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

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ANXIETY, BITCH GODDESS

FB_IMG_1494089545295I think that you might agree with me that it is rare to find a truly “good” human—a person you know instinctively is kind, compassionate, honest, transparent and loving—and not just to those who serve his or her interests, but to all beings. Well, I met a middle-aged man the other day and knew right off the bat that he was “good.” He owns a grocery store in town and sells tasty homemade snacks. Since I was hungry, after I shopped I ate something there, and he joined me at the small table in the back and freely told me his story. Lots of financial setbacks, he said, shaking his head sadly, and at one time a big position in a company in the Middle-East that he had lost—an underling who had coveted his job had made such big trouble for him that he had finally quit.

Other bad decisions followed that cost him his savings, and finally he had decided to open this small store in Tiru. It was limping along, he said, but somehow he was making ends meet. He had a sweet and supportive wife and two fine adult sons who were finding their way in the world. It was clear to me that he adored them all.

So why are you worried, I asked him, because he did look terribly strained. I have a heart problem, he confided softly, and my boys are not yet settled. I worry about them to the point I can’t sleep, and when I don’t sleep, the worry gets worse and my business is affected. What will happen to them if I die of a sudden heart attack?

And that is a definite possibility given that you worry so much, I said drily. Then I added, gently: You actually think you have been selected to suffer more than others on this earth? Don’t you realize that everyone goes through this sort of stuff? And that we will all die, like it or not? How does your constant worrying help the situation at all? It only makes things worse and prevents you from enjoying your great blessings. Have you never considered being grateful for all you have, rather than moaning about how awful things are?

FB_IMG_1463360088510He smiled sadly but had no response. And I realized that no matter how “good” we are, it is necessary to study the nature of reality and to contemplate its great truths, or we will drive ourselves and others mad, by dwelling on the millions of dire possibilities that could further overturn our fragile lives. I felt I could advise him only because, in my early life, although I was bright and funny and intelligent on the surface, had you known me well, you might have pegged me as the planet’s number one worry wart, always drowning in misery. In fact I worried so much that I was forced to find ways to escape my own sick thinking. These methods worked for a while, but the anxiety was at best suppressed and inevitably came back to vicious roaring life.

Over two thousand years ago, Gautama Buddha gave us his Noble Truths—the first one being that life is suffering. Now suffering in this context includes, but is not limited to, the great agonies of hanging bleeding on a cross, with callous soldiers laughing at our pain and sticking us in the side with sharp swords, or the usual boring pains of old age, sickness and death. Here is an example of suffering from the classical Buddhist texts: you are on the road and terribly hungry. You are an hour away from a dear friend’s home who always happens to be a great cook. You call her and beg her to make your favorite meal. “I’ll be there soon,” you say, and she is thrilled.

She loads up a big plate with delicacies as you sit impatiently at her dining table. You finish every delicious speck and rub your tummy with satisfaction. But she is already piling more onto your plate and insisting you eat—she has cooked too much, she explains, and doesn’t like leftovers. To please her, you force yourself to eat a second serving, but she won’t stop loading more on your plate and finally you protest violently: if I eat another spoonful, you warn her, my tummy will burst! You lean back against the comfortable chair, swollen, lethargic and nauseous—and you realize, to your amazement, that your greedy anticipation of just an hour ago has already turned into the suffering of acute indigestion!

So suffering is a host of things. It is being forced to wait for a friend on a busy street, it is impatience, it is anger, it is jealousy, it is getting what you don’t want, and not getting what you want. It is frustration because as hard as you work, you can never have more than your neighbor, or win the beautiful man or woman you adore, or realizing that you will never be gorgeous and talented enough to succeed as the big screen actor you long to be. Oh yes, suffering covers the gamut of unsatisfactory conditions, and no one but no one escapes its slimy tentacles.

Fortunately Gautama does not stop here—he goes on to speak of the other truths, the cause of suffering and finally the end of suffering. Yes, there is a way out—but how is this wonderful man, who worries all the time, and is so steeped in personal misery that the entire screen of his life is covered up with his seemingly insurmountable problems, to ever know that such a highway to happiness and peace exists?

1165311e076f9fab8a6e2f39ba6df8caFor me, the road to peace and happiness was long and tortuous and involved sitting humbly at the feet of many great eastern teachers, and studying and practicing as if my butt was on fire. But once I digested the teachings on karma and reincarnation, life actually began to make some sort of sense to me. And once I accepted that some form of mystical logic does rule our lives, I was free to delve even further into the treasure chest of ancient wisdom and to accumulate sharp and shining tools to slice through all my seeming problems. And this is how I cut to the underbelly of being, which mystics and seers claims is no less than pure existence-awareness and bliss.

This subject is so vast and exciting that it is impossible to cover it in a few posts or essays, which is why I write spiritual fiction. I endeavor to make my novels read like fascinating parables; the reader does not have to struggle to learn anything—the teachings are embedded in these sagas, and so are painlessly digested. In this way, I give back what I was so generously given to me. I am well aware that most of our world is not interested in what I have to say, perhaps simply because thriving materially is the major task on their agenda. Still, I recognize this as my dharma, one reason why I incarnated, and so am content to keep doing what I do.

Back to this man, who has made an appointment with me for this afternoon, claiming he wants to learn a few simple truths he can apply to his situation and so find relief from his intense anxiety. Mahamudra, I think, would serve him well; this is an ancient teaching on the nature of relative reality, easy to understand and hard to refute, for each one of the seven steps deals with relative life as it is, beginning with the inherent imperfection and impermanence of all created things. I have taught this simple analytical meditation to friends and small groups of genuine seekers all over the world, and I hope he will “get” it, because he is certainly worth my time. I like him instinctively and know his heart is good. Besides, unwilling as he appears to be to formally read or study, he may well die never knowing that there is a golden way out.

Ramana Maharshi, the great sage of Tiruvannamalai, has been a great light in my life. One of the many things he taught me (nothing new here, these truths have been the bedrock of eastern philosophy for thousands of years) is that our true nature is peace and happiness. I listened to him only because I knew he was a sage and could not lie. Just as in the mundane world it is hard to find an essentially good human, so too it is hard to find a guru who is a blazing jewel, who will never ever lead you astray, and who is willing to share the wisdom that will surely take you all the way up the mountain. After a lot of work and effort, I know today that Raman only speaks the naked truth. Why am I convinced of this? Simply because the worry wart I was, who chased ephemeral pleasures to hide from angst (not just about my concerns, but about the world in general) has transformed into a woman who lives more or less in peace, and who is, despite occasional eruptions of anger and frustration, deeply happy.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who works with us as we shed our delusions and leads us to the immortal bliss of our true nature!
These are posts you might enjoy:

Two Great Truths of Absolute and Relative Reality – Posted on September 4, 2015

Dying Every Single Day for Months in Manhattan… (May 1, 2015) 

Mahamudra, The Great Seal – Samsara’s Seven Flavors #3/12 (Oct 14, 2013)

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Dying Every Single Day for Months in Manhattan…

IMG_9929_statueA brilliant monk held a motley crew of us dharma students in thrall for many years in the Big Apple. All right, he’d drawl as his eyes lazily scanned the room. So you’re all so cool with your stylish black wardrobes and your sophisticated friends. You live in the hippest city in the world and you think you’re doing great. And in the eyes of the material world, that’s true—fat paychecks, nice apartments, great social life, lookin’ good, lookin’ good.

He’d pause for effect then continue into rapt silence. But tell me: what’s the one thing your bosses can never recompense you for? Ah! You got it, smart people—it’s precious human time! Some of you are doing wonderful things for the sake of humanity. Yes, there are literally thousands of good things you can do with your lives—but, if you listen to the great mystics, the highest goal of human life is permanent liberation from suffering—which is why everyone in this room has chosen to take the Bodhisattva Vow: to seek enlightenment for the sake of all beings.

To enter the Spiritual Olympics you need not just a clear mind but a strong body and perfect commitment—and if you believe that before you begin this inner journey you must first amass money and tie up all your relationships and assets into neat packages that look oh so pretty, there’s a good chance you won’t have those assets when you’re free to discover who you really are—which also means that day of liberation might never come. So, folks, if you really do want to start the greatest journey of all, start it NOW! Continue reading

Appointment with Shiva…

d024606e3edfab5bda46958ed34de59aOne recent morning I was riding to Ramana Ashram along Bangalore Road when I saw ahead of me a stationary public bus and a swelling crowd, including policemen and their vehicles—clustering around a white female lying motionless in a vermilion pool of blood on the side of the road. From a distance she looked so like a close friend of mine that I let loose a silent scream and involuntarily hit the brakes—right in the middle of the road.

A grim policeman waved me over to the side. I obeyed like a robot, struck dumb by a mélange of dark emotions. A cop who seemed to be in charge asked if I knew the dead girl—he wanted me to identify her. They had no clue, of course, what a coward I am in certain visceral ways. Too shaken to look at her face, I suggested instead that we identify her by inspecting the contents of her bag. Inside her faded cloth bag, we found a diary and a cell phone. And so we discovered that the name of this lovely girl, killed by a bus driver in a lethal hurry to reach his destination, was Miriam Franziska, and that she had recently arrived here from Berlin in order to savor the varied pleasures of Tiruvannamalai. Continue reading