Saturday, January 30, 2016

Can God Be Proved? A New Dispensation

I believe that in the Shankhya scriptures of India it is said that "God cannot be proved." (Ishwar ashiddha"). People argue about this all the time.

Many simply believe in God and call it good. This is, in part, because our rational and scientifically committed culture does not "believe in" intuition, except for the inexplicable but not easily replicated phenomenon known as the "hunch." This is all too frequently dismissed as just another of those things about women that men can't rationally account for. Thus "believers" are forced to build a firewall between belief and proof; between spirit and nature; between divine and the human experience.

Standing with awe before nature, human life, drama, history and yes, even science, we touch upon the feeling of something greater than ourselves; something that underlies all things. Albert Einstein's life long pursuit of a unified theory of everything echoes this intuitive feeling often triggered by the experience of awe. This is one example (of many) of intuition. We just KNOW that IT is there, here, and everywhere. It can be felt, touched but not seen or possessed. But, not proved!

Paramhansa Yogananda describes in Chapter 14 (An Experience of Cosmic Consciousness) of his life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," a doorway into this supra-sensory realm of intuition. It is, unsurprisingly, through meditation that this experience can be replicated by anyone willing to pay the price of admission: sincere and sustained effort using specific methods of meditation.

Some many months after having this mind-blowing experience of infinity, Yogananda (PY) took a problem to his guru (who had bestowed upon him that experience). "I want to know, sir -- when shall I find God?" Swami Sri Yuktewar, perhaps smiling, responded, "You have found Him." "O no, sir, I don't think so!"After a brief exchange, in which an incredulous Sri Yukteswar was certain his disciple did not expect to find a man on a throne, he explained:

"Ever-new Joy is God. He is inexhaustible; as you continue your meditations during the years, He will beguile you with an infinite ingenuity." Later, he continues, "After the mind has been cleared by Kriya Yoga of sensory obstacles, meditation furnishes a two-fold proof of God. Ever-new joy is evidence of His existence, convincing to our very atoms. Also, in meditation one finds His instant guidance, His adequate response to every difficulty."  (Autobiography of a Yogi, 1946 edition)

PY effectively introduced, as he put it, a "new dispensation." Truth is one and eternal but its manifold expressions change according to the needs of receptive souls. So the new part is to offer truthseekers to put aside mere belief and rancorous theological debates in return for the direct perception of God in meditation. It is in the universal and nonsectarian experiences of inner peace, joy, and unconditional love (to name three of eight aspects) that God can be experienced.

As a measurable bonus, pleasing to scientists, testing has proven innumerable physical and mental benefits to meditation. These are the "added unto you" of Jesus' famous counsel to "Seek the kingdom of heaven (which is within you) first, and all these things (health, intelligence, creativity, happiness) will be added unto you."

Sticking a bit with Jesus Christ, since "sufficient unto the day" are the needs thereof, the meditator need not focus unduly with the cosmic consciousness experience described by PY and the goal of the soul's journey toward Self-realization. For the "infinite (and beguiling) ingenuity of God is sufficient unto the daily meditation practice to push us along our journey to that end which, were it to be bestowed prematurely, would "fry our brains!" as intimated elsewhere in PY's autobiography.

Thus is released for millions the tension between the rational mind and the intuitive soul. This is the new dispensation and the glad tidings, the good news that PY has brought to the world. Satisfaction, convincing to our very atoms and to our thirsty hearts, and lasting, bestowed without condition of belief or affiliation, can heal the wounds of divisive sectarianism and the war between science and religion, atheists and believers.

Blessings to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Meditation: Mind Full, or, Mind Less?

"I don't Mind that Mind doesn't Matter."

Let's leave aside meditation techniques for a CHANGE! In real meditation, the mind is focused and still, or, so we often say. 

Paramhansa Yogananda is quoted as saying, "When motion ceases, God begins!" And in the Old Testament (Psalm 46:10), God counsels us saying, "Be still and know that I AM God."

Is meditation an experience of stillness, mindfulness, emptiness, no-thing-ness, cosmic consciousness, samadhi, superconsciousness, or what - exactly?

What I'd like to discuss is NOT the "ultimate" state of consciousness as suggested by the terms above. Great saints down through the ages, east and west, and even artists and intuitives have made valiant and inspired efforts to describe that which cannot be described. 

One such effort is Paramhansa Yogananda's famous poem, "Samadhi." I recite it from memory every day, as he suggested. I find it transmits ineffable blessings, like waves of peace and bliss, whenever I recite it with depth and devotion. 

Nonetheless, I refuse to speak of such things! Instead, let us consider the experience we (meditators) have when we sit in silent meditation (after the practice of our techniques). Let us, further, consider our experience when our thoughts are still, or at least when they aren't nonstop! (Deepak Chopra is credited with describing meditation as the "space between our thoughts." While I prefer NOT to think of MY meditations in that way, his statement is not far from the mark, though it hardly describes the goal of meditation!)

A helpful way to relate to your own experience is in terms of perception, feeling, and energy. You may recognize, here, "gyana yoga, bhakti yoga, and karma yoga." A person who approaches meditation primarily with the mind: peering, as it were, into the darkness begin closed eyes, attempting to be a "See-r," attempting to pierce the veil of delusion and see the "light" of truth and subtle reality, can do so in one of two ways. 

First, with the mind still, he can gaze, wait, and watch what happens. He has all the time in the world. It's as if he's saying, "Well, I'm here....waiting................" No expectations, no self-created imagery, mantras, visualizations.....just simple OBSERVATION.

Or, he can be goal oriented. If trained to look up at the point between the eyebrows where, he is taught, the spiritual eye is said to appear, he may do so with great intensity as if, by will power alone, to make the spiritual eye appear. (This can be done with ego or can be done with the purer motive to awaken and invite the spiritual eye to appear.) Mental chanting of a mantra would be another example of this forward "leaning" aspect of perception.

Both of these approaches take a strong and clear mind. In today's culture, with so many distractions and electronics, faulty memory, and rapid fire mental activity, this approach, even if common, for being taught or used by temperament, is relatively difficult. And, of the two versions described above, the first (being the observer) is by far the most difficult because of the constant barrage of thoughts and images the subconscious mind will throw at you. 

Ironically, the popular mindfulness technique of watching thoughts is easy; even easier is being carried away with those thoughts. But I'm not describing this technique which is the intentional but passive acceptance of the flow of thoughts. Yes, that's easy, and may indeed be helpful for a beginner who essentially has no choice because his mind is far from being his "own." I am speaking of a higher order of meditation where the intention is to transcend those thoughts with a clear and focused mind searching for what is beyond the subconscious mind.

Moving along, now: a bhakti yogi will visualize a devotional image: it can be personal such as the image (or eyes) of one's guru or a deity; or, it can be impersonal, as visualizing a light, imaging a sound, or mentally offering oneself to God (or guru) in some form or feeling that is self-created. (By self-created, I do not mean to suggest that all of this is false. Indeed, one's devotion may be deeply heartfelt and very real. The distinction is that this experience originates within oneself.)

Once again, there are two directions for the bhakti to go. She can offer herself in love to God; or, she can be receptive to God's love flowing into her. Sometimes, like an alternating current, she will go back and forth and do both.

Lastly, the karma yoga meditator will be attuned to the life force energy (called "prana") flowing in and/or around the body. The "body" can be physical or astral. (The distinction, though real, need not be emphasized in describing the actual experience).

Here too, the karma yoga meditator can apply his will power to engage, feel, and enter into this divine flow, or, can "sit back" and be receptive to its graces. This meditator is apt to be attuned to and seek to be receptive to the various energies and respective qualities (sounds, colors, and other astral phenomenon) of the energy centers called the chakras, and the currents of astral energy (prana). Indeed, Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras acknowledges the meditative and concentrative value of such inner astral phenomenon as focal points of meditation.

In the practice of kriya yoga as taught by Lahiri Mahasaya, Swami Sri Yukteswar, and brought to the West by Paramhansa Yogananda, one is trained to utilize all aspects of perception, feeling, and energy and from both points of view of will power and receptivity. One simple example is the practice of mentally chanting "Aum" in order to gradually begin hearing the inner Aum sound! The first part is done proactively and the second is done with inner absorption. This cycle is a pattern of the flow of energy and consciousness in the body. Yogananda described attuning this flow with the counsel: "tense with will; relax and feel."

Kriya yoga is a part of raja yoga (also called ashtanga yoga). Raja yoga, in turn, includes various pranayams (breath control techniques), some of which are quite well known in meditation and hatha yoga circles. It would be fair to characterize the path of raja yoga as predominantly a karma yoga approach to meditation. Raja yoga is quite suited to the character of our energetic and ever-busy culture that places a high value on energy (of all sorts) and practical productivity.

Paramhansa Yogananda even introduced a new addition to raja yoga techniques: a system of movements and tension exercises with breath control (pranayam) which he called Energization Exercises.

If you read his famous "Autobiography of a Yogi," or study his lessons or other writings, it is more than obvious that devotion and concentration are a part of it. Still, it is my view that it can be very helpful to students learning raja yoga, including kriya yoga, to focus on the energetics of these techniques and of the stillness that follows their practice. 

I say this because the other two aspects are not dominant characteristics in our society at this time nor, very likely, for centuries to come, given the line of development of consciousness that we observe in the 20th and early 21st century.

An age of personal liberties and knowledge, and of democracy, is hardly inclined to traditional expressions of "hierarchical" devotion. I won't go as far as to suggest we only teach kriya as only a science the way Transcendental Meditation became popular, but I do wish to note that Yogananda's first book was called "The Science of Religion." 

Note, further, however, that it was also called "religion." The motivation that it takes to meditate deeply suggests, hints, and indeed requires, a sensitivity of feeling and refinement of consciousness whose receptivity contains the seeds of a devotional nature.

As to mental concentration and power, we live in an overstimulated age subject to an ever-increasing pace of outward activities and change. This age is not conducive to developing strong mental focus. Indeed, the biggest plague of our times is loss of memory and loss of focus as illustrated by preoccupation with cell phones and similar devices. This trend is far, very far, from slowing, what to mention reversing.

Maybe one's mind is scattered when trying to meditate. Maybe one is not feeling particularly inspired. Instead of being discouraged by one's lack of concentration or devotion, try focusing on the energy of, first, the physical body (using, say, yoga postures or Yogananda's Energization Exercises); and, then, as you begin your meditation practices, focus on the subtle life force in the body. This karma yoga approach is a fairly neutral and relatively easy feature of the experience of meditation. The core techniques taught by Yogananda ("Hong Sau," "Aum," and "Kriya") all fit neatly within this framework. 

Yogananda, in Chapter 26 of "Autobiography of a Yogi," that the word kriya has the same root as the word karma. The meaning here is, simply, action. Thus we see a strong hint of the relationship of karma yoga to kriya. Swami Kriyananda, direct disciple of Yogananda and founder of Ananda, often pointed out in his lectures on the Bhagavad Gita that the "action" described in that great scripture includes the action of meditation. 

In that scripture, Krishna says to Arjuna (us), that one cannot achieve the actionless state (of oneness) by refusing to act. Thus he hints that the practice of meditation requires specific (i.e. scientific) techniques. Elsewhere he describes the penultimate technique as "offering the inhaling breath into the exhaling breath." (Clearly a reference to kriya yoga and similar advanced techniques.)

I have found in my own meditations that focusing on the energetics of the meditation (from the body to the chakras to the subtle spine) affords a tangible focal point such that it leads to the stillness of breath and mind that is the initial goal and necessary first stage of meditation. To quote the 1972 Alka Seltzer commercial that made this line famous: "try it, you'll like it."

Blessings to all and happy meditating,

Swami Hrimananda

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Devil Made Me Do It? Someone's gotta be blamed!

At a class the other night that I gave on the basic precepts of yoga and Self-realization, I pointed out that no true spiritual teaching can omit addressing the question of "Who is responsible for evil; for ignorance; for suffering?"

In a few days we honor the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Each year, Ananda Seattle presents a tribute program (this year, 2016 will be the 14th year!). We combined the tribute to Dr. King with Mahatma Gandhi. We add music and audio-video clips for an inspiring program that is updated and re-scripted almost every year.

An article I wrote about both of these men and what we can learn from them was kindly published by Krysta Gibson of the New Spirit Journal. You can read it online at:

Most people are practical and don't give much thought to the "big questions" like suffering, evil and ignorance. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil (the problems) thereof," said Jesus Christ! Why bother our little heads about these things --  as my mother more or less said to me when, as a child, I would pester her with questions.

We all have our problems; we all die eventually. End of story. Get over it! Well, I like this kind of pragmatism too, but my little head has a mind of its own! So I snuffle around the cosmic forest like a pig looking for truffles!

Whatever you may think about the theology of original sin, no spiritual teaching can be called such if it doesn't encourage us to be better people and to never give up hope ..... whether for being "saved," or "redeemed" or achieving God realization. (The end goal may be expressed variously but hope and effort spring onto us an eternal message.)

And why not? You don't have to be consciously spiritual to see the value in using will power and having hope. Even if we fail, such attitudes are help build strength and character, regardless of outward success.

Paramhansa Yogananda was not the first saint to say, in effect, "A saint is a sinner who never gave up!" Or, as more than one Christian saint put it, "A sad saint is a sad saint, indeed!"

But, all well and good, but can we really understand with our minds this issue of suffering? It's all academic until it's not: which means, when WE suffer (or someone close to us). Suffering and evil challenge especially the faithful in our (seemingly) nauseating cheeriness and faith in the goodness of God and the rightness of all things, including the "bad" things that happen to "good" people.

Do we tell the victims of racism and to the loved ones whose child or father has been lynched or shot for no other reason than the color of his skin that "It's all for the best?" I hope to God, not

I heard Larry King interview Maharishi Mahesh Yogi right after the fall of the Twin Towers in New York city on September 11, 2001. I hope I only offend a few of you, but I was aghast to hear his highness' squeaky voice explain the law of karma on T.V. at such a time of grieving. No doubt he meant well, but, egad, I can never imagine my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, nor yet the great yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda, responding with anything but compassion at such a time. 

Love (and compassion) is a higher law than the law! It's not as though Sri Yogi was wrong per se but his words were, in my view, at least, simply not appropriate at that time and place. His need to represent the Hindu view of life and to play the role of all wise teacher seemed to eclipse the needs of his listeners. ("Just sayin') 

We do need, however, to step back from the human drama if we are see the cosmic drama and have an impersonal insight into suffering, evil and ignorance. The birth, life, and death of stars and planets, and the "eat or be eaten" law of survival among animals are generally accepted by us as a part of the ups and downs of the cosmos. A tiger eats for food and because she's a tiger doing what tigers do. She's not a murderer.

But why are there "bad" people anyway? And why do "good" people suffer? Selfishness, self-protectiveness, ego affirmation: these have a natural appeal in a world of struggle and uncertainty.

That the golden rule is transparently a better way to live is evidently not as transparent as some of us would think. When the light of a greater awareness that includes the needs and feelings of others and of the world of nature is so dimmed that only threatening silhouette shapes of strife, competition, and opportunity can be seen, "golden rule" becomes "What's in it for me?"

We are conditioned by the struggle of life to either recoil in self-defense and aggression or expand in cooperation and harmony.

Either way, we are still "we." Our only option lies in which direction we choose. Materialism is that choice that puts the needs of ego (and body) first and the needs of all others second (or not at all). Spirituality is that choice which finds nourishment and protection in peace and harmony.

The broader our reality the more strength and stability we have. "Love thy neighbor AS thy Self." By contrast, imagine trying to live in a world where animals and other humans compete for survival. Few would last weeks or even days. 

The law of conservation of energy says that energy cannot be destroyed: it only changes from one form to another. Applied to a higher reality, the world of consciousness, this offers some interesting parallels to various teachings that we humans have a soul. Our soul inhabits, for a time, a body, and then moves on to another state or body.

Energy, not matter and not our body, is our more essential nature. It has no limiting form and thus shares reality with all others as equals.

We cheerful and ever positive yogis (and others) drink our cheerful "spirits" from the comfort, support and wellspring of inner silence. It is easier to face death or cope with grief or suffering when our life is lived calmly from our own center where we are relatively free from the hypnosis that our body and personality is our reality.

Knowing that suffering, old age and death comes to all, and finding within ourselves "the kingdom of heaven," it becomes gradually easier to experience the pleasures and pains, the successes and failures that are inevitable in life as passing stages or states of mind. But, this detachment from our ego and body DOES NOT (or should not) induce indifference or aloofness towards the sufferings of others. Else, why do Buddhists, and people everywhere, especially the saints, feel such compassion for others even as they, themselves, endure what for many would be an unthinkably self-sacrificing life?

When I am less concerned about ME (and how people treat ME or view ME), I am free to be more loving, interested, and compassionate towards others. I have nothing to lose, for the I AM is not the little "i."

This is, in effect, the secret of the power of Dr. King and Gandhi. You and I don't need to be bookmarked in the pages of history for our great deeds for humanity because "sufficient unto the day" are our stresses, pains, betrayals and hurts. Everyone's path to greater awareness is unique. The outer forms of our struggles and our efforts is secondary to how we handle them.

In the lives of each of these men, their invisible source of courage and inspiration came from a powerful practice of prayer, faith, and meditation. Yes, they had a destiny and role to play. But they each struggled with the energy, will, confidence and endurance to fulfill their roles. Just as you and I do. Their source, their wellspring of the healing waters of peace is as available to us as it was to them.

Yes, we can blame God for creating this universe and for putting into motion the necessary dualities of dark and light, positive and negative, good and evil, male and female polarities which, because always in flux, must necessarily alternate on the stage of history, life and consciousness. It is necessary in order for this "mechanism" -- the illusion of the world -- to be created and sustained: it's akin to the quick "now you see it, now you don't" hand of the cosmic magician. This magic "hand" never seems to stop moving. Panthe Re: all is flux!

But for having written the play; for running the reel of the movie from the beam of light projected from the booth of eternity, God is untouched by good or evil. God is no more evil than Shakespeare for having created the villain of the play. Good and evil are the necessary characters in the drama if it is to seem real, even to (indeed, especially to) the actors. 

Those actors who mistake their on stage role for who they are get type cast as B grade actors. Those who play their roles with vim and vigor, always present to the reality of who they really are inside, become the greats of all time.

The impulse to "play" has its source in God's "impulse" to create the dream of creation. Just as we dream unwittingly (rarely lucidly), so God's bliss instinctively projects out from its Joy the waves of creation which, endowed with an echoing impulse and innate pure joy, begins to intelligently create and reproduce....all while the seed, the germ, of divine intelligence and motivation silently hides and guides from the still heart of all motion.

As forms become more self-aware, this impulse becomes increasingly personal and increasingly forgetful (in fact, even disdainful) of the invisible reality that it is, in truth, a spark of the infinite reality. Bit by bit, both in the macrocosm of satanic consciousness and in the microcosm of human consciousness, the process of separation and rebellion creates a veil and the divine light becomes progressively dimmed.

But it is always there even if the darkness of evil or ignorance cannot or will not recognize it. Nothing and no one is ultimately separate from God. But it is we, individually, who must, like the prodigal son, decide to turn away from our separation to return home to the light. We do this because we have suffered the famine of separation and the pangs of the unceasing monotony of duality. 

Thus suffering, though inextricably embedded in the cosmos and in our separated consciousness, has a divine role also: to eventually guide us toward the transcendent state at the center of the opposites.

While we can't truly appreciate the "Why" God created this universe (that has given us so many so many temptations and troubles), we can know that, apart from God's initial impulse, we have made countless decisions to "play" in the tar baby of duality. 

It is up to us to decide to get off the wheel of samsara (suffering). As we have lived and played for untold lifetimes, so we must accept that escape isn't going to be easy or immediate. We have to pay our dues.

God descends into the human drama through those avatars (saints) who have become his "sons" (who by the self-effort of previous lives attracted His grace until they achieved soul freedom). They are His messengers and they come in every age and time to awaken souls who are ready to "come follow Me (home)." This is the great drama of life whose meaning is, simply, that it IS a drama (and nothing else).

So, go ahead and blame God but don't stop there in self pity. Pick yourself up and do the needful to improve, to transcend ego, to seek the help of one who knows the "Way," and to offer help, as you can, to others. No more sniveling about your troubles. We all have troubles. Lots of people have more troubles than you. Let's get up, stand up, support one another. Act with courage and fortitude, hope and will power.

No act of sincere seeking and openness to the One who is "One with All" will be unrewarded. Faith, hope and charity. Meditation is the single most direct and efficient path to the state of consciousness in which knowing is believing.

Joy to you,

Nayaswami Hriman