THOSE BORING OLD CLICHES

2b30a1fb8fc22baec67e64504e96cf11Clichés become clichés because they are true. For instance, how many times has some elder told you that you will know your true friends only when you are sick and suffering, penniless, shunned by society, etcetera? You might have smiled disbelievingly, but in time, you may learn that this is true.

Our planet teems with egomaniacs and narcissists who “love,” “worship” and “adore” you when you are riding high. Some are drawn to you because their egos are empowered by your neediness and it delights them to believe that you will come to rely on their largesse and be gushingly servile in your attitude. But just you wait until a hurricane blows you off your pedestal and reveals your frayed and dirty knickers! Worse still, when you grow strong and confident again and have the guts to speak your mind honestly and bravely, you will likely see that the few jewels who remain loyal and caring are those who loved you, not because you could enhance their life or their egos, but for your flawed but brilliant self.

I knew a man who was a mixture of darkness and light (this is true of us all, of course, but in some the contrast is dramatic). Generous to the extreme, he gave and gave, but always with his ego. Intelligent, charismatic and talented as he was, he belonged to a generation that did not have easy access to the wisdom of the ancient masters, and so he lived his life with grand recklessness, showing off his possessions and his sparkling personality, unknowing that he was strengthening that which the seeker on the path of Advaita seeks to annihilate—the egoic self, which in truth is so insatiably hungry for attention and power that it can never ever be satisfied.

Then a combination of factors caused him to fall. As his businesses went belly up, his drinking increased to the point that he was unpleasant to be with. The years dragged on and he was invited to less parties and social affairs, and so he drank even more, alienating even those closest to him with his surly, patronizing, and bullying ways. He had given enormous sums of money to many while he was prosperous, but now very few bothered to offer him their help, although they had benefitted hugely from him in the past and now had the means to return the favor. Eventually he died, a bitter and broken man, and it was excruciating to watch him fade away into the nothingness from which he had emerged.

9a98b5caac8b4a9fc6c46747c8fdfc73Now that he was dead, everyone started praising him again. Oh, what a magnificent and sparkling character he was, they said, their eyes filling with crocodile tears. And such a generous host! Remember those fabulous parties he used to throw? My, my, the food was spectacular, and the music superb. Can’t believe he’s gone, such a tragedy. Oh, and you know what? I heard he drank himself to death. The streets around his home were clogged by all manner of vehicles for his final viewing, and many who had not known him when he was alive murmured, oh, that must have been some guy to be getting all this attention.

All of us know people to whom this sort of tragedy has happened. Or we have read about them. One of my gurus would have muttered that, had this man only realized that all his life he had only served his ego, and that his bitter end was the sorry result of burning the candle at both ends, he might have found the right highway to real peace and joy. If he had accrued any good karma, it would have been “dirty good karma”—the karma that gives us fleeting results only in relative reality (samsara). And since the nature of karma is to come and go, when that dirty good karma came to an end, the pain began, and did not stop until it killed him.

My parents showed me by example that one must be especially kind to those who are in bad straits, no matter whether we have conflicts and disagreements with them. If we turn away from those in need simply because, at some point in time, they have pointed out our flaws, then we are revealing our own lack of caliber. When Ramana Maharshi was beaten by thieves in the early days of his Ashram life, he refused to complain to the police. Instead he offered the thieves food and anything else they wanted. This is one reason why he is considered a sage, because his ego had merged back with the radiant and blissful Self that sees no difference between one and another. As he would say when people came to complain to him, there are no others.

I have learned the hard way that Gautama was speaking true when he said: Dwell, you are the light itself. Yes, I have been deceived and betrayed time and time again, but fortunately I have the ancient teachings that keep me going towards the blazing light. Nor was I myself a saint, but at least in my case it was a lack of higher wisdom rather than an egoic intention to inflict hurt that made me behave as foolishly as I did. It is said that karma karma is 99% intention, and I can honestly say that I cannot recall ever wanting to inflict suffering on another.

303537_3128548673069_1069126392_nLife can make you bitter or better and I choose better. But, on the practical level, if a human has betrayed you over and over again, vowed eternal love and loyalty to you but turned tail when things did not go his or her way, you are a fool to continue to associate with them. There is a tale of a guru who picked up a drowning scorpion who then stung him. When his disciple asked him why he had done such a foolish thing, the guru replied that it was in the scorpion’s nature to sting, and his to save. Yes, different souls play different roles; in the ultimate analysis, as Ram Dass so sweetly said, we are all walking each other home.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who holds us in his protective embrace even as we realize that we alone must walk the path to the Spiritual Heart!

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YOU HAVE NO SHAME…

1c954a09bd5bbfdf785ff7e6ca4642c8…my mother would say to me sternly whenever I misbehaved, which admittedly was often. I was a curious child and did not believe in the maxim of children should be seen but not heard (a friend turned that around jokingly and said: children should be obscene but not heard, and I had a good laugh). And so I butted into adult conversations and asked outrageous questions, simply because I wanted to know what made this strange world tick. I also had the ‘bad’ habit of striking up conversations with anyone who took my fancy—total strangers, servants, the old, the young, the rich, the poor, beggars.

“You have no shame,” my puritanical and sheltered mother would scold again, and I grew so used to hearing her criticism that soon it no longer had an effect on me. I knew, you see, that I meant no harm but was merely trying to comprehend my world. Also, unlike many of my friends with progressive parents who had studied and lived abroad, my mother was a small-town girl who honestly believed we should remain securely within our birth matrix lest the wicked world ruin us. Though I found her constant attempts to shield us from the world extremely irritating, I also knew for sure that she was only trying to protect us in her pure and simple way.

ac9a6ed443d206599b4d58f92afee35aClearly my mother and I were like oil and water; nevertheless she loved and admired not just me, but all her kids. She had been married off at sixteen, against her will, and was literally forced to have a large family, which was then the norm for affluent segments of society.  She and I definitely had our troubles, but today, as I deepen my own mystical journey into the Spiritual Heart via Ramana Maharshi’s Direct Path of Self-Investigation, I find myself utterly grateful to her for the system of values and ethics she passed on to me. When I asked her what she wanted as a birthday gift, she’d murmur that I’d make her very happy if was “a good girl.” I can’t tell you how mad I would get when she said that! Because, by no stretch of the imagination was I “good.” Yes, I lied (because both my parents were so strict with us that the only way we could explore the world was to deceive them so we could slip away from the house to partake of fresh adventures), stole money (they did not believe in giving their kids pocket-money, although most of my friends had liberal parents who kept up with the times) etcetera, but nevertheless her values still embedded themselves deep within me. If I borrowed a book or an article, for instance, she would insist that I return it in good shape and on time, and her heroes were the great men and women who had sacrificed personal gratification for others. She had no respect for the tinsel aspects of mundane life or for celebrities such as movie stars or the very rich, and strove to live a deep and prayerful life. So whoda thunk that this woman I rebelled against so strongly as a child and teenager would have so seriously impacted me as an adult?

This post is inspired because right now I am watching from the sidelines as a certain very wealthy family who has recently entered the political scene in America continues to abuse their position by taking as much from the over-taxed people as they can, while they can. I laughed softly to myself at the bizarre thought flashed that my mother (who has long since passed away) would consider them real low-lifes. You see,  she had no time for those who lied, cheated and stole, no matter whether they were kings or paupers. You have no shame, she would have told this man and his family, and she wouldn’t have cared a damn whether they liked her or not because she was speaking her truth.

FB_IMG_1490599852235Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who whips us into shape so we can enter the blissful Spiritual Heart and bask in our true nature!

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THE OLD MAN & THE MISCHIEVOUS CHILD

8c3b451325db273f2b072ce821f5d310Although 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 over lifetimes 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 or karmic trace impressions accumulated over countless lifetimes) into the vast peaceful 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 and consists of beings, situations and things that come and go), 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 used to drive us up the wall in the past, what we used to take with deadly gravity, now becomes mostly funny and interesting, for the Witness is an aspect of the eternal Self and nothing can negatively impact it. Imagine 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 theatre, it is easy to drop the role, right?

Kiri 16GB sd card 6243-1This 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. You can think of the Self as an indulgent and wise grandfather watching his bright and mischievous grandson (Ego) having a blast on the beach: throwing a tantrum when a high wave rolls over his castle and reduces it once again to ordinary sand, or getting terribly excited because a passerby assures him 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 and essentially dissatisfying 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.

31bfa8c67297ecc9ab574db35cd84ca5Greetings 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 the dazzling tinsel worlds of samsara, until, out of great compassion, He lassoes the soul and draws it into His fiery embrace!

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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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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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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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THE THIEF OF TIME

e612cdd27c8e183c26c28ebf51a483b8A middle-aged woman, who has been visiting Tiruvannamalai for longer than I have lived here, called to ask if she could visit me. She had some important questions on Advaita she thought I could answer, she said, and I grimaced, because she has done this before, and every time I make the effort to meet her (never thought early retirement could get this busy!!!) she asks me the most ridiculous questions that have little or nothing to do with Ramana Maharshi’s Direct Path, and also peppers me with infuriating personal questions.

Despite my often deliberately hard façade, I am a softie, so I said yes, and lived to regret it. It was a case of déjà vu, for she vomited up the same stupid questions. One of her major themes is that men adore her and will not leave her alone. They ogle her and distract her from her inner work, she claimed yet again.

It’s your ego, I retorted. Male attention, especially of the lascivious kind, would have absolutely no effect on you if you really understood the basis of this practice; Eastern philosophy teaches us that our body-mind-emotional system is just a valuable vehicle to carry us forward, like a good car, and should not be your sole focus. So what if they stare at you? Ignore them.

Whereupon she proceeded to violently disagree that her reactions had anything to do with her ego, and claimed that being sexy and attractive has been a great burden to her, which only made me further wince.

I told her she was lucky that I was just another seeker on the path; had she spoken in this manner to the formidable Advaita master Nisargadatta Maharaj (known as the Hammer and for excellent reason), for instance, he would have summarily thrown her out of his humble home. Do your homework before you dare to waste everyone’s time, he might have said, as he decisively turned his back on her.

Long ago in Manhattan, my guru (a brilliant Buddhist scholar) said something I never forgot. He was addressing a bunch of students with enviable jobs in Manhattan. He said: oh, so you think you’re so cool, huh? You wear black, eat at the best restaurants and think you’re on top of the world because you work for big firms.
But really, you’ll are just slaves of the system. No matter how much money you’re making right now, your long work hours leave you with little time for serious inner practice. And the one thing no one can compensate you for is your precious time. Do your inner work now, while you are still vibrant and brimming with energy. Don’t wait until you are weary, old and gray, thinking that you have to tie samsara up in pretty little packets and ensure that your dependents are well on their way before you take the path to the heart. NOW is all that matters! Tomorrow you could be dead.

Kiri 16GB sd card 6243-1After this woman left, for some reason I ruminated on the long years of my own marriage: had I wasted my time with a mate who did not share my values or goals? The answer is a strange mix of yes and no. While I can’t know what might have happened had I had a harmonious marriage with a man who supported my spiritual and creative goals, marriage to this guy taught me that no human—however handsome, rich or charming—can make us happy. Nor can anything in the external world lead us to lasting peace and joy. How can you put a price on that kind of learning?

In fact, the end of that marriage was the beginning of the deepening of my inner path, and so it was definitely not a waste of time. But, if we are stuck in painful relationships that do not change no matter, how hard we try, then we are both fools and losers. Buddhas can only point the way; we ourselves must walk the path. And, as Gautama said, your mistake is that you think you have time.

Devouring my precious time under false pretenses is perhaps the worst crime you could commit against me. Steal my flowers or my fancy new flashlight or my money, these can be replaced, but time is a fleeting and priceless commodity that cannot be returned. Only a narcissistic egomaniac chooses to believe that only his or her time is precious. When we hold others to ransom with false promises, and trap those who trust us in a juvenile web of dishonesty, we are actually doing ourselves the greatest disservice. What goes around must comes around and eventually everyone wakes up – and then it is the waster of other people’s time who is ejected forcefully to deal with his or her own bad karma.

Featured Image -- 9735Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us wake up to the urgency of doing our work now, of striking while the hammer is hot, and of realizing that our true nature is immortal bliss!

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SPIRITUAL OLYMPICS

13e269e7dd2189555144fd97b22322e4At the millennium, I flew from Manhattan to live in Dharamsala, home of the exiled Tibetans in the foothills of the Himalayas. Months later, my precious Micron laptop (it was the rare person who owned a laptop in those days) was stolen right out of my apartment, along with the backup disks. In one fell swoop, I had lost over ten years of my writing and research. I was, as you can imagine, devastated. (I plan to explain the fascinating series of events that led to this theft in another article, but right now all I want to do is share with you what one high lama said to me in the aftermath of this mini disaster.)

A little background, so you can empathize with just how terrible I felt: I had left Manhattan after selling my beautiful apartment. Word spread that I was a “rich foreigner” and so I was besieged by both Tibetans, many of whom were desperate for financial aid, as well as by the local Indians, Himachalis, as they are known. And I did help as many as I could, not just with money, but in a variety of ways, including teaching a few a little English.

Now I had an excellent combination lock on my door and no one (especially me) could figure out how the thief had entered. Nothing else was stolen, but the fellow had not taken the adapter, without which he could not use the laptop. So at least my financial and other information was safe.

A sympathetic friend took me to consult his lama, a wise old man who looked at my tear-streaked face and nodded gently. Ah, he said, you left the West to seek enlightenment. I know you are a sincere seeker, but do you understand what you are really doing here? You are fighting the greatest fight any human can take one—you are trying to transmute the darkness of eons into light!

a9d35a4933b4412c59fa8ad3a43437afDoing this is like training for the Olympics, he went on. There are benevolent powers on your side, but, just as Siddhartha Gautama’s fierce desire to be free attracted the malevolent attentions of Mara, King of the Demons, you too have attracted negative entities who will seek to prevent you from reaching your goal. Yes, by coming here to purify your egoic self and leaving behind your comfortable life in the West, you have entered the Spiritual Olympics, Your opponents are deadly but you must not quail before them. They use weak humans to do their work, and you will encounter even more men and women who will harass you if you stay committed to the goal of enlightenment.

The theft of your laptop is just one example of what happens to genuine seekers. You see, there are literally mountains of bad karma you must burn before you can ascend to the heights. Now you must change your view and see what has happened as a test: overcome your negative feelings and also simultaneously do everything you can to retrieve your laptop. You may not get it back, but try anyway. That is the way of the Spiritual Warrior. The greater the light, he said, ending his little sermon, the greater the shadow.

His words sank deeply into me. I never forgot them. Even today, when things go wrong as they often do, both in my encounters with humans and in my mundane affairs, I realize I have taken on a great task and must persevere, regardless. There have been times when it is my high goal alone that keeps me going.

Back to the laptop: it was a sheer miracle, but I got it back. I will save that story for another day, but my message today is that no matter what goes wrong in our lives, whether it is the betrayal of someone you loved and trusted, the death of a close friend or relative, financial problems, or your own ill health, never lose faith in your highest goal. All of this is just karma burning itself off and if we fight what is, the pendulum only swings back with even more force. Just keep going, like the Spiritual Warrior you are, and everything, as Ramana Maharshi said so simply and lovingly, will come out all right in the end.

f5b20d444c402200808ab1f5ee20a9d8Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who allows us to suffer greatly in order to incinerate the errors of the past, so we can realize that our true nature is no less than immortal bliss!

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