Showing posts with label prana. Show all posts
Showing posts with label prana. Show all posts

Thursday, February 28, 2019

5 Paths to Enlightenment

Last Sunday, I gave a talk on "God" that included a summary of Paramhansa Yogananda's summary of five core aspects of the path to enlightenment. They are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, should be seen as facets of the diamond of Self-realization.

The talk itself, in video form, can be found:

Here are the five "paths" summarized:

1. Way of the Heart - the Social way to God. By expanding our sympathies and service from ourselves and our family outward to neighbors, town, country, and the world, our ego-active tendencies are softened and eventually dissolved in divine love. To be real, we must be able to love even those who do not love us; those who criticize, blame, or hurt us in some way. Forgiveness is a given on this path. A more complete expression of this would be to include both aspects of divine love: "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind, strength and soul; and, love thy neighbor AS thy Self. Love includes service, thus combining "Bhakti Yoga" with "Karma Yoga" as sympathy and compassion are not complete without action.

2. Way of the Mind - the Stoic or Ascetic way to God. Dissolution of the ego-active tendencies is a valid, indeed, virtually traditional path. It is not as suited to the consciousness of our culture at this time but it is valid, to some degree, to every devotee. This path uses a sharply focused, mindful intensity to practice what in India is called "neti, neti". (Not this, not this, I am NOT these thoughts, actions, emotions, body, etc.) A form of gyana yoga that includes the tantric practice of calmly observing oneself during all thoughts and actions, the Path of the Stoic is focused on self-discipline: disciplining the palate; the tongue, the senses, practicing austerities of one sort or another. All are mental and some have physical manifestations. With practice, the mind becomes still and enters the non-reactive state of pure observation. In its strictest form, there are no meditation practices as such. But this path, taken to its logical extreme, is arduous and eschews imagery, visualization, devotional practices, chants and all outward forms of spirituality. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita answers Arjuna's question about this path by saying that it is better for embodied souls to seek God through the I-Thou relationship. Nonetheless, disciplining our ego active patterns and habits remains a necessary aspect of spiritual growth.

3. Way of the Yogi. Kriya yoga, whether seen in the form taught by Paramhansa Yogananda, or in the overarching view of control of life force ("pranayama") in meditation. Put another way, one could say, simply: the path of meditation. Described more fully, the yogi learns to withdraw his attention from the physical body using specific techniques in order to enter and identify with the subtle, or astral, body wherein begins the path of ascension of the soul to God through the astral and causal realms of creation. From the micro reality of the soul to the macro reality of the Oversoul. 

4. Metaphysical or Transcendental Path to God. The power of thought, imagination, and intention describes the "how" of God's creation. It also gives to us the means to return to God. Paramhansa Yogananda gave a wide variety of "metaphysical meditations" that teach us how to experience an expansion of our consciousness into the creation and beyond to God. His book with the same name is very popular. This path guides one to use the power of creative visualization to attune ourselves broadly and deeply with all creation with the goal to pass through the stages of creation and enter the Kingdom of Bliss beyond all vibration. It is a valid and powerful practice and path. It is, practically speaking, a form of meditation.

5. Way of the Disciple. It is axiomatic in the teachings of India that one needs a guru to achieve enlightenment. While recognized implicitly or explicitly in other spiritual traditions, India's ancient tradition of "Sanaatan Dharma" (the Eternal Religion) posits this as a precept. One who is blessed to attract a true (or "sat") guru (one who is fully liberated, an avatar) and who "receives" the guru's blessings fully, receives the power "to become the son of God." If our incarnate souls are, in essence, a spark of God's Infinite Bliss, then the proof of this must be the appearance in human form and in human history of some souls who can truly say, "I and my Father are One." The transmission of liberation takes place through the only medium in which liberation exists: consciousness. No mantra, no prayer, no rite or ritual can substitute or purely transmit God consciousness. Only consciousness can do this. The ego, like Moses who led "his people" (his mental citizens) to (but not into) the Promised Land (of enlightenment), cannot, itself, become enlightened. The ego must surrender the kingdom of the mind to the Infinite Bliss of God. By will power alone we cannot scale the heights of cosmic consciousness but by the grace of God incarnate.

These five "paths" are not independent and separate. During the soul's many incarnations after it begins consciously to seek liberation from delusion, it will emphasize one or more of the paths as part of the process of purification and release of karma. The five work together and perhaps align (though I have not thought deeply about this) with the five pranas (energies) of the human body. 

Therefore, respect your own, and others, natural inclinations to pursue and express different aspects and forms of these core paths and practices.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Meditation: Full? or Empty?

Ishavashya Upanishad: “That is full, this is full, from that fullness comes this fullness and if fullness is taken away from fullness, only fullness remains.”

I'd like to take a break from politics in America and from the doom and gloom that might be derived from contemplation thereupon.

Instead, I'd like to explore the experience of true meditation: by "true" here I mean what happens when we go beyond the "doing" of techniques and attempt to enter the "being" of silence. Again, as in past articles, I am not focusing on anything absolute or cosmic.

The entrance fee to higher states of consciousness (aka "superconsciousness") is generally the necessity to become inwardly silent. This includes the cessation of subconscious images and random thoughts, memories, and sense impressions. Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras in the most profound and important aphorism (the second one of 197 or so) describes the state of yoga as "the neutralization or cessation of the reactive mental processes of likes, dislikes, memories, creative mental images and the like."

In this space, I ask: "Is the experience of silence in meditation an experience of fullness? Or, emptiness?"

I have heard my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, comment that there are two directions of awareness in meditation: expanding or dissolving. These can be further contrasted in pairs such as:

  • Offering oneself into a greater Self (God, guru, Light, etc.), or being open or receptive to receive (the same: God, guru, Light, etc.)
  • A feeling of expanding consciousness or a feeling of dissolving the sense of ego awareness (I don't say "dissolving of consciousness" as this is would take us down into subconsciousness)
  • It can be described in various ways, including, for example: devotional self-offering (expansion) or devotional receptivity (receiving). In expansion of ego-consciousness there is a concomitant dissolving of the ego self. In the dissolution of ego-self there becomes space (emptiness) to be filled.
  • Astral signs or phenomenon can appear to your insight sight or subtle senses: any one or a combination of the five astral senses (prototypes of physical senses) can be experienced; or, darkness can "appear"; light can dim into a dark light and so on.
  • Vibrant sense of space and energy can envelope you, or, perceptions of space and energy can begin to dissolve.
  • To complicate matters, what begins to expand, or what begins to dissolve can resolve into its opposite. Dissolution of ego awareness can be replaced by an expanding light, energy, sound, and so on. 
  • One can approach this space of silence with the attitude and feeling of devotion; or, energetically; or, with mental intensity, will and concentration; or, with a mixture of all three elements.
So these apparent opposites are not really opposite. 

[As an aside: At the Ananda Meditation and Yoga center in Bothell WA (USA), we have initiated a new series of meditation classes: each can be taken independently, or, as a series. Addressing the needs of the human mind and heart, we take our basic techniques that are taught in our traditional “Learn to Meditate” classes, and re-orient them towards focusing the mind (“Mind Fullness meditation”); healing the heart of grief, hurts, depression and other harmful emotions (“Peace Fullness meditation); enhancing the health, healing and vitality of the body (“Health Fullness meditation), and using meditation as prayer and devotion and to achieve Self-realization (“Soul Fullness meditation). (This article is not to describe these classes. For more information on these, go to]

Buddhism is associated, generally, with extinction of ego consciousness and the description of meditation and its goal as being emptiness: sunyata. (This term actually has several meanings or emphases.) Whatever its doctrinal associations and differences, my interest and use of the term is simply that during meditation one can intend to and/or experience the cessation of thoughts, emotions, and bodily movements as an end in itself. 

There are those teachers or branch traditions that assert that emptiness is "all there is" and is the goal. How literally that is stated, I don't know. It's not very appealing unless your down on your luck. The point is: there exists a teaching in the field of meditation that NO-THING-NESS not only exists as a state of consciousness but is the bedrock of reality and the goal of meditation and life.

In most other meditation traditions and in the meditation teachings of Ananda (based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda), it is happiness, or, more technically, joy (bliss) that is the goal of life and of meditation. Again, I'll stop short of attempting to define any absolute. Just speaking here casually.

Emptying the mind of ego involvement is certainly one very important channel to the fullness of joy. Into the seemingly empty space of the no-thing-ness state rushes, pours, or slowly fills the peace, joy, and unconditional love which is our own true Self and the source and underlying reality of all creation.

In "Autobiography of a Yogi," Chapter 7, the levitating saint, Master Mahasaya, asks the young Mukunda (future Yogananda): "You often go into the silence but have you developed anubhava?" Yogananda commented that the saint was reminding him to love God more than meditation. The saint went on to say: "Don't mistake the technique for the goal."

Just as science now tells us that “empty space” is anything but empty, being latent with energy, so too quietness of mind and breath will often be slowly or instantly filled with a subtle by powerful and vibrant sense of latent potentiality. As we approach infinity, "nothing is always." (You can quote me on that one.)

Seasoned meditators find that sometimes their deeper meditations alternate between emptiness and fullness. Other such meditators may, by temperament, tend dominantly toward one or the other. In general, the more one goes by the mind, the more one inclines toward emptiness. The more one goes by heart or by energy, the more towards expansion or fullness. These are very general statements, however.

In practices such as kriya yoga (which is a subset of the science of Raja Yoga), the meditator is focusing on drawing life force (prana) inward through the chakras and up the central astral spine towards the brain. This focus is obviously a positive, fullness-oriented one but an intended result of this is quieting the mind. The immediate consequence can be described as either full or empty, though not absolutely.

I do aver, as Paramhansa Yogananda taught and as my teacher (and founder of the worldwide work of Ananda), Swami Kriyananda reassured us, that contrary to some teachings, “emptiness” as “nothingness” is NOT the final statement on reality. “No wonder,” Kriyananda would sometimes quip, tongue firmly in cheek, “that teachers in that line of thinking opted for a “rain check” by offering to come back and help others!” No one wants to submit to what amounts to suicide of the Self. The deeply embedded instinct for survival may be described as a delusion as it relates to the human body or ego, but it is not so in respect to existence and consciousness itself. Consciousness is the bedrock reality: it is eternal, unchanging and ever-new Bliss, Paramhansa Yogananda declared, representing a long line of Self-realized masters going back thousands of years! Satchidanandam: God is ever-existent (Sat-immortal), ever-conscious (Chitta-omniscient), ever-new joy (Ananda).

Joy to you,

Swam Hrimananda

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:

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

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Secret of Happiness: It's Directional; It's UP!

Truth is simple: all else, complex.

How easily we stumble into the darkness of confusion and doubt by looking down into the labyrinth of our troubles, indulging our fears and self doubts, accepting the judgmental verdict of others or what we imagine that judgment might be!

If our own happiness, satisfaction and contentment be our guide and our goal, no one condemns us more than ourselves: no distant deity, no colleague or intimate can do to us what we do to ourselves.

As Paramhansa Yogananda has said, "If we want to be unhappy, no one can make us happy."

The turning point in maturity and spiritual awakening can be said to take place when we know without a doubt that there exists a separation, indeed, a gulf, between what happens to us and our reaction to it. "All conditions are neutral. They seem positive or negative, happy or sad according to the attitudes of the mind." (P.Yogananda) Only as and to the extent we gain awareness and control over our responses to life (including our own thoughts and emotions), can we begin to be the masters of our fate and destiny............and HAPPINESS!

Recognition of the separation of the world around us from the "ME" is but the first step. It is by no means the last. A teenager will rebel or reject his his parents' values and upbringing, but may, in the years that follow, return to embrace those values consciously (like the prodigal son). In a similar way, the soul, in the form of the ego (defined by Yogananda as the "soul identified with the body"), may be inspired, at first, to wean itself from the attractions of material life in its spiritual search. But as the seed of spirituality grows into a mature tree, its leafy and lofty branches nourishes and protects all who come to it for shade and refreshment. The soul's very detachment from an ego-centric life is not the life negation that other egos assume. Life negation is not the consequence of a spiritually mature form of nonattachment! Indeed, quite the opposite. Nonattachment makes life affirmation truly possible because not biased by personal interest, likes, and dislikes but motivated by what is right and good for all.

Nor is nonattachment a recipe for boredom or for being a bore. Nonattachment brings a constant flow of joy, humor at life's ironies, strength in dealing creatively and positively with life and compassion for all beings. Self-involvement, by contrast, sees the world revolving around itself. Its centripetal force steadily makes one's life view very narrow and, ultimately, rather boring. Why, then, doesn't everyone seek to expand his sympathies to include others? Habit, first and the ego, second, protecting its turf and fearing the unknown! And: reinforced by the power from which ego separation came and which sustains it so universally in human minds.

As a young man working in the world of business, I was astonished to see that the most successful investors, inventors, and business types were those whose focus on making money was a distant cousin to doing what they loved and were good at. By contrast, the "losers" were inevitably those most attached to the results. The little guy buys high and sells low, moving with the crowd, trembling eagerly at the prospect of profit or panicking in fear at the prospect of loss. Thus even in the grubby realm of making money, the law of non-attachment to the results holds sway. (Krishna, in the scripture of the Bhagavad Gita, called this form of action: nishkam karma: acting without desire for the "fruits" of action.) Nonattachment is the secret of success in all things. This is one of the great paradoxes of life.

Financial success however is no guarantee of happiness. Far too many mistake the one for the other, and, if they succeed financially, they will find, after years of strain, the coin debased. 

Life's challenges will always be with us. In this world there are no absolutes. Ill health, death, disappointment, betrayal and failure alternate with their opposites. As we mature and grow spiritually we can take in long, even strides the vicissitudes of success and failure with increasing equanimity and calm cheerfulness. Ironically, this distance, this dispassion, allows us to embrace WHAT IS with humor, with compassion, with wisdom, and with creative vitality. 

This world is a world of energy and constant change. We never stand still and, unless we harness conscious intention and will power towards a given goal and in a specific direction, we will bob up and down like a cork on the ocean of life. Thus, our journey towards happiness must be seen in directional, not absolute, terms. If we learn to love another person, we may begin with human love, which is rife with attachment. But if we consciously try to leverage on our love-relationship to make it ever more unconditional, than our human love can grow towards unconditional, divine love. In this way, my ability to love even one person can be a doorway to perfect in me my capacity to love all without condition!

Being energetic, enthusiastic, willing, helpful, creatively engaged, and compassionate (while yet also wise): these are the simple steps that make for human happiness. A selfish person is never happy in her selfishness. A giving person finds satisfaction in helping others. Are these enough, however? No, but an excellent beginning. Imagine if enough people aspired sincerely to these merely human qualities, we'd be living in a paradise on this fair earth.

Where's the fly in the soup? Well, the problem is this "ceaseless flux" thing. The average person might affirm enthusiasm but life keeps score and wants to settle accounts. It prefers to keep the universe in balance. It has this annoying way of popping balloons. You see it goes like this: "whatever goes up, must come down." If we push the rope of attitude "up," it will have to come down, eventually.

Is there a secret escape: a skylight out of this dilemma? Yes, there is. But even if there wasn't, the effort to express enthusiasm would be worth it. Swami Kriyananda (my teacher) said of himself, "The reason I love is that I am happier loving than hating." To affirm enthusiasm does make us happy, even if just for a while. But it's at least the right direction, you see?

The skylight however is the discovery that enthusiasm isn't your invention. It comes from your own higher nature. This nature isn't personal: its universal. The secret of enthusiasm (and, therefore, happiness), however, is to know that happiness is an "inside" not an outside job. It is a product of our consciousness, not outside circumstances. Enthusiasm for vacuum cleaners (if you are a sales person for such) can't carry one very far by the nature of vacuum cleaners: nothing's perfect; competition may come up with a better one; too many people have one already; the one you are selling may be over priced etc.

Enthusiasm is larger than you: just as life and the universe are vaster than any one person. Enthusiasm (joy, peace, etc.) is like a radio station. All you need to do is to tune your receiver to that station. The more powerful your receiver the more happiness stations you can choose from. What if, "by nature," you are not an enthusiastic person? Then ACT enthusiastic and the power of your affirmation will automatically and magnetically turn the dial of your receiver to that station! Again, the direction of our efforts is vital.

Meditation offers the single most effective way to experience a state of mind where life affirming qualities like joy and peace can become increasingly your new and permanent self-identity. Living from your center is like having a box of chocolates where you know that each one has a creamy, yummy soft-center. Not like that box of chocolates like Forrest, Forrest Gump had. You know, the one where you "never know what you're gonna get."

Enthusiasm, like joy and peace, is an invisible and conscious force which, if we affirm that we do have it, will respond to support us. This is the anti-gravity serum that allows us to defeat the up and down-ness of the law of opposites which otherwise rules nature. This teaching is at the heart of the once popular pop movie, "The Secret." It's called magnetism. Our "energy" is like electricity: it generates a force field which attracts to it a like kind. Energy, then, based on attitude and reinforced by action, is the key to our destiny.

Yoga practice (by yoga, I mean primarily meditation but also its physical forms: postures) takes this a step further. Not only by "sitting" or "stretching" can one experience inner peace, but by consciously working with the life-vitality of the body to move this life force from the lower parts of the body up to the brain! A yogi learns to experience the body not merely as a physical mechanism, but as a creative vortex of vital, intelligent, life-giving energy.

Just as we look up when happy and look down when unhappy, so too yoga practice teaches us how to move the "energy" of the body upward. In the very process of this movement, we experience greater calmness and joy. It's not wholly mechanical for the mind has to cooperate rather than fight this process. As happiness (etc.) is a state of consciousness and not merely a "thing," it requires conscious intention, not just mechanical movements to attract it. But nonetheless it's amazingly easily to prove that a flow of energy in the right direction can change your consciousness. No belief system needed.

As we progress in the pursuit of true happiness, we gradually awaken to the reality that this joy exists not just within us but all around us: indeed: everywhere. We discover that this reality is conscious; it is self-evident to our own experience. This reality is super-conscious, meaning omnipresent and omniscient and, indeed, is the essence of life itself. It connects all matter and all people in one larger-than-life vortex of Consciousness and the reality of it becomes intuitively incontestable to your inner experience and sight. It is called: God! Divine Mother, or Father. or Holy Ghost or AUM.

Ultimately, this divine consciousness is both the source of, and the solution to resolving, all the opposites, both positive and negative. But that doesn't make negative as "good" as positive! Positive attitudes foster happiness far more effectively than negative ones. The bad guys go to jail; the heroes are honored. Our "job" is to move in the right direction (positive). When we discover the greater reality from which they come, then we are drawn magnetically towards our Source. It is in the baptism of our consciousness in that divine state where the opposites do not dwell that our efforts achieve both beatitude and increasing permanence.

To start this journey seeking the Holy Grail of happiness requires no dogma. Anyone, atheists included, may embark upon the adventure. The goal and the path are self-revealing, for, the secret of happiness, like the "kingdom of heaven," is, as Jesus Christ said it well enough, "within you."

Joy to you,

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What is the best meditation technique? What is Kriya Yoga?

What is the best meditation technique? Can a device with sound or images or other electronic stimulation really deepen your meditation? Should I use a pre-recorded, guided meditation aid? Are all the techniques which use the term "kriya" the same? There are so many mantras and pranayams and gurus, where does one even begin?

The short answer ("All roads lead to Rome") has some validity and is a tempting rejoinder and end to all these questions, but . . . . the "real answer" is both subjective (personal) and objective (demonstrable).

A proper response also requires an understanding of the purpose of meditation, whether, too, from the one's personal motivation or from the tradition and history of meditation itself. But I have addressed the question of "What is Meditation" in other articles on this site. For my purposes, I will assume that our shared understanding of the purpose of meditation is primarily a spiritual one.

"What works best for you" is a fair yardstick although be forewarned that you risk "the blind leading the blind and both falling in a ditch" of ignorance. It's like practicing hatha (physical) yoga because it's a good body workout experience: just because everybody does it, it still misses the true purpose of yoga by a "country mile."

Let's start with the personal: the meditation technique that is right for you has to work for you; it has to appeal to you: enough in the beginning to be attracted to it, and enough in the end to stick with it. This is not the same thing as saying your technique is effortless, easy, and blissful. Think of marriage (or a meaningful profession or career) as a comparison.

Notwithstanding the internet, CD's, DVD's and old-fashioned books, it is also worth noting that no effective (and long-term) meditation technique is divorced from its source: the teacher (or tradition). Partly it's a matter of your own confidence and faith in that technique. If John Smith down the street writes a book on meditation, it might strike your curiosity but I doubt it's going to change your life through daily, deep practice. Both the message and messenger are equally important. Meditation is personal: never forget that!

Not only, therefore, must the technique appeal to you and work sustain-ably for you but you must feel a connection, confidence, inspiration and/or faith in the teacher and/or tradition from which your chosen technique has come. I will stop short of talking about gurus and a disciple-guru relationship. I have written of that in other articles on this site.

There is one further point on the question of personal: the teachings and philosophy that surrounds your technique and teacher. Meditation, viewed in the vacuum of this article discussing technique (as such), might seem disconnected from the need for philosophy, theology, or teaching. Indeed, many meditation teachers say just that: you can be an atheist and practice meditation. Fine: who would argue with that! (I've said it myself!) But that, too, is a philosophy and a teaching. And maybe that really inspires you!

Thus some meditators practice under the auspices of one of the many Buddhist traditions; or Indian traditions; or Christian monastic traditions, or Sufi, Taoist, or Shinto and so on.

So, on a personal level, and as my own teacher, Swami Kriyananda put it in a talk he gave: we need to find the "right teacher, right teaching and right technique" for US and OUR spiritual evolution. All three (like Father, Son and Holy Ghost) are integral components of a successful (i.e. life changing) meditation practice.

Now, let's move on to the "objective" aspects of techniques. Almost any sincere and intelligent effort to meditate will produce positive results. That being said, we enter into the science of meditation. Keeping this article to a reasonable length, let us simplistically say that a successful technique or sitting in meditation experience will yield a mind that is focused and free from random thoughts; a body that is perfectly still (being relaxed but alert); and a "heart" or "mind" that experiences an expansion of consciousness and/or deep satisfaction in the form of inner peace (joy, love, etc.). Let's just leave it at that for now, ok?

The science of meditation teaches us that there is an intimate connection between our mind and body through the medium of breath. Our breath (in its various and measurable attributes of inhalation and exhalation) reflects our state of mind. Our state of mind affects our breath. This relationship is the bedrock of meditation.

The mind, however, can be influenced by conscious and intentional body movements (think yoga, martial arts), by mental concentration (mantra, visualization and affirmation), and by inspiration (chanting, prayer, and devotional images). Each of these, relative to breath, are still somewhat "outside" ourselves. They are effective when employed intelligently, consistently, and as guided intuitively. But the ultimate tool and the source (both) is the mind which in its purest form transcends any specific mental image or physical form. The breath has more directly than any of these other techniques a psycho-physiological impact upon the mind.

I am not saying that breath techniques are BETTER than mantra or devotion, for example. Rather, I am saying that the breath, relatively uncolored and free from the image-making faculties of the mind (which, in the end are abandoned in the higher states of meditation), works directly upon the mind. In the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, the core sutra states that oneness is achieved when the mind transcends creating and reacting to stimuli (mental or otherwise): Stanza 2: "Yogas chitta vritti nirodha."

That fact doesn't invalidate the wide range of meditation techniques. St. Teresa of Avila discovered from direct experience how to go from formulaic prayer to silent, inner prayer and finally beyond all mentation into ecstatic, breathless states of divine communion. She was known to levitate and even bi-locate.

Nonetheless, the discovery of the mind-breath-body connection IS the science of meditation. It is HOW the mind rediscovers the transcendent state of pure consciousness even while in a body. Thus it is that breath techniques (aka "pranayama") abound and are very often at least part of the most effective and popular meditation techniques that are taught and practiced today.

I practice the popular Kriya Yoga technique as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda and his lineage (Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Swami Sri Yukteswar). It has been made known principally through his famous story, "Autobiography of a Yogi." Chapter 26 of that book ("Kriya Yoga") can be read for free online:

While most of the popularly used pranayams focus on the breath, diaphragm, and lungs, Kriya Yoga focuses on the internal, subtle breath whose movements, yogis tell us, cause the physical breath. These currents of energy (known as "prana") revolve up and down in the subtle (or "astral") body which inhabits (creates, sustains, and, at death, leaves) the physical body. The intelligent vital Life Force of prana flows out to the physical body through doorways known as "chakras." Kriya Yoga organically and gradually teaches one how to control this life force so as to consciously coax it inward and away from its captivity in the organs and tissues of the physical body so its power and intelligence (which is divine) can reunite with its commander-in-chief, the Soul, residing in the higher(est) chakras in and around the head. This goal is the state of yoga: union with the Soul and then, eventually, with the Infinite Oversoul which is God.

Each conscious rotation of the prana in the astral body through the chakras is equivalent to living one full solar year in perfect harmony with the body, with the world and with the soul. Excluding the seventh chakra, the soul, the remaining six chakras becomes twelve by the polarity of the movement of prana up and down and through these chakras (producing, in turn, in each rotation, one breath cycle of inhalation and exhalation). These twelve constitute the true inner astrological constellations under which our karma (past actions) reside and which must be untied and released so their energy may seek soul-union above in the seventh chakra.

In this manner, Yogananda taught that the practice of Kriya Yoga is the "airplane route" to God because it accelerates our spiritual evolution by resolving karmic patterns without having to wait many lifetimes to work out each and every desire and make good each and every debt.

Kriya Yoga is not only a technique: it is a spiritual path. It therefore uses devotion, chanting, affirmation, mantra and good works, right short all the tools of the spiritual "trade" that one sees universally employed. By adding this direct perception and control of our inner, soul anatomy, we have a meditation technique suited to our cultural inclination toward science (and away from sectarianism).

I will not conclude by saying "Kriya Yoga is the BEST technique" but it is a great gift to the world for those who feel drawn to it and inspired by its preceptors and precepts.

Blessings to you,

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Is Yoga Spiritual or is Yoga Exercise?

I'm supposed to be preparing my talk for Sunday Service tomorrow. So, instead, I'm going to write this because it's easier. Ok, it is somewhat related but my talks rarely are anything like these blog posts---so there!

Millions of human beings are practicing energetic health-inducing disciplines like martial arts and yoga. These help over-active people to slow down, get centered, and learn to move in the body and through the world with calm, conscious vitality.

The other day I was speaking with a fellow who has decades of experience in more martial arts systems than I had ever heard of. He had only been introduced to yoga and meditation recently. He made a simple comment of distinction. He said that in martial arts one gets hold of one's chi (energy) and directs it outward. In yoga, by contrast, you do the same thing but direct the prana (chi) inward (and upward to the brain). I found that helpful and it seemed intuitively clear (though I've had no experience in martial arts).

Is the practice of yoga (the physical poses, that is) simply another exercise system? This, in fact, is being debated around the world, from New Delhi, India to Delhi, California. As exercise, various governmental and non-profit organizations seek to monitor, license and otherwise control the quality and consequences of the practice. This patterns how we think about the sale of goods and services in the marketplace and how we think about the role of government to protect us from shoddy or fraudulent business practices.

Is yoga a spiritual practice or is it exercise? If spiritual, governments or other bodies may be forced to leave it alone in the name of separation of church and state and/or freedom of religious practice. If exercise, then government is likely to view its role as to protect our citizens from inadequately trained or even fraudulent yoga teachers.

Is meditation a psycho-physiological mental-health system or is it a spiritual practice? In the spiritual tradition from which yoga (including meditation) has arisen, a student seeks a teacher and undertakes what is usually a lengthy and rigorous training. The student may, or may not, be authorized, instructed or permitted to go out and teach others; or, he may simply do that with or without his teacher's sanction when his training is complete. Because the outer form of yoga practices are infinitely varied and because in the yogic tradition the purpose is to awaken a higher consciousness (which cannot, by its nature, be measured or quantified to the satisfaction of government bureaucrats or proven by consumer surveys), only the most egregious applications can be sanctioned and those, usually, by being unmasked, ostracized and "run out of town."

Yoga claims to be practical, scientific, and independent of religious belief or affiliation. Paramhansa Yogananda's mission statement when he came to America in 1920 was published in the ghost-written book, "The Science of Religion." (In recent years this was clarified and conformed to his actual teachings by his disciple, and founder of Ananda, Swami Kriyananda with the book title, "God is for Everyone.")

Because of this claim, yoga opens itself up to the view that it is therefore not spiritual! Let the battle begin! This is where "spiritual but not religious" enters the fray. But the fact is, much of physical (hatha) yoga IS taught and practiced strictly (or, well, mostly) as a form of exercise, with some mental health benefits in the form of calmness, relaxation, and self-awareness added in for good measure. So, some do; some, don't.

It's a perfect dilemma for a left brain, rule-bound society! In Washington State a few years ago, a state agency held hearings on this and some of us from the yoga schools testified. For the time being they concluded that in certain contexts yoga classes were off limits to their oversight, and in others, the practice had to be licensed with them. Ananda, being already a church and practicing yoga overtly AS A spiritual practice, we easily received exemption. Fitness studios and gyms, by contrast, did not. Seemed a reasonable line to draw.

It drives the orthodox religionists (except Hindus, of course) crazy. I read an article about yoga practice in Iran, for example! Yes, there are some 200 yoga studios but they are frowned upon big-time. A yoga teacher in my area re-named her yoga class (held in a Christian church) to suit the tastes of her orthodox Christian members.......Movement and Prayer, or something like that?

But the dirty little secret about yoga is that it IS this sense, at least: with consistent and focused practice (and irrespective of beliefs or expectations), some students will begin to experience states of awareness that enter their lives bestowing, as if from "nowhere," unconditioned joy, steady calmness and an experience of sacredness and reverence. Is that a threat to orthodoxy? That depends on orthodoxy, but it need not be so because all religions possess (somewhere) this same sense of reverence and sacredness.

Some, more than others. Not Unitarians, of course, but more likely Catholics, well, you get my meaning (all poking fun, aside). In principle, a Christian could direct this sacredness towards her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The orthodox religionist, however, detecting that this sacredness appears without being prompted by or without having an initial identification with an orthodox-approved outer form might call it satanic because it has no known source and takes no orthodox form (or has the potential to take UNorthodox form). So, again, we have cup that is half empty or half full.

But the reality remains that yoga practice MIGHT awaken its practitioner to state of being independent of outward circumstances and possessing the potential to find within ourselves the happiness we normally seek outside ourselves. This is, and probably should be, a threat to orthodoxy for the simple fact that orthodoxy wants its adherents to receive their spiritual wisdom and graces through the authorized vehicle of their priestly class and its sacraments and chain of approved dispensations.

Whether government has the right to control who can teach yoga (and meditation) must be left to society and government. The way these things are encircling the globe more or less leaves governmental control at least partly in the dust, if you include the internet as form of learning and practice. No doubt some ridiculously lame circumstance will be so outrageous that public cries for reform and control will bring the hammer of government oversight down again and again. Such is the way of the world.

But there will always exist either secretive or at least less public esoteric practices and practitioners reserved to whom those go who are willing to give their all to the "way" and who understand that true "yoga" is an "all-or-nothing" proposition in respect to the ego. There simply cannot be a more "religious" or "spiritual" end-game than "union with God, the Infinite Power!"

Never before in recorded history has something like yoga happened. Millions discover a wellspring of spirituality within themselves. What do they DO with that living water? It's as varied as the individual, of course. To keep the spring flowing it is essential to share it somehow; to associate with others who share it with you; to find some outward form of expressing it. No surprise, then, that "spiritual but not religious" is like a rising tide. Those who keep it to themselves will, in time, lose their source.

This article has already taken an unanticipated direction on me. So I'm going to go to a different vantage point and take it home for now. What I had intended to write about is on the theme that yoga (meaning, really, meditation, or for sake of clarity, "raja yoga") is coming to the fore of human society because our souls crave to balance our commitment to materialism and outwardness with inner Self-awareness. Modern life has given millions the freedom for ego to explore the candy store of the senses and the world. This inevitably brings over-satiety, suffering, nervousness, depression and existential dread. Truth simply IS and the truth IS that our true nature is greater than the ego, the personality and the body. We can never be satisfied with possessing material abundance and its satisfactions. Death itself mocks us.

Yoga is the natural antidote to a world, in historic terms, gone wild with newly-won freedom to grasp for life, liberty and the pursuit of material happiness. Egos everywhere have been freed from centuries of bondage in medieval caste consciousness and far too many now worship at the altar of selfish indulgence unaware that pursued to the extreme will destroy the very pleasure, prosperity and illusive security it worships, and in the process, harm many others around! It is impossible for everyone on the planet to be rich, young, beautiful, famous, and live the "good life" defined by today's rate of resource consumption in suburban and urban life in countries like America. We CAN be healthy and happy but not by living that way, by ignoring the consequences to others and future generations. Happiness comes from living in harmony with ourselves and with others, and the world around us. They are not the result of technology and wealth.

The cure for society's ills lies within us, for as Jesus said so long ago, "The kingdom of heaven is within you." Many up and coming nations are busy in the world's candy store but millions, like you and I, know that "dissatisfaction" is guaranteed. Humanity has the potential to destroy itself and all life if enough people do not claim our soul's birthright as children of God. Ego-aggrandizement ensures destruction when practiced worldwide. Ego self-offering to God, in service, in devotion, and in silence can save us from ourselves.

Yoga teaches us the science of mind: how our consciousness is connected to the body through the neutral medium of Life Force (chi, prana). Yoga teaches us how to use the breath and body to awaken that intelligent energy, bring it under our control, withdraw it from the senses, and direct it upward toward the brain, the only true "garden of Eden" in the East of the body (forehead) where true and lasting happiness is found. Finding that happiness exists within us, we no longer have to go begging for it in the marketplace of sense satisfaction and resource consumption. We can live simply, harmoniously, with health, vitality and friendships born of divine attunement.

Well too much said already. Enough a'ready....

Blessings to all, yoga is for everyone!

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Meditator's Monkey Mind - Or, Stop and enjoy a banana!

As a meditation teacher for some 25 years and a meditator for 40 years, I think I know what the "monkey mind" is like, and, in fact, so does everyone who sincerely tries to meditate and achieve stillness of mind as part of meditation.

Restless thoughts are unquestionably the most frequent single complaint of meditation students. Is there a solution? Well, not one single solution, but, given our own mental complexity, a bowl of bananas' worth of solutions.

I have lived for many years of my life in one of two of the nine Ananda intentional communities (Nevada City and Seattle). I have thus the experience of meditating, day in and day out, with the same people. Add to that leading meditations in classes too numerous to quantify, and participating in large-group meditations, one becomes sensitive to the meditative consciousness of others. I have, thus, from time to time, found myself feeling the need (and having the responsibility) to remind other meditators not to mistake the techniques and practice of meditation for the goal.

Since meditation requires mental effort, it is not surprising that the more years one persists in daily meditation the more likely one has developed a certain degree of will power. Few people on this planet have the desire or the will to meditate, for whatever reason (and there are many!). But putting out energy can sometimes become an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. We can get so used to "pushing" that we may forget where we are pushing toward! If there is too much self-will involved in meditation than the meditative experience is all about "me."

At the same time, daily repetition of any kind can result in what becomes simply an ingrained habit. It is easier than some might imagine to fall into a mechanical meditation routine and into a semi-sub-conscious state of mind during meditation. By definition, subconsciousness means less than conscious and therefore if we slip into even a semi-subconscious state (like daydreaming vs sleeping), we lose the mindfulness necessary to even know where we've gone or that we aren't doing what we came to do! Our thoughts then drift along, pleasantly or aimlessly.

I've noticed that other meditators simply "enjoy the self." By this I mean, I can sometimes feel that a meditator is calm and centered within and focused pleasurably on his or her inner experience of peace or selfhood without making any effort of will and devotion in self-offering or prayerfulness. It's all about "What I am feeling," in other words. No harm, but very little spiritual progress. It is axiomatic, however described, that superconscious states are achieved by attuning ourselves to those states and that those experiences come from the combination of self-effort and grace---which could be defined as the descent of superconsciousness as a loving response to sincere and heartfelt effort (but never as a result of the ego affrirmation and will power).

I won't attempt to define the purpose of meditation but suffice to say, and there is an almost infinity of ways to do so, that one seeks to experience something greater than one's own ego. Such a state (Paramhansa Yogananda call it "superconsciousness") is the "holy grail" and, by definition, is quest not easily or consistently achieved. Long term meditators, therefore, often settle for far less and lapse into either habit or self-comfort. Never mind the philosophical aspects of delusion, maya, satan, or ego.......meaning the internal resistance to seeking Self-expansion. Yes, of course, this is the existential aspect of our deeply embedded unwillingness to give ourselves into a greater reality. But, for this article, I assume a meditator, at least in principle, seeks such a higher state, however described (whether philosophically, devotionally, or energetically).

"If you don't know where you went, you didn't go there (into superconsciousness)." I am quoting only myself, but I admit it looks good on paper (this is paper?).  I tell this to students: meditation is not spacing out or blanking out, or drifting off into some pleasant place or daydream. Superconsciousness is a state of intense inner awareness: not "tense" with "tension," but vibrantly alive and far more so than in ordinary conscious awareness.

"To achieve perfect stillness of mind, you have to want it." (Did I really say that? Rather deep, don't you agree?) Regular meditators can slip into the habit of merely practicing and forget to focus on the goal. Patanjali (author of the "Yoga Sutras") describes one of the obstacles to spiritual growth as "missing the point." I find this amusing given the deep nature of the sutras and it is one of the rare moments in which Patanjali lapses into the vernacular, so to speak, talking with the guys at the clubhouse. But this is so true: in all aspects of life, not just meditation! When you sit to meditate, affirm your desire and intention "To be still and know that I AM ......" To go beyond the labyrinth of the mind, you have to want to: and I mean really, really want to. We have untold numbers of lifetimes fending off threats to our survival and asserting ourselves and our desires.

(Patanjai's famous "Yoga Sutras" are the unquestioned "bible" of meditation and the stages of spiritual evolution. Swami Kriyananda's last major written work, "Demystifying Patanjali: The Yoga Sutras," should be studied by every serious meditator. Padma and I are giving an 8-week course beginning September 11. We will have audio, if not video, available for those at a distance. Email if interested at a distance. To obtain the book visit your local Ananda center or East West Bookshop or the publisher at

Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013), founder of Ananda and the most publicly visible and accessible direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, taught that the secret to stilling restless thoughts lies not in the mind but in the heart! This is the secret I wish to share. When you begin your meditation, open the doors of your heart, going deeper and deeper into stillness and calmness. Peel away layers of restlessness, anxiety, fear, regrets and find the eternal baseline of inner peace and security. Then, lift your consciousness to the Christ center (the point between the eyebrows) and commence your personal meditation practice.

This can be expressed, of course, also in devotional terms. For some people, in fact, it's far easier to do so. That's where focusing lovingly upon the image, feeling, form or vibration of one's guru provides a mental and heart-based focus for meditation that takes us beyond the petty machinations of the monkey mind. Feed this monkey devotion! Yearn for God; yearn for peace; yearn for the state of bliss! You have to want it. The mind doesn't want it. The ego doesn't want it. Hey, you've got problems, remember? Lots of problems. See what I mean?

The feeling aspect of consciousness can also be directed more impersonally toward superconsciousness using creative imagery to evoke inner peace, unconditional love, deep and expansive calmness and true bliss and joy. Imagery from nature contains archetypal elements of vibratory consciousness: the majesty of a mountain; the aspirational strength of tall trees; the expansiveness of the great and calm ocean; the power of crashing surf; the peace and acceptance of the moonrise; the power and wisdom of the sun; the freedom of blue sky; the eternity of the star-studded universe above, below and all around!

For us mental types (and being a meditation teacher), I find it helpful, and you might also, to do a self-guided meditation. While practicing self-talk yourself through your routine: your prayer, your pranayams, your various techniques and finally into silence. Talk to your guru (mentally). See him practicing through you: it's his breath, not yours. He knows the techniques better than you, so ask him to practice and you'll simply watch! Imagine him sitting next to you; or in front; or on your head, or, in your heart! Self-talk your way into silence!

Learn to love being still. When I experience perfect stillness of the mind, it, well, to quote a phrase, "blows my mind!" Really, it does. It is thrilling! Even if it lasts only seconds or minutes. You just want to burst with joy! Embrace silence like an old friend sitting next to you on the park bench or on the couch at home.

Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says famously that "even a little of this practice will save you from dire fears." Aspire always in each meditation to touch the hem of infinity in the form of peace, or perfect stillness, or loving acceptance. Even if for a moment, it will guarantee you will return to meditation with joyful expectation and confidence.

If you gaze intently but calmly into the point between the eyebrows and fix your gaze there, unwaveringly, you simply cannot fall into lower states, and you can hold errant thoughts at bay. Focused steadily but in a relaxed and enjoyable way, at this point (known as the Kutastha or Christ center: the center of our eternal and unchanging divinity, will power and knowing), with hardly a flicker of movement, distracting thoughts subside and evaporate like fog in the rising sun of a summer day.

In the process, it is sometimes like standing out in the hallway from a room filled with people chattering. You can hear the sounds of talking but you don't necessarily hear all the words. Thus the monkey mind can sometimes chatter in the background but you don't have to listen. In time it simply evaporates. It's the calm focus at the spiritual eye (between the eyebrows, as though gazing through that point and out a little bit) that silences the monkey mind (because you are not listening) . Looking up, inwardly, also re-directs the mind into "Huh, what'd you say?" mode.  The "listening mudra" is extremely effective in achieving inner silence.

Think about it: you hear something or someone slightly at a distance, and like the old train crossings, you "stop, look, and listen." Cock your head to the side as if listening and the mind shuts off and "listens up." Try it in meditation. It really works.

I will go even deeper before I sign off. Get off now, unless you want to really do this. Whether you practice mantra meditation, breath awareness, concentration on inner light or sound, Kriya Yoga and so on, it is the same. There are two aspects to higher consciousness: one is perfect stillness (the reflected bliss of divine consciousness) and the other is ever-moving, vibrating power of Spirit in manifestation. Causal and astral; unmoving and moving; male and female; thought and feeling; Kutastha and Aum. No matter what form of yoga meditation you practice, we essentially contact the movements of divine consciousness (prana, vibration, Aum, Divine Mother) and rotate this energy around the inner Sun (Son) at the spiritual eye. In time the rotation begins to slow and finally becomes still as the energy merges into pure thought, pure consciousness. "Meditate so deeply," Paramhansa Yogananda counseled, "until breath (prana) becomes mind (conscoiusness). I better stop here.

These are just some of the ways we can feed bananas to the monkey mind and keep him preoccupied. And, don't forget to reassure the monkey that when you are done meditating, you'll get right back to all of his big problems. "They are, like, SO IMPORTANT!" (hee, hee, hee).

Well, time for a banana.


Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Life Force - God Incarnate & Healer Universal!

The ancient metaphysical teachings of East and West, through the voice of the masters, have averred since time immemorial that the creation, the cosmos, and you and I are manifestations of the One Light of the Supreme Spirit. A further extension of this precept, discovered through intuition and proven by the methods of modern science by Albert Einstein, goes further to say that energy is the underlying and unifying force of all creation.

From the view point of the spiritual teachings of Vedanta, Yoga, and Shankhya (the core of the so-called "Indian philosophy") the link between Spirit (consciousness or mind) and matter is this energy. It is called "prana" in Sanskrit, and Chi, in the far East. The spiritual teaching is that this innate, intelligent, and divine Life Force takes the form of the subtle ("astral") body and is the repository of the matrix of our individual karma (ego, tendencies, life patterns). But, being in essence our higher Self, or soul, it is divine. It holds the key to our spiritual growth. By becoming increasingly aware of and sensitive to this Life Force, one grows in wisdom, peace, self-acceptance and all the other attributes of Life Force and our soul. This awareness begins with physical, mental and emotional relaxation from the distraction and hypnosis of body and ego consciousness. Specific Life Force control techniques, known as pranayama, form the heart of yoga disciplines.

This Life Force has its residence in the subtle, astral spine. This astral spine is analogous to and the subtle prototype for the physical spine and vertebrae. Advanced yogic techniques have for their focus concentration upon the astral spine. The astral spine includes along its length the "doorways" known as the chakras. Through these doors, Life Force goes out into the physical body and returns inward to its "source" or home in the subtle spine.

Thus it is that the science of yoga uses Life Force control for spiritual growth towards Self-realization. But it is also true that this very same Life Force control is the key to health and well being! The Spirit has descended into human form through the agency of prana, thus giving us birth, life, energy, intelligence and physical form. Retracing our steps through and with prana back to Spirit is the "anatomical" essence of spiritual growth. This knowledge can accelerate our spiritual awakening and is the unique contribution of yoga science to the sincere efforts of spiritual seekers regardless of religious affiliation.

Nonetheless, Paramhansa Yogananda, and his disciple and founder of Ananda (worldwide), Swami Kriyananda, dedicated much of their teachings and public service to helping people use these precepts and techniques for self-improvement, success, better relationships and, of course, health. A healthy body and ego are essential or at least greatly helpful for spiritual growth.

The now popular yoga and meditation therapy techniques are a direct result of the intuitive and experimental knowledge of Life Force as the essential element in all life and in all healing. It has become increasingly sophisticated and works in tandem with modern medical science to assist in healing body and mind. The effectiveness of allopathic medicine depends upon the degree to which modern drugs and methods stimulate the healing power of Life Force. Western medicine acknowledges, too, that patient attitude and faith has a direct and measurable effect upon healing. Nonetheless, stopping short of working with physical or mental disease (a task which requires proper medical training and teamwork with medical professionals), yoga and meditation techniques can be offered and used by anyone for personal self-improvement and general health and well-being.

It is our hope, therefore, at Ananda in the Seattle area ("Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell, WA to move in the direction of developing courses in yoga and meditation designed specifically to apply the precepts and techniques of yoga and meditation for the general health and well-being.

Beyond the obvious physical health culture is the more subtle mental culture. By improving our mental well-being -- calmness, intuition, self-awareness, concentration, positive attitudes, and creativity -- we can improve our success in business or career; in relationships; and in our ability to change habits in eating, sleeping, and behavior.

This opens the doors to courses in bringing yoga principles and techniques into business, learning the superior merits of cooperation over competition; of integrity and servicefulness over short-term profits; to understandings that true success brings greater happiness, not more tension and stress.

In dietary matters, Life Force control teaches the how and why prana-filled foods bring more energy and well-being to both body and mind; why a vegetarian diet is generally better for most people. In human relations and mental well-being, calmness and self-awareness and movement of Life Force upward in the subtle spine can help us transmute harmful emotions; to love without fear; to become more expansive, joyful and creative. Even sustainable food growing represents Life Force awareness (in nature). There is so much that can be shared and applied in practical ways for a better life.

In 2007 we created the Institute of Living Yoga - "where yoga comes to life!." At present, the Institute sponsors only the yoga teacher training and the meditation teacher training. Now we would like begin developing new courses and this new direction of using yoga (and meditation) for health of body and mind.

None of this is new to yoga; none of this is new to the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda or Swami Kriyananda (and, by extension, Ananda worldwide). But clarity of emphasis and focus can take one deeper in any direction or activity. While Ananda represents the teachings of Yogananda, this does not make the techniques themselves sectarian or narrow. The ancient yogic science is for everyone and it is universal. Nor is there any need for us to survey and represent the many excellent and varied yoga lineages in order to help others. The essence - Life Force awareness and control - is the same.

So I ask for your blessings and support for this new emphasis. It won't happen overnight and we will need help with web development, content and curriculum, and teacher development along with the tools of web supported sharing. Any sincere interest and support is welcome.

Blessings to all,

Swami Hrimananda
aka Hriman