Thursday, May 28, 2015


Saints and truly holy people are rare. As we notice the sea of humanity around us, we sense that our lives are immersed in a vast ocean of mundane mediocrity. Just as great musicians such as the Beatles are rare, so too are the great spiritual masters.

In 1982 I had an unusually vivid dream. I was 25 years old and I just read the classic book "Autobiography of a Yogi." I decided to visit the Temple of Kriya Yoga in Chicago. The founder, Goswami Kriyananda, invited some of us to a free meditation class. That night, at exactly 4 am, I clearly saw Goswami Kriyananda in a dream touch me between the eyebrows as he said, "This is your first spiritual initiation." I awoke startled, but energized by this inspiring and prophetic dream.

Swami Kriyananda was absolutely right. Years after that inspiring dream I received dozens of blessings, initiations and empowerments (called "abhishekas" in Tibetan) from some of the world's greatest living saints. Now, the reader may be thinking: "I don't have the time or money to travel around Nepal and India visiting great masters." Consider this: I was actually living in Colorado, near the Boulder/Denver area when I visited these enlightened beacons of humanity. 

Here are some inspiring masters who visited this area: the Dalai Lama, the 17th Karmapa, Penor Rinpoche, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Khyentse Rinpoche, Garchen Rinpoche, Sri Karunamayi, Amritanandamayi Devi (in Albuquerque), Anandi Ma, Mother Meera, Sri Shivabalayogi, Sri Sai Kaleshwar, and many more. 

Mother Meera does not utter a single word, yet, hundreds of people eagerly await her blessings. She simply sits on a chair, on a stage, and quietly blesses hundreds of people, and then she quietly leaves the stage.

Of the female gurus who have become well known in the West and in India, Mother Meera seems the most enigmatic. She has no ashram, no teachings, no rituals, and she doesn't give discourses. She is regarded by her disciples and by herself as a divine incarnation. Mother Meera explains: "I knew who I am at birth. There has never been a separation between me and the Divine."

 Amritanandamayi Devi has hugged people TENS of MILLIONS of times in her life. I've seen her marathon human-hugging sessions: She hugged over 1,000 people from 6:30 pm to 5:00 am without taking even a ten-minute break. And she loved every minute of it!

Sri Karunamayi enjoys giving personal blessings and conducting homas (sacred fire ceremonies). These homas help purify the karma of those attending and the area around the homa benefits. A huge amount of literally palpable, positive energy is generated during a homa, as sacred mantras are chanted and offerings are tossed into the fire.

Watching these saints is akin to watching great musicians. They make it look easy - until you try it yourself. Giving unconditional love to thousands - or millions - of people is mind boggling. Before she started touring, Sri Karunamayi spent 10 years in deep meditation in the forests of Andhra Pradesh in India. And that's all she did - meditate! The average person can't sit still for more than 30 minutes!

These saintly gurus have, with the help of God, mastered themselves. They do not appear to be driven by personal greed and petty desires. Therefore, when they say something, I listen carefully. Spending time around them is therapeutic because you realize that all these prayers, mantras and meditations have real value. People can do these practices to grow spiritually, or, at least not create major karmic mistakes.

Many years ago I walked right past the classic "Autobiography of a Yogi." For two years I saw this amazing book in bookstores and libraries, but I ignored it thinking this is probably a dull read. When I finally did read the book, I was utterly fascinated, and reading it even changed my life.  I was open-minded enough to believe that "Autobiography of a Yogi" is a factual - not fictional - account of a great master's life.

One of the key messages of "Autobiography of a Yogi" is that India is still producing great saints. We need not spend our lives venerating tombs or relics (which is a good idea, too) when there are living masters available. Years after reading "Autobiography of a Yogi," I immersed myself in  teachings of the Dalai Lama and other great Tibetan masters. These teachings encouraged me to visit a panoply of saintly gurus, swamis, rinpoches and lamas. And from each of these enlightened masters I learned something. At the very least I saw in front of me real people who were living at very high levels of consciousness, and I left these meetings feeling optimistic. It was comforting to know these ancient teachings are as viable  today as they were thousands of years ago.

Sometimes a book or saintly guru appears in my life when I’m most eager for those lessons. That  in itself is a lesson. Currently, I'm reading the classic book "Tibetan Book of the Dead." I'm fascinated that such a detailed knowledge of the afterlife exists, and this wisdom is accessible to anyone who takes the time to read this work. The Dalai Lama thinks so highly of this classic text that he wrote a very detailed 14-page commentary for it.

Curious readers may wonder if I was raised in a Buddhist family. Most definitely NOT! My father was an incurable, raging alcoholic who taught me this golden lesson: do not emulate a chronically angry sot who subjects other people to his hellish mind. Buddhism also has common sense: why indulge in counterproductive angry, negative thoughts all day? A rational person realizes that constantly nurturing negative thoughts results in: alcoholism, criminal mischief, trips to jail, drunken tantrums, drunken debauchery, bar room brawls, contusions, street-corner ranting, visits to local mental institutions, etc.

Most of us are not highly-advanced meditators who can sit in samadhi 12 hours a day - or even one hour a day. Tibetan Buddhism, therefore, places importance on visiting and venerating stupas, reciting mantras, reading sutras, etc. All these practices leave strong karmic imprints in the mind. Animals, too, greatly benefit from hearing mantras and sutras. Let your cats or dogs hear Tibetan and Hindu mantras - they will benefit greatly.

 Now, when you do any meditative practices, cats will sense your peaceful aura and sit on your lap. Let them sit there while you recite mantras for them. You can also recite mantras for dogs or any animal. Indeed, it is exceedingly rare for animals to come into contact with the Dharma. According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, letting animals hear these precious mantras leaves strong positive karmic imprints in their minds and in their next life they will hopefully receive Dharma teachings - preferably as a human! The Chenrezig mantra OM MANI PADME HUM is an easy mantra to recite.

I spent much time visiting "The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya" in Colorado, and the "Amitabha Stupa" in Sedona, Arizona. Sedona is such a beautiful, special place and a stupa seems perfectly at home there, blessing the beautiful landscape. Stupas are made to be venerated and they contain sacred relics of great Buddhist Saints, and millions of mantras, too. Just seeing a holy stupa plants positive imprints in our mental continua.

Astute readers may find this article in "The Village Voice," interesting: Actor Jim Carey visits the great hugging saint Amritanandamayi Devi. Go to:
Swami Rama had supernormal qualities that baffled Western scientists. Back in the 1970's Swami Rama revolutionized our understanding of human mind control over physiology. Researchers at the Menninger Institute in Topeka, Kansas hooked Swami Rama up to their EEGs, EKGs and temperature monitors. Western scientists had never believed India's yogis could do what the Indians always claimed they could - controlling every component of their physical bodies to the extent that they appeared virtually lifeless according to the electric printouts, yet remain fully conscious.

The swami demonstrated full mastery of his autonomic nervous system, which until then most Western doctors assumed was impossible. Swami Rama considered these tests trivial compared to the real value of yoga. Stopping one's heartbeat or regulating the temperature in individual cells of his body (skills he actually demonstrated there) was interesting, but the real value of yoga is its deep and transforming effect on human consciousness. Visit:

It's ironic that today's world of technology is actually shedding light on time-tested, ancient practices such as meditation and yoga. Meditation and technology need not be mutually exclusive. Human minds discovered meditation and human minds also discovered technology. We know, too, from anecdotal evidence that these age-old practices have great benefit.

Mark Matousek wrote an article about visiting these enlightened people: "Daniel Goleman first became aware of spiritual energy three decades ago in Asia. The author of the best-selling book "Emotional Intelligence," Goleman was a Harvard graduate studying meditation in India when he noticed that most seasoned practioners exuded what he calls 'a special quality, magnetic in a quiet sense.' Contrary to stereotype, these spiritual types did not seem otherworldly at all. 'They were lively and engaged,' he says, 'extremely present, involved in the moment, often funny, yet profoundly at peace - equanimous in disturbing situations.' What's more, it seemed to him that this quality was communicable: 'You always felt better than before you'd spent time with them, and this feeling lasted.'

Goleman discovered that the components of spiritual energy are as carefully quantified in ancient traditions as waves and particles are in physics. One of the words used to describe this magnetic state is sukha, he says, a Pali expression denoting a sense of 'repleteness, contentment, delight, a calm, abiding joy regardless of external circumstances.' Sukha is selfless in nature and connected to a greater purpose - which is why it increases through service to others."

Mark Matousek continues: "Such transmission is more palpable than a skeptic might expect, as San Francisco psychologist Paul Ekman saw after spending a week in Dharamsala with the Dalai Lama. The foremost authority on the physiology of emotion, Ekman - who is not Buddhist - had been invited to engage in a cross-cultural dialogue between Western scientists and His Holiness, along with several monks. Ekman left the meeting deeply moved. 'These monks were unlike any human beings I had encountered before,' he says. 'They were joyous in a way I had never seen, except perhaps, in my daughter at two or three years old.'

Ekman detected four characteristics common to people with this energy: a palpable goodness, first of all that went far beyond some 'warm and fuzzy aura,' and seemed to arise from genuine integrity. Next, an impression of selflessness - a lack of concern with status, fame, and ego - a transparency between their personal and public lives that set them apart from those with charisma, who often are often one thing on the outside, another when you look under the surface.

Third, Ekman noticed that this expansive, compassionate energy nurtured others. Finally, he was struck by the 'amazing powers of attentiveness' displayed by these individuals.

In his book 'Destructive Emotions,' Goleman cites a recent study involving a monk being monitored in a laboratory while he meditates on compassion. Among other findings, scientists saw a dramatic increase in gamma energy (sparked in the part of the brain associated with positive emotions), proving that through concern for others we can create measurably greater well being in ourselves " - O Magazine article "Spiritual Energy" by Mark Matousek 

Enlightenment is not easily attained. Saintly gurus and rinpoches can teach us meditation, help us purify karma, give us mantras, or even give personal-lifestyle advice. But we, ourselves, must do the hard work of climbing the spiritual ladder. We, all by ourselves, must be mindful of our minds and wrestle with inner demons. Or, As Ramakrishna, the Indian avatar would say: "The world is a madhouse of lust, anger and greed." Who could argue with that statement? And that was before the Kardashians!

Call it karma, fate or destiny that I was drawn to Eastern wisdom. I’m not downplaying a long history of great Christian mystics, as much as I relish the experience of enlightened teachers who are very much alive. Through the miracle of Web technology, we can access information about various teachers simply by cruising the Web. So, if I did not read  books, study Web sites, and visit these saintly gurus, I would have short changed myself greatly. But I trusted my intuition that there's more to life than baseball and barbeques. Our lives our meant to have meaning. We need not waste our earthly existence brooding over the Kardashians and reality TV. - By Scott Palczak (Scott Lane)

Great Stupa of Dharmakaya website:
Amitabha Stupa website:
Maitreya Relic Tour:



Amma Sri Karunamayi is one of India's greatest living saints. I've been visiting Amma every year for 15 years, and April 3, 2015 was the first time I saw her give a lengthy and heartfelt discourse denouncing violence against women. She also lamented human trafficking, and missing girls.

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where trafficking victims are exploited for commercial sex purposes by means of force, fraud or coercion, according to the U.S. Department of State. One reason human trafficking is prevalent in the United States is related to our 1.7 million teenage runaways. Many of these teens end up in hands of a trafficker (a pimp), who gives promises such as shelter, protection, etc.

Amma passionately desires real change in the world regarding these issues. She said that if a woman becomes president of the United States, much more attention will be given to these issues.

Amma also mentioned that meat eating contributes to aggressive behavior and she recommends a vegetarian diet. A vegetarian, sattvic diet is meant to include food and eating habits that are "pure, essential, natural, vital, energy-containing, clean, conscious, true, honest, wise". Sattvic diet is a regimen that places emphasis on seasonal foods, fruits, dairy products, nuts, seeds, oils, ripe vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and non-meat based proteins. Some Sattvic diet suggestions, such as its relative emphasis on dairy products, is controversial.

Paramahansa Yogananda wrote in his "Autobiography of a Yogi " about how Mahatma Gandhi had concern and compassion for cows.

At ten-thirty we were called to the ashram porch for lunch with Gandhi and the satyagrahis. Today the menu included brown rice, a new selection of vegetables, and cardamon seeds.

Noon found me strolling about the ashram grounds, on to the grazing land of a few imperturbable cows. The protection of cows is a passion with Gandhi. "The cow to me means the entire sub-human world, extending man's sympathies beyond his own species," the Mahatma explained. "Man through the cow is enjoined to realize his identity with all that lives. Why the ancient rishis selected the cow for apotheosis is obvious to me. The cow in India was the best comparison; she was the giver of plenty. Not only did she give milk, but she also made agriculture possible. The cow is a poem of pity; one reads pity in the gentle animal. She is the second mother to millions of mankind. Protection of the cow means protection of the whole dumb creation of God. The appeal of the lower order of creation is all the more forceful because it is speechless."

Certain daily rituals are enjoined on the Orthodox Hindu. One is Bhuta Yajna, an offering of food to the animal kingdom. This ceremony symbolizes man's realization of his obligations to less evolved forms of creation - instinctively tied to body identification (a delusion that afflicts man also) but lacking the liberating quality of reason peculiar to humanity.
- from "Autobiography of a Yogi"

Amma says in her biography that during her 10 years of deep meditation, poisonous snakes such as cobras would crawl over her, and tigers and deer would sit near her. These were WILD tigers and NOT defanged cobras! She said during the homa that she was not afraid of these animals and the jungle is safer than our society! Amma also said in her biography that she does not like to walk on grass because it hurts the grass!

Paramahansa Yogananda in his "Autobiography of a Yogi" wrote: "Master as far as I know, was never at close quarters with a leopard or tiger. But a deadly cobra once confronted him, only to be conquered by his love.

We were seated outdoors near the ashram. A cobra appeared nearby, a four-foot length of sheer terror. Its hood was angrily expanded as it raced toward us. Master gave a welcoming chuckle, as though to a child. I was filled with consternation to see Sri Yukteswar engage in a rhythmical clapping of hands. He was entertaining the dread visitor! The serpent's frightful hood gradually contracted; the snake slithered between Sri Yukteswarji's feet and disappeared into the bushes."

After her heartfelt discourse, Amma blessed probably 400 or more people individually. Each person writes on an index card what he or she needs and hands their card to Amma. Amma is always happy to see her "divine children" as she calls her followers. She is like a spiritual mother to her infants who need nurturing.

As usual, the festive and wonderfully sublime homa was charged with positive energy, as 300 people chanted and worshipped Ganesha, Shiva, Saraswati, and Lakshmi. Even small dogs seem to enjoy homas, and I think to myself, "You lucky dogs!" These homas are stashed in my memory as some of the most positive experiences in my life.


A homa or fire offering is a sacred ceremony in which the gods and goddesses are offered oblations through the medium of fire, according to Vedic spiritual injunctions, while special mantras are recited. A homa is performed during specific auspicious occasions for the benefit of the entire world as well as the participants.

Sri Karunamayi has stated that homas and abhishekams "purify the earth's atmosphere, uplift the community, and contribute to the individual."

An abhishekam is a ceremony of ablutions and symbolic offerings that include milk, honey, ghee and other items. The ablutions symbolize spiritual purification, and each of the offerings represent fulfilment on every level. Throughout the abhishekam, specific mantras are chanted to invoke blessings that uplift, protect and spiritually benefit us.

I'll admit this: I'm a glutton for homas, pujas, and Tibetan rituals and I will seek out blessings from any saint or rinpoche, as often as possible. I have plenty of time for mundane activities: working, shopping, reading newspapers, watching TV, but how often can I spend time with a great saint?

But homas are not merely a spectator sport, although simply witnessing one is good karma. During a homa I concentrate on chanting mantras and quietly mumbling prayers. Amma's devotees inform us that the benefits of chanting mantras during a homa are multiplied thousands of times. Therefore, I try to maximize the time spent at a homa.

Now, my faith in homas and Amma's teachings are based on my perception that Amma is  a great mahatma (great soul). Thousands of people who have spent time with her also share my convictions. Rather than be endlessly - or needlessly - critical of Sri Karunamayi, I've chosen to observe her kindness in action and I found that she walks the talk: her teachings are who she truly is.

Humanity is spread along a spectrum of knowledge, wisdom and awareness. Self-knowledge, divine awareness, utter humility and unconditional love elevate the mahatmas above ordinary people. Mindfulness, pity, guilt, and repentance elevate ordinary people above the demonic.

Ordinary people perform actions from a sense of duty and expectation of some return. But the mahatmas perform actions with total freedom. There is no good or bad associated with any action; action performed without any expectation or self-gratification is the key to freedom. This is also action from a true experience of freedom and total awareness.

I often wonder how many lifetimes I've spent visiting the great mahatmas and rinpoches. Who knows how many lives these great souls have influenced? Who knows how diminished our sordid planet would be without their presence? - by Scott Palczak


Paramahansa Yogananda wrote in his "Autobiography of a Yogi": "India, materially poor for the last two centuries, yet has an inexhaustible fund of divine wealth; spiritual 'skyscrapers' may occasionally be encountered by the wayside."

"Solitude is necessary to become established in the Self, but masters then return to the world to serve it. Even saints who engage in no outward work bestow, through their thoughts and vibrations, more precious benefits on the world than can be given by the most strenuous humanitarian activities of unenlightened men. The great ones, each in his own way strive selflessly to inspire and uplift their fellows." - by Paramahansa Yogananda


Swami Muktananda stated: "The saints of all countries have revealed the same truth - that God is everywhere. They have become one with God. All they see is God, not individuals, sects, countries, parties, and cults - not even East or West. They experience the Truth in everyone and teach others to do the same. Everywhere they see equality. They have surmounted body-consciousness. They have risen beyond the man-made limitations of religious groups. Everything they do is for the benefit of all people."

"The Bhagavad Gita says one is one's own best friend and one's own worst enemy. Our own thoughts and desires are responsible for the ugliness around us or the heaven around us."

"The Guru has done his work if he has awakened your inner Shakti, but that does not mean there is no need for self-effort. Self-effort and the Guru's grace are like two wings of a bird: The bird needs both to fly."


Austerities in the Sacred Penusila Forest

As she grew into a young woman, Amma felt an inner urge to begin spending more and more time in the family worship room, immersed in prayer and meditation. As she was now a first-year college student, she was forced to make time for meditation by reducing the time she spent sleeping. As her meditations deepened and intensified, she also began reducing her intake of food. These meditation sessions grew in length until one day Amma locked herself inside a room of the house and remained there in meditation for a month.

Though her family members were perplexed, they did not dare to disturb her, having witnessed the profundity of her meditations before. When she finally emerged, she seemed like a different person to her family members. Though she still showed the same sweet affection to which they were accustomed, her demeanor now expressed a more impersonal, universal love. Determined to fulfill the sacred purpose of her life, Amma gently told her mother that it was time for her to go into seclusion in the sacred Penusila Forest, to meditate there in solitude. Always respectful of her daughter’s divine nature, and trusting completely in God, Amma’s mother did not try to stop her from going.

In the year 1980, at the tender age of 21, Amma left the comfort and security of her parents’ home and traveled by foot to the remote and sacred Penusila Forest, where a number of India’s ancient sages had meditated for many hundreds of years. There, she was free to live according to principles established by India’s ancient Vedic sages. Rising at 2:30 in the morning, Amma would bathe with cold water from a pure river. Wearing only a simple cotton sari, she would go to one of the forest’s many sacred groves and remain there, absorbed in meditation for hours, days, or even weeks at a time.

Local villagers who spotted her sometimes mistook her for a statue, as they could not even detect the movement of breath in her perfectly still form. Some of the more mischievous ones would toss small pebbles on her, just to see if she was really alive or just a corpse! Others, feeling that only an incarnation of the Divine Mother could sit for so long in deep meditation, would leave small offerings of fruit before her. Whether she emerged from her meditations to find stones or fruit in front of her, Amma always maintained a state of perfect equanimity and gave her blessings to all, regardless of how they treated her.

Amma never felt that these meditations were done for her own sake, as she was following the example of India’s ancient Vedic sages, who meditated for hundreds of years in order to discover the best teachings for all of mankind. Through Amma’s austerities, she determined which of the Vedic teachings and practices would be of greatest benefit to people living in this difficult modern age. After performing such intense tapasya for over 10 years, Amma decided that it was time to share her knowledge with all those who thirsted for true spirituality, wherever they may live in the world.

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