Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Practice of Silence

Swami Kriyananda once told a story about the great South Indian saint Sadasiva Brahmendra, a brilliant and gifted student in his youth.  One day, after he bested older scholars in debate and perhaps displayed a bit of pride, his guru admonished him, “When will you learn to hold your tongue?”  “Instantly Master, with your grace.”  From that moment, he never spoke again. 

Within the first few years of being introduced to the teachings of yoga, circumstances allowed me an opportunity to take up the traditional practice of silence, once for two months and another time for one. I found the experience highly worthwhile and recommend it to anyone who wishes to give it a try. 

“Holding one’s tongue” gives us a surprisingly strong boost of physical and mental energy, and in the process, makes us reflect upon how much time and energy is wasted in idle conversation.  Beyond an increase in vitality came a deeper stilling of my mind. Restlessness was gradually replaced by a calm detachment from the daily trivia with which I was often occupied.  Soon, I began to perceive as chatter what I had previously thought of as vitally important.  Silence calmed the habitual impulse to “add my two cents” or “have the last word”.  My desire to interject opinions into others’ conversations relaxed and quickly I came to understand why some saints embraced silence so strongly. 

Over the years, I’ve learned an even deeper lesson about silence best expressed by Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, “The practice of silence is not the restraining of speech but the overcoming of our need to be heard.” Look within and see if this isn’t so and ask yourself, “From where comes this ‘need’? Why is it so important that I be heard?” When we overcome this habit, we allow a soothing, detached contentment to descend upon us.  From contentment comes bliss. 


What is meditation if not the “art of listening,” the calming of mental “noise” blocking more subtle perceptions.  Meditation helps us overcome our tendency to reach outside of ourselves for fulfillment.  We find our “needs” completely satisfied when we dive into the silent awareness of God’s presence within. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Pray In God

Paramhansa Yogananda once asked Yogacharya Oliver Black, a highly advanced disciple, if he prayed.  Mr. Black replied, “Yes Master.  I like to think I pray all the time.”  “You pray to God,” Yoganandaji said.  “Instead, you should pray in God.”  In other words, Master was saying, don’t place God at a distance when He is with you already, the nearest of the near, the dearest of the dear.    

“Self-realization” as Master defined it, “is the knowing in all parts of body, mind, and soul that you are now in possession of the kingdom of God; that you do not have to pray that it come to you; that God’s omnipresence is your omnipresence; and that all that you need to do is improve your knowing.”  God is our reality with only a thin veil of forgetfulness separating us from Him.

It’s common, when sitting for meditation, to have a desire for peace or joy but in that very desire is implied the thought, “I don’t have joy now.” “Meditate in joy, not for joy,” is what the gurus advise and you will find God’s presence coming to you more abundantly.    
 
In the Autobiography of a Yogi, we are told the story of Lahiri Mahasaya’s first meeting with the Mahavatar Babaji in the foothills near Ranikhet.  Lahiri didn’t, at first, recognize his guru.  “Lahiri, surely this cave seems familiar to you?” asked Babaji.  Receiving no reply, Babaji approached his disciple and struck him gently on the forehead.  “At his magnetic touch,” Lahiri recounted, “a wondrous current swept through my brain, releasing the sweet seed-memories of my previous life.  I remember! You are my guru Babaji, who has belonged to me always!”   That “thin veil” was removed by a gentle touch.

Let’s think of ourselves as Lahiri. We are yogis from past lives yet to be reawakened to our true state.  Make that thought your reality because within it is truth.  We have descended from God and to Him we must return. As said in the Bible, “No one knows the day or the hour.” God will never be closer to us than He is right now.  All we need do is to “improve our knowing.”  

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Anger

When Sadhana Devi and I first moved to India in 2006, we were asked to lead a class series on the "The Art and Science of Raja Yoga."  In an early class, we addressed the topic of "ahimsa", non-violence, and discussed how this is not simply an outward behavior, a la Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, but an attitude to be extended to our thoughts and emotions.  Non-violence, rightly practiced, also implies a positive cultivation of "universal benevolence."  The students listened attentively and toward the end, I asked for comments and questions. That's when things became interesting. We had tried to create a trusting environment that allowed for a free exchange of thoughts and as a consequence, they were eager to share stories. The underlying theme was anger.  

The students, many of them young, shared of past abuse and sincerely wanted to know how to respond to both their situation and their feelings of frustration at not being able to express what they felt. How could they possibly be non-violent in thought they wanted to know after being treated badly. Was it was even right to be no speak up or retaliate?   Story after story was told of being trained parents and teachers to suppress their feelings or submit, of being mistreated by those who held positions above them, and of being powerless to do anything about it.  They had come to view the word of "ahimsa" not as a tool of strength but rather as a dictum to accept the status quo of  hierarchy, prejudice, power abuse, or acts of petty tyranny.  "Why shouldn't we be angry," they asked, when people were acting so badly toward them or others?  I learned that "ahimsa" can be a loaded word for the younger generation in India, but at the same time, I was encouraged to see their hunger for change.  Non violence in a spirit of love is a weapon of the strong and brings lasting change as opposed to a temporary reshuffling of the cards. 

Calm "centeredness" is an quality admire.  I see it in the natural dignity of Indians but I've also noticed anger too, the fruit of frustrated desires and inhibitions.  How can we help people find practical solutions to answer their need?  It was with this thought that I wrote the following blog entry. 

Anger
Years ago, in a moment of frustration, I spoke very harshly to a co-worker. To my horror, she broke into tears under the weight of my assault and I still remember my feelings of regret and deep dismay at my inability to control myself. I had been shooting bullets of disharmony into a crowd of innocents.
I see so much anger these days and wonder why. Is it really on the rise or am I simply more sensitive to it now? Maybe people feel less inhibited expressing it openly whereas before it was repressed. I don’t know the answer but I feel sure anger is a spiritual disease that leads us to tremendous unhappiness, within and without. Life turns away from the angry person and consigns him to a world of darkness.

In all my years in the company of Swami Kriyananda, I can honestly say I never saw him angry.  There were times he was exasperated at someone’s folly, but never angry or knocked off his “center.”  Many times he said, “I’ve resolved to never let anyone or anything steal my peace” and lived his life that way.  A thief is what anger is, taking from us those things we most want in life:  harmony, friendship, clarity, and joy.  All are sacrificed when we leave our heart open for anger to enter.

Some might say, “I have a right to be angry because of what was done to me.  Wouldn’t you too be angry in such circumstances?”  I can’t say until tested, but I do know that just as happiness is a choice and not the fruit of circumstances, so too is anger.  Why choose it when it drives away what we really want and inevitably leads to that which we want to be free from?

Anger, as the scriptures say, is the fruit of frustrated desires and attachment; when we don’t get what we want, we get mad.  One obvious solution is to let go of desires, but that’s easier said than done.  Something more is needed.   Swami Kriyananda wrote, “Examine your heart for any feeling of ill will toward others. Carefully uproot any such feeling, and plant in its stead fragrant flowers of forgiveness. Only when your heart has been softened by universal benevolence may you hope to become receptive to the gentle vibrations of divine love. Do not imagine that you can win God’s love until you have developed the power to win the love of man.

The impulse toward “universal benevolence” was Swamiji’s “secret” and something we too can each cultivate, especially when things seem to be going wrong.  He came to Master with a personal desire for God and also with a desire to share God’s joy with all.  When God fills our heart, where is there room for anger?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Dispassion

I find myself traveling frequently while in India, going to the cities where Ananda's work in progressing, presenting programs and helping the local leaders.  Over the last two weekends I was in both Singapore and Bangalore, two vary different places, doing a program in each.  One city is extremely tidy and efficient (guess which one) while the other is extremely congested and in need of a good scrub.  Seemingly very different on the outside, I nevertheless felt "at home" and enjoyed my stay in each. I was thinking about why.  The answer is because in both places, I found devotees and gurubhais.  it is the people, not the place, that makes me want to return.  Paramhansa Yogananda concluded his autobiography with the words, "God has given this monk a large family."  His presence shines through his large family of disciples in a similar way everywhere, no matter the country, making us feel at home everywhere.  Similarly, when we try to see God in every circumstance, we feel His joy always with us.  

With that thought, I wrote the following post on the topic of "Dispassion" for our anandaindia.org website 
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Dispassion

While visiting the city of Puri many years ago, Swami Kriyananda spoke with a venerable sadhu, said to be one hundred and thirty years old.  Obviously a man of spiritual accomplishment, the sadhu was an exponent of the path of extreme vairagya, the practice of stern renunciation of the material world.  During their conversation, Swamiji asked, “What about a beautiful sunset?  Is even that something to ignore and not enjoy?”  “Yes!” replied the sadhu sternly, “Even that!”

Swami Kriyananda was much too respectful to comment.  He recognized such total dispassion as a valid path for those inclined to follow it but in his own mind, he could not but think, “How dry!”  His own guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, had been very different in his approach, enjoying everything as an expression of God’s beauty.

Yoganandaji saw God as manifested in all creation: the earth, stars and in other people.  His disciples once discovered him in a state of blissful ecstasy on the lawn of Mt. Washington Estate, his ashram home in Los Angeles.  “You don’t know how beautiful it all is,” he marveled, turning about and gesturing toward everything around him.  Where the disciples saw but trees, buildings and sky, the master saw everything as brilliant, beautiful, expanding light, colorfully pulsating with Divine Mother’s bliss.

Swami Kriyananda expressed renunciation in much the same manner as his guru. His nature emphasized positive expansion of one’s sympathies, not rejection.   In all of life’s experiences, he found inspiration which he expressed through music, art, writing or discourse.  “See Divine Mother in everything, be Her willing instrument and share with others,” was his advice.  What we need to renounce is ego, the selfish attitude that thinks first of “me and mine,” and the tendency to follow our personal likes and dislikes to the exclusion of what is right and proper.


The sadhu’s path was one of dispassion, a necessary attitude toward whatever draws us away from God.  To this, add love to keep our hearts from becoming dry. An intense love for all things divine will bring, unbidden, a natural disinclination toward that which separates us from our beloved.  As Master once said to Swami Kriyananda, “When ecstasy comes, all else goes.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It Takes Good Karma


As some of you may have noticed, I’ve not been posting lately.  Things became so busy, writing for the weblog fell far down the list of things to do and once one stops, it’s hard to start up again.  That said, I’m going to try something different.  Here in India, we are trying to improve our website (www.anandaindia.org) and I have begun to write short, inspirational pieces for it.  My thought is to also post those here and when inspired to do so, add a few comments that won’t appear on the Ananda India site.  Below is my first effort.

The following piece was inspired by my observation that people often come onto the spiritual path with great enthusiasm but have a difficult time keeping their inspiration high enough to counteract the continual pull of the world.  In time, inspiration fades and people are drawn to other pursuits in their quest to find happiness or fulfillment.  I see this everywhere and certainly not least in India.  Good intentions are plentiful but follow-through is often lacking.

It's not unique to India but it is common here for students to mistake intellectual knowledge of a subject for actual understanding of it and of the need to put our idealism into practice, day after day.  To hear a good discourse, read an inspiring book, visit a temple or even to have darshan with a saint is not enough.  As Yoganandaji said to an Indian disciple who complained about his lack of progress, "God's blessings are there.  My blessings are there.  It is your blessings that are lacking."

This tendency toward casual effort is counterbalanced here by the fact that most people actually do want God in their lives, a sentiment not so readily found in the West.  The divine hunger seems stronger in India and for that, I'm grateful.  The mountain is high but at least some are willing to climb.  

It Takes Good Karma 

Brother Norman, one of Swami Kriyananda’s fellow monks at SRF, was going through a difficult period and lamented to Paramhansa Yogananda, “I must not have very good karma, sir.”  His guru replied strongly, “Remember, it takes very, Very, VERY good karma even to want to know God!”

To seek God, to find a true path or to have a God-realized guru is a rare blessing.  Compared with these, whatever obstacles we face are trivial.  If you love God and truly seek His blessing, be reassured you are blessed already.  God guides and protects His devotees. 

A corollary to the story about Norman is less remembered.  Swamiji explained, when asked why some devotees left the ashram and their guru’s guidance, “Only a very few come into this life with enough good karma to keep them on the spiritual path for a lifetime.”  Good karma from the past reawakens our desire for God but we mustn’t become complacent.  If we allow it to expire or grow stale, other karma comes to pull us elsewhere. 

It’s a mistake to imagine our longing for God will last without additional support.  We may think, “My love for God is so strong. I’ll always feel this way.” Beware! Like a fire burning brightly, unless additional fuel is added, it slowly dwindles to embers to await a future lifetime to flare again. 

For the spiritual seeker, it’s vital to keep one’s inspiration replenished. Remember and hang onto those blissful feelings and enthusiasm you experienced when you first came to the spiritual path in this life.  Reawakened “sleeping soldiers of spiritual qualities from past lives” came to your aid to spur you forward.  Once aroused through meditation and devotion, our “army” needs nourishment to carry us forward.

“Make hay while the sun shines,” is good advice for both farmers and devotees.   I find those periods when I feel even a little spark of inspiration to be the best times to exert extra effort in my meditation. When I’ve allowed those moments to pass unattended, they seem to have come less often. Pay attention and when grace knocks at your door, invite it in before it passes and goes elsewhere.  And what if you feel no grace or inspiration?   Hold on to God like a sailor lashes himself to a mast during a storm. The sun will eventually come out again and when it does, be ready to set your sails of devotion.  Pray as God’s child until you receive His answer. 

Oh Father, I hold my heart in my folded hands. Teach me to saturate my prayers with Thy love. Give me the simple, sincere devotion toward Thee of a child.  Teach me to realize Thee just behind the voice of my prayer.    – Whispers from Eternity