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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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

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