Contact: 939 Second Street, Encinitas; 760-436-7220; encinitastemple.org
Membership: 1000 individuals
Leader: Brother Pranavananda
Born: Alberta, Canada
Formation: University of Alberta, Canada (degrees in physics and philosophy); monastic formation through Self-Realization Fellowship
Years of monastic service: 37 years
San Diego Reader: How long do you spend writing your sermon?
BP: We don’t have sermons, properly speaking, but we do have lecture services Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings at the temple, so we do prepare a talk for those. The service involves both a period of meditation and an inspirational talk. I never really figured out how much time it’s taken to prepare for it because I’m always thinking about it in the background for a week or so before. But when I sit down to concentrate and work on it, the time it takes to prepare is probably about six hours.
SDR: What do you usually draw on for your talks?
BP: Self-Realization Fellowship is about the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda [1893–1952]. So we draw on his writings and teachings. The fundamental scriptures he drew upon were the Gospels and the Bhagavad-Gita of India. And part of his mission or teaching was that in essence these two scriptures teach the same thing — in terms of communion with God. They may be addressed in different languages to different cultures, but they communicate the same universal principles. So I pick a passage from the Gospels and a passage from the Bhagavad-Gita and I draw on our guru’s commentary and I build a sermon around them.
SDR: Where do we go when we die?
BP: What gives life to our material body is our body of life-energy, and at death that body of life-energy leaves the material body and goes to the realm of life-energy, which we call the astral realm. The astral realm is a realm of light and energy, and it is in many ways a heavenly realm — higher parts of it are definitely heavenly. And then above that at another level is the level of thought, so we each have a body of thought or consciousness and underlying that is the presence of God. So when we die, our astral body leaves our physical body and goes to the astral realm, but if we’re sufficiently spiritual, we can…even go to God. But it all depends on the individual. Our guru said that after death you’re the same person you were before. So if you want to be an angel after death, you better be an angel now.
SDR: What if you’re not such an angel in this life — where do you go?
BP: After death we are aware of the love and acceptance of God, but we are also very much aware of our own failings and weaknesses and that can cause suffering. Until a person is free in God, there is a great desire to reincarnate, either to fulfill material desires or to work out our problems so we can be free. So that is a form of suffering on the other side, and that can be a desire to reincarnate and not have the opportunity. I’d call reincarnation a process of evolution and learning and opportunities to fulfill ourselves. One lifetime is not enough. There are places of suffering, but there’s no soul that is ever eternally separated from God.