Saturday, October 28, 2017

Grow Your Own Food : the Role of Farming in Ananda Worldwide!


Ananda Farms, Camano Island, WA

I am absolutely unqualified to write this article. I hardly know a weed from a pickle. But the other day Zach Abbey (co-manager of Ananda Farms www.AnandaFarms.com) posed the rhetorical question: "What is the vision of farming in Ananda's network of communities?"

Our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, in a thundering oration, once declared that a time would come when intentional spiritual communities would "spread like wildfire." He urged audiences to "buy land in the country, grow your own food, and live together in simplicity, guided by high ideals."

That was 1949. Since that time, neither of these two powerful commands have born fruit, at least outside the Ananda communities (of which there are nine). So, what gives here?

"Timing is everything!" Ananda's work in communities is, to state it simply and in relation to my question, seminal. Our experience and our example to society at large will bear fruit, like indeed fruit is borne, at the right time.

We have been learning as we go. The first community, Ananda World Brotherhood Village (now called, simply, Ananda Village), has gone through many changes over its fifty years. The other, newer communities, are organized differently and also experience changes and new forms from time to time. 

In Seattle area, for example, we moved away from having a professional property manager to managing the apartment community ourselves. This is at least a step in the right direction of what an intentional residential community should look like.

And, thus, returning to farming, we need to patiently continue growing food on land in the country where some can live. We will learn and refine our methods as we do this. The time is surely coming, (many others affirm this also) when what we have learned will be put to widespread use. But for now, like our communities, farming seems like an expensive luxury even as it is generally ignored by society at large.

Interest in alternative lifestyles is growing, however. 

Those of us drawn to either or both of these movements which are destined to manifest more commonly in the future are "way-showers," pioneers (you know, the ones with the arrows in their back). We are practicing what in yoga is known as "tapasya" -- the self-sacrifice and self-offering of our energies into a higher cause or ideal without regard to outward success as measured by the world around us.

Farming within the Ananda communities, like the communities themselves, has evolved in its various forms. Struggle and resistance always confronts changes. Organic farms around the world largely follow modern agricultural methods of tilling the soil, automated irrigation, and mono-culture row cropping. So, too, have the organic farming methods at the Ananda Communities.

But in recent years, Zach and Hailey Abbey (in Seattle area) and Alex and Dharmdasi Forrester (Ananda Village) have initiated no-till permaculture style food growing. Setting aside considerations of whether one form is more efficient than another in terms of the "Green Revolution" (which, it can be questioned, may not be the only measure of food growing goals), this approach is guided by the desire to live in harmony with nature, not to wrest from Her hands her bounty in a struggle of the survival of the fittest! 

I dare not pretend to articulate the goals of permaculture style farming. Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008) is one of the guiding lights of this movement. Visit www.AnandaFarms.com for more on this subject. Better yet, visit Ananda Farms on Camano Island!

So now we have both methods co-existing side by side within the Ananda Communities. Acceptance of the new style was not an easy process. No one threw a punch, of course, but there's nothing more likely to generate a lot of talking than philosophy!!!!! :-)

Though I personally am an advocate of the no-till "yoga farm" approach, it isn't as important as it might seem to those who farm. Rather, the impulse, felt through the margins of society, to "grow your own," IS. Whether hydroponically or otherwise, on some level there is a perceived need to get back to the land.

Yoga is about integrating body and mind; and, earth, water, fire, air and ether! The soul of modern civilization has become "virtually" vacant from the earth, caught up in technology and ideology.

To regain our center as we do through yoga and meditation, we also need to reconnect and reintegrate into the world our bodies inhabit. 

Thus I feel, and am not alone in this, that however challenging it might be in this era to pioneer more natural methods of growing food (because the heavily subsidized agricultural industry provides food so cheaply), we must "farm-on" for the benefit and the example given to many who will come after us (whether soon or later).

Blessings,

Swami Hrimananda

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Friendship: the New Marriage

(Note: I speak here of marriage between a man and a woman. This form of marriage remains the dominant form of marriage, social changes notwithstanding, and, besides, it's simply easier to write nouns and pronouns in our language which has not yet figured out a natural way of addressing these new norms. My choice then is not a philosophical or social one but a practical one.)

"The only true marriage is between souls who have no compulsion of desire or need to be married!" (anonymous) 

Well, ok, so there aren't any such marriages to be found! (At least not commonly.) 

Human nature or perhaps only human culture bestows upon us an idealized image of marriage, cast in terms of romance and "happily ever after." While no one with life experience would buy into that in a sober state of mind, lots of people buy into it emotionally (at least when attending weddings, or deep into romance novels or movies).

Paramhansa Yogananda wrote a poem called "Friendship." Here is an excerpt:

Friendship is noble, fruitful, holy—

When two separate souls march in difference

Yet in harmony, agreeing and disagreeing,
Glowingly improving diversely,
With one common longing to find solace in true pleasure.
When ne’er the lover seeks
Self-comfort at cost of the one beloved,
Then, in that garden of selflessness
Fragrant friendship perfectly flowers.
For friendship is a hybrid, born of two souls,
The blended fragrance of two unlike flowers
Blown together in love’s caressing breeze.
Friendship is born from the very core
Of secret, inexplicable likings.
Friendship is the fountain of true feelings.
Friendship grows in both likeness and difference.

With the easy accessibility our culture offers for pursuing romantic and sexual urges, we find that marriage is taking place later in life and we see a greater recognition of the importance of friendship (over the intoxication of "being in love"). Perhaps this is the modern form of "arranged" marriage: arranged by higher values and interests rather the compulsion of hormones or a "pretty shade of lipstick and a handsome bow tie." 

I don't know the stats but I bet more couples meet by the arrangement of dating sites than by random bumps in a bar. 

The candid atmosphere of conversation around sex has the positive effect of shedding light on its darker sides such as aggressive and inappropriate behavior, abuse of position, disease, and pornography, not to mention an long list of criminal activities. 

Being in love may seem a harmless form of intoxication, but note that we "fall" in love. All forms of intoxication are similar, even experiencially. All involve a hangover! Taking another step downward, alcohol (or other drug use), sex, and violence can become a kind of demonic triad that clearly has aspects in common. Thus, societies worldwide seek in some way to re-direct sexual impulses into more positive expressions. 

Besides, in our calm and sober nature, we are all genderless souls. As we mature, our attractions, to the extent based on gender differences (however much we regale them at the time of our anniversary or at weddings), will naturally subside. Romantic love is designed, even by nature, to evolve into friendship.

Friendship, then, is the New Marriage paradigm.  

Romance may be the spark of ignition but once the motor of friendship is running smoothly the sparks become secondary and, over the years, even tiresome or artificial to re-ignite. This is not news but it is becoming increasingly true and conscious in society, or so I maintain (whether now or in the years to come).

Indeed, it is easily demonstrated by observation that unless friendship does kick in, the sparks of sex and romance are insufficient to keep the motor of a close and committed relationship running smoothly. 

Some of the natural characteristics of friendship include loyalty, service to one another, shared ideals and interests. And, as Yogananda's "Friendship" poem recounts, it includes acceptance of differences and disagreements. It also involves, increasingly, a shared commitment to community service or other high ideals, including spiritual growth and attunement.

When I opened this article by saying that the only true marriage is between two souls who are not under any compulsion of desire to marry, I am essentially describing two people who are secure in themselves.

This maturity and inner security frees one from the normal and usual neediness and co-dependence that characterizes most [immature] relationships. The freedom implied here allows these two friends to give each other space to evolve and grow while yet retaining respect for their differences in habits and opinions. It also means having the courage to work out or at least attempt to reconcile differences in a harmonious, respectful way.

I do not mean to describe an open-ended marriage. Loyalty will naturally be the basis of a mature marriage. I am referring to the all-too-common fears and insecurities that compel one spouse to fear or resist, or, alternatively, demand, changes in the other. And, when I say "changes" I refer to essentially positive and expansive changes in consciousness or habits (rather than self-destructive tendencies which too often emerge during the course of marriage).

Some of the changes that I've seen that are typical include a change in profession or career (which might require further education), diet or exercise, extreme sports, a spiritual awakening, foreign travel or residency, a hobby, and any number of positive changes in habits.

In this society where men and women mix freely and long-standing taboos around proximity and association are at an all-time minimum, a rising issue in marriage centers on friendships with others. 

Yogananda warned that "magnetism [between a man and woman] is the law," and too close of contact (physical, digital, etc.) between two people might flare into a relationship which could erode the trust and commitment of one's marriage. We bristle at the thought of being told "NO," but we have yet to learn that the new "taboos" require a greater personal and internal awareness of the need for self-regulated boundaries. These boundaries are not formed by custom or society. They exist in the mind, in the form of thought, contact, imagination, and feeling. American society, it seems to me, is largely unaware of this more subtle reality of human nature. Look at the issues arising in daily news around inappropriate behavior in the workplace. 

Another increasingly common change in marriage is facing a decision to end the marriage. Divorce is already common but friendship emphasizes harmony not contractual rights. If a parting of the ways must happen, a commitment to friendship means the separation should be, if possible, mutual, and in any case, as harmonious as any such sundering can be. Joined at the hip for years, even decades, means the dissolution of marriage will require surgery, and surgery is going to generate some pain and discomfort no matter what. 

It is not uncommon now to see separation taking place in the later stages of life when mature couples seek to nurture the impulse to be alone, and free from unnecessary obligations. The need to prepare for the "Final Exam" by pursing spiritual pursuits (prayer, pilgrimage, meditation) or, more mundanely, a bucket list, is an important reality for some. 

It seems to me, however, that if a couple enters marriage with friendship on the altar, they will do relatively well no matter how long the marriage endures. 

Only acceptance and respect for one another's independence and freedom to make, or unmake friendship and the strength and courage to enter into such a relationship can the house of marriage stand as the noble and divine state it can be. To those with a belief in the law of karma (and its concomitant precept, reincarnation) and the courage to follow it through, we are better able to accept the premise that no one owes us anything. Love is a gift and any gift given for profit (with conditions) is merely a contract for goods and services. 

The Ananda communities worldwide are part of a movement in this direction. Our wedding ceremony is surely among the most beautiful not only in its poetic and musical aspects, but in its expression of the ideal of divine friendship. At the same time, it is also grounded in the acknowledgement that when differences occur there is a commitment to work things out as best one can. When men and women, generally, and therefore also in marriage, are now free to follow similar pursuits (even serving together) and increasingly share equal status in society, it is important that marriage not turn into a competitive sport at the risk of friendship. The vows in our ceremony include a "non-competition agreement!" (:-)

If you would like a copy of this ceremony, feel free to write to me.

Though a high bar for marriage partners, these ideals can also help us lift our relationship above petty demands and opinions. The lives of many Ananda couples are a testimony to this uplifting, joy-giving power which is nothing less than the power of divine grace. 

May the blessings of true friendship, in all its myriad forms, be ever yours,

Swami Hrimananda!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Ananda Yoga : Path to Awakening

Why is it many students who attend yoga classes strictly for exercise and health reasons discover that, over time, their attitudes have become more positive and past, not-so-healthy, habits have fallen away?

One of the great debates that swirl around the practice of yoga is whether it is a religious (or spiritual) practice or whether it is only a physical exercise. The experience of millions demonstrates a  resounding answer: "It depends!"

Yes, it all depends on a student's sensitivity and interest. Yoga (or, technically, yoga postures or its more official name, hatha yoga) can be just an exercise, or, it can be a practice that prepares one for meditation and inner, spiritual growth. 

But even as exercise, its benefits are more than physical. The point of this article is not to list its benefits but to point out its deeper purpose.

First, it is useful to point out the bias inherent in the evolution of human consciousness. Think of the medieval times; think further in time to the industrial age; think further in time to the relative crudity of science, medicine, the short life span of humans, and our poor dietary habits. Note how in each of these areas of human life, we have become more aware and sensitive. (True, not each and every person on the planet but, we could say, "on average!" And certainly in respect to you, the reader!)

The bias I am referring to is that we have come from a long period of time in which our ancestors were, by and large, relatively insensitive and unaware, and relatively ignorant, of how nature and the human body functions. This could be called a materialistic bias: a bias in favor of the outward form of things rather than their inner and energetic realities (be they chemical, biological, atomic, electrical or in terms of emotions, feelings and consciousness). 

Not surprisingly, then, the practice of hatha yoga, coming as it has, from India but also from centuries of relative obscurity, is wrapped in a physical orientation. Its popularity stems in part from its appeal to our physical bias which desires and values strength, health and vitality. 

Would it surprise us that a closer examination of the history of yoga reveals its link to a higher, more sensitive and spiritual, point of view? Of course not! India, no less than any other culture on the planet, has also come up through this materialistic evolution returning to a higher awareness. The difference however is simply this: India, and the knowledge of yoga, retained, even if dimly, the memory that there once existed a time (and throughout all time existed at least some individuals) when the practice of yoga was an extension of and an outward expression of a very sublime and lofty spiritual view of reality.

When the first English translations of such works as the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Vedas, and the Yoga Sutras came to the West, scholars, philosophers, religionists, poets and artists were deeply inspired by their breadth and depth. More than mere love of wisdom (philos-ophy), these were revelations of reality greater and more subtle than psychology or logic or philosophical speculation.

A series of spiritual teachers came, one by one, to the West. Among them we find Swami Vivekananda (1893) and Paramhansa Yogananda (1920). Paramhansa Yogananda (1893-1952) was a world teacher. His primary emphasis was on original yoga: which is, in its essence, a spiritual practice and as such, was focused primarily upon meditation, not yoga postures.

Yet, to his male disciples in his Los Angeles ashram, he taught yoga postures. He had his "boys" demonstrate the postures at public gatherings and he had articles printed on their use and benefits in his magazines that were distributed to members and to the public during his lifetime.

But there are other teachers from India better known for their work in hatha yoga. Notables such as K. Patthabi Jois or B.K.S. Iyengar. Paramhansa Yogananda must have known that had he put greater emphasis on hatha yoga his essential mission to teach kriya yoga (a meditation technique and a spiritual path) would have been obscured by the public's greater interest in the yoga postures.

So whereas Jois and Iyengar were also deeply spiritual, their dharma was to make hatha yoga primary. But in their work, the popularity of hatha subsumed their spiritual emphasis. 

In any event, Yogananda's successors (after his passing in 1952) appear to have dropped the whole thing like a hot potato. His most advanced disciple and his immediate successor, Rajarsi Janakananda (James J. Lynn) was in fact a yoga adept. But his guru, Yogananda, cautioned him from too much yoga practice. Rajarsi was already an enlightened soul and evidently, further yoga practice was an unnecessary distraction to him.

Yogananda taught his disciples that hatha yoga was optional for kriyabans (practitioners of kriya). He noted that it was easier for younger people to practice hatha. Besides, it makes sense that for those who practice meditation to achieve Self-realization, time spent meditating is more precious than time spent doing yoga postures. In part for this reason, Yogananda had discovered and created a system of 39 exercises now called Energization Exercises that take about ten to twelve minutes to complete. These are sufficient preparation for meditation and can take the place of an asana (yoga posture) practice that, to be complete, might require forty-five to seventy-five minutes of precious time in the busy life of the twenty-first century.

Hatha yoga particularly emphasizes physical exertion and effort, even when seen as a spiritual preparation. Its origins are, however, specifically that: a spiritual preparation. This does not deny their value as exercise. Nor does it deny that exercise alone can be one's motivation for practicing them. Yogananda taught his students and disciples to "Keep the body fit for Self-realization!" He was not only himself an adept at yoga, but he taught their many physical and mental benefits to his "boys."

When I came to age in yoga, during the 70's, yoga was often noted as being "integral." This was a recognition of their power to integrate body, mind and spirit. It seemed to me that as yoga postures became increasingly popular, the emphasis given to them was downgraded in favor of health, good looks, fashion and fad.

In the late 70’s as Swami Kriyananda first purchased parcels of land that were later to become Ananda Village, his earnings from teaching yoga postures paid the bills and mortgages, especially before residents of the fledgling community began to chip in. 

Swami Kriyananda taught classes in hatha yoga throughout northern California, principally Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. Back then, hatha was new and a hot item, and there weren’t the yoga studios on every corner that we have now. And he, being a disciple of the well known author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," (Paramhansa Yogananda), and being himself an excellent teacher, found that his classes were well attended. 

In those years, Swami Kriyananda combined his yoga classes with an optional addition of meditation classes. After the yoga class there would be a short snack break. Then the meditation and philosophy class would take place. It was during these early years of teaching yoga that he wrote his now classic text, ART AND SCIENCE OF RAJA YOGA.

To illustrate the deeper power of hatha practice, Swami Kriyananda liked to tell the story of how one of his yoga students in Sacramento confessed to him that at first she took the class because it would give her something to talk about at her bridge club! "Now," she said, "I realize that THIS IS REALLY SERIOUS STUFF!!!!! He simply smiled knowingly!

Just as hatha faded from visibility after Yogananda's passing, a similar miasma in regard to hatha yoga took place in Ananda's history. Swami Kriyananda may have helped begin Ananda’s work with his success in hatha yoga but he never intended it to dominate his life’s work of communities and the Master’s teachings. So after the fledgling Ananda Village community was up and running, he stepped away from Ananda Yoga, letting some of his students take the lead. The need to lead the community and get it established on firmer ground occupied his energy along with the need to train the community's residents in the core teachings of Yogananda, viz., kriya yoga. 

So hatha yoga once again became a kind of orphan. Though always taught at Ananda's retreat center (later many such centers and communities), hatha was never front and center in the way that kriya yoga was (and is).

And yet, the practice of hatha yoga continued and continues to awaken students' interest in meditation and in kriya yoga! 

Slowly and quietly through the 1980's, 1990's and into the new century, a few key Ananda members took the lead in developing what was to be called, "Ananda Yoga." While the term has since been copyrighted, the term is actually redundant! Ananda means "joy" and the state of yoga IS joy! But, well, why quibble as the general public doesn't know this and we needed a name for our style of yoga.

Paramhansa Yogananda never really explained his hatha system to anyone (that we know of). Nor have we ever seen any accounts of how and from whom he learned hatha yoga. He only lived 3.5 years after Swami Kriyananda’s arrival in 1948. One or two of the monks were, at first, better versed in hatha at the time but by the Master’s grace Swami Kriyananda quickly became the leading representative. 

Presumably Yogananda taught Kriyananda many aspects of the postures but if so Swamiji never distinctly explained that to us. Yet, Swami Kriyananda found that when his guru would ask him to assume a specific (and difficult) pose before guests, he could do so effortlessly, even though he was not practiced in the pose. 

A discerning yogi, reading Swami Kriyananda's books such as "Yoga Postures for Higher Awareness," and "Art and Science of Raja Yoga," discovers that Swamiji tuned in to many subtle aspects of both individual poses (pranayams, bandhas and mudras) AND into the system of hatha yoga. We simply don't really know the details!

Ananda Moyi Ma, a woman saint, however illiterate, and featured in Yogananda's life story (Autobiography of a Yogi), was known to assume yoga positions as a girl by virtue of energy (prana) in her body, without her conscious control. The yoga poses are said to have been formed in a much higher age (or higher state of consciousness) when certain highly advanced souls could, like the articulated sound of mantras (but instead using the human body), give physical shape to specific aspects of higher consciousness.

Thus we come at last in this article to my central point and thesis: hatha yoga, if practiced safely and with correct understanding, can stimulate states (attitudes) of consciousness because the body-mind-soul spectrum is a continuum (in either direction), and the human body, a hologram. Ananda Yoga is characterized by the use of specific and individual affirmations with each yoga pose. These affirmations are related to the consciousness from which the pose was created.

When, therefore, a yoga pose is practiced with the intention of attuning oneself to its characteristic consciousness (or attitude), the precision, the exactitude, and the perfection of the posture becomes less significant (though still valuable) because its inherent consciousness is latent and innate. Ananda Yoga can thus operate to awaken higher awareness in the normal range of body types and abilities for this very reason! It is truly for every-body!

Ananda Yoga classes remain focused on classic yoga postures. The affirmations are enjoyed by students for their obvious positiveness. Notwithstanding the gist of this article, our teachers don't preach. They practice! The awakening potential of hatha yoga is something that cannot be imposed upon another person. If it is to be awakened, it takes place individually, from within. If a student is primarily interested in health and well-being, then these benefits are there for him or her also.

Ananda Yoga is sometimes described as "spiritual yoga." This, too, however is redundant though not entirely unfair, given how hatha yoga is generally viewed and taught to the general public. We are essentially spiritual beings inhabiting a human form. Hatha Yoga can awaken us, individually, to that latent joy which is our true nature. Ananda Yoga is taught and practiced with this understanding at its core.

Joy and blessings to you!

Swami Hrimananda!



Monday, October 9, 2017

Do You Have Trouble Meditating? Try a Technology Solution!

Dear Friends,

I have a suggestion: whether you are new to meditation or have been meditating for decades, you may be finding your meditation efforts challenged by resistance, mental restlessness, or even long established mental habits of inattention (while mechanically engaging in your meditation techniques).

Ananda has just published a meditation "app." Here's a link to it (though it's downloaded from your favorite "Play" store). On the Ananda Seattle website (see below) we also have audio guided meditations, even chakra meditations. You find a complete selection of all the above here:


Here's my suggestion if you are finding meditation on your own at home not satisfying:

Use your smartphone (or mp3 player or IPOD or laptop) to have and play a selection of guided meditations. If you are a veteran meditator but also having unsatisfying meditation, don't scoff! Try it.

You may find that even periodic use of a guided meditation will help you focus your mind and uplift your heart. 

If you are not "tech-savvy" ask anyone under 30 for help. These guided meditations and meditation apps are a positive aspect of smartphone technology.

I was given for my birthday a set of rechargeable, "blue tooth," ear-buds so that I am not literally tied to my smartphone. The phone can be across the room in its charger while I listen to music, a guided meditation, or a YouTube session with Swami Kriyananda on the Bhagavad Gita. When finished I just plug the set back into a USB charging unit for the next time.

Guided meditations are especially useful on an airplane or bus or otherwise in noisy situations where you, at least, can sit quietly. They are also helpful when your mind or heart is in turmoil.

Try it!

Swami Hriman

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Of guns and war : Self-realization

Last week (Sep 23 – Sep 30), my family and I went on vacation to Mazatlan, Mexico. A long story but it was wonderful and relaxing. The place we stayed in was almost embarrassingly luxurious and that’s what makes these blog thoughts so, well, interesting (to me).

For starters I “never” read novels. But last week I read three of them. A good friend recommended these to my wife, Padma. Padma downloaded them into our Kindle account and I, wanting something relaxing to read, found them in my Kindle. So, I promptly began to chew through them: each one feeding my appetite for the next.

For starters, the three novels were as follows: “Beneath a Scarlet Sky,” by Mark Sullivan; “The Nightingale,” by Kristin Hannah; and, “All the Light We Cannot See,” by Anthony Doerr. The subject of each novel was the hardships and moral dilemmas faced by the various protagonists during World War II. The first was a teenage boy who came of age in Milan in the latter half of the war. He helped Jews escape to Switzerland and later became a spy as an attach√© for a Nazi general. The basic person and story is true but much had to be “novelized” to complete the story. The second takes place in France and is the story of two sisters coping with the hardships and moral dilemmas of resistance vs safety during the German occupation. The third, like the second, was strictly a novel but was a captivating account of a young man who also came of age in Germany. He and his sister were orphans. The boy was trained and drafted into the army but was plagued by moral doubts about the righteousness of the Nazi cause. I won’t say more but I will say that this third one was more like a painting than a story. It not only contained the tragedy and horror of the times but a palpable love for beauty and truth.

My brief summary above does brutal injustice to these compelling stories. But they are only catalysts for my thoughts today. Do I recommend these to you to read? Hmmmm, I think my position is only to mention them as a source for my thoughts below.

So, what’s the point, you ask? There I was amidst natural and man-made beauty, relaxing at the beach or pool in Mexico, and lounging about in what would be considered luxury by 98% of the world’s population while reading about experiences of starvation, abuse, rape, betrayal, murder and butchery on a scale unimaginable to Americans. The contrast could be considered absurd but the point couldn’t be missed: who can read of such conditions and not ask himself, “What would I have done?”

Most of us have never had to face the intensity of the moral dilemmas or hardships millions encountered during that war, and, for that matter, faced by people in every other war ever since. If one’s country is conquered by your enemy, you can hunker down, endure what you must, and ignore the atrocities around (in order to keep safe) or you can attempt to resist and risk your life (and that of your family’s) against impossible odds. Some will cooperate with the conquerors in order simply to feed their family. They might simply say, “Someone has to do it.” A rare few of these might join the resistance, using their insider’s knowledge (at great risk to themselves and family). Let’s face it, the easy way out is to keep your head down, ignore the injustices all around you, and hope the bad people go away eventually.

The awful decisions people had to make and the terrible things they witnessed and did, including soldiers, were so intense that, typically, many never spoke to anyone after the war about their experiences.

Anyone who will read this blog will have likely been born after that war. Many of you have grown up in America. We have lived thus far in a bubble of relative security, peace, prosperity, and health. I believe that someday historians will bench mark September 11, 2001 as the beginning of the step-by-step deflation of that bubble. I have also stated that I think history will designate Hurricane Katrina as the time when Americans began to wake up to the fact that we are on our own and must help one another.

The lesson of war (in this case, World War II) is the same, essentially, as that of the great scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. That lesson is simply that one cannot remain a bystander; to remain neutral in the drama of life. Life itself is a war and by nature and by honor one must fight. At the same time, it is not a simply story of bad guys vs good guys. It can be incredibly subtle, as subtle as the mind itself. Self-justification or personal honor? The protagonist in the first novel (a true person), was nearly captured and killed by partisans after the German surrender for the fact that he wore the Nazi uniform. They killed his fiancé who was but a maid to the mistress of the German officer to whom he was attached and from whom he gleaned information useful to the Allied cause. How could they know he had been a spy for the Allies? Why would she be deserving of death? Throughout Europe during the collapse of Germany, countless revenge killings took place at the hands of partisans against collaborators, real or imagined. No doubt some were deserved but who can know?

In our country’s increasingly polarized atmosphere, we see lines drawn between one political party and the other. Yet each party embodies certain valid principles which while actually or seemingly at odds with each other, nonetheless contain elements of truth. Compassion and justice must alternatingly give way one to the other in order to keep society in some form of balance. But when the natural give and take ossifies into hardened positions, the ship of state becomes rudderless, susceptible to rogue waves of emotions welling up from the depths of the body politic. In human life, we make quantum leaps of faith either by the magic wand of inspiration or the knobby-hard stick of hardship or suffering. But remaining neutral or paralyzed is to expose us to the vicissitudes of fate and destiny.

Some say we need stricter gun laws to prevent outrageous mass killings by crazy gunmen. Others say there’s no reliable way to identify and neutralize crazy people and that murderers will always find “weapons,” whether they be airplanes, trucks or rifles. Some say that had there been registered gun control in 1774, the American Revolution might never have succeeded. The “right to bear arms” is deeply embedded into the American psyche. With spy technology and the increasing militarization of police forces in our country, can citizens really rest easily when our leader is bombastic and pugilistic or when our representatives are increasingly exposed as corrupt? Do we really want “THEM” to have a list of every person who owns a gun? Maybe we do right now, but, will that day come when increasing mayhem and betrayal provoke another revolution? 

It takes no crystal ball to predict increasing social unrest in America with each passing month and year. There are no simplistic answers in a world that ceaselessly fluctuates from one opposite to the other. Stay calm, even-minded, and positive.

Standing up for what you believe in is risky. It’s also nuanced. A revolution can simply be the exchange of one group of thugs for another. On a personal level, there’s also the risk is that you can become the very thing you fight against! Yet not to stand up for what is right is to be, potentially at least, a coward.

In a world of fake news we have the opportunity to be true to ourselves: right or wrong! What else can we do? Where are the great journalists like Walter Cronkite or Edward R Murrow? Held captive, I understand, by special corporate interests. Just as terrorists hold common beliefs and tenets, so can people of goodwill. Some Christian religionists believe you will go to hell for eternity unless you are saved by Jesus Christ. It may not appeal to me or you but it’s not the worst thing in life to ascribe to if it can make you a better person. Even indifference is a kind of belief system. We cannot avoid living out our own “philosophy.”
Those who stand on the sidelines waiting for the truth to be delivered to them with the morning paper are not likely to stand up for anything. Weighing every alleged fact on the scale of their personal opinion they assign themselves to be judge and jury, never soiling their hands one way or the other.

When I think of the hardships and horrors experienced by millions during World War II (and of course many other conflicts, ongoing as I type), I think that in these challenging times of ours we of goodwill need to stand up and be counted. For me and for many of you who might read this, we have committed ourselves to a positive, new direction and movement of consciousness based on meditation and a belief in the interconnectedness of all life united by the Supreme Spirit, the Infinite Consciousness out of which all creation and beings have been made manifest.

The “heart” of Ananda contains two core elements: one subjective; one objective. The subjective heart of Ananda is the goal of Self-realization. This is entirely personal and has nothing to do with history, culture or outward circumstances. The objective heart is “like unto the first.” We are in this world to learn our lessons and serve the divine plan of “salvation” for all beings. For Ananda, the essence of our outward mission includes sharing the path of meditation (especially kriya yoga) but also to establish a new pattern of living for the age in which we live: intentional, spiritual communities (called “World Brotherhood Colonies” by Paramhansa Yogananda).

We are not “missionaries” in the Christian sense of proselytizers, but it is a mission in the “corporate” sense of “mission statement.” As God is One, so our subjective and objective goals are inextricably linked. No one can find freedom in God without helping others. The life work of Paramhansa Yogananda is not limited to a few disciples or renunciates. He came as a world teacher bringing a revolutionary (because universally applicable to all truth seekers) new dispensation of the timeless truths. He represents no “ism,” not even Hinduism. Meditation (yoga) is for everyone, regardless of belief or affiliation.

Our outward work, then, may presently appear unnoticed by society at large or even appear irrelevant to the pressing issues of our day, but nothing could be further from the truth. Self-realization through meditation and fellowship with others of like mind is no less revolutionary than anything accomplished with a gun. “The pen may be mightier than the sword,” but the pen is a product of consciousness. No revolution is accomplished however without great sacrifices. Our work is no less a “war” than any other. Instead of being forced upon us, however, we have the choice to take up our positions of faith and service.

I arrived at Ananda’s first community (Ananda Village, Nevada City, CA) in 1977, less than a year after a devastating forest fire destroyed most of the homes. Outwardly it looked bleak. Jobs were scarce. To rebuild, dozens of members moved to nearby Nevada City to live and to start businesses or find work. (** Ananda's worldwide work was founded by Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda.)

Yet, if you were to visit today, you would find a thriving and high spirited community of hundreds of people, including swamis, monks, nuns, single people, couples, and children everywhere! Ananda Village did not arrive at this point, like the Phoenix, on the basis of any large donations or patrimony. One by one, each person doing his or her part, giving generously, indeed heroically. By meditation, prayer, service to others, step by step the community re-built. Years later the entire community was pushed to the verge of bankruptcy by vicious lawsuits. From this brink of total destruction, too, we recovered by effort and grace.

Now, Ananda members serve this work from cities around India to towns in America, in Mexico, Europe, South America, China, Japan and basically just about everywhere. As symbols of our outward mission, simple but beautiful temples are being built by the generosity of members in India, Italy, and at Ananda Village. Here in the Seattle area, we have already built our “Temple of Light” in Bothell but have just completed the Yoga Hall which is a symbol of the application of inner yoga to the broader community of our fellow citizens. Places of peace and sanctuary, symbols of our highest aspirations toward Self-realization, are needed in the world today. Temples of Light are needed all over the world where seekers can gather in prayer, song, and silence to witness the Supreme Spirit dwelling in our hearts, in all hearts and in all creation.

Studies have demonstrated the truth that if only a small percentage of a given population meditate daily, crime is substantially reduced and harmony among citizens greatly increased. The pressing problems of our age are not difficult to solve if our consciousness is open to harmony and solutions. This is the work of Ananda (and of millions of others and groups). As Jesus called his disciples, “Will you follow me?” so too Paramhansa Yogananda declares for “those with ears to hear:” “The time for knowing God is NOW!” The pearl of happiness cannot be purchased with the debased currency of clinging to comfort and security. Peaceful warriors are being called and others being born. Et tu?

Blessings of light and courage upon you,

Swami Hrimananda

Reading references from the writings of Swami Kriyananda included: "Religion in the New Age," "Hope for a Better World," "God is for Everyone!"