YOUNG SOUL, OLD SOUL

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

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

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

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

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EVERYONE HAS A HIGHER POWER

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

MOUNTAIN GODDESS

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14876327_10155479883214199_334843953_o-768x575When I first landed in Dharamsala in the foothills of the Himalayas, straight from the frenetic city of Manhattan, I was lost and bewildered by a strange new world. Soon I found my way to the Tibetan Library, where every morning a beautiful old Geshe, aided by an English female translator, patiently taught us the ancient scriptures. I was sitting outside the small cafeteria when I saw a woman I liked on sight, nonchalantly rolling a cigarette. I asked her to roll me one, whereupon she handed me the fixings and retorted sarkily that if I wanted one, I’d have to roll it myself. Oh, I thought, amused, liking her even more, for she reminded me of folks in Manhattan who are also uncomfortably direct but also possess shining hearts of gold if you stick around long enough to get past the prickly surface.

We became friends, and I discovered she lived right above my beautiful apartment with the huge glass windows, through which I could gaze at the splendor of the snow-clad Himalayas. As a seasoned practitioner capable of handling any crisis, she was often impatient with me, rightly viewing me as a spoiled infant with no clue how to handle herself in a small Himalayan township peopled by hardy Tibetans (most of whom had bravely made their way over the mountains to be with their charismatic leader, who incidentally lived a mere ten minute walk away from me on the peak of a hill guarded by both Indians and his own people) and equally tough Indians. Continue reading

I REJECT YOUR GIFT

ac9a6ed443d206599b4d58f92afee35aI write my morning posts off the top of my head, meaning I don’t generally research the topic, so you  must forgive me if I use ancient stories merely as devices to get a message across, and don’t bother unduly about details or settings. Anyway, this morning it struck me in a new way that some humans are so damaged that they cannot express their intense feelings for others except via negative comments, passive-aggressive behavior, slurs or downright untruths.

Now Gautama Buddha’s beautiful wife Yashodhara had a brother, Devadatta, who hated his brother-in-law for several reasons—not least that he had abandoned his beloved sister to follow the path to enlightenment. Devadatta did not simmer silently nor alone, no; he sneaked around the Buddha’s sangha (congregation of monks) making trouble and telling terrible lies about the sage. The Buddha tolerated him, of course, for nothing can fracture the equanimity of a true sage. But one day, when Devadatta crossed the line yet again and began to spew insults at him, Gautama said something like this: I know that anger is all you have to offer me, Devadatta, but nevertheless I reject your gift. Continue reading

EMPTY WORDS

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

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

THOSE BLASTED RULES!

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

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

DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?

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

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

BLISS JUNKIE

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

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

DENIAL IS NOT A RIVER IN EGYPT.

kiri-16gb-sd-card-6025A woman introduced to me by a friend visited me the other day. We had a nice chat and I offered her something to eat. She came into the kitchen as I got her meal ready and hovered over me, eyes wide with anxiety, asking me questions about ingredients, process, et cetera, until I got a little snippy and asked her to sit at the dining table. My irritation was due to the fact that she does this every single time she visits; you see, because she is far from home (California) and misses home-cooked meals, I always offer her something I hope she will enjoy.

Please note that her attitude is not normal: her eyes go wide with strain when the subject of food comes up, and she tells me she cannot eat most things (being veg or vegan is wonderful, but her behavior goes way beyond these humane rules for good living). My own attitude, I said, is to accept what is given to me as long as 1) food is offered from the heart 2) is hygienically prepared and tasty 3) and that it does not violate my principles of general eating. I told her that my favorite breakfast when I leave the house early to walk up the mountain is two dosais with mouth-watering chutney and sambhar, relished at a roadside stall. I don’t watch the cook carefully to monitor everything she does—no, for me, that would be disrespectful to this lovely local woman who wakes up before dawn to do what she does in order to feed her own family. On the contrary, I am genuinely grateful that she is so willing to please me, always giving me a little more of the red chutney, another ladle of hot sambhar, and a big smile. When I tip her extra, her smile grows and her eyes are full of light. Continue reading

DID I TELL YOU NOT TO HISS?

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

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