Asha Praver

Letters from Asha

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ask Asha: Son of God or Son of Man?

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

I’ve been reading the Bible and there are more than a few terms I’m confused about. Is there a difference between the Son of Man and the Son of God? And I think circumcision is an allegory but I don’t understand. Could someone help me?

from Cody

Answer

Dear Cody:

Every Self-realized master has the same state of consciousness and teaches the same essential truths. Sanaatan Dharma it is called in India -- Eternal Truth. Another definition that I particularly like is, That Which Is. Spiritual truth is the way we are made -- all of us, made by God in the same way.

Once a master takes a physical body and commits to a particular incarnation, he is limited, not in his own consciousness, but in the way he has to express that consciousness. He has to relate to the planetary age, the culture, the spiritual needs of the time, and the karma of his disciples.

There are always two forces at work in defining his mission: the mass consciousness of the planet and the individual Self-realization of those who are drawn to him.

The potential for individual Self-realization is always the same: infinite. Even in the lowest age, highly evolved souls incarnate, either to work out specific personal karmas or to uplift the planet at a time of need.

In a fascinating book called The Yugas (published by Crystal Clarity), you can read all about planetary ages. There are four different ages -- Yugas they are called -- that go in ascending and descending cycles over a period of 24,000 years. The lowest age, Kali, is the age of matter. The second age is Dwapara, the age of energy. The nadir of the 24,000 year cycle was 500 years after Jesus died. The beginning of Dwapara (which goes for 2400 years) was 1900. So we have just emerged from the age of matter are at the beginning of a rising age of energy.

Jesus lived at nearly the most unenlightened stage this planet goes through. Mass consciousness was very limited, and for several centuries afterward got worse.

When Jesus came he was an avatar, a God-realized divine messenger, specifically for the Jews. The irony of Jews feeling resentful of Christ and Christians feeling angry at Jews is that Jesus was a Jew, all his followers were Jews, Christianity itself was only a sect of Judaism until the apostle Paul decided to carry the message to the gentiles.

Paul did that because he didn’t find enough receptivity among Jews and was too filled with the Holy Spirit and the bliss of what Jesus had given him to keep it for himself. So he went where people would listen, which, as it happened, was the non-Jewish community. That’s how “Christianity” came to be a separate religion. Jesus never did it. It was Paul.

That’s a pretty brief summary of a big subject, but you get the picture.

Now we come to circumcision.

Circumcision itself has always seemed a rather confusing idea to me. God made the male in a certain why. Why would surgical intervention be required? The question of circumcision has little relevance to my daily life, though, so I live comfortably with my confusion.

Just out of curiosity I noodled on the internet around “symbolism of circumcision.” I found a number of articles, but none seemed consistent with the principles of Sanaatan Dharma as I have learned them from Swami Kriyananda. So what circumcision might symbolize philosophically, I don’t know. As for why it is discussed in the New Testament, I do have some thoughts, which I offer here for your consideration.

As you know, circumcision at that time was a Jewish practice. It was part of the covenant between God and the Jews, a way of marking their special relationship as the “chosen people.” Being the “chosen people” undoubtedly started as a purely spiritual principle, a way of attuning to God. It was Kali Yuga descending, however, and perhaps as the age became more physical so did the concept. Eventually the physical fact of circumcision became important in itself, and the consciousness it was intended to affirm nearly forgotten.

I grew up Jewish and being one of the “chosen people” was rarely offered as an incentive for humility or greater dedication to spiritual ideals. Mostly it was a cause for pride. I can’t imagine that Moses, or whoever came up with it originally, had that in mind!

In the Festival of Light, the ritual we repeat at Ananda every Sunday, Swami Kriyananda included these lines, speaking to the divine, “Your chosen people have always been those of every race and nation who with deep love choose Thee.” The congregation then recites together a prayer of commitment to choose God.

I believe this is the spirit in which that phrase was first given to the Jewish people. It gratifies me to repeat it now with this deeper understanding.

The Jewish religion began with Moses -- a true avatar -- as a true expression of Sanaatan Dharma. But as the Yugas declined, it declined. By the time of Jesus, Judaism had largely become a rigid, uncompassionate, legalistic system run by a corrupt priesthood.

Despite all the corruption, Judaism itself was still the most elevated religion around. It was a “true” religion, meaning it was the revelation of an avatar (Moses), an expression of Sanaatan Dharma. And even though the public face of Judaism had become corrupt, individuals and small groups of Jews kept the higher truths alive. It was the devotion of these Jews that attracted an avatar to rejuvenate their faith. That is the tradition of the Essenes, the community into which Jesus was born, many say, and from which his mission emanated.

What happened to Judaism between the time of Moses and the time of Jesus is not dissimilar to what has happened to Christianity from the time of Jesus to the coming of Paramhansa Yogananda. In India it is understood that over time the message of the great ones gets corrupted by individuals of lesser realization who bring the teaching down to a level that makes more sense to them. Sometimes they do it for selfish motive; sometimes it is well-meaning but ignorant.

When the apostle Paul began to carry the message of Jesus to the gentiles a controversy soon developed. Paul asserted that the salvation, i.e. spiritual realization, that Jesus taught was available to all “who received him,” to quote from the Gospel of John.

This interpretation was not universally agreed upon. Other of the apostles -- all of them, remember, including Paul were Jews -- felt that there was no salvation outside of Judaism. And even what Jesus offered was dependent on being a Jew.

Circumcision was the mark of being a Jew. It was not a gentile custom. A rather heated discussion ensued between Paul and his followers, and the other disciples and their followers, as to whether you could become a “Christian,” as they began to call themselves, without first becoming a Jew. If you were born a Jew, you were circumcised as an infant. If you converted as an adult, you had to be circumcised.

Circumcision itself is merely a physical thing. And it is only an option for the male half of the human race. So it really has nothing to do with Self-realization (or the lack of it). This is obvious to us now, but in the depths of Kali Yuga it wasn’t. So you see in the Bible a number of discussions about the relationship between circumcision and salvation.

Nowadays it all sounds ridiculous. It is natural to assume they must be talking symbolically about something relating to consciousness. But that is the Dwapara Yuga view. In Kali Yuga, they thought differently. Physical reality was the only reality. Consciousness, insofar as they understood the concept, was defined by physical facts: how you washed your hands, what prayers you said, whether or not you were circumcised. This was the definition of your covenant with God.

This, however, was the very misunderstanding Jesus came to reform! “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, consciousness comes first. The rules are there not as an end in themselves, but as a means to help us achieve right consciousness.

In the end, Paul won. Christianity became entirely distinct from Judaism, and, eventually, even antagonistic to it.

Circumcision gradually became an accepted medical practice and lost its “Jews only” character. Which makes the conversation in the Bible even more bewildering.

Which is why, in the tradition of India, they understand that every so often, a new avatar incarnates to bring the teachings back to the pure principles of Sanaatan Dharma. The new avatar communicates the same truth in a way the current Yuga can understand.

When Paramhansa Yogananda was asked if his message was a new religion, he replied, “No, it is a new expression.” It is a new perspective on a timeless truth, Sanaatan Dharma, That Which Is.

In the Bible, there are many examples drawn from every day life: tending sheep, harvesting wheat, petitioning a king, disciplining your servants, stoning a wrong-doer. To us these seem exotic and require study and interpretation. At the time, Jesus was talking the opposite of esoteric. He was using examples everyone could relate to.

Nowadays we aren’t sure what we would do if one of our sheep fell into a ditch on the Sabbath. Those listening to Jesus had first-hand experience.

Yogananda, by contrast, talks about airplanes, television, movies, telephones, atomic energy, electricity. Imagine how impossible those things would be for a contemporary of Jesus to understand. Similar to the way we feel about the wheat harvest and the sheep.

In this Yuga, Yogananda has been able to talk about energy and consciousness in an open way because we are in an ascending age of energy and these concepts make sense to almost everyone. Einstein’s revelation that matter is energy is universally accepted. Perhaps not understood, but nonetheless it is a familiar premise. In the time of Jesus, the idea that matter was anything except exactly what it appeared to be was, for the mass consciousness, simply absurd. Those of spiritual realization, of course, understood, but most did not.

In this age also, where time and space are being annihilated -- now by technology, in the future by the power of the mind -- we are able to relate to cultures on the other side of the globe, and communicate with them instantly. Part of Yogananda’s mission has been to show the essential unity between the teachings of East and West. In Kali Yuga, they didn’t know it was a globe, or that anyone lived on the other side of it. The idea of unity with culturally diverse beings was unimaginable.

Christianity, as many institutions express it now -- “Churchianity” Yogananda called it -- describes Jesus as a unique phenomenon. According to them, he is the beginning and the end of divine revelation. This is a rather limiting concept given the picture of the universe that science has now shown us. Among other reasons, this is why fundamental Christianity is fighting so hard to survive. It is being undermined on all sides by a more expansive view of reality.

Understand that what is being undermined is not the teachings of Jesus. He taught pure Sanaatan Dharma, like every Self-realized master before and after him. What is being undermined is the corruption of that teaching by those of lesser understanding.

A seminar-trained theologian of my acquaintance actually told me that the full teachings of Jesus were not present at the time of his crucifixion but “developed” over several centuries afterward. He is also a follower of this path so I was able to respond honestly.

“Are you telling me that Jesus, as a Self-realized master, had a limited understanding of his own teaching? That he required the help of priests and ministers who came after to express it for him?”

My friend had the humility to laugh at himself and the often institutionally based, self-serving logic in which he was trained.

Now for your question “Son of Man” vs. “Son of God.”

At the time, Jesus was not able to speak directly, except in private to his most advanced disciples, about the more subtle teachings he came to bring. In his general discourses, which is mostly what appears in the Bible, he had to speak indirectly, through parables, stories, and images that “those who had ears to hear” could interpret.

Yogananda could talk about the spirit beyond creation and the Christ consciousness reflected in creation, but Jesus had to speak of the Father and Son. More explicit explanations of consciousness would have been incomprehensible to most of his Kali Yuga listeners.

Jesus, like all avatars, fully incarnated as a human being. He had parents, a childhood, a physical body. That body had a birth, it aged, and then it died. Yes, he was able to resurrect it, but that was part of the difference between Jesus as the Son of Man and Jesus as the Son of God. The Son of Man was physical, subject to physical laws; the Son of God was not.

After Jesus died and Christianity began to build itself into what we see now, people felt a need to emphasize the unique nature even of his physical body. This gave rise to concepts such as Immaculate Conception, Virgin Birth, and being conceived by the Holy Ghost.

Yogananda mostly skirted these issues. When I asked Swamiji why he was not more direct on these points, Swamiji said it wasn’t timely. The ensuing controversy would have distracted from his real message. Yogananda did call his work, The Second Coming of Christ, but he never brought that idea to as fine a focus as he might have. When Swamiji asked him, for example, “Were you Jesus in a former life?” Yogananda replied, “What difference would it make?”

Much of the confusion people have in reading the Bible, and the chaos caused by sectarian interpretation, comes from a single word: “I.” What or Who was Jesus referring to when he spoke of himself as “I”?

Fundamental Christianity says, “He was speaking of that unique incarnation in a physical body that was called Jesus.” They emphatically declare also that he was the Son of God but are a little fuzzy on how that one physical body could be the only Son of God for all time, forever. But since they believe that Jesus is unique, they don’t have to make sense of a pattern. They can just declare it and leave it at that.

Self-realizationists reading the Bible with the expanded perspective of Sanaatan Dharma, know that there have been many avatars and all share the same infinite consciousness. The fact that there are others equal to Jesus, does not, for Self-realizationists, make him any less in the eyes of man or in the eyes of God. An avatar lives within one physical body, but that body does not define him.

When an avatar says “I” he is referring to the Christ consciousness, the divine spirit within him -- and within all of us. To explain his consciousness, Jesus said, “I and my Father are One.”

He also emphasized a point that has been effectively lost in modern Christianity: that all of us must rise to that same state of realization. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is Perfect.” “To all those who received Him, to them gave he the power to become the Sons of God.”

Jesus did live in a physical body, as a man among men, and when he wanted to emphasize that aspect of his mission, he called himself the Son of Man. When he wanted to speak of himself as the infinite consciousness, which expressed through that body but wasn’t defined by it, he called himself the Son of God.

As the Son of God he declared himself to be one with God. And for that he was crucified. For no man, according to the orthodox tradition of the time, can be God. Jesus never claimed that the Son of Man was God. He agreed, “No man can see God.” To see God we must transcend all physical limitations, which Jesus proved by his resurrection.

Even when contemplating the resurrection, remember that Jesus said, “That which I do, ye shall do, and greater things.”

Sometimes translators, unaware of the important difference between these two terms, have not used them correctly. But most of the time if you apply this understanding, you’ll see Jesus makes perfect sense.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha


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

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ask Asha: Unrequited Love

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

I am in love with one of my colleagues. He knows that I love him, but he doesn’t love me. We were great friends for many months, but then the situation changed and our friendship got torn away. He has new friends and looks like he is happy with them. I, on the other hand, feel very sad. I am not getting over my feelings for him. He talks to me, but we are not close, as we used to be earlier. I have tried many things to overcome my feelings. No matter how much I try, the feelings come back more strongly. I feel like no one but he is my companion and I must have him in my life. I don’t feel like praying for anything other than him. I have read inspirational books, talked to healers, but nothing has worked. I don’t think I can feel romantic love for any other guy. I really want things to work out with him. Please help.

From R.

Answer

Dear R:

I would like to write to you in an optimistic, upbeat way. To assure you that if you visualize strongly enough, and pray hard enough, whatever you want will come to you.

Alas, I cannot sincerely do that.

Very often in life we do not get what we want. Unrequited love is all too common. One person may be deeply devoted and sees a happy life possibility but the object of that affection does not respond. These things happen. You have not been singled out by fate. This is a hard learning that many people have to go through.

When the mother of a friend died a few years ago at the age of nearly 90, my friend had to sort out her belongings. She was taking photos out of picture frames to put them in an album. Behind the pictures of her father she was surprised to see pictures of another man! Her mother had told her that early in her life she had hoped to marry that man, but he was already engaged and could not break his engagement. So she married the man who became my friend’s father and lived with him for 50 years. But behind his picture she kept the photo of the one she considered to be her true love.

Wow. You don’t know whether to weep, laugh, or bow in awe to her devotion.

I present this merely to say that the position you are in is not uncommon. And no matter how often you insist that this is the only man for you and you must have him, there is no divine law that says your desire will be fulfilled.

Maybe, but no guarantee. And from what you have told me that happy ending doesn’t seem likely. God apparently wants you to learn and grow in another way.

So the question is simply this: How long do you want to keep throwing yourself against this brick wall in the hope that one of these times it will turn into an open door?

No one can make that decision for you. It is entirely up to you.

This man knows that you love him and has decided not to respond. Perhaps you feel that sheer determination on your part will change his mind. Unfortunately, nothing you say makes me believe that he will change.

He has free will. You can’t make him feel what he doesn’t feel. I would hope that you value yourself enough to accept that he has made a decision and not put yourself in the undignified position of mute yearning.

Even if you think he would have the best possible life with you -- even if you feel that God Himself agrees with you -- if the man doesn’t see it, it isn’t going to happen. God will respect his free will. It is a divine law.

As for your actual sense of inner guidance or divine rightness in your commitment to this man as your life partner, I can only say that given your desire that he be your life partner, any guidance you get must be treated very cautiously.

The first step in learning to attune to true superconscious divine guidance is to be detached inwardly. Desire is blinding. Yes, you may feel a strong inner pull toward him which you may think is coming from a source greater than yourself, but I would be very cautious about declaring that inner feeling to be God’s will.

One way to tell is by the results. If this man is meant to be your partner, he will be. If he is not, no amount of wishing or praying will draw him to you. One can have strong feelings and still inwardly surrender to God’s will. That combination leaves one at peace no matter how things turn out. Not easy, but often the only choice.

I pray that you are able to embrace this attitude, even in this matter where your feelings are so deeply involved.

From childhood I have always had a deep desire to be happy. Later, when I got on the spiritual path, I understood that desire on a deeper level -- that it is bliss I long for.

When I was growing up, I assumed everyone had the same desire for happiness that I had. I was surprised when I became a teenager and then went to college to see how many people seemed willing to go on indefinitely in an unhappy state. The difference between them and me was that I was willing to change those things in myself that caused my unhappiness.

Not that it is always easy. Far from it! But my tolerance for being unhappy seemed to be much lower than that of many other people. They could handle being miserable. I could not. The hard work of letting go of a desire that was never going to be fulfilled, or changing an attitude that caused misery, or leaving a situation that wasn’t working out, was always more attractive to me than continued suffering.

To my astonishment, many people seem to prefer to suffer rather than accept the absolute necessity to change.

I feel you are caught in just that place. You frankly say that you don’t want to get over this desire. You want the desire fulfilled! Naturally, therefore, the desire persists!

So the question again is, “How long do you want to be unhappy?”

At some point the present misery will be greater than the imagined misery of letting go of your hope to be with this man.

Yes, a miracle could happen. He could have a total change of heart. But I assure you, clinging to this desire will not bring about that result. If God wants you to be together you can leave the country, take up residence on the other side of the world, and never tell him where you are and he will still find you.

And if it isn’t in your best divine interest to be with him, then you can hover around him longingly for the rest of your life and it won’t draw him to you.

Yes, a degree of faith is needed here. And courage. My heart goes out to you. Nothing is more difficult than redirecting the heart’s love once it has been given.

Now let us look at it from another angle.

Merely to take out of your life this desire is not going to be easy. Far better to think how to bring into your life positive realities that will make it easier to live also with the sad spot his absence creates in your heart.

Here is a question: What good things do you imagine would happen if you and he were together? What activities would you enjoy? What changes do you think would happen in your own consciousness?

Naturally, some things would be dependent on his company, but by no means all.

If you think you might become active in social things that you are not doing now, that you might have friendships that you don’t presently have, that you will be kind and serviceful and giving to others if he were your partner, I suggest you engage yourself in everything you imagine you would do if he were with you that is open to you now without him.

In this way, the positive result you hope for from the relationship can begin to manifest right now even without the relationship. Since this is the position God has put you in, it seems appropriate as a devotee and a disciple to see what good you can manifest with what you have.

Not only will this make your life better right now, it will also get you out of this cycle of waiting for something to happen that doesn’t seem likely to happen.

And if, in the end, he is drawn to you, then you will have made yourself a happier better person in the meantime. And if he never comes to you, you will be a happier better person, rather than a lonely, stuck person.

If you can’t sincerely pray to overcome this desire, then pray for the courage to live happily no matter what happens. That way you are sincere in your desire to be with him, but also not frozen in time, dependent on one small fact for the definition of your life.

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.]

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ask Asha: The Big Questions

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

I have a few questions that I have been pondering and seeking answers to and am hoping and praying you will articulate answers for me. I realize they are big questions but I REALLY do want to know!

1. If God, the Creator is really Bliss creating itself, then why would bliss create suffering and a place of duality?

2. To what degree is God involved in everyone and everything’s life? Does the Creator simply create and then free will and karma take over? Or is the Creator involved in every little detail every second of everyone’s lives?

3. If there is karma, how can there be free-will? Did we really only have free-will when the soul was first created? Why did we screw it up for ourselves in our first incarnation and then spend the rest of eternity trying to get back to purity to be with God 100% of the time? Why did the creator create the ability for us to create pain for ourselves?

From Diane

Answer

Dear Diane:

I promised you I would answer these questions, so I’m going to try. But I have to say in advance I don’t have a lot of interest in answering them.

First because I don’t know why God does what He does.

I can and will tell you some of what I have heard Swami Kriyananda say on the subject. I would suggest also that you go to the index of any books by Swami Kriyananda or Paramhansa Yogananda and look up the subjects of creation, karma, and free will. They have the state of consciousness needed to answer with authority the questions you ask.

A further problem though is this: Do you have the state of consciousness needed to understand the answer? To understand why God acts in a certain way we have to be able to perceive reality as He perceives it.

In my life with Swami Kriyananda I have certainly learned that “his ways are not my ways.” Every time over these forty-some years when I have thought he didn’t understand something properly, it always turned out that it was I who didn’t understand. Not that I am ignorant or unintelligent. It is about my state of consciousness. More expanded, yes, than it was when I started, but not at all the level on which Swamiji lives.

Always I found, when Swamiji was kind enough to explain himself to me, there were factors that I didn’t even know were there. It has been a training ground for dealing with all questions of a divine nature that arise in my mind.

How big is my cup of consciousness? That is the limit of my understanding. If I want the answer to a question like the ones you have asked that are infinite in scope, first I have to expand my consciousness to hold the magnitude of the answer.

Which brings me to my second reason for being reluctant to answer these questions. What difference would it make? I used to think that if I could just get a good answer to whatever question my mind threw in front of me, the explanation itself would change both my consciousness and my behavior.

Over these forty-some years I have learned that explanations are interesting, and, to be fair, can be helpful, but change of consciousness comes from much more than just intellectual knowing. There must also be a change of heart, a change of awareness, a change of perspective.

In other words, the answer to “Why did God make creation the way He did?” is to live selflessly, love God, meditate, and serve. When your consciousness changes you experience the answer to these questions. Above all what you experience when you live in this way is an increase of inner happiness. That itself is an answer. God’s ways do not seem inscrutable when you are sharing in His bliss.

I know many people ponder long and hard on the questions you have asked but I am not one of them. My mind tends to flow along practical lines. How do I feel right now? What can I do to make myself feel better?

Knowing or not knowing the answer to the big metaphysical issues does not change the problem right in front of me: my own inner well being. Whether or not I have free will in some ultimate sense, I know from direct experience that the choices I make in the morning will affect the way I feel in the afternoon. The decisions I make this week will bring consequences next week.

Even if I can’t see far into past lives or future ones, the little bit of evidence I do have tells me that right action brings right result, that right attitude brings greater happiness than wrong ways of thinking, and that love conquers all. Further speculation may be interesting, but in the end, as Swamiji once said in response to these same questions, “What difference would it make?”

Maybe you think if you don’t have free will and life is all predetermined you’ll take a rain check on personal effort and sleep all day waking only to eat chocolate. Try it. See if it brings you the happiness you are seeking.

I like little questions rather than big ones. Maybe my sense of “free will” is only an illusion but it is an illusion that works for me. Little questions bring little answers that bring little changes that lead eventually to a total change of consciousness. This I do know. Not from books, or from being told by those wiser than myself. This I know from persevering over many years and finding out the truth for myself from actual experience.

Now to your questions.

Swamiji says it is the nature of Bliss to want to share Itself. He gives us the simplest example. If you see a movie you love or discover a restaurant with really good food, what is the first thing you do? Call a friend and tell him about it! Happiness is a lower octave of bliss, but happiness increases when it is shared.

Perhaps, however, your friend doesn’t like the movie at all, and finds the restaurant noisy and the service terrible. The fact that your effort to share your happiness did not succeed in making your friend happy doesn’t change your experience of the movie and the restaurant, nor your expanded happiness in sharing your happiness with others.

It is your friend’s particular state of consciousness that drew to him an experience different from your own, or caused him to perceive what you found favorable in an unfavorable light. It may have nothing at all to do with the reality of the movie or restaurant. It is only about what he experienced.

So it is with this world. Sometimes we experience this world as a place of suffering. Is it in reality suffering? Or is it only the way we perceive it?

The difficulty with answering this question is that what you declare as real -- “...why would bliss create suffering and a place of duality?” -- is not reality but just your perception of reality.

God made the world from His own nature, which is Bliss. Nothing exists in this world but Bliss. The mistake is in our perception, not in God’s creation.

Ah, but now we come to the reason why I didn’t want to answer this question at all. Suffering is how we perceive it. And the tendency is to blame God for our perception. Why didn’t He make it easier for us to see the Bliss?

I don’t know. But He didn’t. And all the saints and masters who rise to the level of God consciousness tell us that there is really no problem here. It is -- here we go again! -- our perception that is the problem.

If you mistakenly believe that someone has betrayed you and react with anger and despair, then later learn that it was you who misunderstood the situation, that your friend behaved in an exemplary way, that, in fact, there was never any betrayal at all, is it still your friend’s fault that you suffered? Did you even suffer if there was never anything to suffer about, i.e., no betrayal? Everything was always fine. It was you who misunderstood.

The saints tell us that we make the same mistake in our relationship to God and creation. We blame God for something we believe He did when in fact it was only our misunderstanding. Once we realize that we have misunderstood, it is a pure love fest between us and God.

As for how much is God involved in our lives, let’s ask the question in a slightly different way. How much is the ocean involved in the wave? Obviously, without the ocean there would be no wave. God made us of His Bliss. Even if we don’t know it, that doesn’t change the facts.

If your only perspective is from the top of the wave, you may lose sight of what you are and where you came from. Perspective, however, is only that.

Putting aside for a moment even the question of God, can you separate any aspect of your life from every other aspect? Even the minutest part, for example the clothes you are wearing today, are they entirely separate from the rest of your life?

When did you buy that particular outfit? Where did you get the money to buy it? What size clothes did you buy? Has your body always been that size? Did you gain weight from wrong diet or lack of exercise? Did you shop in a department store that only carries current styles? Is your fashion sense molded by the magazines you have seen or the taste of your friends or your mother?

Take any aspect of your life and try to define its existence without reference to what has come before. Can’t be done. We live in an integrated reality. Everything is tied to everything else.

In this context, what is free will? To act without reference to any reality except... what? Your own preferences? Your own desires? And where did those come from?

Every decision you make now is influenced by all the decisions you made in the past including past lives in circumstances you no longer remember. So yes, everything is determined by karma. Karma is just cause and effect. The cause being your own actions, the effect being an inclination to act in a certain way because of the understanding -- or lack of understanding -- you have within yourself.

Is this all a horrible trick from God?

Now that is a hard question to answer. And once again I am back where I live in relation to this question.

We are imprisoned by our own limited consciousness. Who put us here and why? At first this seems like a really important question, so we beat on the bars of our prison cell demanding an answer. The problem is, no matter how much we scream, no one ever answers the question in a way that makes any difference to our imprisonment.

Then someone says, “God did it. It is His fault. He created this mess in the first place.”

Now we have someone to blame! And we get really, really angry at God! But after a while we notice that all that anger has no effect on our imprisonment. In fact, it makes our little cell of consciousness quite unpleasant.

So, after a time, as long a time as we choose to make it, we begin to ask a different question. “How can I get out of here?” The question of who put us here and why isn’t as interesting as how to get out.

It sounds sort of sensible to say we were free in God and then got trapped in creation and why did He do that to us? But that is a question very similar to “Why did my friend betray me?” when, in fact, he never did. You just mistakenly thought he did.

God has always been the same with us and we just don’t know it.

But we will. And when we do, all the saints and masters tell us, that there is nothing to understand and nothing to forgive. There is just Love.

Hope this is helpful to you.

In divine friendship,
Nayaswami Asha



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

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ask Asha: Fear in Meditation

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

Sometimes if I have a deep experience in meditation it makes me fearful. My heart yearns to meet the Divine but I am also afraid of such an experience. How should I conquer this fear, particularly the fear of going into the unknown and experiencing the Divine?

From S.B
India

Answer

Dear S.B.:

I was in my early thirties when I got married. Before that, I had never been out of the country (U.S.A, where I was born). I didn’t even have a passport.

By contrast my husband loved to travel and had been to India and also spent six months traveling around Europe before our marriage. His karma trumped mine, and together we have traveled to many places in the world.

As a novice traveler, I experienced some anxiety about being in what was to me any “foreign” country. The only language I speak is English. Some 30 years ago when we first started traveling, in many places English was hardly spoken. (Things are different now.)

What if I broke some important cultural taboo and didn’t even know it? I imagined myself surrounded by hostile “natives,” yelling at me in a language I didn’t understand about something I knew nothing about.

Just for fun, God manifested for me a bit of what I feared.

We were in Athens, Greece. It was my first trip -- our honeymoon, in fact. We liked to walk, and had been wandering around the city. It was rather late at night and we decided to take a taxi back to our hotel.

The driver took a circuitous route in order to drive up the fare. I often joke that I always know what I think, I usually know what I feel, but I rarely know where I am! So he fooled me completely.

David, however, pays more attention than I do, and he saw exactly what the driver was doing. When it came time to pay the fare, David offered him the appropriate amount and refused to budge when the driver pointed to the meter and demanded more.

Communication, as you can imagine, was not smooth. The driver knew a little bit of English; we knew not a word of Greek.

We had gotten out of the cab and were standing in the street having what quickly escalated into a major disagreement with the driver. A crowd gathered -- all eagerly contributing to the discussion in loud voices, in Greek, of course -- and pretty soon my imagined scenario was playing out around me.

I didn’t enjoy it, but at the same time, I noticed that it wasn’t so bad. The fear of it was much worse than the real thing.

Still, I would have paid off the driver and put an end to it. David saw no reason to allow him to take advantage of us and stood his ground.

Finally, in what, even at the time, I saw as a brilliant conversation stopper, the driver reached over, quickly removed from David’s face the prescription glasses he always wore, carefully folded them and placed them in his own shirt pocket. Then he got into his cab and closed the door.

Within a few seconds David realized we had been defeated. He paid what he now understood to be the ransom to get his glasses back. The driver took the money, returned the glasses, and we went into our hotel.

What you may well ask does my honeymoon trip to Athens have to do with your meditation?

There is an often quoted saying, “As above, so below.” I always thought this was from the Bible and apologize now for the many times I have declared that to be so. In fact no one knows exactly where the saying came from.

Doesn’t matter, the meaning is what is important. Science, religion, and philosophy all refer to it. The microcosm illustrates principles you see also in the macrocosm.

From the Self-realization point of view, what this means is that the seemingly unfathomable reaches of Infinite Spirit can be understood to a surprising degree by building on what we already know.

One aspect of Swami Kriyananda’s genius as a teacher is that he can make even the most subtle teachings comprehensible by relating them to experiences that everyone already know to be true.

For example, in order to explain how the up and down flow of energy in the spine relates to our state of consciousness, Swamiji reminds us of how children respond to positive and negative experiences.

Excited children often jump up and down when they are pleased with something. And, at the opposite extreme, throw their bodies full length onto the ground when things go contrary to their desires.

A happy person lifts up eyes, head, and chest; a despairing person bends over and looks down.

Even if we can’t feel the rising and falling currents of energy in the spine, we see the evidence of their presence -- the positive nature of rising energy and negative nature of downward moving energy -- all around us.

As another example, when asked the perennial unanswerable question, “Why did God make creation?” Swamiji gave this quite original answer: “It is the nature of Joy to want to share Itself.” Sounds good, but still a little beyond the reach of the ordinary person to understand when you try to picture God Himself. So Swamiji elaborated.

“If you go to a restaurant that you really enjoy, or a movie that is particularly good, what is your first impulse? For most people, it is tell your friends. It is not enough merely to enjoy it yourself. You want to share your joy with everyone,” Swamiji explained.

Obvious, when he puts it like that. Our understanding of God’s very nature can be built upon our own experience. A perfect illustration of “As above, so below.” As it is with God, so each of us, as a reflection of His consciousness, express the same principles. That’s the extraordinary power of the path of Self-realization. It is based on experience, not mere belief.

Back now to our trip to Greece.

Meditation is like traveling to a foreign country. Yes, philosophically speaking, we are in fact not leaving home but going home. Still, we have grown up in exile, so to speak, and even though we may be divine in our true nature, we have been living in the servants’ quarters all our lives. The palace and its ways seem strange to us at first.

It is no surprise that we feel a little nervous, just as I was on my first trip away from the good old U.S.A. Now, three decades and a few dozen trips later, I have come to understand how much people everywhere are all the same. What is there to be nervous about merely because customs and language vary?

I remember very early on in my meditative life asking Swamiji about some experience I had. Nothing notable, it was just unfamiliar to me.

Swamiji responded, “Don’t be afraid. You’ll get used to it.”

Until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that I was nervous, and I didn’t want to accept it as true even though Swamiji had said it. Intellectually, I knew I should love the experiences of meditation and there was a big disconnect between what I thought I should feel and what I actually did feel. (This was before I became better acquainted with my own feelings.)

I responded quickly, and defensively, “I’m not afraid!” My voice, however, betrayed my true feelings. It was tense, hurried, and high-pitched. Fortunately, I noticed my tone of voice and later reflected on my fear and Swamiji’s reassurance.

Why was I afraid? Swamiji had answered that already: because the experience was unfamiliar and I was not used to it.

Same for you: You’ll get used to it. In the meantime, don’t compound your difficulty by worrying about what is, in fact, a perfectly natural response. Otherwise you’ll have not only the anxiety of being in an unfamiliar realm, but also a complex about your anxiety! Yes, you could analyze the ego and its fear of being annihilated and past experiences that may cause you to fear losing control, etc., etc.,etc. But why bother? It won’t solve the problem anyway. It will just make you more self-concerned. No point in making things worse than they already are!

Here is the simplest and best solution I know.

In my experience in Greece, one reason I was able to weather that adventure relatively well is because I was with David. My dear and wonderful husband, who was also an experienced traveler, was right by my side. I trusted him and therefore was not overly concerned about what was going on around us.

When we enter meditation, our guide is Master himself. We are in good hands! The answer to all fear is love. “Perfect love casts out fear,” the Bible tells us (1 John 4:18). When you find yourself in meditation feeling anxious about what you are experiencing, call on Master.

Imagine yourself walking hand in hand with him, not only in meditation, but also in the everyday world. Feel the security a little child feels when his father grasps his small hand with his larger and stronger one. As with the earthly father so with the Heavenly Father. In the presence of such certainty and love, what is there to fear? His love for you, your love for Him casts out all fear.

Practice this visualization in meditation before the anxiety sets in. Make your meditation itself a communion with Master. The inner worlds may be foreign to you but they are Master’s natural home. You have a “local” guide who knows the territory and speaks every dialect imaginable.

And if the fear still overtakes you, resolve it by taking refuge in Master’s consciousness. Inwardly run to him, cast yourself upon his lap like a little child. Curl up there and visualize his arms around you. Feel his love. Love casts out all fear.

I first went to India in 1986, as part of a pilgrimage called “In the Footsteps of Master.” We visited many of the places made holy by Master’s presence, including his childhood home at 4 Garpar Road in Calcutta. At that time Master’s nephew, Harekrishna Ghosh, was still living in the family home. We returned to the house about a dozen times over the next 20 years, gradually coming to know more and more members of Master’s family.

Harekrishna had a younger sister named Sheffli. Both of them met Master when he returned to India in 1935. Harekrishna was fifteen then and has almost adult memories of being with Master. Sheffli was only three, and doesn’t remember the visit herself but has heard the stories of her relationship with Master from older relatives.

Apparently she was completely enamored of Master and whenever she was in the same room with him, would run to his side, cling to his leg, or climb onto his lap. Master returned her affection and would keep close her to him whenever possible.

Once they were all going to a movie theater and Sheffli was considered too young to go along. Master, however, overrode the objections, lifted Sheffli to his chest, buttoned his coat around her. In that way he took her into the movie theater and held her next to his heart the entire time.

When I first heard stories of Sheffli and Master, my first thought was, “What a waste! To have met Master only once in a lifetime and be too small even to remember it!” Then, as I reflected more deeply, I also saw the deep blessing of meeting him in early childhood. Because she was so young, Sheffli was entirely uninhibited in her love and devotion to Master. It never occurred to her that she might not be welcome or that her extravagant expression of devotion to him was anything other than perfectly appropriate.

Often since then I have visualized myself as a tiny child, throwing myself against Master’s leg, clinging to him, climbing on his lap, resting against his heart with his buttoned coat around me. Ah, bliss!

We are Master’s chelas -- a word for disciples, but it also means “child.” We are children of the Guru and as such have both a right and a duty to surrender completely not only to his guidance but also to his protective love.

With a Self-realized Master taking care of us, what harm could possibly come to us? His perfect love for us -- and our perfect love for him -- casts out all fear.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha


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

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ask Asha: Sex in a New Relationship

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

I am very fortunate to have a committed, spiritual relationship in which my partner and I are devoted to God first and to serving and loving one another and all in Him. We are a young couple and physically very attracted to each other, so we recognize enjoying intimacy and great sex is natural. It becomes very difficult however for us to"set" an appropriate frequency for sex when our spiritual aspirations of moderation and self-control seemingly conflict with our sexual drive and day-to-day preferences. How do we find balance between indulgence and self-control, high spiritual ideals and natural, loving intimacy?

Thank you,
A.E.

Answer

Dear A.E.:

I’ve been thinking about this question for some time. I have written, unfortunately even sent to you, several replies I have now rejected. I don’t think there is any other area of life where there is such a wide difference between what the masters say and what the average person experiences. Sex, the masters declare, is one of life’s great delusions. Sex, most people believe, is one of life’s great joys. Not easy to bridge that gulf.

Modern society for the most part has simply turned its back on the teachings of the masters and committed itself to sex. We swim in a sea of constant sexual stimulation. Like fish in water, we no longer even notice. To say that women’s fashions are immodest is putting it mildly. That which used to be considered pornographic is now commonly seen on television, movies, and billboards.

Even little girls dress like grown women in what would be a sexually provocative way, except that they are years away from puberty. People think it is cute, not realizing -- or perhaps not caring -- that we are raising generations of girls who believe ideal feminine beauty is sexual and ideal love is erotic.

I mention this only to say that to live even a sexually moderate life, what to speak of a celibate one, is not easy these days. In such a restless age, to focus your energy in a committed loving relationship is a big step forward. When that relationship includes spiritual dedication and devotion to God, you have the potential for a happy and fulfilling life.

Whether or not your relationship is pleasing to God is not determined by the frequency of your sexual relations but by the overall direction of your energy. To be God centered and of service to others, that’s what matters, and that is how you describe yourselves. If you weren’t so attracted to each other you probably wouldn’t even be together. Then all the other positives of your relationship would not be there either.

Swamiji said that one of the greatest sources of tension in devotee marriages is sex. My response was, “That makes us pretty much like everyone else in the world!” He remained serious in the face of my quip. With devotees there is a twist. One or the other, as Swamiji explained, decides to renounce sex or develops a complex about it. Sometimes it is because of a spiritually inspired disinclination for it, but more often it is because he feels guilty about his attraction to sex, and can’t reconcile his actual spiritual state with the ideal described in the teachings. I use the male pronoun here for convenience but women are just as likely to feel this way. He begins then to look upon his partner not as a friend, but as a temptress. Things go rapidly downhill from there.

On another occasion I remember a monk who left the monastery to marry then decided he would continue to live a celibate life even within the marriage. Unfortunately, this was not what his wife had signed on for. When Swamiji heard about the tension between them over this issue, he responded, “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t take on the responsibility of a wife and not take her reality into account.”

Fortunately, both of you agree about your sexual relations. Whatever you do from now on has to be a shared understanding. There is no point in forcing yourselves to meet some external standard if it is not a sincere expression of your own consciousness. To do so would be suppression, not transcendence.

Transcendence comes when self-restraint is not the result of guilt, fear, or a desire to “look good,” but arises naturally from the understanding that restraining the desire is more fulfilling than indulging it.

At first, of course, for one who seeks to transcend there may be a middle ground to cross when the desire is still strong and discipline is needed to restrain it. In time, however, restraining that energy with a wholesome attitude opens up an entirely new reality. As Swamiji put it, “Once the desire for sex is overcome you can’t imagine why you were ever attracted to it in the first place.”

For you now, sex is a great pleasure. Neither suppression nor transcendence is the issue. Swamiji’s comment is probably incomprehensible in terms of your actual experience. To give up sex would feel to you like a loss. Still, the teachings say that in time you will transcend it. That time, however, has not yet come. This is nothing to be proud of, nor is there any reason to be ashamed. It is just a fact.

Mahatma Gandhi, famous for his asceticism, said one should never seek to renounce a pleasure until you have replaced it with a higher pleasure. On the path of Self-realization you have to be guided by your own experience.

In the meantime, keep in mind the reasons why sex can work against your spiritual aspirations. If you know what the pitfalls are, you are less likely to fall into them.

To begin with, sex is inherently ego-affirming, the opposite of where you want to go spiritually. Ego is the soul identified with the body. Sex is not only dependent upon that self-definition it constantly reinforces it. “I am a woman. You are a man.” That is the underlying premise of your attraction to each other.

The starting point for sex is a compelling personal desire. In a refined relationship, of course, sex is based on mutual giving. Still, the extent to which you have a personal need, to that extent you cannot be entirely selfless. The purpose of marriage, like all relationships, is to learn selfless love.

A sexual relationship emphasizes the unique personal connection between two people. Most people, of course, would not consider this to be a downside. But as the Bhagavad-Gita tells us, “What is day to the worldly man is night to the yogi. What is night to the worldly man is day to the yogi.”

To become too infatuated with each other, too defined by being a “couple,” is not, in the long run, all that helpful. Love grows from the personal to the impersonal, from the individual to the universal.

Be sincere and utterly open with Master. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed by your sexuality. At the same time, don’t make a dogma of it. Meditate often on these words from the Ananda wedding ceremony, “May our love grow ever deeper, purer, more expansive, until, in our perfected love, we find the perfect love of God.”

Trust that Master has brought you together and together he will lead you to God.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha


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

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ask Asha: Life and Death of Our Pets

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

We lost our house in the economic downturn and are now in an apartment. It was a stressful process, but I never questioned God or felt anger over what happened. In fact, when it was all over, I felt relieved. My one sadness is that I had to give up my dogs. One was adopted into a good home. For the other, a Great Dane, it didn’t work out. I had rescued her when she was two years old and we were very close. I thought about putting her to sleep but in the end a rescue group found a home for her in another state. I drove her to Los Angeles to give her to her new owners. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out and they put her to sleep, then accused me of unloading on them a sick dog. I feel so bad about the pain and stress I caused her and the family who took her. I don’t know how to deal with the grief I feel over this dog.

From M.

Answer

Dear M:

I commend you for facing your challenges so courageously. You were very fortunate to have had such a close and happy relationship with your Great Dane. And she was fortunate to have had so much of her life with you.

The life span of most animals is shorter than that of the humans who care for them, so loving a pet often means living through its death. The whole question of the life and death decisions we make for our pets is quite complex and important to many people. I am taking the opportunity your question provides to write at some length. I hope something here will be of help to you.

Part of the “dowry” David brought to our marriage (in 1982) was a black female cat named Huey. He had adopted Huey when she was small enough to fit into his cupped hands and fifteen years later they had been through a lot together. Moving several times, starting a number of successful enterprises, finding Master, coming to Ananda.

To say that Huey was a disciple would be an overstatement, no matter how sentimentally we might regard her spiritual advancement. She was, after all, just a cat. The only cat, however, allowed into Crystal Hermitage -- the spiritual center of Ananda Village where Swamiji has his home. We lived next door and when Swamiji gave satsang Huey would sometimes join the group.

I didn’t grow up with pets and had never lived with a cat, but I conscientiously cultivated Huey as a friend. Her relationship to David predated mine and I didn’t want to put him in the awkward position of having to choose between us. Fortunately Huey was gracious and we lived together in harmony.

One day I came home to find the David and Huey sitting on the floor sharing quality time. Like any cat, Huey was acutely aware of her surroundings and registered my arrival with a slightly tense look. Petting her gently, David spoke to the cat about me, saying, “Don’t worry, she is one of us.”

About two years after we got married, we were on a lecture tour and, not for the first time, left our house and cat in the care of friends. We were in Houston, Texas when the call came. “Huey has disappeared,” our friend told us. She was always regular in her habits, even when David was away. “It has been three days and nights since she last came home. We’ve searched every crevice of the house, and walked all around calling her name. We think she is gone.”

She was seventeen years old. Either she went away to die by herself, as cats often do, or was eaten by something larger than herself. I believe she stayed around long enough to be sure I wasn’t going anywhere. Knowing that David would be taken care of she felt free to leave.

Even though I have never experienced the kind of bond with an animal that you had with your Great Dane, I have seen it between David and Huey. No matter how close the bond, though, animals -- like all living creatures -- have their own destiny. We no more “own” our pets than we do our children. We are all in God’s hands.

Swamiji remarked to me once that he sees all beings, even animals, as just “Egos on a spectrum between bondage and freedom, striving to be free.” We manifest the body -- whether human or animal -- that allows us to express the full development of our present consciousness. For this reason, once we reach the human level it is rare to go back to being an animal. And even then, if as punishment for particularly egregious behavior, or longing for a less conscious life, it is usually for only one incarnation.

When we have reached the limits of each body’s ability to serve our consciousness, we shed it with no more consequence to our ultimate well being than taking off a heavy jacket when the weather turns warm. Of course humans become attached to the body they are in and often view its impending loss with more concern than is warranted.

An animal has an individual ego, or, perhaps more accurately, an animal has the full potential of what will become its individual ego as it advances up the spectrum. Animals, however, have not yet developed the self-awareness that human beings have and for this reason relate to their own bodies more impersonally than we relate to our bodies and theirs. My cat, dog, parakeet, or goldfish becomes a specific relationship as far as we are concerned. Because we know that individual through a particular form, we make the obvious mistake of thinking that the form is the individual that inhabits it. When the form changes, we feel that the love we have shared is also gone. This is not true. Form changes. Love is eternal.

Animals sometimes manifest to an amazing degree a capacity for loyalty, love, and self-sacrifice -- more than some humans do. But animals still lack the self-awareness required to make conscious spiritual progress. That is what distinguishes all animals -- no matter how advanced -- from all humans -- no matter how primitive. Humans can influence their own development, for good or for ill, by the conscious use of free will.

Animals progress more or less automatically through lower stages of development. They live through the karma that goes with each stage until their consciousness has reached the point that no animal body is sufficient to express it. A human body is needed. Master says that dogs, horses, and monkeys are the most advanced animal forms. (Sorry to say that to all you cat lovers.)

It is very good karma for an animal to come into contact with human beings. Even on the animal level, environment is stronger than will power. Being always in the company of more evolved beings, i.e. human beings, helps speed the animal’s evolution.

Animals don’t have sufficient awareness to reflect abstractly about their condition. They can’t speculate about how their species is treated in emerging economies where dogs, for example, often live on the streets by their wits alone, as opposed to the secure, luxurious life the average American dog enjoys.

I recall how amused a visiting friend from India was by our dog grooming studios. He worked as a travel guide and pointed out that the towels used on the dogs were bigger and thicker than you find in most Indian hotels. In a country like India where so many people barely have enough to eat, it is impossible on a national scale to lavish such resources on mere pets.

Your dog couldn’t contemplate the contrast between her life with you and where her littermates may have ended up. No doubt she was highly intelligent, with a loving heart, but to think in that way requires an awareness she simply did not have.

As a result, animals are more accepting of their destiny, less attached to specific outcomes. They don’t identify with their own bodies in the way humans do. Therefore the loss of it doesn’t grieve them in the way we imagine. They experience both positive and negative emotions, but a great deal of suffering is caused by the thought that things ought to be different than they are. This requires the ability to compare one situation to other actual or possible outcomes. To think about what might have happened if is a skill only humans have.

Humans often project onto animals the level of suffering they themselves would experience if as human beings we had to live through the conditions the animals face. Even though we may feel very close to our animals, their consciousness is different. Speaking of David’s cat, since there was no sign of sickness, or even much sign of old age, most likely she was eaten. Out in the woods where we lived that happened all the time. Huey wasn’t much of a hunter, but occasionally she brought to David the loving gift of a dead bird or mouse she had killed herself. She showed no remorse. It was her nature to hunt.

A larger creature sustains itself on the flesh of those that are smaller or weaker. Huey may have given her life for another, just as those birds and mice died to feed her. We may think it horrifying, but it is the appropriate expression of consciousness for most animals. It is all part of God’s plan. When the animal grows beyond that consciousness, it no longer incarnates as an animal. Although many people still kill to eat, but they no longer do it with claws and teeth. Often they just buy the animal when it is already dead.

As humans we can weep over the seeming cruelty of Nature or the loss of a beloved creature. But if we rebel against what is, and choose to grieve over such a fundamental aspect of creation there will be, literally, no end to our sorrow.

Master saw it all impersonally. He said to Swamiji once, “God eats people,” illustrating his point with a kind of gobbling sound as he lifted imaginary people to his own mouth as the mouth of God. Almost no one on this planet now will be here in a hundred years. The soul is eternal but the form changes. Constantly changes.

Looking at it from another point of view, do you think the soul of your dog wanted to be a Great Dane forever? It was nice while it lasted, but really, when you think about it, how much fun could it be? Would you actually condemn her to stay in that body a moment longer than she wanted to? Or a moment longer than being a Great Dane would serve her evolution toward spiritual freedom?

Autobiography of a Yogi is one of the most influential spiritual books of our time. Almost everyone who veers away from traditional religion looking for a more personal spiritual path reads that book. For many, it is their introduction to the whole idea of meditation and Self-realization.

Master knew the role this book would play for generations to come and certainly considered carefully what to include. I’ve always found it interesting that he wrote such a moving story about his own pet fawn.

At his school for boys in Ranchi, India, Master said, “We had many pets, including a young deer who was fairly idolized by the children. I too loved the fawn so much that I allowed it to sleep in my room.”

He goes on to tell the story of the unfortunate accident that caused the death of the baby deer. Master went away for the day and, despite his strict instructions to the contrary, in his absence the deer was fed a large quantity of milk. So much that it died of overfeeding.

Before the deer passed, however, Master tells of the tussle he had with God, as he prayed mightily that the life of the animal be spared. Master’s prayers were winning, and the deer was beginning to recover, when the spirit of the deer came to Master in a dream.

“You are holding me back,” the deer said. “Please let me go; let me go!” Its time on earth was over and Master’s love for it, and his intense prayers that it live on as a deer was actually hindering its spiritual progress. Realizing his error, Master released the deer and a few moments later it died.

I believe Master included this story because so many people love animals and need to understand how to relate to them in the context of a greater spiritual reality.

Early on in my life at Ananda, I was in a position sometimes to offer spiritual counsel to people. Unfortunately, I lacked the maturity always to speak appropriately. On one occasion I remember vividly, someone I tried to help complained to Swamiji about the terrible things I had said.

It was frustrating for me because I knew the advice I had given was true. Swamiji agreed, but, he went on to explain, even truth should only be offered when the person is ready to receive it. If you speak too soon, the person will reject the advice in the moment and be less open to hearing it later when the time might be more auspicious. “You already said that!” is the common response.

I felt terrible. I was trying to be helpful but seemingly had caused more harm than good. I wanted to resign from the ministry but Swamiji wouldn’t let me.

“We are responsible for our intentions,” Swamiji told me. “We cannot always predict, and we certainly can’t control how our good intentions will be received by others.”

Then he added, “God reads the heart. He alone never misunderstands. It is the intention of the heart that matters most.”

It was a great comfort to me at the time and has been a guiding principle ever since, helping to extricate me from distress sometimes at the actual result of my well-intentioned actions.

In your case with your dog you behaved as conscientiously as you possibly could. You drove all the way to Los Angeles to give the dog to what you thought would be the right home. That it did not turn out the way you intended is not a sign of your failure. It is certainly nothing for you to feel guilty about. The mere fact that those people blame you for giving them a dog that didn’t turn out to be what they hoped is unfortunate, but has nothing to do with the truth of the matter. It is a sign only that your dog had her own karma. Yes, you played a part in her destiny, but her destiny was never in your hands. It was always in her hands (or paws, in this case) and in the hands of God.

We give ourselves too much credit -- or in your case, too much blame. We think that our little decisions actually determine the course of the lives of other beings. If you take a snapshot of a certain moment in time it may look that way, but in fact we are always acting as part of a greater whole. We are instruments, merely, not the source of what happens.

The trajectory of the spark of divinity that lived side by side with you as your dog, you neither created nor destroyed. You merely accompanied it for a time.

Talking once about children, Swamiji said, “Parents create the physical body, which is to say the vehicle through which the soul of the child can express its destiny. The parents do not, however, create either the soul or its destiny.”

Even more is this true in the case of a pet.

Your dog needed to have one more experience before it was done with that form. Merely because that experience was less than pleasant for your dog -- or so you imagine -- it does not mean that it wasn’t a necessary, even an important experience for your dog to go through. Would you have wanted to prevent her from learning what she needed to learn to progress?

Think about it in terms of your children. Certainly you have a natural instinct to protect them. But when does “protection” turn into something actually detrimental to their wellbeing? Each soul -- whether human or animal -- must learn its own lessons in its own way. Sometimes we have to discipline our love, resist the desire to “protect” when such protection would actually hinder or weaken the one we love.

Think of Master and the deer. He gave strict instructions about how the deer should be cared for, but its own destiny was stronger even than Master’s will. Someone disobeyed, probably at the inner behest of the fawn who needed to die and had to find a way to do it.

If you had been the one to put your dog to sleep, I suspect you would have felt guilt over doing that. Perhaps your dog wanted to spare you the distress of ending its life. It arranged to be far away when that moment came. Maybe she was acting out of love for you. Given that you were so close, and animals do have the capacity to be utterly selfless, that it as likely an explanation as the one you have chosen -- that you failed her.

In other words, God has His plan. When we see it unfolding before us, we need to accept with gratitude whatever He brings. What you are doing is seizing one small aspect of that Plan and claiming personal responsibility for it. Isn’t that rather egoic?

We think if we are feeling guilty and heaping blame upon our own heads that we are diminishing our ego. In fact, we are affirming it. This kind of self-blame and self-abnegation is EGO in all capital letters illuminated by a neon sign.

Master defined humility as self-honesty. It is a brilliantly clear and subtle definition. Self-honesty means seeing things as they actually are.

Let’s say, for example, that you are the best violinist on planet earth. Wow! Now that is an accomplishment worth noting. The violin is not an easy instrument to play. The ego might well cling proudly to that as evidence of its own importance.

Let’s step back a little now from that accomplishment. In a hundred years, do you think you’ll still be remembered? Maybe with recordings you will be. Two centuries from now? Three? Four? Even if they still sing your praises after all that time, compare your accomplishments as a violinist to being a Self-realized Master who directs the destiny of generations.

Now think about how many inhabited planets there might be in just this one galaxy. So, you are the best on planet Earth. What position does that give you in a galactic, or even inter-galactic context?

Now, looking at it from the other side, I read a true conversation that took place between one of the greatest violinists on the planet (whose name, notably, I can’t remember right now) and a devoted fan.

After a concert the fan said, “I would give my life to be able to play the violin the way you do.”

The violinist calmly replied, “I have.”

It is a notable achievement to develop a talent with such dedication and concentration as that violinist had. It is by no means insignificant, even spiritually, because of the beauty he shares and because of the qualities he had to develop within himself in order to do it. Qualities focused now on music will also serve him well when his aspirations expand to infinity: concentration, discipline, willpower -- to name just a few.

Humility is self-honesty. Yes, you have done something worthwhile in developing your skill to this extent and you should feel deeply gratified by your accomplishment. But in the greater scheme of things, it is only the violin, and from that point of view there is no cause for pride. Let’s just see things as they actually are.

Guilt gives us an enormously distorted view of reality. It is not the truth. It is not self-honesty. You meant well. You did your best. Your dog had a destiny that was always out of your hands. Don’t make yourself more important than you are. And don’t make yourself less either.

You were a loving human caretaker to your dog. And she returned your affection. But like all things in this world that form couldn’t last forever. Your life together was interrupted by economic changes -- the loss of your house and the yard where the dog could live. Having a Great Dane in the apartment where you now live wasn’t an option.

Even if you hadn’t lost the house, the dog was coming to the end of its incarnation. Change was inevitable. She had her destiny and she fulfilled it.

Leave room in your thinking for God to have a plan.

With children and pets there is a strong inclination to think that we are in charge of their lives. Children have a greater capacity to declare their independence. Pets seem more under our control, but that is also an illusion. We control their bodies, perhaps, just as we do the bodies of our children when there are small. Animal or human, though, everyone’s destiny is in his own hands.

Think of Master’s pet fawn appearing to him in a dream and begging to be allowed to die. He took the trouble to put that story in Autobiography of a Yogi. It behooves us to pay attention to the lesson and to follow him in this, as we do in all other ways.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha


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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ask Asha: An Incorrigible Son

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

A few years ago I brought a boy from a troubled background into our family. I love him like my own son but recently (he is a young teenager now) he has begun to act out in a way that makes it impossible to keep him with us unless he changes. I made it very clear to him, even wrote it out in a letter, what he needs to do. I don’t know if he will be able to do it, but I must insist, for his sake, and also for the rest of our family.

I don’t remember the last time I went through something this painful. I so want to help him, but I can’t unless he does his part. How do I give up my attachment to him when I don’t feel the presence of God or Master enough to compensate?

N.T.

Answer

Dear N.T.:

Nonattachment is a beautiful spiritual concept. But I would be surprised if a loving mother with a troubled son would find it easy to achieve. Perhaps it is not the right way for you to focus your energy right now.

When you choose an affirmation or try to embrace a spiritual attitude, you have to be careful to select one that is more expansive than your present awareness, but not so much bigger that there is no point of inner connection. It must also take you in a direction that is natural to your own line of development. If it is too large or too foreign to your own nature, it won’t work. In fact, it can actually make things worse.

For every time you focus on it you are likely to activate within yourself resistance to the very idea you are trying to affirm. It seems likely that nonattachment falls into that category for you.

An acquaintance of mine worked as a research chemist. After a number of happy and successful years in her chosen profession, she inexplicably developed allergies to some of the chemicals she had to work with every day. Perhaps it was caused by over-exposure to them, but the cause doesn’t matter.

As a result, she had to take a long leave of absence to recover her health. She spoke to me just before she went back to work. She had been focusing on an affirmation that was something like, “I am perfectly well, healthy, and happy. Nothing of this world can touch my state of perfect well-being.” I am paraphrasing, but that was the sense of it.

Even as she said it to me in the calm comfort of the room where we were talking, I could feel behind her words a deep insecurity.

“You don’t really believe a word of that, do you?” I said.

“NO!” she answered almost desperately, expressing a commitment that I hadn’t felt when she said the affirmation. Instead of strengthening her, the more she said that particular affirmation, the more her subconscious rebelled against it.

“I think we need to affirm something you can actually believe,” I suggested. After some discussion we came to an affirmation like this. “Whatever happens to me in life comes from God and God and I together can find a way to go forward in happy harmony.” Again I am paraphrasing, but you can see how entirely different this is from what she had been saying.

She did have faith in God and in His loving care for her. But she had no faith in her body’s ability to be healthy in the presence of those chemicals. It was far better, then, to go with her strengths than to emphasize her fears.

She was only an acquaintance, so I don’t know what happened when she went back to work. But she did walk out of our session happier, more confident, and stronger in herself than she was when she walked in.

Now, back to what you are facing.

Some experiences in life are tragic. There is no other word for it. Life is full of deep disappointments, at least when viewed from the level of reality on which they happen. And even a dream, as Yogananda said, is real on the level of the dream.

That is where you are now. In the midst of a dream in which you have opened your heart to a troubled friend who has come to you in the form of a young child needing a home. When you opened your heart you committed yourself in a way that cannot be withdrawn merely because what you hoped for him may not happen, at least not now.

The happiness you feel in God’s presence you say is not greater than your grief over your son. So joy alone is not going to be your antidote.

Sister Gyanamata, Yogananda’s most advanced woman disciple, wrote many letters to her fellow disciples which are published now in a book called God Alone. If you haven’t yet read that book I think it could be of great comfort to you.

To one of her gurubhais, Gyanamata explained that your spiritual life has to be built on a foundation of unshakeable faith. She goes on to say that each devotee has to find his or her own cornerstone and build from there. For some, it is their experience of the Guru. They know him to be an infallible guide and that is their starting point. For others, it may be the healing power of love, the experience of meditation, the joy of service, the bliss of chanting, the friendship of fellow devotees, or a single revelation so powerful that nothing can undermine it.

It doesn’t matter what it is -- whether dramatic or humble. The only thing that matters is that you have unshakeable faith in the expanded reality it reveals to you. That faith gives you the perspective you need to cope also with the reality of the dream.

At this time, it seems nonattachment for you may be just a word. It is not an experience of God, and certainly not a doorway to joy. Your challenge now is to find your personal cornerstone of faith. God gives us difficult experiences like what you and your son are now facing to force us to go deep within until we find the bedrock of faith upon which we can build a spiritual life.

There was a point in my life when I was struggling with self-doubt. No amount of reassurance from others could break through my confusion. I needed an affirmation to guide me through the chaos of my own mind and feelings. Looking at books of affirmations written by Swamiji and Master, I searched for one that fit the criteria I explained above -- bigger than my present consciousness but not too big.

The one I found was perfect. “I know God’s power is limitless, and as I am made in His image, I too have the strength to overcome all obstacles.”

I had unshakeable faith in the truth of the first two phrases: God’s power and my relationship to Him. The last phrase was the dicey part. But the first two locked me into the inevitable implications of the third and my philosophical honesty held me there until my consciousness expanded to include it.

I had to say that affirmation for several years before it finally beat down my subconscious habit. But in the end, it did. Not perfectly, but enough for me to go forward in an entirely new way.

In what aspect of the spiritual path do you have unshakeable faith?

I believe there are few experiences in life more devastating than to see someone you love making decisions that will cause him immense suffering and having no power to prevent it from happening. Master himself wept when he saw certain disciples turning away from the path he had opened to them, condemning themselves to lifetimes more of suffering. Tears streamed down his face -- a Mother’s heart breaking for Her children. You are in good company.

But even he -- the Guru himself -- could not intrude upon the free will of his own disciples.

When I have been faced with the helpless inability to prevent what I think to be a preventable disaster, I take refuge in a point of unshakeable belief. It happens to be a core principle of Ananda: “Where there is dharma there is victory.” (Dharma means “right action.”)

In other words, even if we appear powerless in the moment, if we do our best to do our dharma as we understand it, in the end, righteousness will prevail. The challenge is to live through all that may happen before that righteous end is achieved. Years? Lifetimes? Only God knows.

Even if it is lifetimes, however, what choice do we have? Good results never come from wrong actions. And right actions always -- eventually -- bring good results.

Sometimes I describe this as “Doing your dharma in a vacuum.” Not a vacuum cleaner, but a space in which there seems to be no apparent positive result from your actions. Sometimes your right actions may even seem to make the situation worse. That is what you are facing now. You have told your son what he must do. If he refuses, he cuts himself off from the shelter of your family. It would seem your right actions may disconnect you from his fate.

Don’t think for a moment that this is true. The devout prayers of a loving mother are never lost. God knows your heart and will store those blessings until your son can receive them. The only hope you have of helping those you love is to stick fast to dharma, no matter how pointless, distant, or sad you may feel. “Where there is dharma, there is victory.”

What to do in the meantime with all your emotions?

One time when people close to me were facing a serious crisis and I was called upon to do what I could to help, I quickly discovered that everyone else’s free will was stronger than my ability to change the unfortunate direction in which they were going. For the sake of others, I had to maintain a calm and confident demeanor, but inside I was coming to pieces under the weight of their suffering.

Sitting in my car in the dark -- the only place I could have complete privacy -- my tears didn’t begin to express the pain in my heart. In the midst of that emotional outpouring, a still, small voice within asked a question. “Do you think this is happening outside the will of God?”

Much as I didn’t want to admit it, my point of unshakeable faith is that God is always in charge. No matter how tough the karma, I know God is walking us through whatever we have set in motion that now has to be faced.

I stopped crying, but my despair was not replaced by joy. Far from it! In fact, inwardly I said the equivalent of, “Rats!” What I meant was, “You mean I can’t just weep and wail at the injustice of it all? I have to face this situation with calm acceptance?” Thus the feeling, “Rats!”

I was “cornered,” so to speak, by my own faith. My heart was still broken and that emotion had to go somewhere. Master assures us that we don’t have to pray as beggars, but should demand of God our divine inheritance, whether wisdom, love, or joy.

In this case, what I wanted was to alleviate the suffering of others. So all the emotion that had gone into tears, now expressed as a prayer-demand. “Okay, God,” I said. “I accept that You know what You are doing. But You have to get on with it! Whatever it is you are trying to teach these people, you must help them learn it -- and soon! Maybe they are okay, but I can’t take anymore!”

I went back inside to face the emotional chaos happening when I left. To my astonishment, everything had shifted for the better. The crisis had passed and we began to heal. I think God wanted to be sure I got the point.

Since then, I have often used this way of talking to God to give me something to do when external actions bring no positive result. Some karma is difficult to resolve. “Whatever it is You are trying to teach them, Lord, give them the humility, wisdom, devotion, and receptivity to learn it.” I have found great comfort in offering this prayer over and over again, for weeks, months, or years.

Even if your son is karmically destined to take a long side trip into suffering that you hoped to spare him, your prayers are registered in the ether. When your son is ready to receive them, God will shower him with accumulated blessings. Perhaps by that time he will have traded the body you know several times over. He may never consciously know where those blessings are coming from, but your soul and his will remember.

The man who is known now as St. Augustine was in his early life a libertine. His mother was a devout Christian and no matter how far her son wandered from what she felt to be his true path, she never gave up on him. Later, when he awakened to divine realities, he credited his transformation to the power of his mother’s prayers.

For now, don’t even think about giving up your attachment to your son. Think rather of these qualities: patience, courage, and faith. Patience as your son finds his own way through life. Courage to stand strong in right action no matter how your heart may bleed for him. Faith that where there is dharma there will be victory. This is God’s law and He will never break His promise.

I will pray for you, your son, and all your family.

In divine friendship,
Nayaswami Asha



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

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ask Asha: Who Is in Charge of My Destiny?

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

I am wondering how karma between people is carried on from lifetime to lifetime. For example, if one person has a strong attachment to another person -- perhaps a dying wife’s attachment to the husband she is leaving behind, or a dying mother to her son -- but the other person does not have the same feeling of attraction or attachment, can the attached person force his desires on the unattached one? Could my karma be determined by someone else’s strong desires? Could someone else’s will overcome my own will?

From RK

Answer

Dear RK:

The first thing you need to understand is that karma is always fair. Karma is a law, not a variable human opinion. It is the impersonal working of cause and effect in human life. Because most people don’t remember their past lives -- or even many parts of their present life -- or understand clearly their own motivations -- then or now -- fairness is not always self-evident or easy to accept.

It takes deep philosophical discernment to understand how, against all apparent evidence, karmic law is fair.

The modern tendency to see one’s self as a victim is, spiritually speaking, disastrous. Until you take responsibility for your own destiny, spiritual progress is impossible.

One important thing to understand, is that the lesson is not always to turn the other cheek, to be subservient in the face of abuse, or to think you are being punished and deserve what is happening to you. Not at all! Many times the lessons is to stand up for yourself, to have the courage to cast someone unworthy out of your life, or refuse to cooperate with inappropriate demands made of you by others.

Whatever it might be, there is always a lesson or you would not have drawn the experience. Even those who have had to face exceedingly difficult circumstances, often say, “It was not easy, but it made me who I am. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Karma, reincarnation, and the chakras are all one integrated system. None can be understood without the others.

Every thought, deed, response, emotion, or desire we have reflects the level of consciousness we are on at the moment that it happens. We act according to what we perceive as reality and in what we believe to be our own best interest.

Every act reflects an inner prompting toward happiness, ultimately toward bliss. Even if our responses are entirely misguided, it always, to us, seems like a good idea at the time. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it.

If someone treats you meanly and you respond with anger or carry out a cruel revenge, some part of you believes that anger and revenge is the way to happiness. This reflects a certain understanding of reality.

If your response to betrayal is compassion for that person’s ignorance, concern for the karmic consequences to him of his misguided behavior, and forgiveness for any hurt done to you personally, that reflects an entirely different perception of reality.

Jesus when crucified on the cross, instead of looking with anger at those who had so wrongly condemned him, prayed for their wellbeing. “Father, forgive them,” Jesus said, “for they know not what they do.” Spontaneous concern for the welfare of others, and forgetfulness of himself, expressed a God-united understanding of reality.

Eventually all of us will achieve that level of consciousness. In the meantime, we express who we are now.

Every level of reality has its own vibration. The chakras represent -- from the base of the spine to the spiritual eye -- a gradually ascending refinement of vibration -- from material to spiritual, from self-affirming to Self-realized. This is an oversimplification, but sufficient for this discussion.

Even though our human mind quickly forgets what we have done in the past, the energy that passes through us does not dissipate. Everything we do is recorded as a vibration in our chakras. These vrittis as they are called -- whirlpools of energy -- are stored in whatever chakra corresponds to the level of reality it stemmed from.

The chakras are part of the astral body. The physical body is a manifestation of the chakras, but when the physical body dies, the chakras remain intact, and move with the astral body into the astral world. The pattern of energy in the chakras determines what astral universe we are drawn to, and, eventually, the nature of our next incarnation.

Modern science confirms what great yogis have long asserted: matter is an illusion; everything in this universe is a manifestation of energy. The implication of this, which is just beginning to dawn on people, is that magnetism acting upon the energy nature of the universe is far more powerful than brute force.

The vrittis in the chakras generate magnetism and that magnetism -- acting upon the energy field which is the universe -- is the cause of everything that happens to us. That magnetism is the means by which karma is carried from one incarnation to the next.

Magnetism is not a matter of opinion or favoritism or whim or even the will of God considered as something entirely separate from ourselves. It is an impersonal fact. It is our karma, the accumulated result of everything we ourselves have done.

So, to your specific question.

The energy in the vrittis is only a vibration of energy at a certain level of reality. That reality could be described, for example, as the belief that security comes from having a certain amount of money. There is no vritti, however, called “money.” Money is a specific thing, and there are no material things in the chakras. The belief, however, and energy expended on the basis of that belief is recorded in the appropriate chakra as a vibration.

If the dying wife feels that her wellbeing is dependent upon having this specific man as her husband in a future life, the vibration of specific, personal, ego-based love is recorded in her chakras. Even if her love has been selfless, it is still ego-based because it is limited to one specific expression.

Yes, we do have repeating relationships with certain souls over many incarnations and love deepens and refines through repeated association. Still, even the most exquisite human love is only a stepping-stone to infinite love. We have close relationships with so many souls, from the perspective of one lifetime we literally cannot imagine how many.

Whether or not this wife will again find this husband, depends not only on the pattern in her chakras, but also on the pattern in his.

If he longs for her company in the way she longs for his that could draw them together. If he despises her, that could draw them together. If he fears being close to her again, that could draw them together. If he feels sorry for her, and worries about her wellbeing, if he lacks faith that God will take care of her and feels it is all up to him, that could draw them together.

In other words, there has to be some karmic lesson still to be learned from relating to her in order for them to be together again.

Overcoming a too-personal definition of love may be the very lesson that dying wife needs to learn. If the husband has already learned it -- loving his wife not only for herself but also as a manifestation of God -- he may not need to marry her, or perhaps anyone, ever again. Whereas she may have to live through who knows how many more cycles of personal love before she learns that it is love Itself that she craves, not any particular expression of it.

There is nothing wrong in this. We learn by experience. Karma draws the experiences we need, and, if we act with conscious attunement, we will learn from them. The more attuned we are, the more quickly we learn. The more we rebel against karmic law, the longer it takes and the more we suffer.

In the meantime, can one soul force karma onto another? No. Karma is always fair. There has to be a corresponding resonance for the two souls to be drawn together or for the conditions to manifest.

In the case of that husband and wife, if she has lessons to learn, but he has already learned whatever lessons that relationship has to teach him, her magnetism will find no corresponding resonance in him to draw them together, no matter how deeply she wants him.

Perhaps he will have transcended so completely that they will not meet at all. Perhaps she will find him, but he will not be compelled to give his life to her in the way she wants. Whatever karmic lessons remain for her, she will still learn them, but with someone else, not him.

Can the resonance be subtle? Definitely. Therefore honest introspection, prayer and self-offering to God is essential.

This is where Kriya Yoga comes in, as explained in Autobiography of a Yogi. Kriya works directly to dissolve the vrittis in the chakras. Dissolve the vritti and you dissolve the karma. You can get rid of it without having to live through it. That is why Kriya dramatically accelerates spiritual progress.

As you can see, this is an enormously complicated subject and I have only touched here on a few aspects of it. From Ananda you can find many books and other resources on the subject. Over the years I have written other letters and given many classes about this you may find interesting. They are available for free online.

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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