Asha Praver

Letters from Asha

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ask Asha: No Shortcut

[Note: “Letters from Asha” will be going on holiday for the rest of the month, to resume in the new year. But please continue to send in your questions!]

Question

You talk about getting a perspective on the fleeting nature of human life. From that point of view, everything could be called trivial. When should I say, “This is trivial” or “This is important”? Seems the definitions are subjective. I may be dismissing things too often as “trivial” or at least people are telling me that I am. If I am traveling on a train, should I not look out the window, because the only thing that matters is the destination?

Swamiji has often used the example of how we create pain for ourselves -- lets say, by tying a string tightly around our finger till the finger turns blue -- then we release the self-created conditions that caused the pain -- i.e., untie the string -- and say how relieved and happy we feel. I feel that I have been “tying strings” around my soul for many lives. I don’t want a mere hug from God. I want to LOVE the Infinite. You have said it is not enough to say we love something or aspire to it we also have to work to achieve that goal. I see myself doing foolish things, I know they are foolish, I have done them before, but I am not able to act on what I know. Help.

From K, in India

Answer

Dear K:

I think you are asking for two things here, neither of which the Ananda way to Self-realization can provide.

First: Rules and definitions you can substitute for intuition

Second: To reach the goal without walking the path

As my mother aged her body began to fail. Everyday tasks became more and more of a challenge. “Getting old is not for sissies!” she often said to me.

Same could be said about the spiritual path. It is not for sissies. You have to risk. You have to fail. You have to fall to the ground. You have to get up again. It takes courage. In Swamiji’s course on discipleship that he wrote 60 years ago for the monks in SRF, he said the first essential attitude for the devotee is courage.

Wherever you are now there is always a way to go forward. Doesn’t matter if you have been over the same ground a thousand times. If it is where you find yourself (again), the only thing you can do is move from there.

What is forward for one person, however, is not always forward for someone else. Depends on where you are standing. So no simple rules, no dogmas, no formulas. Not for yourself or for others.

If Mahatma Gandhi, in the middle of the movement to free India, decided to abandon that effort and use his fame instead to open a private law practice, everyone would think that he had fallen. If your lazy uncle finally gets off his cot, and uses his law degree to make a lot of money for the family, everyone would say, “Well done.”

Imagine the rim of a bicycle wheel with spokes leading into the center. We are all spread out at different points around that rim. God is the center. All starting points are the same, and all spokes lead to the center. What direction leads to the center depends on how the rim is oriented from your point of view.

Devotees north of center have to go south; those south of center have to go north. People make a dogma of the direction in which they are moving. Those heading south declare, “South is the way!” Those going north are equally vehement. Both, of course, are wrong.

Progress is directional in relation to the center from wherever you.

Now, instead of thinking of many different people, think of all the different aspects of your own nature as individual points of consciousness around the rim.

For a while you may work on moving one aspect of your self toward the center -- developing a particular talent, for example. Then you may focus on something entirely different, perhaps raising a family.

Intuitively I have always known that we must strive for excellence in everything we do. For a long time, though, I couldn’t exactly work out philosophically why. If everything in this world is ephemeral, why bother? Isn’t that obvious?

In Swamiji’s book, The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, I found an explanation. (Look up gunas in the index.)

He speaks of the Guru as “triguna rahitam.” This means one who has transcended the three gunas, the fluctuating energies that make up the material world. Tamo guna is darkening, confining, downward pulling. Rajo guna is activating, restless. Sattwa guna is calm, uplifting, peaceful.

To determine what is forward for you, ask yourself, “What guna, or combination of gunas, am I manifesting?” Too often a clever answer, like “Why bother? Nothing is real,” is just tamo guna allowing fear and laziness to rule you.

Look how much energy Master put out to establish his work in this world. Look at Swamiji’s efforts to build Ananda. Great masters and highly evolved souls have always put out tremendous effort to achieve whatever task God has given them to do.

Swamiji will go over a manuscript dozens of times before he considers it ready for publication. When members of our community were first learning to sing the music he had written, sometimes he would stop them in the middle of a public performance to correct some aspect of what they were doing.

Some people protested that he was embarrassing them before others. (Interestingly, the singers themselves always welcomed his guidance and never complained.) Swamiji’s response was, “They need to put out the energy to do it right.” Singing the notes wrong was a symptom. Tamo guna was the problem they needed to overcome.

Whenever we fail to achieve excellence it is because we have not been able to transcend the confusing influence of the gunas. For the same reason, we don’t see God, even though His presence is all around us. We need to become like the masters, triguna rahitam.

To rail against yourself, Why do I keep making the same mistakes?” is, in itself, an expression of tamo guna. It makes you self-concerned rather self-expansive. Doesn’t matter what the obstacles are. You have to make the effort.

When Jesus was asked, “How to tell a false prophet from a true one?” he answered, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Ask the same question of your question, “Why bother?” The answer is, you can tell by the fruits.

Just sitting in the gym won’t make you strong, even if you go every day. You have to run on the treadmill and lift the weights. This world is a spiritual gymnasium. The “equipment” is the circumstances your karma has brought you. If you don’t engage, you arrive as a weakling, are helpful to no one, and leave worse off than you came, because you have squandered a God-given opportunity to expand your consciousness.

No one can or will force you to behave differently. Sooner or later, however, your own unhappiness will compel you to try.

As for finding a shortcut, there isn’t one.

To my everlasting embarrassment I remember a conversation I had with Swamiji. Well, not exactly a conversation because it was short, and he didn’t say anything.

I was facing a big challenge. To be fair to myself, it was a serious, life-long issue and I was far from the finish line when this happened.

I was explaining to Swamiji that everything in my life was going well, except for this one big problem. If I just didn’t have to deal with it, I told him, I would be so happy and so free. All of this I said mournfully, with tears running down my face.

Only later did I understand that what I said to Swamiji was, “If the spiritual path weren’t so hard it would be easier.”

In his wonderful way, Swamiji knew just how to respond to me. I already felt so sorry for myself I didn’t need more of that from him. Clearly, also, I was way beyond reason.

So he said nothing. Nothing at all. Not even with his face. “Expressionless” perfectly describes the way he looked at me. He just let what I said sit in the room without relating to it at all.

We sat like that in silence for what seemed like a few minutes. Then the phone rang. He answered it without even a glance of apology for the interruption. It was about an appointment with a doctor he was trying to arrange. Once that was settled and he hung up, it was clear the interview was over.

Don’t think for a minute that Swamiji was being rude to me. Even at the time, I could see his response was brilliant. “Enough already!” I got the message.

So I persevered. I cannot say I have conquered the delusion I was facing then, but, by the grace of God and Gurus, I have moved a good distance in the right direction.

I shudder to think what might have happened if, in that critical moment, Swamiji had shown even an ounce of sympathy. Of course he was much too wise to do that. He knew I would have seized upon it like a drowning person seizes a log. Except in this case, it would have taken me to the bottom of the sea, not safely to the shore where I was longing to go.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha

[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ask Asha: Mary, Mother of God

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

What was the reason that God picked Mary to be the mother of Jesus ?

from JK

Answer

Dear JK:

This is going to be a long answer to a short question. There is so much theological confusion behind what you ask that even in a long answer I can only begin to unravel it. For the “rest of the story,” I urge you to read Swamiji’s book, Revelations of Christ as Proclaimed by Paramhansa Yogananda.

There is much controversy now about the life and teachings of Jesus. Historians, theologians, intellectuals, sociologists, politicians, even novelists are all offering competing theories. How is the devotee to know what is true and what is mere speculation?

Revelations of Christ gives us the answer: Look to the saints. Only those who share the consciousness of the Masters are qualified to speak with authority.

When Swami Kriyananda was a young disciple, sitting at the feet of his Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, he was present when Master dictated a revised set of lessons to be sent to the devotees. (Alas, never put into wide circulation.) In the first lesson, Master made this astonishing claim: The three Wisemen who came to visit Jesus in the manger were none other than three of the Masters in our line of Gurus: Babaji, Lahiri Mahashaya, and Sri Yukteswar.

Whether this was an astral visitation, a previous incarnation, or Babaji as he is now descending from the Himalayas, Master didn’t explain. There was, however, some enduring quality to their presence, because Master further explained that during the so-called “lost years of Jesus,” he “returned the visit,” traveling to India and Tibet to sit at the feet of these same Gurus. There are many traditions in the East that Jesus visited there.

Jesus lived only 33 years. Yet all four of the Gospels say nothing at all about 18 of those 33. It is preposterous to imagine that in the time Jesus spent with his disciples the subject never came up or that his biographers would fail to include this critical period of his life.

Self-realized Masters incarnate for no karma of their own, but to show those of us struggling to be realized the path to freedom. Spiritual practice -- sadhana -- and the relationship with the Guru are critical elements on this path. Almost every Master demonstrates in his own life how to be both a disciple and a sadhaka. Sometimes there is no apparent Guru, but still there is still a deeply devoted, disciplined, focused way of life.

Otherwise, it would be too convenient for disciples to say, “On your path you have to meditate and do austerities, but on our path, we just sit around and know God.”

Think how much of Autobiography of a Yogi is about Master’s search for his Guru, his years of training with Sri Yukteswar, and his intense effort to meditate and realize God. Yet he was born Self-realized. This wasn’t his own karma he was expressing; it was a freely chosen role to show generations to come how to achieve Self-realization.

The life of Jesus was just the same. Master tells us that when he was 13, Jesus left home and wandered for 18 years in India, learning from the Masters there and doing intense sadhana to set the example, and prepare himself for the mission ahead.

For some centuries after Jesus passed away, this part of his life was included in the Gospels and known by all his disciples. It helped define how they, too, should live if they would fulfill the destiny their Master offered them. “That which I do, ye shall do and greater things,” Jesus said. He promised Self-realization, not merely after death, but while living, as Jesus himself showed.

However, at some point, in Kali Yuga descending (the darkest of the ages on this planet, which reached its nadir at 500 A.D.), the Church began the process of making Jesus more and more “special.” Being steeped in the materialistic thinking of Kali Yuga, Church officials -- by now more bureaucrats than saints -- could no longer understand the true nature of their own Master and set about remaking his image to more closely resemble what they felt it ought to be.

It was at this time that those 18 years were “lost” from the Bible. Church officials reasoned that it would hurt people’s faith to think that Jesus had to undergo a period of training under the guidance of other Masters.

Some argued that it didn’t hurt the faith of the disciples who were with Jesus and heard about it directly from him, but that plea fell on deaf ears. And in the end those 18 years were removed.

As Swamiji points out, one proof that they were taken out, rather than omitted by the original writers, is that there is a complete blank where those years are concerned. The officials had the nerve to remove information, but they could not bring themselves to create new facts. Any biographer would have at least said, “And he grew up and worked in his father’s shop.” Instead, there is nothing.

Also removed around this time -- 553 A.D., at the Second Council of Constantinople -- were all references to reincarnation. The logic was similarly non-logical: “We need people to buckle down right now. We don’t want them to think they have all the time in the world to work things out.” Again, counter arguments fell on deaf ears. Even the Pope at the time, it is believed, opposed the ban. Still it was carried out. Removing reincarnation from the Bible proved a little trickier than the lost years, and some direct references remain. (See p. 311 of The New Path, by Swami Kriyananda.)

Now how does all of this relate to Mary the Mother of Jesus?

You see, what has happened is that by taking out of the “Christian” teachings the concepts of Guru, sadhana, and reincarnation, you have removed the whole idea of Self-realization. The Church accomplished exactly what it wanted. No longer can the devotee work on his own salvation, now it comes only through Jesus Christ, and-- here is the worst part -- through the intercession of “His” Church. Rituals, sacraments, blessings, absolutions, etc. were all gradually substituted for the direct connection between God and the devotee, which is the heart of Self-realization.

Thus “Christianity” becomes “Churchianity.” It is not when religion becomes “organized” that the damage is done. It is when the institution makes itself essential to the devotee’s salvation that true teaching dies.

The other purpose the Church had in doing this, besides strengthening its own position, was to make Jesus ever more unique and special. The teachings of Self-realization say that every soul has the same infinite destiny. That Jesus himself -- and all Self-realized Masters before and after him -- are souls like us who have completed the journey we are now on.

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect,” was not a compliment, it was a commandment.

But if Jesus is unique, as the Catholic Church now tells us he is, then the whole process of Self-realization is moot, in fact, impossible. Jesus never went through it, so obviously none of the rest of us will either. We must simply depend on Jesus (and the Church) for our salvation.

And since there is no such thing as reincarnation, and one lifetime is obviously not long enough to become “perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect,” the meaning of that statement must be other than it seems. Many translations of the Bible have been amended accordingly, “Be ye therefore good, as your Father in Heaven is good,” is but one example.

The Catholic saints who do make it to Self-realization (whatever the Church calls it) are an anomaly. There is no tradition within present-day Christianity to explain how it happens. They just appear, usually are fiercely persecuted by the Church, then canonized by that same Church after they die. They are persecuted, because without an understanding of Self-realization, saints cast doubt on the whole system. For example, according to the Church, all priests are ordained equally. How do you explain it then, when one priest is obviously more “ordained” than any of the others?

Because the Church has no answer to this question they usually try to bury the evidence, sometimes literally, by confining the priest to his cell, or transferring him to some far off parish where they hope he’ll never be heard from again. Read the life of Padre Pio for a modern day example.

Paramhansa Yogananda called his work “The Second Coming of Christ.” He came, he said, because of the request of Jesus to Babaji to restore the original teachings of Jesus, and the original teachings of Krishna (which have also been diluted) and show that in essence they are the same.

The Bhagavad-Gita explains divine incarnations in a more expansive and explicit way. “Whenever virtue declines,” the Gita says, “and vice predominates, I the Infinite Lord take visible form to destroy ignorance and restore dharma.”

Now, again, back to the question of Mary.

In his lifetime, Master spoke not only of that incarnation as Paramhansa Yogananda, but of several of his incarnations in the past, including as Arjuna and William the Conqueror.

He also mentioned previous incarnations of other in the line of Gurus: Lahiri Mahasaya had been Kabir and also King Janaka; Babaji had been Krishna; Sri Yukteswar incarnated when Master was William as his closest advisor, Lanfranc.

James J. Lynn, Master’s most advanced male disciple, whom he named Rajarshi Janakananda, had been with Master as one of Arjuna’s younger brothers. When Master was William, Daya Mata was his daughter; Swami Kriyananda feels he was Henry, one of William’s sons. (A fascinating book about William the Conqueror and his son Henry is Two Souls, Four Lives by Catherine Kaivari.)

The list goes on and on. In The New Path, in the chapter “His Last Days,” Swamiji describes in thrillingly poetic terms how families of souls form around a great Master, incarnating together again and again “to work out their salvation -- not only inwardly on themselves, but by interaction with one another. To achieve divine emancipation, it is necessary to spiritualize one’s relations with the objective world and with other human beings, as well as with God.”

“The stronger the family, spiritually speaking,” Swamiji goes on to say, “the greater its attractive pull on new souls that may still be wandering in search of an identity of their own. A family evolves with its individual members; at last it, too, becomes a ‘star’ in the firmament of humanity, and begins to produce great souls of Self-realization.

“As spiritual ‘stars,’ such great families become powerful for the general upliftment of mankind... Yogananda’s is one such spiritual family. His forms part of a greater spiritual ‘nation,’ of which Jesus Christ and Sri Krishna (in this age Babaji) are also leaders.”

I believe what the Bible tells us, that an angel came to Mary and told her of what was to come. She would have had the state of consciousness where she could easily commune with angels. She was not, however, some random, albeit pure-hearted girl who happened to catch the angel’s attention. Mary’s relationship with Jesus must have been formed many, many incarnations before. She was part of his spiritual family, one of those “great souls of Self-realization” that Swamiji speaks of. God chose Mary because Mary chose Him.

As we say every week in the Festival of Light, “Your chosen people have always been those of every race and nation who, with deep love, chose Thee.” The Festival goes on to lead the congregation in this prayer: “O Lord, with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength, I choose Thy love, I choose only Thee.”

There are also ancient traditions gaining new credibility that say Jesus was part of the Essene community, an enlightened group within Judaism that was still in touch with more uplifted teachings than most Jews practiced at that time.

According to this tradition, the Essenes knew that an avatar was coming and the community had been working together for a long time to prepare for him and the mission that would follow. Part of that tradition is that Mary was trained from a young age for her role as his mother. Who can say if this is true? Certainly it is apocryphal. For Mary to play the part she did, she would have to be highly dedicated and evolved before Jesus was born.

Understood this way, Mary is not merely an inspiration and a blessing she is also an example we can all follow of dedicated service to God, Guru, and mankind.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha

[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ask Asha: An Ugly Divorce

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

How is it possible to forgive or to let go of fear and anger when the person who hurt you continues, deliberately and unrelentingly, to do so? An ugly divorce, in which I did my utmost to remain civilized, has devolved into guerilla warfare where my ex uses our kids to "stick it to me." Particularly when my children are subjected to this sickness, my heart fills up with fear and a terrible anger. I do my best not to add to the strain on the kids. How do I rise above the hatred and live well?

From S

Answer

Dear S:

My heart goes out to you. It is hard to imagine anything worse than what you are experiencing. Every parent naturally wants for his children the best he can imagine. To see your family life fall so far short of what you may have hoped for is difficult karma indeed. Not easy to overcome, as you are finding out.

Still, what choice do you have? You cannot control the behavior of your ex. You cannot live your children’s life for them. It is their karma, too, to be caught in this “guerilla warfare.” Not that you should be indifferent to helping them through it, but for them, too, it is a reality that has to be faced.

One of the greatest obstacles to overcoming karma is that instead of wanting to face it, we want it to go away. Not surprising, or anything to be ashamed of, especially when those we love are being hurt.

In the Festival of Light, which we do at Ananda every week at Sunday Service (I don’t know where you live, but you can see the Festival as a live stream from Ananda Village) there is an allegory about the spiritual evolution of a little bird who represents our soul journey. The second stage of that bird’s adventure is “The Revolt.” He suffers from his own wrong action. He is given the right advice about how to change himself, but he doesn’t want to change. Instead of adapting to reality he prefers to insist on declaring a reality of his own.

The problem is, it doesn’t work. And even though “repeatedly he lost everything he had,” he persists in his wrong action for a long time. An afternoon for the little bird equals “eons of our time,” the Festival says.

Self-evidently you have no wish to continue in the reality you are in now. However, the law of karma is always fair. This is a very difficult truth to accept. Very difficult. No spiritual progress is possible, however, until you take that truth into yourself all the way down to your bone marrow.

Whatever is happening now is the exact result of wrong actions and wrong attitudes of your own in the past, perhaps not in this life but in incarnations you no longer remember.

I’m not trying to blame you or make you feel bad, hopeless, or helpless. Who in their right mind would inflict this kind of suffering on oneself and one’s children? Clearly, whatever dark actions in the past are being worked out in the present, are in the past. This is not who you are now.

You have learned many lessons. The mere fact that you are appealing to a spiritual source for help means that you have learned a great deal. Still, self-evidently, you are not free. The same is true for your children. The only thing to do now is devote yourself to learning whatever lessons remain.

What might those lessons be? It is not easy to penetrate our past lives and find the details of who did what to whom and how those consequences are playing out now. There are people who can do that for you. Not all are reliable or helpful in the way they present things, but if there is someone you know to be compassionate and trustworthy, you might consider a session or two. Sometimes to know the past life influences gives us the courage we need to persevere in the right way.

Even without that kind of understanding, however, the lessons are obvious. Even mindedness, calm acceptance, faith that God is in charge, even in a situation like this which seems so far outside what you would like to think of as the will of God.

The ego wants ease and pleasure. The soul wants freedom. As Swamiji wrote recently,
“Sometimes pain is the shortest route to freedom.” The ego doesn’t like this. Thus “The Revolt.” The soul, however, rejoices, no matter how difficult the road. Our higher self knows that on the other side of this wall of fire is bliss.

I suspect there is very little you can do to solve this problem directly. If you haven’t already explored legal options, I certainly would, but I doubt if there are laws against “wrong attitude,” which is what your ex is expressing in spades, and which you are also falling into.

The only solution to this is on the level of consciousness.

You are going to have to become a world-class athlete of consciousness. You’ll have to train all the time. When one of my friends developed cancer, she said to me, “I don’t have the luxury of having a single negative thought.” She was already one of the sweetest women I had ever met. Within herself, though, she saw room for improvement.

The situation with your ex and your children is your gold-medal event. Every so often you will have a chance to “compete” against your own wrong attitudes in that final round. In between, however, like any athlete, you have to stay focused on that upcoming challenge.

I’ve noticed that almost always the wrong attitudes that pull us to pieces in the major challenges of our lives are also expressed by us, in some form, in all the lesser challenges as well. Usually we don’t even notice that we are responding with anger, for example, or resentment, or hatred, because the intensity is low or nothing is at stake. Raging at a bad driver for example, or a roommate who leaves dishes in the sink, or the weather when it doesn’t cooperate with our plans may not seem relevant to your problem with your ex and your children, but it is.

Every time you respond to anything in your life in an inappropriate way you are cutting a groove of habit in your consciousness that will pull you right into it when the stakes get higher. You are making vrittis (whirlpools of energy) in your chakras that will influence your consciousness in every future situation. And, by contrast, every time you respond with calm, loving, uplifted energy, you are making a habit that will give you the strength you need when you need it.

Another factor comes into play here: the grace of God. Take one step toward Divine Mother and she will take three steps toward you -- or more. I call it the “Divine Matching Fund.” Put a penny of good energy into each of your charkas and Divine Mother will donate a dollar of Her bliss. You’ll see. It is amazing.

The only weapon you have in this guerilla warfare is your own consciousness. The good news is: consciousness is everything. Not only will it change your experience, it is also the primary influence you will have on your children, and the way ultimately to resolve this karma.

Remember: Where there is dharma (right consciousness) there is victory.

Not necessarily today, or even tomorrow, but eventually. Dharma always triumphs. This is the founding principle of Ananda and the secret of our success. Time after time it has proven true. Even when everything has gone against us, in the end, because we have always clung to right consciousness, it all came out in the right way. Please understand, that doesn’t mean we’ve always been perfect moment to moment. Everyone fails sometimes. Our perfection is that we have never given up.

God has taken away from you any margin you may have had to be casual about your thoughts and attitudes. He has also taken away from you the freedom to be lazy about your spiritual practices. You have to practice all the time having right consciousness so when the big challenge comes -- your ex and your children -- you will have the strength to remain centered in yourself.

Here is something hopeful to consider. Often when a person no longer gets the result they want from the action they are taking, they lose interest in repeating it. Your ex seemingly is quite successful in “sticking it to you,” as you put it. You need to find a depth of experience of God within that makes this tactic ineffective.

Your children, seeing your calm acceptance and joy, even in the face of extreme provocation, will also be impressed, and, we pray, inspired to emulate your example. You can’t depend on that in the short run, but “Where there is dharma there is victory.” It will affect them. And your ex -- eventually.

As for specifics, study the writings of Master and Swamiji on karma, affirmations, meditation. Really, you need the whole spiritual path!

Even though it doesn’t feel like grace right now, God is gifting you by challenging you to such an extent that you must turn to Him.

If you haven’t already done so, please submit your name and that of you ex and your children to the Ananda Prayer Council and every other group you may know that will pray for you. I will pray also.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha



[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ask Asha: A Karmic Bump in the Road

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

Two much-respected Ananda leaders recently hit a karmic bump in the road (literally). Sudarshan has ridden a motor scooter around Ananda Village for 15 years without incident, until a few months ago when he crashed going over a speed bump and seriously fractured his leg. For weeks he was virtually confined to bed, in intense pain and dependent upon Savitri, his wife of 31 years, for nearly “everything in the material world,” as she described it.

My friend S. wrote saying, “I guess I’m surprised they would have to go through something like this. It doesn’t truck with my tidy ideas about karma. I think of karma as being about bad things we did in the past, not about our future good. Maybe they are suffering in order to teach the rest of us to keep on keeping on? This is a tough one for me.”

Answer

Dear S:

About twelve times in twenty years, David and I, with Durga and Vidura, led pilgrimage tours to India to many of the holy places described in Autobiography of a Yogi. We took about thirty people each time, mostly devotees, mostly Americans who had never before been to India or any other “developing nation.”

Because of poverty and overpopulation, you see things in India you don’t see in America. Families living on the sidewalk, beggars, some sick or deformed, surrounding you on street corners, impoverished trinket sellers who follow you for blocks and won’t take “No!” for an answer.

(In defense of India, I have to say that in the twenty years between our first and last pilgrimage, the country has transformed. Prosperity is on the rise.)

Some people choose not travel to countries like India because they feel they couldn’t cope with sights like these. Many of our pilgrims, too, were concerned, but that didn’t keep them from coming.

Their reactions varied. Some moved comfortably through these new environments, others were always ill at ease.

After a while, a certain pattern emerged which I think is relevant to your question.

Whether or not a person could be at peace with the conditions he met in India was usually a reflection of how calmly he could accept in his own life the fact that suffering is often a necessary, in fact, an inevitable stage on the journey to bliss.

In other words, as Master put it, an easy life is not necessarily a victorious one. And what are we looking for: ease or victory?

From the ego’s point of view, the purpose of life is ease and comfort. America is particularly dedicated to this “ideal.”

This is not, however, God’s perspective. What He wants for us is Eternal Bliss. The comfort of the moment means nothing Him compared to Eternity.

Do you understand that? Just to be sure, let me put it another way, in terms of questions you might ask yourself.

Do you rebel against the conditions of your life, or do you see, even in hard times, the hidden hand of God leading you from delusion to bliss? In the midst of difficulties can you find calmness and courage by remembering other hard experiences that in the end taught you important lessons and brought you even greater joy?

In other words, are you reconciled in your own life to the fact that suffering is a part of growth?

Compared to the saints we are all children in the way we operate because our perspective is so limited.

An Ananda mother told me that from the time her daughter was an infant the she and her husband were careful always to say grace before eating, ending the prayer with the words, “AUM, Peace, Amen.”

When her daughter was about three years old, she finally organized her thoughts enough to ask a question that had been bothering her for a long time. “Mommy,” she said, “why do we only bless the Peas and the Almonds?” For all those years, that’s what she understood of “Peace, Amen.”

Here’s another story of the “Gospel According to Children.”

A young child came home from Sunday School and announced happily to her mother, “Don’t worry anymore, Mommy, the quilt is coming.” The mother accepted this bewildering news graciously, not wanting to show her ignorance in front of her child, but after the daughter, went to bed, she called the Sunday School teacher.

Turned out the lesson had been, “Be of Good Cheer, the Lord will send you the Comforter.”

The point of these stories, besides being delightful, is to say: It is all in your point of view.

Karma is neither bad nor good. It simply is. It is energy in motion that has to be resolved. Everything in the end resolves back to zero. Quite an astonishing thought. Every upward moving wave has to be balanced by a trough. No matter how high the waves nor how deep the troughs the overall level of the ocean remains unchanged.

Karma is the waves. Truth is the ocean. We call karma “bad” if it makes us uncomfortable and “good” if it feels pleasurable. This, however, is childish.

The only “good” karma, in the final sense, is having no karma at all. Finishing the game. Coming to rest in the Spirit. Dissolving the ego and becoming jivan-mukta -- freed while living.

Yes, our friends were made very uncomfortable by the motor scooter accident -- he in the physical pain and disability of a broken leg, she by having to give up everything else to take care of him. She called her blog post about the experience, “Never Say: I Need a Break.”

And yet, if through meeting this challenge with “calm acceptance and joy,” as we say every week in the Festival of Light, this apparent “suffering” becomes the means through which the ego is further dissolved, is it “bad” or is it “good” karma?

You see it is all in your perspective.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha

[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ask Asha: Alien Invasions in Ancient Times

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

[Davy from Belgium asked a long question which we have summarized here.]

The question stems from statements made by Master in Conversations with Yogananda. In #36, Master confirms the truth of UFO sightings, and says someday we’ll travel to other planets as easily as we go now from continent to continent. In #44, Master responds to the desire of some disciples to visit Mt. Shasta in California because they have heard that ancient masters live there. He said there are no masters living on Mt. Shasta, but there have been “colonists.”

Davy asks about research, supported by “Sumerian tablets found in Iraq,” that say Earth has been visited by beings from other planets, who have tried to gain power over earthlings and that perhaps the darkness and seeming satanic influences on Earth now are because of these invaders. He speaks of these dark, reptilian creatures interbreeding with earthlings, feeding on negative energy, etc. In this context he mentions the vast numbers of ways the three gunas can manifest. He also asks about lower astral entities and how to protect ourselves from them.

Answer

Dear Davy:

Many of your questions are answered in the book just published by Crystal Clarity, The Yugas, by Joseph Selbie and David Steinmetz (Sanskrit names: Purushottama and Byasa). “Yugas” are the different ages — long periods of ascending and descending consciousness — that have happened on Earth over many thousands, in fact, millions of years.

Starting with information given by Sri Yukteswar in The Holy Science, and Master in Autobiography of a Yogi, the authors did extensive research to find supporting facts in history, geology, archeology, religion, and science. They then wove these facts into a fascinating narrative that puts into perspective past, present, and future.

UFOs, interplanetary travel, invasions or colonization from other planets — all of these are included, not in detail but in concept. I think you will find it helps you put into context other research that you have read.

There is also a website, The Yugas.

In the meantime, here are a few thoughts about the questions you have raised.

Your ideas about invasions of other species, interbreeding, creatures feeding on negative energy are all, in a sense, true, but perhaps not exactly in the way you are seeing it.

The drama of creation is the same everywhere. Whether on Earth, Mars, or on planets not yet discovered, the only “plot” in the universe is consciousness trapped in ego-based self-interest gradually becoming free. Everything is a manifestation of the Divine. And everything seeks to return to its Creator.

Ego-based self-interest often expresses itself in cruel and hideous ways, feeding, as you say, on negative energy. It is not that beings caught in this delusion are in themselves evil. They are merely misguided, utterly confused as to the source of their own happiness.

Look at the Chinese takeover of Tibet, Communism under Stalin, the Nazi takeover of Germany. If you want to believe the cause is alien invaders, who have systematically mated with human beings to create an evil race, feel free to do so. I don’t think it is factually true, but it does describe the spirit of what we see in history. At times madness descends, and it is comforting to explain it some way other than merely the degraded potential of human consciousness.

But in fact, it is our own potential. Not you, not me — not anymore. Master says, however, that before the soul attains liberation it experiments with every possible alternative. We try everything to see if it will give us happiness and only when we have drunk each cup to the dregs are we convinced. We don’t learn from being told; we only learn through our own experience.

This isn’t pleasant to contemplate. Among other things, it speaks of a very long time before we become liberated. But why else are we so certain that some behaviors will never bring us happiness? We don’t merely believe; we know.

This is why we have to be so patient, both with ourselves and with others, as we gradually work our way from darkness to light.

In every aspect of creation there are egos striving to be free, expressing themselves in some combination of the gunas — the three levels of consciousness: dark, active, and light.

Some people, some planets, express a preponderance of one or the other. Earth at this time is a mixture. The difference in the overall consciousness of various planets at various times is one of the many fascinating things explained in The Yugas.

In #41 of Conversations with Yogananda, Master is asked if we always reincarnate on Earth. He replied that there are many populated planets in the universe and where we go depends on our level of spiritual development. We choose a planet that is appropriate for what we need in that incarnation.

Technological advancement alone does not ensure purity of consciousness. What we see on Earth right now makes that clear. We have the technology to blow ourselves to bits and no guarantee that we won’t do it. It is the nature of early Dwapara Yuga — which is where we are now. Consciousness is rising but technology is rising faster. Eventually it will work out, but those on the planet now may experience the unpleasant “growing pains” as consciousness catches up to technology. (All of this is explained in The Yugas.)

Once interplanetary travel becomes common, as Master says it will, the idea of interplanetary invasion also rears its ugly head. Yugas run in a cycle 24,000 years long — 12,000 years each of ascending and descending consciousness. There are four yugas in all (we are just entering the second) and war continues into the third Yuga. By that time, space travel will be common so we can only assume that something of Star Trek can easily be reality — planets and planetary species getting all mixed up in peace and war.

The good news in all of this is Master’s comment in Conversations #41. We go to the planet that is spiritually appropriate. He does not say we go where it will be easiest or most pleasant. For all of us, too, are engaged in the great Cosmic Drama of consciousness trapped in ego-awareness seeking its home in the Divine.

All of this is fascinating to contemplate, and thrilling to read about (Did I mention the book The Yugas?!) but in the end, our job is the same. To love, serve, and meditate. For in that way we will gradually liberate ourselves from the only cause of suffering: bondage to ego.

The yugas are a planetary phenomenon, dictated, as The Yugas explains, by external astronomical realities (a planet’s position relative to the center — and therefore the source of energy — of the galaxy in which it orbits).

Self-realization is individual. The planets and the yugas are only the backdrop in front of which the process of realization takes place. Great masters have lived in every yuga, from the highest to the lowest. We go to the planet that provides for us the right context to work out our karma and gradually then to escape from ego into the consciousness of God.

As for astral entities, yes, they do exist. Sometimes souls after their bodies die are too attached to the material plane to leave this world for the astral spheres. They become ghosts, clinging to places and people that vibrate on their wavelength. Not all astral entities are evil; some are merely confused.

A young mother who dies, for example, may be so attached to her baby, and so worried about his well-being, that she will cling to the house or family where her baby lives. Even though her intentions may be good, her actions are not, because they show a lack of faith in God’s plan. Eventually such a person has to learn to trust God, and go on with her own destiny.

More negative attachments, like drinking, drug addiction, over-sexuality, cruelty, or hatred, can also bind a person to this world even after death. Those are the entities that seek to enter into other people’s bodies so that they can experience the material “pleasures” they crave.

Such an invasion, however, can only happen when a person gives up control of his own consciousness — which is what happens when you become drunk, high, or over-stimulated with sexuality. Many crimes are committed when people are in these states. Afterwards the person may not even remember doing it. It is not only the effect of the substances they may have ingested, it may also be because someone else came into their body when they were effectively “out to lunch.”

Not a pleasant prospect, certainly, but one easily avoided! Even when you meditate, don’t just go blank. Lift your consciousness upward to God. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can wander into the “dark side” and be strong enough to “handle it.” Maybe you will be, maybe you won’t. Don’t gamble with something so important as your own consciousness.

Ultimately, Light is the only reality. Concentrate on that, focus on the Masters, and you will always be protected.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha

[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ask Asha: New Experiences and Negative Friends

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

I meditate daily. Lately I have been experiencing vibration internally — very strongly when I am still but perceptible during activity. It started in my spine, then my heart chakra, now in my throat. I’ve been awakened at night with a whooshing sound, which feels Divine. Everyday I ask Guruji, Babaji, and Divine Mother for guidance. My life is being altered and I am changing. There are moments of insecurity but mostly what I feel is a deep, trusting love. Is this normal?

I have a friend, however, who is not accepting these changes in me. She says I am fooling myself. When I respond that I am feeling and hearing the Divine Mother, this friend gets very negative. As a result, I have distanced myself from her. I feel her negative energy of anger and resentment. She says I am making bad karma for myself. Am I? Is there a better way to handle this?

Maia, from USA

Answer

Dear Maia:

When you begin to meditate and ask God to guide you it naturally awakens energy in the spine and increases the upward flow. This can manifest in many ways, including those you describe. As you are finding, these experiences are wonderful and bring with them a sense of being touched by the Divine.

Your spiritual effort is awakening “the natural love of the heart,” as it is often called. This is a great blessing and very positive for your life. “Everything in future will improve,” Sri Yukteswar said, “if you are making a spiritual effort now.”

Because these experiences are new for you, at least in this incarnation, to feel unsure is also a natural response. If you moved to another country, you would find many familiar elements — people eat, drink, sleep, talk, laugh, love everywhere. At the same time, there would be aspects that would be confusing. So on side you would feel completely happy and at home making new friends in a new country, and on the other hand you would feel insecure.

After a little while, though, when you become familiar with the customs of your new country, the insecurity will vanish.

Entering the spiritual path, getting deeper into the life Divine, is entering a new way of life — delightful, adventurous, promising, but also unfamiliar.

So, the answer to your question, “Is this normal?” is “Yes.”

The response of your friend is, alas, also “normal” in the sense of quite common. She may, in fact, be genuinely concerned that you are getting yourself into something that won’t in the end prove beneficial. She is not showing much respect for your judgment, but at least we can imagine that she has your best interests are heart.

Even if she does, however, she is not behaving in a way that would make you want to spend any time with her right now. You may love her at a distance, but if she is going to insult your judgment and negate these precious experiences, why would you want to be with her?

Your choice to distance yourself is quite appropriate both from a spiritual and a merely social point of view. Even if she means well she is not behaving well. Why expose yourself to that?

Also, when the tree of spiritual development is just a sapling, you have to build a protective fence around it. Even a mighty oak when still a twig can be broken by a mouse. If protected at the beginning, however, it can become a mighty oak, able to shelter and support many souls.

You simply can’t afford to expose yourself to this kind of energy.

Yes, she is still able to direct it toward you through the ether. But that is really her problem, not yours.

Because this world is just a reflection of what we have inside ourselves, people often accuse others of what is actually happening to them. In this case, your friend says you are getting bad karma, presumably for distancing yourself from her.

Friendship is an important value. But a lower duty (dharma) ceases to be a duty when it is replaced by a higher one. In this case, your devotion to the spiritual path is a higher duty than maintaining this friendship. She has forced you to choose. There is no question: God first.

It is not good to say to or even about anyone that they are getting “bad karma.” That is the yogic equivalent of the old fundamentalist accusation, “You are going to hell!” Fortunately, the fate of others is not in our hands. God is in charge.

Still, without accusing her as she is accusing you, it is unfortunate that she has decided to respond this way. Some people feel threatened by the spirituality of others. Perhaps deep inside she knows you have taken the higher path and feels shamed or jealous by the contrast between what she is doing and what you are doing.

Maybe she is just jealous because you have someone else in your life — Divine Mother — who means more to you now than she does.

All of this is unfortunate. But no, you are not getting bad karma from trying to get closer to God, even if, as a side effect, it creates distance between you and your friend.

Still, watch your heart. Even if she provokes you, inwardly keep a kindly attitude toward her. It is not wrong, however, to respond sharply to her if necessary. When people insult something that is dear to you, you don’t have to take it silently. You can speak frankly. Even if your words are strong, however, keep a kindly attitude toward her inside. When a mother scolds her child, she doesn’t cease to love the child. In fact, sometimes she loves the child even more.

This doesn’t mean you have to think about her much or at all. And if thinking about her puts you on the wavelength of her anger and therefore disturbs your peace, do not think about her at all. Don’t even pray for her. You are still a sapling and have to protect yourself.

Tell Divine Mother that you are not able at this time to be her friend, so She will have to take over for you. Then turn your attention away from your former friend and don’t think about her again. If your friend changes, of course, you can welcome her back into your circle. But if she remains angry at you for being a spiritual seeker, you must keep your distance.

These things happen. In life we have to make choices if we hope ever to accomplish anything. Focus. Concentration. Discipline. These are the means to worthwhile goals. Sometimes sad things happen along the way — like the loss of friends who don’t understand. Give it all to Divine Mother.

Where there is dharma, which is to say, right action that leads to God consciousness, there is always victory. The best way to be a friend to this woman right now is to do the right thing spiritually, which is not to let her bad energy pull you down. In the end, she too will be blessed. For when we make spiritual progress, even if the egos of those around us who don’t understand disapprove, their souls rejoice. Your spiritual progress also uplifts them, even if they don’t know it.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha

[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ask Asha: If He Isn't My "Soulmate," Should I Marry Him?

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

Hello, Due to circumstances I have to marry someone without my full consent. My parents think that this is the perfect situation and this marriage will bring me a lot of happiness.The man that I am marrying is a good person. But, I am not attracted to him.I don’t get the feeling that he is my soulmate. I have lost a lot of faith in God-the only thing I asked god all of my life is for me to be with my soulmate. Do soulmates exist? I am bitter towards God &parents. How can I marry someone I dont love?

KT
from USA

Answer

Dear KT:

I am very concerned about you and even more concerned for your husband-to-be. To enter a marriage unwillingly is a recipe for disaster.

With every little disappointment or conflict you will throw into your husband’s face the fact that you never wanted to marry him anyway. Not a pleasant prospect for him.

You say he is a good person. Then out of consideration for him — quite apart from your own happiness — you should stop this marriage now.

You say you “have to marry” but if you are old enough to marry, I presume you are old enough to walk in and out of a room under your own power. I presume you can get a job, a passport, or anything else you might need in order to have your own life.

What you are saying is that to avoid this marriage you will have stand up to people you are not accustomed to defying. You will create disharmony and be perceived as willful and ungrateful. Perhaps the pleasant home you now share with your parents will become far less pleasant.

In other words, it will be inconvenient for you not to marry him. That is not the same as saying you “have to marry him.”

Do take this seriously. If you are going to be rebellious and unwilling in this marriage, don’t enter into it. It isn’t fair to the poor man who will be stuck with you for the rest of his life.

Now, that is one side of the question. The other side is, “Is this a suitable marriage?”

You say he is a “good person.” Are you compatible in other ways? Do you have similar interests? Education? Goals in life? Cultural and spiritual values? How well do you know him? Does he come from a good family? I am not talking about social status, but rather is his family harmonious, loving, kind? Is he a man of good character? Of noble habits?

What about you? Are you a good person? Do you have high values? Do you have noble habits? Are you generous and loving by nature? Are you willful and self-centered?

There is a spiritual reality called “soulmates,” but it exists on a level far beyond romance and marriage. Paramhansa Yogananda referred to soulmates only a few times in all his years of teaching and in all his writing. That’s because he knew everyone would immediately lower the concept from the spiritual level on which he was speaking to the question of men and women falling in love.

Soulmates, as Yogananda described it, is a union of spirit that comes as part of final liberation — moksha. At that point you have transcended the physical completely.

For the most part, when people speak of “soulmates” they are not talking about what Yogananda was referring to. In fact, usually they mean just the opposite — a gender based attraction that is both romantic and sexual.

Is there a reality to a having a “special connection,” whatever we call it, on this level? Of course there is. Our relationships are determined by past life associations. Whenever we meet friends from past lives the present is always colored by whatever happened before.

Is there only one destined romantic partner for us in each incarnation? Not likely.

Over the course of incarnations we have innumerable wives and husbands. Each relationship helps us learn certain lessons and develop needed qualities within ourselves. Relationships naturally repeat over the course of incarnations.

It isn’t possible to learn all our lessons in the relatively short span of one lifetime. But we have so many lessons to learn, we have to experience life with many different people in order to face and overcome all the various karmas.

I live in America where we are accustomed to choosing our own marriage partners, usually without help from anyone. I wish I could tell you that the perception, “We are soulmates” at the time of the wedding ensures a happy marriage. As far as I can see, it does not. I don’t want to go so far as to say it guarantees failure, but I will say that too much emphasis on how unique and special the attraction is between the couple often leads to an ego-based connection that does not stand up well against the test of time and changing circumstance.

Yes, I know this is hard to understand. Frankly, I did not understand it myself when I was 20 years old. Experience has been my teacher. Over the last several decades I have performed many marriages and done a great deal of marriage counseling, often helping people through the painful process of divorce. And I have been married 30 years myself.

Yes, of course, finding your marriage partner attractive is a great help to your relationship! But the kind of instant attractiveness, especially sexual attractiveness, that is so highly valued these days is not the most important factor in success together. Romantic and sexual feelings can be generated for a wide variety of reasons, not all of them spiritually inspired or helpful over the long haul.

I don’t mean to make light of your intuition. We recognize our friends from past lives. That’s a fact. And love at first sight that lasts for a lifetime does happen.

What I have learned is this: It is not hard to love someone. If you are sweet, tender-hearted, generous, understanding by nature — loving comes easy.

What is very challenging is to make a life together. To make a home, to raise children, to be loyal through the hard times, to understand and support one another, to earn a living, to be faithful — that is the difficult part.

This is what parents think about. Having lived long enough to raise you into adulthood, they know first-hand what really counts in a marriage. In a culture where parents are involved in the choice, they will definitely look for lasting values, and will be, as you find them, not particularly interested in your ideas of “attraction.”

Yes, attraction is important, but attraction that grows out of respect and appreciation for a depth of character that may take time to reveal itself — that is the kind of attraction that makes for a happy marriage.

And yes, it may be possible to have it all, but attraction alone is not the deciding factor. Character is.

You say you have lost faith in God because all you ever wanted was to be with your soulmate and you feel this man is not the one.

Here is a question, “How well do you know him?” Are there objective reasons for your “feeling” that he isn’t the one for you? Sometimes we don’t know our own minds.

Another question, “How much do you trust your parents?” Do you feel that they know you well? Have they shown themselves to be insightful where you are concerned? Are they generous by nature? Are they bullying you into this or is this an act of genuine, thoughtful, loving concern for you?

I guess I have asked you lots of questions, as much as answering the ones you have asked, but this is such a personal situation, it seems you need to look deeply within and try to weigh the factors objectively.

You may still come to the same conclusion: That this is not your husband. Your parents are likely to take you more seriously, however, if you approach this matter in a serious way.

An obvious solution is to postpone the wedding — but not necessarily cancel the whole idea. Maybe if you have more time to get to know this man, to meet his family, to spend time with him, to experience whatever it is about him that your parents find so suitable, that the whole idea will be more attractive to you. Or, it will be so obvious that it isn’t a good match that it will be less difficult to extricate yourself from it.

If you do take that solution — to postpone and get to know him — I urge you to enter into it with good faith. Don’t be a sulky, reluctant person. Open your heart; be interested and sincere as you explore the friendship.

And if, for some reason, postponement is not possible, and, despite your doubts, you do marry him, I plead with you: Give your heart to the marriage. Be a friend to your husband. Be kind, supportive, loving. Above all, accept responsibility for having married him. Don’t blame him, your parents, or anyone else. Getting married is the act of an adult person, so behave accordingly.

And who knows? You may be surprised to find that God has brought your soulmate to you. He may turn out to be everything you hope for in a life partner.

That result is far more likely if you offer to him the kind of love and friendship you have dreamed of having with your soulmate.

Rather than giving up on God, pray that He guide you and help you, either to step away from the marriage if you can’t enter into it with sincere good will, or to make a success of it.

I will pray for you.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha

[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Ask Asha: Feeling Ashamed for Believing in God

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

In the world today it seems that it is almost wrong to believe in God. It is almost as if it is shamefull to believe. How do you stop feeling shame in believing ?

I know i should not feel ashamed of it but sometimes people make me feel ashamed that I believe in God.

L.
from Europe

Answer

Dear L:

If you are associating with people who make you feel ashamed to believe in God, I suggest you find new friends. If they are people you can’t escape from — co-workers or relatives — I suggest you walk away when people speak disrespectfully of the divine. Don’t engage in arguments you can’t win that only leave you feeling badly.

If you can’t separate yourself physically, withdraw inwardly. In the very moment pray deeply to God to give you the strength to resist their false ideas.

At this point on your spiritual journey your faith is fragile and needs to protected from the harsh doubts of others, the way a sapling is surrounded by a fence until its roots are deep and its trunk has thickened. Once you are established nothing will shake your faith. But for now be careful.

Master says, “Whether one’s energy goes outward to the world or upward toward God depends to a large extent on the company you keep.”

If possible, find groups or individuals that support you in your faith and spend your free time with them. If you can’t find anyone in person, then make Ananda Online your community. There are so many resources these days. Even when you are physically alone you can always be in the company of uplifted people through books, recordings, and music.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha

[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ask Asha: Escaping the Mental Prison of Doubt

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

As a deep, full-fledged doubter, fully aware of the fact that the doubter is often the most miserable of mortals (knowing that doesn’t change the doubt), I have decided to take up Swami Yukteswar's challenge to examine your thoughts for 24 hours to find proof of god. The problem is that he doesn’t really go into much more detail. How should I go about it so that I will get a true result. If nothing happens, I don’t want to be accused (by myself) of not having done it right.

James
from US

Answer


Dear James:

I admire your determination to follow Sri Yukteswar’s suggestion. I don’t think I can help you, however, because I draw a different meaning from that passage. For the sake of our readers, I’ll quote it in full. It is on page 130 of the original edition of Autobiography of a Yogi, in the chapter “Years in My Master’s Hermitage.”
My guru [Sri Yukteswar] ordinarily was gentle and affable to guests; his welcome was given with charming cordiality. Yet inveterate egotists sometimes suffered an invigorating shock. They confronted in Master either a frigid indifference or a formidable opposition: ice or iron! 
A noted chemist once crossed swords with Sri Yukteswar. The visitor would not admit the existence of God, inasmuch as science has devised no means of detecting Him. 
“So you have inexplicably failed to isolate the Supreme Power in your test tubes!” Master’s gaze was stern. “I recommend an unheard-of experiment. Examine your thoughts unremittingly for twenty-four hours. Then wonder no longer at God’s absence.” 
A celebrated pundit received a similar jolt. With ostentatious zeal, the scholar shook the ashram rafters with scriptural lore. Resounding passages poured from the Mahabharata, the Upanishads, the bhasyas of Shankara. 
“I am waiting to hear you,” Sri Yukteswar’s tone was inquiring, as though utter silence had reigned..... 
The passage goes on, but I am not going to quote it all. I only include the second incident to give support to my interpretation of the passage you are interested in.

It seems to me that what Sri Yukteswar is saying is that if the chemist watches his own thoughts for a day he will see that he himself never elevates his thinking to the realm where God exists, but spends all his mental energy on the mundane material plane. So, of course he believes God doesn’t exist.

In the next incident, too, Sri Yukteswar mocks someone so committed to his ego that there is no room for divine realization.

Because we are opposite in our interpretations, I read this section aloud to a group of long-time devotees gathered in our home. Most understood it the way I present it here, but some did agree with your interpretation, i.e., examine your thoughts and you will discover God.

In either case, there are no detailed instructions and I can’t think of anything more to recommend.

Perhaps if you simply do as he suggests and pay attention to your own mind for twenty-four hours, you will, as Sri Yukteswar says, see how you are creating your own doubts. Maybe that will be helpful. But I don’t think he is promising that at the end of the day you will be a believer. No such luck. There is no short-cut.

When an atheist once challenged Swamiji to give him some useful advice that didn’t include God, Swamiji suggested he define God simply as the highest potential he could imagine for himself, and then work to achieve that.

The problem you face is that your perception of reality is clouded by your doubts. Doubts not only cloud perception, they keep a person from taking constructive action. And if you never take constructive action, your consciousness will not change, and perception will remain clouded. It is a self-perpetuating cycle of misery.

I would suggest that you make no effort to resolve the bigger questions, but think only in terms of what can I do today, in this hour to expand my consciousness, to soften my heart, to help others. Don’t think about where this is leading but only the happiness right action can bring you in a moment-to-moment way.

If you do anything that helps you spiritually, that will help to clear your consciousness and clarify your perception, which, eventually, will help you overcome your doubts.

In Swamiji’s book, The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, his commentary 4:40 deals with how the doubter can escape from his mental prison. I encourage you to read that section and do your best to follow his advice.

I will pray for you.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha


[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ask Asha: Reacting to Others' Nervous Habits

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

Dear Asha,

I feel very stressed whenever a person exhibits a nervous habit: foot tapping, gum chewing, hair twisting, nail biting, etc. Soon I will be visiting my son and daughter-in-law. I like my daughter-in-law but have difficulty being with her because she bites and chews on her nails most of the time, including while driving, walking, at restaurants, riding in the car, at home, etc. My strong reaction really interferes with being with her. I want to have a relationship with them both, but I dread going there because of my problem.

Do you have a suggestion for dealing with this? I don't seem to be able to handle it.

S.P.


Answer

Dear S.P.:

Whenever I find myself in the company of people who upset my inner peace, for whatever reason, I find if I can turn my attention away from own feelings, toward God and praying for them, I can change my attitude.

At the same time, because I am inwardly disturbed, connecting to God and getting my mind off myself is not always easy.

The solution came to me when surrounded by a group of beggars in India. For many reasons, it was not appropriate to empty my wallet into their outstretched hands. Among other reasons, I didn’t have enough rupees to satisfy all of them, and to give to some and not others would have made the situation even more chaotic.

Besides, I have to say frankly, even if they were needy, I didn’t like their consciousness and didn’t feel inspired to give them the money they were asking for.

Still, they were clearly unhappy, and I wanted to do something for them. Looking calmly into the eyes of those nearest to me, inwardly I prayed intently, “Divine Mother, bless us all.” The beggars had their reason to be agitated and I had mine. We all needed Divine Mother’s help. After just a few repetitions of this prayer, I could feel a divine peace descending on me and radiating through me to the beggars around me.

I wasn’t giving the beggars what they asked for, but I was giving them something they needed. They, too, calmed down and seemed to some extent satisfied.

Since then I have found this to be an ideal prayer in many circumstances. I use it when confronted by angry, homeless, or mentally deranged people, or anyone who makes demands of me that I am not able to satisfy.

Of course the power of the prayer depends on how sincerely and deeply I repeat it. I hope it is as effective for you as it has been for me.

Now, let us consider this from another angle. Why do you feel this way and is there anything you can do about it?

What if it were your son who had this nervous habit, not his wife? Would your love for him overcome your aversion to his mannerism? In other words, can you imagine loving someone so much that the habit wouldn’t bother you?

What if it was involuntary, a twitching that resulted from a stroke, for example? What if you developed such a disorder? How would you want your husband, your son, and your daughter-in-law to respond? And how would you feel if, instead of acceptance, they turned away from you?

Is your aversion to the habit itself, so that even if it were involuntary it would elicit from you the same strong reaction? Or is it judgmental, annoyance at what you consider to be weakness? Is your thought, “Why can’t she control herself?”

If it is the latter, isn’t it interesting that you can’t control yourself, but you are upset because she can’t control herself?

No one is saying that these are nice habits. They are unpleasant to be around and even worse for the person acting them out.

But there is a world of difference between observing impartially -- “Poor soul, so nervous all the time” -- and the kind of response you are describing.

What we judge in others is always a reflection of what we find distressing in ourselves. Our anger at our own weaknesses causes us to react intensely when we see the same weaknesses in others. Even though it makes no sense, we imagine that if we can expunge this quality in someone else it will also disappear from inside ourselves. Alas, it doesn’t work.

Perhaps you don’t have the specific manifestations that you speak of, but what do these habits represent to you?

A great deal is at stake here. Your poor daughter-in-law is not only driven by her inner compulsion to chew constantly on her fingernails, but she also has a mother-in-law who judges her for doing so. You dread visiting her. I suspect the feeling is mutual.

And how do you think that makes your son feel? And if his wife becomes so upset by your attitude toward her that he is forced to choose between his mother and his wife, who will he choose?

You say you can’t get rid of your reaction. I ask you, how much are you willing to risk in order to hold onto it? Perhaps you can use your helplessness in the face of this to create compassion and understanding for others who are also out of control.

Yes, it is difficult to overcome these deep-seated aversions. But God sent this woman and her annoying habit to you as a gift to help you grow spiritually. Your relationship with your son could also be at stake. If that doesn’t motivate you, what will? Sooner or later you will have to expand your heart and develop the compassion to accept others as they are. This seems like a good place to start.

Divine Mother, bless us all.

Joy,
Nayaswami Asha


[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Request for Stories: Miracles and Answered Prayers

Dear Friends: 

Swamiji has asked me to do something that I can’t do unless you help me. 

Last spring, he started writing a book called, “Miracles and Answered Prayers.” Many of you responded to his request for stories.  

Just as he was leaving for Europe, he said he didn’t feel to write the book himself and asked me to write it instead. 

All the stories you sent to Swamiji I have, but there aren’t enough to make a book. I know the stories are there. Every one of us has experienced exactly what this book is about: God showing us His love and concern, sometimes in spectacular ways, sometimes with the quiet sweetness of His unmistakeable Presence. 

We love the spectacular stories: that is the “Miracles” part. The “Answered Prayers,” though, are in some ways even more important. We expect God to intervene, as Swamiji has said, when one’s life is at stake. What is so touching is when He steps in simply to make life sweeter. 

You may feel you want to keep those moments locked in your heart, but Swamiji seems to feel, in deciding to write this book, that it is time for us to share them.  

I like to put names on stories, but if you prefer, your story can be anonymous. Only I will know and I promise not to tell. 

The purpose of the hard times Master said are coming is to draw people back to God. A book of stories like the one we have to offer, could touch the hearts of many souls, and awaken many to God. 

Stories about our path and Gurus are fine. But all traditions and every context are welcome.  If you have friends or family with good stories, please have them call me, or gather their stories and pass them on. 

To give you an idea of what we are looking for, I’ve included a handful of stories.  

Most people find it easier to talk than to write. So send me your phone number and I’ll contact you. If you do write, please include lots of details, but it isn’t necessary to polish the writing. The book has a unified style and I have to edit every story to that flow.  

In about a month I am going to take a “writing retreat” and to make that work, I have to have lots of stories. So I need to hear from you NOW. 

Will you help? I would be so grateful. 

You can write to me at praver@anandapaloalto.org or call 650.941.1481.

In divine friendship,
Nayaswami Asha 


MIRACLES & ANSWERED PRAYERS 

#1 from Tyagini Maitreyi 

     My husband Michael and I are shifting house and home some 4700 miles from the Isle of Man to Pune, India, to be part of the Ananda Kriya Yoga community there. Naturally, this is an expensive move. When we arrive we will be working as volunteers, for at this point in the community's development there are no paid positions for us.  The only way to fund the travel, the shipping of belongings, the building of a residence, and perhaps years of living expenses, is to sell the house we live in now. 

      From the time we made the decision to move, I turned the whole thing over to Divine Mother. It was all too much to handle on my own. If we had intuited Her will correctly, I knew She would take care of everything. My fleeting thought was to sell the house privately (nothing lost in commissions), receive the asking price (no haggling with potential buyers), and being able to stay on some months after the sale (rent free would be ideal!).  

      I trusted absolutely and did not feel we even needed to advertise. Michael was less certain, and insisted we engage an agent. The advertisement had not even been finalized, let alone reached the gaze of the public, when a work colleague who knew we were leaving offered to buy the house privately -- no agent's fees -- for exactly what we were asking.  

      Even more amazing, except for a few photographs taken with our camera, he had not even seen the property. And as for our staying on for a few months after the sale?  "No problem", the buyer, said. And what about rent? "No need for it!" 

      Divine Mother engineers perfectly, and in ways that defy all reason! 

      I am humbled and a little ashamed that even unwittingly I might have begged favor of Her. Not that I feel unworthy of God's attention or Her gifts, but I know there are so many worse off than I.  

      Still, why would I think that God's abundance is limited, that if Divine Mother meets my needs that She cannot also meet the needs of others? How foolish! She is Infinite. Truly, this human mind cannot fathom the greatness of Her love.  

      The sweetest gift of all is that through Her generosity I now know without a doubt that all paths are open and India will be our home.
 
#2 from Manisha

      The decision to walk home late that night did not, at first, seem like a foolish one. It was only a mile to the lodge where I was staying, down a quiet rural road on a ridge top outside of Assisi, Italy.  There was no traffic at this hour, and no bad characters to fear. I had come to Assisi to "walk in the footsteps of St. Francis" and while I didn't know for sure that he had followed the path I was on, it was certain he had gone on foot, as I was now doing. 

      For a while, the reflected glow from the Temple I had just left was enough to light my way. But the farther I walked, the darker it became. There were only a few houses in the area, and everyone seemed to have gone to bed. The sky was heavily overcast with no hint of moon or stars. Soon I could just barely make out the line where the pavement met the gravel shoulder.  

      I began to feel nervous. To still my beating heart, I sang quietly to myself, "Sri Yogananda, guide to inner freedom, steal into my heart of hearts. Banish my delusion."  

      Surrounded by that song, I felt less anxious, until it occurred to me that in this blackness, I wouldn't be able to see the narrow driveway that led to the lodge. I could walk right past it and never know.  

      Just then, off to the right, I saw a firefly. I stopped to watch. I had never seen fireflies before arriving in Assisi a few days earlier. St. Francis had special reverence for God in Nature, so it seemed appropriate that I should meet these magical creatures for the first time here. 

      The firefly passed in front of me and then hovered on my left. In the faint glow of his luminous body, I saw the entrance to the driveway.  

      He stayed with me all the way to the door of the lodge, then flitted away. Just as I stepped inside and closed the double doors behind me, a torrential rain began to fall.
 
#3 from Parvati

      Looking back over sixty-some years of life, it is obvious that the reason I incarnated had only a little to do with my birth family. I don't have any siblings. It was just my mother and father, a few close relatives, and me.  

      In my mid-twenties I found my spiritual family and moved into the Ananda community. "Honor thy father and thy mother" is good advice, and I did my best to follow it, keeping in touch and visiting them a few times a year.  

      Fortunately, my parents seemed to accept the distance between us and never asked me to choose between them and my spiritual path. I'm glad they didn't, because in this life, I could not have chosen them.  

      After my father died, my mother naturally needed more support from me. Within a few years, her health had declined to the point where I had to move her closer to me. Visiting her nearly every day, taking her shopping and to see her doctors was not a hardship.  

      In fact, more of a friendship grew between us than we'd ever had before. She even expressed interest in learning how to meditate! That in itself was a miracle. Not that we ever got far with it, but it was amazing that she even asked. 

      Then her health really went downhill. She was so set against moving into a care facility of any kind that for the first time it occurred to me, "I might have to leave the ashram and take care of her."

 "Is this what You want?" I asked Divine Mother. 

      I had to go deep inside before I could say sincerely and with joy, "If so, I will do it." 

      Four days later, easily and peacefully, my mother left her body.
 
#4 from Soma 

      My fear of pools of water has been so intense and so irrational that when I was a child, even the sight of the toilet bowl would cause my heart to race. I refused to go swimming, and did my best to avoid even the sight of an ocean, lake, or pond. 

      When my meditation teacher once encouraged me to, "Visualize an infinite sea," my visualization turned into a nightmare. Huge waves in the shape of monsters crashed over me, dragging me down into a black, roiling sea.  

      "This is obviously a tragic memory from a previous incarnation," the teacher said when I told her what happened. "Forget the ocean!" she advised. "Visualize instead an infinite expanse of clear blue sky."  

      Sky worked great and I continued to progress in my meditation practice and my life as a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda. When the chance came to go on pilgrimage to America to visit the places where he had lived, I signed up right away, even though I was concerned about a few stops on the itinerary,  "Lake Shrine," for example, and the "Seaside Hermitage," in Encinitas, California. 

      The trip was everything I hoped it would be. To meditate by the crypt where my Guru's body is buried, to see his shoes reverently placed by the edge of the bed where he slept was pure bliss. 

      When the Encinitas day arrived, my devotional ardor carried me, without conscious thought, right to the high cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean where he often meditated. Closing my eyes, I was transported into a deep experience of his living presence. A long time later (or so it seemed), I opened my eyes and gazed calmly out at the sea in front of me. 

      My lifelong fear was gone.
 
#5 from Richard 

      My head and arms were hanging out the car window, the way a dog likes to ride with his snout into the wind.  I was about five years old in the era before children were strapped into car seats.  

      It was a curvy road and every time we went around a bend, I was tossed back and forth, squealing with delight.  My father's best friend, "Uncle Mac," was driving.  Dad was sitting next to him. 

      Even though my head was outside the car and the wind was blowing in my face, I distinctly heard a voice say, "Go see what your father and Uncle Mac are doing." It wasn't a thought; it was a voice. Although I couldn't remember when I had heard it before, the voice was familiar to me, and it didn't seem odd that it was speaking now. 

      "Okay," I said, pulling my head in and flopping my arms over the center back of the front seat. 

      In that instant, the door I had been leaning against swung open.  Uncle Mac immediately pulled over. In stunned silence we contemplated how close we had come to tragedy.
#6 from Maghi 

      We were speeding down the freeway in the far left lane, heading back to Los Angeles after a week at Ananda Village. My husband Vasanta was driving; two friends were in the back seat. 

      Suddenly, without forethought, I said,  "Let's stop for coffee!" Vasanta is a coffee gourmet and had made converts of us, so the immediate "Yes!" from all present was no surprise. 

      Still, I had barely finished my sentence before Vasanta crossed three lanes of traffic and started down the exit ramp. The moment we were safely off the freeway, the transmission seized up, stalling the engine and cutting off power to the brakes and steering. Fortunately, there was no traffic and the car coasted safely to a stop --right in front of Starbucks! 

      If Vasanta had hesitated even a few seconds, we would have still been on the freeway when he lost control of the car.  

      I don't think any church uses coffee during the communion service but for us it will always be holy beverage!  
  
#7 from Richard 

      We entered the freeway at the same time as our friends, but rush hour traffic soon separated us. In an attempt to keep Eugene's car in sight, I moved over to the fourth lane on the far left. Soon I spotted him about a quarter of a mile ahead, one lane to the right.  

      There were three car lengths of open space behind him so I sped up to 85mph to move into the gap.  As I came abreast of the car trailing his, I let up on the accelerator knowing that momentum alone would place me safely just where I wanted to be.  

      Before turning the wheel I checked the distances again. There was plenty of space behind Eugene, and in the rear view mirror I could see the trailing car already fading out of my peripheral vision. All clear.   

      I turned the wheel about two degrees to the right and felt the beginning of a smooth fade into the next lane.  At the same moment I glanced into the right side view mirror. A pair of eyes, like a hunted animal cornered in a hollow log, stared back at me.  

      A fast-moving motorcyclist was heading for the same spot I was about to occupy. I was in the process of turning; we were milliseconds from impact. No time even to alert my wife in the passenger seat next to me. Death was at our side.  

      In that instant, the steering wheel came to a hard stop, as if at the end of its turning radius. My eyes were fixed on the eyes of the motorcyclist reflected in the mirror, but now I could also see his silhouette outside the passenger window as the air around us began to fracture, like ripples on water, wrapping itself around the front of the car and pushing it back into the left lane.  

      The motorcyclist turned his body slightly as he pulled into the lane in front of me, our eyes still locked together. Silently we acknowledged that we had been miraculously spared. Then he turned his head away, sped off down the freeway, and I never saw him again.   
blueline

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