I first began to consciously pursue the destruction of my own troublesome ego when I lived in hectic Manhattan. At the time, I had just begun to plot a novel based on eastern philosophy (Whip of the Wild God: A Novel of Tantra in Ancient India), and was engrossed in learning everything I could about Tantra and mysticism.
In the process, I met folks who tended to interpret Tantra mainly as a license to enjoy indiscriminate sex. My view was different: mainly from delving into the treasure trove of eastern philosophy at the New York Public Library, I had discovered that, etymologically speaking, the word Tantra derives from two Sanskrit words: tanoti and trayati—meaning: the explosion of consciousness. How one performs this magic is up to the individual; while couple-hood can certainly become a means of liberation, celibate tantrics often evolve faster—simply because they are relieved of having to cope with the eccentricities of an ego-driven partner.
Sometime during those exciting years, I flew from Manhattan to Vermont for a weekend workshop with Harish Johari—a master tantrik and artist gifted with a multitude of talents. Early one morning, I had the good fortune to walk through the verdant fields surrounding our retreat home in his company. Taking advantage of the situation, I asked him for advice about a painful situation in which I was enmeshed. This is more or less what he said: Mira, I will give you a single job—do it well, and I guarantee it will lead you to lasting peace and happiness.” My ears pricked up. “Constantly observe your ego,” he advised.“It has billions of masks and is a genius of deception. Watching it is enough! The ego cannot bear to have its antics witnessed. Slowly it will stop playing its spellbinding games—and you will experience yourself as the immortal Self—as existence-consciousness and bliss.
I did not meet Harish Johari again. Years later he passed away, leaving behind a stunning legacy of fantastic eastern divine art and much else. When I heard of his death, the thought flashed that a whole journey can begin when a guru has the guts and the wisdom to say just the right thing to a seeker—not from his or her own ego, but from the plane of divine consciousness.
Harish’s advice burned itself into my hungry heart—even as life hammered relentlessly away at my monstrous ego. Despite the pain intense self-analysis evoked, I persisted in locating that false sense of self that I now knew lay at the root of all my suffering. Why did I take on this immense and subtle chore? Because I had come to understand that when one finally discovers that the ego is not “real”—meaning it is not a permanent entity, but rather a haphazard conglomeration of gazillions of labels plastered onto a false self over countless lives—one simultaneously realizes that there is no concrete “person” to be hurt or attacked or even celebrated. And when this gnosis sinks in deep—a process that could take eons—one no longer reacts with the ego to anything the world might hurl at you—whether good, bad or indifferent.
Significant chunks of time have slipped past since Harish and I traversed those rustling green fields in rural Vermont. And yet my inner work goes on—currently via the ancient practice of Atma-Vichara, investigating the true Self that we all are—blissful, immortal, loving, wise and connected to all beings—and not the desirous, greedy and defensive “mini-me” that most of us spend entire lives trying to shield and protect—a futile task, because no matter how big you grow in the eyes of an ephemeral world, one day this “person” that you think you are must dissolve back into the elements, and the Self that has quietly animated you all along will have remained undiscovered.
Now here’s my version of an intriguing Buddhist tale about a rich Tibetan widow who decided to seek enlightenment: Trekking all the way up a holy mountain, she begged the wise woman who lived on its peak for help in achieving her desire. The crone asked the widow just how serious she was, and the widow fell at her feet, earnestly assuring her that she was totally committed—whereupon the kindly old woman mutated into a horrible-looking witch with an ugly thorny switch in her hand and chased the rich widow down the mountainside, shrieking: then begin now, begin now, begin now!