“Simple Ain’t Easy”*

* [Famous quote by Thelonius Monk.]

No, I’m not talking about the profound religion of Jazz.

I’m talking about the Thai Forest Buddhist Tradition, exemplified during the past 50 years by the Venerable Ajahn Chah.

My teacher, while acknowledging the apparent attainment of meditation masters like Ajahn Chah, has a problem with their teachings, in that they do not come right out to affirm the Buddha’s actual instructions on meditative absorption. They persist in mystifying the subject, sometimes demonizing it (though Ajahn Chah has not gone that direction), almost always diluting it to conform with a made-up meditation technique called “vipassana.”

Nevertheless, Ajahn Chah is an example of how the Buddha’s monastic ideal has been preserved over the centuries, and his teachings are very much worthy of our consideration. I feel that his was a skillful and rigorous meditation practice that produced great spiritual fruit. Perhaps he taught his closest followers from that place of gnosis, thereby “protecting” the rest of us from the “dangers” of meditative absorption.

The cat, however, is out of the bag.

Rudhyar on Personhood, Schuon on the Underlying Unity

Dane Rudhyar filtered astrology through Jung’s archetypal and alchemical psychology, emerging with a vision of wholeness that’s never found a more effective expression.

From his final book, The Fullness of Human Experience:

What is to be meant by being a person? Why are human beings today determined to operate as autonomous individuals characteristically able to make responsible decisions? Another question inevitably follows: How does a person arrive at what he or she considers a valid basis for the decision? This basis evidently depends on the particular nature of the choice being made; yet, whether or not the person realizes it, any decision implies the acceptance of an approach to life and the meaning of existence which has metaphysical and/or religious roots.

Most religions or spiritual philosophies assume as an incontrovertible fact of inner experiences (particularly in states of intense meditation or ecstasy) that human persons are essentially spiritual entities (Souls or Monads) that, having emerged from “the One” (God or the Absolute), return to their source after a long and dangerous “pilgrimage” through a series of material states. Individuality, and therefore a state of at least relative separateness which allows for basic differences in beingness, are the essential factors in the human condition.

I would add that it is this “state of at least relative separateness” that is at the root of our 21st Century existential crisis — which is why a revival of Religio Perennis is essential to both the survival and wellbeing of the human species on planet Earth.

Why?

Because, without a metaphysical structure, we are left without a context through which this material reality may gain meaning. And without meaning, what’s the point in living?

It is this dirth of meaning that ends up pitting humans against humans, each projecting suffering onto the other, mindless of their essential unity.

On the other hand, with metaphysical meaning comes a recognition of our brotherhood and sisterhood — our collective status as children of The One — and it is this recognition that invites heaven on earth.

From Frithjof Schuon’s definition (.pdf) of Religio Perennis:

One of the keys to understanding our true nature and our ultimate destiny is the fact that the things of this world are never proportionate to the actual range of our intelligence. Our intelligence is made for the Absolute, or else it is nothing; among all the intelligences of this world the human spirit alone is capable of objectivity, and this implies—or proves—that the Absolute alone confers on our intelligence the power to accomplish to the full what it can accomplish and to be wholly what it is. If it were necessary or useful to prove the Absolute, the objective and trans-personal character of the human Intellect would be a sufficient testimony, for this Intellect is the indisputable sign of a purely spiritual first Cause, a Unity infinitely central but containing all things, an Essence at once immanent and transcendent. It has been said more than once that total Truth is inscribed in an eternal script in the very substance of our spirit; what the different Revelations do is to “crystallize” and “actualize”, in different degrees according to the case, a nucleus of certitudes that not only abides forever in the divine Omniscience, but also sleeps by refraction in the “naturally supernatural” kernel of the individual, as well as in that of each ethnic or historical collectivity or the human species as a whole.

(…) The essential function of human intelligence is discernment between the Real and the illusory or between the Permanent and the impermanent, and the essential function of the will is attachment to the Permanent or the Real. This discernment and this attachment are the quintessence of all spirituality; carried to their highest level or reduced to their purest substance, they constitute the underlying universality in every great spiritual patrimony of humanity, or what may be called the religio perennis; this is the religion to which the sages adhere, one which is always and necessarily founded upon formal elements of divine institution.

(…) A civilization is integral and healthy to the extent it is founded on the “invisible” or “underlying” religion, the religio perennis, that is, to the extent its expressions or forms are transparent to the Non-Formal and tend toward the Origin, thus conveying the recollection of a Lost Paradise, but also—and with all the more reason—the presentiment of a timeless Beatitude. For the Origin is at once within us and before us; time is but a spiral movement around a motionless Center.

This last line says it all.

It is something toward which our species once aspired — our fallible, frail species — and with any luck, it’s an aspiration we’ll discover once again.

Soon, before it’s too late.

The Real Yogananda

Yogananda with close disciple Swami Kriyananda

Many of us have read the “authorized” version of An Autobiography of a Yogi, by the great Indian spiritual teacher Paramhansa Yogananda.

Few of us, however, realize that the “authorized” version has been posthumously altered — some would say sanitized — and that the organization founded by Yogananda to carry on his legacy has systematically sanitized the founder’s teaching over the years.

Thankfully, one of his closest followers, Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters) has maintained a “parallel” organization called Ananda, which has sought to offer Yogananda’s undiluted teachings, in letter and in spirit.

From a website, Yogananda Rediscovered, dedicated to this task:

We offer this website to you as fellow truthseekers and devotees of Paramhansa Yogananda. It contains many facts not commonly known about Yogananda, his teachings, and the organization he founded, Self-Realization Fellowship.

For a long time we have hesitated to speak out. But difficult circumstances and a sense of responsibility require that we come forward now. Many people do not know that in 1990 SRF filed a massive lawsuit against Ananda. Their goal is to gain a monopoly on Yogananda’s teachings.

Ananda is an autonomous network of spiritual communities and churches, founded by Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Yogananda. Ananda has specialized in building world brotherhood colonies, the ideal lifestyle Yogananda recommended for householder devotees. Though Ananda has won nearly every issue in court, SRF continues its litigation unabated. Millions of dollars that could have been spent serving Yogananda’s work is being spent instead on this courtroom battle.

But we would not be writing if the issues affected only us, personally. What is happening now will affect Yogananda’s mission for centuries to come. Certain attitudes and actions by SRF are causing that mission, we believe, to drift from what Yogananda himself intended. (The attack on Ananda has also taken a very personal turn, with charges that Swami Kriyananda is a spiritual charlatan, and Ananda is an abusive cult. For the other side of that story, see www.AnandaAnswers.com)

Changes to Yogananda’s teachings after his passing

In the past fifty years, significant changes have been made to Yogananda’s books, teachings, ideals, and to his image—changes which emphasize SRF as an institution and limit how Yogananda is presented to the world. Kriya initiation, discipleship, Autobiography of a Yogi, and even Yogananda’s own signature have been altered. Edited versions of many of his writings have been greatly changed. All references to colonies have been removed from Autobiography of a Yogi. Even a cross Yogananda wore around his neck at the dedication of the Lake Shrine has been airbrushed out of that photo. Devotees have no access to the movies, recordings, photos, and writings of Yogananda still stored in SRF archives.

Lifelong disciples have shared heart-breaking stories of unkindness by SRF. Of grave concern is SRF’s increasing assertion of itself as a required intermediary between the disciples and their own master. This is what the Catholic Church did to the teachings of Christ centuries ago.

We hope, after reading this website, that you will share our concern about the issues raised here. Only a handful of direct disciples still remain alive. The mantle of responsibility is about to pass to the next generation. The guidance and legacy of “those who were with him” will long endure, but we will also be called upon to use our own judgment. Let it be an informed judgment. All of us as Yogananda’s devotees hold the future of his work in our hands.

As a confirmed iconoclast, spiritual rebel and anti-authoritarian (contrary to what those feisty rascals who’ve been banned from commenting on this site may say), I’ve had a warm spot in my heart for Swami Kriyananda for years now. Through his organization, Ananda, he’s been working ceaselessly toward a better life for all, building intentional communities around the world that are based on spiritual practice and attainment. He understands the Divine nature of this particular reality, and has harnessed the laws of creation in order to build his vision into a unique global movement that will gain in importance as the structure of society continues its race to oblivion.

In short, he is an essential model for me during this lifetime, and I offer his example to you, no matter what tradition you do or don’t follow, no matter how jaded you may have become toward the tradition through which you may or may not have been raised. He’s all about possitivity, all about the power of prayer, all about meditation, all about loving one’s fellow humans and the world we’ve been given.

Swami Kriyananda represents a particularly beautiful solution to the world’s problems, and we absolutely should give his ideas the attention they deserve.

Nice Gig If You Can Land It

Some monks are socially engaged in all the right ways.

From David Rosenfeld’s journal:

Buddhist monk offers teachings with tea

Special to The Oregonian

Almost every weekday, Adhisila sits under a tent at Northeast Tillamook and North Williams, carving tiny Buddhas from soapstone and offering tea and snacks to bicyclists on their afternoon commute.

Adhisila — Adhi for short — may conjure images of the sadhus of India, holy men who sometimes sat at crossroads awaiting spiritual debates with passers-by.

But he’s different. “There’s no challenge here,” he says with a laugh, his voice soft and welcoming. “Just have a cup of tea.”

Adhi — whose only name means “high morality” in the ancient Pali language — is a Buddhist monk, a rarity in Portland. Rarer still, he’s among a handful to carry on a tradition that dates back thousands of years: asking for alms. Adhi feeds himself, one meal a day, through donations, mostly from 30 to 40 Thai restaurants in the city.

“I help the monk with food because he’s a good teacher,” says Sirilak Promprasert, a Thailand native and owner of downtown’s Bangkok Palace. “He does his job to heal people and to make peace.”

By relying only on offerings, a monk learns to temper desires, a key Buddhist doctrine.

“I don’t need very much,” says Adhi, who’s fed himself through alms for 10 years. “I may give them a blessing and maybe a small teaching about how to relieve their overwhelming suffering.”

Dressed in red Nike high-tops and red Adidas exercise pants under his robe, Adhi is approachable and unpretentious. To stay warm, he wears a 26-year-old wool Marine Corps overcoat, issued during a four-year stint in the early 1980s. He joined so he could play in the marching band. Sometimes he wears a button in support of Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who refused to fight in Iraq.

Adhi is as surprised as anyone to find himself in Portland. Born Owen Evans in Ashland in the 1960s, he discovered Buddhism at age 8 when his dad studied Zen. He became an ordained monk about 10 years ago at the Dhammapala Monastery in Fremont, Calif.

Three years ago, Adhi, a self-proclaimed forest monk, was living in solitude and meditating in the Siskiyou Mountains when friends persuaded him to move to the city.

Now he draws support from a network of Portlanders who appreciate his teachings. They might give him money, donate clothes or provide shelter. When he’s not living at the Young Sahn International Zen Center in Beaverton, Adhi house-sits. He also teaches at various places, including the Chinese Miao Fa Chan Temple at Southeast 17th Avenue and Madison Street.

Ian Timm and his wife, Sally, host one of Adhi’s meditation classes every Friday night at their home in Northeast.

“Adhi’s teaching is not encumbered by a lot of ritualism,” Ian Timm says. “It’s more practical suggestion. He teaches as the Buddha did that people are responsible for their own causes and effects in their lives.”

Adhi also makes Buddhist teaching videos at a warehouse and community kitchen next to his tea tent that he shares with Sky High Productions, a video production company. He helps pay rent on the 3,000-square-foot space with donations and income from teaching. He hopes to make more videos and to rent out the space for community events.

Back at his tea tent, Adhi sits on a folding camp chair. Wisdom flows from him like water from a mountain spring.

“People work maybe too hard and think they need too much,” he says. “If you get down to the bare essence, maybe what we need is more love, more compassion and more peacefulness. Those are invaluable resources, and we don’t tap into them enough.”

Good job on this story, David. I’ve stolen the whole thing here, but I’m not getting paid for it!  It’s for educational purposes only, should any of my four visitors read it all the way through….

Makes me want to move to Oregon immediately.

Then again, I’ve always wanted to move to Oregon at the first opportunity. Knowing that it’s a monk-friendly place just adds to my desire.

In a Nutshell

For anyone who thinks that Buddhism is a dry, stoic path, it’s good to read (with a discriminating and open heart) the voluminous Discourses of the Buddha to find that bliss, joy and ecstasy were at the very root of his teachings.

An example would be Verse 372 from the Dhammapada, here translated by my meditation teacher, Jeffrey S. Brooks:

There is no ecstasy without wisdom,

There is no wisdom without ecstasy.

Whoever is close to enlightenment

truly has both wisdom and ecstasy.

There’s lots more where this came from, if you’ve got the time and commitment to delve into it.

As controversial as this sounds, I’ll say in anyway: If your meditations and waking life are not saturated in bliss, joy and ecstasy, you need a new teacher… before you waste another minute on the cushion.

The transformative power of meditative absorption (which produces perpetual bliss, joy and ecstasy) leads to wisdom, as the Buddha shows over and over and over again.

It may take a lifetime or two, but really, is there something more worth our time and energy than the acquisition of ecstasy and wisdom?