Food for Thought

Posted by & filed under Inspiration.

In the summer of 1990, during the annual Mozart Festival in Salzburg, Austria, my wife and I were staying with a new friend in his apartment. Richard had lived in Salzburg for many years, retired from his long-time career as the personal secretary to Herbert von Karajan, the famous Berlin Philharmonic conductor. Aristocratic society had been his world, but now Richard was serving the homeless a couple of times a week at a soup kitchen run by Franciscans. He, himself, had become a lay brother.

One particular “patron” of the kitchen, a bitter alcoholic, was invariably abusive in his language and manner, always demanding more soup and bread than he was given, thankless of the generosity that Richard and the other volunteers were willing to provide. Richard never replied to the man except with more food and maybe a kind remark. I could not understand this. It upset me to observe or hear about it, and part of my anger was aimed at Richard for not telling him off. The Franciscan way of unconditional love was beyond my mental and emotional grasp. To me it was stupid.

But I did notice this: Richard was happy.

I cannot say that I have learned the lesson of this experience completely. I still react at times when confronted with belligerence, rudeness, or a selfish demand. And, of course, I am the one who suffers the toxic effect. To see a hateful person as a child of God is one heck of a challenge.

But this I have also noticed: Selfish people are never happy, no matter how often their demands are met. And unselfish, service-minded people do not suffer the sting of others’ ill-mannered assaults.  What a concept!

Attunement to our highest potential, non-attachment to the fruits of desire—Oh, my, these are testy aims, because we are steeped in delusion above all else. Our society drives us to strive ever more for that which is hopelessly mortal, to believe that people and things are the source of joy. We’re conditioned to ask of every choice, “What’s in it for me?” And so it is that our highs turn into lows, and our lows turn into longings and strivings for new highs that are yet of the same soon-to-perish likeness.

Surely the most amazing part of this whole human journey back to God is the length of cosmic time it takes us to quit our worldly ways. In the lexicon of oxymorons, “intelligent man” ranks among the best. Richard had not forsaken the fleeting pleasures of outward living. He relished many common pursuits, and he fully enjoyed their yield. His Franciscan spirit, however, kept them in perspective, when otherwise his appreciation of them would have fled.

Willingness and Faith

Posted by & filed under Inspiration.

Nature is a fountain of boundless inspiration.

Every plant, every creature, offers a message that speaks to us directly. As we tune into its wonders, we understand more of ourselves.

Consider the lowly caterpillar as it transforms into a butterfly. Is there a more miraculous image of relevance to our own lives? The caterpillar goes within, secluded in its cocoon from outward distraction. It reduces itself to the core of its being, aided and guided by an unseen, benevolent power. It literally dies to its former self, and then reemerges, a vision of winged beauty, free of its heaviness, no longer bound to the earth.

The memo in this for us is unmistakable. We, too, can remake ourselves simply by going within, and by doing the work that will break us free of the heaviness that is our ignorance. In surrendering ourselves to the process, we also attract that same invisible support, and when our transformation is complete, we find ourselves newly minted, able to soar at will with wings of inner joy above the mundane matters of this world.

The caterpillar operates on instinct. It is programmed by an automatic willingness and faith to rise from its limitations to a higher experience of life. These two qualities, willingness and faith, are essential to our progress also, but we do not have them instinctively or automatically at our command. We have to acquire and exercise them with willpower and effort. Let’s have a look at what this entails.

Everyone knows what it means to be willing.

But faith is not so easily understood. Is it more than a belief? Yes, it is. Faith is born of experience. You have it because it has come to you as knowledge that is more than an external transfer of information. 

Belief, on the other hand, is born of a personal desire, an empirical arrangement of facts, or someone’s mere opinion. I can believe that global warming is a myth, or that justice will be served if my candidate is elected. I can even believe the earth is flat. But my experience of those beliefs is not likely to resonate with reality.

Belief becomes faith when it consistently gives us the experience of what we believed it would. I have faith in the force of gravity. For as long as I can remember, it has kept me from flying off into space. So far so good. I believe, however, that God could suspend the force of gravity at any given moment, and if He ever does, I will have to rethink my faith. Thankfully in the meantime, however, I can plan my days according to the high probability that I will remain in fundamental contact with the earth.

Faith of a spiritual nature is the power to draw to ourselves—to know and experience—the truth of who we are. We are divine immortals, eternally more than the bodies, brains, and obvious limitations we inhabit as human beings. As it says in our Ananda Festival of Light, after eons of time and repeated flights into darkness, we finally begin to ask, “Who are we in reality? For what end were we made?” We begin to seek the answers and the guidance that will lead us to faith in God and our eventual redemption.

Great masters who come to us as gurus have all the tools, teachings, and techniques we need to gain enlightenment and liberation. They have been where we are, and they know the way out. Our task is simply to put what they offer as guidance into practice: self-study, self-control, sadhana, service to others, and satsang with like-minded souls. Of these is our destiny fulfilled: freedom in God and bliss everlasting.

Education for Life: Look for the Light

Posted by & filed under Community.

A Simple Concept

Essential to the spiritual path and a part of our beginning meditation instruction, we learn to relax and focus on the light. It’s amazing how trained our minds are to look for problems and how our culture, especially educational culture, often supports this focus. Something about that has never felt quite right.

I never felt like I was being my best self as a teacher even if I was able to clearly identify and understand a problem in my classroom. It often left me feeling overwhelmed, like there were always more problems and never the time or resources to handle them all. A feeling all too familiar to the average teacher.

When I finally found Education for Life (EFL) and took my first class, my first thought was, “Where has this been all my life?!”

What really resonated with me was how the other educators talked about children. They considered all aspects of the child’s being and were not only willing but determined, to see the very best in each child. Even the “difficult” ones.

Our assignment between sessions was to “look for the light.” As our instructor explained it, we were to look for moments of “child-likeness” in our students. Moments of natural excitement, enthusiasm and joy.

I quickly found that the more I looked for it, the more I found! I began to enjoy teaching and see and enjoy my students in a way that I never had before.

Focusing, on the Light

When focusing on the light, somehow the problems seemed more manageable. I felt more energized and connected by seeing what was working and what we were doing well. I even found ways to use those strengths to solve some of our problems. Finally, I’d found an approach to education that could show me the way to bring the wisdom of my yoga and meditation practice into my teaching!

Since then I’ve had the privilege to teach at Living Wisdom School (LWS) Portland. That one simple technique of looking for the light has allowed me to become more curious and open to learning from whatever was unfolding in my classes, rather than trying to control the outcome.

I’ve learned more about EFL and how to work with energy in the classroom. How to help each student balance and develop the four main aspects of their being: body, feeling, will and intellect. And it turns out, my class feels much more peaceful and connected as a result.

This Is Education for Life!

When I talk to people about EFL, especially non-educators, there’s a sense of “that’s nice but not for me” that tends to come up at some point. Living Wisdom School of Beaverton building a bright future for your children

Couldn’t we all benefit from looking for the light in this world? Focusing on solutions and seeking the very best in each other and ourselves?

This approach to education really is for life and our mission at LWS Portland is to share this with as many children, families and educators as possible in the hopes of creating a better world!

To find out more about our school, Education for Life and our expansion project visit Living Wisdom School of Beaverton.


Erin Vinacco, educator at the Living Wisdom School of BeavertonErin Vinacco, an educator for nearly a decade, has had the opportunity to work with students of all ages and abilities through various non-profits, community organizations, and public and private schools. Erin found Ananda in Rhode Island, then in 2016, moved west to join the Living Wisdom School staff.

She fully believes in the Education for Life approach with its practical application of universal spiritual principles. And is enthusiastic about sharing these uplifting teachings with everyone, to aid in contributing to a better world.

Erin also serves on the development committee for the new LWS Building Expansion Project and offers teacher training, parent education and community outreach.

Ananda at the United Nations

Posted by & filed under Meditation.

When something this amazing happens, we want to share the joy! Taken from a recent email.

Sharing the Light Throughout the World

As we were thinking of creating ways for Ananda to Be the Change, we came up with the idea to ask the United Nations to declare an International Day of Meditation.

The next day, a man named Shomik Chaudry, the leader of the Institute of International Social Development contacted us and asked if Ananda would apply to become a consultative NGO [non-governmental organization] to the UN.

The National flags flying at the United Nations

[Chaundry] is a Babaji devotee, and wants to have Paramhansa Yogananda’s teachings spread throughout the world via the UN. Of course, you know there is no legally registered organization that is Ananda’s worldwide work, but they told us to just describe what we do—and so we did. We submitted the application for Ananda to become a consultative NGO to the UN.

On July 20, Kyle MacDonald (Director, Ananda Rhode Island) will present the essence of Kriya Yoga to 700 people at the United Nations in New York City for the International Day of Yoga.

Jacqueline Debets
Director of Public Relations
Ananda Sangha Worldwide


What Comes Around

Posted by & filed under Inspiration.

Does talk of death make you a little uneasy?

Most people look for ways to change the subject.

Everyone since childhood has been aware of death, but as long as we’re alive, death is that which happens only to others. We tend to ignore its presence until, in failing health, we end up cramming for peace of mind just as we crammed for exams in our school days.

What are we afraid of, a sudden plunge into the vast unknown? No doubt about it. Catering to our anxieties, we press for material comforts, financial cushions, career titles, and countless other ego-driven rewards. What could be less prudent? Comfort and ease invite the very attachments that extend our delusions. They prevent us from dealing with why we are here and in what condition of spirit we will depart.

Death is entered in nakedness, alone. We are swept into its realm, unsupported by the props that reinforce who we think we are: our families and friends, our collected things, our self-definitions. Death reminds us abruptly that we are not, and never were, the portraits of ourselves that we project.

Our masters have counseled us that patience is the shortest route to God. In hearing this advice, however, we seem to interpret patience as procrastination. Instead of using these precious years to probe and embrace the inner, eternal wonders of our being, we are apt to spend them, in large part, chasing visions of permanence which ever and again dissolve. Until, that is, we perceive that our days are few. Until we are anxiously cramming for our final exam.

I hold in my hand the everywhere neverlasting.
I see in my head the dance of changing forms.
Now is what there is,
And then it is gone.
Now is what there is,
And then I am gone.

The trouble is, it is death instead of desire that people dread. We fail to see the connection, that dying is mostly a function of dying for more. To want is soon to need, and as need demands, one devolves from free spirit to slave. We long to be happy, yet so many of our emotions, beliefs, and behaviors lead us astray of the goal.

Thankfully, though, after lifetimes of getting it wrong, we start to get it right. We begin to look inward for answers to the meaning of life and death, and as we do, we redeem death of its dark disguise, discovering that its purpose is to show us how to live. The peace we long for comes from letting go of our worldly attachments. That is the lesson of death, and we don’t have to wait to die to gain its reward.

Jesus, in the Gospel of St. Matthew, said: “He that findeth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” In today’s language: He who persists in his ego’s self-interest is destined to remain in delusion, losing the chance to move beyond its material limitations. Delusion dissipates only as one overcomes the pull of such desires, breaking away from his tether to selfish pursuits. Then does he reap the ultimate freedom of divine reunion with God.

In the ending lines of his beautiful prayer-poem, St. Francis of Assisi takes us back to the truths we tend to forget. He beseeches the Lord to “make me an instrument of Thy peace,” concluding:

For it is in the giving that we receive;
It is in the pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in the dying that we are born to eternal life.

What are we afraid of, a sudden plunge into the vast unknown? Not if we get to know it while we are here.

Nayaswami Surendra manages Ananda’s Temple and Teaching Center, serving the greater Portland area. As a Lightbearer and previous resident of Ananda colonies in Seattle, Palo Alto and Pune, India, he is pleased and honored to share with us his wealth of teaching, counseling and leadership experience.

About Nayaswami Surendra

Nayaswami Surendra manages Ananda’s Temple and Teaching Center, serving the greater Portland area. As a Lightbearer and previous resident of Ananda colonies in Seattle, Palo Alto and Pune, India, he is pleased and honored to share with us his wealth of teaching, counseling and leadership experience.