Showing posts with label Yugas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yugas. Show all posts

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Are Yuga Cycles Relevant to Self-Realization?

Part 1 - A New Age?

In the introduction to his 1894 book, "The Holy Science," Swami Sri Yukteswar (of Serampore, Bengal) proposed a shocking correction to the Hindu calendar by declaring that humanity was soon to enter ascending Dwapara Yuga! Most Hindus, including scholars and pundits, aver that the earth and humankind are in the midst of a long decline in morals, virtue and awareness. This decline, they insist, is the lowest cycle of the four and is known as Kali Yuga (the Dark era). I've read that when Sri Yukteswar held a parade in India declaring the beginning of Dwapara Yuga (around 1900 A.D.) he was ridiculed. Some onlookers even threw stones.

As best as I can tell, this dim view of humanity's future is shared by fundamentalists in other religions as well. From their perspective, who can argue with them? Rising nationalism, racism, cynicism and selfishness DO NOT suggest an increase in awareness or compassion!

And yet, by contrast, and in the matter of science and technology, no one could dispute that human knowledge is increasing: indeed, quite rapidly! 

So how can morals decline and yet intelligence rise? Isn't there a contradiction here? Is there any hope of reconciling these two? Yes! I believe it is possible.

Paramhansa Yogananda and one of his most prolific disciples, author, Swami Kriyananda, reconcile this seeming paradox by saying that the decline in moral standards represents a temporary dissolution of fixed values and stereotypes in favor of what will gradually become a greater sense of personal integrity and awareness. Behavior based on rules, taboos, customs and dogma must give way to behavior based on self-integrity. First comes the freedom to break the rules; then gradually comes the personal awareness to re-affirm basic truths and human values for one's own greater good, health and happiness.

An example in point is the story of the abdication of his throne by King Edward VIII of England in 1936. Documentaries I have watched claim that the king was forced out of office by high-ranking government and church officials, and people in London's aristocratic society. The controversy focused on the king's desire to marry Wallace Simpson, an American divorcee. But it went deeper than that because the king, young and popular with the common people, was breaking away from the formality of the royal office and the elitism of high society. His errant ways, viewed as "modern," were deemed a threat to the establishment and to tradition. His sympathy for the plight of commoners constituted an unforgivable offense to the high and mighty.  

Part 2 - Self-realization: A Frontal Assault on Orthodoxy?

But another question remains that I wish to explore is whether Sri Yukteswar's re-calibration of the Yuga Cycles is important to the Self-realization teachings he sent his disciple, Paramhansa Yogananda, to share with the world? Wouldn't it have been safer and easier to set this aside? Why did Yogananda explain this version of India's Yuga Cycles in his own life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi?" I ask "why" because by doing so Yogananda contradicted the religious authorities in India both then and to this very day! Why go "to bat" for something so esoteric and arcane? In most other important respects Yogananda's teachings are in alignment with the ancient and accepted teachings by such illuminatos as the Adi Shankacharya, Sage Byasa (Bhagavad Gita), and Patanjali (Yoga Sutras), to name just a few. So why make the Yuga calendar an exception?

I have puzzled over this for many years. Swami Kriyananda wrote a text that has become a classic in our time: "Art and Science of Raja Yoga." It is a text to share the core philosophy and practices of Raja Yoga as Paramhansa Yogananda taught them. Raja Yoga is an ancient tradition and while Yogananda was not its source, he explained it in terms we in the West could understand: free from orthodoxy, dogma and traditional cultural trappings. The text is both practical and deep in its understanding of the human mind, and illuminates for us the ancient wisdom of Vedanta, Shankya and Yoga (of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali).

So why does Chapter 1 of that book begin with an explanation of Sri Yukteswar's Yuga Cycles treatise? Surely a beginning yoga student in America would find it irrelevant! 

I myself made an interesting discovery that suggests an answer to this question. I have found over the many years of teaching that whenever I attempt to give a broad overview of Self-realization teachings even in America which has no understanding of Yuga cycles, I find myself referring to the assertion that humanity has entered the first stages of the ascending Dwapara (Second) Yuga Cycle. The characteristic features of Dwapara so aptly fit our society's consciousness and so clearly provide an explanation for the changes in consciousness that we see unfolding before us. Sri Yukteswar predicted an increase in individual self-interest and personal self-respect, for example. And, sure enough, what else does America stand for if not personal freedom? Moreover, the voice of freedom rings loud and clear increasingly throughout the world. He said, further, that during Dwapara Yuga (1900 A.D. to 3900 A.D.) humankind would demolish the dimension of space (via travel, communication, etc.)

While this "coincidence" is interesting it doesn't answer the real question: why is his explanation of the Yuga Cycles of any particular importance in understanding Yogananda's teachings of Self-realization?

Here are some of my reflections on the importance of Sri Yukteswar's explanation in the context of teaching Raja Yoga (including Kriya Yoga, the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, and the Bible).

Yogananda's teachings are nothing less than a frontal assault on both Christian and Hindu orthodoxy. If humanity is really and truly in the throes of a four-hundred thousand-year decline in morals and wisdom there would be little point in upturning long-standing religious traditions. I suppose humanity, in this case, might need something simpler and easier to practice and understand (as we become dumber), but Yogananda teaches a very subtle and nuanced blend of yoga practices distilled from the yoga traditions of India. He draws wisdom and practicality from the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras and the Christian Bible. While the blend is recognizable for those who research it, it is also creative and new.

Indeed, Yogananda called his teachings A New Dispensation. In a separate blog posting, I compared this New Dispensation to a New Covenant such as Christians claim Jesus Christ brought (displacing the Mosaic Law). 

Why do I describe his teachings as a "frontal assault"? 

In respect to Christian dogma, Yogananda is claiming that Jesus Christ was not the only world savior in human history. John the Baptist, he claimed, was the guru Elias from a past life and he, Jesus, was Elias' disciple Elisha! He even called his mission in America the "Second Coming." I don't know how these could be more radical! (He stopped short of claiming he, himself, was Jesus Christ having returned, but he came very close to that. His only response to the direct question was "What difference would it make?") He claimed, further, that the three Wise Men who came to honor the birth of Christ were none other than his own guru-lineage (Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Swami Sri Yukteswar).

In respect to Hinduism, Yogananda stripped from its attributes as much, if not more material, as the early Christians did in respect to Judaism. The apostles removed the requirement of circumcision, for example, and repeated Jesus' claim that he was the son of God. Yogananda carried forward none of the rituals and only a very few mantras, from India. He challenged the orthodox Hindu view that such saviors as Krishna or Rama were direct incarnations of Vishnu (God). Rather than their being so-called "Purna" avatars, he said these great souls were souls like you and me who had achieved Self-realization in a prior life. 

So, in both cases, his was a frontal assault. Only the dawn of a New Age of Consciousness could be the external, or objective reason for what Yogananda taught. This is what I have concluded over the years. It may be perfectly fine for disciples of Yogananda to say that what he taught is "good enough for me because he was an avatar." But as the teachings continue to spread, they are helped by having an objective context to frame the necessity and relevance of those teachings.

Part 3 - Will Sri Yukteswar's Yuga Cycle Correction Ever be Accepted by Hindu Orthodoxy?

In the biography of Swami Sri Yukteswar by Swami Satyananda Giri (Yoganiketan press), it is described just how close to acceptance came Sri Yukteswar's astrological and astronomical calculations. The (then) famous astrologer in Puri, Orissa (India) Pandit Chandrakanta Shiromani Mahasaya died just before being able to review Sri Yukteswar's work. A group of the Pandit's students and associates had previously accepted Sri Yukteswar's proposals but said final acceptance would require the Pandit's approval.

As evidence of the onset of a higher age, Swami Sri Yukteswar stated in the introduction to his book, "The Holy Science," that, among other pieces of evidence, the average height of humans would increase; that the average lifespan of humans would increase; that we would discover the existence of finer electricities and the knowledge of atoms and other minute particles; that we would discover that energy is the fundamental essence of matter; and, that a star would be discovered to be our sun's "dual." 

I know of two books on this subject: "Lost Star of Myth and Time," by Walter Cruttenden, and "The Yugas" by David Steinmetz and Joseph Selbie. The former points to Sirius as the sun's dual and the latter speaks of a more complex astronomical explanation. In both cases, the existence of the sun's dual is yet to be found. That remains a missing piece to this question. Yet Sri Yukteswar's calculations can presumably be corroborated by Hindu astronomers and astrologists who perhaps need only the incentive to do so. But the implications to Hindu society and the priestly class are deeply profound and one wonders just how long it will take before a courageous and capable pundit will step up to the task.
 
I am not alone in expressing my appreciation for the clarity of insights that reevaluating human history in the context of the Yuga Cycles has brought to me. In fact, this view turns on its head everything we thought we knew about our human ancestors. The "Yugas" book cited above is well worth the read, just be careful who you share it with, lest they recommend to you a psychiatrist. But truthfully, evidence continues to accumulate worldwide for the proposition, held in former times by every great civilization, that humanity had long ago experienced a Golden Age of wisdom and harmony.

Blessings to you,

Swami Hrimananda


 

Monday, July 18, 2022

Kriya Yoga: the New Covenant; the Second Coming

 [This article was inspired by a talk I gave at a Kriya initiation at the Blue Lotus Temple in Bothell, WA]

 


In anticipation of the consciousness of the third millennia A.D., the rishis of modern India have explained the path to enlightenment in rational, scientific terms. For the lingua franca of our times is, in fact, science. In former times, however, deeper spiritual truths were conveyed in parables, metaphors or allegories and were understood intuitively rather than intellectually.

Long ago in the highest or golden age, highly advanced spiritual beings possessed the intuition, the inner sight, by which they cognized subtle realms, astral beings, higher truths and the Divine presence. Indeed, it is said in the ancient texts that the first humans were so enlightened that after observing the natural wonders of creation they sat in lotus pose and merged back into God. These souls had no interest in playing the game of hide and seek with God. So, God decided to raise the stakes and make the creation more attractive so that these beings would want to stay and play with Him. In the Bible version of this story, Adam and Eve fell to the temptation to be "like” God and enter into the drama of duality, experiencing good and evil and all the opposites which attract or repulse.

Well, it's just a story though it seems that God has played an unfair trick on us. While contemplating the whole sad affair, it occurred to me that maybe there’s another way to explain what happened to us. (No explanation, however, can satisfy our heart's yearnings.) It might be related to the explanation of the cycles of time as revealed by Swami Sri Yukteswar in the introduction to his only book, “The Holy Science.”

In that book, Sri Yukteswar stated that the twelve thousand years ending on or about 500 A.D. constitute a long period of decline from the highest age of virtue and wisdom to the nadir of the larger twenty-four thousand year cycle. Biblical scholars place the Garden of Eden somewhere just after 5,000 B.C. Maybe what really happened was that the gradual loss of God consciousness and the concomitant rise of ego consciousness was the real “fall” described in these stories.

Then somewhere after 2,000 B.C. we find that humanity’s oldest scriptures, the Vedas and the scriptures that followed, came to be written down perhaps because the oral tradition could no longer be relied upon as human understanding and virtue declined.

Nonetheless, what remained would have become dry parchment were it not for the repeated appearance of great souls’ generation after generation all the way to the modern age, including the lineage of the Self-realization masters. Saints are the true custodians of faith and the avatars are the prime movers who offer wisdom in the midst of the ebb and flow of human consciousness.

Whatever the facts that led us here, here we are. Faced with our own modern troubles, let us admit that neither world peace nor a cure for cancer will bestow upon humanity the pearl of great price of true and lasting happiness. As some of the lyrics in Swami Kriyananda’s happy but instructive song, “Secret of Laughter” puts it: "You can win the world but still be poor, win peace and live like a king." No matter how great are the blessings of science, the yogi’s cliché is still true: "The only way out is IN."

God, knowing our present needs, has sent to humanity a great gift in the form of Kriya Yoga. Though an ancient science, it was lost in the dark ages but for us now it has been resurrected by the deathless prophet, Mahavatar Babaji. Kriya is a priceless gem, a chintamani, offered to those who sincerely seek help in their journey towards Self-realization.[1] Kriya is more than a meditation technique that uses the breath; it is more than a series of core techniques; it is a way of life, indeed, a new dispensation bestowing knowledge and grace that can propel us quickly over the ocean of delusion. Kriya is a relationship with God through the agency of the divine gurus. Initiation into kriya establishes and affirms the connection between disciple and guru. The technique acts as an instrument of transmission of the guru’s guidance and grace.

Swamiji states in his booklet, “A New Dispensation,” that Yogananda wrote in his commentaries on the “Bhagavad Gita” that sometimes in history a sea of calm appears in the midst of the storm of maya.[2] Perhaps when a world savior descends like a comet into this world of darkness taking on human form, he does so through a vortex, a wormhole that lingers to and from eternity. Those who are drawn to this eye of calm in the middle of the storm of duality find rapid spiritual progress just as the apostles of Christ were transformed in those three brief years. 

I think of the Day of Pentecost described in the Acts of the Apostles.[3] That day, the Holy Ghost descended upon them in the form of tongues of fire and as a wind. The apostles spoke in diverse languages and some three thousand people were converted to the new covenant in Christ. 

Yogananda said his coming to the West was the “second coming” of Christ. He said that those who were ready to receive him would be baptized by the Holy Spirit through Kriya Yoga. A new covenant, a new dispensation has arrived he said. “The time for knowing God has come!” Yogananda declared.

Just as those apostles blessed by the Holy Spirit were destined to change the course of history, so too is Kriya is destined to uplift humanity in this age of Dwapara Yuga.[4] Kriya opens the door that we may commune with the Holy Spirit as the Aum vibration, and on its wings ascend like a dove into superconsciousness.[5]

So, what, then is this technique, this “kriya?”

In Yogananda’s now famous story, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” he wrote that "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."[6]

As we come into the body with our first breath and leave the body by our last breath, so breath links us with the subtle (astral) world from which we have come and to which we return. We incarnate again and again on the basis of the unfinished business of our likes, dislikes and our past actions. Once incarnate, the world of duality begins with the duality of inhalation and exhalation. Our breath is the foundation and prerequisite for our life in the human body. The cycle of the breath is also the foundation for the reactive, emotional process of like and dislike. Indeed, Patanjali in stanza 2 of the renowned Yoga Sutras defines our soul freedom by the cessation of that process. It is really and truly that simple.

We can't just hold our breath, however! If we tried, we'd pass out and the nervous system would re-start the breathing process. Moreover, the breath is, itself, only the necessary starting point for how we can explore the far subtler causes for our reincarnation: desire! Like those first humans, or like our first foray into creation, we WANT; we LIKE; we DESIRE this and FEAR that!

Made in the image of God, we want to be like God and manifest the great play of creation, experiencing good and evil. But unlike the Spirit beyond by creation and unlike the son of God hiding silently at the heart of every atom of creation, we forget “Who am I?” We become identified with the play like a bad actor who forgets he’s only an actor. You could even say that it is not “I” who reincarnates but it is my desires--likes and dislikes and the unfinished business of past actions--that reincarnate into the great cycle of inhalation and exhalation to find resolution and release. Our thoughts and actions are our offspring and after countless lives we have an entire nation of subjects, indeed slaves, yearning for satisfaction and, knowingly or unknowingly, to be free. 

As Christ the redeemer taught his disciples to commemorate his living presence through the Eucharistic form of communion, so Paramhansa Yogananda (and his lineage which includes Christ) has brought to us inner communion through Kriya Yoga. As Jesus gave the ritual of communion, so Babaji gives us the inner fire rite of kriya.

In his first book, “Science of Religion,” Yogananda explained the science of inner communion. It is based on the cessation of breath and the reactive process through a time-tested and safe method of breath and life control. Yogananda called Kriya “the airplane route” to God because it works on the source of our delusion rather than upon its effects.

As the storm of breath is quieted, we begin to "see." We become "seers." Just as when we see attractive objects of the senses we are drawn outside of ourselves, so too when we begin to “see” the far more attractive world of divine magnetism and the higher realms we are drawn inward. Our life current is drawn away from the body and into the subtle, astral body and then upwards towards the higher realms. It's like a cosmic game of "Musical Chairs." When the music of creation stops, the one without a chair (of attachment) rises. The song of creation is built atop the dance of breath and when breath ceases, creation vanishes and our spirit rises. This, then, is the shortcut to freedom. This is what happens at death and when meditation takes us into breathlessness, it is the little death. It is thus a preparation for the final exam.

It would be a mistake to suppose we reject God’s creation as evil. It is our identification with it that we seek to cauterize. It was God’s original intention that we enjoy the creation with God. How could God, bliss itself, bliss eternal, not wish to share that bliss? But the drama of creation could not sustain itself if there were no drama. There can be no drama without free choice and no free choice without good and evil to choose from. Drama is the métier of the play.

For the purpose of dissolving our identification with the play, Kriya seeks to dissolve our commitment to playing in it. The force and power of that commitment is a force that is called kundalini. Kundalini represents and in fact IS the deeply magnetic commitment we have made to our separateness from God. By dissolving this commitment, we unleash the power to reunite our life force with soul force. Again: we have been given a shortcut. Cauterize the “I” or ego principle and the rest falls away from lack of interest in playing, that is to say, in reacting!

This commitment to our “mortal delusion” anchors our consciousness in the body at the base of the spine. Every positive and kind thought releases some of its power upward toward the brain wherein resides the soul. But kriya practice is far more powerful than random thoughts of kindness and acts of virtue. By daily practice of kriya yoga, we ascend upward through the lights of the tree of life along the spiral staircase of wakefulness. Along this path lie the subtle energy centers of the astral spine known as the chakras. The chakras are both doorways out into the body (and into the world beyond it), and, when the life force is restrained and coaxed inward, they are doorways into the subtle spine where we experience true baptism into eternal life. In Chapter 6, verse 46 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna praises the yogi and yoga-meditation as the greatest and fastest path to Self-realization. 

When by daily kriya practice we begin to neutralize the ceaseless work of the breath, we find that our reactions to the world within and without begin also to become pacified. It's not just in meditation that we become more aware but also in activity. Nor is this process merely the result of self-control. We discover that being calm and centered in the Self is increasingly natural; less and less must we use our will to restrain our impulses. We begin to live in cooperation with grace.

As the inevitable karmic bombs of life explode, we remain centered; we live ever more fully by faith in God. "What comes of itself," Master would say, "let it come." The stale cheese of sense delights yields to the refined cheese of life-sustaining, eternal life (prana). This is what is meant by Jesus and other saviors when it is said that we achieve "eternal life." By living more by life force, living more AS energy centered within, we gradually slough off the snake-like skin of body-attachment. We become an angel of light and energy. Ultimately, we will pass through the portals of life and death with the same awakened consciousness. This is what is meant by the promise of our immortality: unbroken awareness and ever-new joy in that awareness.

In kriya we begin with the physical breath. This is like a door handle to the doors of the inner sanctum. The doors are the chakras and the inner sanctum is the astral spine, called the sushumna. The practice of kriya constitutes the true "fire rite" mentioned in ancient texts such as the Bhagavad Gita. With each "kriya" we offer the "inhalation into the exhalation" as Krishna describes in the Gita until they neutralize each other in the vision of God as prana, life energy.[7]

During the practice of kriya, the movement of life force around the sushumna acts like a magnet rotating around a wire and generates an increasingly powerful electro-magnetic force that loosens and dissolves countless vortices (“vrittis”) of commitment and attachment. But enough of words, “The time for practicing kriya has come.”

Blessings to you!

Swami Hrimananda

PS: See Chapter 26, "Kriya Yoga," of Yogananda's now famous book, "Autobiography of a Yogi." Ananda centers worldwide offer training and preparation for kriya initiation.



[1] Chintamani is a wish-fulfilling jewel in both Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

[2] Maya  refers to the material world of duality, emotions and thoughts which obscure the essential divine nature of all things.

[3] New Testament, “Acts of the Apostles,” Chapter 2

[4] “Dwa” means “second” and “yuga” means “age” or “epoch.” The second age in the ascending arc of 12,000 years began in approximately A.D. 1900 according to Swami Sri Yukteswar in his book “The Holy Science.” See also the profound treatise on the Yuga cycles: “The Yugas,” Joseph Selbie and David Steinmetz, Crystal Clarity Publishers.

[5] “In the beginning was the Word….” John Chapter 1. The “word” is the holy vibration of Spirit called by different names such as “Amen,” “Aum,” and so on.

[6] Chapter 26

[7] Bhagavad Gita, Chapter IV:29

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Breathlessness is Deathlessness!

What does "counter-intuitive" mean? Sitting on an airplane, ready for take-off, how many of us have wondered to ourselves: how can this thing, weighing 300 to 400 tons, possibly fly? And, yet it does: thousands of flights everyday, filled with hundreds of people, fuel, baggage and the airplane itself! But is this truly "counter" to our intuition? Or, is it counter to the experience of the senses?

Intuitively, in our dreams and aspirations, after all, flying is possible for us. Without the aspiration, fed by intuition which is the "knowing" that we can fly, we wouldn't even attempt it. So, instead of being counter-intuitive, it is really counter to our sensory experience! It wasn't until 1978 that two men climbed Mt. Everest without additional oxygen. Their feat may have defied (then) common sense, but it wasn't "counter-intuitive."

In this ascendant age of science and technology we are each day, each month, each year transcending limitations which, heretofore, would have seemed impossible. Some day, Paramhansa Yogananda (author of "Autobiography of a Yogi") predicted, we would figure out how to span the light years that separate us from distant planets and galaxies without paying the limitations imposed upon us currently by time and space.

Consider, too, our experience with illness, old age, death and all manner of suffering, including emotional and mental. When these things strike us, loved ones, or others, we know intuitively that this is NOT who we are; we knowingly separate ourselves from them, even when we accept them, at least calmly, as our present, but not permanent, reality.

It's not that we can't see these things are a fact of life for everyone. But at the same time we "know" that health is who we are and we know what is our true nature: happiness, freedom, goodness......all these are ours on an intuitive level.

Our intuitive knowing is the soul's power to fly and to seek freedom from all limitations. Our creative thoughts write novels, and plays, and make movies of past centuries and cultures; we imagine the life on earth in the future or on other, as yet undiscovered, planets. Every day in so many ways, we affirm our freedom from all limitations even if just in our thoughts, our desires, our fantasies.

In the past, breathing meant you were alive: the first breath of a baby, and the final exhalation of the dying signaled the appearance or disappearance of life. Yet the yogis tell us that "breathlessness is deathlessness." This is counter to our sense impressions; it is repudiated by the subconscious mind, which includes the body's autonomic system, for these are efficiently designed to keep us in the body and breathing. And this is a good thing from a common sense and daily living point of view. But we also posses an innate, intuitive sense of our immortality whenever we contemplate the mystery of death or encounter its stark but physical reality.

For a long time, lack of breathe meant a person was dead. That was disproved with the onset of CPR. In more recent times, it was said that lack of brain activity is certain death. That, too, has been disproved. One example is of a boy who drowned in icy water and had no signs of life for over an hour and a half. By intelligent and sustained efforts of the medical staff, he walked out of the hospital three and half days later.

Death, while at the same time a socially taboo subject in both family and medical circles, is yet a new frontier for science. A well known meditation researcher is investigating a phenomenon known in Tibetan circles as thukdam. A monk, knowing of his coming death, enters a deep state of meditation. All bodily and biological functions cease, yet, his body remains without decay or other signs of death for periods of a week or more. When does death actually occur?

Humanity, having descended to the nadir of what is called "Kali Yuga" (the dark or lowest cycle of human consciousness) around 499 AD and having, from that point, begun slowly our 12,000 year upward journey to greater awareness, has lost many of the treasures of the wisdom of higher ages. Even in the science of yoga, e.g., we've inherited from the relative ignorance of Kali Yuga cycle the association, almost universal around the world in today's cultures, between the term "yoga" and the physical body. Ananda Yoga, taught as a prelude to meditation, is viewed, as if almost unique, and is considered by others as "spiritual yoga." This is ironic because the term "yoga" is refers to the highest state of spiritual consciousness (and to the concomitant techniques to achieve it).

Another example from the science of yoga is the term Prana, or life force. During Kali Yuga this term became associated with the physical breath and with physical breathing exercises. Its original and correct meaning is a reference to the movements of intelligent energy that inhabit the physical body and which comprise the essence of the astral body. Physical breath is but the grossest, most outward evidence of life force in the body. Kriya Yoga, one of the world's most sought after and advanced meditation techniques, emphasizes awareness and control of these subtle currents in and around the astral spine, even if it, too, utilizes the physical breath as a doorway to the subtle, astral breath.

In the declining yugas of the BCE era, as humankind increasingly lost touch with its ability to contact divine realms and consciousness, priests of the cult of Osiris performed a ritual reenactment of the entombment and resurrection of Osiris by going into the Great Pyramid and placing the new pharoah or high priest into a coffin and sealing it with wax for a precise number of minutes. By this ritual, they would attempt to induce a near-death experience for the new pharoah so that he could experience higher realms and claim his kinship with Osiris and his lineage! A crude and dangerous ritual, to be sure, and a desperate attempt to reenact the lost mental and spiritual powers of a higher age and induce an experience of superconsciousness.

Julian Jaynes, author of "Origins of Consciousness" (1976), studied ancient traditions and writings, e.g., the Iliad, and concluded, somewhat crudely, that in former times humanity claimed to have had access to divine consciousness and "heard voices" in our heads that guided our actions. He termed this "bicameral" thinking. Thus it is that ancient scriptures, including the Old Testament, do NOT emphasize the kind of personal, egoic, existential angst and burden of personal decision making that we take for granted today. The author's view of this may not exactly coincide with our own, but it is an interesting observation. Yogananda wrote (in his autobiography) that "thoughts are universally, not individually rooted." A saint is a saint for having attuned his consciousness to divine consciousness. As the Old Testament put it, "My thoughts are not your thoughts." But a saint speaks and acts with divine attunement. The Bhagavad Gita teaches us that we who think we are the Doer (and the Thinker) are deluded for all creation is a manifestation of God, whether wisely or ignorantly.

Medical scientists are studying how to induce a kind of hibernation level so as to slow bleeding in trauma victims, to give time for heart surgery patients to regain normal function, and to resuscitate people who might even have been without a heartbeat for several hours.

Life without oxygen is possible! The wealth of testimony from the studies of near-death experiences (NDEs) shows a consistent pattern of experiences about a state of awareness never before thought possible. One study showed that a group of NDE'ers had very accurate and precise descriptions of the procedures performed on their otherwise "dead" bodies (while being resuscitated) compared with a survey of a group of medically savvy people who were nowhere near as accurate or successful when asked what procedures would likely be performed under such circumstances.

Returning now to the subject of breathlessness, quoting Chapter 26 (Kriya Yoga) of Paramhansa Yogananda's now classic story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," he wrote:

Kriya Yoga is an instrument through which human evolution can be quickened,” Sri Yukteswar explained to his students. “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.”



In Chapter 12 of his autobiography, his guru gives to him an experience of cosmic consciousness. Entering this state, he describes it thusly: "My body became immovably rooted; breath was drawn out of my lungs as if by some huge magnet. Soul and mind instantly lost their physical bondage, and streamed out like a fluid piercing light from my every pore. The flesh was as though dead, yet in my intense awareness I knew that never before had I been fully alive. My sense of identity was no longer narrowly confined to a body, but embraced the circumambient atoms."

Rather than the materialistic view that matter has produced consciousness, the ancient teachings of a much higher age aver that consciousness has produced matter. God has become the universe by vibrating His consciousness to create an illusion of separateness. 

Scientists debate whether the mind has an independent existence apart from the brain, More and more evidence is piling up to suggest that it is so. But the mind, then, would need a source of energy. The yogis say that this is source is the source of all things, all life and is called, in Sanskrit, prana, or Life Force. This intelligent and divine life source is both macro and micro: it is the essence of all creation and the manifestation of our individualized consciousness. 

Yogic techniques are emerging than can show us how to safely and naturally transcend the slavery of our mind to the body. Yogananda taught a mindfulness technique (watching the breath), taken from ancient times, using the mantra "Hong Sau." He called this the highest technique of concentration.

The breath is the single most obvious barrier to concentration: when we need to focus on something, we automatically quiet the breath, or even hold it temporarily. At the same time by focusing one-pointedly upon the breath, it begins to calm down and, with proper training in the technique itself, we can relatively easily experience moments of cessation of breath. It is therefore the natural focus of our meditative attention.

The respiration rates of humans and of various animals shows that the faster the rate, the shorter the life expectancy. Scientific studies are all ready showing that meditation can slow, and even reverse, the effects of aging. Though it may seem counter to our natural, biological instincts, breathing less gives us more life; more awareness; greater health; and sustainable joy. 

Certain techniques (kapalbhati pranayam, double breath exhalation, and others) can produce momentary experiences of breathlessness: not unlike the training of astronauts in weightlessness when they are taken up in an airplane as high as they can go and then begin a rapid descent during which weightlessness occurs for a brief time.

Centering one's inner, visual focus through the forehead (the point between the eyebrows....the "kutastha") can also instantly bring breath and heart to a near standstill. This, combined with other advanced meditation techniques, is powerfully effective. No such techniques should be attempted on one's own, however. Not because they are dangerous so much, as why waste time doing something worth doing but doing it ineffectively?

As explained in Chapter 26 of the "Autobiography of a Yogi," Kriya Yoga introduces an "extra atom" of oxygen to bring the metabolism into stasis and reduce the need to breathe and thus gradually become acclimatized, like those who climb Mt. Everest without oxygen, to the rarefied "atmosphere" of breathlessness.

As we approach "absolute zero" of stillness of breath, the sense of separate identity, aka the ego, begins to dissolve. Not surprisingly, the ego is sustained by the autonomic system and sometimes balks at the possibility of its own dissolution in breathlessness. A meditator might experience momentary fear, or with the very thought "I'm not breathing," the heart and lungs kick back in. 

Gradually, over time and with practice, we overcome this hesitation. The key to this is NOT however the psycho-physiological description I've offered above. Higher consciousness is not, or should not be, a "circus." These realms are for those who sincerely, and with deep devotion and self-offering of the ego at the feet of the Infinite Spirit, seek the "truth that shall make us free" (of all limitations of ego and body). This is not for the faint of heart or for those whose wounded egos require extensive surgery: we cannot offer back to God that which, we, ourselves, do not yet possess. To become Self-possessed we must first become self-possessed!

Our hearts must be cleansed and purified by right action and right understanding. Breathlessness is, itself, only a doorway to the Divine Presence. In fact, without proper training and guidance, breathlessness can descend into lower forms of subconsciousness, including trance states, which offer to us no pathway to enlightenment whatsoever. One can, I am told, press on certain nerves and induce trance-like states. There are chemical means of inducing states of hibernation or feigned death. None of these is what this article is about. 

Think of lifting your arms up high in celebration! Imagine lifting your eyes as if at the sight of a awesome panorama! Even in such simple and ordinary acts, the mind becomes instantly still and the heartbeat can become immediately quiet. "It left me breathless!" Even human love, in its deepest forms, is silent and still. In addition to the yoga science, each of us can practice "breathlessness" at any time. 

May your breath be taken away in blissful, divine ecstasy!

Swami Hrimananda

For some follow up reading you might enjoy:
http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/04/dying-death-brain-dead-body-consciousness-science/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=SocialAds&utm_content=ngm-deathconsciousness&utm_campaign=Membership&kwp_0=159471&kwp_4=724566&kwp_1=365650

also: "Closer to the Light," by Melvin Morse, M.D.










Monday, June 27, 2016

Finding Peace in a Peaceless World

(Note: This will be sent to members and students of Ananda Seattle)

We’d be willing to bet that you may be finding that you are busier than ever before; that life is moving faster and more unpredictably than ever before. What’s going on? Is this some conspiracy? Is it toxins in our water, air, or food?

Paramhansa Yogananda’s guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, published only one book in his life: “The Holy Science.” In its introduction (written in 1894), he made a number of predictions for the 20th century and into the future based on a very technical analysis of astronomy using ancient Indian teachings and science. Among those predictions included the prediction that the average life span of humans would soon begin to increase. Another similar prediction relates to the average height of humans.(1)

The National Center for Health Statistics says that in 1907 the life expectancy for men was 45.6 years; by 1957 it rose to 66.4 years; and, in 2007 it reached 75.5.

Quoting from the website Our World in Data (org), it says that average height over the last two millennia hovered around 170 cm. “With the onset of modernity, we see a massive spike in heights in the developed world.”

But the most important prediction Sri Yukteswar made was that humanity would very soon discover that all matter is, in essence, a condensation of energy. That year was 1905 and the person who did that was Albert Einstein. Einstein proved that energy and matter are interchangeable! At its most elemental level, we call this the dawn of the Atomic Age. (1)

As humanity reaps the windfall (both blessings and curses) of this discovery, it has, and continues to rapidly convert the “matter” of fixed ideas and customs (politics, religion, science, art and culture) into a maelstrom of high energy potentials! The pace is not about to abate any time soon, because  Swami Sri Yukteswar further predicted this trend would continue for some two thousand years! We can only hope, for the sake of everyone, that the rate of change will gradually diminish.

This shift of awareness is upending and challenging traditional attitudes, customs, and power structures. From the “hard” view that matter (including our bodies and ego) are the bedrock reality to the “soft” view that we are all connected and interchangeable, is a rough and tumble journey generating conflict and confusion everywhere.

We see the past vs the future; haves vs have nots; sustainable living patterns vs destructive ones; racial conflicts; gender revolutions; international, national and local conflicts; global vs local interests; religious conflicts; personal liberties vs social mores or responsibilities; political upheaval; and on and on! Paramhansa Yogananda warned audiences that future conflicts and catastrophic events precipitated by the transition from one epoch of human awareness to a higher one would have to come first before a prolonged period of peace born of the new awakening.

Into this maelstrom of lifestyles, conflicts and confusion has come the gift of peace: the practice of yoga (meaning, meditation supported by physical yoga). This is the gift of the “gods” (meaning our higher nature, divinely inspired).

The practice of meditation, supported by hatha yoga, was brought to the West in 1920 by its foremost proponent, Paramhansa Yogananda . “Divine vision,” Yogananda wrote in his classic life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” is “center everywhere, circumference nowhere.” In a world view of billions of galaxies with no discernable center, we can discover that “the kingdom of heaven” is “within you.” There is no certitude or safety in money, position, reputation or talent. The source of our calmness, strength, and happiness lies in the “portable paradise” of peace within us.

If you want to walk with courage, confidence, and calmness amidst the “crash of (our) breaking worlds,” meditation is for you.

Take the time, therefore, each and every day, to put aside the world of duties and distractions, affix your inner gaze at the point between the eyebrows, open your heart, and calming your breath, come to the only reality there is: THE PRESENT MOMENT. This “point of singularity” is the “throne” of God, creator of all that is and it is your very SELF! “Be still,” the Psalmist counsels, “and know that I AM God.”

Joy to you,

Nayaswamis Hriman and Padma

(1) See either the Introduction to the book, "Holy Science" published by Self-Realization Fellowship, or, a more complete and fascinating analysis in the book, "The Yugas," by Joseph Selbie and David Steinmetz, published by Crystal Clarity Publishers