Showing posts with label Babaji. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Babaji. Show all posts

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Return of the Magi

Note to readers: The Christian Feast of Epiphany celebrates, in part, the visit of the Magi (Wise Men) to the Christ child. It takes place on January 6, twelve days after Christmas, and is sometimes called the Little Christmas. January 5 is known as Epiphany Eve and is the birthdate of Paramhansa Yogananda in 1893. Traditionally this marks, for many, the end of Christmas and the taking away of Christmas decorations! This becomes also for Ananda worldwide a natural endpoint to the sacred holiday season of Christmas.



Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now famous and popular life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” lived and taught in America for most of his life beginning in 1920 at the age of twenty-seven. One of the many curious and interesting things he said was that the wise men of the gospel of Matthew were none other than the three Indian yogis (in a past life) who, in succession, were part of his personal lineage, training, and tradition.[1] While there’s no objective way to substantiate that, this idea certainly has implications for who he, Yogananda, was and why he came to live in America.

Those people in the world identifying themselves as Christians are said to be 2.5 billion, almost one out of every three people.[2] But the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christian is reported to be declining.[3]

It would seem that if Christianity is to grow and thrive in America (and the West generally) as a viable religious tradition some kind of rescue is needed. Could it be that the wise men of East have come again to acknowledge, honor, and worship the Christ? Can Jesus too be “born again?”

Paramhansa Yogananda described his work in America as “The Second Coming of Christ.” Like Jesus, one might have thought that he, Yogananda, too would be condemned for blasphemy. What did he mean by this description?

How can we bring these ideas together? When Yogananda was asked point-blank by a young monk, Swami Kriyananda, “Were you Jesus Christ (in a prior life)?” Yogananda replied, “What difference would it make?” What a curious statement to make.[4]

Where I am leading is to suggest that Paramhansa Yogananda came to resurrect the deeper meanings and teachings of Jesus Christ from their imprisonment in the confines of what he called “Churchianity.” It doesn’t matter who he was in a past life. I think that’s mostly the reason for his response. Part of what is making orthodox Christianity increasingly irrelevant and uninspired today is the narrowness of its claims and the rigidity of its rituals.

The very concept of reincarnation symbolizes the soul’s phoenix-like capacity to be “born again!” Again, it is not important whether one subscribes to reincarnation as a dogma.[5] We see rebirth all around us: civilization being reborn into a new era, a new age symbolized outwardly by science and technology and in consciousness by a new acceptance and interest of diversity of cultures, religions, and history beyond one’s own. There’s hardly a point in listing the number of cultural beliefs, taboos, lifestyles, and attitudes that have changed (for “better or worse” according to one’s point of view) in just a few years or decades. In the lives of individuals, stories of recovery and new life abound. So why can’t Christianity be born again?

In juxtaposition to scientific beliefs of the age of planet Earth, the age of the universe, and the existence of billions of galaxies, core Christian dogmas seem weak and difficult to believe: could one human being on this mudball of a planet in a distant galaxy on the edge of space be the ‘ONLY” son of God? And he lived a mere thirty-three years on the edge of an empire that has long ago faded into dust? What about those billions of other religionists? Are they condemned to eternity for being born on the “wrong side of the tracks” of centuries and continents? Can the crucifixion of this one individual that took perhaps three hours be sufficient to “save the sins” of all humankind? And what about heaven and hell, places where, after death, our souls (later perhaps to be somehow reunited with our long-disintegrated bodies) live happily ever after or are burned alive not-so-happily-ever-after for an eternity?

The fact is that Jesus and his disciples initiated their own world-changing version of a religious rebirth in the context of Judaism during their lives. And yet, Jesus said that he came not to “destroy but to fulfill the law and prophets.” In Chapter 5 of the gospel of Matthew alone, Jesus made significant changes to the interpretation of the Ten Commandments and other laws at that time. Later, his disciples set aside the circumcision (the primary symbol of God’s covenant with the Jews), the Sabbath and countless lesser dietary laws. Then they declared that Gentiles could become followers of Jesus without being Jews! A new religion was born. And the intention behind its birth was to “fulfill” the Old Covenant not destroy it. Do you see the pattern here?

Jesus gave at least one example of why changes in letter of the law can be made when he modified the rules surrounding divorce. Jesus stated that the rules given to them by Moses were “for the hardness of your hearts.”[6] By this, he meant that Moses knew that the Jews of his time were not ready for a more fair and refined view of the grounds for divorce.

Other examples in history include the birth of Buddhism. Buddha and his disciples were originally Hindus. They, like Jesus’ disciples, sowed the seeds for a new religion with a fresh understanding of basic, universal truths. Their core concepts are based on the teachings of India derived from the Vedas and other scriptures of ancient India. Like the Protestant revolt, however, Buddha urged seekers to abandon the abusive lock hold of the priestly class and take responsibility for their spiritual awakening.[7]

And yet, the impact of the life of Jesus Christ cannot be denied. His short life changed world history. His teachings have inspired saints and sinners alike; have produced great works of art, music, literature, architecture, civilization, and worship. And these are the positive aspects. There are negative ones as well where some humans corrupted those same teachings for their own, misguided, ignorant or sinful reasons.

The stage is surely set for the return of the Wise Men.[8] Is it no coincidence that the very first and most serious crisis in the history of the early Christian church was the Arian heresy which centered on the definition of the person or nature of Jesus Christ? This was then and remains today the crux of the question Jesus asked: “Whom do men say I AM?” The rebirth of Christianity will, I believe, center on a deeper understanding of what is meant by “Jesus being the only begotten son of God.”

Paramhansa Yogananda universalized the understanding and interpretation of the divinity of Jesus Christ.[9] He often quoted the first chapter of St. John’s gospel, “As many as received him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God.” Yogananda taught that the difference between Jesus and the rest of us is not a matter of kind, but of degree. We have not yet realized our birthright as souls made in the image of God. The soul of Jesus inhabiting the body called Jesus had long ago (in a prior life) realized its eternal nature as ever-pure, immortal, and “one with the Father.” We, too, are called to the realization of this birthright. It has been said that we are “as old as God” because God has manifested us (and all creation) from “His” own nature. How else can God—who is pure Consciousness—create anything except as part of Himself?

While this is not the place to continue with creation theology and the existence of evil it is the place to note that this very understanding—endorsed by great saints within Christianity and in many other traditions—has the potential to reinvigorate devotion and appreciation of the Christian Way. Orthodox religionists may initially fear that this dilutes the importance and uniqueness of Jesus. Yet Jesus’ life, teachings, and omnipresent spirit have been proven and attested to down through the centuries and in modern times through the Christian and even non-Christian saints.[10]

And why would such recognition of other Christs in history result in a dilution of the reverence one feels towards Jesus Christ? Does the sheer number of saints through the ages detract from their respective sanctity? Just as modern men and women accept and appreciate the diversity in races and cultures without denying or condemning their own, why should a Hindu devotee or Christian devotee feel slighted that another religion also claims that its founder has achieved Self-realization? Are we not all potential sons of God?

Humanity does not need, nor could possibly abide by, a “One World Religion.” History, culture and tradition, what to mention human nature, recoils from even the thought. Why can’t mature devotees recognize and validity of other faith traditions? Are we so insecure in our own faith that we are not able to abandon the slogan “My way or the highway?”

It is not that Christian teachings are wrong: Jesus did die for sins; we can experience heaven or hell; Jesus is a savior. But a new understanding—what Yogananda called a New Dispensation—is needed to revitalize and universalize the eternal teachings and spiritual power of Jesus Christ.

Once one considers that our planet alone has had a number of “saviors” or “Christs,” if you will, then other possibilities emerge. The man known as Jesus embodied the realization of God in his soul and in his human manifestation. So have others. “I am the Way, the Life, and Truth and no one comes to the Father except by Me” can now take on a powerful and universal new meaning.

The savior or living Christ is both an outer and human reality as a person and an inner reality as in the conscious presence of their divine nature. We too partake in this dual nature even at our level of awareness. We have a body and personality but we can also experience ourselves as the observer of our own thoughts and actions unaffected in our observation by the nature of the present tenor of our emotions and actions.

Jesus is the outer guru for innumerable souls just as Buddha (and other saviors) is for countless other souls. The statement, then, that “I am the Way…” applies to the guru, whether still in a human body or accessible because omnipresent in spirit. But the outer guru in human form comes to awaken the inner guru which is our invisible but omnipresent and eternal soul. Jesus as guru was the “first coming” of the son of God for his disciples while his “second coming” takes place in the awakening of the inner, soul-Christ in each disciple.[11] This is what Jesus’ promise concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit after his departure symbolizes. The Holy Spirit is grace manifested in the consciousness and acts of the disciples and descends upon the soul through the work of the guru.

Each savior has a family of souls given by God. In the poignant “accounting” that Jesus gave at the Last Supper, he makes it clear that his disciples were given to him by God.[12] The teaching in India is that from the beginning our soul’s creation, that savior who will forever stand ready to reach out to us (when we have made the choice to be helped) is already known.

Ditto for Buddha and others like Yogananda. Whether in the outer form of the embodied Christ as a guru or in the inner form as the Christ consciousness potential of the soul, the statement “I AM” applies progressively, that is, step-by-step in our spiritual evolution. Christian teachings thus, however unknowingly and limited to the person of Jesus, essentially reflect the teaching that to achieve God-realization the soul needs a God-realized guru.

Forgiving of sins means to dissolve or erase the karmic consequences of our sins. And what is sin? Ignorance: ignorance of our true Self. Our fall from grace takes place daily when we mistake the unreal for the real. Like the beautiful story of the Prodigal Son, we have the choice at any time and in every moment to turn away from the “foreign lands” of matter attachment and journey inward to our soul’s home in God.

It is the Christ—or the Christ or soul Consciousness—that baptizes and forgives us. First through the outer guru which awakens our souls (as described above), and then progressively as our soul ascends through effort and grace toward perfection. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, awaits us in the silence within. But we need outer instruction in the precepts of right living and in the techniques of God-communion (prayer and meditation) to purify our body and mind.

It is a teaching in India that a guru—not merely an ordinary spiritual teacher but a true savior—can take on the karma of a disciple. A savior (known in India as an avatar) can free untold numbers of souls who “receive him.” But just as a wise father would not pay off the debts of an errant child unless that child was repentant, so too the guru’s grace to release karma is not given randomly or without just cause. Since our true nature is that of a Christ, it is always the Christ consciousness first awakened by the outer guru and then nurtured by the Holy Spirit in the inner, soul guru, that dissolves the knots of past deeds. Jesus’ crucifixion showed how we must surrender the ego to the will of God while the resurrection of his body shows us the immortal and victorious nature of our soul. His pain and suffering are examples and to a modest degree, related largely to his taking onto himself the karma of his direct disciples. When it is said that Jesus redeemed the sins of the world its deepest meaning is that the Christ Consciousness, truly the “only” begotten of the Father, is what redeems the soul.

Admittedly, without the concept of reincarnation, this New Dispensation is not “fulfilled.” But just as Christian teachings adapted themselves to a one-life incarnation so these concepts could stand on their own, just as lamely as the Christian teachings, without the benefit of reincarnation. Christian theologians and saints perceived what became known as Purgatory, Limbo, and mortal and venial sins to account for the wide variety of human experience and consciousness in just one human life. It’s not that such stages on the astral plane do not exist so much as their interpretation is incomplete.

But that leads us to heaven and hell. I’ve often said you don’t need to die to experience heaven and hell. It is right here on earth and within us. We can be rich and famous, yet at the same time, miserably depressed. We can be a wanderer, penniless but ever-cheerful. When we are in “heaven” we think we have arrived; when we are in pain, it seems forever.

It is also true, however, that other traditions, including that of India, teach that there is an after-death realm that contains “many mansions” of “my Father’s house.”[13] Here souls rest or reside awaiting their next incarnation. These more subtle realms range as far and wide as our minds are able and beyond. We go to “our own,” according to our soul’s misidentification and consciousness. But as the saying goes, “nothing is forever” (except God alone).

This is a short summary of the promise of the scriptures that is found in all true faith traditions. Increasingly in this new age, beliefs will wane in importance as personal experience grows. We have learned from science to test our hypotheses to see if they are real. Who we are in ourselves and how we behave is far more important than our “credo,” what we believe. Meditation is growing in popularity because it offers a tangible experience of consciousness without the burden of belief. What else is God than Pure Consciousness? What else is the soul but a reflection of God? “Be still and know that I AM God.”[14]

The only begotten son of God is that soul that is fully awake to its own nature. This nature is hidden by the sheath of all material creation and forms but has the potential to awaken to its-Self in humankind. This is the promise of the scriptures and is found in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as in the lives of all awakened sons of God.[15]

Epilogue

As Moses could only give to the Israelites what they could accept, it is also true that Jesus could not directly teach the dogma of reincarnation (known otherwise as the “transmigration of souls”). In addition, given the controversy that Jesus aroused during his life, he could hardly have taught the existence of other Christs in other lands and times. To have taught each of these dogmas would have sidelined his mission to the point of irrelevancy. Why is this?

Reincarnation. That reincarnation was discussed in Jesus’ time is illustrated at several points of the New Testament. Modern scholars concur. One example from Jesus’ own words that the concept was known can be seen when the three disciples with Jesus descended Mt. Tabor after the Transfiguration at which both Moses and Elias appeared. Their reported conversation goes something like this: “Elias has come already and they knew him not….Then the disciples understood that he spake of them of John the Baptist.”[16] There are several other points in the Bible, New and Old, that can be cited.[17]

More important reasons for Jesus to sidestep the dogma of reincarnation include that reincarnation and, indeed, belief in an after-life itself, was hotly debated among the Jews and probably of no interest in the Roman and Greek cultures of that time. This lack of awareness extended throughout the two thousand years of Christian history until recent contact with Eastern teachings. Teaching it would have only invited an incentive to postpone one’s redemption! Now with our vastly broadened view of the material universe (macro and micro), the prospect of endless future lives is already showing itself to be an incentive to seek God now and not later!

As to Jesus being the only savior of humankind, it was enough of a shock for Jesus to announce “I and my Father are One” and that “Before Abraham was, I AM.”[18] In retrospect, Jesus was bringing to the Jews (and by extension, the West) the teaching that God incarnates in human form. This was already blasphemy and unheard of in the religions of his time. It was the immediate cause of his crucifixion! What good would it have done for Jesus to announce that there could be others like him? It would only have generated a frenzied search over the succeeding two thousand years! Confusion, heresy, and anti-Christs left and right would have been the result. It is only now, with the world becoming “one,” that this truth can be revealed. For, indeed, it is sorely needed “for the healing of the nations.”[19]

Devotion to Jesus as the son of God has been the right teaching for the disciples of Christ during these last two thousand years. Until recent times, the definition of Jesus as the only son of God mattered very little. Only in the beginning (as previously cited) during the Arian heresy, did the question arise. Now, however, faced with the reality day-to-day of coexisting with other religions, each of which claims its founder or rishis, as co-redemptors must we confront the deeper meaning of “Who do men say I am?”

Blessings to all for a (happier?) New Year!

Swami Hrimananda aka Hriman



[1] Those yogis were Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and his own guru, Swami Sri Yutkeswar (See “Autobiography of a Yogi” for chapters on their respective lives.)

[4] Swami Kriyananda in his own life story, “The New Path,” reported several instances of individuals who in the general public assumed Yogananda was Jesus Christ reincarnated. I, too, had this same unexamined perception when I first became acquainted with Yogananda’s autobiography.

[5] https://reincarnate.life/how-many-people-in-the-world-believe-in-reincarnation/ 25% of Americans believe in reincarnation and nearly that same percentage of Christians do so also! Origen, one of the early Church “fathers,” wrote that reincarnation had been “taught since apostolic times.” It was removed from church dogma in 532 AD at a conference of Bishops without the presence of the Pope who boycotted the event.

[6] Matthew 19:8

[7] Buddha was not an atheist and nor is Buddhism atheistical as some claim. Buddha declined to speak of God to emphasize the here and now, the present moment and what we can and must do to grow spiritually.

[8] The gospels do not say there were three Wise Men: only three gifts were offered. Tradition suggest there were three men.

[9] Yogananda was not the only one to do so. The greatest Christian mystics all pointed to a universal Christ consciousness standing behind, so to speak, the person of Jesus the man. Meister Eckert, Thomas Acquinas, Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis and others all experienced the eternal Christhood of Jesus.

[10] Consider the 20th century lives of Padre Pio and Theresa Neumann, as just two examples. Both had on their bodies the wounds (the stigmata) of Jesus.

[11] If you read the Acts of the Apostles carefully you find that during the lives of the apostles they were left with the thought that Jesus would return to earth soon. That had to be toned down when it didn’t happen so quickly.

[12] John 17

[13] John 14:2

[14] Psalm 46:10

[15] Reading references include AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI by Paramhansa Yogananda; “Revelations of Christ” by Swami Kriyananda; SECOND COMING OF CHRIST by Paramahansa Yogananda; YOGA OF JESUS by Yogananda.

[16] Matthew 17:12-13

[17] “Autobiography of a Yogi,” Chapter 35: The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya (opening paragraphs)

[18] John 10:30 and John 8:48-59

[19] Revelations 22:2

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Virus Induced Game Changers: Trends in Process

Swami Kriyananda, founder of the worldwide communities movement of Ananda, and a direct disciple of the great yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda (whose life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," is now a spiritual classic and a modern scripture) often expounded on the Hindu calendar and its segments (called "Yugas") of rising and falling consciousness.

The source of his comments can be found in the Introduction to the book "Holy Science" written by Swami Sri Yukteswar (guru of Yogananda) at the behest of the now-famous Mahavatar, Babaji.

Swami Kriyananda's insights into the unfoldment of human consciousness were expressed in innumerable recorded talks, essays, and books--too numerous to reference. Ananda members, Byasa (David) Steinmetz and co-author Purushottama (Joseph) Selbie, authored an excellent book -- "The Yugas"-- on this subject.

I do not, therefore, want to repeat the groundwork offered to us by the drastic re-calibration of the Hindu calendar offered to the world by Sri Yukteswar in a mere few paragraphs in the introduction to his abstruse tome. If you want an orientation to human history that turns the modern narrative on its head, well, you'll enjoy "The Yugas."

Swamiji, however, would often peer into the future seeking insights to changes and trends in world culture. The one book I can reference in this regard is "Religion in the New Age." (It is a collection of essays on many subjects.)

There are several trends that I want to share that Swamiji spoke of:


  1. "Small is Beautiful." In this age, which I call the Age of the Individual, an egalitarian age, knowledge is increasingly being offered to everyone. The former hierarchy of education and concomitant power is being "flattened" and the accessibility of information via the world wide web is both symbolic and practically speaking an excellent illustration of this trend. "Think global; act local" is a bumper sticker that also expresses this trend. In America, it is my "theory" (and I'm sticking with it, ha, ha) is that Hurricane Katrina first introduced American society to the need to fend for oneself, whether individually or in local groups. I recall in the early 2000's being in Beverly Hills, CA on Rodeo Drive (the absolute epitome of wealth and celebrity status) seeing banners put up by the city government urging its citizens to focus on disaster preparedness! The failure of the large public utility, Pacific Gas & Electric in California has given those residents a huge incentive to produce energy locally. I could go on and on. Big is out. The federal government in America is paralyzed with divisiveness. States, counties, and cities are dealing with global issues like climate change, plus innumerable other issues, not least of which at this time, is the Coronavirus COVID-19. During the sheltering-at-home phase, seed companies are out of stock as millions are planting gardens. This trend is easy enough of observation. Ironically, the big issues facing our planet require cooperation on national and international scales even as large-scale entities, including corporations, are less and less the trendsetters and leaders of society. The lesson, however, must not be lost rather than only regretted: we (you and me) have to BE THE CHANGE WE SEEK! It's THAT simple.
  2. A movement away from cities. Since the beginning of the so-called Industrial Revolution, millions of people have migrated from agricultural life to the urban (and later, suburban) life. This trend is not wholly finished in some countries. But the trend that may be only just beginning is a rebound of the post World War II movement to the suburbs. Unfortunately, suburban life simply paved over natural habitat and copied urban life but with a nice green lawn, perhaps a swimming pool, and a few planted trees. But that trend and impulse still exist: a desire to live more in harmony with nature; it is deeper than conscious recognition that cities are toxic by their very nature. Toxic not just in terms of water and air but even by their artificially restless intensity. Sheltering at home has connected millions with the simplicity of home life; cooking real food; reading a book; reaching out to friends, neighbors, and family; having time for thoughtful reflection; prayer and meditation. A calm life is a real life. While young people, restless and adventurous, eager to live at the edge of their senses and taking risks (because believing they are invincible) may yet always tend toward urban environments, the far larger population is, or will be, gradually, drawn to natural living.
  3. Both of the above trends flow easily and naturally into acceptance of conscious, intentional communities of like-minded, ideal-driven people banding together. This banding or tribal trend (I don't care for the world "tribal" it makes me feel like I want to go beat on a drum and grunt rhythmically) can take place virtually, in service projects, in politics, in religion, education, and of course most naturally, residentially. Yogananda is deemed by Ananda members worldwide to be the "patron saint" of communities. In the 1940's he enthusiastically experimented with a community that included not just monastics but householders. It was premature but even after he disbanded it he continued to the end of his life to wax enthusiastic about its future prospects. He predicted that someday communities would "spread like wildfire." We haven't seen this, for sure, but the two trends mentioned above flow, as I said above, easily into the channel of the communities movement. However, I will admit that these last two trends (away from the cities and the rise of intentional communities) are still very nascent though any number of events could accelerate their unfoldment (like a pandemic!).
The ecological movement, perhaps more than any single trend, might be said to have begun the awakening awareness of the natural world and our interdependence upon it. Admittedly, this is perhaps a superficial statement but it works well enough for me and my life experience (being a baby boomer). In combination with a separate awakening toward what we used to innocently call "Eastern philosophy" the concept of our interdependence has filtered deeply into human consciousness. Science, our real religion (as a culture), says "it is so" and this is enough for us.

The percentage of souls in human form whose hearts awaken and seek the Divine Presence hidden behind the multitudinous forms of matter will, for a long time to come, remain small. But just as God in the Old Testament was willing to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if ten righteous souls could be found, so too this small percentage will always have an outsized impact on society at large. More so, however, in an age of awakening consciousness (as Swami Sri Yukteswar described these times). 

Even while yoga and meditation encircle the globe, those who practice these for the purposes of seeking enlightenment will remain, even among this already-select group, a relatively small number. But, again, their influence is profound. We who are followers of Yogananda, especially Ananda members, have been taught by Swami Kriyananda to view the influence of Yogananda and his teachings to be representative of and instrumental to the awakening trends of consciousness on planet Earth at this time. This is not a claim of pride or exclusivity but derives from the history of the lineage of Self-realization as Yogananda revealed it. 

A new form of spirituality is desperately needed in the world today. Faith traditions have ossified into rigid dogmas and rituals. They, despite their profession of the primacy of God's love and the example of their own saints, are forces for divisiveness rather than harmony. India's long tradition of tolerance and universality is uniquely suited to bring together the "best of East and West" (quoting Yogananda-ji). 

Swami Kriyananda included in his insights as to future trends Yogananda's prediction that "Self-realization" would become the religion of the future. Unlike other disciples of Yogananda, Swamiji had no false expectation of a new Catholic church. Rather, he explained that even mainline faiths would, in time, come to see that the most important feature of their faith was one's personal relationship and experience of God and that meditation offers the most effective form of achieving that. This follows the trend into the Age of the Individual. Spiritually this translates into Self-realization as the spiritual expression of the age.

Perhaps more cynically, even institutions (perhaps especially institutions) have an impulse toward survival. In the facing of a trend of decreasing numbers of adherents, one can be sure that each faith will "miraculously" re-discover their own prayer and meditation traditions and will, seeing the "light" of the trend of meditation amongst their followers, announce a new revelation! But, why not. It is true, after all.

So, while you are sheltering at home with little to do but read a long essay like this, I hope you've enjoyed the prospect of "hope for a better world." (Title of one of Swamiji's books!).


Joys to you,

Swami Hrimananda
sheltering on Camano Island WA

Friday, January 3, 2020

Happy Birthday, Yogananda-ji!

Dear Friends,

At Ananda worldwide, the Christmas holidays come to a conclusion each year with our celebration of Paramhansa Yogananda's birth (January 5, 1893). 

In this new year of 2020, January 5 is THIS Sunday and as you may know, the Service is a grand, family service with skits taken from Yogananda's life followed by a festive, catered, Indian banquet! (At Ananda Blue Lotus Temple in Bothell, WA USA)

It would be natural enough for members of Ananda worldwide to celebrate the birth of the one whose teachings and life has inspired and guided our spiritual lives. But Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, taught us to view Yogananda's life purpose in coming to America 100 years ago (1920) in terms far broader than the gratitude natural to those who consider themselves his followers. 

The fascinating and unusual story of Yogananda's spiritual lineage which begins with Jesus Christ and Babaji-Krishna is itself a hint that Yogananda has a role on the stage of world history broader than that of any organization and its members.

Yogananda left his earthly form only sixty-eight years ago. By 100 A.D., how much impact had Jesus' teachings had upon the Roman Empire? Not much, yet, but there were already hints and rumblings of great changes to come. By the time of Emperor Constantine's declaration in favor of Christianity in 312 A.D., one-third of the empire was already Christian!

Yogananda put yoga, and especially kriya yoga, on the American map (and, by extension, across the globe). He is not, of course, the only one but he has left a large footprint. His life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," is still a best seller seventy-four years after its publication. And while we can see hints worldwide of the impact of yoga-meditation and the consciousness of yoga (oneness; harmony; health; joy; cooperation), this influence has only begun. And, as you might, no doubt, agree, it is desperately needed. The Dalai Lama has added his voice to thousands like you and me when he noted that if the children of this world were taught to meditate the problems that beset humanity would soon be solved. 

We celebrate Paramhansa Yogananda's birth and life, therefore, for a far more expansive purpose than it might seem natural for us to do so. And, we hope all of you will do so in your hearts and mind and, perchance, with us as well! 

Happy birthday Yogananda-ji!

Nayaswamis Hriman and Padma!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Lahiri Mahasaya of Benares: Yogavatar (1828-1895)

September 26 (today, as I write), 1895, Lahiri Mahasaya of Benares left this earth plane in a conscious exit in the presence of a group of disciples. His birth, in 1828, was on September 30! Thus we have a convenient few days to give Lahiri focused reflections.



The significance of Lahiri Mahasaya's life can be summarized to include:

  • He was the param-guru (guru of his guru) of Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the widely acclaimed AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI). Lahiri Mahasaya exercised a profound influence in the life of Yogananda.
  • It was he who was commissioned in 1861 by the incomparable Babaji to spread the practice and teachings of Kriya Yoga.
  • Though a Brahmin and a yogi, Lahiri Mahasaya was NOT a Swami; he was married; had children, and was a career accountant during British rule. He, therefore, showed how one could live IN the world even while making definite spiritual progress toward soul liberation.
  • Despite rigid caste customs at the time, Lahiri Mahasaya (LM) initiated individuals from all castes and various religions without regard to gender, status, or position.
  • He discouraged fruitless theoretical discussion of the scriptures and preferred direct, intuitive realization of their message. "Solve your problems through meditation" he counselled. 
  • LM performed civic and community service in addition to his spiritual training in kriya yoga and spirituality.
  • LM gave inspired interpretations of traditional Indian scriptures that unlocked keys to a broader and universal understanding applicable to everyone.
  • LM studied, practised and then reduced to practical simplicity and application the tangle of yogic practices so that anyone could learn their essence and make significant spiritual progress.
  • LM gave down-to-earth practical counsel to those who came to him sincerely for help.
  • LM guided individual "chelas" (disciples) with words that were "mild and healing."
  • Besides, Paramhansa Yogananda, LM initiated many saints and highly advanced disciples, and, others with influential worldly positions.
  • In the presence of many disciples, LM casually exhibited yogic powers of breathlessness, sleeplessness, cessation of pulse and heartbeat, unblinking eyes (for hours), and a profound "aura" of peace.
  • In accordance with ancient practices, he gave for the cure of various diseases a specially prepared "neem" oil.
  • LM transformed the seemingly mysterious practices of yoga into a definite scientific practice.
  • LM demonstrated to close disciples all the signature powers of a great saint and avatar, including bi-location, resurrection, healing, levitation, raising the dead and much more.
  • Paramhansa Yogananda proclaimed LM a "Yogavatar," or incarnation of Yoga.
  • Yogananda wrote of LM: "His uniqueness as a prophet lies in his practical stress on a definite method, Kriya, opening for the first time the doors of yoga freedom to all."
Lahiri Mahasaya Maharaja-ki, Jai!

Joy to you,
Swami Hrimananda

reference: Chapter 35, The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya, from AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI, by Paramhansa Yogananda.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

An oratorio: Christ Lives in the Holy Land, and in You & Me!


An oratorio: Christ Lives in the Holy Land, and in You & Me!

Every second year the choirs and musicians of Ananda Portland and Ananda Seattle combine alternatingly at each other’s temple/sanctuaries to perform Swami Kriyananda’s acclaimed oratorio inspired by the life of Jesus Christ. How can we understand the inspiration behind this powerful tribute in song? 

How can we understand the seemingly prominent role Jesus Christ has at Ananda throughout the world? What makes the music of this oratorio so like a deep meditation?

A sensitive reading of Paramhansa Yogananda’s "Autobiography of a Yogi" hints at his spiritual connection with Jesus. He makes reference to Jesus at least sixteen times and even reveals that John the Baptist was Elijah and thus Jesus’ guru from a past life. He states that Jesus taught kriya yoga or “a similar technique” to his close disciples. Further, he stated publicly that the three Wise Men were none other than Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya and Sri Yukteswar (where does this revelation place him, Yogananda?)

When, during the writing of his commentaries on the Bible, Yogananda prayed to Jesus to ask that his words be in tune with Jesus’ teachings, he received a vision of Jesus who gave his blessings and corroboration.

Jesus proclaimed to the crowds that he came “not to destroy the law and prophets” but to fulfill them. To “fulfill” must surely mean to carry on their message and vibration. (While it might also mean to “complete” this interpretation is not absolute.) Paramhansa Yogananda’s obvious connection to Jesus suggests the same on his part in relation to Jesus. More than this, he gave the title “Second Coming of Christ” to his own ministry! (If that didn’t get him crucified, I don’t know what would have!) I don’t think it could be clearer than that.

I have had guests and new students occasionally object or at least express surprise how they felt the Ananda Sunday Service, or some of our events and classes are Christian in feeling. All of this is understandable given the deeper connections described above. I’ve had one reader in the public challenge an article I wrote in respect to Jesus’ atonement of sins on the cross for failing to quote similar examples from other faiths. Neither I, nor other Ananda representatives, are particularly required to hand select passages from every faith when sharing Yogananda’s teachings. But drawing upon the life and teachings of Jesus Christ is specifically appropriate.

In his book, “Conversations with Yogananda, Swami Kriyananda quotes Yogananda answering this question (“Why do you emphasize the teachings of Jesus Christ.”) by replying only, “It was Babaji’s wish that I do so.” [Pretty cagey, I’d say! I suspect the paucity of his reply was related more to the questioner than to the question. That’s my opinion, anyway!]

We do know that Babaji commissioned Swami Sri Yukteswar to write a book showing the underlying unity in Jesus’ teachings and those of India’s rishis. Just read that book, Holy Science, and you’ll see!

Returning now to Swamiji’s oratorio, Christ Lives, we can more easily understand how the masters worked through Swamiji to create a Handel-esque musical work that proclaims a new understanding (Yogananda called it a “New Dispensation”) of Jesus’ teachings. It is, in its own way, a “fulfillment.”

I won’t be so bold as to attempt to describe this oratorio in musical terms. The point of this article is to entice you to come and hear it for yourself! Music isn’t my language, particularly.

In the libretto (words to the songs) you’ll find repeated references to “light,” “joy,” and “peace.” Extending the universal and deeply metaphysical theme of the gospel of St. John (“In the beginning was the Word…..the light of men”), the oratorio guides us to understand Jesus as not the ONLY begotten son of God but a soul, like you and me, who has achieved Oneness with the Light of God. The “Light of Christ” is the indwelling divinity in every atom; in every heart and soul. With this light, Jesus had become wholly identified.

The song “In the Spirit” describes the great vision of St. John in the last book of the New Testament as an ecstatic experience. John was “caught up in ecstasy.” Yogananda dedicated an entire lesson to interpreting the so-called Apocaplyse in metaphysical and Vedantic terms.

From the Old Testament’s frequent commands to “look up” the oratorio describes King David in terms of meditation and the looking up through the point between the eyebrows: the doorway to the divine light. At least four songs dwell upon the feminine nature of God both in general and in the form of Mary, the mother of Jesus. John the Baptist is described as living in solitude and seclusion and achieving his wisdom and faith through the inner life of prayer and meditation.

The temptation of Jesus by the devil in the desert is perhaps one of the most poignant and beautiful songs. A foursome—Jesus, Satan, and two devotee witnesses—sing of the opposing pulls, one divine, the other satanic, upon Jesus’ soul and of Jesus’ rejection of the satanic force. This not only gives recognition (Yogananda proclaimed: “I add my testimony to that of all before me that Satan exists.”) to the power of maya but to its power to become personal both within us and objectively. It also models to us how to deal with maya’s power: seek the love of God!

Another aspect is the very personal relationship Jesus had to his disciples. In song, their life together, wandering the countryside of Judea, is shown to be a celebration, a joyful troupe of disciples with their guru. Rejected is the “man of sorrows” who could never have inspired large crowds. This personal touch is also reflected in songs that speak of the poignant uplifting of souls such as Mary Magdalene, caught in sin and of her rejoicing when freed by his love.

Even the miracle of turning water into wine (the first story after his ministry began) shows Jesus’ care and concern, and love, for all. 
Rather than have the wedding couple be embarrassed by running out, Jesus quietly “refills” the jugs with wine!

Another of the many deeply inspired and musically moving pieces is “Living Water.” This is the story of the woman of Samaria whom Jesus meets at the well. Yogananda explained that this woman was a fallen disciple from a past life. Jesus’ detour into Samaria was intended to find her. The bond of guru and disciple is eternal.

In what is normally considered a triumphal day—Palm Sunday—the music reveals the darker undertone of rejection that is soon to befall the heralded “King of the Jews.”

In the songs of this oratorio, Jesus is depicted in both his overarching divine nature and his very personal, human nature. The juxtaposition of these two has for its message: “Tat twam asi!” “Thou ART THAT!” His nature is our nature. As John the Beloved proclaims in his gospel: “To as many as received Him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God.”

“You Remain Our Friend” is a song sung every Sunday. For that reason members might no longer appreciate the power of its message: both personal and universal. We reject the Christ in the form of the guru and in the abstract, indwelling form of light by our daily busy-ness, indifference, and material desires and fears. While we may yet be fickle, God remains forever our Friend.

But in the end, Jesus is transfixed into pure Light and in the company of his eternal guru, Elijah, and the great prophet Moses. Resurrected is his soul as master of life and death. This is the promise of immortality given us by the saints and masters in every religion. This truth is one and eternal. We need only realize our oneness with it in our deathless Self within!

May the Light of Christ, the Infinite Consciousness, be with you!

Swami Hrimananda

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Christmas Story for Children of All Ages

Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a faraway land, or was it a faraway galaxy, a child was born. Not in a house like yours or mine; and certainly NOT in a hospital with a midwife or doctor. 

No, nothing like that. This child was born in a small barn; a shed, really. We call it a stable because it’s where a cow and donkey stayed on cold nights. Maybe there were a few chickens; likely, too, a goat or two. There was hay piled up all around. It wasn’t warm but then outside it was…

a cold, dark, December night. The stars shone brightly in the skies above. In the surrounding hills, shepherds watched their flocks. 

They had to guard the sheep from packs of hungry wolves. To keep warm and to keep the wolves away, the shepherds had a camp fire.

This night when the child Jesus was born was both special and yet ordinary. After all, billions of babies have born on planet Earth in the two thousand years since the birth of Jesus! When you were born it was a very special event for you; your parents; your grandparents, friends and family! Even if you were born in a hospital and not a stable for farm animals, yours was still a very special event!

What made the birth of Jesus special? What does his birth have in common with yours?

Every so often, and at different times and places on Earth, there is born a soul with very special qualities. The birth event may or may not be unusual but in these cases the child is. Do you remember your birth? No, of course you don’t. I don’t either. But these special children DO remember their birth. In fact, they know all of their past lives. Who are these children? Well, Krishna; Buddha, Jesus, Rama and many others. These are children who remember! Who KNOW that they are children of God. They are children who KNOW God.

You and I are children of God, too. But just as we don’t remember our birth, we too often think we are just “who we are” as our parents named us: John, Sally, Ramesh, Gita, Noah. We have forgotten that we have lived many lives and have been called by many different names. God, too, is called by many names. But essentially God is simply I AM. We have forgotten that our true nature is that of God’s own nature: joy! We have forgotten that we are an incarnation of joy and not just a physical body. But these special children who are born from time to time have remembered.

In the case of Jesus’ birth, the event had several distinct features we are told from the bible. In the stories written by Matthew and by Luke, the Greek physician, we hear that nearby shepherds heard and saw angels singing. The angels told the shepherds that this Christ child—a child who remembered—had just been born in that nearby stable!

And from far, far away, perhaps as far away as India, wise sages journeyed to pay homage to the child Jesus. But how did they know? There wasn’t email or internet! There weren’t even old fashioned newspapers or TV news!!!!! A wise sage is one who just knows – knows from inside. Like the child Jesus or Buddha who remembers who they were and have always been, these “three wise men” (the bible doesn’t say there were three of them; it only says there were three gifts given to the child Jesus) said they saw “His” star in the east where they lived, far away.

Well, you know how sign language works? Certain hand gestures or positions symbolize words. Bring your hand to your mouth and move your hand like your mouth is chewing and you have the sign language symbol for “I want to eat!” 

Well, the word “east” is sign language for seeing and knowing. The sun rises in the East and we awaken! One who knows and sees is called a Seer! And what did these wise sages see? A star! Not in the sky, but in their mind’s eye: right here, at the point between the eyebrows! The five-pointed white star that they saw in meditation told them in wordless words that an avatar, a true child of God, was about to be born. It told them the approximate location: near the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea in the land of Israel.

These wise men of India were summoned by the star to find and honor the birth of this avatar, Jesus. And thus it was that they journeyed a long way, perhaps as much as 2,000 miles: on camels, no less! Hmmm, or maybe they had a faster way to travel.

Who were these Wise Men? Our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, said the three wise men were his own gurus. Their names in the incarnations of 19th and 20th century were none other than Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Swami Sri Yukteswar. It was they who came to honor the baby Jesus. This means all four of them knew each other from past lives. We don’t know where Yogananda himself was at this time and he didn’t or wouldn’t tell us.

There was another curious feature of Jesus’ birth. It is a part of the story that we also find told in regards to the birth of Lord Krishna, centuries before the birth of Jesus. Not everyone was so happy that a great king-like soul was to be born. In each case, the local king was jealous and wanted to kill the child. In each case, the child had to be taken away and hidden.

What makes this story special to us is that it isn’t just the story of Jesus’ birth. It is the story of your birth, and mine as well. For we are also children of God. And, if we want to remember that truth-- just as Jesus, Krishna, Buddha and others have--we have to give birth to that memory in the knowing and remembering silence of our hearts and minds: especially in meditation. Not just once, but every day. Meditation is the humble “stable” where our soul-nature and memory can be rediscovered, reborn.

The shepherds are the mindful, conscience-guiding guardians of the sheep of our thoughts. We build a fire of devotion in the dark night of meditation to keep away the subconscious wolves of restless thoughts, desires and fears. If we do that, angels of God will come and sing to us, instructing and encouraging us to seek this Christ-child in our hearts. The wise men and saints of the past have given us teachings that will enable us to give as gifts to our soul-child our thoughts, feelings, and actions. But King Ego will want to kill this child and, at first, we must hide our Christ consciousness in the quiet safe place of meditation and prayer until he can grow strong and come out and play openly in daily life, declaring, “I and my Father are one!”

We are each a king and queen but we think, instead, that we are commoners, subjects of the demands of earth, water, heat and air; subject to the demands of food, water, comfort and restless desires. 

But we are more than this; more than mere humans who live only a short time subjected to the frailties of age, health, and forces of luck and destiny.


Christmas reminds us that we too are a King (or Queen). This reminder is cause for celebration. And of course it needs be said that if “I am a King” then so are you! We are all that: “tat twam asi!” (Sanskrit: "Thou art That!") On this basis we are reminded to live in this world with nobility, goodness and goodwill for all.

If everyone, or even just many, truly give birth to this remembrance of the inner and universal Christ (the living presence of God in us and in all creation and AS creation itself), the human race would truly live in peace and goodwill.

May the light of Christ be born in you this Christmas and every day a Christmas!

Swami Hrimananda