Saturday, September 17, 2016

Joy or Sorrow? Cup half full, or, half empty? Eeyore or Tigger?

This evening we celebrate the Harvest (both moon and equinox) at Ananda in Bothell, WA. It's a popular and celebratory event led, this year, by the staff of Ananda Farms on Camano Island.

Tomorrow's Sunday Service theme revolves around intellect vs intuition. It has often been said that "There are two kinds of people in this world...." For those of us with a bent toward "eastern philosophy" and its doctrine of duality, we find this common dichotomy fairly useful, even if sometimes humorous and generally superficial. Such, then is the "half empty or half full cup" of life.

There are the Eeyore's of the world (the somewhat melancholy and doubtful donkey from the tales of Winnie the Pooh) and there are the Tiggers (the unfailingly bouncy, optimistic "tiger" in the same series).

We are often asked which are we? Which do we aspire to be? (One does imagine there are some other choices, but, well, never mind!)

But life, like you and I, are unendingly a mixed bag: both within our moods and consciousness, and, in the circumstances that befall us. We can no more banish sorrow than we can manufacture happiness by affirmation alone. Rather, the question becomes at what latitude do we normally live: at the frozen poles, the temperate zone, or the equator?

The great sage Patanjali, author of the "Yoga Sutras," the "bible" of meditation and higher consciousness, defined the state of yoga (unbroken joyful contentment and God-realization) as the result of a permanent state of being which is unaffected by the flux of nature and the flow of opposites (whether sensory or mental).

In medieval times, the cup was half-empty. The emphasis toward this state (whether in eastern or western philosophy) was on endurance; fortitude; forbearance; self-discipline; and faith. These were the means to overcome the exigencies of the flux of nature and life.

I have long been deeply inspired by a 20th century mystic who embodied the "path of the cross" so beautifully: Padre Pio. (A friend gave me a book on his life, though I have many times studied Padre Pio's life.) Having been raised a devout Catholic during the '50's, this "path" is familiar to me and not entirely off-putting. The cross of suffering that he accepted, he accepted with calm acceptance and joy. His sense of humor was delightful. His guru, Jesus Christ, enabled and epitomized this stoic path of even-mindedness amidst pain and suffering long ago for the benefit of the West. While Jesus is depicted historically as a "man of sorrows" how could he have attracted hundreds if not with what we all want: joy? Nonetheless, the path of the cross is a true path. 

"For us now the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy." These words from the Festival of Light ceremony which we conduct every Sunday,  in turn, reveal the new dispensation of truth that has dawned upon humanity at the beginning of a new age of awareness. The Festival of Light continues saying, "Thus may we understand that pain is the fruit of self-love, whereas joy is the fruit of love for God."

It is the ego that experiences physical pain, or the pangs of self-mortification and discipline. "The ego hates to meditate; the soul loves to meditate," taught Paramhansa Yogananda (author of "Autobiography of a Yogi"). Yogananda taught that Jesus' suffering on the cross, for example, was not for himself but for the ignorance and suffering of those who rejected him. That he experienced a moment of the "dark night of the soul" when divine consciousness fled from him on the cross shows not his spiritual weakness but the final exam each soul must face before the resurrection of his soul's realization that "I and my Father are One." He demonstrated this test for those who would follow him and take up their cross.

Yogananda stated that he came to proclaim this new dispensation of greater understanding. No longer does endurance and rock-like faith alone characterize spirituality in this age; no longer does that "way" inspire true devotees. Instead, the joy of seeking Him and sharing Him is the "way" for our times.

We Americans and the West are "tiggers:" optimistic; upbeat; eager to overcome obstacles that a better way of life might be found. "Eventually, eventually? Why not NOW?" This was how Yogananda delightfully described the American culture which he so admired.

But both "ways" are valid and true; each must be balanced and embraced. In the life of Swami Kriyananda, we see the joy of his soul overcoming tremendous obstacles such as physical pain and suffering, persecution, misunderstanding, financial hurdles and restrictions, and the obstinacy, ignorance and unwillingness of some who professed to support his public work and serve with him. Despite enormous challenges, Swamiji's productivity spiritually and creativity would have been the work of four Swami Kriyanandas in most people. Spiritually he helped inspire and uplift countless souls; creatively he authored many books, a new genre of music, and a worldwide network of intentional communities.

He explained to us that although Yogananda was known publicly as charming, magnetic, loving and a charistmatic spiritual teacher, to his close disciples he emphasized both attunement and the necessity to "carry one's cross." He himself took onto his body physical suffering for the sake of his disciples' karma saying that "astral entities" (Padre Pio might say, "devils" or "demons") were attacking him. He pointed out that the agony of the cross lasted three hours but that his own (and others') suffering lasted much longer.

Swami Kriyananda, thus, too carried many crosses throughout his lifetime. Yet, the grace of divine attunement to God and gurus manifested as light and joy, even-mindedness and energy, that outshone the darkness of challenges. To give birth to Ananda worldwide, he performed years of "tapasya": the redemptive and creative power of accepting suffering with faith and equanimity.

My "zen" way of putting this goes like this: "You can't get out alive!" Meaning: to achieve Self-realization, the ego must die. What seems like "death" to the ego is nothing more than the alchemy of transformation. In God, nothing really dies or is lost. (How can infinity exclude anything?) But we are made to believe that by the hypnotic power of the delusion of separateness (one of the definitions of "kundalini") we will "die." This is the final test: the dark night of the soul.

Infinity is BOTH-AND. We must untie the knots of past, bad karma AND find the joy of the soul as the guiding light of action.

Now: raise your cup and drink it to the lees and beyond!

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Happy Anniversary to Swami Kriyananda and to Thousands!

This letter went out on Tuesday, Sep 13 to Ananda Sangha members in the greater Seattle area:

September 12, 1948
James Donald Walters Accepted as Disciple 
By Paramhansa Yogananda

September 12 marked the 68th anniversary of the day young Don Walters, age 22, met his guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, in a tiny reconstructed church in Hollywood, CA. As detailed in his life story The New Path, young “Walter” (as Yogananda addressed him) had taken a bus from New York City to Los Angeles immediately after reading Autobiography of a Yogi (Yogananda’s own life story).

While not having before heard the term “guru” or “karma” or any other yogic term familiar now to millions, Walter (later taking the monastic name Swami Kriyananda) could not have imagined his first words to anyone could be “I want to be your disciple.” (He is not the only one among us who could say something similar!)

Were it not for a lifetime of intense service, devotion, and meditation, we could not be composing this note to you today. There would be no blue-tiled Meditation Temple in Bothell; no Living Wisdom School in Lynnwood; no Ananda Farm on Camano Island; Ananda Community in Lynnwood, or East West Bookshop in Seattle; or Living Wisdom Thrift & Gift in Shoreline. (Nor would there be nine residential communities on three continents and innumerable meditation groups and centers and members, nor so much more I cannot take the time to list them all.

The rock of Swamiji’s discipleship thrown into the great pond of human consciousness in the last sixty-eight years has rippled outward and into the hearts and souls of countless thousands. We are deeply grateful not only for his writings, music, and his founding of what has become nine communities worldwide and countless other undertakings, but for the example of how to overcome difficulties; how to return kindness and love for anger and vilification; how to be creative with divine attunement and without attachment; how to be a true and faithful disciple serving the guru’s work against incredible obstacles; and, last but by no means least, how to be a true friend.

This year we will honor the recognition of Swamiji’s discipleship anniversary at the next Sunday Service and we are honoring the occasion and his life in our hearts, especially.

Swami never claimed to be anything but our friend, one blessed by his time and training with Yogananda who was a world teacher and Avatar. 

Whatever guidance Swamiji offered, we were free to accept or reject. We could leave anytime, or we could stay and serve with him. If we disappointed him, we were not likely to hear about it. If we were sincerely open to his training, he would offer it but tentatively. He made no demands and had no expectations while yet he saw through our forms to the shining soul within. “Good morning, Great Souls!” he would say with smiling eyes!

We miss him, yes, but we feel him with us in our service; our meditation; our yearning for God and for truth. If you’ve not known him but have met us and been to some degree a part of Ananda, then to that degree you have met him. “The fruit falls not far from the tree.” It is our sincere hope and effort to be loyal and faithful to the work he has founded in the name of our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda!

Happy Anniversary to Us All!  
Nayaswamis Hriman and Padma

For a 15 minute anniversary message from Ananda's (worldwide) Spiritual Directors go to:

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Am I spiritual?

What does it mean to be spiritual? This question is similar to the one that asks, "What is good art?

As open ended as such questions are, it doesn't mean there's no answer that is helpful.

When speaking about atheists, agnostics, or stoics, we can say that being spiritual (for them) is having good "spirit".... being compassionate, kind, loving, having high ideals, personal integrity, energetic and creative, cooperative, and so on.

But neither can we deny the ordinary meaning of the term ("spiritual") nor especially its true and deeper meanings. For, virtue alone is not enough. It has been well said that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Good deeds create good karma, but good karma accrues to the ego which is ever unreliable because its most basic instincts are self-protection and self-assertion in the face of life's inevitable tests and trials. Eventually good karma simply gets used up and you either succumb in the other direction or at least start all over again. Ultimately, no matter how successful or happy in human terms a person becomes (and how few do), it will never be enough. "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee," St. Augustine warns us.

Divine consciousness is not simply earned by will power alone, but is won by devotional and conscious self-offering. Why is this? Because superconsciousness is MORE aware than the conscious or subconscious mind; it is by definition transcendent of ego consciousness. One doesn't slide into higher consciousness by actions initiated solely by the will of ego alone. At some point, influenced by the higher spiritual vibrations of saintly souls, high spiritual teachings and true and sincere spiritual teachers, our soul is touched and inspired to seek "the pearl of great price: God alone!"

Reality is infinite: whether in time or space or in consciousness itself. Thus, the ultimate spirituality is to seek attunement and immersion into Infinity itself. This requires recognition of the inadequacy of ego and, ultimately (at least), a supreme act of what appears, to the ego, to be self-annihilation but which in fact is Self-expansion towards bliss. The ego rebels and is frightened and wary; but the soul thrills at the prospect. In God who is Infinite, how can anything be lost? What else is infinity if not every-thing, material, immaterial, or conscious. Described millennia ago, this state, which is called many things and no-thing, including God, is "Satchidanandam," ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss.

Love of God is paramount and is therefore both the alpha and omega (beginning and end) of true spirituality. This simply cannot be denied. The steps toward perfecting this love is what Jesus meant, and he pulled "no punches," when he "be thou perfect, even as your Father, who is in heaven, is perfect!" (Why? Because in our souls we are already perfect but haven't realized this fully.)

Most ordinary, Sunday-going religionists obey the rules; go to church; try to be good and honest and all the things which in the yoga teachings comprise the most outward aspects of the first stages of spirituality called yama and niyama (do's and don'ts). I don't mock these for all of us must learn these lessons. They are the foundation stones, the house, of spirituality. Paramhansa Yogananda called the church the "hive" and the living experience of God's presence the "honey." He said BOTH are needed.

"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" Jesus chided his critics. The Jews of his time, like so many at all times, need to work from the outside in and can, at first, only see the outer trappings, the husk but not the kernel of religion. Obedience to rules is a good start but is secondary. Performance of rites and rituals or attendance at church, similarly, is also secondary but woe to he who thinks he is above this. Time proves all. If self-sacrifice and devotional self-offering is the ultimate price, you'd better start right now and if for you, child of Spirit that you still are, need to demonstrate that by going to church on Sunday to show that you are willing to give your all to the quest for Self-realization, then so be it! Do it, however, with Joy or you will gain nothing!

Study of and knowledge of scripture, though helpful, is also not the essence of spirituality. Yogananda's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, said of such (pundits and theologians), "They smell unduly of the lamp (kerosene)." A finely honed definition is not a substitute for superconsciousness. On the other hand, quoting Yogananda, "Stupid people will never find God (until their brains mature)." In my book, this includes dogmatic people. Study of spiritual teachings should bring one to a universal view of all life and all sincere striving. Love and kind acceptance are the fruit of true wisdom inclining as it must toward superconsciousness.

Selfless service is perhaps the most important because high thoughts and devotional feelings must be purified in the white-hot crucible of direct but selfless, ego-transcendent action. Even prayer and meditation are but (refined) action. Both true devotion and true contemplation find fulfillment in silent, inner communion. Action without personal desire, serving God with devotion and true understanding within and without in the fulfillment of one's rightful duties in life, are the surest path to God.

One could therefore say that spirituality is directional. Here, below, I offer a more or less random description of typical stages of spiritual growth. Such are necessarily suggestive of the precept of reincarnation:

1.  Virtuous behavior, moral integrity, and right living are the foundation
2.  Belief or, better, intuitive awareness of God or a higher power.
3.  Study and practice of religion and religious attitudes.
4.  Adherence to religious discipline.
5.  Increasing holiness, self-sacrifice, calmness, joy, and peace.
6.  Prayer and meditation with increasingly deeper inner experiences of superconsciousness
7.  Appearance of tangible evidence of sanctity recognized by others.
8.  From here, the stages are internal to one's consciousness, the supreme goal of which is Oneness with God (using whatever terminology is appropriate to one's tradition).

It would be absurd to insist that spirituality must take these stages literally in its unfoldment. Yet, there is a recognizable direction and logic to the steps described above. I do not intend that these steps be rigid or tightly defined. They are merely suggestive of the general idea.

Maybe some day I'll write about "good art," though this isn't my "field." Art as a Hidden Message is a book by my teacher (and founder of Ananda worldwide), Swami Kriyananda, brings clarity to the messy and subjective field of art and art appreciation. Art for art's sake is revealed for the fallacy it is, for art communicates.

Blessings to all, from Camano Island Hermitage,

Swami Hrimananda