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. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

MY LITTLE TOE!

e86345da08c09d1879f0e7eda3a5e911Yesterday morning I was heading for my computer in a rush when I stubbed my right little toe very hard against a wooden door. The pain was excruciating. I staggered to a couch and put my feet up, stunned at how fast this “accident” had happened. I watched the poor little thing angrily swell up and turn fat and red and wondered whether I had sprained it or even broken something inside. The thought flashed that death too could come like this at any moment, swift and ruthless, sweeping me another realm without my permission.

I recalled something I had read a long time ago in the Buddhist teachings on karma: After eons of seeking, if one is blessed to finally fall into the hands of a high guru, invisible powers can transmute truly horrible karma into something much smaller and manageable. No ordinary force can erase prarabhdha karma (destiny, fate, that portion of karma projected at the moment of birth from the mountain ranges of past thought, speech and action of multitudinous past lives), but higher power can work some magic. The idea behind this great blessing is to allow us to give us the time we need to succeed in our noble goal of moksha or permanent liberation from suffering. And then I remembered one particular teaching that stated that if one was destined to hang on the gallows for committing a murder, one would merely stub one’s toe!!! How precise, I thought, with a rush of happiness; these were the exact words I needed to put my painful little crisis into perspective. Continue reading

SPIRITUAL OLYMPICS

13e269e7dd2189555144fd97b22322e4At 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

YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE

a1bdebfedc1b5d7a87e7e2f16e9da363Consider 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.

2f4c71528deef4500603e274335bc7edAlcohol, 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.

Bhagavan RamanaWhich 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!

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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