Sunday, May 24, 2015

Happiness: the new God!

The war between religion and science has been a long one and bitter one. I suppose it started with the Renaissance and man's growing interest in the natural world and in himself.

Science and its offspring and sidekick, materialism, have brought undeniable prosperity, health, security and comfort to billions. While the skirmishing continues, for the most part there is a no man's land, a kind of DMZ (De-militarized zone) between faith and science. "Never the twain shall meet" to quote Rudyard Kipling.

Scientists who have faith simply say the one has nothing to do with the other. Following Einstein's failure to put the universe neatly together in a box, they figure, well, if Einstein couldn't make sense of the natural world why should we even try to imagine there's any connection with God? Even India's ancient scriptures, those known generally as Shankhya philosophy, declare "Iswara ashidhha," God cannot be proved (to the satisfaction of the intellect or the senses, that is).

But our worship of the gods of unlimited material progress and ever-better technology has not brought the world peace nor to our hearts, harmony. Neither, for that matter, has the worship and praise of a distant and aloof God for all of our credos and rituals done much more. Worse, sectarian competition and rivalry are more like the battles between cable networks.

Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," was born in 1893. It was a time and an era when New Thought in America was born. By the time he arrived in 1920 in America to make his home here, he had declared his life's work to be based on a simple observation of what all humans possess and share: the desire to avoid pain and find happiness! And, he had a solution to offer.

No coincidence that he came to the first country in human history to be founded on the principle that its citizens should have the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Yogananda came to America to cash in the promissory note of our Founding Fathers!

Never mind that the citizens of our young nation assumed that happiness was primarily defined by materialism and self-interest. Yogananda came to help us understand something deeper and more satisfying than owning a Prius or having a second home or having an important sounding title.

By uniting the ancient Vedic teaching, endorsed down through the ages by saints and sages East and West, that we are made in the image of God with the teaching that "the kingdom of heaven is within you," Yogananda helped usher in a new dispensation of understanding.

It is happiness that bridges the otherwise impenetrable gap between God and human life. It is meditation that provides the tool to discover that happiness within and that that happiness IS God, the joy of God; the joy of our own soul's nature. Science can delight in the fact that happiness, unlike God, can be studied, analyzed, and measured!

Science proved its point and its worth. Religion, based solely upon belief and enforced by authority and expressed only through ritual, is steadily losing ground. During much of the 20th century that lost ground was still born and sterile; in its place materialism offered only emptiness; meaninglessness; and naked self-interest. The brutality of two world wars and many lesser ones only proved its "worth."

Now, however, the message of hope for a better world is growing. The search for happiness unites us. The wealth of happiness that we seek is an "inside job." Citizens of prosperous and relatively secure nations like America have demonstrated that material success cannot bring happiness. Each and every one of us, if we make the effort, can prove that happiness is within us. We need no intercession or outside authority.

Happiness, or what I will now term, joy, is the new religion. It is the spirituality that is not religious. Ananda's motto is "Joy is within you." This might as well be everyone's motto who seeks it within, especially those millions (and growing daily) who seek it through the science of religion: meditation.

Yogananda's very first book was called: "The Science of Religion." Meditation is for everyone. Even scientists and atheists want happiness, don't they?

And if there's more to it than this simple article addresses, well, that's less important than the point I seek to share. Never mind that just because happiness is an inside job that doesn't mean it's a solo flight. Nor that we don't need guidance and inspiration for the journey.

As our complex bodies work their wonderful magic without our conscious consent, so too our inner peace and happiness are already there, within us, and ultimately they can be and must be our guides. We need not be concerned about where the journey takes us and what form it will assume. We need only take one step at a time. See you there!

Joy to you!

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, May 22, 2015

When the Soul Leaves the Body Our Spirit Expands!

Last weekend, May 16-17 (2015), the worldwide Ananda family gathered on the grounds of the Crystal Hermitage at Ananda Village (near Nevada City, CA) to dedicate the small meditation chapel ("mandir") under which is buried the body of Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda. It's been two years since his passing in 2013.

I recall many years ago Swami Kriyananda describing his experience after the death of his own father. It was, he said, as if his father's spirit, at last released from his aging and broken body, was re-born fresh and youthful, vigorous and vibrant. Swamiji said he felt his father's spirit as a young man embarking eagerly upon his life's journey.

Ever since then, and with the passing of my own parents, and others, I have tested this for myself and have found it true. Of course the stronger the spirit of a person in life, the stronger the spirit after death. Thus it was that at the dedication weekend many members from around the world remarked upon this phenomenon, saying that since Swamiji's passing two years ago we have felt his spirit even more strongly than when he was alive.

Several times during his life of lecturing I heard him say that when the soul is released from the body into the astral world, feelings and emotions are, as if, uncorked and thus far more intense. In our physical bodies our emotions are distracted or suppressed by other competing feelings and sense-impressions like hunger, heat, cold, missed appointments, unpaid bills, a mosquito buzzing near our ear, or the loquacious uncle attending the funeral whom you find annoying but must politely tolerate.

Consider that the last many years of Swami's life he had to contend with an aging and often seriously ill body. Reflect what your "aura" or energy or magnetism is like when you have a cold, flu, a stomach ache or a toothache! You withdraw within yourself and contract from interactions and activities. Your energy or aura contracts.

Despite his aging and ill health and throughout his entire life, Swami Kriyananda's spirit in life was larger than life, so it is not surprising that after his death, his great spirit has been strongly felt.

Yet it is not as if his spirit contracted or declined in the more ordinary way that aging or ill people find their world shrinks to a small room, to taking medicines, going to doctors, and more or less disappearing from sight having lost interest in the world around them. Swamiji continued his lifelong travel habits serving his guru's work, lecturing and writing. But his focus narrowed nonetheless to fewer outward activities and reduced daily communications with as large a family of individuals.

Yet in his case, his spirit, rather than shrinking, shifted into another form: bliss! Instead of vigorous activities and intense daily people connections, he shone with an inner bliss that he often could not contain and which readily expressed itself in tears of joy or laughter, or deep inner calmness.

Nonetheless, the testimony of many people from around the world is that his spirit is more with us now than ever. It seems to many of us that his wisdom is even more accessible now. We find that he seems to be subtly guiding our thoughts in uncanny but tangible ways.

My way of putting it, for myself, is that I feel as if I think more like him than I did before! There have been times when I could hear his thoughts as my thoughts. So, perhaps he has bequeathed to each us some portion of his spirit--as his legacy and gift!

Thus I conclude that for those souls who, on earth, had an expansive and expanding consciousness, we will find our spirit expanding joyfully and greatly when released from the confines of the body!

Joy to You,

Swami Hrimananda!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Are You Too Sensitive? Do Yogis have Moods? BOTH-AND is the Path of Yoga!

Today at the Mother's Day Service at Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell, Padma, my wife, spoke on the subject (from the reading for the week) of Martha and Mary (from the New Testament).

Martha and her sister Mary are the hosts for Jesus who is visiting their home. I believe they might have been cousins, actually. Their brother is the famous Lazarus who, later and towards the end of Jesus' life, was raised from the dead in a rather dramatic scene. So Lazarus was probably also in the room. It seems the occasion was what we might call a "satsang:" an informal gathering of people at someone's home around their spiritual teacher. Most likely Jesus was giving an informal discourse; perhaps he was answering questions. I imagine that the house was somewhat small and the number of people there was limited to the family and Jesus' entourage of twelve plus disciples (including perhaps Mary Magdalene and/or Jesus' mother, Mary).

Martha, however, is busy in the kitchen, making supper. She's fussing, banging pots around (I would guess) and all hot and bothered. Her sister, Mary, on the other hand, is in the living room sitting peacefully on the floor (we imagine) at the feet of her teacher, Jesus.

No doubt in a bit of snit and in a mood, Martha, comes into the room and, perhaps even interrupting, asks Jesus to send her sister, Mary, to help her in the kitchen. Jesus responds, in front of everyone (demonstrating the intimacy of the gathering), by gently upbraiding Martha for losing her inner peace even while engaged in worthy service, saying that Mary had taken the "better part" by tuning into his spiritual vibrations and teachings. (In the Sunday reading, written by our teacher, Swami Kriyananda--a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda--it is explained that the issue is not what it appears to be: whether serving is better than meditating. Rather, it is not WHAT you do but HOW--with what attitude and consciousness--you do it!)

Padma used the story to illustrate the challenge devotees have in allowing moods to overtake us.

Padma also recalled Swami Kriyananda's story (which he writes in his own life story, "The New Path") where he had gotten into a mood and how, upon encountering his guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, Yogananda snapped the young "Walter" (Swami Kriyananda) out of it and added, "No more moods now, Walter. How are you to serve others?"

Thoughts being "universally, not individually, rooted," it just so happened that last night, while Padma was preparing her talk, I was drafting this article on moods and over sensitivity among yogi-meditators. I hadn't even considered the reading about Martha and Mary that Padma was to speak on.

So a felicitous coincidence, I suppose.........Yogananda taught that moodiness, whether habitual, or simply a periodic episode, has its roots in past sense over-indulgence. But I have another kind of moodiness in mind tonight.

What about those well meaning people who find that their sensitivity to the sufferings of others upsets their own peace of mind? I mean, think about it: meditation is supposed to make you peaceful, right? As your inner peace gives rise to an expanding love and compassion for others you might find that your sympathy for their troubles causes you to lose your peace of mind! Selfish people, at least, are not bothered by other people's trouble! You'd think THEY were more peaceful! Well, then, hmmmmm....we have a dilemma, don't we?

I see two things taking place: the initial stage of the spiritual path, and a longer-term tendency among spiritual seekers.

When, in the beginning of one's spiritual efforts, the hard shell of ego begins to break and fall away, the heart opens and expands. During this initial stage of awakening a person can be somewhat vulnerable.

It's not uncommon to find "young" yogis suddenly falling in love with someone, engaging in excessive yoga practice, trumpeting dogmatic diets or long fasts, and any number of tangents caused by the awakening of uncontrolled creative energy not yet accustomed to remaining upwardly focused on divine love, selfless service, ego transcendence or the wisdom of superconsciousness!

Newly minted devotees, previously inured by the protective shell of ego indifference or self-absorption, find that their increased awareness and empathy can make them emotionally or psychically vulnerable to the vast amount of suffering of others.

But more than a temporary phase is the issue. For at each stage of spiritual growth we must walk the tightrope line between wisdom and love. Yet there is, however, a "left-leaning" inclination in spirituality that naturally feels the pangs of suffering of others. Under this influence, wisdom is challenged to know the boundaries of what is ours and what is not ours.

Even in the stories of saints working miracles of healing, you don't find that they heal thousands. Only a few in number are blessed in this way. Saints have the innate wisdom and divine guidance (and the spiritual power) to know how and who to heal.

Swami Kriyananda quoted his guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, who, when in a state of impersonal wisdom and uplifted vision, described seeing God "eating people." Images of god and goddesses dealing death and destruction are more or less commonplace in the East.

In the ancient teaching of duality, we are taught that death and destruction, evil and suffering, are the necessary counterpoint to goodness and virtue. Both are needed to keep the play of creation interesting and varied. Otherwise, it is said, we might discover too soon the secret behind it all: that it is all God, and God alone; God, the Creator, dreaming the drama of creation. When we unmask the divinity behind the creative play of light and dark, we begin the journey (like the Prodigal Son) to our home in God.

Some might recoil from this truth teaching as too severe and heartless. And, indeed, for the human heart, in many ways, it is difficult to accept. Thus most spiritually minded people incline to virtue and goodness, expressing sympathy and compassion, but stopping far short of transcendence of the sway of good and evil, of maya, the satanic force.

But in a world that has never known anything but a mix of good and evil, we would do well to attune ourselves to God's ways which are not "our ways." The law of karma rules the created universe and though there are subtler aspects to it, such as the redemptive power of divine love, the law of karma is exacting.

One sees in the lives of the saints (think Jesus on the cross, for starters) a courageous, positive, and bold acceptance of life's dualities, especially the less pleasant ones. Indeed, the middle path of even-mindedness is the very definition of the path to soul freedom given to us by Patanjali in the second stanza of his famous "Yoga Sutras."

It is the same truth discovered by Buddha under the Bodhi Tree. It is the unmasking of this Truth that sows the initial seed of faith that, as it grows, achieves ever-greater gnosis, faith, that behind the play of good and evil is the absolute good of God. The hand of goodness guides the great drama of creation towards the release of individual souls from the bondage of desire, ignorance, and suffering born of mistaken identity. Through the God-given law of karma and the gift of reason and intuition, stirred by the teaching and spiritual vibrations of God-realized preceptors, souls begin to awaken to the "truth that can make you free."

Thus, my real point here today is that a yogi (a meditator) should learn to balance sympathy and love with wisdom and faith. A proverbial BOTH-AND assignment! To achieve infinite consciousness is to absorb good and evil, dark and light into One unchanging and eternal state of Bliss.

Sometimes bad things happen to good people but these bad things can be the means through which their own past karma is erased or balanced. Or, it becomes an opportunity for them to practice non-attachment, acceptance, courage, or faith. Or, in the case of more spiritually advanced souls, their troubles become a vehicle by which they can even take on the karma of others. It is difficult to know the inexplicable workings of karma.

We don't start, however, by practicing non-attachment or pretending wisdom in respect to the troubles of others, especially those for whom we are able to assist in some way. We do this, instead, by developing non-attachment to our own desires, our moods, and our likes and dislikes. This can include our moods or sadness as a reaction to the troubles of others (especially when in lieu of helping, comforting, encouraging, or praying for them!)

For ourselves, then, when cold, don't complain; remain calm and endure it, at least for a little while, before calmly putting on a coat or turning up the heat. Accept, when you have no other choice, barbs of critique or less-than-tasty food with equanimity. See all day-to-day tests as coming from God as a way to purify your attachments. Start with the small things and work your way "up."

To the sensitive heart, the world's woes can crush all hope, all sense of divine mercy and justice, and the very incentive to seek God through wisdom and love. No doubt the ego or maya feels victorious when the devotee despairs or falls into moods, doubt or confusion.

Ironically, as the soul advances spiritually, the power to change outer circumstances and to help others (materially as well as spiritually) grows! This comes from letting divine power and energy flow through us rather than be pummeled by the ego's reaction to outward circumstances.

The young plant of spiritual awakening needs the protection of the company of like-minded and more seasoned devotees.

If you find, therefore, that you are "touchy" around what you hear (or believe) people say about you; or that the suffering of others crushes your equanimity and triggers moods and doubts, then it is time to emphasize wisdom and faith in God. Critique becomes an opportunity for self-reflection, perhaps for changing your ways, for forgiveness, and / or for even-mindedness. Sadness becomes an opportunity to be centered, even-minded, cheerful, and offering aid and help to others without regard to your own moods or sadness. Fear becomes an opportunity to affirm faith in God and courage of heart. You won't help anyone by being sad but by being calm, comforting, hopeful and even courageous. Work on yourself if you find you are too sensitive. Be like a doctor or nurse attending the needs of their patients with skill and equanimity.

Is it possible to feel both the suffering of another AND inner peace or joy? Yes, it is! And, without guilt! By meditation, especially, we know true joy as a living, divine presence. This inner joy can co-exist even when the outer surface of our mind and life is touched by sadness. We find that we can retain, in ourselves, a calm acceptance and joy. Yes: BOTH-AND is the way of the yogi.

Let our love and sympathy be practical and our response to it calm with inner eye of wisdom always scanning the horizon of intuition for guidance, acceptance, and practical compassion.

"I am strong in my Self; I am complete in my Self." The Self of self is the Self of all!

 Blessings to all in these "interesting" times. Be a peaceful warrior, not a peaceless worrier!

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, May 1, 2015

To Live or Leave : A Friend Struck Down!

Last Monday, April 27, 2015, a dear friend (not just to me but to dozens) was struck down in what can only be called a freakish accident. He's alive though he might just easily have not survived. At present he remains in a coma.

It was a glorious day, that day......warm Spring sunshine and blue skies. Having come from work and back back to his home in the Ananda Community in Lynnwood, he evidently decided to go for a stroll up to a nearby grocery store. He walked with his roommate and Godson. The street along which they walked is a busy arterial. Cars speed past between 35 and 40 miles per hour (my guess).

A woman driving by, perhaps with her car windows down to enjoy the beautiful day, was suddenly distracted by some paper flying around in the back seat where her child sat. Turning to deal with it, she lost control of the car. It went over the curb and glanced my friend a blow sending him crashing to the cement sidewalk. As the car speed towards them, his Godson was alerted by a strange sound and had the reflexes to jump to the side and was unharmed. But our friend was smashed to the ground, hurt, bleeding and unconscious. He remains so four days later, though we are hopeful his brain will gradually but steadily regain functionality. To what extent, however, no one can say.

This is at least the basic story as we understand it. I think many people, including myself, have been present at sudden death or injury. It's a psychic shock to one's nervous system, just as much as a physical injury causes the body to go into a state of shock.

Seeing someone in the hospital, more or less unconscious, badly bruised and his body struggling to live is a strange experience. He might be able to hear familiar sounds or voices and there are some movements of hands and feet, though difficult to say whether wholly automatic or responsive. The many who are visiting with him and staying overnight sing, talk, joke, read, meditate and hold his hand and offer loving touch: these things are both natural and are, we are told, helpful to his recovery by stimulating sensory nerve channels to the brain (an explanation of mine clearly lacking proper medical jargon).

Being as he and we, and all his friends, are "yogis," actively on the spiritual path and practicing meditation, there's no lack of reports from every side of various individuals' respective opinions, feelings, and intuitive insights into where "he's at" and what's going on for him and his soul.

One reports that she thinks he's really enjoying all the cool medical equipment he's hooked up to. (Really?) Another says he's come to her in meditation to say good-bye. Another says the Masters are holding him and giving him a choice to leave or stay. Yet others say his life force is strong and he's going to recover.

I don't discount any of these things. But, let's face it, no one can prove any of it at this time. My personal orientation and commitment is to a blend of hope supported by objectivity.

I happen to be, on paper, the one with the power of attorney to make medical decisions for our friend. In fact, I seem to have the least to say and the fewest opinions on the matter. I am looking for signs, from any source, including my friends' intuitions, but certainly from concrete medical evidence of his condition and his responses.

His medical directive states his reluctance to be on extended life support or terminally unconscious. I doubt that is going to be the case and I am cautiously optimistic I will not have to make any such decision. And, if I did, I would consult his brother and our many friends such that we would be in this together. I just happen to be a name on a piece of paper. So far as "I" am concerned, Divine Mother will have to show her will. I certainly will not shirk any responsibility but I am all too confident after a lifetime of attempting to live by faith, that the Divine Will will show itself (with sufficient clarity that I can read the "words").

Nonetheless, how can I not at contemplate the worst case of having to make a "fatal" decision: either to remove support and see him leave his body (maybe); or, continue support and see him recover so incompletely as to be unrecognizable and have no life at all. Or, recover sufficiently to have a life well worth living! For now, I am willing to wait and see, and, to imagine this decision point will not occur.

It's curious to me because both my friend in his directive and most people I know, including myself, would, when merely contemplating the decision abstractly, vote NOT to stay in our body if we are useless or unconscious. But my strong suspicion is that if any one of us were actually in such a condition, we'd most likely take the risk to live in the hope that we can recover sufficient functionality and consciousness to have a life of meaning and purpose.

Life, you see, HAS to be the choice unless the circumstances are starkly clear and the chances of meaningful life extremely poor. Life IS the choice God through the cosmos has declared. Despite death and destruction vying constantly for supremacy, life goes on. Life reappears. Life survives even in the midst of death. The flowers and buds of Spring always appear after the winter of death.

I see no other choice than hope. Life is always a risk: for each and every one of us. From day to day. That very Monday, the most heart-touching photo of our friend and "son" was taken. Perhaps even within the hour of his "accident." We can never know the hour of our karmic summons. We live as though we are immortal because we ARE immortal in spirit.

But living is the right choice. I don't say that this is ALWAYS the choice. I say, simply, that life and living are the natural and the super-natural "law" of creation.

What, then, is the karma here? Consider the incredible odds that it would take to be out walking on that street passing that exact spot where a car suddenly jumps the curb to strike one down in a nearly fatal blow? One thing we yogis can know for sure is that this was no "accident." Whatever the karmic cause, this was no coincidence. It is too strange.

What this signals for devotees is a sign of grace: an opportunity for spiritual growth. For our friend, well, yes, though time will tell. It is incorrect to think that this tragic incident is BAD karma. No, it can only be an opportunity to work off karma or even to rise above karma. For the rest of us, his friends, this is an opportunity to come together, to give, to pray, and to share.

I cannot now, nor will at this time, say "I am grateful for this happening to our friend." But I believe that the time may come when I, and others, will be able to say this. Better yet, I do hope and pray that the time will come when he, our friend, can say this. But for now, we must do our part and not concern ourselves unnecessarily about the outcome, whether for him or for us. We must unite in Spirit, for in Spirit we are One and, for the time being, Spirit is the only connection it seems we still have with our friend.

May the Light of Truth, Wisdom, and Love shine through the darkness of uncertainty and the seeming appearance of unconsciousness.