Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King & Mahatma Gandhi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings to all,


Friday, January 6, 2012

Who is Paramhansa Yogananda?
Mukunda Lal Ghosh was born January 5, 1893 in India. Destined to become one of the first swamis to come to America (he came in 1920), he became a sensation in America, touring in the 1920’s and 1930’s to crowds of thousands of people in cities throughout the USA.

This time of year the Ananda Communities and centers around the world are among the thousands who commemorate Paramhansa Yogananda’s life and teachings. At his initiation as a swami when a young man by his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri in Serampore (near Calcutta), India, he took the monastic name Yogananda: “union with God in bliss through yoga practice.”

Years later his guru conferred upon him the honorific “Paramhansa,” an acknowledgement of his disciple’s high spiritual realization. Yogananda came to America in 1920, returned to India for a last visit to his guru, family, and homeland in 1935-36, but otherwise stayed in America and became a U.S. citizen. He established his headquarters in Los Angeles in the mid-1920’s. He left this earth plane in 1952.

Those are the barest facts of an extraordinary life. We who are his disciples honor his contribution to the world and to our lives especially at this time of year. At Ananda this celebration concludes the holiday season at about the same time as Christians historically commemorate the three wise men coming from the east to honor the Christ child.

Paramhansa Yogananda is most famous for his life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi.” This book, first published in 1946, has been read by millions in many languages around the world. For modern ears, hearts, and minds, Yogananda opened up for westerners insights into the mysteries of Indian culture and especially its timeless precepts, practices, and its modern saints and sages with their extraordinary powers and states of consciousness. As a work of literature his autobiography stands tall in the pantheon of twentieth century writings.

But it is not the details of his life or even his consciousness that I wish to reflect upon here. Swami Kriyananda’s own autobiography, “The New Path,” details life with the “master” with such wisdom, humor, and love that I must refer the reader to this parallel work of art and inspiration.

One hears a common saying that “When the disciple is ready the guru appears.” For the relevant question is not “Who is the greatest guru (or teacher)?” The more important  inquiry is “Who am I” and “What kind of a disciple of life and truth am I?” The law of karma (action and reaction) and the law of attraction and magnetism remind us that the world we inhabit is filtered by our own magnetism such that we attract to ourselves those circumstances (and people) best designed to reflect back to us aspects, high or low, of our own self.

So rather than ask ourselves “Who was Yogananda” we can also ask ourselves “Who am I?”

Some see in him a world teacher and avatar whose life has started a revolution in spreading the practice of kriya yoga into all nations that millions may have a direct personal perception of divinity and hence empower humanity to make the changes needed to sustain life, health, prosperity and God remembrance in all nations.

Others will see him only as another in an endless procession of teachers from India seeking to profit by the prosperity of the west. Perhaps some will see more flamboyant or more recently popular teachers as the real “deal.” No matter.

It depends what we are capable of seeing and seeking. It is enough for me that he has changed my life and the lives of uncountable others worldwide. Who am I to speak of him as an avatar? I wouldn’t know an avatar  if he was a card-carrying member of the Avatar Club. Even if I were to be so unrefined or unaware as to simply find inspiration and practicality in his words and yoga techniques and ignored him altogether (because no longer incarnate), my life would not be the same.

The question is by what influence and magnetism has he, whom I have never met, inspired me to leave everything of a material nature (career and life in the “world”) as a young man, move to a poor and rural intentional community in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and dedicate my life to the daily practice of meditation and service to spreading Yogananda’s ideals and practices? Were I alone, then you’d have to conclude that I am just basically weird. But hundreds and by now thousands have done the same.

And we are not talking the disenfranchised or the “sick, lame, and lazy” (as my old father, God rest him) would have said. The people I associate with are highly educated, high energy, creative, noble-minded, kind, compassionate and dedicated people who are very aware of the world we live in and eager to serve God through humanity and through kriya yoga.

Yogananda’s influence has spawned a network of intentional communities, schools for children, yoga centers, publishing, nature awareness programs, creative architecture, new forms of music and worship, a cooperative style of leadership and decision making, creative parenting and harmonious relationships.

The chief architect of this expansion has been the foremost of Yogananda’s direct disciples in the service of humanity at large: Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda. Kriyananda’s influence reflects not only his dynamic will but his attunement with his guru, Yogananda. The worldwide work of Ananda is largely a transparent expression of Yogananda’s guidance. Though stamped indelibly with Kriyananda’s signature, members and students of Ananda function independently, creatively taking seed inspiration (rather than any detailed blueprint) from Kriyananda’s guru-guided creativity. Kriyananda, as such, functions more as a focal point and funnel for energy rather than a personality. The result is that scant attention is paid him in the way we see so many spiritual teachers being fawned upon or held high upon a pedestal of undying admiration.

Ananda is not a top-down hierarchical organization, though the value and importance of inspired and supportive leadership is emphasized. Cooperation rather than coercion is the guiding principle. The spiritual welfare of people is the measure of success, not the otherwise worthwhile and measurable accomplishments of Ananda as a spiritual work. Thus the Ananda centers and communities function independently but in cooperation with its first and original community in California. Europe has its own central vortex just as India has two parallel centers: one rural, the other urban.

Yogananda created a new system of tension exercises at a time when millions were just beginning to seek forms of exercise. Less than a century ago exercise for its own sake was only for aristocrats and a few privileged athletes. Already we see the incidence of injury from running, weight training, extreme sports and even intensive one-size-fits-all yoga. He created numerous formulae and recipes for the future millions of vegetarians even as our culture flounders fanatically with every extreme dietary fad that comes along each year.  

He spoke of a future when international criminals would cause havoc in every country and how an international “police force” of freedom-loving nations would be required. He predicted that English would become the “lingua franca” of the world. He also warned of future wars, cataclysms, diseases, and economic devastation as a result of unparalleled greed, exploitation and ruthless competition.

Yogananda with words of great spiritual power “sowed into the ether” a call to high-minded souls to go out into rural areas and create small communities, pooling resources, skills, and living close to the land in what we now realize and describe as a sustainable lifestyle. He predicted that a time would come when small communities would “spread like wildfire,” presumably as an antidote the crushing and impersonal forces of globalization.

Each of these concepts, precepts, and trends are taking shape in the lives of people like you and me, around the world. Yes, it’s true these things would be happening with, or without Yogananda. But to come as a divine messenger to bless these efforts is as reassuring as it is an ancient tradition (to seek divine blessings upon one’s journey and new undertakings). Those who are in tune with these trends are, in their own way, drawing upon those blessings whether they have heard of Yogananda or not.

In theological matters, how many like you and me are weary of sectarianism and desirous of harmony between faiths? It is not religion we should fight but selfishness, greed, and delusion. To this end those who love God should help, support, and respect one another. But how can we find our way out of the box of our dogmas and customs?

All theological bypaths meet in the sensorium of inner silence. God as One, God as many, God of many names or no name are all found united in silent, inner communion. The only real idol worship is found in the worship of matter, the senses, and the ego. These are the false idols, not the saints or deities who serve as symbols and aspects of the One beyond all symbols.

Thus it is that our own and personal vision of reality draws to us the life and teachings of such a one as Paramhansa Yogananda. To achieve Self-realization, he said, we must simply improve our “knowing.”

A Happy Birthday to Yogananda and to all of us!
Nayaswami Hrimananda

Friday, December 30, 2011

Einstein meets Patanjali

Einstein meets Patanjali
And asks, “Who Am I?”

The new year of 2012 is upon us and in combination with the holy season of Christmas or, if you prefer, Winter Solstice it is a time for reflection over the past year (or life), and a re-setting of priorities.

History, science and metaphysics offer such a vast and grand view of the creation and evolution that we, as individuals, can only appear as insignificant. Imagine every 100 years hardly a trace remains of the human race which once reveled, cried, fought, rejoiced, aged, and finally past from sight. Within hours of one’s death in a retirement facility your belongings can be boxed up, emptied, delivered to the dumpster or thrift store, and nothing left of your life remains.

You can take a collection of newspapers from any decade in the last century and re-arrange the headlines and article titles and re-create tomorrow’s news. It’s all basically the same stuff.

That’s a pretty depressing assessment of our lives. Yet for all the “facts” assembled here, we aren’t depressed for we don’t live our lives from that perspective. We are in the middle of our own universe.
But are we being real or are we hiding our hands in the endless sands of delusion? Perhaps we, too, need some way to expand our self-identity to embrace the vastness which is the greater reality in which we live?

But how? Traditional beliefs that say God is in the heaven above, looking down upon us, sometimes answering our pleadings, but always judging our actions, and then when the play is over we get our just desserts. End of story. This “guy” must be like some cosmic but petty traffic cop or like a child playing with toy soldiers arranging them in various battle formations, blowing them up, moving them around. This is hardly a satisfying view nor does it bear any resemblance the view of the cosmos our science provides.

My teacher, Swami Kriyananda, in his book, “Out of the Labyrinth,” (also in his guide to meditation, "Awaken to Superconsciousness") asks this question: “Either nothing is conscious, or everything is conscious.” I have puzzled over this because it omits all the possibilities in between. But his statement is in context of the modern view of evolution and biology, namely, that consciousness is produced by the electrical and chemical responses in the brain to sense stimuli. The argument of materialism is that consciousness is the product of matter’s evolution and response to its environment.

Metaphysics says the opposite: that matter is the product of consciousness, or put another way, matter is the product of a conscious intention, and that, therefore, all created things possess some level of consciousness. Hard to prove this in the case of rocks and minerals, gases and lower life forms.

Kriyananda’s response to his own question includes the statement that, to the effect, it is an interesting question given our interest in it. I think what he is saying that insofar as it we who are asking the question of “What is consciousness,” the very question answers itself in that to even ask such an abstract question is to prove the independence of consciousness from matter. A clever response to be sure and not an easy one to grasp, a bit like a funny joke where you know it’s funny but you can’t quite explain it.

To be fair to the poor old struggling evolutionary biologists, we can’t deny the contribution of the human brain and nervous system to the human ability to ask impossibly abstract questions! (I’ve heard that someone was found who was very much alive but didn’t have a brain, or at least important parts of it.) So far as we can tell, even our closest animal relatives don’t ask these questions. We seem to be alone in that department of living things. There’s no point in denying the incredible “mechanism” of the human body, brain, and nervous system.

And rocks really don’t seem very conscious even if arguably they “behave” like rocks and thus conform to their own kind of intelligence and action-plan. Some are extraordinarily beautiful and suggestive of art and meaning. Others, like crystal, have attributes that go way beyond ordinary garden rocks (like the difference between gifted humans and the larger quantity of “clods” that hang around this planet).

Metals and plants have been shown to have responses analogous to emotions and fatigue. I think of the initial work by the great Indian scientist, J.C. Bose, followed by others around the world showing the same cross-over towards consciousness.

There’s a bumper sticker cliché running around (yes — bumpers) that says “The only way out is in!” The bridge between our human experience in the body and the outer and vast world of this universe is, in fact, our consciousness. It is our awareness that makes it possible for us to survey the universe and notice that our bodies (size, shape, power, length of life) are hopelessly insignificant.

The measure of value is not in conquest, space, time, brute force, longevity, or knowledge of the natural world. If we behave insignificantly, then to that degree we are. This is to say that if we take for our reality that all we are is this short-lived, disease-prone, and death-bound higher animal that lives for palate, pleasure, and position only to see all three evaporate, well then we have condemned only ourselves.

Through imagination we can travel back or forward in time or to worlds hitherto unseen. This mind that we possess is what links us to all life. To view the cosmos and see the hand of a vast and benign intelligence and to seek to contact this Mind is what elevates us above being mere objects limited by time, space, weight, and shape.

We can approach this Mind in many ways: we can expand our Mind to include the welfare of others and of life around us; we can go “within” to contact this cosmic Mind directly; we can seek the company and wisdom of others who have gone before us and can show us the way; or, we can strip from our own mind the self-limiting, instinct bound self-affirmations of the body-bound ego.

The mind as we experience it carries on the ages old tendency of constant movement as if in unceasing warfare of self-defense or self-gratification. Only as we awaken to our higher potential do we begin slowly to begin to gain control of this instinctual functioning which is tied to the body, tissues, organs and its preservation.

Those who pursue with deep dedication the arts, the sciences, service to humanity, self-forgetfulness, or God alone begin to re-direct the mind’s lower tendencies to increasingly abstract or self-forgetful realms of awareness. Only when all outward objects or goals fall away and we direct our consciousness in upon itself does the fusion of knower, knowing, and known smash the atom of ego and release an incredible and life transforming expansion of consciousness towards the limitless horizon of infinity.

Einstein’s famous formula suggests that as an object approaches the speed of light its mass grows towards infinity. Well, he said it well. Of course we are not speaking of the mass of our human body, but of our consciousness. Einstein’s formula couldn’t be applied literally to matter, anyway. But that doesn’t make it invalid, only suggestive of truth that perhaps he, himself, did not cognize.

When he posited light as the only constant in the universe here, too, he touched the hem of consciousness and stated a principle that he may not have grasped at least in its metaphysical aspects.

All great saints speak of God manifesting as light and the voice of God as a sound of many waters, or as thunder. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the author describes as clinically as any Einstein the elements of consciousness as it pursues itself down the corridors of creation’s elemental stages.

At the dawn of a new year, therefore, don’t spend another year merely pursuing comforts, running from troubles, and looking forward to nothing more significant than a cup of tea, a Friday night movie, or getting to bed early. You have been born to “know Thy Self.” Meditation science has come that we might know the “truth that shall make you free!”

Nayaswami Hriman