The Spider & The Blue-Throated God – 2/2

FB_IMG_1494089545295Did I go from being a neurotic worrier to a goddess radiating mega-rays of tranquility in a few short weeks? Sorry, but this ain’t no fairy tale. The sad truth is that I was born with a depressive gene: to see a glass as half-full instead of half-empty can still be a labor of Hercules. But by putting a positive spin on my life, my fears shrank, my vision cleared, and I could move forward with increasing confidence. Yet I still found myself embroiled in situations so dark I could not find a single reason to be grateful.

One such nightmare saw me trapped me in a guesthouse in Rishikesh during the Neelkanth Mahadev temple festival that annually draws close to half a million rambunctious rural devotees down from their villages to worship Lord Shiva. The temple is surrounded by dense forest and is adjacent to the Nar-Narayan mountain ranges. Hindu myth claims it was here that Lord Shiva consumed the poison Halahala that originated from the ocean when the Gods and the Demons churned the deep waters in order to obtain Amrita, the nectar of immortality. To save creation, Shiva swallowed this poison, which turned his throat blue—which is why he is known as Nilkanth, literally The Blue Throated One.\

News of how rapidly devotees could turn spectacular Rishikesh into a virtual cesspool spread like wildfire. Friends I’d been hanging out with during the winter months fled, but I’d just bought a duplex apartment on the other side of the Ganga and had to stick around while it was being renovated. (I had long since sold my dream house in south India and moved up north).

Those of you who know Rishikesh will remember the two narrow bridges—Ram Jhula and Laxman Jhula—that separate the two halves of town. Swaying ribbons of wood, these old-fashioned bridges hang over the turquoise and emerald waters of Mother Ganga; during festival times, they are packed tight with tourists and virtually impossible to traverse.

FB_IMG_1490599852235The morning after the start of the great festival, I awoke to nagging body pains and found myself unable to move my neck. Exhausted, I lay in bed until afternoon. A local trekking guide dropped in for a chat. I showed him the swelling behind my ear. “Oh ho, Mira-ji, that’s a bad spider bite,” he said authoritatively. He pointed to a gigantic black spider crouched on the bottom of my window pane. “See? That must be the villain right there. Just rest for a few days and drink plenty of good water.”

Since I avoid Allopathy in general, preferring to let time and yogic remedies do their work, I decided to stick it out in my guest room. But the infection only got worse until my entire stomach area was a tender mass of screaming pain and I could barely summon up the energy to get out of bed. I begged a friend who lived in Rishikesh to arrange for a doctor to visit me. The pain in my intestines was impossible to describe, I whispered weakly; I could not eat or drink. The doctor arrived. When he heard me moaning in agony, he pushed some antibiotics on me, collected his fee, and rushed away before I could ask him to move me to a hospital. Later my trekking pal told me the good doctor had fled because he feared I’d die in that room; apparently he’d not wanted to get embroiled in a messy police case. So much for the Hippocratic Oath, in this case, the Hypocritical Oath.

My trekker friend arrived to check on me the next morning and saw I was on the verge of extinction. He carried me down the stairs, literally tied me to the back of his bike, and drove me along that crazily swaying bridge, through thousands of crazy revelers, and to the hospital in town. There the female doctor took one look at me and ordered me into Intensive Care. Terrified, I called a close friend who lived in Chandigarh, a seven hour drive away. “You check into that place, Mira, and that’ll be the end of you, she said bluntly. “Come to Chandigarh right now—I’ll take care of everything.” A man at the hospital found a taxi for me while the doctor gave me a pain shot she promised would last for seven hours. It did not work. The taxi driver must have cursed himself for taking me on, for I kept groaning as outrageous pains knifed through my intestines. That drive was beyond nightmarish; fortunately I blacked out from time to time.

We made it to Chandigarh, but my agony did not end there: not one of those renowned medical specialists had the guts or the common sense to have me cleaned out from the inside. Could they cure me, I cried? Glucose drip, they murmured, sophisticated scans, they suggested, a few months of bed rest, they advised, but I could feel Death’s cold breath on my neck. I begged God not to let me go this way. I had so much to do, I cried, please let me die with some dignity. Towards dawn I heard a voice whisper to me: get an enema, now! I woke my friend and coaxed her to send me a doctor and nurse immediately. I had the enema, which started the process of removing the poisons that had been clogging my intestine, and entered the tortuous road to recovery.

After the crisis was over, I was amazed to find so much I could be grateful for: higher power had ensured my survival against all odds; my trekking guide friend had cared enough to drive me to the hospital across that teeming city; the taxi driver had carried me safely from Rishikesh to Chandigarh; a friend had taken on the huge responsibility for my care; her friend had loaned me her gorgeous home to recover; the nurse who’d administered that healing enema…etcetera etcetera. As time passed and I regained my health, it also became clear to me that I’d chosen this brutal episode to burn some heavy-duty karma. Chosen, you ask? Yes, because I believe we souls choose the circumstances of our lives on earth in order to transcend duality and to return to the source of both manifest and unmanifest.

a9d35a4933b4412c59fa8ad3a43437afIn his book Enlightened Courage: An Explanation of the Seven-Point Mind Training, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, a powerful Tibetan Buddhist teacher, says:

No one knows when, or how, death will come. Bubbles form on the surface of the water, but the next instant they are gone; they do not stay. It is just the same with this precious human body that we have managed to find. We take all the time in the world before engaging in spiritual practice, but who knows when this life of ours will simply cease to be?

Today I make it a daily practice to be grateful for all the circumstances of my life. Via the ancient wisdom tool of Vichara, or Self-investigation, I choose to meditate on my true nature—which, according to eastern philosophy, is pure existence, awareness and bliss. As I do so, I feel the patch-work identity of egoic body and mind that has caused all my suffering begin to dissolve; a sweet joy arises with the knowledge that if I persevere in my inward quest, one day I shall merge fully into that exquisite peace surpassing all human understanding.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to destroy the egoic system that is the cause of all our relative suffering!

NOTE: This post was originally published in 2013 and was perhaps my most popular piece of writing; here it has been condensed for inclusion in the first of my blog books.

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The Spider & The Blue-Throated God – 1/2

3b61d0f59f5d346dca653f1df20c1727I owe a colossal debt of gratitude to a woman I shall call Grace, whose kindly face, hennaed hair, hooked nose and elfin green eyes still come with great affection to mind. I met her over a decade ago, at a friend’s potluck dinner in Eugene, Oregon—a fairytale town where I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a hobbit or two frolicking down the road, yodeling a hey-ho-happy-to-be-alive kinda song.

Instead of enjoying this slice of paradise, however, my thoughts had begun to stray obsessively into the future—specifically on the looming prospect of having to leave Eugene for south India, where I’d set in motion the construction of a beautiful home for myself. Whew, was I mad at myself for taking this big step! My radical ways had taken me way out of the Indian mainstream…and when, for God’s sake, had I ever fit into my conservative community? But now it was too late—huge amounts of money had already been paid towards this dream dwelling, and this time I had no option but to suck it up and go with the flow.

The open-hearted folk of Eugene only intensified my reluctance to return to India. To de-stress, I regularly did yoga, meditated, hiked with friends and sang with my guitar. But at night, the demon of anxiety would fly in through the window in a flurry of dark wings and sit triumphantly on my chest, draining me of energy. Soon enough, the blues settled like a toxic mushroom cloud over my frazzled head. One night I wandered into the backyard of a friends’ place after dinner and I spied a woman called Grace sitting alone at a picnic table beneath a star-speckled night sky. I’d heard someone say she was a sort of urban healer, and that she worked for free.

Grace welcomed me with a big smile and said she’d once dreamed about visiting India with her husband, who’d been fascinated by our ancient rishis and Vedanta philosophy. But he’d died of a heart attack twenty years ago as he was biking along the Willamette River, and the bottom had dropped out of her world.

13e269e7dd2189555144fd97b22322e4“Cara said you’re some sort of healer,” I said on impulse. “My mind’s been driving me insane. Would you give me some herbs to help me sleep?” She placed a gentle hand on my arm. “What’s worrying you?” And suddenly I was spilling out the stream of paranoid thoughts that harassed me continuously.

“Well, honey,” she said. “I used to be the biggest worrywart…went to pieces after my husband died and could barely get out of bed.” Moonlight revealed the lines suffering had etched into her face. “Then a friend suggested I help out at the local hospice. I met a patient there, dying the most painful death, but still a magnet for the others. He told me his secret—that he’d trained himself to always look on the bright side. If I wanted to be happy again, he said, I should start my day by listing five things I was grateful for.” “And this worked?” I asked dubiously. “Sure it did, honey!” she cried. “Its white magic, this positive thinking.” She lowered her voice to a dramatic whisper. “Tell you what…I’ll be your gratitude sponsor. Call me every morning for the next month and give me a list of five things you’re happy about. Wanna give it a shot?”

I lay in bed next morning forcing myself to drum up those cursed five things for Grace. Then I heard someone talking on the street below my window. I poked my head out and saw the quadriplegic who lived down the street being pushed in his wheelchair by his long-suffering wife. Omigod! At least I had all my limbs and my faculties, a little the worse for wear, but still in pretty good shape. I struggled to come up with number 2. Hmmmm…unlike so many others who’d taken the road less travelled, I’d managed to save enough to retire in the East. Wasn’t that another huge reason to be grateful? Then I considered my passion for writing—hours would vanish into the ether as I poured my heart out in words. Which made three. And what about the organic broccoli and Lundberg short-grain brown rice I’d planned to cook for brunch? Seasoned with Japanese toasted sesame oil, cracked red pepper, olive oil and a dash of tamari, it was my favorite health food. Hey, that made a total of four things to be pleased about!

I jumped out of bed, showered and pulled out my yoga mat, anticipating the deep relaxation I’d soon feel. And that made five—that I had learned how to calm body and mind with yogic techniques and meditation. How many millions are condemned to seek comfort from a drink, a joint, shopping, sex or whatever when their minds are giving them hell?

FB_IMG_1456878290224Bizarro, but already I was feeling much lighter! I dialed Grace’s number and blurted out my five things. I could feel her smiling on the other end. “Good,” she said. “Enjoy your day and call me tomorrow. And, honey, jot down those five things you just rattled off to me, okay? Do this every day from here on—that’s an order!” (Continued in next post).

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who gives us all the powerful tools we need to combat our dark side so we can realize our Self to be immortal light!

THOSE BORING OLD CLICHES

2b30a1fb8fc22baec67e64504e96cf11Clichés become clichés because they are true. For instance, how many times has some elder told you that you will know your true friends only when you are sick and suffering, penniless, shunned by society, etcetera? You might have smiled disbelievingly, but in time, you may learn that this is true.

Our planet teems with egomaniacs and narcissists who “love,” “worship” and “adore” you when you are riding high. Some are drawn to you because their egos are empowered by your neediness and it delights them to believe that you will come to rely on their largesse and be gushingly servile in your attitude. But just you wait until a hurricane blows you off your pedestal and reveals your frayed and dirty knickers! Worse still, when you grow strong and confident again and have the guts to speak your mind honestly and bravely, you will likely see that the few jewels who remain loyal and caring are those who loved you, not because you could enhance their life or their egos, but for your flawed but brilliant self.

I knew a man who was a mixture of darkness and light (this is true of us all, of course, but in some the contrast is dramatic). Generous to the extreme, he gave and gave, but always with his ego. Intelligent, charismatic and talented as he was, he belonged to a generation that did not have easy access to the wisdom of the ancient masters, and so he lived his life with grand recklessness, showing off his possessions and his sparkling personality, unknowing that he was strengthening that which the seeker on the path of Advaita seeks to annihilate—the egoic self, which in truth is so insatiably hungry for attention and power that it can never ever be satisfied.

Then a combination of factors caused him to fall. As his businesses went belly up, his drinking increased to the point that he was unpleasant to be with. The years dragged on and he was invited to less parties and social affairs, and so he drank even more, alienating even those closest to him with his surly, patronizing, and bullying ways. He had given enormous sums of money to many while he was prosperous, but now very few bothered to offer him their help, although they had benefitted hugely from him in the past and now had the means to return the favor. Eventually he died, a bitter and broken man, and it was excruciating to watch him fade away into the nothingness from which he had emerged.

9a98b5caac8b4a9fc6c46747c8fdfc73Now that he was dead, everyone started praising him again. Oh, what a magnificent and sparkling character he was, they said, their eyes filling with crocodile tears. And such a generous host! Remember those fabulous parties he used to throw? My, my, the food was spectacular, and the music superb. Can’t believe he’s gone, such a tragedy. Oh, and you know what? I heard he drank himself to death. The streets around his home were clogged by all manner of vehicles for his final viewing, and many who had not known him when he was alive murmured, oh, that must have been some guy to be getting all this attention.

All of us know people to whom this sort of tragedy has happened. Or we have read about them. One of my gurus would have muttered that, had this man only realized that all his life he had only served his ego, and that his bitter end was the sorry result of burning the candle at both ends, he might have found the right highway to real peace and joy. If he had accrued any good karma, it would have been “dirty good karma”—the karma that gives us fleeting results only in relative reality (samsara). And since the nature of karma is to come and go, when that dirty good karma came to an end, the pain began, and did not stop until it killed him.

My parents showed me by example that one must be especially kind to those who are in bad straits, no matter whether we have conflicts and disagreements with them. If we turn away from those in need simply because, at some point in time, they have pointed out our flaws, then we are revealing our own lack of caliber. When Ramana Maharshi was beaten by thieves in the early days of his Ashram life, he refused to complain to the police. Instead he offered the thieves food and anything else they wanted. This is one reason why he is considered a sage, because his ego had merged back with the radiant and blissful Self that sees no difference between one and another. As he would say when people came to complain to him, there are no others.

I have learned the hard way that Gautama was speaking true when he said: Dwell, you are the light itself. Yes, I have been deceived and betrayed time and time again, but fortunately I have the ancient teachings that keep me going towards the blazing light. Nor was I myself a saint, but at least in my case it was a lack of higher wisdom rather than an egoic intention to inflict hurt that made me behave as foolishly as I did. It is said that karma karma is 99% intention, and I can honestly say that I cannot recall ever wanting to inflict suffering on another.

303537_3128548673069_1069126392_nLife can make you bitter or better and I choose better. But, on the practical level, if a human has betrayed you over and over again, vowed eternal love and loyalty to you but turned tail when things did not go his or her way, you are a fool to continue to associate with them. There is a tale of a guru who picked up a drowning scorpion who then stung him. When his disciple asked him why he had done such a foolish thing, the guru replied that it was in the scorpion’s nature to sting, and his to save. Yes, different souls play different roles; in the ultimate analysis, as Ram Dass so sweetly said, we are all walking each other home.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who holds us in his protective embrace even as we realize that we alone must walk the path to the Spiritual Heart!

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ENTICE THE GENIE BACK INTO THE BOTTLE, AND DON’T LET HIM OUT AGAIN!

48179abd0de32f220776e4e42302563f-1-1A wealthy trader decided to travel the world seeking out rare objects he could sell for a small fortune to private clients. One morning his ship landed on a beautiful beach. He saw a skinny wild-haired fellow racing up and down the shore, waving a beautiful gem-flecked glass bottle at passersby and begging them to buy it. Curious, the trader leapt on to shore and asked the madman what he was up to. The unkempt fellow pointed angrily to the bottle—there’s a genie in there, he said, and I finally managed to trick him back inside, but I’m terrified he’ll somehow manage to escape. Why are you so scared of the genie? The trader enquired. You won’t believe this, the man muttered, but not too long ago I was a handsome and charming fellow with oodles of money. Then I was stupid enough to buy this bottle from a chap who looked just as terrible as I do right now. He told me the genie trapped inside is so powerful he could do anything for me. Greedy fool that I was, I grabbed it from him. Oh yes, he was telling the truth, but just look at what this cursed genie has reduced me to!

Give it to me, the trader said eagerly. Here, the madman said, take it for nothing! But if you value your life, don’t open the bottle—just enjoy its beauty and you will be fine. If that fellow gets out, he’ll make your life hell. You can’t imagine what he’s put me through!

f5b20d444c402200808ab1f5ee20a9d8The trader hid a smug smile; he didn’t tell the crazy fellow that he owned so much property that he could keep the genie busy for the rest of his life. He took the bottle, set sail for home and was soon savoring a fine blend of tea in his living room. Then he remembered the bottle and decided to put the genie to work. He opened the bottle and the genie whooshed out, a giant creature with great hoops of beaten gold in his massive ears and whose shaven head touched the roof of the hall. Ah, master, so very kind of you, he murmured in an oily voice. Now give me something to do, please. The trader rubbed his hands in glee. Free labor from a genie!!! Ah well, he said to the monstrous being, recently I purchased a thousand acres of land by the seaside. I want the entire perimeter fenced so well that no intruder will even dare to approach it. Can you do this for me? The genie nodded enthusiastically. Course I can, he said, but before the merchant had even finished his tea, he was back and demanding more work.

Shocked, the trader ordered him to fence all his other properties, but the genie finished his work in a trice and was back for more. This went on for a couple of days and the trader was being driven nuts for the demanding genie would not let him eat or sleep. His housekeeper, a wise old woman who sympathized with his sorry state, whispered in his ear that it was time he visited the old sage on the nearby hill for advice. So the trader gave the genie some other work, slipped out and raced all the way up the hill. Fortunately the sage was in his cave and listened to his sad story. Ah, the sage murmured. The solution is simple. Get this genie to dig a very deep hole on one of your properties and ask him to insert a steel pole into it. Then ask him to climb up and down that pole until you summon him to do some work.

Although the genie was fuming, he had no choice but to obey. The trader sighed with relief, for he knew the sage had saved his life. It was greed that had almost killed him, he also realized, and then and there he decided to give up his materialistic existence and vowed to commit himself to spiritual practice.

This tale is important to me because of its mystical meaning. The genie is the mind, which can accomplish miracles in a trice (in imagination); the deep hole is the conduit to the substratum of our true being (existence-awareness and bliss), and the steel pole is the powerful mantra seekers use to keep the mind from wandering, harassing and vexing its owner to distraction. For those who are drawn to Advaita, the Mahavakyas make perfect mantras for they remind us that we are the Self, blissful, immortal, loving, wise and connected to all beings. Choose one and stick to it, and once you put the evil genie back into the bottle, make sure you never ever let him loose to hassle you again!

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who reveals the secret way to the Spiritual Heart where the mind finally dissolves into bliss!

 

YOU HAVE NO SHAME…

1c954a09bd5bbfdf785ff7e6ca4642c8…my mother would say to me sternly whenever I misbehaved, which admittedly was often. I was a curious child and did not believe in the maxim of children should be seen but not heard (a friend turned that around jokingly and said: children should be obscene but not heard, and I had a good laugh). And so I butted into adult conversations and asked outrageous questions, simply because I wanted to know what made this strange world tick. I also had the ‘bad’ habit of striking up conversations with anyone who took my fancy—total strangers, servants, the old, the young, the rich, the poor, beggars.

“You have no shame,” my puritanical and sheltered mother would scold again, and I grew so used to hearing her criticism that soon it no longer had an effect on me. I knew, you see, that I meant no harm but was merely trying to comprehend my world. Also, unlike many of my friends with progressive parents who had studied and lived abroad, my mother was a small-town girl who honestly believed we should remain securely within our birth matrix lest the wicked world ruin us. Though I found her constant attempts to shield us from the world extremely irritating, I also knew for sure that she was only trying to protect us in her pure and simple way.

ac9a6ed443d206599b4d58f92afee35aClearly my mother and I were like oil and water; nevertheless she loved and admired not just me, but all her kids. She had been married off at sixteen, against her will, and was literally forced to have a large family, which was then the norm for affluent segments of society.  She and I definitely had our troubles, but today, as I deepen my own mystical journey into the Spiritual Heart via Ramana Maharshi’s Direct Path of Self-Investigation, I find myself utterly grateful to her for the system of values and ethics she passed on to me. When I asked her what she wanted as a birthday gift, she’d murmur that I’d make her very happy if was “a good girl.” I can’t tell you how mad I would get when she said that! Because, by no stretch of the imagination was I “good.” Yes, I lied (because both my parents were so strict with us that the only way we could explore the world was to deceive them so we could slip away from the house to partake of fresh adventures), stole money (they did not believe in giving their kids pocket-money, although most of my friends had liberal parents who kept up with the times) etcetera, but nevertheless her values still embedded themselves deep within me. If I borrowed a book or an article, for instance, she would insist that I return it in good shape and on time, and her heroes were the great men and women who had sacrificed personal gratification for others. She had no respect for the tinsel aspects of mundane life or for celebrities such as movie stars or the very rich, and strove to live a deep and prayerful life. So whoda thunk that this woman I rebelled against so strongly as a child and teenager would have so seriously impacted me as an adult?

This post is inspired because right now I am watching from the sidelines as a certain very wealthy family who has recently entered the political scene in America continues to abuse their position by taking as much from the over-taxed people as they can, while they can. I laughed softly to myself at the bizarre thought flashed that my mother (who has long since passed away) would consider them real low-lifes. You see,  she had no time for those who lied, cheated and stole, no matter whether they were kings or paupers. You have no shame, she would have told this man and his family, and she wouldn’t have cared a damn whether they liked her or not because she was speaking her truth.

FB_IMG_1490599852235Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who whips us into shape so we can enter the blissful Spiritual Heart and bask in our true nature!

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THE OLD MAN & THE MISCHIEVOUS CHILD

8c3b451325db273f2b072ce821f5d310Although the way up the Mountain of Oneness can involve some pretty rugged terrain, and one stumbles every now and again, and even gets lost in the thickets of strange new concepts and terms, eventually the journey becomes smooth, pleasurable and easy. Bizarrely enough, all you have struggled to absorb and to practice over lifetimes is now spontaneously jettisoned or distilled into a living inner truth. Some call this cultivating the “view,” and I like this term since that is exactly what we do when we turn decisively into the interior and develop new ways of seeing and being.

For me, comprehending the beauty of Advaita essentially involves understanding the nature of two things: the Self (the Absolute, blissful, immortal, aware and including both manifest and unmanifest) and the Egoic machinery (current body, mind, track record, emotions, etcetera). The goal is to dissolve the building blocks of the ego (known as vasanas or karmic trace impressions accumulated over countless lifetimes) into the vast peaceful ocean of the Self.

Now, for as long as we are totally identified with samsara (relative reality, considered “unreal” in Advaitic terms since it is ephemeral and consists of beings, situations and things that come and go), we will continue to spin in the mad roaring vortex of primal confusion. But once we step out of the dream (and this dream includes the three states of waking, sleeping and dreaming) and enter Turiya (the fourth state of blissful non-duality), the Sakshi or Witness wakes up.

The process is quite fascinating—what used to drive us up the wall in the past, what we used to take with deadly gravity, now becomes mostly funny and interesting, for the Witness is an aspect of the eternal Self and nothing can negatively impact it. Imagine watching a fascinating movie—you enjoy it, and empathize with the trials and tribulations of the hero, but you do not take the plot personally, do you? You may even identify yourself with a character in the movie, but once you leave the theatre, it is easy to drop the role, right?

Kiri 16GB sd card 6243-1This is how it is for the advanced seeker on the path of moksha. At some point, the Self wakes up with an exultant roar and begins to watch, with amused curiosity, the Ego building sand castles on the shifting sands of samsara. You can think of the Self as an indulgent and wise grandfather watching his bright and mischievous grandson (Ego) having a blast on the beach: throwing a tantrum when a high wave rolls over his castle and reduces it once again to ordinary sand, or getting terribly excited because a passerby assures him his castle is the best in the whole world.

But the infant does not have to remain an infant—as she matures, she can become aware that her grandfather is really omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, for she has noticed that, unlike her tumultuous self, he is totally unflustered by events.  Weary of meaningless and essentially dissatisfying play, she decides she wants to be like him—and so she stops building her endless sand castles, turns her back on the craziness of external experience, and begs the old man to teach her the real meaning of existence.

The job between them is done when the two merge into One; whether it is done quickly or slowly depends on how much effort, commitment and interest she can invest in her brilliant new Moksha Project. The final ingredient for fusion, of course, is grace, and that is ever-present, although it is up to each one of us to prepare ourselves to receive its blessing.

31bfa8c67297ecc9ab574db35cd84ca5Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who is said to watch a particular soul for eons as it wanders, lost and confused in the dazzling tinsel worlds of samsara, until, out of great compassion, He lassoes the soul and draws it into His fiery embrace!

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4 AM ON THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

b14516b6b40561bfe96c12b674d70118After the initial intense discomfort of leaving a marriage that was throttling me emotionally, and blocking my spiritual and creative progress, I was once again enjoying the richness of life. Soon I began to feel an exhilarating sense of freedom.

Now Manhattan is the perfect place for a single person to taste every flavor of liberation—a fabulous city that never sleeps and has something for everybody. (This was before the World Trade Center bombing). Brimming with exciting things to do, not just in the way of entertainment, Manhattan catered to the spiritual seeker as well as to the artist and could be a whole lot of fun.

Folks I knew at work were mostly workaholics; they put in long hours, but from Friday evening through Sunday, they generally partied a lot. There were many times, I confess, that the constant pressure got a bit too much and I felt like a monkey pedaling furiously on a wheel just to stay upright. But still, I relished my new life and would not have exchanged it for another.

Among my personal friends were writers and artists, photographers, painters, even the odd sculptor. One cool couple used to throw regular parties at their trendy loft in lower Manhattan. Their round dining table was spread with goodies, cheeses, pastries and whatnot. A motley crew of guests brought stuff too, bottles of French wine, key lime pies, and bags of crunchy chips. Not to forget that the conversations that sprung up all over that vast room were interesting.

It must have been about 3 am on a Saturday morning when a guy I barely knew asked me how I, as an Indian woman who had rebelled against my societal mores, dealt with fear. I said that when I had first begun to live alone, I was so terrified of being alone in the darkness that a friend had strung tiny lights all the way from my bedroom to the bathroom, just in case.

8411f515e5521a945a35e8d138ae0d27Another friend had given me two of his cats, and Lisa and Sweetie, my sweet feline protectors whom I will never forget, flanked me at night. But then, I added, I’d begun to dive into Eastern philosophy and to meditate seriously again, and the fear that lived inside of me—a grisly phantom that often had my knees knocking together—had fled due to my growing awareness of the constant presence of invisible beings of light and love.

So you’re tough now, eh? He demanded truculently. (What was his problem? I think an Asian woman must have given him hell.)

I guess so, I said, wary of where he was going.

Well then, I challenge you to walk all the way home from here, right now. Let’s see how brave you really are, ha ha ha.

I considered his proposal for a moment: I was a strong walker, as most Manhattanites are, and the walk home could be done in about an hour.

I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you do, he said. I saw he was anticipating a timid refusal, whereupon a devil got into me. Of course I can, I said, shocking him, but I don’t want your money. Before my hostess (she would have tried to stop me) could object, I said a quick goodbye and left.

Swiftly I made my way further downtown, and soon I saw the fantastic outline of the Brooklyn Bridge. That’s when Fear gripped me. All the way down here, there had been the occasional passerby, but now I could see no one. Tales I’d heard of homeless drunken or stoned drifters sleeping under the Bridge flashed through my head. It was a long walk over the Bridge, I realized, and I was utterly alone. Taking a deep breath, I started down the wooden length of it, chanting my mantra of protection nonstop.

My imagination was going wild, and I thought I heard someone stealthily following me. I didn’t turn around, just continued with the mantra. The footsteps became more distinct and my heart began to flutter with panic.

FB_IMG_1491232471157Then a cyclist, believe it or not, flew past me: Black ensemble with glittering lights circling the wheels of a superb racing bike. Another cyclist whizzed past me, dressed in exactly the same way, and then another, and another, until a long line of these beauties were riding silently down the bridge. I realized that they were probably a foreign group of pro cyclists on tour in Manhattan. I almost ran beside them on the other side of the walkway, and finally reached the end of the Bridge. I stopped to heave a huge sigh of relief, for my apartment was not that far, dawn was breaking, and there were already signs of life in lovely Brooklyn Heights. No one would dare to attack me now. I watched the last cyclist glide into the distance and walked rapidly home, thinking I’d been right all along—great beings were indeed watching over me.

I’ve told many friends this story over the years and all have been baffled that I’d take such a risk. You could have been raped and murdered, one said sternly, and he was right. So what made me do such a stupid thing? I could have laughed at the guy and told him to buzz off. The fact is that I did not. The answer probably is that I wanted to be Superwoman in the eyes of my friends, and a cut above the usual nervous woman from the East.

Today I’d laugh at anyone who asked me to risk my precious life in such a way, because wisdom and caution are essential to living on to accomplish my goals. But that night I was both a rebel and an idiot; still, looking back, perhaps because of the rare beauty of those cyclists flying over that gorgeous Bridge, I don’t regret my madness.

ece0e5efb7e69f25bae5daa7f08c1338Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us realize that there is really nothing to fear, not even physical death, but only because our true nature is immortal and blissful!

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THE OLD MAN AND THE MISCHIEVOUS CHILD

e86345da08c09d1879f0e7eda3a5e911Although the way up the Mountain of Oneness can involve some pretty rugged terrain, and one stumbles every now and again, and even gets lost in the thickets of strange new concepts and terms, eventually the journey becomes smooth, pleasurable and easy.

Bizarrely enough, all you have struggled to absorb and to practice is now spontaneously jettisoned or distilled into a living inner truth. Some call this cultivating the “view,” and I like this term since that is exactly what we do when we turn decisively into the interior and develop new ways of seeing and being.

For me, comprehending the beauty of Advaita essentially involves understanding the nature of two things: the Self (the Absolute, blissful, immortal, aware and including both manifest and unmanifest) and the Egoic machinery (current body, mind, track record, emotions, etcetera). The goal is to dissolve the building blocks of the ego (known as vasanas (karmic trace impressions, accumulated over countless lifetimes)) into the vast peaceful blissful ocean of the Self.

Now, for as long as we are totally identified with samsara (relative reality, considered “unreal” in Advaitic terms since it is ephemeral), we will continue to spin in the mad roaring vortex of primal confusion. But once we step out of the dream (and this dream includes the three states of waking, sleeping and dreaming) and enter Turiya (the fourth state of blissful non-duality), the Sakshi or Witness wakes up.

The process is quite fascinating—what once used to drive us up the wall, what we once took with deadly gravity because it threatened our identity, now becomes mostly funny and interesting, for the Witness is an aspect of the eternal Self and nothing can negatively impact it.=

8b0491b2a715579b114da4fdb36d7daaImagine watching a fascinating movie—you enjoy it, and empathize with the trials and tribulations of the hero, but you do not take the plot personally, do you? You may even identify yourself with a character in the movie, but once you leave the theater, it is easy to drop the role, right?

This is how it is for the advanced seeker on the path of moksha. At some point, the Self wakes up with an exultant roar and begins to watch, with amused curiosity, the Ego building sand castles on the shifting sands of samsara. Think of the Self as an indulgent wise grandfather watching his mischievous grandson (Ego) having a blast on the beach: throwing a tantrum when a high wave rolls over his castle and reduces it to ordinary sand, or getting terribly excited and proud because a passerby assures him that his castle is the best in the whole world.

But the infant does not have to remain an infant—as she matures, she can become aware that her grandfather is really omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, for she has noticed that, unlike her tumultuous self, he is totally unflustered by events. Weary of meaningless play, she decides she wants to be like him—and so she stops building her endless sand castles, turns her back on the craziness of external experience, and begs the old man to teach her the real meaning of existence.

The job between them is done when the two merge into One; whether it is done quickly or slowly depends on how much effort, commitment and interest she can invest in her brilliant new Moksha Project. The final ingredient for fusion, of course, is grace, and that is ever-present, although it is up to each one of us to prepare ourselves to receive its blessing.

a1bdebfedc1b5d7a87e7e2f16e9da363Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who is said to watch a particular soul for eons as it wanders, lost and confused in dazzling tinsel worlds, until, out of great compassion, He lassoes the soul and draws it into His fiery embrace!

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JNANA IS A JEALOUS GOD

2b30a1fb8fc22baec67e64504e96cf11Every serious seeker enters the inner path in a unique way, which is why we are fortunate if we find friends who resonate with our views and feelings. My own trajectory began when I was a troubled teenager looking for a permanent antidote to my angst. I began my quest with an intense study of the basics of classical hatha yoga philosophy; as the years flowed by, still looking for answers, I moved into Japanese Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, to the Path of the Mystics (Santh Math), played around with the fascinating fields of Sufism and allied mystical paths, and finally was guided back to the ancient cradle of Advaita-Vedanta, and specifically to Ramana’s Direct Path of Atma-Vichara. I am so grateful that I did not dump anything that was valuable; no, I extracted the essence of all these fabulous paths and meshed them into my “view,” so that they are now a living truth, a treasure chest of tools I can dip into at will.

This is just to say that I can empathize with those who do not resonate with the expression of my particular views; nor do I count on them for validation, for the work of convincing myself that I am on the right path (for me) has been done well. Nevertheless, I share portions of my journey, perhaps because long ago I took the Boddisattva Vow (to seek enlightenment not just for oneself (how utterly boring!) but for all beings), and so I have a compulsion to offer others the results of my questing, knowing full well that too many are too busy or unwilling to do what I have done and still do. Also, one never knows what will strike a note with another, and it is a magnificently liberating feeling to express the delicate truths revealed as one persists in delving into the cosmic Self. If even one person’s load is lightened as a result of our openness and willingness to give, then that is a great blessing, for me, anyway.

So why do I view Jnana, the ancient tradition of Eastern wisdom, as a jealous god? Well, from what I see within even the small world of committed seekers, only a minute segment can appreciate the subtle wisdom of the sages to the point that their lives transform; and this is the true litmus test—personal transformation, or what the hell is the point??? Worshipping deities, visiting temples, churches of mosques, relying on external gurus, etcetera is their way of evolving, and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this; if one is sincere, eventually these paths too can also lead to the gold of realization. But there is a short-cut for folks like me, and that is the undiluted teaching of Atma-Vichara, as informally transmitted by the great Advaita sage of south India, Ramana Maharshi.

Atma-Vichara relies on no external supports. There is the Self (the substratum of our being, pure existence-awareness and bliss; call it Shunyata (the fecund void, both the emptiness and the plenum of existence), Parabrahman (the Impersonal Supreme Divine) or the Absolute; it does not matter what label you stick on it, for here we are entering the wordless nameless realm of immortal bliss and peace. And then there is the Egoic self, mini-me, the body-mind-emotional system caged in a particular matrix that it takes for reality. By using the timeless principles of Jnana, we can break down the prison walls that keep us caged in delusion/illusion. Yes, by directly challenging the power of Maya, the Cosmic Enchantress whose divine game is Lila, Jnana can lead us rapidly through the thickets of samsara (relative reality) and to our eternal home of eternal happiness. In essence, if we have taken the trouble to really understand this invisible path, the ego burns down into the infinite ocean of Self.

But, as Ramana Maharshi often said, very few have the courage or the rapier-like impersonal intellect that coaxes one to let go of all relative props in order to follow the narrow tortuous path that wends its way into the core of the Spiritual Heart. If we start now, however, by acquiring a foundation and following simple ethical prescriptions, we can prepare ourselves to bask in the bliss and peace that is our true nature.

Many intellectuals are fascinated by the brilliant teachings of the jnanis and can spout all sorts of impressive stuff; but sorry, this alone, while critical in its own way, is not enough. The teachings must go deep, seeping in through multitudinous layers of the egoic self until they penetrate the heart. Success is evident when you note a distinct transformation in views, behavior and state of mind. Thought, speech and action begin to mesh harmoniously and personal ethics spontaneously guide ones behavior. What used to hassle and vex no longer has much of an impact, and if it does, the trouble is brief, for one has tasted the peace that surpasses all mundane understanding. Yes, entering the substratum by stopping the mind in its tracks, however briefly, is proof enough of our eternal existence, and this gradually becomes our platinum insurance against all the ups and downs of samsara.

Now, if we are sitting on the fence, and still spending most of our time and energy in buttressing our financial standing, work or social status—if the basic groundwork of understanding the Two Truths (Absolute and Relative reality) has been ignored, and if you don’t realize a basic mystical truth, which is that as soon as you try to fix a hole in samsara, a hundred other holes will open (so that you are kept perennially busy trying to plug them); if you naïvely believe that you can sort out all your relative affairs and tie them up in neat pretty parcels so you can finally focus on your inner work when you are old and relaxed (don’t forget Death could claim you at any time and there are no guarantees in this department); if the concept of Advaita (Not Two) is still only a sweet fiction, and so blood relatives and those who can materially benefit you are the only beneficiaries of your love and concern—then don’t be surprised if you fail to experience that first flicker of inner bliss (Aham Sphurana, in Sanksrit), which grows into a roaring torrent and heralds the advent of Samadhi (the transcendent state).

Jnana can only make sense if you are sick and tired of the endlessly mesmerizing games (both beautiful, horrific and everything in between) that Queen Maya has been playing with you for eons, and if you can now see through the tinsel veils of mundane gratification. Once this work is done, not with bitterness but with overwhelming gratitude that one’s inner eye has finally opened, then the road to wisdom can become a radiant highway to permanent bliss. If not, perhaps its best to stay where you are, and to get samsara out of your system before you come back, for Jnana is a jealous god and will not tolerate half-hearted fragmented love and shoddy commitments from its proponents.

cc56cbb87382e2c7f74faf1c64cc03f7Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who aids us in the Herculean task of dropping the unreal for the Real!

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BIZARRE & CLUELESS

279dbfcf2cba52b1ecbc23c53cf96b95A long while ago, I read a Trump tweet stating that the Pope was a modest man, just like Trump himself.  Well, we’ve all heard such unbelievable stuff gushing forth from Trump’s heedless and juvenile mouth, but this particular tweet really got my goat. I couldn’t stop laughing incredulously at the thought of D comparing himself with the Pope in this area, despite mountainous evidence to the contrary and his outrageous habit of braggadocio. Is it possible, I wondered, that he really does not see himself clearly? What else could explain his blind idiocy?

This led me to ponder why some humans are so sharply aware of themselves, both in terms of virtues and peccadilloes, and others remain completely clueless? Speaking for myself, and for many close friends, so hypersensitive to our own dark side that we cannot wait to transform it into light, I am still mind-boggled by those who refuse to ever look in the mirror.

Rigorous self-investigation of our relative self (the egoic body-mind system), followed by a deliberate transformation of all that does not serve our journey to the light,  is particularly critical for those of us on the inner path. Without it, any foray into realizing the Absolute sense is a futile exercise. The mirror is our friend, not our enemy, and any human friend who also serves as an honest mirror is our kalyanamitra (spiritual buddy); all of us have blind spots we cannot see, but these are often visible to those who deeply care about us. Not to accept their insights is to stab ourselves in the spiritual heart.

I have been pondering this state of affairs for ages, ever since I married a man just the opposite of me in crucial ways. One answer I’ve found lies in the Wheel of Life, an ancient teaching that depicts six realms of consciousness all within samsara (relative reality). When we die, our spirit moves into a realm suited to our newly projected karma. Say, for instance, a woman is born with great mental, physical, intellectual gifts; instead of using them in a noble way, she turns into a con woman, stealing and lying to better her material prospects. The impersonal laws of karma may decide she needs to indulge herself even more in this low behavior, but only so she can get it permanently out of her system. And so, when she dies, her spirit may take the form of an animal, intent on survival and nothing else, willing to snatch the bone out of another’s mouth with no trace of remorse, because that is her level of consciousness. Only then is she allowed to return to the human realm.

05f8991e40ffbeafe3339dd626f1b684Another answer for me lies in realizing that some humans really do have massive blocks to self-investigation. They often leave a trail of destruction and corruption but, when they look back, they are totally unmoved, and may even believe themselves to be innocent and wonderful heroes. Consider serial killers who go to their deaths guilt-free, believing they did what was right, and unwilling to accept (despite monstrous and glaring evidence) that they have caused a lot of suffering. What is their fate when the great wheel makes another turn?

It is pure grace to be born with a refined conscience that takes all others (animals, birds, insects and our own kind, male and female) into consideration when we think, speak and act. Seeing how many lack this moral compass makes me grateful for the ethical standards I was brought up with, and which I seemed to naturally appreciate. However, I too definitely had phases when I went totally off the rails. And yet, even in my worst times, I was always sharply aware that I was in error and could not wait to get back to a state of peace (which involved clearing up all messes and resolving to be a better human).

The power and beauty of the 12-step program for me lies in the 4th step, which insists we perform a fearless and searching investigation on our entire lives. When we realize we have done wrong, we make careful and loving amends. The greatest amend is to vow not to repeat bad and hurtful behavior, and so we ascend naturally to a higher level of consciousness. Think of it like cleaning up a dirty kitchen before preparing a feast; that feast, in mystical terms, is union with the Inner Beloved, for whom we must be sparking clean and fresh before we can seek permanent fusion.

4c43e9597e348e32446dfe8c83a2d488Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to help us clear up all relative messes so we can realize ourselves as pure blazing light!

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