Showing posts with label yoga. Show all posts
Showing posts with label yoga. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Facing East: When Meditation Isn't Enough

 I, and many people I know in my circle of Ananda friends and members, have been meditating daily for upwards fifty years. Many others for several decades. Is it enough? Are our lives being transformed? Elevated? Ennobled? Fortunately the "answer" to this is not an "either-or" but a "both-and." Yes, our lives ARE transformed but maybe not as fast or deep as we had hoped when we first began. 

What does it take to change? Paramhansa Yogananda said "The soul LOVES to meditate; the ego HATES to meditate." But is it enough to meditate? And, besides, isn't it the EGO that is meditating? Yogananda told the story of a man who was being troubled by a demon. Seeking help, he was given a powder to say a mantra over and throw into the face of the demon. But when he attempted to do this, the demon just laughed claiming that before the mantra could be recited he, the demon, leapt into the powder. Yogananda said that demon is the ego. 

The ego gets plenty of brickbats in the world of meditation and spirituality. But, paradox though it be, it's what we start with. Were I a happy puppy or a satisfied clam I wouldn't seek Self-realization, would I? Nor, I suppose, therefore, would I have a need for it. 

How many hundreds of meditation apps and meditation teachers offer self-help forms of meditation: self-help for health, relaxation, insomnia, concentration, and creativity? There are many benefits to the daily practice of meditation. 

But can meditation transform us spiritually, too? Up to a certain point, yes, but self-effort, techniques, concentration are not enough. True: it is the, ego harnessing intelligence and will that, having received the inspiration to seek something greater than itself, begins the daily practice. But the ego, like Moses who was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, is marching to its own doom; it must be radically transformed and expanded beyond the body and personality and so, like Moses, must "die" before reaching the goal.

Before I say "You will need a guru" with the result that you will stop reading, let me go another direction (first). In the bad old days of the 1960's and '70's when altered states of consciousness were sought with liberal sprinklings of chemical additives, there was a greater interest in achieving ego-transcendent states of consciousness. As the fads ebbed away into "let's get rich while we can," meditation was turned over to the scientists for research purposes. This is not a bad thing, mind you, but applying a materialistic bias to meditation has also dumbed it down towards a stoic "chop wood and carry water" goal. (I'm all for managing stress but my response to this is to ask "Do you remember Frank Sinatra singing "Is that all there is?"")

Swami Kriyananda's book, "Awaken to Superconsciousness," has for its theme that meditation offers us the opportunity to nurture our connection with what Yogananda dubbed the "Superconscious mind." This is a step up from exploring the influences of the subconscious mind upon our thoughts, emotions and opinions. Observing our thoughts in their native stream of consciousness may be helpful for being more aware of these subconscious influences; and, alternatively, substituting beautiful or relaxing imagery or music may be helpful for relaxation; but no matter how much more we live a conscious, intentional life, we are still in the conscious mind. We are still stuck with the basic "I." A better "I" for sure but is it enough? I doubt it. For one thing, uncertainty, loss of every kind, illness, old age and death stalk us 24/7. How secure and how happy can we remain in this world of ceaseless change? The watchful ego is the protector and defender of the realm. Smugness, over-confidence, and prideful self-indulgence will surely be the ego's undoing. Can we ever rest secure in the ego?

The basic thrust of meditation from the standpoint of its own tradition and history is the intention to awaken our awareness to more subtle realities; more refined states of mind; less ego oriented behavior; and, to higher states of consciousness, including the ultimate or absolute state of Being. The Superconscious mind offers us the potential to align our consciousness with the greater mind of all-knowing intuition: the source of true confidence. While this realm is available and accessed unknowingly to all people, it is not under the command or control of the ego. Its influence is tailored made to our unique needs. Mozart "received" symphonies; Albert Einstein, E=mc2. I, the inspiration to write this article!

The Superconscious mind is, relative to our ego, "Other." You may, if you wish, call it "God," the "Soul," the "Atman" etc. etc. So far as its influence goes, however, the ego remains the arbiter, the decider of whether to accept or reject the promptings of Superconsciousness. We see this often in the quiet promptings of our conscience: one of the voices of Superconsciousness. 

Sometimes the Superconscious has to communicate to us through dreams because all too often the conscious mind is so restless and preoccupied that we are not paying attention to the subtle voice of the Superconscious mind. To make matters worse, it takes experience to distinguish subconscious promptings from Superconscious ones. This is where the practice of meditation offers valuable support.

Not surprisingly, therefore, meditation is the most effective practice to open up the channel to Superconsciousness: hence the name and theme of Swami Kriyananda's book. The part of meditation that does this best is inner silence. In turn, inner silence is most readily achieved if we have a time-tested method(s) to rest the mind, relax the body, and calm the emotions. Thus various meditation techniques are helpful before attempting to enter into inner silence. The longer and deeper one can be still in body and mind, the more we are opening and clearing the channel through which the Superconscious can influence us. 

But the ego fights this process and typically claims as its own the ideas and inspirations that it receives. This, then, is where the need for the Superconscious to take human form comes into play. The Superconscious in human form is needed to get our attention and to make real and personal the guidance the ego needs to gradually let go of control. It is far too easy for the ego to stay in control when the guidance is only internal.

But how many people have a personal and enlightened guru-guide? Very few. A popular spiritual teacher is not necessarily enlightened and, how much guidance are you likely to receive from a person with thousands or millions of followers?

The tradition of disciple-guru relationship and the tradition of the inner path of meditation is strongly focused on renunciation and self-discipline. Transport these traditions into a "spiritual-but-not-religious" extroverted culture that is strongly self-directed and ever-affirming personal liberties and you can end up with a great many meditators stumbling around in the labyrinth of the mind.

Therapy, coaching and counseling are among the fastest growing professions in America today. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 20% growth between 2014 and 2024. Isolation and anxiety produced by the Covid pandemic have, I imagine, accelerated this trend. So while the traditions of the inner path invite the practitioner to "go within," the need for 21st century meditators would seem to suggest the need for a "guide from the side" since a "sage from the stage" is difficult to find. 

Meditation has been lifted out of the culture of the East and dropped into a very different culture in the West. As a resident of one of the Ananda communities worldwide, and as a decades long teacher of meditation (and meditation teachers), I see that meditation by itself is simply not enough for most people to affect the kind of transformation that meditation has to offer. 

For starters, our culture has converted both meditation and hatha yoga (postures) into something more ego and body affirming than was classically their purpose. Even if there could be found a truly enlightened guru, only a few in this "me-first" culture would give themselves wholly to be transformed. Put another way, few meditators are ready for a true guru.

So, how then, can meditation help us achieve more than relaxation, concentration, vitality and creativity? How can meditation help us experience Superconscious states of the higher (soul) mind? 

First: we actually have to sincerely want that level of transformation. I've had meditation students react fearfully when hearing about cosmic consciousness or even higher states of awareness. Second: we may need help to gain greater self-awareness of our subconscious influences. Third: we may need help to re-direct old thought-patterns into new and self-expansive ones; Fourth: we need the tools of transformation in the form of advanced meditation techniques like Yogananda's Kriya Yoga; Fifth: we may need to be open to the spiritual and meditative guidance of those we feel can guide us even if they are not enlightened gurus.

I believe that the increase in the use of therapists, counselors and coaches represent a small but growing trend toward seeking greater self-awareness in this otherwise extroverted and materialistic culture. Yogis are generally not versed in the tools of this decidedly Western profession. The spiritual teachings are wonderful but making them real in one's own daily life takes hard, introspective work for which we in this culture are ill prepared. Quiet mind and still body don't come easily to our over-stimulated, frenzied lifestyles.

And I'm not limiting the help that I see we need to learning more meditation techniques or going to more retreats and workshops. These are important and have a place, of course, but I'm referring to something more personal. Ironically, the ego has to undergo healing and achieve some degree of wholeness before it can begin to surrender to a higher power. I know stories come to us of great devotees whose total surrender to the guru freed them in one lifetime but let's face it, most of us carry far too much karmic baggage. We need friends and wise guides to help us. Perhaps in a future lifetime the depth of our sincerity and magnetism will attract a guru whose very touch can liberate our souls.

I know that devotion to God and guru is "an inside job" and is not dependent on proximity to any human form but that level of devotion is rare. The effort to develop devotion remains a very powerful spiritual practice and should be included in our toolkit of transformation. My observation of the life of meditators and devotees suggests to me that much more is needed at this time and in this culture. 

In this regard, I think of the story of the Princess Draupadi: a devotee of Krishna. Krishna suggested that she practice meditation. Her response was simply, "But Lord, how can I practice meditation when my mind is wholly upon you?" Krishna just smiled and turned away. Devotion to the Supreme Lord is the quickest way to soul freedom. But alas, few are the devotees with the courage and conviction of this truth.

Among the fast growing number of professional therapists, coaches and counselors are few who walk with us on the inner path. One must choose a guide carefully and intelligently, therefore. Suggestions for such a search are beyond the scope of this article but my purpose is to point out the need among meditators for help in shedding the subconscious and activating the conscious mind. As a teacher of meditation teachers, I think it would help if potential teachers and spiritual counselors incorporated some of the tools of the emerging coaching field. I believe such tools can accelerate a person's access to the transcendent realm of the Superconscious mind when added to the other, traditional techniques and attitudes of raja yoga.

My daugher, Gita Matlock (www.gitamatlock.com), is a coach and on her recent visit to us recommended to me books by the author Nancy Kline (www.timetothink.com) for how to help others. I found the steps and principles outlined there to be completely congruent with the essence of Self-realization principles, but only using different terms and applications. The technique of asking questions is highlighted and has a long and ancient history. So too has the assumption of the essential goodness of people and our own power to find answers from within. Marvelous reading and I recommend it for Self-realization teachers and counselors.

Ours is a new age (Dwapara Yuga) and a new culture. Truth may be one and eternal but its manifestations are infinitely varied. If we are to help one another, let us tune into the song of Dwapara: individuality; respect; listening; and empowering.

Blessings and joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda

Sunday, July 10, 2022

America Today and the Spread of Intentional Communities

Hello friends, I have not written a stitch since January this year (2022). Videos have eclipsed writing, or so it might seem these days. Videos are evanescent, however, and require a greater commitment of attentiveness than writing which many people can scan quickly (and then re-read if a deeper interest in the subject is triggered).

There is a video series on Benjamin Franklin by Ken Burns. And the end of Franklin's life, after the Constitution of the United States had at last been ratified by the states, Franklin publishes his views on the compromises that were needed for the states to agree. On the one hand, Franklin acknowledged the value and significance of that document and the intentions behind it; on the other hand, he also acknowledged that the continuation of slavery represented a score that was yet to be settled in achieving the stated goals of American independence.

Thus it is simply a fact that the birth of this nation could only have happened by a delicate balance between the federal government and the states. The consent of the governed is an essential premise in the American system but it is circumscribed by the consciousness of the governed. Democracy works poorly if the citizenry and its leaders are corrupt, selfish, and deeply biased or divided, unwilling to compromise and cooperate. In the face of chaos and paralysis, a natural impulse is to want a strong and authoritative leader. We see this in the history of Rome. We see it today.

China's leader, Xi Jinping, touts the efficiency and material success of his nation on the basis of its authoritarian system. Other nations too, it has been said, are now weakened democracies inclining to favor 


authoritarian leaders. The founders of America acknowledged both explicitly and implicitly that the great American experiment would only work with an educated and somewhat enlightened body politic. If society devolves into violence and conflict, the need for safety, security and authority will obviously arise like a tsunami to inundate personal liberties, freedom of speech and much more. 

One of America's great treasures is its diversity and our acceptance of it. At the same time, the push back in fear and rebellion to that diversity constitutes one of the greatest threats to that diversity. Yet it must be also admitted that this diversity itself may pose, or appear to pose, a threat to freedom if, for no other reason, decision making and consensus is paralyzed. I believe that history and biology suggest that diversity is an advantage and a benefit but the perception that it is a threat is a very real threat in itself.

Humanity faces many objective challenges but the greatest challenge is the personal and subjective challenge of consciousness. Fear triggers a return to more primitive responses of "fight or flight." Too rapid changes in society and on the planet are triggering large scale fear-responses owing to mass migrations, technological change, climate change, and economic insecurity and inequality.

Historically, humanity has lived under brutal and authoritarian conditions of one type or another. So it is natural that that many see centralized authority as the remedy for insecurity or chaos. Though while the middle ground of peace and harmony is certainly yearned for, as a practical reality it's never been hardly more than a dream. I admit that a dream bubble did seem to exist for some Americans for a few years (think 1950's) and it has been somewhat true relative to most of the rest of the nations of the world. But, in any case, this bubble of light, if ever did exist, is rapidly fading into the dusk of increasing civil unrest and divisiveness.

A new paradigm is trying to be born. It could be said to have started with the founding of America but its birth was flawed and contained defects born of the consciousness of its times. It still has a long way to go but its characteristics are increasingly clear, attractive, and recognizable. Its salient features are embedded in the America self-image and include freedom to act, opportunities to realize one's cherished dreams, scope for individual initiative and creativity and acceptance of personal responsibility. These qualities tend to extend into a respect for the rights of others and an inclination to cooperate with others. 

In the history of America the shortcomings of its citizens to manifest these characteristics resulted in struggles around the evils of racism and exploitation. A strong national (federal) response to these shortcomings has been the remedy of choice. Since the end of the Civil War, the power of the central government has grown more or less steadily.

But those very salient characteristics are at odds with a strong central authority. Nationalized solutions to social injustice and inequality have the potential to stifle individual initiative and self-responsibility even if some people feel they keep at bay the extremes of wealth and poverty.

This earth is a school, not a resort or paradise. So nothing I might suggest is intended to be a solution. It is, rather, directional. Based on the insights given to us by Paramhansa Yogananda (and including the wisdom of his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, and the views of Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda), I believe humanity, led largely by America, is stumbling uncertainly but surely towards manifesting more clearly, if imperfectly, those salient characteristics of individual freedom and initiative.

Individual initiative when guided wisely naturally inclines toward respect and cooperation especially where others of like-mind are concerned. Freedom is infectious; cooperation, rewarding. It is, after all, one way of describing the universal Golden Rule, is it not?

"Left" represents compassion. "Right" represents justice. Compassion should be expressed wisely lest it devolve into enabling the very conditions it seeks to remedy. Justice without compassion favors the status quo. The division between "left" and "right" is a false one, promoted on the basis of ignorance and/or self-interest because, in truth, each have their place and their voice in public and private life.

Nothing can stop the increasing commingling of races, religions and cultures that is taking place in the twenty-first century and no country more than America is experiencing this process at a faster clip. Diversity is here to stay and, as such, will only grow.

What then are its consequences? Diversity can seed innovation and creativity but it can also spread confusion and chaos. The admixture of diverse lifestyles and values might propel some to seek their own "kind." But by "kind" I do not mean the further establishment of ghettos or segregation. Such are physical barriers and such barriers are steadily eroding. Instead, the true "races of humanity" divide along the lines of consciousness, not outward appearance or culture. 

Division of any kind will generate some level of competition or conflict but I'd rather not dwell on that. Instead, my point of emphasis is contained in the fiery words of Paramhansa Yogananda in July of 1949 when, at a Beverly Hills garden fundraising party, he suddenly and inexplicably "sowed into the ether" the prediction that intentional communities would (someday) "spread like wildfire." 

Given that the term "wildfire" is far more threatening than promising (especially in the western states of America, including California where he spoke those words), I have to assume that the spread of communities will come at a time of and as a result of great chaos and conflagration. If this is so, then so be it!

Books have been written on the problems of modern America and the shortcomings of her people. I see no need to emphasize these. Suffice to say, we have lost touch with the simple joys and skills of living in harmony with nature, with one another and with higher values and divine consciousness.

America's resilience and ethos of self-reliance needs to be elevated to include cooperation with one another and cooperation with higher values and consciousness. As the title of a Sunday Service reading at any Ananda temple puts it: "Self-reliance vs self-reliance." We are part of a greater reality. We are not, except by choice or ignorance, separate from the world around us, both natural and divine.

The halting progress towards affirmation of individual initiative is occurring in many ways: the internet, for example, is a symbol and a tool for flattening the hierarchy of information (admittedly also spreading false information); education, of course has been the symbol of progressiveness since the 19th century; the paralysis, indecisiveness and corruption of values of the central government is pushing the pendulum of power back to the states in a motion reminiscent, for better or worse, of the days of the Constitutional battles. Even smaller jurisdictions, like cities, are taking on global issues like climate change. 

The individual is the key to change. Intelligence alone, whether artificial or rational, is not enough. Inspiration and courage, linked with intelligence and reason, are crucial.

De-centralization coupled with voluntary cooperation will be the gold standard of future civilizations (living up to the name of "civil"). It will take centuries for this new paradigm to emerge clearly and successfully, though it will always be imperfect.

But small intentional communities will be the basis for this shift in human consciousness in the direction of increasing awareness. The path however is strewn with the brambles of war, famine and catastrophe: the necessary price of progress given human consciousness at this time. Those of us with the prescience to "do it now" will silently serve many to come and in the process bring to ourselves an aura of magnetic protection. 

Such communities will run the gamut of form and spirit but the Ananda communities are inspired by Paramhansa Yogananda whose powerful words that day in July 1949 have prompted us to declare Yogananda the "father" of the communities movement. The higher the ideals upon which a community is founded and more vigorously its adherents strive toward them, the greater will be its impact. Ananda communities are based on prayer, meditation and service and are guided by principles of cooperation, respect, simplicity and moderation. 

But whether social, ecological and/or spiritual, the spread of communities is just beginning and, to quote the words of a children's' song, "Nothing can stop my progress."

Ever-new,

Swami Hrimananda!


Saturday, July 24, 2021

Do You Need a Guru? Celebrating Guru Purnima

Today as I write it is the full moon and with it India's annual mid-summer day of honoring and celebrating one's teacher, especially one's guru! If I understand the festival, Guru Purnima, correctly, Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists celebrate this holy day. It just so happens that the weekly readings at the Ananda temples around the world land on this very same subject: Do You Need A Guru? Tomorrow, Sunday, July 25 is the day Ananda holds dear as "Babaji Day." To add yet more to this, tomorrow at our temple near Seattle we will conduct, coincidentally, a discipleship initiation for a few aspiring souls. So these are at least four good reasons to write this article!

I use these excuses and this occasion to talk not generally about the role of a guru but more specifically about the life and role of one such great yoga master of the twentieth century: Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now-famous "Autobiography of a Yogi").


Most of you who will read this already know that Yogananda's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar of Serampore, Bengal (India), made an important and shocking correction to the Hindu calendar in 1894 in his book, "The Holy Science." In the introduction to this book, he announced that according to Hindu astrology and Oriental astronomy planet Earth entered the ascending cycle of the second of four ages called Dwapara on about the year A.D. 1900.

Any student of the history of science and technology would not be the least bit surprised. The defining discovery of the twentieth century took place only a few years later by Albert Einstein who in effect declared the death of matter and the birth of the age of atomic energy.  

Religionists, on the other hand, eyeing the decline of adherence to traditional values and religions and the rise of atheism and materialism have declared the death of God-fearing civilization and the birth of an age that surely will culminate in the end times.

From the standpoint of spiritual awakening, this new age would certainly seem ripe for the appearance of a new Buddha or Christ. Swami Kriyananda, the founder of Ananda's worldwide work, lived with and was trained and commissioned by Paramhansa Yogananda in the last years of Yogananda's life (1893-1952). Swami Kriyananda concluded that Yogananda must surely be a world teacher for this new age of Dwapara. 

But unlike the personality cult surrounding the religion that revolved around Jesus Christ, it is far more likely that Yogananda's role will be seen somewhat more like that of the Buddha: a wayshower. Of course, true disciples will tune into Yogananda as true disciples always do to their guru but by virtue of Yogananda's teachings their understanding will already be grounded in a more universal understanding that Yogananda is one of many avatars sent by God to fulfill specific missions of spiritual upliftment in times of need.  

There are many reasons to see in Yogananda the role of a world teacher for this age. And there were during his life and are now many spiritual teachers on the planet. Comparisons are odious and unnecessary. Instead, some of the characteristics that identify Yogananda as having an important role in human spiritual evolution include that he struck a careful balance between East and West; indeed, he consciously lauded the best aspects of each. He didn't seek to convert his followers into Hindus nor yet did he pretend to be a converted Christian. He taught yoga and meditation and yet built churches and held services remarkably familiar to Westerners. He drew inspiration from the Christian Bible as well as from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. He showed their underlying similarity rather than declaring one greater than the other. 

He expressed great devotion to his guru-lineage as well as to the One God, the Infinite Spirit. He affirmed Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism) while at the same time taught that the way to the One was through the Other (I-Thou). He loved saints while he had experiences of cosmic consciousness. He spoke of heaven and hell but as temporary waiting stations on the soul's long journey to God. He spoke of the evolution of the species but averred the special creation and status of the human form.  He affirmed the truth of all religions yet discerned that not all affirmed the highest teaching of union with God. He recognized the equality and yet the differences of the sexes and yet insisted the soul has no gender before God. He taught union with God as the goal of the soul's creation while explaining that consciousness is forever and nothing of our past lives is ever destroyed or obliterated. 

He praised Western technological and commercial efficiency but bemoaned our sectarianism and materialism. He loved India's deep spirituality but hoped that India would raise its standard of living through education, hygiene, and renouncing stifling caste taboos.

Yogananda urged students to get back to the land and form small self-sustaining communities which would grow their own food and have a lifestyle that was both efficient and God-centered. He didn't reject modern labor-saving technology but decried "installment method" consumerism as a modern form of servitude. 

Yogananda created devotional chants and poetry; started gardens and farms; schools for children; a yoga university; encouraged art and theatre with an uplifting message.

Interestingly, apart from the popularity of his life story and notwithstanding the universal respect for him and his contributions, very few outside his own followers, students, and modern-day disciples seem to acknowledge his role in this new and very uncertain age. Phillip Goldberg did the first real biography of Yogananda and included a chapter about Yogananda in his book, "American Veda," but overall it seems that Yogananda has not yet taken his place in history. But history is written "post facto" and many of us believe that in the future Yogananda's life will be seen as a pivotal contributor to the awakening consciousness of Dwapara Yuga.

For members of Ananda worldwide, we also believe that his strong emphasis on the importance of small, intentional communities (which he said would one day "spread like wildfire") will bear the fruit of recognition at some future date. Many alive today agree that humanity's lifestyle is in an unsustainable downward spiral of the consumption of earthly resources. This can only end in great calamity and presumably great suffering. Yogananda himself predicted as much. One easily imagines that this is what it will take for humanity to change our entrenched attitudes and habits. But this particular story also has yet to play out. 

As with all the great world saviors, Yogananda is alive and well on planet earth but perhaps more so for he came especially for us and in our times. He no longer requires a human form to guide anyone who seeks his help. You need not be or consider yourself to be his disciple because his love and wisdom are available to all just as it was when he walked the earth and thousands flocked to hear his words and be in his aura.

Jai guru! 

Swami Hrimananda


Saturday, March 28, 2020

There are ONLY Opportunities! Why I am Optimistic

When tests in life come (as they must because they are portals to our own growth), put out the energy needed to deal with them creatively and with a positive attitude and you'll be victorious. Victorious isn't the same as winning. This virus might kill you; the crashing economy might bankrupt your business; your lifestyle may change forever, but if you "fight the good fight" you get to keep the victory (the satisfaction, insights, and knowledge) of having done your best, regardless of the result on the outer surface of life's ever-changing drama. 

I know there is suffering and death happening with the pandemic that is afflicting humanity right now. I don't want to be glib in the face of tragedy but statistics suggest to us that the overwhelming majority of humans will not die and relatively few will require hospitalization. 

The real "disease" is the fear; paralysis of will, despondency and even boredom. Grief one cannot help when a loved one suffers or dies.

I find it both amazing and inspiring to hear about all the creative ways people and businesses are responding appropriately to help others and to serve their customers. Curbside pick-ups, drive-throughs, and delivery options have been catapulted into daily life. Gardens are being planted around the world to grow real food for life. People are reaching out to check on and help one another. 

Medical protocols and technologies are rapidly changing and emerging to respond to the overwhelming needs in this worldwide challenge. Health care providers and many others are rising heroically to the challenges they face. 

I read an article attributed to Bill Gates (but not verified by me) but which, no matter who wrote it, made valuable and inspiring insights into the results of this pandemic. Regardless of the authorship, some of the simple and obvious points, paraphrased or rephrased, but well worth thinking more deeply about include:

  • The virus doesn't exempt the high and mighty from its wrath.
  • What we do affects one another. 
  • Borders and passports have no authority here.
  • Our health and life are precious to us all.
  • We need to consume food that is healthy and not contaminated with chemicals.
  • To live, we need air and water that is not contaminated. 
  • Life is short and uncertain. We should re-examine our life's priorities to nurture our heart's finer feelings, not just our heads, bodies, and wallets.
  • Helping others brings us greater satisfaction than seeking status and wealth. 
  • We are being forced to stay at home because we have neglected to create happy homes where children are loved and cared for with wisdom.
  • A strong ego is necessary for survival and success but it must be held in check, taking into account the realities and needs of others and the world we live in.
  • We have the free will to cooperate and help one another or to be selfish.
  • Patience comes when we see the larger picture of time and cycles, knowing that "this too will pass." Suffering and deprivation will pass too. To panic is lose our reason and to succumb to "fight or flight."
  • We have the opportunity for a new beginning or to bemoan an end. We can be creative and find new ways to live; to live more simply; to live sustainably on this earth; to live with respect and cooperation with others; and so much more.
  • We are sick because our earth is sick. Our earth is sick because we have made it sick by greed and neglect.
  • Life's ultimate purpose is a spiritual one: to raise our energy and consciousness beyond the limited self to include others and the Creator of Life.
There are so many innate benefits to what we are experiencing they are too numerous to list. Yes, it takes a global pandemic to get large numbers of people to change their habits and lifestyles. Yes, much wealth in the form of ones and zeroes will vanish. But if that's what it takes, then it must be good. 

Yoga practice is one of the many beneficiaries of the times. It's true that yoga studios are closed but with more time and with a desire to remain healthy and fit while having to remain "sheltered in place," online yoga practice has been catapulted into center stage. Same can be said (to a lesser degree) about the daily practice of meditation. As it used to be said in the last so-called "world war," "There are no atheists in foxholes." Prayer is spreading as fast as the virus.

While there is much to decry about substituting online learning and sharing for in-person education and relationships, nonetheless there's no going back as it relates to the willingness of people to learn in this new way. It opens the door to so much more for so many.

I am positive and optimistic about the coronavirus pandemic's impact on human consciousness. In the meantime, I do my best to stay healthy and positive, to reach out, to share what I am able to share, and to appreciate people, nature, and life ever more deeply. 

But my greatest joy and appreciation go to the living presence of God in the form of my guru and lineage, and to my teacher who watches over his large family from his omnipresent blissful consciousness above.

Joy to you,
Swami Hrimananda










Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Ode to Forrest, Forrest Gump!

The movie, "Forrest Gump," is based on the 1986 novel by Winston Groom and was made into a movie in 1994 starring Tom Hanks. Quite apart from the scenes of a historic period in America (the 1960's, the Vietnam War and the presidency of Richard M. Nixon), the movie's enduring charm stems from the inspiring, timeless, and yet timely messages bottled within the labyrinth of its plot.

"Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get." This is perhaps the most popular quote for which Forrest Gump is famous. It is a lesson he learned from his "momma." In this simple metaphor of a box of chocolates, we are reminded to take life as it comes, with non-attachment and even-minded cheerfulness. Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now-famous classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi") put it this way: "What comes of itself, let it come. All circumstances are neutral, he went on to say, but appear positive or negative according to the attitude of the mind. I'm sure Forrest (if he were to think about it but probably wouldn't bother) would agree with Yogananda's statement that there are "no obstacles; only opportunities" in life.

In the movie, Forrest carries with him that box of chocolates. It's as if, with each new episode, he reaches into the box with his eyes closed to select another piece of chocolate. This box of chocolates is, metaphorically speaking, the source of Forrest's ability to take life as it comes to him. It is detachment worthy of a great yogi!

With this "yogic siddhi" of non-attachment (psycho-physiological power) comes to Forrest additional qualities such as acceptance: self-acceptance and acceptance of others and of life as it flows by him. He is a witness to history even as yogis are a witness to their thoughts and the flow of life's energy within themselves and all around. But he is also a willing participant in history, doing what life calls him to do in each moment. He's an unwitting football star when that is needed; an unselfconscious hero in battle; a friend in need and even when rejected.

This power of acceptance is vibrantly clear in his relationships: with his love, Jenny; with his war-friend, Bubba; and with Lt. Dan. In each case, he takes his friends as they are and himself at face value: as his own sincere and well-meaning Self.

With Jenny, he feels her childhood pain from abuse and wants only to protect her. He wants nothing from her, though everyone else seems to. His love is selfless and without condition.

With Bubba, neither race nor social status means a thing to Forrest. He risks his own life in the Vietnam War to rescue his friend Bubba. And when that fails, he immortalizes Bubba by buying a boat to do shrimp fishing (which was Bubba's hope and dream when he returned home). This lead to his establishing the financially successful Bubba-Gump Company and sharing the profits with Bubba's impoverished family!

With Lt. Dan whom he also saves from certain death in the same war, he receives nothing but anger, reproach, and verbal abuse. Yet, later, when Forrest is shrimp fishing, Lt. Dan suddenly appears on the scene. Forrest immediately accepts and embraces his friend who while "shrimping" together with the ever-content Forrest is at last healed of his grief, resentment, and anger at life's cruelty.

While I surely am not the first person to express these responses to the otherwise simple, if popular, movie, Forrest Gump, it struck me anew the other day to write these words.

I like to imagine (in jest) that Forrest single-handedly created behavioural psychology when he responds to being called "stupid" saying: "Stupid is as stupid does!" (One's consciousness is manifested by one's actions!)

Simplicity; purity of heart; willingness and practicality in action; acceptance; loyalty to friends and purpose; spontaneity (as when he suddenly is prompted from within to begin running: running back and forth across America with no thought of "tomorrow" or how he would survive, eat, or be sheltered).

"O Father, Lord of Heaven, you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes." (Matt 11:25) Forrest Gump's life revealed the secrets of happiness. It would not have fit the movie to have introduced a religious theme because, for the message the movie conveys, it is complete. Forrest could have easily been re-cast into a saint but then the movie would never have achieved any recognition or popularity.

Forrest Gump symbolizes everything our society is not: innocence. It's wonderful that moviegoers enjoyed an evening's entertainment, but I think Forrest Gump has much more to say to us. Each generation needs a movie like Forrest, Forrest Gump. Don't you think?

"Life is like a box of chocolates" whose sweetness is found in innocence and acceptance.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Angels on High: the Fall from Grace and the Soul's Rise to Freedom

In the 1947 movie, “The Bishop’s Wife,” an angel (in the form of actor, Cary Grant) comes to the family of a Protestant bishop in an answer to their prayers. 

Problem is, the angel finds himself attracted to the bishop’s wife (played by Loretta Young). After answering the couple's prayers (with a few twists), the angel departs knowing that an immortal cannot be with a mortal. This plot, mostly na├»ve and innocent by today’s standards, struck a chord with me in respect to the great themes of history related to the “Humanity’s Fall from Grace.”

Are we not taught that we, too, are angels, children of God, made in the divine image? As immortals, do we not inadvertently “fall in love” with the mortal scene and imagine happiness will come through the never-ending, ever-changing passing drama of life? Are we therefore not unlike that angel, Cary Grant? Except that we take much longer to wake up from the illusion before withdrawing and vowing, some day, “never to return.”

Like the more modern movie, “Groundhog Day,” we tend to make the same mistake over and over, year after year, lifetime after lifetime. Paramhansa Yogananda wrote that until the ever-watchful soul awakens the ego to the prospect of the “anguishing monotony” of repeated rounds of birth and death, we are not ready to begin the journey, like the prodigal son, back home to our soul’s eternal joy in God.

This seemingly circular track of life, this broken and repeating record, is the “hell” that is spoken of in scripture. Hell is not a forever place but it certainly feels like one when we are caught in the addiction to matter and to soul-stultifying ego identifications. The pathways to perdition are endlessly labyrinthine, but the way to freedom is “straight and narrow.”

Thus it is that the “Fall” is easy but the climb back is more difficult. Mired by habit and circumscribed by the hypnosis of countless lives as a spiritual “pauper” imprisoned in the cage of the human body, the royal soul needs help: first to be reminded of its royal status, and second to be given the tools and the power to rise! This help which “cometh from the Lord” comes in the form of the true guru, one who is Self-realized.

Here, now, in the season of Christmas, we celebrate the birth of one who comes to free others. But Jesus is not the only such a one, because in every age to all people, according to their heartfelt prayers for redemption, God sends such a one to help.

Christmas is not just an abstract event far away in time and space which is endowed with spiritual significance. It is a very human event. Indeed, what could be more natural than the birth of a child! 

This newborn “Christ” is, like all infants, innocent and sweet. As we humans see in newborns new hope and promise, so this divine child brings new hope and promise to our souls. But unlike the hope most newborns bring to their human parents, the birth of an avatar brings the promise of the soul's redemption and return to its spiritual home, a "kingdom not of this world.” 

But like all infants, this newborn will need protection, care, feeding and training. Thus, too, do our souls need protection, care and feeding. And this is the role of the avatar, whether in the form of Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Yogananda or others.

The claim that Jesus is the “only” one narrows the Christmas celebration to professed Christians. This makes Christmas a merely sectarian religious holiday. But Paramhansa Yogananda explained that the term “Only begotten” refers to the divine consciousness that underlies every atom. Our souls were created to re-discover that truth of who we are. And any soul which has achieved this realization is, like Jesus and the others, a living “son of God” but none can contain the Infinite. None can be the “only” one. 

“Only” refers to the omnipresent, omniscient, and eternal consciousness of God present at the still heart of all creation. It is the “only” reality that exists in the creation that is without flux or change. It is the “only” reflection of the Infinite Spirit, who is the progenitor beyond all creation and who remains untouched by the creation of which it is an invisible part! 

When an individual soul achieves this Self-identity, he can say, as Jesus and the other immortals have said, “I and my Father are One.”

May you in-joy a blessed celebration of the living Christ within and without!

Swami Hrimananda





Saturday, October 27, 2018

So Much Depressing News! What's a Yogi to Do?

Recently I hear many friends and students who express frustration, confusion, anger or depression in the face of a constant stream of bad news, public craziness, and endless catastrophes. The destructive effects of climate change, ignorance, negativity and selfishness have combined forces like a relentless tsunami spreading despair everywhere!

What to do? How does a person with high ideals, goodwill towards all, and desire to help others cope with what seems like a growing fogbank of darkness?

How can one not imagine the destructive cumulative effects of all this craziness? How can one be optimistic, cheerful, and even-minded "amidst the crash of breaking worlds?"

For this opportunity, we were born: you and me. To develop wisdom, non-attachment, faith, courage, hope, forgiveness and to take positive action in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds: wow, what a gift! What a GREAT time to be alive and conscious! For us, the choices are clear and compelling.

Think of the founders, families, soldiers and others who confronted the British Empire in a revolution in 1776 that changed the world. They could NOT have won on the basis of any logic or resources other than their own conviction, faith and courage (and the grace of God and a karmic destiny to be fulfilled).

Here and now is an armed revolution NOT the need; what is needed is a spiritual revolution. As Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. faced an empire and a nation without the weapons of violence and "overcame," so we, a nation of peaceful warriors, can overthrow the ignorance and selfishness of a nation and a world.

Neither Gandhi nor King saw the fruits of their labors during their lifetimes, and so must we understand that we, too, may not see "righteousness rain down like a river" in our lifetimes. Not just those of us over sixty years of age, but many others of you may not see "the shift." It is not ours to measure our success though success is assured. 

Spiritual success comes from non-attachment to the results of our efforts. So we mustn't think ahead (only to be temporarily frustrated) to the manifestation of the forms of success. It is our spirit, attitudes, and consciousness (and living example), that will stem the tide and reverse the tsunami. It is our love for God and love for God in all that is the only true measure of "success."

Nor must we imagine that this fair planet will achieve in its outward form the paradise or perfection that we ourselves may imagine is the goal. As Jesus Christ, a man of great compassion and love for all, nonetheless admitted: "The poor ye shall have always." Same can be said of all evil and suffering.

For this world is simply a school and we've come here to learn lessons and graduate. We didn't come here to make a perfect school. We should make the school a better place if we can, for sure, but it is only a school. We were not created to stay in school forever. We were created, as my childhood Baltimore (Catholic) catechism taught me, "to know, love, and serve God in this world."

"The drama of life," Paramhansa Yogananda stated, "has for its lesson that it is simply that: a drama." As Swami Kriyananda (Ananda's founder and a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda) would sometimes explain: imagine you begin to read a novel. Everything is just perfect and there is no conflict. You'd put the novel down after a few pages or chapters. The drama of creation and human life requires conflicts and opposites to keep it interesting and ongoing. 

God does not permit us to use reason alone to figure out that He's really behind the drama. He wants us to choose to seek Him for His love, not for the gifts of His creation and not for obtaining His power over creation. The magnetism of creation's maya (delusive nature) is far more powerful than the separative, ego consciousness of any individual. Why? Because ego is itself "maya." Thus, neither the report of our senses nor our reason can "pierce the veil."

Yogananda, who lived in and around Hollywood during its heydays between the 1920's and 1950, compared the creation as the play of light and dark projected on the screen of our sense perception.

Sitting in the movie theatre, he'd tap a friend on the shoulder and say, "Look into the beam of light from the booth of eternity." It's all a light show. During the movie, we laugh and cry and are wholly engrossed. But it's only light pouring through the film. When we leave the theatre of life, it no longer has any real impact on our lives.

I was thinking recently about the despair friends feel. Imagine, I said, that everything in the world around was made perfect: climate, health, sustainability, harmony with nature and among nations and peoples. For a while, those who remembered the times of disharmony would revel in the newly found peace. But, after a time, then what? Would we be happy, inside? In ourselves? Relieved, yes. Glad the turmoil is over, yes. But happy?

And what about the next generation; or the next. Soon no one would remember what it was like. Would THEY be happy? They would likely be bored, restless and spoiling for a fight with someone.

The truthful answer is: NO. Why? Because outward circumstances cannot, by themselves, bring us anything other than passing sorrow or joy. The eternal and lasting and unconditional joy that our souls remember is "an inside job." "The kingdom of heaven is within you," Jesus taught. "Not Lo here, or there."

During troubled times in the mid-twentieth century, two great saints of modern India were asked the same question by despairing men and women around them. "What are we to do in the midst of the chaos, violence, starvation and suffering that surrounds us?"

Each, Ananda Moyi Ma and Ramana Maharshi, independently, gave the same response: "Don't you think that He who has created this world knows how to deal with it?

You might, understandably, retort: "Apparently, "he" does NOT!" But, friends, think again. Step back from this drama and know that light and dark, war and peace, and joy and sorrow will continue to ebb and flow, in conflict, trading places for an eternity. 

This non-attached view does not mean we reject God's creation, for God Himself, as we read in the Bible, declared it to be "good." Indeed, we can only make peace with the ceaseless flux when we have the God's eye view that all creation is a manifestation of God's own consciousness. In God consciousness, life is joy but in ego consciousness life is suffering. 

Our effectiveness in times of crises is greatly enhanced by remaining calm. If that is true of daily life, how much more is it true for our worldview?
The characters, good and evil, on the stage of life, are playing their parts for a time and then withdraw behind the curtain to change costumes and exchange roles. Bad actors imagine they are the roles they play. But the great actors know it is but a play. Such ones can return home untouched by the drama. The deluded, evil ones must come back until they want to reform.

The virtuous players find out sooner because by the nature of virtue their consciousness expands beyond the ego. But even virtue is insufficient because "virtue is [merely] its own reward." We must also seek to know, love and serve God who is above good and evil. We do this through the process of ego transcendence and by inner communion with God. Only in this way can we achieve the permanent beatitude that banishes all suffering forever, just as the great Buddha did. 

We should strive to make this earth a better place and our lives ever more serene, virtuous, and pleasing to the God within our souls. We do this for our upliftment and as an example to others who are struggling with sorrow, pain, or poverty of body, mind, or soul. But we do this without false expectation and without attachment to the outward consequences of our efforts. For God is the Doer. Dissolving the sense of doership in favor of being a channel of Divine Light is the way to freedom from all action and for rest in the Self.

The Way of Return is shown to us by the Wayshowers: those who, themselves in a past life, achieved the cosmic vision of God and who return to share the "glad tidings" of our freedom and salvation from all suffering. This is not accomplished en masse in history by some great eschatological event like the "Rapture," but soul-by-soul.

Paramhansa Yogananda predicted difficult times ahead for humanity. After a period of great turmoil, he said a period of relative peace would descend upon humanity who at last would have tired of conflict. But, never mind these outward things, rejoice for the opportunity to see clearly the upward path to soul freedom. Be of good cheer. Do your part. Link with others of like mind. Pray and meditate daily. Seek divine attunement and inner guidance in all that you do. You are not who you think you are. You are the eternal Atman, the pure Soul, a spark of Infinity, as "old" as God "Himself." You are the I AM.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda




Saturday, September 8, 2018

Is Life Addictive? A Virgo Ruminates

I got a good laugh a few years ago when a knowledgeable astrologer burst my bubble and insisted I was a "Virgo!" I had developed the habit of excoriating Virgos as those with a tendency to obsess with the details. 

Prior to that, I used to think I was a well-balanced Libra! Accordingly, I never considered myself to have an addictive personality and in that, at least, I think I am correct. But I've come to see "addiction" from a new perspective: one that I choose to call a Vedantic view.

It used to be that the term "addiction" applied to drugs (from nicotine to heroin) and alcohol. Now, however, the term applies to any self-destructive habit (over-eating, sex obsessions, gambling, fanaticism or binging of any kind, and numerous other harmful habits).

"In for a penny, in for a pound" suggests that life itself is an addiction: desires so pressing and so varied as to be as innumerable as they are ubiquitous. Think of the million and one hobbies, which though not destructive, are compulsive and at least "keep people off the streets!"

Once we strip the term "addictive" of its overtly negative connotations, we can say that life itself is addictive because "life is habit forming." Consider the strength behind the compulsive desire for human love; children; approval and recognition; success and security; pleasure and comfort: just to name a few.

From the perspective of yoga and from the general perspective of orthodox religion with its obsession on sin, life can be seen as an impulse away from the perfection of the soul (made in the image of God) and consisting of a flow outwards seeking fulfilment in egocentric experiences and possessions ((materialism-sin). 

For most people, human life is nothing less than the search for satisfaction pursuing life's myriad promises of happiness. If so, what could be more addictive than this? Few even question it; fewer can imagine (until it's too late) that these promises will prove false. 

Add to this view of life the possibility of our having lived countless previous lives (with countless more to come) conditioned by the consequences of past actions, desires and fear and you may suddenly feel like the giant in Gulliver's Travels held captive by countless small threads. No wonder the concept of determinism or fatalism haunts our darker moments. Isn't this how it feels when one is deeply depressed? Like there's no way out?

Leaving aside the present consequences of past actions, think of how often we seek to cure our boredom or malaise by chasing new forms of excitement; new partners, jobs, hobbies, travel; of how "hope springs eternal" in ever new forms of preoccupation. Think of the near-universal obsession humanity possesses for vicariously experiencing (through movies, books, etc.) war, love, adventure, crime, drama, intrigue, and violence. We are too often desperate for stimulation lest we question whether we are still alive. 

Admittedly, those who don't seek new sources of feeling alive may well be wishing they weren't. But must life always swing from one extreme to another?

There is a way out. It is the third state of consciousness: inner peace; contentment; acceptance. And, while we perhaps imagine such a state as passive and all but comatose, the truth is far different.  

There are those who, however statistically few in number they may be, are calm, centered in themselves, quietly confident, and possessed of strength and willpower while focused one-pointedly on what's before them. These can be saints, scientists, business entrepreneurs, parents, teachers: in fact, any outward role can be accomplished while living in (but not merely for) the present and for the goals present actions are intended. A saint will be focused on God while an inventor will be focused on his invention but while the former may lead to the beatitude of certitude and the latter to but a passing experience, the experience of calm, one-pointed concentration has its own reward.

For most humans, life IS addictive. It is "restless by nature" (and I mean that literally). Our reptilian past-biases incline us to fear and competition, or fight or flight. 

The practices of (physical) yoga and meditation are consciously designed to calm the "natural tumult" provoked by the five senses and enhanced by memory and imagination. Both physical yoga and meditation are properly included in the term "yoga. Yoga bestows presence of mind and body. 

At the center of this tumult is the inner peace mentioned above. In that state, we are in the eye of the storm of "I." In this state, the "I" subsides and a higher Eye becomes the Seer and viewer of the parade of life. Paramhansa Yogananda wrote: “When this “I” shall die, then shall I know “Who am I!”

Take for yourself the identity and self-image of a wise and noble seer: a Moses; a mystic; a Christ; Buddha; Lao-Tse; Yogananda. In various ways, each counsels us to move through life as a great actor playing various roles with excellence, artistic flair, and enthusiasm while never being anything but the unique and individual you: always the same and untouched by the drama and the script you have to play.

Enjoy both being entertained, and entertaining others, yet while remaining cognizant that the "drama of life has for its meaning that it is simply a drama." (Paramhansa Yogananda: Essence of Self-Realization). 

Yes, you can cry and grieve, just like those great actors in a Shakespearean play. But in the end, you are purified, made clean and whole. In joy or sorrow, your response is the one appropriate to the script of your life at that moment. But act nonetheless with inner freedom, remaining a little apart from your actions, being mindful, self-aware and in touch with the river of inner peace.

Don't be an addict of life. Those who addicted to the drama of life are compelled to experience the highs and lows without end in what becomes, to the soul at least, a living hell. (The ego may crave the drama for fear of the silence but it is simply mistaken and habituated to restlessness.) 

Consider the toddler who bursts into a tantrum ("Tantrum yoga") one moment and squeals with glee the next. Consider that you can barely remember what you were thinking five minutes ago. Your memories of last year or your childhood are but fleeting and static. Think of all the emotional cloudbursts of pleasure and pain you have experienced. Can you even remember more than just a few? 

Life is a river that flows toward the sea of peace, joy, and calmness. Do what is yours to do; what you are called to do by righteousness and do it with enthusiasm, creativity, and concentration. At the same time, and such is the paradox of existence in the realm of duality where "All is flux" (Pantha rhe), do it even while not feeling that you are the Doer; rather, see yourself as a channel through which "life" flows but doesn't stop as it wends its way to the sea.

This inner peace can be called "God." For this Peace is alive and Self-aware. God can respond and guide you should you form a deep and loving relationship with Him/Her who is our Creator, our Life, our true Self. And THAT who is without name, gender, or form. 

We "worship" God by seeking inner communion with God's manifestation in our consciousness in the various forms such as inner peace, unconditional love or joy, light, energy or the sound of the wordless Word. In this, we cannot help but feel gratitude, sacredness, reverence, and humility. 

Addiction is our natural, egoic state. Therefore, working to transcend its influence should be a natural and joyful one. Through the daily practice of yoga, the memory of this higher and original state of our soul can reawaken. This state is the "third rail" of happiness and fulfilment.

Let inner peace be your "addiction," 

Swami Hrimananda




Thursday, August 2, 2018

Why Spirituality Needs Religion

In the world of meditation and yoga, we find many, no doubt millions of practitioners, whose attitude toward religion ranges from "anti" to neutral to "spiritual but not religious."

Like the "God" word, "religion" is a hot-button loaded with baggage. In the world I live in, the term "spirituality" generally substitutes for the term "religion." 

As a writer and one sensitive and appreciative of the poetry and power of words, I feel that words ARE important. My thesis for this article is that there is more at stake than just rejecting religion with all of its baggage. There's no point in even describing why so many reject religion. We can assume we (who are reading this) already HAVE rejected it in its orthodox forms. 

I have long suspected that the unfortunate consequence and too often unconscious reason New Agers have thrown the baby of "God" out with the bathwater of religion is that it gives so many an excuse to turn their back on God and embrace their own ego-centric lives. 

For one thing, we live in an age of ego-affirmation. I've written other articles on this aspect of emerging consciousness. The rigid caste systems of the past centuries defined us by our birth, parentage, gender, skills, language, and social status.

The American experience symbolizes the emergence of the recognition of the value of the individual. This is a good thing, for sure. At long last eclipsed in this renaissance of individuality is the old forms of "tribe" wherein individuality was subsumed to the identity of the tribe. 

But in the world where all things must balance, there has to be a counterbalance to the potential of rampaging egoism to shoot and bomb the human race out of existence. Thus we see in the movements and consciousness surrounding ecology, climate change, sustainable energy, wildlife conservation, concern for the preservation of all species, peace and nonviolence movements, yoga and meditation, and humanitarian efforts: a heightened sense of responsibility; yes, a sense of belonging. Some even use the term "tribe" (though for me it conjures up images of beating drums and stomping feet). But in this case even the tribes are conscious and voluntary associations whose motive power lies with individual initiative and commitment.

On the issue, then, of "spirituality" vs "religion" we can discover a need for balance. The former represents the importance of individual consciousness while the latter refers to our need to share with and/or receive from others.

Just as gender-neutral champions keep searching for words in our language that are neutral (like "staffing the booth" rather than "manning the booth"), so too spiritually minded people use the term "spiritual" instead of "religious." But something is lost in translation. It's not "either-or" but "both-and."

On an egoic level, one can can consider oneself "spiritual" AND also "share or be involved with others." But the deeper spirituality attested to since ancient times by the custodians of religion (the saints, masters, rishis and avatars) is that spiritual consciousness is ego transcendent. 

Otherwise, if it is only the ego sharing spiritual practices or values it amounts to living the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have them unto you" is beautiful but it is little more than "scratch my back and I'll scratch yours." It is reasonable but inadequate to lift consciousness beyond the ego. 

The Golden Rule, being sufficiently demonstrable through logic alone, amounts to a contractual quid pro quo arrangement that fits rather too snugly the merchant-consciousness of our times and culture. The reason it is insufficient to save humanity from selfishness, greed and violence is that the Golden Rule breaks down when under attack by personal desire, addiction, stress and fear. Reason will never be enough except in times of peace and prosperity to re-direct "fight or flight" impulses into constructive channels.

What is needed, because our deeper nature craves it (not because it is imposed upon us), is contact with and communion with our higher, soul nature--which is divine; which is God in human form. 

Thus it is that a world teacher, Paramhansa Yogananda, came to the West to teach meditation and the ancient (and universal) truths of Vedanta ("All is One; All is God"). So, too, the teachings of New Thought and many other wave-forms of consciousness.

What too many forward-thinking people have rejected in the name of their personal freedoms is nothing less than God. This is as true for those who might associate themselves with New Thought as it is for the Self-Help crowd. Thus what might be termed "liberalism" is all too often agnostic, atheistical or simply self-involved. 

Humanistic ideals, absent attunement to the higher reality of Spirit, can sometimes be used as a psychological shield to keep God out of the picture. Humanitarian ideals and activities can become a kind of false god.

Jesus Christ clearly taught compassion and the importance of helping those in need; yet, he also said, "The poor ye have always, but Me you do not have always." Apart from what the "me" refers to, he is saying, to use his own words but more clearly for my purposes: "Seek ye FIRST the kingdom of God......and all these things shall be added unto you." 

No quantity of enlightened living, hiking, kayaking, adventure travel, protesting, consensus building, or feeding the poor and housing the homeless will satisfy the heart’s need for the unconditional love and joy of God in our own soul. In the immortal words of St. Augustine: “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” 

True lovers of God are few: Krishna admits as much in the Bhagavad Gita: "Out of a thousand, one seeks me." Nonetheless as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah attest, even one true devotee can influence the consciousness and karma of a large group of people. Paramhansa Yogananda asserts that the hallowed resiliency of India (the world's oldest and continuous culture and religion) is based on her unbroken line of saints and rishis.

"Saints," Yogananda averred, "are the true custodians of religion." But saints do not live in a vacuum. Like a rare flower, they "grow" in the garden of receptive hearts. A culture or a group of people whose united prayer is to know God magnetizes the appearance of saintly souls in their midst. Spirituality needs religion like plants need soil. The tragedy of religion in modern times is that religion is has lost touch with its true purpose: to bring God to earth so we can ascend to "heaven!" ("Heaven" meaning to resurrect our own soul's divinity in our consciousness.)

Quoting the words from the weekly Festival of Light ceremony conducted at Ananda centers throughout the world:


A prayer of love went up from earth, and You responded.
A ray of Your light flashed out from the heart of Infinity,
Burst downward through night skies of consciousness,
And was born on earth for the redemption of mankind
In human form.
Many times has that light descended,
Drawn to earth by the call of aspiring love.
Your “chosen people” have always been those of every race and nation 
Who, with deep love, chose Thee.


The forms and customs of religion will vary from time to time, and place to place, but its essential message remains the same: to awaken us to the divine presence within and in all creation. 

Yogananda put it this way: "Church is the hive; God is the honey!" Only a soul already firmly on the path to God-realization can turn away from others in the search for God alone. There are very few such souls at this time in history.

For it is also an undeniable truth, that ultimately, the soul sheds the ego not in church but within: essentially, alone. This is the paradox of life that Jesus taught that God is not found outside ourselves, crying "Lo here, lo there, for the kingdom of heaven is within you!" 

So divinity is found within, in the silence of meditation; yet, how do we get there: through teachings and teachers. And where do such come from? From religion and all that surrounds it.

When Paramhansa Yogananda complained that organized religion is a nest of troubles, his guru chided him, asking where would he be were it not for other true gurus dedicating their lives to living and sharing the divine teachings. Yogananda then silently vowed to dedicate his life to helping others as he himself had been helped. 


Religion has failed to uplift humanity because it has fallen into idolatry: mistaking the form for the Spirit behind the form. Just as others worship money or pleasure or position, religionists have “worshipped” their own faith to the exclusion of other faiths. The solution is not to abandon religion but to restore it to its true calling. No other human activity raises consciousness and brings inner peace with the same life-changing effectiveness. 

We no more abandon our personal integrity and uniqueness by our love of others than religion need exist at the expense of spirituality. Quite the contrary, just as our own uniqueness is nurtured by a loving family, friends, and community, so religion and spirituality are two sides of a sacred coin or contract between our soul and God; our soul and all creation; our soul and all souls. 

"Environment is stronger than will" as Yogananda put it. The company you keep will have more influence on your life than your beliefs, for your "beliefs will not save you" from negative influences and your karma.

Truth is one and eternal. Realize oneness with it in your deathless Self, within.

Swami Hrimananda