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Finding Happiness

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.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Did Jesus Die for our Sins?

Forgive me my own, instinctive reply: if He did, I hadn't sinned yet. And, besides, I've done my share without a lot of interference from Him! ha, ha, for me.........and now, for a more serious treatment:

We are taught that the Fall of Adam and Eve made it necessary for God to send his only begotten son to redeem us. That God's supreme act of "so loving the world that God sends his only-begotten" is part of the covenant between God and man. And, that, as in sacrifices since ancient times from around the world, Jesus is the "Lamb" of God being sacrificed on the altar of redemption and forgiveness.

As my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, used to quip (on this subject): "It may well be that Jesus died for our sins, but there's sure been a 'whole lot of sinnin' ever since.

As a yogi, I am taught (as my guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, affirmed from his tradition) that the guru can take on the "karma" (i.e. the sins) of a disciple. Presumably not ALL the karma, but enough to speed up the salvation (aka moksha, or liberation) of the disciple. Saints down through the ages have shown that they can take on the karma in physical ways upon their own bodies. Swami Kriyananda stated that this gurus do often towards the end of their lives (I suppose for obvious reasons: to clean things up before they go).

In the Old Testament, Elijah, at the end of his life, gave the mantle of his spiritual power to his disciple, Elisha, who requested it. Paramhansa Yogananda, upon meeting his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, asked that he be given the power to know God. There "ensued," his autobiography stated, an hour long (silent) tussle because the word of a guru is "law" and armed with the power to bestow the cosmic vision, the guru must first seek divine benediction.

So, as a yogi, I have no essential issue with the general idea that "Jesus died for our sins." I have no doubt that Jesus took on the karma of his disciples by doing so. He gave an example to all time on how to deal with spiritual tests of every kind: with acceptance of God's will, with love for whomever might deliver the unpleasant opportunity, with equanimity, and with faith and divine attunement unto death. His greatest miracle was to "forgive them for they know not what they do."

Jesus' resurrection is the symbolic victory our souls experience when we meet our tests with these same right attitudes. For therein, the power of our innate soul-divinity is raised from its slumber and bit by bit we grow and wax strong in Spirit.

But: "the sins of, like, the WHOLE WORLD?" Ah, c'mon now! That's a stretch, ain't it? Indeed!

Swami Kriyananda, quoting Paramhansa Yogananda from whom he was taught in person, said that the difference between an "ordinary" saint (even a jivan mukta: one is liberated but not yet totally free from past karma) and a savior (an avatar), is that the avatar has the spiritual power to liberate many souls, not just a handful of close disciples.

Thus we see, over two thousand years disciples of Jesus who are truly great saints: St. Francis, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Anthony of the Desert, and in modern times, Padre Pio and Therese Neumann. An avatar, whether by later centuries long since reincarnated, remains eternally accessible to true devotees through the Infinite Consciousness of God (the Eternal Now) and can even be materialized into flesh and blood form by the devotee's devotion.

But, again: the WHOLE WORLD? No! Disciples........true disciples (not pledge card membership ones, merely)....YES, some at least!

Let's back up into the realm of metaphysics now, before we leave you. "Adam and Eve" represent not only the "first humans" created by God but our own initial incarnation as pure souls, made in the image of God. Their choice has also been ours: time and again; lifetime after lifetime.

The echo of this initial stage of our existence is the innocence of childhood in which the "fruit" (consciousness) of the tree of good and evil (i.e., duality -- esp. our ego consciousness which recognizes the eternal competition between male & female principles and archetypes)--has yet to be "eaten" (absorbed into our attitudes and view of life).

The Redeemer is our soul's innate divinity. It is reawakened by the guru (including the teachings of the guru which may take an initial form in the teachings of religion). When that memory of our soul's purity is stimulated and nurtured by us, the inner light of the soul is born in the dark manger of the cold night of prayer, meditation and withdrawal from ego-active desires and ambitions.

This innate soul divinity "takes on the sins" of our world, our past karma. Though crucified by the tests and trials necessary for our purification, the soul accepts all as from God for its own awakening. In this stage, and as our soul longs for and attunes to God through the guru (Jesus, Buddha, Yogananda, etc.), the guru renders inner guidance and help. To what extend the guru "takes on our karma," cannot be easily known. The very fact that an avatar, free from all karma, comes again and again into human form, experiencing the burdens of human life and taking on the path of awakening, to some degree, each time, is sufficiently good karma (not needed for the guru's own soul) for many guru-attuned souls. The very fact that a true guru gives a teaching, techniques and models an ideal life, is also an investment into the Good Karma Bank that the disciples can cash their Karmic Checks upon.

But make no mistake: there's no free ride! The depth, the intensity, the intelligence, and the sincerity of our efforts is what attracts this grace: the guru's power--the guru's mantle!

Remember: in God all are equal; we are One! Thus the reality of our separateness is evanescent. We did not create this world of maya (delusion and satan). It is no surprise therefore that as God's power created this cosmos, it is God's power that redeems us. And this is "the good news." We may have made badly informed choices over many lifetimes but the error is not completely ours alone! The dice of creation are, however, loaded with God consciousness.

This is an aspect of why devotion to God is the key. Our devotion draws the succor, the help of God in human form, to which we can relate from our own human form. And though God is an Infinite Power and not essentially anthropomorphic, He has created us and is, indeed, our very essence. We must ascend from where we are: bound by ego consciousness. Thus, God in seemingly human, egoic form, comes to help us unmask our soul's eternal and non-egoic nature.

The indwelling presence of God in creation is what is referred to as the "only begotten son of God." On the one hand, the realization of this aspect of God (the Son, of the Trinity) is crucified by our ignorance over many lives, on the other hand, it is our irrepressible soul-Spirit that takes on, with assistance from God in the form of the guru, this past karma and works it out in order to shed the self-limiting but essentially insubstantial ego. Twice-born and twice crucified, you might say! It all balances to the Cosmic Zero of God!

This, then, is the Good News! God, through the guru, is our Redeemer and has been born both in outward human form time and time again and, then, by our acceptance, in His second coming: in our hearts.

Happy Christmas: may the Christ within you be born again and again, be nurtured and grow to maturity, in the silent, still manger of daily meditation and devotion.

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Why Do We Celebrate Christmas at Ananda?

Paramhansa Yogananda, author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," is the source of inspiration and yoga teachings for the Ananda communities, centers and groups around the world. Why, then, is Christmas, and indeed the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, such an integral part of Ananda?

Generally (though more so in western countries than in India), you will find that at Ananda during the Christmas season there are nativity scenes, the Three Wise Men, gift giving, celebrations, and the adoration of the Christ child. Why did Yogananda himself make a special point of celebrating Christmas, not just spiritually, but socially? 

There are a number of reasons. They include:
  •     A special relationship exists between Yogananda, Jesus and the three “wise men”
  •        A new dispensation of universal understanding has come to reconcile east and west
  •        A new understanding of the divinity of Christ is needed
  •        The time has come to affirm the Christ-potential of all people
  •        True communion is “inner” communion through meditation
  •        The “second coming of Christ” is personal and individual, not historical

Here are some thoughts and facts to share:

  1. Yogananda stated that the three wise men were none other than his guru-preceptors: Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Sri Yukteswar (in former incarnations). 
  2. He taught that the term "second coming of Christ" refers to the teaching and to the individual, personal realization (however slight or only intellectual, at first) that divinity is within each person, indeed, each atom of creation. (This is an extension of the Vedic teaching that in creating the world, God manifested it through "his" own consciousness, for there was no "thing" or no objects with which to "use" to create anything!")
  3.  "Christ" was not Jesus' name. It is a title. So, too, "Krishna." Indeed, the two words are linked etymologically. Each refers to the fact that these souls, and others, have fully realized their innate and eternal divinity and oneness with the "Father," the Infinite Spirit beyond and untouched by his consciousness manifesting the creation.
  4. Yogananda averred that Jesus himself, as a unique and individual soul, came to Babaji (the peerless master of the east) and asked him to anoint and send a "savior" to the West to re-ignite the teaching and how-to knowledge that divinity is "within you." This would be transmitted through the art and science of meditation: especially the advanced and nonsectarian technique of Kriya Yoga.
  5. Yogananda affirmed the Christian teaching of the Trinity: the three-fold manifestation of God and said it is the same teaching as expressed in India as "Tat...Sat....Aum." God, the Father, beyond and untouched by creation; God, the son, the "only begotten of the Father," reflected in each atom of creation and fully awakened in the greatest saints and avatars**; and the creation itself, in constant motion, or vibration, the primordial level of which is the "Holy Ghost" or Divine Mother in whose womb, hidden from casual view, resides the seed of intention and intelligence implanted by the "Father" to carry out the purpose of creation: Self-realization!

Christmas, then, is, for us at Ananda, an affirmation and celebration of our oneness as children of God. Our devotion to Jesus Christ rests upon our recognition of his realization of his soul’s innate divinity and of our own potential for Self-realization. It is with joy, then, and fellowship that we affirm and celebrate our own Christ-like potential: God’s promise to us of our immortality in Him.

As Swami Kriyananda, Ananda's founder taught us to say: "Happy Christmas"

Swami Hrimananda

** Yogananda uses the term "Christ consciousness" to express the "Tat" of the Vedas. Others might say "Krishna consciousness". It is universal and eternal and in every atom.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Interstellar Movie: The Search for Singularity! Is God in a Black Hole?

Tomorrow is America's Thanksgiving Day: the only truly American holiday. (Sure, 4th of July, but many countries have a version of independence day.) And for me, I leave for a week's retreat (personal seclusion) the day AFTER Thanksgiving. I've cleared my desk and am ready to "party with God in silence!"

I've seen Interstellar (the movie) twice, now. Very unusual for me. I couldn't quite figure out what the script meant by "singularity." It finally dawned on me, just the other day. And, even if what dawned on me isn't total square on track with science, I don't really care because what dawned wasn't about science in my view. (So, don't bother to write-in and try to explain to me. Well, ok, go ahead, write in if you think it might help me!)

In the movie, Interstellar, a black hole held the secret "singularity" that might solve the problem of how to defy gravity and lift all of the human race off our dying planet. My "aha" moment in this respect was to equate this "singularity" with the non-dual state of consciousness. Let me explain:

In science and in philosophy, there's lots of idle, speculative, studied, heated or jocular debate about what happened a nanosecond before the BIG BANG that began the universe. I'm out on a limb built of ignorance here, but, for me, the implication and the term singularity is a shorthand way of suggesting that the dual state of the cosmos had its origins in a singular state of nonduality JUST before the BANG went KABOOM. By "dual state of the comos" I mean the electrical properties of polarity (and yes, the neutral state of certain particles exists, too) found in all particles that underlie matter and finer electrical forces. "Non-dual" is code language (to meta-physicians) for God: the First Cause.

In the movie, the protagonist survives falling into a black hole (at least I think that's what happened). It was reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey and its mind-blowing segment. The hero ends up in some time-space warp where he can access the past and interact with it. Anyway, this singularity is presumably what unites time-space into one continuous state, including, of course, its endless possibilities (resulting from being able to interact with present, past, and future).

The script concludes that there's no "THEM" guiding humanity's fate; there's only US! Not exactly theism, mind you, but this state of singularity suggests to my mind a scientific kind of God-state. (My projection, entirely, however.) The script doesn't explain how the worm-hole in space got there for them to go quickly into other star systems. But these sci-fi scripts are full of "worm holes" where credulity is suspended. So I figure I can play loose and fast with its metaphysical implications.

Again, at the risk of displaying my "private parts" of complete scientific ignorance, I suppose one aspect of a fascination with black holes is precisely the implication that the center of such a thing may indeed bear some relationship with the cosmic singularity that preceded the creation. A black hole is, I suppose, the opposite of the BIG BANG, for it represents the BIG CRUNCH in which matter and energy re-congeal into near-Oneness! A good symbol, then, for God, for those of us who are God-minded (maybe scientifically feeble-minded, too).

In my simple way, approaching Absolute Zero is similarly analogous. In my meditation classes I compare the superconductivity of non-conductive materials (think plastic) under conditions of near Absolute Zero, to the state of superconsciousness that occurs when, in meditation, our mind approaches absolute stillness. (The latter being the state described in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali in verse 2 in which he declares that the state of "yoga" --- aka superconsciousness  --- is achieved when all reactive mental processes cease in perfect stillness, leaving only the Mind-Consciousness-Bliss focused upon itself in a state of Oneness. My more perspicacious readers will note that I'm being a little sloppy, here, with terminology and definitions, but never mind. This is a somewhat sloppy, holiday type article).

So, while Interstellar, the movie, is a sci-fi movie and presumably wishes to avoid metaphysical speculation (having already done enough scientific speculating), for me, I enjoyed the conjunction of singularity with God! That's my take; my right; my (humble) opinion and, I'm sticking to it! Ha, ha!

Be thankful, too, for one more thing: you've finished reading this article. I am looking forward to the singularity of inner (and outer) Silence!

Blessings to you for Thanksgiving and bless me in my seclusion!

Swami Hrimananda, beyond time and space and beyond a lot of things!

Post mortem (see comments): My friend, Oliver Shantidev Graf from Ananda Italy reminds me that in the book, Holy The Holy Science by Swami Sri Yukteswar, he describes energy and divine magnetism as emanating from the center of the galaxy. He says scientists believe or have discovered that each galaxy has at its center a black hole! See also a movie, the Black Whole by scientist Nassim Haramein.