Monday, January 4, 2016

How Yogananda Changed My Life!

Tuesday, January 5 is the anniversary of the birth of Paramhansa Yogananda in India in 1893. Ananda centers and communities around the world, and Self-Realization Fellowship centers everywhere will honor the occasion with programs and meditations.

As my friends know (and perhaps are tired of being reminded), I went off to India in 1975 in "Search of Secret India". Though my trip (13 months, 26,000 miles, driving from Europe to and all around India, Sri Lanka and Nepal) was not successful in finding my guru or my specific path of meditation, I was, like Dorothy of Kansas in the Wizard of Oz, rewarded upon my return by meeting my future wife (Padma) who introduced me to both Ananda and Yogananda's now famous "Autobiography of a Yogi" (and, my future spiritual guide, Swami Kriyananda, direct disciple of Yogananda).

My life has been much blessed, spiritually. Born to a family of devout and sincere Catholic parents, I studied 16 years in Catholic schools and universities. I studied for a time for the priesthood until the '60's fervor caught me in a new wave of consciousness that, for me, culminated in the study of what we then called "Eastern religions."

Coming to Ananda in 1977, after its 'famous' forest fire (the apparent cause for how I met Padma, in fact), there was lots to do and opportunities for service were many. At one point there were some forty members living in nearby Nevada City and its twin city, Grass Valley ("city" is a euphemism, for these are small towns) because at Ananda Village new homes had yet to be built and there were even fewer jobs.

So we had meditations and Sunday Services in Nevada City. Right away there was a need for leading meditations, classes and helping to create new businesses (health food store, cafe, gift store, printing business)  and serving as communications and laison with the community that is about half hour's drive out of town.

When I was in 7th and 8th grades, my father got me to give talks at his service clubs, the Serra Club (named after the Franciscan priest, Junipero Serra) and the Knights of Columbus. I don't recall the topics but they were all on religious and social subjects. The Serra Club was dedicated to fostering vocations to the priesthood (etc.). I also don't know what prompted him to assume I should do such things. He never said but the "shoe fit."

So I had early life samskars (karmas) for teaching. As a small child, a young boy, I would constantly give speeches in my mind as I played with my toys or walked to school. It never occurred to me to question this or to consider it perhaps unusual. My keen interest in how anything I saw could be improved still clings to my mental habits even, if slightly, to this day.

I had several intuitions about my future adult life. I knew, for example, that I would have an early marriage and an early divorce, being remarried in my 30's (it turned out to be in my late '20's); I knew that I would be an inspirational or instructional speaker of some sort. Later when I came to Ananda Village and the core members were largely, if not exclusively, monks or nuns, I also knew this was not to be my station in life. While I had no personal desire for children in my second marriage, I had no issue with Padma's desire for children. (I had had a wonderful experience as a teen father of my daughter and found the relationship with her rewarding even if the marriage was counter to my life's directions.)

But most of these 'knowings' faded in the turbulence of high school and the first part of college. Whatever hiatus occurred in my spiritual search, however, it did not last, By my second year in college I had discovered and was thriving upon eastern meditation practices. I was searching however on my own, with a subconscious reluctance to groups, creeds, or gurus.

In fact, in India, my seeming failure to find what I seeking was an innate aversion to the off-the-shelf gurus who looked and dressed the part to a "tee." It struck me then as fake or at least not what I wanted. It was to take a "westernized" guru (meaning approachable, both lovable and wise, familiar with and accepting of our ways) and a western teacher (Kriyananda) to draw me in.

I was drawn to Ramana Maharshi but he had left the body by the time I read about him. Paul Brunton's book, "In Search of Secret India," caught my imagination and guided me to India and to Ramana Maharshi's ashram in southern India.

Like so many (millions, presumably), Paramhansa Yogananda's autobiography was deeply captivating and resonant with wisdom, devotion and a sincerity so tangible that not even the outrageous miracles that suffuse its pages like ink could taint the power of its vibration. I, too, like many (maybe most) simply glossed over things I couldn't draw from my own experience or belief....for later contemplation!

I cannot separate my guru, Yoganandaji, from my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, and his life's work, Ananda. To this day I aver that I would never have been attracted to Self-Realization Fellowship's cult-like, closed culture of monasticism and hierarchical Catholicism, replete with its lack of transparency, distrust of innovation and creativity, and all but absolute lack of opportunity by householders to serve (accept in mechanical ways, or, of course, financially!).  [I suppose my indictment sounds a bit harsh, but even to this day, I am, to quote their leader, Daya Mata's comment to Swami Kriyananda regarding the role of communities in SRF's work, "simply not interested" in their organization, though I have grown, grudgingly to accept, their self-definitions and role in Master's work .... as curators and docents.] Perhaps future generations of devotees in each organization will work together in some ways. I do accept that they have the Master's vibration and blessings; they are sincere; and, are doing the best they can.

My personal, spiritual dharma has been inseparable from Ananda in the opportunities to serve and to gain attunement to the divine work of my guru.

In my early years at Ananda Village I struggled with the power of conviction with which Swami Kriyananda would assess situations, directions and people. Not that he lorded over us; quite the contrary. But in himself, the strength of his words, will power, and opinion challenged. I came to the conclusion that living with an avatar must imbue close disciples with an aura of infallibility and certitude born of the power and vibration of such a soul incarnate!

I went to so far as to conclude that this could make disciples, not yet fully liberated, what to say avatars, a little crazy, even egotistical. This was later born out in the behavior of SRF's leaders towards Swami Kriyananda and Ananda in their lawsuits and well funded efforts to destroy both. Sad story, but not mine to tell.

But Swamiji's disarming transparency, openness and humility, and consistent high-mindedness and modest success in all that he set out to do (against ridiculously overwhelming odds), gradually softened my resistance. I confess now that while his impersonal friendship and genuine interest in my spiritual welfare never wavered, I think my questioning and doubts spoiled for him acceptance and approval of me in the way he did with others. It is one of my life's deepest disappointments. But my wariness of "gurus" (and teachers) was a feature of my search from its very beginnings long ago.

This, I have come to accept, is certainly an important reason I was not born in time to have come to my guru, Yogananda, in the body.

Ironically, or not, the wariness I felt for Kriyananda's certitude is something, to a small degree, I have had to face. Early in my time at Ananda, I think I became labelled something of a "know it all." Young men, especially, have that ego affirming need (born of insecurity). But it's more than that. On some issues I feel I do know, did know, and could feel the truth or rightness of certain directions or actions which my peers or other Ananda leaders seemed unsure about. After we had been assigned (asked) to come to Seattle to lead the work here, a fellow teacher openly accused me (expressing no doubt the prevailing opinion at the time, perhaps even from Swamiji) of wanting to be important: the same charge that essentially got Kriyananda "crucified" by his SRF superiors.

It is the vast scope of Master's teachings--their universality and their power of the transformation of human consciousness at this key time in history--that has always inspired me and drawn me to this work. As a child I was thrilled when, in grammar school, the nuns explained that the word "catholic" meant "universal!" I was born for this and I know it is right for me to serve this work in the role that I have been blessed and privileged to have in these past years.

Ironically, again, at this point in my life, it matters not what role I have. Aspirations and ambitions, if indeed I ever really had "ambitions," mean nothing to me except as I may serve the work. More than this, by far, is that the conviction that attunement to God through my guru is everything. Nothing else matters: health, success, sickness, or failure; the opinion's of others. Not that any of this is shockingly news or didn't exist before. But the roots of this knowing have gradually sunk deeper into my consciousness.

Yogananda has indeed changed my life. Even on the level of delusions that run deeper than any of these things, I have worked and prayed over decades and at times despaired for any progress, but which now, in the "golden years" of life, signs of victory call me to ever greater heights of inner light. 

Swami Kriyananda offered to the world the thought that Paramhansa Yogananda is truly the avatar for this age (of Dwapara Yuga). It's taken me some years but I endorse this thought. I don't care if it's true; truth is more than a fact; truth is beneficial. And this belief, if it must be, at first, a mere affirmation, has the power to help millions. 

Paramhansa Yogananda lived in 20th century in America. He became a citizen here and expressed his admiration for the can-do spirit of America. More than any modern saint or sage I can think of, Yogananda is approachable to everyone, east or west, who is educated, thinks deeply about the world we live in and how to improve it, and yearns for the eternal verities which have so moved devotees down through the ages. He brought to the world Kriya Yoga: the science of mind, consciousness, and feeling. It is for everyone. 

Though it was right that during his life his close disciples offered to him traditional forms of respect and devotion, he, like the avatars who sent him, and like the rishis of old, had no interest in nor cultured the trappings of gurudom that remains prevalent even today in India. Yogananda purposely had a life that, while challenging, yes, but not more so than for any American self-made man, rags to riches like, deemphasized his own spiritual stature.

True, he worked miracles as astonishing as Jesus Christ. But these were quiet and unseen except by a few. In this age of Dwapara, the striving for truth is one of self-actualization, and its spiritual form is that of Self-realization. Self-effort through yoga practice and attitudes is the emphasis. Devotion, yes; grace, for sure. But self-effort is the starting point and the emphasis. 

This writing is already too long and I could go on. Paramhansa Yogananda has indeed changed my life and that of thousands, perhaps millions already. It would be his wish, and a truth that Kriyananda often emphasized, that we place our honor and respect on the basis of universal precepts and upon God as the Doer, not on Yogananda as a person and personality. But, as it is in you and I, these are inextricably linked. We cannot, in truth, separate the message from the messenger. 

When we hear something important we want to know two things: the truth of the statement and who said it. "Who do men say I am," asked Jesus Christ. The question is every bit as important as the teachings. Yet, the answer is not born of personality but of consciousness. 

I bow with gratitude at the feet of my guru and at the feet of my teacher, both gone from this earth in bodily form, but both present for, as Yogananda said it, "For those who think me near, I am near." As Jesus put, "Whenever two or more are gathered in my name, there I AM." 

The willingness to acknowledge the spiritual stature of another person is the first step towards attracting grace through the wisdom of another human being. Reading scriptures is not enough; they can't instruct you personally. Our interpretations of their meaning are fraught with filters of our own.

The willingness to entertain and accept the God-realized stature of a Christ-like saint is the first step towards one's own Self-realization through discipleship.

A "Happy Birthday" to all disciples and admirers of Paramhansa Yogananda. His life and living presence is one of the great "hopes for a better world." God has thrown to humanity a lifeline but who has eyes to see and ears to hear?

May the blessings of the Masters guide our lives with light, wisdom and joy. May we each offer ourselves to that light as instruments of the great work to be done in their name.

Nayaswami Hrimananda