Here’s a livestream to catch up on what’s been going on in our lives, and to talk just a bit about mantra practice.
I have worn eyeglasses since I was twenty years old. In my mid 50s, I started noticing that when I put them on, it seemed like the right lens was smudged. I’d take them off, and clean them, but things would still look blurry when I put them back on.
It turns out that this was the early manifestation of a cataract in that eye. I put off having surgery for as long as I could, but it got to the point where no prescription could correct my vision in that eye. My sight was something like 20/400 in it, and I began noticing a lot of strain on my other eye toward the end of the work day. So I had surgery in 2017. It is a relatively routine procedure, and once I healed up, my eyesight in that eye was better than it had been for thirty years. Between the bill for the surgeon, the surgery center, anesthesiology, and my own optometrist’s follow up, I believe it cost four or five thousand dollars out of pocket, but it was worth every penny.
I knew at the time of that first surgery that my left eye would eventually need to be done as well. It was in the early stages of degeneration already. Again, I put it off longer than I probably ought have (and, because of the pandemic, even longer than I had intended). By the time I finally got everything arranged a few weeks ago, the sight in my left eye was almost more useless than the right had been.
Two weeks post-surgery now, both eyes are in the 20/25 to 20/30 range uncorrected. This is truly a miracle, and I feel incredibly blessed and grateful to have clear and sharp sight once again.
This morning, I happened almost by accident (read that “grace”) onto a link to the Seva Foundation website. I had no idea what they were about, but I knew that “Seva” means service to God in Hindu. So I was intrigued by the name. It was a surprise and a delight to learn that the organization provides sight saving cataract surgery to folks in need around the world who would not otherwise be able to receive it. When I read that each $50 donation could restore someone’s sight, I was overwhelmed with joy, and signed up as a monthly donor, in gratitude for my own newly clear eyesight.
After I signed up for the donation, I read more about the organization’s history. Tears were streaming down my face at the realization that it exists by the grace of Maharaji. The wonder is that, having been exposed to the stories of Larry and Girija Brilliant (and also being a huge fan of Bobby Weir, who is a big supporter) I had never run across Seva before, or at least hadn’t bothered to learn about it, until this morning.
Here’s some information from Seva’s website.
Over a billion people have a vision impairment that was preventable or is treatable. Almost 90% of people affected with vision impairment live in developing countries, where not being able to see often means a life of poverty. It’s nearly impossible to work, feed yourself, or meet your basic needs.
90% of vision impairments can be prevented or cured, and more than half of the world’s blindness is caused by cataracts. What a wonder that it can be reversed with a 15-minute surgery costing only $50.
I consider it a great blessing to be able to help in the efforts of this organization, and commend it to your consideration.
Learn more at this link: https://www.seva.org/site/SPageServer/?pagename=donate.
I have begun to read the yoga sutras of Patanjali. It is the classic text on the theory and practice of yoga, dating from some time during the centuries just before or just after the beginning of the Common Era. Along with the Bhagavad Gita, it is the primary source for much of Paramahansa Yogananda’s lessons. It is also at the core of Ryan Kurczak’s teachings.
My wife, Claudia, had the book on hand, so when I mentioned wanting to read and study it, she loaned me her copy. It is relatively short, so I read one chapter a day, finishing it in short order. I’m going back through to study more carefully now, using Kurczak’s Kriya Yoga: Continuing the Lineage of Enlightenment as a study guide.
Although only four chapters in length, the book holds a depth of wisdom that might take a lifetime to absorb. It is presented as a series of aphorisms, each of which can be the object of nearly endless contemplation. In this respect, it reminds me of the Tao Te Ching.
Although some of the aphorisms seem a bit inscrutable on first read, each of them seems to ring true.
I would welcome any insights that you have on the text, any resources, or any experiences you have had integrating their wisdom and practices into your life.
Wishing a happy 86th birthday, and all bright blessings, to His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama.
Having polished the mirror of my heart with the dust from my Guru’s lotus feet, I sing the pure fame of the best of the Raghus which bestows the four fruits of life. – From Tulsidas’ Hanuman Chalisa
Many of us, when we begin getting serious about spiritual practice, do so in order to “improve” our lives and ourselves. We may be unhappy, or we may recognize faults in our outlooks or behaviors that we would like to change. We want to become better people.
The truth is that along the way we may very well note changes in our lives that we would consider to be improvements, but we aren’t really improving ourselves with spiritual practice. We are revealing ourselves.
I have come to see each of us (and for that matter, everything in our universe) as an expression of the one, changeless, eternal, divine consciousness. This source of pure light and love is projected into time and space, and becomes what we experience as material reality.
Human beings are manifestations (or reflections) of that light and love. Perfect. Limitless. Beautiful. Brilliant. Every single one of us.
But that brilliant perfection is dimmed by all of the muck and garbage that we collect from the time that we arrive in this material world. So we fail to see what we really are, and we fail to act like it.
We obsess about self-improvement, about changing ourselves, about becoming someone else. We are judgmental toward others, and loathe our own sorry selves. It is ironic that this sometimes seems especially true once we set our feet on a spiritual path.
But the process of spiritual development isn’t about becoming someone else. It’s about realizing the true self who is already there. All we have to do is clear away the garbage and muck, and there we are.
So if, by love and right living, you wash off the filth that has become stuck to your heart, the divine beauty will shine forth in you. – From a Sermon of St. Gregory of Nyssa
It is difficult to see the light in the midst of the ugliness, the meanness, the greed and hatred in this world and in ourselves. Many of us spend much of a lifetime trying to find answers, trying to find a way to mitigate the madness. We look high and low, near and far, trying to find the solution somewhere out there. I know that I did.
We won’t find the answers out there. We won’t find the answers in new and improved versions of our garbage covered mucked up personalities and egos.
We meditate. We pray. We chant. We serve others. Day by day, little by little, we polish our hearts.
See how they shine!
Murti and Candle for Morning Meditation
Although I have yet to become a committed vegan, I do my best to observe a largely plant-based diet, and am always looking for tasty and nutritious meals that don’t contain meat.
I generally stick to simple recipes of rice, grains, vegetables and fruits, and also sometimes just leave meat out of recipes that call for it but are fine without (chili, pasta sauces, etc.). “Meat substitutes” have not been a huge part of my cooking vocabulary. I do like to experiment, though, and lately have been cooking with Field Roast products (sausages and burgers which are made from vital wheat gluten and are surprisingly good), and have also used tofu a few times.
For supper one evening this week, I made a tofu scramble that turned out really well. The trick for getting an “eggy” flavor is to use a Himalayan black salt called “Kala Namak.” You can read about the process and recipe on my food blog.
This time I included mushrooms, spinach, grape tomatoes and green onions. I also fried up some Field Roast vegan breakfast links to go along.
The photo on the left is the tofu browning in the pan before any of the sauce was added. It’s amazing to me that such a thing eventually approximates a nice, rich, plate of scrambled eggs. 🙂
In early November of last year, I began studying Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship home study lessons. I just finished reading the 17th lesson in the series yesterday, and will complete the final one some time early next month.
The lessons are an introduction to an entire way of life, introducing Yogananda’s philosophy and theology, along with the practices and techniques of his lineage of gurus. They give instruction in three of the essential practices of SRF (Hong Sau Meditation, Energization Exercises and AUM Meditation). They form the foundation and preparation for the fourth, and purportedly most powerful, practice – Kriya Yoga.
So, as I complete the course of study, the question is posed. Do I wish to proceed on the SRF Kriya Yoga path, formally accepting Yogananda as my guru, and placing myself under the direction and discipline of his teachings henceforth?
The Guru/Disciple relationship is something that is not well understood in our Western culture, principally because the sort of commitment that it requires is also rather foreign to us. One’s guru is not the only light in one’s life, but is one’s principal light, teacher, guide and master. It is a sacred obligation on the part of both parties, which goes beyond the simple desire of one to learn from the other.
Although I have the highest regard for Yogananda and his teachings, and have been a serious student these eight months, I’m not prepared (at least not at the moment) to adhere to the Kriya Yoga path as my sole discipline and way of life.
I take it as a sign of maturity that I can show this sort of discernment. I have tended to be a “joiner” for much of my life, and the temptation to remain on this path (particularly following these many months of study) is great. I do find that the teachings make sense, and the techniques and practices are powerful and valuable, but I cannot picture myself putting the SRF at the center of my life. Also, although I find no contradiction in a being a faithful Roman Catholic and practicing the yogic techniques taught by Yogananda, I suspect that becoming his disciple in a formal way would be inconsistent with my Catholic Faith. The SRF reveres Jesus, along with Krishna and the four Kirya Yoga gurus (Mahavatar Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yyukteswar and Yogananda), but their ideas about him depart from Catholic dogma. In my heart of hearts, I suppose that my beliefs are actually closer to those of Yogananda than they are to many of the teachings of the Catholic Church, but being “faithful anyway” is the biggest part of being a faithful Catholic for me.
Still, I have found the basic practices taught in the SRF lessons (particularly Hong Sau Meditation and the tension exercises) to be incredibly helpful, and intend to continue to grow and learn in their practice. I also wanted to learn more about the Kriya Yoga technique than what was available to the general public from “official” sources such as SRF or Ananda (a schism from Yogananda’s lineage). Fortunately, as you might guess, there is a lot of information available online these days about these once secret techniques and practices. Careful research is necessary to find the reliable and authoritative sources, but after sifting through all of that, I was delighted to find Ryan Kurczak’s writings and YouTube Channel.
I’m nowhere near ready to begin actually practicing the advanced Kriya Yoga techniques at this time, but I’m finding a wealth of practical, actionable wisdom in Kurczak’s work. His video shared at the top of this post especially resonated with me, and seemed almost as if it had been produced to address my own particular situation at the moment with regard to further study.
Isn’t it funny how that sort of thing happens? We find the thing that we need, at just the time that we need it.
Chanting Under the Trees with a Tibetan Singing Bowl
Melody by 18th Century English Composer Philip Hayes
Text from Psalm 137
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
We are spirits projecting into this material world, into this Babylon. We grow weary of our exile. When we chant, for a little while, our spirits find rest in the comfort of home.
We remember thee, Zion.
We picked up a Swarmandal/Tanpura from Old Delhi Music, and it’s perfect for chanting japa (using a beaded mala to keep track of repetitions).
It’s a little hard to tell from the video, but the vibrations are just marvelous. This practice really seems to promote a state of profound relaxation, calm and peace – similar to what we experience at a gong bath.
Obviously, after only four days with this instrument, I still have a lot to learn. Very much looking forward to further explorations with it.