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

Dattatreya’s 24 Gurus and His Brilliant View

SHIVA IN BLACK AND WHITE 2Dattatreya 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.

SHIVA MODERN PICDattatreya 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).

SHIVA AS YOGITypical 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.

SHIVA IN BROWN AND YELLOWAncient 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.

ARUNACHALA AT NIGHT IN BLUE 3Greetings 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!

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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

Revealing Hidden Codes That Cause Suffering…

DSC_5415As a young bride in Manhattan, I spent my first couple of months shopping, cooking and wandering goggle-eyed around that fascinating city.

One day I happened to bump into my next door neighbor (we lived in a relatively small mid-town apartment building at the time). “It’s got to be you cooking all that Indian food,” he said with a friendly grin. “Spicy odors disturbing you?” I asked. “Oh no,” he said. “I LOVE Indian food…in fact my tummy growls every time I pass your apartment.” “Come get some if you’re hungry,” I said. “Plenty of leftovers.” And he did.

My new buddy turned out to be a writer who made his rent and food money working as a freelancer/temp on Wall Street and in the city’s many law firms. Under his guidance, I soon signed up with an agency that taught me the basics of WordPerfect—the software currently in use in corporate Manhattan. I had never used a computer before. In fact, the first time I hit the print button and saw a piece of paper rolling out of a laser printer with what I’d typed during my training at the agency, I shrieked with excitement—to me, a true lover of the power of words, this was pure magic! 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

The Blazing Skyscraper: An Archetypal Moksha Dream

FLYING WOMAN GRAPHICI loved my new apartment in Dharamsala: hardwood floors, a modern bathroom and kitchen, glass windows and a wraparound terrace from which I could contemplate the icy splendor of the ring of surrounding mountains. I’d just moved to this Himalayan town from the urban frenzy of Manhattan—minus a parachute as I often joked; this was my fourth home in just over a year and finally I felt comfortable, at least in physical terms.

It helped that my Himachali landlords were fond of me—possibly because I’d loaned them enough to finish the construction of their building. (Later I discovered via a German friend who sublet my place that they were cheating me blind on electricity etcetera—but at least they cared enough to provide me with the little comforts required to live in such an austere environment. “This is Kali Yuga, remember?” I’d remind myself when I felt cruelly buffeted by life. “It could always be worse!”) Continue reading

Gone Fishin’ & The Art of Taking Personal Responsibility…

WOMAN DANCINGAt one point in my erratic freelance career in Manhattan, I landed in a small branch of an environmental law firm with its head office in California. It was headed by a cold and beautiful woman with grave emotional problems that she made no bones about publicly sharing.

Her personal assistant was a petite red-head possessed of a voice as squeaky as a Pomeranian. I shall call her Candy. Now Candy sucked up madly to our boss—the benefit being that as long as she flattered the woman to bits, she was allowed to run the office as she damn well pleased. Candy was cute and funny and made us laugh with her endless fund of jokes—but she was also one of the most unethical office managers I ever came across in my history of freelancing. In fact, as soon as our boss flew west on business, Candy would hang a ‘Gone Fishin’’ sign on her office door, indicating she was not to be disturbed; it was common knowledge that she needed time to study for her evening college classes, and office work be damned. Continue reading

The Ego is Not Your Amigo – Part 2 of 2

Harish Johari

Harish Johari

I first began to consciously pursue the destruction of my own troublesome ego when I lived in hectic Manhattan. At the time, I had just begun to plot a novel based on eastern philosophy (Whip of the Wild God: A Novel of Tantra in Ancient India), and was engrossed in learning everything I could about Tantra and mysticism.

In the process, I met folks who tended to interpret Tantra mainly as a license to enjoy indiscriminate sex. My view was different: mainly from delving into the treasure trove of eastern philosophy at the New York Public Library, I had discovered that, etymologically speaking, the word Tantra derives from two Sanskrit words: tanoti and trayati—meaning: the explosion of consciousness. How one performs this magic is up to the individual; while couple-hood can certainly become a means of liberation, celibate tantrics often evolve fastersimply because they are relieved of having to cope with the eccentricities of an ego-driven partner. Continue reading