Monday, May 29, 2017

Seven Stages of Meditation

I find it helpful to “look under the hood” so that I feel more comfortable and confident about what I am doing. Having created the local version (Seattle, WA) of Meditation Teacher Training, I explain to prospective students that in that course we “look under the hood” of meditation to learn the “how’s” and the “why’s” of the different practices and the stages through which we practice them. In that way, they might better understand and appreciate their practice and go deeper, and, by extension, to help others as well.
I’d like to offer to you a description of seven stages of meditation. My caveat is to acknowledge that inasmuch as we are speaking of levels of consciousness, one could say these are infinity, or, at least, infinitely more complex than a mere seven. That having been said (well, ok, “written”), see if you find this helpful:
Seven stages of meditation:
1.       SELF-AWARENESS / INTROSPECTION. The classic form of mindfulness is to simply sit quietly, usually eyes closed, and observe your thoughts. This might be in conjunction with observing or controlling your breath. In other meditation practices, the focus might supposed to be somewhere else but, in fact, the intrusion of monkey mind thoughts has the same effect (at least if the thoughts win the day). I call this phase of meditation: “Getting to know you!”[1] In this first level of meditation, it may be pleasant; it might even offer some “aha” moments; it can also be upsetting if past traumas or chronic fears arise unexpectedly. But, for my purposes, its salient characteristic is that the ego-I is self-enclosed, running somewhat if not entirely on the engine of the sub-conscious mind throwing out a random stream of consciousness or directed by the conscious mind munching on its own agenda. This type of “meditation” has its place; more than that, it demands its space. For those who have no higher intention than this space, well, mostly, that’s all there is. It is possible, however, that superconscious images or inspirations (even visions) might appear, but the chances of that are rather slim. I’ve heard that such a practice can lead to life changes but, well, never mind. No comment.
2.       CONSCIOUS QUIESCENCE.  A practice or technique that guides the meditator to quiet the monkey mind is the beginning of more traditional and time-honored meditations. By whatever technique (mantra, devotion, visualization, breath work) this state is achieved, it is refreshing, to say the least. It remains however in the realm of the ego-mind. The subconscious and conscious narrative functions may have diminished or ceased, but the ego remains King of the I. This state of conscious quiescence can be the launch pad for the higher states potentially yet to come. It is not always thus, however, as in the example of Ramakrishna gazing up at flock of geese and going into Samadhi suggests! Seriously, however, one might be chanting or praying or practicing any number of techniques and be drawn upward into a higher state without having to stop at the launch pad.
3.       ASTRAL PERCEPTIONS. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, he states that concentration upon astral perceptions can be a helpful focal point for going into deeper states. These astral perceptions might easily appear to one’s inner sight or subtle senses as a direct consequence of the quiet mind described in #2 above. While I hesitate to insist upon the following point, it is a good place to bring it up. The psycho-physiological subtle centers known as the chakras mark (for me at least) the transition from beginning meditation techniques to advanced ones. There is a relationship between astral perceptions and the functions of the chakras. The most notable ones being color and sound, but there are subtle perceptions of taste and smell, to name just a few of the more common ones. Thus, (and again I don’t insist on this point), one could say that the stage of meditation wherein astral perceptions become common or consistent is the stage where advanced techniques are employed (or at least that the meditator is achieving a more subtle or refined level of meditative awareness). This does not mean the ego has abdicated the throne quite yet but it is coming closer. This stage has a further relationship with the sixth stage on the Eight-Fold Path (described in the Yoga Sutras) of dharana. It is where the ego is aware that “I” am experiencing or perceiving these astral phenomenons. Subtle perceptions can also be glimpses into qualities of the soul (aka "aspects of God") which can be wholly entered into as described below.
4.       SUPERCONSCIOUSNESS. If the meditator is one who is seeking inner communion with God or some aspect of God (by whatever name or form), the next stage is well plotted for us in the seventh stage of the Eight-Fold Path: dhyana. This is where the formerly “I am feeling peaceful” becomes simply PEACE. It is where, to quote Paramhansa Yogananda’s famous poem Samadhi, “Knowing, Knower, Known as One!” In this stage, impossible to describe in words with reason and intellectual integrity, one does not LOSE Self-awareness; instead, one BECOMES the object of his focus, such as peace, wisdom, energy, love, calmness, (astral) sound or light, or bliss. One feels more alive than we could possible experience in ordinary states of waking or sleeping. This experience takes place not in the physical body; not even in the astral body, but in the causal body of ideation or thought, which is the Soul. But as yet, the Soul has not broken out of its identity or connection with the physical and astral bodies even if momentarily those bodies are as if asleep.
5.       SABIKALPA SAMADHI. Here I cannot but stumble on the simple fact that I am over simplifying the entire subject so much that I almost feel guilty. There are countless steps within this step. But, anyway, let me move forward because now we come to when the Soul begins to merge step by step: first in achieving oneness with the astral cosmos on a vibratory level; then achieving oneness with the causal world of the Kutastha or Christ Consciousness level of ideation; then at last going beyond all phenomenal worlds into the Infinite Spirit whose nature is Bliss itself: ever-existing (immortal and omnipresent); ever-conscious (omniscient); and ever-new Bliss. This is experienced as a state of meditation during which the physical body (at least) is moribund, held in a state of suspended animation or trance-like (immobile). This experience is probably repeated endlessly and perhaps over more than one, even many, incarnations. One can “fall” from this state at any time by the influence of desire or past karmas. It might take incarnations before once again achieving this blessed experience.
6.       NIRBIKALPA SAMADHI with KARMA. At last, like the caged bird whose multiple but brief forays outside the cage end when the bird flies away free for good, the state of cosmic consciousness becomes  permanent. But there’s still a catch: the astral and causal bodies remain intact because the astral body contains the unresolved seeds of past karma. Being, however, “free,” and not a care in the three worlds, the now jivan mukta (“free soul”) may have no reason to worry or be in a hurry to release his baggage. He might even keep some of his connections with other souls so that he can continue to assist them in their upward path to freedom. Patanjali mentions that such a one might, by contrast, incarnate into multiple bodies to work out that big bad past karma! At this point time becomes irrelevant but there is no chance of falling, spiritually speaking.
7.       NIRBIKALPA SAMADHI WITHOUT KARMA: When the jivan mukta achieves final liberation, he (she) (what matters gender at such a point!) becomes a param mukta or a siddha. Paramhansa Yogananda stated that if such a one does reincarnate he does so without any karmic compulsion and can therefore be declared an avatar! An avatar has limitless powers to uplift other souls. His role may be that of world teacher or savior or he may be all but completely undetected for reasons of the Divine Will.
Paramhansa Yogananda counseled us to memorized his poem, Samadhi. I have said it every day for many years. I believe that it gives to me the vibration of the final stage of freedom such that I draw a bit of it into my consciousness every day. I leave it with now and bid you adieu! 
 /s/ Swami Hrimananda

Vanished the veils of light and shade,
            Lifted every vapor of sorrow,
            Sailed away all dawns of fleeting joy,
            Gone the dim sensory mirage.
            Love, hate, health, disease, life, death,
            Perished these false shadows on the screen of duality.
            Waves of laughter, scyllas of sarcasm, melancholic whirlpools,
            Melting in the vast sea of bliss.
            The storm of maya stilled
            By magic wand of intuition deep.
            The universe, forgotten dream, subconsciously lurks,
            Ready to invade my newly-wakened memory divine.
            I live without the cosmic shadow,
            But it is not, bereft of me;
            As the sea exists without the waves,
            But they breathe not without the sea.
            Dreams, wakings, states of deep turia sleep,
            Present, past, future, no more for me,
            But ever-present, all-flowing I, I, everywhere.
            Planets, stars, stardust, earth,
            Volcanic bursts of doomsday cataclysms,
            Creation’s molding furnace,
            Glaciers of silent x-rays, burning electron floods,
            Thoughts of all men, past, present, to come,
            Every blade of grass, myself, mankind,
            Each particle of universal dust,
            Anger, greed, good, bad, salvation, lust,
            I swallowed, transmuted all
            Into a vast ocean of blood of my own one Being!
            Smoldering joy, oft-puffed by meditation
            Blinding my tearful eyes,
            Burst into immortal flames of bliss,
            Consumed my tears, my frame, my all.
            Thou art I, I am Thou,
            Knowing, Knower, Known, as One!
            Tranquilled, unbroken thrill, eternally living, ever-new peace!
            Enjoyable beyond imagination of expectancy, samadhi bliss!
            Not an unconscious state
            Or mental chloroform without wilful return,
            Samadhi but extends my conscious realm
            Beyond limits of the mortal frame
            To farthest boundary of eternity
            Where I, the Cosmic Sea,
            Watch the little ego floating in Me.
            The sparrow, each grain of sand, fall not without My sight.
            All space floats like an iceberg in My mental sea.
            Colossal Container, I, of all things made.
            By deeper, longer, thirsty, guru-given meditation
            Comes this celestial samadhi.
            Mobile murmurs of atoms are heard,
            The dark earth, mountains, vales, lo! molten liquid!
            Flowing seas change into vapors of nebulae!
            Aum blows upon vapors, opening wondrously their veils,
            Oceans stand revealed, shining electrons,
            Till, at last sound of the cosmic drum,
            Vanish the grosser lights into eternal rays
            Of all-pervading bliss.
            From joy I came, for joy I live, in sacred joy I melt.
            Ocean of mind, I drink all creation’s waves.
            Four veils of solid, liquid, vapor, light,
            Lift aright.
            Myself, in everything, enters the Great Myself.
            Gone forever, fitful, flickering shadows of mortal memory.
            Spotless is my mental sky, below, ahead, and high above.
            Eternity and I, one united ray.
            A tiny bubble of laughter, I
            Am become the Sea of Mirth Itself.

Note: taken from the Crystal Clarity Publishers reprint of the original 1946 edition of "Autobiography of a Yogi"

[1] I believe that was a song in the 1992 musical, King and I (Rodgers & Hammerstein) sung by Julie Andrews.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Be the Change : Be a Kriya Emissary!

There is a surge of inspiration worldwide among millions of meditators to find ways to become visible and to offer the “meditation solution” to a world in desperate need of change. 

Ananda, the worldwide network of communities and centers based on the practice of kriya yoga meditation, has initiated a campaign called, BE THE CHANGE: I Meditate. At the website, meditators around the world have an opportunity to pledge their meditation hours as an affirmation of their personal commitment to meditation as the solution to affecting a shift in worldwide consciousness towards peace, harmony, and cooperation.

The term “kriya” has always intrigued me for the simple reason that its literal meaning is simply (more or less): action. In Chapter 26 of the "Autobiography of a Yogi," Paramhansa Yogananda interprets the term as “union (yoga) with the Infinite through a certain rite or action.” Very generic is his explanation, in other words.

Swami Kriyananda may have been the first swami ever to take the spiritual name “kriyananda.” At the time, as I understand it, his intention related to the practice of kriya yoga. But inasmuch as Paramhansa Yogananda described Swamiji’s life as one of “service, and (he paused), meditation,” Swamiji also opined that his name has a double meaning: not just action as kriya yoga meditation but action as in service!

Why is it that Babaji and/or Lahiri Mahasaya used this singular, generic term (kriya) to describe the technique that they have given to the world? In our times every teacher goes out of his/her way to brand his own form of meditation or yoga with a trademarkable term! Were they simply ignorant of the benefits of trademarks and branding? (I can’t answer that for them, of course.) 

The term they chose is generic because creation at large and the human body specifically are generic. The way to enlightenment and to liberation is universal and not dependent upon belief or religious affiliation. The soul’s awakening gradually withdraws identification from the three bodies (physical, astral, causal) step by step going in reverse order and enter the kingdom of God through the channel(s) through which we came. The technique which they called “kriya” does precisely this. 

There are innumerable variations in terms of describing and practicing the technique itself. Thus it is that Yogananda claims that “St. Paul knew kriya, or a technique very similar to it…….” It’s the channel and the process that is universal. The details of the technique are important both as to the effectiveness which results by practicing the technique correctly to energize these channels AND as to the grace and power that comes through the guru and the instructions given by the guru.

Thus I come to my main thesis: as “kriya” refers to action, it is time for kriyabans (practitioners of kriya) to take action, to become Kriya Emissaries. I don’t mean we should rush out and teach the technique itself on the street corners. Meditation itself is “kriya” when understood in its broadest context. Ananda’s BE THE CHANGE initiative and campaign is the first level of our taking action. Sign up and pledge your meditation. Let’s achieve those million hours of meditation and help shift consciousness at a time in history when it is desperately needed.

But I would also hope that individuals, two by two (preferably), could with the support and guidance of their spiritual teacher, organization, or like-minded friends, go for a weekend; a week; a month; or more, and travel locally, regionally or internationally to share the BE THE CHANGE message and the practice of meditation. 

As most of my readers are likely affiliated with Ananda, this message can and should include sharing information on how and why the practice of kriya yoga can powerfully aid in this shift of consciousness. Paramhansa Yogananda wrote in "Autobiography of a Yogi" that the kriya technique is destined to spread around the world so that “all…may come to know that there is a definite, scientific technique of self-realization for the overcoming of all human misery.” Later in the "Autobiography of a Yogi," he writes, “Through use of the Kriya key, persons who cannot bring themselves to believe in the divinity of any man will behold at last the full divinity of their own selves.”

Whether we leave our town or city or not, we CAN be Kriya Emissaries. Sharing with others that we meditate need not be an imposition upon others. It can be done subtly: a picture at our desk; a book on a table; a suggestion to a friend. For others, taking a meditation teacher training course will not only help your meditation practice but it will empower you with confidence to share simple techniques with friends, family, children, or more formally in classes at work, fitness center, church, or other public venue.

“The only way out is IN!” The solution to humanity’s pressing issues today is a shift in consciousness. Leadership is needed but consciousness is by definition individual. This is the age of Self-realization which has come, as Yogananda put it, “to unite” all sincere seekers (not under the umbrella of any single organization or creed but under the shining stars of Superconsciousness!). Let us vow to ourselves, as Yogananda did when his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar challenged his resistance to public service, “to share with my fellows, so far as lay in my power, the unshackling truths I had learned at my guru’s feet.”

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Tribute to Swami Kriyananda

This Friday, May 19 is the anniversary of the birth of Ananda’s founder, James Donald Walters, aka Swami Kriyananda in the year 1926, in Rumania. Born to American parents who were living overseas because Swamiji’s father was a geologist for Esso assigned there to search for oil, little “Don” was destined to be a yogi. Swamiji’s autobiography, “The New Path,” chronicles his childhood in Europe, his teen and college years in America on the east coast, and his years with Paramhansa Yogananda in California. Swamiji’s early years were a search for meaning—a journey probably not unlike our own. He had the great blessing to be drawn to and to become a disciple of a God-realized guru. His efforts to find God were multiplied by the grace of God and guru.

Swami Kriyananda was destined even from a young age to be the founder of an intentional community: not just one, but, by the time of his passing in 2013, nine all together. On that day in Beverly Hills in July 1949 that Yogananda declared in a speech to some seven hundred people that this day “marked a new era” and that his words were “registered in the ether, in the Spirit of God” that “youths” would go forth in all directions to establish “colonies” of simple living and high ideals,

Swami Kriyananda was present that day in Beverly Hills and vowed to serve this ideal. Of those seven hundred, only one, Swamiji, took those words to heart. In 1968, Swamiji founded the first “world brotherhood colony:” Ananda Village near Nevada City, CA. In a lifetime of public service, Swami Kriyananda never held himself out to be a guru. His role was that of a disciple doing his best to serve Yogananda’s work and humbly hopeful that he be transformed in the process. He serves then as a role model for generations of disciples.

No other direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda has done so much or been so accessible and intensely active for an entire lifetime in public service to his Yogananda’s work. He traveled often around the world sharing his guru's teachings in talks, interviews, counseling, and wherever he went. Hundreds of pieces of music, one hundred and fifty books, chants, ceremonies, nine communities and so much more. The intangible blessings he shared were even far greater than his outward creative deeds.

Swami Kriyananda used his very good karma to race toward soul freedom. Swamiji once asked his guru, “Master, will I find God in this lifetime?” Yogananda replied, “Yes—death will be the final sacrifice.” Swamiji sometimes wondered why death would be such a sacrifice as he was never conscious of being afraid of death. Indeed, he would sometimes quip that he would welcome the respite from his life of intense activity, burdened all too often by so many obstacles and challenges!

But inasmuch as Yogananda told him that his life would be one of “intense activity, and meditation” perhaps what Yogananda meant was that God would grant him the highest Samadhi—moksha—only at the time of his transition to the astral plane.

After Swamiji’s passing, members and friends from around the world built a lovely, small-scale, eight-sided, blue-tiled “Moksha Mandir” under which Swami’s body was laid to rest. It is open to the public and is located on the grounds of the Crystal Hermitage at Ananda Village, CA. Each year, thousands of people come each year to admire the beauty of the gardens and members come to meditate and pay their respects with gratitude and love.

Beginning this year, Ananda Village will host the first annual Kriyaban Retreat weekend on or around the annual birthday of Swami Kriyananda. Thus some of us will be away this weekend. Nonetheless, this Saturday, May 20, the regularly scheduled 3-hour meditation in Bothell will be divided between meditation (6 to 7:20 p.m.) and a program (7:30 to 9 p.m.) consisting of readings, music, chanting and inspiration to honor the life and blessings of our beloved founder, Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013).

Joy to you,

Nayaswamis Hriman and Padma McGilloway

Sunday, May 14, 2017

How to Meditate All Day

In the last blog article I “revealed” the two great secrets of meditation: 1) You have to WANT to meditate, and 2) In meditation you need to open up to a greater Consciousness than your own.

There is a third great secret to meditate deeply: meditate all day! Of course I don’t mean that literally. Instead we should live our active, daily life in the consciousness and awareness of the innate joy (or peace, love, calmness etc) born of sitting in deep meditation.

The great clinical sage of consciousness, Patanjali, author of the renowned Yoga Sutras, defines enlightenment as a process of remembering; of waking up (spiritually); of smriti. Anyone who attempts to remain spiritually mindful during daily activity knows full well how easily forgetfulness overcomes one's efforts like the instant darkness that swallows a room when the light is turned off. 

This, then, is the path to true meditation. Both sitting and actively practicing are needed: they are two sides of the same coin. Those who claim, “I talk to God all day,” and do so to, in effect, excuse their reluctance to sit pray and meditate in silence are of course fooling no one but themselves. Those who sit and meditate daily but make no effort to “meditate all day” simply get “nowhere fast.”

By contrast, those who feel the peace of meditation in every act of the day return home eager to sit and dive deep into the ocean of peace. This is foolproof. This is why this is the third great secret.

The ways to begin this practice are as numerous as the sands that contain the seas. You have to experiment and test the ways that you’ve been taught or which well up within you. Most of this practice is done in silence for the fact that you are likely to be among others at work, school, home and so on. There are times when you might be driving alone in your car or out on a break from work.

In general this “working meditation” is called “practicing the presence (of God).” In yogic sadhana terminology, it might be called japa: silently reciting the name(s) of God. Beyond this, the actual form of these techniques explode toward infinity. You can chant; use mantra; watch your breath; control your breath; “talk” to God, stretch into an asana, gaze devotionally at an image or picture, and on and on and on.

“Meditate on Aum” Patanjali advises; or, on anything that inspires you, he adds! Divine consciousness is ever-present, ever-self-aware, ever happy: it is manifested in a variety of ways but including as a continuous hum: music of the spheres. Thus it is unbroken. Thus it is our goal to achieve unbroken awareness of the indwelling Spirit.

The simple fact that we forget constantly during the day, or, the simple fact that amidst the fierce intensity of concentration upon your tasks with its concomitant stresses and tensions we lose our cell phone connection with the Aum or Amen, true and faithful witness of Spirit immanent in creation, is nothing to decry. Just return to it “as if nothing happened” for it was there all the time, just as gravity works whether we are aware of it or acknowledge its existence. [“As if nothing happened” is the instruction we give to students whose attention upon the breath flags even while sitting in meditation. This is not denial. It is an affirmation of the underlying reality that step by step we return to.]

This, then, is the third great secret of meditation.  “Yoga” means union. Patanjali describes both the process and the goal of life as the step by step and finally the permanent cessation of the mental and emotional reactions to thoughts, feelings and sensations. It is continuous and permanent. It is pure Being. This state is not devoid of feeling. Rather it puts us into the great Ocean of feeling: bliss. Bliss that is unconditioned by passing, fleeting waves of impressions and circumstances which have no permanence. Thus there should not be, other than by degree, any real difference between our “working” meditation and “sitting” meditation.

In this way, we meditate all the time. Both working and sitting meditations create a continuous meditation. Both are necessary to accomplish the ultimate goal of freeing our consciousness from identification with that which is unreal and achieving our soul’s final destiny.

Joy to you on the adventure of awakening!

Swami Hrimananda

P.S. The fourth great secret of meditation is the disciple-guru relationship. I may save this for some future article. Several past articles are already devoted to this vital aspect of spiritual awakening.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Secrets of Deep Meditation!

There are many meditation techniques and styles: too numerous and tedious to attempt to name. But there are TWO SECRETS OF DEEP MEDITATION I'd like to share with you:

1.     Hold your laughter so I can explain what I mean by the most important one: YOU HAVE TO WANT to meditate! Sounds silly, doesn't it? It's not at all silly. Paramhansa Yogananda, the yoga master and author of the worldwide renown spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," put it this way: "The soul LOVES to meditate but the ego HATES to meditate. If you have made any serious and consistent effort to meditate at all in your life you know what I mean: internal resistance to meditation must be frequently—too frequently—combated even though our intentions are clear.
It’s not unlike so many other intentions: giving up smoking; eating healthy food, exercising. You want to do what is right but habit, temptation, restlessness, fear—all these and more take their toll on our resolve.  Once you become clear “who’s talking” (devil or angel, so to speak), you can at least call the ‘ol buster out at high noon for a shoot out. You know, in other words, what you are dealing with. Forcing your will upon the subconscious mind is no real solution. It is INSPIRATION that rules the day. As “love makes the world go round” is really a euphemism for the reality that we are ruled by our desires, we can turn this undeniable aspect of our nature to good use if we affirm and draw upon the inspiration that got us to the cushion to begin with.
I mentioned in a prior blog article (the one before the previous one) the suggestion to bring to mind, before you meditate (or perhaps as you are struggling with resistance to meditation) the peace, joy, and inspiration you have already found so often from meditation. In addition, as you sit for meditation, pick up a book of inspirational reading with which to begin. Don’t just plop down and with the attitude of a conqueror, even a reluctant one, push your way through your routine! Chant to open the heart; use affirmations to awaken energy; pray for inspiration.
A friend wrote to me from Europe just the other day, bemoaning the growing fatigue and resistance he was experiencing from his otherwise highly disciplined and lengthy daily routine. No wonder! The subconscious mind will take exact its revenge if your efforts are too strongly tinged with sheer will power and not joy, inspiration or devotion! It was obvious reading his account what the problem was. And, the solution, too!
There are as many remedies are there are meditators. Some of the more obvious solutions range from shortening your meditation to making better use of chanting or other forms of inspiration (as mentioned above, spiritual reading), to varying one’s routines and techniques to fit the present need, and on and on. Going on retreat; renewing one’s vows; re-taking classes or reviewing the instructions; meditating, studying, or being with other meditators.
2.     The other GREAT secret is related to the first GREAT secret: meditation can open us to a greater reality and consciousness. Paramhansa Yogananda perhaps coined the term SUPERCONSCIOUSNESS. Much of how meditation is taught, especially the more clinical forms (often called “mindfulness”), just puts us squarely in our own heads. There’s no devotion; no sense of God or other higher power (using various terms and images). We just sit there repeating our mantra; working with the breath; concentrating the mind; using creative visualizations but never really getting out of our own head (including our own thoughts and mental narratives and self-talk). Maybe we hope to extinguish the ego, or the thoughts, or sense impressions. Maybe we hope to “leave our body” or have astral experiences of light, sound or energy. But, like Mark Twain’s comment on how easy it is to give smoking: “I’ve done it a hundred times!” our meditation is nothing more than a head trip which you’ve done a hundred times but which doesn’t transform your life. A squirrel cage, in other words. Pleasant, perhaps, like daydreaming. And sure, maybe some creative thoughts appear or insights into our life and problems. But, really, honestly? Just “me and my arrow.” (A reference to the theme song of a 1971 cult classic cartoon movie.)
When we lift our eyes and gaze through the point-between-the-eyebrows, we can do so with the intention to receive; to listen; to offer ourselves wholly; to feel the presence of God, one of the Masters, a deity or the sacred image or name of our own liking. However you approach meditation, approach it with the sacredness of entering the “holy of holies.” Behind the curtain of the darkness seen behind closed eyes are another pair of eyes: an unseen ‘person,’ Being, Force, a Presence. It is loving, benign and has waited for you for an Eternity for no other reason than to lift you to a sphere at once blissful and wholly familiar as your own true Self. A place where joy and love and peace are without condition or requirement of merit nor tainted by error. It is omnipresent; omniscient; and unalloyed while ever-new bliss.
One of the greatest insights offered to the world by Yogananda was to state unequivocally that the "joy [peace, love, etc] of meditation" is proof of the living presence of God within you. No stranger; no cosmic dictator in far away space, ready to pounce upon you for the slightest of infractions. "The kingdom of heaven is within you," Jesus Christ said plainly.

Joy to you from Ananda,
Swami Hrimananda
Next article:  “How to Meditate All Day!”

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Meditation: Is the Practice the Same as the Goal?

In the previous article the theme was to remember the "point," i.e., the purpose of meditation: to enter a state of inner peace, or joy, or love. I said this even while knowing that this isn't the "ultimate" purpose of meditation. It is, however, a realistic starting point. 

Much of the article was about remembering to focus on the interim goal of achieving inner peace and not to focus too much on its techniques and step-by-step routine. I went so far as to say that, when pressed for time, feeling inspired, or strongly resistant to your techniques and routine, it may be helpful to draw down that otherwise familiar state of inner peace and to do so without regard to your techniques or routine. 

Never let the practice of meditation eclipse the goal of meditation if that goal can be accessed without the techniques. At the same time, an intelligent and attuned meditator knows that the time-honored, guru-given techniques have the power to take one deeper when practiced as taught.

But in making those points, I ignored, for the purposes of that article, a further and deeper point. It is also perhaps too subtle a point for beginning meditators, at least. But it is one that needs to be expressed.

To start, I'd like to quote my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, from his book "Awaken to Superconsciousness." (This book is one of my favorites and it is the core text to the Meditation Teacher Training course at the Institute of Living Yoga in Bothell.) In Chapter 5, The Basic Attitudes of Yoga, he writes:

The more you seek rest as the consequence of doing, rather than in the process of doing, the more restless you will become. Peace isn’t waiting for you over the next hill. Nor is it something you construct, like a building. It must be a part of the creative process itself.

Thus it is that we err in the practice of meditation if we imagine we'll find that state of inner peace AFTER we do our techniques! Instead. we should recollect and affirm the inner peace we seek in a prayerful and reverent way AT THE BEGINNING of our meditation. As a result, we will infuse our routine and our techniques WITH that inner peace, attuning our consciousness to its ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new omnipresence just behind our ordinary consciousness. 

At the end of our practices as we turn deeper into the silence, going from "doing" (practicing techniques) to "being" (sitting in the silence), we will thus more consistently and more deeply find that state of inner peace blossoming like a flower at the dawn.

With this approach we demolish the false dichotomy between "doing" and "being;" between techniques and their goal. The deep lesson here is an affirmation of and in time the realization that peace is our very nature; that peace (and joy, love, etc) are ours already and always. Isn't that TRUE yoga?

As we experience the truth of this, then resistance to techniques or routine begins to dissolve, even if it is also true that there is a difference between practicing meditation and meditating! The last article posited the idea that the one leads to the other. This article takes this deeper to say that deepest truth is that the practice of "yoga" is the same thing as the goal of "yoga." Yoga means union: Oneness.

Joy to You!

Swami Hrimananda

Articles to come: the one GREAT SECRET of meditation will be revealed. And, how to make every hour of the day a meditation.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Meditation: Are You Missing the Point?

I had an interesting discussion with a friend the other day. The topic we discussed is one that is very common among meditators but while there are lots of opinions, there is very little consensus. Here are some of the ways it is approached:

1. I have very little time. Should I spend my time practicing my technique(s) or should I simply sit in meditation?

2. I struggle with following the prescribed meditation routine that I have been taught. Practicing the routine can require more concentration than I have or want to give, or, I find them tedious and uninspiring.

3. I am faithful to my daily meditation routine but I don't feel I am making any progress or at least don't feel very much inspiration. 

4. I have very little time to devote to meditation; I have many responsibilities; but I feel guilty about not fulfilling my pledge to meditate, including completing the practices I have committed to.

No matter how it’s stated, the basic issue is how to find inspiration from one's meditation.

Before I comment more usefully on this subject, let me remind us that meditation which is practiced "because I have to," or, "in the expectation of results" is already bound to be unsatisfying.

Why is this? This is because the very nature of inner peace is unconditional. It is devoid of compulsion or expectation.

I have lived in the ashram-like communities of Ananda most of my adult life. In meditating frequently, often daily, with others (often the same people day in and out), and, having taught meditation for many years, I understand how easy it is to mistake the practice of techniques for the goal of meditation.

There is a dialogue in AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI between the young Mukunda (Yogananda's name as a boy) and a saint he would frequently visit. The saint says to Mukunda: "You often go into the silence, but have you developed anubhava? He was reminding me,” Yogananda wrote, “to love God more than meditation. Do not mistake the technique for the goal."

Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras warns us (tongue in cheek, no doubt) against "missing the point."

We live in a technology and technique oriented culture. As one who teaches the family of meditation techniques that includes Kriya Yoga as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda, I see students come seeking to learn these techniques.

Too often a student imagines that the techniques themselves hold the promised reward of enlightenment. Because we tell them that belief is secondary to experience, they assume the experience of meditation born of the techniques of meditation will bring them what they seek.

Again, frequent articles based on scientific studies encourages the expectation that meditation is a panacea for all sorts of physical and mental maladies. Few stop to consider that even the most healthy, well-balanced, active, peace-loving, compassionate and creative individual may be very far from enlightened or unendingly blissful. Happy, well, yes but how dependable is human happiness in the face of Buddha’s threefold suffering: illness, aging, and death? (What to mention a veritable plethora of potential human woes around every corner!)

I would be a fool to attempt to define enlightenment but for the purposes of points I wish to make, let us posit the thesis that the purpose of meditation is to experience perfect stillness, Oneness or a state of ego transcendence. Obviously, then, perfect health (physical and mental) is none of these states.

Between the psycho-physiological benefits of meditation and a state of perfect stillness or ego transcendence lie recognizable and identifiable experiences in meditation. Most experienced meditators, for example, know what is inner peace, joy, love, or expanded awareness.

Therefore, for my purposes let's call these states the "goal" of meditation techniques and routines. Making it even simpler, let's say for the purposes of this article that INNER PEACE in meditation is my goal.

Therefore it must be the case that the technique(s) or routines of meditation that I practice are SECONDARY to my goal. They may of course help to achieve my goal. But are they ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY?

At first, when we learn to meditate, the routine and technique ARE substantially necessary and certainly useful to achieve consistent results with meditation. A person too lazy or lacking energy or intelligence, or one who cannot or refuses to learn the science of meditation, cannot thereby fault his "tools."

But with dedicated practice, the meditator learns to summon (mostly) at will the state of inner peace. To be clear, I am NOT saying that one should expect to be able to abandon meditation techniques or routines. A true technique (especially "guru-given") can take one to ever deeper states of meditation which are, in fact, “endless” because Oneness equates to Infinity and there’s no end to Infinity!!!! "Those too perfect for this world, adorn some other" the dry-witted Swami Sri Yukteswar (guru of Yogananda) once remarked.

What I AM saying, is that when pressed for time, or when internal resistance to the discipline of technique surfaces strongly, the meditator who can should simply enter at will the happy state of inner peace which is, in fact, our true goal. Of course, if he cannot do this, then it would be best to reach back into his tool kit of affirmations, prayer, chanting, mantra, or pranayama to kick start the energy needed to lift off (up).

My real point is that many meditators MISS the point and get bogged down in their own unhappy resistance to routine, or to the pressure of limited time, when, if they were more aware, could simply sit and realize they can enter into INNER PEACE at will! Or, if they are already feeling that deep peace even as they begin to sit, but believe they have to go through their routine first before being rewarded by inner peace, they should consider going with the flow of peace first.

If time allows and that peace wanes, then, by all means, go back to your routine to once again prime the pump!

The purpose of learning the techniques of one's profession, craft or art, is to go beyond them into the art of it. As a raft is left behind once one reaches the opposite shore, so are meditation techniques put aside when higher states appear.

Don't fool yourself in imagining that one or two blissful meditations means you can throw out your kriya beads. Nor should you imagine that feeling inner peace is the end game of true meditation. (Infinity, remember?) While meditation is both a science and an art, the science leads to the art (and not the other way around). 

But real meditators struggle to find time for meditation. Real meditators struggle with guilt over not being able to practice the way they "should." Real meditators can sometimes get into a rut, practicing the same routine every day until it becomes stale.

Let us not, therefore, "miss the point" of meditation.

Joy and blessings,

Swami Hrimananda

Postscript: In another article I will share thoughts on making every moment of the active day a meditation; and, perhaps another article on specific ideas on how to keep your meditation routine fresh and inspired! A deeper aspect of this apparent dichotomy between technique and the goal is the integration of the two when “being” enters the “doing” and “doing” becomes “being.” This little phrase comes to me at this moment: “No-thing is the way to where Fullness comes to stay.”