Watch the "Finding Happiness" Movie
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While visiting a spiritual community in northern California called Ananda (meaning “Joy”) an investigative journalist armed with a fair amount of skepticism and a dash of curiosity discovers that the key to finding happiness comes from within and that when you change, everything changes.
Friday, November 14, 2014
It just so happens the Ananda center here (near Seattle, WA) is hosting a Gala Fundraising dinner Sunday night (November 16). We are starting a three-year campaign of pledge-raising to service loans for the construction of a building known as the Fellowship Hall. The Hall will be next to the meditation temple and completes the original site plan for the use of the property here.
Our Sangha (or "fellowship" or "congregation") here in the greater Seattle and Washington state area has long been an active, creative, and forward thinking group. I think this must reflect a characteristic common to the northwest: self-initiative for the good of all. Both the Temple (which opened in December 2006) and, next year, the Fellowship Hall are tangible, practical expressions of our members active and generous "giving." If we were to count our membership for and by itself, we do not need these buildings for our own purposes. They are a gift to untold numbers yet to be blessed and inspired.
Reflecting, as indeed one does and should this time of year, upon the many reasons to be thankful, let us also reflect how we can be "giving." Gratitude without giving back is like offering sympathy from a safe distance (and taking no action). And if there's one thing our planet needs, it is an attitude of giving back, rather than taking or feeling a sense of entitlement.
One of the great currents of consciousness on our planet is the slowly growing realization that all life is interdependent and we can live and prosper best if we think and act for the good of all. Voluntary cooperation -- creative and intelligent -- for a greater good allocates resources far better than Adam Smith's narrowly defined self-interest. Self-interest is expansive when it goes outward to include the well-being of others and it is contractive when it is limited to oneself, or stops at a predefined boundary such as one's family ("Us four and no more"), tribe or group.
Much of the twentieth century saw the involuntary imposition of "giving" and sharing in the form of communism. Nothing imposed upon others against their will can be said to be "giving."
I admit that some days when I survey the headlines from around the world I can get discouraged, but that's not really the big picture. How could it be, what with the extensive travel, education, and admixture of cultures in every city and country in the world?
It is grim, admittedly to consider this, but I am certain that if you were to graph the numbers of people, military and civilian, who have died during the twentieth century in and around wars, purges, pogroms, pandemics, famines, and genocide, we would see a decline in those grisly statistics as the twentieth century progressed and has moved into the twenty-first century. (That's not to say that trend is unalterable and permanent, but, for now, at least, it's in the right direction. I strongly suspect our planet will have to suffer much, much more before the tide towards peace and cooperation turns strongly enough to remain for a very long time.)
It's the "giving" part of Thanks-Giving that I am thinking about. I live in the Ananda Community near Seattle, WA and our community is part of a worldwide network of intentional communities with a supportive and interconnected web of businesses, services and organizations. To create this from nothing has taken the efforts and resources of thousands of dedicated people for whom narrow self-interest has been sublimated into a greater cause. The result is a bunch of joyful and creative people -- not just here in Seattle, but all over the world! Our first movie, in fact, is called Finding Happiness! (see the masthead for this blog)
Americans are a practical people. Ananda has never been funded or endowed and we've had to learn to be practical at the grass roots where real people have to work together to create and sustain themselves and our services to the public. Paramhansa Yogananda, the twentieth century spiritual leader and author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," counseled Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, to "make your ideals practical." That counsel and that necessity has been integral to our experiences in America, in Europe and, more recently, in India.
One who receives a precious gift and says only "Thank you," but does not otherwise reciprocate in some meaningful form dilutes the meaning of the gift. (Of course, a precious gift should only be given in appropriate circumstances!) Nonetheless, let's not just give thanks alone but give to an ideal and cause greater than our own in practical ways of time, money, creativity and harmony! Gratitude is an appropriate and necessary beginning to the awakening of consciousness and recognition of our connection with others. It should ignite, however, the desire to give in return!
This world, sorely pressed as it is, by plagues, natural disasters, war, hunger, homelessness, violence, abuse and injustice, sorely needs Givers to spread the message of our Oneness in God: the message of Self-realization. Wish us "well" in our building of the Fellowship Hall, too!
Thanks for reading.....
Monday, November 3, 2014
Living in a spiritual community as I have most of my adult life and teaching mediation and yogic philosophy as I do, and being a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda as I am, you'd expect that I would reflect the upbeat, positive, life-affirming, joyful qualities that Yogananda, and my teacher (founder of Ananda), Swami Kriyananda, and, indeed as Ananda members worldwide do. And, yes I do.
Early in my life, as a college student of the 60's studying comparative religions in "smoke-filled" rooms, I was attracted, at first, to the dour existentialists and the stone-faced Buddhists. But, at such a young age, with a life before me, it wasn't fitting or even easy to continually wear the forlorn long face of the stoics. The shoe simply did not fit, future "Downer Dad" notwithstanding.
It wasn't long, then before I turned, to India: to its color, its chaos, its cacophony, to its exuberant embrace of life. My heart needed something more than "chop wood, carry water." But, at first, I was suspicious of all this joy. Isn't joy, I asked, merely the opposite of sadness? In affirming joy, would I not condemn myself to its dual?
In time, and after encountering Yogananda's now famous story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," and becoming a student of Swami Kriyananda (a direct disciple of Yogananda) and experiencing the infectious joy each, and so many other Ananda members, exuded, I gradually relaxed into the understanding and the actual experience of joy as a non-dual state of consciousness! "Joy is Within You," is the slogan of Ananda!
But even this nearly insufferable up-beat-ness (:-) could not so easily erase episodes of that existential dread or anxiety born of ego consciousness. My "Yes, but........." would always, has always, tempered my view of things lest on wings of hope I fly too close to the sun that I have not yet fully realized.
Well, getting back to my intention, and, in fact, as Yogananda and Kriyananda have also taught, virtue is not sufficient to find God. Virtue is a stepping stone. Is not the energetic enforcer of the law more likely, in a former life, a criminal now making good his past misdeeds? Virtue results from the use of will power applied by the ego toward goodness. This effort is right and true and just.
But how many churches and humanitarian organizations are infested by do-gooders? Oh, yes, without them the good deeds wouldn't happen: I know THAT! Why, then, do I say "infested." Because what comes with good deeds and their doers is just that: the doers! The sense of doership: the "I" principle is, for most, inextricably tied up with the doing of good. Admittedly, it's a step up from evil and from indifference or selfishness. But doing good deeds are, for most people, still born of ego. Nonetheless, good deeds are necessary to expunge one's past bad karma.
But good deeds do not necessarily derive from superconsciousness. In fact, their own, innate "evil" is the reinforcement of ego. "I am doing good." The pitfall that awaits do-gooders is judgement of their fellows. If I am working hard, I will hardly fail to notice that you are a slacker. If I am meditating three hours a day, I will certainly be sure to notice that rest of the devotees around me are NOT! Thus it is, that a judgmental attitude rises up among do-gooders. The habit of being judgmental is what "infests" religion and humanitarian efforts, and, in fact, every group of human activity.
A true devotee knows that his highest duty is to realize that God, not ego, is the Doer. We strive to be mindful of the divine presence within. The light of wisdom that radiates from this inner awareness shows us the divine light in all other beings, creatures and circumstances. Whereas many a do-gooder meddles in everyone else's business, mentally, verbally, or otherwise....in the name of doing good......a true devotee remains centered within. Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita that to "do" someone else's dharma is to fail, even when doing one's own dharma is difficult, unpleasant or we are not yet successful. Uplifting our consciousness is our sole duty in life.
When our consciousness is uplifted, the good we do comes naturally and without expectation or judgment. It is a gift of the soul. It is guided by wisdom and by love.
Shifting the subject, then, and at the risk of seeming in self-defense, someone commented recently that many who work with me and for whom I am supposed to give guidance have experienced my "directness." Our subject was how to be a supportive leader. The question was whether being supportive always meant being "nice" and talking things out in a reasonable and understanding manner. Who would question the value of that? The laudable trend of conflict resolution through respectful interchange and the seeking of mutual understanding for differing points of view is essential. This is wonderful and an invaluable tool in group dynamics.
But among true devotees, bent upon achieving God-realization through superconsciousness, and living by intuitive, inner guidance, we sometimes act in ways that, to the ego, may be abrupt or unwelcome. A self-defensive insistence upon respect can also be, for the devotee, a smokescreen for ego protection. Many a spiritual teacher, enlightened or not, wisely or unwisely, have been known to give a psychic blow to the student's ego. In today's psychological, ego protective culture, the seemingly harsh training given by gurus in former times would be labelled abuse! (And, no doubt, it must have been in some instances.)
My teacher sometimes took advantage of (what turned out later to be) inaccurate accusations against a student to upbraid or correct a student without making any effort to hear other points of view. Unfair? Yes, apparently! An opportunity to develop ego-detachment and dissolve ego-defensive impulses? Absolutely! I've witnessed fellow students receiving such a corrective from him and, yet, whether immediately or upon reflection, expressing gratitude for having learned an important lesson from one whom they viewed as their best friend. I'm not describing wimps but people of will power and intelligence. (A "wimp" wouldn't attract a valuable lesson so directly nor would handle it so wisely.) Such instances were testimonies to the greatness of each of them.
Any such correction to another ought to be arising from a calm, inner detachment free from likes or dislikes. A perfect world, this is not. A perfect opportunity, it might be: for both! To rephrase Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, "One cannot achieve spiritual victory be refraining from action." This may seem self-justification and it might seem risky behavior, spiritually. I agree. In my own life, if I have dispensed it, it has been infrequent and it has always been sincere. More often, my emotions have not been involved, but sometimes they have been, but always under some degree of self-control and awareness. Almost always the circumstances arose that allowed me to say something that has waited for a long time to be said. Perfect? Wise? Effective? Well, sometimes, at least!
(Is this not, in fact, the duty and obligation of parents, and not just supervisors and leaders? A parent is often compelled to correct a child under circumstances where his or her own emotions are involved. The correction will be increasingly effective as those emotions are dissolved by wisdom and a foundation of love and deep respect. But sometimes, whether towards a child or an adult, "tough love" demands a display of urgency and intensity .... though best rendered with self-control and conscious intention.)
The downer side is that most people will long remember words of censure from another. The ego holds tightly its hurts. There have been times I had to be willing to sacrifice the goodwill of a person, perhaps lifelong, by rendering a correction to him that circumstances demanded. Or, to risk the support of others by taking a strong position. But leadership is not a popularity contest: whether in the spiritual or material realm. Making errors in judgment should be assumed but responsibility too often demands timely action and gives not the luxury of inaction. The spiritual path is not for sissies. As it is, and for all of us, on the spiritual path or not, the world dishes out plenty of censure, hard knocks and more. That isn't the issue. It is always a question of our response to life: faith, hope and charity; or, self-justification, revenge, and anger?
Do good; be good; but reach upward beyond goodness. The ego's progressive steps from unawareness, indifference, and evil, and finally to good can only be ultimately resolved in God alone; in Oneness; in superconsciousness. This is why and how meditation can powerfully accelerate our freedom in God. Kriya Yoga and similar advanced techniques can more rapidly dissolve the knots of doership inherent in both good and evil.
In prayer, meditation and right action, strip away the bark of ego, that the Tree of Life might grow taller and ever more beautiful. If we give to God our failures, He will take them. To those who come to God with love and self-offering, He promises that "I will make good your deficiencies and render permanent your gains" (words of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.)