ONE CUP OF TEA AND TWO BISCUITS

FB_IMG_1456878290224I read “Freedom at Midnight” right through from cover to cover in a single day when I was a teen and recall loving it. The authors (they work as a team) spoke of an infamous Nizam of Hyderabad who was a noted miser. This Nawab (ruler) had two sets of clothes and two grimy skull caps. He was so rich that he stored currency notes (big denomination, foreign) in his cellars and rats feasted on them, even as his poor citizens struggled to keep body and soul together. This was during the time of British colonial rule. One day the Nizam was informed that a new British high official was about to make him a formal visit and that he should prepare appropriately. Naturally this official was anticipating a sumptuous reception; instead, the bewildered man was led into a small room to meet the Nizam and offered a cup of tea and two biscuits. So much for grand expectations, huh?

I grew up with parents who were ultra generous. My father believed not just in living well but in being extra hospitable to the extent he could. My mother (I have rarely come across so naturally good and innocent a woman) tried to help everyone. For big feasts, she would spend weeks before the event preparing sweets and savories in the traditional Indian way, and not just for family and relatives, but for the poor. Oh yes, they both had their faults, but their high ethics and willingness to help others have left an indelible impression on me. (They have both passed on, but sometimes I pray that they will come back to me in their reincarnated forms, just so I can be good to them, as I rarely was when I was a young rebel.)

Coming from such a background, I didn’t believe misers really existed (except in fiction) until I got to know one in close quarters. He puzzled me because, unlike that crusty old Nizam, he could he exceedingly generous in certain ways. For instance he loved gourmet food and did not stint on it for himself or others. But he was a hoarder of other goodies, and perhaps the most secretive man when it came to his money and assets, of which he had a lot.

FB_IMG_1490599852235Since then I have met other misers. Like the man who indulged in gourmet food, and yet was laughably tight-fisted in all other ways, these too had their own peculiarities. One wealthy woman spends abundantly on herself, her home, her pets and her current boyfriend, but shrinks back from spending a single dollar on even a close friend—unless there was some benefit in it for her. (She is committed to the Eastern path and a fervent meditator too, so go figure!) Another guy, who boasts that he has so much money that he doesn’t know what to do with it, religiously counts his pennies and will even ask you what you plan to order when he takes you to a restaurant—lest you are going to eat the most expensive items of the menu. Ha ha ha, not. Another big businessman I know has enough money for generations to come, but continues to spend most of his time making new deals; despite his seeming generosity, and although he would vehemently deny this, he too can be both miserly and crooked. And so on and so forth.

I used to be shocked and revolted by miserliness, but now I actually feel a deep compassion for those so attached to their material possessions that they cannot allow Spirit to move freely through them. The beauty of Advaita is that it teaches us that we are all One—that we emerge from a single source (sat-chit-ananda) and will eventually return to it.

Though convincingly real, the three states of waking sleeping and dreaming are not “real” in the context of Advaita, simply because they come and go; and it is the I AM, a split off from the Whole, that is the root of our powerful sense of I, me and mine. In its pure state, the I AM is the Guru, the Light, Brahman itself; in its mischievous form, it is Satan itself, for it seduces us to spend all our precious time grubbing away in the material world. The job of the seeker (Advaita) is to first to isolate the I AM, and then to focus solely on it, until it realizes it has been outed, and can then be coaxed to become your ally. Since the I AM has emerged directly from Source, it knows the way back to paradise; if Grace is showering down upon you, it will finally lead you home.

According to classical karmic theory, all our actions return to us multiplied, good and bad. So if we give, we are actually going to receive much more in return. In fact, giving or generosity is the first of the Paramitas, the great virtues that lead to enlightenment. But in order to qualify as a virtue, giving must be free of the ego. I know many (and I am guilty of this too) who will give a lot, but are also convinced that it is their mini-me, their egoic self, that is doing this great thing. This sort of giving only produces “dirty good karma”— results that sprout solely in the material ephemeral world.

The correct way to give is to realize that in truth we own nothing, for ownership implies control. Can you deny that even a billionaire cannot take a single hair or nail with him when Death comes calling? We have what we have due to our own past karma, which has a shelf life. And so the genuine seeker gives as if it is the Self that is giving, forgetting entirely about the human element.

8b0491b2a715579b114da4fdb36d7daaMostly it is suffering (intense grief, loss of possessions, reputation, loved ones and relationships, etc) that finally opens the eyes of the miser to the self-destructive beliefs he or she has been nursing. In our true state, we are abundance itself; study the lives of the great sages and you will see that many refused to even handle money or have possessions (except for essentials), and depended solely on the Divine (their own Self) to provide them with all their needs. We don’t have to be like them, of course, for few are secure enough to do this, but we can become more aware of our basic oneness, and know that when we are being generous to those in need, we are actually giving to our own Self.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who leads us, if we are ready and willing, from the unreal to the Real!

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MAHAMUDRA – Samsara’s Seven Flavors (4 of 4)

ece0e5efb7e69f25bae5daa7f08c1338Say you’re a crack software designer with your eye on a dream posting in California’s Bay Area. The job dangles before you like a luscious red apple and then you get a call from a pal in Human Resources—sorry, she says, but they’ve given it to Bipin Ghatge. I know, it sucks, but what to do? He’s our Chairman’s nephew—didn’t you know?”

Foiled again!  You want to eviscerate that smug toady Bipin and shriek with wicked laughter as his guts slither out of his belly, but you don’t relish the idea of spending the next fifty years in jail. How about getting rip-roaring drunk? But that road to oblivion will make it impossible for you to endure Ghatge’s snide looks tomorrow. Your mind ranges like a bandit over all your options. Then the thought pops into your head that perhaps it is time to try Mahamudra meditation. You  actually remember all those seven points, flavors, as Mira called them, as if she was selling ice-cream.

PRACTICING MAHAMUDRA 

You slink home and drink a mug of  green tea with honey before parking your butt below your Buddha batik. You allow yourself to feel terrible about the loss of the Bay Area job. Ouch! You apply the first step of Mahamudra: that all things are imperfect—and deliberately designed to be so—because if you and the world were both perfect, how would you grow? Weird how just accepting the inherently imperfect nature of this world makes you feel better.

Impermanence. How many other disappointments have you dealt with in your thirty-one years and where are they now? Do you spend a second aching for that snooty chick who dumped you like a stack of dirty dishes crash bang into the sink of despair? Two months later, you met the amazing Aparajita—and isn’t she a whole lot sweeter? As for this job, there are a thousand like it, some that even pay better. Perhaps now is the time to leave a company that blatantly practices nepotism.

No ownership. There it was, that seductive project right within your grasp, and then, whoosh, it was gone, without your permission. Who owned it? Certainly not you! Maybe there are invisible laws governing every little thing….

No accident. This one is tougher to accept. You’re a straight-up sort of guy and you don’t care for mystical bullshit. But hey, what to do, man, accept that there are no accidents and see what happens.

c945ed890f540a675b775ccb608893f3No fixed judgment. You look back and see the myriad times you judged something to be good or bad, and how that good turned into bad, and vice versa. What about that English writer who invented Harry Potter? Loses her job, is barely making it on welfare, then waves her wand and brings the boy magician to roaring life. Abracadabra, soon she’s raking in millions. And what about Stephen Jobs, your one-time hero, who had everything material a man could dream off…to die at his peak?

Transformation. Yes, you can quit this company and accept that job you were offered last week. This new company plays fair and is run by an ethical board who respect their employees. Maybe by this time next year you will be working in the Bay Area….

Past karma.  Did you actually set up this whole scenario in some past lifetime, just to learn a lesson? Sounds kinda corny, but you’re willing to give this  notion a shot. You continue to sit quietly, allowing these new views of the current crisis to percolate into your deeper self. It’s bizarre, but once again it feels like the sun is shining down on your precious head. Hey, this meditation really does work!

f92f7dea9f17b0dbcc31e5be036538d6Freedom From the Matrix

The goal of our practice is not to put up with crapbut to eradicate suffering in all its forms. These were the words of the guru who taught me Mahamudra and so much else. That said, analytical antidotes to human suffering only help us cope with the endless pains of relative reality. Using only these seven flavors as antidotes to our suffering of body and mind is like using band-aids on deep wounds—although I’ve heard it said that a complete acceptance of the final flavor of Mahamudra (that all we experience is the result of our own past thought, speech and action, or karma) is powerful enough to transform lower into higher consciousness.

Mahamudra practice alone cannot lead us all the way to enlightenment, nor does it remove problems, but it lightens the sting of our suffering by revealing the true nature of samsara. According to Ramana’s Direct Path, the only sure way to become free of desire and fear is to burn the vasanas (karmic imprints) that run our behavior and create our relative reality. Once we’ve begun to unmask samsara, we must simultaneously begin to uncover our true nature by learning to sink into the substratum of our being, which, according to the great ones, is sat-chit-ananda, pure existence-awareness and bliss. The real journey of the committed seeker is an inner one which intensifies when we use tools such as Mahamudra to splash great arcs of light on to our individual paths toward the spiritual heart.

Om is the bow
The soul is the arrow
Brahman is the arrow’s goal
At which one aims unflinchingly.

~Mundaka Upanishad

Ψ

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I REJECT YOUR GIFT

ac9a6ed443d206599b4d58f92afee35aI write my morning posts off the top of my head, meaning I don’t generally research the topic, so you  must forgive me if I use ancient stories merely as devices to get a message across, and don’t bother unduly about details or settings. Anyway, this morning it struck me in a new way that some humans are so damaged that they cannot express their intense feelings for others except via negative comments, passive-aggressive behavior, slurs or downright untruths.

Now Gautama Buddha’s beautiful wife Yashodhara had a brother, Devadatta, who hated his brother-in-law for several reasons—not least that he had abandoned his beloved sister to follow the path to enlightenment. Devadatta did not simmer silently nor alone, no; he sneaked around the Buddha’s sangha (congregation of monks) making trouble and telling terrible lies about the sage. The Buddha tolerated him, of course, for nothing can fracture the equanimity of a true sage. But one day, when Devadatta crossed the line yet again and began to spew insults at him, Gautama said something like this: I know that anger is all you have to offer me, Devadatta, but nevertheless I reject your gift. Continue reading

LAST NIGHT I DREAMED OF SAMSARA

615d07728be5f75d5dd066fd9849c5f3I’d been out of sorts for the past couple of days, and so I went to bed early, allowing my guest, exhausted as she was from long travel, to dive under the covers too. The dream came on quickly, swallowing me up in its awesome maw…lost, panicked, empty, I ran from home to home, from country to country, situation to situation, looking for refuge and finding none. I dreamed of three beautiful black babies; each had a strange device inserted into the mouth which connected them to their mother, who monitored them closely although she was far away. Oh, how I wished I could change places with these happy and secure infants! I flitted through smoky nightclubs and saw stoned and drunk party animals frenziedly changing dance partners; I wove in and out of them like a ghost, longing to flee but unable to find the door that led outside. The nightmare went on, as my big epical dreams usually do, and I continued to fall into the hands of shallow, fickle humans with glittering false smiles and hidden agendas. Worst of all was the feeling of being a puppet with no smidgen of control over my thoughts, emotions or actions. Dread threw her thin cold arms around me and I wondered in a daze of sorrow why I should continue to live. Suddenly I was utterly exhausted; I knew I had to sleep, and yet I shied away from doing so, not wishing to wake up to another day of soul-chilling angst. The dread was so thick and fearsome that it actually woke me up—and thank god for that!!! Continue reading

A SOUPED-UP FERRARI WITH THE BRAKES ON!!!

14876327_10155479883214199_334843953_o-768x575“You know what?” he said as he studied my astrological chart. “You’re like a souped-up Ferrari with the brakes on.” He laughed at my puzzled expression. “Well, I say that because you’ve got some great planets on your side, but equally tough ones countering their beneficial effects. The trick to beating all of this negativity is to accept that your suffering emanates from your own past karma. YOU have created this scenario—so don’t waste precious time blaming others. Instead focus on melting down all that blocks you from evolving into the powerful woman you were meant to be.”

“What are these brakes?” I asked nervously.

“You know what they are,” he said. “You’ve even admitted them to me. But don’t worry, I rarely see such potential for transformation. You’re going to make it.” I took his words seriously—because a friend had assured me that this man was the best vedic astrologer then working in America. This brilliant man told me other stuff that blew me away too—and a couple of years later, one of his predictions literally saved my life. Continue reading

EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL

b71a7289e9e20118cedd41eba5a47a6fAll through the night it had snowed heavily; when I awoke, in a beautiful Ashram in America with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I looked out to see my world blanketed in pure white. Usually I love the snow, but this time I was furious with myself—for all the mistakes that had led to this point in my tumultuous life.

As many had made it a point to inform me, I’d been blessed with more than most—and yet I’d continued to mess up my life, due to impulsiveness and bad judgment. My most recent crisis was the result of a decision to break away from a man I’d deluded myself into believing would make me a perfect spiritual mate; gradually I came to see him as superficial and ethically unreliable, and had forced myself to cut the cord.

I’d written to my first major spiritual teacher and he’d invited me to this Ashram in order to recover. And yet, despite precious links with this powerful place, I still found it hard to manage in a small cramped dorm space even as I dealt with yet another big life change; the demons of uncertainty threatened me with dire predictions of impending doom and life was, in a word, hellish. Continue reading

ONE MYSTICAL EXPERIENCE…

b14516b6b40561bfe96c12b674d70118…is all it takes to blast open the mind and to prove to us, from the inside where it counts, that what we take for reality, as revealed to us via the five senses and our limited finite mind, is just a thin covering over an Absolute reality simply staggering in its intricate beauty and vast complexity.

As a child growing up in south India, I used to catch strangely disorienting fevers that incapacitated me for a couple of days. I would fall into a heavy sleep at night, then wake up to find myself floating above my body; what would hold my ethereal body from floating away, was, believe it or not, the thin cotton top of the mosquito net we always slept under! I would look down with a gasp of surprised terror to see my sleeping body below, and the next second I would be back within it. This happened often enough for me to ponder its meaning: If I had left my body, I realized, then my body was not “me”; of course, it was this numinous knowing that led me gradually to explore this “I” that had so easily left my body—and then, decades later, after much suffering and confusion in the external world, to begin the awesome journey into discovering (or rather, uncovering) who I AM beyond body, mind, emotions, track record, etc. Continue reading

ONLY AS SICK AS WE ARE SECRET

ed54db0481b9c9836e19388d8ce6f3d0Anyone who has grown up in a traditional community knows that one is strongly urged to never speak about the skeletons rattling around in both individual and community closets. As for me, I was so open with strangers right from the get go that my conformist mother would warn me to hush. “Your big mouth will get you into trouble,” she’d say sternly. “There’s no need to tell everyone how you think or feel. If you continue like this, no one will marry you.” I would snigger, thrilled at the thought that this innate habit of frank communication would repel prospective partners who didn’t appreciate honesty. Life had thrown enough chains on me already—why on earth would I want one more?

My mother was wrong. My wildness drew people to me. But I had seen too much already to be dazzled by the usual courtship rituals and already horrified by what I saw happen to women who were outspoken and bold—the patriarchy crushed them, and the matriarchy colluded in this, for often it was mothers-and sisters-in-law who did their worst to make sure that any new woman who entered the fold was made to suffer dire consequences if she dared to rebel. Yes, I knew quite well that if I fell into that age-old trap of marrying into the community, driven by the twin needs of security and approval, sooner or later I would be in for 50 shades of hell. This is how I viewed the scenario anyway and it led me to marry out of my community and move to Manhattan; now that marriage did not survive either, because we were driven by different value systems—in simple terms, he loved money more than honesty  and for me honesty always came first— but that is a story for another day. Continue reading

NAGARJUNA’S KILLER TIME GAP

1ce24b49ef2c97c59535c8ba9b69f382I am no scholar and frankly admit that my long years of immersion in Eastern Philosophy were driven solely by an obsession to destroy my own darkness. In my teens, I dived into esoteric teachings in an attempt to understand my angst, and while much I learned took me a little further down the road to peace, it was a Buddhist Geshe I met in Manhattan many years ago who finally helped me sort out the confusion I felt about the nature of reality; it was through him that I came upon the luminous Indian scholar Nāgārjuna, considered second only to Gautama Siddhartha in the context of his critical contributions to eastern thought.

Nagarjuna’s life is a bit of a mystery to us moderns since surviving accounts of his life were written, in Chinese and Tibetan, centuries after his death. Most likely he was born into a Brahmin family in South India and later became a Buddhist. Some say he was an advisor to Yajna Sri Satakarni, a king of the Satavahana dynasty who ruled between 167 and 196 CE, which places him around 150–250 CE. Nagarjuna is considered the founder of the Madhyamaka School; due to his efforts, the concept of ‘emptiness’ (shunyata)—which he focused on in order to refute the metaphysics of some of his contemporaries—became the central ontological concept in Mahayana Buddhism. Continue reading

PLATINUM INSURANCE

36e4cbc86a09d338c9b54bed3a0b98fdHow are you? I asked a friend in Manhattan. Oh, I’m just FINE, he said with a laugh—then proceeded to inform me that FINE was an anagram for Fuddled, Insecure, Neurotic and Egocentric. (Actually he used two hyphenated words for the ‘f,’ but I think I’ll leave what they are to your rich imagination.)

The fact is that almost every one of us is (or has been) fraught by a million insecurities—and who could blame us? Consider the world wars our species has endured, the concentration camps and gulags, the ugliness of misogyny and patriarchy that plague so many, in a nutshell, man’s inhumanity to man—all of which leave scars on the collective human psyche. Above all, consider our ephemeral nature, as fragile as a snowflake melting under a hot sun. No matter how big we are in the world, nothing can protect us from old age, sickness and death; yes, when Yama , Lord of Death throws his deadly noose around our necks to remove us from this plane of existence, no power on earth can stop him. Continue reading