Friday, April 2, 2021

A Very "Good Friday" - Easter Reflections Retreat

The Friday before Easter Sunday is traditionally considered the day of Jesus' crucifixion so long ago. Growing up in a devote Catholic family Good Friday included going to church between the hours of noon and 3 p.m. to recite the Stations of the Cross.

Roman Catholic churches typically had along its side walls seven plaques on each side: each illustrating and commemorating an incident told in the Bible of an event that took place on the day of Jesus' crucifixion beginning with the judgment that he was to be crucified and ending with his burial. The total "stations" are fourteen and a priest, accompanied by an altar boy, would go from station to station recounting the incident and offering prayers as the congregation followed along.

The crucifixion is THE symbol of Christianity and its message. Christianity considers, by contrast, Jesus' resurrection as simply miraculous. The former being relevant to our salvation and the latter being proof of Jesus' stature as the "son of God!" 

Contemplation of the suffering of Jesus for our sins has inspired numerous great saints such as St. Francis who was the first saint to receive the stigmata: the wounds of Christ on his body. I believe the Catholic Church has recognized perhaps several hundred cases of the stigmata. The two most famous cases in the 20th century are Padre Pio (southern Italy) and Therese Neumann (Bavaria, Germany). 

So before we blithely dismiss the Christian emphasis of the crucifixion at the expense of its concomitant victory in the resurrection, we should at least consider its meaning to us here and now. That meaning is deeply relevant but not wholly complete. The teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda on the life of Jesus Christ reveal deeper and more universal meanings than can be owned by any religion or sect.

Jesus came into his human life free from the compulsion of past karma (aka "sin"). He was what in India is called an "avatar." His mission changed the course of history but it also brought salvation (soul-freedom in God) to "as many as received Him." An avatar has the power to uplift countless souls who "receive"  his teachings and vibration into their souls. By this measure, therefore, it is not wrong to say Jesus died for our sins. But the extent to which our sins are actually forgiven depends on us and the depth of our "receiving."

In the case of Padre Pio, for example, his attunement to his guru was so deep that Jesus' wounds appeared on his body. This doesn't mean that the stigmata is the sole indicator of salvation (fortunately!). But neither should it be dismissed as fanatical. 

Swami Kriyananda was inspired to write the Festival of Light while taking seclusion in Italy back in the 1980's. It was there that the profound, poetic, and uplifting message of the new dispensation of Self-realization flowed through him via his attunement and dharma. In one sentence the Festival states that "whereas in the past pain and suffering were the coin of man's redemption for us now the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy."

This one sentence brings into focus the relationship between the crucifixion and the resurrection. The crucifixion represents a reminder for us to be willing to calmly accept what life brings to us while the resurrection reminds us that "joy is the fruit of love for God." This latter quote is taken from the sentence in the Festival of Light that follows the one above. The complete sentence is important. It says: "Thus may we understand that pain is the fruit of self-love, whereas joy is the fruit of love for God.

Humanly speaking who can avoid flinching upon contemplating the pain and agony of Jesus' crucifixion? One of the first great debates in Christianity was whether Jesus, as the son of God, experienced ANY pain! Yogananda stated that Jesus had the power and consciousness to rise above the bodily pain but choose to experience pain as part of his sacrifice in taking on the karma of many. Jesus' greatness, Yogananda insisted, was more in the forgiveness he asked of God the Father on behalf of his self-styled enemies than even for the resurrection of his body (a feat that Swami Sri Yukteswar and Lahiri Mahasaya both showed after the death of their bodies). At one point Jesus is said to have cried out to his guru, Elias as he experienced a kind of "dark night of the soul" wherein his otherwise unbroken connection with the Father was temporarily taken from him. Jesus was willing to go even past the point of his "knowing" of cosmic consciousness for the sake of the salvation of other souls.

But, that was his choice. But for us now the payment in pain has been exchanged for joy. For we can better now understand that joy is what comes of divine attunement and that pain is of the ego, attached to the body. Ours is a deeper understanding for which large swathes of humanity are prepared to receive. St. Francis, though racked with pain, even raised the dead and died with the joy of a song of praise on his lips! As true and great saint even in the darkest period of the Middle Ages St. Francis experienced Christ as joy not sorrow. Padre Pio, too, though his body and mind suffered greatly by his attunement with his master, his spirit was one of great love for people and joy in the contemplation of God, Christ and the Holy Ghost!

The resurrection is the necessary corollary to demonstrate outwardly that joy is the fruit of accepting our trials with equanimity and faith. "Thy will be done!"

Tomorrow, Holy Saturday, online from 10 a.m. to 12 noon we will review the Stations of the Cross and see their application to the soul's long journey through time and space to the Redemption. It's not too late to register on our website www.AnandaWA.org


Saturday, February 13, 2021

"All is fair in Love and War" -- Happy Valentine's Day, 2021!

 

“All is Fair in Love and War” 

Valentine’s Day 2021



Perhaps it all started with Adam and Eve. Formerly innocent in their nakedness, the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil opened their eyes to their differences and the attraction between them as man and woman. Thus, it is said, humanity fell from grace, from favor in God’s eyes.

It has no doubt puzzled far wiser heads than mine to reconcile what seems like the perfectly reasonable and useful knowledge of good and evil or the attraction between men and women with the cause of humanity’s fall from divine favor. But there it is. We have to deal with it. Besides, some might say, what’s wrong with knowledge, or romance and sex?

The sexual aspect of this fall is not easily dismissed though it is often ignored by a focus upon the nature of the knowledge of good and evil. One must assume there’s no difference as the two are clearly related to each other in the story.

Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the famous and popular story, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” explains this conundrum in his writings and in his life story. While I’ll refrain from a complete recap of Yogananda’s commentary on the Adam and Eve story, he wrote that sex temptation (“touch”) is the “apple” in the center of the garden (of the body). The sex nerves are stimulated by the movement of Life Force of the body (the coiled up spinal energy, the “serpent”) which arouses the feeling aspect of human consciousness (the “Eve’) which draws into its orbit the reason aspect (the “Adam”). Intoxicated by desire, reason succumbs.

The purpose of placing the story “In the beginning” is to state that our origin as souls is pure and free from gender identity and its related “good and evil” impulses. The purpose of having an Adam and an Eve as characters, personifications of humanity, is to contrast our mind with our heart and to imply that the distinction can be problematical when separated but blessed when united. Furthermore, the story belongs to each and every one of us as “the scales fall” when we reach puberty and begin to notice the other gender. Once, whether in time or in life, our reason and feeling faculties were One, innocent of distinctions, like children. Upon our adolescent awakening, our single eye (unaware of differences) divides into two physical eyes, seeing the differences, so to speak, when sexual impules are stimulated by changes in the body.

So here we have Valentine’s Day celebrating the unveiling of this knowledge into endless variations! Curiously, the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are not just monotheistic but patriarchal. Other faiths, including so-called “pagan” faiths, celebrate this everlasting play of male and female in the stories of the gods and goddesses and in human life. Matrimony only became a sacrament much later in Christian history, in the 12th century. It was justified as being a symbol and a reminder of the union of Christ with his church as his mystical body. It was thus not a celebration unto itself.

In the Old and New Testaments, it is stated that the basic teaching there is that we should “love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.” And the second part is “like unto the first: Thou shalt love thy neighbor AS thyself.” Thus, the impulse here of human love is first re-directed toward God and then expanded into impersonal or equal love for all. (No mention, that is, of romantic love.)

How far we have come! Gay, trans, pan, poly and every possible variation. Like those temples in India with erotic sculptures, our culture, too, is in the midst of an orgy of sexual and romantic adventurism.

So, how do we reconcile these seemingly conflicting points of view? Perhaps it's less of a reconciliation (which suggests equality) and more of a progression, a direction. At the heart of the issue there is an existential element: do we worship the adventure and play of the creation for what we can enjoy in it and get from it, or, do we see the One, the Divine, playing through the many, playing all the parts and in each part revealing aspects of the One? Might the former evolve into the latter? Or, is it safer to turn away from the creation altogether and focus on God alone?

Just now I read on Facebook that yet another of the young Ananda monks has bit the dust, or is the apple? (He didn’t say. He just said he’s no longer a monk but we usually know what that means or at least where it leads.) As I grew toward adulthood in the 1960’s I observed what probably was in the cumulative was thousands of nuns, priests, and monks leave their vocation only soon enough to become wed.

How can we love someone we have never met? God, for example! Just as Darwinists speak of the evolution of species, so too in any given human life we might find that romantic love leads to family love, which expands over the years to include service to a larger community and a deepening of the friendship between the two who started adult life together in marriage. This is the progression that is easily observable though of course not universally true.

What is meant by “all is fair in love” is mostly the simple fact that once the heart’s feelings are aroused (whether romantically, sexually, or both) there’s very little one can do to stop the emotion from its natural course (even if that ultimately means being thwarted for unrequited love is a staple of life and drama).

From the New Testament: Luke: 7: 36-50

And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat.

37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,

38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.

39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.

40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.

41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.

42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?

43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.

44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.

45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.

46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.

47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.

49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?

50 And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.

You see, even on a human level, love, as it is perfected, goes from self-satisfying to self-giving. This is both the natural and the soul (sole) purpose of the attraction, whether romantic or otherwise. We are compelled by romantic or sexual impulses, and compelled by biological ones (re children, siblings or parents) but with a friend, we have what, in principle at least is the purest form of friendship: given without compulsion but on mutual affinity and recognition.

There’s another side to the Adam and Eve story. It is the teaching that each of us, as a soul, has a soul-mate. Yogananda acknowledged this teaching but did not give it much emphasis because the human interest in romance is so deeply embedded that he didn’t want his teaching to be twisted into a love-cult, so to speak. Besides, the soul is neither male nor female. Thus, one’s soul-mate is inherently free from gender compulsions or attributes. Think of soul qualities, rather than human differences. A soul that inclines to go more by thought might be best mated by a soul that goes more by feeling. The existence of soul-mates is said to take place at the beginning of creation when the one soul is divided into two. The temptation to say this is male and female is almost overwhelming but it is not what Yogananda taught. It is in this that we can see Adam and Eve as reason and feeling and the serpent and apple as relating to each person internally, not externally, in male and female forms. But their story would have been a lot less interesting if it were devoid of that “which makes the world go ‘round.”

Swami Kriyananda described divine love as bliss in motion; or bliss in relationship; or in creation. Bliss is One; Love is two.

When Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, is asked whether it is best to seek God as the Absolute (as One) or in the I-Thou relationship, Krishna replied unequivocally that for “embodied beings” the I-Thou relationship was easier, meaning more natural. Yogananda worshipped God in the feminine form, in his life, as Goddess Kali. This is NOT the worship of the creation for itself or its gifts but the worship of God AS the creation, donning the mask, as it were: neither denying God's handiwork nor, being fooled by it.

Yogananda frequently made the point that while God IS and HAS all things, He does not have our love (attention, interest and seeking) unless we offer it to Him. “Love—the tie that binds”—is the one thing missing. And as the woman of many sins was forgiven for she loved much, so too it is axiomatic that love for God is perhaps the quickest way to soul freedom. But, it is also NOT as easy as it sounds. As I wrote earlier, how can we truly love someone we have never met? And distracted by our need to love and be loved, it is far easier to fall in love with the face in front of us (like Queen Titania in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer's Night Dream")! [Why do we say "fall" in love? Adam and Eve "fell" too.]

Swami Kriyananda taught us that in India couples are instructed to see in one another the Divine enshrined in one another’s forms: the Infinite Spirit or the Divine Mother. Thus, it is the divine way that human love is intended to become ever purer, ever more expansive until it becomes the pure love of God.

On that journey and with that intention, “All is fair!”

Happy Valentine’s Day,

Swami Hrimananda

 

 

 

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Who am I? What is the Universal Religion, the Perennial Philosophy?

Today I fielded this question from a Hindu in the United States:

"I have read from many sources, that Hinduism or originally known as Sanatana Dharma, the eternal way is non-sectarian, and can be applicable to anyone regardless of religion or race. I am Hindu, but don’t understand how the Bhagavad Gita for instance is non-sectarian, as Lord Krishna Himself says he is the Supreme God. I don’t see how a Christian/Muslim would be able to agree? Some of the teachings are universal, but many other religions do not believe in reincarnation either. Please clarify."

Dear Friend,


Paramhansa Yogananda made a distinction between "churchianity" and true religion (or "Sanatan Dharma"). Specific to the example of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita that you mention, the same use of the personal pronoun "I" is found in the Bible as spoken by Jesus Christ. Thus, one has to step back from such statements to understand the broader context of what and who is this "I." 

The famous "Tat twam asi" ("Thou art that" or "Aham Brahamasi" I am Brahma) and similar statements from the very ancient texts of the Vedas and Upanishads hold the key to the underlying revelation of Advaita Vedanta. This refers to the teaching that underlies the form-centric expression of truth as manifested in formal sects or religions. It states that the only truth or reality out of which all diversity and creation comes and which sustains and unites all visible and invisible things is the One: the Infinite Spirit.

The One has divided Itself into three: the "Father" (Sat) beyond creation and untouched by the creation; the "Son" (Tat) invisibly immanent in every atom and every thought as the Intelligence and Feeling which animates all; and, the Holy Spirit (Aum), the Divine Mother in the primordial form of the Aum vibration which is the "stuff" of multiplicity, name and form.

This teaching of Oneness can be perceived as the basis for Hinduism (Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism) by fairly easy investigation; for Christianity and the Abrahamic faiths with a bit more investigation. When Jesus was criticized for saying "I and my Father are One" his response was to quote the Old Testament of the Bible, saying "Do not your scriptures say 'Ye are gods?'"

In Judaism is the famous mantra, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE!" Jesus' beloved disciple, John, wrote "To as many as received Him, to them gave He the power to become the sons of God."

Indeed, this was the core mission of Paramhansa Yogananda which he described as the Second Coming of Christ: uniting the original teachings of both Krishna and Jesus Christ. Yogananda focused specifically on the Bhagavad Gita and the New Testament to illustrate this teaching but this focus is easily expanded into other scriptural texts and religions.

At the heart of divine revelation is the question (and the answer to) "Who am I?" Jesus asked his disciples this very same question as Krishna answers it in the Gita when he gives to his disciple, Arjuna, an experience of his cosmic Self. This experience shows that the man Krishna is not the true self but is an incarnation of the Infinite Spirit of all creation and who appears in the consciousness and form of Krishna. This appearance, or avatara, does not purport to limit the Infinite (a contradiction in terms) but is intended to show Tat twam asi. ("Thou art THAT")

Your question is not unlike the question "Is my cup half full, or, half-empty?" One inclined toward dogma and a sectarian attitude sees the half-empty cup that limits God or truth to their own faith. One inclined toward inclusion sees the cup as half-full, inclined toward universality.

The time for knowing the "truth that can make us free" (that is, bring healing and acceptance to the world's religions) has come, Yogananda pronounced (as have countless other hearts and minds).

Part of the conundrum in the history of religion as we perceive it is that the teaching that we, too, are "THAT" finds practical expression in the appearance of the "avatar:" one who HAS ACHIEVED the state of Self-realization. This teaching would not be real if there were never any person who embodied this realization! Moreover, to make matters a bit more complex, to achieve such a state cannot be done (by definition) by the imprisoned self. A savior, or true (sat) guru, is needed to unlock the soul from the prison of ego-identity. So naturally, a Krishna or Christ, taking human form, becomes the object of worship and is treated as separate when the core teaching is WE ARE ONE! (Sigh)

Such is the paradox of duality, you see. We are not ONE until we are ONE. I hope this explanation is not too mental or esoteric. 

We need to walk our path with integrity. Jesus repeatedly used the expression (connected to certain statements of deep truth) "for those with ears (or eyes) to hear (or see)." We recognize truth; we don't create it. So you and I, also, must walk step by step towards our spiritual unfoldment: both watching our step (meaning not go beyond our own experience of what seems true to us) and at the same time keeping our gaze focused on the horizon of Eternity beyond name and form. So take from this what feeds your soul and let go of the rest for perhaps another time.

Blessings to you on your journey on the greatest adventure this is!

Nayaswami Hriman
Seattle WA USA

Saturday, January 23, 2021

In Praise of a New President - The Infinite Light Shineth in Darkness

 


This last week the nation breathed a sigh of relief for what seemed to be the end of a nightmare. I don’t mean this to be as political as it may sound, for I am relating to the presidential inauguration in the context of our reading today (Sunday, Jan 23, 2021): the Infinite Christ.**

The drama of the history and karma of nations must go its own way. Those who seem to be leaders are largely but puppets or at least manifestations of the greater dramas taking place. (On the basis of this intuitive truth arises many an imagined conspiracy theory.) Political leaders, as well as you and I, can either cooperate with higher guidance or succumb to lower impulses, but for all of us the forces that influence and propel us exceed the power of anyone’s conscious mind unless such be a divine incarnation. We stand in the center between those influences with which we are in tune, even if those influences are at war with each other. But the influences remain independent of our cooperation and go their own way.

For example, what about those millions of indigenous or aboriginal peoples around the world whose cultures have been wiped out by the “conquistadores” of the modern age? Were all of those cultures so “bad” that they deserved annihilation? How could that possibly be? Like a fungus that wipes out a species of tree or the meteor the dinosaurs, their destruction is impersonal. But in the case of genocide, “woe to them that are the agents of destruction” for they shall reap some, but not all, of the karma for their participation in the suffering of others. But be not deceived, however, for the forces in motion were already present requiring only the assistance of those who would respond to their invitation. 

So you see, there are the impersonal forces of creation and destruction but then there are our personal choices to accept their influence.

I say the nation has breathed a sign of relief because, if nothing else, the leader of the nation has re-affirmed the truth principles upon which “we stand.” For my purposes, and for all the difference it might make or not to the outcome of our nation’s history, the first thing in an act of creation is consciousness, intention, and the degree of alignment with the highest truth towards which we can imagine. Actions are always going to be circumscribed by the nature of duality; they will always be only relative good or relatively bad. Out of compassion, the government might pass legislation to feed the poor but there will be some for whom being fed excuses the need to feed themselves! And on and on. You can’t win this game on an absolute basis.

Language can clarify but also obfuscate. Good and evil are not the same as darkness and light though in casual speech we don’t differentiate. Good and evil, pleasure and pain are necessary attributes of the duality that keeps the creation moving and continuing. But darkness is a progressive diminution of the divine light which is the central and eternal reality of creation. One without a second. But as awareness fades with its increasing identification with matter, name, and form, so does its awareness of its own central reality as light. In the presence of light, darkness simply “misses the point” and cannot comprehend the existence and meaning of Light. Darkness is the absence of light; not the opposite! The light is always there, shining in the darkness.

That’s what today’s reading is about. The “Proud Boys” cannot see (meaning acknowledge) the pain of those whose lives were trumped by a privileged race while their own pain at the loss of their way of life is invisible to those who either never had one or those who have embraced change and prospered.

But the Light is always there. The darkness vanishes as if it had never been when we comprehend its presence. All we have to do is “improve our knowing.” Paramhansa Yogananda describes “Self-realization [as] the knowing in all parts of body, mind, and soul that you are now in possession of the kingdom of God; that you do not have to pray that it come to you; that God’s omnipresence is your omnipresence; and that all that you need to do is improve your knowing.”

Unlike turning on the light switch in a darkened room whereby the darkness instantly vanishes, the Light of higher consciousness is more likely to grow gradually, more like the spreading light of dawn from which the stars of material desire may, at first, flee and slowly fade away. There are, however, some stars that are the last to disappear and others that can even be seen even in daylight.

If you run over someone with your car, your punishment will be much greater if you intended it than if it was an accident. The intention, in other words, makes a difference to you as the Doer though not to the one who was “done-in.” If the victim of your inattentive driving was killed, your remorse cannot bring him to life, nor assuage the grief, anger and demands for compensation from his family. You, too, will suffer certain consequences but the accidental nature of your acts lifts those consequences far above those of murderous intent.

The son of a dear friend did precisely this: he killed someone through negligent driving while under the influence. He went to prison. The family of the victim was outraged as well as grief-stricken. A young person’s life, filled with promise was snuffed out in an instant. But the prison experience has changed the life of our friend’s son dramatically for the better. Though always a kind and sensitive soul, his young adult years were lost in dreams and fantasy until his action and consequent imprisonment woke him up to become an adult. The victim paid a high price, to be sure, but it is our sincere hope that the son, still young, will be energized to do good in the world if for no other reason than to pay tribute to the loss of life of the other.

In the Bible, in the gospel of John, he describes John the Baptist as “not that light but was sent to bear witness of that light.” We are like John the Baptist: we have come to bear witness, to reflect, to affirm, and to live ever more fully in that Light. Like John the Baptist, we “baptize” our consciousness with only the water of our efforts while God in the form of the guru bathes us in the “living water” of redeeming grace. Both are needed.

And what is this Light? While in meditation and in higher states of consciousness we can perceive that invisible subtle light out which comes the electrical forces from which arise material objects, but the essence of even that Light is consciousness. This is why so much is made of mind-full-ness. The more self-aware we are; the more conscious we are of ourselves and the needs of others, the more that Light grows.

The experience of the inner light energizes and validates the outward expansion of our sympathies just as, in turn, expansion of our sympathies attunes our consciousness to the inner light, should we seek it in meditation. It has other manifestations, however: including the one we speak of the most: Joy!

A life of expanded awareness necessarily brings greater satisfaction even if the price of that is the burden we feel for the suffering of others. This is the dichotomy inherent in the dual nature of the outer world. This is why we need the validation of the inner world to remain strong and not suffer the defeat of our high ideals by the world around us. “The poor ye shall have always but me ye have not always.” Duality will always exist but the "Me" of the divine light should be sought above all.

An experience of transcendence—the light of the soul whether experienced as joy, freedom from egoity and pain, love without conditions, or inner peace—is one that “ye have not always.” Thus we are encouraged to meditate and pray daily to contact that Me, that Thee, that I AM which is the “light of men.” The price of spiritual awakening is that we see, and in time, carry the cross of the sins of the world which rejects the light uncomprehendingly. By this I mean we work to help others in whatever way is ours to do, seen or unseen by others. The "cross" is only that challenge to the ego to soldier on in spiritual practices, attitudes, and actions towards purification and transcendence. 

It is this that shines in the uncomprehending darkness of restlessness and at the center of the sway of maya--the play of opposites. Think of the thousands who came to hear Yogananda speak. The New Testament says in at least two places that five to seven thousand people came to hear Jesus. Perhaps their souls were “stirred but not shaken” sufficiently to stay awake.

And thus it is that a living Christ in human form—Jesus Christ, Babaji, Krishna, etc. etc.—is in the world, and the Christ consciousness with which his soul is identified was the maker of the world, but the world “knows him not” as he really is. So, we, also do not know who we really are. “It takes one to know one!” as the boys of my age used to say on the playground.

Those who lived with and around Yogananda, for example, varied to the degree they could recognize the awakened Christ consciousness in that form. Idolatry of form is the bane of human life and of religion, generally, but it is better to embrace a living deity than give a yawn as he talks to you. One can hardly blame devotees for insisting that their guru is God, just as in the amusing story we heard today in the reading.** For every devotee who sees God only in their beloved savior, there are a thousand others who aren’t even interested. There are, in other words, worse errors to make.

To see divinity in human form is to have had some intuitive recognition of divinity in one’s own form. I recall as a boy I would volunteer once a week to be an altar boy at an early morning mass at a monastery of cloistered nuns. One particular morning as I knelt during the mass, the sun rose and poured through the stained glass window just above the altar. It suffused my being with such intensity of light and joy that I nearly forgot to ring the little bell at the Eucharist. The experience has stayed with me always though at the time I had no vocabulary, no understanding of its significance or of its invitation to seek it repeatedly within. The general church teaching was that such “consolations” are the grace of God and are not to be sought. There’s some value to this counsel "lest we boast" but it is an incomplete teaching for we should “love the Lord our God with heart, mind soul and strength. Meditation and practices like Kriya Yoga have been given to us as a means to do our part to invite the divine light to dwell within us.

Last Fall when, after moving from one apartment to our present one, my back started to trouble me and I ended up with a bulging disk. Thanks to repeated sessions with Peony Lee I am here to say I now remember what “normal health” is like. But during the worst of it, I could not imagine another reality except pain, sleeplessness, and immobility. At the time I dreaded going to bed for the nightmare would begin once the activities of the day could no longer distract me. Now, however, I have to think back to remember what it was like. When you suddenly remember where you left your wallet or keys, it’s like the anxiety and fillibuster around their whereabouts vanishes like the darkness at the flick of the light switch. Pain or forgetfulness simply disappears as though they never existed.

And so it is when, like “a thief in the night” the Light of God steals upon our hearts. But like the ever-watchful virgins awaiting the Cosmic bridegroom, we must keep the oil of our devotion and wakefulness alive and vital.

I rejoiced, then, to hear our newly elected President re-affirm the precepts of equality, respect, truth, and inclusiveness that soul qualities even if, at the same time, we know that in this world of troubles these ideals can never be perfectly manifested.

Life will always present us with trials but Hope for a Better World, Ananda’s theme for the year 2021, is more than optimism that humanity will find solutions to the pressing issues of our times. It is Hope for A Better World based on the awakening of higher awareness in the consciousness of humanity at large. Consciousness directs energy and energy guides action. This Light shines in the darkness of our present state of polarization but we need only to look up to receive its guidance! It is our souls that are in bondage, not the world we live in. It will remain in duality but we can be free--even now!

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!

Our prayer at Ananda is taken from one of Paramhansa Yogananda’s prayer-demands and should you wish to join us in its daily repetition goes like this:

“Lord, fill this world with peace and harmony, peace and harmony.” (repeat 10 tens)

“Lord fill ME with peace and harmony, peace and harmony.” (repeat 3 times)

(If possible repeat the prayer five times each day)

** The reading at the Sunday Service is Week 4 - The Infinite Christ from the book "Rays of the One Light," by Swami Kriyananda based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. Available at www.CrystalClarity.com 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Meditation Tips: Overcoming Subconscious Images and Influence


A question came in today and it went like this: "Recently when I meditate, I visualize graphic content where I have to shake my head to snap out of it. I feel these visions are coming up from previous jobs and/or lives, bringing up anger and distrust in humanity. This is very unsettling. I understand it is coming up for me to process suppresse​​d emotions, yet it effects how I relate to others. How can I overcome this? 

 Dear Friend,

The intrusion of subconscious images and memories is one of the side effects of meditation. One's meditation technique and motivation for meditation play key roles in the influence of the subconscious on our meditation. 

There are several aspects of what you are reporting and they come from different approaches. Let me list some of them:
  1. There is value in the instruction that responds to these images with the guidance that says to us: "When negative images appear in the mind, do not react: do not suppress them; simply observe them with a calm, steady mind until they dissolve like fog under the noonday sun." This instruction can be related to Patanjali's second sutra "Yogas chitta vritti nirodha" (The state of yoga comes when the mental and emotional reactive processes are stilled.) This practice requires the ability to concentrate deeply without emotional response. Accordingly, this approach DOES NOT always work when the images are overpowering. This is the stoic, or gyanic, approach.
  2. Energy control (karma yoga). This approach, based on raja yoga, encourages the meditator to raise the prana/energy to the higher chakras and thus bypass or lessen the influence of the memories stored in the lower chakras. This approach instructs the meditator to anchor the attention at the point between the eyebrows AND to awaken the natural love of the heart in order to raise that feeling upward to the Kutastha (point between the eyebrows). Then, when and if negative images appear to the mind, simply hold steady with one's attention at the spiritual eye reinforced by devotional pulsations from the heart center upward. Here, too, however, it is important to stay calm and centered in the spine. The more one reacts emotionally to such images the less control one will have in facing them or transcending them.
  3. Bhakti. The devotional path is greatly helped by the suggestions above but for some people devotion (alone) is their Ishta Devata, or Chintamani. Accompanied by prayer or mantra and offered upward from the heart, devotional fervor, the grace of the Mother, can dispel the gloom of past lives, all of which, Swami Sri Yukteswar explains, are "dark with shame." 
  4. General. Transcending the past, the hidden subconscious memories, should never be a process of denial or suppression. ("Of what avail," Krishna asks, "is suppression!") At the same time, their stored up energy exists and can be best countered by putting out conscious, intentional and present-tense energy upward toward the seat of the soul (crown chakra--approached via the point between the eyebrows). A practical view of this is to suggest a multi-level approach to your sadhana: yoga exercises (or Energization Exercises taught by Yogananda--see YouTube or the Ananda meditation app); prayer including healing prayers for others; mantra and chanting; breath control (pranayama); and silent, inner communion. Supporting sadhana can be daily service in the spirit of nishkam karma (non-attachment), spiritual reading and study, satsang with other devotees, seeking the company of saints, pilgrimage to places made holy by the presence of saints and masters, and living according to the precepts of yama/niyama. 
Lastly, the only reality is here and NOW. Calmly dismiss images from the past as easily as you would turn off the tele-vision like a rerun of an old sitcom or Bollywood movie. Respond to these with dis-interest! You can even address them like old friends from whose company you have decided to depart. "Oh, you again! Hey, sorry, I'm just NOT interested, thanks for the visit but I've got more important things to do." What did Swami Sri Yukteswar say about the time, as a child, that his mother tried to scare him by saying "There's a ghost in the closet"? He marched over to the closet; opened the doors; and guess what? NO GHOST. He concluded the story with the lesson: "Stare fear in the face and it will vanish."

OK? I've given you lots to "chew on!" Bite it off and chew it! (As Paramhansa Yogananda would say).

Nayaswami Hriman
Seattle WA USA