DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?

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cda434014b3bb07e8d7db7d167fa00a2My father taught me a powerful lesson growing up; I watched many a time as he out-intimidated the legion of official and governmental bullies that routinely harass all Indians and make millions of lives miserable. “Do you know who I am” he would roar, and the would-be bully would literally quake with fear and trepidation. And he did this with genuine anger, because this kind of official misbehavior personally offended him. He stood up not just for himself—in his prime, he was a wealthy, powerful, articulate and educated man with immense influence—but for those with lesser resources, and even for the illiterate poor who had no option but to bow down to these horrible apologies for man so that they could get their work done. Since survival was a burning issue for many of these people, and the bullies knew they held the winning card, most often there was no competition.

Recently I was reminded of how the Indian poor in particular are hounded, harassed and cheated when my maid came crying to me to inform me that the local police had extracted a huge bribe from her laborer brother. Her brother had beaten up his wife’s lover and brought her back home after a sensational elopement. I told my maid I would go with her to the Collector’s office and help her to make an official complaint against these men—something I would hate to do since I dislike offices in general, and the men who run them even more; but I felt so awful at the thought of this poor man being bullied and robbed that I felt I had to do my bit. And what did she say? Gave me a shrug and said it wouldn’t work, that everyone was corrupt and all the family could do in such a situation was to suck up this huge crime and carry on. I yelled at her and said it was because of this passive attitude of the voiceless masses that things have gotten to this ghastly state, but of course she did not understand where I was coming from and did not accept my offer. Continue reading

BLISS JUNKIE

9a98b5caac8b4a9fc6c46747c8fdfc73One result of discovering the amazing teachings of Eastern philosophy was that I began to closely study my own relative nature. Over time I came to the conclusion that it was composed of two almost equal but opposing sides: yes, I was half hedonist and half ascetic. Not surprising since we are enmeshed in a dualistic structure and are inclined to strong likes and dislikes. The stronger the personality, the more intense are these likes and dislikes, so, someone like me, for instance, would seek all sorts of sensory pleasure while suffering from an abysmally low tolerance for pain.

Now a wise human would gravitate to pleasures that are meaningful and that last, but the confused adolescent that I was sought enjoyment in fleeting things that left me dissatisfied and hungry for more. It was only when I heard the phrase: “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” that I woke up with a start and realized that I had been frittering away my precious life in repeating the same old nonsense and foolishly expecting the results to be gratifying. Continue reading

DID I TELL YOU NOT TO HISS?

8b0491b2a715579b114da4fdb36d7daaThe great sage Ramakrishna told this old tale to his disciples: an angry snake terrified the village boys so greatly that they dared not venture near his territory. One day a yogi was walking through the village when a boy warned him not to venture near the abode of the vicious serpent. The yogi told the boy not to worry, for he knew a mantra that would calm the serpent. He was speaking the truth: when the snake slithered forward to attack him, the yogi intoned the mantra and the snake became still and peaceful. Then the yogi gave the snake another mantra to chant and told him not to trouble the boys but instead to seek a higher peace. The snake obeyed. But when the village boys discovered the snake was now peaceful, they began to torment him. One bully even picked him up and slammed him repeatedly against a sharp rock until he was broken and bleeding, then left him for dead.

Somehow the snake survived. When the yogi returned some months later, he was shocked at his dismal state and demanded an explanation. The snake was surprised—but you told me to be peaceful! he said. So I did, said the sage in exasperation, I asked you not to bite, but did I tell you not to hiss? Continue reading

ADVAITA IS NOT TWO

tumblr_nmhwy2xupu1sjjdtyo1_540I am no scholar and tend to reduce the most sophisticated philosophy into easily digestible truths I can use in my daily life. Complication and complexity only keep me from going deep, I have discovered, and when ideas become simple, they also become fuel for the blissful enlightenment I seek.

If this ancient teaching is true, I often used to wonder, how then did such fierce individuality spring up, driven by insidious notions of ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine,’ along with the concomitant evils of competition, jealousy, demeaning others so we can shine as the sole jewels in any given scenario, etcetera? How are some humans capable of the worst crimes when they employ their special status or belief in their class, caste, intelligence or privilege as weapons of justification?

The usual answer, of course, is the ego. A friend in Manhattan once defined it as a nasty piece of work in its negative form, and even gave me an anagram for it: that which Eases God Out. But how does the ego itself get a chance to grow to such monstrous proportions, so that royal lineages spring into being from it, and dynasties flourish, billionaires are a dime a dozen, and we routinely rate people according to their physical and financial assets rather than on their open hearts, kindness, empathy and compassion for all beings? Continue reading

A DIFFERENT POINT OF VIEW

9e4db9873c00799c674eaa9df76ed47aI just finished reading a beautifully crafted novel set in Greece where one of the protagonists is a billionaire who adores his only son. And so does his gorgeous mistress. It’s a bizarre situation, because the man’s wife knows he loves his mistress, who has free rein to enter and leave his home as she pleases, and even to openly entertain important guests in his house. This man is so wealthy that his wife has her own plush apartment attached to the main house, and so the two rivals never have to meet and be embarrassed.

Well, the boy enters the lavish room where his father and mistress are enjoying their martinis and chats with both of them in his charming way. When he leaves, the man says to his mistress: I know you love my son dearly, and I can see why, he is special, but I often wonder whether I’ve done right by him.

What do you mean? she asks, puzzled. Continue reading

EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL

b71a7289e9e20118cedd41eba5a47a6fAll through the night it had snowed heavily; when I awoke, in a beautiful Ashram in America with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I looked out to see my world blanketed in pure white. Usually I love the snow, but this time I was furious with myself—for all the mistakes that had led to this point in my tumultuous life.

As many had made it a point to inform me, I’d been blessed with more than most—and yet I’d continued to mess up my life, due to impulsiveness and bad judgment. My most recent crisis was the result of a decision to break away from a man I’d deluded myself into believing would make me a perfect spiritual mate; gradually I came to see him as superficial and ethically unreliable, and had forced myself to cut the cord.

I’d written to my first major spiritual teacher and he’d invited me to this Ashram in order to recover. And yet, despite precious links with this powerful place, I still found it hard to manage in a small cramped dorm space even as I dealt with yet another big life change; the demons of uncertainty threatened me with dire predictions of impending doom and life was, in a word, hellish. Continue reading

BE MINE FOREVER….OR YOU WILL SUFFER THE AGONIES OF THE DAMNED.

1165311e076f9fab8a6e2f39ba6df8caWhen a sage is born, shining like a star in a noon sky, some are fortunate enough to encounter him or her personally and to directly absorb his teachings. But after he passes away, other elements take over, and these folks are rarely of the high caliber of their master. Gradually, sometimes over centuries, what was once a vibrant and liberating teaching often becomes a rigid and entrenched institution, guarded zealously by those who do not understand the true essence of what the sage originally taught.

Consider the fundamentalists of all stripes and religions today, who warp, distort and twist what their original teacher said to serve political, power or financial purposes. How, for instance, could the true teachings of peaceful and pure Jesus of Nazareth ever have been used to justify the unbelievable horrors of the Inquisitions that followed centuries later? We can come up with a thousand other such examples, of course, for no major religion is exempt from this madness.

One thing that really bothered me when I began my own spiritual quest is that a certain ilk of teachers would insist that, once you signed on for their teachings, that was it, you could not leave their fold. Yes, you owed them not perfect and total loyalty until you took your last breath! Some also insist that you tithe part of your income to them, and god forbid if you move on to another guru more suitable to your spiritual needs—then you are nothing less than a despised and fickle traitor. Continue reading

Do Not Be Serious About Anything!

9a777a0771ebcfae58de22014c1fa031-1During my stay at a beautiful Ashram in America long years ago, I was consumed with worry about my future. You see, I had jumped out of the mainstream by quitting a great  job in Manhattan, sold my lovely apartment, left good friends behind, and landed in the Himalayas without a parachute in the middle of a grueling winter. From there, still restless and seeking, I had moved around in both East and West, on a quest for that perfect refuge where I could focus on my creative and spiritual goals. But nothing seemed to work out and by now I was truly sunk in misery.

A friend saw my sad face; impulsively, she tore a page out of the book she was reading and handed it to me. The title said: Do Not Be Serious About Anything: it was a message from the guru of that Ashram, who advised his students not to take mundane life too seriously, but instead to dive beneath the surface and find the constant peace and joy that is our true nature.

The message begins like this: “We cannot really save the world. We cannot even destroy the world. It is not in our hands. If that Supreme Power wanted to save the world, it wouldn’t even take a second. All of us could be saints and sages overnight. Instead the Divine is allowing us to be a little ignorant. That is His fun. But we forget this and take life too seriously.” Continue reading

Serpent Ring And The Magic of Acceptance

Kiri 16GB sd card 5294I met a wild looking sadhu on the way up to Skand Ashram many moons ago, and noticed that he wore incredible jewelry, all in the shape of serpents, and fashioned of copper and gold.

He told me a jeweler in a town far away had made it for him. I asked if he could make me a ring, and he agreed. I gave him an advance and the ring came as promised—a golden serpent coiled like the kundalini with a small ruby for an eye.

I have grown to love this ring for it represents my passion for the serpent fire (Kundalini)—which is nothing less than the energy of primal mind that fuels the process of enlightenment. Nothing but this fiery energy can halt the power of my chaotic mind, and I use a kundalini practice as a base for Atma-Vichara, Self-Investigation or the Direct Path, as taught by Ramana Maharshi. Continue reading

Everything Happens For The Best

61c1e2bc22df33fb9ffe4509ad8bdea6As a wild teenager intent on finding a way out of angst, I read a reassuring eastern tale of wisdom…here’s my impromptu version of it:

A great King had a favorite Minister upon whose sage advice he strongly relied. One day while fencing the monarch happened to slice off his little finger. He complained about the throbbing pain to the Minister—who replied that the King should learn to accept that everything happens for the best. The King flew into a mighty rage. “Oh, so everything happens for the best, does it?” he shrieked. “Well then, let’s put you into a stinking dungeon and see how you feel about that!” Continue reading