Showing posts with label spirituality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spirituality. Show all posts

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Religion: Problem or Solution?

After the blog I wrote the other day ("A Call to Link Arms") I reflected on a couple of sentences I read in the book I bought in India recently about the time period before, during, and immediately after Indian independence from Britain. It's called "Indian Summer" (by Alex Von Tunzelmann) and chronicles the lives of the last viceroy and his wife ("Dickie" and Edwina Mountbatten) and the events of that time.

In the book there was a passing reference to a long standing debate in Indian political history of whether the British were at fault for the communal violence of that time owing to their reputation for "divide and conquer" in stirring up religious and tribal feelings during the 20th century or whether there was (also) a rise in religious self-identity in Indian culture during that time.

No matter what one's opinion on the matter, it triggered in me the thought (related to my key point in the previous blog) that this "call to link arms" is, in effect, a recognition of the power of spirituality (and yes, "religion," if you must use the term!) to change the course of history. Jesus Christ did it. Buddha did it. Mohammed did it. Or, if you wish: Christianity did it; Buddhism; Islam; etc. Human history was unalterably changed from these religious trends. Better or worse, doesn't matter (though I say, on the whole, better, given the times during which they appeared).

What have we seen in the 20th and 21st century in re religion? Two things: the first, ironic to some degree, is a growing fragmentation and divisiveness born of increased contact and integration. This refers to a need groups have to assert their identifies and, perhaps therefore, to defend their values (as they view it). The second, also ironic, is the decline of people's identification with established faiths as a result of education, travel, and intermingling with other cultures and faiths! Each of those reasons seem opposite if strictly defined but in fact I believe each can be viewed as true in its own way.

The same might be said of nationalism vs globalism. Globalism has been on the rise since the end of World War II and now, somewhat recently, is the counter trend of a rise in nationalism. Both are valid even if somewhat opposite trends.

I'm not at present interested in the globalism trend but I am interested in the trend in religion, religious views, and spirituality. (I wish I didn't have to keep making those distinctions but it seems I have no real choice given the current use and meaning of these terms.)

Finally to get to my real point: if the spiritual (and YES, religious) point of view is that "God" ("the Divine" or whatever WORD you want) is the essence of all reality and the "point" of ALL established religions is to make contact with and experience for your Self, then this is, effectively, a new "religion" and one that knows no boundaries, requires no religious affiliation, and stems from inner experience born of prayer and meditation (especially the latter). (This thought is not new to most of you reading this but it's the context I want to share.)

Thus what occurred to me is that my prior blog articles ("A Call to Link Arms") is actually a reference to a new "world religion" of sorts that, like the internet itself, has no pope and has no priestly hierarchy. That doesn't mean there aren't spiritual teachers, prophets, or saints to whom an aspirant might look or affiliate with (via a personal relationship or formal organization) for the sake of his or her deepening spiritual consciousness. But, this new "religion" has the potential to uplift the human race at a time we desperately need a unifying view of one another of life's meaning.

There is a "credo" of sorts for this new religion but it is a simple one and its essence can be expressed as Oneness or connection. The (relatively) new science of ecology is something of its partner, born of science. Other aspects of cutting age science also lend rational support even if Oneness defies rational or sensory "proof." Our connection with life is something we feel, just as millions and billions are steadily acquiring a feeling for their love of nature, the environment, and the impact of human behavior on our planet and our health.

In short we are moving toward greater feeling, balancing the rational emphasis that has enabled a mindset of exploitation of nature and of other people. When I say rational I should use quotes but concepts like survival of the fittest lean towards master race ideas and on and on can and have been used to justify genocide or, at "best," racial prejudice.

Feeling in turns leads to recognition of the intuitive (direct knowing) part of human consciousness. The caveat on this feeling idea is its emotional aspect. As we humans begin to allow for our feeling nature to rise to the surface probably the first thing that arises is emotions, fanaticism, and violence. But these, like all mere emotions, are unsustainable even as much as our consumption of natural resources is ultimately unsustainable at today's pace and form.

In this view, will this new religion destroy established faiths? I don't think so. Survival being each entity's core instinct, I believe that established faiths will incorporate the concept of our Oneness as a necessity and as a self-evident reality. They will no doubt cling to the idea that their particular faith is better suited to assist people toward realization of Oneness, but much of the heat that surrounds their claims and causes divisiveness will be dissipated as each struggles to reclaim and hold members drawn away by the many independent expressions of Oneness (ironic, eh?).

The point in my prior blog ("A Call to Link Arms") is that the trend toward non-affiliation among adherents of Oneness weakens the potential of this new and I believe divinely inspired intuition to heal humanity of the many crises which we face. Religion, in its own context, is the only aspect of human consciousness that uplifts people toward people and harmony. Nationalism is far more limited in this respect and generally fosters wars, not peace. Globalism which has already shown itself as exploitative in nature could never do this as such except on the basis of near-universal realization and affirmation of Oneness.

I don't know if these thoughts make any sense but I feel compelled to share them. It interests me that millions practice hatha (physical) yoga in all manner of venues from fitness centers to yoga studios but apparently few have yet come to realize that what they are practicing is the physical expression of Oneness. By linking mind with body, we affirm a unity within ourselves. "Yoga" refers to "union," the integration of mind-body-spirit. The very images of yoga poses suggest quite openly respect for all life and our connection with all life through life itself; through life force or energy ("prana") or in Spirit. The endless flow of scientific studies showing the medical and psychological benefits of physical yoga and its concomitant practice, meditation, are more than a hint of how both individuals and the human race can find a way to "link arms."

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Need for Religion : Religion of the Future

Here is a link to one of the most inspired talks given by Swami Kriyananda, Ananda's founder and direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, on the subject of religion.

There are far too many points for me to attempt to substitute my words for his wisdom but just so you know "where you are going" here's a few points he hits in his awesome talk:

  1. Why "being spiritual but not religious" is not enough. It can even be a cop-out for most!
  2. The reason and need for religion of the past era to have become institutionalized.
  3. Why not to be judgmental towards those who need to be dogmatic.
  4. How science has inadvertently guided spirituality in a new direction.
  5. Why it is necessary to find one's path and be loyal to it as a precursor and prerequisite to accepting all faiths.
Well, these are teasers enough. Enjoy, be inspired, then take action!

Joy to ya'll,

In gratitude for the gift of wisdom, the power of grace, and the opportunity to serve!

Swami Hrimananda

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Am I spiritual?

What does it mean to be spiritual? This question is similar to the one that asks, "What is good art?

As open ended as such questions are, it doesn't mean there's no answer that is helpful.

When speaking about atheists, agnostics, or stoics, we can say that being spiritual (for them) is having good "spirit".... being compassionate, kind, loving, having high ideals, personal integrity, energetic and creative, cooperative, and so on.

But neither can we deny the ordinary meaning of the term ("spiritual") nor especially its true and deeper meanings. For, virtue alone is not enough. It has been well said that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Good deeds create good karma, but good karma accrues to the ego which is ever unreliable because its most basic instincts are self-protection and self-assertion in the face of life's inevitable tests and trials. Eventually good karma simply gets used up and you either succumb in the other direction or at least start all over again. Ultimately, no matter how successful or happy in human terms a person becomes (and how few do), it will never be enough. "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee," St. Augustine warns us.

Divine consciousness is not simply earned by will power alone, but is won by devotional and conscious self-offering. Why is this? Because superconsciousness is MORE aware than the conscious or subconscious mind; it is by definition transcendent of ego consciousness. One doesn't slide into higher consciousness by actions initiated solely by the will of ego alone. At some point, influenced by the higher spiritual vibrations of saintly souls, high spiritual teachings and true and sincere spiritual teachers, our soul is touched and inspired to seek "the pearl of great price: God alone!"

Reality is infinite: whether in time or space or in consciousness itself. Thus, the ultimate spirituality is to seek attunement and immersion into Infinity itself. This requires recognition of the inadequacy of ego and, ultimately (at least), a supreme act of what appears, to the ego, to be self-annihilation but which in fact is Self-expansion towards bliss. The ego rebels and is frightened and wary; but the soul thrills at the prospect. In God who is Infinite, how can anything be lost? What else is infinity if not every-thing, material, immaterial, or conscious. Described millennia ago, this state, which is called many things and no-thing, including God, is "Satchidanandam," ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss.

Love of God is paramount and is therefore both the alpha and omega (beginning and end) of true spirituality. This simply cannot be denied. The steps toward perfecting this love is what Jesus meant, and he pulled "no punches," when he "be thou perfect, even as your Father, who is in heaven, is perfect!" (Why? Because in our souls we are already perfect but haven't realized this fully.)

Most ordinary, Sunday-going religionists obey the rules; go to church; try to be good and honest and all the things which in the yoga teachings comprise the most outward aspects of the first stages of spirituality called yama and niyama (do's and don'ts). I don't mock these for all of us must learn these lessons. They are the foundation stones, the house, of spirituality. Paramhansa Yogananda called the church the "hive" and the living experience of God's presence the "honey." He said BOTH are needed.

"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" Jesus chided his critics. The Jews of his time, like so many at all times, need to work from the outside in and can, at first, only see the outer trappings, the husk but not the kernel of religion. Obedience to rules is a good start but is secondary. Performance of rites and rituals or attendance at church, similarly, is also secondary but woe to he who thinks he is above this. Time proves all. If self-sacrifice and devotional self-offering is the ultimate price, you'd better start right now and if for you, child of Spirit that you still are, need to demonstrate that by going to church on Sunday to show that you are willing to give your all to the quest for Self-realization, then so be it! Do it, however, with Joy or you will gain nothing!

Study of and knowledge of scripture, though helpful, is also not the essence of spirituality. Yogananda's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, said of such (pundits and theologians), "They smell unduly of the lamp (kerosene)." A finely honed definition is not a substitute for superconsciousness. On the other hand, quoting Yogananda, "Stupid people will never find God (until their brains mature)." In my book, this includes dogmatic people. Study of spiritual teachings should bring one to a universal view of all life and all sincere striving. Love and kind acceptance are the fruit of true wisdom inclining as it must toward superconsciousness.

Selfless service is perhaps the most important because high thoughts and devotional feelings must be purified in the white-hot crucible of direct but selfless, ego-transcendent action. Even prayer and meditation are but (refined) action. Both true devotion and true contemplation find fulfillment in silent, inner communion. Action without personal desire, serving God with devotion and true understanding within and without in the fulfillment of one's rightful duties in life, are the surest path to God.

One could therefore say that spirituality is directional. Here, below, I offer a more or less random description of typical stages of spiritual growth. Such are necessarily suggestive of the precept of reincarnation:

1.  Virtuous behavior, moral integrity, and right living are the foundation
2.  Belief or, better, intuitive awareness of God or a higher power.
3.  Study and practice of religion and religious attitudes.
4.  Adherence to religious discipline.
5.  Increasing holiness, self-sacrifice, calmness, joy, and peace.
6.  Prayer and meditation with increasingly deeper inner experiences of superconsciousness
7.  Appearance of tangible evidence of sanctity recognized by others.
8.  From here, the stages are internal to one's consciousness, the supreme goal of which is Oneness with God (using whatever terminology is appropriate to one's tradition).

It would be absurd to insist that spirituality must take these stages literally in its unfoldment. Yet, there is a recognizable direction and logic to the steps described above. I do not intend that these steps be rigid or tightly defined. They are merely suggestive of the general idea.

Maybe some day I'll write about "good art," though this isn't my "field." Art as a Hidden Message is a book by my teacher (and founder of Ananda worldwide), Swami Kriyananda, brings clarity to the messy and subjective field of art and art appreciation. Art for art's sake is revealed for the fallacy it is, for art communicates.

Blessings to all, from Camano Island Hermitage,

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Ananda Leadership, Succession & Membership: Male and Female

Many years ago Swami Kriyananda had the perspicacity to appoint couples as the leaders of the core Ananda communities. I don't have a global perspective on just how unusual this might be in today's world, but from my own experience I can't think of any other organizations that have such a structure (except "mom and pop" businesses). About the only explanation I recall Swami Kriyananda (SK) offering was the obvious one: citing the benefit of balancing male and female energies.

SK frequently praised and acknowledged the rising visibility and influence of women as both an antidote and a solution to the dangers of too strongly a masculine one. Warfare is no longer a viable response to conflict for reasons that I don't need to dwell upon.  Having a couple in a leadership position represented his recognition of the need for a feminine influence. Recently in a talk given by Swami Kriyananda's hand picked successor, Nayaswami Jyotish Novak (who, with his wife, Devi Novak, are Ananda's spiritual directors worldwide), Jyotish commented on how this leadership model is well suited to the need of our age.

Recently, a female student asked me, "Why are there mostly women in this class?" I was nonplussed because I don't really have a factual answer. There's no doubt in my mind (absent actual statistical facts), that the majority of students in Ananda classes and amongst our members are women. Nor is this unusual in "New Thought" organizations or in yoga and meditation organizations (or so I would assume).

My own experience over 39 years as a member of Ananda is overwhelmingly that women jump to accept and successfully carry out responsibilities 2:1 over men.  Men, and I include myself, will more likely do so if it's their idea and if they can run it. (Mind you, once in charge, most people, women included, take complete control: for better or less.) I add my experience to that expressed all too commonly by both men and women that women are more energetic, articulate, and perceptive. There are some skills and talents that men, by tradition, or women, by upbringing, excel. Whether due to nature or nurture is of no interest to my thoughts today. I am just saying that in group dynamics, especially perhaps in volunteer or nonprofit type organizations, women leap to the top naturally. More naturally cooperative and harmonious (or so it seems to me), women fit the need of today's culture.

But is this unilaterally positive? No, it isn't! Men and women, and now I wish to move towards the terms, male and female ENERGIES (which inhabit BOTH male and female "bodies"), are simply two sides of the same coin. One simply CANNOT debase the other without debasing him/her self. We need BOTH! Let me explain this in terms that our founder, Swami Kriyananda, did: both by direct experience (that changed his life, and mine, and that of thousands) and in principle.

From time to time, you see, he would comment on the differences in male and female leadership qualities and styles. He rued the fact that Paramhansa Yogananda's organization, Self-Realization Fellowship Inc (Los Angeles, CA) fell into the hands of an all (or mostly)-female Board of Directors not long after Yogananda's passing and continuing, more or less, to the present time. He described how in that organization men were treated as second-class citizens towards whom it was assumed any personal initiative was rooted in the "evil-ego" that men seemed endowed with since birth. Though the women leaders couldn't change the fact that their guru, Yogananda, appointed men to the positions as public teachers, the women were ever watchful and suspicious that if any of them excelled at teaching that it would inflate their ego and a schism was sure to follow. Hence when not teaching, the men were assigned to physical labor tasks such as landscaping or construction; their living quarters were second rate compared to the women. The decades-long leader of that organization was quoted as saying matter of factly, "Women are more spiritual than men."

In addition to jealously guarding their authority from every conceivable, real or imagined threat, the board of directors controlled and ruled upon every minute detail of ashram and organizational life. Little scope was given to anyone else. The unspoken view of public service was, "Let them come to us. We'll decide what we give them (in spiritual teachings), though few are as ready as we who have given our lives to this work." It took fifty years to edit and publish Yogananda's second greatest work (his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita) when he, himself, in the last year of his life announced that it would be published that very same year! In instituting a twelve year lawsuit to "destroy" Ananda (as the judge viewed it), they considered Ananda an interloper who dared to "use" Yogananda's teachings for its own purposes! Admittedly, in the meantime, they developed their lands and properties to an exquisite level of beauty: something we and thousands, as visitors and pilgrims, enjoy to this day.

In SK's years there (the 1950's) as a monk, and indeed, even as one of the leaders (being for a time both Vice-President and a board member), but always being outnumbered by the older women leaders, he found that his expansive ideas and energies were consistently thwarted and worse, viewed with suspicion by them. Indeed, it was no small measure the key factor to his being summarily dismissed from that organization in 1961. We are grateful for that because although his greatest test, his labor gave birth to Ananda.

Consider it from their power of view: the power and magnetism of Paramhansa Yogananda. Those female disciples who served his ministry all those many years were understandably no match, in their role as successors, for Yogananda's dynamic energies. No doubt they were, in fact, somewhat exhausted by Yogananda's ceaseless projects and tireless campaigns. This is not a criticism but an explanation for why, after Yogananda's passing, they "closed  the gate" and turned the "place" into a museum. (Admittedly an exaggeration, here, but only somewhat; nonetheless, their devotion to him cannot be questioned.)

Jump forward to Ananda present day: Swami Kriyananda, tireless campaigner, lecturer, writer, and inspiration to thousands, is now gone. Working as we, the first generation, did during his lifetime to support his ministry, we are no match for Kriyananda's dynamic and creative will power and attunement to Yogananda.

Preservation of his works and memory is, in fact, an appropriate priority for us at this time. We have an obligation to preserve the traditions, music, customs, and policies established by our founder. The vast reservoir of music, books, lectures, and other writings left to us by him could keep us busy for a lifetime extracting and adapting their inspirational and practical value in our service to others.

Fortunately, we have a distinct advantage over the pattern that befell SRF because Swami Kriyananda trained and encouraged us to be creative and expansive. He appointed couples as the primary leaders of Ananda. Since his passing in 2013 there's been a veritable explosion of growth and creative endeavors throughout Ananda worldwide.

Nonetheless, it is a distinct possibility that the gender imbalance either simply reflects the new phase of preservation that follows Kriyananda's passing or will influence Ananda's directions towards consolidation and preservation of what has been established. Either way, it seems to me that it will be a long time before anyone has the energy and magnetism to make any substantive contributions or initiate new directions to Swamiji's legacy. This is not necessarily a problem; at least not yet.

A balance of energies is necessary even if minor fluctuations naturally occur. When Kriyananda would speak of the gender differences in terms of leadership he would say things like the male influence tends to be expansive and impersonal; the female, personal and nurturing. And, he would add: we need both. To use an outdated archetypal image: someone has to go out and hunt to support the home, and someone has to stay home to protect it and its offspring.

With our modern awareness and sensibilities we can now distinguish between the biology of a person and their "energy." "Male" and "female" in this discussion refers not to bodies but to the dominant direction of interest of a person's energy. At the same time, we are asking for trouble if we pretend that biology doesn't influence consciousness! (Consider the world of entertainment and advertising to see the emphasis placed upon gender distinctions and traits in attracting success and sales.)

In Ananda's current phase of consolidation and preservation, appropriate though it is, an invisible, magnetic shield silently says, "This is what Ananda is." Implied in this is the even less conscious thought: "don't think to change it." It is as though we could be saying: "Ananda has come of age and is maturing in our self-identity and confidence around who we are. We have arrived for we now possess the spiritual wealth of our founder: his attunement with Paramhansa Yogananda!"

In contradistinction to the statistics of the gender makeup of Ananda membership, it is worth noting that our rapidly changing culture surrounding gender awareness makes it possible for women to confidently and openly express male energies, and, for men to express feminine energies. (I am not referring to sexual orientation.) To some degree, this potentially undermines the observable statistical imbalance and may, in fact, suggest that there's very little imbalance. But I have no way to measure that and my own experience of people is that most of us are distinctly influenced by biology.

Nonetheless, since we have no equivalent "Swami Kriyananda" to embody the expansive public service energies that are part and parcel of our "work," we, left to our own tendencies, might too easily prefer to shepherd our existing flocks with the care and compassion such duties require (and thus, unaware of the consequences of our actions, perhaps "closing the gate" behind us to protect them).

During his lifetime and in the building of Ananda, Swami Kriyananda instinctively established a dynamic, yet fruitful, "tension" between caring for our "home" (the various residential communities and the needs of our members) and engaging in public service; between nurturing our membership and serving the public. His books tended, generally, to reach out to the broadest segment of the public with interesting and varied topics that could show the underlying message of unity and spirituality beneficial to all through meditation, philosophy, parenting, marriage and much more. By contrast, those to whom he appointed to lead the communities that he had established were given the role to tend and nurture the needs and spiritual welfare of individual members. Outreach, though important, was and generally still is limited to a local service area and directed towards students and members.

Not long after Swami's death, Ananda's worldwide leadership affirmed our commitment to outreach and public service. Recently this was reaffirmed and focused towards SK's successors: Jyotish and Devi Novak. But that's easier said than done because our generation of leaders does not have the public recognition or karmic role of SK. Not surprisingly, the resources committed to outreach lag behind the resources committed to what we are used to making as our priority: the maintenance and growth of the communities, and the training and support of our members. Perhaps this is as it needs to be for now. We can coast for a while on the lifelong public service of our founder. But just how long?

In all fairness (returning now to the gender identity of Ananda members), yoga and meditation probably does attract more women than men. Perhaps our statistics are in line with the reality everywhere at the present time. Nonetheless, the frequency and clarity with which Swami Kriyananda commented upon the need for male energy should be a warning to us. A true leader is compassionate and understanding and good with people. But we cannot expect all future leaders to express all aspects of the ideal leader, and certainly not in their younger years as they are learning and growing. A potential leader might prove, at first, to be a gadfly of new ideas (just as SK was long ago) or even critique. (Just as some of the brightest students in school are not those who are the teacher's pet.)

It is true, as he, himself wrote, that the devotee (male and female) must begin the spiritual search with qualities of humility, devotion and receptivity, but strength and will power, too, are essential to spiritual growth. Given the dynamics of cultural conditioning in modern times, and as Swami Kriyananda found himself a victim of, it is all too easy to assume that softer qualities are spiritual and outward flowing energies are egotistical. Easy, in part, because so often true: but not always!

For, in fact, the emergent form of spirituality rejects the historic tradition that expansiveness is born of ego. The time for rejecting the world in the name of spirituality is rapidly vanishing. The time for "bringing Spirit to "work" in the world" is gaining acceptance by virtue of the need in our times. Men and women of greater awareness express this instinctively. But the old habits cling and resist as well.

In the last two weeks or so, and taking place at the Ananda Community and Center near Assisi, Italy, was a gathering of younger members, many of whom have leadership potential for the future. Ananda IS making an effort to nurture and recognize leadership qualities. SK taught us that in group dynamics and organizational activities, leadership, while not better or more important than other roles, is, nonetheless, a necessary talent, role and skill. Given the positive changes in culture and consciousness away from hierarchy, leadership energies tend to be mistrusted even if the role remains essential to any successful venture. We must avoid that inviting view, born of an extreme affirmation of egalitarian principles. "All men are created equal" is a pleasing affirmation (applicable, truly, to our potential) but quite obviously is untrue in actual fact.

It is my hope and prayer, and expectation, that the present leadership of Ananda, wherever situated, will have the wisdom (and the remembrance of the example of our founder, Swami Kriyananda) to recognize and nurture leadership qualities in those men and women inspired to serve the public work of Yogananda in the world today and in the years to come.

In thoughtful recollection,

Nayaswami Hriman

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Human Love: Delusion or Stairway to Heaven?

Tomorrow is the 36th wedding anniversary for Padma and I - August, 6, 1978. We were married by Swami Kriyananda at the Ananda Meditation Retreat. So this topic is appropriate. It is also popular, surprisingly (to me, at least). As one small example on this blog, one of the most popular articles I have written, even though two and a half years ago, is on the subject of "How to Love Another without Attachment." On a grander scale, the whole of human history reveals that vast amounts of literature, art, music and movies are devoted to this subject, from the most degraded to the most elevated. The only serious competitor to the subject of human love is, fittingly, war. But today, to celebrate the occasion, let us "make love, not war." (Perhaps I'll be inspired some day on the latter subject, though don't hold your breath.)

No subject is more fraught with complexity and variables than that of human love. Human love ranges from its misuse to describe lust all the way to the most sublime of human feelings culminating even in the willingness to give one's life for another: and, a lot in between. It knows no end of unique expression and defies any and all definition.

Lest I be forced to write a book (and, I promise you, I will never wrote a book on this subject), I am going to honor my anniversary and focus on human love in its traditional form between a man and woman in marriage. It's my right to do so and it's just easier than to make constant alternative and inclusive pronoun and noun references. So my readers who are touchy on this subject of gender and preference, well, give me some scope. All you have to do is substitute your own gender preferences and I don't think you will see any difference.

What characterizes human love above all else is that of a compelling and a specific kind of attraction between two people. This attraction is not that of creative collaborators such as at a workplace but is personal and contains a spark of polarization that might as well be simply described as sexual. I use this term, sexual, both in its obvious and traditional sense but also with the understanding that its presence does not require that its physical form of expression is uppermost or has a special emphasis between two such people. It's the "spark" that we see between two people that flames into a long-term and committed relationship and includes some element of sexuality, even if just in the beginning. Call it "chemistry." I say this so that we know we are not talking about a platonic relationship or that better described as friendship.

The question for the moment is whether this spark of attraction is, from the spiritual point of view of the soul, merely delusional or whether it can be a steppingstone to divine love. Not surprisingly the answer to this is, "It depends."

It truly surprises me how difficult it is for human beings to love each other beyond the narrow confines of their selfish needs and attachments. Ok, so you say "Why does THAT surprise you?" Well, perhaps I am, underneath my logical exterior, so to speak, a sentimentalist at heart. Or, not. It's just that I encounter so many otherwise lovable people who seem incapable of loving in return and far from happy in that fact. I may lack many needful virtues but the inability to love another person (appropriately or otherwise) is not one of them.

There are two kinds of people: those who seek love and those who don't! Ha, ha, I fooled you. You thought I was about to say something profound, huh?

I will wax personal and impersonal as the keystrokes here demand of me. Personally, my life's outer activities have been merely a canvas on which to paint the hidden themes of my life. And, human love is certainly one of those themes. In high school, I fell love with my "high school sweetheart" (how out-of-date a phrase, eh?) but it didn't last. The more intensely I felt attracted to her, the more she withdrew emotionally. She was, in my view (no longer culturally correct, I suppose) at least at the time, the quintessentially irrational female who while maddeningly attractive remains uncommunicative, moody, and beyond all understanding and reason. As my own spiritual yearnings grew, she withdrew even more. It was time to leave and so I simply left. To this day, I do not know what she wanted or why she seemed unhappy. But I vowed from that day never to be fooled by a pretty face or figure but to seek a friend and a partner with whom I could speak with reason and intellect and with whom I could share my own (gradually emerging) higher ideals. In that resolve, I am content to say Divine Mother answered my prayer "an hundredfold."

My point in disclosing the above is to illustrate, even if you don't resonate with my stereotyping description, the conundrum between the outer attraction and the inner resonance between two people. It goes without saying that superficial attraction is dangerously misleading to one's higher Self. Yet, how many marriages begin with but a merely outward basis and yet can evolve and turn into something deeply harmonious and respectful? That's the rub isn't it? You can never really be sure until, well, it becomes obvious.

For example, in old-fashioned views on marriage, a young woman might yield to the forbidden fruit of pre-marital temptations in the hope that by so yielding she would catch "her man." And, sometimes at least, I am sure she did. But how many such liaisons produced the fruit of marital harmony? Few, I would guess.

How many men, in the former times, wanted to seduce a woman only to find, having done so, having fallen in love. (Though more likely not and being, instead, left empty, angry and troubled.)

The merry-go-round goes 'round endlessly, doesn't it? Even today's modern hook-up without hang-up culture is mostly a pretense and a gateway to risk, hurt and harm. Sex never satisfies, as an end in itself. Eventually, it shows its inadequacies and falsehood in a million different ways. How many divorced couples once boasted of having great sex! Ditto for romance as romance for its own sake.

Sex and romance are simply variations on a theme: the theme being the fleeting satisfaction of intense emotions, the pleasure of indulging in mere fantasy, and sensory stimulation, none of which can last very long and both of which produce the fruit of their opposites: boredom, disgust, moodiness, lethargy, and the longer-term effects of dissipation (mental, emotional and/or physical).

(Lest you feel in these words a bludgeon of condemnation, let us admit that sex and romance have their place in the grand scheme of things and, whether they do or not, they unmistakably "make the world go 'round." It is better to deal plainly and clearly with forces that are far greater than the mental virtue of the merely conscious mind. When either sex or romance are divorced from a deeper, soul resonance between people and become ends in themselves, this is when we eventually suffer.)

Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now famous classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," describes in a book of stories (collected and edited by my teacher, and founder of Ananda, Swami Kriyananda) called "Conversations with Yogananda," how American culture differs from Indian culture (at least during his lifetime). He said that in India where the parents choose a marriage partner for their child divorce is uncommon and marriages tend to be stable and generally more harmonious. In America he experienced the turmoil and tumult of rising divorce rates and marriages based on nothing more, as he wryly put it, than "a pretty shade of lipstick and a bowtie."

Yet, he concluded that in this culture we could find out more quickly the innate shortcomings of human love as a solution to our search for happiness. He didn't, in other words, slam the door in our face, decrying our western superficiality and fickleness (both of which he also acknowledged). Yet, he taught that "loyalty is the first law of God." That's a bit heavy sounding for my likes, but by this he refers to the need to stick to what one commits as the necessary prerequisite to success in all human endeavors.

In the arena of human love, we find that it is natural to "date" and "shop around" when one is young (or available) but if this phase goes on for a decade or two, one's friends will begin to wonder whether that friend is capable of "settling down." So, we intuitively know that life invites, indeed, demands, a commitment of creative energies. "Be fruitful and multiply" as the Old Testament commands. (I am not limiting to this to having children, but to getting "engaged" with life.)

So, now, which is it: delusion or doorway? I already told you: "It depends."

My marriage to Padma was born in the clear light of spiritual idealism in the shared commitment to the practice of meditation, to discipleship to Paramhansa Yogananda, to the guidance of Swami Kriyananda, and to a lifetime of community living at Ananda. That doesn't and didn't substitute for the attraction we felt to one another. It was a both-and. The one, immediate and compelling, found its directional expression in the form of the other. In this, I have to say we embodied a perfect balance and it has borne much fruit, in all and in many ways: from our wonderful children to our friendship and service to and with Swami Kriyananda, the countless friendships with fellow devotees around the world, and a gradually expansion of consciousness in wisdom, clarity, and true, impersonal love.

But a marriage with such high ideals holds aloft a bar that is ever out-of-reach and which, therefore, too often eludes one's reaching grasp. The result is too easily and too often a stumbling from that height where a fall can hurt. There's no easy path to enlightenment and we've been greatly blessed in having every spiritual advantage in this regard (with the possible exception of not having present and in the body our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda).

As I look around and view fellow devotees who are unmarried and ask myself: which is the easier path, I see that the unmarried devotee has the freedom to focus one-pointedly on meditation and service while we marrieds are constantly having to also please and relate, compromisingly, to our partner's needs and demands. But I perceive that the unmarrieds indulge readily in their likes and dislikes of others, shutting their door naturally and easily upon the world when others and life itself displeases them. Behind our doors, we must continue to live our path: there is no relaxation of intensity unless a couple agrees to do so. In the latter case, the fall can be quick and deep if one is not careful.

Swami Kriyananda was definitely not starry eyed on the subject of marital bliss. Yogananda taught that those who are compelled by desire to marry must find, over time and repeated forays and incarnations, the inadequacy of human love to satisfy the soul's memory of perfect, infinite love. Nonetheless, the great guru Lahiri Mahasaya, disciple of the peerless Babaji, was married and had at least four children. Yogananda's most advanced disciples all had been, at one time or another, married. So also, the gyanavatar, Swami Sri Yukteswar, the proxy guru of Yogananda.

In this new age of expanding awareness, Yogananda and Kriyananda have taught us that marriage is not forbidden to or necessarily a bar to those seeking enlightenment. The Divine Will and guiding hand of Spirit invites us to bring "Spirit to work and home." It is time to infuse human life with grace, harmony and wisdom. The rise of women in society is, no less, an indication of the need to achieve balance in society and in marriage.

Couples dedicated to high ideals both in their service outwardly in the world but also to the high ideals of respect for one another are needed to serve as wayshowers for a new society. Instead of men and women at war with each other, using and abusing each other in co-dependent relationships, what is needed for both individual spiritual growth and the harmony of society at large are couples who are strong in themselves, centered in themselves (not self-centered!), and respectful of each other.

The sexual attraction between two people is here to stay. It's a question, rather, of how strongly such attraction rules relationships, for how long it governs the relationship, and how far down the scale of priority and attachment it goes. The more conscious elements of society are raising children to be self-aware and self-respecting: of themselves and their bodies, and of others. This is a good though tiny trend. The Ananda Living Wisdom Schools are a part of this important trend.

To know that the compelling force of attraction can be either a gateway to hell (harmful emotions, destructive habits, disease, suffering, etc.) or a doorway to greater happiness is a function of intuition (and karma). Children raised in calm, nurturing and wholesome environments will stand a better chance of "knowing" and distinguishing truth from glamor.

Before marrying, I asked Swami Kriyananda's blessing and permission. No one wants to return to arranged marriages, but blessed marriages are those that seek and obtain the support of friends, family, and, most of all, the wise. This is the happy blend between the risk and compelling power of love-marriages and the wisdom but potential for lifelessness in arranged marriages. In the Ananda Communities (nine throughout the world), we encourage prospective couples to seek counsel, blessing, and support from like-minded and wisdom-guided gurubhais.

Life is what we make of it, no doubt. Marriage is here to stay, despite society's permission for ignoring its outer forms. No longer is one compelled to marry by sexual desire . Loyalty, too, means commitment and while one can never know where the path of life will lead, the sincere effort to walk it with harmony and with wisdom is all that one can aspire to do. Marriage embodies this principle of loyalty. A ceremony is but an affirmation seeking divine and human blessings. It is not a guarantee.

Swami Kriyananda was married for a few years. His marriage ennobled the fledgling householder community of Ananda Village in the '80's. But as he later admitted, he was not cut out for marriage and a time came when it ended. Ananda couples, as others throughout the world, sincerely strive to have a spiritual marriage without suppressing its complete, human nature. Led by conscious intention and prayerful aspiration, marriage, for all of its shortcomings and challenges, can help us grow spiritually. That a conscious marriage will tend to cure us of false notions of marital bliss should be expected but not decried. We must learn that true happiness and perfect love cannot be limited by human, or any, outer form.

Happy Anniversary with many more to come!

Swami Hrimananda! :-)

P.S. Having taken our vows in the Nayaswami Order, ours is now a celibate marriage. As the fact of our children can attest, it wasn't always so!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

News from Ananda Washington!

This post will be a bit different and more on the timely rather than the eternal basis!

For starters, we will soon roll-out a new Ananda Seattle website thanks to friend and web designer Rhonda Dicksion of Indigo Dog ( This blog site will be moved to the new Ananda site sometime in the next month.

Many local Ananda members just returned from a long weekend at Ananda Village near Nevada City, CA to welcome "home" and celebrate the 86th birthday of Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda. Saturday, May 19, was his birthday and he gave a talk that morning and we had a "birthday party" in the afternoon.

We've all returned inspired and enthusiastic. Swamiji's dedication, friendship, wisdom, energy, and divine "kindliness" is a bright light in the lives of thousands throughout the world. After the dust of the weekend's activities settled, Padma and I (who were blessed to stay at Crystal Hermitage where Swamiji lives when in residence there) had some quiet time together with Swamiji. Padma made him and a few others a lovely fondue dinner Sunday night, and the next morning we met with him over breakfast to share our farewells.

We returned to find that our efforts to purchase a local organic farm have taken a few steps backwards when informed that the sellers have withdrawn their interest in selling the farm at this time. So, we're back to the real estate listings but there's plenty of properties out there with potential. We are intending to expand our food growing capacity from the small plots at Ananda Community in Lynnwood to property outside the metropolitan area (but still somewhat close by) in an adjacent rural area. This will provide not only food but opportunities for gatherings and service. It can provide education and experience in small farm operations for adults and children alike. We have substantial commitments to the purchase already but we are also still open to additional investors. If you are (seriously) interested, email me and I'll send you more information.

We returned last night from Ananda Village, CA on Alaska Air and landed at SEATAC around 6:30 p.m. We were standing in the aisle waiting our turn to de-plane (sp?) when we observed a conversation between passengers. It appeared to Padma and I that we were seated with about four Korean gentleman, all nicely dressed in suits, looking slightly older than middle age. A friendly faced woman, while waiting, asked her fellow passenger (one of the Korean men) what he was doing. He replied that he was a Christian (Methodist, perhaps?) on some kind of mission or another (I wasn't paying much attention at the beginning).

Well, this friendly Seattle-lite plunged in with innocent abandon and wondered, gee, when did Christianity hit Korea? I mean wasn't there something there before that? Like, say, Buddhism? Well, he didn't flinch or blanch or get embarrassed. In all of the conversation he was very polite and calm. It was, in its own way, very sweet. But off she went, true Seattle-ite that she was, saying how it seemed to her that all religions did more or less the same thing, I mean, don't they? Well, he hesitated a bit (I couldn't really hear him). Clearly of course he also needed to be true to his calling and like a good (if orthodox) Christian was needing to gently say, well, sure all religions are similar, but only through Jesus Christ can one be saved, etc. etc. etc.

Well, it was charming: her innocence and his patience and calmness. His three other gentleman companions of course had to listen and endure this without comment. The poor fellow was no doubt on the line, so to speak.

It was easy to sympathize with each of them. He for representing the importance of committing to the spiritual path in some form or another (we have a form, a body, a personality, temperament etc. and we have committed relationships, careers, and the need for good diet, right exercise, etc.), and she, for seeing the One behind the many. And this is such important yet challenging lesson for this age. We have the orthodox and sectarian believers, narrow and dogmatically affirming their tenets and judging everyone else. We have those who throw the "baby of soul awakening" out with the bathwater of orthodox religion.

Our age is replete with the mixture of all races, religions and cultures living and working together in (at least) major cities in every nation on earth. We need to learn how to get along with respect and also with awareness (and understanding). To turn to agnosticism or self-proclaimed atheism on the basis of the narrowness of sectarian religionists is to ignore the one aspect of human consciousness with the greatest potential to bring not only personal happiness but global harmony (and yes, even prosperity).

To say "I am spiritual" but to do nothing other than to be a nice person and say "All religions are the same" is a cop out and our "beliefs won't save us" when life throws challenges and tragedies our way. To attempt to have a genuine spiritual life on one's own is a happy thought but all too often a lame reality. Only one who could grow spiritually in a cave should even attempt to go solo to God. 

"Environment is stronger than will" proclaimed Paramhansa Yogananda. For this reason he "sowed into the ether" the divine blessings that would empower and inaugurate a new era for the establishment of intentional communities bringing together people of high ideals who sought to live sustainable, balanced lives in cooperation with one another, the earth, and with divine grace.

We can accomplish far more together (for we are One) than by segregating our ideals from our love and commitment to others. There are two aspects of the spiritual path and they were well expressed in the Old Testament and re-affirmed by Jesus Christ as the basis of his teachings: to love God and to love one's neighbor (as oneself).  We need not just spirituality but also religion (each with its shortcomings can balance the other). Those who go alone tend to develop pride and attitudes of judgment. Those who join with others do the same thing in respect to their shared beliefs and customs. But by having both an inner life (giving rise to introspection, self-awareness and intuition, for which meditation is uniquely suited) and an outer life of fellowship (in service and in devotion) helps keep us in balance. 

So, I hope those two went their own ways perhaps touched in some ways by the message and person of the other.


Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King & Mahatma Gandhi

Today, January 16, America commemorates the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. 2012 marks the tenth annual tribute to Rev. King and to Mahatma Gandhi by Ananda Sangha in Seattle & Bothell, WA. This evening's program was cancelled due to snow, and postponed until this coming Sunday, January 22, 10 a.m. at the Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell. Ananda Bothell website 

Over ten years ago I had the inspiration to create a tribute to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. ("MLK") and Mahatma Gandhi ("MG") using quotes from their writings and speeches. It was deeply inspiring to me and has proven to be so to many hundreds who have attended the tribute both here and in Mountain View, CA and other places where it has been presented.

The text has changed over the years, partly to keep it fresh and partly to follow new insights. At first it was strictly limited to inspirational quotes drawn equally from MLK and MG. In the last two years we've quoted mostly from MLK in keeping with the national holiday and American interests and have emphasized more of the drama of actual events in MLK's life.

There are, however, some salient aspects of their lives that are not commonly emphasized in most public tributes or documentaries. The most important of these is the inner, spiritual life of each of these men. Another is the dynamic relevance their lives, message, motives, and methods hold for the world today. In anticipation of Sunday's presentation and owing to today's official commemoration, I would like to share some of these salient aspects with you in this blog.

As revered as both men are throughout the world, we find that it is not necessary to have them be perfect or all together saintly. Their relevance to our own, personal lives comes from the simple but life transforming fact that each aspired to "know, love, and serve God."  For each of them, their divine attunement came through serving and giving their lives in the cause of racial, political, and economic freedom and justice. 

While the public generally is aware of their political victories, most are only dimly aware that each had a deep inner life of prayer from which they sought, received and followed (to their death) divine guidance. It was not that they did not know fear, or were unaware that their actions placed them constantly in danger of assassination and violence. It's that the inner divine sanction they sought and received gave them the comfort and the strength to carry on in spite of their very human shortcomings. What a lesson for each and every one of us. We do not need to be public servants or heroes or martyrs. Unseen by any, we can carry on what is right if we, too, will live for God alone.

The night before his assassination and in the face of multiple threats to his life, MLK declared that he "had been to the mountaintop" and was not afraid of any man. That it did not matter now, for God had shown him the "promised land." And, while he would yearn for a long life like anyone, that was secondary for he wanted only "to do God's will." In fact, that afternoon, alone and on the verge of despair and despondency for the challenges that faced his work, his life, his family, and his reputation and influence, he prayed and, I believe, had a spiritual experience from the heights of which he spoke those ringing words. Most hearing him then and now believe he was referring to the promised land of desegregation. And who would argue, and why not? But prophets of old and new and scriptures of all lands speak on many levels of meaning. And I, and others, believe that what he was "shown" was far more than that. What he experienced gave him the courage and faith to do what he had to do and to give his life in doing it.

Few people know that MLK travelled to India in 1959, after his first victory in Montgomery, Alabama with the now famous bus boycott prompted by Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger who had just boarded. King spoke on All-India Radio urging India to lead the way to universal disarmament (India subsequently did not). Dr. King and Coretta and travelling companions were veritable celebrities in India where the bus boycott had been followed in newspapers throughout India.

MLK was more than a southern Baptist preacher. His religious views were liberal, in the most elevated sense of the term. He was more than an eloquent black speaker from the south. He was an intellectual who grappled with the issues of twentieth century western culture and was well read in philosophy, scripture, and history. Had his calling not been towards civil rights his own inclinations would have led him to stay in the north and become a professor, writer and lecturer. In college he felt the presence of God in nature and spent many hours alone, out-of-doors, day and night. 

MLK was a "disciple" of Mahatma Gandhi who saw that Gandhi resolved what King thought was the gulf between the "love thy neighbor as thy self" teaching of Jesus with the compelling need to fight injustice. MLK said that Jesus gave the teaching of love but Gandhi gave the method to make it applicable to social causes. King followed Gandhi's understanding that resistance was anything but passive. Nonviolent resistance required as much courage, self-sacrifice, and strength as that required in battle for a soldier. 

MLK like MG was not only assassinated but both felt that their efforts had been unsuccessful: Gandhi, due to the communal rioting that followed the great victory of nonviolent freedom from the British, and King, in the rising militarism of younger, up and coming civil rights leaders. MLK took considerable heat from his anti-war stance on Vietnam. He was harassed by the FBI and Johnson administration and hounded by rivalries among his own civil rights associates.

Yet both men, to the end, maintained their faith in God and in the victory of good over evil. Both were practical idealists, eloquent speakers, gifted writers and astute organizers and negotiators. Possessing great will power, yet they were loyal to their own and forgiving to those who betrayed them. Both saw their religion and their politics as applicable to all humanity and for all time. Never did either succumb to sectarianism or nationalism.

Mahatma Gandhi was initiated into kriya yoga by Paramhansa Yogananda during Yogananda's one and only return visit to India in 1935-36. Yogananda, prior to leaving India for America in 1920, was asked by revolutionaries to lead the fight against British rule. Yogananda declined saying it was not his to do in that lifetime but that he predicted that India would win its independence by non-violent means: and this was before Gandhi had come onto the political scene in India and had come into his role as leader for Indian independence.

An earlier generation black leader for justice in America, W.E.B. Du Bois, invited Gandhi to come to America but Gandhi declined, saying it wasn't his role to do that and India was where he was needed. Du Bois predicated, however, that it would take another Gandhi to end segregation and uplift the American "negroes." How right he was.

The world today, and America especially, is in dire need of a voice of moral authority. Our nation seems polarized between extremes and has lost the dignity, compassion, and ideal-inspired reason to see our way clearly to the greatest good for the greatest number. We must find a way to affirm universal values, including spirituality, without sectarianism; to teach, model and encourage balanced, positive, and wholesome values and behaviors without censorship, discrimination, or coercion; to encourage self-initiative and personal responsibility rather than entitlement and victimization. To foster a hunger for knowledge, not mere profit, for sustainability, not indulgence, for cooperation not ruthless competition.

The law of survival and happiness is based on one and the same principle: self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice means the recognition that we are more than we seem and reality is bigger than our individual self. Self-sacrifice is the investment into a longer rhythm of sustainability that brings a wholesome prosperity, harmony with nature and with humanity, and lasting happiness rather than passing pleasure. "Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends," as the Bible says. Few are called to give their lives for the lives of others, but all of us are called upon to become the "sons of God," meaning to live up to our own highest potential which is far greater than to live for the moment and for the senses and ego gratification.

As parents sacrifice for the good of their children (health, education, safety, comfort, and security), as soldiers sacrifice for defense of their country, as great artists and scientists toil to share inspiration and create a better world, so too each of us are called upon to harmonize ourselves in daily life with right diet, exercise, cooperation, compassion, knowledge, community service and wisdom. Such requires moral vigor and personal sacrifice of the desires of the moment for a greater reward.

Both Gandhi and King labored to instill these basic and universal values in their followers and to their people. Each understood that no victory over injustice could take place without the moral victory of an honorable, self-respecting, self-sacrificing, balanced, and compassionate life.

When and by whom do we see these values held up for honor in America -- not by words, alone -- but by example, by leaders in every field such as arts, entertainment, religion, business, science, and politics? Look at those whose lives we are fascinated by: celebrities whose lives of debauchery echo the lowest common denominator of humanity. Yet there are heroes here and there, and all around us. They don't necessarily shout and conduct public polls. But we need them now just as Dr. King was no less a prophet than those of the Old Testament, no less flawed than any one of us, but willing to give his life to something greater than himself.

Ananda's worldwide work is focused upon discipleship to the living presence and precepts of Paramhansa Yogananda. In this respect the example of Ananda may seem irrelevant to the world today. But it is not, for from a tiny seed a mighty oak can grow. We do not practice "Yogananda-ism." Discipleship for Ananda members means to attune ourselves to the truths that he represented, rather than to worship a mere personality. Ananda is anything but a cult, focused inward upon itself.

It is no coincidence that Yogananda initiated Gandhi into kriya yoga or that MLK was a "disciple" of Gandhi. The movement towards universally shared values such as "life, liberty, and happiness" and the equality of all souls as children of the Infinite is no cult but a powerful tsunami closing in towards the shoreline of modern society. The destructive aspects of this all consuming tsunami are felt only by those who stand fast in their sectarianism, racial prejudice, bigotry or other narrow-eyed identity. Kriya yoga symbolizes more than a meditation technique. It represents the understanding that each of us must find within our own center these universal values, our conscience, and our happiness. Much more could be said, but I have planted enough dots along the path for others to connect.

We celebrate the life of Dr. King because we celebrate the precepts he represented and the example of self-sacrifice that has been all but forgotten in the haze of modern materialism. If America, and other countries, are to survive the challenges we face, we must face them together with a sense of our shared values and essential unity.

Blessings to all,


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Jesus Christ: the ONLY?

Religion has been plagued by sectarianism and no religion has been so organized and so intellectually self-enclosed and bullet-proof than the traditional Catholic Faith. A recent conversation with my ultra-conservative Catholic priest and brother served only to remind me of both the limits of the intellect and the dangers of the sheer magnetism of two thousand years of accumulated tradition and self-enclosed logic.

The trouble begins with Jesus' use of the personal pronoun "I" in his statement that "I am the way, the life, and the truth" (not an exact quote). It continues with states like "upon my church I shall build my church and the powers of darkness shall not prevail against it" (approximate quote). An entire theology has been built around such quotations, and, added to that, the testimony of (church-ordained) "saints" adds proof to the pudding!

Paramhansa Yogananda, a great yogi who came to America and who brought a new dispensation of a broader vision of divinity and truth, showed how Jesus' words and teachings can be understood in a broader context. Yet the weight of tradition and the apparent testimony of the saints would seem to shun any new interpretation or understanding. Add to this the fear of the "anti-Christ" and associated breakdown of traditional values and you have a retrenchment from which there seems no return, no reconciliation, no hope for raproachment.

From my brother's point of view, there isn't any such bridge. There is no way to reconcile. Theirs is the only way, and the rest of us are condemned to you-know-where or, with some theological fine print, can be saved by natural living and grace based on our ignorance and God's mercy.

The combination of the erosion of traditional ("Catholic" or "Christian") values and the emergence of Eastern religions with their overarching and universalist tendencies makes for trouble all 'round. It drives the traditional Christians crazy to think that Buddha or Krishna might be elevated to the stature of Jesus Christ!

No blog article is sufficient in length to tackle these questions. For reference I direct your attention to Swami Kriyananda's book, "Revelations of Christ," or Self-Realization Fellowship's (shortened) "The Yoga of Jesus."

The gulf that divides east and west (universalist vs dogmatist) is a very deep one. We mustn't fool ourselves into thinking reconciliation is just around the corner. We of metaphysical persuasion tend to be non-violent, even pacifist, but not so (many of) the representatives of orthodox religion.

I told my brother I would rather love him than argue with him. But he never seems to give up on his insistence that the Catholic Church is the only one true church and after the anti-Christ and the dark days to come it will emerge victorious!

Rather than argue our way through the Jesus' teachings, why not find it in our hearts to unite in our love for truth, our dedication (self-sacrifice) to serving God and higher ideals, and in our personal life of prayer, meditation, and introspection? Are not the so-called traditional Christian values essentially universal ones?

Sadly, however, the path ahead of us is not a bed of roses. While mainstream religion has largely ignored us, laughed at us, scorned or condemned us, its response will be much more intense when the time comes that it feels threatened by those who dare to meditate (without their sanction) and who see in all faiths the underlying unity of truth.

As unpleasant as it may seem to many of us, we must be willing, at least, to stand up for a truth that is needed on our planet today. We are all children of the Infinite One God. All life, all faiths are but a manifestation of that One consciousness. Life has but its purpose the realization that we are but sparks of the Infinite Flame.

There is no real argument among the great Ones who come to declare the eternal truths. Even if saints encourage their followers to be true to the faith they are born in, an examination of their lives finds them preoccupied with ego-transcendence and love for God. A new dispensation of revelation has come in answer to the prayer of sincere hearts that a universal understanding in matters spiritual be found that is comparable to the universal acceptance of natural laws discovered by scientists.

This new revelation, like the "new" science that replaced medieval superstitions and blind beliefs, is not intended and need not destroy the faith of traditional religionists. In fact, it can free them from the narrow confines of sectarianism. Let each faith honor its own tradition while it yet sees its beliefs and rituals in the broader vision of God's love and wisdom.


Nayaswami Hriman

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

There Ought to be a Revolution!

Years ago, probably in the 1940's, Paramhansa Yogananda, author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," and founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship headquartered in Los Angeles, encountered difficulties with the Los Angeles Planning or Building Department. In the way people do, a small group that included Yogananda were complaining about government red tape. Someone pipped up and said, whether humorously or in frustration, "There ought to be a revolution!" Yogananda was quiet for a moment and then said calmly but with quiet conviction: "There WILL be a revolution."

I recently finished a book by David C. Korten, "Agenda for a New Economy: from Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth." In briefest summary it's about how and why America should dump Wall Street in favor of Main Street. America and the western countries, and truly most of the world, is faced with a large bank overdraft. We have overdrawn the balance in the account of natural resources, energy usage, fair trade of useful goods and services, fair wages, respect for differences in race, nation, culture, and religion and so much else.

The rubber band of over-indulgence is near to snapping. There ought indeed to be a revolution and I think there WILL be a revolution. Naturally, as a yogi, I hope it will be peaceful but, let's face it, the odds of that happening are slim to nothing. We've seen riots occur spontaneously in different countries when price spikes in food, or shortages in basic commodities take place, or when wages or hours are cut due to austerity measures. And these are small potatoes.

There need not be any violence if enough leaders and citizens shared a common vision of what's needed. And if any country can gather the will to make drastic changes, I think America, for all her many faults, can do its part. But it's going to take a lot more hardship before the political and cultural will rises to the challenge. We saw a glimmer of heartfelt national unity immediately after the 9-11 attack. It didn't last long but we saw and felt it. And so did other countries.

But what David Korten is describing, even if it is but a fraction of the large areas of human activiity that are in desparate need of radical change, requires the overthrow of powerful people and vested interests. As Gandhi and King knew firsthand, those in power do not relinquish it willingly. Bankrupting them would of course do it but what we've seen is the bailouts only made those who triggered the need for the bailout, richer.

Faced with such odds, the authentic thing for most of us is to turn our back on that which we cannot change. Let the "dead bury the dead." Let's start new and promising things: small and creative businesses, communities, sharing with others what we have learned and have.....creating, in short, community, in all its rich variety of forms.

We need to revolt from and break away from dependence on government handouts, and go on alone. A song, "Go on Alone," is something of Ananda's theme song. It takes courage to leave a career, a "good" job, a looming pension, a comfortable home but haven't thousands (or more) already been forced to give up these things already? Why cower in the darkness, hiding your head in the sand, hoping the sandstorm will pass over you and everything will be just like it was before? It won't! The mainstream news is not worth exposing yourself to.

It doesn't take a whole population to effect a revolution. Study any revolution, peaceful or otherwise. It's usually a statistically insignificant percentage of the population that ignites the movement! And I'm not talking about being AGAINST anything but FOR sustainable, community, balanced living. If enough people stop borrowing money to buy consumer goods, and begin living real lives with real people who share real values, the edifice of power and greed will tumble like the walls of Jericho!

America is the best place for this second American revolution. Many here may seem greedy, selfish, and self-indulgent, but I think that's mostly what we've had the luxury to do for a relatively short period (since WW2). In general, America still has vitality, drive, creativity, and, yes, even high ideals.

A part of this better half of America died with the last of 3 assassinations: Robert Kennedy's. The election of Richard Nixon marked a detour or turning point in losing touch with our ideals, however flawed they have always been in their implementation. The cynicism and distrust brought about what we saw in ourselves in Vietnam and in some of our citizens' public brutality and hate during the height of the civil rights movement exposed and wounded our national self-image. We descended into self-involvement and haven't stopped since.

But now the necessity to pull out of this drunken binge of galloping consumption and debt will be the saving grace of this country's creative vitality and ideals. We have to recognize the opportunity and seize it.

Everything is going to be turned on its head: religion, politics, construction, manufacturing, retail, farming, health......and on and on. The basic trend will be that the individual, and relatively small or smaller groups of people, will need and will seize the initative to implement changes. These will largely be outside government control or influence, though in some cases, in partnership. With the federal, state, and local governments crushed under their own debt, imagine the thousands (or is it millions) who will become unemployed? Lord help us if we stop waging wars: what will become of all the soldiers and their contractors?

Yes: a tsunami is heading our way. It mgiht seem far offshore and too small to notice but by the time you see it, it will be too late. Those who live a God-centered life and guided by grace and strengthened with Divine power, who step off the wheel of unsustainable living and do so in harmony with others of like mind will not only find greater fulfillment but can act as instruments to help many, many others: whether by example or directly.

I am not a pessimist. I am an optimist. I base these things on what Paramhansa Yogananda predicted before his death in 1952 and what my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, has warned audiences about for decades, and from what knowledgeable forecasters in all fields are saying, and what just makes good, common sense.

Blessings, Hriman

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Many are the Pathways to Truth

Religious sectarianism is an afront to people of intelligence, sensitivity and goodwill. It's no wonder the number of non-affiliated but religious-minded people continues to grow.

In Paramhansa Yogananda's now famous story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, confronts the young swami-in-training (Mukunda, the future Swami Yogananda) and his adverse attitude toward organizations. Sri Yukteswar bluntly (was he ever NOT blunt?) asks Yogananda whether he would have found such wisdom if true teachers, current and past, were not willing to share their wisdom with others.

It was then that Yogananda vowed to do what he could to share with all the wisdom he had received. Thus, in short order, he embarked upon a life of self-sacrifice and service. Not many years later he came to America and against great odds and opposition began a nationwide (indeed, international) spiritual work.

I meet many sincere seekers in my work of teaching meditation, and in my association with the local East West Bookshop (in Seattle, WA). Among such people I find a distinct reluctance, even disdain, for participation or commitment in any form of organized spiritual work. This is understandable considering the bad name religion has earned for itself around the world. (Is not religion but organized spirituality--at least in principle?)

Oddly enough, despite sixteen years of Catholic education (grade school through university), I never felt the weight or burden of the organization. I took what inspiration I was blessed with and left the rest at the curbside. So I can't say I am a "recovering" Catholic. I treasure the inspiration and the great tradition of the saints and of mystical union that has been (more or less) preserved.

At Ananda, too, in my over thirty years of participation, I see the necessity of organization as separate from my inner relationship with God and Self.

What Swami Kriyananda has been saying in more recent years includes encouraging high-minded souls to join together in affirming their ideals. He points out that more good can be accomplished by cooperation and harmony than by separation and independence.

Ours is simply not a time nor an age where disappearing into the caves or hermitages either satisfies Spirit-seeking souls or serves the spiritual needs of those around us.

Yes, organizations are a pain. Indeed, both Yogananda and Kriyananda call them "evil" though in both cases I think more for effect than for absolute! After all, is not the creation, including our bodies and personalities, being dual, a kind of evil--at least if one defines evil as that which obscures the transcendent Divine nature of all things?

To grow spiritually we must learn to accept things as they are and be willing to serve and sacrifice. Self-sacrifice ("Yagya" in the Vedas) is a term that, in American culture at least, seems only to apply to military service! (Ironic, no?) We are, I believe, in the beginning throes of having to relearn this universal truth: all good comes from sacrifice.

Furthermore, to refuse to commit is all too often an affirmation of ego-separateness, perhaps hiding behind the veil of disdain and critique. It is a common truth that pride hides fear.

Therefore, I encourage those of goodwill and high ideals to "make your ideals practical" (advice Yogananda gave to Kriyananda long ago) and get involved. Better yet, committed. Like the old joke about breakfast: "The chicken's involved, but the pig's committed!"

Only by merging ourselve into a greater reality, expanding our sense of Self, can we ever find true and lasting happiness.

Joy to you,


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Why Religion is Divisive

Religion is all too often a source of conflict, division, and judgment between the adherents of different faiths. It doesn't help that religion is inextricably linked with cultural and national identifies with their numerous biases, prejudices, language, dress, and traditions.

It is experienced spirituality that unites hearts. And not the superficial spirituality born of intellectual speculation or passing sentimentality but the realized spirituality that fosters action, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice.

I remember as a boy, growing up Catholic, being taught that the word "catholic" meant universal. I was thrilled at that thought. Later as I grew and became more aware of other faiths and the rigidity of my own faith did I experience the deep disappointment that was inevitable.

I was not alone, and indeed I joined the ranks of millions including such notables as Emerson and Thoreau in experiencing the thrill of discovery of the scriptures and philosophy of India. It was in my college years at Santa Clara University, halfway between Berkeley and Haight Asbury in 1969 when it seemed the staid and jaded adult world around us was breaking apart in favor of a new and hopeful reality. In the vision of the rishis, all time and space were united in the underlying consciousness of Spirit. At last a spiritual view that matched the goals and unfolding vision of modern science which sought the truth underlying all phenomena.

It is not really religion that divides us: it is matter, or outward appearances that command our attention and hypnotize us in seeing the difference rather than the underlying similarity. Our bodies, skin color, gender, language, dress, occupations, attitudes and customs divide us.

Paramhansa Yogananda, whose life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," has been read by millions came to the West from India to bring a new expression of the ancient revelation of the Oneness of life. But the battle of form vs spirit is also universal. Whereas he would claim that the work he began did not constitute yet another sect, one of his closest disciples simply scoffed, "Of course, we are sect." What she meant is obvious: that to others what else could his work and teachings be but another sect? Yet what he meant is that he was offering an experience of reality that could help individuals transcend that narrower view of reality!

And so the division and multiplication continues. Spirituality represents the realization of Oneness and religion represents the effort to share and spread that revelation for the upliftment of others. Thus we find that even in the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, and indeed adding to that those of his guru-preceptors from India (Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya and Swami Sri Yukteswar) there have been spawned different branches, teachers, books, and organizations.

That among some of them would arise disagreements, different points of view, attitudes, and controversy should hardly surprise us. Our souls have long been held captive to the body and the hypnosis of outward appearances. The soul's native omnipresence and oneness with God and all life is but a child trying to crawl, to stand, and to walk however haltingly.

Since Yogananda's message and his life's persona was so loving and accepting it seems especially a betrayal when the other human tendencies assert themselves and appear uppermost. For this reason has Swami Kriyananda recently returned "home" to Los Angeles where Yogananda took up residency so long ago and where he, Swami Kriyananda, lived for many years to share the purity of Yogananda's message and the love of Yogananda's heart.

Swami Kriyananda's efforts are a dynamic and courageous example for all of us to live by. He has affirmed Yogananda's unitive teachings and love in the face of scorn, indifference, and derision from some of his fellow disciples. Those of us who, as Yogananda's disciples, seek to represent him should especially take to heart his example. But for all souls, to seek truth, God, and love beneath the surface of all else that divides us is the noblest aspiration and our highest duty.