An Interview With Self-Realization Fellowship’s Brother Brahmananda
TIS: First of all, I wanted to offer my condolences on the passing of Sri Daya Mata.
BB: Thank you very much. It’s been nine days now.
TIS: Right. How is everyone in the Fellowship handling it?
BB: We’re doing well. We’re going to have a viewing of her body at Forest Lawn Memorial Park starting today for three days, and we’re having a public memorial service this Sunday at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
TIS: Well I originally had wanted to speak to you about the true meaning of Christ at Christmas, which I would still like to touch on, but thought Sri Daya Mata’s passing offered an opportunity to talk about death, specifically in relation humanity’s fear of it, especially here in the west.
BB: You know, two books came out of her lectures, one of which was called Only Love and the other is Finding the Joy Within You, and in that latter book, she gives a description of a death experience she had many, many years ago when Yogananda was still with us.
TIS: I haven’t read either of those, so would you mind elaborating on it?
BB: Sure, not at all. In fact, once for some reason, we were on a telephone conversation together and she related this story directly to me, but she writes about it in detail in the book as well. She’d had a long meditation one evening and went to bed, and there was a tremendous pain in her side and she wondered what it was. The next morning she didn’t show up for breakfast, so one of the other nuns looked in on her and found out she wasn’t well. The nun called a doctor who said she had to go to the hospital. She said, “No, I will not go unless Master gives his consent.” Well he was out in the desert, about 150 miles away and there was no phone. Finally, they were able to get a taxi to go out there, and Master commented to a monk beside him, “You know, this is her time to die,” but he told Sri Daya Mata to go to the hospital. So she was taken to the hospital, and there was an operation, and as the surgeon was making his incision, she had the knowledge that he had made a mistake, but she wasn’t in the position to say anything. Then suddenly everything vanished.
There was a tremendous golden light, and she saw the spiritual eye and heard the great Aum sound reverberating through her. She said she was in a state of timelessness, and was beholding her whole life at one time, in the same moment. And then, out of the Aum sound came a beautiful voice saying, “This is death. Are you ready for it?” And in the light of the spiritual eye, she saw the world that was ahead of her filled with tremendous joy and intense communion with the Divine; it made the world we live in seem utterly gross and burdened by darkness. So she replied, “Yes, Divine Mother! One does not come this far into the other world and then want to go back. Why would I hold on to such grossness, when this divine bliss lies ahead of me?” But then the voice said, ever so sweetly, “But if I ask you to stay for Me?” She said she felt this tremendous thrill of joy. So she said, “You would ask me to stay for You? Yes, Divine Mother. Let me serve You!” And the voice said, “All right, my child. Now sleep,” and she lost consciousness. The operation proceeded successfully, and of course she came out of it.
TIS: Wow, amazing.
BB: So that just shows you her consciousness, and that was forty years ago and she’s been with us ever since then–until now. Although, I’m not sure she isn’t with us now, because just a couple of days before she left, she said to Mrinalini Mata, vice president of SRF, “When I’m gone, I’ll continue to love you all.”
TIS: So could you talk about why you think death is so hidden, or feared, especially in our western culture?
BB: Because there’s no background. In the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, we find that this whole universe is one of ongoing spiritual evolution in which Spirit freezes itself into solid matter, and gradually evolves itself back into Spirit, and this is going on all the time. It goes through the various kingdoms, the plant kingdom, animal kingdom, human beings and back to Spirit, and we’re part of that. So after perhaps eight million lifetimes in other life forms, the soul is here in human form.
The soul is individualized Spirit. It’s not as though we were ever created. We’ve existed always, but Spirit formed us from Itself and is drawing us back to Itself. So, as human beings, we incarnate from lifetime to lifetime, gradually evolving spiritually. Initially we experience the universe and the world through our five senses and what we’re seeking is joy. Well, it happens that joy is the very essence of Spirit. So what we’re looking for is Spirit itself, and we don’t find it through the senses. Gradually, through trial and error, we find that’s not going to work, and then comes the idea that perhaps the source of joy is inside.
BB: Now the great ones of India found techniques to quiet the body and mind so that one can begin to feel the inner bliss, the inner joy, the inner peace of Spirit, and that’s what Yoga is all about. And that is what we practice in Self-Realization Fellowship. Now, not having that understanding, people have no idea what death is about. We have our traditional ideas of heaven and hell, which don’t seem particularly logical, and a lot of people believe there is nothing beyond this physical world. They’re often uncertain. There is something inside us that says life goes on, and yet this seems refuted by the senses. So there’s doubt, uncertainty, and when there’s that kind of doubt, fear arises and I think that’s why people are so afraid of death. It’s the possibility of the extinguishment of our consciousness. Intuitively we know this won’t happen, but the fear is there.
For years now I don’t think I have, myself, had any fear of death. But there is a certain attachment to this physical body that everyone has. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be in it. Even realized souls have attachments to the body. Lahiri Mahasaya, the Guru of Yogananda’s guru, who was a disciple of Babaji, when he heard the message from his Guru that he was going to soon leave his body, he went into deep stillness. It took him a while to get used to the idea, so it’s an interesting phenomenon. We’ve all gone through it many, many times, but we don’t remember that.
TIS: Thank you for that insight. It’s helpful (at least for me) to have that understanding. So the other thing I wanted to discuss with you was Christ and its true meaning at Christmas time. Sri Daya Mata would always put together a beautiful message on this for both Christmas and Easter and I was hoping you could elaborate on that.
BB: Christmas represents spiritually the birth of the Christ Consciousness within us. Our essence is Spirit and Spirit is Cosmic Consciousness. We have been frozen as matter, and we’re evolving back to Spirit, eventually getting rid of the shells of delusion that surround us. Christmas represents the awakening of the soul to what it really is, and its mergence with that Christ Consciousness, which Yogananda said is the intelligence of the Divine throughout all of creation. As the seasons go, this is sort of the bottom of the yearly cycle where spring and summer lie ahead of us. There’s a kind of seasonal awakening which is represented in this ancient holiday that we now celebrate as Christmas. Esoterically, one can say this symbolizes the birth of the Christ Consciousness within us.
Now, what does Christ represent? On the altars of the Self-Realization Fellowship temples and centers, we have pictures of Christ and Krishna, who represent the same kinds of consciousness, Krishna in the East and Christ in the West. There’s a cultural aspect to this that is quite interesting. Carl Jung understood that there is tremendous spirituality in the East, in India, but he wouldn’t go there. He wouldn’t take it on, or get into that religious philosophy because he felt it was dangerous to his inner consciousness, as he was born a Christian. He gave the example of a friend who went deeply into the I Ching, traveled to China, and totally immersed himself in that culture–and eventually went mad. So Jung felt it would disturb his psyche if he did something similar. Now what Yogananda has done is to make the highest teachings of India assimilable by the western psyche.
You’ve mentioned you’ve been reading The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You, the two volume set of Yogananda’s commentaries on the Christian Gospels. Selections from this work have been compiled in a much smaller book called The Yoga of Jesus, which is very nice.
TIS: Yes, I’ve read it in its entirety and it’s a wonderful introduction to the two volume series.
BB: It really is. The smaller book has the essence of the larger work, though it doesn’t have the marvelous introduction where Yogananda talks about his experiences with Christ, and the spirit of Christ that was with him as he wrote that scripture. But The Yoga of Jesus presents some key things, like the idea that at the birth of Jesus, the Magi–literally the priestly class in Iran or Persia at that time, were actually wise men from India, and as a youth Jesus went back to India to reciprocate that visit and thank them for it. Of course, there are other accounts of Jesus being in India. The Shankacharya of Puri, who visited the United States back in the 50’s through the auspices of Self-Realization Fellowship, told Sri Daya Mata that he had evidence in the Jagannath Temple in Puri of Christ being there. He was going to write about it but never had the opportunity. Yogananda said the same thing, and there are other sources, too.
So Jesus was in India and spent time there. He also spent time in Tibet with the Buddhists and then came back with all of that knowledge. Yogananda says that Jesus taught his disciples something very much like Kriya Yoga, which is our highest technique of pranayama, or control of life force, which brings the energy and consciousness inside. So Jesus was teaching that to his close disciples, but, to the masses he was speaking in parables — giving them ideas that would help them in their lives. What we’re teaching is what Christ really taught; he was a Yogi. That’s why we have the Yoga of Jesus.
TIS: Often during this time of the year, people debate whether Jesus was actually born on December 25th or not, does this date matter?
BB: I don’t think it really matters. Sure, there’s evidence that Jesus was born in the spring time, but it seems appropriate, as I said, to celebrate the birth of Christ Consciousness at this part of the yearly cycle.
TIS: Ok, so in closing could you talk a bit more about Jesus the man vs. the Christ Consciousness which was bestowed upon him?
BB: I suppose the key difference between our understanding of Jesus, and the traditional Christian understanding is centered in the third chapter of John, where Nicodemus is talking to Jesus. There’s the verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Those words indicate on the surface that the belief in Jesus, is the only way back to God. But, that can’t be. In the Bible, you have the example of Abraham as described by Jesus as being in heaven. Of course, Abraham had no experience of Jesus the man. When Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am,” he fully identified himself with that consciousness of God, the Christ Consciousness, the vast intelligence of God throughout the universe. He felt himself as one with that, and he spoke from that vantage point. He spoke of himself as that Christ Consciousness.
That doesn’t preclude the possibility that there have been other great saints who were also one with that consciousness, Buddha, Krishna, and others. The traditional view is that Jesus is the only son of God. He said: “No man cometh unto the Father but by me,” and he’s talking from this state of Christ Consciousness, saying no one can expand back into Spirit without going through the Christ Consciousness that he was one with. So to me, that’s the great misunderstanding of Christian orthodoxy. Yes, Jesus is the only way, but that means the Christ Consciousness is the only way. I believe that man’s consciousness has existed for countless years on this planet, and many other planets, and obviously, this spiritual evolution, Spirit back to Spirit is an ongoing thing that doesn’t depend on one particular man, but it certainly does depend on that consciousness of God.
TIS: Thank you. I really appreciate your time.
BB: You’re very welcome.