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. Continue reading

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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TAKSHAK, MAHARAJA OF MELUKKHA

Takshak is a handsome, sexy, intelligent, and charismatic monarch who rules a great ancient civilization patterned on the cities of the Indus Valley Civilization. In his early days, Takshak’s father, the powerful Maharaja Shaardul, was a conceited and churlish man; and yet he was wise enough to allow his arrogance to be tamed by the divine fire of the High Tantrika Inanna. Saved from a horrible end, he instead evolved into a superb leader who brought great prosperity and happiness into the lives of his people.

Unfortunately, Takshak, despite being trained in the magic and mystery of Tantra by the best, despite exceptional riches of personality and material assets, chose the dark side. He too was given the amazing opportunity to raise his consciousness with the aid of a brilliant Tantrika, but he preferred the seemingly easy shortcuts of drugs and easy women. Falling into the hands of a mesmerizing foreign sorceress, who herself was ensnared by evil entities, he crashed headlong into disaster, murdering all those who stood in his way, and finally bringing his great civilization down with him. Sound familiar?

Here is an excerpt from the penultimate chapter of Whip, when the dying Takshak tracks his errant priestess down and begs her to save him from the demon:

The fire rumbled, disturbed by her dangerous thoughts, even as the demon stared back at her through Takshak’s yellow eyes—voracious, cunning, insidious. She recoiled, coming to her senses—this demon had fed on Takshak from his youth, growing stronger the sicker the Maharaja had become; it could well destroy her. There was only so much the fire could combat while her spirit was still encased in human flesh.

Though no breath of wind stirred, the torches left behind by the guardsmen flickered and died. In the pale silver of moonlight, an ethereal being appeared before Takshak. Ishvari uttered a soft cry of wonder, for she knew her to be Mahadevi in her guise as goddess of death, immortal consort of Yama, lord of the underworld. The lovely apparition touched Takshak on his third eye and he groaned as he glimpsed the hell realms to which he was bound. Then she was gone and silence crashed like thunder about Ishvari’s ears. She fell to her knees, weeping soundlessly for Takshak. Leave now, her soul whispered urgently. Head for the jungle!

“Guards!” Takshak screeched weakly, pounding on the sides of his palanquin, and Ishvari slid down the rock and raced along the banks of the river, towards the dark shape of the jungle.

cc56cbb87382e2c7f74faf1c64cc03f7Time is only a human construct; if we study history with a discerning eye, we might see the same old insidious patterns emerging. The substratum of all beings is pure existence, awareness and bliss, but if we let the ego triumph over our Spirit, and feed it with denial and rage, the demons enter and take over; soon there is no human left, only a sad puppet, who, when he or she inevitably ages and dies, carries with him the bad seeds of terrible karmas into future lives. And this, in a nutshell, is the tedious saga of samsara or relative reality, an endless spinning wheel that perpetuates misery and delusion.

Genocidal dictators, callous world leaders who give a damn for the agony they unleash on innocent women and children when they order the bombing of foreign cities (even as they relish rich chocolate cake!); men and women who put their own needs and desires for gratification above the common decency of caring for others, and who choose the dark shutters of secrecy over the bright innocence of transparency; all those who refuse to see the cosmos as One, rather than as something born to serve their needs alone—these are all possessed by negative entities, for our true nature is love.

Call me naïve or foolish, but I know, based on personal experience, and from watching the lives of many, that these humans have been usurped by malicious and malevolent entities whose prime goal is to feed on the one thing they must have in order to thrive—which is human prana, or life essence. Worse still, since they operate on the invisible energetic level, they can move from human to human, and it is not difficult for them to spread from one sick host through the whole family, and then to the community. This can go on for generations, which is why our world is as sick as it is.

Consider this: We humans don’t have a problem believing that an invisible virus can knock us off our feet for weeks. I once caught Taiwanese flu in Manhattan and was out for the count for a fortnight; I was so weakened by this invisible virus that I had to literally crawl to the bathroom. I thought I was going to die, but not for an instant did I doubt that something tiny and unseen could have done this to my strong body. Nor did those who knew I was down with a hideous form of flu. So why then do we have such a problem understanding that other such malevolent entities can infiltrate our spirits and wreak unimaginable havoc?

538cf907978caff0a650bf781ae961d4I wrote Whip because I was appalled by how many, in East and West, had misunderstood and distorted the ancient pure teachings on Tantra, which, in essence, simply means the transmutation of darkness into light. You might want to read it for yourself: https://miraprabhu.wordpress.com/mira-prabhu-all-links/ and arrive at your own conclusions.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, the epitome of infinite awareness and blazing light, who leads us surely from slavery to dark masters and towards the blissful luminescence of the Self!

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BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD

ac9a6ed443d206599b4d58f92afee35aYou can’t let the old biddy intimidate you like that, my friend said firmly in his gravelly voice. You have to stand up to her and you’re strong enough to do it. You feel weak after all your recent upheavals, I know, but if you lose this battle, you’ll regret it.

I put my cell phone into the pocket of my fleece jacket with a bitter sigh, knowing he was right. The “old biddy” was part-time leader of the incredibly lovely Zendo to which I had fled, many years ago, to escape the blistering heat of Tiruvannamalai. Aware that I did not care for their strict and ritualistic routine of meditation and wished to be left to my own devices to follow Ramana’s Direct Path of Self-Investigation, she had honed in on me like the battle axe that she was, determined to crush me into submission.

Panicking at her bizarre form of attack, which involved waiting until I was seated in the dining hall with friends before rushing forward to berate me in her heavily accented English, I had called my friend to let him know I was not enjoying my experience. But he was not ready to give in to my request that he immediately send a car to transport me all the way back to Tiruvannamalai, and so I had no other option but to fight this demented oppressor.

That afternoon I decided it was time to grapple with the Fear Monster who had plagued me so many times before. I locked myself into my lovely room and dived under the covers. The sky outside my window was overcast and the general atmosphere was one of doom and gloom. Okay then, I whispered as I closed my eyes and allowed myself to feel the clammy fingers of stress clutching at my heart. Let’s have it out, and right now, okay, you big bully?

Kiri 16GB sd card 6428I lay quiescent and allowed the ugly feelings to engulf me, determined to find out what was behind them. And sure enough, as the waves of fear did their weird thing, I sank below them and saw their source: ah, so the German woman represented the fear of authority that had been instilled in my right from childhood!

You see, my father was authoritarian to the extreme and his word was law. We were ordered to act in a certain way, and god forbid if we dared to question his orders—the consequences were so dire that all of us obeyed, at least on the surface. And then there were the teachers at school who demanded obedience or else, and all the other oppressors one tends to encounter along the byways of life, including those who disguise their nasty habits so well that one can be fooled for years.

At that instant of clear seeing, I actually felt the hold of the demon start to loosen; then, very slowly, those claws begin to fall away and to disappear. Later I was shocked to learn that the struggle had lasted for a couple of hours. The miracle was that right away I lost my fear of the German woman; she must have sensed that she no longer bothered me because she quickly found another newcomer to bully.

Until the vasanas (karmic trace impressions) that run the egoic system completely burn down, they can return to cause us trouble. And ever since, seven days ago to be precise, when a great big door slammed onto my right foot and crushed my toe, Fear and his sneering minions have been harassing me. There are many reasons for my tremulous feelings, but I won’t bore you with them. But I could not help wondering why this had happened in the first place.

This mini-disaster comes on the heels of other painful events. Just a couple of weeks ago, my dog Kali startled me in the middle of the night and I had slid off my huge bed and fallen to the floor with a heavy thud, hurting my left thigh quite badly. But I was soon back on my feet. This was followed by other mini-crises, and now I had almost broken my toe. What the hell was really going on? I confess I went through a medley of negative emotions including grief, anger and resentment. Why me? And this is the retort I would get: Why not you? You think you are special, eh? Well, get over it!

Yesterday afternoon I gazed upon the gray-green slopes of sacred Arunachala and tears sprang to my eyes. Why do you make me suffer like this? I whispered. The answer came as these words rang in my heart: Be Still And Know That I AM God.”

As all devotees of Ramana are aware, this Biblical line was a favorite with the great sage. What does it mean in the context of Advaita? It is certainly not encouragement to be a lazy bum and to wait for things to happen, no; instead we are meant to pour everything we have into stunning the wild mind into a perfect and brilliant stillness. When this miracle happens, the egoic self dissolves into the Self and one knows for sure that ones true nature is immortal bliss and infinite awareness. Be Still And Know That I AM God, yes, this is the highest goal we seekers of peace can hold before us as we make our way into the core of the Spiritual Heart.

ece0e5efb7e69f25bae5daa7f08c1338I don’t deny that I’ve come a long way from the crazy child I was, but there are still miles to go before I burn down that mountain range of karmic predilections that still keep me subject to pleasure and pain, to desire and to fear. My current tendency is to create a comfort zone and to hide in there for as long as possible—which is why the powers that be make sure to crack that zone and shove me willy-nilly back into the world; the idea is, I am convinced, to force me to grow beyond all borders and boundaries.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who whips us forward despite our protestations, determined to fulfill his vow to destroy all that blocks us from knowing we are joy itself!

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A THIRD EYE VIEW OF THE GREEN MONSTER

6cfa74207d9988dbbdc3a2b428999120Intense emotions such as low-self-esteem can lead to suicide. This is a fact. Which is why, being a deeply emotional person myself, I loved this model of the human psyche: first Spirit, then Intellect, then the Rational Mind, and finally Emotions. In this ladder of hierarchy, Spirit rules the roost, and all the other elements of the psyche must be made subordinate to the wisdom of the Spirit or Self, which is our true nature.

Why is Spirit our true nature? Because it alone survives physical death and is therefore considered “real”. Eastern sages claim that it is a blend of pure existence, awareness and bliss. The other three levels, which compose the egoic system, are composed of the five elements—earth, water, fire air and consciousness (when awareness connects with an object, it turns into consciousness; in its pure form, consciousness is awareness), and they run on the primal energy of what are known as the Three Gunas (Sattva (purity), Rajas (dynamic activity) and Tamas (inertia or sloth/passivity). When we die, these elements return to their various sources, leaving Spirit free to merge back with the One, or to take another form befitting its karma.

I can’t remember the first time I experienced jealousy, but it must have been early on. Of all the emotions, I decided, the green eyed monster was the worst. In its grip, one sank into lower consciousness and all higher intelligence fled. At its most intense level, all one wishes to do is to destroy the object that is causing us this writhing and ugly pain. In its lower manifestation, such as envy, jealousy makes us lose respect and love for our own self, for the object that evokes it seems to be so much better and finer and more deserving of love and appreciation than our own shoddy self. And this is a lie!!! For, in essence, and although forms vary greatly, we are the same blissful awareness.

Sometime in my teens I realized I could not control this strong emotion, but that I could certainly learn to avoid people and things that evoked it in me—and this led me to a policy of never associating with those who deliberately made me jealous by flaunting that which I did not possess.

1165311e076f9fab8a6e2f39ba6df8caBut my real victory over the dark side came when I began to understand Eastern philosophy and particularly the ancient teachings on karma. I realized that whether it was stunning good looks, intellectual brilliance, the mature love of another human, great wealth or whatever, all of these gifts, according to karmic theory, had been earned by the current recipient in this or other incarnations. And therefore, rather than wasting my time and energy being jealous, I myself could gain those gifts by thinking, speaking and acting in a higher way (the classical definition of karma is merely how we think, speak and act; the results come later, either in seconds, fifteen years later, or even in another lifetime, when the causes and conditions for the karmic seed to flower appear).

No one is exempt from the dark side. Spiritual work is basically the transmutation of this innate darkness into the brilliant light of our true nature, and in acknowledging deeply that we One. And it is not just children and teenagers who experience jealousy. Adults who have not done their interior cleansing experience it too, and in them, I believe, jealousy is at its most nauseating.

Jealousy, like all negative states, thrives on denial. When we deny what we are really thinking, feeling and acting, the ego is in the corner, smiling with triumph and doing push-ups. I have known men who when the object of their affection revealed a side they did not like, such as openly expressing their views and perceptions, turned on them, sometimes openly, sometimes with a blend of tactics including passive-aggression (the worst in my opinion) and proceeded to block and hurt them, whether by breaking their word in all ways from the trivial to the sublime, or by abruptly withdrawing their support. What is really behind this behavior? The miffed little kid furious that his love has been rejected, and who does not know, or wish to experience the nature of real love, which is to help “the other” to grow into the light.

cda434014b3bb07e8d7db7d167fa00a2I knew a rich, attractive and talented woman who was subject to ghastly fits of jealousy that would come upon her without warning and stun us all. She was definitely on an inner path and sincere about her practice, but her blind spot was that she could not see how intensely she was prone to jealousy, to not wanting others to have what she had. (I met her aunt once, a lovely and fascinating woman, and she told me that she had been this way right from childhood; now I realize this means that she had nursed this ugliness over lifetimes so that it had become a strong vasana (karmic trace impression) that would need actual burning down in order for it to disappear.) And then a dark veil would fall over her and, right in front of us, she would regress to the state of an angry and envious child. She did not seem to care that we were watching; indeed, I believe she was not even aware of the demon who had usurped her Spirit. For me, it was actually quite frightening to watch her in one of these states, like seeing someone possessed by a grinning and evil invisible entity.

Everyone who knew her spoke of her insane attacks of jealousy behind her back, but, as far as I know, I was the only one to speak to her about it, although I was very careful because I had seen her get viciously aggressive in self-defense. What baffled me is that this woman considered herself a strong inner practitioner and clear seeing is integral to this path. I realized that when jealousy grows in the dark for decades (or lifetimes), it becomes so powerful that it can hide its presence from the host; I honestly believe that had she seen herself as others saw her, she would have been terribly ashamed and sought transformation. The bizarre thing is that in many other respects she was a generous and loving friend.

History is replete with instances of intensely jealous people killing their lovers etcetera. Think Medea, who killed her own beloved children to teach her straying husband a lesson. (I hope I got that right—it’s been a long time since I delved into Greek mythology.) Jealousy is often the driving force behind conquest, murder and genocide, although cunning propagandists will provide a million reasons for the harm they inflict, and never ever mention the barrage of negative emotions behind the whole sickening enterprise. Summing it up, jealousy (and its vile attendant emotions) is an insidious emotion with a billion masks that should be uprooted and permanently destroyed if one genuinely seeks peace. I am so relieved I do not experience it anymore, and most certainly owe this great blessing to the relentless deepening my inner work.

d234450d3d62a8926e9c9bca1ac39318Recently a woman who makes her living helping others with some sort of therapy jumped up out of the past like an evil jack-in-the-box and started attacking me in her usual sly and manipulative way. Unlike children and animals, who experience a blast of jealousy and are so transparent in how it affects them that often watching them can even be amusing, adults use a variety of ways to mask their toxic emotions. This woman’s tactic is to praise you to the skies and then, when you are lulled into a false feeling of security, and believe, with a sigh of relief, that she has gotten over her earlier resentment of you (for god knows what reason!), she sticks her rusty knives in and hopes you die. I made the mistake of responding to her, courteously as I always try to do, but my response only infuriated her and I realized I had to block her. Especially when jealousy and other strong negative emotions are combined with a sharp intelligence (which is the case with this woman), there is no point in hanging around to take more abuse. Only grace can break through the concrete walls they have built around themselves and dissolve the blind spot that does not allow them to see how petty and vindictive they have become, despite claiming to be oh so spiritual.

All of us attract jealousy and even the greatest of sages are no exception. Gautama Buddha had to deal with a lot of malice too, even from his own ex-brother-in-law Devadatta, who resented him mightily for what he considered the abandonment of his beloved sister Yashodhara and their son Rahula. Now I cannot imagine any open-hearted human not being simply blown away by the naked brilliance of the Buddha and completely understanding why he did what he did, which is run away from his luxurious dwelling in the dead of night, in order to pursue his goal of permanent liberation from suffering. Besides, he did this not just for himself, but for all beings! Clearly jealousy had blinded Devadatta too, to the point he could not see as others saw. As for Ramana, one old “sadhu” was so jealous of him that he tried to kill the young sage by throwing a boulder down on him as he passed below!

I have finally learned my lesson, I hope, and it came through this final unpleasant encounter with this privileged woman who is blind to her own sickness. Never place your head in the mouth of a tiger, especially it if is a rabid beast. And that is what jealousy rapidly turns us into, rabid beasts on a reckless mission to destroy all that is good and sweet. Dwell, the Buddha said so long ago, for you are the light itself, do not rely on others. Does this mean we cannot benefit from the help and support of those who love us and wish us well? Not at all! It just means that we must be careful when we engage with those who do not have our highest interests at heart, for one such encounter with the spiteful demon of jealousy can throw us off course for too long.

303537_3128548673069_1069126392_nGreetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of hill of fire and light, who helps us to shed all our toxic baggage so we can walk freely towards the light!

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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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Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide: 4/4

FB_IMG_1463360088510My intense emotional reactions to suffering often paralyzed me into depression. By the time I was in my teens, I already knew that in order to survive, I would have to make peace with the patriarchy. The concept of brawn over brain seemed to have distorted the collective psyche, for everywhere, among rich and poor, educated and illiterate, I saw perverted masculinity. Instead of cherishing their womenfolk, many men viewed their own sisters, wives and daughters as rivals to be diminished and trounced, and sp they smashed feminine self-esteem to smithereens. As a result, sexual union was often reduced to the usurpation of the female body, and marriage, in many cases, to no more than a legal form of rape.

Fortunately, in my late teens I stumbled onto the priceless tools of eastern philosophy. Focusing on the theories of karma and reincarnation, I trained myself to apply this spiritual knowledge to all situations. My intent was to restore myself to peace so I could get on with life. Soon everything really did begin to fall into place. Contrary to mainstream thinking, karmic software is not designed to punish; instead it throws abusers into situations where perpetrator becomes victim. Gradually we come to see that each of us perceives but a fragment of the cosmic picture; ultimately there is no separation and we are truly one. This process evokes empathy and the melting of destructive patterns, and therefore karma is our friend, for it helps us evolve.

We also learn to question our instinctive perceptions. We may see a husband striking his wife, for instance, and be gripped by a terrible anger; however, not being omniscient, we cannot see the events (in this or past incarnations) that preceded this beating. Perhaps the woman being brutalized has brutalized; the molested child has molested; the honest man reduced to poverty by a ruthless rival has himself been a lethal shark. None of which means that we should stand by passively and watch evil being done; on the contrary! Humans of integrity must always be willing to protect the weak, the gullible and the innocent, even while accepting that there is more to any picture than meets the eye; in simple words, when we step in to help, we must do so as instruments of the Divine, and not from the limited ego.

IMG-20170321-WA0001In an ideal world, man and woman would consider each other equal but different. A couple is much stronger when their bond is energized by respect, love, harmony and co-operation. As for those who commit themselves to celibacy, they too must find ways to unite male and female aspects within themselves. For both the committed couple and the celibate, Tantra is one teaching that offers a variety of profound solutions.

The human race appears to have oscillated between diametrically opposed archetypes—absolute patriarchal power, and the holistic paradigm of ancient cultures, where male and female are revered as divine halves of a whole. Sex alone can never satiate the human soul; what is called for is the intimate bonding of equals and mutual appreciation. In so empowering each other, man is encouraged to grow into awesome grandeur, and woman reclaims her sacred role as primal healer. If we are to transform prevalent disturbing male-female equations, each of us must first become aware of the insidiously deep layers of conditioning that have seeped into the collective subconscious. Then we must shine our torch fearlessly onto our own dysfunctional views of the opposite sex and melt the blocks within our own psyches. To refine one’s own self, as one of my gurus said, is to refine our experience of the world. And while it can be agonizing to use the mind to unearth embedded the subconscious codes that block us from giving and receiving joy, the rewards can be rich.

Bhagavan RamanaFor those who wish to begin this herculean task, I recommend seeking out an authentic form of meditation—such as Atma-Vichara (Self-investigation), the direct path to higher consciousness as taught by Ramana Maharshi. Direct investigation into one’s true nature has the power to dissolve all relative darkness, along with the countless fear-based separations humans automatically set up as barriers between self and other. After all, in the realm of the Absolute we are neither man nor woman, ugly nor beautiful, young nor old, rich nor poor, intelligent nor dumb; instead, we are the perfect manifestation of one single energy, whose ground is the incandescent Divine.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who destroys all that blocks us from knowing we are the immortal and blissful Self!

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Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide: 3/4

236b5bffa3aec42a4dafbe6ef9a84e94Another little tale: Noor, a slender Muslim girl with a sexy overbite, joined my school as a senior. Rumor had it that she’d been expelled from her old school for hanging out with boys. Pretty Noor was clearly lacking in the brains department and soon she was back to her old tricks—Lotharios on fast motorbikes and slicked-back pompadour hair would pick her up at the school gate at the start of lunch break and rush back with her, grinning shamelessly, just before the bell rang for afternoon class. What they managed to do in so short a time boggles the imagination.

Years went by and I was in college. One day, strolling down the main drag of our suburban neighborhood, a woman waved at me from the doorway of one of the new houses that had mushroomed all around us. Garbed in purdah, carrying an infant in her arms, she did not look like anyone I would know. Curious, I walked across and recognized the overbite—yes, it was Noor! As she plied me with tea and pistachio barfi, she told me her father had forced her to marry right after school. Her husband was a businessman who treated her like dirt—because, she admitted sadly, he was aware of her wicked past. He’d agreed to marry her only because of the huge dowry her father had offered. She pointed to a photo of her husband and herself on the mantelpiece; I bit my lip: just a few days ago, this same fellow had stopped his car as I walked down the road and, with a lecherous smirk, had asked if I’d join him for a beer at Bangalore Club.

If this sort of stuff happens in the higher echelons, what do you think happens to, say, women servants? Let me tell you about the strapping driver employed by a friend of mine. After work, the fellow would visit one of his five mistresses—each of whom had been abandoned by her husband. The woman would fry up spicy chicken livers to go with the country liquor to which he was addicted, but if she dared to pick a fight, he’d up and leave, sticking four fingers in the air—the message was this: hey, woman, if you don’t like me just the way I am, there are four others right now who’ll take me in! 

6cfa74207d9988dbbdc3a2b428999120Deepa Mehta, one of our finest film-makers, was asked why she thought the attitude towards women in India is so depressingly ugly. “Patriarchy,” she retorted succinctly. “We’ve always felt that the girl child is worth nothing and should in fact be aborted even before she is born. The boy can do no wrong. If the girl is treated as a sub-human, or the boy is raised to believe he can do no wrong, then this is what will happen.” But India was not always this way. What happened? My own elliptical quest for answers led me to partially blame Manu, author of the Manava Dharma-shastra (dates for the creation of this text vary from 1500 BCE to 500 AD) for tossing the Indian gender ball down the hill. Some say Manu compiled the laws at the request of ten great sages following a great flood; others claim he was given the sacred laws by Brahma the Creator himself, rendering the Manusmriti divine. Whatever the truth, Manu was no democrat, for the Brahmin (highest caste) was accorded near divine status while the Sudra (lowest caste) was denigrated and reviled. The Manusmriti specified light fines and penalties for Brahmin offenders and these punishments increased in severity for warriors, farmers, and serfs.

Manu’s views on women in particular make me shudder. Woman, he pronounced, was inept, inconsistent, and prone to sensuality. Therefore he deemed her unfit to exercise individual rights. As an infant, she was to be placed under the dominion of her father; as a wife, she was to be subservient to her husband; as a mother, to her sons; if widowed in her youth, she was never to marry again; if her husband was an adulterous rogue, she was still bound to consider him equal to God; while she could share in the wealth of the family, her wages were never to exceed half of a man’s wages for the same labor; and worst of all, she was prohibited from studying the sacred scriptures or participating in important social functions. I am not surprised that Dr. Ambedkar burnt the Manusmriti in public. Born into the lowest caste himself, this brilliant man who battled unimaginable odds to rise to his eminent position, and who crafted the Indian Constitution, would have had excellent reason to do so. I only wish I had been there to dance around that particular funeral pyre.

The good news is that Manu’s influence was not as profound as it might have been. Indians, bless our hearts, can be notorious law-breakers; many, I am sure, scorn Manu’s code for its evil in rigidifying the once liberal caste system and for its misogyny. In fact, right up to about the eleventh century, Indians were a free-thinking lot with a healthy sexual outlook. Take a look at the Kamasutra (The Art of Love-Making), where union between the sexes is elevated to an unparalleled art form. In those golden days, Indian women were free to choose their own partners and men vied with each other to win their hearts in a tradition known as swayamvara. As for the amazing temples of Khajuraho and Konarak, they depict the art of sexuality in both its proud eroticism as well as its transcendental spirituality. Nor was it just sexual freedom that our maidens enjoyed—Gargi, Maitreyi, Leelavati and Lopamudra engaged in spirited philosophical and political debate. As for Mirabai, a fourteenth century Rajput Princess whose heart-melting songs of adoration for the Blue God Krishna are still sung all over India, she  wriggled free of a rigid and entrenched patriarchy to become an icon for the liberation of all women.

Kiri 16GB sd card 6243-1Certainly the Shakti Cult was responsible for providing women with a multitude of freedoms. Predating the Hindu faith, it was based on the sacred union of male and female as the balancing forces in the Universe. Male represented the physical manifestation of the “Divine”, while female represented Shakti, or non-material energy. Adherents of this path treated all females as personifications of Nature—a notion which echoes eco-feminism in new-age terminology. And so ancient India glorified polyandrous Draupadi with her five Pandava husbands, and extolled Mandodari, wife of the demon-king Ravana, who married her brother-in-law Vibhishana after her husband’s death. Tara wed Sugriva after the death of Bali and Kunti had pre-marital sex. All these women were considered noble, and rightly so, for they were exceptional humans. As for the Mahabharata, it provides proof that far from being considered a mundane pleasure, sexuality had entered the dimension of the sacred.

Then Muslim hordes invaded India and ruled for almost six hundred years. Hindus ordered their women to stay indoors, fearing the hot eyes of their Muslim rulers. And, as ugly fear-based patriarchal values took over, the mutual respect, friendship and love forged between our men and women dissolved into the fear and suppression we so often see today.

7293fc79f579a35ec9fc884aa6b3cadf-2Sex is a creative energy bestowed on all living creatures and inextricably aligned to the level of consciousness. Since humans have the highest degree of consciousness, sex occupies a vital place in human inner consciousness and is therefore more than a self replicating process. All ancient civilizations performed fertility rituals to celebrate the energy of the elemental Universe; indeed it is through the body that both body and mind can be transcended, for orgasmic ecstasy suspends the body and elevates consciousness. (To be continued in the next post).

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who destroys all that blocks us from knowing we are the immortal and blissful Self.

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Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide: 2/4

279dbfcf2cba52b1ecbc23c53cf96b95As I moved into my teen years, I sought out friends who equally dreaded being thrust into the marriage market—to be assessed in terms of dowry, fair complexions, domestic skills, and the ability to please husband and in-laws. (While the practice of dowry has been illegal for decades now, women are harassed, even burned to death, if their families are unable to satiate greedy in-laws. In some cases, a man marries, gets a good dowry, kills his bride in collusion with his mother, and gets away with it, either by bribing the cops or by faking a credible accident—whereupon he goes bride-hunting again.)

During summer holiday afternoons while the rest of my family was taking their siesta, I’d creep out to pay impromptu visits to my girlfriends in the hood. Inside their bedrooms, with the fan going full blast, we’d giggle and gossip as we gorged on sweets and savories. One family I befriended were Himachali Brahmins who had settled in Bangalore. The husband spent his time slumbering or seated cross-legged on the living room couch, perusing the papers or some crappy thriller. His wife was a good-looking and industrious woman, a Hindu fanatic and Sanskrit scholar who ran the household with iron efficiency and was tough on everyone but her indolent husband. All he had to do was crook a little finger—demanding chai or that she clean his ears or trim his finger and toenails—and she’d run to obey.

Unfortunately “Uncle” took a weird shine to me. One afternoon I dropped in on the family, unaware that the girls were away visiting relatives. Uncle opened the door, summoned me over to his couch and handed me a paperback novel. He pointed to a paragraph. “Read this out to me, please,” he ordered. Vain as I was, I began to read in a loud voice, showing off my perfect diction. It was a Harold Robbins book, and the section he’d chosen described the heroine being banged silly by the smoldering hero. Innocent as I then was, I still knew an older man asking a thirteen-year old to read soft porn to him was hideously wrong. In seconds, I was red-faced and stuttering. Uncle took a firm grasp of my arm to prevent me from escaping. I was doing so very well, he crooned; he was so enjoying my reading. Just then his wife entered the room. With a rude flick of a hand, he ordered that proud woman out. I wriggled out of his grasp, flung the book on the floor, and hurtled out into the hot afternoon, feeling an ugly mix of guilt and shame and rage.

9e4db9873c00799c674eaa9df76ed47aKnowing I’d be blamed, I was reluctant to confide what had happened to anyone in my family. Who asked you to go there in the first place? I could hear my mother shriek. Weren’t you supposed to be sleeping? WhatYou jumped over the wall again? You are utterly shameless and deserve everything you get! You see? Already I was aware that in the world I inhabited, the female of the species would be the eternal scapegoat. Had I complained, a variation of that old song would have been sung: “Don’t blame meShe was wearing a red dress, and so I raped her.”

On the street parallel to our home lived a Rajput family. Rajputs are a fierce and beautiful race, originators of Sati, the ancient and hideous practice of urging a wife to leap on to her husband’s funeral pyre—for what is a woman worth without a man, anyway? Better to burn baby burn, and get all the endless abuse to which a widow is subjected out of the way once and for all. Never mind that in thousands of cases the dead husband was a doddering old fart, and the wife a young girl led to marital slaughter by virtuous parents. Duty and honor were considered paramount, and a “good” woman was urged to end her life when her man was gone. Those who refused were drugged, thrown onto the funeral pyre, and drums were beaten loud and hard to drown out their shrieks.

Now Lakshmi, youngest of three daughters born to this family, committed the mortal sin of falling in love with the attractive son of a local Muslim building contractor. Traditionally speaking, the Rajputs and the Muslims are arch enemies; so, when some spiteful gossip leaked the information to Lakshmi’s parents, her father, an important man in the community, went bonkers: Lakshmi was pulled out of college, given a whipping, and placed under house arrest. Shocked, a bunch of us neighborhood kids held a pow-pow to which we invited Shaukat, her grieving lover. Since I was considered the bravest, it was decided that I would find out what was going on. Next morning we waited until her father’s car drove out of their house. Armed with a letter from her swain hidden in my bag, I walked in through her gate and rang the house bell. Her mother, a darkly pretty woman from a village near Jaipur who spoke no English, opened the door, probably thinking I was a salesman. I pushed past her and raced up the stairs to find Lakshmi, who had spied me entering the gate through her window, standing at the door to her bedroom. Quickly I slipped her the love letter and tried valiantly to control my tears—for in the space of days, her eyes were swollen with crying and her lovely face was covered with pimples. In a low dramatic voice I delivered Shaukat’s romantic oath—that he would rescue her and make her his bride. The light that shone through her stark misery made me want to cry even more.

e5a9d684e0fb9c4db5f10eaa9cae51c9Like Rajput heroines of yore, Lakshmi was amazingly resilient. She managed to convince her father—in truth, a kind man who simply could not break free of the old ways—that she had “reformed”. Then, three years later, exactly a day past her twenty-first birthday, she simply disappeared from the house, leaving behind all the expensive gifts her parents had given her. A note sat on her bed: “You gave me everything material,” it read in true Bollywood style, “but not my heart’s desire.” Her father drove frantically over to Shaukat’s house. “Where’s that bastard?” he screamed in Hindi at the servant woman who stood by their gate. The old thing spat a stream of red betel juice over the wall. “Gone,” she announced with a shrug. “Nobody here. All gone Shaukat marriage.” More than a decade later, on my annual vacation from Manhattan, I bumped into Lakshmi’s brother on Commercial Street. “How are things with Lakshmi? I asked anxiously. “Fine,” he replied with a grin. “They have three kids—two boys and a girl. Dad relented and invited them home after their third baby. Now both our families are friends.” A fairy-tale ending? Yes, but then Lakshmi was patient and cunning and Shaukat never gave up—and perhaps the Muslims wanted to teach the proud Rajputs a lesson. Most such situations would have ended in depression, murder or suicide. (To be continued in the next post).

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who destroys all that blocks us from knowing we are the immortal and blissful Self!

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Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide: 1/4

WWG-Small-TrilogyIn the Manhattan winter of 1992, I dreamed about writing an epic set in a mythical civilization ruled by Rudra-Siva, the great god of paradox, and infused with the beauty of Tantra. Somehow, I intuited that the Wild God himself would spark my dream into roaring life; believe it or not, this is what happened twenty years later, under the shadow of Arunachala, the hill considered by millions to be the form taken by Shiva in order to help seekers dissolve back into the immortal and blissful Self.

While researching this novel, I came upon an ancient saying in the Tantras that goes something like this: When Shiva set his seal upon this world, he cleaved it into male and female; when male and female come together in sacred union, Shiva blesses them with the bliss of Oneness. Whether depicted as Ardhaniswara (half-man, half-woman), or in his contrasting roles of ascetic and hedonist, I knew this union referred to more than the conventional man-woman nexus. Shiva’s point is clear: in order to be whole, male and female must unite, and this can take place either in a celibate who seeks to unite these polarities in his or her own being, or in the matrix created by a spiritual couple.

As an Indian woman born into a multi-tiered society, I began to mull over why all male-dominated cultures had turned into raging gender battlefields. Since each of us is bound to have a unique take on the often subterranean gender wars that have ruined the fabric of our existence, I can speak only for myself and the way I learned to “see.” My home was dysfunctional, as most homes over the planet are, whether on the surface or deep in the bowels of core relationships; the tacit understanding that men ruled the roost permeated our domestic atmosphere. A brilliant and charismatic man who enthralled our guests with his easy raconteuring, his rage could incinerate, while his scathing tongue could eviscerate. Despite his liberal attitude towards educating all his children, my father was the undisputed patriarch and none of us, least of all my dutiful mother, dared challenge him.

Kiri 16GB sd card 4418Our society was studded with double-standards that applied to every aspect of our lives, and yet most women seemed to have accepted their lot. Some were born docile and did not rebel against playing second, third or nth fiddle; others were born under a lucky star—their men were sympathetic and pliable and life was good; still others toed the line because they had no option: since they were not encouraged to fend for themselves, existence could be pure hell if they incurred male ire.

The Indian patriarchy, like all virulent cancers, has a gazillion ways of perpetuating itself. One major trap: every married woman is urged to have children as soon as possible. The pressure is so enormous that many sink into depression when this does not happen. (Read: May You Be The Mother Of A Hundred Sons, by Elisabeth Bumiller). And once children come, so does slavery; burdened by hungry mouths to feed, at the mercy of menfolk who hold firmly on to the family purse-strings, women have even less time to challenge the patriarchy. And God forbid a wife should dare to complain about an abusive husband! If you are one such, you risk being called a “shrew”, a bitch, or even a “ghodi” (horse, a fast and therefore bad woman) or even ostracized.

Featured Image -- 9585While my father wanted his children to become doctors and diplomats, he firmly believed in the institution of arranged marriage. This was ahated prospect that hung over my mutinous head like a sword of Damocles, and I’d grumble to my mother that there was little point in educating us if we were going to be shoved into marriage and forced to have one kid after another. “How can you decide who I should live with, sleep with, cook for the rest of my life?” “Be a good girl,” she’d warn. “If you’re lucky, your husband will let you do what you want. Love comes after, not before marriage.” The word “good” was thrown at us so often that I cringed to hear it. What about being an original, excellent, humane, exciting, creative, and liberal human being? As for bad girls, they were warned that the entire family would suffer on their account—after all, which decent family would permit their children to marry into a family that harbored a single bad seed? And so emotional blackmail was thrown into the simmering witches’ cauldron of double standards. (To be continued in the next post).

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who destroys all that blocks us from knowing we are the immortal and blissful Self!

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