Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why Me? Reflections of mortality and Kriya Yoga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Yoga Sutras - Part 2

This week we hold class 2 on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. My last blog article described the Yoga Sutras (“YS”) as both intimidating AND inspiring. Well, that comment is only further justified by my ongoing study. I’d like to share some key points, insights, and inspirations as they have occurred to me. As this blog format is rather truncated (neither a class nor a book), I cannot begin to pretend to share comprehensively, both for the depth of the YS which is beyond my ken and for its very content which requires more time and space.

The first thing that hits one in book 1 of the YS (“Samadhi Pada”), is the necessity and power of concentration. Like shooting a gun or cannon to take down a target (person, plane or ship, e.g.), all you need do is combine force (will) with a steady aim at only one key portion of the “body” you are attempting to obliterate, and the whole thing comes down. [Now I know some of more pacific readers just blanched, but this is Patanjali’s point: get over it. I’ll explain in a minute.] You don’t need to wrestle every inch of it, only the heart or head!
It is through the power of meditative concentration that the arrow of our attention pierces the body armor of maya (the delusive force and masking power of matter and the creation which hides “the Lord,” the Spirit who is, alone, all that Is). There is a well known sentence in Paramhansa Yogananda’s classic story, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” that I believe is inspired by a sloka in some Indian scripture that says “divine vision is center everywhere, circumference, nowhere.”

You could spend lifetimes trying to achieve realization of this key point. But for now, let me say the insightful point is you don’t have to acquire all the knowledge and wisdom of the world or to become scrupulously virtuous in thought, word, and deed to achieve freedom from this world of suffering, unceasing flux, and unending cycles of birth and death. To enter the transcendent state of Superconsciousness (and ultimately, cosmic consciousness), you need only one doorway: one “object” of concentration with which your entire being becomes One with.

I’ve heard my teacher (Swami Kriyananda, direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda and founder of the Ananda communities worldwide) lightly joke that you could worship a crocodile — indeed, anything. Why? Because the transcendent consciousness of Spirit is at the heart of every atom (“center everywhere”).

The second sutra (aphorism) of Patanjali is one of two most famous and most valuable: (and I paraphrase it) Suffering is transcended and Oneness with Bliss achieved by rising above identification with one’s body, matter, sense impressions, memories, fantasies, sleep (and all drug-induced states), likes, dislikes, attachments and desires. This second sutra (literally translated as “Yoga is the restraining, or calming, of the reactive process (mind-stuff) from taking various forms (vrittis)) states the concentration principle described above in negative terms. This isn’t a description of what to do. It is an explanation of what is necessary.

Because immediately thereafter, Patanjali launches into the subject of concentration. While it is true that our concentration in meditation is disrupted by our matter identifications (listed above).  And yes it is true, therefore, as Patanjali enumerates in his most famous sutra (listing the 8 stages of enlightenment) we must work on achieving right attitude and right action. And, yet (and this is the beauty and power of yoga concentration), we can combine those efforts to release the hold of maya upon our minds by the power of concentration. We do not have to fight to the death every delusion that pops up like so many assassins in a James Bond movie.

As we identify with matter, we lose touch with our true Self. It’s really that simple. By steady concentration upon any single object (in meditation), the hypnotic influence of maya dissolves and we enter a portal into Oneness.

Patanjali enumerates and defines the obstacles to Oneness and he also describes some of the stages of realization. These stages are not permanent but represent the process by which, step by step, we achieve true knowledge. First, we question, doubt or reason based on our inner perceptions. Then, we receive (intuitively) true knowledge about that which we are contemplating. From that knowledge we experience happiness or some level of satisfaction and bliss. Finally, that knowledge becomes permanently realized as our own Self.

Beyond such realization is the “seedless” realization which a state of Oneness without any process or object used or intervening. This is true transcendence. He also acknowledges that the speed with which enlightenment takes place is the result of our energetic commitment (or lack thereof).

Patanjali gives a one-liner acknowledgement that, despite his clinical analysis, Oneness can be achieved by devotion to God! (He adds no comment or explanation.)But, to be fair, he then goes on for several sutras to describe the Supreme Ruler (or Power) who is the true teacher of all rishis and gurus and whose name (and word) is AUM! Repetition and communion with the seed sound of OM is “the way.”

To remedy our shortcomings and attachments, he recommends deep concentration upon one object (OM being previously suggested). Another approach, he says, is to control the breath (pranayama, including kriya yoga). Meditating upon the inner Light (“Jyoti”), or upon a pure heart, or on the message of dreams (that all life is a dream), or upon the bliss of the dreamless state (of sleep), or “on anything that appeals to one as good!”

Wow! Dr. Patanjali, here, at your service! I make house calls. Can you imagine it? That's enough medicine for us all right now. Until next week, your own Self.

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, October 31, 2011

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

This Wednesday, November 2, I begin a four-week course on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. It's nothing less than both intimidating and inspiring. I don't know of any other work that penetrates the veil of the mind and traces the trajectory of soul-awakening with such (almost brutal) clarity, power, and wisdom. 

The array of available books and literature on the YS is bewildering. True, it's nothing like the quantity written on the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita, but it's prodigious nonetheless. No one really knows (or agrees) when the YS were written, or even by whom, exactly. Evidently there is more than one "Patanjali." But this much is certain: whoever wrote it and whenever it was written, it didn't just appear out of nowhere. It is the distillation of a long history of exploration by the scientists of consciousness (the rishis of India). You might say it's as if after centuries (millennia, probably) of experimentation, someone wrote a concluding and summarizing "paper" on their accumulated findings!

The YS are a roadmap to enlightenment. The highway to the infinite portrayed in the YS is also called the 8-Fold (or Limbed) Path. Other synonyms include Raja Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga. These all refer to the description of the path of enlightenment given in the YS. (As I cannot be sure of the knowledge of all of my readers, let me say that the true meaning of the term "yoga" is "union." It refers to achievement of Self-realization by uniting one's individual soul with the oversoul of Spirit. By contrast, the more common man-on-the-street uses the term "yoga" to describe the physical postures, positions, or asanas that were developed in more recent centuries and which have the purpose of developing one's health and inner awareness as a foundation for the spiritual discipline of meditation and the spiritual path generally.)

Over the centuries many forms of yoga discipline have emerged with different names and different emphases. All too often they attempt (or appear) to compete or to be distinctly unique. Just as science has enlightened us in the understanding that energy, contrary to the report of our five senses, is the essential and unifying reality of matter, so too the different "yogas" are but different approaches to the same central truth: we are One!

Bhakti yoga is the way of the heart: approaching the Oneness of Spirit through devotion (pure feeling). Gyana yoga is the way of the mind: approaching the Oneness of Spirit through the power of concentration (pure consciousness). Karma yoga is the way of service: approaching the Oneness of Spirit through self-giving and acting as a pure instrument of Spirit. Laya yoga is the way of dissolution of the ego. Mantra yoga is expansion of consciousness through Oneness with the primordial vibration of Spirit (known as Aum). Uniting them all, however, is Raja yoga: the science of meditation which arises when, in combination with one or more of the aforementioned disciplines, we seek "to be still and know (that I AM God)." Raja means royal, or that which rules (or unites) the others. (Ashtanga means, simply, 8-Fold or 8-Limbed.)

As must be obvious to the reader, even the practice of calling these "paths" by their yogic names suggests they come from and are only accessible to devotees attracted to all things Indian. Of course not: devotion, concentration, selfless service, egolessness, and silent inner, prayerful communion are universally manifest in all spiritual traditions.

The YS are aphorisms but unlike stand-alone platitudes there are linked, like threads, creating a chain or path from delusion to enlightenment. The word "sutra" means "thread" (think suture). There are less than 200 hundred sutras. They are divided into four books ("pada"): samadhi pada; sadhana pada; vibhuti pada; and kaivalya pada. Whew! What the heck?

For those of you who stayed the course with me on Swami Sri Yukteswar's book, THE HOLY SCIENCE, you will recognize a pattern. I suppose the ancients must have developed their themes along these lines: describing the process and benefits; outlining the methods; describing the consequences (fruits) ("powers attained"), and giving a glimpse at the goal (Oneness).

At the same time, the unfolding sutras are not linear or strictly a logical progression, either. There is some repetition, some further development, and some detours or tangents along the way. This patterns the simple fact that the path to enlightenment is, itself, NOT a straight-line. Reality and consciousness is more a hologram: each aspect containing something of the whole within itself. God is not in some distant corner of space. Enlightenment is ours right now if . . . . . .  It is, and it isn't! Lifetimes accumulation of error and ignorance can be swept away instantly in a flood of grace but that grace does not come upon the command or will of the ego. And yet, we start where we are: in ego consciousness. A conundrum certainly.

This Wednesday night we will begin our journey. Like the sutras themselves and like our own path to enlightenment, I am not planning with any strictness what we will cover, what we will skip, and how we will develop our themes. This class is based upon Paramhansa Yogananda's teachings of the YS. He studied with his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar. Yogananda explained that after about only 12 sutras his guru said, :"That's enough. You now have the key." (Yogananda never said exactly WHICH twelve!!!!) So neither are we compelled to read and study all nearly 200 sutras, either!

Yogananda never wrote a summary (a book) on the Yoga Sutras. That's too bad and there must be some overarching reason. Swami Kriyananda did, however and it is a renowned classic in its own right: THE ART AND SCIENCE OF RAJA YOGA (Crystal Clarity, Publishers, Nevada City, CA USA). (Swami Kriyananda is a direct disciple of Yogananda and one of the very few still living and teaching today.) This book does not, however, discuss or analyze the sutras directly. There are unpublished transcriptions of Yogananda's lectures on Patanjali however.

This series will be our second experiment with internet streaming. You can go online and sign up and pay for this class and attend it in real time (7:30 to 9 p.m. PST). Be sure to do this before about 3 p.m. this Wednesday. If we or you encounter technical difficulties we will provide a link to the audio recording as a substitute. I prefer students come in person, of course, but if you are reading this from India or Russia or New York, we at least have something to offer to you.

More blog articles will flow as they, well, flow!


Nayaswami Hriman