Showing posts with label Jesus Christ. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jesus Christ. Show all posts

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Who Do Men Say I AM?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Joy to you, 

Swami Hrimananda

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

Wednesday, 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

Thursday, May 18, 2023

On the Road to Damascus: Swami Kriyananda: Yogananda's St. Paul?

Swami Kriyananda (www.swamikriyananda.org) lived with and was personally trained and commissioned by Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now classic story: "Autobiography of a Yogi"). 

While Swami Kriyananda ("Swamiji") never made any claims as to his own spiritual stature or progress, saying only that his goal was to be a good disciple, there's no question objectively speaking that among direct disciples (those who knew and were trained by Yogananda, their guru), Swamiji has done the most publicly to share his guru's teachings. I recount his one hundred fifty books and hundreds (thousands?) of lectures, videos, and interviews given around the world in a lifetime of travel but no matter. The record stands on its own. No other direct disciple, regardless of spiritual stature, has done more. This isn't the proud boast it might seem. I mention it for the purpose of making the points I share below. 

During his life, others commented that Swamiji seemed to be Yogananda's "St. Paul." This means that Swamiji was the one to put Yogananda on the world map, so to speak. Swamiji wasn't particularly fond of this comparison but I think he had to admit it made a point. 

But my point is different from the validity of the comparison. It's close enough to count for my purposes. And what, then, is that purpose? 

Each of us must have our blinding moment of faith, "coming to Jesus" as some Christians might say. St. Paul's moment is famous: on the road to Damascus to persecute more Christians a blinding light struck Paul down from his horse. He remained blind for days until a (nervous) Christian (Barnabas?) came to Paul to heal Paul's blindness and to instruct him in the teachings of Jesus. Paul's was a conversion perhaps like no other.

You and I don't usually have such a dramatic wake-up call. To complete my analogy let me say that I think Swami Kriyananda's moment of faith took a very different form. In 1962 he was summarily dismissed from the board of directors of Yogananda's organization, Self-Realization Fellowship and ordered to leave the monastic order. While this is hardly a blinding vision with the voice of Yogananda, it certainly threw him off the horse of his service to Yogananda's organization. By throwing him out, Swamiji had to learn to stand on his own two feet. It was the beginning of "the great work" that Yogananda privately told him that he, Swamiji, had to do in this lifetime. Had he remained in SRF, little, if anything, of what Swamiji was to accomplish during the rest of his long and fruitful life would have been allowed.

The effect, then, was no different than Paul's blinding light. It changed his life of discipleship in a big and public way.

But what about you and me? I write this in anticipation of sharing some remarks in celebration of Swamiji's birth in 1926 (1926-2013). When Swamiji objected to a comment Yogananda made regarding Swamiji's service to God, Yogananda replied curtly, "Living for God is martyrdom." Didn't Jesus Christ promise such persecution to his devotees?

Indeed, Swami Kriyananda would later endure even greater humiliation in later years in a long and sordid lawsuit behind which SRF was a hidden player. He did so with calm equanimity, refusing to hold back any facts that were demanded of him, and refusing to hate or condemn his detractors. This was, in effect, his version of crucifixion and he accepted it with calmness and faith. Subsequent to those years of trial, Swamiji emerged resurrected in bliss and fired with just as much creative zeal for his guru's work until his very last days. Like St. Paul, Swamiji endured his share of hardships and trials in his ministry.

But, again, what about you and me? Do we, instead, seek merely to have our "cake and eat it too?" Does the balanced life of meditation and service promise a life free from spiritual tests and hardships? Throughout the history of religion, it has been oft-promised that a virtuous life will result in a prosperous and successful life. The so-called Protestant Ethic is one example of this teaching which always exists in some form or another in all religions. This is so because it has some truth to it. But good karma is still just karma. Like a bank account, you can't take it with you because good karma will eventually be eroded by the natural flow of opposites in the world of duality.

Thus it must then be acknowledged and stated that each of us will have our St. Paul or Swami Kriyananda moments. These moments test our mettle; our faith; our trust in God. I've seen that in the latter stages of life, unfulfilled desires and unresolved issues, have a way of returning like "chickens to roost" before death's final exam. 

These might not count in the same way as St. Paul's epiphany or Swami Kriyananda's ouster, but one way or another, if we are sincere in our spiritual aspirations, karma, or if you prefer, Divine Mother, will give us an opportunity to work things out. While in the big picture of cosmic consciousness, the reality is BOTH-AND, in the small picture of our karmic unfoldment, it tends to be EITHER-OR. We have temptations and tests and are faced with making spiritually important decisions. 

In my personal life, I did not have an early-life encounter with falling off a horse, so to speak. My path unfolded naturally, and, indeed, even comfortably in a smooth arc of progressing from one stage to the next. Instead, I find, however, that now I must confront the price of this spiritually comfortable life. Perhaps I just needed a lifetime to prepare for this; maybe I had the good karma of a steady trajectory towards God. But now I feel acutely the need to prepare for my own final exam and I am intent upon doing so. 

My point is this: we each have our moments of truth when the soul confronts the ego with a  choice. You could say that happens every day because, of course, it does. But I'm speaking of those special moments on the road to Damascus--when you think you are just plodding along heedless of what is about to take place, spiritually. 

As in the story of the foolish virgins in the New Testament or Yogananda's story of a similar nature in his autobiography, or Jesus asking the disciples to remain awake while he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, the spiritual life is one that requires us to be "awake and ready." 

Daily meditation, periodic retreats and seclusion, quality time with a spiritual friend, and the company of high-minded souls will draw the grace of God and guru so that bit by bit we can welcome our tests with faith and gratitude. Our tests, to us, are as big as the big tests of St. Paul and Swami Kriyananda. No one will likely read about our tests in the future but to us they are "sufficient unto the day." Swami Kriyananda showed us the courage of living for God and accepting what comes of its own (as Yogananda put it) with faith, equanimity and, yes, even gratitude (for the opportunity to move towards soul freedom).

Happy 97th birthday, Swamiji!

Swami Hrimananda.....

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Heaven, Hell or No-thing?

What is our soul's destiny? What is the goal of the spiritual life? 

Is it to find happiness?

Is it to be good, and not bad or selfish?

Is it to earn the reward of an eternal after-death paradise?

Is it to avoid eternal punishment?

Is it to love God (whom you probably haven’t ever met)?

Is it to be virtuous in order to be prosperous?

Is it because you will feel better rather than worse?

 

 A Christian who accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and is baptized in the church can go to heaven if their sins are not overly egregious. After death, the Christian might suffer in Purgatory in order to purify the soul of the burden of their venial sins before at last entering through the pearly gate where St. Peter welcomes them into heaven (assuming their name appears in the good book). In heaven, some say they sing praises to the Lord, perhaps strumming a harp. Maybe they visit with family and friends. No one is really sure but forever is a very long time. Maybe there’s no sense of time in heaven? The explanation isn’t very complete. I suppose a good Moslem has a similar experience though I’ve heard that his rewards are more heavenly sensual in nature. But for all that, the idea is similar. There’s even the idea that at some future Day of Judgement one’s former physical body is resurrected and returned to your soul. I suppose for many people these rewards are enough for them to try to be good, but not too good.

Judaism is less interested, I’m told, in dogma and more interested in behavior (a very practical, and as it turns out, modern concept). But there is some talk of an afterlife. Details are sketchy, however.

Buddhism started as a sect of Hinduism much as the first Christians were Jews. As the centuries went along and as Buddhism more or less vanished from India much as Christianity left Palestine for Europe, it has taken on, in some of its sects or branches, a more nihilistic tone—even for some to claim they are atheists, though Buddha never said that. Buddhism is not straight-forward on the question of heaven because reincarnation remained in the canon from its original Hindu roots. In general, the idea seems to be that nirvana is achieved when the self is dissolved but as there is no concept of soul and only emptiness, Sunyata, beyond form, there is, appropriately, not much to say about it (ha, ha). No wonder they are more inclined to think about improving their next life. Who would wish to become nothing? It seems a bit like committing spiritual hari kari. No wonder the Bodhisattvas choose to return to help others! While this assessment is not entirely fair and in principle is not unlike the concept of dissolving the ego, Buddhism does not admit of God and does not discuss the transcendent state of freedom from samsara (the cycle of birth, life, death and reincarnation).

Hinduism affirms reincarnation and the states between reincarnation, the afterlife, as various forms of heaven and hell, though such states are temporary rather than everlasting. The end game of this otherwise endless cycle of birth, life, death, afterlife, rebirth moves toward enlightenment and then culminates in soul liberation. Enlightenment is the kind of awakening to the soul-Self (Atman) that, when it reaches its full realization, frees one from the delusion of separateness but not necessarily from the karma of past actions and identifications. Freeing one's soul identification from the past then becomes the next goal of the otherwise free soul called a jivan mukta. Once all past karma is dissolved by releasing one’s memory and identification with past actions, then one merges into God and achieves the final state of samadhi (there are different levels of samadhi). This merging into and union with God is often described with the metaphor of a drop of water, or a river, dissolving into the ocean. The drop of water or the water of the river still exist but have been merged into the ocean. Nonetheless, Hinduism is so old and there are so many branches of it and teachers in Hinduism that there’s no point even attempting to state what “Hinduism” teaches no matter how insistently any one branch or teacher proclaims their definition of liberation, known as moksha.

Paramhansa Yogananda (1893-1952), author of the now classic story, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” offered a nuanced description of moksha: the soul’s liberation in God. Freedom from all karma, he taught, allows the Atman, the soul, to achieve identification with what it has always been: the Infinite Spirit. Yet, from the dawn of time, so to speak, each Atman, each soul, carries a unique stamp of individuality. As all created things, mental, emotional or physical, are manifestations of the One, nothing is ever apart from Spirit no matter how dark it becomes. A rock is as much God as a saint, but the rock is simply unaware of “who am I” while the perfect being (saint) is “One with the Father” even if embodied in form.

The Self-realized saint then enjoys a two-fold beatitude: the bliss of God while in incarnate and in activity and yet with access to the vibrationless Bliss of God beyond creation.

There are many stages described in the Hindu scriptures of the soul’s long journey through time and space and its concomitant levels of awakening. But in this article, we are focusing on the final stage: union with God. God realization is not barred by the fact of being incarnate in form, whether that form be the physical, astral; or causal. While it may be gainsaid that this final step is natural to the causal state of the soul, there are those who maintain that it is the desireless desire of God that the soul achieves its liberation while in the outer form of the creation as a kind of victory dance proving, like the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the supremacy of Spirit over matter.

Once merged into the Infinite, the memory of the soul’s many incarnations remain. While enjoying the bliss of union with God, the Infinite Spirit might send the soul back into the creation to fulfill the divine mission of redeeming other souls. Returning to form, such a soul is called, in India, an avatar: a descent of Spirit into form. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)

It is also possible that the deep devotion of an incarnate devotee might be strong enough to call back into vision or even fleshly form, a liberated soul who is in fact the savior for that soul. St. Francis, for example, walked with Jesus. Paramhansa Yogananda was visited by the flesh and blood form of his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar months of his guru's burial.

In God nothing is lost and all is achieved; all is possible.

Meditate, then, on the indwelling, omnipresent, immanent Spirit in your Self and in every atom of creation. "Hear O Israel, the Lord, the Lord is ONE!" The Infinite Spirit sends into creation in every age a divine "son" to call the children back into the blissful Fold. The "son" says to us "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by following Me." Krishna, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Paramhansa Yogananda and countless other "sons" (and daughters) of God have been sent. Do you hear their voice?

Blessings, friends,

Swami Hrimananda

 

 

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Easter: Our Soul's Victorious Destiny is Assured

 


Mark 14:36

Abba, Father, all things are possible unto Thee: O my Father, if it be possible, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done

In this passage we discover the key to resurrecting our soul: the courage to do the will of God; the wisdom to do what is right. All action is karma (karma means, simply, "action"): but that action which reveals the soul’s power is "yoga" (fulfillment). Thus, wisdom guided action is "karma yoga" (achieving soul-freedom through right action and grace). Everything else is just more karma!

The resurrection of Jesus Christ affirms the power of higher consciousness over lower consciousness; of Spirit over matter; love over hatred. Jesus’ embrace of his dharma—the will of the Father—produced the victory of the resurrection. It is the necessary consequence of Jesus’ embrace of his Destiny—his acceptance of the will of God.

Jesus didn’t hide from the temptation to want to duck the bullet of his crucifixion; he admitted he would have preferred to give it a miss; but he submitted the decision to the One whose love alone counts.

We all have that choice; indeed, sometimes we make the choice to align with what is right. Often that choice is not convenient to our liking. Even to ask inwardly “what is right?” rather than to act impulsively on our desires or fears is a victory. How few do even this much.

In the "feel good" world of new age thinking, it is not uncommon to hear the mantra "If it's meant to be it will happen." Or, "everything's lining up for me" (to do what I want to do). Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the classic life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," wrote a poem dedicated to his guru-preceptor (Swami Sri Yukteswar). In that poem is this sentence: “if all the gods protect me by the parapets of their blessings, but yet I receive not thy benedictions, I am an orphan, left to pine spiritually in thy displeasure.”

Applying that sentence to our own life's desires it suggests that we sometimes think that just because all the planets of fate and circumstance support our desire and because fulfilling it “feels right,” this must surely mean that it is God’s will. But karma is NOT necessarily dharma! When our ego calls the shots, emotion is its sidekick; but when Krishna, our soul, drives the chariot of our life, the white horses of dharma bring us to victory. There is a motto from India that says "Jato dharma, tato jaya" (Where there is dharma, there is victory!)

The truth of the facts of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection are less important to us than the example his heroic choice offers to us. It's generally not the big decisions that move us upward or downward, spiritually. It's the day-to-day, seemingly inconsequential choices, that determine the direction of our path to soul freedom.

The allegory of Adam and Eve exists to shed light on what is the most important choice, and indeed, perhaps the only real choice we are given. We can seek to do what is right and in alignment with God's will (our dharma), or we can decide to do it "our way." All other day-to-day decisions like the Easter bonnet or the designer shirt you are wearing are the consequence of external influences and the complex matrix of past choices made under such influences including that of the demands of ego and body. 

Christianity has focused its devotion and narrative upon the crucifixion rather than the resurrection. That focus is natural to the ego which is more concerned with what it is asked to give up rather than the more important reasons for doing so. The truth-aspiring ego must step-by-step accept God's presence and guidance. In doing so it prepares itself for the final act of self-offering that God will ask of it: its own crucifixion. Like the great and noble Prince and warrior Bhishma in the Indian epic of the Mahabharata, only the ego can consent to die and to surrender to the redeeming power of grace. God does not impose salvation upon us.

The lesson of the resurrection is erroneously seen by some to be a promise of regaining one's human body after death. No! The lesson is the victory of Spirit (and the soul, made in the image of God) over all matter, even death.

As we say each week in the Ananda Festival of Light ceremony: “and whereas in the past suffering was the coin of man’s redemption, for us now the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy. Thus may we understand that pain is the fruit of self-love, whereas joy is the fruit of love for God.” As the medieval saint—St Francis de Sales said: “A sad saint is a sad saint indeed!” This represents a new understanding of how and why to seek God because suffering no longer inspires truth-seeking souls. The joy of seeking God, however, DOES!

The resurrection proclaims to us the inevitability of our soul’s freedom in God. Our choice is whether to accelerate the timing of that victory or to delay it. That is all. There is no time in eternity and we are as old as God. God will wait forever if need be but eventually our soul’s memory of bliss and freedom in God will awaken to the “anguishing monotony of endless rounds of birth, life and death” and will, like the prodigal son of Jesus’ parable, begin the journey back to its home in God.

Happy Easter, friends!

Swami Hrimananda

 

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Why Celebrate Christmas? What is the Avatara?

In the beloved Song of God, the Bhagavad Gita, God promises that "whenever virtue declines and vice predominates, I incarnate on earth. Taking visible form, I combat evil and uphold dharma (virtue)."

The story of the three Wise Men (or Magi) appears only in the gospel of Matthew. Matthew was a tax collector and when Jesus saw him and said to Matthew, "Come, follow me," Matthew immediately left his collection booth to follow Jesus. As a much-hated tax collector, Matthew was obviously unorthodox but he could read, write, and do accounts. Of the four evangelists, Matthew seems to have had a particular interest in showing his Jewish compatriots that Jesus' life was foretold in the scriptures of the Old Testament.

But where would Matthew have learned of this story? If from Jesus, then Jesus would have presumably been told the story by his father or mother. But how would his parents have known the details of the Magi's visit to King Herod in Jerusalem before coming to Bethlehem? How would they have known that the Magi were warned in a dream not to tell King Herod that they had found the Christ-child? Whatever the source, you can be sure that the visit by the Magic must have had a special significance, one presumably to those with Jewish ears to hear. Or, perhaps it is for our ears that Matthew recounted this story?

Matthew, being unorthodox, was not only attracted to the equally unorthodox Jesus but may have also been knowledgeable regarding and curious about other cultures and traditions. The significance of this story is hinted at by Paramhansa Yogananda in the twentieth century when Yogananda declared that the Magi were none other than his own lineage (in past lives): Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Sri Yukteswar. Regardless of the facts, the story points to a significant connection between the Orient and the birth, life and mission of Jesus Christ. The Magi, who themselves are viewed as kings, came a great distance to present precious gifts to yet another king, albeit newborn and lying in a manger. How can this event not be fraught with meaning? The obvious significance is the recognition of Jesus' birth as the birth of a spiritual being. But why from "the East?"

"Whenever virtue declines....I incarnate on earth." Though Christians quite understandably admit of no other divine incarnation than Jesus, that dogma is questionable in the light of our exposure and knowledge of other religions. There's no reason that God should have but one son, is there? Does not the Old Testament make repeated mention of the "sons of God?" Does not the first chapter of John the Evangelist state that "as many as received Him (Christ) to them gave He the power to become the sons of God"? Taking our cue from the quote above from the Bhagavad Gita, is not obvious that down through history there have been times where the need for a savior was great? Consider the brutality of Jesus' times; the flagging power of the classical, so-called "pagan," religions; the inflexibility of caste and the oppression of so many people under Roman occupation.

Is this time in human history not such a moment? Orthodox religions are losing their appeal and at odds with one another; economic, racial, cultural and gender inequalities are rampant; threats of both war and the use of nuclear weapons are on the rise; climate change threatens all species of life on the planet; cooperation among nations is on the wane; and legislatures are polarized. Perhaps the avatara has already happened in the form of Paramhansa Yogananda and the lineage that sent him to the West.

Christmas, however is the celebration of the divine descent, or avatara, of Jesus Christ. Paramhansa Yogananda described the avatara, whether Jesus or others such as Krishna, Buddha, as being souls who, in a past life, achieved their son-ship with the Father and were sent back by God to uplift and redeem souls from the snares of delusion.

We not only celebrate the avatara of Jesus Christ in the Christmas season but we also celebrate the redeemer role of Jesus and other avatars. What is this redeemer role? Did Jesus (and others) come to redeem our sins? Well, yes, in a sense. But not in the passively sentimental sense that is implied by orthodox Christians. Un-redeemed souls do indeed require the spiritual help of a divine being, a savior. In India, this is expressed in the teaching that to achieve enlightenment the soul needs a guru. Though freely offered by the avatar, it is not cheaply won. The pearl of great price takes great spiritual effort. But why can we not redeem ourselves through self-effort alone: through penance, virtue, and devotion?

Christian dogma speaks of original sin, the fall of Adam and Eve, as the reason we need a Christ to reconcile us back to God--to make the perfect sacrifice necessary to atone for our sins. But a yogi would say we are equally burdened by our karma. Either way, we need something more than our own effort because we are imprisoned in a cocoon and blinded by a hypnosis of our separation from God.

An outside spiritual force or magnetism is needed for the soul to break through. The savior, or guru, appears when the disciple is ready (as the saying goes). That readiness is echoed in the parable of the prodigal son, when, in the midst of his self-inflicted deprivation, the son remembers and longs to return to his father's home. It is the first step. The role of the guru is to awaken our soul's memory of its home in God-consciousness--the home from which we were created. But the guru does more than just jog our memory. The guru has the spiritual power to give to those who "receive Him" the ability to be come  sons of God. Nor is such power based upon a ritual, an incantation or priestly position.

Life on earth would be a paradise if everyone followed the Golden Rule to "do unto others we would want others to do to us." But it is not enough. More than mere reason is needed. The very fact of our inability to bootstrap our way to inner communion with God puts us on notice that we need a spiritual power outside of ourselves.

At the Last Supper, Jesus rendered aloud an accounting to God the Father for the souls that were sent to him to be taught and uplifted. Except for Judas Iscariot, they were all accounted for. This reflects the yogic teaching that at the dawn of creation, that Being who will be our soul's redeemer is already known. But it is we who must consciously call upon God to send to us our savior. Isn't that a beautiful teaching?

In celebrating Christmas we celebrate the birth of an avatar, a redeemer of souls, in the human form of the Son of Man whom we call Jesus (the) Christ. 

A blessed and joyful Christmas to all,

Swami Hrimananda