Monday, May 4, 2009



Questions by various friends, and Answers by Swami Nirmalananda, abbot of Atma Jyoti Ashram

How does a person really know what they want in life? It seems very confusing sometimes and you can work really hard to achieve something you want very much only to find when you reach the goal or obtain the object you feel disappointment or decide you didn't really want it.

How does a person know what they want in life? First we have to realize that we are composed of several layers, inside of which is an eternal spirit which alone is our true self. But this real self is covered over by the layers, each of which has its "wants" and attempts to overshadow all the other levels of our being in order to be the only voice heard. Our body wants "comfort" and pleasure. Our magnetic, emotional level wants "happiness," "love," "peace," etc. Our lower, sensory mind wants lots of sense experience and distractions. Our higher, intellectual mind wants knowledge in the sense of facts and understanding of external "realities." Our will wants power and skill to dominate. Our spirit wants God.

Since everything but spirit is merely its clothing, it is only sensible to let the spirit have its way–especially when we realize that the "wants" of our external levels are for transitory objects that, even if obtained, are swept away by the currents of karma and (ultimately) death. But God lasts forever. Therefore even when we do attain our lesser "wants" they turn out to be incapable of satisfying us in the long run.

Saint Augustine wrote that our hearts are ever restless until they rest in God. Before that, Jesus said "seek the kingdom of God first." And in our own times Sri Ma Anandamayi of India said: "In Him is everything; HIM you must try to find."

It is of course true that we have come into this life with certain karmic destinies in relation to the external world and its population. But even here it is only the freeing of the spirit that can enable us to perfectly fulfil our destiny, whatever it might be.

We must cultivate a "taste" for God. In earlier times, liver disorders were sometimes treated with rock sugar. But to those with diseased livers sugar candy actually tastes bitter, so they do not like the remedy! It is the same with us–we have lost our affinity for the Divine, Who is our only destiny.

And how shall we develop that taste? Through meditation and a life of spiritual cultivation.

I recently came across a "yoga" system that involves leaving the body and ascending to the higher worlds as its practice. Are you familiar with this approach?

Yes. I think of it as the "up and out" school of meditation. The idea that by simply going to the heights we will become enlightened is as ludicrous as to assume that by simply journeying to a university we will become educated. Rather, we have first to enter the primary grades, spend time studying there, and work our way upwards. What is necessary for us is to attain the necessary evolution required in this world for our "graduation" to the higher worlds. There we work on our evolution until qualified to move upward into even higher worlds. And so it goes, from rung to rung of the ladder until we can return to the Absolute from which we first came forth. "He who climbs up another way is a thief and a robber,"1 as Jesus said.

I recently read a question submitted to a meditation master. The inquirer said that whenever he meditates he leaves his body and floats up near the ceiling. He asked what he should do about this. The meditation master's answer was: "Go on through the ceiling." Will you comment on this?

It is extremely difficult, and therefore extremely rare, for an individual to leave the body before death. It is unfortunately true that some persons unnaturally force this ability which carries over into subsequent lives so that a person leaves his body involuntarily while sleeping. I have known more than one person who has suffered in this life from this involuntary astral travel.

Am I saying that the man does not leave his body and float up to the ceiling? No; but I am saying that it is extremely unlikely. Is he hallucinating, then? Chances are not. Within our psychic bodies there are many points of perception. It is not at all uncommon for the beginning meditator's focus of consciousness to become shifted into one of his psychic bodies during meditation and thus to begin seeing through the "eyes" of that body. It is this shift which also produces such sensations as expanding, rising, moving forward or backward, and such like. One of the most dramatic effects of this shift is for a person to experience himself as being many feet up in the air and to look down and see his body sitting below in meditation. For one who does not understand, this is naturally a very frightening experience. But it is nothing harmful at all. Therefore, it is most likely that the inquirer who thinks that he is floating up near the ceiling is actually moving into the awareness of his subtle bodies which extend out far beyond the physical body. In other words, he is experiencing one of his astral or causal bodies. This is actually quite normal, though not necessarily of any particular value. But he is not really outside his body.

It is also possible for the meditator to experience standing outside his body during the meditation period and even walking around and viewing it. He is not really doing so, but is simply looking through the "eyes" contained within his subtle levels. So if the inquiry had been directed to me, I would have explained it as I have now done, and assured the man that he was in no danger of flying away and getting lost in the cosmos. It is not so easy!

The second American to become a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda was a young man named Warren Vickerman. "Vickie" became highly developed yogically, and for many years led the Self-Realization Fellowship center in New York City. This naturally entailed his meeting many seekers and often becoming their advisor. Much like Yogananda's guru, Swami Yukteswar Giri, Vickie had little patience with nonsense, earthly or psychic. One day a woman came to him in great distress. "Oh! What shall I do? Every time I start to meditate I fly up astrally out of my body and hit my head on the ceiling!" Vickie looked at her with a glint in his eye and then said forcefully: "Lady, when you are in that state there is no ceiling!"

What are UFO's and are they connected with spiritual life in any way? I have heard people talking that beings of light, be they Masters or whatever, will lift the "lightworkers" from the earth during cataclysmic earth changes. I don't know what to make of this idea or of how real the "contact" experience seems to be to those who claim to have had one.

There is no reason to disbelieve that there is intelligent life of many forms in the universe. As to whether or not UFO's are from other planets, I really cannot say, through it certainly is possible. Since each planet has its own scheme of evolution, one thing sure is that cross-pollination is not possible, therefore contact with these beings would be of little profit–perhaps even detrimental. What about those who tell of their contacts? I simply do not know. I have seen UFO phenomena myself, but it has never seemed relevant to me or my personal spiritual growth, so I have not pursued the subject. I do feel that many "contactees" are having psychic/astral experiences rather than actual physical contact. And all of the descriptions I have read (and that is a limited amount) seem either negative, false, or irrelevant.

It is remarkable that those who feel they have grown beyond the Fundamentalist Protestant teaching of "the Rapture" so unquestioningly accept the "beam me up Scotty" eschatology of the New Age! It is just another manifestation of the delusive insistence that an external force can intervene and "save" us from the consequence of our own doing. Karma is never evaded–it is either reaped or dissolved by us through interior illumination. The real "space brothers" we need to be interested in and involved with are the saints and angels of God whose work is to help us find our way through the labyrinth of earthly life and evolve beyond the necessity for rebirth.

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