Third Noble Truth: In the Midst of Suffering, There Is Release from Suffering ~ Lewis Richmond

I have talked in recent posts about the Buddhist teachings on self and soul, and most recently about Buddhist meditators’ tendency to “spiritual bypassing,” i.e. moving past the messy and often painful work of wounds, selfish tendencies, traumas, life problems and developmental needs to try to reach an imagined state of transcendence where all of that can be left behind.

A lot of that terrain can be summarized by the pop phrase “getting rid of the ego,” which many seem to equate with the goal of spiritual practice. This phrase, which has over 15 million Google hits, implies two things: first, that there is something intrinsically wrong with the ego, and second, that once gotten rid of, everything will be better.

“Ego” originally was a term from Freudian psychoanalysis, or rather an English translation of Freud’s original term Ich, which simply means “I” in German. I have come to believe that translations are a major stumbling block to understanding deep matters, whether it is Freudian or Buddhist or something else. For Buddhism, the words “ego-istic” and “self-ish” are more relevant than the words “ego” or “self.” “Selfish” and “egoistic” refers to behavior, whereas “self” and “ego” refer to identity. Selfish behavior is a problem; it causes suffering for oneself and others. Self or identity is just a feature of our existence. We each have an identity; even Gautama Buddha had an identity, as he walked the dusty paths of rural 5th century B.C. India offering his teaching to all and sundry. What the Buddha taught is not that we have no identity at all, but that our identity is not fixed; it keeps changing. It has no “own-being,” to use a technical term from the Heart Sutra.

“Identity” is perhaps a somewhat more workable term than “ego,” because most of us understand that our identity does change. When we are young, we have an identity as college students, or law firm interns, or brides-to-be, or new parents. We have a job, a family, friends, relationships — taken together this is our identity, which changes day by day, year by year. Because identity changes, it includes loss. We graduate from college and endure the loss of the dorm mates, the Fall leaves in the quad, the favorite professors — and move into an unknown new world. This is loss, and throughout life loss is always with us, just as the Buddha taught. But when we are young a job comes eventually, we rent an apartment, we find new friends and lovers. in youth, the renewal of our identity comes to us without huge effort. Even a failed endeavor leads to new chances. A failed relationship leads to a new one.

It is on the “downhill slope” of life that the losses to our identity begin to outnumber the renewals. If we lose a job, it is hard to find another one (somebody younger is competing with you for it). If we get divorced, it is hard to find a new partner; all the good ones seem to be taken. Loss hits us harder, and renewal requires more effort.

That is why I’ve come to feel that, as the ancient Hindus thought in their Four Stages of Life, the second half of life is a fertile time for spiritual inquiry and practice. Buddha taught that loss — dukkha — is embedded in the fabric of life. But it is when we are older that the truth of that fact truly hits home. I think the experience of loss is what brings people to want to study Buddhism, and the desire to understand and transform ours and others’ losses is what keeps us at it. That was true for prince Siddhartha and it is so for us.

There is no need to “get rid of the ego.” The ego, the self, the ever-changing landscape of identity — none of those are the actual problem. The actual problem is that when loss comes we clutch, we tend to respond fearfully and selfishly, with clinging and resistance; we become ego-istic. Paying attention to all of that, examining it closely over and over with the practices of precepts, mindfulness, and meditation, is the nub of Buddhist practice. It is the work of a lifetime. Loss is not all there is. The fundamental spiritual message of Buddhism is upbeat, not downbeat. Joy in the midst of suffering and loss is not only possible, but attainable. That is Buddha’s third noble truth: in the midst of suffering, there is release from suffering.

I actually don’t know what it means to “get rid of the ego.” But I have had cherished good teachers and wise spiritual friends who have transformed ego and identity into a vessel of awakening and compassion, and who dedicate themselves to continuing their spiritual efforts and working for the relief of suffering wherever they can.That is a good identity to have. It’s called “Buddha,” which means “awake.” Buddha is our deepest identity; it is always with us.

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What happens at the time of death? (Eckhart Tolle)

Eckhart Tolle explains what happens at the time of death, where the life force goes and what is the transformation of this phenomenon we call death.

Eckhart Tolle’s explanation is followed with “ALL IS WELL!”

There is no such thing as death; death is merely a transition from one form into another form or from one form into formlessness

The Autobiography of a Yogi: A Tribute to Yogananda ~ Philip Goldberg


This week marks the 60th anniversary of the death of one of the 20th century’s most important spiritual figures. On March 7, 1952, Paramahansa Yogananda passed away in Los Angeles from an acute coronary occlusion, just after speaking at a banquet in honor of the Indian ambassador. In his last speech he said, “Somewhere between the two great civilizations of efficient America and spiritual India lies the answer for a model world civilization.” He worked tirelessly to achieve that dream, ever since 1920, when he arrived in America, and to the extent that an East-West synthesis has been realized, he deserves as much credit for it as anyone.

Yogananda is best known for his groundbreaking memoir, “Autobiography of a Yogi.” It has sold well over four million copies since its publication in 1947, and I suspect it has been read by two or three times that many, because it is the sort of book people lend to their friends. This was especially true in the 1960s and ’70s, when Baby Boomer seekers were thirsty for Eastern wisdom and couldn’t afford the five bucks to buy the AY, as it has come to be known. (I know the hardcover cost five dollars then because I still have my copy, and I hope this essay will repay the karma of not returning it to whoever loaned it to me.) Based on my research for my own book, American Veda, the AY prompted more Americans to explore Indian spirituality than any other text.

An iconic memoir would be legacy enough for any spiritual leader, but Yogananda’s contribution far exceeded that book. The first major Indian teacher to settle in America, he was rightly called by the Los Angeles Times “the 20th century’s first superstar guru.” After arriving in Boston to lecture on “The Science of Religion,” he toured the country addressing huge audiences. In 1924, he made L.A. (which he dubbed “the Benares of America”) his permanent home and the headquarters of his Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF). Anyone who has visited the organization’s Southern California facilities knows why I say that the founder had the best real estate karma of any other guru.

I often cite Yogananda as a leading example of the qualities that virtually all successful Eastern spiritual teachers possessed. Because he spoke eloquent English and was well schooled in Western ways before leaving India, he could communicate to rational Americans ideas that must have seemed exotic and strange in the pre-World War II era. His reverence for Jesus made him non-threatening to Christians, even though his yogic interpretation of Jesus’s teachings was unconventional to say the least. At the same time, his logic and pragmatism made his ideas acceptable to secular audiences as well. He skillfully tread the fine line between maintaining the integrity of his tradition (Hinduism in general and Kriya Yoga in particular) while also adapting the language, format and delivery systems to modern America. It didn’t take him long, for instance, to offer Sunday services — complete with pews and organ music in some locations — because that’s the day Americans get spiritual. He also distributed some of his teachings by mail order, a somewhat newfangled technology in the 1920s.

Yogananda arrived the year Warren G. Harding was elected, and he died during Harry S. Truman’s last year in office. His legacy is still going strong. SRF, along with some smaller breakaway organizations (the largest is Ananda Sangha), are represented in virtually every major city. Of all the gurus who came here, only Swami Vivekananda, founder of the Vedanta Society, and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement, can match his impact.

His success can be attributed to several factors, in addition to his seminal autobiography: his long tenure in this country, his personal charisma, his results-driven package of offerings, and his appeal to both secular and religious students. Everyone who meditates, goes to yoga classes or has, in any way, benefited from India’s great spiritual heritage, owes a debt of gratitude to Yogananda. It is only fitting that he is interred in the resting place of so many American celebrities, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, five miles from the hilltop sanctuary that he made his home.


Philip Goldberg is a spiritual counselor, public speaker, and author or coauthor of numerous books. His latest publication is American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation, How Indian Spirituality Changed the West. His websites are http://www.AmericanVeda.com and http://www.PhilipGoldberg.com

YOGANANDA THE MOVIE

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