Showing posts with label reincarnation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reincarnation. Show all posts

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Avatar in You and Me! Friends in God

O Bharata, whenever virtue declines and vice predominates, I incarnate on earth. Taking visible form, I come to destroy evil and re-establish virtue. (Bhagavad Gita, 4:7-8)

In this passage, Lord Krishna speaks to us about the ancient teaching from India of the "avatara": the descent of God into human form in response to the needs of humankind.

While Hinduism and Christianity view their respective avatars as "actual" incarnations of God, the more nuanced teaching as elucidated by Paramhansa Yogananda is that the "saviour" ("Avatar") is a soul like you and me with but one difference: the avatar has, in a prior life, achieved oneness with God and worked out all past karma. Thus, the avatar returns to human form solely for the sake of helping souls still in delusion.

[Why or how the term has come to mean one's "alter ego" as in "my avatar" in gaming or social network circles is beyond me. But that's neither the term's original meaning nor my own in this article.]

The avatar's prior dissolution of ego consciousness implies that the ego has merged wholly into soul consciousness and, from there, has become "one with God." Thus Jesus Christ could declare, "I and my Father are One!" The distinction, then, between saying "God has incarnated in human form" and "Another soul, like me, has achieved God-realization" is, in fact, not great so far as the avatar's state of consciousness is concerned. But it IS important so far as WE are concerned because this truth affirms or reminds us that WE can also achieve that state!

By contrast, if God simply "incarnates Himself" into human form, as a special divine creation, it tells us that we are inherently separate from God. No difference for God who is omnipresent, but a big obstacle for us who are not yet omnipresent! 

This is, in fact, the "good news" which God sends to humankind through those who "have seen Him."

But for the promise of immortality represented in this "good news," only those with "eyes to see and ears to hear" can see and hear this good news.

God does not interfere with the karma and desires of those souls whom He has created. Only those who are ready to remember their soul's immortality hear the news. Of course, "many turned away" as the New Testament said of the life of Jesus towards the end of his ministry for they could not fathom his radical call to sonship in God (especially when he spoke of "eating my flesh" and "drinking my blood!").

In Yogananda's life, too, Swami Kriyananda said that it was like a hotel at the headquarters at Mt. Washington in Los Angeles: "people checking in and out." They did not recognize the spiritual stature and promise of Yogananda who, evidently, did not live up to their expectations! 

Even during Yogananda's "barnstorming days" around America when thousands would line up to hear him speak, only a few remained after the novelty of this popular motivational speaker from India had been satisfied.

Much more could be said on the nature of the soul and the saviour, but I would like to go back to the quote from the Bhagavad Gita above. 

What does Krishna mean when he says he comes "to destroy evil?" Swami Kriyananda in his landmark book, Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, points out that Krishna does NOT say he will destroy EVILDOERS! He takes aim at EVIL itself. Destroying "evil" and "re-establishing virtue" is a reference to consciousness. 

This means, then, that the avatar's purpose is to uplift human consciousness. This takes place on two planes: that of the individual souls (presumably disciples from past lives) and that of humanity at large. In looking back over history, we can see that the avatar must address the realities and needs of those specific places and cultures into which he/she is born. Yet, over time, the avatar's influence expands worldwide as in the case of Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, and now we see also in respect to Yogananda, to name a few. The power of such a descent, a "purna avatar," lingers for centuries, even millennia! 

But the medium through which this power spreads and continues over time is the "avatara" that occurs in the hearts and minds of those who are awakened. 

As the avatar's consciousness is that of God consciousness and as the disciple seeks to attune to God consciousness, we, too, can see ourselves, in a sense, as part of the avatara. Thus our life's purpose includes helping to help uplift humanity, on a scale appropriate to our own lives. 

While we devotees naturally focus on the "virtue" element of the avatar's mission, I'd like to consider the evil-destroying element. 

Yogananda said that in a past life he was William the Conqueror. And after that lifetime he said he was a king in Spain (probably Ferdinand III). It is, admittedly, difficult to overlay what we know of the lives of these men with the concept of an avatar. But, whatever the case may be historically or otherwise, it suggests some aspects of the evil-destroying purpose of their incarnation. 

Stories of the life of Krishna are filled with episodes where he destroys this or that demon (incarnations of evil). We, too, have our demons. Attunement to the avatar means we, too, should do our best to destroy our bad habits or ignorance. 

In the lives of Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr we see two great souls battling the demons of injustice and social evils. I don't hold them out as avatars but as souls who took up the avatar's sword for themselves. Gandhi took kriya initiation from Yogananda and King considered himself a disciple of Gandhi. Gandhi had a special love for Lord Rama, and King, for Jesus Christ. Both Rama and Jesus are considered avatars.

While history celebrates their social justice accomplishments, they were candid about their own inner struggles as well. Thus they stand as excellent examples of the avatara "destroying evil." 

In yoga, we speak frequently about the importance of being centered in the spine (both physical and astral spine) The spine is a symbol of strength, self-discipline, and one-pointed upward focus. While spirituality as expressed in these times and as emphasized by Yogananda is focused on the positive, life-affirming results and process of spiritual growth, he also made it clear to his close disciples of the need for self-discipline and ego transcendence.

Swami Kriyananda would sometimes counsel us saying, "Be a little stern with yourself." He told the story of how one evening, sick of the little prancing prince of the ego, he cried out in meditation, commanding his ego, "GET OUT!" Later, walking outside in the dark he came upon Yogananda. Kneeling before him, Yogananda said quietly to Kriyananda, "Very good." 

But as a caveat: just be sure you direct your self-discipline towards yourself, not others! Your efforts are between you and your soul.

Practice "titiksha": disciplining your senses in regard to sensations such as heat or cold; or the likes and dislikes of flavours; or the opinions (perceived or actual) of others; of your own opinions. By practising on little things we prepare ourselves to hold in check the ego's preening on the stage of your life. 

Receptivity to the avatar should include both sides of the equation for spiritual growth: ego transcendence and the transforming power of unconditional love and joy. Our soul's journey is necessarily unique and individual. It's expression, therefore, must remain true to your Self. 

But one thing common to all of us, because we are united by God, is found in one of the greatest treasures of the journey: the gift of true friendship. Friends-in-God are those who act as soul-mirrors to one another. The company you keep, both inwardly and outwardly, determine to a great extent the direction of your attention: whether upward toward God, or, downward toward ego and the senses.

Let us remember that the purpose of the "descent" is to enable us to rise. "Rise O My Soul in Freedom."

Jai guru,

Swami Hrimananda

Monday, August 20, 2018

Reflections from Vacation: Does Dirt Have a Soul?

Paramhansa Yogananda once stated that “I remembered my incarnation as a diamond!”

What do you do with THAT? Does every grain of dirt or rock possess a soul? If our souls are “as old as God” how do we get to the human level? Did we start at some exalted level and then became dumber, rock-like, as it were?

These are, admittedly, seriously Unimportant questions. Fitting for a lazy, summer afternoon when all of the world’s problems have finally been solved while sitting on the deck enjoying the view.

Here are some things as I believe I have learned them in the context of Vedanta and the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda:

God created all things.

God created all things by becoming them and planted within them the seed of His own intention to create. And why? It is the nature of Bliss to share.

God is beyond His own creation and remains untouched by it. God is Satchidanandam: ever-existing (immortal), ever-conscious (omniscient), and ever-new bliss (omnipresent).

God’s nature is triune: FIRST: There is the “Father” Spirit who is the source of creation and yet beyond and untouched by His creation. SECOND: There is the Mother of creation, or Holy Ghost, the initial and primordial vibration of God out of which all creation is made manifest, sustained, and withdrawn. This is the “Word” or “Comforter” in whom (by deep experiential attunement) “all things are known.” As all things in creation are vibrating, so the Aum Vibration (the Divine Mother) is the underlying reality, undifferentiated, of all things and thus described as a “virgin,” meaning untouched by the specific qualities (good, bad, indifferent) subsequently manifested by each item in creation. THIRD: There is the “only begotten son of God” which is the vibrationless reflection of the Father-Spirit which resides as the indwelling divine intelligence at the still, unmoving heart of every atom of creation. By planting His “seed” (or “His vibrationless bliss & His intention to create) in the womb of the (vibrating) Mother of creation, God ensures creation’s perpetuation.

The outflowing pulsation of the Holy Ghost (the Aum vibration) into creation steadily picks up “speed and substance” as it moves through the levels of creation. It begins to acquire a sense of its separateness, enjoys that I-ness, and begins to actively pursue perpetuating itself and the creation as a separate force, being, and entity from God. It is called maya, or the satanic force. It seeks others of like mind to further draw away from God into its own orbit of increasing darkness, no longer comprehending the light which gave it initial birth.

This outflowing force is countered by the soothing sound of the in-flowing power of Aum to draw all beings back to its Source in Bliss.

We are made in the image of God. We must, therefore, possess a triune nature as well.

There are three levels of creation: FIRST is thought (causal-intentional-idea-blissful); SECOND is energy (feeling-finer electrical and atomic forces-light-astral-subtle and prototypical life force and subtle forms), and THIRD is matter (objectified creation).

The soul appears on the casual level; the ego appears on the astral level; the human body appears on the physical level as a necessary extension of the ego’s desires and attachments.

Paramhansa Yogananda described the ego as the “soul identified with the body.” This identification is temporary. The ego is a “bundle of self-definitions” and a bundle of countless impressions (vasanas), actions (karma producing vrittis), and samskaras (tendencies). Implicit in Yogananda’s definition is that ego possesses at least a modicum of awareness of itself as distinct from other selves: hence, a key attribute of ego is self-awareness.

Animals, nations, races, etc., have a mass karma which has its roots in their identification with their species and behavior and qualities of its nature.

Does dirt have a soul? If all things ARE God in manifestation then all things exist in the three-fold creation of casual, astral and physical. Thus all objects partake in the essence of God and thus can be said to have a soul at least in the sense of possessing at its heart the blissful intelligence and intention of God (beyond creation). It is that seed of intelligence that permits each object to manifest and sustain itself AS itself, so that dirt look like dirt, and chickens behave as chickens.

But: and there’s always a butt in the crowd, where’s the ego in dirt? The ego in dirt lacks self-awareness, so for all practical purposes you can say there’s no ego there. While certainly the divine causal consciousness of dirt has manifested the outer form of dirt, self-awareness is NOT manifested, though it is, by necessity and definition, latent. To quote an ancient sloka: “God sleeps in the rocks.” Still, dirt IS dirt and retains all of dirt’s manifold and wonderful attributes (which I will not bother to name). The existence of dirt suggests a rudimentary intelligence but there is no evidence an ego.

On the fungible level of dirt, minerals, gasses and the like, the innate God consciousness at their heart may be a kind of soul-force but they exhibit no sign of separate, self-awareness beyond the rudimentary intelligence that guides such forms of matter to behave in ways appropriate to their form and function.
Soul-force at this basic level can presumably merge and divide endlessly without distinction, gain or loss. All creation is, in effect, an infinite variety of divine sparks whose uniqueness relates to the form assumed.

We love nature and most animals because, inter alia, they are relatively ego-less. The ego arises with the perception of separateness which has latent within it the implicit potential for self-awareness. Thus a worm wriggles away if pricked with a pin just as simple cells and lower life forms attempt to avoid being eaten. The latency of self-awareness can evolve as the forms themselves contain an ever greater potential to express it. Some animals (dogs, horses, etc.) are more intelligent, or, put more correctly, more self-aware than others (think, e.g., chickens).

Yogananda claimed that the “missing link” would never be found because the appearance of the human form was not a mere accident or result of a mechanical or mindless evolutionary biology prompted by the impulse to survive and procreate. Instead, the human form, he insisted, resulted from an act of divine intervention. (I posit that his statement might have been a way to affirm that behind evolution is a superconscious, or divine, intention whose purpose was and is to evolve a form capable of achieving cosmic consciousness. But, so far as I am aware, he never explained this.)

To God, who is Infinite, time has little meaning. It might take “forever” to evolve the human body to be capable of perceiving God directly through intuition (in cosmic consciousness) but “what is time to Him?”

In the great drama of life from the God’s-I point of view, the purpose of the “drama of life is the fact that it is but a drama.” The creation exists as a great riddle the solution to which is to unmask the illusion of separateness and reveal the substance of creation as Ekam Sat: God alone exists. 

As a dog becomes identified to a human and to human voices, surroundings, comforts and behavior, it is not difficult to imagine that as the dog becomes increasingly self-aware and human it will attract a human body in its next life.

Thus the ego can be seen as an emerging self-awareness that identifies increasingly with its outer form and with protecting, defending and enjoying that form. Lower life forms suffer less or perhaps not at all when killed, chopped, destroyed (by nature, other animals or by humans) because they have relatively less egoic self-awareness.

Ironically, therefore, it could be said that dirt has a “greater soul” than most people because no apparent ego! But of course, having solved all the world’s problems, we might still not get this quite right, either.

I think the obvious is obvious: dirt doesn’t really have an ego (at least so far as WE are concerned). Nor does dirt seem to have the potential to realize its essential nature as a soul. It would appear that in the ordinary course of the soul’s awakening there is a long period of many incarnations in human form wherein the ego appears, plays, and, in time, decides to play no more and, instead, chooses to seek ego transcendence (freedom in the Infinite bliss of the soul).

What a story: the greatest story ever told and it’s not a dirty story, either!

Joy to you!

Swami RelaxAnanda

Next installment might be for your summer enjoyment: “If one needs a guru to become enlightened, how did the first guru get enlightenment.” [Submissions will be judged on brevity not accuracy.]

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Last Stage of Life : When the Chronic Chickens Come Home to Roost!

I see in myself and in others my age (over 60) the beginning stages of health issues that, when younger, would perhaps come and go but now appear to be turning chronic, or at least more difficult to ignore or to function normally when in the midst of an episode. 

I also see in myself and in others my (over 60) that we spend an increasing amount of time and money to obtain an accurate diagnosis and experimenting with a variety of treatments. 

I am referring to the wide range of illnesses broadly covered by the term inflammation and presumably linked in one way or another with auto immune responses. [This, in one simple sentence, exhausts the entire depth of my medical knowledge.] These maladies, as opposed to more straight forward medical treatments such as knee or hip replacements, corrective surgeries on toes or hands, dental implants, or even heart procedures and also unrelated to the broad spectrum of cancer treatments, are difficult to diagnose and treat. They are also great candidates for naturopathy, homeopathy, Ayurveda, herbs, acupuncture, and massage.

Naturally one should do what one can to assuage or even cure the body's troubles. But do I see much success in this realm of illnesses? Not really. I see a lot of time and money being spent, but very little actual results. 

I have read seemingly everything imaginable on skin disorders but no where and no one claims to know their cause or their cure. I've read every diet or elimination diet imaginable. But in these realms treatments run the gamut from merely symptomatic, mostly (self) experimental, hypothetical and, of course, sooner or later, one finds an old fashion out and out fraud.

As a yogi and a dogma-drenched believer in karma and reincarnation I veritably gloat and glow in the prospect of such mighty concepts as "past bad karma" that could take lifetimes to overcome!!!!!! "Ha, ha, ha: Catch 22." It's the metaphysical equivalent of "take two aspirin and call me in the morning!" Our bottom line explanation for anything we can't explain.

If I was taught only one thing by my beloved teacher, Swami Kriyananda--one mantra that I repeat under stress and under all conditions--it is this: BOTH-AND. Now repeat this: BOTH-AND. Sit down; have a candy cigarette as I explain and digress. This is deep stuff, so listen up.

"Swamiji" led a life under enormous "stress," most self-imposed (like creating for himself writing deadlines for his 150 books or pouring out 400 pieces of music; rushing to give thousands of public lectures, traveling tens of thousands car miles and millions of airplane miles---you get the idea). His physical health challenges and conditions warrant a non-fiction medical novel. Maybe his doctor and friend, Dr. Peter Van Houten will write that book someday. Maybe Swamiji never had leprosy, but that could be the only one he forgot to get. He accepted various medical treatments, procedures and surgeries but he took them all in as God's grace and will. He seemed somewhat indifferent to the plethora of medications he was instructed to take. Only with the insistent help from his staff, did he manage to take any of them.

But did these many health challenges stop him from a lifetime only one week of which would have exhausted you or me? No! And why? Oh, simple: his mantra: BOTH-AND! He could both be at death's door and, the same evening, give a lecture to hundreds. Just think what you could accomplish with that mantra! It is all God: Doer, doing, done. As he would remind us, owing to many things like health, energy and talent, he couldn't do any of those many things. But God could do all of them. He, Kriyananda, simply wasn't the Doer.

Applying now, at long last (you've been waiting, I know) this magic mantra, BOTH-AND, to our chickens who have come home to roost (no, not roast), you'll finally see where I am going with this very profound article: do what you can to alleviate your illnesses but at the same time be prepared for the fact that these are karmic tests. The real test is probably the degree of equanimity, faith, energy, and cheerfulness (and if you're REALLY GOOD: gratitude) you can bring to bear while going about your karma-imposed, God-inspired duties each day. But this is only the beginning. There's more.

Swamiji used to periodically tell the story of one "Sufi woman saint: Rabbi'a. She lay upon her deathbed, her body ill and in pain. Three disciples of hers came to console her. "He is no lover of God, after all," said one, "who is not willing to suffer for God's sake." "This smacks of egoism to me," replied the saint. Another of the disciples attempted a correction. "He is no true lover of God who is not happy to suffer for God's sake." "More than this is needed," she replied. "Then you tell us, Mother," said the third. "What should be the right attitude for a lover of God." "He is no true lover of God," she said, "who does not forget his suffering in the contemplation of the Supreme Beloved." **

(**excerpted from Swamiji's book, "A Place Called Ananda: Chapter 16, Afterthoughts")

It has been well said that a healing is not a cure. If we wish to be healed, we must try our best but leave the rest (to God). As I like to joke: we don't get out of this life, alive. Our bodies will need some excuse to die. We may not know the physical, mental or spiritual causes of our persistent illnesses but by remaining centered and even-minded, by focusing increasingly on experiencing God as the only Doer and actor in your life, the seeds of past karma will be roasted by cauterizing the Ego-principle. The details of past karma don't really matter. Here and now is the only reality: God Alone.

Joy and blessings,

Swami Hrimananda

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Freedom / Bondage / Original Sin / Reincarnation!

Today is America's July 4th holiday, celebrating the birth of a nation dedicated to freedom: government by the people, for the people and of the people!

Despite America's present political crises, confusion, and seeming apostasy, this nation has been a beacon of hope for generations of people throughout the world who have been enslaved by a rigid status quo of one sort or another. Despite America's many failures to live up to its ideals (too countless to list), those who can vote with their feet "vote" for living here. Nonetheless, I, like so many, are not at all "proud" this July 4th, nor many other July 4ths.

But we do uphold and honor those truths that are "self-evident!" Freedom is one of the soul's deepest yearnings.

Spiritually, freedom means to break the bondage, the delusion, and the hypnosis that I am even this human body and personality! As it has been well said, Self-realization is to know that I am a child of God having a human body and experience. Admittedly, few people on earth seek this realization, eager as most are to deepen their attachment to their bodies, personalities, success, pleasure, health and human love.

Krishna states bluntly in the Bhagavad Gita that "out of a thousand, one seeks me." For those of us who do sincerely seek to "know the truth that shall make me free" we know how difficult that seems most days but we mustn't be discouraged for as Paramhansa Yogananda stated to a disciple who was discouraged, "You don't know how much good karma you have to even want to know God." He meant we cannot know at too early a stage how many countless incarnations we have experienced even just in human form to get to the place of wanting to know the transcendent truth behind "all seeming."

The soul's bondage therefore is not social or political prejudice. There is an Ananda member who is in prison for life for a murder he did not commit. He has no freedoms, relative to political life, yet he is advancing rapidly toward soul freedom, using his freedom from the daily preoccupations of life to meditate and serve.

The concept of "original sin" is a contrived one to be sure but that doesn't mean it isn't true. It is obviously true in a karmic and reincarnational sense. We are born with a full agenda of traits and inclinations. We have returned to continue learning lessons but we have returned owing principally because of our past actions that kept us bound to the wheel of "samsara" (rebirth with its attendant and inevitable suffering). The teaching of karma and reincarnation state clearly that once all physical, earth-bound desires are gone we need not return to this world to continue our path to soul freedom.

America was born in a powerful affirmation of high ideals. That we haven't lived up to them should be no surprise as with each generation and each reincarnation, souls continue toward perfection of these ideals. But fair warning:

Perfection will never be achieved in a social or political way because the warp and woof of what makes incarnation in human form so attractive is that perfection constantly slips from our grip. Good and evil, success and failure vie constantly for our attention. There is no absolute perfection in a world of unending fluctuation between the opposites. Our impulse, a deeper-than-conscious knowing, towards perfection can only be realized in the perfect bliss of the soul. But, we have forgotten and we continue mistakenly to seek it outside of ourselves. 

Bit by bit, slowly, slowly, we learn. This process is not a rejection of this world, nor a rejection of the impulse to improve it, whether politically, personally, or socially. It is right and just to work towards expressing high ideals in this world but only as we work toward inner perfection: the one reflects the other. We have to work out our personal and often our family, race, gender or national karma as well. For the reality of our separateness is our most profound delusion.

We achieve neither success nor Self-realization ALONE for the simple fact that "we are One." This doesn't mean we have to wait for every soul to achieve freedom for we have been given the choice to seek it or not. But we, at least, cannot achieve that freedom under the delusion that we are separate! We must help others.

So, let us celebrate the high ideal of freedom: on all levels of consciousness and let us pray that Americans affirm on this day our personal commitment to truth, honor, justice, equality, and compassion. In this way we "be the change we seek" and in the process contribute to a society based on mutual respect, recognition, and freedom.

Blessings and joy to you this July 4th!

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Reincarnation: Making a Comeback!

Yes, it's true: studies show that belief in reincarnation is making a comeback. Did you know that Matt Damon believes that he'll be "bourne" again?

Anyway: here we go again. I suppose anyone reading this would have seen the movie, now rather aged, "Groundhog Day." Starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell in a romantic comedy, Groundhog Day features a story in which the protagonist must repeat one day in his life until he "gets it right." It's a comedic study on reincarnation that never mentions reincarnation. It's a delightful, if somewhat silly, movie.

It surprises me, on the one hand, that people scoff at the idea of reincarnation. Yet, on the other hand, why wouldn't they: almost no one can seriously recall even one past life. (Those who do are usually assumed to be a little "light-headed.")

Thing is: can you remember all the incidents and facts of your present life that you DON'T remember? Duh, of course not. Fact is we don't remember 99.9999% of our current life. Our early childhood probably consists of a few fleeting images. As for the rest of our years, we could only reconstruct them in soft chewy bites by referencing jobs we've held, births, deaths, divorces and on and on. It's shocking how quickly we forget the facts. What stays with us, however, is the sense of success, or failure, happiness, grief and the many small but mounting repetitions of attitudes, skills, words, and habits.

I joke with students in my classes that anyone who is a parent must surely believe in reincarnation. Watch your infant grow and pay close attention: from whence comes that fully-armed nuclear bomb of tendencies?

While I admit that most average people on the planet don't waste time speculating on the origins of the universe, the existence of God, the source of evil, and the wide disparity of wealth, health, success, failure, suffering, happiness and longevity. But some do: most likely you and I, right?

A thoughtful person, putting aside for the sake of and the joy of contemplation, the nagging need for proof, would no doubt question the "why's" of life. The answer to those facts of disparity cannot be accounted for by a person's genes. Science admits that genes only offer a sense of potential, not a blueprint of predestination. Wherefore, therefore, this disparity; the shocking injustice of birth and circumstance?

If God is the cause, well, "the hell with him!" Could we be the cause? But how? Where's the beef? (the proof, in other words).

There are many things in life -- important things -- whose cause and origins remain a mystery to us. Science has revealed a great many things about the material world, large and small, but seems impotent to reveal the things of life that matter the most to us: health, love, birth, death and so on.

I'm reading a book right now: it's called "Why Does the World Exist?" (by Jim Holt) When I "googled" this as a question I got 118,000,000 "hits." The efforts by scientists and philosophers to answer this question seem ludicrous to me (as a Vedantin), but it's obvious the question of our existence is far from ludicrous to the deepest thinkers of humanity down through the ages. Like most of humanity who seeks happiness through the fleeting pleasures of the senses or the ego-affirming victories of wealth, status, or power, it may well be that philosophers and scientists are asking the wrong question and/or looking for the answer in the wrong places. Fortunately for you, I won't attempt to weigh in on this subject.

But what I want to suggest is that, in general, a thoughtful person ought to be, at very least, agnostic: which is to say, willing to say, "I don't know, but I am open to the truth, whatever it is and whatever its source." The truth and source could be fundamentalist, orthodox, or entirely nonconformist. What I have observed in the heated dialogues among scientists, religionists and philosophers is, well, just that: heated dialogue. That alone tells me that some are not being objective while others are being dogmatic.

In Chapter 35 of the now famous book, "Autobiography of a Yogi," in the beginning paragraphs of Chapter 35, The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya, you will find a succinct but extraordinary proof that Jesus, in the New Testament, acknowledges the teaching of reincarnation and you will discover a cogent and persuasive revelation of the name of Jesus' guru. Visit

In a charming recorded talk by Paramhansa Yogananda (author of "Autobiography" cited above) entitled "One Life versus Reincarnation," he presents arguments for both sides: that we live only one life, and, that we live many lives. (You can listen to a five minute clip here: )

Fact is, however, we DON'T remember past incarnations. Fact is: we cannot know the future. Fact is: we only have the present to live. Not for the present, but in the present. Through mindfulness of our attitudes and actions, and especially by the power of daily meditation, we can know the consequences (though not the details) of our past actions ("karma") and we can learn how to improve ourselves thereby. That's all that matters.

It has been said, no doubt well and truly, that if we COULD remember past lives we would be horribly burdened. People tend to dwell on their mistakes and few claim their victories. Our lack of memory gives to us a fresh start with each life. Yogananda was once presented an infant to hold. He said he almost dropped the kid because he "saw" the consciousness of a murderer residing in that sweet, little body!

It is here and now that we exist. "Now" is the alpha and omega of our conscious actions. Past and future lay hidden behind a veil. The ability to know our past lives arises, we are told by Patanjali, author of the "Yoga Sutras," to the degree we become unidentified with our present life (body and personality). Only in the expanded and free consciousness of nonattachment can we bear the burden of the past and with that power we can free ourselves from its chains and our identification with it.

While the doctrine of reincarnation and its corollary, the law of karma, can help comfort us and help us accept the disparities of life's manifold destinies, it remains for us but speculative philosophy, albeit the best there is on the market of human understanding. There are those, however, who can see, or even catch glimpses, of the subtle threads of karma which intrude upon the present. For us, too, this will come if we make the right effort now to expand our consciousness from its identification with the little self, its tiny and temporary flesh-cage, and its strutting ego upon the brief stage of life.

Look, perhaps, instead at the patterns of life: yours, and others. You see how we repeat and repeat our mistakes, our successes, our habits and thoughts. One generation abuses the next, and the next abuses the next. Sooner or later someone down the line rebels and breaks the chain of karma through heroic struggle and, I might add, grace from a higher Power. We see repetition also in nature and all around. Repetition also fosters change, growth and evolution. Reincarnation is more like a spiral staircase: going up, or, in some cases, going down.....all according to the law of cause and effect (karma).

Every day can be a new life. Every night our miseries are dismissed from our mind. Reincarnation is all around us. Take it where we find it and probe its secrets. The secret is, simply, to "wake-up." Patanjali says the path to enlightenment is the result of smriti, memory: recollectedness (mindfulness).

The repeating patterns of thought and behavior can be broken by watching, observing, feeling and intuiting their goodness or their harm. Forget the "Thou shalt not...." and substitute "Awareness precedes change." This should be our guide, looking neither left nor right but straight ahead. If what we find no longer serves our true happiness, then we can resolve, in concert with a higher Power (God, Christ, guru) to change it.

If you're still not sure, then rent "Groundhog Day." It will at least be entertaining. Yogananda said God made this world for our entertainment. We must not be caught up in the drama, for it is only a play; a dream of God. Remember: "the good guy gets the girl and the bad guy goes to jail!" So be a good guy and play your role with attention to the script and following the cues of the Director. Someday your movie career will end in an Oscar of bliss-applause presented to you by Divine Mother (the "girl")!

Joy to you, joy to you, joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Am I "Spiritual?"

We hear frequently the term "spiritual but not religious." Some say we are spiritual beings having a human experience and, accordingly, "Of course I am spiritual!" Paramhansa Yogananda once addressed a person's concern about leaving the spiritual path by reassuring this person that "we are all on the spiritual path." I think he was being "nice" while at the same time affirming a metaphysical truth.

Coming back to earth, however, I read a quote from Mark Twain who supposedly quipped that "If Jesus Christ were alive today, there is definitely one thing he would not be: a Christian!" Cute, and, understandable! Jesus' consciousness ("I and my Father are One") could not abide by narrow sectarianism in any form (such as we see all too often among some self-defined "Christians").

What makes a person "spiritual?" In the New Testament (Matthew 25:40), Jesus says that if you help others in need you have done it for God and will have earned the kingdom of heaven. By this yardstick, some will say that an atheist can be a Christian, well, or at least "spiritual." I'm not about to argue with this deeply compassionate and inspired teaching from the New Testament. From the standpoint of Vedanta we would say that it is more "sattwic" (uplifting) to help others in need than to be selfish. According to such good actions (karma), one can advance spiritually. Any good and kind and virtuous person, therefore, can gain merit and is, spiritually speaking, above someone who lives selfishly. "Above" here means that such a one has a consciousness that is expanded beyond the little ego-self and includes the needs of others.

Again, this is the "long view" born of the teaching that we are souls (eternal and perfect) made in the image of God. I won't debate that teaching but it still doesn't answer my question satisfactorily. This view, admittedly, is essential and I do not reject it.

Still I am probing to go beyond what could be called "liberal theology" or an egalitarian theology that says blithely "I'm ok, you're ok (as you are)." My daughter's blog ( has an article "Going for Good or Going for God" that addresses my question squarely. Is virtue enough? Is virtue the same as spirituality?

I've heard the quote that "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." This medieval cliche can mean, to me, that good karma may balance or mitigate bad karma but once it's used up you start all over again. Unless we consciously seek God (which is to say, "transcendence of duality, ego, and mortality"), we are locked onto the wheel of samsara (repeated rounds of birth) for what might as well be termed an eternity.

In "Autobiography of a Yogi," Paramhansa Yogananda writes something to the effect that only when the soul awakens to the "anguishing monotony" of repeated rounds of rebirth does it cry out for freedom. Once when I was discouraged, I wondered if that was enough to grant me spiritual freedom. Of course it is not. You have to want God: eternal bliss. Rejection is not enough, else, suicide would be our ticket to salvation.

Infinity embraces and IS everything. Nothing in God is foreign or evil. But when we are caught in duality, good and evil are very real. God IS and HAS everything, but one thing: our attention; our love; our sincere yearning to reunite with our Father-Mother, Beloved in Oneness.

There are good and virtuous people whose lives are a great inspiration and blessing to this world but who have no desire for God. There are devotees who are selfish, irritable and sometimes even proud but who deeply love God and seek to know God as their very Self. Such is the endless and complex play of karma and delusion. But only those who seek freedom, find freedom. How long that takes or how arduous depends in part upon the intensity of their effort.

Where each soul is on the journey home to God cannot be seen except by a true saint. The virtuous man might have an epiphany and rise to freedom: perhaps he would be blessed to meet a saint and instantly have the vision of God or superconsciousness, thus igniting his fervor for transcendence. The devotee might encounter a karmic bomb that would blast from her all her devotion and send her plummeting into the living hades of depression, anger, or fear. Or.............the opposite...........the virtuous is hit with the karmic bomb and the devotee is uplifted into an ecstatic divine vision. In all cases, it is we who must make the choice in response to life's tests and opportunities.

Karma is exacting and not whimsical, however. The fact we cannot see it doesn't mean it doesn't function, just as the law of gravity works just fine without our consent.

For, returning to our metaphysical truths, we are not our karma; we are not our ego or body or personality. Our soul here and now is already free. Time and space are a product of God's consciousness. We could be free right now, Yogananda claimed, if in declaring it so we realized it without reservation and in every cell of our being. Try it: it's not so easy. Hunger and desires and fears rise up instantly, clinging to us like ghouls from the underworld trying to pull us into their haunts.

But this much we can say: no one achieves God consciousness by accident or without choosing it. When someone called Jesus "good," his reply was curt: "Why do you call me good. No one is good but God." The Bhagavad Gita proclaims that all human virtue and excellence comes from God. Only those who acknowledge this and seek God alone can rise to God consciousness.

Yogananda stated that "The drama of life has for its lesson that it is simply that: a drama." If we can laugh and cry watching a movie and, when it is finished, call it good, why cannot we do this for our life? God plays all the parts but we cheer the hero and hiss the villains. Play your part as a hero and when the play of your life is ended, walk off the stage free and into the Director's loving embrace.

Yes, you, too, ARE spiritual.


Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Mind: the Last Frontier

{Note: In a class series given by me and my wife, Padma, at the Ananda Meditation Temple near Seattle, WA, we've been exploring a revolutionary view of human history from the book "The Yugas," by Joseph Selbie and David Steinmetz--Crystal Clarity, Publishers. This article and the one or two which may follow it, are inspired by that book, even if the subject here is seemingly unrelated to it.)

Since the age of exploration in the 16th century to the present, humanity’s main focus has been to scale the heights, the depths, the remotest reaches of earth and ocean, and to soar into space. We have split the atom and are busy seeking the answers to the source and nature of matter and energy.

What we have distinctly set aside into a backwater of cultural and investigative interest is the exploration of the human mind. Psychology is one of the newest sciences, having begun as a science late in the 19th century. It hasn’t made much progress, at least to “my mind,” in comparison to the research and development of science of mind researchers in ancient times in India and other such civilizations.

To the extent our culture has shown an interest in consciousness, it has taken the form natural to our modern sciences: an interest in the brain. While certainly helpful and interesting and while admittedly productive of research into the science of meditation, it remains body-bound, interested in and relating to the human body and nervous system. It has carefully avoided anything that cannot be measured by its machines or circumscribed by ascertainable behavior patterns.

Perhaps Descartes was the last to speak of the mind in existential terms when he declared (however incorrectly), “I think, therefore I AM.” In fairness to the old buster, I suppose he may have meant something more akin to “I am self-aware and thus experience myself as an object (distinct from other objects, including people).” Maybe the English translation is lousy, I don’t know. But even a high schooler would probably catch Descartes’ error: “I AM (self-aware), therefore I can think.”

So far as my ignorance can admit, that was the last we heard of the mind (vs the brain). Ok, so the existentialists had a go at it, along with their (mostly German) predecessors. But all that nonsense about reality largely sidesteps the mind itself. Most of them, so far as my jaded college memory is concerned, seemed to assume that their reason would bring to light whatever truth there was to be found. If they could reason it out clearly, they seemed to believe they were on to something real. While I am sure some of them had doubts about how far their efforts could go in establishing reality, it is my belief that they at least hoped that reason would suffice to discover reality.

Their only real tool, after all, was reason and the age in which they lived has its roots going back to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and was deeply committed to the recent so-called Age of Reason and the Age of Enlightenment (and the age of unceasing progress). Everyone, and certainly such deep thinkers, draws on intuition but they and our culture are largely unaware and lacking the credible tools and confidence with which to explore the subtler regions of the intuitive mind.

Developments in research and growing acceptance of evidence of reincarnation and near-death experiences, together with documented cases of children being born “without brains,” is beginning to make inroads into the fortresses of Reason and Matter.

The bible of consciousness that we’ve inherited from a long-ago age is the Yoga Sutras whose authorship is attributed to one “Patanjali” about which little to nothing is known. The date of his now famous treatise is only vaguely established somewhere between the first and fifth century BCE. It is widely believed NOT to be an original composition but a synthesis or summary of teachings handed down from ancient times.

The context and purpose of these “sutras” (aphorisms) are to detail a description of the journey of the ego-mind-body towards a state of Being which gives liberation from suffering, freedom from the existential and gnawing perception of our separateness, and freedom from identification with and dependence upon corporeal  existence or even subtle states of thought or feeling entirely.

The aphorisms claim that consciousness exists independent of the body or of any form and that, inhabiting the human body, its deepest yearning is to extricate itself from the hypnosis that the body, the senses, and the material (and subtle) world is the summum bonum of existence.

It is not a claim that would labeled as solipsism: the idea that the world is my own, subjective creation. Rather, the Sutras provide a roadmap to stilling the oscillations of the sense and body-bound mind (including feelings and actions) in order to perceive, rest in, and become the indwelling, eternal, unchanging and pure Consciousness which is the true Self and the Creator of all things, whether gross or subtle. In this reunion of individual consciousness with infinite consciousness, called “yoga,” the mind achieves perfect happiness or bliss. When the Self can sustain this state unbrokenly it need not be touched by any forays it may make into inhabiting a body or in traversing the worlds of matter, movement or thought.

Getting back to the last frontier of the mind, we are saying that this level of reality is independent and untouched by material objects, electrical (gross and subtle) energies, thoughts, emotions, memories, sleep, blankness and all other temporary states of being or sense objects.

The mind as seen from this vantage point of Oneness cannot be subjected to laboratory experiments using even sensitive machines. Yes, it’s true that brain waves and related electromagnetic emanations are measurable and are proven to be associated with different states of consciousness, but these measurements are not substitutes for those states nor can they define them, except by what few behavioral characteristics might be identifiable (heart rate and so on). It is presumably true that a person, for example, who habitually accesses deep states of meditation may be shown to be relatively free from anger, stress, or egotism, and may be shown to be more kind, compassionate and creative, but those are consequences not causes. They cannot substitute for the individual’s personal experiences of those states of mind.

These states of higher mind are not, by the measurement of individual experience, merely subjective, nor are they hallucinatory or mental projections or affirmations. They are not subjective because those who can achieve such states will show similar behavioral patterns as those described above. They are not inherently projections of the mind  or hallucinatory because those who do so are consistently found to be out of touch with day to day reality whereas subjects who achieve true states of higher consciousness are demonstrably more competent, creative, and balanced in outward behavior and attitudes.

The average person makes but rare distinction between his opinion (including emotional responses) and reality. If I feel a person is dishonest, I remain committed to that as a fact even if I have no proof. If I instinctively dislike someone, I find fault with this person readily. The opposite Is true for those whom I like. Making the distinction between reality and my perception of reality is a rare, or all too uncommon, fact of the behavior of most human beings. You can see this in high drama and profile in political or religious beliefs, or in racial or other stereotypical prejudices. Likes and dislikes in food, weather, fashion or morals are seen as subjective, irrational, or lacking in objectivity.

In the next blog, we will distill some of the levels of awareness that the Yoga Sutras reveal. From that we will offer suggestions for mindfulness and meditation that can help strip away the sheaths and layers of mental activity in order to achieve states of pure Self-awareness.

May the light of wisdom shine upon your mind, may the fragrance of truth exude from the flower of your receptive heart, and may your every action emanate waves of peace and charity to all,

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, July 20, 2012

Do I Need a Guru? Part 2

Swami Kriyananda (my teacher and founder of Ananda) was once asked by an interviewer, “Do I need a guru?” He smiled, paused, and replied: “No — — — unless you want to find God!”

You see that’s the problem with this question. Imagine someone asking himself, “Do I really want a life partner?” Most people don’t even question their desire for a life partner. In fact, they are eager (often, too eager) to find him or her.

There’s a story about Mozart. He was asked how it was he composed symphonies at a young age. His answer was, “I didn’t have to ask that question!”

Yes, we can speak philosophically about the need for a guru. I did that somewhat in the first article. And that is helpful for some people to understand more about what a true guru is and what a true disciple-guru relationship is really like. Such knowledge can plant a seed of receptivity. But so long as you are asking the question, you probably aren’t ready.

But when a person falls in love with someone, he doesn’t have to ask the question, “Do I want a partner.” (If he does, then, well, can he really say he has fallen in love?”)

But as to the question, “Do I need a guru?,” it can’t be answered on its own terms. The cliché “When the disciple is ready, the guru appears” is the only real “answer” to the question.

As a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda I am bereft of the actual physical presence of my guru and his personal guidance in my life as another human being. When my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, speaks or writes of his experience of Yogananda (whom we refer to as “Master”) it is very inspiring and instructive. Yet, I cannot easily put into direct practice these lessons because Yogananda (“Master”) is not here in my life in the same way.

I have met disciples of other, living gurus, however. While many have had at least one physical contact (meeting) with their guru, few have had direct, daily or even at-a-distance personal access to their guru. Some have been given specific and important guidance but most have only received general guidance, or a mantra and others no direct guidance at all. In fact, this is not uncommon. Some gurus don’t even speak. The number of direct disciples of a true master (not just a popular spiritual teacher) are very, very, very few.

The number of great saints (indeed, avatars, or saviors) are fewer still. But among disciples, only some are receptive on a deep level (or, put another way, “advanced” disciples). Read books on the lives of great saints (East or West) written by disciples and you’ll see immediately the truth of what I speak. Read the gospels and see how clumsy, ignorant, dense or stubborn were Jesus’ own disciples. Judas betrayed him directly but Peter denied him three times. Thomas was the doubter. All of them failed at different points along the way.

For many years I have taught classes based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. I find that many students are wary or put off by the guru word. Many have ceased their studies at the crucial moment of being invited into discipleship. (Our meditation and raja yoga classes are not intended to “convert” students into disciples. The precepts of raja yoga are for everyone. But one of those precepts is that one needs a guru to achieve union with God. So as a matter of principle we teach the precepts of discipleship.)

Just so, many more are put off by the “God” word. But the reasons are as misplaced in the one case as in the other. Both are just words, but words that carry far more baggage than their three or four letters should be burdened with. (I won’t veer off the track and talk about the “God” word just now, however!)

It saddens me to see so many sincere souls turn away at the point where their desire to learn kriya yoga requires them to take discipleship to Yogananda and the line of Self-realization masters who sent him to America. For just as the “God” word can be understood from endless points of view — at least one of which would satisfy even the most hardened scoffer, so too discipleship is not at all the enclosure or imposition that so many students image it to be (usually without the slightest thought, but only reactively).

I don’t intend to dilute the guru principle or to suggest that students just wave their hand past the image saying “What ho!” as they take kriya initiation. Rather I am saying that most simply have no idea that what is being offered to them is the farthest thing from a threat to their freedom and character, for the guru holds the key to their own Self-discovery. But here, too, I don’t mean to so glamorize the idea that readers will immediately turn away from yet another pie-in-the-sky spiritual platitude. So if you’re interested, have a seat. Light up a peace pipe of curiosity and open-mindedness.

Let’s go to the beginning. You know, the Big Bang and all those cosmic gases. OK, then, let’s not. Let try another tact. When we look at this vast universe or the marvelous microcosm of the human body and mind, it is at least equally possible that the creation is a manifestation of a grand conscious intention as it likely that all this stuff came from nowhere and randomly evolved (driven in part by impulses of survival and procreation). The fact that we (indeed humanity since time immemorial) can sit here and can ponder the question as much as suggests that there is a tad bit greater likelihood of the former hypothesis than the latter.  

So, if for the sake of discussion and contemplation, we posit that the universe and we ourselves are manifestations of consciousness (some objects being more successfully self-aware than others, say people vs. rocks), than we can say that some species (and some among such species) are likely to be more aware, more intelligent, and more creative than others. We might step upon the high mountain of perspective and see that evolution seems to go in the general direction of greater and greater intelligence and self-awareness. The mental boundaries of a child would be suffocating to an educated, world-traveling, sophisticated and mature adult. Heroes of justice and compassion break the boundaries and self-enclosure of ego-affirmation and self-interest to include the well-being of others, yea, the whole world, with their own. Such heroes inspire others to break free from ego as well.

In every field of human striving, we see the greatest of these breaking self-enclosing boundaries of culture, tradition, or orthodoxy. If God is consciousness itself, and we find ourselves conscious and self-aware, and we can observe that there are some who transcend what is considered normal ego satisfactions for a much greater reward, it shouldn’t threaten us that there may be some souls who have “found God” (meaning an overarching field or state of consciousness). Why should this be a threat? Is it not, in fact, a promise? Is it not a promise that our own immortality lies beyond the confines of the ego and the physical body, just as the energy that animates our body is the same energy in all bodies and in all objects? That energy is neither created nor destroyed, but only changes form -- or so science tells us!

The question legitimately asked is whether such a state of being precludes, destroys, or eclipses that which we call “I?” Again, like the “God” word, maybe the question is misleading and unhelpful? If energy cannot be destroyed, certainly the consciousness out of which the energy arises cannot be destroyed either. It may change form; it may expand (like gas when heated), but it is still consciousness! In fact, it is just as likely that what we call “I” is simply that universal consciousness particularized (like water vapor cooled and made hard into ice) and identified with the limited life span and appearance of one physical form.

Still, the question haunts us: if I expand my consciousness into God consciousness am “I” not destroyed? Who could not but admit that the “ego” as we know it would evaporate? But instead of being destroyed, consider that it is being released from its frozen and locked state to expand towards infinite consciousness. If consciousness underlies all matter than ours is freed from its prison of ego identity! And, as all things come from, exist in, are sustained by, and are withdrawn back into pure consciousness, even the very memory of the limited “I” remains forever in the universal consciousness. What a liberating thought!

Put this another way: when I was a child, my world was a small world of playthings, my house, and my family. Now, as an adult, my world is much bigger. I am still the same person and my childhood memories and experiences are still part of me and are not lessened by the experiences which I have gained as an adult. I have expanded and I have not lost, but instead I have gained. For most of us who are far from perfected beings we seem to have lost the specific memories of childhood but experiments have shown that under hypnosis memory of many things is rediscovered and was always there.

This is why, in part, one can have a guru who is in a human body or not in human body. What the guru has to offer is not limited by a human body because consciousness is infinite and a true guru has achieved Oneness with the Infinite Consciousness. “I killed Yogananda long ago,” he said. “No one dwells in this form now but Spirit.” But, at the same time, for those of us still trapped in human form, it is far easier and effective to invoke God-consciousness in a form that we can either see with our eyes or visualize with our inner eye or invoke through devotion (the latter two powers being more subtle, more of consciousness itself, are actually more effective than merely “laying eyes upon” another human being). Many people meet a true guru while he or she lives but are not changed. It’s an “inside” job, so to speak.

You see it is ALL CONSCIOUSNESS. The guru is like a swimmer with a mask on who can swim and see the fish under the surface while we, without our diving masks on, cannot see the fish below. To us the depths are opaque, mysterious, even threatening. To see, to become a seer, is what we were born to achieve and this is one reason why it is taught that we must have true guru — because “tat twam asi,” Thou art THAT. The purpose of God’s creation is for souls to become Self-realized. It is not, as is commonly thought and taught, to escape the creation in rejection. It is to realize that the creation is but a dream of the Creator. Therefore there must be some who have achieved this goal and it is such souls who can teach others how to do the same. That's not a threat. It's a promise, though, to the ego, it is a threat, for sure!

And, it is they who come to awaken our lost memory of our true Self. God comes to us in human form because this creation IS God made flesh and dwelling among us and within us. But He is hidden in most things and people, but becomes Self-aware in those who have become Self-realized. Thus from soul-to-soul, one-by-one, we awaken like dreamers back to life from our dreams. The idea, so common to many, that “Why can’t I go to God directly? Why do I need a guru?” is again a case of asking the wrong question. Like Dorothy and Toto in the Wizard of Oz, what we are seeking is right here.

And if you are thinking (as I know you are), “Well if God is within me, I ask again, why do I need a guru?” Ok, fair enough, but have you found God? How do you know that by self-effort alone you will achieve success? Upon whose testimony in this effort are you relying? The testimony of the ages is that God sends his prophets, his messengers, his saviors to bring us "salvation!" Why is that so difficult to accept? We see its equivalent in every field of human activity that is worth pursuing. Every field has its masters, its geniuses, its wayshowers. You see this is where the rubber of self-effort meets the road of God’s grace in the form of the guru. 

Only those who have tried with great effort, common sense, and intelligence come to the realization that they need help! Such ones are “ready” and, sure enough, the guru appears! Do you see now?

If you find yourself drawn to a great guru, like Paramhansa Yogananda and the path of Kriya Yoga, what is stopping you? Toss aside false notions of being imposed upon or limiting your choices. When you commit to someone in marriage do you bargain for the right to keep shopping? If you seek the help of a world famous doctor to help cure you of a potentially fatal disease, do you pick and choose among his treatments, going, at the same time to others?

Blessings to you,
Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why Me? Reflections of mortality and Kriya Yoga

Why Me?
Who has not wondered “Why me” when destiny casts a shadow across the path of one’s life? Even without the extremes of human suffering and tragedy, there are the disappointments, heartbreaks, and disillusionments experienced by most people.

After whatever initial response is required in the moment, the first question too often asked is “Why?” Ironically, it’s the most difficult question to answer with any certainty. Even if there may be a specific answer, it generally won’t come until we’ve had some psychic distance (usually in time and space).

 The “why” question can sometimes be a manifestation of the stage of denial because stopping to ponder, doubt, rail in anger and to contemplate this question paralyzes taking action and positive steps. (This isn’t always true because in the infinite variety of human circumstances and consciousness there’s virtually nothing that’s always!)

Nonetheless the hurt expressed in the question (and it is a question I hear often) postpones the inevitable and necessary stages of acceptance and redemption. As a teacher of metaphysical concepts in the lineage of raja yoga, the question of “Why has God created us (or this world, or suffering, or . . . . ) is a constant feature on the landscape of my daily life.

Paramhansa Yogananda, author of “Autobiography of a Yogi,” responded to such questions in various ways but one of those responses was “You will know when you will know.” He would counter that the more practical question is “What can do I about it?” On other occasions he would comment that when we achieve our true destiny (oneness with the “Father”), He will reveal all to us and we, like others who have gone before us, will say, “What a wonderful show — the greatest story ever told!”

An example Yogananda would give in this vein was to point out how when reading a novel, play or watching a great classic movie we might laugh and cry with comedy and tragedy, and then, leaving the theatre or putting down the book, we say: “That was a great story. I learned so much!” But, he would point out, how few of us can look at our own life with such a perspective? Are we not simply one out of billions (and billions who have ever walked this one planet, earth)? Even if every life is unique, do we not share essentially the same hopes, dreams, and tragedies, at least relative to our own frame of reference? Are not the crises of last year, last month, or yesterday, all but forgotten today? Yes, but . . . .

And so it is that the human heart, when broken, needs time to heal and time to find perspective. Yogananda once wrote that “the drama of life has for its lesson that it is simply that: a drama.”

But why do we suffer? I mean: in time, we can usually let a hurt go, cant’ we? The pain, at least, subsides, doesn’t it? If we can recover later, why not sooner? But why don’t we?

An animal may suffer but to a large and observable degree not as much as we. A child raised in a wealthy home with comforts will suffer more from a physical injury than the toughened street-wise kid or farmer’s child. Ironically, however, it may be true that the less self-aware we are the less we suffer, but suffering serves as an incentive to probe into the source of our suffering and to search for how to relieve or not repeat it. The street kid or farmer is less likely to go on in life in response to his suffering and do something about it, whether for himself or perhaps for others, or simply in a creative response to a setback, he may accomplish something worthwhile. It is an axiom of modern culture that the artist, writer, scientist, or saint is spurred to his particular form of creative genius by overcoming setbacks or tragedy early in life.

There appears to be in every form of consciousness (but let’s stick with our own, human awareness, for now) a innate impulse to avoid suffering and to seek happiness. This easily verified tendency is directional. It is relative. For one person, this aspect of human consciousness relates the sensory level of pleasure and pain, acquired through food, sex, comforts, survival, and self-defense. For others it takes the form of long-term, delayed gratification: seeking an education, to be successful in business, career, family, or health, or to achieve name and fame, respect, and money. Subtler still would be the inner drive to create beauty, to bring healing to others, to be a peacemaker, problem solver, protector or to accomplish worthwhile goals on a large(r) scale than one's own needs. The spiritual seeker or devotee epitomizes perhaps the most subtle, most elevated human striving, directionally: avoiding the pain of ignorance and delusion and seeking the joy of God.

Thus we, at last, come to my real topic: the promise of the scriptures; the promise of immortality; and the message of saints and sages in all ages. This grand creation of billions of galaxies and our own individual birth and existence is royally endowed with an impulse that goes far beyond mere survival and procreation (whose necessity and usefulness is readily admitted). It is the impulse towards greater consciousness; a dawning self-awareness; and, ultimately, the attainment of untrammeled happiness, unending existence, and knowledge that knows no bounds. In short we seek bliss, immortality, and omniscience.

[The evolutionary biologist observes the instincts of survival and procreation but cannot explain the “why?” Surely lower life forms, and, indeed, humans for that matter, don’t trouble themselves to think in terms of their genes dominating the gene pool for generations to come! To say that we seek to survive is, at its most basic level, a value judgment that exceeds the proper inquiry of science itself! The strictly rational scientist cannot truly say that it is better to survive than not to survive. He can only say that it appears, generally, to be a fact. Besides, another, equally important and unalterable fact is that we don’t survive anyway. Death comes to all beings! Seems, therefore, like plants, animals and humans are being, well, irrational!]

Who planted this seed of striving  into our bosom? Could it be the same One who has dreamed us into existence? The dogma-bound materialist must turn his back to us and walk away, but you and I are under no such compulsion. The rishis tell us that as all creation is a manifestation of consciousness (sparks of the Infinite Consciousness, the only reality that truly IS), so we partake of the intelligence, the impulse, the deeper-than-conscious knowing that perfection (bliss, immortality, omniscience) is our native land.

But like the prodigal son in the famous story told by Jesus Christ, we have long wandered in foreign lands of matter attachment. It takes the famine of unhappiness to drive us inward and towards the remembrance of how we once lived in our Father’s prosperous home. This beautiful and poignant story — so familiar and so natural to the human heart — dispels all notion of a vengeful God, ready to cast our souls into the eternal fires of hell. The corollary to this grand vision of life’s purpose must be the one fact that makes it all work: reincarnation!

Hell there certainly is, no doubt about it. We don’t need to die to experience it, either. Look around you. Genocide, suicide, depression, insanity, war, famine and plague! Look within you!  The hell of anger, addictions, compelling desires and lusts which can never be quenched and which burn us with their fevers. So, too, the hell of violence which causes unending cycles of abuse, generation after generation. There is, even, we are told, hellish astral regions where souls whose lives on earth were evil, dark or selfish sojourn until their next incarnation.

But the masters come into every age with a message of glad tidings and good news. We are not that sinful, broken, and hurting creature. We are not the body, the personality, our past, our hurts, our desires — we are a child of God. We princes who are dreaming we are paupers. We need first to desire an end to the cycle of birth, death, pleasure and pain! Then we must be blessed by an awakening in order to remember our birthright; then we must summon the will, humility, and courage to begin the journey, long or short, back to our home in God: in our own Self.

Kriya yoga has been resurrected from priestly secrecy and human indifference in response to souls crying in the wilderness and tired of sectarianism, mere beliefs, and religious rivalries. “The time for knowing God has come!” Paramhansa Yogananda declared.

Calmness, meditation, introspection, good works, devotion to the Supreme Lord, and attunement to the Guru who is sent for our salvation: these are the keys to the kingdom, to the secret garden of our own heart. Kriya yoga is an efficacious accelerator of inner awakening. The time is now!

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, December 17, 2010

What was the Star of Bethlehem?

This morning in the pre-dawn night I was walking to the meditation room at the Ananda Community, Lynnwood and beheld the very bright morning star in the southeastern sky. I suppose it was Venus, but my ignorance on stars being unplumbed, I couldn't truly say. Like the Star of Bethlehem (as I imagine it), this star was so bright, hopeful, and comforting in the cold winter darkness.

I doubt any 21st century person would even bother to consider that some "star" grazed along the night sky guiding three very wise persons from the east (going west) to Palestine to a lowly stable in a nondescript village on the edge of a desert!

In 1976 I visited a planetarium in Calcutta and watched the feature show which asked "What was the Star of Bethlehem?" I guess they could roll back their star charts and program the sky to look like it might have on that starry, distant night long ago. Well, they didn't come up with much but it was a good show.

As I look around at the cars along the freeway, the shoppers at the mall, the families in the grocery store, and the faces from all nations and races which surround me in this bustling international community of Seattle, it's easy to imagine that the star of Bethlehem is not a pressing issue with anyone.

The point is that most people seem to have an instinctual sense of what's important. That's different than wisdom but it's good enough for survival. I doubt even churchgoers fuss much over whether they believe each and every dogma propounded to them by their respective churches.

Maybe the Star of Bethlehem, like the virgin birth, isn't all that important as to the facts. Maybe the specialness of Jesus Christ is accepted enough two thousand years later as to not make these stories as important to modern people as perhaps they were to the nations of the middle east and the Roman empire!

Owing to the inheritance of Christian dogma that so strongly asserts that Jesus is the son of God, there's little issue with his acceptance as a "super-saint" of some sort, or, ok, then, as the son of God, even. What's not digested, accepted, or even contemplated is the implications of Jesus' life and state of consciousness upon our own. Oh, I don't mean simply to say that Jesus' life and teachings should inspire us to be better and more saintly.

No, I mean something deeper, something profound, and life changing. Jesus himself spoke of his second coming. Many Christians teach or believe that Christ will appear on earth in much the same way the Jews of Jesus' time expected a Messiah to appear on the scene and drive away those pesky Romans!

But I suspect no Jesus Christ is about to appear in the clouds ready to scoop up the faithful in a rapture to heaven. Fortunately most Christians probably don't bet their life's retirement funds on that happening anytime soon. Indeed, no more than they grapple anxiously with whether the Star of Bethlehem really did prance around the Middle eastern sky like some traffic-directing dirigible.

No, the time has come for something else. Something to wake us up. And, no I don't mean the end of the world or Martians or anything so Hollywood-ish. What Paramhansa Yogananda taught is that the "second" coming of Christ takes place when a divine awakening is born in our own hearts and within our own consciousness. The seed which gives birth to this infant Christ-child is contained in our soul's memory of its divine nature and is "fertilized" or "watered" into new life by the teachings and living spirit of a Christ-like soul who can truly say "I and my Father are One."

Jesus declared that "Before Abraham was, I AM." Thus any claim to be the only begotten son of God must not be limited by any particular human form, including that of Jesus who, in his human, bodily form, called himself only the "son of man."

The implication for devout Christians of seeing that Jesus, son of man, was also a God-realized son of God who partook in a universal Christ consciousness which is part of the Godhead (Trinity) and which therefore has existed since the beginning of time, opens the doorway to acceptance of the appearance of Christ consciousness in many forms down through the ages. Buddha, Krishna, Rama and who knows how many countless others could also say (in fact DID say), with Jesus, "I and my Father are One."

The first chapter of St. John's gospel describes Jesus (without even naming him) as the Word ("which was [in the beginning] with God, and was God."). There can be no doubt directly from the New Testament that this consciousness far transcends any limitation the intellect might place upon its appearance in any single human being, just as God, Infinite, is in no way limited by any aspect of His creation or of his triune nature.

We have here something so profound, both personally life changing and culturally revolutionary, that though it may be many years before its implications become generally understood and visible, it is bound to change the course of history. And none too soon, either! Christianity is in desparate need of a revival. Christians desparately need a way to escape the confining limitations of dogma which separate their sympathies and acceptance of people of other faiths. Christian countries which once dominated the world are now in retreat as a rapidly growing tsunami of other faiths and cultures rises on the tide of a new world order.

Coming from the east to the west with the wisdom of the ancients, Paramhansa Yogananda is a wayshower to the healing of the nations and the survival of the planet. No mere intellectual affirmation of religious or cultural equality can supercede the barriers of deeply and long-held faith. Not until that faith (and other faiths) receives the redeeming grace to have eyes to see and ears to hear the Savior's voice in many forms and in many lands, can we of earth meet each other on equal grounds, true to our past but embracing our future, and our self as our very own Self.

More than this, even, is what it means to you and I. Through the living touch and spirit of any such son of God, we, too, can reawaken to the realization that we, though for incarnations prodigal children, are no less God's very own and heirs to His consciousness (of Bliss, of Christ-mas joy).

God is not dead. Jesus is not dead. The Christ dwells, however latently, however unknown to us, in each one of us. Through our conscious, willing, creative and whole-hearted giving of ourselves, ("Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind, and strength.") we can give birth to an infant Christ in our hearts. This infant can grow as our attunement grows and as we dissolves the countless threads of attachment, desire, and self-identification that comprises what we call our ego.

This in fact was the good news which Jesus (and all God-realized masters) proclaim. As the Hindu scriptures teach, "Tat twam asi" (Thou art THAT!). The star of Bethlehem was described as HIS star. It is also OUR star: the five pointed, brightl beacon of light outlines the five points of the body (arms, legs, head) as we are indeed "made in the image of God" (Genesis). As Jesus was born of a virgin, so we too are born of the pure light of God. As Jesus ascended the ladder of Self-realization through countless lifetimes, we, too, can ascend by truth and grace.

Christmas blessings to all,


Monday, November 22, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again: Death & Reincarnation

The mystery of death, its suffering and its cold finality, have preoccupied humans for probably longer than humanity itself. The possibility of continued existence through successive rebirths is also an ancient belief.

One minute a person, often a loved one or maybe a patient in your hospital, a passenger in a car nearby, or a soldier in the Humvee ahead of you, is there and the next moment he or she is gone. It's an eerie and startling experience.

Once in college as I was studying in my curtained off garage study and meditation room, an accident took place late at night. I heard a scream and then sudden silence. A car had struck a motorcycle outside my house and the cyclist was lying dead on the street. There was no one else around, apart from the driver of the car. The night was silent and this poor soul had been swallowed up by it.

Another time deep in the woods I watched an inexperienced canoeist paddle out to help some boys whose canoe had tipped over as they steered away from the deadly rapids and falls towards the portgage trail. But as we, and his wife and children watched in astonishment from shore, the self-appointed rescuer, not in control of his own canoe, literally paddled out and right over the falls -- never to be found. The look on his face only yards away from us as he realized in horror his slow-motion, surreal mistake will never be forgotten. His wife's tortured screams and shock still ring in my ears.

The lights go out and the building is untenanted. What a mystery.

We, identified as we are with our bodies, cannot help but feel a sense of loss and grief in the face of death's silence. Paramhansa Yogananda, the renowned master of yoga (life force) and author of the classic story "Autobiography of a Yogi," described the death experience on many occasions and in some of his writings.

Meditation as practiced by a master is, quite literally, the conscious reeanctment of the death experience but without its finality. Thus such a one is competent to speak of it. We also have descriptions from those who have had the near-death experience.

Death resembles our nightly sleep experience in some ways. Just as when we fall deeper into sleep, the body and its senses become insensate as our life vitality withdraws from the body. But at death with the last breath our life force makes its final exhalation journey to the base of the astral spine before beginning its return journey and ascension up the central spine (sushumna). In this ascension our life force is squeezed and compressed and many people feel anxious or fearful. In addition, at this moment our physical body has ceased breathing. Much of the struggle against the cessation of the breath cycle has already taken place earlier such that at the final exhalation there is not necessarily further struggle. The life force by this moment is so internalized that awareness of the body and breath has vanished.

As our life force (astral body) squeezes into the sushumna and begins to rise in its tunnel, we are entering another birth canal and often feel a similar level of stress and anxiety as we observe in a new-born during its progress through the mother's birth canal. The near-death report of going through a long dark tunnel is in fact a description of this phase. The light at the end of that tunnel is the light of the astral regions into which we are about to enter: being re-born onto the astral plane!

The light welcome us and comforts us as our life force exits through the region near the medulla oblongata at the base of the brain (the negative pole of the sixth chakra). The expansion of our astral body upon its exit is like the diver, out of breath, breaking the surface and taking in much needed air. It is a relief to come out of the tunnel!

As the physical mouth takes in food and water, the "mouth of God" at the medulla (the astral body) takes in life force to sustain the physical body. Just as food and water cannot revive a dead person or as water into a battery cannot revive a dead battery, so too does the physical body rely most essentially on life force (known as prana, chi, cosmic energy, etc.). Thus there are corroborated stories of saints who, to demonstrate this truth, are given the grace to live without food or water--for decades. Therese Neumann in Bavaria in the 20th century was one such saint who was repeatedly examined by medical doctors.

Still, the death experience can be anxiety filled and dreaded, especially to those unprepared for it especially in how they have lived. The more we live for bodily comfort and pleasure and for ego-affirmation the more we feel deprivation and fear for losing control and awareness in the body. The more a person lives on a higher mental, emotional, or spiritual plane the less attached to the body and the more likely one is to be calm and peaceful. Death, it has been well said, is the final exam of how we have lived our life.

It is not always so, of course: cases of instant death; prolonged unconsciousness and so on. But it is often the case.

One of the great mysteries is to what extent do we remain conscious and to what degree is the after-death experience a pleasant or unpleasant one. This is as varied as the cosciousness of humans and cannot be but merely generalized.

Death deprives us of the body. To the degree one cannot exist without sensory stimuli, one feels the deprivation presumably as loss, as loneliness, and as suffering. This can be temporary as part of the death process or it can remain: depending upon the intensity of one's identification with the physical body. We can call this sensory deprivation.

Like a fish out of water or a climber reaching great heights, our experience depends largely on the degree to which, during life, we have experienced the "oxygen-less" (breathless) altitudes of superconsciousness. Deep and (near) breathless states of meditation are achievable by anyone willing to make the effort to meditate using proven methods of meditation.

Those of great artistic sensitivity or scientific, inventive, philosophical, or other high states of mental concentation and ability also may remain conscious in the astral state. Those who possess great compassion rendering humanitarian service and engaged in prolonged hours of self-forgetfulness which lift them beyond bodily identification also experience more readily the airless astral regions in comfort and joy.

But most people who receive the comfort of the Light upon exiting the body cannot, for very long, sustain conscious awareness in these higher altitudes of the astral region without falling back asleep for having been deprived of the vehicle of their physical body.

Before doing so, however, first two things are commonly experienced. One is some degree of comfort: whether described as being welcomed by loved ones, previously departed, or by God, angels, or one of the masters. Relief at having survived what they thought was death is no small part of the joy one feels upon entering the astral realm.

Another is the reading of the book of life. In some timeless moment we see, if but in an instant, a re-run of the life just lived. We may discover to our surprise important scenes we hadn't noticed. But we receive as if from the soul's even but temporary awakening a God's eye view of our life.

This is the judgment so often referred to. It is Self-judgment however even if we, having failed to become acquainted with our Higher Self, experience that Self as "Other" and therfore as a Judge.

But as I say, those who cannot but briefly sustain this high altitude of superconsciousness then fall asleep. Old age can bring suffering of all levels and many in fact desire and need, as we do nightly, their earned repose. Those who can remain awake on that high plane do so. For those I refer to the chapter, in Autobiography of a Yogi, entitled "The Resurrection of Sri Yukteswar." In this chapter he describes the astral and causal regions.

A sideline to the astral realms relates to the effect of shedding the confinement of the physical body. Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple and founder of Ananda, describes how, uncorked form the physical form, our feelings and states of consciousness are greatly intensified on the astral plane. If we have a calm, peaceful and harmonious consciousness we expand joyfull into that. If we have lived with lust and desire, anger and resentment, we expand into the seemingly endless hell of such states which, deprived of a physical body, can find no outlet, no fulfillment.

Just as near dawn we begin to stir from our deep nightly slumber, so too souls begin to stir when the time of their rest is soon to be over. And, like we at night, they too may have intermitten dreams of loved ones or scenes from their prior life during this astral sleep. But near dawn, we stir, sometimes fitfully, for the next life's lessons and tasks (and desires) call to us.

Yogananda taught that when a couple unite sexually, and sperm and ovum unite (these are not necessarily simultaneous, I know), a flash of light occurs on the astral realm. I once read in National Georgraphic that when the sperm penetrates the husk of the ovum, an electrical charge goes off! At that moment, those souls whose time it is to return all rush, competitively, to enter that womb. But only those souls who have some relative vibrational harmony with the consciousness of that couple (we could say karmic resonance, too) are attracted to this light. Thus begins, as Yogananda put it, our first race for survival: a portent to the endless contention and effort required to live in a physical body.

What then is reincarnation? Reincarnation posits that individual souls return to new bodies repeatedly over vast epochs of time as the consequence of past actions (which include past desires).

It is said that this process is necessary because our immortal and changeless soul has misunderstood its true nature by identification with the passing drama of its many physical forms and the cumulative effect of the likes and dislikes, actions and reactions which arise from it. These many lives offer the soul the opportunity to learn and grow towards Self-realization (or to postone those lessons). Self-realization is the realization that we are the soul and not the body or personality. This soul, or Atman, is destined to become one with the Creator but this destiny must be obtained by its willing choice, not by compulsion.

Surveys show that the majority of humans on this planet subscribe to or accept as plausible the idea of mutliple births.

Yet the fact of death is undeniably final as it relates to our body and the personality which had inhabited it. Countless, however, are those who claim they have had some post-death contact with their loved one. Many are the stories of near-death experiences attesting to our disincarnate and deathless reality.

What aspect of our Self continues and what aspect is lost? There are remarkable and many stories of children with clear and convincing memories of their past life. (The relatively recent story, "Soul Survivor," is worth reading.)

Since we can safely say that most humans DO NOT remember their past lives (except perhaps in flitting glimpses or oddly familiar feelings about others, places, or objects....but just occasionally), something is lost, to us at least. Of course isn't memory loss in THIS lifetime a serious problem? Why should we fret, then, over loss over memory due to the intensity of the after death sojourn in astral sleep. Interestingly, it seems that dying takes place early as year after year our memories fade, as if in anticipation!

If the power goes out when your are sitting at your computer in the middle of multiple programs, your work is at least partially lost. If a program crashes and cannot be restarted, the data remains on the hard drive but, without the program, cannot typically be accessed. When you delete a file, only the index of how to find that file is erased. The file itself remains on the hard drive. Deleting that index is somewhat akin to the loss of the physical body. But the matrix of the astral body retains the data for later use and recovery. The conscious mind may have no access to it, however.

Each life is indeed unique: as to time, space, circumstances, events, and the resulting combination of attitudes, habits, and insights the grow up around this unique time-space experience. But when we die, those external circumstances whose influence is undeniable disappear and with them those merely superficial incidentals of our personality which depended upon them.

More deeply ingrained attitudes are like data files that remain intact in the matrix of the astral (energy) body of light. We are using light in modern technology as a transmitter of voice, data, and video signals. So it is not difficult to imagine a body of light in which a matrix of qualities, memories, tendencies, and attitudes reside.

Unlike computers, however, that which IS ("I AM"), the Infinite consciousness contains all thoughts, all past, present, and future. Thus in truth (in God's infinite consciousness) NOTHING is lost. But until our souls awaken and then merge into God, we only recover bits of data from our past. Hence it is that Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras explains that one who has achieved perfect non-attachment to his body and all objects remembers his past lives.

This does not mean that those children who are born with clear memories of the former life are necessarily great saints but, for reasons we cannot see, they are blessed with that memory perhaps to bestow a message to their families and others with "eyes to see."

Thus we mustn't feel badly to the degree of our grief and sense of loss, whether for ourselves or for others at the time of death. We can strive, however, to live with faith and to live on the higher plane of God-realization, compassion, concentration, and nobility of character. From the great heights of the mountain peaks of consciousness beyond bodily identification, we see the valleys and hills of life below as one great panorama.