Showing posts with label guru. Show all posts
Showing posts with label guru. Show all posts

Friday, July 25, 2014

Do I Need a Guru?

Do I Need a Guru?

(Note: I write this inspired as I am this day, July 25, which commemorates the meeting of Mahavatar Babaji with Paramhansa Yogananda for the purpose of endorsing Yogananda's inspiration to go to America. Yogananda prayed all night for a sign that his going was the Divine will. The next morning the peerless Babaji came to him at 4 Garpar Road, Calcutta, to give his blessing to one who was destined to bring the work of kriya yoga to the West and to the world.)

Well, if that’s the question, I say, “Is the pope Catholic?” Mozart was once asked how it was he composed music at age 4 or 5? Mozart’s reply was simple: “I didn’t have to ask that question.”

If a person is seeking a partner in life and is attracted to someone, if he has to ask, “Am I in love?” I’d say, “Wait.” If you have to ask a question like that, it means the answer is no. Important things in life aren’t answered by listing out the “pros” and “cons” on a sheet of paper.

One who asks, “Do I need a guru,” doesn’t. And, not because he doesn’t, but because he isn’t ready. When he is ready, he won’t ask the question.

Now, many a person approaches the marriage altar unsure of herself. Self-doubt is certainly an obstacle. Things might work out just fine. Or, not! Yet, despite the doubt, the very fact of approaching altar speaks for itself. Others approach with great certitude only to later encounter stormy waters and crushing disappointment. Whether falsely confident or unnecessarily doubting, the mental static of each thwarts the power of intuition to know what is true.

When I read Autobiography of a Yogi the first time, I simply knew. It wasn’t that I said, “I have found my guru.” Rather, it was that “I knew.” I knew that I had to take the next step even though I didn’t know where it would lead. I had enough intuition and faith to take those steps. And, they weren’t timid steps, for these steps included leaving my birth family and moving to Ananda Village with little to no idea what I was getting into. I wasn’t thinking in terms such as “discipleship” to a person, but I was inspired by Yogananda’s teachings and by the opportunity to live those teachings with others in community. I was fired with calm enthusiasm and confidence. 

Besides, Yogananda, as a person, died in 1952 when I was less than two years old. I had not yet met Swami Kriyananda but that didn’t seem to matter much either. I was blessed with a knowing. I never gave one thought to the details. In fact, it was 1977, one year after the fire at Ananda Village: there were no homes and fewer jobs in a remote corner of Nevada County in the Sierra foothills where Ananda Village was located. There wasn’t much there to see: besides a few tepees and huts, there was the Publications building, a very old farmhouse that was the tiny grocery store, a two-room Village office, an old barn and a schoolhouse on a hill.

My attraction may have included inspirational ideas but my response was, and had to be, very personal. One’s response to grace is always personal. For starters, it was personal because a person, Padma, was the one who introduced me to the "Autobiography;" for another, she introduced me to Swami Kriyananda and Ananda! For another, she was interested in me! It doesn’t get more personal than that. My life was about to change drastically and it was very personal!

Nonetheless, though I wasn’t averse or reactive to the word “discipleship,” discipleship wasn’t, for me, the operative word. It would have been too formal for my vocabulary at that time. But that is certainly what it was. And so, bit by bit, step by step, Paramhansa Yogananda came into my life and consciousness.

No response to grace by one person can define the spiritual path. But human life, in its conscious and intentional and intuitive forms, is a constant cycle back and forth between the impersonal and the personal. 

For those who, like myself, begin at the point of ideas, the path becomes increasingly personal. For those who begin at the point of an inspired personal relationship, the path, in order to become whole and complete, becomes increasingly idealistic. But this cycle has to balance and is never static.

I have come full circle in my life on this issue, for, year after year I practiced kriya yoga; year after year I served at the first Ananda Community near Nevada City, CA; year after year I served with, listened to, was taught by and learned from Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda. You could say it kept getting more and more personal! It HAS to because WE ARE personally involved. Our very soul is struggling to emerge from the cocoon of ego. All the abstractions and metaphysical precepts in the universe can’t change the personal nature of spiritual growth.

I have come full circle on this in my life. Many students question why it is that to learn kriya yoga one must accept the disciple-guru relationship with Paramhansa Yogananda and the line of preceptors who sent him. With personal experience, I have come to know why.

I have said to others who question this need, “Go ahead: try to advance spiritually on your own.” Anyone who makes an ardent, sincere and intelligent effort will discover the truth (“that will make you free”): we are not alone and we cannot transcend the ego with the ego’s best efforts alone. Something else — a greater power — is needed. It’s like the website “Kickstarter.” To get a successful venture off the ground, you need spiritual “financing.”

All the kriyas, all the donations, all the creative, tireless, self-less service one performs for spiritual growth are necessary but they constitute only 1/4th of what it takes. For one thing, the doing of such activities are sticky: they stick to the sense of personal, egoic doership.

On the 8-Fold Path of Patanjali, among the five items he lists as the “Do’s” is devotion. Devotion is what propels self-effort towards the soul by way of ego transcendence. Recognition of the “otherness” of the soul, of superconsciousness, of God, and heartfelt self-offering into the guidance and power of the “Other” is the necessary “spice” that makes the soup of spiritual growth nutritious and soul-satisfying.

As I have stated earlier, the spiritual path is personal. Devotion becomes personal when, in response to our heartfelt efforts and devotion, God’s grace and presence flows to us and comes to us through the guru. Timing is everything. Timing includes the question of when we meet the guru face-to-face in the body. It’s not that the true guru is limited by time or space but one’s readiness to encounter the guru in human form varies from person to person. 

We, at Ananda, are disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda but he left his body in 1952. Through the touch of his direct disciple, Swami Kriyananda, we have been inspired and instructed. A time will no doubt come in a future life or on a higher plane when our meeting will be complete in every way. So while the guru is already transcendent and doesn’t need a physical body, we need the guru to appear in human form for our own instruction and inspiration. Otherwise, without incarnation, how would I know anything about the guru: the teachings, the techniques, the life example and stories?

The fact of avatara (divine incarnation) is also the promise of our soul’s immortality. It also hints at how God created and sustains all creation: by an act of becoming. It is logically and philosophically necessary that a soul in human form has achieved Self-realization. This demonstrates the eternal promise, the covenant between God and man that we are His children, made in His image.

The guru is an incarnation of divinity. No single guru can circumscribe or otherwise limit the Infinite Power of God. Nonetheless, one who has “become one with the Father” (in a previous life), returns to human incarnation with the full power of divinity. As God has become the entire universe but the forms and beings of creation have not yet realized this truth, so God incarnates on earth in human form through the vehicle of a soul who has reunited with “the Father” and become Self-realized as a son of God.

Each true (or “sat”) guru remains unique, as each snowflake is unique. This is the law of creation and duality. Thus each guru in any given life will uniquely express God’s will and vibration appropriate both to the unique nature of that Self-realized soul and to the needs of those to whom that guru is sent. No one guru has the final “say.”

It has been well said that “idolatry is the bane of religion.” But so is dogmatism, sectarianism and just about every other vice that infests human consciousness. In the case of idolatry, it is the all too common error of mistaking the form (the human persona of the guru) for the divine spirit which animates the guru’s consciousness. Thus, some object to what they view as the “worship” of the guru for the fact that such devotion belongs solely to God and for the fact that human beings are imperfect.

No point “arguing” with that objection. A good disciple should try always see God as acting through the guru. Yogananda repeatedly reminded disciples that “God is the guru. I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this form but He.” Still, if a sincere but somewhat less than clear-minded disciple lavishes his devotion somewhat too personally upon the guru, forgetting the correct philosophical attitude, it seems hair-splitting so long as the disciple harms no one in his devotions. The problem for such a disciple is that too personal an attitude will, in time, affirm the very ego that the disciple seeks to transcend by virtue of his devotion!

I have come, as I have said, full circle. I will do my kriyas; I will serve; I will do my best to attune my will to the divine will, but it is the mindful, affirmative, and real-time sense of the guru’s presence that is more important than anything that this “I” can do.

In meditation, I try to feel his presence; I try to visualize his eyes, his face, or feel that special state that, for me, says “He is here.” I go from my inner self-talk, monologue, to a dialog with him. I tell him my secrets; I ask his advice; I laugh and cry with him. The world around me may go up or down and all around, but so long as I have my guru at my side, I am whole. I am safe in the arms of his grace.

No, you don’t need a guru……..unless you want to know God; unless you want to be free from the limitations of duality, of the ego, and of your karma. But you may have to wait. You won’t find your guru by chasing and seeking but by becoming a better seeker, a living disciple of truth, of life, of God’s will. “When the disciple is ready, the guru appears.”

Jai Guru!.....blessings,

Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

60 and above: what next?

When I was 17 years old (1967) I tried imagining being 35 years old but it seemed so far away and so, "like," old, that I simply gave up--I couldn't relate to it. I wasn't even sure I'd live that long.....Sigh.............

In one's first half or so of life, when life seems still an open book with great hopes and promises and anything seems possible, our perspective and self-image is but an unwritten book. But in the later decades of life, we have enough life experience to gain a broader perspective on who we are, what we've gained, what we need to work on, and what's important to us.

I was chatting with a close friend who's about my age (you’ll have to guess), and we asked ourselves: “So, what’s different now? What’s this being 60 + really all about?”

I've noticed that usually the response to such questions revolve around the various things that we can't do as well, or at all, anymore, or, at least with as much stamina or endurance. And, yes, I admit, that there are times when a person's name or that just perfect word I know is right there ("on the tip of my tongue") eludes me when I need it. And sure, we joke about stuff like aches and pains and naps, going to bed early, eating a little earlier than before (catch the "Early Bird Special"?), needing more time to get out of the house in the morning and on and on.

But there's no lack of pluses to this stage of life. For example: I like the fact that I've lost a lot of commitment to personal dramas: mine, and yours! I find I can sympathize more sincerely because I feel less attached, whether to yours or mine! And by this point in life, one has seen many things by this point in life, whether yours or mine (they have begun to look suspiciously similar). Taking me seriously just doesn't "occupy me" quite the way it used to.

And you know what else is good? In many ways I am more productive and efficient than I ever was: and in fewer hours as well. Without the reduction of the internal friction that comes from my preoccupation with my likes and dislikes, my concern for doing a good job, pleasing other people and all of that "me" stuff that gets in the way of just doing the task at hand, I can plow through and get a lot more done. I find inspiration and ideas come more easily and, in the moment, I can be freer, kinder and more spontaneous than ever before.

As a life long devotee and meditator, I know that the truth, relative or absolute or whatever that is, is between me and my God (my guru, my conscience, my sense of right feeling). I am comfortable in this space which has already left at least some of the body and ego behind and below. I rejoice to see a flower, a white cloud and blue sky. Too hot? Too cold? Well, never mind, I'm still the same and I've been hot or cold many times before.

I don't bemoan what, if anything, I've lost; I rejoice in the wisdom I've earned and received, especially through my teachers (and there are many) and with the grace of God and gurus. Yes, I feel the pain of so much of the suffering and tragedy of this world but I've reconciled to the fact that, realistically and beyond my kind and prayerful thoughts and an occasional small contribution, there's nothing I can do about it. I recycle, too, but I know my recycling won't change the world very much. If I do something not kosher-green, well, I can say, "Sorry 'bout that, but look at the other good-green things I do. Besides, I LIKE trees."

I have found new priorities in my life, viz., my own consciousness. Whether I am efficient, proficient, liked or disliked, my highest priority is to remain centered, mindful, and living in the presence of God as peace, wisdom, calm joy and expanded self-awareness. I don't expect to have great visions but I am open to the possibility that my meditations could become ever deeper and that the miracle of life, which is God, will ever expand as the focus of my awareness and self-identity.

It has been well said by others that this time of life is characterized by self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is the first step in acceptance of others, and of the circumstances of one's life. That's a good thing because the "hope-springs-eternal" attitude which characterizes early and midlife has evaporated as the horizon line of the end of life appears in the not too far distance. I have to live in the present because the only choice is to live in the past and that's rather boring. (Ok, so I could live in a fantasy world of my own imagination, too, I suppose.....and many people escape to TV shows, novels, and imagination.)

Self-Acceptance can go in two basic directions: going downward, it can be a slouching acceptance of my narrowing scope of abilities, strength, mental power, or interests. This direction is like sliding towards laziness, self-indulgence, senility, and, of course, finally, oblivion.

The upward path of Self-acceptance includes the wisdom to know what is important in my life and what things are mine to do and what things are best left to others. It also means working "smarter" not "harder." Despite whatever mental challenges might appear owing strictly to age, I am more focused now than I have ever been in life. I am so focused in what I am doing or in simply being inward that I generally don't listen to or hear others who are talking around me. (If you want to talk to me, I suggest you start by saying my name first, then standing in front of me so I can see your eyes and then say what you have to say simply and clearly! I find it easy to tune out gossip, idle chatter, negativity or anything that isn't mine to deal with! More and more I prioritize the important things (like writing these thoughts?)! For many of us, this acceptance phase offers me the opportunity to step back and mentor, train, or let others step up.

I admit, however, that self-acceptance has also allowed me to indulge in "not suffering fools gladly," meaning people who waste my time or who don't listen. I think this is right to do sometimes and probably not a good thing other times. I am more likely to either say little or say directly what I think, with far little chatter in between.

Acceptance can mean realizing that it is the time of life to focus on deeper questions, issues, needs and priorities. The realization comes, appropriate to this life cycle, that I have (hopefully, presumably) fulfilled my material and familial obligations and I can now turn to more “internal affairs.” This means focusing on activities, people, introspection, or service to others that are not necessarily income producing, self-supporting, career enhancing, or socially obligatory.

My friend and I acknowledged that at this time of life, “the chickens come home to roost.” By this we meant that if during one’s mid-life of busy activities, raising children, or fulfilling social obligations, one put aside or even suppressed other longings, desires, needs, talents, or fantasies, they now rise up like ghosts of Christmas past or demons from the netherworld to haunt us with their unfulfilled, repressed, or otherwise unmet energies. These chickens can also be the accumulated physical or mental effects of a life of stress, anger, nervousness, jealousy, over-indulgence, or, better yet, the beneficent effects of a life well led. These chickens lay eggs, so to speak and we are their beneficiaries, whether of the eggs are golden or rotten.

Thus, it is time for closure, friends! Time to wrap up the day’s work, clean and put away your tools, fill out your time sheet and expense report and submit your accounting to the mystic judge of your own conscience, personality and body (wherein are lodged the fruits of your lifelong labors). And while most of us have many years left of active service, nonetheless, there is a shift of priorities and perspective.

This is a time to share one’s wisdom and skills and to share one's story. My parents generation viewed retirement as pay-back and sitting on the porch. (Well, actually mine didn't but many of their generation did.) But in today’s culture, this stage of life is vibrant and active. It has, instead, become a time for pursuing interests such as art, education in new and interesting arenas, educational or humanitarian travel or service, introspection, yoga, meditation, and other forms of spiritual seeking and service.

As the body ages and one’s faculties lose some of their staying power, it is a signal to become more inward, more self-aware, more conscious in one’s thoughts and activities. Yes, it’s time to get our spiritual house in order. A preparation for death? Well, yes, of course: death is, after all, the final exam of life.

That fact need be neither morbid nor compelling. One's duties are coming to a close and it is time to reflect, to draw the lessons of wisdom, or, in the case of those chickens, to confront some unfinished or leftover business.

We who are yogis see this time as an opportunity to meditate more and to be guided more from within (than from external karma or dharmic influences). Being thereby more centered (or at least less influenced or pressured by externals), we can see who we really are freed from outer exigencies.

In India this third stage of life (called vanaprastha) is described as being a hermit. I can't comment knowledgeably on Hindu traditions but to me it is only "hermit" in the sense that it is introspective, self-aware, and reflective. The purpose of such pursuits is, ultimately, to change from within and to bring to closure to the lessons of this lifetime. (The fourth "ashram" is sannyas - complete outer renunciation and breaking of all community and familial ties----even more extreme but certainly more obviously a "hermit" stage.)

There is freedom and release that can be associated with this stage of life. The symbol of the grandparent is one who is no longer strictly identified with what he does and is more known for who he (she) is. From doing to being, so to speak. Think of the smiling grandparent beaming his or her love to the grandchildren, to neighbors, or to shopkeepers---now freed from having to play any specific role or accomplish any specific task.

If one has lived rightly the chickens who come home bring the golden eggs of inner peace, contentment, joy, forgiveness and, yes, flexibility (the willingness to step out and do new things and become one’s true Self!).
That’s worth living for.


Grandfather Hriman

Saturday, June 7, 2014

"What do you mean by "yoga"?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy to you,


Monday, May 26, 2014

Elements of Meditation: What You Need to Know (and Do)!

I have just completed leading this year's Meditation Teacher Training at the Institute of Living Yoga (part of Ananda Sangha in Bothell, WA). Many insights flow from nearly fifty hours of in-class practice and discussion of meditation among those who meditate. So it seems fitting to offer some basic thoughts about meditation. There are so many techniques that it can be overwhelming. I will attempt to summarize the process in its own natural flow from physical, mental to spiritual or, described slightly differently, from relaxation, to focus, to expansion of consciousness.

The Goal. It's so easy to be so caught up in the details of a meditation technique and routine that we forget the goal.

1.    Physical. To relax and retreat and withdraw from physical activities and involvement with the world around us and from the constant input of the senses.
2.    Mental. To release the mind from its ceaseless self-preoccupations and sense impressions so that it can be purely Self-aware, present, and mindful.
3.    Spiritual. To achieve a state of wholeness, of Being, of completeness. In such a state we feel connected and it is natural to feel loving toward all and to experience Life as conscious Joy, Love, and Peace.

The Practice. The practice, or the Way, follows the lead of the goal and the goal is embedded in the this "Way" the goal is not necessarily outside or beyond ourselves, nor is outside or beyond the Way, but within both.

1.    Physical. The goal, being embedded also in the body, must be stimulated and its memory reactivated. The body is sub-conscious. It operates on its own, somewhat independent level. We "use" the body and its functions for our own purposes, but it otherwise is designed to function largely on its own. Thus stopping all outer activities and jumping into our meditation asana (seat) is not normally how we begin. Instead we engage, activate, stimulate and awaken the body with some kind of mindful movements. Traditional yoga postures, Tai chi, and similar exercises are well known and highly recommended. Newer and in some ways more to the point, are the Energization Exercises such as we teach at Ananda. These were discovered and refined by our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda. You can see them demonstrated here, online at All such movements should be practiced with a meditative and mindful attitude in order to be effective.

2.    Mental But, first a word from our "sponsors":
1.    Focusing the mind inwardly and away from day to day preoccupations requires effort and purpose. It is essential to stimulate the desire for meditation, and, even more to the point, desire for the GOAL of meditation. Thus the traditional emphasis on devotion. For us to take any kind of action there has to be a need. A need implies something we don’t yet possess. This is true even if all the world’s teachings on meditation say that the goal is within us! Odd, isn’t it? This feeling of lack effectively creates an “I-Thou” relationship between the meditator and the goal of meditation. The feeling or surge of the “I” toward the “Thou” is called devotion, or perhaps the divine romance. “Thou” can be personal (guru, God, deity) or impersonal (peace, oneness, love) but, in the beginning, what we seek is necessarily “other.”

2.    It seems odd to define devotion but perhaps we could call it the internal, upward surge of the sincere seeker to achieve a state of Being transcendent of his own, separate ego awareness. There is, in other words, a directional aspect of meditation even if the goal, when realized, is already present at the heart of the complex outer matrix of our consciousness. Something of this intangible goal must already be within us, even if only dimly remembered; otherwise, we would not put out the effort to seek what we don't know. We necessarily begin with our ego awareness which is uncomfortable with its separateness (something is lacking). It seeks the full-filled state of Being. When the two becomes One, we find the One has always been, and, is here and now. But, why quibble? Meditative effort lies on the razor's edge between doing and being. It's a little like trying to remember a person's name: it's right there on "the tip of my tongue!"

3.    Intention and prayer Thus it is that, whether before our stretches or at the beginning of our sitting, we rekindle that devotion or feeling, that sense of yearning. Devotional chants, will-stimulating affirmations, a prayer, and other internal statement of intention is vital, lest we descend into the pleasant labyrinth of stream of consciousness images while meditating.

4.    Focusing the mind. So, now what? We are charged up but what do we DO? The greatest contribution Indian culture makes to humanity’s humanity is revealing how the breath affects our consciousness and vice versa. Just as with yoga postures, the position of the body can help induce a state of calmness and relaxation, so it is that controlling the breath rate and flow can do the same. But the initial stage of motivation is essential. There are innumerable breath control techniques. Using too many of them is self-defeating and the simplest is often just as good, perhaps better, than the more convoluted ones. One to three such techniques are best for daily use. At Ananda we’ll use one or two breath-control techniques to get centered, and one breath “watching” (non-control) technique to develop a steady, inward focus. In this way we go from ego control to letting go. There is a natural progression as the increasing slowness of breath rate eventually becomes so shallow that it begins to pause and momentarily cease. Rather than having the mind wait passively to enjoy the benefits of increased clarity and concentration, we also give the mind a mantra or affirmation so it too can participate. The mantra, timed with the breath, makes a powerful combination.[1]

3.    Spiritual. In the end, however, all techniques should cease as our heart, mind and consciousness rest in the Self. This can be described in an infinity of ways such as communing inwardly with peace. At first we feel and observe peace and enjoy it. By degrees and with non-effort we become peaceful and the sense of “I” diminishes. The same could be said of communing inwardly with the image or feeling of the guru’s presence; or God in one form or another.[2] Some would say this is a state of negation: stillness, perhaps. Others, expansion: communion, that is. The words are less important than the deep state of relaxation and satisfaction that steals upon us. At the end of our sitting time, we can share our spiritual blessings with healing prayers for others or in asking gently but confidently for guidance in our lives. The efficacy of these closing activities we leave to the higher Mind of Super-consciousness to work out (just as we leave behind techniques in order to receive the cleansing action of inner peace).

Which meditation technique is best? Aren’t there literally dozens and dozens of different breathing techniques and pre-sitting positions and movements? Yes, there are. But just as you don’t marry a dozen people but one, go “a-courtin’” and when you find your soul’s guide, marry and unite “happily ever after.” Once you do it will serve no good purpose to keep looking around.

The journey toward Self-realization cannot be known in advance any more than the rest of your future. It is not ours to say “It is this.” Or, “It is now finished.” We must act with faith and confidence, and also humility and receptivity. A dash of common sense and large dose of communal support, giving and receiving, are also vital, for we are not alone and we are not the first! There are those who know more than we. Be open to their guidance. Support those who support you in your spiritual journey and all will be well.

Begin the day with meditation. Carry on the day in the vibration of meditation. End the day giving it all back in meditation.


Swami Hrimananda!

[1] The more advanced kriya technique system works slightly differently where the kriya technique is the breath control technique and the letting go follows.
[2] To bridge from the doing into the state of being, it is often helpful to use imagery to focus the mind and heart. As the state of Being comes into focus and into our Being, we dissolve the image into Being.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Soul's Story of Redemption: Mary Poppins & The Saving of Mr. Banks!

We watched the Tom Hanks movie, "Saving Mr. Banks." I had no idea what to expect and I generally don't watch a movie that I have no inkling of its pedigree. But this was well worth it, and I rarely make movie recommendations.

I think the only aspect of it that might prevent the movie from becoming one of the all time classics is that it is close-to-essential to know the story (and movie), Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke (and produced by Walt Disney and first screened in 1964).

If you don't know the Mary Poppins story and movie, well, you can skip this blog article, as I don't want to take the time and space to explain it. 

The lead character, the author of the original Mary Poppins story, "P.L. Travers," is played by Emma Thompson, of Shakespeare play renown. I do not know to what degree the movie, "Saving Mr. Banks," follows the real story of the author but, no matter. 

Why, "no matter?" Because truth is greater than fact. "Saving Mr. Banks" is a story of redemption. In this archetypal genre, such stories have for their truth the reality that we are need of redemption from the past, from ignorance, from delusion. Every great classic story of redemption involves the wisdom and love of another person who aids in the process of releasing the past and finding one's true Self. In the world of spirituality, God takes the form of the guru to lead us home to soul freedom.

This story of redemption is what makes this movie great. Well, ok, not just the story, but the acting, scripting, and, to whatever degree the facts behind it are true, all give it power beyond philosophy or mere intellectual analysis (like I'm doing!).

In this story Travers is a young girl whose father is an alcoholic and his disease destroys him and his career in banking--a career that stifles his creativity and his joy in life. As a young girl she watches her mother's attempted suicide, her father's public humiliation, and finally his death. As a young woman she achieves some financial security from her writings, beginning with the Mary Poppins childrens story that she writes. 

The movie unfolds via flashbacks and fairly slowly, but it crescendos in the realization that her beloved children’s book is her own attempt at redeeming her father, Mr. Banks. It is Walt Disney himself who unlocks the door to her secret. So, too, does her chauffeur (played by Paul Giamatti--leading role in and as "John Adams").

The acting is superb; the lines and music priceless; but the cathartic lesson is timeless. 

As souls we are prodigal; we are lost in the wilderness of our own separateness. The pain of separation, the existential angst, drives us to desperate measures of resolution: including destructive behaviors such as alcoholism, just to name one (of the more popular) of an infinity of ways to "lose our mind." 

Sticking, though loosely, to the story line, Mr. Banks is a free spirit. He loves his wife and his children and the last thing he's good at is buckling down to support them. His free spirit rules him however and soon produces the clash between his spirit and his actions; between his free spirit and the consequences of his own actions in a material world split by duality, a fatal dichotomy is created. 

He resorts, then, to alcohol to ease the stress and anxiety of his nonconforming behavior. But his habit leads him step-by-step down the rabbit hole, and his family suffers with each his humiliation. But he adores his children and especially our protagonist, his daughter.

She, in turn, innocent as a child and not understanding, but experiencing the tragedy of her parents' respective death wishes, despite their love for her (and her siblings), grows up deeply cleaved and soon shuts out the inner child who is playful, imaginative and free. She develops a compulsive personality that is so rigidly and merely factual, that few can abide her presence. Being a lone writer then suits her just fine. She controls the world around her rigidly and makes no accommodation to her own strict rules and perceptions, sparing no expense of the comfort of others.

In time and in her later years, however, the world catches up with her. She has spurned Walt Disney's annual appeals for movie rights but finally succumbs because she is about to lose her home due to financial woes caused by her own need to be perfect (and thus unable to be creatively inspired as a writer).

Well, the rest of this story is simply the story. You'll have to watch it yourself. As Mary Poppins helps free Mr. Banks (in the children’s story) so he can fly his kite, so P.L. Travers eventually is freed from the straitjacket of her rigidly correct and reasoning mind. In short, she finds redemption.

We have then a classic story whereby the spirit which is within us is held ransom by our fears or rejection of the world around us, its expectations of us, and our proper role in it. It is painful to love, to be vulnerable, to be spontaneous. But our free spirit must also remain in touch with Spirit so that it doesn't descend progressively towards a hell of our making: the subconscious, disconnected from the reality of the world around us. We can retain our innocence--which is our soul's eternal joy, untouched by suffering and death--if we seek that innocence at the heart of all that we do; at the heart of all that is dutiful and right for us to fulfill. It is we who create the tension between the "ought" and the "is." Once we view the world as a battle of wills between what we want and what it wants, it’s a fight to the death: the death of our soul.

"Joy is within you" even as you "do as you ought." This is the secret of redemption. The inner joy of which we speak is of God. It is transmitted to us by those souls who have achieved it as a permanent beatitude. Great saints can show us the way to the freedom of the soul. Freedom is not doing what you want, but doing, with joy, what is right.

What a difficult and daily lesson for each and every person who makes the effort to live intentionally, to live consciously, and, better yet, to live super-consciously, in harmony with the Divine Will, with the divine "lila" (movie or play), and in concert with the great script of our life’s dharma.

So, now, you can watch "Saving Mr. Banks."

"Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, August 12, 2013

Is it unnecessary to follow a particular spiritual path?

Recently, I assisted with the planning towards offering a specially designed meditation support group for those in the "recovery" movement. The eleventh (of the now well known "Twelve Steps") step in the recovery process is prayer and meditation. So, we figured, since Ananda has much to offer in regards to both, why not offer such support to others?

The first question that arose, however, was "Wouldn't it be more acceptable to more people if what we offered drew upon a variety of universally acceptable prayer and meditation sources (and not just Ananda's)?

I had to admit that such was likely to be the case. The further statement to the question was the assumption that by only offering what Ananda had to share we'd be seen as promoting our own way, indeed, perhaps proselytizing. I had to admit, again, that, well, yes, some would certainly view it that way.

My musings here are not really about how best to format the meditation support group. In that particular instance, I had several, not entirely irrelevant, objections: 1. What we would offer would be universal and not particular; 2. The mere fact that we would draw on Ananda sources doesn't, in and of itself, make it self-promoting. 3. Self-promoting is an aspect of both intention and delivery and in this case there was to be neither. 4. What we have to offer is effective and helpful to people. There is nothing lacking in it and there is no need, therefore, from the standpoint of the goal of the support group to seek out other sources. 5. The public service we wanted to offer is not merely the use of our physical space but to share something valuable that we have to share.

I admit that to many people these distinctions are just too subtle and human nature too suspicious to carry the day against the objections raised above. I figure, well, ok, then if fewer come and fewer therefore benefit, that's their choice. Why should we dilute what we have when we know it is effective and offered in good faith?

In my last blog article I explored the question of whether heretofore "secret" teachings and techniques should be made free (or mostly free) and public. Is to do so to "throw pearls before swine?" Is there any harm done? For those exposed to sacred teachings who spurn them because not spiritually ready, such persons may, karmically and psychologically, defer their own acceptance for having rejected them. Aren't material objects which are considered precious generally costly, scarce or otherwise difficult to obtain?

Still, one could also argue that more people will have access and therefore, following the spiritual lottery odds given to us in the "Bhagavad Gita" by Lord Krishna, "out of a thousand, one seeks Me."

My conclusion in that blog article was not a call for secrecy but a reminder that what makes such teachings and techniques precious is that one must have, by self-effort and grace, have advanced sufficiently spiritually and sensitively to recognize their value and to plumb their depths through discipline, self-control and devotion.

So, now, what then, is best? A synthesis of yoga techniques and philosophies or a singular lineage and spiritual path? I say, "There's something for everyone." When searching it is useful to explore different traditions and teachers. To draw the best from each and incorporate it into one's "sadhana" (spiritual practices) can be helpful.

But how many frogs does one kiss before finding a prince? There is, so I believe and believe I have observed in others, a restlessness and dissatisfaction in a concatenation of disciplines and methods. It is not uncommon, when yoga practitioners of different lineages assemble together, to feel a different "vibration" in another tradition, even when outwardly very similar (practicing meditation and yoga, e.g.)

There's another point however. This must be either experienced by oneself or observed sensitively in others. When one approaches spiritual disciplines like a smorgasbord, the ego engages in a "like and dislike" weighing and comparing attitude. The sense of personal ownership and "doership" is increased, not lessened. It is an axiom of spirituality that ego transcendence is an integral part of the path to the goal. "I have chosen this technique, that method, this book or teacher" to satisfy "What I think is right for me!" The resulting direction of consciousness is opposite to that of the soul, which is surrender, self-giving, devotional and so on. There is, further, a tendency toward pride over having learned or studied all these different philosophies or techniques, or having studied under this teacher or that. It may even be the ego's excuse to remain "above it all" (meaning above a personal commitment to ego transcendence) -- best to study everything, you see.

Yes, the ego does have to make decisions, spiritually and otherwise. Those decisions, however, which incline one towards ego transcendence will advance the soul toward freedom ("moksha") faster. As I stated in the prior blog, there is no one "right" yoga practice or meditation technique. What is right is that which brings you toward soul freedom!

This idea leads one naturally, indeed, inexorably to the need for the guru. But I have written on that subject in numerous other blogs. Suffice to say that anyone who sincerely and with energy seeks spiritual freedom, such a one will be guided to those teachers, teachings, and techniques best suited to his own unique and individual path to God.

The simple fact is this: in the practice of yoga and meditation today (and, let's face it, in the multitudinous practices of religion and spirituality generally throughout the world), most seek something far less. In yoga, it's often health, inner peace, well-being, muscle tone, stress relief and so on. For students of philosophy there are just never enough time to read all those cool books. For others, there's always a newer and more popular teacher coming to town. Even for the vast majority of devotees (those who undertake yoga disciplines, prayer, or charitable service for spiritual growth or to do God's work), we are working out karma: we feel better living this way; we feel compassion for others; we want to give back; and sometimes it's less ennobling, as, for example, we engage in practices because we are expected to, or otherwise for approval and recognition.

You see, and now I get to the meat of things, we have this deeply embedded tendency to mistake the form for the spirit (behind the form). Thus, we get attached to doing yoga; or meditating; or reading and learning; doing charitable work; or going to church on Sunday. We mistake the outer act (even meditation performed mechanically is a kind of outer work) for the presence of God, or joy, or upliftment. We too often settle for the outer act because we know we can't control when the "spirit will move and come upon me." And, of course, we should never so presume.

Thus we think that if we can learn dozens of yoga poses or meditation techniques we will be better at yoga or meditation. Little do we realize how little it takes; or, put more intelligently, that it's the attitude and consciousness with which we pray, meditate, or stretch that awakens the Spirit within. When, far along our spiritual journey, we realize that "joy is within you," (Ananda's motto), and that spiritual growth is not a matter of accumulating more techniques, or reading more books, and that it is, after all, really simple, then we let go of our "romance with religion" (its outer trappings), and seek, as one great modern saint was apt to counsel, "God alone."

I'm not saying we throw the "baby out with the bath water." I'm saying that we realize that one, true path, one true teacher, one effective technique is sufficient in regards outer practices and that what we really need is attunement with divine realities. And this is where it gets "good." Good because so subtle. Good because God, being the Infinite Power, the Supreme Spirit, has no form; no name; all forms; all names! It's just too confusing. Monism? Dualism? Where to start? Where does it end?

Are you ready, yet, for a guru? Ok, later, then. Nonetheless, my point is that, using the analogy of human love, we don't need five wives or husbands: we need only one if we want to know what the potential of human love might be. And so it is with God. Being everywhere (and nowhere), we don't need to "kiss every frog." Rather, simplicity of outer practice; purity of heart; selfless hands in service; and devotion to the Supreme Spirit (in whatever form is your "Ishta devata" -- that which inspires you to seek Truth and Freedom).

It would not be my intention to discourage you if you are enthusiastically engaged in learning and practicing (or teaching) yoga, meditation, or other worthy spiritual practices. Energetic engagement of will towards and for Good is necessary for the refinement of our consciousness and nervous system, and the purification of our karma and dross.

Further, there are those whose syncretic methods are helpful to them, and, if they are teachers, perhaps helpful for others. I maintain, however, as stated above, that this a phase one goes through. A necessary phase for some, to be sure, but a phase nonetheless. I object to what is sometimes the pride and even arrogance with which some syncretic teachers and students look down upon those poor slobs "stuck" in one path or lineage. But, well, I have spoken above of the drawbacks to this form of "fast lane" eclecticism.

Nonetheless, I hope some of distinctions made here can be helpful. For, very often, given the tendency toward sectarian rivalry with which spirituality and religion is too often a victim, a sincere person hesitates to make the plunge toward a singular path, leaving behind the garden of syncretic delights (like leaving behind dating in order to marry).

No step, taken sincerely and intelligently, with energy and faith, toward God, toward Truth, can ever lead us astray. Lessons we may have yet to learn, to be sure, but if we take one step toward God, Spirit takes two toward us. As we increase in purity, wisdom, and energy our path to God will surely lead us home.

There is no God, but God. There is no good, but God. There is no Thing, but God.

Peace! Shalom! Shanti!

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Do I Need A Guru?

I grew up along the coast in central California where snow was unseen (except once and it produced great excitement among children and adults alike). In later years, living at Ananda Village in the Sierra Nevadas northeast of Sacramento, CA, it most certainly did snow a few times each winter. I would eagerly look forward to the possibility (at least if I was home snug before the wood stove). I learned that if you have to ask yourself, "Is it snowing?" then the odds are it is not snowing. When snow falls, you see it, and like "good" art, you know it when you see it!

Many of us who are teachers for Ananda's spiritual work (worldwide) quote our founder, Swami Kriyananda, when he was once asked this question, "Do I need a guru," in replying "No, not unless you want to know God."

How many meditators, and would-be meditators, have attempted to meditate on our own, with no instruction? Such people, which included myself long ago, fill our classes at Ananda. Meditation isn't all that complicated, yet almost no one who tries it on his own sticks with it or finds it satisfactory. Many will at least read a book or, these days, go on the internet to learn. But even such sources all too often prove ineffective. If they were effective, our meditation classes would have dried up years ago.

You see, it is inescapable that even for the most routine tasks we instinctively seek human counsel if the task requires even the slightest bit of finesse or art to it. This ranges from cooking and laundry to musical composition to scientific inventiveness and research.

How much more so, then, for the art of examining one's own, inner human consciousness? I think that because introspection requires no set of monkey wrenches nor yet an advanced doctorate degree, we are lulled into thinking "I can do it myself." But the seeds of our ignorance and the filters of our biases are embedded in the very looking glass of introspection through which we peer.

There's something and someone for everyone. My wife, Padma, is from South America where, growing up, they had a saying, "Every pot has its lid." In examining both marriages and gurus, one can see that there is indeed someone for everyone, ignorant or wise. Put another way, we get what we deserve. Ignorant seekers, eager for a shortcut, find self-serving, ambitious teachers. Through their experiences, however painful, such seekers have the opportunity to learn and grow, or merely blame and sow more seeds of confusion in themselves.

Why not consider the possibility, rather likely considered from the big, broad point of view of the human experience, that this world was created intentionally and that the intention and purpose behind its creation is benign, indeed, essentially imbued with goodness, wisdom and love?

If we have questions about life, why not consider the possibility that someone else, other than our self, has found the answer? Yes, we must be true to ourselves but in seeking truth, which presumably exists whether we discover it or not, what harm is there is seeking counsel from one who has discovered it already? Why waste time or follow unnecessary or even harmful detours? Why not use our reason as a starting point?

In my early adult life of spiritual seeking I never doubted that I didn't have all the answers. That didn't stop me from having my early, male adult phase of being the world's greatest "Know-it-all," but even as I reserved the right to pronounce judgement upon all the other fools in the truth parade, I was, for all that, still reading and seeking as voraciously as I was augmentative and inclined toward self-conceit.

I was fortunate, I believe, in being guided at a young age (26) to Paramhansa Yogananda's teachings and to his most accessible direct disciple, Swami Kriyananda. Neither Yogananda's nor Kriyananda's influence at any point suffused my own right to think for myself, for even then I was not inclined to fall head over heels for anything or anyone. Rather, what they offered (the one in his writing and vibration, the other in his example as well as his writing and counsel) resonated with me on a deep, calm level that satisfied heart and mind in a balanced way. Perhaps because I was born under the sun sign of Libra, I have little of the fanatic in me. Passion and commitment, yes, fanaticism, no. So, yes, I count my blessings in this lifetime and pray that in the next I waste not my youth and years upon frivolity or worse and that I find my path to freedom as early in life as I may be blessed to do.

I have seen others fall, by their emotional temperament, into the romance of religion: the guru who hugs people; the guru who looks like the poster boy sage; the teacher with the commanding presence and charisma; the teacher who has millions of followers; the teacher who promises powers or blessings at their mere touch (perhaps for a few dollars or with a simple, almost effortless technique); the teacher who proclaims himself the world teacher, superior to all who have gone before him! Yes, I've seen it all.

There will always be followers for such people. And they are certainly not all "bad," for they, too, are working out their karma towards salvation! We are all, so we are told, inextricably linked. Buddha said that the main reason to love everyone is that we have had a relationship with everyone at some point! Egads! Yuk!

While using common sense and calm feeling, don't pretend to be able to judge the spiritual realization of a spiritual teacher. Simply go by what resonates with you deeply, and take ownership for your decisions, being grateful for what you've received, and loyal to those who have helped you, even as you may be guided in new directions. Can the soul go wrong in its sincere seeking? I doubt it!

A true teacher should reflect teachings that don't, in their essence, contradict universal truth teachings. A teacher who encourages sensuality as a doorway to spiritual freedom runs counter to well established spiritual guidance as well as accepted human values. Teachings that are "too good to be true" (because they satisfy the ego's limited longings) are just that, too good to be true. Indeed, truth teachings really aren't all that different, no matter what garb they wear.

The more important thing is that this teacher, his or her teachings, and the techniques and practices given should feel like "mine." You honor and love your mother and father (hopefully!), and yet in doing so, do not disdain others, so too, your spiritual path is that which feeds your soul's hunger, not that which is somehow the best, like products in the marketplace. You may indeed, in fact most certainly will or have been in past lives, guided to lesser paths or teachers as part of your journey. Get over it, but be real and be authentic to yourself. Maybe you need that teacher who promises pleasure as the door to truth because you need to learn that lesson! If so, when you wake up to a higher truth, don't only blame that teacher, but accept your lessons and move on.

Swami Kriyananda's autobiography, the New Path, chronicles his life with Paramhansa Yogananda, who has long been accepted internationally as a true teacher with a world teaching (Kriya Yoga and practical yogic teachings for everyone). It is rare for one to find a teacher who has achieved spiritual freedom (however defined: avatar, Self-realized, enlightened, etc.). Most teachers, even the most popular ones, are, well, works in progress, no matter what they or their followers may claim.

Thus Swami's life story is worth reading by anyone because it gives a modern day example of what life with a true teacher is like. Most of us are not ready for such a relationship because we are, as yet, still too ego and self-directed. But reading stories such as this will help attune ourselves to right attitudes and expectations around a true guru for when we reach the stage of the adage, "When the disciple is ready, the guru appears."

I recently completed listening to this book (the New Path) "on tape" (actually my IPOD) and, because it is Swami's voice, it was far more inspiring than merely reading the pages of his book. (We sell these things at Ananda and at our publisher's website,

If God exists, then God must encompass and be the source of all that is. If infinity exists, then there is nothing outside of it. To know God must be to achieve infinite consciousness. Can you honestly imagine that? Can you honestly imagine achieving a relationship with infinity?

We must begin where we are and not have false imaginings of what the ultimate end-game is. Thus it is that the universal teaching is and always has been that God sends his "prophets" to instruct humankind. Why is that such a threat? Well, because it is a threat to the domain of our ego.

But there's a further point: if God is the underlying reality of all that is, whether manifested or transcendent, then why should we reject the possibility that the soul can know God, even if in some necessarily limited way? Why should we have to discard the physical form, in what we call "death," simply to achieve God-realization? Why should we view the creation as something delusive and to be discarded, rather than something God called "good.?"

Therefore, why can there not be some souls who come to earth having previously achieved Oneness with God and who have the power to help others to be, as St. John in the the first chapter of his gospel stated, "the sons of God." If we are made in the image of God, we may indeed have been created to realize this truth and to reclaim our birthright, even in human form. Thus, at least, has been the teaching since time immemorial, stated in a variety of languages, forms, and symbols down through the ages. Don't reject this teaching out of hand, in other words.

You cannot perceive the divinity within until you accept the possibility of divinity without (in another, that is). Do not reject those sent by God to free you. Study their lives, their teachings, and their greatest disciples. It is too bad that our culture no longer treasures the lives and examples of the saints (in favor of sports stars and movie celebrities). If you want to know God, get to know those who know Him (Her) already. Serve them, study their lives, open yourself to them with intelligence, honor, and self-effort.

"Knock, and the door shall be opened. Ask, and it shall be received."

Blessings to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Reflections upon a life: Swami Kriyananda, 1926-2013

On Sunday morning, April 21, near Assisi, Italy at his home, Swami Kriyananda breathed his last upon this earth. Born May 19, 1926 as James Donald Walters of American parents living in Romania, Swamiji  was born and died in Europe. In his dignity and habits, he was a European. In his soul, he was, as it were, a rishi clothed in the garb of a yogi from India; and in his love of life, of people, his vitality and creativity, he was just as truly an American. He was of an older more dignified and noble time and yet he was younger, an Atlantean who delighted in the latest technologies of our advancing and ascending age.

The more one lives centered in the soul, in the Self, the more one's life becomes a crystal, reflecting truth in an infinity of rays of color, shape and form. Personal and appropriate with those whom he conversed and served, and yet impersonal reflecting not his likes and dislikes but the truth that we are each children of the same Light.

I was privileged to represent members and friends of Ananda in the greater Seattle area at the memorial service for Swamiji held in the Temple of Light at the Ananda Center near Assisi, Italy (home of St. Francis of long ago). This Service took place on Wednesday, April 24. A video recording of that service can be found on YouTube at

Because I had leave for Italy right away I could not attend our own Service held in our Meditation Temple in Bothell on Monday evening, April 22. You can a video recording of that Service at    Search on AnandaSeattle.

Swami Kriyananda was a direct disciple of the now famous yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda, whose life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, has become a spiritual classic in our time. Swamiji spent the same amount of time with his guru as the disciples of Christ spent with Jesus (about three plus years). Yogananda, despite being in a relatively withdrawn phase of the last years of his life, nonetheless permitted young "Walters" to "hang out with him" and ply him with questions. Yogananda shared many stories from his "barnstorming" years travelling across America giving lectures and classes to thousands. Yogananda, like Vivekananda decades before, became quite a sensation and sought-after speaker in American intellectual and liberal social circles.

After Yogananda's death in 1952, the young monk, who in 1955 took the spiritual name Kriyananda, rose rapidly in his guru's organization (Self-Realization Fellowship, aka SRF) as its foremost public representative. He traveled widely in America, Europe and India. As his zeal for sharing his guru's teachings grew and took on more expansive forms, the senior disciples of SRF became alarmed and, perhaps drawing on the example of male teachers groomed by Yogananda decades earlier who later betrayed Yogananda, finally decided in 1961 to dismiss Swami Kriyananda from SRF's membership and nip in the bud what they could only imagined was an ambitious ego instead of a dedicated disciple bent on spreading his guru's message of Self-realization.

As difficult emotionally as his dismissal was curt and unexpected, it did make possible the founding of Ananda in 1968. Only by separation from SRF (which he himself would never have sought) could Swamiji be free to establish intentional spiritual communities ("world brotherhood colonies" as Yogananda called them) and author some 150 books on a wide range of subjects inspired by Yogananda's teachings and spirit.

Despite persecution from SRF long after his dismissal, Kriyananda always espoused, even to the extent of his will and last testament, that Ananda remain open to work cooperatively with and be respectful always of his guru's own work.

Swami Kriyananda leaves behind a worldwide network of communities, retreat centers, meditation and yoga centers, meditation groups and a host of related activities and organizations, including schools for children, a new genre of music, and an entire liturgy of ceremonies inspired by the nonsectarian precepts of Sanaatan Dharma, the essence of Vedanta and India's sacred revelation from ancient times.

Perhaps more importantly, Swamiji's legacy is the bouquet of souls who, with his tender and wisdom-guided nurturing, have flowered in his care. Some have done so directly from his hand; many more have done so through his example, his writings, his music, and the fellowship of souls who are his spiritual children serving the work of a great guru, Paramhansa Yogananda.

Such disciples will nurture other souls making the real work of God through the Self-realization lineage (which culminated in Paramhansa Yogananda) impervious to the assaults of time and the inevitable rise and fall of the fortunes of organizations.

For some sixty-five years of discipleship, Swamiji has traveled this earth writing and lecturing and founding communities. He has done so despite opposition from other fellow gurubhais and despite the burden of a physical body that rebelled against his employment of that vehicle in intense and unceasing divine service. He had three hip operations (one had to be re-done), a pace-maker, suffered from diabetes, had a bout with colon cancer, became increasing hard of hearing (making public life very difficult ) and had a medical chart that left doctors across the globe in awe.

His will power, considerable though it was, was never directed against others. It served him only his discipleship sharing Yogananda's work. In fact, and in retrospect, Swami Kriyananda became the one disciple more than any other direct disciple, who has publicly served Yogananda's mission and thus has earned the self-evident role of Yogananda's principle heir in public service.

For all of his prolific and concentrated effort, Swami Kriyananda maintained personal friendships with hundreds if not thousands. His correspondence (which in recent years morphed into email, and thus, as for everyone else, multiplied exponentially) would have, for most people, been a full-time job. His writings ebbed and flowed but never ceased. During especially creative periods, it took more time for those to whom he would send by email his manuscript drafts for review, than it did for him to write them. Or, so it seemed!

His last book was a re-write of one of his first books: Communities: How to Start Them and Why.

He no doubt overstayed the welcome that "Brother Donkey" (the physical body) offered and by guru's grace remained to see the first of three movies finished. "Finding Happiness" is about the work of Ananda and will be released to theaters in the Fall of 2013. "The Answer" is a movie about Kriyananda's life and a third movie will be about the life of Yogananda.

The work of Ananda has spread to include north, central and south America; Europe and India.

One of the questions young Walter asked his guru was "Will I find God in this lifetime?" The great guru responded, "Yes, but at the end of life, for death will be your final sacrifice."

While the bodies of most swamis are cremated according to custom, a decision has been made to bury Swami Kriyananda's body at his home, the Crystal Hermitage, located at Ananda World Brotherhood Village, near Nevada City, CA. On the grounds of the surpassingly lovely Crystal Hermitage overlooking the north fork of the Yuba River, will his body be buried and atop the grave will be a shrine which tentatively may be termed "Moksha Mandir" in honor of Yogananda's promise of freedom ("moksha" refers to the soul's freedom in God).

A formal memorial will take place in May at Ananda Village (May 18-19). Kriyananda's body is being shipped from Italy back to the U.S. on Monday, April 29.

A great yogi in India was asked by Kriyananda why it was this yogi had no disciples or outer spiritual work. His reply was "God has done what He wanted with this body." Thus it is that the degree of approval or disapproval of the world means little to the sincere lover of God. To do the will of God is the soul's only interest. It matters not, therefore, what name or fame has come, or has been withheld, from the life of Swami Kriyananda, nor yet also, to Ananda, the work he founded in the name of his guru.

Though those close to him would no doubt easily imagine that Swami Kriyananda, free soul or otherwise, will return to help those in need in some future incarnation. But such matters are left to God. Swamiji will be greatly missed but has more than earned his freedom laurels and rest. Those who have known him personally and those many who will know him through others and through the legacy of his work and vibration in generations to come, are deeply grateful.

Adieu great soul, until we find our rest in God alone!

Eternally grateful,

Nayaswami Hriman aka Swami Hrimananda!

P.S. If I have omitted personal reflections or stories of my life and relationship with Kriyananda it is because I deem it not the right time, place, or venue. Perhaps in some other way I might share such experiences.