FOX & DEMONS

4b2c8bc7f1869ccbf64a10955f1f61ddIn my teens, someone gave me a black hardcover book with many of its pages loose, as I recall, and I found that I simply could not put it down. The author was Emmet Fox, a New Thought spiritual leader of the early 20th century, famous for his large Divine Science church services held in New York City during the Great Depression. I realized I was reading pure mystical material that thrilled me in some primeval way. One fascinating subject that Fox spoke of was the protective sheaths that all humans are born with. He claimed that, when we stray from our true nature (which is love), we blast holes in these invisible sheaths through which discarnate entities can enter and make their homes within. Gradually, these entities (you can think of them as deadly viruses) cause unimaginable havoc. They do their work mainly by separating us from the knowing that our essence is the blissful and immortal Self.

Discarnate entities, you say? What are those? Well, let me answer you like this: Almost every evening when I travel to the Ashram, I pass one or more funeral processions making their way to some burning ground or the other. The locals celebrate these deaths in oddly primitive ways, by bursting crackers and dancing wildly in front of the slow heavily flower-garlanded vehicle that carries the corpse. Apparently this is to let the spirit know that it is not safe to return to this realm, and to speed it on its way to another realm of consciousness. Something like this anyway.

Now imagine for a moment who these dead people might be—for sure, not all of them have reached the end of their lives peacefully and are relieved to leave their bodies. Many are wrested away, without their permission, from full and busy lives, from wives, parents, children and work. When Death comes with a sure tread and the earth game is temporarily over, we may protest, but to no avail, for no one can deny the superior might of Lord Yama, the Grim Reaper, who throws his deadly noose over his victim and relentlessly drags the spirit away.

It is these restless spirits who hover around the earth plane, unwilling to leave before finishing their work, or simply lost, disoriented and confused. And if they find a weak and unprotected human, they immediately fly in and start to nest. Ah, now they have a way to continue to live on this plane of reality, and even better, the poor human has absolutely no clue that there has been a hostile takeover.

pw_ga_Ganga_200So how does one unknowingly blast holes in protective sheaths? Well, there are many explanations, but simply put, we do this when the egoic self, the relative and finite self, expands out of all proportion and forgets that it is merely a servant of Spirit. The sense of separation in these people is so strong and convincing that they appear to exist above and beyond all other beings, in a world of their own, their only driving urge being to feed and gratify this growing monster of mini-me, in one way or another. Often they have a bottomless hunger to acquire the ephemeral goodies of this world, but it is not just things they want to acquire, but other weak humans too, just to reassure themselves of their own worth, and no matter the harm done to others. In this quest to be superior, they will often do anything, and so leave a shocking wake of destruction. Only a few are exempt from their caustic effects, say those connected to them by blood, however, and yet in the long run even these beings are negatively impacted, for the discarnate entity can only survive on prana (the vital essence of a living human); when its original host is drained, it moves on to feed on those in the immediate vicinity.

Is this woman completely mad? you might be thinking. Has she finally lost the plot? No, let me assure you I have not. I am merely opening up to you in a new way, revealing what I mostly keep hidden from the mundane world for obvious reasons. In fact, I write spiritual fiction, and have just completed the Moksha Trilogy (only the third of these three novels is yet to be published). The first deals with the demon invasion on an ancient civilization, the second deals with a psychopath (severe mental/emotional disease is the first result of being possessed) and the third too deals with demons, but in a different way, as when lower consciousness gets so strong that it turns essentially fine humans into monsters.

Now, if you look carefully at all the major religions, as well as old religions that are shamanistic in nature, you might see that the spirit world dominates. Right outside my home lives a shaman to whom the locals flock. Almost every day I see him chasing spirits away with herbs and smoke and incantations. Some things never change! I have also seen these entities myself, and witnessed their operation in others. (Most super-empaths have extraordinary senses and it is not difficult to spot when things are off.)

0d272b3f771e00afeabb9300dbfbc969A true story for you: one of my friends in Manhattan had a guru who was a beautiful woman from the Far East. He showed me a photo of her when she was young and I was blown away: classically lovely with a serene face and dressed in dazzling white. A few years later, I watched a video of her and couldn’t believe it was the same teacher. This woman was crazy, wild, loose in her sexual and financial morals (as I heard from reliable sources), and given to public fits and tantrums. Someone told me that her teacher had been a venerable Chan master, so I went to a monastery and spoke to an erudite Buddhist about her. He was reluctant to say a lot, but he did give me more than enough to chew on. He said the woman had begun her spiritual quest at a very young age and was clearly destined for greatness, as evidenced by the remarkable disciple and intelligence she showed in pursuit of her goal. One day years later she had had an experience that convinced her she was enlightened, but when she told her guru about it, he warned her to continue her practice until her ego was completely burned to ashes.

She got furious with him, and accused him of hating women and wanting to keep them down. She left the order and began to attract a large following, but soon her disciples started to get worried because she was changing before their eyes. Yes, this pure woman was turning into a rambunctious harridan; apart from other alarming signs of degeneration, she would burst into loud peals of laughter in the middle of a talk and had begun to worship money.

I don’t know what happened to her, but I do hope she sought the help of her old master and is now free. That would be ideal, of course, but in many cases, the victim dies in thrall. And then the nightmare continues into other lifetimes until the spirit once again resurrects itself and begins the real journey to light again.

Seekers are especially prone to demonic attack, simply because the inner light and the prana are strong, which is why we must take extraordinary measures to keep ourselves safe. How do we protect ourselves? It’s really quite simple. First, we find a teacher who is light itself and commit to him or her, heart and soul. We become intensely aware of how powerful our thoughts, words and actions are, and monitor them carefully. If we mess up, as humans generally do, we quickly make amends. We put our inner journey first and realize more and more deeply that nothing external can give us the peace and joy we seek. All of this increases our inner light. At some point we grow so strong and luminous that no demon or discarnate entity will dare to approach us, and now we can finish our awesome work, which is become the blazing light itself and a beacon to those still lost in Maya’s mesmerizing dream.

f8e343d61812b9ed788f57f46ce5d4c6Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who, Himself the Lord of all Demons (Ganas), can guide us through the most dangerous thickets and into the eternal sunlight of our Spirit!

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PLAYING DEAD

Featured Image -- 9732Venkatraman was born into a middle-class south Indian family. One day, while still in school, he was consumed by a terrible fear of death. Instead of running to the frig for an ice-cream or a snack, or turning on some wild music or the television to distract him from his dread of the unknown, he lay down and simulated being dead. In a short while, he realized that even if his body were to dissolve back into the elements, his spirit would survive, for it was immortal and blissful. The fire of wisdom (jnana) burned down his relative self completely and he emerged from this experience as a fully awakened sage.

Many years later, a great man threw himself at the feet of the young sage; when Ramana answered a question that had been bedeviling him, and in such a way that his confusion cleared immediately, Ganapati Muni conferred upon him the title of Ramana Maharshi (which means, Ramana, the Great Sage).

Mundane life is so compelling in its appearance of reality that often we never transcend body, mind, emotions or who we are convinced we are in the external world. In other words, we fall irrevocably in love with a false identity, which is merely a covering for our Spirit. So playing dead has its uses, for a corpse has no identity and therefore the underlying truth of our existence can be experienced.

Someone recently sent me this incredible saying by a Chan master:

“Beyond meditation practice, there is attitude. A beginner must learn to cultivate what is called, “the poise of a dying man”. What is this poise? It is the poise of knowing what is important and what is not, and of being accepting and forgiving. Anyone who has ever been at the bedside of a dying man will understand this poise. What would the dying man do if someone were to insult him? Nothing. What would the dying man do if someone were to strike him? Nothing. As he lay there, would he scheme to become famous or wealthy? No. If someone who had once offended him were to ask him for his forgiveness would he not give it? Of course he would. A dying man knows the pointlessness of enmity. Hatred is always such a wretched feeling. Who wishes to die feeling hatred in his heart? No one. The dying seek love and peace. ~Chan Master Hsu-Yun

If we are wise, we will contemplate the fact that, at some point, without our permission, and usually without warning, our body and mind will dissolve back into the elements. At the second of physical death, all our assets and possessions are forgotten and left behind. Perhaps only then will we realize with a shock that all the negative emotions we have harbored while embodied, propelled by egoic fear and desire, are mere toxic phantoms that have led us astray. Unfortunately it will be too late, for once again we are at the mercy of powerful karmic forces and we have no power to determine what karma will be projected from our mountainous accretion to create our next incarnation. But, if today we accept that our true nature is nothing less than pure-existence, awareness and bliss (another name for love), then we can bring that realization into our lives today and walk confidently towards the blazing light.

Kiri 16GB sd card 6428Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us as we walk the narrow path that leads into the heart of cosmic love!

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TWO GREAT WINGS OF WISDOM & COMPASSION

f92f7dea9f17b0dbcc31e5be036538d6A friend told me yesterday that he’d watched a graphic video set in some Muslim country, sorry, I don’t recall which one. Apparently a woman burned a Koran and was caught in the act by a bunch of raging fundamentalists. She was then publicly stoned, mutilated and battered to death. (Now, even if she felt compelled to do this for some excellent reason, I wondered horrified, why let anyone know? Some things truly boggle my imagination.) Anyway, her murder was caught by a photographer, who put his video up on the net, where it went viral. In one word, gruesome; only demons could behave like this.

Hypersensitive as I am, I could not bear to listen to the whole wretched story, but I was curious to know how he had felt as he watched it. He said that, due to a powerful metaphysical experience he had recently undergone, his entire way of viewing reality has changed. So he had viewed the terrible scene with equanimity, knowing the entire script was written in the flaming alphabet of karma.

I was not impressed by his calm simply because he was describing the dispassionate view of the sage, who sees all the hidden codes that spark off relative reality, and is therefore not bothered by the burning questions of the un-enlightened. But the genuine sage combines this wisdom with incredible compassion—not just for the victim, but for the aggressor/s, who possibly have no clue that what goes around is bound to come around, and that the ghastly abuse of that poor woman will, sooner or later, be their own fate, multiplied, when the karmic pendulum swings back with a vengeance.

I love Ramana Maharshi for a host of reasons. One major one is that, despite being able to read all the codes that generate relative reality, he still felt immense love for all beings, and especially for animals, who approached him with their problems and viewed him like a generous and loving father. There are hundreds of stories of his unbelievably sweet bond with all kinds of animals and birds, and every time I read one, tears spring to my eyes. In fact, when he was in the last stages of a painful cancer and about to die, he said: have the peacocks been fed?

When I make a close friend, I look for two traits working in tandem: intelligence combined with sweetness or kindness/compassion. I am repulsed by the cold intelligence of those who smugly claim they can watch the intense suffering of our world with equanimity. Some swear they love animals, for instance, but will simultaneously wound their human friends/mates with a variety of deceptions and broken promises. Is this not a shocking lack of empathy? Advaita is not two, and this means that love is not portioned out to this one, and not that one, no matter their outer form, but to all beings, spontaneously and without expectation of return. The Buddhists remind us that a great eagle needs two wings to fly—one being wisdom, the other compassion. Wisdom alone can be cold and callous, while compassion minus a comprehension of the nature of both absolute and relative reality can easily go the wrong way.

In eastern terms, every single thing that happens is the result of past karma (thought, speech and action), but that does not mean we cannot feel empathy for those in pain, and then do everything we can to assuage their anguish (although we are strongly advised not to ourselves veer off course while doing so). If we take care of ourselves, then we will be in a position to be there for others. And in Advaitic terms, as Ramana Maharshi so simply stated, finally, there are no others.

7adac95dac171651b6e56832bc16c17aGreetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who blasts open our spiritual heart so that we realize our Oneness with all beings!

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Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide: 4/4

FB_IMG_1463360088510My intense emotional reactions to suffering often paralyzed me into depression. By the time I was in my teens, I already knew that in order to survive, I would have to make peace with the patriarchy. The concept of brawn over brain seemed to have distorted the collective psyche, for everywhere, among rich and poor, educated and illiterate, I saw perverted masculinity. Instead of cherishing their womenfolk, many men viewed their own sisters, wives and daughters as rivals to be diminished and trounced, and sp they smashed feminine self-esteem to smithereens. As a result, sexual union was often reduced to the usurpation of the female body, and marriage, in many cases, to no more than a legal form of rape.

Fortunately, in my late teens I stumbled onto the priceless tools of eastern philosophy. Focusing on the theories of karma and reincarnation, I trained myself to apply this spiritual knowledge to all situations. My intent was to restore myself to peace so I could get on with life. Soon everything really did begin to fall into place. Contrary to mainstream thinking, karmic software is not designed to punish; instead it throws abusers into situations where perpetrator becomes victim. Gradually we come to see that each of us perceives but a fragment of the cosmic picture; ultimately there is no separation and we are truly one. This process evokes empathy and the melting of destructive patterns, and therefore karma is our friend, for it helps us evolve.

We also learn to question our instinctive perceptions. We may see a husband striking his wife, for instance, and be gripped by a terrible anger; however, not being omniscient, we cannot see the events (in this or past incarnations) that preceded this beating. Perhaps the woman being brutalized has brutalized; the molested child has molested; the honest man reduced to poverty by a ruthless rival has himself been a lethal shark. None of which means that we should stand by passively and watch evil being done; on the contrary! Humans of integrity must always be willing to protect the weak, the gullible and the innocent, even while accepting that there is more to any picture than meets the eye; in simple words, when we step in to help, we must do so as instruments of the Divine, and not from the limited ego.

IMG-20170321-WA0001In an ideal world, man and woman would consider each other equal but different. A couple is much stronger when their bond is energized by respect, love, harmony and co-operation. As for those who commit themselves to celibacy, they too must find ways to unite male and female aspects within themselves. For both the committed couple and the celibate, Tantra is one teaching that offers a variety of profound solutions.

The human race appears to have oscillated between diametrically opposed archetypes—absolute patriarchal power, and the holistic paradigm of ancient cultures, where male and female are revered as divine halves of a whole. Sex alone can never satiate the human soul; what is called for is the intimate bonding of equals and mutual appreciation. In so empowering each other, man is encouraged to grow into awesome grandeur, and woman reclaims her sacred role as primal healer. If we are to transform prevalent disturbing male-female equations, each of us must first become aware of the insidiously deep layers of conditioning that have seeped into the collective subconscious. Then we must shine our torch fearlessly onto our own dysfunctional views of the opposite sex and melt the blocks within our own psyches. To refine one’s own self, as one of my gurus said, is to refine our experience of the world. And while it can be agonizing to use the mind to unearth embedded the subconscious codes that block us from giving and receiving joy, the rewards can be rich.

Bhagavan RamanaFor those who wish to begin this herculean task, I recommend seeking out an authentic form of meditation—such as Atma-Vichara (Self-investigation), the direct path to higher consciousness as taught by Ramana Maharshi. Direct investigation into one’s true nature has the power to dissolve all relative darkness, along with the countless fear-based separations humans automatically set up as barriers between self and other. After all, in the realm of the Absolute we are neither man nor woman, ugly nor beautiful, young nor old, rich nor poor, intelligent nor dumb; instead, we are the perfect manifestation of one single energy, whose ground is the incandescent Divine.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who destroys all that blocks us from knowing we are the immortal and blissful Self!

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Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide: 3/4

236b5bffa3aec42a4dafbe6ef9a84e94Another little tale: Noor, a slender Muslim girl with a sexy overbite, joined my school as a senior. Rumor had it that she’d been expelled from her old school for hanging out with boys. Pretty Noor was clearly lacking in the brains department and soon she was back to her old tricks—Lotharios on fast motorbikes and slicked-back pompadour hair would pick her up at the school gate at the start of lunch break and rush back with her, grinning shamelessly, just before the bell rang for afternoon class. What they managed to do in so short a time boggles the imagination.

Years went by and I was in college. One day, strolling down the main drag of our suburban neighborhood, a woman waved at me from the doorway of one of the new houses that had mushroomed all around us. Garbed in purdah, carrying an infant in her arms, she did not look like anyone I would know. Curious, I walked across and recognized the overbite—yes, it was Noor! As she plied me with tea and pistachio barfi, she told me her father had forced her to marry right after school. Her husband was a businessman who treated her like dirt—because, she admitted sadly, he was aware of her wicked past. He’d agreed to marry her only because of the huge dowry her father had offered. She pointed to a photo of her husband and herself on the mantelpiece; I bit my lip: just a few days ago, this same fellow had stopped his car as I walked down the road and, with a lecherous smirk, had asked if I’d join him for a beer at Bangalore Club.

If this sort of stuff happens in the higher echelons, what do you think happens to, say, women servants? Let me tell you about the strapping driver employed by a friend of mine. After work, the fellow would visit one of his five mistresses—each of whom had been abandoned by her husband. The woman would fry up spicy chicken livers to go with the country liquor to which he was addicted, but if she dared to pick a fight, he’d up and leave, sticking four fingers in the air—the message was this: hey, woman, if you don’t like me just the way I am, there are four others right now who’ll take me in! 

6cfa74207d9988dbbdc3a2b428999120Deepa Mehta, one of our finest film-makers, was asked why she thought the attitude towards women in India is so depressingly ugly. “Patriarchy,” she retorted succinctly. “We’ve always felt that the girl child is worth nothing and should in fact be aborted even before she is born. The boy can do no wrong. If the girl is treated as a sub-human, or the boy is raised to believe he can do no wrong, then this is what will happen.” But India was not always this way. What happened? My own elliptical quest for answers led me to partially blame Manu, author of the Manava Dharma-shastra (dates for the creation of this text vary from 1500 BCE to 500 AD) for tossing the Indian gender ball down the hill. Some say Manu compiled the laws at the request of ten great sages following a great flood; others claim he was given the sacred laws by Brahma the Creator himself, rendering the Manusmriti divine. Whatever the truth, Manu was no democrat, for the Brahmin (highest caste) was accorded near divine status while the Sudra (lowest caste) was denigrated and reviled. The Manusmriti specified light fines and penalties for Brahmin offenders and these punishments increased in severity for warriors, farmers, and serfs.

Manu’s views on women in particular make me shudder. Woman, he pronounced, was inept, inconsistent, and prone to sensuality. Therefore he deemed her unfit to exercise individual rights. As an infant, she was to be placed under the dominion of her father; as a wife, she was to be subservient to her husband; as a mother, to her sons; if widowed in her youth, she was never to marry again; if her husband was an adulterous rogue, she was still bound to consider him equal to God; while she could share in the wealth of the family, her wages were never to exceed half of a man’s wages for the same labor; and worst of all, she was prohibited from studying the sacred scriptures or participating in important social functions. I am not surprised that Dr. Ambedkar burnt the Manusmriti in public. Born into the lowest caste himself, this brilliant man who battled unimaginable odds to rise to his eminent position, and who crafted the Indian Constitution, would have had excellent reason to do so. I only wish I had been there to dance around that particular funeral pyre.

The good news is that Manu’s influence was not as profound as it might have been. Indians, bless our hearts, can be notorious law-breakers; many, I am sure, scorn Manu’s code for its evil in rigidifying the once liberal caste system and for its misogyny. In fact, right up to about the eleventh century, Indians were a free-thinking lot with a healthy sexual outlook. Take a look at the Kamasutra (The Art of Love-Making), where union between the sexes is elevated to an unparalleled art form. In those golden days, Indian women were free to choose their own partners and men vied with each other to win their hearts in a tradition known as swayamvara. As for the amazing temples of Khajuraho and Konarak, they depict the art of sexuality in both its proud eroticism as well as its transcendental spirituality. Nor was it just sexual freedom that our maidens enjoyed—Gargi, Maitreyi, Leelavati and Lopamudra engaged in spirited philosophical and political debate. As for Mirabai, a fourteenth century Rajput Princess whose heart-melting songs of adoration for the Blue God Krishna are still sung all over India, she  wriggled free of a rigid and entrenched patriarchy to become an icon for the liberation of all women.

Kiri 16GB sd card 6243-1Certainly the Shakti Cult was responsible for providing women with a multitude of freedoms. Predating the Hindu faith, it was based on the sacred union of male and female as the balancing forces in the Universe. Male represented the physical manifestation of the “Divine”, while female represented Shakti, or non-material energy. Adherents of this path treated all females as personifications of Nature—a notion which echoes eco-feminism in new-age terminology. And so ancient India glorified polyandrous Draupadi with her five Pandava husbands, and extolled Mandodari, wife of the demon-king Ravana, who married her brother-in-law Vibhishana after her husband’s death. Tara wed Sugriva after the death of Bali and Kunti had pre-marital sex. All these women were considered noble, and rightly so, for they were exceptional humans. As for the Mahabharata, it provides proof that far from being considered a mundane pleasure, sexuality had entered the dimension of the sacred.

Then Muslim hordes invaded India and ruled for almost six hundred years. Hindus ordered their women to stay indoors, fearing the hot eyes of their Muslim rulers. And, as ugly fear-based patriarchal values took over, the mutual respect, friendship and love forged between our men and women dissolved into the fear and suppression we so often see today.

7293fc79f579a35ec9fc884aa6b3cadf-2Sex is a creative energy bestowed on all living creatures and inextricably aligned to the level of consciousness. Since humans have the highest degree of consciousness, sex occupies a vital place in human inner consciousness and is therefore more than a self replicating process. All ancient civilizations performed fertility rituals to celebrate the energy of the elemental Universe; indeed it is through the body that both body and mind can be transcended, for orgasmic ecstasy suspends the body and elevates consciousness. (To be continued in the next post).

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who destroys all that blocks us from knowing we are the immortal and blissful Self.

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Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide: 2/4

279dbfcf2cba52b1ecbc23c53cf96b95As I moved into my teen years, I sought out friends who equally dreaded being thrust into the marriage market—to be assessed in terms of dowry, fair complexions, domestic skills, and the ability to please husband and in-laws. (While the practice of dowry has been illegal for decades now, women are harassed, even burned to death, if their families are unable to satiate greedy in-laws. In some cases, a man marries, gets a good dowry, kills his bride in collusion with his mother, and gets away with it, either by bribing the cops or by faking a credible accident—whereupon he goes bride-hunting again.)

During summer holiday afternoons while the rest of my family was taking their siesta, I’d creep out to pay impromptu visits to my girlfriends in the hood. Inside their bedrooms, with the fan going full blast, we’d giggle and gossip as we gorged on sweets and savories. One family I befriended were Himachali Brahmins who had settled in Bangalore. The husband spent his time slumbering or seated cross-legged on the living room couch, perusing the papers or some crappy thriller. His wife was a good-looking and industrious woman, a Hindu fanatic and Sanskrit scholar who ran the household with iron efficiency and was tough on everyone but her indolent husband. All he had to do was crook a little finger—demanding chai or that she clean his ears or trim his finger and toenails—and she’d run to obey.

Unfortunately “Uncle” took a weird shine to me. One afternoon I dropped in on the family, unaware that the girls were away visiting relatives. Uncle opened the door, summoned me over to his couch and handed me a paperback novel. He pointed to a paragraph. “Read this out to me, please,” he ordered. Vain as I was, I began to read in a loud voice, showing off my perfect diction. It was a Harold Robbins book, and the section he’d chosen described the heroine being banged silly by the smoldering hero. Innocent as I then was, I still knew an older man asking a thirteen-year old to read soft porn to him was hideously wrong. In seconds, I was red-faced and stuttering. Uncle took a firm grasp of my arm to prevent me from escaping. I was doing so very well, he crooned; he was so enjoying my reading. Just then his wife entered the room. With a rude flick of a hand, he ordered that proud woman out. I wriggled out of his grasp, flung the book on the floor, and hurtled out into the hot afternoon, feeling an ugly mix of guilt and shame and rage.

9e4db9873c00799c674eaa9df76ed47aKnowing I’d be blamed, I was reluctant to confide what had happened to anyone in my family. Who asked you to go there in the first place? I could hear my mother shriek. Weren’t you supposed to be sleeping? WhatYou jumped over the wall again? You are utterly shameless and deserve everything you get! You see? Already I was aware that in the world I inhabited, the female of the species would be the eternal scapegoat. Had I complained, a variation of that old song would have been sung: “Don’t blame meShe was wearing a red dress, and so I raped her.”

On the street parallel to our home lived a Rajput family. Rajputs are a fierce and beautiful race, originators of Sati, the ancient and hideous practice of urging a wife to leap on to her husband’s funeral pyre—for what is a woman worth without a man, anyway? Better to burn baby burn, and get all the endless abuse to which a widow is subjected out of the way once and for all. Never mind that in thousands of cases the dead husband was a doddering old fart, and the wife a young girl led to marital slaughter by virtuous parents. Duty and honor were considered paramount, and a “good” woman was urged to end her life when her man was gone. Those who refused were drugged, thrown onto the funeral pyre, and drums were beaten loud and hard to drown out their shrieks.

Now Lakshmi, youngest of three daughters born to this family, committed the mortal sin of falling in love with the attractive son of a local Muslim building contractor. Traditionally speaking, the Rajputs and the Muslims are arch enemies; so, when some spiteful gossip leaked the information to Lakshmi’s parents, her father, an important man in the community, went bonkers: Lakshmi was pulled out of college, given a whipping, and placed under house arrest. Shocked, a bunch of us neighborhood kids held a pow-pow to which we invited Shaukat, her grieving lover. Since I was considered the bravest, it was decided that I would find out what was going on. Next morning we waited until her father’s car drove out of their house. Armed with a letter from her swain hidden in my bag, I walked in through her gate and rang the house bell. Her mother, a darkly pretty woman from a village near Jaipur who spoke no English, opened the door, probably thinking I was a salesman. I pushed past her and raced up the stairs to find Lakshmi, who had spied me entering the gate through her window, standing at the door to her bedroom. Quickly I slipped her the love letter and tried valiantly to control my tears—for in the space of days, her eyes were swollen with crying and her lovely face was covered with pimples. In a low dramatic voice I delivered Shaukat’s romantic oath—that he would rescue her and make her his bride. The light that shone through her stark misery made me want to cry even more.

e5a9d684e0fb9c4db5f10eaa9cae51c9Like Rajput heroines of yore, Lakshmi was amazingly resilient. She managed to convince her father—in truth, a kind man who simply could not break free of the old ways—that she had “reformed”. Then, three years later, exactly a day past her twenty-first birthday, she simply disappeared from the house, leaving behind all the expensive gifts her parents had given her. A note sat on her bed: “You gave me everything material,” it read in true Bollywood style, “but not my heart’s desire.” Her father drove frantically over to Shaukat’s house. “Where’s that bastard?” he screamed in Hindi at the servant woman who stood by their gate. The old thing spat a stream of red betel juice over the wall. “Gone,” she announced with a shrug. “Nobody here. All gone Shaukat marriage.” More than a decade later, on my annual vacation from Manhattan, I bumped into Lakshmi’s brother on Commercial Street. “How are things with Lakshmi? I asked anxiously. “Fine,” he replied with a grin. “They have three kids—two boys and a girl. Dad relented and invited them home after their third baby. Now both our families are friends.” A fairy-tale ending? Yes, but then Lakshmi was patient and cunning and Shaukat never gave up—and perhaps the Muslims wanted to teach the proud Rajputs a lesson. Most such situations would have ended in depression, murder or suicide. (To be continued in the next post).

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who destroys all that blocks us from knowing we are the immortal and blissful Self!

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Shiva’s Spectacular Gender Divide: 1/4

WWG-Small-TrilogyIn the Manhattan winter of 1992, I dreamed about writing an epic set in a mythical civilization ruled by Rudra-Siva, the great god of paradox, and infused with the beauty of Tantra. Somehow, I intuited that the Wild God himself would spark my dream into roaring life; believe it or not, this is what happened twenty years later, under the shadow of Arunachala, the hill considered by millions to be the form taken by Shiva in order to help seekers dissolve back into the immortal and blissful Self.

While researching this novel, I came upon an ancient saying in the Tantras that goes something like this: When Shiva set his seal upon this world, he cleaved it into male and female; when male and female come together in sacred union, Shiva blesses them with the bliss of Oneness. Whether depicted as Ardhaniswara (half-man, half-woman), or in his contrasting roles of ascetic and hedonist, I knew this union referred to more than the conventional man-woman nexus. Shiva’s point is clear: in order to be whole, male and female must unite, and this can take place either in a celibate who seeks to unite these polarities in his or her own being, or in the matrix created by a spiritual couple.

As an Indian woman born into a multi-tiered society, I began to mull over why all male-dominated cultures had turned into raging gender battlefields. Since each of us is bound to have a unique take on the often subterranean gender wars that have ruined the fabric of our existence, I can speak only for myself and the way I learned to “see.” My home was dysfunctional, as most homes over the planet are, whether on the surface or deep in the bowels of core relationships; the tacit understanding that men ruled the roost permeated our domestic atmosphere. A brilliant and charismatic man who enthralled our guests with his easy raconteuring, his rage could incinerate, while his scathing tongue could eviscerate. Despite his liberal attitude towards educating all his children, my father was the undisputed patriarch and none of us, least of all my dutiful mother, dared challenge him.

Kiri 16GB sd card 4418Our society was studded with double-standards that applied to every aspect of our lives, and yet most women seemed to have accepted their lot. Some were born docile and did not rebel against playing second, third or nth fiddle; others were born under a lucky star—their men were sympathetic and pliable and life was good; still others toed the line because they had no option: since they were not encouraged to fend for themselves, existence could be pure hell if they incurred male ire.

The Indian patriarchy, like all virulent cancers, has a gazillion ways of perpetuating itself. One major trap: every married woman is urged to have children as soon as possible. The pressure is so enormous that many sink into depression when this does not happen. (Read: May You Be The Mother Of A Hundred Sons, by Elisabeth Bumiller). And once children come, so does slavery; burdened by hungry mouths to feed, at the mercy of menfolk who hold firmly on to the family purse-strings, women have even less time to challenge the patriarchy. And God forbid a wife should dare to complain about an abusive husband! If you are one such, you risk being called a “shrew”, a bitch, or even a “ghodi” (horse, a fast and therefore bad woman) or even ostracized.

Featured Image -- 9585While my father wanted his children to become doctors and diplomats, he firmly believed in the institution of arranged marriage. This was ahated prospect that hung over my mutinous head like a sword of Damocles, and I’d grumble to my mother that there was little point in educating us if we were going to be shoved into marriage and forced to have one kid after another. “How can you decide who I should live with, sleep with, cook for the rest of my life?” “Be a good girl,” she’d warn. “If you’re lucky, your husband will let you do what you want. Love comes after, not before marriage.” The word “good” was thrown at us so often that I cringed to hear it. What about being an original, excellent, humane, exciting, creative, and liberal human being? As for bad girls, they were warned that the entire family would suffer on their account—after all, which decent family would permit their children to marry into a family that harbored a single bad seed? And so emotional blackmail was thrown into the simmering witches’ cauldron of double standards. (To be continued in the next post).

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who destroys all that blocks us from knowing we are the immortal and blissful Self!

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A LEGEND IN HER OWN MIND  

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fb_img_1483263162986Last night I had one of my long dreams—often they are complete stories and quite fascinating in their twists and turns. The star of this one was a woman I know who, by dint of hard work and her husband’s ability to take enormous financial risks, has moved up from a lower economic status to become a multi-millionaire. Unfortunately, although she maintains a simple façade, she is blown away by her own rise; although she continues to be miserly and harsh in her treatment of the poor and the sick, she will not fail to let you know that she and her family have been specially favored by the material gods.

In this dream, she was a great dancer and the members of her family were her greatest fans. I too was mightily impressed by the performance she put on for us at her opulent home, simply because I did not see her as an artiste. After the show, I mentioned that I would have to practice hard for the show I was planning to give, whereupon her husband admonished me sternly, warning me that I should not aspire to greatness, since talent like his wife’s was rare. His children seconded his warning with somber nods. Continue reading

A RADICAL POINT OF VIEW

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fc5f42ebd9cde2880ecba45f83338027There’s a middle-aged sadhu here in Tiruvannamalai whom I often give a ride to on my way to and from the Ashram. He’s skinny, bespectacled and a speed walker; he foots it everywhere, from morning to night, getting his free food at the various Ashrams, and then finding a quiet place to do his meditation and study. He tells me he practices yoga everyday too, and most passionately. In his frayed shoulder bag he carries cheap packets of biscuits and feeds the stray dogs he encounters on his daily travels. I’ve known him now for close to eight years now and he tells me he prays for me every single day, which makes me inordinately happy.

Recently he mentioned that he felt enormously blessed to be able to do what he does. Penniless and dependent on the largesse of local Ashrams for his sustenance and clothes (he wears only an ochre lungi), he is always happy and grateful. Laughing like a child, he told me why: because he knows that eventually his road will lead him to moksha, while the rich folks who pass him by on the Girivalam Road in their fancy automobiles are still lost in the relative dream. Who knows how much suffering they will have to endure before it dawns upon them that their present way of living, with its focus on accumulating assets they cannot take with them when their body dies, finally takes root?

609df17e7afd69d496563edfe63c57a7He sighed at this point, with genuine compassion. Then they will have to turn back, he added sadly, and begin their journey on the path that leads to the Spiritual Heart. And this is why he smiles when these “rich” humans stop their cars and hand him a few rupees, believing they are being oh so generous to a homeless wanderer.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer, who vows to destroy the intricate web of illusion that Maya, Cosmic Enchantress, spins around us, – so that we may finally know that we are the blissful and immortal Self!

NEW!!! My latest book – COPPER MOON OVER PATALIPUTRA – just went live on Jun 30th. Read all about it and on how to get your own copy here.
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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