Showing posts with label unity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label unity. Show all posts

Monday, August 18, 2014

Diversity vs. Depth

I had a conversation the other day that brought up a subject I'd like to share. The subject is not reflective so much of the conversation as it was prompted by the conversation. It goes something like this: a sincere person seeks to live a spiritual life and wonders if he or she should renounce or withdraw from his or her current environment and seek a more spiritually supportive one. Some of the issues include loyalty to friends, neighbors and present occupation, including the service one renders to others or could potentially render if one embarks upon a deeper spiritual life of service.

I remember a man in one of my raja yoga classes years ago: he was older, close to retirement, and very inspired by the path of meditation and raja yoga. At the end of the course he disclosed that he had made a decision to remain "in the world" serving people "on the street" rather than continue with his studies with Ananda and with deepening his meditation practices (presumably in the direction of learning kriya yoga, which we teach).

Though few articulate their choices in this way, many, I have come to see, struggle with a similar choice. Ok, it's fine to say that some people are not ready to make a deeper spiritual commitment in their life. So, sure, we can say there's no "right" or "wrong" choice here. But, by contrast, we can say that some actions lead us toward God and others don't or at least are less likely to. From stories of Paramhansa Yogananda as told by my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, I understand that sometimes a choice like this might impact one for many, many incarnations to come. A spark of spiritual awakening might not recur for a very long time.

It is also true to say that very, very, very few people come to a fork in the road with this as their choice. Few, in other words, have an interest in a deeper spiritual life to begin with. Few have the opportunity, as well. So it is not an unimportant question from the standpoint of karma and reincarnation, and many, many lives of "soul searching."

As the famous story of Martha and Mary illustrates, it is a false dichotomy to see the spiritual path as a choice that eschews involvement and service in the world. (Jesus chides Martha for being too busy in the kitchen, praising Mary for sitting at his feet and absorbing his spiritual vibrations. The issue is not one of service but of attitude and consciousness. Martha was all "hot and bothered" and wanted Jesus to tell Mary to come and help her. For all we know, maybe he did!)

It is the ego, in fact, or at least ignorance, that, in subtly resisting a deeper spiritual commitment, views that commitment as judging the world and giving up on one's friends, family, and ordinary activities and occupation. The important thing, spiritually, is whether one's heart, mind, and hands are drawn toward God or towards ego motivated desires. The details: how, where, when, etc., are secondary.

Getting back to the conversation I had and admitting that I'm not really sure what possibly hidden motivations triggered it, the term "diversity" was used. At first, it seemed that the "diversity" alluded to was a racial one, implying that in city life one is exposed to different races and types of people and how wonderful (and spiritual?) that is. Whether accurately or not, I extended the term, in my mind, to the diversity inherent in city life: amusements, activities, people, and so on. All over the planet, people are drawn to cities for the opportunities in employment, comforts, a better life, and, yes, amusements and worse, that a city offers. There's no doubt that such a move has freed millions from the bondage of village life with its monotony, prejudice, and ignorance.

It is also true that cities are spiritual cesspools at least as much as they are spiritual oases!  (And that assessment is rather generous, I'd say.) So, yes, one's motivation and attraction to move to and remain in a city will differ greatly. But, from years of teaching (in the city) and counseling, I have also seen where the issue is a false one.

It is, for most, a false dichotomy. The activity, the restlessness, the delusions of the world around us are what most people (asking this question) are familiar with. The outward forms of spirituality (group meditations, living in an ashram-like community, serving in a spiritual work, living, perhaps, in the country away from cities -- these being typical aspects of Ananda, at least) are unfamiliar. Standing on the precipice of a choice between the familiar and the unfamiliar, most people prefer the familiar. That one can excuse this using the spiritual rationale that one might accomplish greater good by remaining in the world is essentially just that: an excuse. Like the famous warrior-disciple Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra confronting his kith and kinsmen arrayed for battle, we question our commitment to the "battle of life" inasmuch as it appears to require the destruction of that which is most familiar to us. (A scene from the scripture, the Bhagavad Gita.)

It is axiomatic in lifestyle changes of any importance that one's new way life must be protected, like a young plant, from the foraging marauders of past habits and associations, including former friends. If it is, in fact, one's dharma to serve (spiritually) in a worldly environment then one's dharma will find you. But to have a period of time, perhaps several years, even more, in a spiritually saturated environment where new habits of devotion, daily meditation, God-reminding service, and the company of high-minded souls can take root and go deep is necessary so that whatever one's future service may be, can flower from the spiritual depths within you. (To raise a child in such an environment is a great spiritual boon; whatever "sacrifice" in diversity might be more than gained in spiritual depth and consciousness that sees "unity in diversity.")

This is a fair and good question and of course the "answer" always must be, "It depends.....on you." It is not untypical of a human life cycle that as the years go by, interest in "diversity" wanes and acceptance and preference for routine and stability wax. Most people probably become what Paramhansa Yogananda called "psychological antiques" as a result of this all too common tendency.

But there is a spiritual side to it, too. For the awakening soul, worldly diversions and diversity lose their glamor and attraction. The Bhagavad Gita puts it this way in the words of Krishna: "What is day for the worldly man, is night for the yogi and what is day for the yogi is night for the worldly person." A devotee might see the unchanging Atman or Spirit in all of the world's outward diversity and thus no longer find any profit in the exercise of this inner sight. Thus the yogi might indeed withdrawn from active involvement in the world, no longer needing it for spiritual growth.

More likely, however, is that, as Jesus put it so well, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God......and all these things will be added unto you." Wherever you are, and whatever you do, put God "first" by daily prayer and meditation; offer yourself, your actions, your thoughts and your feelings up to God every morning, throughout the day, and at the end day......give it to God. God can come to you wherever you are.

But, if your life allows you to "put God first" in a dynamic way, immersing yourself with like-minded souls, don't turn your back on this by excusing your own unfulfilled desires or restlessness saying "I can do more good by remaining in the world." To do so is more likely to jeopardize the inspiration that led you to have a choice and to ask the questions.

There is another aspect to it which is, as Paramhansa Yogananda put it, "Environment is stronger than will." One whose worldly desires are still present and magnetic will be influenced in that direction in an environment filled with disparate vibrations of consciousness. Such a one would do well to be surrounded by others of like-mind to strengthen one's aspirations toward truth such that one becomes strong spiritually.

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mahasamadhi of Paramhansa Yogananda

On or around March 7 of each year and around the world, disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda commemorate his dramatic death on that day in 1952 at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles at a banquet he gave in honor of the recently appointed ambassador to the United State from India. But the commemoration is more than a remembrance: it is a celebration. For in life and in the manner and circumstances surrounding his death, Yogananda demonstrated his realization of God as the sole reality of life.

By his foreknowledge (which he communicated to numerous close disciples and friends), and by his actions that evening, and by the testimony of officials of Forest Lawn Mortuary as to the subsequent incorruptibility of his body, he taught us that death is not the final curtain of life. In the great tradition of saints and sages since time immemorial, he upheld the promise of our soul's immortality. As St. John the Apostle writes in the first chapter of his gospel, "To as many as received him, gave he the power to become the sons of God."

On the playing fields of earthly life, duality and maya (delusion) hold sway, the opposites of life and death vying alternatingly for supremcy. With our mortal eyes hypnotized by the seeming reality, though ever changing, of human life, we cannot see the unchanging Spirit hidden and eternal. Paramhansa Yogananda was sent by Jesus Christ and by Babaji (masters of west and east) to remind us that we are more than a physical form: we are children of God, made in the image of God, as light, as joy! Yogananda, as so many before him, demonstrated this power to those with eyes to see. Time and again he showed his ability to know their thoughts, the power to assist them in untying the knots of their karmic destiny, and in at least two dramatic instances, the power to bring the living back from the dead. It was not to show his power but our own potential that that God-realized souls are empowered to perform such "miracles.".

St. Francis praised God while wracked with pain; He sang with joy upon his deathbed; the Sufi mystic, Omar Khayyam, revealed the secrets of life, death, and destiny through the veiled imagery of the tavern of meditation, the bliss-intoxication of wine, and the divine romance of the soul with God; Swami Sri Yukteswar, Yogananda's guru, resurrected in flesh and blood, months after his burial; Lord Buddha achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, and discovered the secret of how to overcome suffering; Moses gave his people the law that led to the Promised Land of divine attunement; Jesus proved the victory of unconditional love from the cross, the love of God appearing in human form and the victory of Spirit with his bodily resurrection. In the lives of these and many other great saints and avatars, we see the testimony of the redeeming power of God's love and the promise of our soul's immortality in God.

This is what we celebrate! And although the struggles of mortal existence will never cease upon this playing field of duality, we also celebrate the beginnings of a new age of increasing awareness of life's threads of connection and unity with an ever growing number of souls on earth. Growth in education, knowledge, life span, health, travel, communication, economic, governmental and social interdependency and cooperation and general awareness of other races, nations, and religions cannot but offer hope for a better world. This increase in awareness has its source in the divine energy being offered to souls on this planet.

But at times, and for now, contact among nations produces as much heat as light. But the devastating and mounting cost of competition, exploitation, greed, prejudice and war dictate that these trends cannot triumph (or we shall perish). A balancing is needed and a higher level of understanding is all but assured, though the cost to achieve it is most certainly going to be great for there are many, still, who resist the rising tide of harmony and connectedness.

Yogananda sometimes spoke in terms of world unity. There are those who are threatened by such concepts as an affront to national sovereignty. But his vision was of a world of united hearts, not a one-world government. He recognized that each nation had specialized in its language, customs, dress, cuisine and attitudes on behalf of other nations, and that the faith traditions of earth suited the needs and temperaments of different people. Rather, therefore, than achieving unity in an outward, organizational sense, he saw unity as flowering from within people as a sconsequence of greater awareness and understanding. Hence, cooperation would supplant competition. Peoples and nations would work together to solve mutual problems and create a better, though never a perfect, world. He forsaw no mere utopia but a higher age of awareness, suitable and necessary for the evolving circumstances of our planet.

Disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda and sincere, committed devotees everywhere are the light-bearers of this new age and level of consciousness. It is valuable and helpful that individual souls understand the nature of their discipleship to life, to God, to Guru. For we are not alone in this world or in this life. It is not a time to remain apart from others of like-mindedness. Communities, both real and virtual, must form that this light become visible to all and that it be a guide out of the labyrinth of conflict that threatends to engulf our planet.

The message of our Oneness in God and the promise of our soul's immortality is a universal and timeless message but it needs repetition and context at the dawn (and throughout) each evolving age of consciousness. In celebrating Paramhansa Yogananda's life and mission, we celebrate our own and honor that of all world teachers and of the divine love which is the source and goal of creation.

Blessings to you,