Tagged: autobiographical

My Daily Rituals with Monks

monk calig
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

For centuries monks have practiced daily meditations, prayers, and sacramental rituals.

The daily rituals of meditation, chanting, and prayer of the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) Monks’ included:

5:30 – 6:30 A.M. Arise, private meditation
7:00 – 8:00 A.M. Group meditation in Monks’ Chapel
12:00 – 12:30 P.M. Meditation, group or private
6:00 – 7:00 P.M. Group Meditation in the Monks’ Chapel
9:00 – 10:00 P.M. Before bed, private meditation

To summarize, the time SRF monks’ spent in meditation, chanting, and prayer:

4½ hours daily
1,643 hours annually (1y x 365d x 4.5h)
30% of the monks’ waking hours are spent in these daily rituals.

More often than not, an SRF monk’s meditation resulted in nothing extraordinary. Practice of sacred rituals could easily turn into mindless, dull routine–when a monk neglected his spiritual “duty” or lacked self-surrender. Restlessness, anxiety, aches and pains of the body and mind, drowsiness, sleep, and daydreams were frequently the monks default experience during rituals. A monk learned to discipline his body, mind, and emotions. Or, a monk harshly judged himself, felt guilt, and slid into self-shame.

Effort, Betsy Streeter, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Effort, Betsy Streeter, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A monk could spend days, weeks, and years in meditation only to feel he’s made no progress whatsoever. Or, that his practices were getting worse instead of better. During these times a monk’s faith in god and his will to stay in the monastery was severely tested. Some traditions called these spiritual tests the ‘dark night of the soul’. An aspirant could feel totally lost and completely discouraged. (In the privacy of my room, I often lay myself prostrate on the floor before a makeshift altar on my dresser, and begged with god and guru to save me from myself. The only way out of my ‘dark night’, I was taught and thought, was the way through: surrender, faith to the divine). Monks are human.

Occasionally, though, a monk’s meditations would flow effortlessly into a deep state of awareness: his thoughts, breath, feelings–everything–ceased to exist. Momentary experiences of stillness, bliss, or nirvana. During these rare moments he received “proof” of god or rewards for his spiritual efforts. Though our sacred rituals were supposed to be conducted as pure offerings to god, given without attachment or desire to get anything back. Feelings of peace and bliss were attributed to efforts from meditation. Negative thoughts and feelings to our egos. To persevere for 4½ hours everyday for years, required occasional “signs and wonders”. Our spiritual investments had to pay off in “miracles” and salvation. Had to.

See my posts Hacking The Flow and Meditation & Mindfulness

For more about the power of daily rituals listen to Accidental Creative: The Dailies

Questions for readers: Do you think sacred daily rituals are helpful or harmful? Do you have any examples in your life?

The Postulant House Cat: Queen Nefertari

Nefertari Merit-en-Mut,  (nefertari mon amour), Photo : Dario J. Laganà, Model: Erika
Nefertari Merit-en-Mut,
(nefertari mon amour), Photo : Dario J. Laganà, Model: Erika

Tari, the postulant monks’ house cat, was treated like a queen. Tari was short for Queen Nefertari. The postulant monk in charge of Tari’s care and feeding was kind-of a pet of the pet Tari and of Brotherji.

Brotherji was the respectful short name for Brother Premamoy, the esteemed House Brother of the Postulant ashram or monastery. Brotherji was a real Count from Slovenia. Some people called him the Prince of Yugoslavia. For he was indeed from a royal family, and was a most gracious host and deeply caring person.

Monastery legend, or rumor depending on your perspective, was that Brotherji was the reincarnation of King Ramesses II, the great Egyptian Pharaoh and husband of the historic Queen Nefertari.

We monks rumored over other legends about which great world-leaders and poets were now reincarnate as the spiritual directors and leaders of the Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order. Yogananda was Charlemagne and Shakespeare, as SRF folklore went.

Tari (aka Nefertari), the postulant house cat.
Tari (aka Nefertari), the postulant monks’ house cat.

The real and historic Brother Premamoy (1910 -1990) was, according to Winter 1990 Self-Realization Magazine, imprisoned in three concentration camps for his participation in the Resistance movement during the Nazi occupation in WWII. After immigrating to the U.S., Brother Premamoy joined the SRF Monastic Order in the 1950s. Many other real and speculative stories, coupled with Brother’s noble personality, drew us monks into reverential awe of him. Perhaps that lent more credulity to our legend that he might be the reincarnation of the Pharaoh King, Ramesses II?

Interesting historical side note: The ancient Egyptians worshipped cats, including the lion-goddess Mafdet and the cat goddess Bast or Bastet. Archaeologists have unearthed tens of thousands of Egyptian mummies of cats and humans. Entombed, mummified bodies were preserved for the “afterlife”. So the legends go.

Question to readers: Are humans gullible enough to worship anything or anyone as a god or goddess? What else do we deify that may not be considered a “traditional” god?

A Recovering Yogaholic

The Lure of Yoga

http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-4045309177
A Chinese Australian, photo by Alex Proimos

A friend asked me recently, “Why don’t you just let people believe what they want if it makes them feel good? After all, belief in things like angels, energy healing, or yogic powers can make people feel good and help them cope with their confusing lives in a scary world”.

We are confronted every day with fantastic, bizarre, and outrageous claims. Your friend tells you she was healed by energy, has spirit guides, or that yoga released the bliss of her soul. Or, your buddy claims some new pills are supposed to help you shed 30 pounds in less than 30 days; or, supplements promise to extend certain male parts by inches; or, a spritz of Paris’s perfume will transform you into the ultimate seducer, complete with gorgeous babes clinging on your buff arms. See a familiar pattern of thinking or the lack of critical-thinking here?

Smart People With Irrational Beliefs

Many smart and intelligent people have irrational beliefs. Especially when it comes to paranormal and supernatural things like- the afterlife, astral projection, chakras, ESP, kundalini, psychics, reincarnation, souls, yogic or mystical powers- all are irrational beliefs. You may revolt at my statement, but it’s true. All these beliefs have no basis in reality. Consider me your case study and read on.

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I Was A Monk

For 14 years, I lived in the ashrams of a Worldwide Eastern-Religious organization, Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order. Everyday, I practiced silent meditation an average of 4 hours, studied holy scriptures, and followed the ancient traditions of yoga mysticism. I’d never imagined I’d be, but here I was, a Western kid, raised Catholic, a yogi monk!

Br. Scott, in the yellow habit "smock" of Self-Realization Fellowship monk
Br. Scott, in the yellow habit “smock” of Self-Realization Fellowship monk

I was known at the time as Brahmachari Scott and was ordained in the ancient Order of Swamis of India — yellow smocked, celibate, $40 monthly allowance in my pocket and determined to find God, Self, Enlightenment. For reasons that are as complicated as life gets, I realized 14 years later that I really didn’t belong in the monastery (the abbreviated story’s here if you’re interested). That wasn’t the end, though. In the most important ways, my story only started to unfold (or unravel) when I fell back into the world.

To say that I’d given up the purpose why I became a monk in the first place would be false. My quest for knowledge and truth continued, out in the world, in my business, in my relationships with self, others, and the universe. I’m highly skeptical of religious authorities claiming they have or can give us enlightenment, truth, and supernatural experiences. Perhaps, you also may consider that science and the scientific method are the most reliable way of understanding reality. Not perfect, but most reliable. 

I am, today, a nonbeliever. I don’t believe a god exists, but I admit I don’t know this as a fact. But there’s just no convincing evidence, and I’m looking. Gradually I’ve been coming to terms accepting that I was a monk, a believer in the supernatural. I don’t regret my past choices.  But, rarely, if ever, have I talked about my past as a monk or revealed that I turned out a nonbeliever. Perhaps, my silence has been from fear of being judged, shamed, or shunned by friends, family, and coworkers.

One of my favorite quotes is from the 1978 movie, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Gillenormand confesses, “I’ve been a fool”. Compassionately, Jean Valjean responds, “Oh sir, we’re all fools for most of our lives. It’s unavoidable”. That brings us to why I am talking with you now.

Why this blog?

Skeptic Meditations is about climbing over walls and outsmarting gods. It’s about being OK being a fool, about authenticity and honesty, about challenging belief in the supernatural and questioning religious authorities. Ultimately, this blog is about exploring the world — within and without — using hearty reason and the most reliable methods to understand reality — science and critical thinking.

By reading this blog’s weekly posts, you will find provocative views, reviews, humor, and commentary exploring the extraordinary claims of religious mystics, yogi-meditators, and New Age gurus and their religious followers.

This site is where I’ll collect resources for healthy, skeptical examination of supernatural beliefs and claims of the mystical. What do you think? I encourage you to share your comments in this blog and contribute to this conversation.[comment policy

Tell me what you think, or what you’d like to see in this blog by adding your comment below, by sending me an email, or sign up to receive new posts via RSS feed or by email.

The Open Road

I was a monk. Now, I’m a heretic, a nonbeliever.

Or, whatever labels you could give a doubter, skeptic, and explorer. Rarely, do I tell anyone I was a monk, or that I’m no longer a “believer”.  Yes, I lived for 14 years in the ashrams of Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order, a Worldwide “church of all religions” (Yogananda), founded by Indian Swami, Paramahansa Yogananda. According to Self-Realization Fellowship, their teachings are a blend of original Christianity and the Yoga Meditation traditions of the East, namely Hinduism. I was ordained as Brahmachari Scott and vowed to follow the disciplines and doctrines of the ancient Swami Order of India. [More About me].

You’re probably wondering, like me: Was the monastery, where I lived for 14 years, a cult? What IS a “cult”? Are Catholic priests in a cult? Or, you have some other valid or wild questions. I won’t try to answer these questions here, but plan to in future blog posts. But, back to what led me to start this blog…

During 2013, I stumbled upon a column in Scientific American magazine. I don’t remember that article’s title or topic, but I clearly remember the author, Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine. While reading Michael’s article on my iPhone that night, I realized I’m a skeptic and nonbeliever of supernatural claims. That moment started me on a journey.

Since my aha, “I’m a skeptic, nonbeliever”, moment I’ve been exploring and questioning:

  • Were my 14 years as a monk, meditating 4 hours a day, a waste of time?
  • What are the redeeming aspects of meditation, mysticism, and yoga? Any good come of it?
  • Will my family, friends, and society shun or embrace me as I come out as a former yogi monk? And/or, as a nonbeliever?

In a nutshell: This blog is where I will share, with everyone who may be interested, my journey and discoveries from exploring these kinds of questions.

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road…”, Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road