4 AM ON THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

b14516b6b40561bfe96c12b674d70118After the initial intense discomfort of leaving a marriage that was throttling me emotionally, and blocking my spiritual and creative progress, I was once again enjoying the richness of life. Soon I began to feel an exhilarating sense of freedom.

Now Manhattan is the perfect place for a single person to taste every flavor of liberation—a fabulous city that never sleeps and has something for everybody. (This was before the World Trade Center bombing). Brimming with exciting things to do, not just in the way of entertainment, Manhattan catered to the spiritual seeker as well as to the artist and could be a whole lot of fun.

Folks I knew at work were mostly workaholics; they put in long hours, but from Friday evening through Sunday, they generally partied a lot. There were many times, I confess, that the constant pressure got a bit too much and I felt like a monkey pedaling furiously on a wheel just to stay upright. But still, I relished my new life and would not have exchanged it for another.

Among my personal friends were writers and artists, photographers, painters, even the odd sculptor. One cool couple used to throw regular parties at their trendy loft in lower Manhattan. Their round dining table was spread with goodies, cheeses, pastries and whatnot. A motley crew of guests brought stuff too, bottles of French wine, key lime pies, and bags of crunchy chips. Not to forget that the conversations that sprung up all over that vast room were interesting.

It must have been about 3 am on a Saturday morning when a guy I barely knew asked me how I, as an Indian woman who had rebelled against my societal mores, dealt with fear. I said that when I had first begun to live alone, I was so terrified of being alone in the darkness that a friend had strung tiny lights all the way from my bedroom to the bathroom, just in case.

8411f515e5521a945a35e8d138ae0d27Another friend had given me two of his cats, and Lisa and Sweetie, my sweet feline protectors whom I will never forget, flanked me at night. But then, I added, I’d begun to dive into Eastern philosophy and to meditate seriously again, and the fear that lived inside of me—a grisly phantom that often had my knees knocking together—had fled due to my growing awareness of the constant presence of invisible beings of light and love.

So you’re tough now, eh? He demanded truculently. (What was his problem? I think an Asian woman must have given him hell.)

I guess so, I said, wary of where he was going.

Well then, I challenge you to walk all the way home from here, right now. Let’s see how brave you really are, ha ha ha.

I considered his proposal for a moment: I was a strong walker, as most Manhattanites are, and the walk home could be done in about an hour.

I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you do, he said. I saw he was anticipating a timid refusal, whereupon a devil got into me. Of course I can, I said, shocking him, but I don’t want your money. Before my hostess (she would have tried to stop me) could object, I said a quick goodbye and left.

Swiftly I made my way further downtown, and soon I saw the fantastic outline of the Brooklyn Bridge. That’s when Fear gripped me. All the way down here, there had been the occasional passerby, but now I could see no one. Tales I’d heard of homeless drunken or stoned drifters sleeping under the Bridge flashed through my head. It was a long walk over the Bridge, I realized, and I was utterly alone. Taking a deep breath, I started down the wooden length of it, chanting my mantra of protection nonstop.

My imagination was going wild, and I thought I heard someone stealthily following me. I didn’t turn around, just continued with the mantra. The footsteps became more distinct and my heart began to flutter with panic.

FB_IMG_1491232471157Then a cyclist, believe it or not, flew past me: Black ensemble with glittering lights circling the wheels of a superb racing bike. Another cyclist whizzed past me, dressed in exactly the same way, and then another, and another, until a long line of these beauties were riding silently down the bridge. I realized that they were probably a foreign group of pro cyclists on tour in Manhattan. I almost ran beside them on the other side of the walkway, and finally reached the end of the Bridge. I stopped to heave a huge sigh of relief, for my apartment was not that far, dawn was breaking, and there were already signs of life in lovely Brooklyn Heights. No one would dare to attack me now. I watched the last cyclist glide into the distance and walked rapidly home, thinking I’d been right all along—great beings were indeed watching over me.

I’ve told many friends this story over the years and all have been baffled that I’d take such a risk. You could have been raped and murdered, one said sternly, and he was right. So what made me do such a stupid thing? I could have laughed at the guy and told him to buzz off. The fact is that I did not. The answer probably is that I wanted to be Superwoman in the eyes of my friends, and a cut above the usual nervous woman from the East.

Today I’d laugh at anyone who asked me to risk my precious life in such a way, because wisdom and caution are essential to living on to accomplish my goals. But that night I was both a rebel and an idiot; still, looking back, perhaps because of the rare beauty of those cyclists flying over that gorgeous Bridge, I don’t regret my madness.

ece0e5efb7e69f25bae5daa7f08c1338Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us realize that there is really nothing to fear, not even physical death, but only because our true nature is immortal and blissful!

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BIZARRE & CLUELESS

279dbfcf2cba52b1ecbc23c53cf96b95A long while ago, I read a Trump tweet stating that the Pope was a modest man, just like Trump himself.  Well, we’ve all heard such unbelievable stuff gushing forth from Trump’s heedless and juvenile mouth, but this particular tweet really got my goat. I couldn’t stop laughing incredulously at the thought of D comparing himself with the Pope in this area, despite mountainous evidence to the contrary and his outrageous habit of braggadocio. Is it possible, I wondered, that he really does not see himself clearly? What else could explain his blind idiocy?

This led me to ponder why some humans are so sharply aware of themselves, both in terms of virtues and peccadilloes, and others remain completely clueless? Speaking for myself, and for many close friends, so hypersensitive to our own dark side that we cannot wait to transform it into light, I am still mind-boggled by those who refuse to ever look in the mirror.

Rigorous self-investigation of our relative self (the egoic body-mind system), followed by a deliberate transformation of all that does not serve our journey to the light,  is particularly critical for those of us on the inner path. Without it, any foray into realizing the Absolute sense is a futile exercise. The mirror is our friend, not our enemy, and any human friend who also serves as an honest mirror is our kalyanamitra (spiritual buddy); all of us have blind spots we cannot see, but these are often visible to those who deeply care about us. Not to accept their insights is to stab ourselves in the spiritual heart.

I have been pondering this state of affairs for ages, ever since I married a man just the opposite of me in crucial ways. One answer I’ve found lies in the Wheel of Life, an ancient teaching that depicts six realms of consciousness all within samsara (relative reality). When we die, our spirit moves into a realm suited to our newly projected karma. Say, for instance, a woman is born with great mental, physical, intellectual gifts; instead of using them in a noble way, she turns into a con woman, stealing and lying to better her material prospects. The impersonal laws of karma may decide she needs to indulge herself even more in this low behavior, but only so she can get it permanently out of her system. And so, when she dies, her spirit may take the form of an animal, intent on survival and nothing else, willing to snatch the bone out of another’s mouth with no trace of remorse, because that is her level of consciousness. Only then is she allowed to return to the human realm.

05f8991e40ffbeafe3339dd626f1b684Another answer for me lies in realizing that some humans really do have massive blocks to self-investigation. They often leave a trail of destruction and corruption but, when they look back, they are totally unmoved, and may even believe themselves to be innocent and wonderful heroes. Consider serial killers who go to their deaths guilt-free, believing they did what was right, and unwilling to accept (despite monstrous and glaring evidence) that they have caused a lot of suffering. What is their fate when the great wheel makes another turn?

It is pure grace to be born with a refined conscience that takes all others (animals, birds, insects and our own kind, male and female) into consideration when we think, speak and act. Seeing how many lack this moral compass makes me grateful for the ethical standards I was brought up with, and which I seemed to naturally appreciate. However, I too definitely had phases when I went totally off the rails. And yet, even in my worst times, I was always sharply aware that I was in error and could not wait to get back to a state of peace (which involved clearing up all messes and resolving to be a better human).

The power and beauty of the 12-step program for me lies in the 4th step, which insists we perform a fearless and searching investigation on our entire lives. When we realize we have done wrong, we make careful and loving amends. The greatest amend is to vow not to repeat bad and hurtful behavior, and so we ascend naturally to a higher level of consciousness. Think of it like cleaning up a dirty kitchen before preparing a feast; that feast, in mystical terms, is union with the Inner Beloved, for whom we must be sparking clean and fresh before we can seek permanent fusion.

4c43e9597e348e32446dfe8c83a2d488Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to help us clear up all relative messes so we can realize ourselves as pure blazing light!

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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.

It’s your ego, I retorted. Male attention, especially of the lascivious kind, would have absolutely no effect on you if you really understood the basis of this practice; Eastern philosophy teaches us that our body-mind-emotional system is just a valuable vehicle to carry us forward, like a good car, and should not be your sole focus. So what if they stare at you? Ignore them.

Whereupon she proceeded to violently disagree that her reactions had anything to do with her ego, and claimed that being sexy and attractive has been a great burden to her, which only made me further wince.

I told her she was lucky that I was just another seeker on the path; had she spoken in this manner to the formidable Advaita master Nisargadatta Maharaj (known as the Hammer and for excellent reason), for instance, he would have summarily thrown her out of his humble home. Do your homework before you dare to waste everyone’s time, he might have said, as he decisively turned his back on her.

Long ago in Manhattan, my guru (a brilliant Buddhist scholar) said something I never forgot. He was addressing a bunch of students with enviable jobs in Manhattan. He said: oh, so you think you’re so cool, huh? You wear black, eat at the best restaurants and think you’re on top of the world because you work for big firms.
But really, you’ll are just slaves of the system. No matter how much money you’re making right now, your long work hours leave you with little time for serious inner practice. And the one thing no one can compensate you for is your precious time. Do your inner work now, while you are still vibrant and brimming with energy. Don’t wait until you are weary, old and gray, thinking that you have to tie samsara up in pretty little packets and ensure that your dependents are well on their way before you take the path to the heart. NOW is all that matters! Tomorrow you could be dead.

Kiri 16GB sd card 6243-1After this woman left, for some reason I ruminated on the long years of my own marriage: had I wasted my time with a mate who did not share my values or goals? The answer is a strange mix of yes and no. While I can’t know what might have happened had I had a harmonious marriage with a man who supported my spiritual and creative goals, marriage to this guy taught me that no human—however handsome, rich or charming—can make us happy. Nor can anything in the external world lead us to lasting peace and joy. How can you put a price on that kind of learning?

In fact, the end of that marriage was the beginning of the deepening of my inner path, and so it was definitely not a waste of time. But, if we are stuck in painful relationships that do not change no matter, how hard we try, then we are both fools and losers. Buddhas can only point the way; we ourselves must walk the path. And, as Gautama said, your mistake is that you think you have time.

Devouring my precious time under false pretenses is perhaps the worst crime you could commit against me. Steal my flowers or my fancy new flashlight or my money, these can be replaced, but time is a fleeting and priceless commodity that cannot be returned. Only a narcissistic egomaniac chooses to believe that only his or her time is precious. When we hold others to ransom with false promises, and trap those who trust us in a juvenile web of dishonesty, we are actually doing ourselves the greatest disservice. What goes around must comes around and eventually everyone wakes up – and then it is the waster of other people’s time who is ejected forcefully to deal with his or her own bad karma.

Featured Image -- 9735Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us wake up to the urgency of doing our work now, of striking while the hammer is hot, and of realizing that our true nature is immortal bliss!

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SPIRITUAL OLYMPICS

13e269e7dd2189555144fd97b22322e4At the millennium, I flew from Manhattan to live in Dharamsala, home of the exiled Tibetans in the foothills of the Himalayas. Months later, my precious Micron laptop (it was the rare person who owned a laptop in those days) was stolen right out of my apartment, along with the backup disks. In one fell swoop, I had lost over ten years of my writing and research. I was, as you can imagine, devastated. (I plan to explain the fascinating series of events that led to this theft in another article, but right now all I want to do is share with you what one high lama said to me in the aftermath of this mini disaster.)

A little background, so you can empathize with just how terrible I felt: I had left Manhattan after selling my beautiful apartment. Word spread that I was a “rich foreigner” and so I was besieged by both Tibetans, many of whom were desperate for financial aid, as well as by the local Indians, Himachalis, as they are known. And I did help as many as I could, not just with money, but in a variety of ways, including teaching a few a little English.

Now I had an excellent combination lock on my door and no one (especially me) could figure out how the thief had entered. Nothing else was stolen, but the fellow had not taken the adapter, without which he could not use the laptop. So at least my financial and other information was safe.

A sympathetic friend took me to consult his lama, a wise old man who looked at my tear-streaked face and nodded gently. Ah, he said, you left the West to seek enlightenment. I know you are a sincere seeker, but do you understand what you are really doing here? You are fighting the greatest fight any human can take one—you are trying to transmute the darkness of eons into light!

a9d35a4933b4412c59fa8ad3a43437afDoing this is like training for the Olympics, he went on. There are benevolent powers on your side, but, just as Siddhartha Gautama’s fierce desire to be free attracted the malevolent attentions of Mara, King of the Demons, you too have attracted negative entities who will seek to prevent you from reaching your goal. Yes, by coming here to purify your egoic self and leaving behind your comfortable life in the West, you have entered the Spiritual Olympics, Your opponents are deadly but you must not quail before them. They use weak humans to do their work, and you will encounter even more men and women who will harass you if you stay committed to the goal of enlightenment.

The theft of your laptop is just one example of what happens to genuine seekers. You see, there are literally mountains of bad karma you must burn before you can ascend to the heights. Now you must change your view and see what has happened as a test: overcome your negative feelings and also simultaneously do everything you can to retrieve your laptop. You may not get it back, but try anyway. That is the way of the Spiritual Warrior. The greater the light, he said, ending his little sermon, the greater the shadow.

His words sank deeply into me. I never forgot them. Even today, when things go wrong as they often do, both in my encounters with humans and in my mundane affairs, I realize I have taken on a great task and must persevere, regardless. There have been times when it is my high goal alone that keeps me going.

Back to the laptop: it was a sheer miracle, but I got it back. I will save that story for another day, but my message today is that no matter what goes wrong in our lives, whether it is the betrayal of someone you loved and trusted, the death of a close friend or relative, financial problems, or your own ill health, never lose faith in your highest goal. All of this is just karma burning itself off and if we fight what is, the pendulum only swings back with even more force. Just keep going, like the Spiritual Warrior you are, and everything, as Ramana Maharshi said so simply and lovingly, will come out all right in the end.

f5b20d444c402200808ab1f5ee20a9d8Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who allows us to suffer greatly in order to incinerate the errors of the past, so we can realize that our true nature is no less than immortal bliss!

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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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A DEMON CALLED HOPE

cc56cbb87382e2c7f74faf1c64cc03f7A long time ago in Manhattan, a wise friend caught my attention with this sad story—he claimed that hope too can be a demon, when used by the ego as a tool to keep us locked into demeaning situations. As an example, he explained that almost a quarter of a century ago, his beloved twin sister had married a charmer who had swept her off her feet. Everything was hunky-dory until their first child was born. Then the trouble began: he began to subject her to a mix of physical and emotional abuse, played around with other women on his business trips, and to top it all, told shameless lies about everything from the trivial to the profound.

Since they belonged to a fundamentalist Christian community down south that frowned on women standing up to their men, no matter their low caliber, his talented but quiet sister, who could have made something of herself in the art world, had stayed in the marriage. This despite my friend’s loving offers to support her if she left the creep. The guy was so wily, my friend added, that he could easily tell when his wife was getting to the end of her rope. Then he would turn on the magic and convince her that he had seen the error of his ways and was ready to transform. And so the years rolled on, and she lived on with him in the hope that TOMORROW he would change. Two more children were born, and by this time, she was too dispirited and beaten down to make a fresh start. If the guy had not died in a car collision a couple of years ago, my friend said dryly, she’d probably still be pandering to and defending him.

Until I heard this tale, I had not realized how the ego can co-opt a beautiful emotion like hope for its own sinister purposes. Besides, although the details were different, I had gone through a similar experience. Fortunately I had had the guts to cut loose when the discomfort of living with someone whose values were so divergent from mine outweighed my fear of being penniless and ostracized as a divorcee. And yes, in my case too, hope had played the role of demon—for I too had hoped for years and years that things would get better, and so I moved heaven and hell and did everything I could to make our life harmonious. Since I was an asset in many ways, and made life interesting for him, it served my partner to allow me to believe he was ready to change, when in fact he had no such intention. (Come to think of it, I don’t think he could have changed, because transformation involves possessing integrity, courage and a willingness to see that we are wrong and causing damage to others. The three steps of change: first awareness, then acceptance, and finally action). And so I too had remained trapped in a claustrophobic and demeaning situation for too long.

7293fc79f579a35ec9fc884aa6b3cadf-2In the end, words are only labels we slap on to experiences and events because we are unable to communicate effectively without them. (Only the true sage who has transcended duality can radiate wisdom in silence.) But it is not necessarily hope we have to guard against, but our own egoic fear of breaking free of a matrix that, while painful and disturbing, is paradoxically also comforting and familiar. This man’s sister, for instance, hoped for decades that her husband would change, against all evidence to the contrary, and lost her youth and vitality in the process. Who knows what she might have been able to do in that quarter century had she been bubbling with joy and vitally alive?

We live in a dualistic world where everything has at least two faces. The bright side of hope is uplifting and constructive; its dark side is when we hurt ourselves by remaining in unhealthy situations or relationships, all the while hopeful that things will change, despite knowing deep down they won’t. What is it that keeps us in the stew of passivity? Fear, in one word, for a known devil, as the old saw goes, is better than an unknown angel.

On the path to moksha, liberation from all desire and fear, it is critical that we face reality head-on. True, we might mess up from time to time, but we can always make amends. But the one thing we can never get back is the precious time we fritter away hoping things will be different, that our partner or whoever will eventually see the light. Instead, once we are certain we are being played by a callous trickster who cares nothing for our happiness and everything for his, we could put the lid on the situation, no matter what we have to go through in order to do this, and invest our energy in forging a happy and constructive life for ourselves. To rely on others for something as precious as our happiness is nothing less than foolish and cowardly. (And this of course works both ways: some women do the same to their men).

Dwell, Guatama Buddha said more than two thousand years ago, you are the light itself. Do not depend on others; the Dharma (your highest calling) is the light; do not depend on anything other than the Dharma. Advaita assures us that our essence is One, but in relative reality, we are made differently and must therefore find our own way to grow into spiritual warriors.

Featured Image -- 9732Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us to get rid of all unnecessary baggage, so we can walk free and confident into the blazing Spiritual Heart!

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DYING MAN ON A MISSION

c04882f649c6e4d6bfe4fc61b45a5306A friend asked me to drive with her to the palatial home of a very old and sick man who lived alone in a prosperous north Indian town. She was an enthusiastic social worker who took care of orphaned children in her spare time. Her husband was wealthy, and this was her way of doing some good. I agreed, and on the way, asked her why she needed to talk to him. She told me his wife had died a long time ago and that both his daughters were doctors, married to doctors, and well settled in Europe. He lived in this great big house alone, and a housekeeper came in every day to clean and wash and cook for him. His daughters had both invited him to live with him, but he wanted to be alone, claiming he needed solitude to finish a book about his spiritual experiences. He knew he had very little time left and did not wish to be distracted. She was going to see him, she confessed, because his daughters, whom she had spoken to at length, had no interest in coming back to live in India. Neither had an interest in their inheritance, and so she was hoping to persuade him to leave his house to her organization.

I was stunned by her revelation, and, frankly, rather repelled. There was something ugly about this scenario, for it reminded me of a host of vultures hovering greedily over a dying creature, in anticipation of the coming feast. I said nothing, because she was very different from me, single-minded and ruthless when she wanted her way. To her, the end justified the means, whereas for me it was important to show gentleness and refinement in getting what one wanted, no matter the nobility of one’s motive.

We stopped outside this huge mansion on a beautiful tree-lined street and she marched ahead of me and boldly rang the bell. The old man who opened the door for us was frail and unkempt. He did not look friendly, but still he invited us to come in and called out to his housekeeper to make us tea. Over tea, my friend blurted out that she’d already spoken to his daughters and they were agreeable to him making over his property to her organization. He was quiet for long moments, then, brusquely, he said no. I have other plans for it, he added coldly, and I am not going to die until I finish my book anyway. Please go now—I have lots of work to do.

Of course you must finish your book, my friend said quickly. But don’t you think it’s a beautiful idea to leave your property to compassionate people who could do so much good with it?

cc56cbb87382e2c7f74faf1c64cc03f7As he appraised her carefully, I got the sense that he did not trust her, for she was dressed like the socialite she was, in a gorgeous sari silk sari, long silky hair streaming down her back and face superbly made-up. No, she would not appear to be a humble social worker in his eyes, but just another wealthy and bored matron, longing to get her name into the local papers. What can I say? He was a sharp guy!

He cleared his throat and gathered his thoughts. I can see you think I am a foolish old man, he said slowly. But I am well aware that few would be interested in what I have to say. That does not matter to me. I’ve lived an intensely interior life and it is vital to me that I put down everything that I have learned via meditation, study and practice before I pass on. This book is my legacy to the world, whether it cares or not. Besides, it gives me peace and satisfaction to write it. As for this house, I am leaving it to my nephew who plans to turn it into an ashram. My daughters do not know about this. Please go now, and leave me in peace.

I was so embarrassed I could not say a word on the drive back. Charming and persuasive as she was, and spoiled by always getting her way, I hoped she knew better than to approach that sharp old man again.

This strange encounter flashed through my mind this morning perhaps because, in certain ways, I am like that old man. After living a tempestuous life out in the world, I have now settled down to a quiet life of deep contemplation. I too am aware that what I write appeals only to a tiny segment of the world population, the majority of whom are still chasing dreams in samsara (the relative world) and can’t be bothered delving deeply into the heart of reality. There is always one more deal to be struck, the stock market and bank balances to be monitored, parties to attend, movies to see, children and spouses to care for, and new relationships to be forged. How many really care about mystical realms?

Like the old man, I write for myself—which is not to say that I don’t relish praise. Also, long ago I took the Boddhisattva Vow, a wish to become enlightened, not just for oneself, but for all beings. If even one person wakes up to the deeper reason to why we incarnate by reading my work, all the effort and care I invest in it is gift enough for me.

1165311e076f9fab8a6e2f39ba6df8caGreetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who makes us see that the most important task we are born to achieve is to know that we ourselves are immortal bliss!

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ANXIETY, BITCH GODDESS

FB_IMG_1494089545295I think that you might agree with me that it is rare to find a truly “good” human—a person you know instinctively is kind, compassionate, honest, transparent and loving—and not just to those who serve his or her interests, but to all beings. Well, I met a middle-aged man the other day and knew right off the bat that he was “good.” He owns a grocery store in town and sells tasty homemade snacks. Since I was hungry, after I shopped I ate something there, and he joined me at the small table in the back and freely told me his story. Lots of financial setbacks, he said, shaking his head sadly, and at one time a big position in a company in the Middle-East that he had lost—an underling who had coveted his job had made such big trouble for him that he had finally quit.

Other bad decisions followed that cost him his savings, and finally he had decided to open this small store in Tiru. It was limping along, he said, but somehow he was making ends meet. He had a sweet and supportive wife and two fine adult sons who were finding their way in the world. It was clear to me that he adored them all.

So why are you worried, I asked him, because he did look terribly strained. I have a heart problem, he confided softly, and my boys are not yet settled. I worry about them to the point I can’t sleep, and when I don’t sleep, the worry gets worse and my business is affected. What will happen to them if I die of a sudden heart attack?

And that is a definite possibility given that you worry so much, I said drily. Then I added, gently: You actually think you have been selected to suffer more than others on this earth? Don’t you realize that everyone goes through this sort of stuff? And that we will all die, like it or not? How does your constant worrying help the situation at all? It only makes things worse and prevents you from enjoying your great blessings. Have you never considered being grateful for all you have, rather than moaning about how awful things are?

FB_IMG_1463360088510He smiled sadly but had no response. And I realized that no matter how “good” we are, it is necessary to study the nature of reality and to contemplate its great truths, or we will drive ourselves and others mad, by dwelling on the millions of dire possibilities that could further overturn our fragile lives. I felt I could advise him only because, in my early life, although I was bright and funny and intelligent on the surface, had you known me well, you might have pegged me as the planet’s number one worry wart, always drowning in misery. In fact I worried so much that I was forced to find ways to escape my own sick thinking. These methods worked for a while, but the anxiety was at best suppressed and inevitably came back to vicious roaring life.

Over two thousand years ago, Gautama Buddha gave us his Noble Truths—the first one being that life is suffering. Now suffering in this context includes, but is not limited to, the great agonies of hanging bleeding on a cross, with callous soldiers laughing at our pain and sticking us in the side with sharp swords, or the usual boring pains of old age, sickness and death. Here is an example of suffering from the classical Buddhist texts: you are on the road and terribly hungry. You are an hour away from a dear friend’s home who always happens to be a great cook. You call her and beg her to make your favorite meal. “I’ll be there soon,” you say, and she is thrilled.

She loads up a big plate with delicacies as you sit impatiently at her dining table. You finish every delicious speck and rub your tummy with satisfaction. But she is already piling more onto your plate and insisting you eat—she has cooked too much, she explains, and doesn’t like leftovers. To please her, you force yourself to eat a second serving, but she won’t stop loading more on your plate and finally you protest violently: if I eat another spoonful, you warn her, my tummy will burst! You lean back against the comfortable chair, swollen, lethargic and nauseous—and you realize, to your amazement, that your greedy anticipation of just an hour ago has already turned into the suffering of acute indigestion!

So suffering is a host of things. It is being forced to wait for a friend on a busy street, it is impatience, it is anger, it is jealousy, it is getting what you don’t want, and not getting what you want. It is frustration because as hard as you work, you can never have more than your neighbor, or win the beautiful man or woman you adore, or realizing that you will never be gorgeous and talented enough to succeed as the big screen actor you long to be. Oh yes, suffering covers the gamut of unsatisfactory conditions, and no one but no one escapes its slimy tentacles.

Fortunately Gautama does not stop here—he goes on to speak of the other truths, the cause of suffering and finally the end of suffering. Yes, there is a way out—but how is this wonderful man, who worries all the time, and is so steeped in personal misery that the entire screen of his life is covered up with his seemingly insurmountable problems, to ever know that such a highway to happiness and peace exists?

1165311e076f9fab8a6e2f39ba6df8caFor me, the road to peace and happiness was long and tortuous and involved sitting humbly at the feet of many great eastern teachers, and studying and practicing as if my butt was on fire. But once I digested the teachings on karma and reincarnation, life actually began to make some sort of sense to me. And once I accepted that some form of mystical logic does rule our lives, I was free to delve even further into the treasure chest of ancient wisdom and to accumulate sharp and shining tools to slice through all my seeming problems. And this is how I cut to the underbelly of being, which mystics and seers claims is no less than pure existence-awareness and bliss.

This subject is so vast and exciting that it is impossible to cover it in a few posts or essays, which is why I write spiritual fiction. I endeavor to make my novels read like fascinating parables; the reader does not have to struggle to learn anything—the teachings are embedded in these sagas, and so are painlessly digested. In this way, I give back what I was so generously given to me. I am well aware that most of our world is not interested in what I have to say, perhaps simply because thriving materially is the major task on their agenda. Still, I recognize this as my dharma, one reason why I incarnated, and so am content to keep doing what I do.

Back to this man, who has made an appointment with me for this afternoon, claiming he wants to learn a few simple truths he can apply to his situation and so find relief from his intense anxiety. Mahamudra, I think, would serve him well; this is an ancient teaching on the nature of relative reality, easy to understand and hard to refute, for each one of the seven steps deals with relative life as it is, beginning with the inherent imperfection and impermanence of all created things. I have taught this simple analytical meditation to friends and small groups of genuine seekers all over the world, and I hope he will “get” it, because he is certainly worth my time. I like him instinctively and know his heart is good. Besides, unwilling as he appears to be to formally read or study, he may well die never knowing that there is a golden way out.

Ramana Maharshi, the great sage of Tiruvannamalai, has been a great light in my life. One of the many things he taught me (nothing new here, these truths have been the bedrock of eastern philosophy for thousands of years) is that our true nature is peace and happiness. I listened to him only because I knew he was a sage and could not lie. Just as in the mundane world it is hard to find an essentially good human, so too it is hard to find a guru who is a blazing jewel, who will never ever lead you astray, and who is willing to share the wisdom that will surely take you all the way up the mountain. After a lot of work and effort, I know today that Raman only speaks the naked truth. Why am I convinced of this? Simply because the worry wart I was, who chased ephemeral pleasures to hide from angst (not just about my concerns, but about the world in general) has transformed into a woman who lives more or less in peace, and who is, despite occasional eruptions of anger and frustration, deeply happy.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who works with us as we shed our delusions and leads us to the immortal bliss of our true nature!
These are posts you might enjoy:

Two Great Truths of Absolute and Relative Reality – Posted on September 4, 2015

Dying Every Single Day for Months in Manhattan… (May 1, 2015) 

Mahamudra, The Great Seal – Samsara’s Seven Flavors #3/12 (Oct 14, 2013)

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A RADICAL POINT OF VIEW

fc5f42ebd9cde2880ecba45f83338027There’s a middle-aged sadhu here in Tiruvannamalai whom I often give a ride to on my way to and from the Ashram. He’s skinny, bespectacled and a speed walker; he foots it everywhere, from morning to night, getting his free food at the various Ashrams, and then finding a quiet place to do his meditation and study. He tells me he practices yoga everyday too, and most passionately. In his frayed shoulder bag he carries cheap packets of biscuits and feeds the stray dogs he encounters on his daily travels. I’ve known him now for close to eight years now and he tells me he prays for me every single day, which makes me inordinately happy.

Recently he mentioned that he felt enormously blessed to be able to do what he does. Penniless and dependent on the largesse of local Ashrams for his sustenance and clothes (he wears only an ochre lungi), he is always happy and grateful. Laughing like a child, he told me why: because he knows that eventually his road will lead him to moksha, while the rich folks who pass him by on the Girivalam Road in their fancy automobiles are still lost in the relative dream. Who knows how much suffering they will have to endure before it dawns upon them that their present way of living, with its focus on accumulating assets they cannot take with them when their body dies, finally takes root?

609df17e7afd69d496563edfe63c57a7He sighed at this point, with genuine compassion. Then they will have to turn back, he added sadly, and begin their journey on the path that leads to the Spiritual Heart. And this is why he smiles when these “rich” humans stop their cars and hand him a few rupees, believing they are being oh so generous to a homeless wanderer.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer, who vows to destroy the intricate web of illusion that Maya, Cosmic Enchantress, spins around us, – so that we may finally know that we are the blissful and immortal Self!

NEW!!! My latest book – COPPER MOON OVER PATALIPUTRA – just went live on Jun 30th. Read all about it and on how to get your own copy here.
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CHEAP THRILLS

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9e1a511e7a9166a72e30bd913768d213Growing up in south India at a time when the West was not as accessible as it is to Indians today, my first glimmerings of the wild life I (delusionally) believed all Americans and Europeans led was via the thrillers of writers like James Hadley Chase. Yes, I read Agatha Christie too, and more sedate authors, but it was the paperback thrillers I found most addictive, for they spoke of hippies and drugs and scarlet women pouting at bad guys and getting murdered—and of course there was always the unwary bystander or canny detective who got dragged willy-nilly into the spicy stew.

Oh, how exciting it was to get one of those books in my greedy hands and to devour it at a single stretch! There were times I’d read a book a day, and since it wasn’t easy to find this kind of material lying around then, I’d woo anyone who had a home library and was willing to share his/her hoard with me.

It was my brother-in-law, an academic and professor, who dourly pointed out to me the effects that reading what he called ‘trash’ would have on my impressionable mind. It’s a hard addiction to break, he warned, and when you need to digest serious stuff, you won’t be able to. I dismissed his warnings since I was doing very well in academics myself, and believed, with all the raw arrogance of youth, that I knew better than preachy fuddy-duddies how to separate study from fun. Continue reading