine impulse even as filtered through the unique qualities and past tendencies of that soul.

Thus the question of whether PY committed an act of spiritual suicide (as someone once asked me) or whether God "took him out" is a non-question. Such a one would easily have, or be given, glimpses of his final exit and, like many people on earth, might have an inkling for the timing of it. There is no separate "ego" to decide such a thing apart from the divine mind.

As all action creates reaction ("karma"), the action of a Self-realized soul accrues to the benefit of others but nonetheless follows certain patterns appropriate to itself. In PY's life work, it was entirely fitting that he leave this world speaking, as he predicted that he would, of "my India and my America" and, in the presence of the ambassador from India! Like a great story or play, his end was as fitting and appropriate as any inspired ending should have been. In God there are no coincidences, only God "choosing to remain anonymous."

PY was a public figure a part of whose public mission was to highlight and bring together the best of east and west. He taught that soon America and India would lead the world in their respective contributions to the evolution of human consciousness: the one in the discovery of natural laws, efficiency and individual liberties, and the other in the science of mind (yoga) leading to the true freedom and happiness born of direct, personal perception of our true Self.

During his life, PY demonstrated to those close to him that could enter, at will, the state of oneness (samadhi). During the last years of his life, he was in seclusion much more than before and close disciples experienced or perceived that during such times he would be in an elevated state of consciousness and oblivious to his own body and the world around him.

Adding to that his predictions of his exit from this world, it is the custom among yogis to label the death of such a one a conscious act and the final great-samadhi (for that lifetime). With the power to unite his consciousness (confined in the physical form) with the consciousness of Infinity, such a one could enter that state and permanently (rather than temporarily) exit the body. This, at least, is one way of describing what is said to have taken place.

Of course, it can't be proved in an objective sense. It is an article of faith. Faith, however, is not the same as the more tentative hypothesis inherent in mere belief. The faith of his disciples rested in their actual experience of PY as a human being in daily life. To those close to him, PY demonstrated that he knew their every thought. That proof and impact of that accrued only to those individuals. It can be described but not proven to anyone else.

The so-called miracles of saints are only rarely demonstrated on a large public scale. But even when it does happen, those people die off soon enough and nothing is left but their testimony. Whether to one or a handful of close disciples (who witness, say, the raising of a person from death), or whether a group of diners being given full glasses of carrot juice from a small half-filled pitcher, it inevitably comes down to someone's personal experience and testimony.

God, it is said, does not win devotees by performing circus stunts. God has and is everything. We have only our love to give or withhold--for eternity if we choose.

SK suggested that we, at Ananda, use the occasion of PY's mahasamadhi to honor the life, teachings and consciousness of great saints in every tradition, east and west, past and present. Self-realized saints (we use the term "masters" -- having achieved Self-mastery) are, in effect, God incarnate. They demonstrate that we, too, are God incarnate but still mostly asleep. It is the purpose of creation that we awaken. Simply to "die and go to heaven" and to turn our backs on the creation as a sham, is not the divine intention. The creation is beautiful to the extent God who is the creation awakens to become Self-aware.

It is, therefore, in the fitness of things that souls do, in fact, by self-effort and the power of grace, achieve Self-realization while in human form. In this way, then, God speaks and teaches others and gives upliftment and hope to those who "have ears to hear and eyes to see." To honor such living examples is to honor ourselves, our souls and all souls. Too many sects have abandoned the devotion to God through the saints (especially the true masters.....many others are but saints still "in-the-making"). Thus, we take this day to pay such tribute in song, prayer, chanting and inner communion (in meditation).

Blessings to all this sacred special day!

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, March 2, 2015

Making the Impersonal, personal, and, the Personal, impersonal!

In the great drama of human life we see played out a "tug-a-war" between personal and impersonal. We encounter this in the impact governments and its laws have upon our lives. We encounter this tug in the ways male and female view one another. We stumble on this in religion, in science, in metaphysics and psychology. Let me give some simple examples, making the object of the subject, well, 'er, more personal!

In the so-called rule of law (to which we salute as bringing peace, security and order to the chaos of self-interested human behavior), we might find that our obligation to pay our taxes conflicts with our conscientious objection to how those taxes are used.

In a relationship, one partner may object to his partner's friendship with another person on the grounds of it being too personal, too familiar; the other will presumably affirm her right and valuable need to have other friendships and may insist that such friendships are not of the romantic or committed nature of their own with one another. The one intuits trouble, or is suspicious, jealous or fearful; the other denies it, whether being merely naive, subconsciously dishonest, or in fact completely innocent.

Most religious sects insist theirs is the best and most likely to bestow salvation. Others insist that all religions are based on and offer more or less the same virtues and rewards. A religionist insists on the existence of God while the atheist demands proof. Nondualists say God is without form; devotees ("bhaktis") worship God in the form they hold dear.

Some scientists, like Albert Einstein was, are bent upon finding universal natural laws that apply throughout the universe. Others are content to find what works under prescribed conditions, perhaps solely with the object of discovering new and useful (perhaps profitable) products.

Meta-physicians see in human conduct and motivation the interplay of universal states of consciousness guided by a unifying motivation: our souls seeking eternal happiness. By contrast, a psychologist might seek a specific cause and effect such as how your parents treated you.

I find myself in that category of persons (there being, of course, "two kinds of people in this world") who, when coming upon someone's personal account, am likely to say something that will generalize that person's experience into the context of a universal response. I hope, thereby, to help that person see that his predicament is shared with many. Indeed, is there any human emotion or reaction that isn't shared by millions under similar circumstances?

Yet in doing so, I might be intentionally or inadvertently seeming to dismiss the opportunity to be helpful or at least sympathetic. As if by saying, "Yeah, that happens to everyone." (So, therefore, let it go.)

It is true, however that seeing my own problems in a larger context can help me to step back from the emotional intensity of my reaction. An astrology reading, for example, gives one the benefit of seeing larger forces and tendencies at play in one's life. One person might be tempted to shirk responsibility (blaming the impersonal forces of the stars), another might find the longer rhythm perspective calming and insightful.

That other category of persons (the more personal) will undoubtedly respond to a friend's woes with moral outrage. In so doing, however, she might find herself as upset as her friend and lead them both nowhere but into a pit of emotion. Or, maybe instead, having responded sympathetically, she might come up with practical suggestions on how to resolve or improve the situation.

So, you see, there is a place for both approaches. It IS helpful to view our lives more impersonally. "Thoughts are universally, not individually, rooted," Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi") is frequently quoted as saying. Having lived In Los Angeles during the heyday of Hollywood (1925-1952), Yogananda was apt to compare life to the movies. He encouraged students to step back from the drama of life and look to the "beam of light" being projected from the booth of eternity. In that light we are all one and the drama of life is seen as but moving shadows of light and dark projected on screen of life. We then can see the alternating currents of sadness and happiness, tragedy and comedy, and birth, life, and death. The impersonal point of view is potentially helpful for everyone (BOTH kinds of people, that is) to contemplate.

I've been watching the series, Cosmos. It's quite fun and interesting, though I bristle from time to time with its narrow view of human history: it's unending characterization of ancient man as little more than hairy cave dwellers and with its only slightly hidden message that science will make us not only more intelligent but happier.

The joy, indeed the smirk, that astrophysicists and astronomers seem to perpetually wear is the equivalent to the smugness exhibited by nondualistic philosophers (like me). It reminds me of that expression: "The operation was a success, but the patient died peacefully on the table."

This attitude is all too often sterile: dead on arrival. It can be an excuse for aloofness, lack of feeling, and unwillingness to lift a finger to help another person in his grief or time of need. Sure, God is all there is; God is One & Eternal; God has manifested Himself in the creation.....etc. etc. Wonderful, but how does that help me along with my wife or my co-workers? What about the grief, sorrow and suffering of so many people around me? Yes, indeed, the scientific or metaphysical views of the cosmos and creation may be factually true or intellectually satisfying but too strict a view is apt to shrivel my heart and apt to belittle the significance of anyone's personal life!

Indeed, as a nondualist and Vedantin, I find the impersonal view inspiring but, at the same time, I would do well to be as impersonal towards my own feelings as to those of others!

Any true scripture (try the Book of Genesis, e.g.) will address both the "Why God made this creation" and the "Why that's important to me" questions. (Contrast Chapter 1 of Genesis with Chapter 2, wherein the impersonal descends with breath-taking speed to the very personal.) Both the impersonal and the personal are needed. Our minds want to know "why," our hearts want to know what we can do about it. Truth must blend, or reconcile, the impersonal with the personal. Reason and feeling.

Life treats armchair philosophers rather rudely. "Your religion (life philosophy) is tested in the cold light of day" a wise person once wrote. Take life personally if you are to act responsibly and have any hope of finding true happiness in this roiling, ever-insecure cauldron we call life. Take life TOO personally, and you are apt to augur downward towards anger, resentment, paranoia, or depression.

"Think globally; act locally." This neatly sums up the integration of your philosophy with your emotions. I say emotions because our feelings are the engine that quick-starts us into action. Philosophy is dry; emotions are wet! We need both, lest we die either of thirst or by drowning.

Introspect, therefore, as to you own temperament: do you take the dry, intellectual or impersonal point of view, or do you tend to get down and personal? Learn to refine your responses and to balance them with the other. See the big picture but act to improve the little picture of here and now. The latter is a microcosm of the former. Life is a hologram!

So, when the stars come out at night, go outside with a friend and hold hands while gazing heavenward!

Blessings to all,