A PERMANENT SOLUTION TO A TEMPORARY PROBLEM

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ece0e5efb7e69f25bae5daa7f08c1338A friend who once worked as a psychiatrist in a posh town in California once said to me that he saw the act of suicide as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Ironically, his own crazily hedonistic lifestyle militated against his innate wisdom and he himself later tried to commit suicide. But I never forgot his words, especially since I lost a few friends in this manner; every single time I heard someone had offed themselves the shock was great. The worst news was the suicide of a lovely woman I knew in New York. One fine day in fall, she had gone home and shot herself with a gun she had just bought, and that too before her beloved cat.  Since she lived alone on the top floor of a condo, her body was not found for several days, and that poor cat had to be a witness to the gradual decomposition of the body of his beloved mistress. I was in a restaurant enjoying brunch with a friend when I heard the news; I literally screamed—because I had once been close to her. She had been a strong Zen practitioner, calm, quiet and loving, and also the last person in the world I would have thought would have killed herself. Later I heard she left a note saying she was going over to the other side to see what it was like, or something asinine in that vein, which just goes to show that we should never go by a façade.

I love the teachings of the East because they tell us clearly that getting rid of the physical body, which is just a mix of the great elements of fire, air, earth, water and consciousness, and run by the three “gunas” of rajas, tamas and sattva, does not get rid of our suffering. Simply put, our immortal Spirit takes a new form and the suffering continues. This nugget of mystical information should be enough to stop us from ever contemplating suicide, but then, how many on the planet today give a damn for eastern philosophy, or even know that its ancient truths are priceless? Continue reading

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THE DASHING FENCER

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8da3adf3c53bf14b391fd6a892025c43At a certain phase of my life, when I was desperately planning my escape from a city many would give their eye teeth (whatever that means!) to enjoy (Manhattan), I worked for a posh law firm and took every opportunity for overtime that I could, hoping to pay down my big fat mortgage, sell my adorable apartment, and flee to the Himalayas. One of my favorite lawyers to work for was the powerful head of the Real Estate Division and a multi-millionaire many times over.  During our post-midnight stints as he churned documents out and I whipped them into shape, he had let slip that as a young idealist he had dreamed of wandering India, ancient land of sacred cows and hoary temples, in quest of himself. But he had sold out when he won a scholarship to an ivy league outfit and even more when he had married a woman who wanted him to make more and more money so he could send their kids for horse-riding lessons and to vacations in Paris.

fb_img_1486272499213It must have been about 3 in the morning when my eyes fell on a photo on his desk. “Who’s that?” I asked, intrigued by the handsome and dashing figure of a young man dressed in fencing garb and brandishing a sword or whatever. He glared at me, offended. “That’s me,” he said. I laughed and shrugged, “how could I tell?” You have mask on.” But the truth was that that slender young man bore absolutely no resemblance to the pot-bellied rotund double-chinned bespectacled worry-wart before me. Continue reading

YOUNG SOUL, OLD SOUL

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Kiri 16GB sd card 6243-1The New Age (which I happen to mostly detest and keep my distance for, for really it is all recycled material that they use often to great detriment of depth and richness) has popularized many buzzwords and one is that someone or the other is an old soul. Now when I threw the words “young soul” at a close friend one day in frustration, he blew up at me and said these phrases were ridiculous nonsense. Not so, I said, for to me the difference between an old and a young soul is as clear as the full moon shining over Arunachala on a balmy summer’s night.

An Old Soul is simply a human who has seen through the mesmerizing veils of Maya, the Cosmic Enchantress. He or she has either experienced the double-edged sword of samsara in this lifetime, or his knowing has emerged from countless past lives. Never mind, but this person is no longer enchanted by stately mansions surrounded by a forest of palm trees, obscenely plump bank accounts or stock portfolios, expensive vehicles, supermodels, celebrities of all kinds, or by those pampered creatures with access to the so-called good life. Why is this? Simply because this person now knows for sure that while there is a great deal of pleasure to be drawn from the world, this pleasure is invariably followed by pain, which is why the mystics refer to indulgence in a hedonistic lifestyle as licking the honey off a razor’s edge. And what about the Young Soul? Oh, he or she is still dazzled by the façade, that’s all.

c945ed890f540a675b775ccb608893f3Now for the critical question: is one better than the other? My honest answer is, while I would prefer to be an Old Soul, the essence of both is exactly the same—pure existence, awareness and bliss. Would you turn back as you ascend an infinite stairway and have contempt for those who have just begun their journey of comprehending reality? Not if you were wise and loving, for sure. An Old Soul was once a  Young Soul and a Young Soul will inevitably evolve into an Old Soul, but, and it’s a big but, this depends on consistent effort. Liberation is guaranteed to all of us, but no one is saying when. So its up to us to prolong the suffering or not.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to open our inner eye so we can discriminate between the real and the unreal, between true joy and the fake pleasure that comes from the reckless enjoyment of the senses!

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EVERYONE HAS A HIGHER POWER

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c54413c0d2a06f18743e8ad014a31eaeManhattan broke down my identity; in south India I was more or less confident that I could accomplish anything I set my mind on. I was popular, well-known in certain circles, and could have launched myself into a lucrative creative career had I wished to. Instead I suffered a deep dread of never leaving home and so I finagled my exit to a foreign country that I admired for many reasons. Yes, I loathed the deep-rooted misogyny, caste and class system I was surrounded by and longed for the freedom I hoped to find in America. But I was unprepared for the shocks to my system in the land of the brave and the free. Indeed, nothing was as I had expected it to be and I had to literally reinvent myself, alone, since my husband and in-laws were no help, and instead actively wanted to shove me into a box, lock me up, and throw away the key. You see, they had not expected an Indian woman to be feisty, independent and outspoken about her rights, and so they lashed out in me in a variety of inventive ways until I was deeply miserable despite abundant material comforts. My husband had promised that I could study creative writing and film at NYU, but now he ruthlessly nixed that idea and I found myself temping on Wall Street and in posh law firms, making a lot of money but still a prisoner of my new family and my husband in particular, who insisted on controlling our finances as well as the trajectory of our lives. Continue reading

EMPTY WORDS

Kiri 16GB sd card 6886Before I moved into my own home here in Tiru, I had four landlords over a space of three years, each of whom was nightmarish in their own unique way. One was so slippery that he would assure me he would be over in ten minutes to fix a tap or whatever, but would simply never show. But when it came to collecting his rent, or to complain to me ad nauseam about the “foreigners” here (whom he had a strangely schizophrenic relationship with—on the surface, obsequious and smarmy, because he wanted them to rent his properties, behind their backs, virulently critical and mean), he was, ha ha ha, amazingly prompt.

Once I moved into my home, I realized that, although hopefully I had left all slimy landlords behind, another major mundane problem had raised its pointy little head: which is that workmen would assure me they would be over right away to fix something or the other, but they too would never show, or arrive hours after their appointment when I had already left home—and then they would accuse me of not being home to receive their lordships! Since my command over Tamil is terrible, I had no way of expressing my shocked disbelief at their bad behavior, and besides, I needed them to survive; and so I swallowed by anger and kept going, a day at a time. Continue reading

THOSE BLASTED RULES!

6cfa74207d9988dbbdc3a2b428999120Recently I had a disturbing conversation with a man who considers himself an ardent devotee of Arunachala and Ramana Maharshi. He was convalescing after a serious bout of illness and, amazingly, since he’d been ordered to give up some seriously toxic habits in order to heal, he was actually looking better than I had ever seen him. Yes, he’d lost significant weight, there was a sparkle in his eyes, and a new glow to his skin.  Jubilantly, he told me he’d been cured by a naturopath after a team of expensive allopathic doctors had only worsened his condition and given him a shocking prognosis. Of course I was thrilled to hear he was well again, and I told him I had been sending him strong good vibes ever since I had heard of his illness. As we were talking, softly, since this was close to the Main Hall, a bunch of visitors to the Ashram passed by, one man almost screaming on his cell phone. I gestured towards him, asking him to move to the bookstore, where he would not disturb those who needed quiet for their inner practice.

Whereupon my friend looked askance at me; you know, he said admonishingly, Ramana never told people how to behave, so why are you telling them to be silent? I said, silence is an Ashram rule in certain areas, although no one seems to care enough to enforce it. And don’t forget that Ramana’s highest teaching is Atma-Vichara, which involves a profoundly subtle examination of reality. The time will come when, as a result of the right effort and plenty of grace, all of us will be just as equanimous as Ramana was—but do keep in mind that when he came to Arunachala at the age of sixteen, he was already a sage. As for me, and many others who share concerns about the lack of silence here, we are not yet done with our inner work and need at least some areas within the Ashram where we can be quiet Continue reading

KILL YOUR DARLINGS

609df17e7afd69d496563edfe63c57a7This is serious advice for serious writers—to kill our darlings. Sounds brutal, no? Well, actually, what it means is that sometimes we come up with great material, but, in the context of the whole piece of work, say a short story or novel, this terrific piece of writing does not work to create a vivid continuous dream that the reader can resonate with. It hurts to do this, yes, that particular piece may have been celestially inspired, but sorry, it ruins the whole and therefore, once we have stepped from our opus and decided that it sticks out like a sore thumb or ruins the thread of the plot, we must be willing to commit word murder. A sacrifice of the brilliant part to the cosmic whole.

Fortunately today we have computers—I often marvel at what great writers in the past did. Imagine writing War & Peace with ink and paper and then trying to kill or rework sections of it—my god, how lucky we are today! We can cut our darling out of the current piece and store it safely in another file so we can use her later, in a place where she does work. And it strikes me that this advice is valuable anywhere, even as we begin the intense and often lonesome journey into the spiritual heart. We must kill our darlings, all those ideas, habits, dreams, concepts and conditioning that no longer mesh with our present map of reality. And we must make sure they stay dead, by burning their very roots, so that they do not rise up again with a vengeance to ruin our perfect plan for blissful liberation. Continue reading

DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?

cda434014b3bb07e8d7db7d167fa00a2My father taught me a powerful lesson growing up; I watched many a time as he out-intimidated the legion of official and governmental bullies that routinely harass all Indians and make millions of lives miserable. “Do you know who I am” he would roar, and the would-be bully would literally quake with fear and trepidation. And he did this with genuine anger, because this kind of official misbehavior personally offended him. He stood up not just for himself—in his prime, he was a wealthy, powerful, articulate and educated man with immense influence—but for those with lesser resources, and even for the illiterate poor who had no option but to bow down to these horrible apologies for man so that they could get their work done. Since survival was a burning issue for many of these people, and the bullies knew they held the winning card, most often there was no competition.

Recently I was reminded of how the Indian poor in particular are hounded, harassed and cheated when my maid came crying to me to inform me that the local police had extracted a huge bribe from her laborer brother. Her brother had beaten up his wife’s lover and brought her back home after a sensational elopement. I told my maid I would go with her to the Collector’s office and help her to make an official complaint against these men—something I would hate to do since I dislike offices in general, and the men who run them even more; but I felt so awful at the thought of this poor man being bullied and robbed that I felt I had to do my bit. And what did she say? Gave me a shrug and said it wouldn’t work, that everyone was corrupt and all the family could do in such a situation was to suck up this huge crime and carry on. I yelled at her and said it was because of this passive attitude of the voiceless masses that things have gotten to this ghastly state, but of course she did not understand where I was coming from and did not accept my offer. Continue reading

BLISS JUNKIE

9a98b5caac8b4a9fc6c46747c8fdfc73One result of discovering the amazing teachings of Eastern philosophy was that I began to closely study my own relative nature. Over time I came to the conclusion that it was composed of two almost equal but opposing sides: yes, I was half hedonist and half ascetic. Not surprising since we are enmeshed in a dualistic structure and are inclined to strong likes and dislikes. The stronger the personality, the more intense are these likes and dislikes, so, someone like me, for instance, would seek all sorts of sensory pleasure while suffering from an abysmally low tolerance for pain.

Now a wise human would gravitate to pleasures that are meaningful and that last, but the confused adolescent that I was sought enjoyment in fleeting things that left me dissatisfied and hungry for more. It was only when I heard the phrase: “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” that I woke up with a start and realized that I had been frittering away my precious life in repeating the same old nonsense and foolishly expecting the results to be gratifying. Continue reading

DID I TELL YOU NOT TO HISS?

8b0491b2a715579b114da4fdb36d7daaThe great sage Ramakrishna told this old tale to his disciples: an angry snake terrified the village boys so greatly that they dared not venture near his territory. One day a yogi was walking through the village when a boy warned him not to venture near the abode of the vicious serpent. The yogi told the boy not to worry, for he knew a mantra that would calm the serpent. He was speaking the truth: when the snake slithered forward to attack him, the yogi intoned the mantra and the snake became still and peaceful. Then the yogi gave the snake another mantra to chant and told him not to trouble the boys but instead to seek a higher peace. The snake obeyed. But when the village boys discovered the snake was now peaceful, they began to torment him. One bully even picked him up and slammed him repeatedly against a sharp rock until he was broken and bleeding, then left him for dead.

Somehow the snake survived. When the yogi returned some months later, he was shocked at his dismal state and demanded an explanation. The snake was surprised—but you told me to be peaceful! he said. So I did, said the sage in exasperation, I asked you not to bite, but did I tell you not to hiss? Continue reading