ONLY AS SICK AS WE ARE SECRET

ed54db0481b9c9836e19388d8ce6f3d0Anyone who has grown up in a traditional community knows that one is strongly urged to never speak about the skeletons rattling around in both individual and community closets. As for me, I was so open with strangers right from the get go that my conformist mother would warn me to hush. “Your big mouth will get you into trouble,” she’d say sternly. “There’s no need to tell everyone how you think or feel. If you continue like this, no one will marry you.” I would snigger, thrilled at the thought that this innate habit of frank communication would repel prospective partners who didn’t appreciate honesty. Life had thrown enough chains on me already—why on earth would I want one more?

My mother was wrong. My wildness drew people to me. But I had seen too much already to be dazzled by the usual courtship rituals and already horrified by what I saw happen to women who were outspoken and bold—the patriarchy crushed them, and the matriarchy colluded in this, for often it was mothers-and sisters-in-law who did their worst to make sure that any new woman who entered the fold was made to suffer dire consequences if she dared to rebel. Yes, I knew quite well that if I fell into that age-old trap of marrying into the community, driven by the twin needs of security and approval, sooner or later I would be in for 50 shades of hell. This is how I viewed the scenario anyway and it led me to marry out of my community and move to Manhattan; now that marriage did not survive either, because we were driven by different value systems—in simple terms, he loved money more than honesty  and for me honesty always came first— but that is a story for another day. Continue reading

Two Great Truths of Absolute and Relative Reality

SHIVA AND SHAKTI TANTRA

In my volatile teens, I was struck by the poignant beauty of an ancient metaphor (contained within the Mundaka Upanishad) that speaks of two birds perched on the branch of a tree: one bird eats the fruit of the tree while the other watches.

The first bird represents the individual self/soul; distracted by the fruits (signifying sensual pleasures), she forgets her lord and lover and tries to enjoy the fruit independent of him. (This separating amnesia is known in Sanskrit as maha-maya or enthrallment; it results in the plunge of the individual into the ephemeral realm of birth and death.) As for the second bird, it is an aspect of the Divine/Self that rests in every heart—and which remains forever constant even as the individual soul is bedazzled by the material world.

This teaching implies that it is ignorance of our true nature that creates a vicious cycle: the individual, being blinded by the illusion of existing as a separate entity, has no option but to act—and therefore fresh misery is piled on the old. But the Absolute is whole and free of illusion; performing no actions it is not bound by karma.  Continue reading

Terms of Enlightenment

final12A team of attorneys I once worked for in Manhattan specialized in the purchase and sale of aircraft between countries. Transactions often involved a slew of lawyers from different corners of the world and required that the legal team as a whole put together a set of documents so an aircraft could be properly transferred from Seller to Buyer: Escrow, Contract, Sale, Purchase, blah blah blah.

Since definitions of important terms differed slightly from country to country, and because even minor misunderstandings could lead to serious problems as the deal meandered on, the first order of business was for these lawyers to pool their definitions of relevant terms. When agreement on the meaning of terms was reached, a document would be created that would stay in place for the entire deal.

The document listing these agreed-upon definitions was known as the Definition of Termsand only when it was finalized did the deal take off into the stratosphere. During the transaction (which could go on for months or even years), members on the transaction team could easily clarify confusions regarding specific terms by referring to this key document. Continue reading

And Mirabai Sang the Blues…1 of 3

Meerabai_painting-wikimedia-commons-orgSix hundred years or so ago in the fabled land of Rajasthan, Home of Kings, Princess Mira blossomed under the benevolent guidance of her grandfather. Many versions of her amazing life in 14th century India abound; this particular retelling is not to please the historian or the scholar, for I am neither, but merely to give you a sweet taste of the soul of an exceptional female who transformed both her inner and outer worlds.

Mira was exquisitely lovely, talented and intelligent; her life was a sparkling tapestry of everything a young royal could dream of. Aware of her unusual potential, her grandfather encouraged Mira to immerse herself not just in the scriptures and in the art of making superb music, but also to acquire the skills of archery, fencing, horseback-riding and chariot-driving, for that was a time of frequent war.

At fourteen, Mira was persuaded to marry Rana Kumbha of Mewar, who adored Mira not just for her beauty but for her passionate love of god. Mira could well have lived out her life as just another of India’s pampered royals; instead her unflinching passion for the Blue God in the face of the hostility she faced from her in-laws—for refusing to abandon Krishna for the family deity Goddess Durga, for befriending holy men, and for proclaiming the Blue God as her true husband—gradually metamorphosed her into a mighty exponent of Prema Bhakti (Divine Love). Today, six centuries after her death, Mirabai is famed as an inspired poet-saint whose tender odes to Krishna have endeared her for all time to the Indian masses. Continue reading