GO STRAIGHT TO THE BOSS

Featured Image -- 9732Ramana calls his simple teaching on Moksha
The Direct Path, and for good reason.
 
As another powerful guru told me ages ago,
There are hundreds of fine roads you could take, sweetling,
But tell me, do you really have the time?
 
Say a wise friend whispers in your ear a sure shortcut to Nirvana,
Which will lead to the extinction of the ego, mini-me,
That illusory entity who gleefully designs all patterns of pleasure and pain—
Would you not be a crazy fool to refuse her clear directions?
 
I was spoiled by teachers who spent eons
Elaborating on the nature of karma, rebirth, samsara
And other inscrutabilities of the relative matrix;
So it irked me that, no matter what a person asked Ramana,
His answer was always the same:
First find out who you are, he would blandly say,
And then you won’t have any more questions.
 
Recently it came to me in a flash why the great sage did this—
Because, if you finally figure out that you yourself are Parabrahman—
That the Divine has, for some inexplicable reason, reduced itself to human flesh,
That your true nature is pure existence-awareness and bliss,
And that an infinite ocean of joy is accessible to you
Via an atomic diamond-bright portal hidden within your Spiritual Heart,
All answers do come gushing up to the surface to be effortlessly picked up;
So be like a wily frog, waiting quietly by the riverside,
Ever ready to swallow that sparkling dragonfly.
 
303537_3128548673069_1069126392_nWhy the Direct Path?
Because, just as you would go straight to the boss if you had a serious problem
Not wasting time or spinning your wheels
Begging petty favors from his underlings,
Here too, Ramana shows you a way to avoid all false gurus and teachings,
And to plunge directly into the blissful waters of the Self.
 
Once this is done, the Inner Guru wakes up with an ecstatic roar,
Fusion is achieved, and in one mind-blowing moment of spiritual orgasm,
All vexing questions dissolve into nothingness.
 
Now you are the equal of God Vishnu,
Smiling mysteriously as a radiant lotus springs up from your navel,
Enjoying a molten expanse of ecstatic peace
That surpasses all mundane understanding.

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A THIRD EYE VIEW OF THE GREEN MONSTER

6cfa74207d9988dbbdc3a2b428999120Intense emotions such as low-self-esteem can lead to suicide. This is a fact. Which is why, being a deeply emotional person myself, I loved this model of the human psyche: first Spirit, then Intellect, then the Rational Mind, and finally Emotions. In this ladder of hierarchy, Spirit rules the roost, and all the other elements of the psyche must be made subordinate to the wisdom of the Spirit or Self, which is our true nature.

Why is Spirit our true nature? Because it alone survives physical death and is therefore considered “real”. Eastern sages claim that it is a blend of pure existence, awareness and bliss. The other three levels, which compose the egoic system, are composed of the five elements—earth, water, fire air and consciousness (when awareness connects with an object, it turns into consciousness; in its pure form, consciousness is awareness), and they run on the primal energy of what are known as the Three Gunas (Sattva (purity), Rajas (dynamic activity) and Tamas (inertia or sloth/passivity). When we die, these elements return to their various sources, leaving Spirit free to merge back with the One, or to take another form befitting its karma.

I can’t remember the first time I experienced jealousy, but it must have been early on. Of all the emotions, I decided, the green eyed monster was the worst. In its grip, one sank into lower consciousness and all higher intelligence fled. At its most intense level, all one wishes to do is to destroy the object that is causing us this writhing and ugly pain. In its lower manifestation, such as envy, jealousy makes us lose respect and love for our own self, for the object that evokes it seems to be so much better and finer and more deserving of love and appreciation than our own shoddy self. And this is a lie!!! For, in essence, and although forms vary greatly, we are the same blissful awareness.

Sometime in my teens I realized I could not control this strong emotion, but that I could certainly learn to avoid people and things that evoked it in me—and this led me to a policy of never associating with those who deliberately made me jealous by flaunting that which I did not possess.

1165311e076f9fab8a6e2f39ba6df8caBut my real victory over the dark side came when I began to understand Eastern philosophy and particularly the ancient teachings on karma. I realized that whether it was stunning good looks, intellectual brilliance, the mature love of another human, great wealth or whatever, all of these gifts, according to karmic theory, had been earned by the current recipient in this or other incarnations. And therefore, rather than wasting my time and energy being jealous, I myself could gain those gifts by thinking, speaking and acting in a higher way (the classical definition of karma is merely how we think, speak and act; the results come later, either in seconds, fifteen years later, or even in another lifetime, when the causes and conditions for the karmic seed to flower appear).

No one is exempt from the dark side. Spiritual work is basically the transmutation of this innate darkness into the brilliant light of our true nature, and in acknowledging deeply that we One. And it is not just children and teenagers who experience jealousy. Adults who have not done their interior cleansing experience it too, and in them, I believe, jealousy is at its most nauseating.

Jealousy, like all negative states, thrives on denial. When we deny what we are really thinking, feeling and acting, the ego is in the corner, smiling with triumph and doing push-ups. I have known men who when the object of their affection revealed a side they did not like, such as openly expressing their views and perceptions, turned on them, sometimes openly, sometimes with a blend of tactics including passive-aggression (the worst in my opinion) and proceeded to block and hurt them, whether by breaking their word in all ways from the trivial to the sublime, or by abruptly withdrawing their support. What is really behind this behavior? The miffed little kid furious that his love has been rejected, and who does not know, or wish to experience the nature of real love, which is to help “the other” to grow into the light.

cda434014b3bb07e8d7db7d167fa00a2I knew a rich, attractive and talented woman who was subject to ghastly fits of jealousy that would come upon her without warning and stun us all. She was definitely on an inner path and sincere about her practice, but her blind spot was that she could not see how intensely she was prone to jealousy, to not wanting others to have what she had. (I met her aunt once, a lovely and fascinating woman, and she told me that she had been this way right from childhood; now I realize this means that she had nursed this ugliness over lifetimes so that it had become a strong vasana (karmic trace impression) that would need actual burning down in order for it to disappear.) And then a dark veil would fall over her and, right in front of us, she would regress to the state of an angry and envious child. She did not seem to care that we were watching; indeed, I believe she was not even aware of the demon who had usurped her Spirit. For me, it was actually quite frightening to watch her in one of these states, like seeing someone possessed by a grinning and evil invisible entity.

Everyone who knew her spoke of her insane attacks of jealousy behind her back, but, as far as I know, I was the only one to speak to her about it, although I was very careful because I had seen her get viciously aggressive in self-defense. What baffled me is that this woman considered herself a strong inner practitioner and clear seeing is integral to this path. I realized that when jealousy grows in the dark for decades (or lifetimes), it becomes so powerful that it can hide its presence from the host; I honestly believe that had she seen herself as others saw her, she would have been terribly ashamed and sought transformation. The bizarre thing is that in many other respects she was a generous and loving friend.

History is replete with instances of intensely jealous people killing their lovers etcetera. Think Medea, who killed her own beloved children to teach her straying husband a lesson. (I hope I got that right—it’s been a long time since I delved into Greek mythology.) Jealousy is often the driving force behind conquest, murder and genocide, although cunning propagandists will provide a million reasons for the harm they inflict, and never ever mention the barrage of negative emotions behind the whole sickening enterprise. Summing it up, jealousy (and its vile attendant emotions) is an insidious emotion with a billion masks that should be uprooted and permanently destroyed if one genuinely seeks peace. I am so relieved I do not experience it anymore, and most certainly owe this great blessing to the relentless deepening my inner work.

d234450d3d62a8926e9c9bca1ac39318Recently a woman who makes her living helping others with some sort of therapy jumped up out of the past like an evil jack-in-the-box and started attacking me in her usual sly and manipulative way. Unlike children and animals, who experience a blast of jealousy and are so transparent in how it affects them that often watching them can even be amusing, adults use a variety of ways to mask their toxic emotions. This woman’s tactic is to praise you to the skies and then, when you are lulled into a false feeling of security, and believe, with a sigh of relief, that she has gotten over her earlier resentment of you (for god knows what reason!), she sticks her rusty knives in and hopes you die. I made the mistake of responding to her, courteously as I always try to do, but my response only infuriated her and I realized I had to block her. Especially when jealousy and other strong negative emotions are combined with a sharp intelligence (which is the case with this woman), there is no point in hanging around to take more abuse. Only grace can break through the concrete walls they have built around themselves and dissolve the blind spot that does not allow them to see how petty and vindictive they have become, despite claiming to be oh so spiritual.

All of us attract jealousy and even the greatest of sages are no exception. Gautama Buddha had to deal with a lot of malice too, even from his own ex-brother-in-law Devadatta, who resented him mightily for what he considered the abandonment of his beloved sister Yashodhara and their son Rahula. Now I cannot imagine any open-hearted human not being simply blown away by the naked brilliance of the Buddha and completely understanding why he did what he did, which is run away from his luxurious dwelling in the dead of night, in order to pursue his goal of permanent liberation from suffering. Besides, he did this not just for himself, but for all beings! Clearly jealousy had blinded Devadatta too, to the point he could not see as others saw. As for Ramana, one old “sadhu” was so jealous of him that he tried to kill the young sage by throwing a boulder down on him as he passed below!

I have finally learned my lesson, I hope, and it came through this final unpleasant encounter with this privileged woman who is blind to her own sickness. Never place your head in the mouth of a tiger, especially it if is a rabid beast. And that is what jealousy rapidly turns us into, rabid beasts on a reckless mission to destroy all that is good and sweet. Dwell, the Buddha said so long ago, for you are the light itself, do not rely on others. Does this mean we cannot benefit from the help and support of those who love us and wish us well? Not at all! It just means that we must be careful when we engage with those who do not have our highest interests at heart, for one such encounter with the spiteful demon of jealousy can throw us off course for too long.

303537_3128548673069_1069126392_nGreetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of hill of fire and light, who helps us to shed all our toxic baggage so we can walk freely towards the light!

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FIRST FIGURE OUT WHO YOU ARE….

FB_IMG_1463360088510I confess that I am (or used to be) an impatient and demanding creature. The only problem with instant gratification in your case, as a friend laughingly told me a long time ago, was that it took too long! Anyway, so when I first got to Tiru eight years ago, determined to understand the simple but powerful teachings of Ramana Maharshi (who, by the way, never wanted to be a guru, but was forced into the role by his great compassion for those who begged him for answers to their perennial problems), I used to get mighty annoyed with his answer to almost everyone. No matter their particular issue, he would invariably say: first find out who you are, and then you won’t have this question anymore.

It literally took me years to understand his brilliance in repeating the same damned thing over and over again: yes, he was a sage and had found the golden key to transcending duality. A simple but critical key we would miss if left to our own devices, for the mind doesn’t like to be bored or held down by a single piece of work, and insists on wandering into all the nooks and crevices of mundane reality, simply to distract it from its real chore of penetrating through the dream states of waking, sleeping and dreaming, and awakening to our true nature, which is pure existence-awareness and bliss.

FB_IMG_1460704987387I was used to teachers who explained the wisdom teachings at great length. Naturally I didn’t, at least at the time, comprehend Ramana’s simple style in driving the nail in. Then one day it struck me like a bolt of lightning what he was really saying; that all our problems pertain to the relative world, to samsara, which is ephemeral, “unreal” by Advaitic definition, composed of people, events and things that come and go. Which leads to the particular definition of “real” and “unreal” in the context of Advaita: the “real” is that which is permanent and lasting, and only pure awareness, which is the substratum of being, meets that requirement; the “unreal,” on the contrary, is everything, people, places and objects, that comes and go out of our lives, in a word, the ephemeral.

But once we understand that in truth we are the cosmos itself in human form, pure existence, awareness and bliss, the relative bubble bursts and we understand the impermanence of every single one of our problems, from the most trivial to the sublime—that they are just the result of past karma, spun at an incredible speed by the collusion of the powerful forces of Lila and Maya, the Divine Sorceresses, fueled by their mighty sister, Queen Kundalini (for without Her energizing fire, nothing happens.)

Reality is simply loss of ego - RamanaGreetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who embraces us in his powerful arms and feeds us with the final antidote to samsara, even as He leads us into the peace and job that surpasses all mundane understanding!

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MYSTICAL FRUIT

cc56cbb87382e2c7f74faf1c64cc03f7At dawn, I sink again into the sweet waters of the Absolute,

Sat-chit-ananda, sages call it, pure existence-consciousness and bliss,

And emerge with yet another pearl of great price in my hungry maw—

That the I AM’s function is to unfurl one’s destiny, one’s prarabdha karma,

To transmute primeval mountain ranges of thought, speech and action,

Via a bizarre mixture of desire and fear,

Into the mesmerizing dramas that have kept me spinning in delusion for eons.

 

In my finite form, I am but a pesky ant climbing up the massive leg of an elephant,

And yet I hold a deadly secret—

That this terrible business of life and death,

Of pleasure that is always followed by pain, is only a game,

And that you four are in collusion with the One, to make humans believe

This cosmic theatre you stage so effortlessly is real, oh, what a cosmic joke!

 

What is the antidote to being trapped in samsara?

First to isolate the I AM, and then to paralyze it with unwavering concentration—

A form of mystical hypnosis that brings the whole befuddling game to an end.

 

Kiri 16GB sd card 6243-1Then the I Am, that rogue sense of separation from which has sprung

Royal dynasties, world wars, genocide and an array of beautiful things too,

Bursts into tears like a disgruntled child.

But don’t stop here— drive the nail in and warn it to cooperate;

Inform it that its collaborators are now your allies;

Say you are aware that, minus the astonishing creativity, power and style

Of Lila, Maya and Kundalini’s serpent fire working in tandem,

It is an impotent genie imprisoned in a glass bottle.

 

Plead shamelessly with your brilliant comrades:

Lila, Handmaid of the Gods,

Maya, Cosmic Enchantress,

And Kundalini, Fire Goddess who fuels all forays into samsara—

An unstoppable female trio so potent that together they spawn

Quasars, black holes and uncountable galaxies—

Cry HELP ME, for only you can set me free.

 

Kiri 16GB sd card 6886On the other side of the darkness of duality,

Is a timeless realm of incandescent love and light,

And it now where I wish to live—

Help me to move permanently out of dismal samsara;

Consider yourselves unmasked as stellar actresses,

Cease your torment and stun yourselves into perfect brilliant stillness,

And gladly walk me home.

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A DEMON CALLED HOPE

cc56cbb87382e2c7f74faf1c64cc03f7A long time ago in Manhattan, a wise friend caught my attention with this sad story—he claimed that hope too can be a demon, when used by the ego as a tool to keep us locked into demeaning situations. As an example, he explained that almost a quarter of a century ago, his beloved twin sister had married a charmer who had swept her off her feet. Everything was hunky-dory until their first child was born. Then the trouble began: he began to subject her to a mix of physical and emotional abuse, played around with other women on his business trips, and to top it all, told shameless lies about everything from the trivial to the profound.

Since they belonged to a fundamentalist Christian community down south that frowned on women standing up to their men, no matter their low caliber, his talented but quiet sister, who could have made something of herself in the art world, had stayed in the marriage. This despite my friend’s loving offers to support her if she left the creep. The guy was so wily, my friend added, that he could easily tell when his wife was getting to the end of her rope. Then he would turn on the magic and convince her that he had seen the error of his ways and was ready to transform. And so the years rolled on, and she lived on with him in the hope that TOMORROW he would change. Two more children were born, and by this time, she was too dispirited and beaten down to make a fresh start. If the guy had not died in a car collision a couple of years ago, my friend said dryly, she’d probably still be pandering to and defending him.

Until I heard this tale, I had not realized how the ego can co-opt a beautiful emotion like hope for its own sinister purposes. Besides, although the details were different, I had gone through a similar experience. Fortunately I had had the guts to cut loose when the discomfort of living with someone whose values were so divergent from mine outweighed my fear of being penniless and ostracized as a divorcee. And yes, in my case too, hope had played the role of demon—for I too had hoped for years and years that things would get better, and so I moved heaven and hell and did everything I could to make our life harmonious. Since I was an asset in many ways, and made life interesting for him, it served my partner to allow me to believe he was ready to change, when in fact he had no such intention. (Come to think of it, I don’t think he could have changed, because transformation involves possessing integrity, courage and a willingness to see that we are wrong and causing damage to others. The three steps of change: first awareness, then acceptance, and finally action). And so I too had remained trapped in a claustrophobic and demeaning situation for too long.

7293fc79f579a35ec9fc884aa6b3cadf-2In the end, words are only labels we slap on to experiences and events because we are unable to communicate effectively without them. (Only the true sage who has transcended duality can radiate wisdom in silence.) But it is not necessarily hope we have to guard against, but our own egoic fear of breaking free of a matrix that, while painful and disturbing, is paradoxically also comforting and familiar. This man’s sister, for instance, hoped for decades that her husband would change, against all evidence to the contrary, and lost her youth and vitality in the process. Who knows what she might have been able to do in that quarter century had she been bubbling with joy and vitally alive?

We live in a dualistic world where everything has at least two faces. The bright side of hope is uplifting and constructive; its dark side is when we hurt ourselves by remaining in unhealthy situations or relationships, all the while hopeful that things will change, despite knowing deep down they won’t. What is it that keeps us in the stew of passivity? Fear, in one word, for a known devil, as the old saw goes, is better than an unknown angel.

On the path to moksha, liberation from all desire and fear, it is critical that we face reality head-on. True, we might mess up from time to time, but we can always make amends. But the one thing we can never get back is the precious time we fritter away hoping things will be different, that our partner or whoever will eventually see the light. Instead, once we are certain we are being played by a callous trickster who cares nothing for our happiness and everything for his, we could put the lid on the situation, no matter what we have to go through in order to do this, and invest our energy in forging a happy and constructive life for ourselves. To rely on others for something as precious as our happiness is nothing less than foolish and cowardly. (And this of course works both ways: some women do the same to their men).

Dwell, Guatama Buddha said more than two thousand years ago, you are the light itself. Do not depend on others; the Dharma (your highest calling) is the light; do not depend on anything other than the Dharma. Advaita assures us that our essence is One, but in relative reality, we are made differently and must therefore find our own way to grow into spiritual warriors.

Featured Image -- 9732Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us to get rid of all unnecessary baggage, so we can walk free and confident into the blazing Spiritual Heart!

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DYING MAN ON A MISSION

c04882f649c6e4d6bfe4fc61b45a5306A friend asked me to drive with her to the palatial home of a very old and sick man who lived alone in a prosperous north Indian town. She was an enthusiastic social worker who took care of orphaned children in her spare time. Her husband was wealthy, and this was her way of doing some good. I agreed, and on the way, asked her why she needed to talk to him. She told me his wife had died a long time ago and that both his daughters were doctors, married to doctors, and well settled in Europe. He lived in this great big house alone, and a housekeeper came in every day to clean and wash and cook for him. His daughters had both invited him to live with him, but he wanted to be alone, claiming he needed solitude to finish a book about his spiritual experiences. He knew he had very little time left and did not wish to be distracted. She was going to see him, she confessed, because his daughters, whom she had spoken to at length, had no interest in coming back to live in India. Neither had an interest in their inheritance, and so she was hoping to persuade him to leave his house to her organization.

I was stunned by her revelation, and, frankly, rather repelled. There was something ugly about this scenario, for it reminded me of a host of vultures hovering greedily over a dying creature, in anticipation of the coming feast. I said nothing, because she was very different from me, single-minded and ruthless when she wanted her way. To her, the end justified the means, whereas for me it was important to show gentleness and refinement in getting what one wanted, no matter the nobility of one’s motive.

We stopped outside this huge mansion on a beautiful tree-lined street and she marched ahead of me and boldly rang the bell. The old man who opened the door for us was frail and unkempt. He did not look friendly, but still he invited us to come in and called out to his housekeeper to make us tea. Over tea, my friend blurted out that she’d already spoken to his daughters and they were agreeable to him making over his property to her organization. He was quiet for long moments, then, brusquely, he said no. I have other plans for it, he added coldly, and I am not going to die until I finish my book anyway. Please go now—I have lots of work to do.

Of course you must finish your book, my friend said quickly. But don’t you think it’s a beautiful idea to leave your property to compassionate people who could do so much good with it?

cc56cbb87382e2c7f74faf1c64cc03f7As he appraised her carefully, I got the sense that he did not trust her, for she was dressed like the socialite she was, in a gorgeous sari silk sari, long silky hair streaming down her back and face superbly made-up. No, she would not appear to be a humble social worker in his eyes, but just another wealthy and bored matron, longing to get her name into the local papers. What can I say? He was a sharp guy!

He cleared his throat and gathered his thoughts. I can see you think I am a foolish old man, he said slowly. But I am well aware that few would be interested in what I have to say. That does not matter to me. I’ve lived an intensely interior life and it is vital to me that I put down everything that I have learned via meditation, study and practice before I pass on. This book is my legacy to the world, whether it cares or not. Besides, it gives me peace and satisfaction to write it. As for this house, I am leaving it to my nephew who plans to turn it into an ashram. My daughters do not know about this. Please go now, and leave me in peace.

I was so embarrassed I could not say a word on the drive back. Charming and persuasive as she was, and spoiled by always getting her way, I hoped she knew better than to approach that sharp old man again.

This strange encounter flashed through my mind this morning perhaps because, in certain ways, I am like that old man. After living a tempestuous life out in the world, I have now settled down to a quiet life of deep contemplation. I too am aware that what I write appeals only to a tiny segment of the world population, the majority of whom are still chasing dreams in samsara (the relative world) and can’t be bothered delving deeply into the heart of reality. There is always one more deal to be struck, the stock market and bank balances to be monitored, parties to attend, movies to see, children and spouses to care for, and new relationships to be forged. How many really care about mystical realms?

Like the old man, I write for myself—which is not to say that I don’t relish praise. Also, long ago I took the Boddhisattva Vow, a wish to become enlightened, not just for oneself, but for all beings. If even one person wakes up to the deeper reason to why we incarnate by reading my work, all the effort and care I invest in it is gift enough for me.

1165311e076f9fab8a6e2f39ba6df8caGreetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who makes us see that the most important task we are born to achieve is to know that we ourselves are immortal bliss!

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ANXIETY, BITCH GODDESS

FB_IMG_1494089545295I think that you might agree with me that it is rare to find a truly “good” human—a person you know instinctively is kind, compassionate, honest, transparent and loving—and not just to those who serve his or her interests, but to all beings. Well, I met a middle-aged man the other day and knew right off the bat that he was “good.” He owns a grocery store in town and sells tasty homemade snacks. Since I was hungry, after I shopped I ate something there, and he joined me at the small table in the back and freely told me his story. Lots of financial setbacks, he said, shaking his head sadly, and at one time a big position in a company in the Middle-East that he had lost—an underling who had coveted his job had made such big trouble for him that he had finally quit.

Other bad decisions followed that cost him his savings, and finally he had decided to open this small store in Tiru. It was limping along, he said, but somehow he was making ends meet. He had a sweet and supportive wife and two fine adult sons who were finding their way in the world. It was clear to me that he adored them all.

So why are you worried, I asked him, because he did look terribly strained. I have a heart problem, he confided softly, and my boys are not yet settled. I worry about them to the point I can’t sleep, and when I don’t sleep, the worry gets worse and my business is affected. What will happen to them if I die of a sudden heart attack?

And that is a definite possibility given that you worry so much, I said drily. Then I added, gently: You actually think you have been selected to suffer more than others on this earth? Don’t you realize that everyone goes through this sort of stuff? And that we will all die, like it or not? How does your constant worrying help the situation at all? It only makes things worse and prevents you from enjoying your great blessings. Have you never considered being grateful for all you have, rather than moaning about how awful things are?

FB_IMG_1463360088510He smiled sadly but had no response. And I realized that no matter how “good” we are, it is necessary to study the nature of reality and to contemplate its great truths, or we will drive ourselves and others mad, by dwelling on the millions of dire possibilities that could further overturn our fragile lives. I felt I could advise him only because, in my early life, although I was bright and funny and intelligent on the surface, had you known me well, you might have pegged me as the planet’s number one worry wart, always drowning in misery. In fact I worried so much that I was forced to find ways to escape my own sick thinking. These methods worked for a while, but the anxiety was at best suppressed and inevitably came back to vicious roaring life.

Over two thousand years ago, Gautama Buddha gave us his Noble Truths—the first one being that life is suffering. Now suffering in this context includes, but is not limited to, the great agonies of hanging bleeding on a cross, with callous soldiers laughing at our pain and sticking us in the side with sharp swords, or the usual boring pains of old age, sickness and death. Here is an example of suffering from the classical Buddhist texts: you are on the road and terribly hungry. You are an hour away from a dear friend’s home who always happens to be a great cook. You call her and beg her to make your favorite meal. “I’ll be there soon,” you say, and she is thrilled.

She loads up a big plate with delicacies as you sit impatiently at her dining table. You finish every delicious speck and rub your tummy with satisfaction. But she is already piling more onto your plate and insisting you eat—she has cooked too much, she explains, and doesn’t like leftovers. To please her, you force yourself to eat a second serving, but she won’t stop loading more on your plate and finally you protest violently: if I eat another spoonful, you warn her, my tummy will burst! You lean back against the comfortable chair, swollen, lethargic and nauseous—and you realize, to your amazement, that your greedy anticipation of just an hour ago has already turned into the suffering of acute indigestion!

So suffering is a host of things. It is being forced to wait for a friend on a busy street, it is impatience, it is anger, it is jealousy, it is getting what you don’t want, and not getting what you want. It is frustration because as hard as you work, you can never have more than your neighbor, or win the beautiful man or woman you adore, or realizing that you will never be gorgeous and talented enough to succeed as the big screen actor you long to be. Oh yes, suffering covers the gamut of unsatisfactory conditions, and no one but no one escapes its slimy tentacles.

Fortunately Gautama does not stop here—he goes on to speak of the other truths, the cause of suffering and finally the end of suffering. Yes, there is a way out—but how is this wonderful man, who worries all the time, and is so steeped in personal misery that the entire screen of his life is covered up with his seemingly insurmountable problems, to ever know that such a highway to happiness and peace exists?

1165311e076f9fab8a6e2f39ba6df8caFor me, the road to peace and happiness was long and tortuous and involved sitting humbly at the feet of many great eastern teachers, and studying and practicing as if my butt was on fire. But once I digested the teachings on karma and reincarnation, life actually began to make some sort of sense to me. And once I accepted that some form of mystical logic does rule our lives, I was free to delve even further into the treasure chest of ancient wisdom and to accumulate sharp and shining tools to slice through all my seeming problems. And this is how I cut to the underbelly of being, which mystics and seers claims is no less than pure existence-awareness and bliss.

This subject is so vast and exciting that it is impossible to cover it in a few posts or essays, which is why I write spiritual fiction. I endeavor to make my novels read like fascinating parables; the reader does not have to struggle to learn anything—the teachings are embedded in these sagas, and so are painlessly digested. In this way, I give back what I was so generously given to me. I am well aware that most of our world is not interested in what I have to say, perhaps simply because thriving materially is the major task on their agenda. Still, I recognize this as my dharma, one reason why I incarnated, and so am content to keep doing what I do.

Back to this man, who has made an appointment with me for this afternoon, claiming he wants to learn a few simple truths he can apply to his situation and so find relief from his intense anxiety. Mahamudra, I think, would serve him well; this is an ancient teaching on the nature of relative reality, easy to understand and hard to refute, for each one of the seven steps deals with relative life as it is, beginning with the inherent imperfection and impermanence of all created things. I have taught this simple analytical meditation to friends and small groups of genuine seekers all over the world, and I hope he will “get” it, because he is certainly worth my time. I like him instinctively and know his heart is good. Besides, unwilling as he appears to be to formally read or study, he may well die never knowing that there is a golden way out.

Ramana Maharshi, the great sage of Tiruvannamalai, has been a great light in my life. One of the many things he taught me (nothing new here, these truths have been the bedrock of eastern philosophy for thousands of years) is that our true nature is peace and happiness. I listened to him only because I knew he was a sage and could not lie. Just as in the mundane world it is hard to find an essentially good human, so too it is hard to find a guru who is a blazing jewel, who will never ever lead you astray, and who is willing to share the wisdom that will surely take you all the way up the mountain. After a lot of work and effort, I know today that Raman only speaks the naked truth. Why am I convinced of this? Simply because the worry wart I was, who chased ephemeral pleasures to hide from angst (not just about my concerns, but about the world in general) has transformed into a woman who lives more or less in peace, and who is, despite occasional eruptions of anger and frustration, deeply happy.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who works with us as we shed our delusions and leads us to the immortal bliss of our true nature!
These are posts you might enjoy:

Two Great Truths of Absolute and Relative Reality – Posted on September 4, 2015

Dying Every Single Day for Months in Manhattan… (May 1, 2015) 

Mahamudra, The Great Seal – Samsara’s Seven Flavors #3/12 (Oct 14, 2013)

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Genesis: Whip of the Wild God: A Novel of Tantra in Ancient India: 4/4

WWG-Small-TrilogyAs a child in south India, I saw a man douse himself with kerosene, set himself on fire and walk past the gate of our home. I still don’t know why he did what he did; servants were buzzing about it for weeks afterward, but I could not bear to hear the details. What could be so terrible that a man would set his own body ablaze? That Burning Man never left my consciousness, for he had staggered past our home defiantly and I don’t recall hearing him scream.

Pain comes in a range of gross and subtle flavors. Some are cursed with having to endure physical pain. My own suffering has mostly been emotional; to escape from the sometimes relentless inner torment of my earlier days, I confess I would do almost anything. Unfortunately, no sage manifested to warn me that no one succeeds in escaping suffering; like an ominous shadow, the pain demon haunts you, growing obese as it squeezes all the joy out of existence. The only remedy is to turn around and confront the bully head-on—and keep watching until it slinks away in shame.

Today I have come to accept that all fear is essentially an illusion. In fact, folks in the Twelve Step program have an acronym for fear–False Evidence Appearing Real. And indeed, that is what our fears are—insubstantial and petty tyrants who drain us of the one thing they do not have: prana, or vital energy. While my threshold for pain continues to be abysmally low, I now have a variety of constructive tools to dissolve it—mainly, yoga, meditation and the wisdom of the ancients. The Wild God continues to whip me, because I have set my personal goal high. The difference is that now I know why I, and all beings, must suffer—before gold can shine, it must go through trials by fire.

8c3b451325db273f2b072ce821f5d310Another reason I wrote Whip was to deal with a subject more or less taboo in my community of origin: sex. I grew up with a mother who flushed at the mere mention of the “s” word and talk of bodily functions evoked in her an intense discomfort. Her father had died when she was five, and she’d been brought up by her mother, a young widow who, by our custom, was neither allowed to remarry, nor work outside of home. While my little mother was given the best of material things, she lacked a close bond with her own grieving mother. So she reached out to the nuns at her school who warned her that men in general spelled trouble. Beautiful and melancholy, she was forcibly married off as a teenager and proceeded to bear many children. She did an astounding job of nurturing us, but I could always see the bewildered little girl whose life had drastically changed the day she lost her father.

One result of never being properly mothered herself was that my mother did not know how to deal with her growing daughters; we were forbidden to speak of natural things, and censored in almost every way. One day at school a friend mentioned to me that she’d asked her Oxford-educated mother how babies were made. Her mother had casually picked up a sketch pad, sketched the male and female organs, and explained the nature of conception and birth to her nine-year old daughter. Listening, I had grown rigid with envy; my mother’s prudishness, I felt sure, had installed shame and embarrassment in all her children about this most natural of functions.

I wrote Whip to remedy this great flaw in my own psyche—and hopefully to shed some light on the blocks and neuroses of others. As I continued to research Tantric and eastern philosophy in general, I began to appreciate its exalted teachings on sacred union. How wrong the world has gone in cheapening this most important root energy! However, yogis, shamans and other seekers appear to have redressed the balance, for at least they acknowledge sexual energy as critical to spiritual growth, whether one is celibate or not. And while Tantra is still often regarded as a hedonistic practice, the truth is that many celebrated Tantrics (such as the Dalai Lama) are highly disciplined, ethical, and celibate.

Sadly enough, in India, where energy teachings once flourished—I speak of Kundalini, or the serpent fire, which sages claim lies coiled three-and-a-half times at the base of the human spine—investigating primal energy as a tool for spiritual transformation is still not something one can speak frankly about. Tantra urges man and woman to view each other as divine and equal; by fusing their energies, they experience godhead. Where, I ask you, is the sin in this?

I am not talking about the tawdry manner in which sex is extolled, say, in Bollywood; nor the plethora of dirty jokes “sophisticated” Indian men and women bandy about; nor do I speak of the millions of modern Indians who, forced into unfulfilling arranged marriages, seek external consolation. I address instead the honor and respect one can give to one’s own true nature. In the ancient teachings, it is said that when Shiva set his seal on the world, he cleaved it into male and female; so when male and female re-unite in the most sacred of ways, they re-experience the state of Shiva, which is sat-chit-ananda, absolute existence-consciousness and bliss, or organic cosmic wholeness.

Bhagavan RamanaTo my critical eye, both Indian men and women—from the illiterate poor to the wealthy western-educated lot—have long lost their connection to this sacred wisdom. As a result, the balance between the sexes has gone radically awry and old female stereotypes of the sainted virgin versus the painted whore with nothing in-between persists. In general, there appears to be little room for pure friendship and respect between the sexes, the kind that can grow into a healthy, harmonious, symbiotic relationship. Perhaps this stream of consciousness ramble might explain why I nurtured Whip through many incarnations and personal ups and downs for close to twenty years. In the end, after going through hell and back, my protagonist finally awakens her own indwelling divinity; and that is what we all must do, at some point or the other in our infinite lives—for it is our birthright and our dharma. (To be continued in the next post).

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to help us clear up the wreckage of our relative lives, so we can rest in the peace and bliss of our immortal Self!

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Genesis: Whip of the Wild God: A Novel of Tantra in Ancient India: 3/4

WWG-Small-TrilogySometime in the mid 90s, I put together a collection of short stories. The protagonist of each tale is an Indian woman who faces a terrible dilemma and solves it with amazing panache. I titled the collection: Sacrifice to the Black Goddess, in honor of the Dark Goddess Kali. My literary agent at the time showed it to Manhattan publishers and the universal verdict was that I had promise, but that I should first write a novel. And so the idea of writing something big and important began to stir within me.

Then, in the winter of 1993, I met James Kelleher, a brilliant vedic astrologer based in Los Gatos, California. He saw a novel looming in my chart and said it was my dharma to bring it into the world. He gave me the exact year I would finish it and ended by warning me that, although I’d have endless problems trying to publish it, I should persevere. Now writing a short story or essay had always been easy for me, but giving birth to a novel is a different kettle of fish. Being cursed with an impatient nature, I had so far never been able to stick to a complex project. While I had excelled all through school and college, my pattern was to get bored and dance away to the next activity. I realized only one thing could sustain me through writing a full-length novel—a topic that consumed me. I found this in the radical philosophy of Tantra, which stunned me with its liberating, profound and authentic teachings.

What is Tantra? Etymologically, it can be traced to the fusion of two Sanskrit words: tanoti and trayati, which roughly transliterate into the explosion of consciousness. The simplest definition I have found for it is “the transmutation of darkness into light.” But what is darkness, and what is light? Darkness pertains to operating on the level of beast: angry, jealous, greedy, lustful, and driven by fear; light refers to the highest point of evolution—as pure being, consciousness and bliss.

Kiri 16GB sd card 6243-1The ascent of consciousness is from muladhara, the root chakra—heavy with the fiery energy of the Kundalini—all the way up the invisible chakras to the sahasrara, or thousand-petaled lotus of higher consciousness, hovering slightly above the crown of the skull—when the individual ego dissolves back into cosmic intelligence. Simply put, when male and female reunite, two become one; this wholeness dissolves the individual ego that causes all our suffering and can lead to a permanent state of bliss. This can be accomplished either singly (for every human possesses both male and female energies) or as a committed couple. It can take decades before one is ready to take on a mate—a fact which flies in the face of contemporary thinking that Tantra encourages sexual license and excess. Without a strong grounding in ethics and yoga, seeking liberation as a couple simply cannot work.

By this time, I had also trained as a hatha yoga teacher. My guru blew my mind by teaching me the essence of the Bhagavad Gita. To think I’d grown up in India and never known I’d been parking my lazy bottom on a treasure trove of wisdom! And now an American sadhu was tossing me sparkling jewels from my own ancient culture! I’d wasted my time in south India belting out Janis Joplin, smoking ciggies, and trying to be oh so cool in the western way…oh, dear me, the many ironies of life!

The upshot of buying that little book at Ananda Ashram was that I now I had a title for my book: Whip of the Wild God: A Novel of Tantra in Ancient India. The Wild God was Rudra, who had metamorphosed into Shiva over the centuries. The theme would be the philosophy and practice of both celibate and Red Tantra, which entranced my mercurial mind. This being the pre-internet age, I began to make regular trips to the New York Public Library in order to research this vast subject. As I ploughed through their impressive stash of material, a plot began to coalesce. Ishvari—a teenage girl born in a village situated on the fringes of a city based on the Indus Valley Civilization—became my fiery protagonist. (The Indus Valley is important to me because some scholars say that my ancestors, the Saraswat Brahmins, were its original settlers and had practiced Tantra.)

d234450d3d62a8926e9c9bca1ac39318What becomes of fierce, beautiful and brilliant Ishvari? Guided by the advice of the royal astrologer, the Envoy of the Maharaja of Melukhha whisks her away to be trained for seven years by tantric monks. Despite her simmering anger against her mother, the lecherous priest and greedy landlord of her village, her ability to dazzle causes her to be elected to the role of High Tantrika. And so she is sent to serve as spiritual consort to Takshak, the corrupt and powerful monarch of Melukhha. But the stars in her almond eyes quickly dim when she realizes she is no more than a gorgeous bird trapped in the proverbial golden cage. Unable to deal with her emotions when her royal lover abandons her for an alien sorceress, she rebels in the worst of ways—and so brings down the wrath of the monarch on all who have cherished her. It is then that the teachings she has secretly spurned rise up again within her. The agony she experiences during her flight and the decades that follow awaken within her the great roaring kundalini fire….and she is set firmly again on the path to moksha or liberation. (To be continued in the next post).

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to help us clear up the wreckage of our relative lives, so we can rest in the peace and bliss of our immortal Self!

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AMAZING GRACE

6cfa74207d9988dbbdc3a2b428999120One weekday night in Manhattan, after a grueling stint at a busy law firm, I came home and decided to relax with my gorgeous new Yamaha guitar. This was in the post-divorce days, when I was determined to enjoy the strange experience (for me) of being alone. Well, I was singing away when I heard a knock on the door. In Manhattan, friends don’t just drop by without calling in advance, so you won’t blame me for being alarmed. I peered through the viewing aperture and spied the slender white-haired lady who lived at the end of my corridor, cradling her delightful poodle in her arms. I opened the door and she told me shyly that the sounds of live music had attracted her attention. Hesitantly, she asked if she could come in for a while to hear me sing. Although so far we had only exchanged smiles in the elevator, I had always instinctively liked her, and so I said yes. She made herself comfortable on a couch and so did her pooch, and then she asked me to sing ‘Amazing Grace.’

Now there are some who weary of that beautiful hymn, but not me; I love it, especially after I heard that it was written by a slave-trader who had been saved from a terrible death at sea by the almighty hand of the Divine. As a monster storm threatened to sink his ship, this cold-hearted devil had felt a fierce blast of remorse for the suffering he had caused to so many. He had begged the Divine to save him so he could make lifelong amends; his prayer was answered, and the storm abated. Fortunately he kept his word and went on to live a life of service, determined to make amends.

Anyway, I sang this hymn for her, and when I finished, there were tears streaming down her cheeks. She looked at me with deep sorrow then and related an extraordinarily tragic tale: Years ago, her only daughter, a beautiful woman with two young sons and a loving husband, had been raped and murdered by the crazy nephew of her neighbor, a lad obsessed by her exotic beauty. That same afternoon, her son (the murdered woman’s older brother) died in a New York hospital of AIDS. And just months before these ghastly tragedies, her wild hippie son had overdosed on heroin in San Francisco! I simply couldn’t believe my ears—this woman had lost three children in hellish circumstances, all in the space of a year. How does any mother survive this magnitude of trauma?

fb_img_1483263162986I listened with rapt attention, realizing that she really needed to spill her grief. “Well, I totally collapsed,” she said. “In fact I was doing so badly that my mother, then in her early nineties and who lived alone on the family farm down south, invited me to stay with her until I felt strong enough to once again tackle life in New York.”
She smiled faintly. “What the old darling didn’t know, of course, is that I agreed only because I thought the farm was a great place to kill myself. I flew down south, and made plans to end it all with an overdose of sleeping pills. But the night I planned to die, something told me to sit outside for a while. After my mother went to bed, I went out on to the porch and listened to the wind singing in the trees and gazed up one final time at the stars.

Then a miracle happened—I heard a voice say firmly: You will not do this terrible thing, do you hear? Don’t for a moment forget that your grandchildren are waiting for you to return. Their father has gone insane with grief and these heart-broken kids are counting on your support. Are you going to let them down? Then I was struck with a blast of love that shook me to the core. I sat there for hours in the sweet darkness, trembling with joy, knowing I had been saved by amazing grace. And although life has had its hard moments since, I have never forgotten that voice. And now you know why I love that song.

What a tragic tale, I thought, barely able to believe her. Later she told me that, when the lad who had murdered her daughter (he was barely twenty) was facing the death sentence, she had pleaded with the judge that he be given life imprisonment instead. The murderer was her best friend’s nephew, she explained to me, and since she herself had experienced the agonies of grief, she did not want her friend, a kind and loving woman herself, to go through the experience of watching her nephew being killed by lethal injection.

I myself had lost many loved ones and the knife of grief had almost finished me too. In my case, it was not a voice that whispered to me in a remote farmhouse in the deep south of America, but the Eastern teachings, which convinced me that physical death cannot even touch the immortal and blissful Spirit. I like the Eastern metaphor of the string of pearls, each pearl signifying a lifetime, and the string itself representing the immortal thread that runs through all our incarnations. We humans are born into an ephemeral world and, before we know it, we are trapped by an illusion of reality so powerful that only a handful of us ever discover our true nature, which is bliss.

Only a tiny fragment of humanity chooses to travel beyond the mundane. While I empathize deeply with those for whom life is a constant material struggle, and who therefore lack time and energy for inner work, when I see someone blessed with what is referred to as a “precious human life”— where one has the higher intelligence, resources and time for deeper investigation—but who still chooses not to wake up, it is when I feel most sad.

As Ramana Maharshi, the luminous south Indian sage who resurrected a direct path to moksha or freedom from suffering says, grace is ever-present, but it is we who must prepare ourselves to receive it.

1165311e076f9fab8a6e2f39ba6df8caGreetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who promises the genuine seeker to aid in the destruction of all that blocks us from knowing that we ourselves are amazing grace!

Note: I change certain details to protect anonymity, but the story itself is true.

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