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Post-millennium, I moved permanently from America to India. Here, in the shadow of the sacred hill Arunachala, two decades from the day I conceived the idea and following seven major rewrites, I finished my first novel in the Moksha Trilogy: … Continue reading

THE DASHING FENCER

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8da3adf3c53bf14b391fd6a892025c43At a certain phase of my life, when I was desperately planning my escape from a city many would give their eye teeth (whatever that means!) to enjoy (Manhattan), I worked for a posh law firm and took every opportunity for overtime that I could, hoping to pay down my big fat mortgage, sell my adorable apartment, and flee to the Himalayas. One of my favorite lawyers to work for was the powerful head of the Real Estate Division and a multi-millionaire many times over.  During our post-midnight stints as he churned documents out and I whipped them into shape, he had let slip that as a young idealist he had dreamed of wandering India, ancient land of sacred cows and hoary temples, in quest of himself. But he had sold out when he won a scholarship to an ivy league outfit and even more when he had married a woman who wanted him to make more and more money so he could send their kids for horse-riding lessons and to vacations in Paris.

fb_img_1486272499213It must have been about 3 in the morning when my eyes fell on a photo on his desk. “Who’s that?” I asked, intrigued by the handsome and dashing figure of a young man dressed in fencing garb and brandishing a sword or whatever. He glared at me, offended. “That’s me,” he said. I laughed and shrugged, “how could I tell?” You have mask on.” But the truth was that that slender young man bore absolutely no resemblance to the pot-bellied rotund double-chinned bespectacled worry-wart before me. Continue reading

YOUNG SOUL, OLD SOUL

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Kiri 16GB sd card 6243-1The New Age (which I happen to mostly detest and keep my distance for, for really it is all recycled material that they use often to great detriment of depth and richness) has popularized many buzzwords and one is that someone or the other is an old soul. Now when I threw the words “young soul” at a close friend one day in frustration, he blew up at me and said these phrases were ridiculous nonsense. Not so, I said, for to me the difference between an old and a young soul is as clear as the full moon shining over Arunachala on a balmy summer’s night.

An Old Soul is simply a human who has seen through the mesmerizing veils of Maya, the Cosmic Enchantress. He or she has either experienced the double-edged sword of samsara in this lifetime, or his knowing has emerged from countless past lives. Never mind, but this person is no longer enchanted by stately mansions surrounded by a forest of palm trees, obscenely plump bank accounts or stock portfolios, expensive vehicles, supermodels, celebrities of all kinds, or by those pampered creatures with access to the so-called good life. Why is this? Simply because this person now knows for sure that while there is a great deal of pleasure to be drawn from the world, this pleasure is invariably followed by pain, which is why the mystics refer to indulgence in a hedonistic lifestyle as licking the honey off a razor’s edge. And what about the Young Soul? Oh, he or she is still dazzled by the façade, that’s all.

c945ed890f540a675b775ccb608893f3Now for the critical question: is one better than the other? My honest answer is, while I would prefer to be an Old Soul, the essence of both is exactly the same—pure existence, awareness and bliss. Would you turn back as you ascend an infinite stairway and have contempt for those who have just begun their journey of comprehending reality? Not if you were wise and loving, for sure. An Old Soul was once a  Young Soul and a Young Soul will inevitably evolve into an Old Soul, but, and it’s a big but, this depends on consistent effort. Liberation is guaranteed to all of us, but no one is saying when. So its up to us to prolong the suffering or not.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to open our inner eye so we can discriminate between the real and the unreal, between true joy and the fake pleasure that comes from the reckless enjoyment of the senses!

NEW!!! My latest book – COPPER MOON OVER PATALIPUTRA – just went live on Jun 30th. Read all about it and on how to get your own copy here.
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EVERYONE HAS A HIGHER POWER

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c54413c0d2a06f18743e8ad014a31eaeManhattan broke down my identity; in south India I was more or less confident that I could accomplish anything I set my mind on. I was popular, well-known in certain circles, and could have launched myself into a lucrative creative career had I wished to. Instead I suffered a deep dread of never leaving home and so I finagled my exit to a foreign country that I admired for many reasons. Yes, I loathed the deep-rooted misogyny, caste and class system I was surrounded by and longed for the freedom I hoped to find in America. But I was unprepared for the shocks to my system in the land of the brave and the free. Indeed, nothing was as I had expected it to be and I had to literally reinvent myself, alone, since my husband and in-laws were no help, and instead actively wanted to shove me into a box, lock me up, and throw away the key. You see, they had not expected an Indian woman to be feisty, independent and outspoken about her rights, and so they lashed out in me in a variety of inventive ways until I was deeply miserable despite abundant material comforts. My husband had promised that I could study creative writing and film at NYU, but now he ruthlessly nixed that idea and I found myself temping on Wall Street and in posh law firms, making a lot of money but still a prisoner of my new family and my husband in particular, who insisted on controlling our finances as well as the trajectory of our lives. Continue reading

CHEAP THRILLS

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9e1a511e7a9166a72e30bd913768d213Growing up in south India at a time when the West was not as accessible as it is to Indians today, my first glimmerings of the wild life I (delusionally) believed all Americans and Europeans led was via the thrillers of writers like James Hadley Chase. Yes, I read Agatha Christie too, and more sedate authors, but it was the paperback thrillers I found most addictive, for they spoke of hippies and drugs and scarlet women pouting at bad guys and getting murdered—and of course there was always the unwary bystander or canny detective who got dragged willy-nilly into the spicy stew.

Oh, how exciting it was to get one of those books in my greedy hands and to devour it at a single stretch! There were times I’d read a book a day, and since it wasn’t easy to find this kind of material lying around then, I’d woo anyone who had a home library and was willing to share his/her hoard with me.

It was my brother-in-law, an academic and professor, who dourly pointed out to me the effects that reading what he called ‘trash’ would have on my impressionable mind. It’s a hard addiction to break, he warned, and when you need to digest serious stuff, you won’t be able to. I dismissed his warnings since I was doing very well in academics myself, and believed, with all the raw arrogance of youth, that I knew better than preachy fuddy-duddies how to separate study from fun. Continue reading

MOUNTAIN GODDESS

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14876327_10155479883214199_334843953_o-768x575When I first landed in Dharamsala in the foothills of the Himalayas, straight from the frenetic city of Manhattan, I was lost and bewildered by a strange new world. Soon I found my way to the Tibetan Library, where every morning a beautiful old Geshe, aided by an English female translator, patiently taught us the ancient scriptures. I was sitting outside the small cafeteria when I saw a woman I liked on sight, nonchalantly rolling a cigarette. I asked her to roll me one, whereupon she handed me the fixings and retorted sarkily that if I wanted one, I’d have to roll it myself. Oh, I thought, amused, liking her even more, for she reminded me of folks in Manhattan who are also uncomfortably direct but also possess shining hearts of gold if you stick around long enough to get past the prickly surface.

We became friends, and I discovered she lived right above my beautiful apartment with the huge glass windows, through which I could gaze at the splendor of the snow-clad Himalayas. As a seasoned practitioner capable of handling any crisis, she was often impatient with me, rightly viewing me as a spoiled infant with no clue how to handle herself in a small Himalayan township peopled by hardy Tibetans (most of whom had bravely made their way over the mountains to be with their charismatic leader, who incidentally lived a mere ten minute walk away from me on the peak of a hill guarded by both Indians and his own people) and equally tough Indians. Continue reading

MELTDOWN BEFORE RAMANA

c04882f649c6e4d6bfe4fc61b45a5306Those who know me well are aware that I have an abysmally low threshold for pain of any kind. I feel terrible, not just when I suffer, but when I see other beings going through hell, whether human, animal, avian or insect. This makes mundane life extremely difficult to handle. Bad enough we are thrust into a baffling matrix without our permission, and then, if we make it through childhood and adolescence despite our ten thousand scars and wounds, we are confronted by the callous and relentless monsters of old age and death. Ghastly situation to be thrust into, eh?

Buddha’s first noble truth (life is suffering) persuades most seekers to enter the inner path. But there is a way out, the great sage went on to say, and if we cannot find it in the seeming pleasures of the external world, then the answer must lie within us. This is how it was for me—I tried everything to gain peace and joy via external means, but was finally whipped into making a sharp turnaround into my own heart. Finally I began to realize that everything the sages said about the true source of happiness being within is indeed a great truth—which does not mean all the blinders fall off our mortal eyes instantly and we float in an ocean of bliss. The process can be rapid at times, but one often hits sharp bumps in the road and learns to pick oneself off the ground and get a move on, even if we can only hobble forward.

Yesterday was Day 6 following my close encounter with a nasty wooden door that almost killed my little toe. I actually did a little hatha yoga and drove into town thinking happily that, from here on, recovery would be quick. Not so. I felt drained and sluggish, and when I dragged myself to sit before Ramana’s gorgeous portrait in the Old Hall, I was an emotional mess. Physical suffering had weakened me greatly and I had a great flash of empathy for all those on the planet who grapple with chronic pain. I wondered again why we have to suffer at all. What is the point? I cried silently out to Ramana.

13e269e7dd2189555144fd97b22322e4Tears came in a rush and I was grateful that I had found a corner where I was shielded from curious eyes. I cried silently until the emotional storm passed and Ramana watched me, as he always does, with an inscrutable smile. Once again I marveled at how he had borne with the agony of cancer for two years before his emaciated body finally passed away. Then I thought of the brilliant comet that streaked upward from his room at the exact moment of his passing to unite with Arunachala. Many had witnessed this celestial occurrence.

And what about Nisargadatta? He was more voluble about his pain, but nevertheless, he taught until the very end and was his spectacular self all the way through. And then there is me, whining about being held hostage in the house and bemoaning the loss of my usual vibrant energy. Oh well, comparisons are odious, and as my old friend Subramania (I call him my Taoist sage) said to me today as we crossed paths in the Ashram, the emotional component of pain is the worst of all. Only rarely is a Ramana or a Nisargadatta born—the rest of us must muddle through.

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All that crying must have done me a world of good because later I felt amazingly light and bright. One day, as I used to sing to myself as I danced across the wooden floor of my Manhattan apartment, I will understand the cosmic mystery and exist in pure bliss. Until then, I allow myself to feel all my feelings even as I sink deeper into the substratum that is common to all beings and which is what unites all beings into Oneness. Advaita, it is true, is not two!

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who whips us when we least expect it, because he’s the omniscient master of the cosmos and knows exactly what will get us racing towards the light!

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BLIND TURTLE

093d6129aef69cc93b9491ff2145c593
It took eons for mini-me to put her baggage down
On this speeding Moksha Train Bound for Bliss;
Impossible to express this tidal wave of gratitude
Surging up from my Spiritual Heart now that I AM
In your fiery embrace, O Arunachala!
 
Namaste for teaching me how to burn this false notion of separation!
Oh yes, I am aware of how tenderly and carefully
You sent situations and humans to me
With orders to shoot a special message into my heart;
Only because I was porous with the pain,
Your celestial arrows lodged firmly in that sacred space.
 
You taught me gratitude for every little thing, “good” and “bad;”
As if I were your own precious child,
Most of all for the astonishing gift of life.
As shining beings freely shared with me their timeless wisdom,
I learned about a Blind Turtle who rests on
The bed of an ocean the size of this cosmos,
The poor creature being allowed to rise to the surface
Only once in a hundred years.
 
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What chance of her wattled neck sliding up through
A wooden ring bobbing on the vast expanse of those choppy waters?
Slim, perhaps impossible; and yet, this great miracle has happened to all those committed
To freeing ourselves from Maya’s web of illusion.
 
You keep us moving bravely through
The often dense and terrifying darkness of samsara
By your divine assurance that once the fetters of the unreal fall off,
All that is left is the incandescent Self:
Blissful, immortal, loving, wise, fearless, connected to all beings.
 
Bhagavan RamanaHow can I thank you for loving me so intensely, O Holy Hill,
That you feel no compunction in shattering my final defenses,
Just so I can finally come to rest in the pure sunlight of Spirit?
 
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Also Check out – ARUNACHALA, NOT ABRACADABRA
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MY LITTLE TOE!

e86345da08c09d1879f0e7eda3a5e911Yesterday morning I was heading for my computer in a rush when I stubbed my right little toe very hard against a wooden door. The pain was excruciating. I staggered to a couch and put my feet up, stunned at how fast this “accident” had happened. I watched the poor little thing angrily swell up and turn fat and red and wondered whether I had sprained it or even broken something inside. The thought flashed that death too could come like this at any moment, swift and ruthless, sweeping me another realm without my permission.

I recalled something I had read a long time ago in the Buddhist teachings on karma: After eons of seeking, if one is blessed to finally fall into the hands of a high guru, invisible powers can transmute truly horrible karma into something much smaller and manageable. No ordinary force can erase prarabhdha karma (destiny, fate, that portion of karma projected at the moment of birth from the mountain ranges of past thought, speech and action of multitudinous past lives), but higher power can work some magic. The idea behind this great blessing is to allow us to give us the time we need to succeed in our noble goal of moksha or permanent liberation from suffering. And then I remembered one particular teaching that stated that if one was destined to hang on the gallows for committing a murder, one would merely stub one’s toe!!! How precise, I thought, with a rush of happiness; these were the exact words I needed to put my painful little crisis into perspective.

You see, I have been expecting something big to happen. In the past couple of months, two of my American friends have died suddenly and unexpectedly—one of rabies (she was bit by a puppy in northern India and didn’t think she needed rabies injections, and another of cancer—thank god the end was quick.) And hard times have visited some close friends, troubling me in the process, because it is especially difficult to see those we love suffer. And ever since I have had this lingering and creepy feeling that something “bad” was heading my way. Don’t take me now, I would plead with Arunachala, please let me finish my work, and then I promise I’ll go happily and without a fuss. (This is the result of doing a simple death meditation every day for months before I left Manhattan for the Himalayas.)

FB_IMG_1494089545295It was my guru at the time who suggested I practice this simple analytical meditation on death, because I confided my fear of leaving a comfortable home to him, and he wanted to wake me up. Death meditation, contrary to what many think, is not morbid and depressing, no. Actually it wakes us up the preciousness of life and evokes gratitude for our many blessings. I am so glad it is one of the many great foundation stones of a solid training in Eastern philosophy. (Check out: Dying Every Single Day for Months in Manhattan… (May 1, 2015))

As any serious meditator might tell you, an inner knowing comes to some of us when we commit to the highest path that we are being protected. In my case, it’s an eerie feeling, as if invisible eyes are constantly watching over me and making sure I am safe. Sure enough, I have come close to the end several times here—I am a bit of a reckless driver and like speed, while Indian drivers are notorious for their lack of courtesy on the roads. In fact, the big trucks and buses one encounters on the highway are no better than massive speeding bullies that seem not to give a damn whether they, or their passenger/victims, live or die. What’s more, a couple of years ago, I was the first “foreigner” to see girl dead on the highway that skirts my home, a young and beautiful German girl on her way to visit a friend. So of course instantaneous death is well within the bounds of probability. (Check out: Appointment with Shiva… (Aug 30, 2014) ).

Life is infinitely precious and it makes me sad to see so many extraordinarily gifted and intelligent people spinning their wheels, trying to be rich and famous or materially successfully in an ephemeral world, when it is strikingly clear to genuine seekers that we get to keep nothing when we depart for another existence. How long does it take to digest this basic truth, I often wonder?

My friend tells me some of us are lucky to be born with this seed of mystical knowing—that our true nature is Spirit, and to focus solely on mere flesh and blood is to dramatically miss the point of incarnation. Perhaps he is right, and it is only old souls who have already gone through the samsaric grind who acknowledge that the real reason we incarnate is to burn our karma and to return to the light.

303537_3128548673069_1069126392_nEastern sages call this Maya, Lila, the game of the gods, because no finite human mind can figure out why higher powers would want to hurl us into this unholy mess of relative reality, often unarmed (lacking in wisdom), and therefore a danger to ourselves and others. There is little point seeking mental answers to this celestial issue. As I used to sing to myself long ago in Manhattan, don’t worry, darling, keep working at it and one day you will know everything.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us move decisively away from the false pleasures and traps of a changing world into that perfect and brilliant stillness that is our true nature!

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The One Light

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Sages respect all spiritual paths, modes of prayer, contemplation, and meditation. Walking from any direction towards the Heart, ultimately leads to the Realization that All is One. One Love. One Heart.

Whoever you worship, and by whatever name you call the Divine Spirit, Her sweet light falls equally on everyone and is in everyone.

That One Light is in you as well.

It appears hidden behind the mind and personality, that you take to be your identity. But in truth, You, yourself are that One Light.

Understanding and intimately knowing our original and true identity as the light of consciousness is known as Self-Realization.

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CELESTIAL SYNONYMS & COMMONALITIES. (For the seeker on the path of Jnana (Eastern wisdom))

FB_IMG_1463360088510I was born a wannabe jnani, incapable of the adoration/worship of gurus, temples and holy objects that many with a religious bent incline towards. Some may consider me supercilious, simply because I am not impressed by celebrities, nor the wealthy and gorgeous. But I am prone to immense love and admiration for those whose rare qualities catch my attention. Left to my own devices, I find a truth that sings to me and play with it until it begins to make sense to me. Then I carefully weave it into my worldview and use it as a tool to slice through all the mysteries life throws at us unwary humans.

Over the years, I have cobbled together a magnificent “view” for myself from the various Eastern traditions I have delved into. Buddhist teachers in particular consider a “view” essential to seeking freedom. Many seekers from non-Indian backgrounds are stumped by the sheer magnitude of Sanskrit words and terms they have to understand before they can create this Eastern “view” for themselves. Since, right from birth, I too was educated in English, I empathize. Both my parents were comfortable in the language of our oppressors and insisted we kids spoke English at home. My father was a raconteur; aware that fluency in English would help us to advance in the material world, he gave us Spelling Bees when we were teens, and turned us all into Scrabble fanatics (some of us can compete on the international level). So, although I did pick up a smattering of Eastern languages along the way, I shared the same problem as my foreign friends who were fascinated by the process of enlightenment or moksha but had to struggle to understand the initial concepts.

My main focus for a long time has been to burn the insidious sense of a separate “me” so I can melt permanently into the blissful and immortal Self. In quest of this goal, I went from one guru and teaching to another until I struck pure gold in the Advaita masters (Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj). Once I had a general map of reality that included the two great truths of Absolute and Relative reality, I knew I could find my way home. And since my way of learning is to absorb truth by reducing a teaching to an easily digestible nugget of gold, synonyms have become critically important to my comprehension.

FB_IMG_1456878290224Following are some important synonyms I came up with that for Absolute and Relative Reality that you may or may not agree with; I am no scholar, after all, but merely an ardent seeker. Take what you like and leave the rest. The finger can only point towards the moon, it is not the moon; when we work things out for ourselves, everything becomes fluid and easy to grasp and we advance rapidly into the Spiritual Heart.

ABSOLUTE:

Divine; Substratum; Shunyata; Parabhrahman; Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence-Awareness and Bliss); Perfect Brilliant Stillness (the title of David Carse’s amazing revelation of his own awakening), and the most intriguing one of all (for me)—Nisargadatta Maharaj’s allusion to the “deep dark blue state.”

RELATIVE:

Samsara; Mundane or Conventional Reality; the repetitive cycle of birth and death prior to enlightenment.

After years of intense practice and study, I also began to realize that the words Lila (play of the gods), Maya (cosmic enchantress) and Kundalini Shakthi (the serpent fire that rests at the base of the human spine and, when awareness starts to grow, rises into the Crown Chakra and beyond) are deeply interconnected divine sisters. And that the egoic system of body and mind, which springs into being from the I AM (a rebel spark that breaks free from the Absolute and begins to think of itself as a separate entity, impregnating the budding ego with this deadly virus of “I, me and mine”), cannot move a hairbreadth without their aid.

Paradoxically, all that we learn in this luminous area has to be jettisoned at some point, so we can walk light and free into the blissful cave of the heart. If we don’t make the effort to really grasp the meaning of these words, we may think we understand what the great gurus say, but our comprehension will not be rich and we will falter when we come to tricky bends on the narrow path inwards. Anyone can buy a carton of fresh cream, but the one who milks the cow and boils the milk to extract the cream relishes the product even more. (Vegans can find another example!)

The true guru rests in deep peace and bliss and has no need of what the false gurus of our planet demand from their seekers—money, fame, adulation, sex, mindless loyalty, etc. In fact the true guru just wants to be left alone to enjoy the bliss of his or her true nature. But, out of great compassion for those who do not possess the razor-like intellect and commitment to freedom that catapulted him into the Absolute, he shares his wisdom, hoping the ripe ones among us will become gurus themselves.

But no matter how loving and compassionate a guru may be, he or she cannot do our homework for us; as the great sages say, it takes great effort to reach the effortless state.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who represents the peak of awareness and guides us out of the jungle of delusion!

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THE THIEF OF TIME

e612cdd27c8e183c26c28ebf51a483b8A middle-aged woman, who has been visiting Tiruvannamalai for longer than I have lived here, called to ask if she could visit me. She had some important questions on Advaita she thought I could answer, she said, and I grimaced, because she has done this before, and every time I make the effort to meet her (never thought early retirement could get this busy!!!) she asks me the most ridiculous questions that have little or nothing to do with Ramana Maharshi’s Direct Path, and also peppers me with infuriating personal questions.

Despite my often deliberately hard façade, I am a softie, so I said yes, and lived to regret it. It was a case of déjà vu, for she vomited up the same stupid questions. One of her major themes is that men adore her and will not leave her alone. They ogle her and distract her from her inner work, she claimed yet again.

It’s your ego, I retorted. Male attention, especially of the lascivious kind, would have absolutely no effect on you if you really understood the basis of this practice; Eastern philosophy teaches us that our body-mind-emotional system is just a valuable vehicle to carry us forward, like a good car, and should not be your sole focus. So what if they stare at you? Ignore them.

Whereupon she proceeded to violently disagree that her reactions had anything to do with her ego, and claimed that being sexy and attractive has been a great burden to her, which only made me further wince.

I told her she was lucky that I was just another seeker on the path; had she spoken in this manner to the formidable Advaita master Nisargadatta Maharaj (known as the Hammer and for excellent reason), for instance, he would have summarily thrown her out of his humble home. Do your homework before you dare to waste everyone’s time, he might have said, as he decisively turned his back on her.

Long ago in Manhattan, my guru (a brilliant Buddhist scholar) said something I never forgot. He was addressing a bunch of students with enviable jobs in Manhattan. He said: oh, so you think you’re so cool, huh? You wear black, eat at the best restaurants and think you’re on top of the world because you work for big firms.
But really, you’ll are just slaves of the system. No matter how much money you’re making right now, your long work hours leave you with little time for serious inner practice. And the one thing no one can compensate you for is your precious time. Do your inner work now, while you are still vibrant and brimming with energy. Don’t wait until you are weary, old and gray, thinking that you have to tie samsara up in pretty little packets and ensure that your dependents are well on their way before you take the path to the heart. NOW is all that matters! Tomorrow you could be dead.

Kiri 16GB sd card 6243-1After this woman left, for some reason I ruminated on the long years of my own marriage: had I wasted my time with a mate who did not share my values or goals? The answer is a strange mix of yes and no. While I can’t know what might have happened had I had a harmonious marriage with a man who supported my spiritual and creative goals, marriage to this guy taught me that no human—however handsome, rich or charming—can make us happy. Nor can anything in the external world lead us to lasting peace and joy. How can you put a price on that kind of learning?

In fact, the end of that marriage was the beginning of the deepening of my inner path, and so it was definitely not a waste of time. But, if we are stuck in painful relationships that do not change no matter, how hard we try, then we are both fools and losers. Buddhas can only point the way; we ourselves must walk the path. And, as Gautama said, your mistake is that you think you have time.

Devouring my precious time under false pretenses is perhaps the worst crime you could commit against me. Steal my flowers or my fancy new flashlight or my money, these can be replaced, but time is a fleeting and priceless commodity that cannot be returned. Only a narcissistic egomaniac chooses to believe that only his or her time is precious. When we hold others to ransom with false promises, and trap those who trust us in a juvenile web of dishonesty, we are actually doing ourselves the greatest disservice. What goes around must comes around and eventually everyone wakes up – and then it is the waster of other people’s time who is ejected forcefully to deal with his or her own bad karma.

Featured Image -- 9735Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us wake up to the urgency of doing our work now, of striking while the hammer is hot, and of realizing that our true nature is immortal bliss!

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SPIRITUAL OLYMPICS

13e269e7dd2189555144fd97b22322e4At the millennium, I flew from Manhattan to live in Dharamsala, home of the exiled Tibetans in the foothills of the Himalayas. Months later, my precious Micron laptop (it was the rare person who owned a laptop in those days) was stolen right out of my apartment, along with the backup disks. In one fell swoop, I had lost over ten years of my writing and research. I was, as you can imagine, devastated. (I plan to explain the fascinating series of events that led to this theft in another article, but right now all I want to do is share with you what one high lama said to me in the aftermath of this mini disaster.)

A little background, so you can empathize with just how terrible I felt: I had left Manhattan after selling my beautiful apartment. Word spread that I was a “rich foreigner” and so I was besieged by both Tibetans, many of whom were desperate for financial aid, as well as by the local Indians, Himachalis, as they are known. And I did help as many as I could, not just with money, but in a variety of ways, including teaching a few a little English.

Now I had an excellent combination lock on my door and no one (especially me) could figure out how the thief had entered. Nothing else was stolen, but the fellow had not taken the adapter, without which he could not use the laptop. So at least my financial and other information was safe.

A sympathetic friend took me to consult his lama, a wise old man who looked at my tear-streaked face and nodded gently. Ah, he said, you left the West to seek enlightenment. I know you are a sincere seeker, but do you understand what you are really doing here? You are fighting the greatest fight any human can take one—you are trying to transmute the darkness of eons into light!

a9d35a4933b4412c59fa8ad3a43437afDoing this is like training for the Olympics, he went on. There are benevolent powers on your side, but, just as Siddhartha Gautama’s fierce desire to be free attracted the malevolent attentions of Mara, King of the Demons, you too have attracted negative entities who will seek to prevent you from reaching your goal. Yes, by coming here to purify your egoic self and leaving behind your comfortable life in the West, you have entered the Spiritual Olympics, Your opponents are deadly but you must not quail before them. They use weak humans to do their work, and you will encounter even more men and women who will harass you if you stay committed to the goal of enlightenment.

The theft of your laptop is just one example of what happens to genuine seekers. You see, there are literally mountains of bad karma you must burn before you can ascend to the heights. Now you must change your view and see what has happened as a test: overcome your negative feelings and also simultaneously do everything you can to retrieve your laptop. You may not get it back, but try anyway. That is the way of the Spiritual Warrior. The greater the light, he said, ending his little sermon, the greater the shadow.

His words sank deeply into me. I never forgot them. Even today, when things go wrong as they often do, both in my encounters with humans and in my mundane affairs, I realize I have taken on a great task and must persevere, regardless. There have been times when it is my high goal alone that keeps me going.

Back to the laptop: it was a sheer miracle, but I got it back. I will save that story for another day, but my message today is that no matter what goes wrong in our lives, whether it is the betrayal of someone you loved and trusted, the death of a close friend or relative, financial problems, or your own ill health, never lose faith in your highest goal. All of this is just karma burning itself off and if we fight what is, the pendulum only swings back with even more force. Just keep going, like the Spiritual Warrior you are, and everything, as Ramana Maharshi said so simply and lovingly, will come out all right in the end.

f5b20d444c402200808ab1f5ee20a9d8Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who allows us to suffer greatly in order to incinerate the errors of the past, so we can realize that our true nature is no less than immortal bliss!

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Why we can all read Chekhov and learn from him, says Francine prose QUOTES FOR WRITERS

BRIDGET WHELAN writer

chekhovYou can pick up a volume of Chekhov’s stories and open it anywhere, and, no matter how well or poorly the Russian has been translated, you will probably have a hard time finding a sentence you can’t understand. This is because, as much as any other writer and more than most, Chekhov put such a premium on writing comprehensibly, without flowery language or unnecessary adornment.
Francine Prose

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TINA & IKE TURNER

ac9a6ed443d206599b4d58f92afee35aAnna Mae Bullock was a country girl who escaped her quiet life for the big bad city in her teens and fell headlong in love with Ike Turner, a tall talented black musician with an eye for the girls—as well as an eye for pure talent. He heard Anna Mae sing and knew she was 24-carat gold. Dumping his current woman, he seduced the wide-eyed and laughing teenager, got her pregnant, gave her a new name, married her and made her a star. He also beat the hell out of her and abused her violently, for he’d started doing hard drugs and his rages were demonic and way out of control.

I watched Tina’s autobiographical movie with friends who came over to visit after my painful almost-broken toe accident. I can’t watch movies alone, so once or twice a year, I will get together with a friend/s and zone out before the screen. The first movie we watched depressed us all—a hard and gritty London-based crime movie that was violent beyond belief and ended horribly. And so, after everyone else had left, I coaxed my friend to watch the Tina movie.

Tina’s tumultuous tale brought up a lot of buried stuff within me, for things are not so different anywhere in the world. As long as ego rules, there will be hate and jealousy and violence. And if a man thinks he owns a woman, just because he gives her his name, some money or possessions, a child and a career, then there is no end to the pain and the trouble he can inflict on an innocent victim who often has nowhere else to turn.

What disturbs me is that this ugly cavalier attitude towards women is not confined to the poor and the illiterate. In fact, gender violence has little to do with money or education, although those who are in the public eye use different insidious methods to put their women down. I have seen poor (economically) men treat their wives like gold and rich men treat their spouses like offal, or even like redundant and replaceable pieces of furniture. Go figure.

8462d42e9a16bd29abeea860e3fadb6dWhat is the answer to this age-old problem? For me, it lies in the great truths of Eastern philosophy, and particularly in the wisdom that claims that what unites us into one vast and mysterious being is the common substratum of our nature (pure awareness, existence and bliss). To the one who realizes this, all relative appearances dissolve and one no longer views the world in terms of gender, status or anything else. Advaita is Not Two, and this is a mystical fact.

Back to Tina. What a hero! I said, after the movie ended (we used the forward button to move through the grisly bits when he almost kills her). Finally she left him, allowed him to keep all the money they had earned together, but fought to keep her professional name. And then she went on to become a solo star who the world loves even more today. Yes, what a hero, my friend echoed.

So many women weakly bow their heads and surrender to the bullies who make their lives hell. Even in corporate Manhattan, every now and again I would see a high-earning woman with bruises on her body and shame and pain in her eyes. Even worse, to me, is the man who hurts his wife or girlfriend in ways that are not visible: Lying, cheating, deceiving, passive-aggression, etc. All these leave deep scars on the emotional body and it is the rare woman who recognizes she is being used as a punching bag by someone with terribly low-esteem (who else would attack and harass a woman in his care but a man with no real self-respect or ethics?) and dumps him before he can crush her completely.

Bhagavan RamanaMany enjoy delving into the highest teachings of the East but don’t realize that, minus an ethical foundation and a transparent relative life, they cannot progress even an inch. The first thing we must do if we are genuine seekers is to truly learn to honor, love and respect our own selves; when this awesome work is done, or being done, we will automatically treat everyone else in the same holy and beautiful way. As Ramana said, at some point in our ascension to pure spirit, we will realize that there are no others.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us destroy our darkness so that we can enjoy the infinite bliss of our true nature!

NOTE: I wrote this post ages ago: Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide – Part 1/6 (Jul 20, 2013)

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