Showing posts with label Ananda Community. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ananda Community. Show all posts

Thursday, June 29, 2017

We Hold These Truths!

This coming Tuesday, July 4th, Americans celebrate Independence Day. At the annual picnic at the Ananda Community in Lynnwood, we will have a 45 minute tribute to the principles upon which America was founded. It occurs to us that a re-affirmation of these principles is timely given today's fractious political climate. 

We have quotations from the lives of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Abraham Lincoln. In our program this Tuesday, we've combined the readings with music. To anyone who would like our script, please contact me.

Here then are some excerpts:

George Washington: (first inaugural address)

"it would be improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe...that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States.....No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which we have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency."

In a letter to the Jewish community of Rhode Island assuring them of their freedom to practice their faith, President George Washington wrote....."For happily the Government of the United States, which gives bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."

In a letter (he was a prodigious letter writer, though not an author of books): "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness......And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion....Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education......reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

Thomas Jefferson: in describing his intent upon writing the Declaration of Independence, he wrote that the object was "not to find out new principles or new arguments, ... , but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent....neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from copied from any previous writing..."

From the Declaration of Independence:

"....We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.......governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed...."

Never in history before this declaration had there been a government instituted on the consent of the governed.

John Adams: 

"Religion and virtue are the only foundations, not of republicanism and of all free government, but of social felicity under all government and in all the combinations of human society. They may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty.

The government of the United States is not in any sense founded upon the Christian religion. But to be a Christian is to be joyful, and we are a government founded on Christian principles.

This is my religion … joy and exaltation in my own existence.

It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished."

Abraham Lincoln: taken from speeches given as he entrained from Springfield to Washington D.C. to take the oath of office (1861):

"To-day I leave you. I go to assume a task more difficult than that which devolved upon [George] Washington. Unless the great God who assisted him shall be with and aid me I must fail; but if the same omniscient mind and mighty arm that directed and protected him shall guide and support me I shall not fail -- I shall succeed. Let us all pray that the God of our fathers may not forsake us now. To Him I commend you all. Permit me to ask that with equal sincerity and faith you will invoke His wisdom and guidance for me."

I can say that all the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn, so far as I have been able to draw them, from the sentiments which originated and were ….. embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled, framed and adopted that Declaration of Independence. I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army who achieved that Independence. I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together? 

It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the motherland; [it was] but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men. 

This is a sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world, if I can help to save it. If it cannot be saved upon that principle, it will be truly awful. But if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it."

May we celebrate the search for freedom in all its forms, leading at last to freedom in God!

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Love: Fifty Shades of Red

It has been well said that "love makes the world go round." More accurate to say, attraction, and its corollary, repulsion, makes the world go round: and literally, at that. Right now, outside my window, two squirrels are playing on the tree, playmates, I suppose.

Today is the day Americans call Valentine's Day: a celebration of romantic love. Our language, and I think many other languages, also, use this word love but it has many shades of red and ultimately describes the attraction one feels towards something or someone else. The shades of red are virtually limitless in human relations. Some might say "pure" love is but platonic (not physical) and exists, assuming it is mutual, only in the heart and mind of the lovers. That sounds wonderful from a spiritual perspective but I can think of adolescent love being platonic but very, very unreal and but a fantasy. So, even here, at the more extreme edge of this amazing thing called human love, we find shades of red. Love is not love that doesn't draw fire: meaning that doesn't draw two people closer together in meaningful relationship, whether constructive or otherwise.

In the metaphysical terms that are part and parcel of my daily life as a meditator and a nondualist (a Vedantan), love is dual. We can speak of Bliss as the nature of God and the essence of pure consciousness but we cannot speak of love in terms of Oneness: only You-ness!

And yet the power of love, when reciprocated, draws the two in the direction of becoming One! Thus, love seeks fulfillment in the bliss of the union of two into one! Our wedding rings are a circle because the circle suggests infinity and oneness.

It is only in our relationship with the One, that is to say, God, that this impulse finds fulfillment. Lord Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, when asked whether we should relate to God as absolute and nondual or whether we should love God in the I-Thou form, replied that for embodied souls (that's you and me), the I-Thou relationship is more helpful and practical. "Arduous," Krishna warns, is the way to the absolute. Our very separateness from God who is all Love and all that is ("I AM that I AM") means that our starting point necessitates a movement and distance. And yet, it is also true that in God we are One and Eternal and have always been so. As Jesus said of himself, "Before Abraham was, I AM."

On the human level, however, there's an intrinsic limit: an unscalable wall. Drawn as we are to another person, we can never become one with another human because it's our very differences, our separateness, that generates the attraction even as it necessarily and simultaneously prevents our union. Our desire to be united has the darker potential of smothering one another! We humans, you see, are trapped in this thing called love. It is one of life's greatest paradoxes.

Human love, to exist and be maintained and appreciated, must operate in a precarious and fragile magnetic zone. Think of the earth and the sun. Each are held in their respective orbits by the opposite forces of gravity and the centrifugal force of their respective orbits.

As an experiment, try holding two strong magnets apart (the one positive, the other negative) at just the exact distance needed to feel the attraction but prevent their crashing together. Human love will always be one or more steps short of satisfaction because we must keep the beloved at arms length in order to see and appreciate her! Just as the atomic structure of our bodies prevents them from merging, so to the electromagnetic forces of our psyche do the same. Strange, isn't it?

Those, who like Icarus, fly too close to the sun of human love, will crash and burn. When couples seek, through lust or friendship, to come and remain too close, strange distortions occur, like the gravitational force of a black hole that bends light rays into itself, absorbing the light. Dominance, submission, loss of respect, boredom, moodiness, or the familiarity that breeds only contempt: these are the fruit of being too much attached to one another. (The same is true for friends, parents, or children.)

Two people simply cannot literally become one. The very power to become attracted to another has its roots in the power which creates and maintains our separateness. Thus on a level of magnetism, when we attempt to merge, there are sparks: heat and light, and a mixture of both, much like the effect of a "short circuit."

Sometimes it is difficult even to know the difference between pleasure and pain. (Like scratching a mosquito bite.) No two people can be everything needed to another. No two people could live solely in isolation with each other, locked in perpetual love. It simply cannot and does not happen, though this doesn't prevent endless numbers of couples from trying.

It is not only for the protection of children and perpetuation of the human species that societies put boundaries around this thing called love. It is a force which is powerful but which must be subject to restraints, lest it turn destructive. The just released movie, "Fifty Shades of Grey" demonstrates by its popularity that eroticism has a primal power to attract. But like an rogue wave in the wide expanse of the ocean of human consciousness, its power must dissipate. As it does, it drowns those who try to stay on top of it hoping that the excitement and stimulation will not cease. And, when it does, we are not thereby returned to our self so easily. We are stained, lessened by our intense but false effort to lose ourselves in the outward experience. Even the story line, itself, is but a fiction. Such activities can only end in boredom and self-loathing, if not violence or exploitation.

A person desperate for human love tends to magnetically repulse potential worthy suitors because human love, being so constrained by its own terms, can only thrive to the extent each person is strong in himself (herself). One who desires to be worshiped is one who desires to dominate. One who desires to worship another is one destined to be dominated. Both will lose self-respect and will ultimately suffer. The best marriage is between two persons who, while they share an affinity and appreciate and respect one another, are centered in themselves. Better yet: centered in love for God.

Human love, therefore, can help us to become strong if we honor its paradoxical constraints: holding our heart's magnetic attraction close, but not too close, to its desired object. To do so takes creative commitment and mindfulness. A few of the qualities of true human love include mutual respect and mutual service; self-giving; forgiving; caring; wisdom; calmness; and, appreciation.No wonder there are so few truly blessed partnerships!

In the Ananda communities (nine, worldwide), couples have the opportunity to place their human love in relation to divine love and divine service to others. By emphasizing our souls and not just gender differences and personalities, we find our natural love becomes expansive. We can grow beyond the self-limiting boundaries of "us four and no more." We have friends of like-mind who share our ideals and way of life.

This new model reflects the emerging trend of spirituality in this new age. Ego transcendence becomes a tool that re-directs our attention toward the bliss of soul-consciousness. It reduces the competition between the sexes which is born of the emphasis upon our differences. We focus, instead, on cooperation, simplicity and moderation so that our higher nature can emerge and be made manifest. Thus can be found a satisfaction and harmony in relationship that is not commonly found.

Yogananda's param-guru, Lahiri Mahasaya, by living in the world as a householder with children and a career, established the model of an ideal life in the world but not 'of' the world. He demonstrated how we might find freedom in God through meditation (kriya yoga) while fulfilling our natural, human responsibilities without attachment or ego-identification.

Our hearts, born of and reflecting the infinite love of God, can never be fully satisfied by the oscillating magnetism of even faithful and true human love. Worse than this is the fact that such friendships are relatively rare. So how much less satisfying therefore are the more fickle, insecure, and co-dependent relationships that pass for human love on the broad expanse of human lives?

This does not mean our relationships have no spiritual value, however. Just as Krishna prescribes the I-Thou relationship to God, so too the divine purpose of human love is to help us refine our love to become steady, true, and harmonious. Those who do not bother or care to love others in a self-giving way, cannot attract the love of God, Paramhansa Yogananda warned. Human love is a stepping stone to perfect, divine love.

The fastest way to purify and clarify our heart's natural love is to follow the two great commandments of the Bible (Old and New Testaments): love God with heart, mind, soul and strength and love others as your very Self. Put in another way, don't think that you have to get it just right in human love before you can even think about loving God. That doesn't work because the attractions of human love are infinite. And, while we have infinity to find God, who would wisely want an infinity of disappointment, disillusionment and suffering? Only a fool!

If we must, therefore, celebrate Valentine's Day, let us celebrate it as a reminder that human love offers to us of the perfect love of God. Let us see in our partner, whether real, merely desired or viewed at a distance, the living presence of God as Divine Mother or the Heavenly Father. God comes to us in the human forms of one another. The human qualities which we find so compellingly attractive, such as strength, wisdom, beauty, and kindness, and which we see or imagine in others, are there to remind us that all goodness comes from God-ness. ("Go-od-ness" is dual; God-ness is One.) As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, (to paraphrase), all admirable traits are rays of God's Light reflected in the consciousness of human beings.

So every time a handsome or beautiful face strikes your fancy, or you are tempted to admire another person for their wisdom, talent, or gentleness, train your mind to think of God as the Doer behind all appearances. Mentally bow to God in that form. Never think that any trait of attractiveness is unique to that one person.

Furthermore, any such trait to which you are attracted should be a trait that you begin to develop within yourself. Perhaps you need to be more beauty-oriented in your life: not for vanity's sake, but perhaps you can more consciously combine pleasing colors in your wardrobe, in your home and your surroundings. Beauty derives from harmony. Think, harmony in thought, feelings, actions and surroundings.

Perhaps you need to develop your strength: physical or mental; or, wisdom by study and association with the wise; or, kindness in thought and (random) acts; or, gentleness in your words and empathy. It is in ourselves, which is to say, in our souls, that these traits, though appearing to our view outwardly, are calling us to develop in ourselves.

The purpose of the attraction between men and women, finally, has for its purpose the soul's call to become One within ourselves: to bring wisdom and love, reason and feeling, into harmony, united in self-giving, in devotion, and in seeking God alone.

"May Thy love shine forever, on the sanctuary of my devotion" (a prayer by Paramhansa Yogananda, author of "Autobiography of a Yogi" and the preceptor of the kriya yoga work of Ananda worldwide.)


Swami Hrimananda! ("Joy through devotion")

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Is Negativity a Habit?

In my many years living in intentional community I have seen that people who are otherwise idealistic can yet be negative owing, largely, to habit. I have noticed, for example, that one customary way to express friendship, intimacy, trust, and bonding is to "let your hair down" and "tell all."

In spiritual groups, nonprofit organizations, and other idealistic settings, it is the norm to affirm an upbeat, positive, and cheerful attitude. But this is simply not always possible because each of us has our ups and downs. But here I am not talking about mere ups and down. Here I am talking about what can become an entrenched habit.

What I have observed is that confiding in another person too often goes in the downward direction of digging in the dirt of one's fears, anxieties, regrets, and resentments -- things that you don't normally admit you are holding onto. Worse than that is that this digging can develop into a habit: merely something to talk about (again and again and again).

Thus, when good people get together one-on-one or in smaller, bonded groups, the whispered confidences become less than upbeat. It is too bad that sharing negativity (including fear) signals that "you are my friend and I trust you." Sometimes we all have to "let off some steam."

But it can become a habit. I've come to see that the negativity some people express is in no small way because they don't know what else to talk about! I have several friends -- good people and otherwise intelligent -- who repeat the same old junk every time he or she has a one-on-one conversation. In part their social skills may be inadequate; in part, in fact, they aren't that "bright" or at least mindful (even if in areas of skill and expertise they are rather accomplished).

A case in point surrounding a useful habit for the ego is a friend who frequently expressed her "exhaustion" in spite of being consistently day-in and day-out the most energetic person around! This habit was useful because she could use it as a tool to keep a person at bay whom she didn't like; or on the basis of a subject she didn't wish to discuss; or an attitude she thought inappropriate. Over time her co-workers and friends felt her cold and inaccessible and often turned that towards themselves assuming they must have done something wrong or were not liked.

Certainly we all have such moments when fatigue renders us brain-dead. So it is understandable to a point, but not past the point of an ingrained habit that snubs others and their sincere needs. A counselor once told her, with some intensity, that for one year she should not say to anyone how tired she was. (Maybe it helped. I don't know.)

A habit like that is, further, is a tool for the ego to extract sympathy from others. Sympathy is a very deep and usually true form of sharing, friendship and intimacy. Too much, however, of the wrong kind simply pulls the sympathizer into the swamp of the other's self pity. Couples have to watch this tendency. My motive for supporting my spouse's frustration at a co-worker might be more for the reason I get "points" in the sympathy and negativity bank for when I need them. It would be better to be silent or to say something positive or helpful (maybe later, though). Paramhansa Yogananda warned couples (as did Swami Kriyananda) not to reinforce each other's negativity.

But others I see, and very commonly, simply don't know what else to talk about and feel that in order to have a conversation and express their genuineness and friendship necessitates revealing some negative attitude or opinion, as if in a whispered hush. And that's where the habit can start to form.

I've come to understand why, in part, my spiritual teacher (Swami Kriyananda) and his guru (Paramhansa Yogananda) did not engage in small talk with those close to them. There is such a tendency to "confess," to "reveal," and to say things like, "Frankly....."

I said "Frankly" once when I was in the car, alone, with Swami Kriyananda. He had invited me to drive with him to the nearby town (Grass Valley, CA) and I knew he had some things to say to me. At one point, I began a sentence with "Frankly....." and he cut me short. He knew that I was about to dump some negative opinion on him. Though he never "always" did one thing or another, nor ever "never," I witnessed occasions where once he got the gist of what someone was expressing, he'd cut them off so that they wouldn't augur further down the rabbit hole of negativity.

In counseling, too, and based on his example, I will do something similar, especially if it's about someone who isn't present in the room!

Some of the techniques that Swami Kriyananda taught us (and received from Yogananda) included responding to another's person's negativity with positive, counter-comments or illustrations. He said be on your guard because even in spiritual settings, negativity (which is in each of us) rears its cobra-head, ready to strike. Newer people to a group are often sought out by the negative and merely talkative, self-important types, eager for an audience and new victims. Such people, having been unmasked, are more or less ignored by the more positive and creatively engaged doers.

Such people begin with positive praise of the goings-on, and then, conspiratorially lowering their voices, thrust the dagger of negativity by telling the real story of so-and-so or such-and-such. Avoid such human cobras, Yogananda counseled, like the plague. Stay positive. In this world which is a mixture of good and bad, anyone can find fault with anything or anybody. What's the point, unless some grave injustice or personal duty is at stake and some positive action can be taken to make amends.

Another is: if you have a concern or even a complaint, talk to those responsible, at least potentially, for correcting the situation. Don't talk idly to anyone who will listen to you but will be powerless to make the situation better. (That reminds me of people who argue or shout about all the bad things going on in the world about which they themselves have no intention of lifting a finger to change. I sometimes joke, "Why don't they call me? I have the solution to ALL the world's problems!)

I find that, over the years, I prefer to be friendly but to avoid rambling small talk if I can and still be polite. I don't impose spiritual conversations on others if I either have nothing to offer in that direction or sense a lack of interest.

Lastly, learn how to NOT respond to a person. Just listen and look at them. When you don't react, they will, at first not know what to do or say. In the end, they'll "shut up" or likely change the subject or simply walk away. You should also learn how to have the courage to do that, too: "Ah, excuse me, I've got to go....I've forgotten something".....or just plain, "Excuse me" and walk away.

Aging can produce negativity, too. I don't know what the brain chemistry is on this. Some get sweeter and others get irritable or worse. Patience and silence and short visits, where possible. Outside and third party help might be a good idea.

BTW: Logic is not a solution to negativity: of any kind. Positive feeling, sympathy short of supporting negativity, and a smile ready to act or suggest solutions is usually better.

When a friend gets into a slump but you know he or she is not normally negative, then you can jolly 'em along with a poke in the ribs, a smile of understanding and then positive words of encouragement and so on. A person steeped in negativity will soon tire of your positive responses and will eventually leave you alone.

The essence of what I want to share in these words is the observation I have made that humans sometimes use negativity as a form of bonding. Watch for this in yourself and your friends. Work with yourself patiently to transcend this all-too-normal tendency. Teach yourself when you are with a close friend or loved one, to express admiration, respect, devotion and inspiration for things or people in your life; for the beauty of nature; and gratitude for each and every thing, big or small. Keep your conversation positive and you will be a true friend. In time your friendship will be sweeter, more comfortable, and deeper!

May we always be a Friend in God,

Nayaswami Hriman

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Human Love: Delusion or Stairway to Heaven?

Tomorrow is the 36th wedding anniversary for Padma and I - August, 6, 1978. We were married by Swami Kriyananda at the Ananda Meditation Retreat. So this topic is appropriate. It is also popular, surprisingly (to me, at least). As one small example on this blog, one of the most popular articles I have written, even though two and a half years ago, is on the subject of "How to Love Another without Attachment." On a grander scale, the whole of human history reveals that vast amounts of literature, art, music and movies are devoted to this subject, from the most degraded to the most elevated. The only serious competitor to the subject of human love is, fittingly, war. But today, to celebrate the occasion, let us "make love, not war." (Perhaps I'll be inspired some day on the latter subject, though don't hold your breath.)

No subject is more fraught with complexity and variables than that of human love. Human love ranges from its misuse to describe lust all the way to the most sublime of human feelings culminating even in the willingness to give one's life for another: and, a lot in between. It knows no end of unique expression and defies any and all definition.

Lest I be forced to write a book (and, I promise you, I will never wrote a book on this subject), I am going to honor my anniversary and focus on human love in its traditional form between a man and woman in marriage. It's my right to do so and it's just easier than to make constant alternative and inclusive pronoun and noun references. So my readers who are touchy on this subject of gender and preference, well, give me some scope. All you have to do is substitute your own gender preferences and I don't think you will see any difference.

What characterizes human love above all else is that of a compelling and a specific kind of attraction between two people. This attraction is not that of creative collaborators such as at a workplace but is personal and contains a spark of polarization that might as well be simply described as sexual. I use this term, sexual, both in its obvious and traditional sense but also with the understanding that its presence does not require that its physical form of expression is uppermost or has a special emphasis between two such people. It's the "spark" that we see between two people that flames into a long-term and committed relationship and includes some element of sexuality, even if just in the beginning. Call it "chemistry." I say this so that we know we are not talking about a platonic relationship or that better described as friendship.

The question for the moment is whether this spark of attraction is, from the spiritual point of view of the soul, merely delusional or whether it can be a steppingstone to divine love. Not surprisingly the answer to this is, "It depends."

It truly surprises me how difficult it is for human beings to love each other beyond the narrow confines of their selfish needs and attachments. Ok, so you say "Why does THAT surprise you?" Well, perhaps I am, underneath my logical exterior, so to speak, a sentimentalist at heart. Or, not. It's just that I encounter so many otherwise lovable people who seem incapable of loving in return and far from happy in that fact. I may lack many needful virtues but the inability to love another person (appropriately or otherwise) is not one of them.

There are two kinds of people: those who seek love and those who don't! Ha, ha, I fooled you. You thought I was about to say something profound, huh?

I will wax personal and impersonal as the keystrokes here demand of me. Personally, my life's outer activities have been merely a canvas on which to paint the hidden themes of my life. And, human love is certainly one of those themes. In high school, I fell love with my "high school sweetheart" (how out-of-date a phrase, eh?) but it didn't last. The more intensely I felt attracted to her, the more she withdrew emotionally. She was, in my view (no longer culturally correct, I suppose) at least at the time, the quintessentially irrational female who while maddeningly attractive remains uncommunicative, moody, and beyond all understanding and reason. As my own spiritual yearnings grew, she withdrew even more. It was time to leave and so I simply left. To this day, I do not know what she wanted or why she seemed unhappy. But I vowed from that day never to be fooled by a pretty face or figure but to seek a friend and a partner with whom I could speak with reason and intellect and with whom I could share my own (gradually emerging) higher ideals. In that resolve, I am content to say Divine Mother answered my prayer "an hundredfold."

My point in disclosing the above is to illustrate, even if you don't resonate with my stereotyping description, the conundrum between the outer attraction and the inner resonance between two people. It goes without saying that superficial attraction is dangerously misleading to one's higher Self. Yet, how many marriages begin with but a merely outward basis and yet can evolve and turn into something deeply harmonious and respectful? That's the rub isn't it? You can never really be sure until, well, it becomes obvious.

For example, in old-fashioned views on marriage, a young woman might yield to the forbidden fruit of pre-marital temptations in the hope that by so yielding she would catch "her man." And, sometimes at least, I am sure she did. But how many such liaisons produced the fruit of marital harmony? Few, I would guess.

How many men, in the former times, wanted to seduce a woman only to find, having done so, having fallen in love. (Though more likely not and being, instead, left empty, angry and troubled.)

The merry-go-round goes 'round endlessly, doesn't it? Even today's modern hook-up without hang-up culture is mostly a pretense and a gateway to risk, hurt and harm. Sex never satisfies, as an end in itself. Eventually, it shows its inadequacies and falsehood in a million different ways. How many divorced couples once boasted of having great sex! Ditto for romance as romance for its own sake.

Sex and romance are simply variations on a theme: the theme being the fleeting satisfaction of intense emotions, the pleasure of indulging in mere fantasy, and sensory stimulation, none of which can last very long and both of which produce the fruit of their opposites: boredom, disgust, moodiness, lethargy, and the longer-term effects of dissipation (mental, emotional and/or physical).

(Lest you feel in these words a bludgeon of condemnation, let us admit that sex and romance have their place in the grand scheme of things and, whether they do or not, they unmistakably "make the world go 'round." It is better to deal plainly and clearly with forces that are far greater than the mental virtue of the merely conscious mind. When either sex or romance are divorced from a deeper, soul resonance between people and become ends in themselves, this is when we eventually suffer.)

Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now famous classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," describes in a book of stories (collected and edited by my teacher, and founder of Ananda, Swami Kriyananda) called "Conversations with Yogananda," how American culture differs from Indian culture (at least during his lifetime). He said that in India where the parents choose a marriage partner for their child divorce is uncommon and marriages tend to be stable and generally more harmonious. In America he experienced the turmoil and tumult of rising divorce rates and marriages based on nothing more, as he wryly put it, than "a pretty shade of lipstick and a bowtie."

Yet, he concluded that in this culture we could find out more quickly the innate shortcomings of human love as a solution to our search for happiness. He didn't, in other words, slam the door in our face, decrying our western superficiality and fickleness (both of which he also acknowledged). Yet, he taught that "loyalty is the first law of God." That's a bit heavy sounding for my likes, but by this he refers to the need to stick to what one commits as the necessary prerequisite to success in all human endeavors.

In the arena of human love, we find that it is natural to "date" and "shop around" when one is young (or available) but if this phase goes on for a decade or two, one's friends will begin to wonder whether that friend is capable of "settling down." So, we intuitively know that life invites, indeed, demands, a commitment of creative energies. "Be fruitful and multiply" as the Old Testament commands. (I am not limiting to this to having children, but to getting "engaged" with life.)

So, now, which is it: delusion or doorway? I already told you: "It depends."

My marriage to Padma was born in the clear light of spiritual idealism in the shared commitment to the practice of meditation, to discipleship to Paramhansa Yogananda, to the guidance of Swami Kriyananda, and to a lifetime of community living at Ananda. That doesn't and didn't substitute for the attraction we felt to one another. It was a both-and. The one, immediate and compelling, found its directional expression in the form of the other. In this, I have to say we embodied a perfect balance and it has borne much fruit, in all and in many ways: from our wonderful children to our friendship and service to and with Swami Kriyananda, the countless friendships with fellow devotees around the world, and a gradually expansion of consciousness in wisdom, clarity, and true, impersonal love.

But a marriage with such high ideals holds aloft a bar that is ever out-of-reach and which, therefore, too often eludes one's reaching grasp. The result is too easily and too often a stumbling from that height where a fall can hurt. There's no easy path to enlightenment and we've been greatly blessed in having every spiritual advantage in this regard (with the possible exception of not having present and in the body our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda).

As I look around and view fellow devotees who are unmarried and ask myself: which is the easier path, I see that the unmarried devotee has the freedom to focus one-pointedly on meditation and service while we marrieds are constantly having to also please and relate, compromisingly, to our partner's needs and demands. But I perceive that the unmarrieds indulge readily in their likes and dislikes of others, shutting their door naturally and easily upon the world when others and life itself displeases them. Behind our doors, we must continue to live our path: there is no relaxation of intensity unless a couple agrees to do so. In the latter case, the fall can be quick and deep if one is not careful.

Swami Kriyananda was definitely not starry eyed on the subject of marital bliss. Yogananda taught that those who are compelled by desire to marry must find, over time and repeated forays and incarnations, the inadequacy of human love to satisfy the soul's memory of perfect, infinite love. Nonetheless, the great guru Lahiri Mahasaya, disciple of the peerless Babaji, was married and had at least four children. Yogananda's most advanced disciples all had been, at one time or another, married. So also, the gyanavatar, Swami Sri Yukteswar, the proxy guru of Yogananda.

In this new age of expanding awareness, Yogananda and Kriyananda have taught us that marriage is not forbidden to or necessarily a bar to those seeking enlightenment. The Divine Will and guiding hand of Spirit invites us to bring "Spirit to work and home." It is time to infuse human life with grace, harmony and wisdom. The rise of women in society is, no less, an indication of the need to achieve balance in society and in marriage.

Couples dedicated to high ideals both in their service outwardly in the world but also to the high ideals of respect for one another are needed to serve as wayshowers for a new society. Instead of men and women at war with each other, using and abusing each other in co-dependent relationships, what is needed for both individual spiritual growth and the harmony of society at large are couples who are strong in themselves, centered in themselves (not self-centered!), and respectful of each other.

The sexual attraction between two people is here to stay. It's a question, rather, of how strongly such attraction rules relationships, for how long it governs the relationship, and how far down the scale of priority and attachment it goes. The more conscious elements of society are raising children to be self-aware and self-respecting: of themselves and their bodies, and of others. This is a good though tiny trend. The Ananda Living Wisdom Schools are a part of this important trend.

To know that the compelling force of attraction can be either a gateway to hell (harmful emotions, destructive habits, disease, suffering, etc.) or a doorway to greater happiness is a function of intuition (and karma). Children raised in calm, nurturing and wholesome environments will stand a better chance of "knowing" and distinguishing truth from glamor.

Before marrying, I asked Swami Kriyananda's blessing and permission. No one wants to return to arranged marriages, but blessed marriages are those that seek and obtain the support of friends, family, and, most of all, the wise. This is the happy blend between the risk and compelling power of love-marriages and the wisdom but potential for lifelessness in arranged marriages. In the Ananda Communities (nine throughout the world), we encourage prospective couples to seek counsel, blessing, and support from like-minded and wisdom-guided gurubhais.

Life is what we make of it, no doubt. Marriage is here to stay, despite society's permission for ignoring its outer forms. No longer is one compelled to marry by sexual desire . Loyalty, too, means commitment and while one can never know where the path of life will lead, the sincere effort to walk it with harmony and with wisdom is all that one can aspire to do. Marriage embodies this principle of loyalty. A ceremony is but an affirmation seeking divine and human blessings. It is not a guarantee.

Swami Kriyananda was married for a few years. His marriage ennobled the fledgling householder community of Ananda Village in the '80's. But as he later admitted, he was not cut out for marriage and a time came when it ended. Ananda couples, as others throughout the world, sincerely strive to have a spiritual marriage without suppressing its complete, human nature. Led by conscious intention and prayerful aspiration, marriage, for all of its shortcomings and challenges, can help us grow spiritually. That a conscious marriage will tend to cure us of false notions of marital bliss should be expected but not decried. We must learn that true happiness and perfect love cannot be limited by human, or any, outer form.

Happy Anniversary with many more to come!

Swami Hrimananda! :-)

P.S. Having taken our vows in the Nayaswami Order, ours is now a celibate marriage. As the fact of our children can attest, it wasn't always so!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Day of Thanksgiving!

Here in America we have the excellent and inspired tradition of a day of giving Thanks to God for the bounty of life. The (perhaps) apocryphal story of the Native Americans bringing food to the settlers in New England expresses the essential theme and ideal of America as a place where all can live in harmony. An affirmation, mind you, but one that has brought millions of immigrants to this continent and nation and has inspired untold others to dream of freedom from oppression.

It isn’t necessary that that America and its citizens and government express this ideal perfectly or imperfectly. Do not you and I but imperfectly do so in our personal lives? It does matter that we as a nation and a people aspire to the best of our ability to do so, however.

Many, including myself, feel that America has lost touch with the ideals upon which it was so grandly founded. I suppose our very success undermined our commitment and understanding. I for one and only one among millions both here and throughout the world, feel that the need to uphold these principles of liberty, respect, equality, and justice is greater now than ever before.

My prayer today and everyday is that America and its citizens may someday re-establish our connection with these high ideals. For now, however, I doubt this is possible until or unless we are reinvigorated by the compelling necessity of challenges and tragedy. Such is the stubborn and somewhat perverse nature of habit. But I still believe it is America’s destiny to do so and if it takes strong medicine than “what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger.”

I won’t say I am “grateful” on this day of Thanksgiving for our national loss of idealism, but I accept that it, too, can be used by the Divine Wisdom and Will for a greater good because there are sufficient numbers of us who are open to being instruments of that will — however imperfectly may be our efforts.

The best way to express, energize, and uplift our national consciousness is to live it in our own, daily lives. This means to be accepting of others and their rights and opinions; to be willing to dialogue with them when appropriate; to participate calmly and responsibly in your civic duties, to be a visible and willing participant in your local community (and church or other such forms of fellowship), to be a caretaker and steward for our natural resources and environment, and generally to live these ideals in thought, word, and deed. Honesty and integrity in your work, applying your talents and intelligence productively and creatively, to mentor and help co-workers as appropriate, to be a peace maker and not a gossip or negative influence at work (or school etc.), and to live within your means, to be generous and charitable with your material resources, to be prepared to help yourself and neighbors in the event of natural or other disasters, grow your own food, and generally to live simply and with contentment!

Paramhansa Yogananda, the renowned teacher from India whose life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi” has been read by millions, championed the future spread of small intentional communities outside of the cities. In such environments with like-minded people, he predicted, the negative influences of unhealthy city life and the pressures of globalization could be mitigated by simple living and high ideals. I believe that time is fast approaching. Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013) and the members of Ananda worldwide have established nine such communities on three continents. Countless other communities ranging from co-housing to spiritual communities exist and flourish on every continent. Such is the natural instinct of human nature to seek others of like-mind. In this new age of universal education, advancing technology, communication, and travel, this tendency is necessary to balance the scales of global and impersonal forces, of galloping consumption, and a tragic and threatening disconnection from the world of nature and the world of other people as equals and individuals.

Let us give thanks, then, for the Divine wisdom that appears in hearts and minds seeking truth and harmony. Let us give thanks to those divine messengers who, in every age, race and nation, come to trumpet the “truth that shall make us free.” Finally, let us give thanks for our own efforts and those of others who strive to live by high ideals of honesty, integrity, compassion, creativity, and devotion to the Supreme Giver and Creator!

Joy to You, my very Self,

Swami Hrimananda, Thanksgiving, 2013

Monday, October 14, 2013

Should We be Optimistic or Pessimistic?

Well, both are, at least, "mystics!" By this, I mean now "vague" and "uneasy." There is little more fraught with error than predicting the future. And that's my point, really. It's not the predicted or potential future scenario that should suggest our state of mind. As I enjoy saying: "You have to be present to win." And to take a bad joke further down, it's not the present "tense!"

Be present, then. Be calm, content (without being passive), even-minded (even in adversity), enthusiastic (without dependency on outcomes).......well, you get the idea.

In my last post, I described Dmitry Orlov's book, The Five Stages of Collapse. No doubt someone out there in a digital listening post has already taken note, for this book is subversive to the power status quo. Whereas Facebook postings of my sweet, newborn granddaughter attracted well over one hundred 'likes,' my blog on this book was almost entirely ignored.

Think how few Jews in Germany, even among the small percentage who had the means, got out? To quote Frank Zappa, the weird 60's rock musician social commentator, most think "It can't happen here."

Orlov's admittedly dire predictions based on a worldwide scarce resources consuming binge and red hot government printing presses desperate to hope for never ending economic growth and productivity gains in the future to pay our escalating present debt, are neither shocking nor new. We just think that "it can't happen here!" Those of us of the post world war "baby-boom" have no yardstick of comparable measure for the more commonplace boom and bust and wars and pestilences to which the human drama down through the ages is subject. We have lived truly in a bubble. Travel and communication reveals a very different reality for most of the billions of other inhabitants with whom we share this planet.

It is really NOT a question of optimistic or pessimistic; rather: realistic. The Ananda Community movement has succeeded or has been required to succeed at the margins of mainstream developing countries by banding together, pooling skills and resources, and coming up with products and services to serve the alternative and conscious, simple living community worldwide.

Bear in mind, that Ananda's "mission" is first and foremost a spiritual one: sharing kriya yoga and the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda and his foremost public spokesperson (disciple), Swami Kriyananda. However, it is not entirely possible to separate the two messages. Yogananda was bold in spreading the message of a new age (based on the astrological and intuitive wisdom of his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar) but he was equally blunt in saying it wouldn't be pretty (at first). As spiritual transformation is nothing less than annihilation of the petty ego, the dawn of new age of higher conscious won't be born without birth pangs.

While the spiritual message is indeed for everyone "with ears to hear," so is the second message: be prepared. I, as much as most, do not wish to be associated with some cultish group announcing the end of the world as we know it! But Orlov's book confirms the value of small groups of people helping one another, and others, and developing a new and sustainable way of life for human life on this planet, that we might not only survive to tell a happy story, but that human consciousness might grow towards a greater awareness of the oneness of all life, in outer harmony of action and relationship, in use and consumption of resources, energy, and creative endeavors, and, finally in attunement with God, our creator and true Self. It's a public service, so to speak, where everyone wins!

What part each of us plays in this tide is as unique as we are. But what is offered to see is the radical transformation in us as souls and in society at large, at least in its outer appearance.

It's good news, not bad least for those who can read the "head-lines." "What is Thy will, Lord?" "How can I serve Thee in others?"

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Ananda worldwide: What Next after the Passing of its founder, Swami Kriyananda?

Few organizations thrive after the passing of a creative and charismatic founder. In regard to leadership skills and looking ahead to the future, Swami Kriyananda was extraordinarily prescient. To his dying day (earlier this year at age 86), Swami Kriyananda ("SK") was writing books, music, lecturing, handling a voluminous correspondence, guiding movie productions (two), and counseling and guiding countless souls. He did this in spite of an aging body that should have given up the ghost long ago and which offered to him constant troubles and physical suffering. He took all of this in the stride of kindness, creativity, service and devotion to God and guru (Paramhansa Yogananda and his lineage).

Yet, for all of this, he had, decades ago, appointed leaders of various aspects of Ananda's growing and worldwide work. These leaders, then, were already in place and functioning independently but cooperatively both together and in attunement with his overall guidance and friendship.

For the immediate future, therefore, Ananda members and public need not expect anything radical or unusual. SK's spiritual successor, Jyotish (John) Novak, has been with SK for for over forty years and functioning as acting spiritual director for some years. He and his wife, Devi, are seamlessly making the transition to front and center of Ananda.

Nonetheless, SK was a spiritual and creative tornado. No vibrant organization can afford to remain static. Nor can Ananda rely passively upon his enormous legacy of writings, music, organizational wisdom, and spiritual depth for its momentum. Nor has SK trained us to do so!

So "Yes": changes can be expected. The largest hole in Ananda's work left by SK, in terms of public visibility, is, well, just that: public visibility. SK toured the world non-stop for decades; wrote books, non-stop, for decades; did radio and TV shows; spoke at major conferences, and on and on. As a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda (PY), he spoke with authority, conviction, and wisdom in being the foremost and most accessible public representative for PY's worldwide teachings.

It would be fruitless to imagine anyone simply taking up where SK left off. SK wisely decentralized the work of Ananda and both by his example and his instructions empowered Ananda's leaders and membership to work BOTH cooperatively together AND creatively independently in our spiritual service.

What will be needed is for representatives of Ananda to emphasize the need to "get out front" in public view. Some have, will and are writing books and articles. But until now, most, with rare exception, were needed to remain in their respective teaching centers training members and guiding the local community. A younger generation is on its way "up" and the leadership group has both the opportunity and the need to be more available publicly outside the comfortable enclosure of our teaching centers and communities. What form that takes will be as individual as the individuals themselves.

Leadership, too, is, and has been changing. While SK naturally assumed the role of founder and leader, he actually trained us to see each other and relate to one another as friends and devotees first. Whatever particular positions we might hold for a time are simply roles but positions of leadership make no assumption regarding spiritual realization. For several decades, most Ananda communities have been led by married couples. But I see this evolving towards more team management in various departments and business. At the Ananda Farm here in the Seattle area, we have four "legal" managers but a seven-person management team. Same is true for our East West Bookshop.

I also see that the vocabulary of the message of Ananda will need to step-up to the tone of universality that SK embodied so well both in person and in his writings. This language was PY's language, as well. Most Ananda centers have focused on training of members and disciples. This is essential, of course, but easier to focus on while SK spread the universal message of Self-realization through Kriya Yoga around the world. Kriya and Self-realization are for everyone, regardless of spiritual affiliation or belief. Oneness in Spirit applies to all facets of daily life in the form of cooperation, harmony, respect, high energy and creativity.

Ananda is, and was already in process of (at the time of SK's passing in April), a great explosion of growth. Many members feel that SK's passing not only freed him from the confines of an aging body, but in some tangible but subtle way, freed his soul force to ripple outward and propel his "children" in new and expansive directions.

Without SK's presence and leadership, it seems to me natural that the various Ananda centers will look to its center (Ananda Village, Nevada City, CA) not just for leadership and guidance but as "home." This has always been the case but has been, in no small measure, eclipsed by the living presence and guidance of its founder, SK. With him gone, eyes and hearts turn naturally to "the Village." Already important work is taking place to allow overseas members to obtain special visa permits to come and study and apprentice in how to run centers and communities.

Several weeks ago the first annual Spiritual Renewal Week since SK's passing found members just as enthusiastic and just as present in numbers as ever before, even without SK being there in the body. Many could feel that the baton of spiritual leadership had passed not just to one, or two, but to an entire generation of members trained by SK. An online worldwide leadership course, begun in Fall 2012, is already uniting members of every age, generation and country. Online courses and webinars from Ananda Village come out almost weekly. The original Meditation Retreat has come back "online" offering seclusions, in addition to the vibrant and dynamic retreat programs at the Expanding Light (public) retreat facility "down the road." Members worldwide are uniting behind the project of building a simple but beautiful "Moksha Mandir" for interring SK's body at his beloved home (at Ananda Village), the Crystal Hermitage. A future Temple of Light will be built there with the support of members, students, and friends from around the world.

I also see a stepped-up exchange of staff, interns, and visitors between the Ananda centers. Pilgrimages to Italy, U.S.A., and India (and other places) continue to grow in momentum. Members are becoming, it seems to me, more fluid and willing to move to other Ananda Communities as the need or inspiration arises. This started especially with the Laurelwood campus, west of Portland, but is spreading, as Palo Alto, CA and here in Seattle have purchased properties for farming and mini-community/ashrams and have opportunities for helping hands.

Lastly, I foresee that the music of Ananda, a direct legacy of SK, will mature and begin to find acceptance in the world around us. I believe it was uniquely SK's life path that during his lifetime, though well known in some respects, he was, relative to the depth of his spirituality and genius, too often passed over. The "Finding Happiness" movie, a documentary story of Ananda will spread the message of Ananda's work and music far and wide. So too a second movie, still in production, on SK's life: The Answer.

PY said to SK that "you have a great work to do." This work is now in the hands of SK's children and I sincerely believe that we will carry on, yes in our way, but in his spirit.

Blessings to you from Ananda, not a place, but a state of soul.......

Sw Hrimananda

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ananda Community, Pune, INDIA!

Part 3 - Pilgrimage to India - In the Footsteps of the Masters

On Friday, March 8 this year, Padma's birthday, we flew from Kolkata to Pune, stopping briefly in Allahabad.

It was long and windy drive in the bus from the Pune airport to the Ananda Community to the west of Pune city. At the very end we left the main, paved road and proceeded over a gentle river and then a stream to wind our way up a small dusty (red) dirt track along the side of a low range of hills and arrived at the Ananda Community being welcomed and enveloped with smiles and helping hands.

This small and struggling Community has eked out an existence in the hills there against great obstacles, not least of which is an uncertain water supply. A complex of retreat bungalows have been built and at a distance the beginnings of a development of "flats" to be sold to members and friends who might live or visit there.

The temple is an outdoor one, covered in netting but quite serviceable and lovely for meditating. Halfway up the hill is a flat for Swami Kriyananda, staff, and others. The terrain, though challenging, supports a semi-tropical array of trees and plants, yielding bananas, papayas, mangoes, trees, gardens and flowers. Though we arrived in dry season, it was still lush and I understand it turns very green during and after the summer monsoon.

Near the top of the hill, the monks have their "kutirs" (simple huts) and a cave. In the central area nearest the entrance is a small store, reception, offices, and kitchen. Nearby is another office and a delightful cafe and patio where coffee, expresso, ice cream, milk shakes and sandwiches are served for the enjoyment of staff and visitors alike. There one can find wi-fi and chat with virtual friends, or sit and chat with many new and old friends in person. Quite the place!

The highlight of our visit to Ananda Pune was an afternoon satsang, out of doors in a lovely amphitheatre, with Swami Kriyananda. He is the founder of the worldwide network of Ananda communities and is a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda. Not only is he one of the few direct disciples living on earth today, but in fact he has been for decades the most accessible, most creative, and most visible of the disciples serving Yogananda's work.

The land of the Community is terraced in places and especially well developed just below Swami Kriyananda's house (flat). The landscaped terraces form this natural amphitheatre in the hill just below his home. He gave a heartfelt talk and everyone basked in his joy and in the intimacy of his "conversation" with Master and Divine Mother. Here we at last had our living shrine, and not just some stone or artifact worn by or used by a saint--but the real thing. This is the real India: a place where true renunciation and living for God is honored and respected, rather than despised or questioned. Here, too, is where the transmission of spiritual power and grace through living instruments (from guru to disciple) is understood, accepted and honored. Here, then, more than anywhere else in the world, Swami Kriyananda can speak "as no other man has spoken" (to quote the Bible in respect to the observation of listeners of Jesus' sermons). Swamiji, not unlike his guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, wears the timeless wisdom of Sanaatan Dharma like a familiar, old coat and speaks of it like an old friend!

In the evening, he joined us in the amphitheatre under the stars to enjoy a concert of music from around the world! Both events were just magical and transported the devotees to a timeless space, to another dimension where saints and devotees commingled with ease and with joy. It was like entering a different world: it was safe, happy, beautiful, and filled with radiant joy and inner peace. This was India: guru to the planet: bestowing its ray of light outward to all truth-seekers, giving comfort and wisdom to all in need.

Our time there was peaceful in other respects too, for there are no honking cars, no near-fatal encounters with moving vehicles, no choking fumes, and no need to be on the traveller's constant guard. The home cooked food was a blend of Indian and western and was simple and tasty. Accommodations were rustic and, with some exceptions, adequate (there were so many of us that about ten had to be lodged down the road at a nearby "camp"). Water was in serious short supply, however. It has to be trucked, several times a day, from a nearby stream and pumped into water tanks on the land. There was never enough for showers and so on. This was challenging for the fact that the daily high temperature was mid to upper 90's and dust was everywhere, or, at least all over one's feet and pants. Though it was hot in the midday sun, it was delightful at dusk and in the evenings, and by daybreak, it could even still have a little nip of cold.

One night, however, was the annual India-wide celebration of Shiva (known as Shivaratri) and local villagers used the opportunity to party all night raucously. If there was any devotion in their noise, I missed it. Sigh. Some of our pilgrims had little sleep that night, unfortunately.

What Ananda members, both Indian and American (and European) have accomplished in manifesting a community and retreat out of "pure" red dirt is a testimony to will power, dedication, creativity and divine grace! Yet, they have yet a long way to go. At minimum is needed a long-term secure source of water. Movement is afoot to bring a pipeline in but it's not there yet and land disputes and theft (yes, including water theft) are rampant and endemic. Most visitors, at least from America, make the obvious and appropriate comparisons to the state of Ananda's original community, Ananda Village, in the Sierra Nevada foothills some thirty years ago. Who could imagined how beautiful that community was to become from its state during the '70's and '80's!

At last, our few days there in the peace and quiet of the Pune hills was over. At the break of dawn on Monday, March 11, the serviceful monks hefted our luggage onto the bus as we, after a quick breakfast, began our journey by bus and air back to Delhi.

Now we are on to India's holiest city, Varanasi, known by its spiritual name, Kashi. This city was to prove our greatest challenge and yet one of our most inspired visits. It was to prove to be action-packed and a revelation of timeless intensity.

See you in Kashi!

Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pitfalls of Meditation Revealed!

As one who has meditated for most of my adult life and who has taught meditation for some twenty-five years, you might not expect me to bring up the subject of meditation’s pitfalls or shortcomings. Perhaps it’s a truth in advertising campaign.

A very good friend of mine and I were discussing the spiritual path and brought up a common issue for those on the meditation path: the dark side. But let me digress and build a foundation, because there are many forms and approaches to meditation.

I practice and represent the kriya yoga meditation taught by Paramhansa Yogananda. I was ordained to teach and initiate others into the kriya yoga technique and path by Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda, who was ordained personally by Paramhansa Yogananda.

Millions have read and have found inspiration from Yogananda’s now famous life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, and from his teachings which are very positive and emphasize “ananda,” the joy of the soul which is discoverable with special efficacy through the art and science of meditation and the advanced technique of kriya yoga. (Worry not, however, there is no claim to exclusivity here.)

Yogananda taught that in this new age (which in India is termed “Dwapara Yuga” – the second age), the impulse of spiritually minded souls would be to bring “Spirit to work” rather than to withdraw from the material world in search of God. Few people today are spiritually inspired by extreme forms of penance, austerity, or suffering. Rather, we find that love for God and love for all beings and all creation is what inspires and motivates us to embrace high ideals.

In the Ananda Sunday Service, the Festival of Light, we read aloud that “whereas suffering and sorrow, in the past, were the coin of man’s redemption, for us now the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy.” It goes on to say that “pain is the fruit of self-love, whereas joy is the fruit of love for God.” Yogananda emphasized therefore the positive aspects of the spiritual life.

Kriya yoga is a part of raja yoga which is, in turn, an outgrowth of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras from which comes the 8-Fold Path of spiritual awakening. In the raja yoga techniques of meditation, concentration is emphasized together with devotion. Both are practiced in the context of raising our energy and consciousness from the lower centers in the body to the brain wherein resides the seat of enlightenment. What this implies is a strong and positive focal point and direction for one’s meditation.

Raja yoga meditation (which by definition includes kriya yoga) is directional. While all meditation must be mindful, for what else is meditation if not an expansion of self-awareness, it is not passive or contemplative. This may seem contradictory or paradoxical but it is a both-and experience. The more important point, however, is that it is not primarily focused on the dark side, so to speak. It is not an effort to plumb the depths of our delusions and blindnesses in an effort to root them out like weeds. By holding our consciousness and energy up to the light of the superconscious level of our soul we banish blindness and darkness, in effect, we turn on the “light” and the “darkness” vanishes.

Or, does it?

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras have much to say about the obstacles and delusions of the mind, the subconscious, of delusion, and of past life karma. He has much to say about the need to be truthful, non-attached, kind etc. etc. There is nothing in the 8-Fold Path that suggests suppression or denial of negativity or darkness.

So while the emphasis in raja yoga may indeed be a positive one and once that works with moving “energy” upward, there is no lack of tools or awareness of that which holds us down.

My teacher, Swami Kriyananda, has pointed out that in raising energy to the brain (to the higher wisdom centers), we risk inflating the ego’s self-involvement. Indeed, meditation can even enhance enjoyment of sense pleasures. The ego (sense of separateness) is the first aspect of our soul’s fall from grace (from the beginning of time) and its last great struggle.

This is just one of many reasons why humility and devotion to God and guru is so essential and part and parcel of the path of meditation and the spiritual path in general. Patanjali enumerates at great length the powers that come to one who rises in wisdom towards enlightenment. Many, perhaps all, who seek God with increasing success must encounter the temptations that come with spiritual power. Jesus was tempted that he might have dominion over all creation if he would but worship Satan (creation itself) for its own sake, separate from God.

It is no coincidence that Yogananda linked meditation with fellowship. (So, of course, did Jesus Christ in quoting the Old Testament he summarized his teachings in two parts: love God and love others as oneself.) At Ananda this includes one of our central aspects: intentional community. But not everyone is going to live in an intentional community. But for all of us, association with others like-mind (which includes the company of those of greater wisdom) is necessary and essential. Only a highly advanced soul can spiritually afford to go on alone.

I have made it a campaign from time to time over the years to help remind meditators not to mistake meditation for the goal of meditation: union with God. It is so very easy to enjoy meditation for its own sake. It is so very easy to reap the benefits and rewards of meditation for that good alone: health, creativity, energy, vitality, intuition, peace, and joy (to name but a few). We might indeed gain dominion over all matter but lose our soul to the “devil” of material delusion or to the affirmation of ego separateness.

The final frontier is to offer ourselves completely to God, risking what, to the ego, seems to be annihilation but to the soul is completion, oneness, and fulfillment, indeed, the gaining of Infinity and the loss of absolutely nothing! It takes great courage, however, and the grace of God and guru to step out of the cage and fly towards the Light.

In the positive upward thrust of meditation practice it is sometimes a fact that the meditator loses touch with self-awareness, rather than gaining self-awareness. For most meditators this is because they fall into the habit of becoming semi-subconscious. This is when thoughts take over or one enters a stream of consciousness state. Real meditation begins when our thoughts are still. Patanjali’s most famous sutra, Yogas chitta vrittis nirodha, could be interpreted as “One enters the state of superconsciousness only when thoughts, mental-images, and feelings related thereto cease.” There are also states of blankness, including at least one termed jada samadhi, that do nothing spiritually but which demonstrate the power to enter a suspended state of consciousness where time, motion, and decay stand still. 

Long-term meditators who fall prey to subconscious states are sometimes seen meditating with a a slumped posture, a head that droops down or sometimes to the side, by bobbing downward or to the side, rocking back and forth (a pseudo-kundalini movement), or a sudden shift (marked by a brief, sharp breath) in breath pattern to a long slow exhalation indicating entry into semi-subconsciousness. They might experience burning eyes, and their upward gaze begins to lower from their superconscious position (which consists of gazing intently but serenely into the point-between-the-eyebrows). As thoughts subside in true meditation, the breath becomes almost invisible, even ceasing for periods of time. In meditation one feels more dynamically conscious even if time, surroundings, or body-consciousness slips away. One never comes out of true meditation wondering, “Where was I?” In meditation the “I” is always present: at first, separate and self-aware of the process of meditation; later, expanded into higher states without sense of separation but with complete and total consciousness.

Swami Kriyananda tells the story of a businessman in Vancouver, Canada who decried his day job of making money while yearning for his meditation time at home. “What a waste,” Kriyananda thought. Outward activity should help our meditation and meditation should help our daily life. Meditation should be an attitude, a complete way of life. What we do during the day should feed, inspire, and inform our inner peace and meditation practice, just as meditation should enliven with even-mindedness, creativity, and calmness, our activities.

When there exists a firewall between what we experience in meditation and what we experience during activity, we find that we go “nowhere fast” (spiritually speaking). Sadly, I suspect this is the reality for most meditators who are not yet integrated.

Ananda Community residents are blessed with unceasing opportunities to do spiritual work together, to live and meditate together, to worship together, and to study together. This is an integrated way of life that will be the pattern of dedicated spiritual living in this age. Not necessarily by monks and nuns, but including couples and couples with children, this complete way of life offers great promise to millions in the hundreds of years to come.

When I first came to Ananda Village in 1977, I did not understand this. Raised as a Catholic, I understood monasticism but didn’t yet appreciate this new form of ashram, this new form of religious dedication, and indeed a new way of life and religious “order.” Yogananda put it this way: “Church, work, and family” all in one!

Getting back to our subject, then, meditators (whether Ananda Community residents or everyone else) are challenged by the need to include contemplation, introspection, mindfulness, and spiritual counseling in their toolbox for the path of meditation. In addition, regular selfless spiritual service and association with others is needful wherever you are.

A book (indeed books have been) could be written, on making the day more meditatively mindful. I dare not launch in this direction for there are so many tips and techniques. But my real point is that there may well be some psychological obstacles, pitfalls, delusions, or addictions so strong that one should seek counsel and contemplation, as well, as activating will power to deal creatively and energetically with them.

If you have an anger problem and are a meditator, you need to find creative ways to connect the dots between them. Hold your anger as calmly as possible in your meditation and offer it to God and guru. Work actively when it flashes to bring it under your control. It astonishes me how many long-term meditators are as yet unaware of their attitudes and behavior. Swami Sri Yukteswar (Yogananda’s guru) was famous for saying, “Learn to behave.” We must walk our talk but we can’t do this unless we are aware that there’s a yawning gap. “Mind the gap,” I like to say: we all have a gap between our self-image and our actions. That can be good if it is an incentive to close the gap but once the gap widens too much, we disconnect.

It’s ok and indeed helpful to hold up to the superconscious mind and to your guru’s grace, your problems, your delusions, your shortcoming for healing and light. Don’t make a big focus of it but don’t suppress, deny or ignore them either. Do this, typically, at the end of your meditation when you are hopefully the calmest and most uplifted.

“Connect the dots” between all the chakras; raise the “kundalini” of separateness into the Light of God. Be at peace not just in meditation but in speech, emotions, thoughts, and action.

Blessings to you,
Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, January 6, 2012

Who is Paramhansa Yogananda?
Mukunda Lal Ghosh was born January 5, 1893 in India. Destined to become one of the first swamis to come to America (he came in 1920), he became a sensation in America, touring in the 1920’s and 1930’s to crowds of thousands of people in cities throughout the USA.

This time of year the Ananda Communities and centers around the world are among the thousands who commemorate Paramhansa Yogananda’s life and teachings. At his initiation as a swami when a young man by his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri in Serampore (near Calcutta), India, he took the monastic name Yogananda: “union with God in bliss through yoga practice.”

Years later his guru conferred upon him the honorific “Paramhansa,” an acknowledgement of his disciple’s high spiritual realization. Yogananda came to America in 1920, returned to India for a last visit to his guru, family, and homeland in 1935-36, but otherwise stayed in America and became a U.S. citizen. He established his headquarters in Los Angeles in the mid-1920’s. He left this earth plane in 1952.

Those are the barest facts of an extraordinary life. We who are his disciples honor his contribution to the world and to our lives especially at this time of year. At Ananda this celebration concludes the holiday season at about the same time as Christians historically commemorate the three wise men coming from the east to honor the Christ child.

Paramhansa Yogananda is most famous for his life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi.” This book, first published in 1946, has been read by millions in many languages around the world. For modern ears, hearts, and minds, Yogananda opened up for westerners insights into the mysteries of Indian culture and especially its timeless precepts, practices, and its modern saints and sages with their extraordinary powers and states of consciousness. As a work of literature his autobiography stands tall in the pantheon of twentieth century writings.

But it is not the details of his life or even his consciousness that I wish to reflect upon here. Swami Kriyananda’s own autobiography, “The New Path,” details life with the “master” with such wisdom, humor, and love that I must refer the reader to this parallel work of art and inspiration.

One hears a common saying that “When the disciple is ready the guru appears.” For the relevant question is not “Who is the greatest guru (or teacher)?” The more important  inquiry is “Who am I” and “What kind of a disciple of life and truth am I?” The law of karma (action and reaction) and the law of attraction and magnetism remind us that the world we inhabit is filtered by our own magnetism such that we attract to ourselves those circumstances (and people) best designed to reflect back to us aspects, high or low, of our own self.

So rather than ask ourselves “Who was Yogananda” we can also ask ourselves “Who am I?”

Some see in him a world teacher and avatar whose life has started a revolution in spreading the practice of kriya yoga into all nations that millions may have a direct personal perception of divinity and hence empower humanity to make the changes needed to sustain life, health, prosperity and God remembrance in all nations.

Others will see him only as another in an endless procession of teachers from India seeking to profit by the prosperity of the west. Perhaps some will see more flamboyant or more recently popular teachers as the real “deal.” No matter.

It depends what we are capable of seeing and seeking. It is enough for me that he has changed my life and the lives of uncountable others worldwide. Who am I to speak of him as an avatar? I wouldn’t know an avatar  if he was a card-carrying member of the Avatar Club. Even if I were to be so unrefined or unaware as to simply find inspiration and practicality in his words and yoga techniques and ignored him altogether (because no longer incarnate), my life would not be the same.

The question is by what influence and magnetism has he, whom I have never met, inspired me to leave everything of a material nature (career and life in the “world”) as a young man, move to a poor and rural intentional community in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and dedicate my life to the daily practice of meditation and service to spreading Yogananda’s ideals and practices? Were I alone, then you’d have to conclude that I am just basically weird. But hundreds and by now thousands have done the same.

And we are not talking the disenfranchised or the “sick, lame, and lazy” (as my old father, God rest him) would have said. The people I associate with are highly educated, high energy, creative, noble-minded, kind, compassionate and dedicated people who are very aware of the world we live in and eager to serve God through humanity and through kriya yoga.

Yogananda’s influence has spawned a network of intentional communities, schools for children, yoga centers, publishing, nature awareness programs, creative architecture, new forms of music and worship, a cooperative style of leadership and decision making, creative parenting and harmonious relationships.

The chief architect of this expansion has been the foremost of Yogananda’s direct disciples in the service of humanity at large: Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda. Kriyananda’s influence reflects not only his dynamic will but his attunement with his guru, Yogananda. The worldwide work of Ananda is largely a transparent expression of Yogananda’s guidance. Though stamped indelibly with Kriyananda’s signature, members and students of Ananda function independently, creatively taking seed inspiration (rather than any detailed blueprint) from Kriyananda’s guru-guided creativity. Kriyananda, as such, functions more as a focal point and funnel for energy rather than a personality. The result is that scant attention is paid him in the way we see so many spiritual teachers being fawned upon or held high upon a pedestal of undying admiration.

Ananda is not a top-down hierarchical organization, though the value and importance of inspired and supportive leadership is emphasized. Cooperation rather than coercion is the guiding principle. The spiritual welfare of people is the measure of success, not the otherwise worthwhile and measurable accomplishments of Ananda as a spiritual work. Thus the Ananda centers and communities function independently but in cooperation with its first and original community in California. Europe has its own central vortex just as India has two parallel centers: one rural, the other urban.

Yogananda created a new system of tension exercises at a time when millions were just beginning to seek forms of exercise. Less than a century ago exercise for its own sake was only for aristocrats and a few privileged athletes. Already we see the incidence of injury from running, weight training, extreme sports and even intensive one-size-fits-all yoga. He created numerous formulae and recipes for the future millions of vegetarians even as our culture flounders fanatically with every extreme dietary fad that comes along each year.  

He spoke of a future when international criminals would cause havoc in every country and how an international “police force” of freedom-loving nations would be required. He predicted that English would become the “lingua franca” of the world. He also warned of future wars, cataclysms, diseases, and economic devastation as a result of unparalleled greed, exploitation and ruthless competition.

Yogananda with words of great spiritual power “sowed into the ether” a call to high-minded souls to go out into rural areas and create small communities, pooling resources, skills, and living close to the land in what we now realize and describe as a sustainable lifestyle. He predicted that a time would come when small communities would “spread like wildfire,” presumably as an antidote the crushing and impersonal forces of globalization.

Each of these concepts, precepts, and trends are taking shape in the lives of people like you and me, around the world. Yes, it’s true these things would be happening with, or without Yogananda. But to come as a divine messenger to bless these efforts is as reassuring as it is an ancient tradition (to seek divine blessings upon one’s journey and new undertakings). Those who are in tune with these trends are, in their own way, drawing upon those blessings whether they have heard of Yogananda or not.

In theological matters, how many like you and me are weary of sectarianism and desirous of harmony between faiths? It is not religion we should fight but selfishness, greed, and delusion. To this end those who love God should help, support, and respect one another. But how can we find our way out of the box of our dogmas and customs?

All theological bypaths meet in the sensorium of inner silence. God as One, God as many, God of many names or no name are all found united in silent, inner communion. The only real idol worship is found in the worship of matter, the senses, and the ego. These are the false idols, not the saints or deities who serve as symbols and aspects of the One beyond all symbols.

Thus it is that our own and personal vision of reality draws to us the life and teachings of such a one as Paramhansa Yogananda. To achieve Self-realization, he said, we must simply improve our “knowing.”

A Happy Birthday to Yogananda and to all of us!
Nayaswami Hrimananda

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Search for Farmland in Seattle area

Since the first Ananda Community was established in 1967 in Nevada County, California, organic farming has been a part of community life. This is common to probably most intentional communities formed at that time and ever since. Farming is always difficult work, a definite science, and an art form whose canvas is Mother Nature and whose secrets are forever elusive. While the essence of the worldwide network of Ananda Communities is to create a supportive environment for spiritual growth through meditation and service, gardening and farming as a part of intentional community is seriously relevant to our age and reflects the need to develop a new and sustainable lifestyle.

We, the post-World War II generation, have grown up amidst relative prosperity and security and, more than that, in a bubble of excess consumption and detachment from the realities of nature and natural living. Hence, in the Sixties as this generation began to come of age there were some who rebelled against the "plastic" culture in which we lived. But our timing was premature. Several more decades of living "high" were yet to come. Now the compelling need to find a more sustainable lifestyle not only looms large but threatens ominously the culture of galloping consumption (and debt) and the health and safety of life on this planet.

At the urging of Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, a renewed emphasis on farming has inspired a re-dedication to organic farming in the Ananda Communities worldwide. Ananda's community in Lynnwood (north of Seattle, WA) is no exception. Two years ago, a subscriber supported farming cooperative (CSA) was begun in the Community. Now we are looking for additional acreage (perhaps five net farmable acres) not too far from Lynnwood in order to expand.

Such property can provide housing, education, and training, as well as be the base of operations for a larger and more effective small-scale family type farm. We are thinking that those who can support this by purchasing the land obtain the twin benefits of a sensible investment in farm land with the support of small-scale, local organic farms. While we don't anticipate a "profit" for the owners of the land from farming operations, their investment should be a form of capital preservation in the face of the strong possibility of several years or more of severe financial instability and risk combined with little or no investment return from traditional sources. Whether hyper-inflation or deflation, everyone eats food and farmland near a major metropolitan area should hold its own relative value (if not, in fact, gain in value).

The farming co-op, meantime, can use, maintain, and improve the land and property and would cover all costs of holding the property (taxes, e.g.). In time, and as individual owners need to liquidate their investment, we would expect there would be others who would be willing to replace them at a fair price.

This arrangement would no doubt be altered under different economic conditions but for now it seems a fair exchange. We already have pledges of investments greater than a normal down payment but insofar as we do not want to acquire property with a mortgage or debt, we are still looking for others to participate. If this would interest you and you would like more information, please let me know!

A new paradigm of cooperative living (that includes investing) needs to emerge. Making money by tossing ones and zeroes into the Wall Street and Big Bank gambling casino is no way to create a sustainable lifestyle and a planet fit for habitation. The real return on investment should be the satisfaction and universal return of support that flows naturally from one's own creative and energetic commitment to high ideals, whether through investing, creativity, or participation in serviceful and useful endeavors. Our culture needs to regain our how-to-live skills, fulfilling the proper needs of body, mind, and spirit through self-effort, savings, cooperation, creativity, natural living, and love for God and the divine essence of all life.


Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, May 7, 2011

I'm Still Here

I'm still here. I will finish the 8-Fold Path series, soon. Life at Ananda Seattle has been very full. Today the residents of Ananda Community set aside a day of retreat: meditation, service projects, meals, discussion, and chanting together. We dedicated the day not only to a re-affirmation of our ideals and way of life, but to the memory of Narada (James) Agee, a resident and friend-to-all who died suddenly less than two weeks ago, on April 26. We hope to post a blog entry soon on the AnandaSeattle/blog with a simple biography and stories of inspiration from friends around the country.

At home we had guests - Padma's cousins from Austria visiting. It was enjoyable even if in our enjoyment the emails and inbaskets silently accumulated. So, no excuses but it's been a full time. Underneath a quiet satisfaction holds a space where ripples and rumbles of challenges: personal, family, friends, work and Community -- come and go. Quantity and quality vie for supremacy. Depth and breadth rise up like Ike and Mike in a comedy routine. The only thing to do is to show up. You have to be present to "win."

The world (is it just mine? I doubt it) seems to be an unsettled place right now. Even Spring can't make up her mind. So, onwards to the 8-Fold Path series.

Aum, Hriman