I’d been out of sorts for the past couple of days, and so I went to bed early, allowing my guest, exhausted as she was from long travel, to dive under the covers too. The dream came on quickly, swallowing me up in its awesome maw…lost, panicked, empty, I ran from home to home, from country to country, situation to situation, looking for refuge and finding none. I dreamed of three beautiful black babies; each had a strange device inserted into the mouth which connected them to their mother, who monitored them closely although she was far away. Oh, how I wished I could change places with these happy and secure infants! I flitted through smoky nightclubs and saw stoned and drunk party animals frenziedly changing dance partners; I wove in and out of them like a ghost, longing to flee but unable to find the door that led outside. The nightmare went on, as my big epical dreams usually do, and I continued to fall into the hands of shallow, fickle humans with glittering false smiles and hidden agendas. Worst of all was the feeling of being a puppet with no smidgen of control over my thoughts, emotions or actions. Dread threw her thin cold arms around me and I wondered in a daze of sorrow why I should continue to live. Suddenly I was utterly exhausted; I knew I had to sleep, and yet I shied away from doing so, not wishing to wake up to another day of soul-chilling angst. The dread was so thick and fearsome that it actually woke me up—and thank god for that!!! Continue reading
When a sage is born, shining like a star in a noon sky, some are fortunate enough to encounter him or her personally and to directly absorb his teachings. But after he passes away, other elements take over, and these folks are rarely of the high caliber of their master. Gradually, sometimes over centuries, what was once a vibrant and liberating teaching often becomes a rigid and entrenched institution, guarded zealously by those who do not understand the true essence of what the sage originally taught.
Consider the fundamentalists of all stripes and religions today, who warp, distort and twist what their original teacher said to serve political, power or financial purposes. How, for instance, could the true teachings of peaceful and pure Jesus of Nazareth ever have been used to justify the unbelievable horrors of the Inquisitions that followed centuries later? We can come up with a thousand other such examples, of course, for no major religion is exempt from this madness.
One thing that really bothered me when I began my own spiritual quest is that a certain ilk of teachers would insist that, once you signed on for their teachings, that was it, you could not leave their fold. Yes, you owed them not perfect and total loyalty until you took your last breath! Some also insist that you tithe part of your income to them, and god forbid if you move on to another guru more suitable to your spiritual needs—then you are nothing less than a despised and fickle traitor. Continue reading
…is all it takes to blast open the mind and to prove to us, from the inside where it counts, that what we take for reality, as revealed to us via the five senses and our limited finite mind, is just a thin covering over an Absolute reality simply staggering in its intricate beauty and vast complexity.
As a child growing up in south India, I used to catch strangely disorienting fevers that incapacitated me for a couple of days. I would fall into a heavy sleep at night, then wake up to find myself floating above my body; what would hold my ethereal body from floating away, was, believe it or not, the thin cotton top of the mosquito net we always slept under! I would look down with a gasp of surprised terror to see my sleeping body below, and the next second I would be back within it. This happened often enough for me to ponder its meaning: If I had left my body, I realized, then my body was not “me”; of course, it was this numinous knowing that led me gradually to explore this “I” that had so easily left my body—and then, decades later, after much suffering and confusion in the external world, to begin the awesome journey into discovering (or rather, uncovering) who I AM beyond body, mind, emotions, track record, etc. Continue reading
Anyone who has grown up in a traditional community knows that one is strongly urged to never speak about the skeletons rattling around in both individual and community closets. As for me, I was so open with strangers right from the get go that my conformist mother would warn me to hush. “Your big mouth will get you into trouble,” she’d say sternly. “There’s no need to tell everyone how you think or feel. If you continue like this, no one will marry you.” I would snigger, thrilled at the thought that this innate habit of frank communication would repel prospective partners who didn’t appreciate honesty. Life had thrown enough chains on me already—why on earth would I want one more?
My mother was wrong. My wildness drew people to me. But I had seen too much already to be dazzled by the usual courtship rituals and already horrified by what I saw happen to women who were outspoken and bold—the patriarchy crushed them, and the matriarchy colluded in this, for often it was mothers-and sisters-in-law who did their worst to make sure that any new woman who entered the fold was made to suffer dire consequences if she dared to rebel. Yes, I knew quite well that if I fell into that age-old trap of marrying into the community, driven by the twin needs of security and approval, sooner or later I would be in for 50 shades of hell. This is how I viewed the scenario anyway and it led me to marry out of my community and move to Manhattan; now that marriage did not survive either, because we were driven by different value systems—in simple terms, he loved money more than honesty and for me honesty always came first— but that is a story for another day. Continue reading
Last night something happened that disturbed my mind. Unable to sleep, I stayed awake until the wee hours, reading an illuminating book a friend had given me containing the reminiscences of those fortunate enough to have had personal contact with Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi.
I woke up feeling bedraggled—but the sun was shining through many windows, and doggies and humans would soon be calling for my attention, so I rose. I did my morning practice of diving into the Self and was able to dispassionately view the antics of my mind—as if I was a wise old grandfather indulgently watching his rambunctious grandson mess up the living room. Simply being watched with love stopped my mind from spinning into even more chaos—and then bliss arose in a strong wave.
As Gautama Buddha said so beautifully over two thousand years ago, sometimes the mind is like a drunken wild elephant in rut. Somehow we must stop it from ruining the beauty of our lives, and each of us must find our own way— fortunately, magically, the way is always there, glittering with promise beneath the muck of the dreary highway of the unexamined life.
It may take eons to learn how to halt the charging mind, but it is possible. Those few able to stop the mind permanently evolve into sages, rishis, seers, jnanis and enjoy a permanent state of peace and bliss. This of course is the ultimate goal of Atma-Vichara—and practiced regularly, Atma-Vichara (Ramana’s Direct Path) really does possess the power to destroy the wrong thinking that manufactures all our suffering.
Greetings from Arunachala, the sacred mountain believed to be God Shiva Himself, who promises to destroy every bit of cheap tinsel that covers the shining gold of who we truly are!
‘The Secret’—a ‘spiritual’ self-help documentary launched in Australia in 2006—hit the Western world with incredible impact, generating millions for its producers. I wrote the following article a year or so later but never published it. Today, although a thousand other scams have rushed in to take its place, the reasons why I reacted so negatively to it are still pertinent. The plethora of gross misinformation spreading across our planet has inspired me to write spiritual fiction, and all three of my novels in the MOKSHA TRILOGY (Whip of the Wild God, Krishna’s Counsel and Copper Moon Over Pataliputra—Whip is out and the other two novels are soon to be published) deal with the great eastern truths that helped me come to grips with reality.) So here goes….
In the summer of 2008, I lived in a delightful suburb located a twenty-minute drive from the White House in Washington D.C. A string of disappointments had driven me into a chasm of despair. Despite the spiritual tools I’d acquired over the decades, my state of consciousness had sunk into such a quicksand of self-doubt that I expected the bathroom mirror to crack every time I peered cautiously into it. At night, as breezes ruffled the branches of the majestic old trees surrounding that beautiful home, I would hear the fat lady screech, and know I was trapped within another dark night of the soul.
I called my friend Meredith who had moved to Taos, New Mexico. “I’ve got the perfect remedy for you, hon!” she cried when I mumbled the shameful details of my depression. “Watch The Secret! It will change everything for you!” Continue reading
…and it shall follow as the day the night…thou can’t then be false to any other man (or woman or child or animal, for that matter)….thus spake Hamlet and he spoke true.
When I first came to Tiruvannamalai almost seven years ago, I rented an apartment that looked great from the outside, and was more than adequate as temporary living quarters, but it was also surrounded by noisy families and the morning din in particular was terrible for one hypersensitive to noise. As a result, I did not care to use my kitchen. Since I lacked personal transportation at the time, I began to eat all my meals at the little restaurant connected to nearby Seshadri Ashram.
Here I happened to connect with a well-educated middle-aged renunciate who, one sleepy afternoon as we sipped our hot chai post-lunch, told me his story:
He had done so well in engineering college, he said, that after he graduated he became a sought after star lecturer. Then the big questions of life and death began to haunt him and he took to eastern philosophy with a passion, seeking answers to his angst, and even donning the robes of a renunciate.
Soon he got so good at spinning Advaita that he was asked to speak publicly. But once again he began to feel uncomfortable playing this role—this time because he himself was not yet enlightened, and because he had come to believe that only a sage (one who has gone beyond desire and fear) can truly teach at the highest level.
So another coin dropped as he acknowledged that the job of becoming free begins and ends with oneself: Fix the little self and the Big Self is known; or else, he said ruefully, no matter how much we know intellectually, we are no better than the blind leading the blind.
Over the years I have lived at the base of holy Arunachala, I realize the profound truth of what this man said to me that sleepy afternoon. Today I accept that the truly committed seeker of wisdom must be willing to travel alone so as to focus on the awesome task of breaking down the egoic self.
This does not mean that while we are journeying we do not connect with or help others along the way; we do so, with full hearts, as long as we are not hurt or blocked from onward progress in the process. (I myself have terrific friends, but I did not seek them out; we come together in odd ways, and I welcome them into my life if I feel we can be of mutual help to each other on this path less traveled.)
Back to the true sage who has transcended both desire and fear and consequently does not need anything because s/he is complete, reunited with cosmic Self. Whatever comes, the sage says, comes from the source of all being, and those committed to this wisdom accept all things, seemingly good or bad, with grace. We do not struggle with “what is” because that would be struggling against the consequences of our own actions. This is the path of jnana, of wisdom, and it is a path that most shy away from.
However, it works perfectly for me. What does this mean, relatively speaking? I help those I can help, and I do so as generously as I can, but I also keep the focus on myself—because if I am reeling, emotionally or physically, drained by the demands of others, I can be of little use to myself or others.
You see, I still have vices and vasanas (blocks) that need clearing; until that work is fully done, I cannot bring illumination to others, as brilliant sages such as Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj and so many others keep doing via their extraordinary spirits and powerful teachings. Instead I make sure that every single day I do something to bring me closer to my own light; still, the curtains of darkness fall from time to time, and then I do not hesitate to use the tools given to me via the sages, in order to restore me to balance as I continue along this razor’s edge to perfect freedom.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a mountain, who promises to destroy our false coverings so that we can realize who we truly are beyond name and form—the Self, blissful and immortal, fearless and wise, intrinsically connected to all things manifest and unmanifest, One.
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
Dattatreya blows my mind with the daring way he lived his life and the transcendent wisdom that emerged as a result. The word Datta means “given”—for it is said the Divine Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) “gave” one aspect of themselves in the form of a son to the sages Atri and Anasuya; Atreya was added on to his name, to indicate he was the son of Atri.
Born roughly 4000 years ago in an age when Veda and Tantra had once again fused, Dattatreya left home early, in search of the Absolute, roaming naked in the areas in and around Mysore, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Usually depicted with three heads, symbolizing Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva; past, present, and future; and the three states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep, he is shown sitting in meditation beside his shakti (mate) beneath the wish-fulfilling tree; in front of him is a fire pit, and around him are four dogs—symbolizing the four Vedas. The Nath yogis view Dattatreya as an Avatar of Shiva and as their Adi-Guru (First Teacher); they see him as a Siddha (realized being with magical powers) living in the woods with animals, and sometimes even as a frightening (demonic) being.
Dattatreya had no formal human guru, but in the Bhagavata Purana he lists 24 gurus: earth, air, sky/ether, water, fire, sun, moon, python, pigeons, sea, moth, bee, bull elephant, bear, deer, fish, osprey, a child, a maiden, a courtesan, a blacksmith, serpent, spider, and wasp.
Legend has it that Dattatreya once dove into a lake where he stayed for years in order to free himself of attachment, as well as to evade an assembly of Munis (sages) awaiting his return. Datta finally emerged from the water—naked, and in the company of a beautiful woman (his shakti). The Markandeya Purana reports that he made love with her (maithuna), drank liquor, and enjoyed music—and yet the Munis did not abandon him. Accompanied by his shakti, Dattatreya continued to engage in these practices and was meditated upon by those yearning for liberation or moksha.
If destiny had not sent Dattatreya unusually intelligent disciples (three were Kings), his manner of living might have been all we now have to know him. However his teachings are also contained in several Upanishads, a Tantrik text known as Haritayana Samhita, and two Gitas (the Jivanmukta Gita and the Avadhuta Gita).
Typical of most spiritual rebels of the ancient eastern world, Dattatreya lived completely naked, and although he was the son of a Brahmin couple, he claimed caste distinctions had no value in spiritual life. Concepts of the brotherhood of man, non-killing, or love for one another he dismissed as being for people who enjoyed worldly pleasures; instead he taught the timeless wisdom which alone can free us from the coils of suffering born of primal delusion.
Dattatreya relied on three Sanskrit words (Pratibha, Sahaja and Samarasa) to deliver his message; each provides a springboard to Absolute Reality.
Pratibha means vision, insight, intuition, wisdom, awakening (like satori and not to be confused with enlightenment.) It is what enables one to distinguish Real from Unreal and is a bridge between egoic-mind and the Self. Pratibha cannot thrive in the material world and is cultivated best by meditation or contemplation, independent of religious strictures. Spontaneous in manifestation, it is a stage in which one requires no further guidance from a guru. Pratibha is the real Third Eye: a transcendent knowledge capable of culling diamonds of wisdom.
Sahaja. What is it that distinguishes the throng of rebels who illuminate eastern history? The answer is Sahaja or naturalness. Sahaja is not confined to physical and spiritual levels but also applies to mystical knowing. It is that easy state minus design, manipulation, wanting, striving or intention where events flow naturally: Nobody, for instance, has to instruct a seed on how to grow into a towering tree. Sahaja brings us into harmony with the Cosmos, for it is a balanced reality between the pairs of opposites.
Samarasa is the third of these three intertwined words and is considered the most interesting for it encapsulates the Absolute, the Cosmos, and the World. Tantriks used it to suggest higher truth—as in the ecstasy of sexual orgasm. It also means the primal unity of all things—an aesthetically balanced unity. To Dattatreya, Samarasa meant a stage of Absolute realization free of distinctions between felt, seen or experienced, or between the seeker and the goal.
Ancient India gave birth to liberating spiritual concepts; however genuine seekers were, and still are, rare—not because liberation is reserved for a minority, but because it is a process which continues over eons. One sure indication of genuine seeking is one’s own sincerity and intensity. The penalty for neglecting higher truth is not the wrath of God, but countless future lives of misery, pain and frustration; the reward for the diligent is relief from a tedious succession of rebirths and lasting bliss.
Greetings from Arunachala, the sacred mountain considered to be the embodiment of the great god Shiva, and whose promise is to destroy our egoic-mind so that we can experience ourselves as the blissful and immortal Self!
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