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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, August 25, 2014

Meditation: Is Effort & Technique Enough?

One of the great themes of spirituality is "self-effort vs. grace." This can be stated another way: "Who is the Doer?" Christians might quote St. Paul in support of "By grace alone are you saved." Yet Jesus himself said not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven but those who do the will of God.

In one sense, it is obvious that we must strive to grow spirituality by our own will! It's as true in spirituality as it is true in business. Human life would be unbearable if we did not believe innately in "truth and consequences," in cause-and-effect. Imagine if we really believed that nothing we could ever do would improve our circumstances, our health, our happiness? Life would not be worth living.

So, of course self-effort and will power is needed. It is axiomatic in the practice of yoga (and meditation---which is true yoga) that by the knowledge and use of the science of meditation one can advance spiritually. The "bible" of yoga is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. These have little, if anything, to do with yoga postures and everything to do with meditation and the unfoldment of human consciousness toward divine consciousness and union with God, the Infinite Power. Paramhansa Yogananda, renowned for his life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," and bearer of the now famous technique of Kriya Yoga to the world, would claim that he could essentially transform anyone, no matter how unspiritual, if he or she would faithfully and correctly and regularly practice kriya yoga. Swami Kebalananda, an advanced disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, claimed that “I myself consider Kriya the most effective device of salvation through self-effort ever to be evolved in man’s search for the Infinite.”

I have practiced Kriya Yoga since 1978 - 36 years: twice daily. I know how the transforming and illuminating impact of this advanced technique. Yet........

Yet........."from whence cometh the Lord!" Deep spiritual experiences come, as Jesus put it, "like a thief in the night." One cannot force from "superconsciousness" its blessings in the form of deep peace and greater states of consciousness, no matter how "hard" one meditates. One can no more achieve higher states of consciousness through will power than can one "try" to go to sleep. Swami Kriyananda describes meditation in his excellent book, "Awaken to Superconsciousness," as "the upward relaxation into superconsciousness." In meditation, we offer our energy, our will, our act of devotional self-effort into the flow of grace from "above."

Kriya Yoga is given as a form of initiation into discipleship. The opening sentence of Yogananda's autobiography says: "The characteristic features of Indian culture have long been a search for ultimate verities and the concomitant disciple-guru relationship." We cannot escape the reality that God has manifested this cosmos by the power of his illusion (known as "maya"). We are not the ultimate Doer or force behind our own life.

Thus our effort may be every ounce of will but the final result of liberation is largely the flow of grace. It is not whimsical: our effort is the trigger, but neither can it be commanded by our will, for we cannot see or know either the obstacles or the channels through which in time or in space that grace will flow. Yogananda gave this formula for our salvation: 25% our effort; 25% the guru's effort on our behalf; and 50% God's grace!

So I add my testimony to that of wiser ones when I acknowledge that the peace and inspiration of meditation flows "where the wind willeth" and not under my control. As one practices kriya yoga or any form of valid spiritual seeking, one learns, bit by bit, that the true Doer is the Divine Will and when we place our will at the feet of the Infinite Power, the little self is transformed by the Great Self of All.

In your meditation, then, offer yourself at the feet of Infinity and ask that God, in the form of a true teacher, come into human form with right teachings, right technique and as the right teacher (for you), to guide you to the Infinite shores of Self-realization.

Joy to you,

Hriman




Monday, August 18, 2014

Diversity vs. Depth

I had a conversation the other day that brought up a subject I'd like to share. The subject is not reflective so much of the conversation as it was prompted by the conversation. It goes something like this: a sincere person seeks to live a spiritual life and wonders if he or she should renounce or withdraw from his or her current environment and seek a more spiritually supportive one. Some of the issues include loyalty to friends, neighbors and present occupation, including the service one renders to others or could potentially render if one embarks upon a deeper spiritual life of service.

I remember a man in one of my raja yoga classes years ago: he was older, close to retirement, and very inspired by the path of meditation and raja yoga. At the end of the course he disclosed that he had made a decision to remain "in the world" serving people "on the street" rather than continue with his studies with Ananda and with deepening his meditation practices (presumably in the direction of learning kriya yoga, which we teach).

Though few articulate their choices in this way, many, I have come to see, struggle with a similar choice. Ok, it's fine to say that some people are not ready to make a deeper spiritual commitment in their life. So, sure, we can say there's no "right" or "wrong" choice here. But, by contrast, we can say that some actions lead us toward God and others don't or at least are less likely to. From stories of Paramhansa Yogananda as told by my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, I understand that sometimes a choice like this might impact one for many, many incarnations to come. A spark of spiritual awakening might not recur for a very long time.

It is also true to say that very, very, very few people come to a fork in the road with this as their choice. Few, in other words, have an interest in a deeper spiritual life to begin with. Few have the opportunity, as well. So it is not an unimportant question from the standpoint of karma and reincarnation, and many, many lives of "soul searching."

As the famous story of Martha and Mary illustrates, it is a false dichotomy to see the spiritual path as a choice that eschews involvement and service in the world. (Jesus chides Martha for being too busy in the kitchen, praising Mary for sitting at his feet and absorbing his spiritual vibrations. The issue is not one of service but of attitude and consciousness. Martha was all "hot and bothered" and wanted Jesus to tell Mary to come and help her. For all we know, maybe he did!)

It is the ego, in fact, or at least ignorance, that, in subtly resisting a deeper spiritual commitment, views that commitment as judging the world and giving up on one's friends, family, and ordinary activities and occupation. The important thing, spiritually, is whether one's heart, mind, and hands are drawn toward God or towards ego motivated desires. The details: how, where, when, etc., are secondary.

Getting back to the conversation I had and admitting that I'm not really sure what possibly hidden motivations triggered it, the term "diversity" was used. At first, it seemed that the "diversity" alluded to was a racial one, implying that in city life one is exposed to different races and types of people and how wonderful (and spiritual?) that is. Whether accurately or not, I extended the term, in my mind, to the diversity inherent in city life: amusements, activities, people, and so on. All over the planet, people are drawn to cities for the opportunities in employment, comforts, a better life, and, yes, amusements and worse, that a city offers. There's no doubt that such a move has freed millions from the bondage of village life with its monotony, prejudice, and ignorance.

It is also true that cities are spiritual cesspools at least as much as they are spiritual oases!  (And that assessment is rather generous, I'd say.) So, yes, one's motivation and attraction to move to and remain in a city will differ greatly. But, from years of teaching (in the city) and counseling, I have also seen where the issue is a false one.

It is, for most, a false dichotomy. The activity, the restlessness, the delusions of the world around us are what most people (asking this question) are familiar with. The outward forms of spirituality (group meditations, living in an ashram-like community, serving in a spiritual work, living, perhaps, in the country away from cities -- these being typical aspects of Ananda, at least) are unfamiliar. Standing on the precipice of a choice between the familiar and the unfamiliar, most people prefer the familiar. That one can excuse this using the spiritual rationale that one might accomplish greater good by remaining in the world is essentially just that: an excuse. Like the famous warrior-disciple Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra confronting his kith and kinsmen arrayed for battle, we question our commitment to the "battle of life" inasmuch as it appears to require the destruction of that which is most familiar to us. (A scene from the scripture, the Bhagavad Gita.)

It is axiomatic in lifestyle changes of any importance that one's new way life must be protected, like a young plant, from the foraging marauders of past habits and associations, including former friends. If it is, in fact, one's dharma to serve (spiritually) in a worldly environment then one's dharma will find you. But to have a period of time, perhaps several years, even more, in a spiritually saturated environment where new habits of devotion, daily meditation, God-reminding service, and the company of high-minded souls can take root and go deep is necessary so that whatever one's future service may be, can flower from the spiritual depths within you. (To raise a child in such an environment is a great spiritual boon; whatever "sacrifice" in diversity might be more than gained in spiritual depth and consciousness that sees "unity in diversity.")

This is a fair and good question and of course the "answer" always must be, "It depends.....on you." It is not untypical of a human life cycle that as the years go by, interest in "diversity" wanes and acceptance and preference for routine and stability wax. Most people probably become what Paramhansa Yogananda called "psychological antiques" as a result of this all too common tendency.

But there is a spiritual side to it, too. For the awakening soul, worldly diversions and diversity lose their glamor and attraction. The Bhagavad Gita puts it this way in the words of Krishna: "What is day for the worldly man, is night for the yogi and what is day for the yogi is night for the worldly person." A devotee might see the unchanging Atman or Spirit in all of the world's outward diversity and thus no longer find any profit in the exercise of this inner sight. Thus the yogi might indeed withdrawn from active involvement in the world, no longer needing it for spiritual growth.

More likely, however, is that, as Jesus put it so well, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God......and all these things will be added unto you." Wherever you are, and whatever you do, put God "first" by daily prayer and meditation; offer yourself, your actions, your thoughts and your feelings up to God every morning, throughout the day, and at the end day......give it to God. God can come to you wherever you are.

But, if your life allows you to "put God first" in a dynamic way, immersing yourself with like-minded souls, don't turn your back on this by excusing your own unfulfilled desires or restlessness saying "I can do more good by remaining in the world." To do so is more likely to jeopardize the inspiration that led you to have a choice and to ask the questions.

There is another aspect to it which is, as Paramhansa Yogananda put it, "Environment is stronger than will." One whose worldly desires are still present and magnetic will be influenced in that direction in an environment filled with disparate vibrations of consciousness. Such a one would do well to be surrounded by others of like-mind to strengthen one's aspirations toward truth such that one becomes strong spiritually.

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Can Meditation Make You Happier?

This year's "Spiritual Renewal Week" (http://expandinglight.org/) at the Expanding Light Retreat (located at Ananda Village near Nevada City, CA USA), has for its theme, "Finding Happiness." Numerous speakers will share thoughts on many aspects of the increasingly vital topic, "how to find happiness." It just so happens that "Finding Happiness" is the title of the movie about Ananda's worldwide network of intentional communities, but it also presents to us in these days of great uncertainty, countless lifestyle options, and turmoil, a timely AND timeless subject.

It is difficult to keep up with the published studies on the effects of meditation on the brain, the mind, the body, and general "spirits." But the question is worth asking: "Can meditation make you happier?"

My favorite answer to these types of questions is, "It depends......on you!" Let's start by saying meditation can help you become calmer. Being calmer allows you to be clearer in both emotions and thoughts (two sides of the coin, I'd say). Being calmer allows you to make choices about your response to stress or anything that might make you UNhappy or LESS happy. To activate this potential, you have to make the effort to retain that calmness sufficiently well enough to use your will to remain even-minded, and to choose your response rather than react. Rather than bite someone's "head off," you might take a deep breath and remaining calm, patiently explain your thoughts. Etc. etc.

But meditation can take us deeper than simply remaining "mindful" and calm. There are stages of meditation and much of what's taught under the stress reduction category of "mindfulness" is just an entry level stage....unless practiced "longer and deeper," that is. Other techniques (combining attitude, feeling, intention, and the technical aspects of the deeper meditation science) can accelerate the depth of your meditation. But not merely mechanically. There's more to it than mere mechanics.

Many prior blog articles have explored aspects of meditation but for this blog, on finding happiness, let me say that a deeper experience of meditation partakes of the nectar of true happiness directly, without intervention of thoughts, intentions or techniques. It's like taking a bath or shower; standing under a weightless waterfall of joy and peace! Experiencing a form of happiness that is not circumstantial and not conditioned by any outer situation, one "knows" a joy that slowly begins to percolate through one's body cells and consciousness. Bit by bit, day by day, the bubble of happiness permeates your thoughts, attitudes and actions and, by so doing, magnetizes to you even greater opportunities for joy, for gratitude, for service, for self-forgetfulness..........for lasting happiness.

It would be fair to ask whether this deeper experience requires a belief system, a faith ideal, or any form of religious or spiritual affiliation or inclination. I want to say "Yes," but, in fact, it does not. But, which came first, the "chicken or the egg?" The one can lead to the other and vice versa. I cannot say for sure that deep and regular immersion in this state of consciousness can remain always a subjective experience with no intuition about God or "other" arising, but let me say, rather, that the search for meaning (and what is meaning if not happiness) will ineluctably, inevitably and indubitably lead us to the "truth that shall make us free." I think that's all I need to say because each soul's path to truth (and what is truth if not God) is unique and is his own. I can speculate but, no matter.

I will say this, however, those souls who intuitively are drawn to seek the "other" (as I have frequently commented upon in other blogs), who are open to the presence of God, Christ or the masters, in whatever form, and have an innate devotional awareness will have in place an important piece of this thing we call "truth." That's as much as I can say.

So, yes, meditation can help you find the wellspring of happiness that is, as we often say at Ananda, "within you."

I believe some of the key events are video streamed on the internet. Classes begin Monday mid-morning, August 18. See the link above for more information.

Blessings to all,

Hriman