Sunday, August 30, 2015

What Does it Mean to Be Spiritual?

We frequently hear the expression “Spiritual but not religious.” But what does it mean to be “spiritual?” Someone once asked Paramhansa Yogananda (whose life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” is now a worldwide spiritual classic), “Will I ever leave the spiritual path?” Yogananda responded, “How could you? We are all on the spiritual path.”

As it is said that “we are a soul having a human experience in a human body” we intuitively know that we are good, worthy and part of something much greater which is goodness itself. We readily excuse our faults claiming circumstances and outside influences (even if we are not so quick to dismiss the faults of others).

We hear, or perhaps truly know, that “love is the answer.” Or, that “God is love.” So, yes indeed, we have an innate sense of goodness and “God-ness.” We might say of even self-proclaimed atheists that those who love and care for others are as spiritual as most church-goers, especially the more judgmental ones.

Without denying any of these statements, it can also be said that spirituality is a conscious choice. “The road to Hades is paved with good intentions.” Goodness is simply the opposite of badness and the two alternate like day and night. Good karma will eventually be used up and we start over again. Can merely “good people” really say that if they win the lottery they won’t go to seed; or, if they were to be born into positions of power, fame or riches they would retain their “goodness”? What if, instead, they were abused, or born into abject poverty, violence and racial injustice…….would they still be “good?”

Yogananda taught that the ego, which he defined as “the soul identified with the body,” has the right to remain separate from God until at such time as it, like the “Prodigal Son,” chooses to return home to God. We must consciously make that choice. This is also the meaning behind the story of the warrior, Bhishma, in India’s great epic, the Mahabharata. Bhishma had the boon that he could never be killed, even in battle, until he choose to die. Lying on the battlefield with so many arrows in him that his body did not touch the ground, he yet gave an inspired discourse on leadership and rulership. Bhishma symbolizes the ego, just as Moses did. Moses was not permitted by God to enter the Promised Land. Though he had led his people out of captivity (as the ego leads us at first on the spiritual path), he, himself, could not enter therein! (Nonetheless, Yogananda said that Moses was a true master.)

Admittedly, the “dice are loaded” because the ceaseless flux between pleasure and pain, good and bad all but guarantees that in some future life, the soul will awaken to the “anguishing monotony” of endless rounds of rebirth and will cry out for freedom.

Nonetheless, no one achieves soul liberation (called by many names, including cosmic consciousness, Samadhi, moksha, etc.) by merely being good or without conscious effort. The goal might be expressed or felt in many different ways according to temperament, culture, or religious beliefs, but Oneness has no equal, no partner, no opposite. As taught from ancient times in India, this state, relishable beyond any other, is “satchidanandam.” Immortal & eternal, conscious and omniscient, all-pervading and ever-blissful. It is the reason for our existence; it is the One without a second; it is the essence of creation even while yet untouched by the illusion of separateness.

How do we get “there?” “There” is “here and now.” It is always present but yet hidden from our inner sight by our restlessness, but our desires. “Desire my great enemy” is a chant favored by Yogananda’s guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar. Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, replying to the question from his famous disciple, Arjuna, “Why do even the wise succumb to delusion?” explained that it is desire that deludes even the wise (from time to time). And most people, far from wise, are quite content to pursue their desires and wouldn’t have it any other way.

It is the nature of this creation to hide the truth; to hide the Godhead from our sight. For reasons beyond our ken until such time as we share the divine vision, we must struggle, indeed, “fight the good fight,” to overcome the qualities (known as the gunas) of nature that so engagingly occupy our interest in day to day life. Thus it is that the great scripture of India, the Bhagavad Gita, takes place on a battlefield where Krishna exhorts the devotee Arjuna to stand up and fight (his lower nature).

To be spiritual is not to reject the world; nor is it to reject the help and company of others of like-mind; nor is it to refuse to share one’s path and spiritual blessings with others. As Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda put it so well, “It is the nature of bliss to want to want to share.”

No one claiming to be spiritual (but not religious) can afford to do so alone. We are not this ego and we are part of a greater reality. To achieve infinity is to expand our hearts natural love to embrace all beings, all creation.

The worldwide work of Ananda was established to create communities and fellowship for those on the inner path as given to us in the form of Kriya Yoga by Paramhansa Yogananda and the line of spiritual giants who sent him to the West.

If members of Ananda simply practiced in their own homes and never came together in meditation and in service, we would lose a great spiritual opportunity. We would find our spiritual progress bogging down.

Swami Kriyananda wisely created two forms of association by which kriya devotees could advance spiritually together. In 2009 he was inspired, as a swami of the Giri branch of India’s ancient order of swamis, to found a new swami order: the Nayaswami Order. “Naya” means “new.” Taking from what Paramhansa Yogananda called a “new dispensation” for the ancient and universal divine revelation called, in India, Sanaatan Dharma, Swamiji established the Nayaswami Order with a new and positive emphasis for spirituality in a new age. The Order describes the goal of the spiritual path as the achievement of bliss in God through the inner path of meditation. Rather than life-rejection, which characterizes spirituality of the past, both east and west, the time has come to see that seeking God is the “funeral of our sorrows.”

Quoting from the Ananda Festival of Light (written by Swami Kriyananda and recited weekly at Ananda Sunday Services), he wrote that “whereas, in the past, sorrow and suffering were the coin of man’s redemption, for us now, the payment  has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy.”

This universal affirmation finds expression in the Order through the fact that the Nayaswami Order has no organizational association with Ananda’s worldwide work and is open to anyone who seeks and who has demonstrated attunement with these goals and who practices meditation in one form or another.

It thus expresses purely and solely the essence of spirituality in a new and advancing age of consciousness. It acknowledges the importance of ego transcendence but affirms that the goal of ego transcendence is Bliss. There are four levels in the Order: the initial intention of the Pilgrim; the emerging success of the Tyagi (married) or of the Brahmachari (single), and the final vows of renunciation of ego (sannyas) of the swami (whether married or single).

To balance this purely spiritual association is the Sevaka religious order. The Sevaka Order is also worldwide but it is part of Ananda and forms a vehicle by which devotees of the kriya path can, if they choose, dedicate their lives in service to the work of Yogananda through Ananda. Sevakas begin with conditional commitments and after seven years may be invited to make a life commitment.

A kind of subset of the Sevaka Order is a “lay” order organized in some of the individual Ananda communities. It is called the Sadhaka Order. It is strictly local and is open to any kriya devotee who, as part of their life, wants to support and serve the local work of Ananda.

To be spiritual but not religious is not an excuse to cast off any visible form of association with others or form of outer renunciation. Ananda has been blessed to create these forms by which to energize and give practical, meaningful expression to the spiritual path. By creating these forms, like building a beautiful meditation temple, others can be inspired even if only by the example of the dedication of those devotees who have made sincere and recognizable commitment to the spiritual path.

Blessings and joy to you,

Nayaswami Hriman, life member of the worldwide Sevaka Order