THOSE BLASTED RULES!

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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

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SEX, DEATH AND SIGMUND FREUD

d234450d3d62a8926e9c9bca1ac39318Freud opened the minds of millions of Westerners to the hidden codes that determine our behavior. I read his work from time to time as a young woman, and one particular novel I plunged into as a teenager particularly fascinated me since it reduced his teachings to the primal urges of sex and death.

Now, in the Eastern view, these powerful drives stem from the lowest chakra in the human system, known as the root chakra or mooladhara. Yes, it is critically important to understand the root chakra, because our mooladhara drives us to create a life based solely on surviving and thriving in the relative world. If we do not realize this, we are condemned to spin senselessly around in the vicious cycle of samsara for eons, never realizing we are far more than our material body, mind, emotions or possessions.

Eastern mystics and sages authoritatively inform us that our true and immortal nature is existence-awareness and bliss (sat-chit-ananda). The way to knowing this can be beyond arduous and can encompass striving for eons. But once this sinks in, then we are definitely on the inner road to peace and bliss. Continue reading

KILL YOUR DARLINGS

609df17e7afd69d496563edfe63c57a7This is serious advice for serious writers—to kill our darlings. Sounds brutal, no? Well, actually, what it means is that sometimes we come up with great material, but, in the context of the whole piece of work, say a short story or novel, this terrific piece of writing does not work to create a vivid continuous dream that the reader can resonate with. It hurts to do this, yes, that particular piece may have been celestially inspired, but sorry, it ruins the whole and therefore, once we have stepped from our opus and decided that it sticks out like a sore thumb or ruins the thread of the plot, we must be willing to commit word murder. A sacrifice of the brilliant part to the cosmic whole.

Fortunately today we have computers—I often marvel at what great writers in the past did. Imagine writing War & Peace with ink and paper and then trying to kill or rework sections of it—my god, how lucky we are today! We can cut our darling out of the current piece and store it safely in another file so we can use her later, in a place where she does work. And it strikes me that this advice is valuable anywhere, even as we begin the intense and often lonesome journey into the spiritual heart. We must kill our darlings, all those ideas, habits, dreams, concepts and conditioning that no longer mesh with our present map of reality. And we must make sure they stay dead, by burning their very roots, so that they do not rise up again with a vengeance to ruin our perfect plan for blissful liberation. 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

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

ADVAITA IS NOT TWO

tumblr_nmhwy2xupu1sjjdtyo1_540I am no scholar and tend to reduce the most sophisticated philosophy into easily digestible truths I can use in my daily life. Complication and complexity only keep me from going deep, I have discovered, and when ideas become simple, they also become fuel for the blissful enlightenment I seek.

If this ancient teaching is true, I often used to wonder, how then did such fierce individuality spring up, driven by insidious notions of ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine,’ along with the concomitant evils of competition, jealousy, demeaning others so we can shine as the sole jewels in any given scenario, etcetera? How are some humans capable of the worst crimes when they employ their special status or belief in their class, caste, intelligence or privilege as weapons of justification?

The usual answer, of course, is the ego. A friend in Manhattan once defined it as a nasty piece of work in its negative form, and even gave me an anagram for it: that which Eases God Out. But how does the ego itself get a chance to grow to such monstrous proportions, so that royal lineages spring into being from it, and dynasties flourish, billionaires are a dime a dozen, and we routinely rate people according to their physical and financial assets rather than on their open hearts, kindness, empathy and compassion for all beings? Continue reading

COPPER MOON OVER PATALIPUTRA makes her debut TODAY!!!

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“Against the dazzling epochal backdrop of the Mauryan Empire in ancient India, celebrated for its liberal, humanist and free-thinking traditions, a gripping saga of love, betrayal, hatred and magical transformation sinuously weaves itself. Copper Moon relates the fascinating tale of Odati, daughter of Emperor Ashoka by stunning Urvashi, a Kalingan devadasi. When a great horror strikes, and Odati’s tender young life hangs in the balance, it is the Egyptian Kahotep, Grand Eunuch of Maurya, who risks his own life to spirit her to safety. Within his protective embrace, Odati disguises herself as Amunet and gradually grows into a singer whose angelic skill enchants the elite of Pataliputra. And yet, beneath her lovely façade lurks a cunning assassin waiting for the perfect opportunity to inflict hellish suffering on the man who drove her into the abyss of hell. Impervious to the luminous teachings of Gautama Buddha and other great sages, Odati relentlessly pursues her diabolic quest for revenge. Then, in another bizarre twist of fate, her evil is discovered and she is once again forced to flee for her life. It is now that the jewel-like wisdom she has so fiercely resisted begins to open the reluctant petals of her heart.”

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BE MINE FOREVER….OR YOU WILL SUFFER THE AGONIES OF THE DAMNED.

1165311e076f9fab8a6e2f39ba6df8caWhen a sage is born, shining like a star in a noon sky, some are fortunate enough to encounter him or her personally and to directly absorb his teachings. But after he passes away, other elements take over, and these folks are rarely of the high caliber of their master. Gradually, sometimes over centuries, what was once a vibrant and liberating teaching often becomes a rigid and entrenched institution, guarded zealously by those who do not understand the true essence of what the sage originally taught.

Consider the fundamentalists of all stripes and religions today, who warp, distort and twist what their original teacher said to serve political, power or financial purposes. How, for instance, could the true teachings of peaceful and pure Jesus of Nazareth ever have been used to justify the unbelievable horrors of the Inquisitions that followed centuries later? We can come up with a thousand other such examples, of course, for no major religion is exempt from this madness.

One thing that really bothered me when I began my own spiritual quest is that a certain ilk of teachers would insist that, once you signed on for their teachings, that was it, you could not leave their fold. Yes, you owed them not perfect and total loyalty until you took your last breath! Some also insist that you tithe part of your income to them, and god forbid if you move on to another guru more suitable to your spiritual needs—then you are nothing less than a despised and fickle traitor. Continue reading

PLATINUM INSURANCE

36e4cbc86a09d338c9b54bed3a0b98fdHow are you? I asked a friend in Manhattan. Oh, I’m just FINE, he said with a laugh—then proceeded to inform me that FINE was an anagram for Fuddled, Insecure, Neurotic and Egocentric. (Actually he used two hyphenated words for the ‘f,’ but I think I’ll leave what they are to your rich imagination.)

The fact is that almost every one of us is (or has been) fraught by a million insecurities—and who could blame us? Consider the world wars our species has endured, the concentration camps and gulags, the ugliness of misogyny and patriarchy that plague so many, in a nutshell, man’s inhumanity to man—all of which leave scars on the collective human psyche. Above all, consider our ephemeral nature, as fragile as a snowflake melting under a hot sun. No matter how big we are in the world, nothing can protect us from old age, sickness and death; yes, when Yama , Lord of Death throws his deadly noose around our necks to remove us from this plane of existence, no power on earth can stop him. Continue reading