I am currently writing a book with the working title Ananda Seva, about the power of selfless service and how it can help dissolve the ego. Paramhansa Yogananda taught a path to liberation that combines both meditation and service. There is a wealth of resources to train and support aspirants in meditation: teachers, books, courses, meditation centers, websites, and apps. But even though most people spend much more time in outward activity than they do in meditation, very little is available that focuses on service as a spiritual practice. Even a little training in right attitudes and practices can turn our activity into a true spiritual path.
Cooperation, being able to work as part of a team, is an essential skill in life. While this is true in business, sports, or any other undertaking, it is also important spiritually, where aligning our individual will with God’s will is a vital step on the spiral stairway that leads to Self-realization.
The tide of the old year is ebbing, and the new one is rolling in. It is time, once again, for New Year’s resolutions: the best opportunity to rid yourself of those habits you know to be self-destructive, and to develop those that you know will improve your life.
Next week I will celebrate two important milestones. December 22 will be the fiftieth anniversary of my first Kriya Initiation. The next day will be another fiftieth anniversary: of my first eight-hour Christmas meditation. Both of these events took place in Swami Kriyananda’s little apartment in San Francisco in 1967. I had been with him for about eight months when he told me, “I think you should take Kriya initiation.”
While we were in India, we enjoyed a wonderful conversation with Indu Bhan. Although elderly now, in his youth Indu was a key assistant and good friend to Swami Kriyananda. Indu’s mother, Rani Bhan, was a remarkable person and a great help to Swamiji during that time. She was a powerful spiritual magnet, her house constantly visited by the great saints of that period. If you’ve heard the name of a saint from Northern India, such as Anandamayi Ma, Neem Karoli Baba, or Swami Narayan, they probably visited or stayed with Rani. She passed away in 2005, but Indu is still in touch with her through dreams and occasional visions.
It happened again one evening a couple of weeks ago, while we were relaxing and chatting with some dear friends. My wife, Devi, who periodically over the years has asked, begged, or cajoled me to tell the story of the mouse family, prevailed successfully upon me once again. People always seem to enjoy this story, so I thought you might, too.
Devi and I just finished a week of seclusion at a private retreat house atop Abbott Mount, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Ever-present in the distance is Nanda Devi, a mountain that many in India believe to be a living goddess. In this rarefied air, one feels the blessing of God and the Masters to be palpable.
I sat in a lab at the University of California in the early 1970s, electrodes attached to my head and body. As an Ananda member I had been invited to participate in an early attempt to study what meditation does to the brain. Ever since then I’ve had an interest in these kinds of scientific studies.
We were staying at a little hotel near Rome. It fronted on a popular beach where hundreds of Italians came with their families: some swam or lounged on the warm sand, others jogged or walked along the promenade, and still others were there to see and be seen. It was a charming little slice of life. But early each morning when the beach was abandoned, a different scene caught my eye. Around 7:00 a.m. a car would pull into one of the parking slots, and an old woman would get out. Then she would reach into the back for a bag and trudge slowly toward the sand.
In medieval times, Damascus steel was famous throughout Europe and the Middle East because it surpassed all other types of steel with its strength and flexibility. Damascus, in southwestern Syria, became a center for the production of highly prized swords and armor. Their specialized steel-making process was one of the great industrial secrets of the times. It turns out, interestingly, that the ability to make this kind of steel probably originated in India, where it is known to have existed as early as 300 BC, and may even go back to the time of the Bhagavad Gita.