A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE

4c43e9597e348e32446dfe8c83a2d488Ages ago in America, a friend I was visiting over the long Thanksgiving weekend, told me that she had her ex-husband had never really gotten along. She had married him on the proverbial rebound several years after her fiancé, whom she had loved, had died in a surfing accident, and simply because her avaricious insecure social-climbing mother had coaxed her to hang on to him for all he could offer her in material terms.

He was a cold and distant man who had done very well for himself financially. He did not love her, nor did he claim to, but because she was glamorous and charming, he did value her highly as a social asset. While their love life was non-existent, he appeared to be content to squire her to social events as his trophy bride. Early on she had longed to escape him and to pursue a different lifestyle, but when she turned to her mother for support, she was sternly reminded that she had struck gold and should be content. (Why she’d listened to a mother as crass as this, I still can’t figure out, but I do know the woman was a widow and my friend an only child, and that this had brought them close.)

She and her ex never wanted kids, she said, which was a good thing or she might never have gotten interested in eastern philosophy (via hatha yoga), and never realized there was more to life than the superficial good times available to her as the wife of a wealthy entrepreneur. The radically new worldview she so acquired had such an impact on her psyche that she had finally left him. Although she did not ask for much, he was generous enough to insist on providing her with a lifelong settlement; and then, ha ha ha, she added dryly, he had promptly turned around and married another trophy.

It was only when she started deepening her knowledge of the limited egoic self that she realized that her decades-long marriage had been convenient only for her ego, and not for her Self (the Divine or Absolute, our true nature according to the eastern mystics). It sickened her, she confessed, that, for instance, that despite being crazy busy with his work, her ex would insist on being present when she met with her bankers every month, but would refuse to spend any quality time alone with her. He had no interest in her as a woman or as a person, but genuinely wanted to protect her financial interests. This one thing clearly revealed to her that all he cared about was money, while he didn’t give a damn for her soul.

2b30a1fb8fc22baec67e64504e96cf11I told her how blessed she was to have had such a realization. You see, I had encountered many other women, some also married to rich and powerful men, who had no clue that there was more to life than indulging themselves and their children in excessive materialism. One of these women spent all of her time going from one plastic surgeon to another, getting face and body lifts, because she was terrified the man would dump her for a new model! What a way to live, I had thought, I would rather be dead than invest all my energy in trying to please a superficial mate.

Now I had met this friend at a spiritual meeting in Manhattan and we were instantly attracted to each other, probably because we had each gone through so much and were both fascinated by eastern philosophy. She was in her early fifties then and lived simply but well in a beautiful area in upstate New York, besides a sparkling stream and surrounded by woodland. She enjoyed her solitude and spent her time reading, painting, meditating, and focusing on inner work. “I’ve never been happier,” she said at some point during that weekend that I later spent with her. “And it was all because I was so intensely miserable that I was literally forced to find a reason to live. Thank god I decided to do my teacher training in yoga. My guru was a deep man who sensed I needed real help, and he made it a point to guide me. We’ve become close friends over the years, and through him, I’m drawing closer to that immortal Spirit you Indians speak about so casually.” She smiled. Now I know the Divine is not a sweet fiction; come to think of it, what feels terribly unreal is all that time I invested in the transient.”

Thinking over this distant encounter, I realized how fortunate the modern West is (apart from religious fundamentalists!) to not be stigmatized for seeking freedom from an unfulfilling marriage. Here, in India, a society so complex and multi-layered that it boggles the mind, divorce is still a very dirty word. Women who seek their freedom even from the worst mates are hounded, harassed and even ostracized; one can well empathize with their willingness to stay put, no matter what, and suck up their misery. And what about the men? Not surprisingly, it is usually the wealthy who stray: Money has opened up many new portals for them and they are exposed to an international world where they can often make their own rules and get away with moral murder. However, I’m sorry to say, despite the surface sophistication of many, inside they are often mama’s boys, terrified to break free of their matrix lest they bring the hammer of community disapproval down on their heads.

You might be stunned if you knew how many there are of this ilk all over India: men who want to have their cake and eat it too. They proposition particularly women who are Westernized, believing that such females are bohemian and free and have no scruples in relationship. Because they worship money, they wrongly assume this is the case with everyone. Some flit from one sad relationship to another, hoping to distract themselves from the emptiness of their fake lives, and so never ever grow up. I asked one such rich fellow who had complained to me about his wife, why he did not just leave her. Oh, my mother would die of shock, he said, and what about the children? (You see? He didn’t give a damn for the wife, only for his old dominatrix of a mother and his kids). His mother had arranged the marriage, he ran on miserably, and his wife was perfect as a home-maker and as a mother, although she was so boring and limited in her range of interests that he could not even talk to her beyond domestic matters.

I shook my head, and told him that if I, a woman also brought up in a traditional and conservative family, with no support from anyone but my guru and a few Western friends, could have had the courage to walk out of my marriage, knowing full well I was about to lose everything material (since my husband was so sneaky in that area), then certainly he could. No, he said, that is not possible in my case, and I realized that the walls of the ego in some cases are built of concrete reinforced with steel, and that most humans simply lack the integrity and guts to break away and seek true joy. In truth, after the initial brouhaha of a “scandal” has died down, no one cares any more, and you can then restructure your life to seek the only peace worth having—that which comes from the depths of the Spiritual Heart.

Kiri 16GB sd card 4418Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who powerfully aids us as we shed all that blocks us from knowing we are the blissful and immortal Self!

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THE PARADOX OF ADDICTION

fb_img_1486103868695Right before the millennium, at a birthday celebration held in a spacious loft in downtown Manhattan, I fell into deep conversation with an eccentric artist who was rapidly rising in a city where the competition is known to be beyond fierce. He’d always been intrigued by Indian art, culture and philosophy, he told me, and his art reflected this interest. He then proceeded to ask me searching questions about my life in south India, including how and why I had made my way to the Big Apple, and I found him to be highly intelligent and perceptive—no, this was not superficial party talk, but a true meeting of souls.

In turn he spoke about his own life, and I was stunned by his revelations, particularly because he appeared to be the product of a loving background. He told me that his mother had fled her vicious alcoholic husband when he was only three and that his father had then turned his rage on him, abusing him sexually and beating him viciously, and no one had been around to protect him. Continue reading

4 AM ON THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

b14516b6b40561bfe96c12b674d70118After the initial intense discomfort of leaving a marriage that was throttling me emotionally, and blocking my spiritual and creative progress, I was once again enjoying the richness of life. Soon I began to feel an exhilarating sense of freedom.

Now Manhattan is the perfect place for a single person to taste every flavor of liberation—a fabulous city that never sleeps and has something for everybody. (This was before the World Trade Center bombing). Brimming with exciting things to do, not just in the way of entertainment, Manhattan catered to the spiritual seeker as well as to the artist and could be a whole lot of fun.

Folks I knew at work were mostly workaholics; they put in long hours, but from Friday evening through Sunday, they generally partied a lot. There were many times, I confess, that the constant pressure got a bit too much and I felt like a monkey pedaling furiously on a wheel just to stay upright. But still, I relished my new life and would not have exchanged it for another.

Among my personal friends were writers and artists, photographers, painters, even the odd sculptor. One cool couple used to throw regular parties at their trendy loft in lower Manhattan. Their round dining table was spread with goodies, cheeses, pastries and whatnot. A motley crew of guests brought stuff too, bottles of French wine, key lime pies, and bags of crunchy chips. Not to forget that the conversations that sprung up all over that vast room were interesting.

It must have been about 3 am on a Saturday morning when a guy I barely knew asked me how I, as an Indian woman who had rebelled against my societal mores, dealt with fear. I said that when I had first begun to live alone, I was so terrified of being alone in the darkness that a friend had strung tiny lights all the way from my bedroom to the bathroom, just in case.

8411f515e5521a945a35e8d138ae0d27Another friend had given me two of his cats, and Lisa and Sweetie, my sweet feline protectors whom I will never forget, flanked me at night. But then, I added, I’d begun to dive into Eastern philosophy and to meditate seriously again, and the fear that lived inside of me—a grisly phantom that often had my knees knocking together—had fled due to my growing awareness of the constant presence of invisible beings of light and love.

So you’re tough now, eh? He demanded truculently. (What was his problem? I think an Asian woman must have given him hell.)

I guess so, I said, wary of where he was going.

Well then, I challenge you to walk all the way home from here, right now. Let’s see how brave you really are, ha ha ha.

I considered his proposal for a moment: I was a strong walker, as most Manhattanites are, and the walk home could be done in about an hour.

I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you do, he said. I saw he was anticipating a timid refusal, whereupon a devil got into me. Of course I can, I said, shocking him, but I don’t want your money. Before my hostess (she would have tried to stop me) could object, I said a quick goodbye and left.

Swiftly I made my way further downtown, and soon I saw the fantastic outline of the Brooklyn Bridge. That’s when Fear gripped me. All the way down here, there had been the occasional passerby, but now I could see no one. Tales I’d heard of homeless drunken or stoned drifters sleeping under the Bridge flashed through my head. It was a long walk over the Bridge, I realized, and I was utterly alone. Taking a deep breath, I started down the wooden length of it, chanting my mantra of protection nonstop.

My imagination was going wild, and I thought I heard someone stealthily following me. I didn’t turn around, just continued with the mantra. The footsteps became more distinct and my heart began to flutter with panic.

FB_IMG_1491232471157Then a cyclist, believe it or not, flew past me: Black ensemble with glittering lights circling the wheels of a superb racing bike. Another cyclist whizzed past me, dressed in exactly the same way, and then another, and another, until a long line of these beauties were riding silently down the bridge. I realized that they were probably a foreign group of pro cyclists on tour in Manhattan. I almost ran beside them on the other side of the walkway, and finally reached the end of the Bridge. I stopped to heave a huge sigh of relief, for my apartment was not that far, dawn was breaking, and there were already signs of life in lovely Brooklyn Heights. No one would dare to attack me now. I watched the last cyclist glide into the distance and walked rapidly home, thinking I’d been right all along—great beings were indeed watching over me.

I’ve told many friends this story over the years and all have been baffled that I’d take such a risk. You could have been raped and murdered, one said sternly, and he was right. So what made me do such a stupid thing? I could have laughed at the guy and told him to buzz off. The fact is that I did not. The answer probably is that I wanted to be Superwoman in the eyes of my friends, and a cut above the usual nervous woman from the East.

Today I’d laugh at anyone who asked me to risk my precious life in such a way, because wisdom and caution are essential to living on to accomplish my goals. But that night I was both a rebel and an idiot; still, looking back, perhaps because of the rare beauty of those cyclists flying over that gorgeous Bridge, I don’t regret my madness.

ece0e5efb7e69f25bae5daa7f08c1338Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us realize that there is really nothing to fear, not even physical death, but only because our true nature is immortal and blissful!

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THE OLD MAN AND THE MISCHIEVOUS CHILD

e86345da08c09d1879f0e7eda3a5e911Although the way up the Mountain of Oneness can involve some pretty rugged terrain, and one stumbles every now and again, and even gets lost in the thickets of strange new concepts and terms, eventually the journey becomes smooth, pleasurable and easy.

Bizarrely enough, all you have struggled to absorb and to practice is now spontaneously jettisoned or distilled into a living inner truth. Some call this cultivating the “view,” and I like this term since that is exactly what we do when we turn decisively into the interior and develop new ways of seeing and being.

For me, comprehending the beauty of Advaita essentially involves understanding the nature of two things: the Self (the Absolute, blissful, immortal, aware and including both manifest and unmanifest) and the Egoic machinery (current body, mind, track record, emotions, etcetera). The goal is to dissolve the building blocks of the ego (known as vasanas (karmic trace impressions, accumulated over countless lifetimes)) into the vast peaceful blissful ocean of the Self.

Now, for as long as we are totally identified with samsara (relative reality, considered “unreal” in Advaitic terms since it is ephemeral), we will continue to spin in the mad roaring vortex of primal confusion. But once we step out of the dream (and this dream includes the three states of waking, sleeping and dreaming) and enter Turiya (the fourth state of blissful non-duality), the Sakshi or Witness wakes up.

The process is quite fascinating—what once used to drive us up the wall, what we once took with deadly gravity because it threatened our identity, now becomes mostly funny and interesting, for the Witness is an aspect of the eternal Self and nothing can negatively impact it.=

8b0491b2a715579b114da4fdb36d7daaImagine watching a fascinating movie—you enjoy it, and empathize with the trials and tribulations of the hero, but you do not take the plot personally, do you? You may even identify yourself with a character in the movie, but once you leave the theater, it is easy to drop the role, right?

This is how it is for the advanced seeker on the path of moksha. At some point, the Self wakes up with an exultant roar and begins to watch, with amused curiosity, the Ego building sand castles on the shifting sands of samsara. Think of the Self as an indulgent wise grandfather watching his mischievous grandson (Ego) having a blast on the beach: throwing a tantrum when a high wave rolls over his castle and reduces it to ordinary sand, or getting terribly excited and proud because a passerby assures him that his castle is the best in the whole world.

But the infant does not have to remain an infant—as she matures, she can become aware that her grandfather is really omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, for she has noticed that, unlike her tumultuous self, he is totally unflustered by events. Weary of meaningless play, she decides she wants to be like him—and so she stops building her endless sand castles, turns her back on the craziness of external experience, and begs the old man to teach her the real meaning of existence.

The job between them is done when the two merge into One; whether it is done quickly or slowly depends on how much effort, commitment and interest she can invest in her brilliant new Moksha Project. The final ingredient for fusion, of course, is grace, and that is ever-present, although it is up to each one of us to prepare ourselves to receive its blessing.

a1bdebfedc1b5d7a87e7e2f16e9da363Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who is said to watch a particular soul for eons as it wanders, lost and confused in dazzling tinsel worlds, until, out of great compassion, He lassoes the soul and draws it into His fiery embrace!

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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.

So why do I view Jnana, the ancient tradition of Eastern wisdom, as a jealous god? Well, from what I see within even the small world of committed seekers, only a minute segment can appreciate the subtle wisdom of the sages to the point that their lives transform; and this is the true litmus test—personal transformation, or what the hell is the point??? Worshipping deities, visiting temples, churches of mosques, relying on external gurus, etcetera is their way of evolving, and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this; if one is sincere, eventually these paths too can also lead to the gold of realization. But there is a short-cut for folks like me, and that is the undiluted teaching of Atma-Vichara, as informally transmitted by the great Advaita sage of south India, Ramana Maharshi.

Atma-Vichara relies on no external supports. There is the Self (the substratum of our being, pure existence-awareness and bliss; call it Shunyata (the fecund void, both the emptiness and the plenum of existence), Parabrahman (the Impersonal Supreme Divine) or the Absolute; it does not matter what label you stick on it, for here we are entering the wordless nameless realm of immortal bliss and peace. And then there is the Egoic self, mini-me, the body-mind-emotional system caged in a particular matrix that it takes for reality. By using the timeless principles of Jnana, we can break down the prison walls that keep us caged in delusion/illusion. Yes, by directly challenging the power of Maya, the Cosmic Enchantress whose divine game is Lila, Jnana can lead us rapidly through the thickets of samsara (relative reality) and to our eternal home of eternal happiness. In essence, if we have taken the trouble to really understand this invisible path, the ego burns down into the infinite ocean of Self.

But, as Ramana Maharshi often said, very few have the courage or the rapier-like impersonal intellect that coaxes one to let go of all relative props in order to follow the narrow tortuous path that wends its way into the core of the Spiritual Heart. If we start now, however, by acquiring a foundation and following simple ethical prescriptions, we can prepare ourselves to bask in the bliss and peace that is our true nature.

Many intellectuals are fascinated by the brilliant teachings of the jnanis and can spout all sorts of impressive stuff; but sorry, this alone, while critical in its own way, is not enough. The teachings must go deep, seeping in through multitudinous layers of the egoic self until they penetrate the heart. Success is evident when you note a distinct transformation in views, behavior and state of mind. Thought, speech and action begin to mesh harmoniously and personal ethics spontaneously guide ones behavior. What used to hassle and vex no longer has much of an impact, and if it does, the trouble is brief, for one has tasted the peace that surpasses all mundane understanding. Yes, entering the substratum by stopping the mind in its tracks, however briefly, is proof enough of our eternal existence, and this gradually becomes our platinum insurance against all the ups and downs of samsara.

Now, if we are sitting on the fence, and still spending most of our time and energy in buttressing our financial standing, work or social status—if the basic groundwork of understanding the Two Truths (Absolute and Relative reality) has been ignored, and if you don’t realize a basic mystical truth, which is that as soon as you try to fix a hole in samsara, a hundred other holes will open (so that you are kept perennially busy trying to plug them); if you naïvely believe that you can sort out all your relative affairs and tie them up in neat pretty parcels so you can finally focus on your inner work when you are old and relaxed (don’t forget Death could claim you at any time and there are no guarantees in this department); if the concept of Advaita (Not Two) is still only a sweet fiction, and so blood relatives and those who can materially benefit you are the only beneficiaries of your love and concern—then don’t be surprised if you fail to experience that first flicker of inner bliss (Aham Sphurana, in Sanksrit), which grows into a roaring torrent and heralds the advent of Samadhi (the transcendent state).

Jnana can only make sense if you are sick and tired of the endlessly mesmerizing games (both beautiful, horrific and everything in between) that Queen Maya has been playing with you for eons, and if you can now see through the tinsel veils of mundane gratification. Once this work is done, not with bitterness but with overwhelming gratitude that one’s inner eye has finally opened, then the road to wisdom can become a radiant highway to permanent bliss. If not, perhaps its best to stay where you are, and to get samsara out of your system before you come back, for Jnana is a jealous god and will not tolerate half-hearted fragmented love and shoddy commitments from its proponents.

cc56cbb87382e2c7f74faf1c64cc03f7Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who aids us in the Herculean task of dropping the unreal for the Real!

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BIZARRE & CLUELESS

279dbfcf2cba52b1ecbc23c53cf96b95A long while ago, I read a Trump tweet stating that the Pope was a modest man, just like Trump himself.  Well, we’ve all heard such unbelievable stuff gushing forth from Trump’s heedless and juvenile mouth, but this particular tweet really got my goat. I couldn’t stop laughing incredulously at the thought of D comparing himself with the Pope in this area, despite mountainous evidence to the contrary and his outrageous habit of braggadocio. Is it possible, I wondered, that he really does not see himself clearly? What else could explain his blind idiocy?

This led me to ponder why some humans are so sharply aware of themselves, both in terms of virtues and peccadilloes, and others remain completely clueless? Speaking for myself, and for many close friends, so hypersensitive to our own dark side that we cannot wait to transform it into light, I am still mind-boggled by those who refuse to ever look in the mirror.

Rigorous self-investigation of our relative self (the egoic body-mind system), followed by a deliberate transformation of all that does not serve our journey to the light,  is particularly critical for those of us on the inner path. Without it, any foray into realizing the Absolute sense is a futile exercise. The mirror is our friend, not our enemy, and any human friend who also serves as an honest mirror is our kalyanamitra (spiritual buddy); all of us have blind spots we cannot see, but these are often visible to those who deeply care about us. Not to accept their insights is to stab ourselves in the spiritual heart.

I have been pondering this state of affairs for ages, ever since I married a man just the opposite of me in crucial ways. One answer I’ve found lies in the Wheel of Life, an ancient teaching that depicts six realms of consciousness all within samsara (relative reality). When we die, our spirit moves into a realm suited to our newly projected karma. Say, for instance, a woman is born with great mental, physical, intellectual gifts; instead of using them in a noble way, she turns into a con woman, stealing and lying to better her material prospects. The impersonal laws of karma may decide she needs to indulge herself even more in this low behavior, but only so she can get it permanently out of her system. And so, when she dies, her spirit may take the form of an animal, intent on survival and nothing else, willing to snatch the bone out of another’s mouth with no trace of remorse, because that is her level of consciousness. Only then is she allowed to return to the human realm.

05f8991e40ffbeafe3339dd626f1b684Another answer for me lies in realizing that some humans really do have massive blocks to self-investigation. They often leave a trail of destruction and corruption but, when they look back, they are totally unmoved, and may even believe themselves to be innocent and wonderful heroes. Consider serial killers who go to their deaths guilt-free, believing they did what was right, and unwilling to accept (despite monstrous and glaring evidence) that they have caused a lot of suffering. What is their fate when the great wheel makes another turn?

It is pure grace to be born with a refined conscience that takes all others (animals, birds, insects and our own kind, male and female) into consideration when we think, speak and act. Seeing how many lack this moral compass makes me grateful for the ethical standards I was brought up with, and which I seemed to naturally appreciate. However, I too definitely had phases when I went totally off the rails. And yet, even in my worst times, I was always sharply aware that I was in error and could not wait to get back to a state of peace (which involved clearing up all messes and resolving to be a better human).

The power and beauty of the 12-step program for me lies in the 4th step, which insists we perform a fearless and searching investigation on our entire lives. When we realize we have done wrong, we make careful and loving amends. The greatest amend is to vow not to repeat bad and hurtful behavior, and so we ascend naturally to a higher level of consciousness. Think of it like cleaning up a dirty kitchen before preparing a feast; that feast, in mystical terms, is union with the Inner Beloved, for whom we must be sparking clean and fresh before we can seek permanent fusion.

4c43e9597e348e32446dfe8c83a2d488Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to help us clear up all relative messes so we can realize ourselves as pure blazing light!

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MELTDOWN BEFORE RAMANA

c04882f649c6e4d6bfe4fc61b45a5306Those who know me well are aware that I have an abysmally low threshold for pain of any kind. I feel terrible, not just when I suffer, but when I see other beings going through hell, whether human, animal, avian or insect. This makes mundane life extremely difficult to handle. Bad enough we are thrust into a baffling matrix without our permission, and then, if we make it through childhood and adolescence despite our ten thousand scars and wounds, we are confronted by the callous and relentless monsters of old age and death. Ghastly situation to be thrust into, eh?

Buddha’s first noble truth (life is suffering) persuades most seekers to enter the inner path. But there is a way out, the great sage went on to say, and if we cannot find it in the seeming pleasures of the external world, then the answer must lie within us. This is how it was for me—I tried everything to gain peace and joy via external means, but was finally whipped into making a sharp turnaround into my own heart. Finally I began to realize that everything the sages said about the true source of happiness being within is indeed a great truth—which does not mean all the blinders fall off our mortal eyes instantly and we float in an ocean of bliss. The process can be rapid at times, but one often hits sharp bumps in the road and learns to pick oneself off the ground and get a move on, even if we can only hobble forward.

Yesterday was Day 6 following my close encounter with a nasty wooden door that almost killed my little toe. I actually did a little hatha yoga and drove into town thinking happily that, from here on, recovery would be quick. Not so. I felt drained and sluggish, and when I dragged myself to sit before Ramana’s gorgeous portrait in the Old Hall, I was an emotional mess. Physical suffering had weakened me greatly and I had a great flash of empathy for all those on the planet who grapple with chronic pain. I wondered again why we have to suffer at all. What is the point? I cried silently out to Ramana.

13e269e7dd2189555144fd97b22322e4Tears came in a rush and I was grateful that I had found a corner where I was shielded from curious eyes. I cried silently until the emotional storm passed and Ramana watched me, as he always does, with an inscrutable smile. Once again I marveled at how he had borne with the agony of cancer for two years before his emaciated body finally passed away. Then I thought of the brilliant comet that streaked upward from his room at the exact moment of his passing to unite with Arunachala. Many had witnessed this celestial occurrence.

And what about Nisargadatta? He was more voluble about his pain, but nevertheless, he taught until the very end and was his spectacular self all the way through. And then there is me, whining about being held hostage in the house and bemoaning the loss of my usual vibrant energy. Oh well, comparisons are odious, and as my old friend Subramania (I call him my Taoist sage) said to me today as we crossed paths in the Ashram, the emotional component of pain is the worst of all. Only rarely is a Ramana or a Nisargadatta born—the rest of us must muddle through.

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All that crying must have done me a world of good because later I felt amazingly light and bright. One day, as I used to sing to myself as I danced across the wooden floor of my Manhattan apartment, I will understand the cosmic mystery and exist in pure bliss. Until then, I allow myself to feel all my feelings even as I sink deeper into the substratum that is common to all beings and which is what unites all beings into Oneness. Advaita, it is true, is not two!

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who whips us when we least expect it, because he’s the omniscient master of the cosmos and knows exactly what will get us racing towards the light!

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BLIND TURTLE

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It took eons for mini-me to put her baggage down
On this speeding Moksha Train Bound for Bliss;
Impossible to express this tidal wave of gratitude
Surging up from my Spiritual Heart now that I AM
In your fiery embrace, O Arunachala!
 
Namaste for teaching me how to burn this false notion of separation!
Oh yes, I am aware of how tenderly and carefully
You sent situations and humans to me
With orders to shoot a special message into my heart;
Only because I was porous with the pain,
Your celestial arrows lodged firmly in that sacred space.
 
You taught me gratitude for every little thing, “good” and “bad;”
As if I were your own precious child,
Most of all for the astonishing gift of life.
As shining beings freely shared with me their timeless wisdom,
I learned about a Blind Turtle who rests on
The bed of an ocean the size of this cosmos,
The poor creature being allowed to rise to the surface
Only once in a hundred years.
 
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What chance of her wattled neck sliding up through
A wooden ring bobbing on the vast expanse of those choppy waters?
Slim, perhaps impossible; and yet, this great miracle has happened to all those committed
To freeing ourselves from Maya’s web of illusion.
 
You keep us moving bravely through
The often dense and terrifying darkness of samsara
By your divine assurance that once the fetters of the unreal fall off,
All that is left is the incandescent Self:
Blissful, immortal, loving, wise, fearless, connected to all beings.
 
Bhagavan RamanaHow can I thank you for loving me so intensely, O Holy Hill,
That you feel no compunction in shattering my final defenses,
Just so I can finally come to rest in the pure sunlight of Spirit?
 
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Also Check out – ARUNACHALA, NOT ABRACADABRA
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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.

You see, I have been expecting something big to happen. In the past couple of months, two of my American friends have died suddenly and unexpectedly—one of rabies (she was bit by a puppy in northern India and didn’t think she needed rabies injections, and another of cancer—thank god the end was quick.) And hard times have visited some close friends, troubling me in the process, because it is especially difficult to see those we love suffer. And ever since I have had this lingering and creepy feeling that something “bad” was heading my way. Don’t take me now, I would plead with Arunachala, please let me finish my work, and then I promise I’ll go happily and without a fuss. (This is the result of doing a simple death meditation every day for months before I left Manhattan for the Himalayas.)

FB_IMG_1494089545295It was my guru at the time who suggested I practice this simple analytical meditation on death, because I confided my fear of leaving a comfortable home to him, and he wanted to wake me up. Death meditation, contrary to what many think, is not morbid and depressing, no. Actually it wakes us up the preciousness of life and evokes gratitude for our many blessings. I am so glad it is one of the many great foundation stones of a solid training in Eastern philosophy. (Check out: Dying Every Single Day for Months in Manhattan… (May 1, 2015))

As any serious meditator might tell you, an inner knowing comes to some of us when we commit to the highest path that we are being protected. In my case, it’s an eerie feeling, as if invisible eyes are constantly watching over me and making sure I am safe. Sure enough, I have come close to the end several times here—I am a bit of a reckless driver and like speed, while Indian drivers are notorious for their lack of courtesy on the roads. In fact, the big trucks and buses one encounters on the highway are no better than massive speeding bullies that seem not to give a damn whether they, or their passenger/victims, live or die. What’s more, a couple of years ago, I was the first “foreigner” to see girl dead on the highway that skirts my home, a young and beautiful German girl on her way to visit a friend. So of course instantaneous death is well within the bounds of probability. (Check out: Appointment with Shiva… (Aug 30, 2014) ).

Life is infinitely precious and it makes me sad to see so many extraordinarily gifted and intelligent people spinning their wheels, trying to be rich and famous or materially successfully in an ephemeral world, when it is strikingly clear to genuine seekers that we get to keep nothing when we depart for another existence. How long does it take to digest this basic truth, I often wonder?

My friend tells me some of us are lucky to be born with this seed of mystical knowing—that our true nature is Spirit, and to focus solely on mere flesh and blood is to dramatically miss the point of incarnation. Perhaps he is right, and it is only old souls who have already gone through the samsaric grind who acknowledge that the real reason we incarnate is to burn our karma and to return to the light.

303537_3128548673069_1069126392_nEastern sages call this Maya, Lila, the game of the gods, because no finite human mind can figure out why higher powers would want to hurl us into this unholy mess of relative reality, often unarmed (lacking in wisdom), and therefore a danger to ourselves and others. There is little point seeking mental answers to this celestial issue. As I used to sing to myself long ago in Manhattan, don’t worry, darling, keep working at it and one day you will know everything.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us move decisively away from the false pleasures and traps of a changing world into that perfect and brilliant stillness that is our true nature!

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CELESTIAL SYNONYMS & COMMONALITIES. (For the seeker on the path of Jnana (Eastern wisdom))

FB_IMG_1463360088510I was born a wannabe jnani, incapable of the adoration/worship of gurus, temples and holy objects that many with a religious bent incline towards. Some may consider me supercilious, simply because I am not impressed by celebrities, nor the wealthy and gorgeous. But I am prone to immense love and admiration for those whose rare qualities catch my attention. Left to my own devices, I find a truth that sings to me and play with it until it begins to make sense to me. Then I carefully weave it into my worldview and use it as a tool to slice through all the mysteries life throws at us unwary humans.

Over the years, I have cobbled together a magnificent “view” for myself from the various Eastern traditions I have delved into. Buddhist teachers in particular consider a “view” essential to seeking freedom. Many seekers from non-Indian backgrounds are stumped by the sheer magnitude of Sanskrit words and terms they have to understand before they can create this Eastern “view” for themselves. Since, right from birth, I too was educated in English, I empathize. Both my parents were comfortable in the language of our oppressors and insisted we kids spoke English at home. My father was a raconteur; aware that fluency in English would help us to advance in the material world, he gave us Spelling Bees when we were teens, and turned us all into Scrabble fanatics (some of us can compete on the international level). So, although I did pick up a smattering of Eastern languages along the way, I shared the same problem as my foreign friends who were fascinated by the process of enlightenment or moksha but had to struggle to understand the initial concepts.

My main focus for a long time has been to burn the insidious sense of a separate “me” so I can melt permanently into the blissful and immortal Self. In quest of this goal, I went from one guru and teaching to another until I struck pure gold in the Advaita masters (Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj). Once I had a general map of reality that included the two great truths of Absolute and Relative reality, I knew I could find my way home. And since my way of learning is to absorb truth by reducing a teaching to an easily digestible nugget of gold, synonyms have become critically important to my comprehension.

FB_IMG_1456878290224Following are some important synonyms I came up with that for Absolute and Relative Reality that you may or may not agree with; I am no scholar, after all, but merely an ardent seeker. Take what you like and leave the rest. The finger can only point towards the moon, it is not the moon; when we work things out for ourselves, everything becomes fluid and easy to grasp and we advance rapidly into the Spiritual Heart.

ABSOLUTE:

Divine; Substratum; Shunyata; Parabhrahman; Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence-Awareness and Bliss); Perfect Brilliant Stillness (the title of David Carse’s amazing revelation of his own awakening), and the most intriguing one of all (for me)—Nisargadatta Maharaj’s allusion to the “deep dark blue state.”

RELATIVE:

Samsara; Mundane or Conventional Reality; the repetitive cycle of birth and death prior to enlightenment.

After years of intense practice and study, I also began to realize that the words Lila (play of the gods), Maya (cosmic enchantress) and Kundalini Shakthi (the serpent fire that rests at the base of the human spine and, when awareness starts to grow, rises into the Crown Chakra and beyond) are deeply interconnected divine sisters. And that the egoic system of body and mind, which springs into being from the I AM (a rebel spark that breaks free from the Absolute and begins to think of itself as a separate entity, impregnating the budding ego with this deadly virus of “I, me and mine”), cannot move a hairbreadth without their aid.

Paradoxically, all that we learn in this luminous area has to be jettisoned at some point, so we can walk light and free into the blissful cave of the heart. If we don’t make the effort to really grasp the meaning of these words, we may think we understand what the great gurus say, but our comprehension will not be rich and we will falter when we come to tricky bends on the narrow path inwards. Anyone can buy a carton of fresh cream, but the one who milks the cow and boils the milk to extract the cream relishes the product even more. (Vegans can find another example!)

The true guru rests in deep peace and bliss and has no need of what the false gurus of our planet demand from their seekers—money, fame, adulation, sex, mindless loyalty, etc. In fact the true guru just wants to be left alone to enjoy the bliss of his or her true nature. But, out of great compassion for those who do not possess the razor-like intellect and commitment to freedom that catapulted him into the Absolute, he shares his wisdom, hoping the ripe ones among us will become gurus themselves.

But no matter how loving and compassionate a guru may be, he or she cannot do our homework for us; as the great sages say, it takes great effort to reach the effortless state.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who represents the peak of awareness and guides us out of the jungle of delusion!

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