Monday, September 25, 2023

Hello Silence, my old Friend!

Hello silence, my old friend, it’s good to sit with you again!

Swami Kriyananda[1] made the statement: “If there was a sound continuous since birth, what would you call it? Silence!”

There’s not much silence in the lives of human beings of the twenty-first century. But for those who meditate daily, we seek inner silence. Why? And What is silence?

Silence usually refers to one who doesn’t speak out loud. A person who, like Mahatma Gandhi, had a day of silence doesn’t speak to others while in silence. At Ananda retreat centers we offer name tags or buttons that say, “I am in silence.” This is to warn others around them that they do not wish to speak.

In American law enforcement detainees are supposed to be told “You have the right to remain silent.” This means that a person cannot be coerced to testify against themselves. I mention that because in certain ways it could be said that every time we open our mouth we give testimony of, or too often, against, our own best interests.

There is another and more important kind of silence: inner silence. This means the cessation of internal, mental narration. Meditators speak of seeking to subdue the monkey mind, that is, the restless, ceaseless mental narration we all have.

The gold standard scripture describing the state of the meditation mind is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The second verse gives the clinical description of this mind, called “yoga.” The state of the yoga-mind is achieved when mental activity of image making, mental narration, and emotional responses to mental impressions like memory, fantasies, and sense stimuli subsides into a quiescent state of pure awareness.

The first part of this takes place when we do not react to the mental activity that appears in the mind. The second and deeper part is when mental activity itself ceases. By ceasing is NOT meant sleep or a trance state but simply being aware. Aware of what? The object(s) of awareness are less important than the awareness of awareness itself.

However, such unalloyed consciousness is difficult to achieve. Meditation techniques from a variety of traditions often give the meditator a suggestion as to what to focus on. Even the Yoga Sutras offer a catalog of objects from physical to subtle on which to contemplate.

Examples of “meditation objects” include the breath (controlled or merely observed), a word formula (affirmation or mantra), an image (physical or mental) of a holy personage or deity, repetitive prayer, mental counting, fingering beads, moving or observing the movement of energy flows or energy centers in the body, visualizing or observing internal colors or sounds, and chanting (silent or aloud) just to name some of the more common items.

One of the most effective keys to transcending restless mental activity is the discovery of the rishis of India: the breath-mind-body connection. The breath, which brings life into the body rendering it capable of activity (including restlessness) also holds the key to internal quietude, just as the final exit of the breath ordinarily signifies the death of the body. Of all the “objects” of meditation, breath control (aka “pranayama”) is supreme. It is mentioned in the Yoga Sutras and in the Bhagavad Gita, among other of India’s greatest scriptures.  

The purpose of such focus, combined with deep feeling, is to transcend the “natural turbulence” of the (monkey) mind and thereby invite a transcendent experience born of inner silence.

Experiencing inner silence isn’t a prerequisite of transcendence but, rather, invites transcendent experience to appear. This is because the steady focus or repetition of concentration upon the above-named “objects” can pacify or subdue the narrative function of the mind thus allowing the transcendent experience to descend, as it were, without the intervention of a discrete period of inner silence.

For most meditators, such concentrated focus is more effective than attempting to experience inner silence by willpower alone. This doesn’t mean that inner silence can be ignored or is of no value to seek. Why? For starters, the “doing” aspect of concentration upon an object is the opposite of the “being” nature of transcendence.

In the daily practice of meditation, “doing” may bring many benefits of meditation into one’s life but the desirable experience of transcendence can elude the meditator for years, or be so rare as to allow discouragement to set in. The ”ah-ha” experience of transcendence can “take my breath away!” Serious meditators naturally seek and treasure such experiences which have many, many names and are described by some as the gift of divine grace.

And here I am not even considering the oft-described ultimate states of consciousness variously named such as samadhi, enlightenment, inner communion, spiritual marriage, moksha, satori, or heaven. I am only considering the state of inner silence. These higher states generally induce or take place when breathing is suspended by natural breath-control and devotional means.

Paramhansa Yogananda coined the term “superconsciousness” to refer to the preliminary states of higher consciousness. These states are included in the sixth and seventh stages of the Eight-Fold (Ashtanga) Path described in the Yoga Sutras. Those stages are, respectively, dharana and “dhyana.” States of superconsciousness include, Yogananda taught, the eight aspects of superconsciousness: peace, wisdom, power, love, calmness, sound, light, and bliss.[2]

Paramhansa Yogananda taught that meditation techniques should be followed by a period of quiet. This period can be devotionally inclined with feeling or simple imagery, wordless prayer or silent yearning; or, it can be receptively silent, as in the inner silence which is the subject of this article. Devotion, too, can be a form of inner silence when it is beyond words and beyond creating mental images.

It is in the period of inner silence that the sixth sense of intuition is gradually developed. It is like opening a window that has been stuck closed for decades and which won’t stay open by itself. It must be “held open.” Sitting in the silence with a calm heart, a clear mind, and a deeply relaxed body is like holding open a window so that cool breezes of inspiration, guidance, and answers might be received. Doing so trains the body-mind to be more “open” and receptive not just in meditation but during activity, and even during sleep. To do this is like learning a new language or developing “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” to quote Jesus Christ! Let’s face it: we talk too much, even (indeed, especially) in our inner narrative whether our mouth is open or closed!

We all benefit from intuition at least occasionally, but few are aware of intuition’s silent and stealthy influence, coming “like a thief in the night” (again to quote Jesus Christ). Fewer still seek to develop their sixth sense for this is not generally taught, known or encouraged. Our deeply rational culture is all but unaware of intuition, relegating such experiences to coincidence or a lucky hunch, or worse, as something women seem to have more often than men.

Most meditators find it difficult to sit in the silence for very long without mental activity. Patience is indeed the quickest route to success. Practicing inner silence at moments during the day will be a great aid to “getting to know you.” Befriend the companionship of inner silence. In a song from the Ananda Sunday Service, “Festival of Light,” are the words “Out of the silence came the song of creation!” Scientists postulate that over 90% of the calculated energy and matter of the universe is invisible, but far from empty! This silence is vibrating with vitality; with joy; with love and acceptance; with intelligence!

By remaining locked in the body, brain, and nervous system with our own, even if justifiable preoccupations, we block the influence and guidance of our higher, divine Self. Learning to listen is the essence of meditation practice and is the heart of the daily life of a meditator.  This article is not intended to share the many practical and creative ideas on how to practice inner silence whether in meditation or in activity, but to do so is to open oneself to a life of vitality, creativity, security, and true happiness. (What more can be said!)[3]

This inner silence is the continuous sound or vibration of the Holy Spirit, or Aum, Amen, Amin….that has manifested all things. To be frequently and, with practice, continually in tune with this “music of the Spheres” is the purpose of our creation.

Yogananda created these words and sang them to the tune of “Roamin in the Gloamin” by Harry Lauder: “Sitting in the silence on the sunny banks of my mind. Sitting in the silence with my guru by my side. When my thoughts have gone to rest, that’s the time I see him best, oh ‘tis lovely sitting in the silence.”

Sitting in the silence,

Swami Hrimananda

 



[1] Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013) was trained and ordained as a kriyacharya by Paramhansa Yogananda (author of “Autobiography of a Yogi”). Swami Kriyananda founded the worldwide work of Ananda in 1968. Ananda includes intentional spiritual communities, teaching centers, churches, publishing retreat centers, meditation groups and affiliated enterprises.

[2] One can experience higher states under virtually any circumstance, not just meditation and not just classically in the states of dharana or dhyana. Patanjali simply enumerated or teased out discrete stages of soul-awakening.

[3] I recommend this book: “Intuition for Starters,” by Swami Kriyananda

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Who Do Men Say I AM?

Sages far wiser than most of us have long concurred that “Who am I” is the most important question we can and should ask ourselves. In “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramhansa Yogananda, he quotes a great sage:

“Outward ritual cannot destroy ignorance, because they are not mutually contradictory,” wrote Shankara in his famous Century of Verses. “Realized knowledge alone destroys ignorance.…Knowledge cannot spring up by any other means than inquiry. ‘Who am I? How was this universe born? Who is its maker? What is its material cause?’ This is the kind of inquiry referred to.” The intellect has no answer for these questions; hence the rishis evolved yoga as the technique of spiritual inquiry.1

Thus, the inquiry—essential as it is said to be—cannot be fathomed by the intellect alone but by actual experience.

Also, in “Autobiography” in a footnote to Chapter 1, Yogananda recounts: 

The poet Tennyson has left us, in his Memoirs, an account of his repetitious device for passing beyond the conscious mind into superconsciousness: “A kind of waking trance — this for lack of a better word — I have frequently had, quite up from boyhood, when I have been all alone,” Tennyson wrote. “This has come upon me through repeating my own name to myself silently, till all at once, as it were out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being, and this not a confused state but the clearest, the surest of the surest, utterly beyond words — where death was an almost laughable impossibility — the loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction, but the only true life.” He wrote further: “It is no nebulous ecstasy, but a state of transcendent wonder, associated with absolute clearness of mind.” 2 

Jesus Christ famously asked his disciples, “Who do men say I am?” This question and the disciple Peter’s response has gone down in history, however, controversially. Catholic theologians claim that Jesus’ response established for all time his “church” and its authority through the papacy. Protestants claim, by contrast, that Peter’s “confession” that Jesus is the Messiah is the “rock” upon which the church is built (rather than Peter and the succession of prelates that followed him). Either way, the question and the answer are fundamentally profound for all time: not just for identifying the divinity of Jesus Christ, but, by extension, the innate divinity of all souls and our potential for Self-realization. 

The “I” principle waxes and wanes throughout our day and our lives. An infant makes little distinction between himself and the mother (or anyone else for that matter). But it isn’t long before the infant learns that the mother is not the same as himself nor omnipresent. “Separation anxiety” soon sets in.

During childhood—if family security and love prevail—the child has only bouts of aggression, selfishness or personal anxiety but otherwise is connected to the family scene. At puberty, separation begins in earnest, expressing itself in rebelliousness and intense ego-awareness. 

In marriage we find a repeat of the pattern. The couple meets and experiences unity but in time the frequency of experiences of differences grows and in time harmony can only prevail if recognition of those differences is accepted.

In our unreflective persona, we are wholly identified with life around us including and especially life as we mentally imagine, desire or fear it. Most “things” around us are generally prosaic and taken for granted. It is primarily our thoughts and feelings about the world (things, people, our opinions) that constitute the cocoon of self that we live in, happily or otherwise. Upon reflection, however (and only a little would suffice), we can know that the objects in this cocoon are ephemeral and often changing. The question can become—at least for a few— “Who am I (really)?”

As the Adi Shankacharya suggests, only by interior inquiry can we experience the “I” in its immutable nature of Self. We may crave endless change, but we do so from an assumed center of changelessness: continuity of existence and self-awareness held in the hope and expectation of satisfaction.

When one begins in earnest to explore “Who am I” we confront the initial reality that I am separate from you. This is true whether in therapy or in meditation. In therapy the “you” are all others (your parents, your spouse, children, co-workers) while in meditation one could say the “you” is whatever is your goal: God, guru, peace, bliss, samadhi, moksha, etc.

In the outer world, we can never pass beyond separateness: we can only reconcile to it. In the inner world of the self, we strive to rise above conditional awareness and self-definitions to achieve union with consciousness alone, as consciousness (however defined, named or not named).

This union of self with Self is not easily achieved. In the teachings of yoga, this process usually takes many lifetimes of effort and requires the help of a Self-realized Self to guide us out of the labyrinth of the mind. The mind, indeed the brain, too, takes input from the senses and creates a world of its own: likes, dislikes, desires, fear, opinions, emotions, tendencies, attitudes, and inclinations. Dissolving the intermediary of the mind to have direct perception is one of the ways to describe enlightenment. It must be said, however, that in the world of the mind and intellect the ways of describing the ultimate state are innumerable given the very nature of the mind and intellect! Do you see the conundrum, then?

“It takes a thorn to remove a thorn.” Our mind’s tendency to extract, reconstruct and redefine experiences in its own terms is obviously a hindrance but it is also a tool. “Work with things (and people) as they are” is good, solid, practical advice for all of us. Saints, sages and yogis are obviously practical people.

Redirecting our thoughts and goals to higher, less self-involved purposes is the first step. Looking to people more highly evolved in this pursuit becomes part of this first step. Refining our self-definition towards that of enlightened persons is very helpful. Yogananda tells the story of a yogi-saint who one day while meditating upon his chosen deity suddenly merged with the object of devotion and proclaimed aloud “I’ve been showering the murti (idol-image) with flowers and now I see that I AM THAT and now shower those petals upon my head as well.” The experience of oneness is not easily won, however.

Better it is, Krishna advises in the Bhagavad Gita, to approach God in the I-Thou relationship rather than to only seek the Absolute. For as long as we are encased in a human body and suffer the indignities of requiring air, water, food, shelter and sunlight, best it is to seek God-enlightenment as separate from us (for the time being until released by grace).

It is probably not useful to dwell endlessly upon transcending I-Thou. Let oneness be the gift of the One. The One has become many and it is not wrong to say that, in essence, the One IS the many. Why quibble over the distinction as if One is better than the Other? As my teacher, Swami Kriyananda would put it, “God is as much with you RIGHT NOW as He will ever be.” And as Yogananda put it, to achieve “Self-realization” you need only “improve your knowing.”

In the Eight-Limbed path of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the final three stages of samyama reflect the steps to enlightenment as “I am experiencing peace,” to “Peace IS” to “I AM.”

Some practical applications of this process can include the experience of gazing out a window onto a landscape: all mental narrative vanishes, and no barrier of mind separates you from the experience. Gazing in this way is a kind of meditative exercise that can be deployed during the day. Taking breaks to observe the flow of your breath is another simple but effective exercise. More subtle but very powerful when well-developed is the focusing of attention in the forehead, especially at the point between the eyebrows from time to time during the day (and almost always during meditation itself). Lastly, lifting your gaze upward as if thinking about something but not actually thinking of anything is also very calming.

Practice listening intently to sounds or another person’s words. Don’t run a parallel narrative while listening but simply listen as if the sound wasn’t so much coming in through your ears as in through your heart (not physical heart but in the center line of your body near the physical heart).

For those whose energy is strongly outward and for whom (or at times when) these practices (above) are too contemplative, practice radiating heart energy outward into your space, environment, workplace, or neighborhood from wherever you are, including while moving through space in a car, plane, or train. You can “color” the radiation with peace or love or kindness if you feel to do so. No one can see nor need to know that you are silently blessing them.

Like the yogi’s response to the hot dog vendor’s question about which condiments to add, “Make me One with everything!” Finding that cosmic vendor will require practice, patience, and determination!

 Joy to you, 

Swami Hrimananda

footnotes:
 1)
Autobiography of a Yogi, Chapter 26: The Science of Kriya Yoga
2) Autobiography of a Yogi, Chapter 1: My Parents and Early Life, footnote 11

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Do You Have a Soulmate?

                                                     Do You Have a Soulmate?

Photo by Ryan Holloway on Unsplash
Photo by Ryan Holloway on Unsplash
 

My wife, Padma and I just celebrated our forty-fifth wedding anniversary. Soul mates? Almost everyone uses the term in respect to marital relationships even if it is unclear where the term came from. The internet says the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge first used the term in the English language in a letter he wrote in 1822 on the subject how to have a happy married life. His, however, was not a happy marriage because the woman he first loved married someone else. Carl Jung also mentioned the possibility of a soul-mate “somewhere in the upper world.”

Plato, some say, quoted Aristophanes in his text Symposium for the reasons behind the human yearning for a soulmate. Others say that it was Aristophanes who explained the origin for our yearning for a soulmate. Evidently the story goes like this: the great god Zeus split humans with four arms and legs and two heads apart from their other half because he was jealous of the happy, united and courageous humans.

In the teachings of India, there is the Ardhanarishvara, a depiction of Shiva and Parvati as half man and half woman. But maybe this doesn't suggest the concept of soulmates but a depiction of the genderless nature of our soul. But no matter because there’s no point my arguing with the all but universal interpretation of the soulmate concept as that of the perfect union of male and female.

The are variations on the use of term soulmates ranging from a red-hot romance to an eternal bond. The latter concept goes something like this: each of us, as a soul, has a twin soul: our other half, as it were, which was formed at the birth of our creation long ago and at which time we were separated from one another. (Never mind "why!") Our soul's goal, then, is to find and reunite with our twin or half-soul. This explanation requires the concept of of reincarnation. Accordingly, at some point in our own soul’s evolution we must encounter our soul mate in order to achieve complete fulfillment and final liberation from delusion. 

In the book “The Life Everlasting” by Marie Corelli we find a famous and popular fiction novel about the spiritual love between two people, a man and a woman. Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, stated that this novel was the only book of its kind that Yogananda read. Not satisfied, however, with the overly romantic aspects of this story of soul mates, Swami Kriyananda actually re-wrote the story placing it on a higher plane than romance.[1]

Yogananda touched upon the soul mate concept in his talks and writings, but only lightly. He acknowledged the precept but insisted it was not a romantic relationship but a relationship between two half souls or twins. This of course flies in the face of the common usage of the term.

Gender was, he said, irrelevant. Even the physical location is not so important given, as he stated, that soul mates could be on different planets and find each other in their etheric forms. He evidently felt to acknowledge the validity of the concept but thought to correct its popular romantic interpretation.

But before I dismiss the romantic version, I, being committed to the mantra BOTH-AND, will state simply that the traditional and almost entirely universal attraction between male and female is at least an example of the impulse humans have, deeply embedded, to seek their mate. I say this without cynicism and without the need to affirm its lowest common denominators, procreation or sexual attraction. In the lives of humans, the interplay, indeed almost necessity, for male and female to help one another is obvious, necessary and genuinely creative. It cannot be so easily dismissed. I would simply say, for now, that the attraction between male and female hints at the deeper truth of soul-attraction. Those romanticists who seek to justify their relationships on the basis of having found their soul mates: well, let them have their day. For it is how they feel, at least for a time! What I feel this points to is the sacredness and importance of friendship. Human friendship could be seen as a precursor to the more permanent fulfillment implied by the idea of soul mates.

The soul, however, is without gender: this is explicit or implicit in the teachings of East and West.[2] One’s soul mate, therefore, must surely offer us a necessary balancing of soul qualities, not physical or egoic qualities. What humans experience on those levels is, as I said above, merely a precursor, or hint, of the deeper need for balance and for the possible truth that each of us, in our soul nature, has a soul friend whom we are seeking in order to achieve fulfillment on the highest level of manifested consciousness.

Moving away, then, from romantic and egoic attractions, I have noticed that in the lives of saints we sometimes find a saint who has a brother or sister saint, co-equal or even one who is in the shadows. The companion saint is one who makes it possible for the saint to achieve the goal of his/her incarnation. Examples are many and might include: St. Francis and St. Clare; St. John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila; Paramhansa Yogananda and Rajarshi Janakananda; Babaji and Lahiri Mahasaya; Yogananda and Swami Sri Yukteswar; Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Vivekananda; Krishna and Arjuna; Rama and Sita; Jesus and John the Baptist; Ramana Maharshi and Sri Rama Yogi. My selection of possible pairs may be imperfect but curious nonetheless.

I assume the greatest saints, the avatars or saviors, are lacking nothing in soul-fulfillment but when they return to human form they may be accompanied by their soulmate in order to fulfill their divine mission.

Going back to our roots in lower life forms, we see how plants and animals help each other in a variety of ways. We also see that some animals mate for life. 

On the highest level wherein the soul merges into God it would be fair to say that our true soulmate is God: the divine intelligence, energy and bliss beyond all created spheres.

Following Yogananda’s seeming reticence to speak at any length on this subject, his disciple and greatest public proponent of Yogananda’s teachings, Swami Kriyananda, counseled that one should not go looking for one’s soulmate. Instead, he suggested that a devotee seek liberation in God through the guidance of one’s sat (true) guru. In so doing, the question of finding one’s soul mate would be left to the divine will. This seems to me to be a wise and practical suggestion. So long as we are still enmeshed in our own karma and are still influenced by our egoic karma, our soul's ability to recognize our soulmate is compromised.

Just as on the path to God we may have many teachers, so on the path to freedom we may have many friends and helpmates. The recognition of that one who is our soulmate may be best left to the time when we have achieved or come close to soul liberation and thus have the eyes to see the truth that shall make us free.

A possible lesson behind this idea of our having a soul mate is a reminder to treat all others as soul friends for indeed in God we are that! There is a footnote in Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi” quoting Buddha saying that the reason to love everyone is because “in the very numerous and varied lifespans of each man, every other being has at one time or another been dear to him.”

In conclusion: the concept of soul mate is interesting but has very little practical application to our lives. Best to seek the unconditional love and wisdom of God, and let the details work themselves out from there.

Blessings and joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda



[1] See the book, Love Perfected, Life Divine by Swami Kriyananda. Crystal Clarity Publishers.

[2] In the New Testament Jesus is asked what happens after death if a woman had been married several times on earth: which husband would she be with in heaven? Jesus dismissed the question essentially as nonsense saying there is no marriage in heaven. This implies the genderless nature of the soul (at least to my way of thinking).

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Quantum Physics Reveals that You Need a Guru

Reality, as our religion of science reveals to us, is, ever increasingly, a magical one of quarks, quasars, strings, and black holes.


It’s as if this magical world has its own invisible deities and divine beings. Like the mallet in the croquet game that Alice used in the Wonderland, our very attempt to observe this mysterious world impacts what we see. We have discovered that we are an inextricable part of the scenery, the action and the dialogue.

Raising the dead? Healing the sick? Levitating yogis? Why not? No longer do scientists strive to find a theory of everything. The Holy Grail is simply “what works.” Our once secure hold on logic and Newtonian physics —a comfortable world of right angles —is on the rocks of chaos.

Maybe it’s time to expand our mind!

In India, it has long been axiomatic that God, the Infinite Spirit, takes human form from age to age to set into motion a new understanding of universal truths and to confront the evils of the time. Such human incarnations of divinity are called “avatars” in India. For individual devotees such a one will be their personal savior or “sat guru.” Though there are always devotees who feel their particular savior is the best or perhaps even the only, it remains true to Hinduism that the dividing line between the divine and the human is fairly porous. In that tradition, many have been the avatars that have descended into human history.

In the Abrahamic world, it would appear that the best God ever had to offer the Israelites (or to the Moslems) were prophets who were very human, often rather flawed. So, when Jesus Christ appeared and declared himself the son of God, there was clearly going to be a fight. In the end, Jesus paid the supreme price, at least in human, egoic terms, for his declaration.

 In so doing, however, Jesus set into motion a new direction of spiritual awakening to his followers and to what was to become “the West.” For these last two thousand years, the West has embraced the concept that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and that it had done so only once for all humanity and eternity. Christian dogmatists seem not to have noticed that what became flesh wasn’t a person but the Word: an entirely impersonal though super-conscious Force. Such a force could surely descend into and become any number of forms! This “Force,” the Holy Spirit, is God and was “in the beginning” and “made all that was made.”

But skipping this troublesome point for the moment, we recall that at the end of his ministry Jesus promised to send the Comforter, the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit was to be the “spirit guide” for the apostles and presumably to those of their descendants who remained faithful to the Spirit. He also promised to return.

If Jesus’ promise of return was to take place “before this generation passed away,” he either changed his mind or returned unnoticed (which, for one who is the son of God, is but another form of crucifixion!).

 

Maybe he meant something else. Wars, plagues, earthquakes and anti-Christs come and go all the time and hence can be no predictor of Jesus’ return.

Paramhansa Yogananda came to the West in 1920 and called his mission “The Second Coming of Christ.” Now, that’s a bold declaration. Since crucifixion on a wooden cross had declined in popularity by the 20th century, he, instead, had to contend with accusations, yellow journalism, and lawsuits.

Did Yogananda intend to say HE was Jesus Christ reincarnated? If so, he never made that statement. His verbal response to the question was simply, “What difference would it make?” Huh! Indeed, it would make a lot of difference to most of us. But, that’s all he said.

The explanation that he DID give, however, was one far more relevant to the very purpose for which Yogananda was sent to the West. The “second coming of Christ,” he said is the awakening of the universal, indwelling Christ in our OWN hearts. The "first" coming of the (universal) Christ consciousness is in the human form of the savior-guru. The guru comes to awaken the souls of individual devotees and, in some cases like Jesus Christ, to initiate a wholesale upliftment of an entire culture or people.

For our age where reason and “how-to” reign supreme Yogananda brought advanced meditation techniques, especially Kriya Yoga. Calling the spiritual path that he brought a “New Dispensation” and describing the goal of the path the achievement of “Self-realization,” Yogananda is in step with the self-actualizing, self-improvement, can-do and personal liberty consciousness of this age. After all, The practice of yoga and meditation requires self-discipline, training, and daily practice and thus places a premium on self-effort: a value prized in our times.

And yet, who is this Self that we are expected to realize? Is this realization achieved by self-effort alone?

An interesting counter weight to the ideology of ME that characterizes our culture is the concomitant recognition of our interdependence with one another and our integration into all nature. Leading edge scientific speculation and discoveries take this into a far subtler realm—into the inner sanctum of quantum physics. If matter isn’t what it seems, neither are our bodies nor our brain and nervous system. Brain research, psychology and artificial intelligence are exposing the evanescence and plasticity of the mind and personality. These investigations are pointing toward pure consciousness: the greatest mystery of all.

Enter the guru: a super-consciousness human! You see, when we dive deep into anything, including our mind, we discover, not simplicity, but a labyrinth. Early in the scientific age, it was thought that we might break down the building blocks of matter into its basic elements. That proved a chimera.

As science cannot find a one theory that fits everything they discover, so the ME is an elusive, mercurial and complex reality. Bootstrapping our restless and fickle minds to a point of perfect stillness and inner concentration is never going to happen by self-effort alone. The ordinary functions of the body, brain and nervous system all but guarantee our outwardly focused, forever restless mind and body. This is why we need divine grace coming to us from a divine incarnation to spark the process of soul transformation.

Proof of the pudding is in the eating. Spend one week; one month, bringing to your mind and into your silent, inner narrative the face and living presence of any avatar, any savior, living or supposedly dead, and you can discover for yourself, if you are sincere, the power of the Word made flesh. This practice which includes meditation, takes mindfulness and focused heart-energy but the results speak for themselves. I don’t mean to suggest, as has often been the case down through religious history, that by so doing you will discover a magic wish-fulfilling genie. Far from it. But if you sincerely seek to know “the truth that shall make you free” from duality, suffering, and death, God, in the form of a Self-realized son of God will be your savior. Such a one requires no human form to communicate because having achieved deathlessness is omnipresent even if respectfully distant until called upon.

There are lesser guides just as there are lesser teachers and lesser spiritual paths. The ignorant or na├»ve will “go to their gods” just as we always get what we deserve. But for a person of energy, intelligence, openness, and sincerity, “knock and the door shall be open.”

For the beginning devotee, a true guru, like Paramhansa Yogananda, gives his teachings through writings and through those disciples who share them sincerely and intelligently in his name (his vibration). In Yogananda’s teachings, meditation practice is central. Right attitudes and virtues, the so-called “do’s” and “don’t’s” of the spiritual life, are also naturally included.

Yogananda gave us an interesting chant: one that is rarely sung, and for good reason (and not a musical reason, either). “O devotee, I can give the salvation, but not my love and devotion. For when I give those away, I give myself away.” Divine Mother can give the gift of many things in this life by the magnetic power of our spiritual efforts, but only by our heart’s natural love can we win the “pearl of great price.” Devotion, you see, is the necessary foundation for yoga practice.

The avatars come to fulfill the teaching that though we may have a body, we ARE a soul. If only by dying could we experience the bliss of the Self, of God, then the creation itself would be delusive and should thus be shunned. It IS delusive but it shouldn’t be shunned because the goal is to discover the “man behind the curtain,” the playwright writing the script and thus enjoy the great drama of life with God, as God, rather than to reject it. With God, all is beautiful, wondrous and ever-new. Without God, it is a roller coaster of pleasure and pain, success and failure and ends with suffering, old age, and death.

The guru comes to show us who we are and who we have the potential to become. The guru transmits to “as many as receive Him” the power to rise spiritually in accordance with the intensity and depth of one's effort. Yogananda said the goal is accomplished by a combination of our effort (25%), the guru’s effort on our behalf (25%) and God’s grace (50%).

I recognize that in this is age of individual self-expression relatively few people will even want to attract a true guru. As the centuries advance our knowledge and refinement this will gradually shift as more souls begin to appreciate that we are not who we think we are, just as matter is not what it appears to be. For now, however, a leading vanguard of Self-realizationists will pave the way for countless others to come. We will never know them but “sufficient unto the day” is our own “sadhana” which is its own reward.

That God would take a human form, a human face and seemingly have a personality, walking, talking, laughing, and teaching is the greatest gift imaginable. Admittedly, in any age, few can recognize a God-man in human form. In this age of individuality, Yogananda clarified that the avatars are souls like you and me who have achieved Self-realization. This, at least, encourages the modern truthseekers.

It is difficult to love someone you haven’t met; to love an abstraction. You and I are not abstractions, at least not to ourselves! For each of us, there awaits that one God-realized savior to whom your heart is drawn as the embodiment of perfection: go to that Soul whether Krishna, Jesus, Buddha and others like Paramhansa Yogananda. All the great ones say essentially the same thing as Krishna and Jesus:

“For those who venerate Me only, offering to Me all their actions, their minds concentrated on Me by yoga practice, and their hearts’ feelings uplifted to Me in devotion: Such devotees I rescue from the ocean of mortality.” Gita 12:6,7

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Blessings to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Oppenheimer & the Power of Kriya Yoga

  “Let pranayam be thy religion…” – the power of Kriya Yoga

There’s a new movie in the theatres: Oppenheimer. It’s the story of Robert Oppenheimer, “Father of the Atomic Bomb” and the ambivalence he felt upon successfully detonating the first bomb. There’s antidote bomb, however: this one brought from India by our guru in 1920: Kriya Yoga.

The historian Arnold Toynbee wrote that “While the West conquered the East with guns and bombs, the East will conquer the West with love.”

This reminds me of Mahatma Gandhi’s humorous but dry quip when he was asked “Mr Gandhi. What do you think about Western civilization?” Gandhi’s reply was, “I think it would be a good idea!”

There is another class of scientists — yogis and rishis — who long go unlocked the secret of the soul’s powers. These scientists revealed that the power of Mother Nature has its source in the power of Divine Mother and, to be beneficial, the two must be harmonized. The intelligent life force which creates, sustains and withdraws the worlds is known as prana.
Divine Mother knows that we humans desperately need
divine love as the antidote of to our destructive potential.

As science reveals the reality that matter is more than what it appears on the surface and is vastly different on the inside, so does the soul know things the ego but dimly remembers: our immortality; our true nature as joy; our power to rise above suffering; and, our innate power over matter and death, itself.

In the past, great saints have overcome the hypnosis of matter, body and ego by heroic acts of sacrifice in service, asceticism, prayer and devotion. But Paramhansa Yogananda, sent by a line of Self-realized masters, has brought a new dispensation: the airplane route, as he called it — kriya yoga — to accelerate the journey of transcendence to a people for whom the bullock cart of spiritual progress is inadequate and for whom there is a great need of stronger spiritual medicine.

As energy awareness is the characteristic consciousness of Dwapara Yuga, so the path to transcendence in Dwapara Yuga flies on the wings of energy: Kriya Yoga.

To transcend duality, we must re-trace upward the stages of creation down through which we have come: first, we remove the veil, or kosha, of matter to reveal the energy (or life force) of the astral body. Next, we remove the kosha that hides the causal or ideational body wherein dwells our soul, the true son of God. From there, step by step through the stages of samadhi we advance upward into the blissful Spirit beyond the created worlds.

The Kriya path is described poetically in the words to Sri Yukteswar’s chant, Desire My Great Enemy. Desire symbolizes the hypnosis of the world of matter and the chant counsels the devotee to go within to the body of energy, or prana. The entire creation is alive with energy. This energy is Divine and may be, in a sense, worshipped as the indwelling Spirit so far as we can contact it through the kriya key. Yogananda counsels us to “worship on the altar of the spine.”

As the Spirit vibrates creation first through causal-intention and then more grossly via energy, or prana, prana can be said to be the channel for God’s presence. What is God's presence if not grace? When we cooperate with prana and its potential to rise upward to the higher chakras, then we cooperate with grace. I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. Psalm 121.

We know instinctively that when we are happy our center of pranic gravity rises as we look up, feel lighter, and stand taller. Heaven is above, and hell below, because in the human astral body these are realities based on the energy centers of the chakras.

What makes it difficult to rise and stay “aloft” however, is the downward pulling gravity of past karma, hiding in the astral body along the astral spine in the form of vibrating seeds, or vrittis. Their relative karmic weight as to heavy, medium or light depends on which chakra they are associated with. The lower three chakras contain the more materialistic desires, habits and tendencies. The upper three chakras contain lighter attachments.

The Kriya technique is designed to first energize, then dislodge, and then burn up or consume these vrittis that hold us down before they can ripen into outward form of karmic circumstances where defeating them is far more difficult.

Like the Greek hero, Sisyphus, our efforts in this regard are doomed to repeated failure without the aid of extra pranic power, which is to say, the grace of God and guru. To practice kriya with only will power is to reenact the hubris and receive the punishment meted out to Sisyphus.[1] Thus we always begin our kriya meditation with a prayer to the kriya masters. Throughout the practice we silently invoke Master’s presence and power, seeing these as the key to the success in kriya practice and seeing our efforts as cooperation with prana’s power to free us from past bad karma.

Kriya practice will be energized by the practice of Yogananda’s Energization Exercises which will help us become more aware of both energy but also the source of that energy in the astral spine. The gift of kriya is itself a part of the ray of divine light, the new dispensation that has been offered to us. As Lahiri Mahasaya, Yogananda’s param guru said of the only photograph taken of him, “to those who see this photo as a blessing it is that; to those who see only a photograph, it is only that.” So too for kriya yoga: for those who see it as Master’s grace, power and presence, it is that. To those who see only a technique for self-empowerment, they will get a little improvement but nothing permanent. This is so because in part the spinal currents constantly rotate around one another, never stopping. It is our devotion and attunement to the guru that draws forth the power of grace hidden in prana and needed to neutralize the currents completely and enter the breathless state.

Living more in the spine and especially feeling the pranic currents of the astral spine is to bath in the Ganges of Spirit, the River of Life; it is baptism in the Holy Spirit, Holy Aum. As the characteristic feature of Energization is energy; and that of the Hong Sau technique is peace, the Aum technique, the inner sounds, so the characteristic feature of Kriya is the bliss of the soul. As your contact with the astral spinal currents becomes more frequent and more intense you will begin to recognize their signature and the feeling of their presence. Their signature can take many forms but all stem in one way or another from the vibration of bliss; of joy; of energy. Sometimes it is a general euphoria; other times specific to the currents themselves. Swami Kriyananda has described the pleasurable intensity of meditation as “delicious,” thrilling to one’s very core.

Banat, banat ban jai! Doing, doing…….soon done! Never give up.

Swami Hrimananda



[1] His punishment for his pride was to roll a large stone up a mountain and have it roll back down again and thus to repeat this futile and endless task for an eternity.