Saturday, April 18, 2015

Meditation: A Point of Singularity

There are innumerable ways of describing or defining the state of consciousness offered to us as the goal of meditation. From stress relief to enlightenment to cosmic consciousness, the terminology alone is rich with implication and promise. Modern medicine and Buddhist-inspired mindfulness suggest a state of mind set free from the negative effects of stress and resting calmly in the peace within.

Just as the process of maturity is an ever-expanding continuum of awareness, inner strength and acceptance, so meditation opens up a mind whose vista is potentially ever-new, ever-expanding, and ever-increasing in self-awareness, knowledge, empathy and wisdom.

There are also numerous meditation techniques: too numerous to attempt a list here. As a life-long meditator and teacher of meditation I feel safe and confident in affirming and corroborating the tenet that real meditation begins when our thoughts are still (and the body is relaxed, if alert). Techniques can medically, emotionally, and psychically greatly aid in bringing our mind and body to POINT OF SINGULARITY. It is the true beginning point of the adventure of meditation.

Let me state, first, however, that it would be a false expectation to imagine that the beginning point presupposes the onset of satori, samadhi, or any other "mind-blowing" experience. Rather, it resembles achieving calmness in the midst of an intense emotional crises. Calmness, in such cases, is simply the necessary beginning point for figuring out what to do next.

It's like being on a quest and being instructed to go to quiet place in the forest and sit until you receive the next instruction. The instruction may, or may not, come while sitting there. It may come after you've gone home. It may arrive in an email or phone call. Meditation, like work, starts with showing up. Showing up starts not with exercises, chanting, or other meditation techniques, but with being clear as a crystal, ready to receive the next instruction, when, and if, it comes. (This can happen in the midst of meditation exercises, too, at which point it is generally advised to discontinue the technique in favor of the experience!)

As sleep rests the body and nervous system, meditation clears the psyche of emotional and mental static (after first relaxing the body). This is my point: a point of singularity. The second aphorism in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali defines the state of yoga as a state where all reactive mental and emotional processes have ceased.

In fairness to Patanjali and the depth of meaning contained in this most important of all (the nearly) two hundred aphorisms, he is referring to BOTH the beginning AND the end point (goal) meditation. By contrast, I am referring in this article only to the beginning point. But, they are, of course, related and inextricably linked: the first being the prerequisite for the second.

When I hear the phrase "chop wood and carry water" I image a person doing something "perfectly" mundane with a "perfectly" clear and settled mind and a body so relaxed that only those movements and muscles needed for the task are engaged (not unlike true yoga posture-asana).

This is a good intuitive image for a "point of singularity." The only difference is that I am referring to it occurring in meditation, not in daily action. (This can flow naturally from it being practiced and experienced in meditation.)

Philosophers and sages down the ages have referred to the duality of creation: male & female; reason & feeling; objective & subjective; heat & cold; and so on. It is axiomatic that the uniting of the two is at least the symbol of enlightenment or some other desirable state of mind or being.

Think of a point of singularity as a point where the mind, subjective and self-aware, replete with feeling merges with the object of contemplation. You cannot literally merge with a candle flame by staring at it. But by focusing your inward awareness (usually with eyes closed) on the awareness of the self being aware, you most certainly can

Few meditators are subtle enough and settled enough in their minds to do this, however. Hence the plethora of techniques such as watching the breath, feeling the movements of subtle energy in the body, or visualizing the guru, a deity, or an abstract image or concept (light, joy, spiritual color, sacred sound, etc.) A well known technique is observe oneself observing and mentally ask "Who am I?" "Who is observing whom?"

Moses asked the burning bush, "Who are you?" Is not the burning bush the flame of our self-awareness, burning bright within us, especially in meditation? The flame answered saying, "I AM THAT I AM!" Does not the Self within answer us, wordlessly, at times?

Sometimes in my use of various "kriya" techniques based on energy currents (prana), I imagine that the energy is erasing all memory of name, form, past, personality, desires and tendencies. In this way, with each movement of prana, I am clearing and cleaning the pathways of energy so that no one remains but pure energy and self-awareness.

As I begin my meditation, I invoke the living presence of my guru-preceptor, Paramhansa Yogananda, or one (or all) of those in his line of gurus, to assist me on the subtle level or energy or consciousness in the task of ego-clearing transcendence. When I feel I am ready to settle in and past my technique(s), I might then gaze clearly and steadily into the "Spiritual I" at the point between the eyebrows to see who and what might be there: I AM THAT I AM. Go beyond words and images and BE.

Is this not the "only begotten son of God" sent to redeem us from the captivity of ego? Is this not the living Christ, or Krishna consciousness: the watcher, the observer, the witness?

This is where the me confronts the I of God. When this is successful, I can stand and "chop wood and carry water."

Blessings to I THAT AM YOU,

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, April 13, 2015

Where do Ideas Come From? What caused the BIG BANG?

"I have an idea," you announce to your co-workers. Yes, it's true, literally, that you "have" an idea (in your mind). But do you ever wonder where ideas come from? Most of us take it for granted that we, being in original possession of the idea must be its owner.

Indeed, the law says it is so, and it is so. But this convenient and pragmatic logic fails to examine the source of the idea. Don't you and I, as intelligent, creative, thinking persons, rely upon what might be called a process, even a "mechanism," of searching for answers out in an unknown space of the ether for answers? We do this so instinctively that we rarely question or probe the process itself.

Take something totally mundane, like "What should I give my friend for her birthday?" Your eyebrows frown or narrow slightly; one or both of your eyes squint as if peering into some unseen dark box; the mind quiets momentarily. It's as if you've sent a search command into your hard drive for a file as you wait, sometimes a nano second, for a reply. You examine it, perhaps discard it, and ask for another. If none comes, you may abandon your conscious search and go onto the next task fully expectant, based on experience, that an answer will suddenly pop up later. (That resembles the speed of my computer at home, unfortunately.)

But the analogy to a computer, while interesting and somewhat relevant, doesn't give the full answer because my computer doesn't create new files, it only searches existing ones. My brain simply CANNOT be the source of a symphony or a poem even if rigidly evidence-based inquiries insist that it must be for lack of any other measurable source. Why doesn't MY brain produce symphonies or poems, but yours does?

To produce something intelligible to the human intellect and that is communicable to other humans, the brain serves as a necessary tool. It gives language, sound, description and feeling to my idea for a present for my friend. Indeed, the very question originates in the material world of friends and birthdays, so the response must take a relevant form. The brain thus acts as a translator back and forth between consciousness and matter via the transmission of measurable brain energy.

Do you think that the brain originates ideas? If you do, you have strong support from the scientific community but they'll NEVER tell you how! They can measure things like brain waves and can tell you that certain parts of the brain are working and they can stimulate memory or even hallucinations by poking at your brain but they cannot tell you how thoughts pass through the magical boundary between their source (which is immaterial) and their outer expression into words, emotions or movements. Where and how do new ideas (the kind never before thought of by you and not mere re-hashes of past thoughts or experiences) get created?

A computer can store images (including words which are symbols of thought) in binary form but it cannot produce anything new except by building on its existing database. Until computers become super-duper, they are clumsy in creating anything more than a mathematical or merely logical construct. (This is the "missing-link" of conscious, self-awareness that I describe in a recent, and extremely popular, blog article, "Chappie: Artificial Intelligence and Consciousness".)

If a brain operates more like a computer (as we tend to believe it does), then how could it compose a poem? Or a symphony? Yes, by practicing poetry or music one can develop one's skills but many people are taught specific skills but never become great artists? Nor can an examination of the genes or DNA ever reveal the hidden seed of an idea.

Notwithstanding the volume of brain and meditation research happening these days, I aver that scientists will never discover "the missing link:" that mysterious, invisible non-substance called consciousness: the stuff of "good ideas." The brain may be a wonderful mechanism to allow for the logical expression of ideas or the dramatic expression of feelings, but it will never be found to be the originator.

I suppose there must be studies on people who have lots of good ideas and others who have few. If so, I've never stumbled upon them. But, ok, fine some people have good ideas. Maybe they eat a lot of fish, according to P.G. Wodehouse, like his butler, Jeeves. That's great but it doesn't answer my question: where do ideas actually come from? Surely not from fish!

Is not my question perhaps the same question as "What produced the BIG BANG" or the question "Why does anything exist at all? (See the book by Jim Holt, "Why Does the World Exist.")

Just as ideas seem to come out of nowhere, though not necessarily randomly, so too the universe seems to have come out of nowhere. With fresh ideas we might need to "sleep on it," go on vacation, go for a run or take a shower. In the creative process, there's a very definite pattern of emptiness alternating with fullness; or silence and then sound; dark and light. In energizing this pattern, there is no singular human activity better than meditation to stimulate a person's consistent creativity.

As to whether there really is, anywhere, "nothing," well, science itself, and meditators themselves, know that the silence is pregnant with pause; filled with latent potentiality. The silence of the deeper states of meditation are innately creative, powerful, rich and very full states of mind. The only difference is that in silence there is no outer expression: thoughts have not yet taken shape or form.

In the Ananda Festival of Light Sunday Service (written by Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda), there's song called "Thunder of AUM." It's opening line, echoing Genesis, is "Out of the silence came the song of creation, out of the darkness came the light."

While this sphere of nothing can produce random ideas of no personal relevance to the person receiving them, like my 3-part blog series on "If I were president," humanity's great ideas (in science, religion, art, or politics) are tailored made for the people destined to manifest them. A person who indulges daily in daydreams or fantasies can create his own world but it is entirely subjective because no attempt is made, or possible, to bring that world into manifestation. The ideas are still-born and I would wager that the person is not better off, meaning better balanced and mature, for the indulgence.

Setting aside random or irrelevant ideas and those that preoccupy minds with nothing better to do, important ideas are very personal and very relevant to our needs or our life's destiny.

Since personally meaningful ideas appear in response to our personal needs, then the BIG idea of creating a universe must also be a response to a universal or BIG need. Since ideas cannot exist apart from consciousness, so of course consciousness had the BIG IDEA and perhaps, then, the BIG NEED. (I would propose that the term "need" can include a creative impulse; a desire; an interest.) A further statement is that ideas (thought) cannot exist apart from self-awareness. Self-awareness may be intense or dim, but in the realm of ideas it is always present. This can only be proved to oneself, it cannot be proven by logic or by observation from outside. Consciousness and self-awareness are one and the same and cannot be proved: only its material manifestations, like words, emotions, actions, brain waves, etc. can be observed.

Since neither science nor philosophy can answer the question "Why does anything exist at all," I will offer to them a solution to their dilemma (at no additional cost): the universe exists because it was intended to. "Someone" put out the intention and BANG, IT WAS SO! I challenge them to do me one better. We cannot responsibly say the universe doesn't exist, so we must accept that it does. We might speculate that it came into being through some random force but our experience of life, including the creative process in ourselves, suggests otherwise. Why not take the evidence where it leads and accept it as the best evidence we have at this time? Maybe that's as far as our logic and reason can take us.

In my popular blog article "Chappie: Artificial Intelligence and Consciousness" I posited the self-evident but intellectually unprovable statement that self-awareness is what distinguishes consciousness from artificial intelligence. This "missing link" as I called it in that article, is what I am discussing here in this article. And here I am positing an ages old precept that consciousness preexists and is the intention that gives rise to ideas, self-awareness, energy and matter.

This is where my favorite topic and hidden agenda surfaces: meditation! Yup, SURPRISE! (You didn't see that coming, did you?) I further posit that there is a link between "why creation exists at all," creativity, self-awareness and why meditation enhances creativity.

Imagine now building something really big: yeah, ok, say, a universe. Its gonna take some time. "Rome wasn't built in a day," we've been told. If this universe is going to be built piece by piece, as material things are, you won't see it in all its splendor until it's finished. As it is being built it looks pretty lumpy, the job site is messy, and its ultimate beauty and functionality is postponed until the end. Not only does "someone" need to intend it; and then guide its construction, but, in the end, "someone" needs to see and acknowledge it. Otherwise..........we cannot know if it actually exists!

So it wouldn't be surprising that the Consciousness that lit the fuse of the BIG BANG had to wait awhile until the construction project (i.e., evolution) produced an "independent" witness. On this planet, the only one we know, I understand it's taken over 4 billion years and that human existence is fairly recent. So if it is true that Consciousness produced the universe and our planet, it had to take some time before anyone (i.e. we humans) came into existence, began getting curious, even suspicious, and then began asking these questions! Objective and subjective, though separable in logical, linear time and processing, are inextricably linked. Science has said as much when, much to its shock and horror, it concluded that the observer is part of the observation and the observed.

Given the nature of the enormous length and complexity of the evolutionary process we would be forgiven in imaging that the process produced us randomly. I mean, gee, at first glance, popping out of the egg shell, so to speak, who can blame us from looking around and imaging the egg produced us? We wake up and the first thing we see.........are monkeys, or fishes, or whatever. While logical, it isn't necessary so! Our vision is, as yet, myopic! Limited to mere logic, we mistake the means for the cause. (Take THAT, Richard Dawkins!)

Notwithstanding the limitations of the "religion" of science, there is overwhelming historical evidence that humans, from the beginning of our existence, have intuited that our self-awareness holds the key to a sacred mystery of sorts: that it hints to us in a wordless communication that our real "parent" is not the material world that only appears to have produced us. Rocks and trees don't seem to possess this gift; animals seem to have some self-awareness, but most only fleetingly. There's something about the human experience, a gift of intuitive sight, that has continually insisted to our minds that we possess something decidedly "different" from planets, rocks and trees and that this awareness is special. It is sacred. And, yes, it is a mystery, even to us. We give it many names and no name but we cannot rid ourselves of its haunting shadow which follows us wherever we go. To paraphrase Mark Twain, "Travel is a fool's paradise because wherever I go, there I am.

Creativity is the outward moving expression of self-awareness. Creativity is the natural impulse of self-awareness. It bestows upon humanity great gifts and powers: and the obligation to use them wisely. But ideas are difficult, in fact, impossible, to bully into being subservient to our demands. Some call creativity the "Muses," godlike, in other words. Thus holy men, shamans, healers, and in more modern times artists, geniuses, inventors, great scientists, super heroes in sports and stage, and even tech wizards are all said to possess some of this "magic," this special gift, this mojo.

The impulse of modern consciousness is to demystify that which formerly was held in awe and surrounded by superstition and mystery and otherwise considered occult. Meditation, too, and yoga are being secularized as the left-brain of human consciousness continues to achieve ascendancy to the point of being our modern "religion" and language.  We, like the disciples of Jesus, are impatient with parables, stories, myths and rituals.

It is no coincidence that the spiritual genius of Paramhansa Yogananda, whose life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," has become a classic in our times, titled his first book, "The Science of Religion." [Being a wayshower from the past to the future, he, yet, retained a deep and abiding devotion and religious expression in his poetry, prayers, and personal expression. As Jesus said of himself, he came not to destroy but to "fulfill" the prophets of the past, so too Yogananda had no intentions of throwing the "baby out with the bath water." Nonetheless, he gave expression, and therefore spiritual authority and credibility to the emerging efforts to use our intellects to understand spirituality and to see the underlying connection between the material world, through the eyes of science, and the subtler and higher world of consciousness out of which all things emerge. Throughout his miracle-saturated life story, are testimonies from science pointing to subtler laws and forces.]

The down side of the new ascendency of the intellect (see past ages such as the classical age of Greece) is its hubris that substitutes a well-honed definition for the reality it merely describes. The intellect believes that what it observes and defines, it can control. The history of 20th century world wars and many lesser wars, and the pernicious rise of violence and innumerable addictions, disproves and mocks the power of the intellect. What Yogananda predicted (or, at least, advised) was a cooperative harmonious blending of East and West, of intellect and heart, science and spirituality: in short, a model of cooperation based on the acceptance of the inextricable interrelationship of all things material and spiritual. We are One: whether averred through the science of ecology, astrophysics, quantum physics, chemistry and biology or through the science of the intuitive, meditative mind.

Meditation is the "science of mind." It hones the tool by which, using our brain, body and nervous system, we can peer into a realm which only consciousness can perceive by direct, intuitive contemplation. While the highly evolved brain and nervous system of humans gives to us this gift, the lower cannot possess or control the higher for consciousness transcends the material realm.

Thus the brain and body fulfill a dual function: both a vehicle to the outer space of Mind but also a container and engine which must be ejected and left behind, at least while we are traveling through the space-mind of consciousness. This is where the science of yoga (meditation) enters human history and the evolution of human consciousness.

[But save this for another blog.The specific psycho-physiological methodology of yoga science is based on controlling, slowing the heart and breath rate. Research into meditation only uses subjects who are but amateurs in the science of breath. A yogi who can enter the breathless state at will for prolonged periods would be needed to take the research into higher realms.]

For individual creative acts, it's not so difficult to trace the appearance of an idea into its manifestation. For example, if I have the idea to build a dog house (for when I get into trouble next), I can go out and buy materials and make it. But on a cosmic level and relating to the BIG BANG, we are faced with the difficult challenge of tracing the appearance of energy (then matter) from its proposed source in intention (consciousness). Can consciousness create matter by force of thought alone? Science can prove to us the interchangeability of matter and energy but has yet to reveal the "missing link" of consciousness.

I aver that consciousness itself cannot be directly observed. It can only be inferred by its effects: brain waves, words, emotions or actions.

But, the human experience of creativity provides a clue, for it is an echo of the cosmic creation. We see that a person who is filled with vitality and confidence regarding his destiny, can change the world; can pass through a hail of bullets, unharmed. The achievements of humans down through the ages testify to a power (a conscious, intelligent, guiding force) that defies and transcends all limitations. Human creativity, including self-sacrifice for a greater good, is, itself, the most enduring witness of a greater Consciousness which some people tap more readily and more powerfully and more visibly than most.

Nonetheless, our left-brain culture seeks, nay, demands, to know HOW thought produces matter through the medium of energy. The ancients counsel us to turn to the human experience of dreaming. I had a powerful dream last night in answer to this question. I went to be bed far later than usual as I composed this article. I struggled mentally to put into words something useful in regard to this elemental and all-important mystery of life. "Who am I to even attempt this," I thought as I fell instantly to sleep.

Immediately I began to dream. My dream took me through the experience that I purchased a small airplane. In it were my children, then very small. As I attempted to land on the patch of ground in front of my boyhood home (250 Lighthouse Avenue, Pacific Grove, CA), a wing broke off. Fortunately we came to a stop more or less instantly and no one was hurt. But I was bummed out for having broken my new plane. Then I awoke and laughed at my disappointment, for it was only a was only a dream.

This is the key, we are told. As in a dream, the events are as real as events during the conscious, waking state, so, too, is the universe but a dream in the mind of the Creator. Just as the dream persons act, talk, make war or peace and do fantastical things, so too in this great dream the players appear to act independently. Those dream persons certainly seem to have free will and the power of independent and unpredictable action. In the dream experience there is no hint otherwise but yet when we awake we realize that it "but" a dream.

What we deem to be real, whether our thoughts and emotions, or the world around us, can only be so to the extent that we deem it so. Is our cup of life half full or half empty? But we, as individuals in this great dream, are not the originators of the great dream. We are players in the theatre of the cosmic mind. If we play our part poorly, we will, being though a dream, suffer. We must strive to play our part well. We have no choice in the matter. There is no option to leave the stage until we have accomplished our part, for the drama of creation, though only a drama, must go on. Our only choice is to play wisely or foolishly. Humans know this instinctively and we express it in our statements about the law of survival and procreation. We recognize that we must strive, struggle, create and move forward. We view suicide as a defeat for the human spirit.

If we play our part well, we can, in time, leave the drama for good. Or, so we are promised by those who demonstrate their power over the dream sequence. Those who can stop the storm of breath at will; who can raise the living from dead; who can heal the sick; etc.; These are the super-heroes the Masters of their own destiny, co-creators of the cosmic dream. The philosophers and theologians engage in mere speculation, not gnosis, as the great ones do.

The rest of us are working on wresting the power of changing our destiny from Destiny. The trick is that we cannot have it for ourselves because the power that we seek is greater than our littleness. It cannot be made to obey us; we, instead, must learn to obey (or cooperate and attune ourselves) to it. It is our friend, lover, mother and father and means us no harm and offers us all good. But it is an exacting task manager. This deep lesson takes time and effort to learn. Those who have conquered fate (i.e., the law of karma) (O Death, where is thy sting?) come again and again to show us the way.

How is a dream created? We don't really know, beyond observing brain activity and knowing from personal experience that we do, in fact, dream! At night our dreams subside into the dreamless state that gives us true rest and true peace. As I write this blog or write a poem, the thoughts pour out of me like oil from a barrel. I have to intend and want to write this for the ideas to begin to flow. I do not need to know where the writing will take me or how it will unfold. I imitate, then, the Creator by participating in the creative process. All creativity brings the added benefit of joy.

It is intention that begins the movement of thoughts and ideas in the mind and in the Cosmic Mind. This stimulates the flow of creativity. To write, don't stare at a blank screen. Have a seed idea and begin composing. Action, movement, energy, you see, brings the dream world into manifestation. As with you and I, so with the creation and Creator. We are reflections one of the Other.

This will never be proved by the haughty intellect in people like Richard Dawkins. Thoughts have no limits in time or space; they cannot be commanded, though they can be teased and invited to flow. I can no more be the next Einstein by sheer will power, than I can command the forces of nature. Not yet, anyway, if and until I can align my destiny with the Creative Mind.

I can't prove to you that I am not a robot or that I even exist. I can't prove that I am not being manipulated by the great Matrix manager somewhere. But I am convinced "I" exist by my own self-evident, self-awareness. When I gaze at a great painting or up into the starry skies and I feel the presence of God (use any name or no name as you feel), you can say I am imagining that and I can't disprove you but neither can you disprove my conviction that I feel alive and connected, aware of a greater reality than my own.

To have more and fresher ideas; to be more creative; to have more connection, more joy in your life, rise above petty preoccupations and "give yourself" without reservation to the conviction that Life itself exists, sustains, endures, is good, and is loving and you will not be disappointed. It is a paradox that this God-ness, this good-ness exists in spite of and in the face of suffering. Grief and this existential joy can, in fact, co-exist, though the former is temporary and cannot endure long in the presence of the latter which is always there beneath the surface of our mind.

Joy in giving; joy in living; joy in being; joy in transcending littleness: joy is the proof of God, of goodness, of love and life. Consciousness, when pure, IS joy; it is its own reward. Between thoughts, pause and BE. With practice, you will be free. Meditation is the fastest way to BE-ing, without condition. Be your own BIG BANG.

Reflections of this innate joy of Life are found in the Golden Rule; in just laws and wise social mores; in the happiness of giving and sharing. We find it in the peace and pleasure of nature and in the silent messages written in the heavens above. For we are a part of all that is.

The creative life is a one BIG BANG! Where does it end? Yogananda, when asked this question, said simply: it ends in ENDLESSNESS, in Infinite Consciousness: ever existing, ever conscious, ever-new JOY: Satchidanandam.

Om Shanti, Amen!

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, April 6, 2015

"If I were President - Part 3 - Welfare, Education & More

Welfare. Welfare, like health care, challenges society to balance justice with mercy. Historical campaigns to end poverty are well intentioned but doomed to failure based on the most fundamental realities of human consciousness. Did not Jesus himself (no slacker in the compassion department), say “The poor ye shall have always….?” Can you imagine a legitimate politician saying something like that? Privately, perhaps. 

This is a difficult subject. Political and cultural correctness demands that welfare programs continue in one form or another. Yet, apart from their charitable good intention, institutionalized charity is an oxymoron and few are willing to shout out, "The emperor has no clothes." Welfare as we know it today didn't exist until 1935 under FDR as president. Noblesse oblige. [There are times of great stress, indeed, the Great Depression during which strong measures are called for. But you can't run a nation at top crises speed forever.]

It's not mercy that is at issue or question for me: it's the proper role of the national government that is the question; it is the long-term impact and effectiveness of the current welfare system that is in question. As human beings, our ethical obligation to help others in need is unquestioned. But how to do it? What helps? What, in fact, constitutes "help?" What perpetuates? Whose duty, nay, privilege is it? Voluntary or enforced? Does the exchange of subsidy for votes enter into and taint the system?

Wouldn't the nation be more in line with our founding principle of self-determination and individual liberty to express our merciful nature by helping the disadvantaged to help themselves? Poverty is not a parasitic disease that can be wiped out by inoculation. It is far more complex and, like health, requires the active will and cooperation of the one being offered assistance. To a person of high moral character, a helping hand creates both a bond of gratitude and a desire to give back in return. Do we see this, in fact, in our "welfare system?"

The causes of large scale poverty are far too complex and beyond the scope of my life experience. But two aspects are uppermost in my view: the one, objective, is economic and has its roots in lack of education from which follows lack of job opportunity. The other is subjective, and has its roots in consciousness, manifesting as exploitation and prejudice. What results for the one disadvantaged is a paralysis of will born of resignation descending into hopelessness. Wishful thinking is pressed into service as a substitute for practical action and common sense starves for lack of scope. Unyielding hardships shape and mold the personality into that of the helpless victim. The rest needs no further elaboration.

A society that works to improve the opportunities for the disadvantaged while disabling structural exploitation or prejudice offers the greatest hope to those who want to raise themselves from poverty. The success of a measurable few gives hope and practical examples to others, far more than a check in the mail from a nameless, cold benefactor.

It’s one thing to step in and offer relief in a crises, it’s quite another to perpetuate that relief without addressing the underlying conditions, at least to the extent such conditions can be addressed. What is needed is a policy that leaves the ultimate improvement in a person’s life in his own hands. Rescues are for crises; it is not a way of life to be handed down from generation to generation. 

I do applaud those who work to mitigate some of the more obvious causes of poverty; and, to offer solutions to those wanting to rise from poverty’s grip. It’s just that one’s goals should be realistic and should take into account the crucial need for motivation and self-effort.

I'd rather see, therefore, a greater emphasis placed on education, child care, job training and creation, and other opportunities for those who want to better themselves.

"Charity begins at home." Charity that is legislated is by law an entitlement. Entitlement robs its recipient of the ability to give back. It asks little beyond its need to satisfy documentation requirements; it strips the recipient of his humanity by affirming his impotence and bleeds away his will to face the challenge of his difficult circumstances.

I know little of the details of welfare programs but I know something about human nature. Perhaps targeted tax credits for donations to qualified and eligible charitable institutions could be one (of many) ways to substitute private charity for legislated entitlement. I consistently read reports of the high percentage of American citizens on food stamps and cannot but wonder “How did we (formerly, at least, a "rich" nation) get to this point?”

Education. Evidence-based and principled broad national policies can be promulgated and supported by the federal government, but, again, let the states, counties, cities and private schools do the heavy lifting. We need less governmental overhead and more on-the-ground education. Education through college ought to be available to everyone who wants to learn. I don't say "free" but I do say available.

You cannot force a student to learn if he or she doesn't want to. Compulsory education was a progressive breakthrough a hundred years ago but why waste so much money and creative energy helping those who won't lift a finger to help themselves? Or, worse: oppose being educated or simply do not care? 

College level or job-specific training should require a student to assume some of the cost (lest they be wasting their time and taxpayers money). But if a student later becomes a tax-paying, industrious citizen is this not a good investment? Let him defer repayment to his working life, or through community service, or, even, by his future tax paying status. 

Good grades, hard work and application of initiative should be what we encourage and seek in every student to whom we offer a quality education. Anyone who wants to be, say, a doctor, should have that opportunity provided he proves him or herself worthy of the opportunity. Our educational system is already "hooked-on-tests" so it shouldn't be very difficult to measure effort. [I don't wholeheartedly support blind dependence on tests but our system is bent that way already.]

And what of our education? Is its stalwart purpose merely to get Johnny or Sue a job so they can earn money, pay off their student loans, buy useless stuff, mortgage themselves to the next generation and pay lots of taxes? What about strength of character, inspiration and ideals, compassion, cooperation, and a living a sustainable and healthy life? We need more than bread for the table; we need food for the curious mind, and inspiration and high ideals for the soul. We need meaning, purpose, connection and enriching relationships. (The Living Wisdom schools of Ananda inspired by the principles of "Education for Life" offer just such a whole person education.) An education should creatively foster dialogue, cooperation, teamwork, initiative, compassion and a love for learning and respect for differences.

Social Security has proven itself acceptable and beneficial in American society, in spite of its being enforced savings. I think most Americans feel that there is still some correlation between what I put in and what I receive. The fact that those who do not need it when they retire end up forfeiting (some or all) of their share for the benefit of others seems fair and reasonable. Let us not forget that it was intended to be a safety net, not a retirement system. There will always be some who will not put aside for retirement despite the many excellent government tax incentives for doing so. "You can lead a horse to water....." Let us avoid legislated "charity" and let charity “begin at home,” meaning locally.

Unions. Like all powerful economic institutions, unions can help or harm. The current debate around "right to work" seems odd to me. If a company hires me into its ranks and among co-workers who voted to be unionized, it seems selfish of me to refuse to join (and pay dues) while I receive the benefits of its representation. Maybe there's some issue besides sheer cussedness (i.e., anti-union sentiment) that is at stake here?

Foreign policy. I'll say it again: "Charity begins at home!" Maybe it really IS time to tone down the American Imperial Cowboy Empire! It is embarrassing and worse that we should have earned the opprobrium of nations and peoples who seek to be free -- from OUR domination and influence! 

Nonetheless, the last fifteen years have proven what Yogananda said: that there ought to be an international police force to deal with he called international criminals (we call them terrorists or rogue states). It is right that our country join with other nations who share our values. But why must we pretend to have to work with those nations who are our self-styled enemies and who do not even try to uphold the principles upon which our nation was founded. In many respects, the United Nations has failed: particularly at and as a result of the Security Council being paralyzed by nations who are sworn enemies. 

I acknowledge, however, that whether wisely or foolishly, sincerely or manipulatively, our willingness, courage and self-sacrifice to step up to the plate in past decades has its admirable side. But, we have too much and too often played the "Great Game." We have supported regimes unworthy of support only because we wanted to thwart bigger game. In the name of expediency (the ends justify the means), we have diluted our first principles too often. Those who try to play "God" fly too close to the sun. They will crash and burn.

Security. The terrorist attack of 9/11/01 will forever demarcate a turning point in American history. It is safe to say we responded as best we knew how but, in retrospect, we overreacted (torture? Gee whiz!) and overreached. Whether by design or circumstance, Americans have made significant concessions to privacy in the name of security: at the airports, on the computer and on the phone. Gathering and holding the "big data" of digital communications of Americans (and other countries) is the equivalent of having the government open and scan all U.S. mail (back before the internet). Would we have accepted such a practice "back when"? 

Intelligent intelligence gathering (and common sense) suggests focusing one's search and resources towards the most likely suspects and behaviors. We confuse profiling with prejudice. A soldier or a policeman can defend his country or confront potential criminal activity without hating or being prejudiced. While I don't give a hoot if the NSA reads my email, I think we have succumbed by fear to something we may not be able to stop. Let intelligence be intelligent and let citizens go back to being innocent until proven guilty. Yes, this is messy and risky. Freedom is always messy and risky. I know we will experience more terror, and, on our soil, to boot. But diligent, cooperative, and intelligent security-driven awareness doesn't have to rob us of our hard-won freedoms. "Be as wise as serpents," Jesus counseled, "but harmless as doves." 

Financial. Cries of conspiracy in the financial world have been with us since money was invented. I've written before about the need to restrain speculation in favor of worthy and sound investments. The "Main Street" vs. "Wall Street" issue is one worthy of a second American revolution, but it is far too complicated for this space. So far as I can see, little has changed since the near-collapse of our economy in 2008. Government debt is so large and so difficult to pinpoint, that all I can say is that someone ought to go to prison! 

I would prefer to see savings vehicles more akin to credit unions (locally owned and managed) and banks sticking to the simple service of holding deposits and making loans. It was a mistake to slip back into allowing banks to enter the investment field. 

I’ve never understood why rating services and auditors are paid by those whom they rate or audit. Yes, the financial services industry must shoulder the cost of regulation but not in such a direct fee-for-service relationship which any first year law student can see is, at best, the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The Future is to the Local. I have written before that the pendulum of power is moving inexorably from the national level to the states and local levels. A similar trend is taking place worldwide. This trend will continue for a long time to come. "Power to the people" will never happen in the way the slogan suggests but it is happening in a wide variety of applications and circumstances. Large institutions will be the dinosaurs of the third millennium. The federal government is too big and unwieldy and the political process is burdened by self-interest and secrecy. I read an interesting article that pointed out how one dynasty of Republicans (the Bush family) might have a member run against another dynasty (Clintons). The reason this might be acceptable to the ruling class is that government is too big and unwieldy and real democracy too unpredictable. The only way to get anything done is through "who you know." (Guess how that plays out!) 

My adult life for the last thirty-eight years has been dedicated to what Swami Kriyananda, founder of the nine intentional communities of Ananda worldwide, called "The Small Communities Solution." (The subtitle to one of his 150 books, "Hope for a Better World," available wherever good books are sold.) I don't want to change topics but America's destiny and the emerging future of planetary consciousness rests in individual initiative working in harmony and cooperation with others of like mind for the greater good of all.   

Personal relationships, guided by high ideals such as respect, creativity, and harmony with divine law, and then expressed outwardly and expansively, is the only sane way of life on a planet that is globalized and connected. We have to be personally and creatively engaged in life lest we become a new kind of cog in a new kind of global factory for the rich and powerful.

Conclusion. "We the people" must continually assert our presence, our will, and our strength. "We the people" are sharply divided between haves and have-nots. Fear and greed have invited too many to bury common sense and respect with the mud we sling at one another. I believe that after a period of great hardship, a second American revolution will come to America. "We the people" will one day re-discover the power we have when our minds and hearts are guided by the high and noble ideals that not only founded this country but are the essence of the universal Golden Rule that affirms we are One and Indivisible under God. Change will come not by treaty nor by legislation nor by war, but by a shift of attitudes and awareness in the minds and hearts of billions. 

Thank you for reading!

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday Reflection: Did Jesus Die for Our Sins?

(I interrupt the 3-part "What If I were President" series for today's inspiration, Good Friday, 2015)

Did Jesus Die for Our Sins?

This question is among those that challenge established dogma: not just in religion, but in science, art, culture and business, we find little " 'ism's" or cliches that get repeated down through generations (or even centuries) that gradually lose touch with their original or deeper meaning, if indeed, they ever had such!

An example of an absurdity that springs to mind is the response-question "How could Jesus have died for my sins two thousand years before I committed them?" (Please don't attempt to answer that with another absurdity!)

Yet even in this seemingly absurd but oft-quoted dogma there lies a mustard seed of truth: great saints of the stature of Jesus Christ are said to take on the "karma" (translate: "sins") of their close disciples. Just as a rich parent can pay off the debts of his wayward (but presumably repentant) son, so a great saint can take some of the burden of a disciples' karma, or so it is taught in the yoga tradition. 

Now, a paradox here, too, is that it is the "good karma" of a disciple to have this burden lifted! Good karma means the disciple has put out effort of the type that would have this result!!!!

St. John, the beloved disciple, wrote in Chapter 1 of his gospel a famous statement oft quoted by Paramhansa Yogananda (author of "Autobiography of a Yogi"): "As many as received Him, to them gave He the power to become the sons of God, even those that believe on His name!"

Whatever the meaning behind becoming a "son of God" may be, it is clear that a powerful grace or blessing attends one who "receives" the guru. By "receive" must be meant to be open to the teachings, the guidance, and the vibration and consciousness of the guru, and, where and however appropriate, to serve the guru's work.

Do you see, now, how each of these phrases is fraught with deeper meaning even if the words are simple: "die for our sins"....."take on the karma"........"receive Him".........simple words but not necessarily obvious meanings.

Let's take this further in what seems the direction of absurdity: can I "receive" my Lord and Savior (i.e. guru, whether Jesus Christ, Buddha, Lord Krishna, Yogananda, etc.) AFTER the time in which he (or she) lived?

What does it mean "lived?" Mystics down through ages report the living presence of great saints and masters long after their passing. Some are reported to have resurrected their former bodies, whether in vision or in flesh! 

Christians pay reverence and worship to Jesus Christ two thousand years after his life on earth. They have no problem praying to Jesus today; nor does a devout Hindu to Lord Krishna, etc. etc.

So, we must conclude that, to them, YES: I can still "receive Him"and thus I can still be a recipient of divine grace through my attunement: by following in His footsteps and teachings.

Have you noticed "the catch-22" yet? To be "saved" (whatever that means) you must "receive Him." The phrase "even those that believe on His name" certainly suggests a fairly easy pathway to salvation. Is there, then, a "free lunch" here? Are the loaves and fishes of grace miraculously multiplied and distributed?

What about the law of karma? Whew! Are YOU as confused as I? (Gee, I hope not!)

Let me digress (just for a 'minute'): Paramhansa Yogananda taught that true baptism takes place when our consciousness is uplifted into God consciousness. This isn't the only form of "baptism," but for my purposes it is the essence of what he taught on baptism. In "yogi" terms this is translated to say that when we enter a state of superconsciousness (a feat achieved not only with devotion and right action but specially enhanced by the science of advanced meditation techniques, such as kriya yoga), we experience a kind of temporary baptism. Repeated dunkings into the River (or Tree) of Life in the astral spine gradually deepens and renders increasingly lasting (and eventually permanent) our attunement with God.

As God comes to earth through the human vehicles of souls like Jesus Christ who are sent and who have become God-realized ("one with the Father"), it is God, then, who gives to us the teachings and now, in this age, the science of yoga by which we can accelerate our path to freedom in God.

Thus to "receive Him" is really meant to be uplifted into and toward God-consciousness. Our effort, it has well and often been said, is met by an even greater effort by God to reach and uplift us. Yogananda gave this mathematical formula of 25% our effort; 25% the effort of the guru on our behalf; and 50% the grace of God. And yet, even having belief (hopefully leading to true faith) in the living God in human form ("in His name") brings some grace...according to St. is, potentially at least, a beginning.

The point here, and in every tradition, no matter how differently or vaguely expressed, is that we are "not saved by effort alone" but by grace. But both are needed. But as the power of God required to manifest this universe is far, far greater than our own, and as we did not create ourselves, so too our effort can never be but a portion of the total energy required to free us (from our past karma; our "sins").

Now, back to our subject:

Did Jesus DIE for our sins? He certainly didn't "deserve" to do so!!! If he hadn't "died for our sins," would He be powerless to uplift us, then, or now? What, then, is the connection between His crucifixion and our "resurrection?" Why didn't Buddha die for our sins?

He was not crucified BECAUSE we sinned. Jesus' death on the cross serves as a dramatic act and symbol of how we should meet the tests of our life: as He did......with forgiveness and equanimity and faith in God....."into your hands I commend my Spirit." His dramatic death and subsequent resurrection illustrate the power He possesses to help free those who “receive” Him. It was not necessary to be illustrated so dramatically but it was the divine will so that, in subsequent centuries, millions might believe “in His name.”

The night before his death, he prayed, briefly, that the bitter cup of his death be taken, but he immediately affirmed "Thy will be done." By this he showed us he was not a God-made puppet, but flesh and blood. When he called out from the cross, "Elias, why have you forsaken me," he showed that he, too, could, however temporarily, experience the separateness from God that is our own, deepest existential form of suffering.

Neither his prayer for relief nor his cry of loss of God-contact suggest that he was any less than a God-realized soul. Rather, it shows that those great ones who have achieved Self-realization sacrifice, to a degree, their hard-won God-bliss by taking on human form. By this act, they too feel the pangs of human life even as they are, nonetheless, free from past karma compelling their incarnation. This is, as it were, Part 1, of their gift to those with ears to hear and eyes to see.

Jesus died on the cross that we might know how to carry our cross and how to overcome our past bad karma--our sins. In that sense, YES, he died to show us the way to be free. But Part 2 is our effort for he, like other avatars (saviors), has the power to lift us if we will but “receive” them into our hearts, minds, daily action and souls.

Part 3 is the transforming baptism of grace that lifts and purifies us. When it does we look back and realize that, while essential, our effort was but a small part of the power of redemption.

A blessed Easter to all,

Nayaswami Hriman

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"If I were President" - Part 2 - Health Care

“If I were president, I might want to tweak our infant "affordable health care" act. I admit this is a complex subject, but I'll try to stick to principles....

Affordable health care for our citizens is worthwhile goal for this nation. Yet I am puzzled by those among my liberal friends who act as if universal and free access to health care is an inalienable right. It is not. Our lives are a Spring salad mix of various duties and needs. Not all of them, however ideal and compelling their demands, can be met to our satisfaction in a world that is, itself, less than perfect. To say that everyone should have quality health care is like saying "Everyone should be a millionaire!" A pleasing, if impractical and economically unsound, sentiment. 

It is true that there a handful of western countries who have created national health care, accessible to all, but it doesn't change their reality that those with more resources seek and find higher quality care. The history of humanity provides no examples of long-term, successful and universally accessible quality health care.

But whether or not it functions decently in one country doesn't mean the culture of another will be able to imitate it; nor will that country’s budget afford it; nor will its citizens necessarily want it. America is, in my view, one such country. Our national character emphasizes self-determination and freedom of choice. It resists, rightly or wrongly, whether based on ideals or selfish greed, a “one size fits all” health care system.

I am not one of those traumatized by “ ism’s” (like socialism) but both our founding principles and what I perceive (based on the teachings of Yogananda and Kriyananda) to be the leading edge of and evolving consciousness for the next few thousand years places an emphasis and value upon self-determination.

A society that is inclined to make universal coverage and equality a priority (in wages, health benefits, housing, food) is placing material concerns for the masses above individual needs, differences, and the importance of self-effort and accountability. I sincerely believe that such a society will not last very long because it is the individual who is the basis of society, not an amorphous “every man.” We see that massive and national benefit systems are notoriously clumsy, inefficient, corruptible, and certainly far from equitable given the natural differences among individuals.

The ideal of equality has to do with each person’s personal potential and the space given to strive to achieve that potential. It is quite obviously not one of fact. We may be equals before God but before man, some are obviously more talented, intelligent, compassionate and energetic! 

It is noble and right to want to help others in need. The golden rule should always guide the human heart even while wisdom must temper its actions. Mercy and justice are like mom and dad.

What is absolutely essential in respect to human health is the role of will power and intelligence. Health is NOT the result of a generously funded and high tech health care system! Health is the result of a personal commitment to being healthy! Education, awareness and finally and most importantly, will power, intention, and self-discipline: these are the prerequisites for health. (Not all people are born equally healthy. Nonetheless, no drug can ever supplant an individual’s drive to overcome and transcend life’s challenges.)

A health care system that doesn't take into account the need to educate and motivate individuals towards better self-care is doomed to fail in the face of human habits and ignorance; and, in the face of industries which profit from encouraging human weaknesses and self-indulgence (alcohol, tobacco, sugar, fast food, processed foods etc.). 

A health care system that doesn't reward healthier lifestyle choices and penalize poor ones is likewise doomed. Again, I aver that success in a health care system runs to the cumulative effect of individual, human choices.

Returning now to the American health care system, I think we can, nonetheless, do better and fairer. “Obamacare” is a valiant beginning but it is a “horse made by a committee” and it more resembles a camel than a horse. I understand that the horse-trading required to pass this legislation was a mind-numbing dilution of its very goals.

Perhaps if Congress were to outline broad policies and principles for providing health care, then states, companies, and other organizations could implement them according to local conditions and circumstances. An example of an exemplary and broad reaching policy is the elimination of pre-conditions; another is free and universal access to preventative care, pre-natal care and so on.

Some states, thus empowered, might enact a one-payer system; others a competitive system. 

(An aside: I’ve never understood why health care or health insurance is ever a "for-profit" activity? Whether one is a doctor (or nurse) or an insurance company, doesn't the motivation to provide health care spring from a desire to help and serve? To think in terms of and to measure one's success by the yardstick of profit seems positively revolting to me. Who wants health professionals who are in it mostly for the money? Obviously, they should be properly compensated; I’m not suggesting minimum wage. The profession of healing is an art, not just a science, and the intensity of training and the scope of responsibility needed to do it well suggests a passion born of high ideals.)

Anyone who wants insurance should be able to obtain it and anyone who declines to obtain it when available and affordable should later be penalized if they seek to buy insurance when suddenly the need for it arises. (Remember the story of the three little pigs?) Actions have consequences: this is the most basic reality of human life that we all struggle at times to learn. This sometimes harsh fact of life can perhaps be mitigated by charitable individuals or organizations created to render appropriate assistance. But any person, whether poor or stricken, who can make a sincere effort to do what he can to improve his health and to contribute towards its cost, should receive help.

Why should a person with a healthy lifestyle subsidize those who make poor choices? Why can’t groups of people committed to healthy habits pool resources and “self-insure?” Such pools could afford to be taxed to help others less fortunate, to be sure, but they should at least have the right to organize. Age, lifestyle, and ability to contribute are all reasonable factors to take into account in determining how much one pays toward health insurance.

Next installment : Welfare and more
Joy to you,

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"If I were President!" - Part 1 - Overview

How many people say "If I were President, I'd.......?"

I sometimes make the wisecrack that the reason I keep my cell phone close to me is because I never know when the President is going to call me asking for advice.

"Why don't they ask ME?" Surely you've expressed that thought, eh? Many imagine we have the answers that our leaders seem blind to perceive. One wonders how many people think the world should be run from their bumper sticker! At least we are still free to express our opinion.

On what basic principle was America founded?  For my purposes, today, I would say freedom. This might be defined to be the right of self-determination and the freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness! Little attention seems to have been given to enumerating the price or obligations which this freedom requires for its sustained existence. These are mostly implied inasmuch as, if each person shoots off pursuing his own happiness, there are bound to be some conflicts leading to compromises, and boundaries. This nation's implementation of its ideals is surely a mixed bag, but there is no nation on earth to which so many of earth's citizens look to as the place they'd want to live if they could, or, barring that, where personal liberties are most consistently considered to exist.

Nothing I express here is anything but my own opinion. I do not represent any organization or group of people. Yet, as we are all influenced by one thing or another, my influences include Paramhansa Yogananda (1893-1952) and Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013).

When asked what political party was his, Yogananda replied, "Republican: the party of Abraham Lincoln." How clear was Yogananda's endorsement I cannot say, but he, like billions of others, held Lincoln in great respect (along with George Washington). But I venture to say that there was probably more to it than an admiration of Lincoln.

Yogananda lived in America for most of his adult life, from 1920 to his passing in 1952. FDR (Roosevelt) was president for some 11 or 12 of those years. These years were some of Yogananda's most public and active ones. Yet, he quietly expressed reservations about FDR's New Deal. According to Swami Kriyananda's autobiography, "The New Path," these reservations centered on concern for the increasing role of government in the lives of its citizens.

Yet no one could be as compassionate and giving to those in need as Yogananda. Though his life's work was primarily as a leading spiritual teacher of yoga (meditation), his love and kindness was recognized by all who knew him.

I don't have the benefit of knowing, nor the pretense to imagine I would know, what Yogananda would say of America's political issues here and now today in the 21st century. No question, however, that he, like many of us, would decry the acrimony and divisiveness of political dialogue, action and inaction.

You and I, and the host of our fellow citizens, enjoy the luxury of our political opinions without the burden of manifesting them in the rough and tumble world of politics. We can still say what we please and debate about it to our heart's content.

But if I were that mythical, magical, and omnipotent "President" I would like to see the federal government reduce its entanglement in its citizens' lives. To foster national security, health, safety, and rule of law, while maintaining adherence to our first principle of freedom seems to me the abiding duty of our national government. Much of what has been added to the powers and duties of the federal government has created so many dependents among us that our vote is all too often a vote for "me and my benefits" and not for what is right and beneficial to the greatest number. And this fact is true, I believe, across all socio-economic levels, except, perhaps, somewhat diminished for the belabored (and shrinking?) middle class..

I by no means object to the progressive or liberal agenda of helping the disadvantaged or poor. The issue, for me, is the scope of the role of the national government to do so, and, the effectiveness of its efforts. Underlying that is something basic to human nature. It can be simply stated as saying that lasting and effective individual self-improvement is the consequence of applying personal will power and initiative.

To those disadvantaged by circumstances, will power and initiative can be sparked and nurtured by appropriate encouragement, education and various forms of support. But these cannot substitute for individual effort. There is a subtle boundary between personal effort and support, between rescuring and enabling. Too great the presence and power of outside assistance and the fire of will power can be snuffed out.

In the next two blog articles, parts 2 and 3, I will offer a sampling list of tentative policies based on fostering the personal initiative of citizens....... "if I were President."