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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.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Do I Need a Guru?

Do I Need a Guru?

(Note: I write this inspired as I am this day, July 25, which commemorates the meeting of Mahavatar Babaji with Paramhansa Yogananda for the purpose of endorsing Yogananda's inspiration to go to America. Yogananda prayed all night for a sign that his going was the Divine will. The next morning the peerless Babaji came to him at 4 Garpar Road, Calcutta, to give his blessing to one who was destined to bring the work of kriya yoga to the West and to the world.)

Well, if that’s the question, I say, “Is the pope Catholic?” Mozart was once asked how it was he composed music at age 4 or 5? Mozart’s reply was simple: “I didn’t have to ask that question.”

If a person is seeking a partner in life and is attracted to someone, if he has to ask, “Am I in love?” I’d say, “Wait.” If you have to ask a question like that, it means the answer is no. Important things in life aren’t answered by listing out the “pros” and “cons” on a sheet of paper.

One who asks, “Do I need a guru,” doesn’t. And, not because he doesn’t, but because he isn’t ready. When he is ready, he won’t ask the question.

Now, many a person approaches the marriage altar unsure of herself. Self-doubt is certainly an obstacle. Things might work out just fine. Or, not! Yet, despite the doubt, the very fact of approaching altar speaks for itself. Others approach with great certitude only to later encounter stormy waters and crushing disappointment. Whether falsely confident or unnecessarily doubting, the mental static of each thwarts the power of intuition to know what is true.

When I read Autobiography of a Yogi the first time, I simply knew. It wasn’t that I said, “I have found my guru.” Rather, it was that “I knew.” I knew that I had to take the next step even though I didn’t know where it would lead. I had enough intuition and faith to take those steps. And, they weren’t timid steps, for these steps included leaving my birth family and moving to Ananda Village with little to no idea what I was getting into. I wasn’t thinking in terms such as “discipleship” to a person, but I was inspired by Yogananda’s teachings and by the opportunity to live those teachings with others in community. I was fired with calm enthusiasm and confidence. 

Besides, Yogananda, as a person, died in 1952 when I was less than two years old. I had not yet met Swami Kriyananda but that didn’t seem to matter much either. I was blessed with a knowing. I never gave one thought to the details. In fact, it was 1977, one year after the fire at Ananda Village: there were no homes and fewer jobs in a remote corner of Nevada County in the Sierra foothills where Ananda Village was located. There wasn’t much there to see: besides a few tepees and huts, there was the Publications building, a very old farmhouse that was the tiny grocery store, a two-room Village office, an old barn and a schoolhouse on a hill.

My attraction may have included inspirational ideas but my response was, and had to be, very personal. One’s response to grace is always personal. For starters, it was personal because a person, Padma, was the one who introduced me to the "Autobiography;" for another, she introduced me to Swami Kriyananda and Ananda! For another, she was interested in me! It doesn’t get more personal than that. My life was about to change drastically and it was very personal!

Nonetheless, though I wasn’t averse or reactive to the word “discipleship,” discipleship wasn’t, for me, the operative word. It would have been too formal for my vocabulary at that time. But that is certainly what it was. And so, bit by bit, step by step, Paramhansa Yogananda came into my life and consciousness.

No response to grace by one person can define the spiritual path. But human life, in its conscious and intentional and intuitive forms, is a constant cycle back and forth between the impersonal and the personal. 

For those who, like myself, begin at the point of ideas, the path becomes increasingly personal. For those who begin at the point of an inspired personal relationship, the path, in order to become whole and complete, becomes increasingly idealistic. But this cycle has to balance and is never static.

I have come full circle in my life on this issue, for, year after year I practiced kriya yoga; year after year I served at the first Ananda Community near Nevada City, CA; year after year I served with, listened to, was taught by and learned from Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda. You could say it kept getting more and more personal! It HAS to because WE ARE personally involved. Our very soul is struggling to emerge from the cocoon of ego. All the abstractions and metaphysical precepts in the universe can’t change the personal nature of spiritual growth.

I have come full circle on this in my life. Many students question why it is that to learn kriya yoga one must accept the disciple-guru relationship with Paramhansa Yogananda and the line of preceptors who sent him. With personal experience, I have come to know why.

I have said to others who question this need, “Go ahead: try to advance spiritually on your own.” Anyone who makes an ardent, sincere and intelligent effort will discover the truth (“that will make you free”): we are not alone and we cannot transcend the ego with the ego’s best efforts alone. Something else — a greater power — is needed. It’s like the website “Kickstarter.” To get a successful venture off the ground, you need spiritual “financing.”

All the kriyas, all the donations, all the creative, tireless, self-less service one performs for spiritual growth are necessary but they constitute only 1/4th of what it takes. For one thing, the doing of such activities are sticky: they stick to the sense of personal, egoic doership.

On the 8-Fold Path of Patanjali, among the five items he lists as the “Do’s” is devotion. Devotion is what propels self-effort towards the soul by way of ego transcendence. Recognition of the “otherness” of the soul, of superconsciousness, of God, and heartfelt self-offering into the guidance and power of the “Other” is the necessary “spice” that makes the soup of spiritual growth nutritious and soul-satisfying.

As I have stated earlier, the spiritual path is personal. Devotion becomes personal when, in response to our heartfelt efforts and devotion, God’s grace and presence flows to us and comes to us through the guru. Timing is everything. Timing includes the question of when we meet the guru face-to-face in the body. It’s not that the true guru is limited by time or space but one’s readiness to encounter the guru in human form varies from person to person. 

We, at Ananda, are disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda but he left his body in 1952. Through the touch of his direct disciple, Swami Kriyananda, we have been inspired and instructed. A time will no doubt come in a future life or on a higher plane when our meeting will be complete in every way. So while the guru is already transcendent and doesn’t need a physical body, we need the guru to appear in human form for our own instruction and inspiration. Otherwise, without incarnation, how would I know anything about the guru: the teachings, the techniques, the life example and stories?

The fact of avatara (divine incarnation) is also the promise of our soul’s immortality. It also hints at how God created and sustains all creation: by an act of becoming. It is logically and philosophically necessary that a soul in human form has achieved Self-realization. This demonstrates the eternal promise, the covenant between God and man that we are His children, made in His image.

The guru is an incarnation of divinity. No single guru can circumscribe or otherwise limit the Infinite Power of God. Nonetheless, one who has “become one with the Father” (in a previous life), returns to human incarnation with the full power of divinity. As God has become the entire universe but the forms and beings of creation have not yet realized this truth, so God incarnates on earth in human form through the vehicle of a soul who has reunited with “the Father” and become Self-realized as a son of God.

Each true (or “sat”) guru remains unique, as each snowflake is unique. This is the law of creation and duality. Thus each guru in any given life will uniquely express God’s will and vibration appropriate both to the unique nature of that Self-realized soul and to the needs of those to whom that guru is sent. No one guru has the final “say.”

It has been well said that “idolatry is the bane of religion.” But so is dogmatism, sectarianism and just about every other vice that infests human consciousness. In the case of idolatry, it is the all too common error of mistaking the form (the human persona of the guru) for the divine spirit which animates the guru’s consciousness. Thus, some object to what they view as the “worship” of the guru for the fact that such devotion belongs solely to God and for the fact that human beings are imperfect.

No point “arguing” with that objection. A good disciple should try always see God as acting through the guru. Yogananda repeatedly reminded disciples that “God is the guru. I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this form but He.” Still, if a sincere but somewhat less than clear-minded disciple lavishes his devotion somewhat too personally upon the guru, forgetting the correct philosophical attitude, it seems hair-splitting so long as the disciple harms no one in his devotions. The problem for such a disciple is that too personal an attitude will, in time, affirm the very ego that the disciple seeks to transcend by virtue of his devotion!

I have come, as I have said, full circle. I will do my kriyas; I will serve; I will do my best to attune my will to the divine will, but it is the mindful, affirmative, and real-time sense of the guru’s presence that is more important than anything that this “I” can do.

In meditation, I try to feel his presence; I try to visualize his eyes, his face, or feel that special state that, for me, says “He is here.” I go from my inner self-talk, monologue, to a dialog with him. I tell him my secrets; I ask his advice; I laugh and cry with him. The world around me may go up or down and all around, but so long as I have my guru at my side, I am whole. I am safe in the arms of his grace.

No, you don’t need a guru……..unless you want to know God; unless you want to be free from the limitations of duality, of the ego, and of your karma. But you may have to wait. You won’t find your guru by chasing and seeking but by becoming a better seeker, a living disciple of truth, of life, of God’s will. “When the disciple is ready, the guru appears.”


Jai Guru!.....blessings,

Nayaswami Hriman


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Can God be Known?

“If there was a sound continuous since birth, what would you call it? Silence!” These words from a talk given by my spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013) were the opening line to his teaching a meditation technique designed to enable one to hear the cosmic sound of AUM.

One of the earliest learning lessons of an infant-toddler is that its mother is separate from itself. For, having been conceived in her womb and attached to her from the moment of its first breath, and only separated from her when asleep (and therefore subconscious), the child has to learn by experience that mother is not merely an extension of himself.

It can be said, therefore, that the only way to distinguish another person or object is if that person is observably separate from oneself.

Perhaps one reason we cannot prove the existence of God is that God is not separate from us! God, it is said, IS us. It is said, further that all that exists is the result of God becoming the creation. In so doing, God masks His own nature (which has no discernable form) or, put another way, “clothes” Himself in the forms of creation like so many masks. The first and original “invisible man” puts on creation that He can be seen. But what we see isn’t HIM for He has no form.

God's nature is consciousness itself, for consciousness has no form. Nor is it limited by time and space. That consciousness is not limited by time or space has been proven in a human way by experiments in telepathy wherein distance was no barrier to instant communication. Future predictions can show the potential for prescience over the barrier of time. Fighting crime by way of the help of psychics can reveal that consciousness has access to the past as well. Such established facts might hint at the omniscience of God, the overarching Intelligence.

Consciousness can only be examined by consciousness. While the effects of thinking or states of emotion can be detected and even measured by instruments or seen by consequent actions or words, only consciousness can experience thought or emotions. Consciousness per se cannot be separated from self-awareness. In turn, self-awareness cannot be separated from the awareness of feeling. It may be very calm feeling and it may be very subtle at first.

Imagine being in a deprivation tank and having no thoughts but being vibrantly self-aware. Or, imagine staring at something until all thoughts cease and you are left only gazing ahead of you. At first, you might describe your awareness as being without feeling or emotion. Meditators can experience this and may call it "emptiness" or the void. Prolonged resting in such a state will either cause one to lapse into a trance-like state which is blankness (not advised!), or, there enters into the mind, whether imperceptibly like a rising tide or crashing upon you in a giant wave, an ocean of joy. Whether having entered no-thing-ness (short of a trance) or into bliss, either way, the meditator returns from the experience refreshed, relaxed and vibrantly energized.

We have a more limited experience of this each night in sleep. Sleep is closer to the trance state, however, and thus has no ability to change our consciousness or our life for the better. Nonetheless, without the rest of nightly sleep states we could not function in this world. 

Life is a process of growing in awareness: of the world without, and, the world within. An adult cannot mature unless his awareness of the the realities of others around him expands and allows him thereby to relate responsibly and harmoniously with the world around. Whether cause or effect, the same goes for the inner awareness of oneself. Maturity and, indeed, happiness, derives from the degree of self-acceptance and self-knowledge within and success and harmony without.

Ultimately, a saint or sage is one who increasingly unites the inner and the outer until “what you see is what you get,” meaning a person who is clear, pure, without self-interest, self-giving, wise, and gentle yet strong. At the same time, what you see is no-thing, for purity of mind can only be “seen” intuitively. In the presence of a saint, a skeptic might come away wondering what the saint's "angle" is, for we can only see extensions of our own consciousness.

I marvel at the idea that anyone of sensitivity and awareness can contemplate this vast universe, with its history that stretches over unimaginable epochs, the vastness of the human mind, and the complexity and intricacy of the human body (and, indeed, all living forms) without feeling the presence of an intelligence that is conscious if unimaginably beyond our own, human experience.

Thus it is understandable that, faced with this vastness, one might shrug one’s shoulders in the hopelessness of understanding the universe or in seemingly obvious denial of the possibility of a Being of such vast power and intelligence. Maybe it's like flipping a coin: some like it hot, some not. Nonetheless, logic and human experience favors the obvious and the obvious is that the creation "must be intentional!" Logically speaking, the concept of it all being random is close to impossible, given the yardstick, especially, of the human experience and observation of human accomplishments and greatness. What human creation, artistic or inventive, social or scientific, that is worthy of admiration happens randomly?

But for those who gaze at the stars, or at the nobleness of true love or self-sacrifice, or the mystery of life and can intuit the presence of God, this feeling of awe and admiration gives rise to joy just as this joy gives rise to praise and to knowing that "Love is the Magician!" (The title of Swami Kriyananda's favorite musical composition.) 

Could such a consciousness be without feeling? Is intention of such a scale of creation merely mechanical, as if compelled by some other force, to create? How could the becoming of God into the universe not be anything short of the equivalent of a cosmic orgasm (forgive me), meaning, an act of love and of bliss? Do we, as humans, in any act of creativity (from procreation to invention to artistic creation) feel a notable degree of joy?

Ok, I admit that by the time one gets this “far out,” the stratosphere of metaphysical contemplation can become someone airless, rarified, and beyond day to day reckoning. But this is where the daily experience of meditation comes in because meditation can, if we work at it consistently and with effectiveness, bring us to the brink (and into the "drink") of pure consciousness.

The Indian scriptures say “God is not provable.” This is obvious for the reasons noted at the beginning of this article. By provable they mean by reason and by the senses. But God can be known by experience, which is to say by calm, intuitive feeling.

We can feel the atmosphere of warmth or coldness when we enter a room of people. There are many states of consciousness we can feel and know to be real for ourselves (at least). Meditation gradually refines our feelings to where we sense the presence of God as peace, joy, love, vitality and experience that presence in meditation as astral sound (sound of Aum) and inner light and as all encompassing state of bliss.

As Albert Einstein was sensitized to the abstract realities of time and space, and, as Mozart was sensitized to the world of sounds we call music, so, too, we, who are essentially tiny reflections of the consciousness innate to all creation (and which we call God), can become attuned to the “sound of silence” which is the indwelling presence of God.

It’s not a matter of belief but of practice which leads to experience. As Paramhansa Yogananda often proclaimed (in speaking of meditation and of kriya yoga):  “The time for knowing God has come.”

Blessings to all,

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, July 18, 2014

Do Meditators ever feel "Stress"?

Living among meditators in the Ananda Communities (both residential and virtual), we are a little like Christian scientists: the "S" word is verboten! "Who me? Stressed out? Never!"

So much is said and scientifically proven about how meditation brings relief to overburdened and stressed-out people, that meditation teachers and long-term committed practitioners are inclined to ignore or even deny stress.

It's also true that we DO in FACT handle stress with greater ease and, even more to the point, committed meditators are, by definition, likely to be committed to lives of selflessness, self-offering, self-sacrifice and creative, engaged service. As part of the Ananda worldwide network of communities, meditation and yoga centers, schools and much more, our ethos is precisely one of spiritual growth through joyful, creative service.

In holding, therefore, high ideals that include serious commitment to meditation (both in time and in depth and devotion) as well as engaged, cooperative and creative service, one is naturally living outside one's comfort zone. Most Ananda members who are employed in various occupations and services are engaged in activities for which we had no formal training or prior experience. We are generally working in industries and workplace environments that are unfamiliar to us. Some of our teachers and others are frequently travelling.

Such a high energy lifestyle naturally produces clinical stress. Like the "Peter principle" in which each person is said to rise to his own level of incompetence, those with high ideals stretch themselves to the boundary of comfort and stress. Our spiritual practices and values provide tremendous energy, grace, and creativity (in accordance with our efforts), but spiritual growth necessarily, indeed, by definition, is designed to smash the boundaries and self-imposed limitations of the ego and sub-conscious (our past).

Consider, therefore, that metaphysically speaking, we yogis are striving to "unite with the Infinite!" That's a tall order, to say the least. Is it stressful? Not by definition, of course, but to the extend our sincere and committed efforts include a sense of "doer-ship" then, yes, there will be the likelihood of stress symptoms. The challenges of our intention and efforts are a necessary and integral part of what can help demolish the ego-principle in favor of a flow of divine power and grace. (Easier stated than achieved, however.)

Therefore, symptoms of stress, especially upon the body, are by no means uncommon among true spiritual seekers. Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda, lived past his mid-eighties and never stopped writing, lecturing, travelling, counseling and meditating. In his later years, his body was wracked with the results of offering it ("Brother Donkey," to quote St. Francis) on the altar of service and devotion. It showed, in short, all the symptoms of clinical "stress." But, and here's the difference, he was so much in bliss that there were times he could hardly function.

Some people believe or might argue that a true seeker should always be in balance, joyful, happy, contented, and at peace. Well, then, I see you haven't really tried to "find God!" Not only does God not clear our path to Him of any brambles, but sometimes it feels like He is throwing rocks at us. We call these rocks "divine tests" and we (aren't we?) thankful for them!

In fact, however, as one advances spiritually it is true that INWARDLY, in the midst of the "crash of breaking worlds," a true yogi (devotee) can remain centered, calm and at peace. But it is unrealistic to expect that this is always going to evident on the surface of the body and to the sight of the casual observer. One who is in samadhi may sometimes resemble, outwardly, one who is asleep, but the difference is more than "night and day."

Perhaps one way to view this issue is to note how quickly you recover from stresses. Even spiritually advanced souls might have bouts of irritation, anger or temptation. But a fleeting thought or desire is a far cry from falling, however temporarily, into delusion and committing some serious act that is "adharmic." Having a rough day, but recovering one's peace and inner joy level by the end of it is a good thing. It's relative to one's own path and journey. We can't be measuring ourselves everyday. Like a child with his height marked on the wall by his parents, you can only do that every six