GO STRAIGHT TO THE BOSS

Featured Image -- 9732Ramana calls his simple teaching on Moksha
The Direct Path, and for good reason.
 
As another powerful guru told me ages ago,
There are hundreds of fine roads you could take, sweetling,
But tell me, do you really have the time?
 
Say a wise friend whispers in your ear a sure shortcut to Nirvana,
Which will lead to the extinction of the ego, mini-me,
That illusory entity who gleefully designs all patterns of pleasure and pain—
Would you not be a crazy fool to refuse her clear directions?
 
I was spoiled by teachers who spent eons
Elaborating on the nature of karma, rebirth, samsara
And other inscrutabilities of the relative matrix;
So it irked me that, no matter what a person asked Ramana,
His answer was always the same:
First find out who you are, he would blandly say,
And then you won’t have any more questions.
 
Recently it came to me in a flash why the great sage did this—
Because, if you finally figure out that you yourself are Parabrahman—
That the Divine has, for some inexplicable reason, reduced itself to human flesh,
That your true nature is pure existence-awareness and bliss,
And that an infinite ocean of joy is accessible to you
Via an atomic diamond-bright portal hidden within your Spiritual Heart,
All answers do come gushing up to the surface to be effortlessly picked up;
So be like a wily frog, waiting quietly by the riverside,
Ever ready to swallow that sparkling dragonfly.
 
303537_3128548673069_1069126392_nWhy the Direct Path?
Because, just as you would go straight to the boss if you had a serious problem
Not wasting time or spinning your wheels
Begging petty favors from his underlings,
Here too, Ramana shows you a way to avoid all false gurus and teachings,
And to plunge directly into the blissful waters of the Self.
 
Once this is done, the Inner Guru wakes up with an ecstatic roar,
Fusion is achieved, and in one mind-blowing moment of spiritual orgasm,
All vexing questions dissolve into nothingness.
 
Now you are the equal of God Vishnu,
Smiling mysteriously as a radiant lotus springs up from your navel,
Enjoying a molten expanse of ecstatic peace
That surpasses all mundane understanding.

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ONE CUP OF TEA AND TWO BISCUITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ece0e5efb7e69f25bae5daa7f08c1338Say you’re a crack software designer with your eye on a dream posting in California’s Bay Area. The job dangles before you like a luscious red apple and then you get a call from a pal in Human Resources—sorry, she says, but they’ve given it to Bipin Ghatge. I know, it sucks, but what to do? He’s our Chairman’s nephew—didn’t you know?”

Foiled again!  You want to eviscerate that smug toady Bipin and shriek with wicked laughter as his guts slither out of his belly, but you don’t relish the idea of spending the next fifty years in jail. How about getting rip-roaring drunk? But that road to oblivion will make it impossible for you to endure Ghatge’s snide looks tomorrow. Your mind ranges like a bandit over all your options. Then the thought pops into your head that perhaps it is time to try Mahamudra meditation. You  actually remember all those seven points, flavors, as Mira called them, as if she was selling ice-cream.

PRACTICING MAHAMUDRA 

You slink home and drink a mug of  green tea with honey before parking your butt below your Buddha batik. You allow yourself to feel terrible about the loss of the Bay Area job. Ouch! You apply the first step of Mahamudra: that all things are imperfect—and deliberately designed to be so—because if you and the world were both perfect, how would you grow? Weird how just accepting the inherently imperfect nature of this world makes you feel better.

Impermanence. How many other disappointments have you dealt with in your thirty-one years and where are they now? Do you spend a second aching for that snooty chick who dumped you like a stack of dirty dishes crash bang into the sink of despair? Two months later, you met the amazing Aparajita—and isn’t she a whole lot sweeter? As for this job, there are a thousand like it, some that even pay better. Perhaps now is the time to leave a company that blatantly practices nepotism.

No ownership. There it was, that seductive project right within your grasp, and then, whoosh, it was gone, without your permission. Who owned it? Certainly not you! Maybe there are invisible laws governing every little thing….

No accident. This one is tougher to accept. You’re a straight-up sort of guy and you don’t care for mystical bullshit. But hey, what to do, man, accept that there are no accidents and see what happens.

c945ed890f540a675b775ccb608893f3No fixed judgment. You look back and see the myriad times you judged something to be good or bad, and how that good turned into bad, and vice versa. What about that English writer who invented Harry Potter? Loses her job, is barely making it on welfare, then waves her wand and brings the boy magician to roaring life. Abracadabra, soon she’s raking in millions. And what about Stephen Jobs, your one-time hero, who had everything material a man could dream off…to die at his peak?

Transformation. Yes, you can quit this company and accept that job you were offered last week. This new company plays fair and is run by an ethical board who respect their employees. Maybe by this time next year you will be working in the Bay Area….

Past karma.  Did you actually set up this whole scenario in some past lifetime, just to learn a lesson? Sounds kinda corny, but you’re willing to give this  notion a shot. You continue to sit quietly, allowing these new views of the current crisis to percolate into your deeper self. It’s bizarre, but once again it feels like the sun is shining down on your precious head. Hey, this meditation really does work!

f92f7dea9f17b0dbcc31e5be036538d6Freedom From the Matrix

The goal of our practice is not to put up with crapbut to eradicate suffering in all its forms. These were the words of the guru who taught me Mahamudra and so much else. That said, analytical antidotes to human suffering only help us cope with the endless pains of relative reality. Using only these seven flavors as antidotes to our suffering of body and mind is like using band-aids on deep wounds—although I’ve heard it said that a complete acceptance of the final flavor of Mahamudra (that all we experience is the result of our own past thought, speech and action, or karma) is powerful enough to transform lower into higher consciousness.

Mahamudra practice alone cannot lead us all the way to enlightenment, nor does it remove problems, but it lightens the sting of our suffering by revealing the true nature of samsara. According to Ramana’s Direct Path, the only sure way to become free of desire and fear is to burn the vasanas (karmic imprints) that run our behavior and create our relative reality. Once we’ve begun to unmask samsara, we must simultaneously begin to uncover our true nature by learning to sink into the substratum of our being, which, according to the great ones, is sat-chit-ananda, pure existence-awareness and bliss. The real journey of the committed seeker is an inner one which intensifies when we use tools such as Mahamudra to splash great arcs of light on to our individual paths toward the spiritual heart.

Om is the bow
The soul is the arrow
Brahman is the arrow’s goal
At which one aims unflinchingly.

~Mundaka Upanishad

Ψ

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MAHAMUDRA – Samsara’s Seven Flavors (3 of 4)

df336b74b2581c8795affd937ba79cd8Flavor #1: All Things are Impermanent. 

All things inevitably vanish, like dewdrops evaporating in the morning sun; however, while intellectually we may accept this, in our daily lives we ignore the stark fact that not just our relationships and  possessions, but also our bodies and minds, are hurtling inexorably towards destruction. Let’s say my lover presents me with a magenta orchid in a delicate porcelain bowl. I  perceive this orchid as having permanence, but soon it begins to wilt and then it dies. And it is this same wrong feeling of permanence that we humans attribute to all parts of our lives and which causes us to suffer. For instance, I may believe that my marriage will last forever, and when divorce or death loom, I react with fear, disbelief and anger. Or I may be sure that my home will stay mine forever; then a financial crisis prevents me from paying the mortgage, and the bank repossesses it. Had I trained myself to see all things as transient, I could apply a major antidote to all the pains of mundane living— for the bald truth is that the orchid, home and spouse are but flashes on an infinite timeline, comets streaking across the screen of my life.

So the invisible machinery of karma is busily at work, giving and taking according to immutable laws about which we ordinary humans don’t have a clue. The good news is that if I practice seeing all things as impermanent, and digest the truth that I don’t really own a thing, I’m bound to experience increasing freedom and peace.

8b0491b2a715579b114da4fdb36d7daaFlavor #2: You Don’t Own A Damned Thing 

Most of us live with the feeling that we own our lives. But do we truly control destiny? Take my home in the hills, I bought it with an inheritance from grandma and really believed I owned it, but that didn’t stop the bank from stealing it away from me, did it? If I accept that I don’t control the destiny of my possessions, then I must admit that I don’t even own my relationships or even my own body and mind. If I did, I could stay young forever and be ecstatic all the time.

Why do even those who intellectually accept impermanence and the lack of ownership still get upset when they face loss? Because there’s a killer gap between what we can accept and the corresponding lag in our emotions. As we close this gap through personal practice, our suffering decreases. Master the art of accepting impermanence and the lack of ownership, and you turn into a really cool customer. Tragedy could strike, and while not discounting the initial shock factor, you’d soon learn to say, yes, of course, that’s the nature of relative reality: Everything is impermanent and I don’t really own a damned thing, so let’s get a move on.

Flavor #3: Nothing Happens by Accident. 

Mahamudra claims that nothing that happens is an accident. Say I stop for petrol in a quiet Himalayan town and bump into a pal I haven’t seen since high school. Not an accident—my friend was brought there by certain karmic energies, and so was I. This is a particularly important view to cultivate when we encounter tragedy—because it’s when things go drastically “wrong” that we go nuts. Accepting that a horrid experience is the result of our own past karma, and that we are in effect creating our own experience of reality by how we think, speak and act, can make all the difference to how we transcend the negative effects of hard times. Practiced with understanding, all these flavors can help ground us in the reality of what is.

609df17e7afd69d496563edfe63c57a7Flavor #4: Our Judgments are Mere Constructs. 

Who decides that a scallion should be called a scallion? We do. The problem is that humans forget that labels are merely mutually accepted constructs. Say a professor you admired stated that communism is the ideal state of government for everybody—and you believed him! Years later, the failure of communism-in-practice forces you to accept that his statement was a personal construct that does not universally apply. The truth is that whether we perceive an anorexic supermodel as the most beautiful creature on the planet, or as aesthetically repellent, is, in the end, merely a personal construct.

Mahamudra slowly begins to strip away our justifications for seeing as we do: first, we stop thinking that things last forever; second, we stop thinking that we control the destinies of our assets or our relationships; third, we stop thinking of things as accidents. And fourth, we stop thinking that our judgments are right. As you can imagine, if everyone practiced these four flavors, the conflict that flares up not just in our personal lives, but between castes, classes, races and nations, would dissolve into thin air.

Flavor #5: Transforming Problems

If a great chef and a lousy cook are given the exact same ingredients and asked to prepare a meal, chances are the chef would produce a feast, while the novice would offer up a mess. Well, Mahamudra says that the circumstances of our own life are like those ingredients—what we have on our plates is the result of our own past karma; what we do with them depends on our skill as chefs.

4392bca5339c3755a629be68e9b9bbf8Flavor #6: Our Personal Karma Creates our Reality. 

According to Mahamudra, everything that happens in our lives is the result of past karma. Long ago in a monastery in Dharamsala, a group of us listened to a high lama speaking on the nature of relative reality. “Everything you experience is only the result of your past thought, speech and action,” he pronounced. “You are the only one responsible for your happiness and your suffering.” We’d all heard this before, but this time it had terrific impact. A German lady sitting under a whirring fan raised her hand. “Are you saying that every little thing we experience is the result of our past karma?” He nodded. “Right,” he said. “Even the breath of that fan on your cheek is the result of your past karma. But keep in mind that while you cannot manipulate your current experience of reality, you can create a magnificent future by learning to think, speak and act positively.”

So these are the six flavors of samsara in a nutshell. And bizarrely enough, soon after I’d digested them, Angelica fought with me as we rode the subway back home from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn Heights and I was shocked by her ferocity.

Flavor #7: Inherent Imperfection

Shaken, I rode the elevator to my apartment. The thought flashed that here was a perfect opportunity to see whether Mahamudra worked. So I sat in lotus position before my altar and watched the flow of my breath until I felt calmer. Then I pulled up the embarrassing scene in the subway. Other passengers had watched Angelica go nuts: some had smirked; some had shot us looks of irritation. Holding this scene in the foreground of my mind, I applied to it each of the six flavors of Emptiness. Tears welled up as I re-lived the humiliating experience, but when I was done, I felt peaceful and grounded. Surely Angelica’s outburst had been the result of some inexpressible agony. Compassion for her arose and I knew that Mahamudra did work!

A couple days later, Angelica called to apologize: she’d cracked up on the subway, she explained, because the following day was Mother’s Day and she’d dreaded spending it with the woman who’d battered her for years. Unable to deal with her volcanic feelings, she’d vented on me. Could I forgive her? It gave me a real kick to tell her that, thanks to Mahamudra, I already had.

fb_img_1487346238548

Now that I was further convinced of the power of Mahamudra, instead of running away from pain, I began to apply the six flavors to difficult situations and people. As I grew stronger in the practice, I began to teach it to friends. One fine day I added another flavor to my own practice—that samsara is inherently imperfect. This conclusion had leaped out at me while practicing the other six—for beneath my suffering I found lurking the insidious expectation that my life should be perfect. If we are already perfect in our essence—which is the liberating teaching of the East—and if we incarnate for some mysterious reason, then it follows that the identity we form, as well as the circumstances into which we are thrust, must be imperfect in order for us to grow. Today I accept that some inscrutable power has designed all of life to be deliberately imperfect—and that’s a thought which restores me to peace.

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

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

7293fc79f579a35ec9fc884aa6b3cadf-2THE GREAT SEAL

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

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

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

6cfa74207d9988dbbdc3a2b428999120Diamond Sword

These are excerpts from the introduction I wrote on Mahamudra:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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INFATUATION ADDICT

9a98b5caac8b4a9fc6c46747c8fdfc73Some time ago, a friend called to inform me that a guy we both knew had died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage in the middle of a conversation in a Delhi 5-star restaurant. I had met this fellow during a party in north India and quickly turned my back on him. (Those of us who live for a reasonable amount of time in Manhattan are not easy to con with fake words and pretenses.) And besides, I knew this friend had been cheated by him in business and had even threatened to sue him. She mentioned that he had many enemies who were actually thrilled that he was gone. In his sixty years or so, despite movie star looks and excellent material resources, he had never grown beyond the juvenile delinquent stage; his agenda, pure and simple, was to have a good time at the expense of others. I don’t believe he had a single real friend, she ran on, except for that old boozer who lived in that rambling old mansion up on the hill, and who put up with his misbehavior and always forgave him his transgressions.

How terrible I thought, for a human to live to sixty years and to have people actually celebrating his sudden death. And then I thought of my darling friend in the USA who had also died recently in his late sixties, surrounded by those who adored him and admired his fine questing mind. With tears in my eyes, for I had grown to love him too, I recalled the meticulous effort he had invested in trying to teach men, in particular, how to move past the infatuation stage and into really love. He focused first on self-love, for the paradox is that men and women who do not value their own precious selves are incapable of deeply loving another. Why is learning to love even important for us? Because, in my opinion, and based on sincere study and practice, there is no other way to break free of the dreary cycle of samsara (relative reality) unless we blast open the invisible portal of our Spiritual Heart. Corny as it may sound to the cynic, the key to that portal is simply Love—not human fickle love, but the highest love that recognizes the Oneness of all beings.

The second man who had died, surrounded by grieving relatives and friends, had loved my writing and had generously promoted me to his circle of friends. Here are two different passages from my novels in the Moksha Trilogy that he had made it a point to tell me he deeply appreciated:

279dbfcf2cba52b1ecbc23c53cf96b95****** In a rare burst of trust, Takshak had long ago confirmed Inanna’s words: while his mother had always indulged him materially, he had said, she had grown bitter and hard after Shaardul had tossed her aside for Inanna. Kings were intended to raise fire with their tantrikas, Abhilasha had sullenly averred, not to fall crazily in love with the rutting whores. For sure, Ishvari thought now, shivering despite the afternoon sun filtering in, Abhilasha had set her devil’s mark on her son. Takshak was incapable of seeing a woman as fully human—what pleasure he gave stemmed solely from his massive ego. Love to him was no more than a ravening lust, something that flared and died. The idea of aging alongside a lover, of watching wrinkles line a beloved face, nauseated him—and so he had chosen to flit from flower to exotic flower, to sip the nectar of the new rather than to savor the mature wine that alone evokes bliss. (Whip of the Wild God: A Novel of Tantra in Ancient India). ******

And the second:
****** Why were so many men compelled to inflict suffering on the women they desired? Odati came to believe that, at least to the conventional male, what was referred to as ‘love’ was in fact infatuation. All it seemed to involve was being drawn by the color, smell, taste and touch of the packaging, conveniently forgetting the contents within—rich contents that demanded patience and effort to savor. Manjari claimed most men were disinclined to milk intimate relationships for more than an orgasm, the little death all beings craved—for, apart from the oblivion of sleep, the rough pleasure of mating seemed to provide them with the only remedy to the dull ache of samsara. Real love, Manjari added, did not change when circumstances changed, or when the inexorable passage of time destroyed the freshness of physical charms. A true lover was happiest when the object of his affection was evolving into light. However, this kind of partner, the old woman added drily, was as rare to find as a star in a noon sky.(Copper Moon Over Pataliputra – the final novel in the Moksha Trilogy, about to be published.) *******

7293fc79f579a35ec9fc884aa6b3cadf-2What is love? A friend asked me yesterday. He loves Arunachala and visits here often, but claims to be too busy with worldly affairs to study the theoretical underpinnings of Advaita, which I personally feel are vital to Self-Investigation or the Direct Path (unless we have imbibed this wisdom in other lifetimes). Ironically, at some point we also have to jettison all we have learned as we enter the depths of the Spiritual Heart. I considered his question and then I said: for me, right now, it is that both Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj stayed on after they were both free of desire and fear, just to reveal to us sure way to escape the tedious hell of mundane living. Sages dwell in a blissful state ordinary humans can only imagine—to listen with compassion to the often ridiculous questions posed by all sorts of people, and to give each one what was needed to move on (although Nisargadatta was known as the Hammer for his blunt ways and would ask those not prepared for the path of jnana to leave his presence, which is itself a tough teaching) would take immense love. Infatuation is purely egoic; love is cosmic.

303537_3128548673069_1069126392_nGreetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who has no hesitation whipping the darkness out of us so we can melt into our true nature, which is cosmic love!

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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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FIRST FIGURE OUT WHO YOU ARE….

FB_IMG_1463360088510I confess that I am (or used to be) an impatient and demanding creature. The only problem with instant gratification in your case, as a friend laughingly told me a long time ago, was that it took too long! Anyway, so when I first got to Tiru eight years ago, determined to understand the simple but powerful teachings of Ramana Maharshi (who, by the way, never wanted to be a guru, but was forced into the role by his great compassion for those who begged him for answers to their perennial problems), I used to get mighty annoyed with his answer to almost everyone. No matter their particular issue, he would invariably say: first find out who you are, and then you won’t have this question anymore.

It literally took me years to understand his brilliance in repeating the same damned thing over and over again: yes, he was a sage and had found the golden key to transcending duality. A simple but critical key we would miss if left to our own devices, for the mind doesn’t like to be bored or held down by a single piece of work, and insists on wandering into all the nooks and crevices of mundane reality, simply to distract it from its real chore of penetrating through the dream states of waking, sleeping and dreaming, and awakening to our true nature, which is pure existence-awareness and bliss.

FB_IMG_1460704987387I was used to teachers who explained the wisdom teachings at great length. Naturally I didn’t, at least at the time, comprehend Ramana’s simple style in driving the nail in. Then one day it struck me like a bolt of lightning what he was really saying; that all our problems pertain to the relative world, to samsara, which is ephemeral, “unreal” by Advaitic definition, composed of people, events and things that come and go. Which leads to the particular definition of “real” and “unreal” in the context of Advaita: the “real” is that which is permanent and lasting, and only pure awareness, which is the substratum of being, meets that requirement; the “unreal,” on the contrary, is everything, people, places and objects, that comes and go out of our lives, in a word, the ephemeral.

But once we understand that in truth we are the cosmos itself in human form, pure existence, awareness and bliss, the relative bubble bursts and we understand the impermanence of every single one of our problems, from the most trivial to the sublime—that they are just the result of past karma, spun at an incredible speed by the collusion of the powerful forces of Lila and Maya, the Divine Sorceresses, fueled by their mighty sister, Queen Kundalini (for without Her energizing fire, nothing happens.)

Reality is simply loss of ego - RamanaGreetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who embraces us in his powerful arms and feeds us with the final antidote to samsara, even as He leads us into the peace and job that surpasses all mundane understanding!

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