Yet it wasn’t that I subscribed necessarily to realism in the arts. To clarify this apparent anomaly, I should explain that whereas I like impressionism in art, if it is good, I also like realism, if it is good. I am not, however, in favor of pointless realism or pointless impressionism. A brick building, to take an example, is something with which all of us are familiar. What point is there in painting it just as it is? When it comes to philosophy, however, and even more so to mystical truths, the subject is known to few people. To be as simple, clear, and “realistic” as possible is, in this case, a virtue, assuming it can even be managed. To cloud the subject deliberately merely renders it opaque.
Paramhansa Yogananda did something no one before him, to my knowledge, has ever done, in describing with extraordinary lucidity the state of cosmic consciousness. His poem “Samadhi,” especially, is a masterpiece in spiritual literature. Not for him the vague, “mind-blowing” mysticism of Western legend, as in the apocryphal story of the Himalayan sage who told a Western seeker, “Life, my son, is a rainbow.” (To that remark, in the story, the seeker exclaims, “You mean, I’ve come all this distance, braved steep mountains, snow, ice, and driving rains only to find that life is nothing but a stupid rainbow?” The “sage” replied anxiously, “Y-y-you mean, it isn’t a rainbow?”)
Art, too, ought to convey some kind of interaction, I believe, between the person seeing and the thing seen: some impression the brick building has made upon him; some hope, or even sadness, he may have felt in looking at it. In this way a painting, though two-dimensional, can add not only the illusion of having a third dimension, but can produce an actual third dimension-of consciousness. How well the impression is conveyed demonstrates the artist’s skill. How spiritually valid that impression is demonstrates his wisdom. His depth of wisdom determines also his greatness, or his shallowness, as an artist. Even sadness, though usually a negative state, may suggest aspiration toward higher things and be, therefore, spiritually valid. Spiritual validity is what lifts a person toward Self-realization, instead of depressing him and increasing the hold delusion has on his mind.
Ultimately, the criterion of clarity must be determined by one’s feelings, and not only by the intellect. If an allegory is wholly literal, like an algebraic equation, it may please the intellect but will hardly satisfy the heart. What satisfies the viewer of a work of art is, above all, that which awakens in him a sense of intuitive soul-recognition.
The clearer the intuition, the clearer the heart’s feeling. And the clearer the feeling, the more strongly it resonates with inspirations of wisdom. The intellect alone, lacking intuition, can never achieve true wisdom. For if reasoning begins with a wrong premise and one lacks sufficient clarity of heart to feel that it is wrong, he may devote his life to following a false trail, as modern philosophers have done who devoted their lives to “proving” that life is without meaning. The world, unfortunately, contains many intelligent idiots.
What I sought, during the chaotic ‘sixties, was intuitive clarity. Many people, I realized, were seeking intuition but not clarity. For me, clarity would come not as a result of laboriously thinking, thinking a thing through to a logical conclusion, but of attuning myself to my Guru, from whose deep, intuitive wisdom flowed ever-fresh revelation. Most of the people with whom I came in contact, because of their lack of clarity, decided it was simplest merely to claim insight, then clothe their utterances in abstract verbiage to stun others to silence.
“Life is a rainbow.”
“Oh, wow! that’s heavy, man!” (What did it matter if it meant anything?)
The Zen teachers in Japan had honed to a fine art the technique of clothing deep insights in enigmatic declarations, penetrable only with the keen blade of developed intuition. Yogananda used this technique, also. For example, if he saw that a piece of advice wasn’t getting through to a disciple, he might deliberately make some utterly implausible statement with the only purpose of cutting through that person’s rational defenses. In the ensuing stillness of mind, an opening appeared through which wise counsel could then penetrate.
The goal in this kind of teaching is to quiet the reason and open the mind to intuitive insight. The important ingredient here, however, is intuitive insight itself. Unless the teacher has such insight to convey, silently even, the disciple will receive nothing. If he mistakes vagueness for wisdom, he may be impressed, but he will not be enlightened.
There was a lot of muddy thinking going on in the ‘sixties. Indeed, lack of clarity was a thread running through the whole tapestry of the Twentieth Century. It manifested itself as pretension in art, in literature, in philosophy, even in religious teaching. I thanked God for the blessing of a true master-not only for his simple, direct, and deeply insightful words, but for the attunement with his consciousness that I found myself developing, helping me to penetrate the dense ideational fogs around me with the searchlight of clarity.
Years later I gave our Ananda publishing house the name, “Crystal Clarity, Publishers.” Clarity seems simple and obvious enough once it is achieved. Achieving it, however, can be a challenge. Many people undervalue it. And few there are who achieve it.
I had no interest in “blowing people’s minds,” as the expression was in those days. Many people, perhaps for that very reason, accepted with a shrug what I said in lectures and in songs. They wanted something “deep”-that is to say, incomprehensible.
Such woolly-mindedness was rampant among those who dreamed of starting “New Age” communities. Somehow they thought the only thing necessary was a parcel of land, and bands of pot-smoking hippies floating on waves of “love” and wishful dreams. Apart from their lack of clarity, they had no devotion to God, nor dedication to a down-to-earth spiritual life.
For myself, I had been pondering how to create a successful community since I was a boy. I, too, had left God out of my reckoning at first. It was on meeting Paramhansa Yogananda that I discovered the right direction for my dream. God had been the missing ingredient.
There is an allegory from the life of Krishna. Once, when he was a baby, his foster mother Yasoda wanted to tie him to a bedpost so she could be free to get on with her chores. The string was too short, so she fetched another and tied it to the first. Still it was too short! She added more string. No matter how long the string, it remained too short for the job.
At last she understood what she’d been doing. No one can bind the Infinite! Most people try to do so, with dogmas and definitions of truth. They conduct their activities without a thought for God, the Sole Doer. Yasoda, recognizing her error, folded her hands and prayed to the Supreme One in that tiny form, “Please, dearest Lord, permit me to tie you!” At last she was able to do so.
Communities were being attempted throughout America during the ‘sixties. Most of them failed-mainly, I believe, because of that “missing ingredient”: God.
One thing that devotion to God accomplishes is that it opens the heart to love. It also opens the mind to wisdom. People’s worst problem is that they enclose themselves in little boxes of self-will. Most “New Age” thinking concerned itself with creating newly “packaged” ego-games. I wrote a song to address this tendency. (Not a misty reference in it to rainbows!)
And in that little box I did put a tree-
A pony, a teddy bear, a bright green sled:
Everything around me that my eyes did see.
How can a little box ever hold a sled,
A pony and a tree-puzzles your poor head?
It can’t, of course! But in a tiny baby’s mind
The mighty world becomes a little box, instead!
Well, as I grew older my box grew, too:
Held airplanes and ships and a birch canoe,
And schoolbooks, a foreign trip, and college proms,
Good times, and friends aplenty-yes, and also You!
But somehow in this box would only fit one school,
One family, one country, and one social rule:
And certainly one church, for only my way’s right,
And anyone with other ways is just a fool!
Well, so I used to think, but now I must confess
At judging fools I wasn’t any great success!
Truth somehow lived without me, though I called it mine
What box could hold the world? It’s just-preposter-ess!
Even my father enjoyed this song!
The important thing is to remain open to the truth, whatever it be. Of special importance to openness are humility and a lack of pretense (especially toward oneself).
One of my favorite compliments, though possibly it was meant differently, was one I received at the Zen temple in San Francisco. This was years after the founding of Ananda, following a ceremony to install Richard Baker as the new roshi, or head priest, of the temple. Richard-Dick, I called him-was a friend of mine and was, in fact, as you’ll see in the next chapter, the person through whom I acquired the first land at Ananda. The present concerns a conversation I had with a young woman outside. We’d been talking several minutes when she asked me my name. I told her.
“Kriyananda!” she cried in astonishment. “But – you’re famous!”
“Well, maybe,“ I replied. ”But why the ‘but’?”
“Why, all the famous people I’ve known seem important!”
I hoped she meant “self-important.”
Buddhists claim not to believe in God. Generally, however, they do believe in openness, and humility, and compassion. With these attitudes, whatever God there be must surely be pleased, as He is with sincere devotion (I think even more so with devotion, however, since love for Him sublimates the ego altogether). The important thing, for the seeker, is that his or her attitude be right.
I once visited the Zen center on Page Street, in San Francisco. The sincerity of the residents was obvious. True, they lacked that ingredient of faith in God, but they were sincerely committed to an ancient truth, and I could see that, as a group, they were thriving.
I was astonished, however, to see them all so solemn. Why, I wondered? Could it be due to their concentration on “hara,” as that center in the body is known, located in or near one of the lower chakras? Such a downward direction of concentration would naturally have a depressing effect on a person’s consciousness. To Zen students, yoga practice, with its primary focus on the upper chakras, separates one from the “concrete” realities of life. Attunement with the lighter aspects of truth, however, gives power over even the concrete ones. For matter is itself only a condensation of light and energy.
Love is the first ingredient in a community’s success. Can there be spiritual love, however, without joy? Without both love and joy, surely judgment and intolerance must enter the scene, sooner or later. Judgment, whether of others or oneself, is discouraging, and keeps one from rising in inner freedom.
Dick Baker explained to me the Zen approach to action. He said one shouldn’t do anything until one has mentally perfected what one intends to do. I disagreed with him. Perfection is achieved first in the mind, true, but it requires doing one’s best, also, with the tools at hand, and thereby clarifying one’s understanding.
A foremost disciple of Yogananda, Yogacharya Oliver Black in Michigan, would occasionally voice criticism of Ananda for its shoe-string life-style-a valid comment, during our “tepee city” beginnings. “Do they have to live in poverty?” he asked. He himself was a rich man; I was not. At Ananda, we did what we could, then determinedly kept growing from there. Yogacharya Oliver, on the other hand, never succeeded in creating a community, though he tried. A few months before his death he wrote, complimenting me on Ananda’s success. He then asked my advice on how to create a community himself. By this time he was in his nineties. I admired him for still dreaming, but what chance had he, at that late stage in his life, to fulfill his dream?
To return to Buddhism, I have met joyful Buddhist monks. They expressed love, also. I think their belief in a higher consciousness must at least resemble another person’s belief in God. For in their belief system they open themselves to higher guidance, and to the infinite wisdom and love that are associated with God. I still say, however, as Brother Bhaktananda (a fellow disciple) has declared: “Devotion is the only thing.”
Today, humanity is trying to redefine a universe stripped by science of all traditional definitions. It is a time when people need a bridge to new ways of thinking and looking at things. People in the “New Age” movements have perceived this need intuitively. They err only in imagining they can create a New Age. The truth is, whether people like it or not, we already are in a new age! If nothing else, we’ve been pushed into it by science. The fundamentals of a new age lie in the very discovery by physics that matter is not the solid substance it was once imagined to be: It is energy.
Swami Sri Yukteswar, Yogananda’s guru, explained that this insight has come because new waves of spiritual energy are entering the earth’s atmosphere at this time from the cosmos, and making people more sensitively aware of higher levels of consciousness, and of subtler levels of reality. There occur cyclically, Sri Yukteswar said, vast movements within the galaxy that affect human enlightenment. Our planet is on the rise, now, toward a higher state of awareness.
This book is not the place for a discussion of this teaching. I’ve treated the subject at some length in other books. A brief treatment of it is contained also in Autobiography of a Yogi. The point here is that the human will is incapable of creating a new age. A truth, as Yogananda said, can only be perceived. The essence of the new age, which we’ve already entered, is a greater awareness of energy as the underlying reality of the material world. This awareness of energy affects every aspect of our lives. It will produce greater flexibility of thought, and ever-greater clarity. Rigid definitions, whether in religion, morality, art, or even the standards of social comportment are being undermined. They will not, however, be destroyed. What people need is to experience values of all kinds in a new way. The vagueness of hippie and “New Age” thinking in general was only a premonition of another, much greater clarity to come.
I myself sought clarity, not refuge in beguiling vagueness. One result of my commitment to clarity was an invitation by a Christian radio station, KFAX, in San Francisco, to give a half-hour show weekly in order (as the station manager put it) to attract the younger generation, many of whom were no longer listening to their programs. The show continued for more than five years. Not long after my first radio show in San Francisco, I also began one in Sacramento. Later, another radio station scheduled me in Pasadena. At this time, I was forced to sacrifice all three programs to concentrate on Ananda.
In search of clarity of another kind, I used also to travel south to Ben Lomond, near Santa Cruz, California, where a group called Bridge Mountain held programs that were slanted differently from what I was accustomed to. They involved students rather than only lecturing to them. I was intrigued, and wanted to draw from what they did any benefits I could for my own teaching.
Thus, another world opened to me: the self-help or “self-actualization” movement. Students in the classes would make surrealistic drawings supposed to express their inner fears, anxieties, and motivations. I had no fears that I was aware of, but the leaders claimed that everyone harbors such psychological complexes.
I remember telling a member of the staff, Pat Kutzner-who for a time was my secretary, after Bridge Mountain closed-that I’d never known my parents to have a falling out. “That can only mean,” she replied dismissively, “that one of them is suppressing a lot of frustration!” Well, I’d seen no evidence that this was so. Nor had anyone I’d ever known. My father’s droll explanation for the harmony between them was to say, “When my wife and I were first married, I told her I would make all the important decisions in our marriage. Since then,” he concluded with a grin, “there haven’t been any important decisions to make!” None so important, anyway, as to come between them.
I went along with what was taught at Bridge Mountain, however, because it seemed a good place to learn an aspect of what was in vogue those days.
That was also the time of “Primal Scream” therapy, and other methods of venting suppressed frustrations: “letting it all hang out,” as the expression was, that people might regain the uncomplicated freedom of their primordial nature. One of these methods was to scream like a demented animal. Those were also the days when people met for “honest confrontation.” They’d pair off, face each other, and announce “honestly” just what bothered them about one another. It was all meant to relieve them of inner tensions. What it really did, of course, was induce tension. I never saw people purged of animosity by these treatments.
At Bridge Mountain we threw wads of mud at a board to vent our anger, thereby, supposedly, releasing it from the subconscious. I tried to join in the fun, though in fact I had couldn’t think of anything to vent, not even anger against SRF. It seemed to me this approach was all wrong. I wanted, however, to learn what people were thinking and doing to improve themselves. The leaders at Bridge Mountain made kindly excuses for me. No doubt, they seemed to feel, I’d dig up something from my subconscious eventually, and discover the boiling cauldron I’d been suppressing. For my part, I thought I might learn a few ideas for conducting classes involving students instead of only lecturing to them. Eventually, I realized that in fact I was involving them already, in a subtler way. What I did, and still do, was tune in to them spiritually, and commune in my spirit with their spirits. People have often come to me after a lecture and thanked me for clarifying a problem they’ve been having. I’ve never discouraged others, however, from seeking ways to involve students in the learning process. Basically, Bridge Mountain’s idea in doing so seemed good to me, even though I still consider the emphasis on releasing subconscious repressions a mistake, generally speaking. All it does, according to my observation, is affirm one’s own negative tendencies.
In 1966 another opportunity came my way. I was invited to teach a cultural program for the Peace Corps. A hundred young men were to go to India; they needed preparation for the experience. I was delighted at the thought of helping them to become cultural ambassadors. I myself had long contemplated the need for such a program.
Alas, the young men themselves were mostly interested in weekend binges at the local bars. India, to them, held the prospect only of being a rousing adventure. After some time, they complained that what they wanted from the cultural program was information on such efficient matters as five-year plans-information they would find of minimal use in the Indian villages. Since this was their desire, however, I scouted around for people who could give them what they wanted. It was not easy for me, for I’d put my heart into helping them to become cultural bridges. I let them know, however, that if any of them wanted what I had sought to share, they could come to my room after hours and we’d chat together. Gratifyingly, about twenty-five of them came regularly. I heard from some of them, later, that those gatherings had helped them really to appreciate their Indian assignment.
An advantage accrued to me from this assignment: The pay was good. All of it went toward the work I was slowly developing. First, I printed books to make what I was attempting better known. Then I bought land for Ananda.
The books I published first were a small book of aphorisms, Yours-the Universe!, and Yoga Postures for Self-Awareness. I also printed a small booklet, mostly as a means of earning money for Ananda, The Book of Bhrigu, which I’d written years earlier.
As it turned out, Ananda’s time was rapidly approaching.