Thursday, October 10, 2013

MINDFULNESS ACCORDING TO VIVEKANANDA AND YOGANANDA

‘The world is a demon. It is a kingdom of which the puny ego
is king. Put it away and stand firm.’ – Swami Vivekananda.

'The truth simply is. It cannot be voted into existence.
It must be perceived by every individual in the
changeless Self within.'  Paramahansa Yogananda.


There really is only one spiritual teaching. It is taught, in various ways, and in different words and imagery, by all of the world’s religions. Some adherents of one religion or another will deny that the teaching to which I refer is taught in their particular religion but that is immaterial for present purposes. It would take some time for me to establish that the teaching to which I refer is indeed part-and-parcel of every religion, but even if I were able to demonstrate that fact there would still be many people who would not want to agree with me, largely because they erroneously think theirs is the one, true religion.

So, what is this teaching? It is this---all life is one. Now, I am not saying that all things are one in some monistic sense. That may or may not be the case, and I tend to the view that it is not the case. What I do say is this---there is only one way of being, and that way is common to all persons and all things. There is only one order or level of reality---an Omnipresence (call it 'God,' if you wish) expresing Itself through and as all persons and things---and all such persons and things have their one and common existence and being in or on that plane or level of reality. In addition, a single logic---in the sense of 'law' and 'principle'---applies to, regulates, and governs all persons and things. Here’s another reason why we must insist on oneness---there cannot be two ‘causes’ of the universe … assuming for the moment that the universe was anything other than self-caused or uncaused.

In short, the same life---the very self-livingness of life---runs through all our veins, bodies, and minds, and through the entire fabric of existence.

Now, what has mindfulness to do with all this? Well, a fair bit. You see, mindfulness is a knowing awareness of the flow of life as it unfolds from one moment to the next—an awareness that goes beyond ever-changing forms and rests quietly in the unchanging spirit of life itself.

The teachings of two famous Indians gurus of yesteryear---each a formidable master of world spirituality---have had an enormous impact for good on my spiritual life over many decades. The two spiritual leaders and teachers to which I refer are Swami Vivekananda ('Swamiji') [pictured above left] and Swami Paramahansa Yogananda ('Paramahansaji') [pictured below right]. For the benefit of the uninitiated, Swamiji was a brilliant exponent of Vedanta, having been the chief disciple of the great Indian saint Ramakrishna. Paramahansaji was the celebrated author of the widely acclaimed Autobiography of a Yogi, which has been printed in more than 20 languages, and which is one of the all-time landmark works of spiritual literature. I am very proud of the fact that the Unitarian Universalist denomination of which I am a minister---a denomination that stands for reason, freedom, and tolerance, as well as unconditional love for all---had a great deal to do with bringing these two giants of humanity to the United States of America, befriending them, and helping them to promulgate their teachings to the Western world. 

Both masters had a lot to say about mindfulness, even though the primary focus of each of them was on a quite different, albeit related, theme (Vedanta in the case of Swamiji, and Kriya Yoga in the case of Paramahansaji). Both masters, in their writings, teachings, lectures, and classes, made it unambiguously clear that direct communion with Divinity was possible through a direct, immediate and unmediated experience of life itself. That was not only possible, they said, it was the only real way to go. 

Why is that the case, you may ask? Well, truth---that is, life, reality, God---is very near, indeed it is all around us, and in us, and is us. 'The whole universe is one existence---objectified God,' wrote Swamiji. Problems arise, however, when we identify with the world, our bodies, and the mental imagery of our minds. Those things tend to become all-absorbing for us, and we lose sight of the eternal. Paramahansaji expressed it this way: 'We are hypnotized by our environment and we can't see beyond the horizon of our experience.'

Now, here's Swamiji on the subject of mindfulness. He wrote that the goal of Vedanta---and we might also say that it is the goal of life---is to achieve and maintain ‘an eternal calmness … which cannot be ruffled, the balance of mind which is never disturbed, no matter what happens.’ He also wrote, ‘Neither seek nor avoid; take what comes. This is freedom---to be affected by nothing. Do not merely endure; be unattached.’ So, a mindful mind is a balanced, unflappable and imperturbable state of mind; it does not react to what comes and goes from one moment to the next, but instead remains unattached and unaffected by what happens in or outside of us.

Paramahansaji's advice is as follows: ‘Live quietly in the moment. ... Be detached inwardly from whatever happens in your life and consciousness. ... No matter what happens, look at things with non-attachment.’ He also wrote, ‘Live each moment completely and the future will take care of itself. Fully enjoy the wonder and beauty of each moment. ... To live mechanically is to be dead inside though your body be still breathing!’ 

Then there’s this gem from Swamiji: ‘Retire to the centre of your being, which is calmness. … Remain clam, serene, always in command of yourself.’ And this one: ‘Stillness is the altar of spirit.’ So, as the Bible also says, ‘Be still, and know …’ (Ps 46:10). Note the connection---first, you get still, then you know. True knowledge---or wisdom---comes when we are still. Yogananda wrote, ‘Each minute of life should be a divine quest.’ Yes, a quest for stillness and spiritual knowledge.

Here's a short YouTube video, containing some wonderful archival footage from 1936, in which Paramahansaji gives some advice on how to sleep correctly:


Both gurus made it perfectly clear that true spiritual knowledge was costly. ‘Until we give up the world manufactured by the ego, never can we enter the Kingdom of Heaven,’ wrote Swamiji. ‘None ever did, none ever will.’ In a similar vein, Paramahansaji wrote, ‘To humble the ego or false self is to discover one’s eternal identity.’ He also spoke of the 'old habit-bound self' and ‘false identifications’ with body sensations as well as thoughts, feelings, and other mental images. Elsewhere Paramahansaji referred to these things as ‘false egoistic limitations’---those ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ that we mistakenly and unthinkingly believe are the ‘real’ person each one of us is. Yes, the ego or false self—which we tend to generate almost every moment of the day when we are not living mindfully---stands in the way of our seeing things-as-they-really-are

What, then, are we to do? Well, the ego or false self needs to be crucified, with deep humility, on the altar of mindfulness. In the words of Swamiji, ‘Put out self, forget it. … Get rid of the little “I” and let only the great “I” live. … The little separate self must die.’ Or, in the words of Paramahansaji: 'Your beliefs won't save you. ... Salvation means freedom from ego-limitation, which is imposed on the soul [mind] through attachment to body-consciousness. ... Stop dwelling on the thought of "I", "I".' In short, let go.

Of course, the same truth is contained in all sacred scripture. Here's one I like: 'The person of self-control, roaming among material objects with subjugated senses, and devoid of attraction and replusion, attains an unshakable inner calmness' (Bhagavad-Gita 2:64). Here's another---this one from the Bible: 'Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus' (Phil 2:5). And I love this prayer of Swamiji: 'May the Lord ever protect you from illusion and delusion!' That just about says it all.

So, stop holding on to your little separate selves. Let them go. Let them die on you---mindfully.


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