Showing posts with label Buddha. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Buddha. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Quantum Physics Reveals that You Need a Guru

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


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

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

Maybe it’s time to expand our mind!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Do You Need a Guru? Celebrating Guru Purnima

Today as I write it is the full moon and with it India's annual mid-summer day of honoring and celebrating one's teacher, especially one's guru! If I understand the festival, Guru Purnima, correctly, Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists celebrate this holy day. It just so happens that the weekly readings at the Ananda temples around the world land on this very same subject: Do You Need A Guru? Tomorrow, Sunday, July 25 is the day Ananda holds dear as "Babaji Day." To add yet more to this, tomorrow at our temple near Seattle we will conduct, coincidentally, a discipleship initiation for a few aspiring souls. So these are at least four good reasons to write this article!

I use these excuses and this occasion to talk not generally about the role of a guru but more specifically about the life and role of one such great yoga master of the twentieth century: Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now-famous "Autobiography of a Yogi").


Most of you who will read this already know that Yogananda's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar of Serampore, Bengal (India), made an important and shocking correction to the Hindu calendar in 1894 in his book, "The Holy Science." In the introduction to this book, he announced that according to Hindu astrology and Oriental astronomy planet Earth entered the ascending cycle of the second of four ages called Dwapara on about the year A.D. 1900.

Any student of the history of science and technology would not be the least bit surprised. The defining discovery of the twentieth century took place only a few years later by Albert Einstein who in effect declared the death of matter and the birth of the age of atomic energy.  

Religionists, on the other hand, eyeing the decline of adherence to traditional values and religions and the rise of atheism and materialism have declared the death of God-fearing civilization and the birth of an age that surely will culminate in the end times.

From the standpoint of spiritual awakening, this new age would certainly seem ripe for the appearance of a new Buddha or Christ. Swami Kriyananda, the founder of Ananda's worldwide work, lived with and was trained and commissioned by Paramhansa Yogananda in the last years of Yogananda's life (1893-1952). Swami Kriyananda concluded that Yogananda must surely be a world teacher for this new age of Dwapara. 

But unlike the personality cult surrounding the religion that revolved around Jesus Christ, it is far more likely that Yogananda's role will be seen somewhat more like that of the Buddha: a wayshower. Of course, true disciples will tune into Yogananda as true disciples always do to their guru but by virtue of Yogananda's teachings their understanding will already be grounded in a more universal understanding that Yogananda is one of many avatars sent by God to fulfill specific missions of spiritual upliftment in times of need.  

There are many reasons to see in Yogananda the role of a world teacher for this age. And there were during his life and are now many spiritual teachers on the planet. Comparisons are odious and unnecessary. Instead, some of the characteristics that identify Yogananda as having an important role in human spiritual evolution include that he struck a careful balance between East and West; indeed, he consciously lauded the best aspects of each. He didn't seek to convert his followers into Hindus nor yet did he pretend to be a converted Christian. He taught yoga and meditation and yet built churches and held services remarkably familiar to Westerners. He drew inspiration from the Christian Bible as well as from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. He showed their underlying similarity rather than declaring one greater than the other. 

He expressed great devotion to his guru-lineage as well as to the One God, the Infinite Spirit. He affirmed Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism) while at the same time taught that the way to the One was through the Other (I-Thou). He loved saints while he had experiences of cosmic consciousness. He spoke of heaven and hell but as temporary waiting stations on the soul's long journey to God. He spoke of the evolution of the species but averred the special creation and status of the human form.  He affirmed the truth of all religions yet discerned that not all affirmed the highest teaching of union with God. He recognized the equality and yet the differences of the sexes and yet insisted the soul has no gender before God. He taught union with God as the goal of the soul's creation while explaining that consciousness is forever and nothing of our past lives is ever destroyed or obliterated. 

He praised Western technological and commercial efficiency but bemoaned our sectarianism and materialism. He loved India's deep spirituality but hoped that India would raise its standard of living through education, hygiene, and renouncing stifling caste taboos.

Yogananda urged students to get back to the land and form small self-sustaining communities which would grow their own food and have a lifestyle that was both efficient and God-centered. He didn't reject modern labor-saving technology but decried "installment method" consumerism as a modern form of servitude. 

Yogananda created devotional chants and poetry; started gardens and farms; schools for children; a yoga university; encouraged art and theatre with an uplifting message.

Interestingly, apart from the popularity of his life story and notwithstanding the universal respect for him and his contributions, very few outside his own followers, students, and modern-day disciples seem to acknowledge his role in this new and very uncertain age. Phillip Goldberg did the first real biography of Yogananda and included a chapter about Yogananda in his book, "American Veda," but overall it seems that Yogananda has not yet taken his place in history. But history is written "post facto" and many of us believe that in the future Yogananda's life will be seen as a pivotal contributor to the awakening consciousness of Dwapara Yuga.

For members of Ananda worldwide, we also believe that his strong emphasis on the importance of small, intentional communities (which he said would one day "spread like wildfire") will bear the fruit of recognition at some future date. Many alive today agree that humanity's lifestyle is in an unsustainable downward spiral of the consumption of earthly resources. This can only end in great calamity and presumably great suffering. Yogananda himself predicted as much. One easily imagines that this is what it will take for humanity to change our entrenched attitudes and habits. But this particular story also has yet to play out. 

As with all the great world saviors, Yogananda is alive and well on planet earth but perhaps more so for he came especially for us and in our times. He no longer requires a human form to guide anyone who seeks his help. You need not be or consider yourself to be his disciple because his love and wisdom are available to all just as it was when he walked the earth and thousands flocked to hear his words and be in his aura.

Jai guru! 

Swami Hrimananda


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Jesus the Yogi Christ : Why Celebrate the Birth of Jesus?

Christmas is for Everyone

Perhaps You-Too have discovered You-Tube? There you can learn that Jesus didn't really die on the cross but escaped to either India (Kashmir to be exact) or, to the south of France (with Mary Magdeline, of course). You might be surprised to know that an exact reckoning determined that Jesus was born on March 2, 4 B.C. (They forgot to calculate the time?) Like the Never Ending Story of science (which blows our minds every few years or decades), who knows: maybe they are right!

But what novelists, speculators, con men, scoffers or archaeologists will never change is the fact that Jesus Christ changed world history. His message and example conquered the Roman Empire (which crucified him), and in the process changed western history (and by extension, world history). More importantly, given that such “conquest” proved a mix bag to say the least, he “conquered” the hearts of countless souls down through the centuries. Witnesses to his life and thousands of others who only heard about him have given their lives willingly and joyfully to bear witness to their faith.  

Never mind that atrocities have been committed in his name or that countless followers are glued to their unyielding and untested beliefs, for ignorance and ego can be found everywhere, and not just in religion and spirituality. Never mind the “miracles” described in the life of Jesus, though, are not the discoveries of modern science every bit a miraculous to us even today? Just because we use technology doesn’t mean we have a clue about how it works! Imagine a time traveller from, say, just two hundred years ago coming to Seattle. Has not science so opened our imaginations that we can imagine “raising” the dead? Why just consider the testimony of near-death experiencers!

Truth is more vital than facts. Truth changes lives. Facts soon get lost. Eyewitness accounts demonstrate the unreliability of our five senses, our perception, and our memory! In contrast to mere facts, what about the miracle of forgiveness? The miracle of returning love for hatred? I think of Gandhi or Martin Luther King. What about helping a neighbor in need?

The spirit of Christmas is the simple, but life-changing, recognition of our shared humanity. That tiny babe in a manger so long ago is but a symbol, for what new-born is unlovable? No matter what your beliefs about that tiny babe, the reminder and the affirmation that love can be (re)born even in spite of those who would seek to destroy it, is a truth that we resonate with on a deeper level than ego. That both common “shepherds” (i.e. ordinary people) and “kings from afar” would both come to a humble manger to bow down to this truth is a symbol more powerful than any platitude eloquently expressed.

Who among us would fail to welcome society’s celebration and a reminder of our shared humanity? Especially now in these times where “getting mine first” is elevated to a philosophy, a veritable religion. Yes, like all things, Christmas can be materialistically milked for money or mere feasting.  But this “greatest story ever told” (why the greatest? Because it’s your story and mine, too), is a truth worthy of celebrating.

How should we celebrate Christmas? With gift giving, Christmas decorations, and feasting? All of those have their place for many. Who doesn’t enjoy an exuberant show of beautiful Christmas lights? By the way, did you know that the very first time a nativity scene (a live one, by the way) was created was by St. Francis in Italy in 1223?

All outward celebrations aside, followers of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now famous book, “Autobiography of a Yogi participate in a tradition that he began which is to set aside a day of meditation on the “formless Christ”. By “formless Christ” he meant the universal divine consciousness, intelligent and wise, that resides in every person and, indeed, in every atom of creation. This divine Self, he taught, is the invisible intelligence and the pure and noble impulses that have their source in the Creator and Sustainer of all life. Yogananda taught that the “second coming of Christ” is an event that takes place in the human heart after first having been awakened by the “Christ” in human form (i.e., the guru) which can be designated as his “first” coming.

“Jesus” was the man’s name but “Christ” was the title bestowed upon him. “Christ” signifies that he had achieved realization of his innate divine nature. While we all possess this innate divine nature, few have sought it, and fewer have yet to “become One with the Father.” Whether this takes one lifetime or a thousand, it is for this purpose we were created. It is our destiny to achieve this oneness, but it is only by the free choice of our hearts that we begin the journey “home” to claim our royal birthright just as in the beautiful story of the Prodigal Son. (You might find it interesting to know that the title of “Christ” is etymologically connected with the word “Krishna” and carries the same significance.)

Let us, then, honor the tiny babe in a manger whose shining face is our face when we love all without condition. Let the purity of a newborn’s trust and openness be nurtured in our hearts during this holy season and in every day of our life. Love is the redeeming power of the universe and it never fails to resurface no matter how dark the days may get. 


Happy Christmas to all!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Are All Religions Equal?

As if religious divisiveness were not already rife with strife, do we dare ask if all religions are equal in their spiritual stature or degree of elevation (or revelation)? And, who are we to even ask such a question?

Paramhansa Yogananda was asked this question and said simply, “No, not all religions descend from the same heights of divine vision.” (I am paraphrasing.) He would sometimes tell the story of how one religion of recent vintage, and now exceedingly popular with millions of followers, was created by its founder with the ruse of burying writings underground, waiting a few years, and then miraculously finding them.
I was once received a letter from a friend who chided me for an article I wrote around Easter time comparing the sacrifice of Jesus in his crucifixion with the concept in the Bhagavad Gita (and the Vedas) of yagya (and also tapasya): self-sacrifice. The writer wanted to know why I didn’t include examples from the teachings of the Koran.
Part of my reply to the writer included a question asked of Paramhansa Yogananda: “Why do you (Paramhansa Yogananda) emphasize the teachings of Jesus Christ and those of Krishna (rather than including other teachings)?” Yogananda’s curt reply was: “It was Babaji’s wish that I do so.” In other words, he essentially refused to elaborate.
That there is a special connection between Paramhansa Yogananda and Jesus Christ is amply demonstrated in his own story, "Autobiography of a Yogi.” But no explanation of it is given.
Let us turn now to metaphysics and to the core teachings of Sanaatan Dharma. (Sanaatan Dharma is the indigenous name for Hinduism. The term means, simply, the "Eternal Religion." Its existence pre-dates much of what is recognizable to us as Hinduism. Its origins go far back in time to the Vedas and other writings which followed the Vedas in time.)
There is the core teaching that we, “man,” are made in the image of God. We find this stated plainly in the Old Testament, for example. We are thus, as many religions and saints aver, “God’s children.” We are taught, east and west, that “God” (whoever or whatever “God” is) made the universe. But in most traditions we are not given to understand exactly how God made “something from nothing.” We are told, only, that He did so.
In the traditions of India, however, it is taught that God made the universe by becoming the universe. Put more starkly, there is NO other core or fundamental reality than God alone! God is all there is![1] The teachings further aver the core concept of the Christian trinity: God is beyond and untouched by His creation, while at the same time IS his creation, and at the same time God, as God, resides silently in the still heart of every atom of creation! Father, Mother, son!
By extension, therefore, if indeed logic can be expected to kick in here, at this point, WE are aspects of God. Could then the purpose of our creation and existence be to re-discover, to re-inherit our Oneness with the only Reality there is? To unite, in other words, what only appears to be our separate consciousness with the Infinite Consciousness?
Well, surprise, surprise: this is precisely the teaching of Sanaatan Dharma!
Thus, now let us return to our challenge question: are all religions equal (spiritually speaking)? The core teachings averred above might then be the yardstick by which this question can be answered.
I do not wish to represent the teachings of the basic main faiths but I will dip my toe into the waters. First let me add something VERY VERY important: we must distinguish between orthodox theology and the lives and teachings of the most spiritually advanced saints. For it has been said and makes sense that in every religion, time and place, there have been those individual souls who have achieved the realization described by Sanaatan Dharma. This must be so if Sanaatan Dharma be true.
Putting aside then that the true “custodians” of religion (the saints, whose testimony would surely be, upon close inspection, unanimous), we now might have our yardstick hovering over our inquiry.
Christianity and Islam speak of heaven as a place where our separateness resides eternally: strumming harps, being catered to by virgins, or praising God or whatever. Buddhism and Judaism seem unsure of the whole after-death thing. Buddhism inclines to saying “nothing” and Judaism argues about it. None of these however speak of union (or Oneness) with God. Judaism has the great mantra “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE!” So far as I understand it, however, the One isn’t really one; it’s two: the Lord and me. They don’t take the mantra all the way to the goal line, in other words.
I readily admit my tongue is in my cheek and my analysis in the above paragraph is about as superficial as one could concoct but most orthodox religionists are pretty superficial when it comes to their own beliefs, aren’t they? In one religion, they don’t drink; in another, don’t smoke or dance; in another, don’t eat meat and blah blah blah! Imagine they even kill each other over these things!
It gets worse because if God is the sole Reality behind all appearances and if the goal of the soul’s existence to achieve reunion with the Oversoul, this surely must mean there exists at least one soul who has achieved this!!!!! Sanaatan Dharma says many souls have achieved this. Christianity, at least, says there’s just one: Jesus Christ.
Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam are all very conflicted about the spiritual stature of their respective founders or prophets, some of whom seem all too human (like the Roman, Greek, Hindu or other gods). The teaching of the true guru, or savior, is a teaching that essentially says that the triune God incarnates in human form even as God already IS all forms. (How else would the stated goal of creation be demonstrated?)
Even if Christianity and some Hindu believers say that God himself has incarnated, the more subtle and nuanced approach as clarified by Paramhansa Yogananda (and others) explains that Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and other true saviors are just like you and me but have in a prior lifetime achieved Oneness with God. They are sent back to human incarnation to help others. They are not divine puppets. Like each of us, they too have unique qualities and aspects. They, too, teach in the context of the times and culture in which they find themselves.
Though Christianity comes very close, only Sanaatan Dharma expresses this teaching clearly and universally (even if devout and orthodox Hindus limit this teaching to specific “avatars” as divine incarnations). When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say I am?” he asked the deepest and most important question any human can ask of himself.
It is intellectually more satisfying to say Jesus or Buddha (etc.) are EITHER God or merely HUMAN! It takes a subtler consciousness (of BOTH-AND) to see that both natures dwell in us (and in all creation) and that uniting the two is our goal and ultimate destiny (even if it take millions of lifetimes owing to other choices we make).
None of this makes one religion, as such, better than another. As the saying goes, “There’s something for everyone.” We must each walk our path on our own and, by extension, honor the right and the need for others to do so. Each faith offers and emphasizes certain qualities such as compassion, self-discipline, love, joy, or wisdom. Each faith has nurtured and infused entire nations and cultures with its particular qualities.
Joy to you!
Swami Hrimananda







[1] The nature of evil and suffering is a ubiquitous and necessary question. Essential though it is, it goes beyond the scope of this article. Maybe another time, eh?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Does Meditation Have a Dark Side?

Everything has a dark side. But this is because people are not perfect. Whether politics, business, religion or family, our ideals and goals are wonderful but the people striving for them are flawed. As the practice of meditation continues to grow exponentially, this aspect will become increasingly visible.

There's an internet article on aspects of the downsides or shortcomings of meditation. If you are interested (and I didn't find it very illuminating) here it is: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/28278-the-mcmindfulness-craze-the-shadow-side-of-the-mindfulness-revolution

In fact, it's a bit like whining! None of us who teach meditation should ever hold out meditation as the singular cure for our personal shortcomings and psychological cracks. Nonetheless, meditation CAN change your life and I maintain it is (as my previous blog article asserts) the FUTURE, holding out great promise for humanity. Historically, in fact, so has religion functioned, however flawed, to uplift society and rescue many from utter darkness. So, let's not whine about the reality of the human experience.

But, then, since "you" brought the subject up, let's focus on it.

I've been on a campaign for many years to get meditators to be mindful of the purpose of their meditation practice-----and not mistake the practice for the goal. Meditation is not merely the temporary cessation of ego-active mental and emotional meanderings and self-identities. The fact that becoming still and mindful brings relief to stress and other self-involved emotions doesn't guarantee anything more profound than the effects of sleep: a temporary cessation or suspension of our problems!

Well, perhaps I exaggerate. Yes, the daily practice of mindfulness gives us a tool to become more conscious and aware of our mental processes and unexamined habits. It certainly helps give us greater range of choices in behavior and attitude: all towards the more positive. But, as the practice grows in popularity, you can be sure that most will eagerly accept that diluted promises of "only 15 or 20 minutes" a day benefits! Or, the promise that it's not "religious" (meaning, don't worry, there's no god whose going to tell you what to do or to whom you are accountable!). In other words: no threat to the ego.

Well, Bud, I've got news for you! Meditation is a greater threat to the ego than suicide! Yes, ok, I again exaggerate. (In the metaphysical tradition of reincarnation, the ego never dies until it voluntarily surrenders! No "outside" force or God will "kill" or "destroy" the ego!)

But as meditation grows in popularity, its true intention and tradition will become known. The clinical practice of meditation is largely taken from and influenced by Buddhist traditions. I respect and love these traditions as truth and compassion but the real reason our culture is attracted to them (according to our spin upon them) is that they "appear" not to ask the ego to surrender its control. Ha, ha, ha! Wrong, again!

Long before our beloved Buddha appeared in India, yogis were meditating and seeking Self-realization. The Indian tradition is less appealing to our western ego-affirming culture because in India there is a confusing plethora of deities and ego-surrendering vocabulary and imagery. Buddha simplified all of that in favor of focusing on what our job is, without regard to more subtle realities that we had not yet encountered nor yet are our responsibility. Yet, the Buddha himself, at the last moment of his enlightenment was beset by alluring demons of temptation. His role in spiritual tradition was to emphasize self-effort: chop wood, carry water. Forget the rest. A wonderful, practical and life-saving tradition, to be sure!

For the millions and some day billions who meditate for health and sanity, none of these issues need surface. Meditation will be a part of physical and mental hygiene and that's enough. But because of this far more limited use of meditation, many of our other human shortcomings will only be addressed superficially or even inadequately.

But even clinical mindfulness is not, technically, suppression. Hence its value in achieving greater self-awareness. And hence the invaluable contribution to the evolution of human consciousness on a mass scale.

But so long as the true and highest purpose of meditation is ignored or suppressed or denied, no single human will make notable or permanent progress toward full integration of their humanity into action. 15 to 20 minutes a day is child's play. Yet, transcendence (enlightenment) cannot be cheaply bought by the clock. Too many of those who are sincerely seeking enlightenment imagine the mere act of sitting for a longer time will do it. Not that simple, Bud!

If you want to ignore the time-honored and otherwise undeniable tradition of surrender to divine consciousness, well, fine! Good for you! Keep "coming back" for more, lifetime after lifetime. Your choice! The pathway to enlightenment is too narrow for both ego and soul to walk. Moses, and those born in "captivity," could not enter the Promised Land because (in the allegory of the story), ego consciousness is, by definition, held captive by delusion (of separateness). It must surrender by self-offering. When it does so, it discovers, like the after-death experience itself, that not only has it not died but it has never lived so fully before! The great irony and paradox of enlightenment.

Like Abraham being asked to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, his faith and humanity was challenged but when he passed the test, he was rewarded. When life challenges us, we think we are "going to die (fail)" but when we rise to occasion with faith and energy, we find that we can be victorious and strengthened by the experience.

In the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata, the warrior Bhishma represents ego. As such, Bhishma is gifted with the boon that he can never die until he surrenders. On his deathbed, his body riddled with arrows, he gives a great speech on leadership and governance before he surrenders his life.

The real "dark side" of meditation lies not in the seeming failure meditation supposedly has in solving a person's psychological hang ups. The real dark side is that the path to enlightenment requires engaging and strengthening the ego (via will power, self-discipline, non-attachment, etc.). At various points in the process of purification, the ego can rise like a "demon" and tempt one to use one's newly found psychic abilities for ego gratification. Worldly fame, power, beauty, wealth and influence have their natural enemies in the form of time and competition (which we call "karma" and "duality"). But spiritual power has no equal for it is our true Self and is the only real "wealth," because "god-like."

When, therefore, the ego is tempted to keep spiritual power for itself, it can and will inevitably "fall." Hence the long history in drama, mythology and in real life where spiritually advancing person (teacher, etc.) is tested and sometimes falls. (I will add, in place of "sometimes," "always." Enlightenment is not, nor cannot be, a straight line. Space-time is curved!) The inner path of meditation has for its most obvious flaws arrogance, indifference, and aloofness. These the true devotee combats by developing the natural love of heart: through devotion, compassion, and servicefulness.

Thus, until meditation becomes prayer; becomes self-offering; becomes uplifted by devotion, courage and faith into a greater Power (named, unnamed, defined, or undefined according to your own lights), we cannot truly make notable progress in achieving our true humanity, which is, in its essence, divine.

In my last blog post, "Meditation: A Revolution Rising," I commented that ours is an age of Individuality. The dark side of that is, obviously, egotism! The antidote of that isn't only unselfishness or humility, as the ego itself might imagine (though both are fine, so far as they can take us), it is the recognition of a higher Power! To quote Paramhansa Yogananda, "How can there be humility when there's no ego." True "humility" is self (ego) - forgetfulness. So long as there is a sense of personal doership, even in virtue, we are bound by the constraints of our hypnosis of ego-identity and existential separateness. Perhaps in a future article I will discuss the "Confrontation with God."

Any unwillingness to be open to and to, later, acknowledge the natural limitations of ego-born self-effort, is doomed to failure. Thus we find in the 12 Step Recovery tradition the acknowledgement of a Higher Power and the need for us to turn and look up (unto the hills) for divine assistance.

Lastly, just as we scan the universe perceiving hundreds of billions of galaxies, so too, perhaps, we might have the openness to imagine that our personal evolution towards true greatness might take, shall we say, more than one lifetime! We are greater in size, time and space than we can possibly imagine when we limit ourselves only to view one another as human bodies and egos, defined and constrained by gender, age, health, talents, and culture.

I know this "thesis" transcends the appropriate limits of clinical research and vocabulary, and ego-protective consciousness, but this is "the truth that shall make us free." And this is the truth that meditators will, eventually, see (or come to learn about). So, stop whining and keep meditating.

Blessings,

Swami Hrimananda!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Happy Birthday Gurudeva, Paramhansa Yogananda!

Today, Monday, is January 5, the day, in 1893, Mukunda Lal Ghosh (later Swami Yogananda and in 1936 given the title "Paramhansa" by his guru) was born in India. His birth is celebrated throughout the world by his followers and by many others for whom he has been an inspiration. Having left this earth in 1952, Yogananda is now best known for his life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." It remains, even today, a strong selling book title throughout the world and has become a literary and spiritual classic. In fact, many, myself included, revere that book as a scripture for a new age! It is well worth the read, by anyone.

There have been and are still many true and wise spiritual teachers in the world. It is folly to try to compare them for the purposes of deciding who's the best, or, the most enlightened! Popularity is hardly a safe measure: the crowd in Jerusalem called out for Jesus to be crucified, remember? Most true saints have some following but always, during their lifetimes, it is only a relatively small number. Rock stars and football heroes have far more fans, these days! While in many ways regrettable, one can understand why the Catholic Church thinks it best to make sure their saints are safely buried before making any pronouncements about their sanctity!!! (LOL)

Well, Yogananda is indeed safely buried! Yes, there are stories of many miracles, small and large: even raising the dead.....twice! But, miracles can't really be proven, only averred or testified to. Our souls find their way to God-realized saints in a way at least similar to why and how two people fall in love. By this I mean: "Gee, who knows?" No one can answer such questions, no more than anyone can prove to the satisfaction of reason and the senses that God exists.

Is it, then, a matter of taste? Preference? For those who come and go, it would seem so. I say that because I've seen many "devotees come, and devotees go" (words taken from a chant by Yogananda: "I Will Be Thine Always"). (Ditto for human love, yes?) But there are those true relationships, even in human love, that endure the tests of time and trials. And those are soul relationships.

Some saints serve only a few souls. Others, world teachers, perhaps, have many: even millions. Jesus Christ's mere 33 years on this planet in an obscure and confounding tiny, dusty 'burb of the Roman Empire, changed the course of history. Ditto: Buddha.

I am a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda by the operation of karma, first and foremost. Once my past karma kicked me from behind to remember, I embraced my discipleship. Since then a Divine Helmsman has taken over. At each step if I say "Yes," a gentle but discernible force shows me the "next step."

I am inspired by the universality of Yogananda's spiritual teachings; by the breadth of his wisdom; the intimacy of his love for people; by the power of kriya yoga and the raja yoga techniques that he clarified, taught and brought out of the dustbin of India's ancient yogic traditions. Yogananda set into motion a clarion call for the establishment and development of small, intentional communities. It's as if he foresaw the depersonalizing impact of globalization, Wall Street, terrorism, and "politics-as-usual."

He evidently saw the need for a new and sustainable lifestyle that fostered individual initiative and creativity; and, cooperation with others. To that end he founded small businesses and small farms, and a school for children. He emphasized natural living, including living in nature, away from cities, and vegetarianism for those who could adapt to it.

These things don't necessarily distinguish him from other spiritual leaders but they are aspects of his outer persona. They are things you can point to and emulate and learn and grow from doing them.

His devotional nature can be seen in his poems, songs, chants, writings and talks. He expresses a traditional, indeed orthodox (though nonsectarian) view of God. Some modern, forward-thinking and educated people are not ready for the "God" part, nor yet for a devotional "bhav." In this he didn't compromise but yet only showed his devotional side under circumstances and with those that were open to it.

When one reads his autobiography, one sees in his story and also in that of his guru (Swami Sri Yukteswar) and his param-guru (Lahiri Mahasaya) a distinct form of natural, even egalitarian, behavior apropos to our age. Both of these great saints, and therefore Yogananda himself, de-emphasized their own personal roles and spiritual attainment. The trappings of guru-dom are noticeably marginalized in the lives of these three Self-realized souls.

Thus another characteristic, and one also easily seen in the life of Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Yogananda), is a naturalness of being that finds ready acceptance in innumerable circumstances and with a wide range of people. Lack of spiritual pretense, in other words, characterizes Yogananda, his teachers, and the work of Ananda. This, too, I find attractive.

In this new age, the universal trajectory of consciousness is upon the individual. Hierarchy, tribe, race, religion, obedience, dogmas, blind worship: these are losing their appeal as forms of primary self-identity. Instead, there is an increasing emphasis on personal choice and freedom, on conscience, cooperation and creativity. For true devotees, however, devotion -- guided by wisdom -- is the natural outcome of a higher consciousness that sees the vastness of God beyond the littleness of time, space and individuality. Thus, the primary emphasis both overall and in spirituality in this age is upon self-effort. (Grace, the corollary of self-effort isn't ignored. Instead, it is seen as that result of self-effort. In the prior age, spiritual consciousness was seen to be primarily the product of grace, not self-effort.)

Lastly, and as extension of de-emphasizing personal virtue or his own spiritual stature (which, for Yogananda, as an avatar, is beyond normal comprehension), one finds that Yogananda's life resembles, at least in some measure, our own. Born to a middle-class family, Yogananda's father was a corporate executive, and his mother was creatively and actively engaged in her community, with her extended family and in the education and training of her children. She was known for her charitable giving.

Yogananda, in his youth, excelled in sports and traveled extensively by train throughout India. He completed his B.A. degree. In America he was a popular and charismatic lecturer and met and befriended famous and talented people wherever he went. He was active in social issues, spoke against racism of all kinds, he was involved with the founding of the United Nations, and instrumental in immigration reform. He lived in Los Angeles, a hotbed of fashion, entertainment, and forward thinking spirituality, where he had many friends and students. He visited and lectured in every major city in America and was a tourist at Yellowstone National Park, Alaska and many other famous sites. Yogananda traveled throughout Europe and Asia. All of these are aspects of modern life even today. (He evidently never flew commercially but certainly would have if he had lived longer!)

Nonetheless, these outward aspects cannot fully explain the real person, nor my own, or anyone's attraction to his teachings, his persona, and to his ever-living presence. A spiritual "giant" emanates a powerful, spiritual vibration that acts as a magnet upon souls seeking divine attunement. Like bees finding flowers, the soul-to-soul call draws us to God-consciousness in human form.

I will only mention in passing his great contributions to religious dogma and theology. An explanation of seven revolutionary teachings of Yogananda was recently written by Nayaswami Jyotish Novak, Ananda's spiritual director (worldwide). It can be found at http://www.jyotishanddevi.org/. Yogananda reconciled non-dual philosophy with dualism; the divine nature of Jesus with our own human nature; Jesus' status as "Son of God" with that of other great world teachers; the seeming disintegration of society with the apparent advances in knowledge; a personal perception of God with God's infinite nature; metaphysical with medical healing; renunciation with life in the world; biological evolution with spiritual evolution, ah, just to name, "like," a few!

Happy birthday, Gurudeva!







Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Does Satan Exist? Do Demons Exist?

Having just returned from a visit to the shrines of St. Francis and other saints in Italy, I am “inspired” to ask this question: Do demons exist?

From what I understand, a great questioning took place during the 20th century among Protestant theologians, ministers and members regarding the core beliefs of the Christian faith. Without wishing to explore the history of Protestantism, let us simply say that the rationally-minded skepticism of the 20th century found expression among religionists to the point of questioning all of the miracles of the Bible, both New and Old Testament. The existence of Satan, likewise, was among the debates. So pervasive was the skepticism among ministers that the self-described “modern mystic, Frank Laubach, conducted a campaign among ministers to remind them to even mention God in their sermons!

Catholics were not permitted most of these questions but even amongst them, in the form of what I believe is called, “scholasticism,” questions were raised. In the life of the famous stigmatist, Padre Pio from southern Italy, for example, Vatican hierarchy sought to question, ostracize and distance themselves from what some felt were medieval and superstitious beliefs in miracles such as the stigmata, the devil, bi-location, psychic powers, levitation and so forth. Catholic hierarchy was sensitive, reactive, or influenced by the thinking and the accusations of Protestants, what to mention science-inspired rationalism, and therefore were eager to hush up claims of miracles so that Catholicism could be seen as a rational and appropriate in the 20th century world of politics and “‘isms.”

Paramhansa Yogananda, a world teacher from India, lived in this same 20th century. In his teachings he stated that the saints are true custodians of truth, not the bishops or theologians, or worse. The great saints of east and west down through the ages (including the twentieth century) testify to the existence of evil as a conscious Force that can sometimes take on human or individual appearance.

I contend that whether evil is personified as outside oneself or “merely” a projection of the subconscious mind, the difference is not as significant as one might imagine, at least not to the person “imagining” it! I say this early on so that we don’t get into a sparring contest over “how many angels fit on the end of a needle.”

Human incarnations of evil can perhaps be recognized in the form of great evil-doers such as Stalin, Hitler or serial killers who inflict suffering intentionally and repeatedly, even wantonly. Metaphysically or ethically, at least, are these people not, in effect, human incarnations of the overarching consciousness of evil? The other side of this coin might be viewed in the long-standing religious teaching that the greatest of saints and saviors are considered direct incarnations of God! On a lesser note, we sometimes refer to special people as “angels in disguise!” On a deep level, humans sometimes reveal that we do understand that each of us is an incarnation of a greater spirit than what our physical form, our habits and personality might suggest.

Turning now to mental illness, such as schizophrenia, multiple personalities, and other forms of extreme mental illness, (adolescence count in this?), it seems just as plausible to at least consider these illnesses to be the result of possession by disincarnate entities as it is to puzzle it out medically, behaviorally or environmentally, doesn’t it? Even if mental illness can be traced to aberrations in the brain, are these aberrations the cause, or the result? It’s not as if modern medicine has been all that successful in finding wonder drugs for mental illness! Maybe something else is going on?

I just read, moments ago, that Pope Francis sent an encouraging message to a convention of exorcists, thanking them for their important work and acknowledging that their case loads are growing rapidly in today’s stressed and extreme world!

How about drunkenness or drug addiction? At least in more extreme cases, doesn’t it seem as though the person is not himself, to put it mildly? Unrecognizable, in fact? Yogananda taught (and I don’t imagine only he did so) that in bars and other places (proverbial “opium dens”), “ghosts” hover to find bodies to inhabit in order to have a taste of sensory experiences. Yogananda was not alone in warning people from trance channeling or, worse yet, parlor seance "games." I personally know of a case in which a person went too far into using a pendulum to help him become a medium. In time he lost his job, his marriage, his health and his mind -- to whom?

James van Praagh, “ghostbuster” and author of “Ghosts Among Us,” seems to be a credible witness to the presence of disincarnate entities who, for various reasons, refuse to leave us and move on to the “other side” in order to continue their journey. He has found ways to help them detach. His description of such entities, their motives and behavior match, in most respects, that of Yogananda's experience.

We can speculate at length but we might also at least consider the testimony of Jesus Christ, Buddha, Yogananda, St. Anthony of the Desert, Padre Pio, many others, and even Martin Luther (who threw an ink pot at the devil — the spot is still on the wall in his room): Satan DOES exist and can take a human form. The essence of evil is not a person with cloven hoofs, a red suit, and a pointy tail, however, but a Conscious Force that has the power to take any form or no form.

Such witnesses of evil incarnate or disincarnate are people who, themselves, demonstrated power over material objects; psychic power (seeing at a distance; knowing the future; bi-location; levitation, even, in some cases, raising the dead) and more. What do we think of that supposedly scientific attitude of inquiry that dismisses such testimony on the basis of an a priori assumption that the evidence must be false simply because they can’t replicate it?

For all the impotence of modern medicine to treat extreme mental illness with drugs, why not consider what indeed might be an obvious, if alternative, explanation? If so, and applying appropriate techniques of exorcism (not just rituals) but the power of an intuitive person, to work with the “victim,” might not equal or better results be found?

It is my understanding, derived from the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, and from things I have heard my spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda, say (or write) that the reason most of us have no commerce with demons is that we are not worth their time! We have our own demons of desire, anger, revenge, lust, jealousy and so on —already within us, so to speak. Indeed, the teaching as I understand it is this: when our spiritual consciousness is so advanced that we come close to achieving Self-realization, the delusive force of “maya” takes note and takes human form in a last ditch effort to dissuade us from dissolving forever our identification with our body, our ego, and the world of matter over which maya rules. Thus Jesus was tempted with having dominion over the world, and power over the angels (disincarnate entities, however benign), and power of matter (stones into break).

The reason most humans do not encounter demons of anger, lust, revenge (etc.) attempting to dance upon our soul’s grave is that we simply don’t have sufficient mental energy and psychic sight to call such to appear before us. We are neither terribly bad nor exceedingly good to matter much. We don’t warrant a visitation! We are not yet royalty, you might say. 

Our physical brain is the accepted seat of intelligence. In raja yoga, we practice techniques of breath and mind control (the two are inextricably linked!) which effectively raise “energy” to the brain (re-directing it, as it were, from the body, the tissues, and the senses). By stilling the natural turbulence of our thoughts and related metabolism, caused by the constant interaction with the world around us and the mind within us through our senses and our ego-directed fears and desires, we can “raise our energy” (and consciousness) from identification with body and ego to a higher and more subtle level of awareness.

Just as a child, becoming an adult, outgrows the interests and preoccupations of childhood, so too the adult — striving for maturity — accepts an ever expanding awareness of the world in which we live. We are concerned about wars and poverty in other parts of the world; we read about Ebola and terrorism as threats to our world. The yogi, by raising his energy within, to the inner world of consciousness (sans tangible objects and personal emotions), becomes increasingly aware of the subtle realities of consciousness and the forms taken by consciousness. This can include not just a subtle awareness of divine realities but also lesser forms, including such beings that are traditionally given names as angels, devas, or demons.

As the soul gradually expunges from its aura behaviors that are sense and ego affirming, subtle forces and beings and states of consciousness become increasingly apparent and real to us. Lest you dismiss such a description as being hallucinatory or self-deluding, I can say with assurance that to achieve such a level is to have the power to accomplish material goals far more effectively than the average person. Psychic power and sight are not debilitating but empowering. The mind rules matter. Intelligence and genius have more power not less.

If I have forever banished from my consciousness inclinations to be competitive, angry, or sensual, I begin to experience states of consciousness as preexisting their manifestation in one form or another. Lust is a universal state of consciousness that beings, including human, experience from time to time. If I have worked to overcome this particular tendency, I may find that in the final stages of my looming victory, lust incarnates in either human or a subtle form as part of my last temptations. The magnetism of my efforts (my karma) might attract to me some final opportunities to either re-affirm it or expunge it forever. The form of temptation might come as a person, or, if by this time, I live almost exclusively in the subtle atmosphere of consciousness, it may take the form of an apparition of one sort or another. Besides, you don’t have to be a saint to become aware of the fact that sexual desire is “all in the mind” anyway! A cow in its pasture happening upon the centerfold page of Playboy Magazine is going to walk right by it towards the greener pasture beyond it.

If good and evil exist in human form, then, according to metaphysical precepts, they preexist in subtler forms. All that exists already exists in latent form or else it could not come into form.

Fortunately for us, we need not fear the appearance of the Great Deceiver any time soon. But, sufficient unto today are the demons of temptation and habit within us. When the time comes when we are soon to merge into pure goodness, we will certainly be tested then, too. At such time, we must not imagine our reason or will is sufficient to outwit the powers of darkness. We must call upon God and guru with faith, even if, temporarily, our inner sight goes dark. It is only a test. It might be the final test! 

Thus while St. Anthony of the desert (in Egypt) was being attacked by demonic forces, he called upon God and Christ to save him. Though they failed to appear at his call, the evil One was nonetheless vanquished by his faith. Anthony, when Jesus finally appeared to him, asked Jesus “Where were you when I needed you?” Jesus replied, “Anthony, I was always with you!” 

Faith, you see, is the ultimate test. Before our moment of final victory, it is our faith that must, at last, be tested. All else is taken from us, even the consolation of God’s presence that has otherwise grown steadily in our soul’s evolution. This final test is the true "dark night of the soul." We must give up everything, even what might seem our very existence and consciousness, even (seemingly) what we have come to rely upon as God's protection in that final test. Our choice to enter into God's bliss must be an act of complete self-offering: given freely and dynamically. Jacob's being tested by God to sacrifice his own son is a metaphor for this final act of faith.

Like St. Anthony, we will discover that we have never been separate from God, for God is all there is. “God alone,” as Sister Gyanamata (advanced disciple of Yogananda) put it.

So, yes, demons do exist; angels do exist; saints exist; God exists! We have nothing to fear but let us be, as Jesus counseled, “Wise as serpents but harmless as doves.”


Blessings of Light,

Swami Hrimananda

Monday, October 20, 2014

In the Footsteps of St. Francis - A Perspective

A group of Ananda members from Seattle, WA have just returned from a two-week visit to Italy. We saw the sights of Rome and the treasures of Florence, but these were but introductions to the deep spirituality which is their true source and the greatest treasure of Italy and of humankind: "the Word made flesh and dwelt amongst us."

So much has been said about the impact of St. Francis on religion and culture that I feel in awe of even attempting to share any insights. As a fact of history, St. Francis mobilized and inspired thousands of people in the direction of a profound and deep spirituality (many becoming saints like himself). His use of the vernacular, the language of the Italy of his time, and his love and embrace of nature, is said (by those more knowledgeable than me) to have sown the seeds for the Italian renaissance. Over a thousand years after the life of Jesus, he was the first to recreate and reenact, for devotional purposes, the birth of Jesus. In one simple event in a small village, he single-handedly birthed one of the most profound and inspired traditions of Christendom: the Nativity!

While ancient Rome was, itself, a colossus of genius, brute force, and sheer energy, it is not really the cultural treasure of Italy today. After all, most of it is in ruins. Nonetheless, I came to feel that for Italians, and Romans especially, they are understandably proud of their ancestral tradition and history of the glory of ancient Rome. Surely this memory has inspired some of Rome's offspring to heights of glory and genius. (Yes, Mussolini attempted to imitate it, too, for sure!). I can't say that the "glory of Rome" resonates deeply with me but any objective measure of it at its height is impressive by any standard.

Thus it is that I believes the echoes of that former greatness continued to emanate from its center in Rome far into the medieval and renaissance periods. What happened, historically, was that the fading glory and strength of the Roman empire was given over by Emperor Constantine to the fledgling Christian religion. The Church thus inherited the erstwhile power and glory of Rome, even if much reduced, indeed, on the brink of collapse, but Christianity re-enabled that power into a new form and for a new era of history.

The brilliance of the classical periods of Greece and Rome is found in its foundations in logic, reason, and appreciation and devotion to the human experience and psyche, both body and mind. While far from religiously spiritual, the classical times had a strength and beauty of its own. Indeed, so much so, that by the height of the Italian renaissance and against the pressures of the Protestant revolt, the Catholic Church itself was accused of paganism because it supported great works of art that depicted characters and gods and goddesses from the classical period and, shockingly, featured the human body in all its (unclothed) glory.

(An aside: To those of us who view human history in the light of the theory of the "Yugas" as revealed and re-interpreted by Swami Sri Yukteswar in his abstruse tome, "The Holy Science," we see that during the classical periods of Greece and Rome the power of the pantheon of the gods had become mostly an empty ritual. Belief in gods was on the decline as human consciousness was steadily losing its power of subtle perceptions beyond physical form. The old time religions devolved into superstitions and myths, the power now faded into empty, even debased, rituals and time-worn customs.

To replace the gods, humanity, or those few with integrity and insight, only had human life as a measure of our potential. What arose is what we might call today "secular humanism." This included the Stoics and the emphasis on ethics and morals based on human reason. The decline of human awareness, according to the yuga theory, reached its nadir around 500 A.D. -- about the time of the last Roman emperor. The libraries of learning and knowledge from past ages were purposely destroyed out of fear, ignorance and disdain for their seeming uselessness. Then began the slow ascent, first through the Dark Ages, then medieval times onto the Renaissance, the Protestant revolt, the age of exploration and so on. The cycle reached its parallel, though ascending rather than descending, with the Greek and Roman secular humanism during the so-called "Enlightenment," the Age of Reason which occurred roughly around the time of the American and French revolutions. In the ascending cycle, such a stage in the growing awareness of human consciousness would be a natural result of the Renaissance and the age of exploration during which human thought and the natural world became legitimate and inspired objects of man's growing self-interest. Medieval mysticism and heaven and hell began to lose their lustre in part as deep thinkers, and later, whole generations, lost faith in the practicality of their reality, such a loss being catalyzed in part due to the excesses of church institutionalism. For a marvelous and eye-opening explanation of the yugas, visit: http://www.crystalclarity.com/product.php?code=BTY)

Returning now to our subject, it occurs to me that the Roman genius and energy was reborn by divine decree (blessings, in other words) in the flowering of Christianity which replaced the Roman empire. Unfortunately, it would long be tainted, as if even by physical association, by the Roman legacy of seeking power by conquest, beauty in grandiose architecture, ego affirmation and sensuality.

The transformation of the Roman legacy into essentially a religious and spiritual one was something I felt as I walked the streets of Rome. My sense was for a new-found appreciation of the spiritual influence of so many saints (and martyrs) through whose sacrifice and consciousness the failed Roman empire was transformed into the spiritual heart of Christendom and which effectively moved its center of gravity from Jerusalem to Rome. The presence of saints Peter and Paul, alone, would have endowed the ancient city with the blessing of being an "eternal city."

As Buddha was a Hindu, Jesus was a Jew. As Buddhism left India and went east, Christianity left Palestine and went west. Such was the divine will. Rome became the center of Christian energy and remains so today. As we are witnessing a mini-renaissance in the Catholic Church under Pope Francis, purposely taking the name of St. Francis ("rebuild my Church"), so we can see at work the continuation of the promise of Jesus that to Peter he gave the keys to the kingdom on which to build his church which will stand to the end of time. (How well it has carried out its commission is, of course, debatable, but the Catholic Church is still here and is in fact experiencing yet another renaissance of sorts. That Paramhansa Yogananda gave a more metaphysical and more personal interpretation of Jesus' words doesn't necessarily negate a more outward interpretation if not taken too literally.)

Padma (my wife) pointed out that Yogananda taught that Jesus appeared to the prophet Babaji and asked Babaji to send someone from India to the west to resurrect the personal practice of inner communion using the art and science of eastern meditation. To St. Francis, then, Jesus appeared with a similar message, "Rebuild my church" by the personal "Imitation of Christ." In one conversation, one of the pilgrims wondered if, in fact, St. Francis was himself a reincarnation of Jesus. Francis had twelve disciples; he was the first to receive the stigmata (wounds of Christ); he imitated the life of Jesus literally; raised the dead. Well, anyone, idle speculation, to be sure.

Thus it was that on this journey, I found it "easy," perhaps obvious, to ascribe the genius of the Italian Renaissance (in art, sculpture and architecture) to the spiritual power and transformation of consciousness that St. Francis initialized. Further, it seems to me that Francis' appearance on the scene was a continuation of an essential vibration of greatness that stretches back, albeit taking a very different form, to Roman times. Francis' greatness was entirely spiritual but its ramifications created echoes, like waves, emanating outward from the initial shock of omnipresence, resulted in, literally, a renaissance of human consciousness. Each aspect of this being understood in the larger context of the devolution and subsequent evolution (upward) in human consciousness.

It was appropriate, therefore, that our little pilgrimage begin with a tour of the cultural treasures of Rome and Florence. On those treasures, I have little to say or to add, as art, for art's sake, is not an area of great personal interest. That I was as floored, awed, and inspired as just about anyone (ought to be) by these great works, I attest and confess, but beyond the general shock into speechlessness that many experience, I have nothing to add!

So, now we will go onto Assisi in the next article..............in the footsteps of St. Francis.......taking a far more personal and spiritually oriented tone..............and away from the more grandiloquent tone of this first "perspective."

Blessings,

Swami Hrimananda




Saturday, June 7, 2014

"What do you mean by "yoga"?

In the past two articles I made the case that the practice of (true) yoga is the future of spirituality, whether in the context of established faiths or no faith. Obviously I am referring to something beyond the practice of the physical stretches and poses (the physical branch of yoga, known as hatha yoga). Just as obviously, by "future" I don't mean next year but perhaps the next century!

While I attempted to explain this prediction, I did NOT really describe "What is this yoga I speak of and how is it practiced?" I only really went so far as to explain that the term yoga is a reference to a state of consciousness that, for a shortcut, one could call God but which, in fact, is called by many names but, allowing that poor 'ol "God" carries a lot of baggage (owing principally to some stone tablets, I'm told...there's no "d" at the end of stone, btw), let's use the term Oneness.

Further, I explained that the term "yoga" (which means "yoke" or "bind") refers both to certain psycho-physiological disciplines that lead to Oneness as well as to Oneness itself.  This interesting fact warrants explanation but I refuse to give it, as I know you, the reader, are so perspicacious as to have already drawn the correct conclusion.

Unfortunately, that left a lot of readers hanging very high and very dry: both "shaken" and "stirred." Some of you muttered, "What's that got to do about 'What's for dinner?'" Or, "Why is Putin causing so much trouble in Ukraine?" In short, my prior article begs the question, "Is there a takeaway here?"

Yes, there is! For starters, let's start with where "we" are: the worldwide popularity of the yoga postures! Hatha yoga demonstrates a very practical takeaway, even if hatha yoga is only a toe in the yoga-water. Add to this the exponentially growing practice of meditation, and you've dipped an entire foot in.

[Now: I want to pause here and make my language simpler. Despite the fact that it must be obvious that I am on a campaign to educate the world that "yoga" is more than hatha yoga, I will henceforth drop using the term "yoga" to refer to true yoga. Instead, I will use the term "meditation" even though as my prior article pointed out, the term "meditation" is unsatisfactory.]

I stated before that one of the attributes of meditation that makes it a good candidate for universal adaptation by religionists and "spiritual but not religionist" is that meditation is "scientific." Meditation techniques are simple, demonstrable, and specific. Virtually anyone can receive instruction in its simple breathing or concentration techniques. Anyone who practices the techniques (as taught to them) will achieve similar and consistent results. No faith or belief system is required to get consistent results. Just search on the internet for "benefits of meditation" or "benefits of yoga."

While the same could be said of fitness routines or time-tested diets, meditation works directly with and upon our mind. By "mind" I include emotions, feelings, thoughts, insights, and levels of consciousness (ranging from dreamy subconsciousness to clear-minded everyday consciousnesss to elevated states of heighted awareness and intense feelings of joy, or peace). Meditation can produce experiences that are readily and commonly compared with, and considered to be, states of spiritual consciousness. And, it requires no drug use. Because it can produce feelings associated with spirituality and because it doesn't require or derive from any specific faith or ritual, it is ideal as a universal spiritual practice that can be integrated into any faith or no faith.

The primary tool of meditation is self-awareness. But traditional meditation practices often include some physical component to relax and energize the body. Like most faiths in general, there are guidelines regarding fasting and diet. It is much easier to meditate when the body is fit and healthy and the brain well oxygenated and the blood stream decarbonized. Indeed, hatha yoga is an excellent preparation for meditation. It can assist the body in sitting for long periods of time without discomfort.

But this primary tool of consciousness is linked to the physical body via the breath. Breath is more than oxygen and carbon dioxide; the one flowing into the body, the other out of the body. Breath includes the circulation of oxygen and of intelligent vitality the subtler aspect of which is termed "prana" (or "chi"). The awakening of one's awareness and control of this "life force" (prana) is one of the cornerstones of meditation.

Breath is life. A person is alive (usually!) when breathing and not alive when not breathing. Our breath links our mind (consisting of feeling, perception and self-awareness) to our body and this mind-breath-body conversation operates in both directions. It is easily demonstrated that quieting and calming the breath quiets and clears the mind. But the reverse is true, also: a quiet mind reflects in a calm breath. When we are excited or upset, our breathing is out of control, uneven, ragged. If in extreme fear, our "heart" leaps into our throat! (A figure of speech, merely.)

Paramhansa Yogananda in his now famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," quotes his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar describing the highly advanced technique of kriya yoga as: “Kriya Yoga is an instrument through which human evolution can be quickened. The ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness is intimately linked with breath mastery. This is India’s unique and deathless contribution to the world’s treasury of knowledge. The life force, which is ordinarily absorbed in maintaining the heart-pump, must be freed for higher activities by a method of calming and stilling the ceaseless demands of the breath.”

At an earlier point in his story, he wrote: "Like any other science, yoga is applicable to people of every clime and time. Yoga is a method for restraining the natural turbulence of thoughts, which otherwise impartially prevent all men, of all lands, from glimpsing their true nature of Spirit. So long as man possesses a mind with its restless thoughts, so long will there be a universal need for yoga or control."

Meditation shows that a very effective way to calm one's restless thoughts (spurred on by our emotions) is to work with the breath in very specific ways. Thus, the real secret of yoga is to bring the breath under control using time-tested, simple, and scientific breathing methods. As the breath becomes calm, then the emotions and consequent restless thoughts begin to subside.

Once the mind is reasonably stable, it is often the next step to focus the mind on a single object, usually internal to the mind itself. Chanting a mantra, or a syllable, or an affirmation can be very effective for focusing the mind and awakening inspiration (usually done mentally, silently). Visualizing a deity, the eyes of one's guru, or an image from nature, or an abstract quality or state such as peace or love.........all of these mental images can calm the mind and in turn calm the breath. Where one goes, the other follows! They are two sides of the same coin. Visualizing the moonlight, a vast ocean, rushing water, a majestic mountain, the rising sun......all of these images drawn from nature convey higher states of awareness such as peace, power, adaptability, wisdom, strength and so on. In deeper states of meditation and using special mudras or other techniques, one can attune oneself and meditate upon certain subtle, astral sounds universally recognized in all traditions and symbolized by the sounds and images of a bell, a reed or plucked instrument, sounds of water or wind, a motor, or a bee and so on.

In some traditions one is simply given a mantra, nothing else. In others (my own, e.g.), we combine a mantra with watching the breath (two for the price of one!) The combinations are endless.

Imagine standing in a field at the base of a tall mountain, like Mt. Everest or Mt. Rainier or Mt. McKinley. It's a long way up but many people have done it: one step at a time. The peak is that state of Oneness where our ego-separateness is expanded (or dissolved, if you prefer) into Infinity! Just as one takes one step at a time to ascend the mountain, so one takes one breath at time to transcend the bondage of heart/breath that ties our awareness to the body and its five sense telephones, ringing incessantly! As we are given life when we take our first breath and as we leave this body with our last, so it is that while the breath ties us to the body it is also the only way out! What at first is an elemental obstacle soon becomes with the science of breath and mind, the way of transcendence! As I have heard it said: "The only way out, is in!"

As the breath is calmed, thoughts subside; as thoughts subside, our awareness expands (or shrinks away from the body). We do something similar every night when we sleep. We "dump" the consciousness of our physical body and personality into the peaceful realm of deep, dreamless sleep. But sleep only refreshes us; it doesn't change our consciousness. For that we must expand our consciousness, raise the level of our awareness past the formidable and thick barrier of skin, bones, organs and ego-self-involvement and everything represented by them.

Advanced meditation techniques, like kriya yoga, might start with the physical breath but then leave the physical breath behind in favor of working with the astral breath (a term that describes the life force, subtle energy, prana or chi). As the physical breath subsides, this subtle energy is withdrawn from the senses and the periphery of the body and organs and is directed by advanced techniques to return to its main spinal channel through specific psychic plexuses (doors) located along the spine called "chakras." From there, life force is coaxed or magnetized up the subtle spine to re-unite with cosmic energy at the point between the eyebrows. It is here that enlightenment occurs. But to go further in this aspect of meditation is to go beyond the scope of this article.

The fact that the techniques of meditation bring enhanced health and well-being even to the veriest beginner attest to the substantial and elemental nature of the techniques and their goal. It feels like home; like Om; like the real "me."

But meditation is more than hygiene for the mind, kind of like brushing your teeth everyday. Instead, it becomes a way of life, a life of living yoga. Why seek inner peace through daily meditation if during the day (when you are not meditating), you are angry, irritable and selfish? Makes no sense! Hence, meditation as a way of life is supported by a lifestyle that includes a simple diet, pure thoughts, calm emotions and harmonious actions. As we become transformed by meditation, we become less and less self-referencing and more and more Self-realized. We become more joyful, happy, content, compassionate, wise, and on and on!

There's another aspect to meditation. This aspect is more personal. It is also easily misunderstood and is most certainly rejected by the ego. (Yogananda described meditation, in general, thusly: The soul loves to meditate but the ego hates to meditate.) And yet for all its subtlety it is also essential, even if the form it takes is unique to each person. It's called devotion and it's the fuel that powers the engine of meditational motivation. If the fuel is diluted by a weak will or unclear intention, the engine runs rough and has no pulling power up the mountains of life's challenges and temptations. If the fuel is high octane it drives us quickly up the Mt. Carmel of the soul's aspiration toward liberation in God!

In its traditional and outward forms throughout the world and throughout history, you will see devotion expressed in poetry, dance, prayers, hymns, chanting, rituals and sometimes extravagant displays of self-offering and even, seemingly, self-abasement. Ok, so, I've let it all out. These outer forms are NOT the essence of devotion; they are but its husk. Sometimes a husk is dry and empty, other times it is like the discarded first stage of a rocket.

Devotion is related, in some ways, to the disciple-guru relationship. We see Buddha, the founder of Buddhism; or Jesus, the founder of Christianity. We see the great disciples of these world teachers as great devotees, whether they lived with their "christ" or whether they lived a thousand years afterward (like St. Francis).

I say devotion and discipleship are related and I mean this in many different ways, but for now I mean it in the sense that both are personal and neither can really be faked (except to outer appearances, that is). For God watches the heart.

What we have here is the intuitive recognition by the ego that it must die or at least surrender to the higher power of grace, of God, or of God in the form of the savior/guru (who leads us to God and who is God incarnate for this purpose).

Admittedly, most meditators, most spiritual aspirants, most orthodox religionists are considered candidates for heavenly reward if they just try to be good; go to church on Sunday; take the sacraments, punch their meditational time card, and so on. But devotion and discipleship are the inner "meat" of what meditating for long hours every day symbolizes for the average meditator who struggles to do so for even just a few minutes each day. But we don't gain much by measuring ourselves by the yardstick of giants. We might only get discouraged (much to the delight of the ego). Yet, if we don't have the courage to see where the path leads we are far less likely to get there anytime soon (in relation to repeated rounds of rebirth, that is).

Real devotion is what you see in the lives of great saints, like Milarepa, Tibet's greatest yogi. Fortunately for us, we are encouraged to start where the sign says, "You are HERE!" Krishna promises us in the Bhagavad Gita that "even a little bit of this practice (of meditation), will save us from dire fears..."

However hot or tepid may be your inspiration and devotion, you can be sure that without at least some of it, regardless of what form of expression it may take, one cannot make real progress on any spiritual path. Dedication to truth, my teacher, Swami Kriyananda once said, is a form of devotion. Dedication to your daily meditation practice, too, is a kind of devotion. Don't fret about it. Your inspiration to meditate is already a kind of devotion. Let it guide you but be open to what the real winners (the saints) have modeled for us.

Indeed, as stated in the beginning, yoga presents such a high goal that it, too, suffers from the same tendencies of being dumbed down to feed the ego just as much as other high ideals or other forms of religion and spirituality. Someone told me, for example, that there exist yoga classes called "naked" yoga classes (I guess you practice sans clothes for some reason not difficult to imagine.) All aspects of spirituality can be polluted by ego consciousness.

The essential appeal and beauty of true yoga is that it really is for everyone. You can start with the motivation to improve your health, both physical and mental. As you "awaken" to the "joy within you," you may "fall in love with your (higher) Self!" You begin to identify and realize that happiness is within you; it is a conscious choice! This is increasingly freeing. Bit by bit your are bitten by the cosmic snake of divine joy lifted up the brass staff of the straight spine (a reference to Moses in the Old Testament) and cured of the satanic bite of delusion.

Just as life begins with the first breath, you can say that yoga begins with the first conscious breath! Start with "watching your breath". There is a pleasure, a little bubble of happiness that comes when we come self-aware. Follow that thread, like Theseus in the labyrinth, to inner freedom!

Joy to you,

Hriman