Samsara is a Fickle Beast!

Kiri 16GB sd card 3273‘Samsara’ is a Sanskrit word that approximates to ‘relative reality.’ When Buddha gave us his first noble truth: life is suffering, it was this level of reality he was referring to, simply, the ups and downs of a life lived in duality. It is his fourth truth that points the way out of suffering, and thank Ultimate Consciousness, I say, that there is indeed a highway that can lead us permanently out of this mess!

I’m writing this because I’ve been hit by a series of minor calamities (that’s probably an oxymoron, but never mind.) One dog who refuses since to eat and won’t tell me why, ha ha ha, my other dog who is totally nutso and terrified of most humans, and, out of the blue, a sciatica attack from hell, most likely due to the fact that I’ve been working way too long on the computer. It flared up last night, and this morning I could barely get out of bed. Thank god for my Ayurvedic doc, who came over right away and did some wonderful healing work. Continue reading

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The Magic of Being Alone

GRAPHIC OF WOMAN1992 for me was a time of great personal darkness—sparkly on the outside, rotten on the inside. Stuck in a difficult marriage, I asked a friend at work if I could unload my troubles on her.

Karen was an opera singer at the start of her career; like me, she supported herself by freelancing in Manhattan law firms and on Wall Street. I admired her creativity, courage and higher values. Often  after work we’d walk across Manhattan to my apartment and chat while I cooked us dinner.

“Let’s go to Central Park tomorrow,” she suggested. “We can talk freely there.” So next day we strolled through that gorgeous park and I told her, tears streaming down my face, that the husband I once believed I’d love and respect to my dying day had turned into a materialistic stranger.

“Why are you so scared to leave him then?” she asked in her direct fashion. “Sounds like you have good reason.”  Continue reading

Two Great Truths of Absolute and Relative Reality

SHIVA AND SHAKTI TANTRA

In my volatile teens, I was struck by the poignant beauty of an ancient metaphor (contained within the Mundaka Upanishad) that speaks of two birds perched on the branch of a tree: one bird eats the fruit of the tree while the other watches.

The first bird represents the individual self/soul; distracted by the fruits (signifying sensual pleasures), she forgets her lord and lover and tries to enjoy the fruit independent of him. (This separating amnesia is known in Sanskrit as maha-maya or enthrallment; it results in the plunge of the individual into the ephemeral realm of birth and death.) As for the second bird, it is an aspect of the Divine/Self that rests in every heart—and which remains forever constant even as the individual soul is bedazzled by the material world.

This teaching implies that it is ignorance of our true nature that creates a vicious cycle: the individual, being blinded by the illusion of existing as a separate entity, has no option but to act—and therefore fresh misery is piled on the old. But the Absolute is whole and free of illusion; performing no actions it is not bound by karma.  Continue reading

Terms of Enlightenment

final12A team of attorneys I once worked for in Manhattan specialized in the purchase and sale of aircraft between countries. Transactions often involved a slew of lawyers from different corners of the world and required that the legal team as a whole put together a set of documents so an aircraft could be properly transferred from Seller to Buyer: Escrow, Contract, Sale, Purchase, blah blah blah.

Since definitions of important terms differed slightly from country to country, and because even minor misunderstandings could lead to serious problems as the deal meandered on, the first order of business was for these lawyers to pool their definitions of relevant terms. When agreement on the meaning of terms was reached, a document would be created that would stay in place for the entire deal.

The document listing these agreed-upon definitions was known as the Definition of Termsand only when it was finalized did the deal take off into the stratosphere. During the transaction (which could go on for months or even years), members on the transaction team could easily clarify confusions regarding specific terms by referring to this key document. Continue reading

Dying Every Single Day for Months in Manhattan…

IMG_9929_statueA brilliant monk held a motley crew of us dharma students in thrall for many years in the Big Apple. All right, he’d drawl as his eyes lazily scanned the room. So you’re all so cool with your stylish black wardrobes and your sophisticated friends. You live in the hippest city in the world and you think you’re doing great. And in the eyes of the material world, that’s true—fat paychecks, nice apartments, great social life, lookin’ good, lookin’ good.

He’d pause for effect then continue into rapt silence. But tell me: what’s the one thing your bosses can never recompense you for? Ah! You got it, smart people—it’s precious human time! Some of you are doing wonderful things for the sake of humanity. Yes, there are literally thousands of good things you can do with your lives—but, if you listen to the great mystics, the highest goal of human life is permanent liberation from suffering—which is why everyone in this room has chosen to take the Bodhisattva Vow: to seek enlightenment for the sake of all beings.

To enter the Spiritual Olympics you need not just a clear mind but a strong body and perfect commitment—and if you believe that before you begin this inner journey you must first amass money and tie up all your relationships and assets into neat packages that look oh so pretty, there’s a good chance you won’t have those assets when you’re free to discover who you really are—which also means that day of liberation might never come. So, folks, if you really do want to start the greatest journey of all, start it NOW! Continue reading

Freedom From the Matrix – Samsara’s Seven Flavors #12/12

RamanaThe 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 the deep wound of our humanity — though I’ve heard it said that a complete understanding and 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. Continue reading

The Sticky Web of Life – Samsara’s Seven Flavors #10/12

web-designerSay you’re a crack software designer with your eye on a dream posting in California’s exciting Bay Area. The job dangles before you like a luscious red apple. Everyone knows you’re the best candidate. You’re so sure the job is yours that you start preparing to split India.

Then you get a call from a pal in Human Resources — sorry, she says, but they’ve given the project to Bipin Ghatge. I know, it sucks, but what to do? He’s our Chairman’s nephew — didn’t you know?”

Foiled again! This time by that smug toady Bipin! You want to eviscerate him and shriek with wicked laughter as his guts slither out of his belly, but you don’t relish the idea of spending the next 50 years in prison. You think about that new pub where you could get rip-roaring drunk — but that road to oblivion will make it impossible for you to endure Ghatge’s snide looks tomorrow. Continue reading

Inherent Imperfection – Samsara’s Seven Flavors #9/12

woman_meditatingShaken to the core by Angelica’s unexpected rant, I rode the elevator up to my apartment. The thought flashed that here was a perfect opportunity to check out the efficacy of MahamudraSo 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 disapproval or irritation. Holding this scene in the foreground of my mind, I applied to it each of the six flavors of Emptiness. Tears welled up and rolled down my cheeks as I re-lived the humiliating experience. Strangely, 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. As the lama had promised, Mahamudra did work! Continue reading

Karmic Tranformation – Samsara’s Seven Flavors #8/12

paradigm-shift-cartoonFlavor #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.

Flavor #6: Our Personal Karma Creates our Reality. According to Mahamudra, everything that happens in our lives is the result of past karma. Over a decade 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 both your happiness as well as your suffering.” Continue reading

No Accident & No Judgment – Samsara’s Seven Flavors #7/12

no_accidentsFlavor #3: Nothing Happens by Accident. Mahamudra claims that nothing that happens in our lives 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 — well, that’s 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 the shit hits the fan that we really 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.

Let’s consider the specific feelings the first three flavors of samsara work with: impermanence works with the (wrong) feeling that things are going to last; the lack of ownership works on the (wrong) feeling that I own these things; no accident works on the (wrong) feeling of: why does bad stuff always happen to me? Why did I lose my job? Why did my lover get pancreatic cancer? Practiced with understanding, all three flavors can help us ground ourselves in the reality of what is. Continue reading