Asha Praver

Letters from Asha

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.]
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