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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, 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.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Reincarnation: Making a Comeback!

Yes, it's true: studies show that belief in reincarnation is making a comeback. Did you know that Matt Damon believes that he'll be "bourne" again?

Anyway: here we go again. I suppose anyone reading this would have seen the movie, now rather aged, "Groundhog Day." Starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell in a romantic comedy, Groundhog Day features a story in which the protagonist must repeat one day in his life until he "gets it right." It's a comedic study on reincarnation that never mentions reincarnation. It's a delightful, if somewhat silly, movie.

It surprises me, on the one hand, that people scoff at the idea of reincarnation. Yet, on the other hand, why wouldn't they: almost no one can seriously recall even one past life. (Those who do are usually assumed to be a little "light-headed.")

Thing is: can you remember all the incidents and facts of your present life that you DON'T remember? Duh, of course not. Fact is we don't remember 99.9999% of our current life. Our early childhood probably consists of a few fleeting images. As for the rest of our years, we could only reconstruct them in soft chewy bites by referencing jobs we've held, births, deaths, divorces and on and on. It's shocking how quickly we forget the facts. What stays with us, however, is the sense of success, or failure, happiness, grief and the many small but mounting repetitions of attitudes, skills, words, and habits.

I joke with students in my classes that anyone who is a parent must surely believe in reincarnation. Watch your infant grow and pay close attention: from whence comes that fully-armed nuclear bomb of tendencies?

While I admit that most average people on the planet don't waste time speculating on the origins of the universe, the existence of God, the source of evil, and the wide disparity of wealth, health, success, failure, suffering, happiness and longevity. But some do: most likely you and I, right?

A thoughtful person, putting aside for the sake of and the joy of contemplation, the nagging need for proof, would no doubt question the "why's" of life. The answer to those facts of disparity cannot be accounted for by a person's genes. Science admits that genes only offer a sense of potential, not a blueprint of predestination. Wherefore, therefore, this disparity; the shocking injustice of birth and circumstance?

If God is the cause, well, "the hell with him!" Could we be the cause? But how? Where's the beef? (the proof, in other words).

There are many things in life -- important things -- whose cause and origins remain a mystery to us. Science has revealed a great many things about the material world, large and small, but seems impotent to reveal the things of life that matter the most to us: health, love, birth, death and so on.

I'm reading a book right now: it's called "Why Does the World Exist?" (by Jim Holt) When I "googled" this as a question I got 118,000,000 "hits." The efforts by scientists and philosophers to answer this question seem ludicrous to me (as a Vedantin), but it's obvious the question of our existence is far from ludicrous to the deepest thinkers of humanity down through the ages. Like most of humanity who seeks happiness through the fleeting pleasures of the senses or the ego-affirming victories of wealth, status, or power, it may well be that philosophers and scientists are asking the wrong question and/or looking for the answer in the wrong places. Fortunately for you, I won't attempt to weigh in on this subject.

But what I want to suggest is that, in general, a thoughtful person ought to be, at very least, agnostic: which is to say, willing to say, "I don't know, but I am open to the truth, whatever it is and whatever its source." The truth and source could be fundamentalist, orthodox, or entirely nonconformist. What I have observed in the heated dialogues among scientists, religionists and philosophers is, well, just that: heated dialogue. That alone tells me that some are not being objective while others are being dogmatic.

In Chapter 35 of the now famous book, "Autobiography of a Yogi," in the beginning paragraphs of Chapter 35, The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya, you will find a succinct but extraordinary proof that Jesus, in the New Testament, acknowledges the teaching of reincarnation and you will discover a cogent and persuasive revelation of the name of Jesus' guru. Visit http://www.ananda.org/autobiography/#chap35

In a charming recorded talk by Paramhansa Yogananda (author of "Autobiography" cited above) entitled "One Life versus Reincarnation," he presents arguments for both sides: that we live only one life, and, that we live many lives. (You can listen to a five minute clip here: http://www.yogananda-srf.org/listentopy/Listen_to_Paramahansa_Yogananda.aspx#.VHFWz9LF-So )

Fact is, however, we DON'T remember past incarnations. Fact is: we cannot know the future. Fact is: we only have the present to live. Not for the present, but in the present. Through mindfulness of our attitudes and actions, and especially by the power of daily meditation, we can know the consequences (though not the details) of our past actions ("karma") and we can learn how to improve ourselves thereby. That's all that matters.

It has been said, no doubt well and truly, that if we COULD remember past lives we would be horribly burdened. People tend to dwell on their mistakes and few claim their victories. Our lack of memory gives to us a fresh start with each life. Yogananda was once presented an infant to hold. He said he almost dropped the kid because he "saw" the consciousness of a murderer residing in that sweet, little body!

It is here and now that we exist. "Now" is the alpha and omega of our conscious actions. Past and future lay hidden behind a veil. The ability to know our past lives arises, we are told by Patanjali, author of the "Yoga Sutras," to the degree we become unidentified with our present life (body and personality). Only in the expanded and free consciousness of nonattachment can we bear the burden of the past and with that power we can free ourselves from its chains and our identification with it.

While the doctrine of reincarnation and its corollary, the law of karma, can help comfort us and help us accept the disparities of life's manifold destinies, it remains for us but speculative philosophy, albeit the best there is on the market of human understanding. There are those, however, who can see, or even catch glimpses, of the subtle threads of karma which intrude upon the present. For us, too, this will come if we make the right effort now to expand our consciousness from its identification with the little self, its tiny and temporary flesh-cage, and its strutting ego upon the brief stage of life.

Look, perhaps, instead at the patterns of life: yours, and others. You see how we repeat and repeat our mistakes, our successes, our habits and thoughts. One generation abuses the next, and the next abuses the next. Sooner or later someone down the line rebels and breaks the chain of karma through heroic struggle and, I might add, grace from a higher Power. We see repetition also in nature and all around. Repetition also fosters change, growth and evolution. Reincarnation is more like a spiral staircase: going up, or, in some cases, going down.....all according to the law of cause and effect (karma).

Every day can be a new life. Every night our miseries are dismissed from our mind. Reincarnation is all around us. Take it where we find it and probe its secrets. The secret is, simply, to "wake-up." Patanjali says the path to enlightenment is the result of smriti, memory: recollectedness (mindfulness).

The repeating patterns of thought and behavior can be broken by watching, observing, feeling and intuiting their goodness or their harm. Forget the "Thou shalt not...." and substitute "Awareness precedes change." This should be our guide, looking neither left nor right but straight ahead. If what we find no longer serves our true happiness, then we can resolve, in concert with a higher Power (God, Christ, guru) to change it.

If you're still not sure, then rent "Groundhog Day." It will at least be entertaining. Yogananda said God made this world for our entertainment. We must not be caught up in the drama, for it is only a play; a dream of God. Remember: "the good guy gets the girl and the bad guy goes to jail!" So be a good guy and play your role with attention to the script and following the cues of the Director. Someday your movie career will end in an Oscar of bliss-applause presented to you by Divine Mother (the "girl")!

Joy to you, joy to you, joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!



Friday, November 14, 2014

Thanks & Giving! Not Necessarily the Same Thing!

The American holiday -- Thanksgiving -- is soon to arrive. Many will pause, however briefly, to give "thanks"............there's "thanks" but there's also "giving."

It just so happens the Ananda center here (near Seattle, WA) is hosting a Gala Fundraising dinner Sunday night (November 16). We are starting a three-year campaign of pledge-raising to service loans for the construction of a building known as the Fellowship Hall. The Hall will be next to the meditation temple and completes the original site plan for the use of the property here.

Our Sangha (or "fellowship" or "congregation") here in the greater Seattle and Washington state area has long been an active, creative, and forward thinking group. I think this must reflect a characteristic common to the northwest: self-initiative for the good of all. Both the Temple (which opened in December 2006) and, next year, the Fellowship Hall are tangible, practical expressions of our members active and generous "giving." If we were to count our membership for and by itself, we do not need these buildings for our own purposes. They are a gift to untold numbers yet to be blessed and inspired.

Reflecting, as indeed one does and should this time of year, upon the many reasons to be thankful, let us also reflect how we can be "giving." Gratitude without giving back is like offering sympathy from a safe distance (and taking no action). And if there's one thing our planet needs, it is an attitude of giving back, rather than taking or feeling a sense of entitlement.

One of the great currents of consciousness on our planet is the slowly growing realization that all life is interdependent and we can live and prosper best if we think and act for the good of all. Voluntary cooperation -- creative and intelligent -- for a greater good allocates resources far better than Adam Smith's narrowly defined self-interest. Self-interest is expansive when it goes outward to include the well-being of others and it is contractive when it is limited to oneself, or stops at a predefined boundary such as one's family ("Us four and no more"), tribe or group.

Much of the twentieth century saw the involuntary imposition of "giving" and sharing in the form of communism. Nothing imposed upon others against their will can be said to be "giving." 

I admit that some days when I survey the headlines from around the world I can get discouraged, but that's not really the big picture. How could it be, what with the extensive travel, education, and admixture of cultures in every city and country in the world? 

It is grim, admittedly to consider this, but I am certain that if you were to graph the numbers of people, military and civilian, who have died during the twentieth century in and around wars, purges, pogroms, pandemics, famines, and genocide, we would see a decline in those grisly statistics as the twentieth century progressed and has moved into the twenty-first century. (That's not to say that trend is unalterable and permanent, but, for now, at least, it's in the right direction. I strongly suspect our planet will have to suffer much, much more before the tide towards peace and cooperation turns strongly enough to remain for a very long time.)

It's the "giving" part of Thanks-Giving that I am thinking about. I live in the Ananda Community near Seattle, WA and our community is part of a worldwide network of intentional communities with a supportive and interconnected web of businesses, services and organizations. To create this from nothing has taken the efforts and resources of thousands of dedicated people for whom narrow self-interest has been sublimated into a greater cause. The result is a bunch of joyful and creative people -- not just here in Seattle, but all over the world! Our first movie, in fact, is called Finding Happiness! (see the masthead for this blog)

Americans are a practical people. Ananda has never been funded or endowed and we've had to learn to be practical at the grass roots where real people have to work together to create and sustain themselves and our services to the public. Paramhansa Yogananda, the twentieth century spiritual leader and author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," counseled Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, to "make your ideals practical." That counsel and that necessity has been integral to our experiences in America, in Europe and, more recently, in India.  

One who receives a precious gift and says only "Thank you," but does not otherwise reciprocate in some meaningful form dilutes the meaning of the gift. (Of course, a precious gift should only be given in appropriate circumstances!) Nonetheless, let's not just give thanks alone but give to an ideal and cause greater than our own in practical ways of time, money, creativity and harmony!  Gratitude is an appropriate and necessary beginning to the awakening of consciousness and recognition of our connection with others. It should ignite, however, the desire to give in return!

This world, sorely pressed as it is, by plagues, natural disasters, war, hunger, homelessness, violence, abuse and injustice, sorely needs Givers to spread the message of our Oneness in God: the message of Self-realization. Wish us "well" in our building of the Fellowship Hall, too!

Thanks for reading.....

Hriman