I am no scholar and tend to reduce the most sophisticated philosophy into easily digestible truths I can use in my daily life. Complication and complexity only keep me from going deep, I have discovered, and when ideas become simple, they also become fuel for the blissful enlightenment I seek.
If this ancient teaching is true, I often used to wonder, how then did such fierce individuality spring up, driven by insidious notions of ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine,’ along with the concomitant evils of competition, jealousy, demeaning others so we can shine as the sole jewels in any given scenario, etcetera? How are some humans capable of the worst crimes when they employ their special status or belief in their class, caste, intelligence or privilege as weapons of justification?
The usual answer, of course, is the ego. A friend in Manhattan once defined it as a nasty piece of work in its negative form, and even gave me an anagram for it: that which Eases God Out. But how does the ego itself get a chance to grow to such monstrous proportions, so that royal lineages spring into being from it, and dynasties flourish, billionaires are a dime a dozen, and we routinely rate people according to their physical and financial assets rather than on their open hearts, kindness, empathy and compassion for all beings?
Ah, well, that answer is embedded in the Advaitic teaching of the I AM, an impersonal principle so powerful that it forms the very base and foundation of the egoic system. Sages say that at some point in our early life, the I AM, a sense of being different and special from others, springs into action and the individual begins his or her trajectory, determined to make a special mark on the world or even to die in the process. (And many do die, of heart attacks born of the constant stress of being better than everyone else, for one thing, or of intense negative emotions that inexorably destroy body and mind).
The wannabe jnani has a tough job: first to understand and then to isolate this I AM, and then to dwell in it until the I AM realizes that it its nature is so well known that there is no further point in playing its dangerous games.
To clarify my understanding when I sit down to investigate the subtle and the invisible, I use synonyms. For the I AM when it is playing its destructive role of strengthening the egoic edifice, I use the Sanskrit words “Lila” and “Maya” the former which means “the play of the Gods” and Maya simply meaning “illusion” or “delusion.” But when we begin the awesome adventure of befriending the I AM, it turns into the personal Divine itself, Brahman, Turiya or Bindu.
Now imagine that you are the CEO of a large company and are aware that someone powerful in your employ is secretly stealing major funds from you. You rack your brain and consult others but simply cannot discover the identity of the thief; perhaps she is even your right hand employee, so well disguised and clever that no one even suspects her of undercover activities. Then one day a seer comes to visit you and sees you in great suffering; out of great compassion, he uses his clairvoyant powers and spills the beans, telling you who she is. You are shocked, stunned, hurt, wounded, betrayed—can this woman whom you have considered your friend and collaborator really have been cheating and deceiving you all these years? But the seer is unassailable in his honesty and the facts are staring you in the face, so you have no choice but accept what he says as the truth.
Bizarrely enough, you have grown to love this woman; my god, you realize with further shock, she is so close to me and I rely on her so greatly that I could never bring myself to fire her! So you decide to speak to her, to tell her you know what she is up to, and why she has done what she has done all these decades. So instead you reveal your admiration for her covert brilliance and beg her to stop. Don’t hurt me anymore, you suggest, become my ally. She listens, for her hidden facet is wisdom and besides she knows the game is up. Smiling, she agrees to share her secrets with you and to help you do what you have always wanted to do—to be the most secure, rich and satisfied CEO in the whole friggin’ world. And because she is truly wily and unbelievably clever, her talk matches her walk, and both of you grow together.
It is the same with the I AM: Once you convince her that you are familiar with every nuance of her awesome game (I have the feeling she is female in this role of saboteur, a real Mata Hari), she agrees lovingly to help you to return to your original home, the Absolute or the Divine substratum of your being, sat-chit-ananda or pure existence-awareness and bliss. And now that you have won your most deadly enemy over, the game of eons (samsara) is finally over and moksha becomes a distinct and reachable goal.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to be your beloved immortal friend as you take on the might of the I AM, so that you can dissolve forever into his fiery embrace!