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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.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Does Satan Exist? Do Demons Exist?

Having just returned from a visit to the shrines of St. Francis and other saints in Italy, I am “inspired” to ask this question: Do demons exist?

From what I understand, a great questioning took place during the 20th century among Protestant theologians, ministers and members regarding the core beliefs of the Christian faith. Without wishing to explore the history of Protestantism, let us simply say that the rationally-minded skepticism of the 20th century found expression among religionists to the point of questioning all of the miracles of the Bible, both New and Old Testament. The existence of Satan, likewise, was among the debates. So pervasive was the skepticism among ministers that the self-described “modern mystic, Frank Laubach, conducted a campaign among ministers to remind them to even mention God in their sermons!

Catholics were not permitted most of these questions but even amongst them, in the form of what I believe is called, “scholasticism,” questions were raised. In the life of the famous stigmatist, Padre Pio from southern Italy, for example, Vatican hierarchy sought to question, ostracize and distance themselves from what some felt were medieval and superstitious beliefs in miracles such as the stigmata, the devil, bi-location, psychic powers, levitation and so forth. Catholic hierarchy was sensitive, reactive, or influenced by the thinking and the accusations of Protestants, what to mention science-inspired rationalism, and therefore were eager to hush up claims of miracles so that Catholicism could be seen as a rational and appropriate in the 20th century world of politics and “‘isms.”

Paramhansa Yogananda, a world teacher from India, lived in this same 20th century. In his teachings he stated that the saints are true custodians of truth, not the bishops or theologians, or worse. The great saints of east and west down through the ages (including the twentieth century) testify to the existence of evil as a conscious Force that can sometimes take on human or individual appearance.

I contend that whether evil is personified as outside oneself or “merely” a projection of the subconscious mind, the difference is not as significant as one might imagine, at least not to the person “imagining” it! I say this early on so that we don’t get into a sparring contest over “how many angels fit on the end of a needle.”

Human incarnations of evil can perhaps be recognized in the form of great evil-doers such as Stalin, Hitler or serial killers who inflict suffering intentionally and repeatedly, even wantonly. Metaphysically or ethically, at least, are these people not, in effect, human incarnations of the overarching consciousness of evil? The other side of this coin might be viewed in the long-standing religious teaching that the greatest of saints and saviors are considered direct incarnations of God! On a lesser note, we sometimes refer to special people as “angels in disguise!” On a deep level, humans sometimes reveal that we do understand that each of us is an incarnation of a greater spirit than what our physical form, our habits and personality might suggest.

Turning now to mental illness, such as schizophrenia, multiple personalities, and other forms of extreme mental illness, (adolescence count in this?), it seems just as plausible to at least consider these illnesses to be the result of possession by disincarnate entities as it is to puzzle it out medically, behaviorally or environmentally, doesn’t it? Even if mental illness can be traced to aberrations in the brain, are these aberrations the cause, or the result? It’s not as if modern medicine has been all that successful in finding wonder drugs for mental illness! Maybe something else is going on?

I just read, moments ago, that Pope Francis sent an encouraging message to a convention of exorcists, thanking them for their important work and acknowledging that their case loads are growing rapidly in today’s stressed and extreme world!

How about drunkenness or drug addiction? At least in more extreme cases, doesn’t it seem as though the person is not himself, to put it mildly? Unrecognizable, in fact? Yogananda taught (and I don’t imagine only he did so) that in bars and other places (proverbial “opium dens”), “ghosts” hover to find bodies to inhabit in order to have a taste of sensory experiences. Yogananda was not alone in warning people from trance channeling or, worse yet, parlor seance "games." I personally know of a case in which a person went too far into using a pendulum to help him become a medium. In time he lost his job, his marriage, his health and his mind -- to whom?

James van Praagh, “ghostbuster” and author of “Ghosts Among Us,” seems to be a credible witness to the presence of disincarnate entities who, for various reasons, refuse to leave us and move on to the “other side” in order to continue their journey. He has found ways to help them detach. His description of such entities, their motives and behavior match, in most respects, that of Yogananda's experience.

We can speculate at length but we might also at least consider the testimony of Jesus Christ, Buddha, Yogananda, St. Anthony of the Desert, Padre Pio, many others, and even Martin Luther (who threw an ink pot at the devil — the spot is still on the wall in his room): Satan DOES exist and can take a human form. The essence of evil is not a person with cloven hoofs, a red suit, and a pointy tail, however, but a Conscious Force that has the power to take any form or no form.

Such witnesses of evil incarnate or disincarnate are people who, themselves, demonstrated power over material objects; psychic power (seeing at a distance; knowing the future; bi-location; levitation, even, in some cases, raising the dead) and more. What do we think of that supposedly scientific attitude of inquiry that dismisses such testimony on the basis of an a priori assumption that the evidence must be false simply because they can’t replicate it?

For all the impotence of modern medicine to treat extreme mental illness with drugs, why not consider what indeed might be an obvious, if alternative, explanation? If so, and applying appropriate techniques of exorcism (not just rituals) but the power of an intuitive person, to work with the “victim,” might not equal or better results be found?

It is my understanding, derived from the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, and from things I have heard my spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda, say (or write) that the reason most of us have no commerce with demons is that we are not worth their time! We have our own demons of desire, anger, revenge, lust, jealousy and so on —already within us, so to speak. Indeed, the teaching as I understand it is this: when our spiritual consciousness is so advanced that we come close to achieving Self-realization, the delusive force of “maya” takes note and takes human form in a last ditch effort to dissuade us from dissolving forever our identification with our body, our ego, and the world of matter over which maya rules. Thus Jesus was tempted with having dominion over the world, and power over the angels (disincarnate entities, however benign), and power of matter (stones into break).

The reason most humans do not encounter demons of anger, lust, revenge (etc.) attempting to dance upon our soul’s grave is that we simply don’t have sufficient mental energy and psychic sight to call such to appear before us. We are neither terribly bad nor exceedingly good to matter much. We don’t warrant a visitation! We are not yet royalty, you might say. 

Our physical brain is the accepted seat of intelligence. In raja yoga, we practice techniques of breath and mind control (the two are inextricably linked!) which effectively raise “energy” to the brain (re-directing it, as it were, from the body, the tissues, and the senses). By stilling the natural turbulence of our thoughts and related metabolism, caused by the constant interaction with the world around us and the mind within us through our senses and our ego-directed fears and desires, we can “raise our energy” (and consciousness) from identification with body and ego to a higher and more subtle level of awareness.

Just as a child, becoming an adult, outgrows the interests and preoccupations of childhood, so too the adult — striving for maturity — accepts an ever expanding awareness of the world in which we live. We are concerned about wars and poverty in other parts of the world; we read about Ebola and terrorism as threats to our world. The yogi, by raising his energy within, to the inner world of consciousness (sans tangible objects and personal emotions), becomes increasingly aware of the subtle realities of consciousness and the forms taken by consciousness. This can include not just a subtle awareness of divine realities but also lesser forms, including such beings that are traditionally given names as angels, devas, or demons.

As the soul gradually expunges from its aura behaviors that are sense and ego affirming, subtle forces and beings and states of consciousness become increasingly apparent and real to us. Lest you dismiss such a description as being hallucinatory or self-deluding, I can say with assurance that to achieve such a level is to have the power to accomplish material goals far more effectively than the average person. Psychic power and sight are not debilitating but empowering. The mind rules matter. Intelligence and genius have more power not less.

If I have forever banished from my consciousness inclinations to be competitive, angry, or sensual, I begin to experience states of consciousness as preexisting their manifestation in one form or another. Lust is a universal state of consciousness that beings, including human, experience from time to time. If I have worked to overcome this particular tendency, I may find that in the final stages of my looming victory, lust incarnates in either human or a subtle form as part of my last temptations. The magnetism of my efforts (my karma) might attract to me some final opportunities to either re-affirm it or expunge it forever. The form of temptation might come as a person, or, if by this time, I live almost exclusively in the subtle atmosphere of consciousness, it may take the form of an apparition of one sort or another. Besides, you don’t have to be a saint to become aware of the fact that sexual desire is “all in the mind” anyway! A cow in its pasture happening upon the centerfold page of Playboy Magazine is going to walk right by it towards the greener pasture beyond it.

If good and evil exist in human form, then, according to metaphysical precepts, they preexist in subtler forms. All that exists already exists in latent form or else it could not come into form.

Fortunately for us, we need not fear the appearance of the Great Deceiver any time soon. But, sufficient unto today are the demons of temptation and habit within us. When the time comes when we are soon to merge into pure goodness, we will certainly be tested then, too. At such time, we must not imagine our reason or will is sufficient to outwit the powers of darkness. We must call upon God and guru with faith, even if, temporarily, our inner sight goes dark. It is only a test. It might be the final test! 

Thus while St. Anthony of the desert (in Egypt) was being attacked by demonic forces, he called upon God and Christ to save him. Though they failed to appear at his call, the evil One was nonetheless vanquished by his faith. Anthony, when Jesus finally appeared to him, asked Jesus “Where were you when I needed you?” Jesus replied, “Anthony, I was always with you!” 

Faith, you see, is the ultimate test. Before our moment of final victory, it is our faith that must, at last, be tested. All else is taken from us, even the consolation of God’s presence that has otherwise grown steadily in our soul’s evolution. This final test is the true "dark night of the soul." We must give up everything, even what might seem our very existence and consciousness, even (seemingly) what we have come to rely upon as God's protection in that final test. Our choice to enter into God's bliss must be an act of complete self-offering: given freely and dynamically. Jacob's being tested by God to sacrifice his own son is a metaphor for this final act of faith.

Like St. Anthony, we will discover that we have never been separate from God, for God is all there is. “God alone,” as Sister Gyanamata (advanced disciple of Yogananda) put it.

So, yes, demons do exist; angels do exist; saints exist; God exists! We have nothing to fear but let us be, as Jesus counseled, “Wise as serpents but harmless as doves.”


Blessings of Light,

Swami Hrimananda

Friday, October 24, 2014

At La Verna, St Francis asks: Must Devotees Suffer?

So, now we come to my last blog installment on our trip "In the footsteps of St. Francis." We come, at last, to his hilltop retreat, La Verna, in the Tuscan hills. Two years before his death, St. Francis, while on retreat there, received the wounds of Jesus Christ upon his body. He was undertaking a forty day fast when he had an intense vision in which he simultaneously experienced compassion for the suffering of Jesus on the cross AND great love for Christ and joy in the experience itself. After this, his body was left with the five wounds (feet, hands and side) of Christ. Francis was the first in history to receive this "grace" known as the "stigmata." At another occasion, Jesus Christ appeared to Francis in the flesh and sat with him upon a rock and conversed.

For these, and other, sacred events in Francis' life, La Verna has been a place of pilgrimage for eight centuries. Right before his death and as he left La Verna for the last time, he assigned to the brothers the duty to hold La Verna in perpetuity as a sacred place in memory of the blessings received there.

We pilgrims have been progressing deeper and deeper into our souls on this trip: first the fun and inspiration and amazement of Rome and Florence. Then to Assisi, to Ananda, and to the shrines there. And now, in our final days on this trip, we had two nights on these sacred grounds. The two nights allowed us to dedicate an entire day in silence, unscheduled, that we might individually go deep in prayer, meditation and contemplation. It is here that the metal of our journey's intention would be burnished in the flame of devotion and inner communion. It was to be here that the stigmata of our spiritual efforts would be imprinted upon our hearts, tested in the crucible of inner silence.

I cannot, of course, speak for other individuals in this but for those who saw the opportunity for what it was -- the apex or focal point of concentration for the intentions of our pilgrimage  -- it was a golden, if intense, time. Perhaps some did not find it necessary, but surely some felt hovering over them the reflection of St. Francis' life in the mirror of our own. His complete, indeed radical, commitment to God cannot help but expose our own to inner review.

Another challenge hovers, too: must we, also, carry such a cross of self-abnegation to achieve Self-realization? Does the spiritual path truly call us, require from us, exact from us such human deprivation as we see in the lives of St. Francis, St. Clare and many others? In such a place where God met man, where the "Word was made flesh, where heaven came to earth, the question begs an answer and anything less is evasion. The gauntlet of our life's purpose was thrown, as it were, in our face, on this mountain of spiritual aspiration.

Amusingly, however, visitors are conveniently offered a shield from this inner questioning by the disingenuous fact of large quantities of excellent food served daily -- as if Francis had complained of his treatment there (while fasting) and the monks felt they needed to make amends to all future generations. A bar, too, graces the dining room where not just coffee but alcoholic drinks can be ordered, along with a pleasing selection of candies, chocolates and goodies lest one's retreat be too great a cross to bear! Amazing, eh? "Reality runs up your spine," to quote Elton John! (The Franciscans evidently outsourced the operations to a commercial establishment.) At times, the din in the halls and dining room rivaled the Colosseum! Strange, eh? I even saw an upstairs room marked "TV Room." In another room was a vending machine for coffee and espresso.

But we pilgrims didn't come all this way to duck and run. We were not inclined to evade the shadow of the cross. Our strength, however, lie in the "joy of seeking Him," the joy of meditation. We had already been meditating frequently and deeply together and individually throughout the trip, at Ananda and in Assisi. Our joy level was both our shield from self-delusion and our sword of inner awareness.

What means the Christian (over) emphasis upon suffering, crucifixion, and pain? Is suffering the hallmark of the Christian life? Hmmmm: Is not to live, to suffer? Did not the Buddha discover that life for all beings was marked by disease, old age and death? Can anyone escape this three-fold suffering? No! But suffering is not the exclusive mark of a Christian: millions suffer and not because they are truthseekers! [I won't deny the teaching, however, that one who, to the degree of his earnestness, seeks freedom in God, will, by choice and by the necessity to overcome past, bad karma and pay for the "pearl of great price," attract tests necessary for purification.]

In former times and according to a view of history which Paramhansa Yogananda taught (having received it from his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar), the time of Jesus Christ and the centuries which we call medieval times represented a low point in a long and recurring cycle (some 24,000 years) of consciousness on this planet. This relatively dark cycle (or "yuga") is called (in India), the "Kali Yuga." In this cycle, the general run of humanity cannot perceive subtleties beyond physical appearances. Buildings are large and made of rock, built with human hands, by slaves. Social mobility is non-existent. Authority is absolute. Humans identify themselves only with their physical bodies and thus imagine that if there's a heaven they will go there in their current physical bodies, forever an ego and separate from God, strumming harps and praising Him for an eternity!

God responds to human needs according to the capacity of our "eyes to see and our ears hear." Thus, in an age of such relative dark consciousness, Jesus' body had to be resurrected as a sort "ultimate" proof of his divinity; the penultimate mark of sanctity became the incorruptibility of the saints' bodies; physical suffering came to characterize the spiritual life. To be spiritual required rejecting family life in favor of a monastery; it required celibacy and living in poverty under strict obedience. One would practice all manner of physical and mental austerities such as self-flagellation and self-abasement to suppress sense temptations and root out any ego-active tendencies.

These attitudes and practices no longer inspire sincere seekers of truth, devotees of God, and servants of humanity. Fact is, and using, as we must, St. Francis as an example, he was a saint of great joy, as, indeed, are all true saints, east and west. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was (and is) loved by all because he loved all as children of God. Even Jesus Christ, so often depicted as a "man of sorrows," could not have attracted a large following with a sour and somber attitude. "A sad saint is a sorry saint, indeed" said Francis de Sales (a Christian saint). Or, as Teresa of Avila put it, "A sad nun is a bad nun!"

"What comes of its own, let it come" Paramhansa Yogananda counseled. In this new age, called the second age, Dwapara Yuga, an age of high energy, intelligence, and expanding consciousness, it is happiness (joy) that we seek. We see our potential; we have faith in ourselves, and in the future (because we are in now an ascending cycle of consciousness where things can only get "better," or so we are wont to affirm). It is joy that inspires us. And yet, when pain, disappointment, failure, suffering, or death touch us, as they must at some point, our joy, if it is true and of the Self, will allow us to remain "standing amidst the crash of breaking worlds."

The test of the crucifixion, of human suffering in general, is whether it crushes us, or whether we can transcend that temptation by remaining even-minded, cheerful and calmly holding on to our faith in the goodness (God-ness) that lies at the heart of all creation, and of all circumstances. Easier said than done, I grant you, but this is not only a test of spiritual path but it is the only way to live and remain sane!

The ability of the human spirit to contend with and transcend suffering, defeat and challenges of all kinds is the greatest witness to our own, innate divinity. THIS is what the saints (and others) can model for us. During Kali Yuga the spiritual aspirant was tested "by the cross." But for us now, "the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy." (Quoting the Festival of Light ceremony used at Ananda temples and centers at Sunday Services.)

We can, therefore, honor and celebrate the victory of Jesus' resurrection (the power of love) over hatred (crucifixion & death), the victory of martyrdom (a test of faith and courage) over persecution (misunderstanding), and the attainment of perfect joy in the midst of troubles because we know that "joy is the fruit of love for God." We may, now in Dwapara Yuga, be motivated not by the courage and strength to endure difficulties in the imitation of Christ, but for the bliss and joy inherent in God and in the superconscious state of our soul. For this we undertake the discipline of meditation, the willingness to serve high ideals selflessly, the commitment of living simply and with self-control, and a life of prayer and devotion. But for all of that, so, too, will come tests and trials. In pleasure or in pain, we remain: even-minded and cheerful!

Oh, gee, did I mention La Verna, yet? I'll plop some pictures into this soon, but let me return to earth with some descriptions. La Verna is somewhere between Assisi and Florence in the Tuscan Apennines, at about 4,000 feet altitude on the flanks of Mt. Penna. It's not difficult to get to but you're talking winding country roads, beautiful countryside, and not too far from a nearby autostrada. I doubt there's public transportation to it, but we had our rented vans, so I don't really know.

The complex of buildings and facilities, though somewhat hidden in the lovely forest, is surprisingly large. I was told of another complete complex of buildings with lodgings apart from ours. But ours is at the center of the important chapels and shrines. These buildings are of stone and are of a monastic origin and design. Labyrinthine hallways, with arched ceilings in the gothic style, weave to and fro, with staircases going up and down and all around; courtyards appear from nowhere, whether inside the four walls or outside. There is a maze of rambling and mysterious rooms, many with locked, heavy wooden doors, closed to our natural curiosity but open to our fertile imaginations. Nuns and monks can be envisioned darting furtively in and out of secret rooms, setting, as it were, the stage for a classic Agatha Christie novel! One is prepared to hear voices from locations untraceable. Add a heavy dose of fog and, all in all, it's quite a place!!!!!

There's a patio, plaza or piazza outside the mini-Basilica that overlooks the Cosentino Valley, which at our visit, was beginning to unveil the lovely colors of Fall. Overlooking that valley, as if to remind, chastise, or inspire the villagers below, stands a very tall, but stark, wooden cross. The basilica has a number of lovely art pieces by Andrea della Robbia. Adjacent to it is a small chapel (St. Mary of the Angels) which, in a vision, St. Francis was told by the Blessed Mother to build. He was given its dimensions which were exactly the same as that of the tiny chapel of the Porziuncula near Assisi. Its walls contain the choir seats for monks and nuns: there are no pews. I meditated there, and we as a group, several times. It is very still and deeply precious.

The most sacred spot is the Chapel of the Stigmata. It encloses the rock on which Francis received the stigmata. The rock has been covered by glass to prevent pilgrims from chiseling pieces off of it! A slightly hidden room off to the side contains within it a jutting segment of the actual rock. If you are bold, you unhook the rope and try the latch to see if it's unlocked, going inside to meditate and pray. The Stigmata Chapel also has the wooden choir seats along the sides. This is where you want to meditate, for sure! I, and others, found, that despite there being plenty of visitors and retreatants on the grounds at large, one could meditate there all by oneself for, say, an hour or more with no one else there! I cannot begin to describe that experience but I prayed for the strength to remain unceasingly in self-offering to God's presence and will in my life; and, to go ever deeper towards God's love and joy that I might share with others as I have received.

On the outer perimeter of the Stigmata Chapel are tiny cells (now tiny chapels) where various saintly monks had once lived. One door leads out along a rock ledge perched high up on the edge of the rock on which the building sits. It winds around the outside wall giving spectacular views before returning inside through an almost secret chapel. Fortunately, there is a hand rail but it's a straight drop down to the forest below! It is positively and stunningly breathtaking.

A long covered hallway protects pilgrims walking from the basilica to the stigmata chapel. It has murals depicting important events from Francis' life. Along the wide passageway there is a tiny doorway that opens into an inner courtyard of giant rock formations. The path leads a few yards down under some of these huge boulders to a spot where Francis was known to sleep. A grate has protectively been placed upon the spot: again, to protect it from relic hounds. But, wow, the energy there is enormous and the silence is as thick as the rocks themselves.

Across from the basilica doors and down some slippery stone steps one finds another, somewhat primitive domed chapel -- the Chapel of Mary Magdalene -- maybe twenty feet in diameter; a few crude wooden chairs have been placed in there. The stone altar contains, under glass, the stone where Jesus sat, in the flesh, talking with Francis! Like: wow! We had two group meditations there and I meditated there on my own as well. It's almost, well, spooky, especially late at night when the wind is howling!

If you follow the steps past the path to this chapel you go down amidst another group of gigantic rocks called the Sasso Spico: the Projecting Rock. Here is a place where Francis prayed and meditated. One time, while meditating on the passion of Christ, it was revealed to Francis that the dramatic rock formations and chasms of La Verna were created at the time of Jesus' crucifixion as indicated in the New Testament: "the rocks split" (Matt: 27:14). Who knows, but as many believe that there are on the earth "power spots," it is not so difficult to imagine that La Verne was destined to attract and hold the sacred vibrations of St. Francis' spiritual glory. A simple wooden cross marks the spot, under the overhang of an enormous rock, where Francis would pray.

When I was there, I saw no one. With the wetness of fog and drizzle dripping off the rocks and ferns, I settled in for a very deep meditation where no footsteps or outer sounds dare intrude!

I did find some free time to hike up Mt. Penna through the forest. This is more primitive, though friars did meditate and live up along parts of this, too. It is a solitary walk, very peaceful and entrancing in its colors of green, brown, yellow and red; its carpet of leaves, its ancient, gnarly roots, intertwining the path like some aged and great snake.

On our second night, after dinner (when we broke our silence to share a little bit), a storm descended upon us with blowing, cold fog and rain. Fog hugged the outdoor lights and the feeling of antiquity and mystery came upon the place like a kind of "Twilight Zone," a kind of alternate universe without tick, tock or clock. I attempted to brave the elements and find thrill in the the storm by going out after dinner for a walk but with the wind and rain, blowing sideways, I could barely stand and my thin Fall apparel seemed to melt into my skin. I meditated briefly at a tiny chapel lit only with candlelight but as I had heard stories of being locked out of the facility and having to stay outside overnight, my "second thoughts" returned me to my room. The whole place was "dead" silent. All had returned to their rooms after dinner.

Early the next morning we were supposed to meditate in the simple stone chapel of Mary Magdalene with the rock where Jesus appeared but the storm was so intense, the fog so thick, that we decided to move the morning meditation to the chapel St. Mary of the Angels. After breakfast and after checking out, we were going to allow ourselves more time to be there but the weather was so inclement that we packed up the vans and headed south to Rome.

By late afternoon we were at the seacoast of Ostia (near Rome and the airport), relaxing in the warm, humid Mediterranean air, watching a glorious sunset, before having dinner outside at the waterfront under the stars: pizza, salad, pasta and laughter born of open hearts. All in all, we were refreshed in body, mind and soul! It was difficult to contrast the morning wind and fog with the afternoon beach weather and view.

Thank you for hanging in there with these articles. Stay tuned for future pilgrimages! Here, then are some pictures!

 

 

 


 


 






May the stigmata of your victories over delusion be your badge of soul-honor!
blessings,
Nayaswami Hriman





Thursday, October 23, 2014

St. Francis Walks On Ahead....

In the last article we left off visiting the little chapel, the Porziuncula, near the town of Assisi. The two other primary sacred places we visited where the hillside caves of Eremo delle Carceri, sometimes pronounced L'Eremo, and, the church of Santa Chiara.

I went twice to L'Eremo. It's up the steep hillside of Mt. Subasio, accessed quite near the north gate of the town of Assisi (the gate whose road leads uphill towards the Ananda Center and Community). It's so high up that you look down on La Rocca, the stronghold and fort that towers over Assisi.

L'Eremo was one of the places for prayer and retreat that St. Francis and his brothers used. There are rock formations and mini-caves that the brothers used. The still existing dens are marked with signs showing which of the famous brothers used which cave. Now there's a complex of stone buildings, of course, but the whole area is saturated with vibrations of peace and light. It's heavily wooded but over time there are paths, but once off the mostly level main boulevard walking path, the paths down into the canyon and to the stone huts and caves are very real hiking paths.

It is incredibly peaceful there and much easier to meditate for long periods, uninterruptedly, than anywhere else. There are surprisingly many people who stroll the grounds as the place is famous but if you don't mind a few people walking past you while you are meditating (and you stay off the main, wide walking path), it's really worth it. Here, for this article, words fail to convey the intensity in meditation and the joy I felt there. I have some pictures, but they, too, fall rather short of the mark.

Let's simply say that for those who are serious about prayer and meditation, L'Eremo is a MUST.

This blog system is not picture friendly, so I'll just plop some down right here:

   

The other spiritual hotspot is the church, Santa Chiara. It has two distinct features: St. Clare's body lies "in state" there, and, the cross (originally from San Damiano) that "spoke" to Francis is displayed there. This church is normally crowded but if you're lucky you can hit a quiet moment. The line down to the tomb can long, hot, and slow and you get a few seconds to look at the body on display. If you step back out of the line you can stand there a few minutes to pray if you like, but you're likely to get bumped.

Upstairs in a side chapel hangs the special cross and it's easier to sit in a pew there and pray and meditate, though there's plenty of movement all around you. I enjoyed going there twice but I didn't stay very long though I certainly felt uplifted. I lucked out on my second visit and the place was virtually empty. I rushed downstairs and prayer before the body without being hassled. I prayed for the strength and purity of intention and resolution that Clare so obviously radiated and felt very uplifted.

Across the main plaza tourists frequently visit the ancient Minerva Temple from Roman times. It was long since converted into a church. I can't say there's any super-special vibration there but it certainly is beautiful, artistically-wise. I did sit and meditate for a few minutes and it is very peaceful in there. It was, of course, there during Francis' life and so I assume he prayed there, too.

Wandering the streets of Assisi is a trip in time and space itself. Enjoying a meal, a coffee, or a gelato along the ancient narrow cobblestone streets is well worth it. A few photos to share which include the Minerva Temple/Church inside and out.

    

I want now to share with you the inspiration felt at Ananda itself: high above the town of Assisi. When members of Ananda visit another Ananda community outside America (say, Italy or India) one discovers that even if we don't speak the same language, you feel instantly at home. The Temple of Light is where most meditations take place and we participated in various ones, plus a Sunday Service, plus Padma and I "officiated" at a marriage vow renewal ceremony for two of our pilgrim friends. Here one can meditate without the cross-currents of tourists and the vibrations of others, even in prayer, for the vibration of Catholicism is very strong in Italy. So here, at Ananda, we were truly at home and uplifted in the vibration of kriya yoga, Self-realization and our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda.

The absolute highlight, meditation-wise, however is the former home of Swami Kriyananda. It's about a kilometer from the main Ananda Il Refugio complex and just off the road along a tiny tree-lined lane. This is where he lived, sometimes many months at a time, and, where he died, April 21, 2013. In his bedroom and on his bed is the robe he was wearing the morning he left his body. His tiny meditation room is just off the bedroom, as is, of course the adjacent living room and dining room. It is all lovingly preserved the way it was on that day in April. He named his home, "Seva Kutir." This is Sanskrit and means roughly "A Home Dedicated to Divine Service."

I believe we had four meditations there. We'd take turns being in the bedroom or in the living room. It is here that the unique and heartfelt vibrations of our chosen spiritual path and line of preceptors can be felt most strongly and purely, especially in the form of calm, clear joy. Some pictures below: