Monday, January 4, 2016

How Yogananda Changed My Life!

Tuesday, January 5 is the anniversary of the birth of Paramhansa Yogananda in India in 1893. Ananda centers and communities around the world, and Self-Realization Fellowship centers everywhere will honor the occasion with programs and meditations.

As my friends know (and perhaps are tired of being reminded), I went off to India in 1975 in "Search of Secret India". Though my trip (13 months, 26,000 miles, driving from Europe to and all around India, Sri Lanka and Nepal) was not successful in finding my guru or my specific path of meditation, I was, like Dorothy of Kansas in the Wizard of Oz, rewarded upon my return by meeting my future wife (Padma) who introduced me to both Ananda and Yogananda's now famous "Autobiography of a Yogi" (and, my future spiritual guide, Swami Kriyananda, direct disciple of Yogananda).

My life has been much blessed, spiritually. Born to a family of devout and sincere Catholic parents, I studied 16 years in Catholic schools and universities. I studied for a time for the priesthood until the '60's fervor caught me in a new wave of consciousness that, for me, culminated in the study of what we then called "Eastern religions."

Coming to Ananda in 1977, after its 'famous' forest fire (the apparent cause for how I met Padma, in fact), there was lots to do and opportunities for service were many. At one point there were some forty members living in nearby Nevada City and its twin city, Grass Valley ("city" is a euphemism, for these are small towns) because at Ananda Village new homes had yet to be built and there were even fewer jobs.

So we had meditations and Sunday Services in Nevada City. Right away there was a need for leading meditations, classes and helping to create new businesses (health food store, cafe, gift store, printing business)  and serving as communications and laison with the community that is about half hour's drive out of town.

When I was in 7th and 8th grades, my father got me to give talks at his service clubs, the Serra Club (named after the Franciscan priest, Junipero Serra) and the Knights of Columbus. I don't recall the topics but they were all on religious and social subjects. The Serra Club was dedicated to fostering vocations to the priesthood (etc.). I also don't know what prompted him to assume I should do such things. He never said but the "shoe fit."

So I had early life samskars (karmas) for teaching. As a small child, a young boy, I would constantly give speeches in my mind as I played with my toys or walked to school. It never occurred to me to question this or to consider it perhaps unusual. My keen interest in how anything I saw could be improved still clings to my mental habits even, if slightly, to this day.

I had several intuitions about my future adult life. I knew, for example, that I would have an early marriage and an early divorce, being remarried in my 30's (it turned out to be in my late '20's); I knew that I would be an inspirational or instructional speaker of some sort. Later when I came to Ananda Village and the core members were largely, if not exclusively, monks or nuns, I also knew this was not to be my station in life. While I had no personal desire for children in my second marriage, I had no issue with Padma's desire for children. (I had had a wonderful experience as a teen father of my daughter and found the relationship with her rewarding even if the marriage was counter to my life's directions.)

But most of these 'knowings' faded in the turbulence of high school and the first part of college. Whatever hiatus occurred in my spiritual search, however, it did not last, By my second year in college I had discovered and was thriving upon eastern meditation practices. I was searching however on my own, with a subconscious reluctance to groups, creeds, or gurus.

In fact, in India, my seeming failure to find what I seeking was an innate aversion to the off-the-shelf gurus who looked and dressed the part to a "tee." It struck me then as fake or at least not what I wanted. It was to take a "westernized" guru (meaning approachable, both lovable and wise, familiar with and accepting of our ways) and a western teacher (Kriyananda) to draw me in.

I was drawn to Ramana Maharshi but he had left the body by the time I read about him. Paul Brunton's book, "In Search of Secret India," caught my imagination and guided me to India and to Ramana Maharshi's ashram in southern India.

Like so many (millions, presumably), Paramhansa Yogananda's autobiography was deeply captivating and resonant with wisdom, devotion and a sincerity so tangible that not even the outrageous miracles that suffuse its pages like ink could taint the power of its vibration. I, too, like many (maybe most) simply glossed over things I couldn't draw from my own experience or belief....for later contemplation!

I cannot separate my guru, Yoganandaji, from my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, and his life's work, Ananda. To this day I aver that I would never have been attracted to Self-Realization Fellowship's cult-like, closed culture of monasticism and hierarchical Catholicism, replete with its lack of transparency, distrust of innovation and creativity, and all but absolute lack of opportunity by householders to serve (accept in mechanical ways, or, of course, financially!).  [I suppose my indictment sounds a bit harsh, but even to this day, I am, to quote their leader, Daya Mata's comment to Swami Kriyananda regarding the role of communities in SRF's work, "simply not interested" in their organization, though I have grown, grudgingly to accept, their self-definitions and role in Master's work .... as curators and docents.] Perhaps future generations of devotees in each organization will work together in some ways. I do accept that they have the Master's vibration and blessings; they are sincere; and, are doing the best they can.

My personal, spiritual dharma has been inseparable from Ananda in the opportunities to serve and to gain attunement to the divine work of my guru.

In my early years at Ananda Village I struggled with the power of conviction with which Swami Kriyananda would assess situations, directions and people. Not that he lorded over us; quite the contrary. But in himself, the strength of his words, will power, and opinion challenged. I came to the conclusion that living with an avatar must imbue close disciples with an aura of infallibility and certitude born of the power and vibration of such a soul incarnate!

I went to so far as to conclude that this could make disciples, not yet fully liberated, what to say avatars, a little crazy, even egotistical. This was later born out in the behavior of SRF's leaders towards Swami Kriyananda and Ananda in their lawsuits and well funded efforts to destroy both. Sad story, but not mine to tell.

But Swamiji's disarming transparency, openness and humility, and consistent high-mindedness and modest success in all that he set out to do (against ridiculously overwhelming odds), gradually softened my resistance. I confess now that while his impersonal friendship and genuine interest in my spiritual welfare never wavered, I think my questioning and doubts spoiled for him acceptance and approval of me in the way he did with others. It is one of my life's deepest disappointments. But my wariness of "gurus" (and teachers) was a feature of my search from its very beginnings long ago.

This, I have come to accept, is certainly an important reason I was not born in time to have come to my guru, Yogananda, in the body.

Ironically, or not, the wariness I felt for Kriyananda's certitude is something, to a small degree, I have had to face. Early in my time at Ananda, I think I became labelled something of a "know it all." Young men, especially, have that ego affirming need (born of insecurity). But it's more than that. On some issues I feel I do know, did know, and could feel the truth or rightness of certain directions or actions which my peers or other Ananda leaders seemed unsure about. After we had been assigned (asked) to come to Seattle to lead the work here, a fellow teacher openly accused me (expressing no doubt the prevailing opinion at the time, perhaps even from Swamiji) of wanting to be important: the same charge that essentially got Kriyananda "crucified" by his SRF superiors.

It is the vast scope of Master's teachings--their universality and their power of the transformation of human consciousness at this key time in history--that has always inspired me and drawn me to this work. As a child I was thrilled when, in grammar school, the nuns explained that the word "catholic" meant "universal!" I was born for this and I know it is right for me to serve this work in the role that I have been blessed and privileged to have in these past years.

Ironically, again, at this point in my life, it matters not what role I have. Aspirations and ambitions, if indeed I ever really had "ambitions," mean nothing to me except as I may serve the work. More than this, by far, is that the conviction that attunement to God through my guru is everything. Nothing else matters: health, success, sickness, or failure; the opinion's of others. Not that any of this is shockingly news or didn't exist before. But the roots of this knowing have gradually sunk deeper into my consciousness.

Yogananda has indeed changed my life. Even on the level of delusions that run deeper than any of these things, I have worked and prayed over decades and at times despaired for any progress, but which now, in the "golden years" of life, signs of victory call me to ever greater heights of inner light. 

Swami Kriyananda offered to the world the thought that Paramhansa Yogananda is truly the avatar for this age (of Dwapara Yuga). It's taken me some years but I endorse this thought. I don't care if it's true; truth is more than a fact; truth is beneficial. And this belief, if it must be, at first, a mere affirmation, has the power to help millions. 

Paramhansa Yogananda lived in 20th century in America. He became a citizen here and expressed his admiration for the can-do spirit of America. More than any modern saint or sage I can think of, Yogananda is approachable to everyone, east or west, who is educated, thinks deeply about the world we live in and how to improve it, and yearns for the eternal verities which have so moved devotees down through the ages. He brought to the world Kriya Yoga: the science of mind, consciousness, and feeling. It is for everyone. 

Though it was right that during his life his close disciples offered to him traditional forms of respect and devotion, he, like the avatars who sent him, and like the rishis of old, had no interest in nor cultured the trappings of gurudom that remains prevalent even today in India. Yogananda purposely had a life that, while challenging, yes, but not more so than for any American self-made man, rags to riches like, deemphasized his own spiritual stature.

True, he worked miracles as astonishing as Jesus Christ. But these were quiet and unseen except by a few. In this age of Dwapara, the striving for truth is one of self-actualization, and its spiritual form is that of Self-realization. Self-effort through yoga practice and attitudes is the emphasis. Devotion, yes; grace, for sure. But self-effort is the starting point and the emphasis. 

This writing is already too long and I could go on. Paramhansa Yogananda has indeed changed my life and that of thousands, perhaps millions already. It would be his wish, and a truth that Kriyananda often emphasized, that we place our honor and respect on the basis of universal precepts and upon God as the Doer, not on Yogananda as a person and personality. But, as it is in you and I, these are inextricably linked. We cannot, in truth, separate the message from the messenger. 

When we hear something important we want to know two things: the truth of the statement and who said it. "Who do men say I am," asked Jesus Christ. The question is every bit as important as the teachings. Yet, the answer is not born of personality but of consciousness. 

I bow with gratitude at the feet of my guru and at the feet of my teacher, both gone from this earth in bodily form, but both present for, as Yogananda said it, "For those who think me near, I am near." As Jesus put, "Whenever two or more are gathered in my name, there I AM." 

The willingness to acknowledge the spiritual stature of another person is the first step towards attracting grace through the wisdom of another human being. Reading scriptures is not enough; they can't instruct you personally. Our interpretations of their meaning are fraught with filters of our own.

The willingness to entertain and accept the God-realized stature of a Christ-like saint is the first step towards one's own Self-realization through discipleship.

A "Happy Birthday" to all disciples and admirers of Paramhansa Yogananda. His life and living presence is one of the great "hopes for a better world." God has thrown to humanity a lifeline but who has eyes to see and ears to hear?

May the blessings of the Masters guide our lives with light, wisdom and joy. May we each offer ourselves to that light as instruments of the great work to be done in their name.

Nayaswami Hrimananda

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2016 : A Year of Hope and Opportunity; Chanting is Half the Battle

It is easy to be uneasy about the prospects for 2016. But uncertainty provides an opportunity for assessing one's priorities, and nothing like the New Year for new resolve and intentions!

Making predictions about the future is about the most ill-conceived use of one's time and risk to one's reputation as ever can be conceived. Fortunately, most predictions are soon forgotten and rarely held to account -- a lot like campaign promises, I suppose.

I feel safe in predicting less and less stability in all areas of human activity and life: political, economic, climate, health, technology, and so on. The opportunity in this is to become increasingly self-reliant and, as odd as this may sound, self-reliance includes making connections and commitments with others who are engaged in the same efforts and hold the same goals and ideals as your own.

Government protections will continue to erode, whether in emergencies, security, or in safety net services. But, have no fear because few people will heed warnings; most will simply react to present circumstances and will likely be unprepared or under-prepared. So, like Alfred E. Neuman used to say: "What, me worry?"

Spiritually, there's no one who comes around and makes you pray, meditate, or serve others selflessly. So many well intention-ed meditators therefore imagine they can do that later, when time allows, as they are busy with more immediate concerns. You can spend a lifetime putting things off, and many, if not most, do. (The classic example is preparing one's will and medical directives.)

When I returned from my seclusion during the first week of December I wrote a number of "Ah yes, I remember that! in my blog. One of them is the uselessness of 99% of our random and fleeting thoughts which are forgotten almost as soon as they pass by. 

Instead, I reaffirmed that the best use of my mind when not engaged in the task at hand or the person at hand is to chant and pray inwardly. When I think of the infinite variety of thoughts, activities, social positions, wealth, poverty, and circumstances in which billions of my fellows live, and when I think of all that as but a fraction of infinity, and as infinity as the just one aspect of the nature of God, why should I give my circumstances or my random thoughts so much importance or my thoughts, well, any thought at all?

The vibration (level) of my consciousness is everything. My consciousness and consequent magnetism infuses and empowers my actions and thoughts with appropriate consequences. All else is so much less. The support of the overarching energy and consciousness of which I am but a minuscule part is far more valuable than much of what I can bring to bear using only my ego-centric will power or mere desire. 

So, why not chant and be happy? There is nothing and no one who is not part of the fabric of reality seen or unseen which both manifests and hides the Infinite Spirit at the same time. There's nowhere to hide and nothing to fear. Armed with this veil-piercing realization, even if, at first, it is but fleeting, one's spirit and joy can experience a taste of freedom. 

It is no coincidence that Paramhansa Yogananda counseled that "Chanting is half the battle."

So, if chanting's half the battle, what's the other half? Why, silence, of course. Prayer, chanting, mantra, "japa," and mentally affirming the divine presence all have as their deeper purpose to prepare us to enter the Holy of Holies: inner silence. It is in silence that the voice of God, the presence of God, is experienced.

At first we are likely to have the impersonal experience of soul-satisfying states of awareness such as joy, unconditional love, deep calmness, the inner sounds and divine light. There comes a time in our soul's awakening when God takes human form: whether in vision or in person. But, in the end, God is beyond form and the particulars (whatever form of perfection we strive for, worship, or have experienced up to that point) must melt into the bliss of the Infinite Spirit!

So, when practicing chanting during the day, I always take it toward silence: even moments of silence. In meditation, of course, this is the Holy Grail prerequisite cup from which the true intoxicating "spirits" are to be imbibed.

This, and not success in the long list of my duties or improvement in my attitude or habits, is my New Year's Resolution. Give it some thought or not, but happiness is what we truly seek, whether we get a long or a short life. Or, an easy or difficult one. 

I just happen to know that if I "Seek 'Thee' first, all these (other) things, will be added" and my duties and habits will find completion, success or appropriate resolution with the power of divine help and power.

As Swami Kriyananda's great musical piece, "Life Mantra," affirms: "God is Life; God is Joy; Joy is Life; Joy is God."

Happy New Year friends!

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why We Celebrate Christmas

Tomorrow, Sunday, December 20, 2015, the Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell, WA will host our annual Festive Family Service, replete with the pageantry of the Three Wise Men, shepherds, angels and the Holy Family! Why, then, as kriya yogis, do we celebrate Christmas when so many yoga people and New Thought types eschew traditional religious traditions?

At places like Ananda's East West Bookshop in nearby Seattle, it is common, in fact, likely even the default, that their customers don't bother with traditional the trappings of Christmas, like Christmas trees, carols, or anything of that sort. (I'm guessing, however, that EVERYONE hangs on to the gift-giving! Gee, why's that?)

Ananda's guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, enjoyed and celebrated Christmas with joy and gusto! He'd wait until midnight on Christmas Eve just to go through the halls of his headquarters at Mt. Washington in Los Angeles to happily cry "Merry Christmas!" He shopped throughout the year for little bargains that he stored in a large chest to wrap and give to his close friends and ashram residents. There could be no thought of his merely appeasing his American students. He clearly loved it even as he introduced a new custom: a day of meditation as the "spiritual" Christmas (as distinct from the social one).

In Yogananda's commentary on the life of Jesus, the New and Old Testament, he generally laid aside the temptation to criticize or make claims of tampering with the text. He tended to accept the basic testimony of the scripture and, instead, offered a deeper, sometimes symbolic, often yogic, interpretation. 

He did frequently, however, distinguish the deeper teachings of the Bible from what he humorously called "Churchianity." By this he referred to orthodox religiosity, ritual and dogmatism that encrusts and entombs the spirit behind the revelations of God-realized souls which (later) become accepted as scripture.

His approach was BOTH-AND and life affirming. He didn't take issue with Jesus' miracles nor even the resurrection, though as to Mary's virgin birth, he was largely silent. (He spoke of highly evolved souls capable of conception through non-sexual means, however.)

Yogananda was showing us how to accept traditions that affirm a positive message (like the joy and fellowship of the Christmas spirit, the celebrations, family gatherings, gift-giving to friends and strangers, etc.) while at the same time going deeper to re-affirm the universal message behind them. 

In his ministry and therefore in the work of Ananda, this affirmation includes and is enhanced by the practice of meditation. In his (and our) view, Christmas can and should be celebrated by all those who love God and truth, regardless of other outward beliefs or affiliations.

He was also showing how seeing the One in all doesn't mean we forsake any, specific spiritual path in the name of universality! Every true path expresses universal principles but we cannot achieve enlightenment on the basis of principles alone. We must commit our hearts and hands to the task of purification and selflessness. To do so alone without attuning ourselves to a specific ray of divine light that seeks to uplift us from the self-enclosure of the ego is to wander in the fogs of endless spiritual cul-de-sacs. As he put it, "Your beliefs won't save you." 

Just because people of goodwill respect all traditions and no traditions and are basically good people is NOT enough to achieve soul liberation.

Yogananda did not view Jesus as a founder of a specific religion that distinguishes itself from other religions, and considers itself superior to those religions. Instead, Yogananda taught that Jesus Christ, a true savior and avatar, is but one of many such who are sent back to earth in every age to re-affirm the central message that we are children of the one Father-Mother, Friend-God! 

He taught, further, that Jesus was not a God-made puppet (only begotten son of God) but a soul and individual like you and me. In his case and like other avatars, his soul had achieved its hard-won God-realization in some distant past life but was now "commissioned" to return again and again to help other "lost sheep."

Jesus, Yogananda taught, had received the title "Christ" (Anointed One) because his soul was united with God and with the God-presence in every atom of creation. This indwelling, immanent manifestation of God in all of creation, in every atom and every heart, is called "the Christ" (or, the Krishna). It is this universal "Christ consciousness" that is the "only-begotten" of the Father-Spirit who is otherwise "beyond" and "untouched" by His creation. Not Jesus as a man. Nor yet Krishna as a man; or Buddha, or Yogananda, etc.

Yogananda frequently quoted St. John in the gospel saying, "And as many as received Him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God." We are ALL potential sons of God, for the indwelling Christ presence lives in us as well. We need only to nurture this Christ-light with the uplifting guidance of a Christ-like savior who can help us, too, to become Self-realized.

The story of the birth of Christ, then, is a metaphor for the journey of every soul to God-realization. A wise soul is willing to journey far to find that Christ within. A wise soul follows the star in the east for the "east" is the point of enlightenment in the body: the point between the eyebrows. It is here that one focuses behind closed eyes in prayer and meditation. The Old Testament (and other scriptures) is filled with guidance to "life up your eyes......" A wise person is willing to give all that he is and possesses to the service of this Christ-light within.

Those who would help others are like shepherds tending a flock. A spiritual teacher, minister, rabbi, etc. and, indeed anyone who would help others spiritually, should be unassuming, humble and garbed in the robe of inner peace, content to live in the hills of solitude (meaning not being a worldly, egotistical person), in the nighttime of introspection, in the company of angels and guided by the stars of inner, spiritual intuition.

There's no room at the "Hotel California" of fame, wealth, pleasure and position. Instead, This infant Christ consciousness can only be born in the lowly stable of our quiet and humble heart. Even the lowly domesticated animals of our subconscious habits are pacified and transformed in the presence of this inner Christ.

The evil King Ego served by his loyal (if mindless) subconscious soldiers of ego-protective habit, will stop at nothing to kill this infant. We must flee to places and people of spiritual vibrations, if this child is to live and grow strong. 

Thus "The Greatest Story Ever Told" is the story of the birth of the Christ Consciousness in each and every one of us.

May yours be a happy, and blessed, Christmas!

Swami Hrimananda