A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE

4c43e9597e348e32446dfe8c83a2d488Ages ago in America, a friend I was visiting over the long Thanksgiving weekend, told me that she had her ex-husband had never really gotten along. She had married him on the proverbial rebound several years after her fiancé, whom she had loved, had died in a surfing accident, and simply because her avaricious insecure social-climbing mother had coaxed her to hang on to him for all he could offer her in material terms.

He was a cold and distant man who had done very well for himself financially. He did not love her, nor did he claim to, but because she was glamorous and charming, he did value her highly as a social asset. While their love life was non-existent, he appeared to be content to squire her to social events as his trophy bride. Early on she had longed to escape him and to pursue a different lifestyle, but when she turned to her mother for support, she was sternly reminded that she had struck gold and should be content. (Why she’d listened to a mother as crass as this, I still can’t figure out, but I do know the woman was a widow and my friend an only child, and that this had brought them close.)

She and her ex never wanted kids, she said, which was a good thing or she might never have gotten interested in eastern philosophy (via hatha yoga), and never realized there was more to life than the superficial good times available to her as the wife of a wealthy entrepreneur. The radically new worldview she so acquired had such an impact on her psyche that she had finally left him. Although she did not ask for much, he was generous enough to insist on providing her with a lifelong settlement; and then, ha ha ha, she added dryly, he had promptly turned around and married another trophy.

It was only when she started deepening her knowledge of the limited egoic self that she realized that her decades-long marriage had been convenient only for her ego, and not for her Self (the Divine or Absolute, our true nature according to the eastern mystics). It sickened her, she confessed, that, for instance, that despite being crazy busy with his work, her ex would insist on being present when she met with her bankers every month, but would refuse to spend any quality time alone with her. He had no interest in her as a woman or as a person, but genuinely wanted to protect her financial interests. This one thing clearly revealed to her that all he cared about was money, while he didn’t give a damn for her soul.

2b30a1fb8fc22baec67e64504e96cf11I told her how blessed she was to have had such a realization. You see, I had encountered many other women, some also married to rich and powerful men, who had no clue that there was more to life than indulging themselves and their children in excessive materialism. One of these women spent all of her time going from one plastic surgeon to another, getting face and body lifts, because she was terrified the man would dump her for a new model! What a way to live, I had thought, I would rather be dead than invest all my energy in trying to please a superficial mate.

Now I had met this friend at a spiritual meeting in Manhattan and we were instantly attracted to each other, probably because we had each gone through so much and were both fascinated by eastern philosophy. She was in her early fifties then and lived simply but well in a beautiful area in upstate New York, besides a sparkling stream and surrounded by woodland. She enjoyed her solitude and spent her time reading, painting, meditating, and focusing on inner work. “I’ve never been happier,” she said at some point during that weekend that I later spent with her. “And it was all because I was so intensely miserable that I was literally forced to find a reason to live. Thank god I decided to do my teacher training in yoga. My guru was a deep man who sensed I needed real help, and he made it a point to guide me. We’ve become close friends over the years, and through him, I’m drawing closer to that immortal Spirit you Indians speak about so casually.” She smiled. Now I know the Divine is not a sweet fiction; come to think of it, what feels terribly unreal is all that time I invested in the transient.”

Thinking over this distant encounter, I realized how fortunate the modern West is (apart from religious fundamentalists!) to not be stigmatized for seeking freedom from an unfulfilling marriage. Here, in India, a society so complex and multi-layered that it boggles the mind, divorce is still a very dirty word. Women who seek their freedom even from the worst mates are hounded, harassed and even ostracized; one can well empathize with their willingness to stay put, no matter what, and suck up their misery. And what about the men? Not surprisingly, it is usually the wealthy who stray: Money has opened up many new portals for them and they are exposed to an international world where they can often make their own rules and get away with moral murder. However, I’m sorry to say, despite the surface sophistication of many, inside they are often mama’s boys, terrified to break free of their matrix lest they bring the hammer of community disapproval down on their heads.

You might be stunned if you knew how many there are of this ilk all over India: men who want to have their cake and eat it too. They proposition particularly women who are Westernized, believing that such females are bohemian and free and have no scruples in relationship. Because they worship money, they wrongly assume this is the case with everyone. Some flit from one sad relationship to another, hoping to distract themselves from the emptiness of their fake lives, and so never ever grow up. I asked one such rich fellow who had complained to me about his wife, why he did not just leave her. Oh, my mother would die of shock, he said, and what about the children? (You see? He didn’t give a damn for the wife, only for his old dominatrix of a mother and his kids). His mother had arranged the marriage, he ran on miserably, and his wife was perfect as a home-maker and as a mother, although she was so boring and limited in her range of interests that he could not even talk to her beyond domestic matters.

I shook my head, and told him that if I, a woman also brought up in a traditional and conservative family, with no support from anyone but my guru and a few Western friends, could have had the courage to walk out of my marriage, knowing full well I was about to lose everything material (since my husband was so sneaky in that area), then certainly he could. No, he said, that is not possible in my case, and I realized that the walls of the ego in some cases are built of concrete reinforced with steel, and that most humans simply lack the integrity and guts to break away and seek true joy. In truth, after the initial brouhaha of a “scandal” has died down, no one cares any more, and you can then restructure your life to seek the only peace worth having—that which comes from the depths of the Spiritual Heart.

Kiri 16GB sd card 4418Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who powerfully aids us as we shed all that blocks us from knowing we are the blissful and immortal Self!

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THE PARADOX OF ADDICTION

fb_img_1486103868695Right before the millennium, at a birthday celebration held in a spacious loft in downtown Manhattan, I fell into deep conversation with an eccentric artist who was rapidly rising in a city where the competition is known to be beyond fierce. He’d always been intrigued by Indian art, culture and philosophy, he told me, and his art reflected this interest. He then proceeded to ask me searching questions about my life in south India, including how and why I had made my way to the Big Apple, and I found him to be highly intelligent and perceptive—no, this was not superficial party talk, but a true meeting of souls.

In turn he spoke about his own life, and I was stunned by his revelations, particularly because he appeared to be the product of a loving background. He told me that his mother had fled her vicious alcoholic husband when he was only three and that his father had then turned his rage on him, abusing him sexually and beating him viciously, and no one had been around to protect him. 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.

cdb1d3d61dee7f3fdb9f663b1af551b2
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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COBRAS WRITHE ABOUT HIS BLUE THROAT


Ramana says, echoing the mystics of all time,

That the three states of waking, sleeping and dreaming

Are unreal, meaning that they are ephemeral, and come and go.

 

Oh, but last night I dreamed I was the Great God Shiva,

Draped in the furs of mighty beasts,

Cobras writhing around my blue throat,

Whipping a nine foot bully harassing

A lovely girl with shining face of gold—

And oh, how I wish that dream was real!

4c43e9597e348e32446dfe8c83a2d488And then I awoke at dawn to the wondrous sight

Of a sacred hill whose crown was wreathed with

Layers of creamy evanescent clouds,

Even as peacocks shrieked and ravens cawed

For their morning feast of rice and milk—

And oh, how I wish that too was real!

 

And what to say about those long afternoon naps

Following a morning of writing and meditating,

When my mind vanishes into a nebulous netherworld

And my cares dissolve into blissful nothingness?

Please, can that not be real?

kiri-16gb-sd-card-6025Amused, the Mountain whispers in my ear:

Only consider, my dear,

That if these states that are but a passing show

Are so pleasant in their aftertaste,

How nectar sweet is your true nature, which is nothing less

Than Mahaprana, Pure Life, Mahachit, Infinite Awareness,

And Ananda, a celestial fountain of bliss?

 

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ON THE CURVED HORNS OF A DILEMMA

615d07728be5f75d5dd066fd9849c5f3A few years ago I met a man who had been born in a Communist regime. He loved to talk and freely shared his story with me: As a boy, he had loved and admired his jovial father who was devoted to his wife and kids. Although those were hard times for millions of others, this man made sure that no expense and care was spared to ensure the comfort of his loved ones. As far as this lad knew, daddy held a high position in government and was the beneficiary of many perks, which would account for their privileged lifestyle.

Then, out of the blue, at his eighteenth birthday party, his uncle (who had drunk a bit too much vodka) spilled the beans that his father headed a KGB unit that specialized in the torture and brainwashing of political prisoners. Shocked, for instinctively he knew this to be true, the teenager turned irrevocably against his father; although young and sheltered, he knew more than enough about what went on in the dreaded secret prisons and gulags to be appalled. The mere thought that he had sprung from a monster who, backed by a cruel state machine, had probably broken the bodies, minds and spirits of hundreds of dissenters in return for a luxurious lifestyle and power was too dreadful for him to digest. He also intuited that to confront his father would be a desperate and futile act.

Unable to continue living in the family dacha, he slipped away soon after, not just from his native land but right across the ocean, knowing he would never be safe in the Communist world as long as his father was alive. His wanderings eventually brought him to India, and here he lived for many decades, teaching yoga for his living. He also discovered a genius for mystical artwork, and this brought him a certain amount of fame as well as the income he needed to establish himself in quiet comfort.

I thought of him this morning as I read yet another report on how a certain politician (who is currently engaged in selfish and cruel machinations to enrich himself and his cohorts) is being staunchly supported by his own children. The man who confided in me that he fled Communist Russia because he could not come to terms with a sadistic father (who was probably both a schizophrenic and a psychopath) was incredibly brave to follow his heart. But these American kids appear to have no independent thoughts or a moral backbone, are nauseatingly arrogant and exude an annoying air of entitlement. They have been spoiled all their lives, and it is daddy’s money that has enabled them to strut about the world like royalty. But what if overnight daddy went bankrupt? How then would they react to his heartless shenanigans?

kiri-16gb-sd-card-6025This train of thought led me to recall yet another friend whose brilliant father became notorious for embezzling his upscale firm of millions of dollars. Despite mounting evidence proving his guilt, and many law suits filed against him for corruption, my friend adamantly refused to admit that his father had done anything wrong. His denial shocked me, because for me it is a relentless investigation into relative truth that frees us up to follow a higher path to lasting peace and bliss. True love enables us to confront close ones; if the bond is real, then everyone can evolve from the interaction.

Besides, Eastern teachings inform us we have incarnated a million times if not more; if this is true, then we have had millions of families and intimate relationships—so why cling to the toxic relationships of this current life as if they are all we have?

So what do we do when someone close to us reveals a relentlessly dark, perhaps even a demonic side? Since we are all fashioned differently, the answer will naturally vary. For me, it is a matter of principle above all mundane considerations. While I was blessed to have ethical parents (which does not mean they were perfect), I feel sure that had I a corrupt parent, sibling, lover or friend, I would first do all I could to help them transform; if that does not work (it rarely does), then only would I decide to disconnect, and with love.

Bhagavan RamanaIf we are so scared of the consequences of breaking free that we continue to proclaim the innocence of a close one against all evidence to the contrary, then drop by drop we ourselves turn evil, for energy is invisible and it spreads. If, on the other hand, we follow the guidance of our heart and cut poisonous ties despite the hassles and the terrific pain that generally follows such abrupt partings, then we have a shot at experiencing our true nature, which is nothing less than blazing light. As always, the choice is ours.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who forces us to grow through all the dilemmas and vicissitudes He hurls at us!

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The Quintessential Blog Book

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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

ONE CUP OF TEA AND TWO BISCUITS

FB_IMG_1456878290224I read “Freedom at Midnight” right through from cover to cover in a single day when I was a teen and recall loving it. The authors (they work as a team) spoke of an infamous Nizam of Hyderabad who was a noted miser. This Nawab (ruler) had two sets of clothes and two grimy skull caps. He was so rich that he stored currency notes (big denomination, foreign) in his cellars and rats feasted on them, even as his poor citizens struggled to keep body and soul together. This was during the time of British colonial rule. One day the Nizam was informed that a new British high official was about to make him a formal visit and that he should prepare appropriately. Naturally this official was anticipating a sumptuous reception; instead, the bewildered man was led into a small room to meet the Nizam and offered a cup of tea and two biscuits. So much for grand expectations, huh?

I grew up with parents who were ultra generous. My father believed not just in living well but in being extra hospitable to the extent he could. My mother (I have rarely come across so naturally good and innocent a woman) tried to help everyone. For big feasts, she would spend weeks before the event preparing sweets and savories in the traditional Indian way, and not just for family and relatives, but for the poor. Oh yes, they both had their faults, but their high ethics and willingness to help others have left an indelible impression on me. (They have both passed on, but sometimes I pray that they will come back to me in their reincarnated forms, just so I can be good to them, as I rarely was when I was a young rebel.)

Coming from such a background, I didn’t believe misers really existed (except in fiction) until I got to know one in close quarters. He puzzled me because, unlike that crusty old Nizam, he could he exceedingly generous in certain ways. For instance he loved gourmet food and did not stint on it for himself or others. But he was a hoarder of other goodies, and perhaps the most secretive man when it came to his money and assets, of which he had a lot.

FB_IMG_1490599852235Since then I have met other misers. Like the man who indulged in gourmet food, and yet was laughably tight-fisted in all other ways, these too had their own peculiarities. One wealthy woman spends abundantly on herself, her home, her pets and her current boyfriend, but shrinks back from spending a single dollar on even a close friend—unless there was some benefit in it for her. (She is committed to the Eastern path and a fervent meditator too, so go figure!) Another guy, who boasts that he has so much money that he doesn’t know what to do with it, religiously counts his pennies and will even ask you what you plan to order when he takes you to a restaurant—lest you are going to eat the most expensive items of the menu. Ha ha ha, not. Another big businessman I know has enough money for generations to come, but continues to spend most of his time making new deals; despite his seeming generosity, and although he would vehemently deny this, he too can be both miserly and crooked. And so on and so forth.

I used to be shocked and revolted by miserliness, but now I actually feel a deep compassion for those so attached to their material possessions that they cannot allow Spirit to move freely through them. The beauty of Advaita is that it teaches us that we are all One—that we emerge from a single source (sat-chit-ananda) and will eventually return to it.

Though convincingly real, the three states of waking sleeping and dreaming are not “real” in the context of Advaita, simply because they come and go; and it is the I AM, a split off from the Whole, that is the root of our powerful sense of I, me and mine. In its pure state, the I AM is the Guru, the Light, Brahman itself; in its mischievous form, it is Satan itself, for it seduces us to spend all our precious time grubbing away in the material world. The job of the seeker (Advaita) is to first to isolate the I AM, and then to focus solely on it, until it realizes it has been outed, and can then be coaxed to become your ally. Since the I AM has emerged directly from Source, it knows the way back to paradise; if Grace is showering down upon you, it will finally lead you home.

According to classical karmic theory, all our actions return to us multiplied, good and bad. So if we give, we are actually going to receive much more in return. In fact, giving or generosity is the first of the Paramitas, the great virtues that lead to enlightenment. But in order to qualify as a virtue, giving must be free of the ego. I know many (and I am guilty of this too) who will give a lot, but are also convinced that it is their mini-me, their egoic self, that is doing this great thing. This sort of giving only produces “dirty good karma”— results that sprout solely in the material ephemeral world.

The correct way to give is to realize that in truth we own nothing, for ownership implies control. Can you deny that even a billionaire cannot take a single hair or nail with him when Death comes calling? We have what we have due to our own past karma, which has a shelf life. And so the genuine seeker gives as if it is the Self that is giving, forgetting entirely about the human element.

8b0491b2a715579b114da4fdb36d7daaMostly it is suffering (intense grief, loss of possessions, reputation, loved ones and relationships, etc) that finally opens the eyes of the miser to the self-destructive beliefs he or she has been nursing. In our true state, we are abundance itself; study the lives of the great sages and you will see that many refused to even handle money or have possessions (except for essentials), and depended solely on the Divine (their own Self) to provide them with all their needs. We don’t have to be like them, of course, for few are secure enough to do this, but we can become more aware of our basic oneness, and know that when we are being generous to those in need, we are actually giving to our own Self.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who leads us, if we are ready and willing, from the unreal to the Real!

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MAHAMUDRA – Samsara’s Seven Flavors (2 of 4)

7293fc79f579a35ec9fc884aa6b3cadf-2THE GREAT SEAL

Etymologically, Mahamudra is a combination of two Sanskrit words: maha, or great, and mudra, translated in this context as seal. In ancient times, seals were the only way to confirm the authenticity of, say, a royal command. If a monarch sent an order to an outlying province to execute a corrupt minister, that message would have to bear his personal seal. And in the context of samsara or relative reality, Mahamudra is that seal of authenticity, for its characteristics are ubiquitous even in the tiniest aspect of samsara. 

Samsara is the condition of being forced by the power of one’s own karma to repeatedly take on an impure body and mind; in other words, the minds and bodies we currently wear are the creation of personal karma created over thousands of lifetimes. It’s okay to have a mind-body system, our guru would say with a laconic grin, but not one that is forced upon you. As for Emptinessit is an inadequate translation of the Sanskrit word Shunyata, the fecund void from which all things manifest. Why did western scholars use the word empty to describe Shunyata? Because the perception of an object depends on who is doing the perceiving—and it is therefore empty of having a fixed and permanent nature of its own. One man’s meat is another man’s poison….beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. These truisms refer to a great truth—that every pair of eyes that views an object is compelled to see it differently.

Why the word compelled? Because we are each literally forced to perceive an object in a particular way. Watch a movie with friends, for instance, and all of you might have a contrasting opinion—you love it, Keshav hates it, Anthea is bored. So the movie itself is essentially empty of having a fixed nature and is no more than a blank screen upon which each viewer projects his or her personal likes and dislikes. This phenomenon holds true even when folks agree on a thing, for individual perceptions differ at least slightly. And when non-humans perceive the same object, there are no common labels: for instance, what a soaring hawk sees when he looks down at a patch of forest a human can only speculate upon. Another critical teaching of eastern philosophy is that before we can see properly, we must first cultivate the right view, the correct filter through which to perceive the reality we inhabit. This view is critical particularly to the seeker of ultimate freedom.

6cfa74207d9988dbbdc3a2b428999120Diamond Sword

These are excerpts from the introduction I wrote on Mahamudra:

Imagine you own a sword fashioned of pure diamond which can slice through to the blazing heart of reality. This sword, however, is sheathed in layers of ignorance and is your own mind, your own consciousness. The poisons that dull it are delusions about the ultimate nature of reality, poisons that begin to form from our first moments of consciousness, when we begin to see all things as fixed in their nature—beautiful and ugly, cruel and kind, good and bad. Feelings spring forth from this world-view. We learn to like and dislike, to desire and to push away, to crave and to seek escape. This gives rise to an uncontrollable stream of thoughts, often resulting in heedless words and actions. Then, when our physical body dissolves back into the elements, our mindstream lives on, impregnated with the seeds of these habitual patterns (known as vasanas or samskaras). We are forced to take birth again, and the great wheel makes another turn. We suffer, age and die, again and again and again, trapped in defective worlds of our own creation.
Is there a way out of this madness? Yes! If we transform the way we think, speak and act, the movie of our relative life transforms too: Karma metamorphoses into a benevolent producer intent on giving us a blissful role, using her power to create a paradise for us to play within. Karma is compelled to act in this manner because the world is “empty”, because there is no base reality, because it is our thoughts, words and actions alone that fashion our reality.

303537_3128548673069_1069126392_nMahamudra is the systematic stripping of ignorance that all of us must undertake at some point in our eternal timeline. If we succeed in eliminating poisons that incline us to perceive ugliness instead of beauty, we are in a position to construct heaven. The stakes are incredibly high—eons of suffering if we don’t clean up the mess, luminous immortality if we do. 

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to help us strip away the unreal from the real, so we can rest in the peace and bliss of our immortal Self!

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MAHAMUDRA – Samsara’s Seven Flavors (1 of 4)

4b2c8bc7f1869ccbf64a10955f1f61ddPeak of summer, Manhattan 1995….life is on the upswing: an admin gig at a top law firm, my own apartment in picturesque Brooklyn Heights with a scintillating nocturnal view of New York’s other three boroughs (Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island), and glimpses of the cool profile of the Lady of Liberty towering over the horizon.

A swirl of friends—artists, musicians, writers, poets, sculptors, photographers, and the occasional lawyer or stockbroker—add zest to the mix. And while the week is one crazy stretch, weekends allow me to dip my soul into yoga and meditation, an amazing novel, an off-Broadway show, or even an evening performance of Shakespeare in Central Park, after which a bunch of us would troop over to a penthouse on the upper west side to party beneath a canopy of stars.

And yet, if life is so wonderful, why does angst continue to gnaw at my insides like a vicious bandicoot? Despite the glamorous facade of my life, the bitter truth is that I am alone and adrift in a thrumming city that never sleeps, learning the hard way that freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

How to get off this spinning wheel? I’d walked away from my marriage with zilch, and am now paying big chunks to the IRS, Social Security, Medicare and a co-op mortgage, which renders the prospect of escape bleak. I see other slaves of New York growing cynical—but I, like a female Icarus, yearn to fly free, even if I burn my gossamer wings daring to approach the blazing sun of liberation.

One Saturday morning I stroll down to Atlantic Avenue to shop at my favorite Moroccan grocery store. I step right into a scene from a souk in the Arabian Nights: wooden vats of black and green olives, tubs overflowing with varieties of grains, oils, herbs, and links of merguez (spicy lamb sausage) dangling from the eaves. Mehmet hands me a cup of mint tea flavored with orange blossom honey and a slice of baklava that melts deliciously in my mouth. As I bask in this old-world warmth, my worries dissolve into joy.

Backpack laden with goodies, I walk out and spot Angelica slouching along the avenue in faded Levis and paint-splattered sweatshirt. An artist who lived precariously in a Williamsburg loft with a heroin-addicted sculptor, I know Angelica is on a perennial hunt for a savior. Once, stoned out of her head, she’d blurted out that on her fifth birthday, her dad had stormed out of the house following a fight with her drunken mother, whereupon her mother had picked up a baseball bat and swung it at Angelica, shattering several tiny ribs; this was one of the many violent episodes that had broken her faith in humanity. “Hey Mira,” Angelica yelled, her face lighting up as she saw me. “I’m going to check out this brilliant lama tonight down in the Village. Wanna come?

Kiri 16GB sd card 6243-1Absolute & Relative Reality

Angelica and I rode the subway into downtown Manhattan and then walked to a packed hall near 8th street in the simmering east village. She was right—her lama was magnetic. In hindsight, it is easy to see how his unique methods of teaching gave my own life meaning and forever changed its course. Years flashed by as I studied with him, absorbing every nugget he dropped. I saw his ego grow monstrous as his flock swelled, but I stayed on, convinced that his teachings were authentic, culled directly as they were from the ancient scriptures. In fact I was so enraptured by his efforts to spread the dharma among the lost tribes of Manhattan that I offered to transcribe his teachings on Mahamudra—a word that has many connotations in the Buddhist world, but which he introduced to us as an ancient teaching on the nature of samsara, or relative reality.

Bhagavan Sri Ramana MaharshiEastern philosophy teaches that there are Two TruthsAbsolute and Relative. The Absolute is the true nature of all beings without exception, and is often characterized as having three qualities—existence, awareness and bliss, which are really the same thing—just as mango ice-cream is simultaneously cold, sweet and tastes of mango. Only the Relative (samsara) varies from being to being. But before we can merge with the Absolute, we must first make sense of our relative lives, and this is where Mahamudra enters the picture, for it breaks mundane reality into easily digestible blocks. When one accepts that all things are subject to these flavors (flavors, not steps or stages, since none is higher or lower), relative life finally begins to make sense, and one is free to move forward with clarity and confidence.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to help us strip away the unreal from the real, so we can rest in the peace and bliss of our immortal Self!

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ADVAITA IS NOT TWO

20dbcbc664f4efce769d85cf3c84993cAs a little girl, I discovered an interesting trait about myself—that, when I hurt others, as I often did, (almost always inadvertently, but sometimes intentionally—when I wanted to force them to look at their behavior through my eyes, see that they were wrong, and then choose to transform)—I would be just as hurt as they were, if not more. I was born intense and fierce, so I guess everything I said and did had an impact, positive or negative. Now this pain one experiences is actually our guru, for it warns us that we are powerful beings capable of inflicting suffering on others; if we ourselves don’t like pain, why then do we callously disregard the feelings of others?

Decades later I came upon the ancient teaching on Oneness, of Advaita, which literally means “not two” and understood my angst in a different way: Of course, I realized, when I hurt you, I too would suffer, simply because the essence of my mini-me is no different from yours. (Now I have met people so thick-skinned and non-empathetic that the pain they inflict does not currently seem to bother them; what they may not realize is that the karmic counter is clicking inexorably away, and that what they are giving out now is bound to eventually swing back to them, multiplied; at some point their agony will be intense).

Yes, some humans develop a tough hide and a monstrous ego that prevents them, literally, from feeling. Recently I listened to a woman complaining (really, it was an accumulation of doubt and bitterness due to subjecting herself for decades to a dishonest, warped, cold and materialistic man, who did not give a fig for her as a person, or as a vulnerable woman who craved love and connection. If at all he honors her, it is because she is the mother of his children whom he blindly adores, and because it serves his ego to present a shining façade to his family/community. The sharp pain I heard in her voice instantly became my pain—and that this man had chosen to hurt a sensitive woman to this point (clinical depression), and for so long, made me literally cry.

279dbfcf2cba52b1ecbc23c53cf96b95And I was angry with her too, for being weak and submissive to a tyrant, no matter his façade of being a talented and wonderful guy with more resources than the majority of our world. She reminded me of thousands of Indian women (I know this syndrome is not restricted to the East) who do more or less the same thing by allowing the patriarchy to torment and bully them. And yet I can empathize with the older generation of women, who felt they had no option but to stay and take the abuse. If they had stood up for themselves, most often their own blood families turned viciously on them, and even ostracized them. Besides, women did not work during that time, so how were they supposed to feed themselves and their children if they antagonized the narcissistic breadwinner of the family?

But this woman was different; she’d remained in a horrible marriage for decades despite being highly educated with oodles of money and the freedom to seek sure answers to her problems. Some of us, as you can see, are our own worst enemies. (If you encounter one such, after trying to get them to see the light, it is best to leave them to stew in their own misery, otherwise you are only wasting your precious time and energy. I am now learning when to stop trying to help—the reason being that I myself get dispirited and drained, and then I am of no use to anyone).

Others are empathetic to other humans, but not to birds, animals and reptiles. Don’t they know, I wonder, that the essence of all beings is the same? The outer covering is merely that—a shell; within each of us—dog, cat, cobra, pesky house fly or human—is the very same golden essence, for the Divine is embedded deeply within us all. As the Bhagavad Gita says so poetically, nothing can destroy this essence, neither fire, sword, wind nor water.

FB_IMG_1456878290224Karma has projected for us a certain form to learn new lessons in, and when that karma is exhausted, the spirit returns to the source, the One, Parabrahman. To give generously of our love and resources to a sick dog or cat, for instance, to feed strays and to support sanctuaries, orphanages, homes for battered women, or whatever, is only one way of acknowledging our Oneness. Who knows how we will return to the relative realm if we don’t figure out this potent truth despite all the wisdom that is spreading through our realm?

If we treat others with disdain and contempt, if we invest all our energy in protecting our egoic self (which is “unreal” according to Advaita, for it will dissolve back into the elements at the instant of physical death), we might come back as an amoeba, or a deadly serpent, or even a clump of moss or a pretty rock, and be forced to make our way back up the ladder of evolution in painful little steps. Think I’m joking? Not.

I once asked a wise man what would happen to a certain dictator after he died (he had committed genocide with cold and brutal efficiency). Yes, he had convinced himself that the race he was determined to exterminate was not human, but demonic. (Oh, really? Clearly he could not see his twisted ego attempting to compensate for the wounds some of these humans had unwittingly (or wittingly) subjected him to. Was this not a particularly virulent form of egoic payback, rather than the great cleansing work he had convinced himself, as well as thousands of insane followers, to believe he was doing?)

The old man told me he would have to return to the bottom of the ladder of evolution and go through billions of births and deaths before Karma would once again give him a human form. You see, he had been given so many blessings, and he had abused them. What goes around comes around, simple as that.

We can learn to be happy and peaceful the easy way, or the hard way. Right now, for instance, I am in my Saturn period (according to Vedic Astrology) and so I have to be extra careful. Saturn (Shani) has been likened to a powerful but stern father who wants to see his precious offspring make the best use of their potential. Fortunately I accept this, and so I am careful with how I think, speak and act. And when I do wrong, as often happens, I am as quick as lightning to make amends. Pain is essential, as Gautama Buddha said so long ago, but misery is optional. I, for one, have suffered enough. If treating all beings as my own precious Self leads me to the permanent freedom from desire and fear I crave (moksha, in Sanskrit), then why not invest all my energy in this awesome venture?

31bfa8c67297ecc9ab574db35cd84ca5Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to dissolve all our conditioning, delusions and blinders, so that we can see that essentially we are ONE!

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