Monday, October 20, 2014

In the Footsteps of St. Francis - A Perspective

A group of Ananda members from Seattle, WA have just returned from a two-week visit to Italy. We saw the sights of Rome and the treasures of Florence, but these were but introductions to the deep spirituality which is their true source and the greatest treasure of Italy and of humankind: "the Word made flesh and dwelt amongst us."

So much has been said about the impact of St. Francis on religion and culture that I feel in awe of even attempting to share any insights. As a fact of history, St. Francis mobilized and inspired thousands of people in the direction of a profound and deep spirituality (many becoming saints like himself). His use of the vernacular, the language of the Italy of his time, and his love and embrace of nature, is said (by those more knowledgeable than me) to have sown the seeds for the Italian renaissance. Over a thousand years after the life of Jesus, he was the first to recreate and reenact, for devotional purposes, the birth of Jesus. In one simple event in a small village, he single-handedly birthed one of the most profound and inspired traditions of Christendom: the Nativity!

While ancient Rome was, itself, a colossus of genius, brute force, and sheer energy, it is not really the cultural treasure of Italy today. After all, most of it is in ruins. Nonetheless, I came to feel that for Italians, and Romans especially, they are understandably proud of their ancestral tradition and history of the glory of ancient Rome. Surely this memory has inspired some of Rome's offspring to heights of glory and genius. (Yes, Mussolini attempted to imitate it, too, for sure!). I can't say that the "glory of Rome" resonates deeply with me but any objective measure of it at its height is impressive by any standard.

Thus it is that I believes the echoes of that former greatness continued to emanate from its center in Rome far into the medieval and renaissance periods. What happened, historically, was that the fading glory and strength of the Roman empire was given over by Emperor Constantine to the fledgling Christian religion. The Church thus inherited the erstwhile power and glory of Rome, even if much reduced, indeed, on the brink of collapse, but Christianity re-enabled that power into a new form and for a new era of history.

The brilliance of the classical periods of Greece and Rome is found in its foundations in logic, reason, and appreciation and devotion to the human experience and psyche, both body and mind. While far from religiously spiritual, the classical times had a strength and beauty of its own. Indeed, so much so, that by the height of the Italian renaissance and against the pressures of the Protestant revolt, the Catholic Church itself was accused of paganism because it supported great works of art that depicted characters and gods and goddesses from the classical period and, shockingly, featured the human body in all its (unclothed) glory.

(An aside: To those of us who view human history in the light of the theory of the "Yugas" as revealed and re-interpreted by Swami Sri Yukteswar in his abstruse tome, "The Holy Science," we see that during the classical periods of Greece and Rome the power of the pantheon of the gods had become mostly an empty ritual. Belief in gods was on the decline as human consciousness was steadily losing its power of subtle perceptions beyond physical form. The old time religions devolved into superstitions and myths, the power now faded into empty, even debased, rituals and time-worn customs.

To replace the gods, humanity, or those few with integrity and insight, only had human life as a measure of our potential. What arose is what we might call today "secular humanism." This included the Stoics and the emphasis on ethics and morals based on human reason. The decline of human awareness, according to the yuga theory, reached its nadir around 500 A.D. -- about the time of the last Roman emperor. The libraries of learning and knowledge from past ages were purposely destroyed out of fear, ignorance and disdain for their seeming uselessness. Then began the slow ascent, first through the Dark Ages, then medieval times onto the Renaissance, the Protestant revolt, the age of exploration and so on. The cycle reached its parallel, though ascending rather than descending, with the Greek and Roman secular humanism during the so-called "Enlightenment," the Age of Reason which occurred roughly around the time of the American and French revolutions. In the ascending cycle, such a stage in the growing awareness of human consciousness would be a natural result of the Renaissance and the age of exploration during which human thought and the natural world became legitimate and inspired objects of man's growing self-interest. Medieval mysticism and heaven and hell began to lose their lustre in part as deep thinkers, and later, whole generations, lost faith in the practicality of their reality, such a loss being catalyzed in part due to the excesses of church institutionalism. For a marvelous and eye-opening explanation of the yugas, visit:

Returning now to our subject, it occurs to me that the Roman genius and energy was reborn by divine decree (blessings, in other words) in the flowering of Christianity which replaced the Roman empire. Unfortunately, it would long be tainted, as if even by physical association, by the Roman legacy of seeking power by conquest, beauty in grandiose architecture, ego affirmation and sensuality.

The transformation of the Roman legacy into essentially a religious and spiritual one was something I felt as I walked the streets of Rome. My sense was for a new-found appreciation of the spiritual influence of so many saints (and martyrs) through whose sacrifice and consciousness the failed Roman empire was transformed into the spiritual heart of Christendom and which effectively moved its center of gravity from Jerusalem to Rome. The presence of saints Peter and Paul, alone, would have endowed the ancient city with the blessing of being an "eternal city."

As Buddha was a Hindu, Jesus was a Jew. As Buddhism left India and went east, Christianity left Palestine and went west. Such was the divine will. Rome became the center of Christian energy and remains so today. As we are witnessing a mini-renaissance in the Catholic Church under Pope Francis, purposely taking the name of St. Francis ("rebuild my Church"), so we can see at work the continuation of the promise of Jesus that to Peter he gave the keys to the kingdom on which to build his church which will stand to the end of time. (How well it has carried out its commission is, of course, debatable, but the Catholic Church is still here and is in fact experiencing yet another renaissance of sorts. That Paramhansa Yogananda gave a more metaphysical and more personal interpretation of Jesus' words doesn't necessarily negate a more outward interpretation if not taken too literally.)

Padma (my wife) pointed out that Yogananda taught that Jesus appeared to the prophet Babaji and asked Babaji to send someone from India to the west to resurrect the personal practice of inner communion using the art and science of eastern meditation. To St. Francis, then, Jesus appeared with a similar message, "Rebuild my church" by the personal "Imitation of Christ." In one conversation, one of the pilgrims wondered if, in fact, St. Francis was himself a reincarnation of Jesus. Francis had twelve disciples; he was the first to receive the stigmata (wounds of Christ); he imitated the life of Jesus literally; raised the dead. Well, anyone, idle speculation, to be sure.

Thus it was that on this journey, I found it "easy," perhaps obvious, to ascribe the genius of the Italian Renaissance (in art, sculpture and architecture) to the spiritual power and transformation of consciousness that St. Francis initialized. Further, it seems to me that Francis' appearance on the scene was a continuation of an essential vibration of greatness that stretches back, albeit taking a very different form, to Roman times. Francis' greatness was entirely spiritual but its ramifications created echoes, like waves, emanating outward from the initial shock of omnipresence, resulted in, literally, a renaissance of human consciousness. Each aspect of this being understood in the larger context of the devolution and subsequent evolution (upward) in human consciousness.

It was appropriate, therefore, that our little pilgrimage begin with a tour of the cultural treasures of Rome and Florence. On those treasures, I have little to say or to add, as art, for art's sake, is not an area of great personal interest. That I was as floored, awed, and inspired as just about anyone (ought to be) by these great works, I attest and confess, but beyond the general shock into speechlessness that many experience, I have nothing to add!

So, now we will go onto Assisi in the next the footsteps of St. Francis.......taking a far more personal and spiritually oriented tone..............and away from the more grandiloquent tone of this first "perspective."


Swami Hrimananda

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor

Hi! I've been away nearly three weeks in Europe: two weeks in Italy, visiting Rome and Florence, and then on pilgrimage to the shrines of St. Francis and to the Ananda Center in the Umbrian hills above Assisi (home of St. Francis).

While I would like to share about my trip, I wanted to share briefly about book I read (a birthday present from my daughter and son-in-law): "My Stroke of Insight: a scientist's personal journey" by Jill Bolte Taylor. See

I don't want to take the time for a book review but it contains several aspects of interest for meditators and, indeed, everyone and anyone. Yes, for starters, it's a handbook on the medical aspects of a stroke. One of its great contributions is to help both patients and caregivers to understand how to deal effectively with a stroke. In this contribution you'll find insights on dealing with emotions as well as practical techniques.

Metaphysically, however, Jill uses medical and scientific language to gently approach the sphere of spirituality, prayer, God, and oneness. As the book nears its conclusion, she advances more boldly into these realms, but always keeping some distance. I suppose she doesn't want to offend anyone and I suppose she wants to make it accessible and helpful to (almost) anyone. She does a good job at this, too!

She follows the accepted scientific protocol of assuming the brain produces consciousness, or at least avoiding challenging that assumption! She never really addresses who this "I" is that perceives and records the dramatic effects of her stroke and her recovery. So from the soap box that I stand on, it is less than satisfying but I accept that she has another soap box and it invites to the same platform: we are One!

So, I highly recommend the book for just about anyone. I'm one who finds, unpredictably, a certain flutter of nausea from some medical facts, so for parts of this, I had to pause and return to the book at certain points. I marvel at how anyone could undergo a stroke with such recollectedness and I can't help but wonder how much of the experience was reconstructed, but, no matter, it is a good read from a number of angles, so I highly recommend it.

Blessings to you, and on to our pilgrims' journey: "In the footsteps of St. Francis."

Swami Hrimananda

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How to Pray for Yourself and Others - Part 2

Part 2 – How to Pray for Yourself and Others

What do YOU pray for? A friend recently bemoaned a circumstance where she felt stuck and trapped. I said, "Well, why didn't you ask (for help)?" Her reply was, "Well, I'm not supposed to ask (spiritually speaking, that is)." I said, "Listen, you've proved yourself by a lifetime of dedicated service and self-sacrifice. The help you need is not for you only personally, but for the work you are doing as part of Ananda and part of a team. So, of course, you should ask."

So, what to do? When should we pray for help for ourselves and when, not? This is clearly very personal. There is no one or right answer. Yogananda counseled that the highest prayer is to pray for God to come to us and for us to share God's presence with others (I'm paraphrasing a bit.) This includes the prayer of Jesus, "Thy will be done." (Sometimes stated as "Thy will, not my will.")

We should begin each day and each project with a prayer that we be divinely guided in all that we do and say. Swami Kriyananda's formula could be stated another way: pray for those things, material or spiritual, that will help us serve and grow spiritually. Take, for example, a case of ill health......if by becoming healthy again, you can better meditate and serve a divine work, then pray for that (while prefacing your prayer with "Thy will be done.").

This formula works also in respect to purifying and transcending material desires. To use another example: if you have a habit of buying things that you don't really need and if you find it difficult to curtail this habit, then try shopping for others who are in need, or for a spiritual work that you otherwise support. Giving money to an inspired spiritual work is an excellent and karma-transforming way of dissolving karmic blocks around money. And you know something? The best time to be generous is when you have the least to give! Same with illness: that's the best time to think of others (using common sense, of course). When the body and ego is most inclined to withdraw into fear or suffering THAT'S the best time to affirm a larger reality. By that affirmation (which is, itself, a kind of prayer), your expanding sympathies and awareness can magnetically draw to you what you need. Remember Jesus' words: "Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, ....., and all these things shall be added unto you."

Let's say you are out of job. That's the best time to volunteer, to help your family, neighbors, friends, church, school or community. If you are inclined to pray for a job, why not see the fact of having a job in terms of allowing you funds for an annual retreat, or to support a spiritual work, to go on a pilgrimage. Try to expand the horizon of your self-interest to include Self-interest, in other words. Visualize your employment as a means of serving God in others and as an act of devotion. (I believe that the tragedy of homelessness and street beggars is not so much their lack of food and shelter (not difficult to obtain in America, anyway), but the inability (or lack of interest and awareness) in being creatively engaged in serving others.)

How about, then, praying for others? You've perhaps heard it said that "A cure is not a healing." (Or, is it the other way around?) You might pray that your friend be cured of cancer but if the cancer has its roots in some negative behavior pattern, there may be no healing and the cancer may reoccur if the lesson hasn't be learned on a deeper level. (Or, whether the disease reappears or not, the negative pattern may continue.) Put in an opposite form, one sometimes hear of cancer or AIDS "victims" coming to an understanding that, despite their illness being labelled terminal, they feel healed by the opportunity to pay attention to more important things (usually relationships, personal or divine) in their lives. There's nothing like a life-threatening circumstance to put into proper perspective the details of our lives and our self-involved habits of thinking and acting!

When we pray, then, for others we should send the prayer-energy with the thought that the energy itself contains the intelligence to bring about the best results. Don't, in other words, try to "wish for" or visualize specific physical results but send, instead, the intention/energy of your prayer to the higher knowing faculty of that person (their soul, in other words) so that the best and spiritually optimum outcome be the result. Do you see the difference?

As suggested in my recent article on karma (good or bad?), the burden of disease or suffering isn't necessarily "bad" or "good." Our response to it determines whether we respond with faith, hope, and even-mindedness or something less.

It is not my purpose in this article to teach a specific healing prayer technique, but I will share a simplified version of a powerful technique taught by Paramhansa Yogananda. Sit up and calm yourself of any anxious or fearful emotions. Meditate at least a few minutes. Concentrate behind closed eyes by focusing on the "point-between-the-eyebrows" in the forehead: this is the psychic "broadcasting" station of will power and the mind. Visualize the person*** in need (by form, by name, by feeling) at that point. Surround him (her) with radiant light (blue, white, or gold). Rub your palms together briskly creating a sensation of warmth in your hands. Raise your hands facing outward and chanting AUM (aloud, preferably) three times, send the healing vibrations to your friend or loved one. Try to feel that the healing energy is not yours, but enters your body at the base of the brain (medulla oblongata) as a result of your action and intention. Imagine that this healing life force energy (prana) enters there and descends the spine through the arms to the hands and thence outward into the subtle realm of light and thought (astral and causal spheres) directly to your friend's subtle body of light and intelligence.

*** If praying for yourself, visualize the injured or diseased parts as whole and well, or the trait or delusion you wish to transcend in its positive manifestation.....

Returning to prayers for oneself, the highest prayer could also be in the simple form of "Reveal Thyself, reveal Thyself." "Come to me." "I seek Thee that I might share Thee with all."

Do you know the story of the man who presumed upon divine protection when he ignored the shouts of the mahoot (elephant driver) to get out of his way because the elephant was rampaging? He found himself trampled nearly to death! Bruised and bleeding, he prayed and asked God, "What happened? Why didn't you protect me?" The Lord answered saying, "I tried to warn you through the shouts of the mahoot! Why didn't you listen?"

Like my friend, therefore, see God in your life's circumstances, friends, enemies, and loved ones. God can speak and guide you in many ways but until we learn to "listen" to His voice through others, we shouldn't presume that He will speak to us directly. It is OK to ask for help, but do so with a childlike expectation that He listens and will come to your aid. Also, however, ask with the willingness to accept what God sends to you, understanding that perhaps that help will come to you in some unexpected form. Do what you can to improve your health, life, and circumstances in ways that are reasonable and appropriate, but accept, in any case, your troubles, trials and difficulties with equanimity and faith in the ultimate goodness of God coming to you through life's adventures.


Swami Hrimananda