Monday, October 31, 2016

"Autobiography of a Yogi" Trumps Politics

On December 1 this year (2016), the beloved and world renowned classic, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” by Paramhansa Yogananda, will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its first publication. Crystal Clarity Publishers is offering a free online digital copy on that day, Thursday, December 1. To sign up for your free copy go to

No one really knows how many millions have read this modern scripture but we know it has changed the lives of many thousands. I am one of those people! There’s an expression I hear every week that goes like this: “Truth is one and eternal.” "Eternal" also means timely, as well as timeless. Timeless truths are as fresh and applicable today as thousands of years ago ....  or thousands of years to come.

2016 is probably the strangest election campaign for president that America has experienced in, well, who knows how many decades, perhaps well over a century. Crass, insulting, a blatant disregard of truth and facts….the list of bottom-feeding characteristics goes on and on. A sad state of affairs that, to those of us who seek to find the cup of life half-full, gives rise to the hope that the sorry experience will be a wake-up call to the majority of Americans who are of goodwill, compassion, high ideals and wisdom.

Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the “A.Y.” (as the “Autobiography” is often and lovingly referred to), came to America to live in 1920. As a person of color, he experienced prejudice and discrimination. But ever ebullient, upbeat, energetic, and accepting of all, he won friends wherever he went. He predicted that the time was coming when America and India would “lead the world.” By this he meant that America and India would come to symbolize and epitomize the twin ideals of material efficiency and nonsectarian spirituality. He said that meditation would someday become the unifying practice and ideal of all religions, regardless of dogma, ritual and tradition.

Yogananda came to see that just as science has taught us to experiment and to achieve useful results, so too those of high ideals and spiritual goals would seek to experiment and find practical ways to achieve states of spiritual consciousness rather than just theorize about them, embrace mere belief, or practice only rituals or good deeds. Direct, intuitive experience of God or one the divine states such as peace, love, or joy would someday, he predicted, become the goal of religionists in the future.

The 2016 presidential campaign starkly symbolizes the contrast between “materialism” (as a false "religion") and “consciousness” (as the essence of reality). Materialism pretends to be practical in its “earthiness.” It upholds for its devotees the "supreme" value of possessions, prestige, wealth, pleasure and superiority. It disdains those it deems inferior whether in intelligence, status, race or gender. Donald Trump, a proponent of this false religion, is more in tune with the likes of Vladimir Putin than with Pope Francis or Mother Teresa, what to say, Paramhansa Yogananda! Trump symbolizes a corollary version of ISIS: dogmatic, racist, disdainful of higher values, rude, and generally ignorant of more refined values.

"Consciousness" values intention, the golden rule, and divine states of transcendence. It is expressed by kindness, cooperation, and moderation; by sensitivity to the realities of others, as well as fearlessness in the defense of the defenseless and righteousness in the struggle for justice.

We see in the teachings of India, as demonstrated in India’s classic and epic tale, the “Mahabharata,” and in that chapter of the Mahabharata that constitutes India’s most beloved scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, the very same struggle, indeed a war, between higher values and materialistic (ego-affirming) ones. The message of Lord Krishna in that great scripture is a call to “arms.” We must, he teaches, fight the “battle of life.” We must raise our consciousness above the petty demands of the ego with its countless cousins in the form of myriad personal desires. 

The history of America, too, contrasts grasping for natural and human resources in pursuit of power and wealth versus the high ideals of freedom and justice upon which our nation was founded.

This election will soon be a faded and jaded memory but the struggle between light and dark continues. The “A.Y.” however will stand tall and long in the history of the centuries to come as a beacon of light from the east. Praising the practicality of the West while teaching the scientific methods of God realization from the East, Paramhansa Yogananda symbolizes the best of east and west in what humanity must aspire to become if we are to survive our long history of tribalism, genocide, warfare, and prejudice.

In his life story, Yogananda visits both saints of east and west, and, scientists of east and west. He renders unto each of them the honor and respect for their accomplishments and for the example each offers of how to live nobly and productively in the modern world.

The “A.Y.” offers to humanity hope for a better world even as it paints its charming stories in colors drawn from the waning years of what is now, for us, a bygone era. Yogananda and those whose lives he upholds for us are as ambassadors from a gentler and nobler race. These men and women of science and of Spirit model for us a lifestyle and values, which, while timeless, are urgently timely for the survival, prosperity, and happiness of humanity in the ages to come.

To participate in the celebration of the “A.Y.’s” 70th anniversary visit

Joy to you,
Swami Hrimananda

Monday, October 24, 2016

What and Who is God? What is Spirituality?

The NEW PATH, by Swami Kriyananda
(Editor’s note: I am currently listening to the audio file of Swami Kriyananda reading his own life story, The New Path and feel to share this except. Sold by Ananda's publishing house, Crystal Clarity, you can find many of Swami's books read "on tape" by him. Listening is a thrilling and dynamic experience: one that exceeds mere reading of words on a page.)
CHAPTER 12 – Who Am I – What is God?
Civilized man prides himself on how far advanced his present state is from that of the primitive savage. We look condescendingly on his tribal way of endowing trees, wind, rain, and heavenly bodies with human personalities. Now that science has explained everything in prosaic terms, modern man considers himself wiser for having lost his sense of awe. But I’m not so sure that he deserves congratulation. It strikes me rather that, dazzled by his own technology, he has only developed a new kind of superstition, one infinitely less interesting. Too pragmatic, now, to worship, he has forgotten how to commune. Instead of relating sensitively to Nature around him, he shuts it out of his life with concrete ‘jungles,’ air conditioning, and ‘muzak’; with self-promotion and noisy entertainments. He is obsessed with problems that are real to him only because he gives them reality. He is like a violin string without the wood for a sounding board. Life, when cut off from its broader realities, becomes weak, thin, and meaningless.
Modern technology alienates us from the universe and from one another. Worst of all, it alienates us from ourselves. It directs all our energies toward the mere manipulation of things, until we ourselves assume qualities that are almost thing-like. In how many modern plays and novels are men idealized for their ability to act with the precision and unfeeling efficiency of a machine! We are taught to behave in this world like uncivilized guests, rudely consuming our host’s plenty without offering him a single word of thanks in return. Such is our approach to nature, to God, to life itself. We make ourselves petty, then imagine that the universe is petty also. We rob our own lives of meaning, then call life itself meaningless. Self-satisfied in our unknowing, we make a dogma of ignorance. And when, in ‘civilized’ smugness, we approach the question of religion, we address God Himself as though He had better watch His manners if He wants a place in our hearts.


My probing thoughts led me one by one, however, to a dead end. How much, after all, can the theater [art, music, literature, science, politics, technology] really accomplish for people, spiritually speaking? Did even Shakespeare, great as he was, effect any deep-seated changes in the lives of individuals? None, surely, at any rate compared to the changes religion has inspired. I shuddered at this comparison, for I loved Shakespeare, and found little to attract me in the churches. But the conclusion, whether I liked it or not, was inescapable: Religion, for all its fashionable mediocrity, its sham, its devotion to the things of this world, remains the most powerfully beneficial influence in the history of mankind. Not art, not music, not literature, not science, politics, conquest, or technology: The one truly uplifting power in history, always, has been religion.
How was this possible? Puzzled, I decided to probe beneath the surface and discover what deep-seated element religion contained that was vital and true.
Avoiding what I considered to be the trap of institutionalized religion, of ‘churchianity,’ I took to walking or sitting for hours together by the ocean, pondering its immensity. I watched little fingers of water as they rushed in among the rocks and pebbles on the shore. Did the vastness of God find personal expression, similarly, in our own lives?


The question returned to me with increasing urgency: What IS God?
One evening, taking a long walk into the gathering night, I deeply pondered this question. I dismissed as absurd, to start with, the popular notion of a venerable figure with flowing white beard, piercing eyes, and a terrible brow striking fear into all those who disobey Him. Science has shown us an expansive vastness comprising countless galaxies, each one blazing with innumerable stars. How could any anthropomorphic figure have been responsible for creating all that?
What, then, about fuzzy alternatives that had been proposed to suit the abstract tastes of intellectuals? A ‘Cosmic Ground of Being,’ for example: What a sterile evasion! What a non-concept! Such formulas I considered a ‘cop-out,’ for they gave one nothing to work with.
No, I thought, God has to be, if nothing else, a conscious Being. I had read alternate claims that He is a dynamic force. Well, He had to be that, too, of course. But could it be a blind force, like electricity? If so, whence came human intelligence? Materialists claim that man’s consciousness is produced by ‘a movement of energy through a pattern of nerve circuits.’ Well! But intelligence, I realized, is not central to the issue anyway. Intelligence implies reasoning, and reasoning is only one aspect of consciousness; it might almost be called a mechanical aspect, inasmuch as it is conceivable for something electronic to be devised that will do much of his reasoning for him.
Rene Descartes’ famous formula: ‘I think, therefore I am,’ is superficial, and false. One can be fully conscious without thinking at all. Consciousness obviously exists apart from ratiocination, and is a precondition for any kind of thoughtful awareness.
What about our sense of I-ness: our egos? We don’t have to ponder the question objectively. We simply know that we exist. This knowledge, I have come to understand, is intuitive. Even a newborn baby making its first cry doesn’t become self-aware because of that cry. It requires self-awareness for it to suffer! Even a worm demonstrates self-awareness: prick it with a pin, and it will try to wriggle away.
Obviously, then, consciousness is at least latent everywhere, and in everything. God Himself must be conscious, and, having created everything, must also have produced it out of consciousness: not out of His consciousness, for consciousness cannot be something He possesses: He is consciousness: Essential Consciousness.
What about self-awareness? This, too, must be inherent not only in all life, but in everything. We are not merely His creations: We manifest Him! We exist, because He exists.
To ‘cut to the chase’: all of us, as His manifestations, have the capacity to manifest Him more or less perfectly. Surely, then, what we need is to deepen our awareness of Him at the center of our being.
What a staggering concept!
I recalled the days I had spent watching the ocean surf break into long, restless fingers among the rocks and pebbles on the shore. The width of each opening, I reflected, determined the size of the flow. Similarly, if our deepest reality is God, might it not be possible for us to chip away at our granite resistance to Him, and thereby widen our channels of receptivity? And would not every aspect of His infinite consciousness flow into us, then, like the ocean, abundantly?
If this was true, then obviously our highest duty is to seek attunement with Him. And the way to do so is to develop that aspect of our nature which we can open to Him. The way to do that, obviously, is to lift our hearts up to Him, and to seek His guidance in every thought and deed. In so doing He must since we are a part of His consciousness assist us in our efforts to broaden our mental channels.
I realized, now, that true religion is no mere system of beliefs, and is a great deal more than any formalized attempt to wheedle a little pity out of the Lord by offering up pleading, propitiatory rites and prayers. If our link with Him consists in the fact that we are already a part of Him, then it is up to us to receive Him more completely, and express Him more fully. [“But as many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” John 1:12] This, then, is what true religion is all about!
What I had seen thus far of religious practices, and eschewed in disappointment, was not true religion, but the merest first, toddling steps up a stairway to infinity! One might, I reflected, devote his entire life to this true religion, and never stagnate. What a thrilling prospect!
This, then, would be my calling in life: I would seek God!

Monday, October 17, 2016

What is free will?

How much choice do we have in life? How conscious are we when we act?

Let's start with the simple fact that despite good intentions, we make mistakes; we have accidents; we cause suffering, intentionally or unintentionally, whether to ourselves or others. People hurt us; things hurt us; we don't know why or what, if anything, we might have done to deserve it. "Stuff happens," in other words.

There's a lot about our world and our lives that is much, much, much bigger than we. Long before we commit a consciously and an intentionally selfish or hurtful act, there are lots of other, less conscious and less intentional acts, that cause suffering.

Read any classic novel or myth or modern drama and we see life is filled with strange twists and turns of so-called fate.

This world, we must conclude, is not of our own doing. Whoever we are and wherever we have come from or go to, the world around us imposes and impinges upon us in ways that we must simply deal with. Then there are the actions we take and initiate into the little tiny world of our lives that, to some degree, imposes and impinges upon others, or, helps and serves others or improves our own lives.

But consider how little is our impact on the world around us and, by contrast, how big the impact the world and the circumstances into which we find ourselves has upon us! It seems a bit out of proportion.

True there are giants of will power and dominion and influence who create for themselves an entire world view and reality. Yet the more self-centered are these "giants" the more their influence is soon washed away by time and opposing forces. Think of all the politicians, actors, artists that have come and gone. Few, only a few, withstand the eroding effects of time. Those whose impact is lasting are those whose imprint was far bigger than self-interest.

Like the narrow bandwidth of atmosphere that surrounds our tiny planet whirling through space, we operate in a very narrow bandwidth of freedom of choice. Most of what we do, say, like or dislike we cannot really account for logically unless it's universal like fearing death or illness or criticism or liking praise, pleasure or money. Why do you like red sports cars, or I, pistachio ice cream? Who can say?

And yet.....and yet......without human commitment to the precept that we can change our life for the better and that we are accountable for our actions, life would become unbearable. Within this narrow bandwidth of freedom, therefore, is our life, small as it may be and separate as we may view it to be from that great big, sometimes threatening world, around us.

We are confronted by the conditions in which we live, including our bodies, their age, gender, health and abilities, and we must face the conditions we ourselves have created. Complex stuff, eh and, in the the big picture, we must admit that our choices in life have been very narrow. And yet, how impactful upon our lives are those choices: who we marry; what career choices we make or accept; what addictions we fall into; what habits, good or bad. A narrow but potent bandwidth. Does not happiness, itself, exist inside a narrow bandwidth of attitude where the cup is either half empty or half full?

Consciousness itself exists in a very narrow bandwidth of self-awareness. How close to existence of non-existence do we live? My friend who was "randomly" struck by a car that jumped the curb as he was walking along the sidewalk? How many cars whiz past us......the margin of life is indeed narrow.

More than one saint has stated that the only freedom we possess is whether to turn toward God or away from God. All else is more or less the function of our past actions (aka karma). Ananda Moi Ma, the now famous woman saint of 20th century India, described our free will as the equivalent of being on a speeding train and having the choice to walk up or back inside the passenger cars while yet remaining on the speeding train.

But what does it mean to turn TOWARD or AWAY from God? "God" is a pretty BIG idea if you consider "God" deeply and if you can get past the baggage that the "poor fellow" has to carry.

Instead, let's start with something more useful. Let say that our choice is whether to respond positively, or to respond negatively, to life's circumstances.

Ok, then, what does "positive" mean? Or, "negative?" What does it mean to respond "positively" to the fact that you are born into a wealthy family? Or with excellent health? Talent? Beauty? "Positively" means expansively....unselfishly......with non-attachment....with a desire to help others.......

Let's say you are indeed born into a wealthy home, or at least one with comfort and advantages and therefore choices like education, hobbies, health, security, and also into a loving family. Do you recall the phrase (seemingly out of date), noblesse oblige? It recalls the implicit obligation that those of privilege bear to help others. (Yes, that's not really so old fashioned is it?) To see your life as a privilege and an opportunity to do something meaningful would be a good example of a positive response. A negative one would be the all too familiar one of feeling entitlement and becoming lazy, mean, or selfish as a result of your otherwise favorable birth.

Thus "toward" God can begin with the concept of expanding one's awareness to include the needs of others. Call this, therefore, an expansive response. A selfish response would be contractive, meaning ego-centric, selfish, or self-absorbed.

Faced with disease or illness, a positive response would be to be calm; to have faith in the ultimate goodness and value of the inherent lessons of one's challenges; to think even first of others, than of yourself; to affirm your love for God.

[It should be pointed out also, as I have in other articles, that acting or responding positively is not sufficient for those seeking eternal freedom in God. The latter is a far bigger subject and is one derived from faith and intuition (or, more commonly, starts at least from belief). "Virtue may be its own reward" but in the teachings of "Sanaatan Dharma" good karma that derives from the sense of personal doership (ego) is insufficient to win freedom for the soul. For that, "yagya," or personal self-offering with devotion to God (inter alia) is necessary.] 

The line between passive acceptance and a dynamic outpouring of energy to confront challenging circumstances may seem obvious but it's ultimately a matter of expansive or contractive. Acceptance can be expansive if it's calm, joyful and even-minded, and, willing to do what is needed; it is contractive if submissive and fatalistic. Dynamic energy can be contractive if ego-active and ego-protective but expansive if joyful, enthusiastic, creative and without rancor or pride.

Our real choice is remain "in the Self," untouched by outer circumstances. This, more correctly, defines a saint but it is a goal brought steadily into manifestation by the practice of meditation, the company of others of like mind, and the spiritual power of grace born of our attunement with a true "son of God."

"The only way out is IN." This is our real choice, for "tat twam asi," -- "Thou art THAT (Spirit)."

Swami Hrimananda

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Intolerance Born of Life Experience & "Mature" Years: Future of Ananda Communities

The very first Ananda community (near Nevada City, CA) is approaching fifty years of existence. Those of us who came in their twenties are, well, do the math.......yes, in their seventies (more or less). But with the power of yoga and divine grace, we're still kicking and going strong!

Think back, my friends, to the craziness some of us brought to Ananda Village in those years. Skinny dipping, gardening in the nude, serial relationships, food and fasting fads, infatuation with passing spiritual teachers, and on and on. "Lord knows" what else our founder, friend and spiritual guide, Swami Kriyananda put up with. 

He looked through us to our souls' potential. No doubt he saw that for some they would stay a short while while others have been part of Ananda ever since. Yet I suspect many surprised him whether they left or stayed! We've all seen friends, good people, come, and go.

Are we finding, now, that we look askance at the attire (or lack of it), the chatter and the talk, the self-righteous opinions, and the goofiness of some of the young ones who arrive at our communities now? Do we see justification for our coolness in the fact that some do not stay very long? Is that fact perhaps due to our coolness toward them? 

Do we wonder to ourselves whether we should offer the "advice" that life is stern, work hard, stay in line, listen to me? Worse yet, do we actually say it? (Why, are WE bitter for having sacrificed "so much?") In so doing, are we simply manifesting the generational disconnect that has existed since time immemorial?

In case you are on the edge of your seat (still), yes I think we are repeating that same intolerance born of life experience. From whence does this sternness come? 

Still on the edge of your seat, no doubt? Let me tell you, then:

When you've seen people come with high ideals and leave discouraged, not understanding that they didn't or couldn't give it their all, or couldn't find self-acceptance, or couldn't see that their criticism and complaining was hurting them more than the issues they claimed were at can't help but want to warn new ones about how difficult the spiritual life is and how precarious is our divine attunement and right attitudes. 

It is natural to want to remind newer ones that sometimes falling off the spiritual path can cost (as Yogananda once mentioned in respect to at least one of his disciples who left the path) many lifetimes before the former spiritual zeal returns that one has left slip so nonchalantly from one's grasp.

We cannot help but see how thin a line it is between the magnetism of playing with the fire of desire versus the fire of devotion and self-offering: the same energy but a different direction.

So, sure, we have our reasons and they are good ones, too, except for one important fact: finger wagging doesn't work. It wouldn't have worked with us, either. We were fortunate that Swami Kriyananda was a wise, spiritual father. He looked toward eternity and saw the perfection of our souls.

And another thing: we don't want to see destroyed by ignorance or lack of awareness or loyalty all that we have worked for most of our lives in establishing these spiritual communities. We don't want to simply hand them over to neophytes who have yet to deepen their commitment through the fires of trials and tribulations (as we have had to do).

So, sure, we have our reasons and they are good ones, too, except for one important fact: it doesn't work! (Am I repeating myself already?)

The solution is to abandon the false perception that comes with the age of physical body and the accumulated experiences of one's present life. Dividing the community into camps of "old" and "young," "leaders" and "followers" is to put a pall of spiritual death upon the very life we all aspire to lead and to share. 

Learning from one another; openness and receptivity; serving, praying, meditating, and playing together. Creating bonds of heartfelt appreciation and respect through listening and calm sharing.

A new member has to go through the "dues paying" of listening, paying attention, learning, struggling and growing; of holding at bay his or her opinions in a state of readiness to learn from the wisdom of experience; the older member has to stay present, awake, listening, avoiding the know-it-all tendency, staying conscious and respecting the ideas and insights, questions, needs and realities of the newer member.

Swami Kriyananda left for us these guidelines for our personal and organizational lives:

  1. "People are more important than things." This is the main one that applies here. The "things" at stake are our view, as leaders and the older generation, of what constitutes spiritual attunement from outer appearances. The people part is the wisdom to give others the time to mature and grow in grace and wisdom. Not to judge others by outer appearances or by lessons yet to be learned or by lessons which are theirs, but not ours, to learn. Compassion and wisdom!
  2. "Where there is dharma, there is victory." We will only be "successful" if we honor what it is right and true, no matter at what cost to ourselves personally (well, within reason!). "What's trying to happen here" is the question Swamiji taught us to ask ourselves when change, or pressures to change, show themselves.
We need to be people-centric not form-centric. All organizations, including intentional communities, churches, and yoga centers, are subject to change in their outer forms and expressions: whether in growth or in shrinking; in material success or acceptance; or, rejection. 

All organizations -- like all organisms -- have an innate impulse to thrive and grow. There's nothing wrong with that if the intention is to serve, share, and grow spiritually in the process (rather than for money or public acceptance and acclaim).

We need to "err" (if indeed "err" it be) on the side of acceptance, tolerance, and growth. Our only measure can truly be our personal spiritual growth in the process, and, the spiritual growth of those whom we serve and accept as community residents or center members.

Swamiji would say, from time to time, "It's not the WHAT, but the HOW!" If we make a group decision that runs the risk of diluting our spiritual attunement but we do it with the intention to serve, welcome, and be open to share with others, we will likely find that Divine Mother will see to it our efforts and errors will be mitigated. As Krishna promises us, "To those in tune, I will make good your deficiencies and render permanent your (spiritual) gains."

When I think of all the craziness Swami Kriyananda tolerated, or all the risky ventures and projects that he, himself, undertook in the name of serving our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, I am inspired and hope that those who lead this great and good work will carry on in his spirit and in his name.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Kundalini: Existential Ecstasy or Dark Depression?

(I tried to serialize this into 5 posts but Blogspot is somewhat inflexible, so, out of some frustration, I simply post now all five parts into one, too long, single post. Sigh!)

Part 1 - Demons and Angels

In spiritual literature and tradition, the concept of the "dark night of the soul" has the feel of a good dramatic story. Tales come to mind of demons threatening or attacking, or of violent convulsions of pain or fear overtaking the monk or nun who is innocently but determinedly focused on his or her devotions and life of service and humility. It conjures up medieval images of ghouls and just about everything that modern Catholicism and protestantism before that rejected with an embarrassment born of the scientific method. 

But, like or not, struggles with demonic forces are well established in the Christian tradition in the lives of such luminaries as Teresa of Avila, Padre Pio, St. John of the Cross and St. Francis. In the eastern traditions, the list is endless and the tales even more bizarre, indeed, fanciful. In both east and west, angels and devils figure prominently (and with a studied naturalness) in the lives of the greatest saints. No less than Buddha himself was subjected to a final temptation by Mara (the devil) just as was Jesus Christ. So often in fact do such entities appear, whether benevolent or malevolent, that to dismiss them seems folly to anyone sincerely walking the spiritual path. 

Paramhansa Yogananda explained that there was a period in his life when his legs were paralyzed due to taking on the karma of disciples. He said that astral entities (shaped like corkscrews and saws!) were attacking his astral legs. Yet, when he needed to appear in public and walk to the podium for a lecture, he could suddenly stand and walk, later to slump helplessly into a chair.

Books have been written in modern times on the terrors, trevails and prescriptions for those caught in the throes of "kundalini rising." Kundalini refers to that elemental and existential life force that is otherwise hidden, silent and sleeping in most humans. Oft depicted as a feminine goddess, she might first appear as a temptress to test the purity of heart of one who dares to summon her. If one passes her test she morphs into the goddess ready to lead the warrior to the promised land. But until that time, she is coiled around and guards a great treasure at the base of the astral spine of the human body: the secret of eternal life. 

For centuries, the quest to slay her and capture her treasure of immortality has inspired yogis of varying degrees of purity and clarity (kriya yogis, tantra yogis and many others) to give their all. 

By modern accounts of Kundalini's awakening power, you'd think that just about anyone who dares to practice certain esoteric yoga techniques or who engages in a life of intense spiritual practices runs the risk that Kundalini, part demon, part angel, will appear and wreak havoc upon one's body and one's life. 

Well, "no such luck!" Reports of her appearance are greatly exaggerated. Devotees and yogis have plenty of inner demons consisting of personal desires, fears, ambitions, and neuroses to wrestle with such that it will be a long time before the "real" ones come to dissuade us from the intensity of our devotions. Similarly, it will be a long time before Kundalini herself is stirred enough to cause an earthquake in the mountain of our inner spiritual life. 

In fact, it is sometimes said that we encounter such beings only in the final stages before our ascent into final union with God. I wouldn't flatly accept that statement without condition, but that is "what I've been told." Individual karma is so complex that, well, "you just NEVER know." (If a person had spent a prior lifetime(s) toying with summoning spirits through seances and the like, who knows what exacting boomerang effect might be called down.)

While this article isn't about the phenomenon known as possession (by astral entities), this, too, is a well attested to spiritual reality. In cases of possession, however, we are NOT talking about spiritually advanced souls; possession occurs to those with minds weakened by drugs or other debilitating conditions and habits. Fortunately it is extremely rare and nothing for most to be concerned about. While not provable either way, possession seems a more likely explanation for multiple personality cases than any other merely psychological or organic reason. 

Part 2 - What is Kundalini?

Returning now to our main subject -- Kundalini -- I have found the most practical and profound description of kundalini is one given to us by the founder of the worldwide network of Ananda communities (based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda), Swami Kriyananda, in his (now) classic text, "Art and Science of Raja Yoga." In that book, Step 12, Philosophy section, he writes, "Kundalini represents the entrenched vitality of our mortal delusion." Yet, as he continues, it is also the single greatest key to enlightenment! "Only by arousing this force from its ancient resistance to divine truth can the soul hope to reunite itself with the Spirit." Need I say: WOW?

With the above understanding, we can confidently state that there is no separate yoga called "kundalini yoga" because in the sense given above, the entire spiritual path consists of raising the Kundalini from her ancient sleep. The words and images may be specific to India but the reality of the spiritual path is universal. The soul's path to God consists of overcoming the hypnosis of our separateness from God (i.e., our commitment to ego) to reclaim our true, soul nature as a spark of God's infinite bliss.

The only distinction to be made between yoga precepts and other spiritual terminology is that the yogis define the steps of awakening in somewhat clinical terms. The masters of yoga describe reversing the normally outward flow of life force to the senses, tissues and organs back through the doorways of the energy centers (chakras) and into the spine wherein the increased energy summons forth from below the Kundalini from her sleeping state; thus roused and reunited with the energy in the spinal centers, the increased energy of the "river of life" begins its upward ascent through the astral spine to the brain. 

The saints of Christianity did not have the benefit of an unbroken tradition of the science of soul-awakening but they accomplished the raising of kundalini through devotion, self-mortification (ego-transcendence), selfless action and, of course, the all-powerful descent of grace: God's response to the sincere efforts of the soul. Not unlike the simple fact that the chemistry of a medical drug can function without the conscious will of the patient, so too will Kundalini respond to the sincere efforts of the devotee and to the summons of the resulting descending divine grace regardless of that devotee's knowledge of the clinical details or methods. Suffice to say, however, such knowledge is a great aid to one's efforts! [But just as placebo testing and faith healing demonstrate, belief, awareness and understanding of medicines can make a big difference in their efficacy. So, too, then with kundalini.)

As kundalini rises and touches upon each chakra, beginning at the lowest center, the coccyx (earth or "muladhara"), new insights are received (both personal and universal) just as in climbing a mountain you see farther and farther in the distance as you rise even as you gain climbing experience as you ascend.

Some awakening occurs long before Kundalini actually rises. Yogananda taught that even kind thoughts cause Kundalini to stir in her sleep, relaxing her coils even a tiny bit to send shafts of light upward toward the brain. The opposite occurs with selfish thoughts. Various yogic techniques, moreover, stimulate the chakras so as to magnetize them and help draw Kundalini upwards.

Certain techniques, found especially in hatha yoga, attempt to force kundalini to rise by focusing will power at or around the base of the spine and spinal centers. These have their place but the danger is with the delusion that will power alone can force her energy to stir and rise. Impure ego motivation will counter the pure energy which is Kundalini's rising nature.

In stories like the "Never Ending Story" (never-ending, because it is the story of each soul), it is a child (representing innocence) who must free the kingdom from the Nothingness. Or, in a story such as St. George and the dragon, or Theseus and the Minotaur, it takes a warrior with a pure heart to successfully slay the dragon of ego.

Part 3 - Frontier of Consciousness

Is, then, the image of Kundalini as a temptress or goddess simply a metaphor or is this "real?" Our western and left brain dominated minds are more likely to experience and describe that experience in terms of "energy." But maybe that's because we have a scientific view of quantum realities, that is, of "energies" that are not in organic form. 

I think it is safest to say that when one reaches the frontier of consciousness itself and it is no longer a question of one's own imagination and subconscious mind, and the realm of matter and the senses has been transcended, all bets are off. I think the question is actually a non-starter and not relevant to the realm in which the phenomenon actually occurs. 

Put another way, the fundamental matrix of reality IS consciousness, so the question has no ready-made answer. Patanjali describes the psychic power attributable to realization of the consciousness of "austerity" (one of the niyamas of the Eight-Fold Path) as the ability to commune with higher beings. As indicated above, there really cannot be a question regarding the existence of higher beings: whether "good guys" or "bad guys."

It is a typical pattern in the soul's evolution that we approach God through good works, prayer and meditation. Our efforts are rewarded with various and sundry inspirations and feelings of joy, peace, love and so on. We encounter, therefore, the more impersonal or abstract experiences of higher consciousness. Even the meditative experiences tend to be of a phenomenal nature (light, sound, energy, etc.)

As we progress, the impersonal begins to be personal. God may come to us in visions, in the form of our chosen deity (godhead), savior, guru etc. This distinction is not in cement and depends both on one's karma and, what is basically the same as karma, our basic temperament: whether devotional, mental (intellectual), or active (energetic). But the basic pattern is somewhat recognizable in the bigger picture of the lives of devotees. 

Part 2 - The Battle

The soul may have many of its own demons in the forms of innumerable material addictions: fame, name, romance, sex, security, wealth, health and the various forms of the seven deadly sins. These, however common, are almost trite in relation to the existential battle of which we speak here. It may indeed take more than one lifetime to overcome, say, alcoholism, but the means to do so lay largely, if not entirely, within the domain of the ego (though reaching for divine succor is recommended because spiritually elevating).

Think of the image of the cross: a vertical bar crossed by a horizontal one. The horizontal represents our relationship to the body, the senses, personality and the world around us. We can "get our act together" by self-effort (as I said above) reasonably well. Human virtue, though a necessity and a victory, is largely still of human making. The sense of personal doership remains upper most. It is "I" who conquers and controls my palate; my tongue; etc.

A wiser soul seeks divine guidance in all matters but even an atheist can work towards health, happiness and a balanced life of integrity.

The vertical bar however is the battle of the soul's ascent back to God. At the bottom lies Kundalini: the entrenched vitality of our mortal delusion. Built over incalculable lifetimes, our commitment to ego and separateness, personal likes and dislikes, protection and affirmation is deeply rooted. 

At the top of the head is the soul! Eternal, perfect, unchanging and blissful but otherwise unaffected by and not involved with ego's play and unending karma (so called "good" and "bad"). The vertical ascent up what is sometimes called the spiral staircase to heaven is the existential challenge, climbing Mt Carmel (Christianity) or Mt. Meru (Hindu). 

Ordinary, clinical depression is bad enough. It can lead in some cases to suicide: ego's worst "crime." But its roots are in the unending play of pleasure and pain, desire and fear, and limitless ups and downs of karma. 

Existential depression, on the other hand, is the discouragement we feel (albeit in ego consciousness) in the seemingly insurmountable task of achieving enlightenment. This, in various forms, is, more or less, what is meant by the "dark night of the soul." At one end of the darkness spectrum is the darkness that immediately precedes the moment of enlightenment. This is the "classic" form. How literal it is, I do not know. It certainly makes for good poetry or drama. 

Paramhansa Yogananda's most advanced disciple, James J. Lynn (Rajasi Janakananda) spoke of having his inner world of meditation disappear into total darkness. Used to, as he was, the bliss of meditation and recurring visions of various saints and masters, this sudden experience of the void, of "pure" emptiness, was upsetting; presumably frightening; and, perhaps if but for a moment, a challenge to his faith (he didn't give the details; he was a man of very few words). Then, all of a sudden, a small point of light was seen. It steadily came towards him (or got larger) until an ocean of bliss broke upon him as entered cosmic consciousness ("samadhi"). I don't recall if that was his first experience of samadhi or simply "an experience." 

More common forms of the dark night are periods in an advanced soul's life when the accustomed divine consolation (whether in the impersonal feeling form of peace, or light, or divine love or in the personal form of one's guru, e.g., Jesus Christ appearing in vision) has gone. It can be a time when the gentle touch of divine inspiration has fled in favor of suffering (mental, certainly but also physical, likely). It can take place during periods of persecution or illness; or, even a loss of one's faith, being tested like Job in the Old Testament. And, as mentioned earlier, it can be in the form of testing by dis-incarnate, evil entities mocking one's faith. Many great saints attest to periods of "darkness" when the light of spiritual consolation disappears to test their faith in God, guru, and the spiritual life and goal.

We ordinary devotees may face diluted versions of the above: loss (temporary or permanent) of one's spiritual vocation; humiliation or embarrassment by a fall from grace; loss of spiritual support from our spiritual colleagues; grief, or other loss; major illnesses and so on. All to the effect of robbing from our hearts our spiritual inspiration, our practices and perhaps everything spiritually with which we identified even for most of our life!

Part 4 - The Ascent

All of these echo the same challenges that all people face on the horizontal plane of their desires and fears. The difference is that on the vertical plane we are dealing with absolute (i.e. existential) realities, not fleeting realities born of the flux of duality. The soul's evolution through countless lifetimes seems never ending, but the soul's struggle to emerge from ego-constricted darkness is absolute and final (unless, for a time, we give up).

There is another cycle of the spiritual path worth mentioning even if it is somewhat off topic: that is when our spiritual "efforts end in ease." This is a phase in our spiritual growth when much of the hard work of overcoming ego and subconscious habits (the horizontal plane) has paid off and our focus on the vertical plane (eyes on the prize, as it were) is propelling us steadily upward. Is there any soul for whom the "ride" is steadily upward, with no dark night of the soul--even at the end? I simply don't know but I'm am willing to bet the salvation of your soul (joke) that there's no free ride.

The dark night, at least classically, comes nearest the end. As the last chakra before enlightenment is that which is the seat of ego, it is, at last, any and all sense of our separateness that must be offered up into the divine, infinite light. This is why I believe that the darkness must be faced by every soul. 

The ego, like Moses, who, though he led the children of Israel through the desert of purification, was not allowed into the Promised Land, must be "killed." Or, must BELIEVE he must be killed. The darkness must come, in other words. In God, in Infinity, and in the "end," nothing is lost and everything is gained. But the ego must not believe this; or put more correctly, the ego CANNOT believe this and must therefore face the prospect of its own extinction. This it simply cannot do without a combination of a supreme act of will and the faith born of divine grace.

Yogananda assures us, however, that nothing is lost. The basic survival instinct was not given us to be simply violated. God is, as the great Adi Shankyacharya of India declared: ever-existing (immortal), ever-conscious (omniscient), (ever-new) bliss. Nonetheless we must pass through the fires of seeming extinction that we be purified of the dross of ego. 

Once we have achieved true enlightenment (the experience of nirbikalpa samadhi), the rishis say the soul cannot fall again. BUT: much remains in past karma to unravel the knot of doership. In infinite consciousness, the soul can play as long or as short with this process, for time no longer has a bearing. Sometimes, Swami Kriyananda has told us, a soul remains in the play to aid disciples toward freedom. Patanjali even suggests that a freed soul ("jivan mukta") can inhabit or incarnate into multiple bodies to work out the past karma more quickly. Egads, eh?

Part 5 - So, Where's the Problem?

So now at last we come to the question of problems associated with the rising of the Kundalini energy. At the base of the human astral spine (and human body), we are relatively unconscious. Our consciousness is normally in our head! Our bowels and internal organs "down there" operate wholly without our conscious control and awareness. Kundalini, in any case, in her coiled state at the base of the astral spine, is described as asleep. 

Thus it cannot be a big surprise that when she stirs and even begins to rise, perhaps only haltingly, the effect can seem to be independent of--even at variance with--our conscious will and assent. And this is where the oft-reported problems may arise.

Many a great saint has had a sudden, and often rude, spiritual awakening. Even people who are far less than great saints, have moments of sudden awakening (known as "satori" in the Zen tradition). Illness, grief or other shock to one's ordinary life patterns can also shake kundalini from her sleep-like trance below. 

The resulting spiritual vision or experience(s) are not unlike hallucinating or being on an LSD (drug-like) "trip." Physical symptoms, psychic insights, loss of physical feeling in one's limbs, loss of appetite and on and on and on..............profoundingly disturbing and yet, alternating, with ecstatic insights and feelings.

All one's normal living (perhaps in marriage, family, business and community) is suddenly turned upside down. (Just as it is, in a way, if you have a tragic accident, say an auto accident or a stroke, and you are hospitalized. Your entire day-to-day life vanishes!)

Much has been made in spiritual literature about these intense spiritual experiences. I do not downplay or minimize any of them. But I do offer not a few caveats regarding them.

  1. In my experience of the path of kriya yoga as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda, encounters with disturbing kundalini like symptoms are infrequent, if not rare. This suggests to me the truth of what my teacher (and direct disciple of Yogananda), Swami Kriyananda, taught us: that the aid of a true guru combined with proven yoga techniques will minimize imbalances in the awakening and life transforming energy of kundalini.
  2. In my experience with those who have come to the Ananda center here in the Seattle area, referred to us on account of their psychic disturbances which they have labelled kundalini symptoms, I have found that such persons typically have a smorgasbord of personal issues and imbalances, both psychic and organic.
  3. Those true devotees who encounter wake-up spiritual experiences, even those which can shatter their normal day to day world, are generally equipped to process them in a positive way. 
  4. Here is a list of imbalances that I have observed in practically all of the nearly one dozen cases (never among our own kriyaban members) that have come to our center for counsel:
    1. Far too talkative (always about themselves), as if on uppers.
    2. Far too enamored of their own spiritual stature
    3. Zero devotion (except to ego) or humility
    4. Far too enamored of psychic phenomenon
    5. Often paranoid
    6. Seemingly bi-polar, alternating between self-aggrandizement and self-loathing.
    7. Likely to have engaged in extreme practices of various sorts: from binge eating; to intense fasting; to drug and alcohol abuse; poor diet; poor sleep habits; little exercise (or perhaps too much); underweight; nervous; 
    8. Incapable of listening to or, in any case, accepting and implementing any common sense advice. Have answers for everything: "Oh, I tried that."
    9. Generally have been prescribed medications for mental issues but too often have rejected their use.
    10. Generally incapable of holding a job, having a committed relationship, or supporting a family.
    11. Though they say they've come for help, it would seem they want someone (in some established spiritual role) to simply validate their spirituality.
  5. In the cases above, the admixture of physical, mental and spiritual symptoms is so confused that, while I try to be open to their spiritual needs, what they really need most is to reinvent themselves from the ground up. Diet, exercise, serving others, prayer, short, the basics (yamas and niyamas). For some, they shouldn't even attempt to meditate! For all, they need professional help: medical and psychological. Again, this is not an outright denial of their spiritual needs but almost always they are re-defining their physical and mental imbalances solely in spiritual terms, as if to avoid the work they should really be doing. In any case, as it relates to my own personal dharma, I can't help them anyway for the simple reason they don't listen. So it's not really a choice that I have to make (thankfully).
In conclusion, then, a person who can function in this world and carry his (her) responsibilities and who comes to a true (which is to say, balanced) spiritual path (for them being the right teacher, technique, and teaching), is very, very unlikely to find that his (her) spiritual growth and inner experiences are debilitating, confusing, or painful. 

Such a one may benefit from time to time by meeting with someone a little further along in order to share and discuss their progress and experiences. For the inner path can seem lonely and at times almost surreal (or, more likely, one's outer life will begin to seem surreal compared to the inner life!). It's helpful to have someone to share this process of stripping away the superficial self-identities and interests in favor of the deeper, more satisfying insights and consciousness of the awakening soul.

The spiritual path is nothing short than a wholesale revolution of values and reality but it isn't generally so shocking that one can no longer function. Swami Sri Yukteswar taught that the spiritual path is not an excuse to be irresponsible or dysfunctional.

An extreme psychic experience is most likely to come to one who lives at the extreme end of life's psychic spectrum. A person of extraordinary energy (especially mental or emotional energy) may trigger such an experience but if Patanjali (author of the famous "Yoga Sutras" -- the bible of meditative experience) is correct: our gain in inner, spiritual experience and consciousness comes specifically as the result of our increasing lack of reactiveness to life's circumstances. (Stanza 2, Book 1: Yogas chitta vritti nirodha: yoga is the neutralization of the reactive process.)

A true yogi has nothing to fear from the practice of yoga. Not, at least, if one uses common sense, proven methods, and seeks the guidance of a true path and true teacher.

Blessings to all on the Path of Ascension up the Tree of Life!

Swami Hrimananda

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Fall Reflections

Ah, such lovely days we have in the Fall, do we not? "Fall" -- it has a less than hopeful sound, doesn't it? "The Fall of Rome" .... "the Fall of mankind"  or "Legends of the Fall"

Are we perhaps more in tune with the season wherein we were born? Perhaps. But "my" season has always been the sweet melancholy of the Fall.

In my previous article I wrote about the importance and different forms of self-acceptance. What I didn't include was the common regret "Youth is wasted on the young"....."for if I only knew then what I know now......""" Like all regrets a waste of time; too few inspire fresh efforts and iron-willed resolutions to improve.

Ah, sweet regrets! Like memories they are a inexpensive indulgence but, like all such dips into unreality, they can leave us empty and merely sad.

Fall is not sad for me because the twinge of melancholy is but a reminder that only here and now lies the pearl of great price. What I seek is not a mental image, dredged from the past and refurbished to look better than it actually was: it is a dynamic, life-giving, life-loving embrace beginning at a point of singularity (me), and extending out or in as far as I can feel until all simply vanishes and I AM remains. Fall inspires in me the best and to see in the rest only their best.

You see, normally the seasons trigger but human moods. Each of them will tend to push our minds somewhere else. The intensity of summer activity keeps us at our periphery; the ever hopeful expectations of Spring keep us looking to the future; the dark night of winter inclines us to seek merriment and fellowship to keep the darkness at bay. And, yes, Fall invokes memories and nostalgia for the past.

It just so happens that Fall fits my "mood" like an comfortable old coat. It's not for everyone. Some prefer their cup of life full, active and dynamic; others, brimming with beauty and hope; others, are deep inside themselves, their thoughts unseen like an underground river.

I will further indulge myself by commenting on the fun fact that my grandson, Jay Matlock, was born on my birthday one year ago. At that very moment I and many of my dear friends, were meditating in front of the crypt where Yogananda's body is interred at the Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, CA. A buzzing text message stirred me from my meditations and my joy was such that I made an instant announcement! Was little Jay saying, "I'm back?"

A Fall reflective "type" cannot but wonder what that coincidence means for the two of us in our unfolding evolution as souls. No amount of reflection has revealed to me an image, whether past or future, from the dark, limpid pool of self-reflection. Yet I continue to marvel on the simple fact of it. I wish little Jay the best and quickest route to soul awakening and freedom, guided by the masters of Self-realization and the inspiration of many gurubhais (including his soul awakened parents). What help I may be to him in this way I cannot nor likely will ever know but I offer it when and how I can.

The waters beyond my window here at the Hermitage on Camano Island are a deep, pastel blue: not a ripple disturbs their quietude. Above them, the majestic volcanic peak of Mount Baker rises serene and undisturbed by human activity. The green of summer lingers in the evergreens as the deciduous trees begin their silent transformation to fire, flame and burnished gold.

A gentle jog into a nearby forest park played the scintillating light of a fading summer sun on my shoulders and onto the ferns and greens spread around me. My all but silent footfall felt like the angel of my soul's final destiny gently urging me along the path of life to the goal. The droplets of time are fading, hurry along now, don't tarry at the beaver pond to reminisce, or at the crude wooden bench in that magic, light-filled meadow.

Quoting one of my favorite affirmations written by my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, "be strong in yourself; complete in yourself; the joy of the universe awaits discovery in your inner being."

And to conclude with the nayaswami song I wrote a week or two after my ordination: "I am strong in my Self, I am free; complete in my Self, I seek Thee; in pleasure or pain, come loss or come gain; be praised or be blamed, I remain just the same; for nothing and no one is mine; for anger nor pride have I time. I seek God alone, only Thee; in Thy love and Thy joy I am free."

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda