Speaking of Robes, Broken Vows and Imperfection…

efff95cfcaa8fcb1f0bf154027aaad71When I moved to Dharamsala (seat of the Tibetan Government- in-Exile located in the foothills of the Himalayas) on the eve of the new millennium, my life changed overnight. You see, I had just left the world’s craziest city (Manhattan) for a small mountain town in northern India and was almost totally unprepared for what I was to encounter.

As my eyes opened to a new world of seeing, my views began to transform. For instance, I had long harbored a multitude of unchallenged assumptions about those who consciously enter the spiritual path; one such assumption was that all those who wore monastic robes were blessed creatures emanating love and light. After all, I subconsciously reasoned, most had taken the Boddhisattva Vow in one form or the other—which is to become enlightened for the sake of all beings—and which therefore meant they had to be perfect, right? RIGHT?

So I was both flabbergasted SHIVA IN RED AND YELLOWand upset when I saw how some in robes—both Tibetans as well as western renunciates— misbehaved. Apart from the jewels that gleamed in their ranks, many were, I realized, just as flawed as I was—and some worse, because at least I was honest about my vices.

I spoke to a great lama about this. Geshe-la, I said, they’re wearing robes, and yet they act so petty, mean, vicious and jealous; they’re breaking their vows left, right and center. What’s going on here?

Smiling at me as if I were a bewildered child—which I was then and still can be—he said, Mira, those robes are a sign that these people know something is out of balance within themselves—and that they wish to right this inner wrongness. By putting on a robe, they indicate to the world that they have made a brave choice to evolve. The robe is their protection as they do their inner work. If you can see them this way, you will be much more happy and peaceful.

MAN IN MEDITATIONI thanked him deeply, for he had opened my eyes to something that had never struck me before. So the robe was protection while the inner being transformed itself! Like a vulnerable little grub or worm or caterpillar covering itself with spit or a cocoon to protect it from the burning sun and predators as it gradually metamorphoses into a gorgeous moth or butterfly! What a difference this simple teaching made to my view and my attitude! And not just towards others, but to my own self, given to constant criticism of my own relative imperfections.

Since then, I have heard so many say: oh, but how can so-and-so feel or think or act this way? It is terrible! He or she claims to be on a spiritual path! The fact is that just because many of us make the decision to evolve, does not mean that that work is instantly accomplished. According to eastern teachings, to become completely free of desire and fear and to manifest as our true nature—which is existence-consciousness and bliss itself—is the work of thousands of lifetimes, if not eons.

In fact, even genuine but deluded seekers—brainwashed at times by so-called “gurus”—believe they have to suppress natural feelings that arise in response to the cruelty and injustice that rages, and has raged, all around us. They are conditioned to believe that turning inwards means they have to instantly become saccharine sweet creatures who unconditionally love all beings—including the serial rapist/murderer, the cold-blooded assassin, the pedophile and the brutal imperialist.

Based on decades of study and practice, I say NO! Along this fascinating journey to the blazing center of reality, as we absorb the great truths, we must first process our instinctive feelings…and then allow them to be burned in the fire of wisdom—the wisdom that everything is actually perfect, though it looks terrible, and that a higher power is indeed running the show; it is good to know, however, that this higher power (call it what you will) is not subject to the pressure of human time and does its work at a divine pace and in a mysterious manner we humans cannot even begin to grok.

COLORS 3Why is this? Because, in our human form, we manifest both Relative and Absolute. While the Absolute is our true nature, it is our relative nature that needs cleansing and purifying—and on this often tumultuous path there is much each of us needs to process. In doing so, we often stumble and make mistakes—but it is very much a necessary journey.

Today, on the highest levels of consciousness, I do see that the whole is perfect—for I accept that the laws that run the cosmos are unerring: today’s perpetrator is perhaps yesterday’s victim and so on and of forth in a vicious chain  known as samsara. Invisible laws rule this realm, and when we judge things on the surface as we most often do, we miss out on the roots.

And yet, especially on social media threads, it is impossible to adequately express my own convoluted journey to finding peace within this disturbingly violent planet. While intellectually and in terms of spiritual context I am serene, old emotions still occasionally erupt and demand release; only when I have the courage to process them am I free to return to a state of peace. But to suppress this churning negativity…to deny that relative evil happens, also arrests spiritual evolution: for the process of change involves first becoming aware that something is wrong, then to accept it by whatever means necessary, and finally to trust that purificatory/cleansing action will spontaneously occur due to the loving intervention of higher forces (which is no less than our own Self, and the essence of the cosmos itself).

So the next time you consider pointing a finger at a person who has turned away from the mainstream and decided to refine their insides—because that person appears to be angry or depressed or is harboring a grudge against the seeming villains of the world—remember that robe! It is protection while we do our inner work—and believe me, that work is going on, whether we can see it in others or not.

images-snakeThat said, I feel strongly that an intelligent person—armed with the resources to change, but who still chooses to hide behind the apparent sanctity of a robe in order to perpetrate evil— does not merit my compassion. (If, say, a pedophile lurks behind the benevolent facade of a priest, then I strongly condemn the action—for while it is no secret that most sexual predators are themselves the victims of predators, there is no excuse for educated adults not to seek appropriate help).

ARUNACHALA WITH PURPLE SKYIt is a gorgeous windy morning here and I am about to take the doggies out for their morning walk on the mountain path; for this simple pleasure, I am immensely grateful. Greetings from Arunachala, manifestation of the Wild God who promises to annihilate our ego so we can experience ourselves as pure consciousness and bliss!

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31 thoughts on “Speaking of Robes, Broken Vows and Imperfection…

  1. Wonderfully well written!!!! And, yes, as Jesus once said: “Beware wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Something to that effect. Or, more mundanely, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Trusting you enjoyed your walk with the doggies. Aloha, paul Date: Thu, 5 Feb 2015 20:09:53 +0000 To: polennon@hotmail.com

    • Paul, great to get a comment from you. I don’t think, though, that this is about wolves in sheep’s clothing (except for the reference to the pedophile priest) but more about our imperfect humanity no matter what we wear. Oh, and i wrote that post a long while ago before my accident…haven’t walked Kali & Aghori for too long now. Love!

  2. Thanks Mira. I guess I have evolved to the place where almost all of what you’re saying here makes good sense to me. I was especially struck by that lore about people in monastic robes essentially declaring their imperfections thereby. It will doubtless make a difference to me as I see such folks in the future. (Maybe that’s why Trungpa wore western suits? OK, bad joke. He was no paragon of virtue in the quotidian sense of the word, but I still value his teachings.) I’m currently seeing 3 spiritual teachers each week: two of them—a man and a woman—function as a team with about a dozen students. The third is a woman slightly younger than I. Her group is usually about 7-8 people, but she’s very generous with her time for one-on-one sessions—usually long walks in my case. Holly has become my main teacher in terms of earnest dialogue. All 3 have had gnostic awakenings, but they don’t go around with a bullhorn advertising it. (This is all in addition to Joel Morwood, their teacher, who is still the director of Center for Sacred Sciences.)

    Since results seem so slow for me, I sometimes wonder if my search is too “effortful.” But my perennially incurable curiosity drives me on. Perhaps, if and when this curiosity runs out of gas, there’ll be room for Grace to slip in and do its work. Anyway, life is pretty magical as it is now, so that may have to be enough.

    I remain dubious about reincarnation, much less survival of the individual soul for disposition in heaven or hell. That’s my current take on at least a personal spirit where the subject supposedly brings all his/her old stuff along into the next go-round. My children and my artwork may constitute incarnations of sorts, but “I” do not experience anything directly through them—except possibly through imaginary projection. Just a metaphor.

    It appears unlikely that I will ever get back to India, but one never knows, do one? But e-mailing is nice. I appreciate your posts. OMMMMmmmmmmmm… Hugs from the ‘Ken show’ in Eugene

    • Dearest Ken! Lovely to get this wonderful response from you – always straight from the heart. Don’t worry about reincarnation…you’ll know all about it at some point or the other. ha ha. For me it made the utmost sense – but we would need to have a long face-to-face chat for me to communicate exactly why. Much love and stay close, Mira

  3. Dear Mira,

    It is very much true.
    There is a saying in portuguese, and english too, which says: ‘The habit doesn’t make the monk’.

    Lord Buddha says in one of the Suttas… ‘If you use the convention wrongly, it’s like grabbing the Kusa grass in the wrong way. You cut your hand, hurt yourself and bleed.’

    This has several important meanings, including torturing yourself through sterile asceticism, convinced that fierce austerity and righteousness on body and mind are by themselves the practice proper that will lead to spiritual realization and final Nirvana. On the other hand, many are those who encroach themselves in their habits, turning their monastic or priestly life into a catwalk, a show for the promotion and the survival of the ego. On the heights of this deluded catwalk, a keen appetite for subservience and servility baits the laity “below” for the service, and thus is the alter-ego of any religion turned into fundamentalism. This is the highest (or deepest) pitfall… the climb of Babel’s Tower in a continuous Samsara to serve material power through human delusion… Avidya or Avijja.

    All this happens because of lack of humility and honesty. In the end, one may understand that most of humanity is living under the spell of Greed, Hatred and Delusion, not having even surmounted the three first fetters: 1 ego-view (sakkāya-diṭṭhi), 2 doubt (vicikicchā), 3 attachment to rites and rituals (sīlabbata-parāmāsa).

    But aren’t there any jewels gleaming in the ranks? There are.
    Most importantly, honesty and discernment are of essence. Without it everybody stumbles in some delusion.

    But if there is something the Robe effects above everything, apart from what it represents, is Protection. The sad is that even that Protection can be marred by an evil mind, bleeding into oblivion and darkness. So the robe doesn’t make the monk.

    I always like to refer to the Dhammapada, section “The Self”:

    […] 157. If one holds oneself dear, one should diligently watch oneself. Let the wise man keep vigil during any of the three watches of the night.

    158. One should first establish oneself in what is proper; then only should one instruct others. Thus the wise man will not be reproached.

    159. One should do what one teaches others to do; if one would train others, one should be well controlled oneself. Difficult, indeed, is self-control.

    160. One truly is the protector of oneself; who else could the protector be? With oneself fully controlled, one gains a mastery that is hard to gain.

    161. The evil a witless man does by himself, born of himself and produced by himself, grinds him as a diamond grinds a hard gem.

    162. Just as a single creeper strangles the tree on which it grows, even so, a man who is exceedingly depraved harms himself as only an enemy might wish.

    163. Easy to do are things that are bad and harmful to oneself. But exceedingly difficult to do are things that are good and beneficial.

    164. Whoever, on account of perverted views, scorns the Teaching of the Perfected Ones, the Noble and Righteous Ones — that fool, like the bamboo, produces fruits only for self destruction.

    165. By oneself is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself is one made pure. Purity and impurity depend on oneself; no one can purify another.

    166. Let one not neglect one’s own welfare for the sake of another, however great. Clearly understanding one’s own welfare, let one be intent upon the good. […]

    In Metta Karuna Mudita Upekkha

  4. Dear Mira, great to read your posts – they resonate with me! A series of amazing events brought me to Bhagvan and my desire to be close to him and Tiru have just grown exponentially. I’m just back from a 3-day visit from Tiru (back in London) and am seriously considering quitting my job to fully pursue the ‘spiritual’ path. But I hesitate – all the usual doubts raise their ugly heads – am I being foolish? Is this too ‘impractical’ blah blah blah. But seeing that you made the leap makes me feel that it is the right thing for me to do. Any thoughts on this? Would be very happy to hear from you. Best wishes xx

    • Can’t understand why I didn’t see your message before, Anjali, or perhaps I did reply to you, but can’t find my response. My thoughts on your desire to quit the mainstream? Do it, because it appears to be your dharma (or the thought would not have arisen), but do it with wisdom. One thing I notice here is that many come here impulsively and don’t feel like returning, and then the necessity for funds etc comes up – what I did was to work like a maniac so I could afford a simple retirement, and although I was very young, it has worked out wonderfully – perhaps because I never ever give up! Lots of love and sorry again for missing your message – and if you come back to Tiru, make sure you contact me. Om Arunachala!

  5. A wonderful post!
    Let me also relate to you a story about Swami Sivananda (the Sivananda who was the guru to Swami Satchidananda and Swami Vishnu Devananda, after whom the Sivananda organization who have the Paradise Island ashram was named.

    It seems an ashramite was complaining to Swami Sivananda about another ashramite. “He’s so wicked,” the first one complained. “How can you let him stay here?” “Imagine,” replied Sivananda “How very wicked he would be if he weren’t here.”


  6. Just the most wonderful post Mira, and synchronous in it’s way, and also the comments were extremely meaningful .. all of them were food for thought and Dhammiko, thank you for highlighting the value of being aware of the importance of one’s self.

    I know that I shall re-read this post and its comments …

    Thank you, and so beautifully written! I hope you’re glowing!

    With love


  7. Such beautiful commentary, and reflections, on motives for taking on the spiritual life of a monastic. I have always harbored the same thoughts about misbehavior of those that purport to live the ‘spiritual life’. The Geshe provided you with some tremendous insight into what might motivate one to take up a ‘robe’. My judgmental mind not only looks critically upon those monastics who don’t appear to ‘live up’ to the path they have chosen; it also prevented me from entering such a life myself because I didn’t feel ‘good enough’. Many thanks for this profound piece. We are ALL on the path to healing at our own speed!

  8. Although not a monk or renunciate myself, I agree, and find it true regardless
    that we all tend to seek protection behind a mask, a robe, or a label, but
    eventually it will all strip away and we will be left naked with our action
    and no pedestals to stand on.

    Who we are is what is left, and not who we say we are, or pretend we are.
    I see a big part of spirituality then to be a practice of honesty.
    Of course honesty doesn’t mean “perfect” or comparing one’s rights and wrongs
    to the rights and wrongs of other’s. It means honesty with one’s real and natural
    self. We all seem to get caught up in the lie and the contradiction sometimes,
    and even believe it to be true. There are so many layers of illusion
    and smoke n mirrors that can make it difficult to always see clearly

    I have a quote I often refer back to by Japanese born Masahisa Goi from
    his book “The Spirit of Lao Tsu” that I think might shed some light on the
    perspective of imperfection. It is interesting to reflect on.

    “If one starkly exhibits the immaculate spirit of the white, one may
    be unable to mix with others in this world of darkness and ignorance.
    Towering high above the others, one may become isolated from them
    and have no influence over the politics and policies of the world below.

    This is why Lao Tsu teaches that, by knowing the white and defending
    the black, by becoming oneself a person of ignorance in order to conform
    to the lifestyle of others in the world of ignorance, and by then working
    for the benefit of humankind, one can be appreciated as a person who truly
    knows the heart of one’s fellow human beings and be valued as a fine person
    of selfless knowledge and friend of all. As models for all under Heaven, such
    people will influence others, gradually causing them to be purified as well.”

  9. I love this, “Arunachala, manifestation of the Wild God who promises to annihilate our ego so we can experience ourselves as pure consciousness and bliss!”

    And yet, every time refinement commences, I’m surprised at how utterly painful annihilation can be. Thank you!

  10. I love this, “Arunachala, manifestation of the Wild God who promises to annihilate our ego so we can experience ourselves as pure consciousness and bliss!” And yet, every time refinement commences, I’m surprised at how utterly painful annihilation can be. Thank you! p.s. I just friended you on fb ❤

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