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A middle-aged woman, who has been visiting Tiruvannamalai for longer than I have lived here, called to ask if she could visit me. She had some important questions on Advaita she thought I could answer, she said, and I grimaced, because she has done this before, and every time I make the effort to meet her (never thought early retirement could get this busy!!!) she asks me the most ridiculous questions that have little or nothing to do with Ramana Maharshi’s Direct Path, and also peppers me with infuriating personal questions.
Despite my often deliberately hard façade, I am a softie, so I said yes, and lived to regret it. It was a case of déjà vu, for she vomited up the same stupid questions. One of her major themes is that men adore her and will not leave her alone. They ogle her and distract her from her inner work, she claimed yet again. Continue reading
At the millennium, I flew from Manhattan to live in Dharamsala, home of the exiled Tibetans in the foothills of the Himalayas. Months later, my precious Micron laptop (it was the rare person who owned a laptop in those days) was stolen right out of my apartment, along with the backup disks. In one fell swoop, I had lost over ten years of my writing and research. I was, as you can imagine, devastated. (I plan to explain the fascinating series of events that led to this theft in another article, but right now all I want to do is share with you what one high lama said to me in the aftermath of this mini disaster.)
A little background, so you can empathize with just how terrible I felt: I had left Manhattan after selling my beautiful apartment. Word spread that I was a “rich foreigner” and so I was besieged by both Tibetans, many of whom were desperate for financial aid, as well as by the local Indians, Himachalis, as they are known. And I did help as many as I could, not just with money, but in a variety of ways, including teaching a few a little English. Continue reading
Anna Mae Bullock was a country girl who escaped her quiet life for the big bad city in her teens and fell headlong in love with Ike Turner, a tall talented black musician with an eye for the girls—as well as an eye for pure talent. He heard Anna Mae sing and knew she was 24-carat gold. Dumping his current woman, he seduced the wide-eyed and laughing teenager, got her pregnant, gave her a new name, married her and made her a star. He also beat the hell out of her and abused her violently, for he’d started doing hard drugs and his rages were demonic and way out of control.
I watched Tina’s autobiographical movie with friends who came over to visit after my painful almost-broken toe accident. I can’t watch movies alone, so once or twice a year, I will get together with a friend/s and zone out before the screen. The first movie we watched depressed us all—a hard and gritty London-based crime movie that was violent beyond belief and ended horribly. And so, after everyone else had left, I coaxed my friend to watch the Tina movie.
Tina’s tumultuous tale brought up a lot of buried stuff within me, for things are not so different anywhere in the world. As long as ego rules, there will be hate and jealousy and violence. And if a man thinks he owns a woman, just because he gives her his name, some money or possessions, a child and a career, then there is no end to the pain and the trouble he can inflict on an innocent victim who often has nowhere else to turn.
What disturbs me is that this ugly cavalier attitude towards women is not confined to the poor and the illiterate. In fact, gender violence has little to do with money or education, although those who are in the public eye use different insidious methods to put their women down. I have seen poor (economically) men treat their wives like gold and rich men treat their spouses like offal, or even like redundant and replaceable pieces of furniture. Go figure.
What is the answer to this age-old problem? For me, it lies in the great truths of Eastern philosophy, and particularly in the wisdom that claims that what unites us into one vast and mysterious being is the common substratum of our nature (pure awareness, existence and bliss). To the one who realizes this, all relative appearances dissolve and one no longer views the world in terms of gender, status or anything else. Advaita is Not Two, and this is a mystical fact.
Back to Tina. What a hero! I said, after the movie ended (we used the forward button to move through the grisly bits when he almost kills her). Finally she left him, allowed him to keep all the money they had earned together, but fought to keep her professional name. And then she went on to become a solo star who the world loves even more today. Yes, what a hero, my friend echoed.
So many women weakly bow their heads and surrender to the bullies who make their lives hell. Even in corporate Manhattan, every now and again I would see a high-earning woman with bruises on her body and shame and pain in her eyes. Even worse, to me, is the man who hurts his wife or girlfriend in ways that are not visible: Lying, cheating, deceiving, passive-aggression, etc. All these leave deep scars on the emotional body and it is the rare woman who recognizes she is being used as a punching bag by someone with terribly low-esteem (who else would attack and harass a woman in his care but a man with no real self-respect or ethics?) and dumps him before he can crush her completely.
Many enjoy delving into the highest teachings of the East but don’t realize that, minus an ethical foundation and a transparent relative life, they cannot progress even an inch. The first thing we must do if we are genuine seekers is to truly learn to honor, love and respect our own selves; when this awesome work is done, or being done, we will automatically treat everyone else in the same holy and beautiful way. As Ramana said, at some point in our ascension to pure spirit, we will realize that there are no others.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us destroy our darkness so that we can enjoy the infinite bliss of our true nature!
NOTE: I wrote this post ages ago: Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide – Part 1/6 (Jul 20, 2013)
Ramana says, echoing the mystics of all time,
That the three states of waking, sleeping and dreaming
Are unreal, meaning that they are ephemeral, and come and go.
Oh, but last night I dreamed I was the Great God Shiva,
Draped in the furs of mighty beasts,
Cobras writhing around my blue throat,
Whipping a nine foot bully harassing
A lovely girl with shining face of gold—
And oh, how I wish that dream was real!
And then I awoke at dawn to the wondrous sight
Of a sacred hill whose crown was wreathed with
Layers of creamy evanescent clouds,
Even as peacocks shrieked and ravens cawed
For their morning feast of rice and milk—
And oh, how I wish that too was real!
And what to say about those long afternoon naps
Following a morning of writing and meditating,
When my mind vanishes into a nebulous netherworld
And my cares dissolve into blissful nothingness?
Please, can that not be real?
Amused, the Mountain whispers in my ear:
Only consider, my dear,
That if these states that are but a passing show
Are so pleasant in their aftertaste,
How nectar sweet is your true nature, which is nothing less
Than Mahaprana, Pure Life, Mahachit, Infinite Awareness,
And Ananda, a celestial fountain of bliss?
Takshak is a handsome, sexy, intelligent, and charismatic monarch who rules a great ancient civilization patterned on the cities of the Indus Valley Civilization. In his early days, Takshak’s father, the powerful Maharaja Shaardul, was a conceited and churlish man; and yet he was wise enough to allow his arrogance to be tamed by the divine fire of the High Tantrika Inanna. Saved from a horrible end, he instead evolved into a superb leader who brought great prosperity and happiness into the lives of his people.
Unfortunately, Takshak, despite being trained in the magic and mystery of Tantra by the best, despite exceptional riches of personality and material assets, chose the dark side. He too was given the amazing opportunity to raise his consciousness with the aid of a brilliant Tantrika, but he preferred the seemingly easy shortcuts of drugs and easy women. Falling into the hands of a mesmerizing foreign sorceress, who herself was ensnared by evil entities, he crashed headlong into disaster, murdering all those who stood in his way, and finally bringing his great civilization down with him. Sound familiar?
Here is an excerpt from the penultimate chapter of Whip, when the dying Takshak tracks his errant priestess down and begs her to save him from the demon:
The fire rumbled, disturbed by her dangerous thoughts, even as the demon stared back at her through Takshak’s yellow eyes—voracious, cunning, insidious. She recoiled, coming to her senses—this demon had fed on Takshak from his youth, growing stronger the sicker the Maharaja had become; it could well destroy her. There was only so much the fire could combat while her spirit was still encased in human flesh.
Though no breath of wind stirred, the torches left behind by the guardsmen flickered and died. In the pale silver of moonlight, an ethereal being appeared before Takshak. Ishvari uttered a soft cry of wonder, for she knew her to be Mahadevi in her guise as goddess of death, immortal consort of Yama, lord of the underworld. The lovely apparition touched Takshak on his third eye and he groaned as he glimpsed the hell realms to which he was bound. Then she was gone and silence crashed like thunder about Ishvari’s ears. She fell to her knees, weeping soundlessly for Takshak. Leave now, her soul whispered urgently. Head for the jungle!
“Guards!” Takshak screeched weakly, pounding on the sides of his palanquin, and Ishvari slid down the rock and raced along the banks of the river, towards the dark shape of the jungle.
Time is only a human construct; if we study history with a discerning eye, we might see the same old insidious patterns emerging. The substratum of all beings is pure existence, awareness and bliss, but if we let the ego triumph over our Spirit, and feed it with denial and rage, the demons enter and take over; soon there is no human left, only a sad puppet, who, when he or she inevitably ages and dies, carries with him the bad seeds of terrible karmas into future lives. And this, in a nutshell, is the tedious saga of samsara or relative reality, an endless spinning wheel that perpetuates misery and delusion.
Genocidal dictators, callous world leaders who give a damn for the agony they unleash on innocent women and children when they order the bombing of foreign cities (even as they relish rich chocolate cake!); men and women who put their own needs and desires for gratification above the common decency of caring for others, and who choose the dark shutters of secrecy over the bright innocence of transparency; all those who refuse to see the cosmos as One, rather than as something born to serve their needs alone—these are all possessed by negative entities, for our true nature is love.
Call me naïve or foolish, but I know, based on personal experience, and from watching the lives of many, that these humans have been usurped by malicious and malevolent entities whose prime goal is to feed on the one thing they must have in order to thrive—which is human prana, or life essence. Worse still, since they operate on the invisible energetic level, they can move from human to human, and it is not difficult for them to spread from one sick host through the whole family, and then to the community. This can go on for generations, which is why our world is as sick as it is.
Consider this: We humans don’t have a problem believing that an invisible virus can knock us off our feet for weeks. I once caught Taiwanese flu in Manhattan and was out for the count for a fortnight; I was so weakened by this invisible virus that I had to literally crawl to the bathroom. I thought I was going to die, but not for an instant did I doubt that something tiny and unseen could have done this to my strong body. Nor did those who knew I was down with a hideous form of flu. So why then do we have such a problem understanding that other such malevolent entities can infiltrate our spirits and wreak unimaginable havoc?
I wrote Whip because I was appalled by how many, in East and West, had misunderstood and distorted the ancient pure teachings on Tantra, which, in essence, simply means the transmutation of darkness into light. You might want to read it for yourself: https://miraprabhu.wordpress.com/mira-prabhu-all-links/ and arrive at your own conclusions.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, the epitome of infinite awareness and blazing light, who leads us surely from slavery to dark masters and towards the blissful luminescence of the Self!
Consider for a moment the many ways you have tried to escape suffering—both the gigantic miseries of loss, grief and death, as well as the wee pains, frustrations and irritations that are part of the menu of being born as a human on this planet. Gautama Buddha nailed it when he gave us his First Noble Truth: that mundane life is suffering. Thank heavens he also went on to tell us that our own fears, desires and expectations lie at the root of our wretchedness, and that he then went on to clearly and lovingly proceeded to show us a way out.
I was stunned some time ago to hear that the anti-depressant industry is one of the biggest money-spinners in our world. And yet I was not really surprised, because I have seen from my own experience, and that of others, that most of us have no clue about reality and are therefore befogged with gloom and bewilderment. Our true nature, incredible as it may seem when we are depressed, lonely and sad, is nothing less that pure life, infinite awareness and radiant bliss. Millions of false coverings hide this radiance from us, especially since the ego is determined to live on at all costs, and because we stupidly and obstinately feed the wrong beast, rather than the shimmering angel who sits whispering sweetly on our shoulder. And so we continue to be in pain.
As Gautama said again, suffering is necessary (he meant the varied pains of old age, suffering and death), but misery (our persisting in increasing our sadness and confusion by wrong thought, speech and action) is an option.
Alcohol, drugs, sex, violence, workaholism, greed—all these are destructive and bottomless addictions that temporarily delude ourselves into thinking we are sitting on top of the dung heap of samsara and having a right blast…yes, that’s how many of us hide from the naked truth that, as humans, we are fragile and limited, and that our mind, no matter how honed, cannot even begin to comprehend the great mysteries of life and death.
What is the way out of this endless maze? Well, that depends on who we are, in terms of our karmic predilections and ability to understand subtle truths. For those who cannot grasp the simple but sophisticated teachings of jnana (eastern wisdom), there are a multitude of paths we can take, all of which, if sincerely followed, will, according to the great sage Ramana Maharshi, eventually lead us to investigate the nature of our own Self, which is blissful, immortal and aware.
Some of us are gripped so hard by the sharp claws of ego that we cannot see or think clearly. Think sociopath, psychopath, genocidal dictator, voracious entrepreneur, egomaniacal political leader, etcetera, ad nauseam. (As the Scottish poet Robert Burns said, God give us the gift to see ourselves as others see us). Yes, clear seeing is the beginning of the inner path. At some point we must admit, if only to ourselves, that nothing external has managed to give us the peace and joy we seek. It doesn’t take long to find examples of great beauties and materially commanding humans who, driven by relentless angst, took their own lives in despair. Why? Simply because they took the unreal for the real and failed to see that beneath their suffering was pure gold.
Which leads me to the critical Advaitic definition of the words “real” and “unreal”: real is that which is permanent and lasting, the unreal is that which comes and goes and is ephemeral in nature. But once we begin to truly discriminate between that which gives us genuine and lasting pleasure, and that which provides momentary flashes of happiness, but ends us only giving us pain, willy-nilly we are led to the treasure that is our inner being. In truth, and I swear by this for I have had personal experiences that have convinced me, higher beings are always hovering around, waiting for us to become ready for the greatest task of all—which is to merge the finite egoic self that we believe we are, with the grand and immortal Self.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who took this form out of great compassion and solely in order to lead us from darkness to light!
Long decades ago, the Englishman Paul Brunton was consumed by a luminous quest: to locate the rishis or holy men that had once made India sparkle with their mystical teachings and pronouncements, and then to relate his discoveries to the West
Brunton was more than just another run-of-the-mill writer-journo in search of sensational material, for his secret yearning was to find an authentic master who would dissolve all his troubling questions and lead him to peace. Against many odds, he traveled across the seas to India in the last years of British colonial rule. I believe it was his pure heart that finally led him to Ramana Maharshi, the entrancing copper-skinned Sage of Arunachala. Interesting to note that, of all the illuminating and bizarre experiences Brunton was privileged to experience during his rather lengthy exploration of this ancient world, it was the radiant and blissful Maharishi who left a lasting imprint on his spirit.
I’ve discovered that years of intervening study and practice can reveal new facets of a book one has already read, and this is what happened to me as I plunged again into this fascinating saga. As before, I was cynically amused by the “white man’s” smug and blinkered view of India. For instance, early in the book, Brunton laughs at the ridiculous notion that great Western nations would bother to hark to the wisdom of meek brown men. (Just consider Trump meeting with Mahatma Gandhi!)
Clearly, despite his own magnetic attraction and respect for the East, Brunton too was a victim of the archaic and insidious idea that all Indians without exception are a credulous, old-fashioned, superstitious and easily-dominated lot. But, in truth, as my mother used to say, India is so rich, vast and variegated that one could spend entire lifetimes trying to figure it out and still manage to touch only its iridescent rim. In my opinion, no sane or open-hearted person can make generalizations about this country or its people, for they range from the highly refined and educated to the illiterate, with every shade in between. As for the arrogant assumption that all Indians are small, meek and brown-skinned, Brunton clearly never met those tall, fair, stalwart and imposing Indians, some with green, gray or blue eyes, who also inhabit this amazingly diverse region.
The Enlishman’s genuine yearning for spiritual knowledge prevented him from being blown away by the range of incredible fakirs and gurus he met on his travels, many of whom revealed to him marvels of which no ordinary Westerner could dream. Instinctively (more likely from past lives spent in the sub-continent) he knew that there was more to the whole business of enlightenment then what are known as “siddhis” or extrasensory powers. Despite chronic insomnia, a variety of physical illnesses and a thousand other inconveniences, he kept resolutely on, until he met the Shining One who had fused his finite egoic self into his grand and immortal Self, and then stayed on to show us how to accomplish the same incredible goal.
Years ago when I lived in an affluent suburb of Washington DC, an American friend asked me why I wanted to return to India. I mulled over her question and said, you know, when I take my daily forty-five minute evening walk to that fabulous park, there are times when I don’t encounter a single human. That may be because most of the residents here work in the neighboring cities, but still, it feels eerily like a ghost town to me. Sometimes as I walk along that long road a curtain rustles in one of those big houses and I know that I am being peered at from a safe distance. But even when I get to the park, where people are walking their dogs or exercising their own bodies, and except for those predators on the prowl that one encounters everywhere, most are too scared to smile or even make eye contact.
Now, this would never happen in most of India. Yes, there are wealthy secluded areas where it could, but, for the most part, India is bursting with all manner of humans willing to engage with you on all levels, and brimming with energy, color, sound and light. One need never feel disconnected or lonely here.
Besides, especially for the seeker, all the terrible things that Gautama Buddha warned us are the lot of all human beings—old age, illness and death—are out in the open, and not carefully hidden behind closed doors as often happens in the West; and so it is much easier to digest the fact that, no matter how opulent our lifestyles are, nothing in relative reality can make us permanently happy or peaceful. For me, this is the great teaching of India and why so many foreigners imbued with a true longing for truth are hooked for life when they first come here, despite their initial revulsion for much they encounter.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us transcend the flawed notion that living the worldly good life can bring us even a millimeter closer to the luminous and blissful Self that we truly are!
You can’t let the old biddy intimidate you like that, my friend said firmly in his gravelly voice. You have to stand up to her and you’re strong enough to do it. You feel weak after all your recent upheavals, I know, but if you lose this battle, you’ll regret it.
I put my cell phone into the pocket of my fleece jacket with a bitter sigh, knowing he was right. The “old biddy” was part-time leader of the incredibly lovely Zendo to which I had fled, many years ago, to escape the blistering heat of Tiruvannamalai. Aware that I did not care for their strict and ritualistic routine of meditation and wished to be left to my own devices to follow Ramana’s Direct Path of Self-Investigation, she had honed in on me like the battle axe that she was, determined to crush me into submission.
Panicking at her bizarre form of attack, which involved waiting until I was seated in the dining hall with friends before rushing forward to berate me in her heavily accented English, I had called my friend to let him know I was not enjoying my experience. But he was not ready to give in to my request that he immediately send a car to transport me all the way back to Tiruvannamalai, and so I had no other option but to fight this demented oppressor.
That afternoon I decided it was time to grapple with the Fear Monster who had plagued me so many times before. I locked myself into my lovely room and dived under the covers. The sky outside my window was overcast and the general atmosphere was one of doom and gloom. Okay then, I whispered as I closed my eyes and allowed myself to feel the clammy fingers of stress clutching at my heart. Let’s have it out, and right now, okay, you big bully?
I lay quiescent and allowed the ugly feelings to engulf me, determined to find out what was behind them. And sure enough, as the waves of fear did their weird thing, I sank below them and saw their source: ah, so the German woman represented the fear of authority that had been instilled in my right from childhood!
You see, my father was authoritarian to the extreme and his word was law. We were ordered to act in a certain way, and god forbid if we dared to question his orders—the consequences were so dire that all of us obeyed, at least on the surface. And then there were the teachers at school who demanded obedience or else, and all the other oppressors one tends to encounter along the byways of life, including those who disguise their nasty habits so well that one can be fooled for years.
At that instant of clear seeing, I actually felt the hold of the demon start to loosen; then, very slowly, those claws begin to fall away and to disappear. Later I was shocked to learn that the struggle had lasted for a couple of hours. The miracle was that right away I lost my fear of the German woman; she must have sensed that she no longer bothered me because she quickly found another newcomer to bully.
Until the vasanas (karmic trace impressions) that run the egoic system completely burn down, they can return to cause us trouble. And ever since, seven days ago to be precise, when a great big door slammed onto my right foot and crushed my toe, Fear and his sneering minions have been harassing me. There are many reasons for my tremulous feelings, but I won’t bore you with them. But I could not help wondering why this had happened in the first place.
This mini-disaster comes on the heels of other painful events. Just a couple of weeks ago, my dog Kali startled me in the middle of the night and I had slid off my huge bed and fallen to the floor with a heavy thud, hurting my left thigh quite badly. But I was soon back on my feet. This was followed by other mini-crises, and now I had almost broken my toe. What the hell was really going on? I confess I went through a medley of negative emotions including grief, anger and resentment. Why me? And this is the retort I would get: Why not you? You think you are special, eh? Well, get over it!
Yesterday afternoon I gazed upon the gray-green slopes of sacred Arunachala and tears sprang to my eyes. Why do you make me suffer like this? I whispered. The answer came as these words rang in my heart: Be Still And Know That I AM God.”
As all devotees of Ramana are aware, this Biblical line was a favorite with the great sage. What does it mean in the context of Advaita? It is certainly not encouragement to be a lazy bum and to wait for things to happen, no; instead we are meant to pour everything we have into stunning the wild mind into a perfect and brilliant stillness. When this miracle happens, the egoic self dissolves into the Self and one knows for sure that ones true nature is immortal bliss and infinite awareness. Be Still And Know That I AM God, yes, this is the highest goal we seekers of peace can hold before us as we make our way into the core of the Spiritual Heart.
I don’t deny that I’ve come a long way from the crazy child I was, but there are still miles to go before I burn down that mountain range of karmic predilections that still keep me subject to pleasure and pain, to desire and to fear. My current tendency is to create a comfort zone and to hide in there for as long as possible—which is why the powers that be make sure to crack that zone and shove me willy-nilly back into the world; the idea is, I am convinced, to force me to grow beyond all borders and boundaries.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who whips us forward despite our protestations, determined to fulfill his vow to destroy all that blocks us from knowing we are joy itself!
…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 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 mother would scold again, and I grew so used to hearing this that 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. Unlike many of my friends with progressive parents who had studied abroad, my mother was raised in a small town and believed we should remain securely within our birth matrix lest the wicked world ruin us. I found her constant attempts to shield us extremely irritating, but I also knew for sure that, in her pure and simple way, she was only trying to protect us.
Clearly we were like oil and water; nevertheless she loved and admired not just me, but all her kids. She had been married off against her will at sixteen and was literally forced to have a large family, which was then the norm for affluent segments of society. While she and I definitely had our troubles, today, as I deepen my own journey into the Spiritual Heart via Ramana Maharshi’s Direct Path of Self-Investigation, I find myself utterly grateful 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 she’d be happy if was “a good girl.” This would make me mad, because I knew that, by no stretch of the imagination, was I “good.” I lied (the only way we could explore the world was to deceive our strict parents so we could slip away from the house to partake of fresh adventures), stole money (although most of my friends had liberal parents who believed in giving them pocket money, mine did not) 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. Both my father and she showed us by example that we should always keep our word and were strictly against corruption and dishonesty of all kinds. Her heroes, not surprisingly, were great men and women who sacrificed personal gratification for others. She had no love for the tinsel aspects of life, nor for stars and celebrities, and lived a prayerful life. Whoda thunk that this woman I rebelled against so strongly when young would seriously impact me as an adult?
This post is inspired by my watching a certain wealthy family, who has recently entered the political scene in America, abuse their position by taking as much from over-taxed citizens as they can, while they can. I laugh softly to myself as the bizarre thought flashes that my mother (who has long since passed away) would have had no hesitation informing them that they have no shame.
Greetings 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!