Showing posts with label Ashtanga yoga. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ashtanga yoga. Show all posts

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Meditation: Empty or Full?

One of the keen minds I enjoy chatting with the other day, queried: "I sometimes get confused whether in meditation I should be striving to be "empty" or whether I should "worship" my guru or God in some other form or abstract visualization (such as Light or Sound)? Isn't "worship" but a mental projection? I don't want to deceive myself! Which is correct?"

Hmmmm: maybe both? Paramhansa Yogananda, and his disciple, my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, taught that the concept of "nirvana" (emptiness) is all too often misunderstood. Kriyananda asks, tongue firmly in cheek, "Why would anyone want to aspire toward self-extinguishment? No wonder the Buddhist boddhisattvas decide to return to incarnations to help others: they took a "rain check" on spiritual suicide!"

We weren't created with this deeply rooted impulse to survive only to kill it, and by extension, ourselves! (Nor are we given the impulse to create, procreate, to love and to expand only to suppress it!)

Patanjali describes spiritual evolution and the desire to grow in truth and realization as smriti, or memory. The great teacher, the 19th century avatar Ramakrishna, described spiritual growth akin to peeling an onion: each layer of our delusions are peeled off until "no-thing" remains.

The process of emptying ourselves of false self-definitions and self-limiting desires, memories, and opinions is a necessary part of smriti. Ego transcendence has always been an essential element of the spiritual path in every tradition. So, YES: NIRVANA, a state where the ego is dissolved, is a true goal and a true state of consciousness.

St. John of the Cross, the great Christian mystic and contemporary of St. Teresa of Avila (being to him what St. Clare was to St. Francis, a spiritual companion on the path), spoke of this need. He wrote, now so famously:

In order to arrive at having pleasure in everything,
Desire pleasure in nothing.
In order to arrive at possessing everything,
Desire to possess nothing.
In order to arrive at being everything,
Desire to be nothing.
In order to arrive at the knowledge of everything,
Desire to know nothing.

But the question remains: is emptiness the end of all spiritual growth and seeking? Is God, as the Supreme Spirit, simply No-thing? Well, yes, as Pure Consciousness and as "thing" represents material objects, truly God might be described as "No Thing." But here the intellect, striving to reach beyond its own context of "subject-verb-object," fails to reach its goal. The intellect can describe the orange--its shape, color and sweetness and various biological attributes--but it cannot give to us the taste of the orange!

We live that we might live forever; we live that we might be conscious of life and ourselves; we live that we might enjoy Life and find unending satisfaction. To insist that we must kill our own consciousness to achieve, ah, what, exactly? This is absurd.

The great teacher, Swami Shankyacharya (the "adi" or first great teacher, or acharya, in the Indian monastic tradition) described God and the purpose and goal of God's creation and our own, human life, as one and the same: Satchidananadam: immortality, self-awareness, and joy. Or, as Paramhansa Yogananda rendered it: "ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new joy!" This is what our hearts seek through many lives and in an infinity of forms and experiences. No outer accomplishment, pleasure, or state, conditioned upon the ceaseless flux of outward conditions, can ever satisfy this eternal, God-knowing impulse.

But first we must empty ourselves of our own desires and ego self-affirmation. Our separateness, personified in the Goddess Kundalini and in her power to delude or to enlighten, is the "entrenched vitality of our mortal delusion" (quoting Swami Kriyananda from his classic text: Art and Science of Raja Yoga).

The reward of our emptying ourselves of all delusion and material desire and ego affirmation is the steady tsunami-like rise of the ocean of bliss into our consciousness. It starts as a little bubble of joy, born of meditation and right attitude in daily life. (Right attitude is self-giving and self-offering, inter alia.)

Thus meditation is both empty and full. Emptiness, as quietude and stillness experienced during meditation, is in fact felt as very dynamic, very full. There are times, however, when our emptiness is simply that: devoid of the little self and of all fluctuations. Indeed, Patanjali not only describes the spiritual path as a process of soul recollectedness (smirit-memory) but as the gradual subsiding of our energetic commitment to our likes, dislikes, desires, memories, and all self-involvement. His most famous sutra, well, second to the aphorism in which he lists the now famous eight steps of Ashtanga Yoga, is Yogas chitta vritti nirodha. Sometimes clumsily translated as "Yoga (state of Oneness) is the neutralization of the waves of mind-stuff!" (A singularly useless translation, I might add. Giving rise to more questions than answers.) But seen as the dissolution of ego involvement, it makes perfect sense.

Nor is the process and experience of meditation a linear one: first empty, then full---like doing the dishes, cleaning the kitchen or the workshop or your desk before beginning a new project. Yes it is that in the big picture but in sitting down, sometimes we are filled with devotion and longing for God; other times we are crushed by grief or disillusionment. The yin and yang of empty and full course through our psychic veins like the tides, or wind in the trees, or clouds scudding across the sky of our mind.

So, yes, friend, it is, once again,  BOTH-AND reality. God is Infinity and more! Thus no thought, no definition can contain Him. The journey, while in essence the same for all, is, in its manifestation in time and space, uniquely our own.


Swami Hrimananda aka Hriman!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Yoga Sutras Blog Post # 6! Samadhi at Last!

Yoga Sutras – Blog Article # 6 - Book 3 – Vibhuti Pada

We now arrive, at last, at Book 3 – Vibhuti Pada. Without attempting to be scholarly on the subject, there are two meanings of the term “vibhuti” that I am familiar with: one, is that the word refers to the sacred ash that remains after a fire ceremony. I recall that it also refers to divine aspects or “shining attributes.” Both terms apply here because Patanjali essentially reveals in Book 3 those attributes, born of superconsciousness, that arise to the yogi who has achieved the higher states of consciousness. Sacred ash works, too, because these attributes are what are left over from the self-offering of ego into the soul. (Ash may sound negative but the negative part is the ego and the positive part is what is sacred.)

But first Patanjali must describe to us the last three stages: dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (oneness). As usual his statements are pithy and clinical. To truly understand these sutras one must have a true (Self-realized) guru to unlock their secrets. Using resources that include Yogananda’s lecture notes from his talks on Patanjali and translations of commentaries written by disciples (both direct and subsequent) of Lahiri Mahasaya, and from my teacher, Swami Kriyananda (direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda), and what little might occur to me in this effort, I would like to proceed with great caution. I feel as if I am driving into a tunnel with dim headlights and the expectation of many diversions and obstacles.

The first five stages of the 8-Fold Path are considered “external.” Now that’s not easy to understand, looking back at the prior blog articles, but relative to the land beyond our dreams into which we will go in the final 3 stages, it can make some sense. That last word, sense, is purposeful and a pun, here. Because one way or another the first five stages have something to do with our relationship to the body and senses, even the subtle senses.
The first of the three (last) stages is called dharana. It is often translated simply as “concentration.” Dharana is the stage of consciousness where, in meditation, we can hold the mind steady and focused. If you are a meditator, try this experiment: using a timer, see how long you hold your mind without the intrusion of a single thought! (No need to report back!) Well, advanced yogis can do that for long periods of time. Yogananda offered that we would have to achieve one hour before we could say we’ve made any substantial progress in meditation. Well, you can pretend you didn’t hear that from me.

In the stage, now, of dharana our mind is focused and we experience what are called “thought waves.” Notice how when you meditate and gaze upwards behind closed eyes towards the sixth chakra (the Kutastha), that everything seems to be in motion. We aren’t aware of it but all physical sense stimuli come to us in repeated waves. Take for example the sense of touch. We must constantly move our hand over the object we are touching in order to continue to feel it. Same with smell, we must periodically sniff, as it were. If we were to stare fixedly at a candle in time the image would vanish. All material objects are pulsing with electromagnetic waves and the result, at least to our senses, is more or less that these objects are fixed in time and space, when, in fact, they are constantly moving, being held in their orbit by electromagnetic radiation.

And so it is, also, with our perceptive faculties. So long as the “I” is present and witnessing itself and the object under its microscope, we experience a constant sense of wave motion. It’s difficult, isn’t it, to even hold one thought in clear and unbroken focus. This is because even subtle objects such as mental images or perceptions of subtle sight and sound, wash over and toward us in pulses. It is like the refresh rate on your computer monitor or TV screen: the electrons are being fired rapidly and repeatedly in order to hold in steady focus the image on your screen. It happens too fast, usually, for us to notice unless we, perhaps, look away or to the side and then we might notice the fluctuation.s. One of the reasons for this is that nothing “outside” of ourselves is real. All is ultimately thought-waves. When at last these waves subside we have at least a taste of Stanza 2: “yogas chitta vrittis nirodha” (The state of Oneness is achieved when all thought-waves subside into the Eternal now!)

In meditation we concentrate on various things, but let us say, for illustration, we are focused on the heart chakra. It takes effort and concentration (achieved, ironically, only by deep relaxation and focused attention) to hold our awareness in the area of the heart, or anahat, chakra. But as we progress in meditation, a steady and prolonged concentration on any object will produce a state of breathlessness. This state of steady perception is the state of dharana. It is the gateway to the highest states of consciousness. Achieving it is the price of entry. It is your “ticket to ride!”

It is interesting that dharana is associated with the negative pole of the sixth chakra. This center resides at the base of the brain, near the medulla oblongata. It is the seat of ego consciousness. In dharana the sense of “I” perceiving or concentrating upon something remains. (See my blog articles on the 8-Fold Path, including dharana.)

In the next stage, dhyana (translated, simply, as meditation), the object yields up its wisdom as the “I” principle merges into the object. In one translation that I have the verse (no. 2) describes the knowledge that flows as “about the object” whereas in another translation it says an unbroken flow of thoughts towards the object. It is a curious and seemingly important distinction until you realize that “you” have disappeared and that the difference in verbs, so to speak, has no real meaning. The important point is that you have become that object. No words, which are but symbols, are confined to the world of distinctions, or duality and there is a point, and it is here, where words simply cannot go.

In an effort to be less mental about it, let’s say you are experiencing a deep state of inner peace. In the stage of dharana you experience this peace even as you witness it and yourself witnessing it. As your consciousness relaxes and expands and joyfully offers itself into this living Presence what results is, simply, Peace. The “I” which watches has become that state of peace. That’s as far as I can go with words.
To return to the correlation with the chakras, in dharana we gaze, as it were from the base of the brain up and into the third eye (the positive pole of the sixth chakra; known as the Kutastha). As our consciousness expands upward toward the object or experience our center of gravity moves up and into the forehead (well, kinda). Hence dhyana is associated with the Kutastha center (point between the eyebrows).

Finally, Samadhi results when even the object, as an object (or state of consciousness), vanishes and we become whatever “meaning” or essential consciousness underlies the object. This is even harder to describe. It is a state of complete absorption and while I don’t want to stumble on terminology here let me say that the sutra itself speaks in terms of a state of oneness with specific objects, or states of consciousness. I will be so bold as to describe this as the final stage of superconsciousness, as it relates to the soul as an individual spark of Divinity (not, therefore, in the sense of cosmic consciousness which comes later). In dharana, we see the promised land; in dhyana we enter the promised land; in samadhi we ARE the promised land. (Hey, I’m trying, can’t you see?)

From Lahiri Mahasaya comes the description that Samadhi takes place when the mind (dhyata), the goal (Brahman), and meditation (dhyana) are undifferentiated, the true nature of the object shines forth. I take this to mean, restated at least, that when the “I” principle (the mind), the soul principle (Brahman), and the process of meditation (act of contemplation) are One in relation to an object, then what remains is the essence (consciousness) of the object. Now you may ask, “define object.”
In these higher states we might meditate on the guru, we might encounter astral beings (angels), we might be receiving a flow of knowledge and wisdom, hearing an astral sound or music, or otherwise be meditating on an infinity of states or internal objects of astral sense. We might be working out past karma from the subconscious mind, even possibly working on present day problems in the material world. At this point (for me at least), and contemplating the sutras in their entirety, I cannot see any end or any limit to what Patanjali means by “object.”

Like the candle that vanishes as we gaze fixedly at it, but in reverse, it’s not the candle that vanishes, WE vanish. Imagine staring out of a window. At first you are daydreaming. Then after a time, the daydream vanishes and you are left in the void, as it were. But again, in these higher stages our fixed concentration upon so called objects results in OUR vanishing. This does not mean, as opposed to daydreaming, that we lose consciousness. No, no, no & far, far from it.  As the entire universe, whether objects of thought, emotions, or material objects are a dream of the cosmic Dreamer and are in their essence consciousness and thought, so we, by deep concentration, enter into and become that consciousness. There is nothing else, for we, too, are but a thought and have no essential reality beyond the Dreamer. Just as at night in our dreams we may or may not be conscious of our own role in the dream, and we might not recall or play the role dictated by our body’s current age or gender, so too we can enter into any other reality, even if but temporarily.

When we experience these three stages of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi in our contemplation of objects, Patanjali calls the combined process samyama. “Sam” is possibly the root for our word, same and is the root for samadhi and for samprajnata etc. Yama means control as we saw in relation to this term used to describe the first stage of the 8-Fold Path. This is important to most of the rest of book 3 wherein he describes the consequences of the three stage process of concentration when applied to various objects. Shall we move on?

In verse 8, Patanjali cautions us that samyama is still external to the seedless or final and true state of samadhi (nirbikalpa). Samyama by itself is not necessarily productive of nirbikalpa. One must meditate on OM and approach samadhi through the stages of Om samadhi and Kutastha samadhi (astral and causal planes through the spiritual eye as Yogananda taught in his lessons). Samyama should be practiced in the order of the stages as given. Samyama is more direct than focusing on the first five stages of the 8-Fold Path (so here we see a direct reference to the stages as not being strictly linear).  

Verse 9 is especially oblique. As I understand it, Patanjali is saying that to reach nirbikalpa samadhi one must set aside the impressions and knowledge one has received through the practice and experience of samyama. The chitta (energy and waves of thought) will alternate between this setting aside (he uses the term “suppression”) and the spontaneous emergence of chitta. (This is a subtle expression of the flux, or thought pulsations, that are the creative engine of the universe.) This stage or state he calls nirodha parinama.

In time and with depth of practice the chitta is at last pacified and calmed. The thought waves have subsided and we experience, at first, the void, or nirvana (no-thing-ness). As water fills a glass from above, or as a boat out at sea comes towards the shore, so at last, we begin to hear the booming shores of Bliss as we enter cosmic consciousness beyond the three worlds into the Infinite Bliss of Spirit.

As verse 10 points out, all past impressions may be now cleared out and neutralized. I take it to mean that the subconscious mind has become en-lightened. To achieve samadhi we must learn to redirect the restless thought waves which go constantly towards objects of desire into a uniform thought wave which is the true nature of chitta (consciousness). This nature is called Ekagrata and achieving this state leads to samadhi. The mind remains calm even when impressions of this calm state arise. This state is called Ekagrata Parinama.

Now that we have reached Samadhi, we are ready to hear from Patanjali how samyama can reveal the nature of the creation. Stay tuned for the next blog!

Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Yoga Sutras – Part 6 – 8-Fold Path

At last we arrive at the best known stanza of the Yoga Sutras!

Stanza 29 of Book 2 (Sadhana Pada) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is the famous list of the eight stages of the universal and nonsectarian awakening and ascension of the individual soul back to its Creator. I have previously written blog posts on each of these stages and refer readers to those for more details. However in those blog posts my references were not directly to the sutras but to the classic text by Swami Kriyananda, The Art & Science of Raja Yoga. I have been privileged to teach this course for some sixteen years at Ananda in the Seattle area.

Ashtanga Yoga
The term, Ashtanga Yoga, is commonly translated as 8-Limbed Yoga. Patanjali was not intending to start a yoga studio or yoga movement called “Ashtanga Yoga.” His is a clinical description of the psycho-physiological and spiritual attributes of the universal path toward enlightenment. The stages he describes have several meanings, and here are just a few:
·         First, they do represent steps (as in a ladder) that the aspirant is encouraged to take on his path to soul freedom. But this is a linear approach and a transactional interpretation. For example, the fourth stage, pranayama, may be interpreted to suggest that the one practice breath control techniques.
·         Second, as “limbs” in a tree, they are more like facets of the diamond of truth rather than steps. Each stage is somewhat holographic, for it contains within its perfection some aspect of all the others. Perfection of the consciousness of non-violence (ahimsa) brings with it or opens the door, at least, to the highest stage, Samadhi.
·         Third, the stages represent states of consciousness and degrees of mastery over life force and consciousness. Pranayama, therefore, refers not only to the techniques of controlling life force (starting with awareness and control of the breath) but refers also to the goal of said practices: the state of breathlessness.
·         Fourth, each stage brings with it appropriate attitudes and levels of mastery over objective nature. Continuing with the fourth stage as my example, pranayama relates to the heart center and great devotion and pure (unselfish) feeling is awakened and, at the same time, such qualities are necessary for the realization of pranayama. Although it is not clear from the sutras themselves, mastery of prana (pranayama), would possibly bring to the yogi great healing powers, whether of self or others. By stopping the heart pump and breath, human life is prolonged and the effects of aging and disease can be reversed. It is important to note that one can perfect an attitude but cannot perfect its outer expression. For example, perfect nonviolence cannot be achieved insofar as the very act of eating and travelling involves the “killing” of other life forms. (Even a cabbage is a living being.) But no such actions require us to hate or purposely inflict harm. And there are times when one ideal appears to conflict with another. For example, self-defense might seem to place non-violence at odds to the value and protection of human life. In such a case the higher ideal must suffice. Yogananda taught that human life is to be valued, spiritually speaking, and the protection of human life from disease and death is the higher duty where it might involve such policies as mosquito abatement, for example.
·         Fifth, Patanjali is describing “yoga” as 8-Limbed. Yoga means, inter alia, “union,” and refers to Oneness or union of soul with the Infinite Power, or Spirit. From Vedanta (the view of reality from the God’s eye), this state has 8-limbs, or eight manifestations. Thus the ladder goes both up and down, and, well, all around! The description of this reality includes the physical body (and macrocosm of the cosmos); the subtle (or astral, or energy) body (and cosmos), the causal body (and cosmos, of ideas and thoughts), and the transcendent realm of Bliss beyond creation (and the various levels of creation in between, as well).

So leaving most interpretation and analysis to my prior blog articles, let us examine the sutras and the remainder of Book 2, which describe the first five stages of the 8-Fold Path:
      Verse 29 lists the eight as yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and Samadhi. These eight have a special correlation with the seven chakras (which become eight by the positive and negative polarity of the sixth chakra: the negative pole being located at the medulla oblongata, and the positive pole being the point between the eyebrows. Because these stages exist on all three levels of our Being (physical, astral, and ideational), the correlation between the eight stages and the chakras is only approximate. There is also an approximate correlation of the chakras with the eight facets, or aspects, of the attributes of the soul: peace, wisdom, energy, love, calmness, sound, light, and bliss.
      Verse 30 lists the sub-aspects of yama (“control”) as non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-attachment. When these are observed under all circumstances we have achieved realization of yama. (Verse 31) When tempted to violate these “great vows,” one should employ positive thoughts, Patanjali advises (in Verse 33). Violations may occur by omission, commission, by indirect means (including ignorance) and may be minor, “middling,” or great in consequence or intensity (Verse 34). Obstacles include greed, anger, and selfishness (V32). One must remember, always, the suffering that such lapses cause. I find it interesting how simply Patanjali states that one should substitute positive thoughts in place of negative one. I have seen this principle employed very frequently in the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda.
      Angry or violent tendencies in others cease in one’s presence when non-violence is established in one’s consciousness. From truthfulness one acquires the power of attaining for oneself and for others the results of efforts without have to exert the effort (one’s mere word is sufficient). From non-stealing all one’s material needs are attracted to you without additional or strenuous effort. From celibacy there comes great health, vitality, and memory. From non-attachment (to one’s body and possessions) comes the knowledge of one’s past lives. (V35-39)
      The second stage, niyama (“non-control,” or the “do’s”), consists also of five precepts, or sub-aspects: internal and external purification, contentment, mortification, study, and worship of God.
            With realization of purification (cleanliness) comes indifference (non-attachment) to the demands and needs of the body and senses, and a disinclination for bodily contact with others. Cleanliness (of body, internal and external, and mind) lead to purity of heart, cheerfulness, concentration, control of passions, and awareness of the soul. Contentment yields supreme happiness and joyful peace. Mortification, called in Sanskrit, tapasya, refers to both self-control and even-mindedness under all conditions. The specific instructions regarding mortification should come from one’s preceptor (guru) and the result is the purification of karma. Tapasya leads to the manifestation of psychic powers related to the sense organs (discussed in Book 3, Vibhuti Pada). By remaining focused at the point between the eyebrows (an instruction given by the guru and considered tapasya), the mind becomes pure. By perfection of Self-study (swadhyaya) as a result of meditating and chanting OM, one’s chosen ideal of God appears and higher Beings (devas, rishis, and siddhas) appear before one’s inner sight. With devotion to God while focused at the spiritual eye, Samadhi and attendant siddhis (psychic powers) are achieved. Knowledge of time and space is attained. (V40-45)
6.       The third stage is asana. It means, simply, posture. It is to be found by sitting relaxed with a straight spine. This is achieved by awareness and control of the body and by deep meditation on the Infinite. By perfection of asana one is no longer troubled by the ebb and flow of the senses. (V46-48)
            Pranayam is the fourth stage and consists of controlling the breath (inhalation, exhalation, and cessation). The external breath is the air moving in the lungs; internal breath is the prana in the astral body; cessation is breathlessness. Cessation is momentary when the breath is held in, or out, but prolonged when it ceases all together in higher stages of meditation. One practices pranayama according to the instructions of the preceptor. Many variations exist and relate to timing, placement of the breath, number of breaths performed, long or short, and so on. Another pranayam is that which results from concentration upon an object, either external or internal. Watching the breath, for example causes the breath to become quiet and even to stop all together. By these four stages the inner light is revealed and obstacles are overcome. (V49-52)
8.       With the stage of pratyahara, the prana flowing to the sense organs is reversed and the energy released can be used and focused. The result is a great power of interiorized concentration. Then is complete mastery of the senses achieved. (V53-55).

Thus ends Book 2, Sadhana Pada! The last three stages of the 8-Fold Path, Patanjali consigns to Book 3, Vibhuti Pada, as they are qualitatively on a different level than the first five stages. The five stages (and chakras) relate to the soul’s piercing the veil of maya, especially on the material plane. The three highest stages are, by degrees, stages of contemplation and progressively deeper identification with higher, and finally transcendent, realities.

Thus ends this blog article!


Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yoga Sutras - Part 5

Although the Yoga Sutras class series ended Wednesday, November 23, I made the commitment to continue these articles until I felt satisfied we had surveyed all four of the books (padas) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Hence this is Part 5 of the blog article series.

Book 2 is called Sadhana Pada. Whereas the sutras of Book 1 (Samadhi Pada) largely deal with the attributes of superconsciousness, Book 2 deals with the disciplines, practices, and attitudes necessary to achieve superconsciousness.

Before I go on, however, I’d like to comment on terminology. Throughout the sutras, and especially Book 1, the term samadhi is used. Just now I used the term “superconsciousness.” The two terms are not necessarily the same. In Yogananda’s teachings the term samadhi refers to the state sometimes known as cosmic consciousness: a state wherein the soul achieves Oneness with God, with Infinity. That state has a preliminary and temporary stage called sabikalpa and a final and permanent stage called nirbikalpa samadhi. But as previously described in a prior blog article Patanjali uses the term to describe several levels. In fact in translations from Sanskrit the term is sometimes translated simply as “concentration!”

In Book 1 when Patanjali describes at some length the interaction between the Knower, the knowing, and the object, the equivalency of concentration for samadhi seems close enough. In the state of cosmic consciousness there is no object, no knowing and no knower, for they are One. It strikes me that Patanjali’s use of the term samadhi is larger, broader, and somewhat looser than Yogananda’s. Hence my ambivalence in these articles in my own usage.

Superconsciousness, by contrast, is used by Yogananda (it may have even been his own term, though I am not sure of that) to describe the state of the soul and especially its attributes which are eight in number (listed in Part 4, the previous blog article). It is a state of intuitive perception that goes beyond the body and the senses and which perceives through the sixth sense: intuition. It is not samadhi as Yogananda uses the term. 
But a state of superconsciousness is part of the states described by Patanjali.

Sadhana Pada begins by defining “kriya yoga.” What Patanjali defines as kriya yoga are practices that are, in fact, aspects of the niyamas (the second stage of the 8-Fold Path, or right action). To we who are disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda and kriyabans (practitioners of the technique Yogananda taught which he and his line of gurus termed “Kriya Yoga”), this is all rather confusing. The practice of austerity (self-control, or tapaysa), Self-study (swadhaya), and nishkam karma (action without desire for the fruits of action, ascribing all action to God as the Doer) are certainly aspects of the yogic path but do not, by themselves, appear to describe Kriya Yoga insofar as it is an advanced breath control meditation technique that Yogananda made famous throughout the world in his teachings and his autobiography!

In his life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” Yogananda, in a footnote, explains that by using the term “kriya yoga” Patanjali was referring to the exact technique taught by Babaji or a similar technique. He goes on to  write that the reference to kriya as a life force control technique is proved by verse 49 of Book 2 which he translates as “Liberation can be accomplished by that pranayama which is attained by disjoining the course of inspiration and expiration (inhalation and exhalation).” This translation seems loosely formed even if, for all of that, clearer and more accurate as to its meaning. The literal translation of Verse 49 seems mostly to define “pranayama” as the fourth stage of the 8-Fold Path wherein breath is controlled, meaning transcended. Close enough.

Either way, this illustrates either Yogananda’s stretching a point to make a point or, as I prefer, demonstrates the necessity of having a true guru to explain and interpret the scriptures, and especially their deeper and more immediate meaning. Yogananda’s translation fits neatly into the clinical approach take by Patanjali throughout the sutras.

In Verse 2 Patanjali states that kriya yoga leads to samadhi and freedom from suffering. This is, at minimum, a hint that the term refers to something more than austerity, study, and selfless action as those terms (and practices) are commonly understood.

He then goes on to list the psychological attributes that lead to pain as being ignorance, egoity, attachment, aversion and clinging to life. As the verses of Book 2 proceed it is clear that he is establishing a link between the seeds of past action, suffering, and karma. Ignorance comes first and is the foundation for all the other attributes, he writes. Ignorance mistakes the ephemeral for the eternal. Egoity mistakes the soul for the body and its senses (the “instrument of seeing”). Attachment dwells on pleasure and aversion upon pain, while clinging to life is to abide in (to hold fast to) the present form and is derived from past experience of change, especially the great change we call death.

These are conquered by “resolving them” into their causal state. To quote Yogananda’s counsel, he said that a kriya yogi should “cognize breath as an act of mind,” in other words, as a thought, merely. By dissolving the thought, the object vanishes. This is rather subtle, to say the least, but let me try.

Every time we experience one or more of the five senses, say, we smell incense, we are in fact engaging in a mental act. The sense stimuli come to the brain via the organs of sense, say the olfactory nerves, and are noticed, then analyzed, then identified, categorized, and then judged by the mind. “Ah, I LOVE the smell of incense!” Truly, therefore, “it’s all in your head.” If you were asleep you would presumably not smell the incense. This isn’t to say that there is no reality to the smell of incense. It is to point out that without the functions of your mind, you could smell incense.

To a yogi, therefore, who attains full conscious control of otherwise autonomic functions, including the power to turn off the five senses at will in a state of deep meditation, the process is one of dismissing the sensory input and especially the mind’s interest in and response to that input. So the yogi who dissolves the reactive process of attachment and aversion, who dissolves the egoity that arises from awareness and identification with the body and the senses, and overcomes the clinging to that body has, by definition, and if only during that state, banishes false Prince Ignorance from the throne of soul  consciousness.

The clinical key to transcendence resides in controlling the mind and transcending its body-bound, matter-dependent, sense-dependent functionings. The creation is a dream, or thought, but not a subjective one of our making but a relatively objective one of the cosmic Dreamer. To banish the dream is not to dissolve the dream on its level but in relation to our consciousness. The objective reality of the creation is but a thought in the mind of the observer AS IT RELATES to the observer. The yogi can banish the world of the senses once he cognizes that, for him, it is merely a thought because it takes the cognizing functions of the mind to perceive it. In fact, we are all yogis at night when we sleep for then we banish the dream world of this world from our awareness. More on this later.

Well, like I said — I’d try.

Thus Verse 10, Book 2 concludes that by meditation the gross modifications (motions and appearances) of the world are rejected. Through Verse 15 Patanjali speaks obliquely about the law of karma and the samskaras (tendencies) caused by past action. In Verse 15 he says that to the yogi all is painful because he knows, in advance that: 1) the consequence of desire impelled action is its opposite; 2) in pleasant circumstances he knows it will have to end; or 3) after the pleasure of indulgence has past, the memory will bring fresh renewed sense cravings,  and  4) in all events the law of duality means everything has to balance to zero! Whew!

I recall that in an extraordinary movie about Padre Pio (the Italian stigmatic of the twentieth century), he turns to his confessor and says, without explanation or context, and in a whisper as if a secret that cannot be spoken aloud: “it is all sin, Angelino!” He doesn’t mean this in the judgmental, sin-oriented way of fundamentalists. He is speaking as a yogi, as a Shankhya-yogi (one who pierces the veil of maya – delusion). “All is maya,” he is saying: pleasure, pain, success, failure, health, disease and so on. It doesn’t matter! Any attachment we have has to be paid for: sooner, or later. 

In Verse 17 Patanjali “nails it” when he says that the cause of delusion, the cause of misery, and that which is to be avoided is the “junction of the Seer and the seen.” Yogananda frequently quoted Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (another example of his overarching wisdom, for this quote cannot be found in the Gita!) saying to Arjuna: “Get away, oh Arjuna, from my ocean suffering and misery!” In the Self, alone and untainted by duality, the Seer is One. But as the mind cognizes objects, internal or external, revealed by chitta (consciousness modified by the lower mind’s contact with the senses and objects of the senses, whether past, present or in imagination), the Seer takes on these modifications (of chitta) and becomes colored or stained by them.

This sounds all pretty “heavy” except that as Yogananda would put it: with God all is fun; without God, it is anything but fun!” When we know this life to be but a dream, we can enjoy the show with the eyes of God.
Patanjali goes on to clinical define that which is “seen” as composed of the elements and the organs, and the interplay of the three gunas, or qualities of nature (Prakriti) which alternatingly illuminate, energize or hide the eternal Spirit who plays them all. Patanjali says that this play, this drama, is carried on for the experience (entertainment) of the Seer and for the ultimate release (freedom-moksha) of the Seer from identification with the drama.

He goes further in Verse 23 to turn the problem into the solution, for he states that this drama is necessary for the soul’s Self realization: the junction of the seen (Prakriti, or nature) and the Seer (soul, or Purusha) is the necessary perquisite to Self-realization. Discrimination practiced with unceasing vigilance is what is needed. Or as Krishna put it in the Bhagavad Gita, the soul cannot achieve the actionless state (of the Seer) by refusing to take action (engage with the seen).

Self-realization is achieved in seven stages: the first four eliminate past karma and are intuition born knowledge of Shankhya (essential maya of creation), cessation of suffering, samadhi and constant illumination (flowing of knowledge about all things). The latter three bring complete freedom from considering thoughts as having any reality, from this no more thoughts arise to create more reactive processes, and at last one achieves the permanent state of unbroken union with Spirit.

As we now have arrived at Verse 29: the stages of Ashtanga (8-Fold Path) – the most famous of the sutras of Patanjali – we will stop here!


Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Yoga Sutras - Part 2

This week we hold class 2 on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. My last blog article described the Yoga Sutras (“YS”) as both intimidating AND inspiring. Well, that comment is only further justified by my ongoing study. I’d like to share some key points, insights, and inspirations as they have occurred to me. As this blog format is rather truncated (neither a class nor a book), I cannot begin to pretend to share comprehensively, both for the depth of the YS which is beyond my ken and for its very content which requires more time and space.

The first thing that hits one in book 1 of the YS (“Samadhi Pada”), is the necessity and power of concentration. Like shooting a gun or cannon to take down a target (person, plane or ship, e.g.), all you need do is combine force (will) with a steady aim at only one key portion of the “body” you are attempting to obliterate, and the whole thing comes down. [Now I know some of more pacific readers just blanched, but this is Patanjali’s point: get over it. I’ll explain in a minute.] You don’t need to wrestle every inch of it, only the heart or head!
It is through the power of meditative concentration that the arrow of our attention pierces the body armor of maya (the delusive force and masking power of matter and the creation which hides “the Lord,” the Spirit who is, alone, all that Is). There is a well known sentence in Paramhansa Yogananda’s classic story, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” that I believe is inspired by a sloka in some Indian scripture that says “divine vision is center everywhere, circumference, nowhere.”

You could spend lifetimes trying to achieve realization of this key point. But for now, let me say the insightful point is you don’t have to acquire all the knowledge and wisdom of the world or to become scrupulously virtuous in thought, word, and deed to achieve freedom from this world of suffering, unceasing flux, and unending cycles of birth and death. To enter the transcendent state of Superconsciousness (and ultimately, cosmic consciousness), you need only one doorway: one “object” of concentration with which your entire being becomes One with.

I’ve heard my teacher (Swami Kriyananda, direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda and founder of the Ananda communities worldwide) lightly joke that you could worship a crocodile — indeed, anything. Why? Because the transcendent consciousness of Spirit is at the heart of every atom (“center everywhere”).

The second sutra (aphorism) of Patanjali is one of two most famous and most valuable: (and I paraphrase it) Suffering is transcended and Oneness with Bliss achieved by rising above identification with one’s body, matter, sense impressions, memories, fantasies, sleep (and all drug-induced states), likes, dislikes, attachments and desires. This second sutra (literally translated as “Yoga is the restraining, or calming, of the reactive process (mind-stuff) from taking various forms (vrittis)) states the concentration principle described above in negative terms. This isn’t a description of what to do. It is an explanation of what is necessary.

Because immediately thereafter, Patanjali launches into the subject of concentration. While it is true that our concentration in meditation is disrupted by our matter identifications (listed above).  And yes it is true, therefore, as Patanjali enumerates in his most famous sutra (listing the 8 stages of enlightenment) we must work on achieving right attitude and right action. And, yet (and this is the beauty and power of yoga concentration), we can combine those efforts to release the hold of maya upon our minds by the power of concentration. We do not have to fight to the death every delusion that pops up like so many assassins in a James Bond movie.

As we identify with matter, we lose touch with our true Self. It’s really that simple. By steady concentration upon any single object (in meditation), the hypnotic influence of maya dissolves and we enter a portal into Oneness.

Patanjali enumerates and defines the obstacles to Oneness and he also describes some of the stages of realization. These stages are not permanent but represent the process by which, step by step, we achieve true knowledge. First, we question, doubt or reason based on our inner perceptions. Then, we receive (intuitively) true knowledge about that which we are contemplating. From that knowledge we experience happiness or some level of satisfaction and bliss. Finally, that knowledge becomes permanently realized as our own Self.

Beyond such realization is the “seedless” realization which a state of Oneness without any process or object used or intervening. This is true transcendence. He also acknowledges that the speed with which enlightenment takes place is the result of our energetic commitment (or lack thereof).

Patanjali gives a one-liner acknowledgement that, despite his clinical analysis, Oneness can be achieved by devotion to God! (He adds no comment or explanation.)But, to be fair, he then goes on for several sutras to describe the Supreme Ruler (or Power) who is the true teacher of all rishis and gurus and whose name (and word) is AUM! Repetition and communion with the seed sound of OM is “the way.”

To remedy our shortcomings and attachments, he recommends deep concentration upon one object (OM being previously suggested). Another approach, he says, is to control the breath (pranayama, including kriya yoga). Meditating upon the inner Light (“Jyoti”), or upon a pure heart, or on the message of dreams (that all life is a dream), or upon the bliss of the dreamless state (of sleep), or “on anything that appeals to one as good!”

Wow! Dr. Patanjali, here, at your service! I make house calls. Can you imagine it? That's enough medicine for us all right now. Until next week, your own Self.

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, October 31, 2011

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

This Wednesday, November 2, I begin a four-week course on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. It's nothing less than both intimidating and inspiring. I don't know of any other work that penetrates the veil of the mind and traces the trajectory of soul-awakening with such (almost brutal) clarity, power, and wisdom. 

The array of available books and literature on the YS is bewildering. True, it's nothing like the quantity written on the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita, but it's prodigious nonetheless. No one really knows (or agrees) when the YS were written, or even by whom, exactly. Evidently there is more than one "Patanjali." But this much is certain: whoever wrote it and whenever it was written, it didn't just appear out of nowhere. It is the distillation of a long history of exploration by the scientists of consciousness (the rishis of India). You might say it's as if after centuries (millennia, probably) of experimentation, someone wrote a concluding and summarizing "paper" on their accumulated findings!

The YS are a roadmap to enlightenment. The highway to the infinite portrayed in the YS is also called the 8-Fold (or Limbed) Path. Other synonyms include Raja Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga. These all refer to the description of the path of enlightenment given in the YS. (As I cannot be sure of the knowledge of all of my readers, let me say that the true meaning of the term "yoga" is "union." It refers to achievement of Self-realization by uniting one's individual soul with the oversoul of Spirit. By contrast, the more common man-on-the-street uses the term "yoga" to describe the physical postures, positions, or asanas that were developed in more recent centuries and which have the purpose of developing one's health and inner awareness as a foundation for the spiritual discipline of meditation and the spiritual path generally.)

Over the centuries many forms of yoga discipline have emerged with different names and different emphases. All too often they attempt (or appear) to compete or to be distinctly unique. Just as science has enlightened us in the understanding that energy, contrary to the report of our five senses, is the essential and unifying reality of matter, so too the different "yogas" are but different approaches to the same central truth: we are One!

Bhakti yoga is the way of the heart: approaching the Oneness of Spirit through devotion (pure feeling). Gyana yoga is the way of the mind: approaching the Oneness of Spirit through the power of concentration (pure consciousness). Karma yoga is the way of service: approaching the Oneness of Spirit through self-giving and acting as a pure instrument of Spirit. Laya yoga is the way of dissolution of the ego. Mantra yoga is expansion of consciousness through Oneness with the primordial vibration of Spirit (known as Aum). Uniting them all, however, is Raja yoga: the science of meditation which arises when, in combination with one or more of the aforementioned disciplines, we seek "to be still and know (that I AM God)." Raja means royal, or that which rules (or unites) the others. (Ashtanga means, simply, 8-Fold or 8-Limbed.)

As must be obvious to the reader, even the practice of calling these "paths" by their yogic names suggests they come from and are only accessible to devotees attracted to all things Indian. Of course not: devotion, concentration, selfless service, egolessness, and silent inner, prayerful communion are universally manifest in all spiritual traditions.

The YS are aphorisms but unlike stand-alone platitudes there are linked, like threads, creating a chain or path from delusion to enlightenment. The word "sutra" means "thread" (think suture). There are less than 200 hundred sutras. They are divided into four books ("pada"): samadhi pada; sadhana pada; vibhuti pada; and kaivalya pada. Whew! What the heck?

For those of you who stayed the course with me on Swami Sri Yukteswar's book, THE HOLY SCIENCE, you will recognize a pattern. I suppose the ancients must have developed their themes along these lines: describing the process and benefits; outlining the methods; describing the consequences (fruits) ("powers attained"), and giving a glimpse at the goal (Oneness).

At the same time, the unfolding sutras are not linear or strictly a logical progression, either. There is some repetition, some further development, and some detours or tangents along the way. This patterns the simple fact that the path to enlightenment is, itself, NOT a straight-line. Reality and consciousness is more a hologram: each aspect containing something of the whole within itself. God is not in some distant corner of space. Enlightenment is ours right now if . . . . . .  It is, and it isn't! Lifetimes accumulation of error and ignorance can be swept away instantly in a flood of grace but that grace does not come upon the command or will of the ego. And yet, we start where we are: in ego consciousness. A conundrum certainly.

This Wednesday night we will begin our journey. Like the sutras themselves and like our own path to enlightenment, I am not planning with any strictness what we will cover, what we will skip, and how we will develop our themes. This class is based upon Paramhansa Yogananda's teachings of the YS. He studied with his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar. Yogananda explained that after about only 12 sutras his guru said, :"That's enough. You now have the key." (Yogananda never said exactly WHICH twelve!!!!) So neither are we compelled to read and study all nearly 200 sutras, either!

Yogananda never wrote a summary (a book) on the Yoga Sutras. That's too bad and there must be some overarching reason. Swami Kriyananda did, however and it is a renowned classic in its own right: THE ART AND SCIENCE OF RAJA YOGA (Crystal Clarity, Publishers, Nevada City, CA USA). (Swami Kriyananda is a direct disciple of Yogananda and one of the very few still living and teaching today.) This book does not, however, discuss or analyze the sutras directly. There are unpublished transcriptions of Yogananda's lectures on Patanjali however.

This series will be our second experiment with internet streaming. You can go online and sign up and pay for this class and attend it in real time (7:30 to 9 p.m. PST). Be sure to do this before about 3 p.m. this Wednesday. If we or you encounter technical difficulties we will provide a link to the audio recording as a substitute. I prefer students come in person, of course, but if you are reading this from India or Russia or New York, we at least have something to offer to you.

More blog articles will flow as they, well, flow!


Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Power of Now!

"The Power of Now" written by Eckhart Tolle

I would imagine many of you have read this book. It's not new (1997) and it's quite famous and rightly so. A friend lent it to me quite some time ago and as I have large stack of reading-in-process I didn't get to it until our annual trip to Frankfurt, Germany. (I go each year with Padma to display sample reading copies of books published (mostly) by Crystal Clarity Publishers to publishers from other countries.) Fact is I was reading a fascinating book, "Parting the Waters," by Taylor Branch (about Martin Luther King, Jr.) but I left my Kindle in the hotel in Frankfurt. So on the flight home I switched to the POWER OF NOW in actual paper copy which I had brought as a backup!

With minor exceptions I found nothing in Tolle's inspired and wisdom-filled book that didn't resonate with my own understanding and experience of meditation and introspection, and with the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda and his disciple Swami Kriyananda (which are my life's work to share). I recommend it therefore without reservation. While nothing in it can't also be found in what we practice and share at Ananda, its language and approach may in fact be helpful to anyone.

The Power of Now expresses what is called, in the teachings of yoga, the "path of gyana yoga." Gyana Yoga is frequently associated with philosophy, theology, and cosmology and consequent hair-splitting intellectual analysis and debates. That association is understandable as gyana yoga represents the refraction of our powers of perception onto the goal of ultimate wisdom.

The drawback with traditional scriptural or philosophical studies, comparisons, and debate lies with the inherent limits of the intellect itself. For true gyana yoga has for its focus the dissolution of the ego itself. The intellect, by itself, cannot accomplish this herculean task (though it is proud to try and proudly imagines that by thinking about it, it has succeeded!).

And this is what makes Tolle's book both useful and wise: while necessarily using words as symbols and employing intellectual (philosophical and psychological) concepts, he makes it clear that the fulfillment and happiness we seek as humans lies in a realm beyond and above mere thought. It is the identification of ourselves with our mind (and our emotional reactions to thoughts and sense inputs) that creates a veil between us and "reality."

His suggested meditation exercises are simple and are all but identical to similar meditation exercises taught by Paramhansa Yogananda. He uses terms that are generally not used in the yoga teachings but are clearly recognizable. For example he speaks of the "inner body" or "energy body" when, in yoga, we speak of the astral body or prana. He does reference the term "chi" from the Chinese tradition but he doesn't rely upon it in his explanations. 

Tolle speaks of two basic stages of withdrawal from the domination of the ego-mind: awareness and identity with the inner (astral) body and, then, going beyond that, into perfect stillness or the state which he calls, alternatingly, the Unmanifest or Being. In yoga we would speak of the astral (energy) body and the causal (consciousness or idea) body.

I don't want this article to be a book report so I won't continue further lest I be tempted to cover its key points (which are many and which are excellent). For my purpose is to acknowledge this wonderful spiritual handbook and its practical wisdom.

I would like to share a few statements I found inspiring and helpful, however: 
  1. Time and mind are inseparable. 
  2. The present moment is all you have. 
  3. Unconsciousness is the absence of the observer. 
  4. Time is not precious because it is an illusion. 
  5. The past cannot survive in Your Presence. 
  6. The second coming (of Christ) is the transformation of human consciousness from time to eternity, not the arrival of a person on earth.
  7. Egos are drawn to bigger egos (explaining why enlightened persons are often ignored or unseen)
  8. If only the avatar is an incarnation of God, then who are you?
  9. The (astral) body is an access point into Being.
  10. Would a fish ask, "What is water?"
  11. To be conscious of Being you need to reclaim the consciousness from the mind.
  12. Portals into Being, in addition to the (astral) body include space, silence, cessation of thought, and surrender to what is.
Blessings to you!

Nayaswami Hriman

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Am I Breathing Yet?

Isn’t it rather insulting to pay to attend a class that teaches you how to breathe? Haven’t you been doing that rather steadily now for a few years?

But that’s the problem: we fall asleep. Breathing is natural and so integral to our life that we no longer notice it. It’s just like our habits in food and relationships: our problems arise when we “fall asleep” and live on auto-pilot. We get overweight or unhealthy because we are not paying attention. We may find ourselves in divorce proceedings because we didn’t pay attention.
The act of breathing signifies we are still alive! It is the beginning (and its cessation, the end) of life in a human body. Yogis put it this way: breath is that which connects our mind to our body. Yogis view “mind” in a much broader way than western culture and language. Mind is, in yoga, synonymous with consciousness and individuality (at least as far as “we” are concerned).

To be more clear, mind is divided into four parts: buddhi, mon, chitta, and ahamkara. Buddhi is described in various ways to include intellect, perception, and intuition. These three are different but share in common the aspect of consciousness that we call “knowing,” or gnosis. We can see a horse and “know” that it is a horse. We can experience the astral light in meditation in the forehead and “know” that it is not our own imagination. We can “know” that a friend is in trouble before we get the phone call.
Mon is that aspect of consciousness that depends upon and works in tandem with the senses: receiving sense stimuli and “re-constructing” those signals in the “mind” in some orderly way. It is pre-cognitive in the sense of one looking out the window and seeing objects in the field of vision prior to labeling those objects. For example: smelling an odor before identifying it. This is a lower function of mind but one necessary to survival in a physical body. It is also dependent upon the healthy functioning of sense organs.

Chitta is our feeling nature. This can range from our emotions and emotional reactions to either sense stimuli or our own thoughts and perceptions, all the way to a deeper level of feeling that is unconditioned by either but at least as powerful (if not more).
Ahamakara is consciousness identified with oneself: one’s body and personality. This is our sense of individuality and separateness from all other objects in our field of vision and perception. This is commonly labeled our ego.

Yogis teach that there is a deep and abiding connection between our breath and our consciousness. Try noticing that moment when you “fall” asleep. It’s while nigh to impossible, but do-able. When we are busy with rapid fire thoughts or actions, we virtually cannot notice our breath (unless we really practice — enhanced by long and deep meditation).
Your awareness therefore of your breath under all conditions (from sleep, to action, to meditation, during emotions and any intense state of being or activity) will bring to you awareness of your own state of mind. (I like to joke that we begin meditation with being mind-full, but seek to go beyond so that we are mind-less: in a state of non-verbal, intense inner awareness)

If while sitting still with eyes closed you observe the flow of breath within you, especially for an extended period of time (no less than ten minutes) with continuous and unbroken awareness, you will find your powers of observation, concentration, and baseline level of deep and enjoyable feeling greatly enhanced.
Why don’t I leave at that, for now?

Breath in joy, exhale peace!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Patanjali's 8-Fold Path - Samadhi - the Final Stage

This is the eighth, and final, blog article in this series on the 8-Fold Path, known as Ashtanga Yoga, of Patanjali. Samadhi is the name given to us by Patanjali for what amounts to both the goal of our soul's striving and the only and eternal reality there is, and out of which all things created have been born: ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss. This latter phrase is a loose translation by Paramhansa Yogananda of the term "Satchidananda" given to us long ago by the Adi Swami Shankacharya of ancient India. The term applies to God: the Eternal Spirit. It is lasting happiness that we seek: pure and simple.

In the stage of samadhi the soul finds its true home. Having shed the three encircling bodies of the flesh, light, and thought (physical, astral, causal), the soul merges back into the Great Light of God, the Infinite Spirit, Bliss eternal. But there are various stages of samadhi as taught in the scriptures of India. Paramhansa Yogananda simplified, and clarified, these stages into two.

The first stage, sabikalpa samadhi, is reminiscent of our description of the seventh stage, dhyana. In sabikalpa samadhi the soul achieves Oneness with God but returns to ego awareness. While the same is said of dhyana, the difference is that in samadhi the soul passes beyond the 3 bodies, beyond the 3 cosmoses and into the Bliss sphere of God, beyond all duality and vibration. In dhyana, the Oneness achieved is Self-realization as the soul, not as the Infinite. The soul here being that individualized spark of the Infinite that exists within creation.

Yogananda taught that like the caged bird finding the door open, the soul flies into sabikalpa for brief periods at first. The progression from sabikalpa to nirbikalpa is one that, to my knowledge, he did not give an account of. He did teach that the soul is not yet free in sabikalpa and can yet fall again, spiritually, by attachments and desires which may yet be stimulated.

As the bird takes time to gain confidence in his flying from the cage, we cannot say how much "time" is required to achieve final liberation once the soul experiences sabikalpa samadhi. As yet the book of life is not yet ended.

In sabikalpa samadhi the physical form is inert, fixed, and appears even to be sleeping or dead to the casual or unknowing observer. But, by and by, with ever deeper forays into the Infinite Spirit, the soul sheds ever more its more limiting identities and attachments. At one point, though it returns to ordinary wakefulness, it retains its awareness of its Infinite source and identity. Thus is achieved the final stage of nirbikalpa samadhi and one becomes a jivan mukta (freed while yet living incarnate).

Yet at this point, past karma remains. The jivan mukta forever freed from ego affirmation or fresh new desires has a train of box cars of past incarnations to unravel the knot of ego-identity and doership. The soul now has no compelling need to rush, as time and space have been transcended. Yet if the soul wishes he can work out such past karma in any number of ways: on the causal plane, by incarnating into multiple bodies (for speed and efficiency), or by just taking his time. Perhaps the jivan mukta uses the karmic chain to remain and to help close disciples.

Yogananda taught that we cannot achieve liberation without liberating at least six others. This apparently simultaneous equation is hopefully semantics more than literal, but the point remains that we cannot achieve freedom for ourselves alone. What else would be Infinity if not union with all souls, in sympathy, love, and compassion?

Still, most souls, once freed from past karma as well, are said to vanish into the Infinite. Only if called forth by the devotion's frost of prior disciples and the will of God, would such souls appear. When at last the jivan mukta achieves final freedom, he becomes a siddha. If a siddha returns to physical form it is only to assist others and such a one becomes an avatar -- a savior. Some do so in the public eye, others unseen, each according to the divine will and the unique patterns of such soul's eternal thumbprint.

An avatar is said to have unlimited spiritual power to uplift other souls whereas a jivan mukta may have only a few disciples or a siddha somewhat more limited scope.

I've seen in my own service of teaching and of spiritual community that one can see how different souls are attracted together in seemingly mysterious ways which, over long (perhaps vast) periods of repeated incarnations, can evolve into a guru-disciple relationship. Thus it is not difficult to imagine how each soul helps free other souls, even, more or less simultaneously. Also, however, one soul may fall spiritually, perhaps greatly (or so it would appear). Yet that soul's guru-to-be by the inextricable linkage of karma finds that soul and in some way renders spiritual and material aid.

There are stories of the disciple who advances faster than the guru and who, therefore, in the bond of spiritual friendship, helps the guru who may have fallen. Here, then, we do not refer to the "sat guru" but, well, lacking a term, a guru-to-be. Indeed one's sat (savior-avatar) guru may be, say, Jesus Christ, but one may have a twin soul with whom one's path of ascension is linked. But here we edge toward an abyss of unaswered questions.

Apparently it must be so that to liberate (at least) six others, one need not be an avatar. One might be part of a larger spiritual family the head of which is an avatar, however. Swami Kriyananda writes that upon the death of one of Yogananda's most advanced disciples (Sister Gyanamata), Yogananda pronounced that she was free. Then, answering a silent question that arose in Kriyananda's mind ("Well, then, where are her six disciples?"), Yogananda added, "She had disciples." Clearly Yogananda was the sat guru, you see?

Terms such as salvation, freedom, liberation, or enlightenment have various meanings according to intention and context. Ultimate freedom will always be the state of nirbikalpa samadhi from there is no loss of beatitude, regardless of whether incarnate or in the Bliss sphere. But such usage can also mean "final" freedom, even from past karma. It just depends. Certainly many who are considered saints are not liberated in the sense of nirbikalpa samadhi: they may be wise, compassionate, devotional, or self-sacrificing. The state of samadhi may be withheld from them as they perform their God-given, karma-guided earth duties. Only later, perhaps on the astral plane, do they receive their reward, or, late in life, or, upon death.

It's very likely that among church-ordained "saints" few have achieved (in that incarnation) nirbikalpa samadhi. Thus it is that the "gifts of the Holy Spirit" can manifest long before final liberation. No doubt that's why the church abstains from its blessing until the saint is safely dead and buried! Yogananda said very few of the saints he wrote about (other than his own line of gurus) in "Autobiography of a Yogi" were free.

When, in daily life, we act with the consciousness that we are part of all, we partake of the attitude of samadhi. Yogananda recommended that we read and memorize his poem, Samadhi. (You may email me for a free copy taken from the original edition of his autobiography as published by Crystal Clarity Publishers.) I recite it everyday and have found its subtle influence growing steadily together with his presence.

He said he wrote it on the New York subway, riding up and down the line, unnoticed by anyone! His poem, Samadhi, is the latest in the line of mystical literature given to us by the great ones down through the ages. Attempting to describe the undescribable, it uses our English language and images we can relate to in this day and age. It is vibrant with spiritual power.

Think Samadhi; feel Samadh; radiate Samadhi to all.

Thank you for participating in this 8-fold blog series. I don't write for sound bites but only from inspiration, but I would be happy to receive any suggestions.

Blessings to all,

Nayaswami Hriman

Sunday, May 8, 2011

8-Fold Path - Step 6 - SUPER ETHER!

The 6th Stage of the 8-Fold Path of Patanjali is called "dharana." I don't recall the literal translation of this Sanskrit word but it refers to that stage of meditation in which one or more of the eight aspects of superconscious are experienced. From the standpoint of our theme of the elements, Yogananda calls this stage SUPER ETHER. We saw in the prior blog post that the 5th stage was ETHER (space). We described that space as the calmness which precedes action. Well, SUPER ETHER is a reference to the even finer medium which is thought or consciousness itself. This, then, is consciousness before it enters a spatial awareness.

Imagine day dreaming. You are staring out the window completely lost to thought. Perhaps you don't even hear someone calling your name. Your eyes are open but you are not seeing any objects. Your mind is elsewhere. With the fifth stage (ETHER) representing the ability to shut off the five senses, it is natural that the next stage takes place on the astral plane and its perceptions are those of subtle realities.

In meditation, "dharana" means that meditator experiences peace, wisdom, energy, love, calmness, inner sound or light, and bliss as the observer. "I am feeling peaceful," for example. The meditator may hear the inner sounds of the chakras or the symphony of all of them -- the sound of AUM. He may see astral light in the forehead (behind closed eyes), or, the spiritual eye itself (3 concentric rings of gold, blue, and white).

But throughout the experience the observer ("I") is separate and aware of his separateness from the states being observed and felt. This is, in another sense, the "thinking, separate mind." Technically one doesn't have to be "thinking" a long line of thoughts in this state, but one is consciously self-aware even as one feels uplifted into a state of deep peace, love, or is receiving a flow of intuitive insights (as wisdom), and so on.

This state has its center at the base of brain and is considered to be the negative pole of the 6th chakra. It is aligned with the part of the brain called the medulla oblongata. Here also is called the "Mouth of God." As the physical mouth is the entry point to the physical body for the sustaining value of food and water, the medulla oblongata (in the astral body) is the entry point for Life Force (known as as cosmic consciousness, and also as prana). Just as a corpse cannot be revived by food and water but must first be "alive," so too that "aliveness" is caused by a flow of Life Force from the astral body which in turns receives that intelligent (causal) energy (astral) through the opening of this chakra.

When we leave the physical body at death, we leave through this doorway after rising through the tunnel of the deep spine, known as the sushummna. The light at the end of this tunnel is often reported by those who have had near-death experiences but who return to life. The light seen is the light of the astral world to which we go (in our astral and causal bodies) after "death."

The negative pole of the 6th chakra is also the seat of our I-ness, our sense of separateness, and of ego. Here ego is neutral, neither "good" nor "bad," just separate. We need ego to function in the body. When ego becomes prideful, energy is blocked at this center and the result may include a tightening of the muscles around the medulla which pulls the head back and gives the decided appearance of a person "looking down his nose!"

When we speak of the next two centers we will see that this one, the seat of ego, is the last great spiritual test of the soul in its upward journey towards Cosmic Consciousness and Oneness with God. As great as are the delusions of sense objects and of maya, the greatest test is the "pride which goeth before the fall." It is our sense of ego.

So here we see posed our human dilemma: we can see the promised land (peace, wisdom, love etc.) but the "I" cannot enter it, because I am still the observer and Peace still, yet, but an object (pleasant enough, to be sure). This basic existential relationship will only elongate and be exaggerated as we go down the spine and out through the senses into the material world. Once our soul does this it gets caught up for untold lifetimes pursuing will-o-the-wisp dreams of complete fulfillment: in possessions, positions, human love, pleasure, wealth and power.

Oddly enough those pursuits are somewhat easy to pierce the veil of delusion, but, alas, only mentally. For when one disappoints us, we simply move on in search of yet another. So, instead, here at the literal threshold of Oneness we see this promised land but, like Moses, we cannot enter it -- yet.

For the meditator on the upward path to Self-realization, however, this is a decided improvement and reward for the efforts made to date. I have said previously that these stages aren't to be taken literally or only sequentially. It's just easier to explain them intellectually in that way. For many of us have very profound experiences of superconsciousness (peace, wisdom, power, love, calmness, sound, light, and bliss), but they are fleeting and inconsistent, and, indeed, sometimes a "one-time shot." Often a person has such an experience and its purpose, spiritually speaking, is to ignite one's resolution and inspiration to embark consciously upon the inner path. After that, when the honeymoon is over, we have to do the hard daily work of spiritual disciplines and introspection.

We can bring this stage into daily life by affirming peace (etc.) in our actions, our thoughts, and our hearts as we go about the busy-ness of living. This is mere affirmation unless supported by actual inner experience in meditation, however. As we view life and others, so we become ourselves. Hence a focus and affirmation of higher values helps us, in time, to unfold and become those states of consciousness. Hence the positive and necessary value of the stage of dharana and the element of SUPER ETHER.


Nayaswami Hriman

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Resurrecting Easter from the Dungeon of Dogmatism!

I read in TIME MAGAZINE recently of a famous and popular fundamentalist pastor who has said that he feels Christianity is on the brink of great changes. Well, I, for one, hope so and I am happy to hear someone like him say as much, too! As Paramhansa Yogananda put it back in the Thirties and Forties, tongue-in-cheek, "Jesus was crucified once, but his teachings have been crucified daily ever since."

I do not intend to put down other sincere truthseekers and their credos. My purpose in these thoughts is to walk a fine line between "I come not to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfill them" and "I bring not peace, but a sword." [Both are the words of Jesus Christ.] Truth is often at the center line between opposites. No one formulation of truth can be anything but an effort to explain a reality that is intuitive and unitive, and therefore, by its actual revelation, it "is, and it is NOT" (to quote the Indian woman saint, Ananda Moyi Ma).

We live in a world that contemplates vast vistas of time and space: the years of humankind's existence on earth keeps enlarging backward in time to millions of years. Space has become so vast in our calculations that it defies anything but the conclusion that the odds of advanced life forms such as exist on earth are nothing less than 100%.

So how can one have one foot in the modern "religion" of science and another foot in the religion of our grandfathers without falling flat on one's metaphysical face? How can one man who lived 33 years over 2,000 years ago on one lonely outpost of a planet on the fringe of one galaxy (of billions) be the savior of the world when most of the world before, during, and after this man's life never heard of him?

How can one misguided act committed in error, ignorance, passion, or delusion and in the minuscule boundaries of earth time and space condemn one's invisible spirit to an eternity of torture and suffering? Worse yet, for the simple fact of not having ever heard about this one man called Jesus Christ?

Is it possible we can embrace Jesus, his life and teachings, without condemning the rest of the beings of this planet and universe to hell? Each of us has for our neighbors and co-workers, people from other nations, races, and religions. Can we not see the obvious unifying needs and nature of all peoples as essentially no different than our own?

How, then, can true and original Christianity be resurrected from the tomb of ignorance? If Jesus truly lived, died, and was resurrected as the New Testament and its saints, martyrs, and sages down through ages proclaim and have given their lives to attest, surely, he must have been bigger in scope than so many of his self-proclaimed followers insist? There must be somewhere to be found a bridge, a life raft, to bring Jesus into the modern world and ever-expanding universe?

Fortunately, there is such a bridge, and surely not only one. But one such wayshower is the world renown yogi from India, Paramhansa Yogananda. His life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," inspires, delights, and educates millions on every continent from the day it was published in 1946 to this day, today. Yogananda represents a teaching and revelation that goes back beyond the dim veil of recorded history in the world's oldest continuous spiritual tradition: that of the rishis of India.

When the first English translations of India's hoary Vedas and other scriptures reached the shores of America in the early 19th Century, the so-called Transcendentalists (Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman) recognized the overarching wisdom and termed it a philosophy, not a religion. More correctly it should be called revelation, for philosophy is only intellectual speculation about reality, truth, and ethics. In India this body of wisdom has long been termed "Sanaatan Dharma," the "eternal truth (or "religion"). It implies that what is handed down is as universally applicable as the law of gravity which does not depend on man's belief or awareness to hold sway.

In accordance with aspects of all faith traditions and the teaching of metaphysics everywhere, this world and universe is said to be a dream, a visible manifestation of the consciousness of the Creator who remains as yet untouched by the dream, just as a playwright is no more good nor evil owing to the characters of his creation. The playwright's intention is to entertain and to educate. Both the audience and the actors know that it is but a play but the actors strive, nonetheless, to play their role as best as they can and according to the script and intention of the playwright.

All is God, there is none else. This doesn't deny the relative evil we encounter or enact, but that evil is evil because it takes our consciousness further from the experience and realization of God as the only reality behind all seeming and appearances. Evil is an affirmation of separateness. So, too, are ego-affirming attitudes, emotions, and self-gratifying or seeking actions. Good is good because it expands our awareness to realities larger than ego.

The only begotten son of God, therefore, is that spark of divine realization that is crucified by selfishness and resurrected by goodness. It appears in every age, as the rishis of India have proclaimed since time immemorial, in the living person of those beings who, in past lives (many lives), achieved the final victory of permanent realization of their Oneness "with the Father." Their appearance, as saviors, or avatars, is a personal and dynamic promise of immortality and the proclamation, once again, of the "good news" of our souls as children of God.

Jesus used the personal pronoun "I" in proclaiming his Oneness with the Father and for that affront to the ego-entrenched priesthood of his time, paid the ultimate (human) price: persecution and death. His bodily resurrection, like that of many similarly God-realized souls, gave tangible testimony to those with "eyes to see" that we are not the body but we are the Infinite soul, existing since eternity ("Before Abraham was, I AM").

The time has come to realize this divinity through the science of meditation and to put aside divisive dogmas and creeds. To recognize other Christ-like masters is not to diminish the God-realization of Jesus, but merely to make it truly "catholic" ("universal") and personal to each and every one of us though it take many lifetimes. This is the promise of sages down through ages and the promise of our soul's immortality that can be resurrected by our recognition of the Guru-preceptors who come to awaken our memory.

Let us not hesitate, therefore, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, knowing that it stands forever, today and yesterday, as a beacon of light, faith, and hope for all truthseekers everywhere.


Nayaswami Hriman