“The moral duty of the free writer is to begin his work at home: to be a critic of his own community, his own country, his own government, his own culture. The more freedom the writer possesses the greater the moral obligation to play the role of the critic. If the writer is unwilling to fill this part then the writer should abandon pretense and find another line of work: become a repairman, a brain surgeon, a janitor, a cowboy, a nuclear physicist, a bus driver…
That’s all I ask of the author. To be a hero, appoint himself a moral leader, wanted or not. I believe words count, that writing matters, that poems , essays, novels – in the long run – make a difference. If they do not, then in the words of my exemplar Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, the writer’s work is of no more importance than the barking village dogs of the night. The hack writer, the temporizer, the toady, and the sycophant, the journalistic courtier (and what is a courtier but a male courtesan?), all of those in the word trade who simply go with the flow, who never oppose the rich and powerful, are no better in my view than Solzhenitsyn’s village dogs. The dogs bark; the caravan moves on.” Edward Abbey, The Writer’s Credo
Abbey’s words transported me back to the early 90s in Manhattan, when I first decided to focus my energies on writing spiritual fiction.
I was seeing a talk therapist then, in an attempt to work through my general confusion. Simultaneously I dived into the liberating truths of eastern philosophy, trained as a teacher of Hatha Yoga, tackled my addictions head-on, and learned to cull out spiritual buddies from run-of-the-mill company whose negative energies were bringing me down.
This phase was far from easy or pleasant and my frustration grew intense. One Saturday morning I cracked up while cleaning my apartment: turning off the vacuum cleaner, I collapsed onto my wooden floor and wept for all my broken dreams. Then, with all the force of a hammer, it struck me that I had to make some solid decisions in order to dissolve this angst.
Grabbing a notepad, I jotted down all the things I was good at. Ah, I thought, as Joseph Campbell’s advice to ‘follow your bliss’ flashed across my mind—the problem stemmed from dispersing my energies in too many directions. To find sweet water, one must dig deep in one place; Jack-of-all-trades but master-of-none is a hard place to be for one who craves depth.
Two things in my list jumped out at me: music and writing. When I played music, or poured my heart out in words, relative time seemed to vanish; I entered a zone where nothing mattered but the soaring of my soul.
But music as a career I quickly dismissed: I had neither the training nor the thick skin I felt was needed to make it in the west as a singer/guitarist. Which brought it down to one: Writing. And it was on that oddly magical morning that I decided to focus on expressing my thoughts via the written word.
Encouraged by a friend, I began to write short stories. Each dealt with an Indian woman who battled terrible odds in order to resolve a difficult situation. My protagonists were of all ages, castes, incomes and educational levels; all they had in common was their courage in taking on a variety of goons. I titled the collection SACRIFICE TO THE BLACK GODDESS (the Black Goddess is Kali, the deity known to fight evil) and managed to get a good literary agent. Publishers liked the collection but all of them were unanimous that I should first write a novel.
But what to write a novel about? The answer came years later when I stumbled onto the exciting philosophy of Tantra. Easy to see that folks in both east and west thought Tantra was all about free sex, but I was becoming convinced that Tantra was a highway to heaven for even the celibate. In fact, masters such as the Dalai Lama and other mystics practiced Tantra—minus a human mate.
And so Whip of the Wild God: A Novel of Tantra in Ancient India was born. I finally published it after twenty years, and after at least seven major rewrites! Only then did I turn my energies to a novel I’d been dreaming about since the millennium—Krishna’s Counsel, still a work-in-progress. And then will come my third, Copper Moon Over Pataliputra, which I hope to finish before my spirit leaves this planet.
Edward Abbey spoke of the external battle that so many writers take on so brilliantly. But my battle (both as a person and as a writer) concerns the inner struggle against darkness. The subject of all three of my sagas concerns the fusion of finite self (mini-me/ego) with Infinite Self. And in this way I feel my creative work is in harmony with Abbey’s advice to the sincere writer—to be true to oneself, no matter what.
Photo Credit: Bernd Kalidas Flory
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a sacred mountain, where the seeker of freedom is aided in the quest to be permanently free of desire and fear by the destruction of the ego!