Friday, April 18, 2014

Death & Resurrection, & Reincarnation; Did Jesus have a guru? Reflections on Discipleship

The new life of Spring teaches us that life persists even in the midst of apparent death. In the winter, many animals drop from sight, and plants and trees appear as if dead. Yet, come Spring, they return. While a strict materialist would likely refuse to draw any conclusion beyond the biologically observable obvious, the rest of us, not so confined to our own mental processes or limited by a self-imposed incarceration, find in this annual cycle, profit for speculation and "hope that springs eternal."

Biologically, there is no death, only recycling of materials. Psychologically, in human lives, we say "the fruit falls close to the tree." This is a reference to the easily observable and frequent phenomenon that our human offspring bear a notable resemblance in form, attitude and action to ourselves. Whether cycles of success or cycles of abuse, the patterns of living tend to repeat, if not strictly or literally, at least cyclically.

However life evolves, it persists, even when destruction and death are cataclysmic, though the latter is infrequent, fortunately. Looking more deeply, it is fair to ask whether the two are related: is the death of one the necessary prerequisite for the birth of the other?

Imagine if humans simply never died. This earth would be a big, big mess, wouldn't it? If Michelangelo still lived today, how would that impact the creativity and optimism of new and struggling artists? Extended families would be like unto small countries. I don't think it would be "pretty." Extend this to all biological forms and well, gee, need I say more? Have I then, not answered the question in the affirmative and satisfactorily?

To achieve success in business, in marriage, in health, in spiritual growth, someone has "to die." Some sacrifice has to be made. Someone gets "crucified." It is the "way." To make one choice means to turn away from a plethora of other possibilities. It cannot be helped and it is necessary.

The crucifixion of Jesus was necessary for his resurrection just as it is for you and I in ordinary life choices. It was not necessary for his spiritual benefit, but for ours: for the example he gave to us. The spiritual path is too narrow for the ego and the soul to walk it together, hand in hand. Yet this is what most religionists and spiritual seekers invariably do. We want it all. Millions practice meditation and read eastern teachings and find great inspiration but few want to have a guru or even understand what that really means.

A case can made (and my guru, Paramhansa Yogananda taught that it is so) that Jesus had a guru: Elijah (Elias in the Greek). It was to Elias that he called out from the cross. It was Elias that he saw on Mt. Tabor in the transfiguration (along with Moses). It's deeper than that. John the Baptist is the reincarnation of Elias (Elijah). It's the in Bible itself. [Read Micah, 5:2; Kings 1 19:9-15; Malachi 4:5-6 and the New Testament story of the the conception and birth of John the Baptist in Luke 1:15-17.] Jesus tacitly acknowledged Elias' reincarnation as John in Matt 11:13-15 and again in 17:10-11. Read and decide for yourself!

The one downside is that when John was asked whether he was Elias, he denied it [Luke 1:21]. Remember, however, that a few verses later [26-27] he said he was unworthy even to tie Jesus sandals! Whether as John, his former life and role as Elijah and guru to Jesus' [Elisha] was veiled from his consciousness or whether he was being purposely humble to support Jesus' dramatic role in history, and thereby evasive, cannot be known from the text itself but his denial stands in sharp contrast to Jesus' own words.

On the one hand millions, perhaps billions, profess to follow the teachings of one of the world teacher teachers (Jesus, Moses, Mohammet, Krishna, Buddha, etc.) , but do so half-heartedly, while many millions of others refuse to do so. One way or the other the teachings and life example of such great and history-changing prophets are crucified whether by indifference, ignorance, or misuse. In part, this is why world teachers must come again and again and into different cultures, according to the needs of the people and their ability to "hear."

Yogananda put it this way: "Jesus was crucified once, but his teachings have been crucified daily ever since."

One of the few books Yogananda recommended was "The Imitation of Christ" by Thomas a Kempis. Yogananda said this book is not just the imitation of Christ, "it is Christ."

Instead, the masses prefer sports heroes, politicians, actors, musicians, singers, and fashion celebrities. Such is the general consciousness of our times. Reason alone, and only a little would suffice, suggests that one who seeks spiritual truths and consciousness should seek it from those who have demonstrated they have it!

Jesus' disciples called him "Master" as Yogananda's disciples did. Not because the guru is the master of his disciples but because the guru has achieved self-mastery, even power over objective nature, demonstrated from time to time in the operation of so-called miraculous powers.

Jesus' life was not to show how great he was but how great we could be if we, too, would "follow Me." It saddens me to see so many sincere students of meditation and yoga philosophy dismiss the disciple-guru relationship as irrelevant to and unwanted in their lives. Their meditation practices, however sincere, would bear fruit more quickly were their hearts open to God in human form. How can we profess to be innately, even potentially, divine if we cannot receive divinity more completely in any human form? In describing the role of Jesus, the first Chapter of John declares "As many as received him gave he the power to become the sons of God." We are not different in kind from Jesus, only in the degree of our Self-realization.

As John the Baptist put it for himself and for each of us, "He (Jesus) must increase but I (John) must decrease." The surrender and death of ego are the price for the resurrection of our soul. God takes human form through the souls of those who are "one with the Father." As Krishna put it in the Bhagavad Gita, O Bharata, whenever virtue declines and vice predominates, I incarnate on earth. Taking visible form, I come to destroy evil and re-establish virtue.

Thus the eternal law of death and rebirth find expression in the soul's discarding the cocoon of ignorance and ego to emerge as the butterfly of the soul. The midwife of this rebirth is God in the form of guru who comes to instruct and to transmit the spiritual power to uplift us from the confinement (darkness) of ego consciousness. "Guru" means "dispeller of darkness."

It is through hardship, effort, trial and tribulation that the soul emerges and takes the helm of the ship of its own destiny. No less than any of the best professional or artistic mentors, the guru wants nothing for himself and has everything to give. As in John 10:10: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

As we celebrate Easter, the promise of redemption and resurrection, and the life of Jesus Christ (and all the masters who sacrifice in returning to human form), let us also willingly carry the cross of ego transcendence and of our own karmic burdens. Let us do so with joy because we know the path leads to freedom. In taking on our soul's task we don't have to wait for a future reward, because in right action we receive the joy of the soul. The so-called crown of thorns is what the ego wears but the same crown, to the soul, is the symbol of its self-mastery and its royalty as a child of God.

Study the lives of the masters and following one whose footsteps resonate with your own, attune your heart, mind and actions to the "imitation of (the universal, omnipresent and immanent) Christ (in human form)." Imitation means service to the guru's work; study of the guru's teachings; fellowship with one's "gurubhais,", and meditation & prayer according to the guru's way. To marry one person is not to hate all others. Loyalty is the path to success in all endeavors and freedom for the soul. No longer must we shout, "My way, or the highway." To each his own, for all true paths lead to the One and we need (and can) only walk one.

Lastly, in contemplating the first anniversary of my teacher's passing (Swami Kriyananda, April 21, 2013), I would add that few souls will have the privilege to meet and follow a living Christ-like guru. It might take many lifetimes of sincere spiritual seeking to gain that blessing. Thus for most of us, the more readily available spiritual teachers must suffice. In this, I and thousands hold as an honor and a great blessing to have known and "followed" (i.e. served with) Swami Kriyananda, founder of Ananda and direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda. In India, members of Ananda put together a tribute of gratitude to "Swamiji" and you might find inspiration in viewing it:

A blessed and happy Easter!

Nayaswami Hriman

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Why does God permit Suffering? Why did He create this mess?

A friend wrote:

Dear Hriman, I was cruising along in the Bhagavad Gita until a day or so ago. As soon as I came to a certain part I suddenly was stopped dead in my tracks. "Legend has it that when God first manifested the universe He made it perfect. Men and women, realizing the need for living in perfection, sat in meditation and soon merged back into Brahman. One or more similar attempts were made, all of them with the same result. God then decided, 'I must impose delusion on people. They must struggle, advance by trial and error, and discover that kind of action, and that attitude toward it, which will lead them to bliss and freedom'. Thus it is that we find ourselves in this 'pickle'".

I don't know about you, but this doesn't make sense to me. Is this "impose delusion" strategy the Bhagavad Gita's version of the temptation of Eve? It seems like a queer way for a Creator to act. So maybe this is all just a story and does not pretend to describe what really happened? 

But it did bring up to me a question I've never stopped to think about. Why should we love God? by whatever name you want to use for It. We didn't ask to be created. In a sense we are in this world at the behest of Something else entirely. And 'frankly my dear' this isn't such a great place! So am I supposed to love a God that put me and the rest of us here? Why? There's still no reason for us being at all. All the answers of all the religions and spiritual "classics" haven't yet come up with one that satisfies me in some simple way.

So I'm stuck at present. Not only with the Bhagavad Gita and Sanaatan  Dharma, but also with Christianity. Anyway, since my quandry came out of reading the B.G., and you encouraged me to read it, I figured I might as well ask you for your viewpoint.

Here are some thoughts I shared:

Yogananda often encountered this (doesn't anyone who thinks more deeply about wonder, "Why?") and on at least one recording says "I often fight with Divine Mother. You made this mess. You must free us!"

But he, as others before him, also said "When you achieve salvation, you will know, and you will not regret one bit of the journey, saying "What a great show it was." Yogananda also taught that "The drama of life has for its lesson that it is but a drama."

Stuck in duality, in suffering, separateness, and death, we cry out and say, "Why?" It seems all wrong somehow. God may be in bliss, but we aren't and He made us all, so isn't He responsible for it?

Religion doesn't exist to rob us of inspiration and the strength to overcome negativity, sadness, and despair. Religion doesn't exist to teach us that God is evil, or doesn't care about us, or doesn't feel our pain.

It has been said that God created the universe that He might know and love Himself through many; that He might play the game of hide n seek in the divine romance of duality. Swami Kriyananda writes that "it is the nature of Bliss to want to express and share itself."

Imagine you are immensely creative: perhaps like Shakespeare. You possess a love of life. Though perfectly happy in yourself, you are brimming with joy and ideas. So, like the mighty Bard, you set pen to paper to write the greatest story ever told. To make the story believable and interesting, exciting and inspiring, you need a hero and villain; you need tragedy and comedy. No one would bother to participate in a play that was all sweetness and light: way too dull.

As the playwright you are not evil for having created a believable evil villain to bring conflict and tension into the plot. Nor are you necessarily the swashbuckling handsome hero for the fact that you can write for him good lines and heroic deeds. You are untouched by the drama, for it, after all, is just a drama.

Now good actors know that they just play their parts, following the script even as they enhance it with their skill. Despite public adulation and attention, they remain are just themselves and are not fooled by appearances and plays which for them is simply their job, even if they can also enjoy because they do it well and skillfully. 

If they are but B grade actors, they begin to think of themselves as those roles and in time find themselves typecast, coming again and again to the theater to play those kinds of parts until they grow out of them.

In creating the universe God had to BECOME it. There can be nothing created that is separate from God, for God alone IS: I AM. Yet, God is untouched by the universe He created, while yet immanent in it, while yet the very essence of it: in short, the Trinity. God the Father beyond and untouched by creation; God the son, the innate and immanent intelligence, silent and still at the heart of all motion and in the center of all atoms and hearts; and, God the Holy Ghost, the invisible motion whose rotations and movements spin off all objects and thoughts.

Thus the creation is endowed with the same desireless impulse to create, share, and expand with infinite variety while yet remaining in Himself as the Creator. Armed also with the intelligence to perpetuate that existence, there comes a point in the outgoing power of the Holy Ghost that the emerging separateness gradually becomes "satanic," meaning self-aware, self-affirming and rebellious, seeking to be One unto itself, seeking knowledge and power, and seeking happiness on and as its own in the forms and activities of creation, rather than in communion with the Creator. 

As God is immortal, eternal, Self-aware and blissful in Himself, and as we are but sparks of that Infinity consciousness so we, though deluded to imagine our fulfillment in but His echo (the creation), naturally have the impulse to perpetuate ourselves, self-aware and happy. But in turning our backs on Infinity we grow small and in time as the wheel of birth, life and death, pleasure and pain turns ceaselessly and crushes our hopes repeatedly, we cry out for release from bondage. 

Until such time, however, most souls wouldn't have it any other way. With the endless variety show of creation, it takes countless incarnations before we grow weary of the toys of creation. Like the baby who eventually tires of the new toys his mother drops into his crib to keep him busy while she performs the housework of creation, the baby at last wails and cries for the mother to come pick him up and put him on her lap. 

God remains silent until we, like the prodigal son, rise up from our prison of suffering and want, and begin the long journey home, willing to serve our Father, even as his hired hands. When He sees that we are coming, He will run out to embrace us as His own Son. 

From another angle, then, and returning to your comment about the story of God making his maya more powerful, it might as well have been us choosing to play in the dream of creation rather than come home "before dark." For are we not "like gods?"  ("Do not your scriptures say, 'Ye are gods?'")

No explanation can satisfy the intellect. Only the heart can find satisfaction in opening up to God's love. We can't really love someone we don't know. But we can pray to receive that love that we might return that love in joy and true happiness.  "Thou art the living Christ," said only Peter (of the disciples) when Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do men say I am." Only the heart knows the truth that "can set us free."

No man has revealed to us our birthright as children of Light, but our souls remember that we are not pauper but a prince. And so, in the long history of time, we begin to awaken. Great souls, living Christ-like saviors, walk the earth in every age to bring to humanity the good news of God's eternal promise of our immortality. The touch of God "made flesh" quickens our souls, lighting the lamp of divine love in our hearts.

The intellect can only walk us in the general direction but like Moses, it cannot enter the promised land of divine bliss. The ego (incl. intellect) must at last surrender. To slay the serpent of maya we must enter the desert of inner solitude, stripped and bleached of human desires and passions by the inner sun of wisdom. 

There we can lift this serpent of delusion upon the staff of the straight spine seated in meditation, in silent, inner communion. There, beyond the duality of intellect and the pull of the senses, there in the humble manger of the open heart, the Christ is born. In time, with self-effort and the blessings of grace, this universal, indwelling and eternal Christ will be resurrected.



Friday, April 4, 2014

Easter Thoughts? And, why not?

I just finished a book on the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln: "Lincoln's Battle with God" (Mansfield). The author describes how Lincoln, as a young man, questioned his Christian faith, made light of buffoon-like-ministers, decried sectarianism, dogmatism, and all the craziness that abounds in the name of religion. Lincoln openly and publicly cast doubt upon and scoffed at passages in the Bible. He wrote, but was wisely advised by friends not to publish, a tract essentially declaring himself a "scoffer." In his young adult years, his near-agnosticism and extreme use of reason haunted him, politically, all his life and beyond.

The narrative goes on, however, to trace Lincoln's "conversion" into a deep and abiding faith in God and love for the Bible. Nonetheless, he never joined any church and spoke but rarely of Jesus Christ. His widow, Mary Todd, however, claimed that seconds before her husband was shot by an assassin in Ford's Theater he was speaking to her about his desire, after retirement, to make a pilgrimage to Palestine, the land of our "Savior," as he put it.

Quotes from Lincoln's life are frustratingly at odds and often contradictory. But in this book old Abe is quoted as having remarked that no matter what doubts he might have in regard to the Bible, its clear spiritual authority and its overall positive and uplifting impact upon humanity simply makes it far easier and more reasonable to accept its sacred authority than to reject it. While the de facto thesis of the book, "Lincoln's Battle with God," was to show that Lincoln's faith evolved much further than this simple, tentative and reasoned conclusion, it nonetheless offers the example of a great and noble soul who, like many of our culture who go by the way reason and science, walked step-by-step from rejection toward the direction of a deeper understanding and acceptance of the Bible's true message.

After all, in our age of education, reason and scientific experimentation, and faced with the fractious and bickering and narrow mindedness of so many orthodox religionists, it is all to easy to dismiss the lot, throwing out "the baby with the bath water." Putting President Lincoln's example aside for a moment, let us move on to explore another perspective.

I have previously written about another book, "The Yugas," by authors Joseph Selbie and David Steinmetz. Padma and I recently conducted a 6 week class on this book. "The Yugas" presents to us a view of history that is nothing less than revolutionary. In a larger sense, however, its view is also classically ancient, and it is simply this: we humans once, long ago, lived in a golden age of enlightenment. We lived in harmony with one another and all life and with our creator. We spoke the one universal language of intuition and had mastery over the forces of nature and consciousness. This view, shared by every ancient civilization, averred that our planet goes through a cycle of many thousands of years (aligned to the "precession of the equinox") that takes us through an ascending as well descending cycle of spiritual wisdom and material knowledge and power.

Thus, as an example of turning current opinions upside down, the appearance of literacy marked not an advance in culture but a decline: a decline because humanity could no longer retain knowledge without writing it down! (Sound, ahem, familiar?) The legend of the Tower of Babel also hints at the decline of intelligence and wisdom. From the perspective of the ancients, the so-called miracles of Jesus Christ, including his resurrection, are but hints of the powers of matter that are latently possible to enlightened humans and were in evidence in higher ages (while all too rare in the lower ages that include what we consider to be human history: roughly 2,000 BC - today).

Shifting now to another subject, a number of books have been written on the life Therese Neumann, a Bavarian mystic who lived through the Nazi era (she died in 1962) and bore on her body the five wounds of Jesus Christ. In addition, it was proven to the satisfaction of skeptical medical authorities that she did not eat food or drink water. She only partook of the Friday communion wafer. This was so for several decades of her life. Paramhansa Yogananda, whom I consider my spiritual preceptor, or guru, visited her in 1935. He attended one of her weekly trances in which she re-lived the experience of Jesus' passion and death. Yogananda said that these extraordinary manifestations were given her by grace so that she would be living proof that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was real. During the first half of the twentieth century Germany epitomized the questioning, materialistic, scientific mind, even among Christian theologians and ministers, many of whom declared their doubt or even denied as preposterous the miraculous aspects of Jesus' life such as his resurrection after the crucifixion.

Shifting our perspective yet again, turning the prism of wisdom round about: imagine the impact on a person from the Middle Ages who would come forward in time to encounter the ordinary day-to-day marvels of our world such as cell phones, computers, television, the internet, air and space travel, just to name a few. To such a person, our world would seem fantastical and rife with miraculous powers.

Down through the centuries of our known history, hints of our human potential have been revealed to "those with eyes to see," east and west, in the stories of saints performing miracles such as raising the dead, bi-locating, levitating, demonstrating telepathy, foresight and much more.

According to "The Yugas," humanity is on an ascending escalator of expanding awareness. It may take many thousands of years yet to reach the zenith of human consciousness, but the rapid pace of increased knowledge and power, physical stature and longevity, and overall awareness supports, the authors say, this view. Humanity is still not very far along this path toward enlightenment, and so there remains much ignorance which, when armed with modern weaponry and communication, has produced violence and suffering on a scale never before seen in recorded history. Thus for now there are some, principally those of orthodox faiths, who believe human faith and morals are on the decline, not the ascendant. But the long and ascending view says this is temporary and is the result of the transition from old and to new, with the stimulated energies of the ascendant quickening, as it were, the old attitudes, prejudices, and mores. The struggle between old and new is, in this view, the birth pangs of humanity's unfoldment toward a higher awareness.

Here then we have, albeit only by reason and inference, an avenue by which we might reexamine the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If there did exist in the dim past a golden age (as all great civilizations bore witness and for which there is a rapidly growing body of evidence, otherwise and heretofore considered merely anomalous) in which "men were like gods," and, if considering the pace and form of modern technology, why would raising the dead be so completely out of the running of reason? If energy cannot be created or destroyed, why should life and consciousness not know continuity and rebirth?

We take almost for granted that someday, Star-Trek-like, we will teleport our bodies across vast expanses of time and space. So, why not consider, even but tentatively, the possibilities?

There is an exponential growth in the testimonies of past life memories and a growing and consistent body of testimony in regards to the near-death experiences. Evidence is growing that consciousness exists outside the brain.

Celebrate, then, the promise of immortality of consciousness, immutability of self-awareness and the freedom from suffering that can be achieved in an eternal and transcendent expansion of consciousness. Easter represents the promise of redemption: the superiority of consciousness over matter, of consciousness AS the heart of matter and the promise of freedom in God. We have lived since the beginning of time and creation. We need only to march forward buoyed by the example of great saints and masters, walking where they have walked: toward the Light. In this way we resurrect our soul's changeless bliss from the tomb of change, time, space, and matter.

Perhaps more angles from the prism of Easter's message to come!


Nayaswami Hriman