Asha Praver

Letters from Asha

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ask Asha: Taking the Karma of Others

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

Can Kriyabans take on the Karma of other Kriyabans?

From A.

Answer

Dear A:

The issue would not be who is or is not a Kriyaban. It would be a matter of spiritual advancement.

In Autobiography of a Yogi in the chapter, “We Visit Kashmir,” Master explains the high fever Sri Yukteswar experienced there as him taking on the karma of his disciples.

Master writes, “The metaphysical method of physical transfer of disease is known to highly advanced yogis.... A spiritual superman is able to minimize his disciples’ physical or mental burdens by sharing the karma of their past actions.”

In a footnote he says, “Many Christian saints, including Therese Neumann, are familiar with the metaphysical transfer of disease.”

It is worth noting that in this discussion of taking the karma of others, Master speaks of Sri Yukteswar, spiritual supermen, advanced yogis, Christian saints, and Therese Neumann. He is not exhorting us everyday devotees to go out and do likewise. Many times he does exhort us to do things we feel are way beyond our present abilities, but not in this case.

In the course of writing the book Swami Kriyananda As We Have Known Him, I asked Swamiji whether he takes on the karma of others. His medical condition is so unusual that seemed a likely explanation.

Even though he is usually quite forthcoming when I ask him questions, especially when I am writing about him, in this case he was not. He talked all around the issue and when I pressed him (inappropriately, I realized later) he said only, “I have prayed to Master to be able to help others in any way I can.” Then later added, “It is up to God. It is not for me to say.”

I remembered the story Swamiji tells about Master being asked in a casual way by a guest at a luncheon, “Dr. Lewis was your first disciple in this country, wasn’t he?”

Master’s response, Swamiji said, was “unexpectedly reserved.” Quietly Master replied, “That’s what they say.” Swamiji explained that “discipleship was too sacred a subject to be treated lightly even in casual conversation.”

A guru taking on the karma of his disciples seems a gift of such enormous magnitude that we cannot begin to fathom it. Among many other qualities of spiritual enlightenment, the guru must have the wisdom to know when the removal of an obstacle will advance a disciple rather than confuse him by taking away needed karmic lessons.

In our well-meaning, but too often blind compassion, if we had the power to remove karma, we could make terrible blunders. Many healers tell how, in the course of their practice, they have had to learn hard lessons about when to make a person well and when to leave the symptoms in place as a necessary learning for the one afflicted.

Perhaps, however, you are asking this question on a much different level. In my book about Swamiji there is a story where he, recovering in the hospital after major surgery, asked the devotee nurse caring for him to please do his Kriya’s for him, since he was too weak to do them himself.

And on his birthday, when a devotee gave him the gift of doing Kriyas on his behalf, Swamiji was deeply touched. And once when a devotee was hospitalized and couldn’t do Kriya herself, Swamiji said he would do them for her.

Obviously, it is possible to help one another spiritually, specifically through the practice of Kriya. This is a more subtle expression of the way we help each other all the time: lending money, lifting heavy boxes for weaker brothers and sisters, being present when challenging circumstances have to be faced. In this way we mitigate the effects of karma by adding our energy to the energy of our friends to help them deal with what comes to them.

However, taking on the karma of others -- more specifically, using one’s body to work out that karma -- seems beyond the reach of all but the most advanced of us. Still, it is a natural desire and just farther along on the same spectrum of what we do already.

Think how often a mother prays at the bedside of her sick or dying child, “Lord, take this suffering from my child and give it to me.” Then think how rarely, if ever, this prayer is answered.

Karma is too complex to be shifted about. Even when love inspires us to want to do so, God’s wisdom closes that door. Only the greatest among us are allowed to pass through it and help in this particular way.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha

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

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ask Asha: How Do Others React to the Renunciate Colors?

[This is in response to a previous letter: Do Nayaswami Robes Draw Attention to the Ego? You can ask your own question here.]

Question

Dear Asha,

I was happy to see someone ask about the blue. Last time I was at Ananda (over Easter) I was surprised by my reaction: I really did not like all that blue. Too much blue! It felt unbalancing somehow. It is not an "easy color" in huge amounts, and there were huge amounts of it. It also gave the place a much more cultish feeling, reminding me of Rajneesh followers who always wore red. I've thought about my reaction a lot since returning. I have read "Renunciate Order for the New Age" and am in agreement with the ideas behind it but . . . too much blue! I find myself ever so slightly reluctant to refer people to Ananda -- how are they going to react to all that blue?! I would prefer it to be subtler somehow. Don't know if others feel this way. . .

in love of guru,
LL

Answer

Dear LL:

Swamiji decided to found this new renunciate order on the afternoon of June 6, 2009. I know the exact date because he was so weak and ill we thought he was dying and on that afternoon he was miraculously healed. I've written about this in the introduction to the book, A Renunciate Order for the New Age.

As I explained in the introduction, Swamiji was lying motionless on the couch and I thought he might be dead. To my great relief he began to speak, and the subject was the founding of this Order. Within the first fifteen minutes he was talking about what we would wear. You might think this a superficial consideration, but speaking from inside the Order, I will tell you it is not. Declaring to self and others, “This is who I am. This is what I am doing with my life,” is part of renunciation.

Yes, there are some souls for whom the relationship with God is so private, that any outward declaration lowers their dedication. But for most of us, alas, this is not true. The ego resists; the soul does not. It rejoices to embrace its true nature, which in this case is the expansive blue of Christ consciousness.

A few days after that healing a small group of people (all of whom later became Nayaswamis) were talking with Swamiji about wearing blue all the time. In fact, we weren't just talking about the color, we were talking about wearing a specific Nayaswami habit, something long, loose fitting, perhaps even with a cowl!

It would be fine within the rural communities, we said to Swamiji, but what about those of us who live in urban centers? Were we expected to walk around the city of Palo Alto dressed in blue robes?

“We've spent years,” David said, “trying to fit in.”

Swamiji responded very seriously, “Perhaps now is the time for us to stand out.”

He went on to explain, as he does in the book, that Master predicted that very hard times are coming. When that will be, we don't know, but you can just read the economic news, you don't need prophets to make you think something will happen soon.

The reason these hard times are coming, Master said, is that the world is out of tune with God, Nature, and our true selves. Again, just look around. It is obvious.

The purpose of these hard times, Master explained, is to bring people back to God. Not the Catholic, Jewish, or Islamic God. Not the wrathful fundamentalist God, but God within: Self-realization, not as a sect, but as a universal reality.

What is needed is more than just good ideas, or “random acts of kindness.” The world will not be brought into balance by well-meaning, but nonetheless self-affirming egos who imagine they can disregard God and make this world right again by just getting enough other self-affirming egos to... well... cooperate with their plan. They may be sincere, but that method won’t work.

Swamiji felt that the visible example of people who have given their life to God in this new way could help inspire and guide others, especially when times become more challenging. Yes, this is a bold statement, but Swamiji is nothing if not bold!

In fact, at least right now, most of the Nayaswamis, including Swamiji himself, rarely walk the streets of America in a robe. In India, of course, they understand renunciation and delight in seeing the blue robes. Even in Assisi, where so many pilgrims gather, robes of all kinds are a common sight. America, however, is different.

To every specific question from a Nayaswami, “What should I do?” Swamiji has replied, “Do as you feel.” There is no “policy” about this, which is why, among thousands of other reasons, the idea of Ananda being a “cult” is simply ludicrous, even if a lot of people are wearing the same color.

Most Nayaswamis do wear blue most of the time, something robe-like for Ananda events, Western style for everyday. Still, when two or more are out together, it usually elicits comment.

Sometimes the comments are amusing. “What’s with the blue?” is a common question.

In a restaurant when four Nayaswamis were having breakfast together, the waitress assumed from our clothes that we were fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers. She was a fan and was also wearing blue. We saw no reason to correct her so chatted happily about the most recent game.

Once when visiting the Apple Computer store, all the employees were also wearing Nayaswami blue t-shirts (apparently it is a very popular color). The group included Swamiji and about a dozen others, most wearing blue street clothes, although there was a robe-like garment here and there.

(We had long since given up the idea of the cowl, and what passes for a robe does not look exactly monastic, but simple and rather Indian. The design of the robe is still a “work in progress.”)

When we walked out of the store, an employee followed us. Apparently he had felt Swamiji’s unusual aura. Pointing at him he asked, “Who is that man? Is he the Archangel of Apple?”

I wear blue all the time, mostly a slightly oriental tunic and trousers, and people often stop me in the street to tell me how much they love the color. Only when I am with a friend (which often happens) who also wears a blue robe-like garment, do people realize that our clothes have greater significance. When they ask, I usually respond, “We have taken a certain initiation.” If they show interest, I tell them more. Or we say, “We are part of an ashram.”

To children who asked me, “Why do I always wear blue?” I said, “It is a promise I made to God.” We were interrupted before I could say more, so who knows what they took away from that conversation!

Now back to your question about coming to Ananda. Yes, all these years, we have consciously tried to put people at their ease, to look and seem like everyone else. But the fact is, we are not. The commitment to God and Gurus is a radical change from ordinary ego-based living.

David and I came to Palo Alto to lead this colony some 25 years ago. When we first arrived, just the fact of having a guru and practicing meditation was enough to put us on the outskirts of society, either the “lunatic fringe” or the “leading edge,” depending on your point of view. Since then, society itself has moved a great distance toward what we are doing.

Best-selling books have been written now about people and their gurus (positive books). Meditation classes are regular offerings at the local library and the YMCA. Yoga is considered an American sport.

Master came to America to lead a spiritual revolution, not to walk in the middle of a parade. Now that the parade has moved onto our part of the sidewalk, we need to take the next step in the direction everybody is trying to go.

It is not something that I would declare, but I have faith that when Swamiji declares he his responding to Master's guidance. Especially in this instance, considering, among other things, that it came as part of a miracle healing. It is hard to disregard an event like that.

Now people who come to Ananda communities, see us in our Temples, and even on the street, can't help but notice that we have made decisions that set us apart. That was the whole subject of the letter that preceded this one, answering the question, “Won't it increase your ego to distinguish yourselves in this way?”

The answer is “Yes,” if you allow it to, “No,” if you don't. But you can't hold back out of fear of what might go wrong. If you fall, you just get up again.

I do, however, understand your concern. My suggestion is a simple one: tune into the spirit and respond less to the changed appearance of things. It is natural to want things to stay the same as they have always been. However, nothing does. Adjusting gracefully, better still, accepting joyfully inevitable change is the secret of happy living.

And don’t underestimate your friends. Give them the chance, too, to think in a new way. They might surprise you.

It is a growing edge for all of us. But isn't that the whole point?

This is a new spirit of renunciation: expansive, joyful. Gradually, people will get familiar with it and the blue color, instead of seeming like “too much,” will be a reminder to all of God's love and the joy of living for Him.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha

P.S. I think it ironic that at this time (July 2011) the picture of me on this letter page is pre-blue! Must get another photo taken!


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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ask Asha: Do Nayaswami Robes Draw Attention to the Ego?

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

The recent photographs I have seen in the Ananda newsletters show that some of the teachers/swami's wear blue colored clothing. Is this really needed? Why do you need a visual distinction between a Swami and a disciple? Is that not in some way telling others “I am more spiritually advanced than you” and in a way becomes a false ego?

Regds,
S.

Answer

Dear S:

Have you seen Swami Kriyananda’s book, A Renunciate Order for the New Age? If you haven't, you can read it on the internet at www.nayaswami.org. Swamiji wrote the book in the summer of 2009 and launched the order with an initiation in November. The establishment of this Order has indeed changed the “look” of Ananda.

Whereas before you saw people dressed in a wide range of colors, now, especially, on formal occasions, you see a lot of uniformity -- blue (for Nayaswamis), white (for Tyagis), and yellow (for Brahmacharis).

Nayaswamis are those who have taken what is called a “Vow of Complete Renunciation.” (“Naya” means new. The whole order is simply a “new” Swami order.) Tyagis and Tyaginis and Brahmachris and Brahmacharinis are, you might say, “novice” Nayaswamis. There is one more group called “Pilgrim,” which is for those raising families, and for others who want to declare their spiritual intention, but for whom the other vows are not appropriate. There is no specific color for Pilgrims.

One distinguishing feature of this new order is that married couples can take vows without having to separate. The Tyaga vow is for married devotees; the Brahmacharya vow is for single people who are dedicated to remaining single for life.

Now, to the question you have asked, "Does it increase or decrease the ego to dress according to the vows one has taken?"

Ego is always a danger, of course, but the point of making an outward statement is to diminish ego’s hold, not to increase it. The outfit one assumes as a result of spiritual initiation is usually plain, simple, and meant to help one overcome vanity and preoccupation with outward appearance.

It is also God-reminding for the one wearing it. And, it must also be said, a way to protect yourself from the temptation to dilute one's commitment by wrong or careless actions.This will be more true as the Order becomes established and the meaning of the garb is more widely known.

Catholic priests and nuns, dressed in their easily recognized religious habits, are treated differently out of respect for the choice they have made. This bit of distance between them and the world helps them to keep their vows. A life dedicated to God is not always smooth sailing. If it is only done for show, of course it isn't very meaningful. But anything that helps maintain the depth and dignity of one's commitment is a welcome addition.

Yes, to dress in a way that singles you out can also lead to ego if one is inclined that way. But spiritual cowardice is also an obstacle that must be overcome. It takes courage to declare to the world: “I am not living an ordinary life anymore. From now on I live for God Alone.”

When devotees here in Ananda Palo Alto began to take initiation into this Order and assume the dress and sometimes the titles that went along with that, some people expressed to me the same concern you have raised. “Won’t this create divisions and lead to ego?”

My response was to ask questions in return. “Has anyone who has taken these vows acted in a superior way, or treated you with less kindness and respect than before? Has anyone in the Renunciate Order made you, who have not taken vows, feel inferior? Has anyone acted as if there is now an inner circle to which you do not belong?”

The answer I received was exactly what I knew to be true. “No. None of these things have happened. In fact,” my friend responded, “those who have taken vows seem happier, kinder, more inclusive, and even more God-centered than they were before.”

For all these years, Swami Kriyananda was the only sannyasi among us, the only one dressed in a distinctive way. Many of us, however, have longed to make an even deeper commitment. And yes, to separate ourselves even more profoundly from the world and everything it stands for.

Until Swamiji formed this Renunciate Order, there was no way to express that longing. The sannyas stage of life, especially for those of us who are married, and have vibrant spiritual partnerships with our spouses, and therefore no inclination to separate, was beyond our reach.

We are so grateful to Master for inspiring Swamiji to found this Order. To allow us, in many cases, to become Swamis together.

Ananda has always been a place of deep spirituality, but adding these vows has deepened us as individual devotes, and made the community as a whole much deeper in ways we didn’t even know were possible. So even those who have not joined the Order have been uplifted by it.

In the Bible, Jesus is asked how to tell a true prophet from a false one. He said simply, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

One can look from the outside and imagine all sorts of things, such as: distinctive dress will foster a sense of superiority, rather than humility. But imagination is not the issue here.

The question is, “What is true? What are the fruits?” And the fruits -- speaking both personally and from observing Ananda as a whole -- are not at all bitter, but divinely sweet.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha

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

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ask Asha: Difficult People Are Our Companions in Delusion

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

There is a person that I have known for a while in business. Somehow the more time I spend with the person, the more I dislike the person. I do my best to find the good qualities in this person but, in the mean time, I feel like my effort is failing. One of the things that I dislike is this person always either blaming other people or situation for his carelessness or wrong doing or even refusing to hear what other people’s suggestions. Any suggestions?

CJ
from USA

Answer

Dear CJ:
Each lifetime has a beginning and an end. The body is born, and, sooner or later, the body dies. Because, for the most part, we don’t remember our previous incarnations, we tend to think that the events of one lifetime are caused by things that happen in that lifetime, but this is not true.

Even though the details may be lost to our conscious awareness, one incarnation is like a chapter in a much longer book. The plot began long before this body was manifested, and will go on (for most of us) long after this body has turned to dust.

Your disinclination for your business associate could be caused by his obvious unpleasant qualities. But your dislike might also be exacerbated by previous lifetimes of unpleasant experiences with this person or someone very much like him.

This person may be as unpleasant as you describe, or, your past life experiences with him may be clouding your perception in the present moment. Try to perceive only what he is actually doing, not what you are projecting from experiences long past.

Sometimes our relationships from life to life are with the same people; some are merely repeats of the same kind of relationships but not necessarily with the same people. Depends not only on our karma with them, but also on their karma with us.

One person, for example, may learn the karmic lesson faster. Then, even if his companion in delusion is still bound by that karma, the one who has transcended can go on, and the one still learning has to work it out with someone else.

The fact that this person’s bad qualities can upset your peace of mind means that you still have something to learn from your association with him. That doesn’t mean you have to quietly endure his bad company. What you have to learn may be simply to walk out on bad company. Or to speak up when he speaks badly. Or, it may be to have sympathy and compassion for his ignorance, rather than irritation with him.

It may be that circumstances compel you to work with him, so it is less about what you would like to do and more about how to make a bad situation tolerable. Having compassion and keeping your peace of mind in the face of challenges to that peace is always a good strategy.

“Karma” means, in a sense, unlearned lessons. Since the goal of all life is to be able, as Yogananda put it so dramatically, to “stand unshaken amidst the crash of breaking worlds,” learning how to be even-minded in the company of an unpleasant person is a nice way to begin.

When you are with this person, try to keep your consciousness elevated. Pay attention to your breath. Do Hong-Sau if you know it, Kriya, even, if you can, quietly, without drawing attention to yourself (if circumstances allow it). Think of this person simply as a child of God, behaving in a way that is not worthy of his divine nature. Pray for him. Send him divine light. Ask God to guide him away from his wrong understanding.

Concentrate on keeping your own heart soft and open to the divine flow so that you can be an instrument of God blessing this person.

All of this can certainly make your interactions more interesting and beneficial to you spiritually. And perhaps also beneficial spiritually to him.

Try to discriminate between what merely annoys you and what is actually an obstacle to the smooth flow of work. Yes, this person is unpleasant, but how much of his unpleasantness actually obstructs what you are doing together? In other words, choose your battles. Stand up if required in order to accomplish something important. Otherwise, if this person is not interested in your input, don’t offer it. Work instead on calming your own compelling urge to make him different.
His own karma will teach him. It isn’t up to you.

Swamiji’s book The Art of Supportive Leadership may have some useful ideas for getting along with this person, and others at your work place.

I do hope this is helpful to you.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha

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