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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.

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

Monday, July 7, 2014

Go On Alone or "I'm with you"? Nishkam Karma!

A defining moment in my life took place on a jet airplane somewhere over Iran in June of 1976. I had travelled Europe and India for over a year by car and was returning at last to the United States. I was broke in more ways than one. Not defeated; nor sad, mind you, but perplexed over the simple fact that I did not find what I was seeking.

Oh, yes, it was an adventure, all right--driving from Germany through Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and then to the Indian subcontinent: down one side of India by car and up the other, with extended stays here and there, including Sri Lanka and Nepal, just to mention two.

But it was also a spiritual quest and in this I returned empty handed: like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and with her little dog, Toto. Not only was I not in "Kansas" anymore but I learned, as she did from the Wizard, that all I was seeking was to be found at home. "What you don't bother to seek within, you will not find without," said Swami Sri Yukteswar (in "Autobiography of a Yogi," by Paramhansa Yogananda). Or, as Mark Twain ruefully put is a fool's paradise....wherever I went that fellow Mark Twain had to come, too (I couldn't get rid of him and his foibles).

But in the middle of the night at 30,000 feet, stretched out over several seats (in the old days when that actually could happen), I realized that what I sought I had not found on my own. There came to me by way of intuition (and not so much in words), the recognition and acceptance that my spiritual search needed to be in association with others of like mind. I realized too that I had been resisting this important reality.

It was not long after returning to my childhood home in Monterey, CA that I met my future wife, Padma. She introduced me to "Autobiography of a Yogi" and then to Ananda Village (and Swami Kriyananda). We soon moved there and the rest, as they say, "is history."

I have long thought that this revelation was done with me; I had received it, acted upon it, and life went on. But recently I have had to face the reality that this "chicken" (to quote my prior blog on being over 60 years old) had returned to the roost. It came in the form of a gift: a gift from my adult children in the form of a Vedic astrology reading! In this reading (by John "Drupada" MacDonald), I was told that, unlike my western astrology chart had told me, I was influenced by the sign Scorpio and by that of Virgo.

I have no interest in explaining these astrological terms (since it would only show my profound ignorance) but I will say that my decades long assumption that I reflected more the balanced and loving and outgoing aspects of Libra (sun sign) went up in smoke.

Ironically, the first thing I said to Drupada on our video chat (where he was to reveal to me the interpretation of my Vedic chart), was that "I had come out of my cave to speak with him." I don't know why I said those words, for I had never used them before to describe the small home office space I inhabit, but I did. He laughed and used my words to reveal my "scorpio" (hiding like a scorpion under a rock before emerging to sting someone) tendencies.

Further irony is that he says my chart indicates an upcoming period of greater public visibility while personally I feel just the opposite. Whether cave or rock, that's where I feel most comfortable at this point in my life.

I recall that as a young child I played long hours on my own. I'd play out in the sand, dirt, lawn, and gravel creating a pretend world of cars and trucks. My mother said I asked all the "big" questions which she claims she was at a loss to answer.

All my adult life I have had a consistent tendency to prefer working on my own, not wanting to involve or "bother" other people. At the same time I've realized that I (like everyone else) am largely incapable of accomplishing anything other than the trivial on my own.

Moving away from the uncomfortable subject of "me," I want to say that we humans and we as souls are not only social but we are part of the fabric of a greater consciousness and can never, never function on our own except in meaningless ways. The greatest artists, scientists, humanitarians and saints all were nurtured in a milieu that supported their unique genius.

Yet, at the same time, spiritually speaking, we face our "God" alone, just we must face death alone, no matter those who may surround us. Only we, alone and facing the seeming emptiness and darkness which lies beyond the realm of the body and the outer world, can confront the void and the infinite bliss which is God and which is our soul's true nature.

What an irony! In the world of action, which includes therefore, karma and our efforts to work out our karma and fulfill our soul's dharma to achieve freedom, we must work with other souls; other realities than our own ego. As an ego we are less than insignificant. As a soul, we are God incarnate, a spark of the Infinite flame. To the degree we live and act in attunement with the greater reality of Life which could be called God, we discover meaning and achieve fulfillment.

Our oneness with life confronts our existential aloneness in seeking God. These two realities are but sides of the same coin of the one reality. The ego must die so that the soul, which is eternal, can be reborn. The bridge might be called "nishkam karma." Nishkam karma is the way of action which leads to "inaction" (meaning: loss of personal doership, loss of ego).

We are enjoined by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, and by great scriptures and saints everywhere, to "act without thought of self-interest." To fulfill our God-given duties as best we can, calmly, joyfully, with excellence and yet, without attachment to the consequences: this is nishkam karma.  In this action I act without thought of what I get in return, whether money, recognition, self-satisfaction....any thought of "what I want." Whether we withdraw or engage, either can be nishkam karma or just plain karma, it depends upon intention and consciousness.

I may feel like withdrawing from the field of battle but, like Arjuna in the beloved Gita, I must "bear arms" and continue the good fight, serving the Light, working out my karma and fulfilling my divine dharma to "know, love, and serve God" in this world (quote from the Catholic Baltimore Catechism). There is not necessarily, however, any contradiction in reconciling the dharma, if it is such, to be more public with the dharma, felt inwardly, to be more in the Self. This is, at least, as I view it. Indeed as my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, used to say, "Reality is both-and."

"When this "I" shall die, then shall "I" know "Who am I""  "Thy will, Lord, not my will."


Nayaswami Hriman