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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ONE CUP OF TEA AND TWO BISCUITS

FB_IMG_1456878290224I read “Freedom at Midnight” right through from cover to cover in a single day when I was a teen and recall loving it. The authors (they work as a team) spoke of an infamous Nizam of Hyderabad who was a noted miser. This Nawab (ruler) had two sets of clothes and two grimy skull caps. He was so rich that he stored currency notes (big denomination, foreign) in his cellars and rats feasted on them, even as his poor citizens struggled to keep body and soul together. This was during the time of British colonial rule. One day the Nizam was informed that a new British high official was about to make him a formal visit and that he should prepare appropriately. Naturally this official was anticipating a sumptuous reception; instead, the bewildered man was led into a small room to meet the Nizam and offered a cup of tea and two biscuits. So much for grand expectations, huh?

I grew up with parents who were ultra generous. My father believed not just in living well but in being extra hospitable to the extent he could. My mother (I have rarely come across so naturally good and innocent a woman) tried to help everyone. For big feasts, she would spend weeks before the event preparing sweets and savories in the traditional Indian way, and not just for family and relatives, but for the poor. Oh yes, they both had their faults, but their high ethics and willingness to help others have left an indelible impression on me. (They have both passed on, but sometimes I pray that they will come back to me in their reincarnated forms, just so I can be good to them, as I rarely was when I was a young rebel.)

Coming from such a background, I didn’t believe misers really existed (except in fiction) until I got to know one in close quarters. He puzzled me because, unlike that crusty old Nizam, he could he exceedingly generous in certain ways. For instance he loved gourmet food and did not stint on it for himself or others. But he was a hoarder of other goodies, and perhaps the most secretive man when it came to his money and assets, of which he had a lot.

FB_IMG_1490599852235Since then I have met other misers. Like the man who indulged in gourmet food, and yet was laughably tight-fisted in all other ways, these too had their own peculiarities. One wealthy woman spends abundantly on herself, her home, her pets and her current boyfriend, but shrinks back from spending a single dollar on even a close friend—unless there was some benefit in it for her. (She is committed to the Eastern path and a fervent meditator too, so go figure!) Another guy, who boasts that he has so much money that he doesn’t know what to do with it, religiously counts his pennies and will even ask you what you plan to order when he takes you to a restaurant—lest you are going to eat the most expensive items of the menu. Ha ha ha, not. Another big businessman I know has enough money for generations to come, but continues to spend most of his time making new deals; despite his seeming generosity, and although he would vehemently deny this, he too can be both miserly and crooked. And so on and so forth.

I used to be shocked and revolted by miserliness, but now I actually feel a deep compassion for those so attached to their material possessions that they cannot allow Spirit to move freely through them. The beauty of Advaita is that it teaches us that we are all One—that we emerge from a single source (sat-chit-ananda) and will eventually return to it.

Though convincingly real, the three states of waking sleeping and dreaming are not “real” in the context of Advaita, simply because they come and go; and it is the I AM, a split off from the Whole, that is the root of our powerful sense of I, me and mine. In its pure state, the I AM is the Guru, the Light, Brahman itself; in its mischievous form, it is Satan itself, for it seduces us to spend all our precious time grubbing away in the material world. The job of the seeker (Advaita) is to first to isolate the I AM, and then to focus solely on it, until it realizes it has been outed, and can then be coaxed to become your ally. Since the I AM has emerged directly from Source, it knows the way back to paradise; if Grace is showering down upon you, it will finally lead you home.

According to classical karmic theory, all our actions return to us multiplied, good and bad. So if we give, we are actually going to receive much more in return. In fact, giving or generosity is the first of the Paramitas, the great virtues that lead to enlightenment. But in order to qualify as a virtue, giving must be free of the ego. I know many (and I am guilty of this too) who will give a lot, but are also convinced that it is their mini-me, their egoic self, that is doing this great thing. This sort of giving only produces “dirty good karma”— results that sprout solely in the material ephemeral world.

The correct way to give is to realize that in truth we own nothing, for ownership implies control. Can you deny that even a billionaire cannot take a single hair or nail with him when Death comes calling? We have what we have due to our own past karma, which has a shelf life. And so the genuine seeker gives as if it is the Self that is giving, forgetting entirely about the human element.

8b0491b2a715579b114da4fdb36d7daaMostly it is suffering (intense grief, loss of possessions, reputation, loved ones and relationships, etc) that finally opens the eyes of the miser to the self-destructive beliefs he or she has been nursing. In our true state, we are abundance itself; study the lives of the great sages and you will see that many refused to even handle money or have possessions (except for essentials), and depended solely on the Divine (their own Self) to provide them with all their needs. We don’t have to be like them, of course, for few are secure enough to do this, but we can become more aware of our basic oneness, and know that when we are being generous to those in need, we are actually giving to our own Self.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who leads us, if we are ready and willing, from the unreal to the Real!

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MAHAMUDRA – Samsara’s Seven Flavors (3 of 4)

df336b74b2581c8795affd937ba79cd8Flavor #1: All Things are Impermanent. 

All things inevitably vanish, like dewdrops evaporating in the morning sun; however, while intellectually we may accept this, in our daily lives we ignore the stark fact that not just our relationships and  possessions, but also our bodies and minds, are hurtling inexorably towards destruction. Let’s say my lover presents me with a magenta orchid in a delicate porcelain bowl. I  perceive this orchid as having permanence, but soon it begins to wilt and then it dies. And it is this same wrong feeling of permanence that we humans attribute to all parts of our lives and which causes us to suffer. For instance, I may believe that my marriage will last forever, and when divorce or death loom, I react with fear, disbelief and anger. Or I may be sure that my home will stay mine forever; then a financial crisis prevents me from paying the mortgage, and the bank repossesses it. Had I trained myself to see all things as transient, I could apply a major antidote to all the pains of mundane living— for the bald truth is that the orchid, home and spouse are but flashes on an infinite timeline, comets streaking across the screen of my life.

So the invisible machinery of karma is busily at work, giving and taking according to immutable laws about which we ordinary humans don’t have a clue. The good news is that if I practice seeing all things as impermanent, and digest the truth that I don’t really own a thing, I’m bound to experience increasing freedom and peace.

8b0491b2a715579b114da4fdb36d7daaFlavor #2: You Don’t Own A Damned Thing 

Most of us live with the feeling that we own our lives. But do we truly control destiny? Take my home in the hills, I bought it with an inheritance from grandma and really believed I owned it, but that didn’t stop the bank from stealing it away from me, did it? If I accept that I don’t control the destiny of my possessions, then I must admit that I don’t even own my relationships or even my own body and mind. If I did, I could stay young forever and be ecstatic all the time.

Why do even those who intellectually accept impermanence and the lack of ownership still get upset when they face loss? Because there’s a killer gap between what we can accept and the corresponding lag in our emotions. As we close this gap through personal practice, our suffering decreases. Master the art of accepting impermanence and the lack of ownership, and you turn into a really cool customer. Tragedy could strike, and while not discounting the initial shock factor, you’d soon learn to say, yes, of course, that’s the nature of relative reality: Everything is impermanent and I don’t really own a damned thing, so let’s get a move on.

Flavor #3: Nothing Happens by Accident. 

Mahamudra claims that nothing that happens is an accident. Say I stop for petrol in a quiet Himalayan town and bump into a pal I haven’t seen since high school. Not an accident—my friend was brought there by certain karmic energies, and so was I. This is a particularly important view to cultivate when we encounter tragedy—because it’s when things go drastically “wrong” that we go nuts. Accepting that a horrid experience is the result of our own past karma, and that we are in effect creating our own experience of reality by how we think, speak and act, can make all the difference to how we transcend the negative effects of hard times. Practiced with understanding, all these flavors can help ground us in the reality of what is.

609df17e7afd69d496563edfe63c57a7Flavor #4: Our Judgments are Mere Constructs. 

Who decides that a scallion should be called a scallion? We do. The problem is that humans forget that labels are merely mutually accepted constructs. Say a professor you admired stated that communism is the ideal state of government for everybody—and you believed him! Years later, the failure of communism-in-practice forces you to accept that his statement was a personal construct that does not universally apply. The truth is that whether we perceive an anorexic supermodel as the most beautiful creature on the planet, or as aesthetically repellent, is, in the end, merely a personal construct.

Mahamudra slowly begins to strip away our justifications for seeing as we do: first, we stop thinking that things last forever; second, we stop thinking that we control the destinies of our assets or our relationships; third, we stop thinking of things as accidents. And fourth, we stop thinking that our judgments are right. As you can imagine, if everyone practiced these four flavors, the conflict that flares up not just in our personal lives, but between castes, classes, races and nations, would dissolve into thin air.

Flavor #5: Transforming Problems

If a great chef and a lousy cook are given the exact same ingredients and asked to prepare a meal, chances are the chef would produce a feast, while the novice would offer up a mess. Well, Mahamudra says that the circumstances of our own life are like those ingredients—what we have on our plates is the result of our own past karma; what we do with them depends on our skill as chefs.

4392bca5339c3755a629be68e9b9bbf8Flavor #6: Our Personal Karma Creates our Reality. 

According to Mahamudra, everything that happens in our lives is the result of past karma. Long ago in a monastery in Dharamsala, a group of us listened to a high lama speaking on the nature of relative reality. “Everything you experience is only the result of your past thought, speech and action,” he pronounced. “You are the only one responsible for your happiness and your suffering.” We’d all heard this before, but this time it had terrific impact. A German lady sitting under a whirring fan raised her hand. “Are you saying that every little thing we experience is the result of our past karma?” He nodded. “Right,” he said. “Even the breath of that fan on your cheek is the result of your past karma. But keep in mind that while you cannot manipulate your current experience of reality, you can create a magnificent future by learning to think, speak and act positively.”

So these are the six flavors of samsara in a nutshell. And bizarrely enough, soon after I’d digested them, Angelica fought with me as we rode the subway back home from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn Heights and I was shocked by her ferocity.

Flavor #7: Inherent Imperfection

Shaken, I rode the elevator to my apartment. The thought flashed that here was a perfect opportunity to see whether Mahamudra worked. So I sat in lotus position before my altar and watched the flow of my breath until I felt calmer. Then I pulled up the embarrassing scene in the subway. Other passengers had watched Angelica go nuts: some had smirked; some had shot us looks of irritation. Holding this scene in the foreground of my mind, I applied to it each of the six flavors of Emptiness. Tears welled up as I re-lived the humiliating experience, but when I was done, I felt peaceful and grounded. Surely Angelica’s outburst had been the result of some inexpressible agony. Compassion for her arose and I knew that Mahamudra did work!

A couple days later, Angelica called to apologize: she’d cracked up on the subway, she explained, because the following day was Mother’s Day and she’d dreaded spending it with the woman who’d battered her for years. Unable to deal with her volcanic feelings, she’d vented on me. Could I forgive her? It gave me a real kick to tell her that, thanks to Mahamudra, I already had.

fb_img_1487346238548

Now that I was further convinced of the power of Mahamudra, instead of running away from pain, I began to apply the six flavors to difficult situations and people. As I grew stronger in the practice, I began to teach it to friends. One fine day I added another flavor to my own practice—that samsara is inherently imperfect. This conclusion had leaped out at me while practicing the other six—for beneath my suffering I found lurking the insidious expectation that my life should be perfect. If we are already perfect in our essence—which is the liberating teaching of the East—and if we incarnate for some mysterious reason, then it follows that the identity we form, as well as the circumstances into which we are thrust, must be imperfect in order for us to grow. Today I accept that some inscrutable power has designed all of life to be deliberately imperfect—and that’s a thought which restores me to peace.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to help us strip away the unreal from the real, so we can rest in the peace and bliss of our immortal Self!

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MAHAMUDRA – Samsara’s Seven Flavors (1 of 4)

4b2c8bc7f1869ccbf64a10955f1f61ddPeak of summer, Manhattan 1995….life is on the upswing: an admin gig at a top law firm, my own apartment in picturesque Brooklyn Heights with a scintillating nocturnal view of New York’s other three boroughs (Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island), and glimpses of the cool profile of the Lady of Liberty towering over the horizon.

A swirl of friends—artists, musicians, writers, poets, sculptors, photographers, and the occasional lawyer or stockbroker—add zest to the mix. And while the week is one crazy stretch, weekends allow me to dip my soul into yoga and meditation, an amazing novel, an off-Broadway show, or even an evening performance of Shakespeare in Central Park, after which a bunch of us would troop over to a penthouse on the upper west side to party beneath a canopy of stars.

And yet, if life is so wonderful, why does angst continue to gnaw at my insides like a vicious bandicoot? Despite the glamorous facade of my life, the bitter truth is that I am alone and adrift in a thrumming city that never sleeps, learning the hard way that freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

How to get off this spinning wheel? I’d walked away from my marriage with zilch, and am now paying big chunks to the IRS, Social Security, Medicare and a co-op mortgage, which renders the prospect of escape bleak. I see other slaves of New York growing cynical—but I, like a female Icarus, yearn to fly free, even if I burn my gossamer wings daring to approach the blazing sun of liberation.

One Saturday morning I stroll down to Atlantic Avenue to shop at my favorite Moroccan grocery store. I step right into a scene from a souk in the Arabian Nights: wooden vats of black and green olives, tubs overflowing with varieties of grains, oils, herbs, and links of merguez (spicy lamb sausage) dangling from the eaves. Mehmet hands me a cup of mint tea flavored with orange blossom honey and a slice of baklava that melts deliciously in my mouth. As I bask in this old-world warmth, my worries dissolve into joy.

Backpack laden with goodies, I walk out and spot Angelica slouching along the avenue in faded Levis and paint-splattered sweatshirt. An artist who lived precariously in a Williamsburg loft with a heroin-addicted sculptor, I know Angelica is on a perennial hunt for a savior. Once, stoned out of her head, she’d blurted out that on her fifth birthday, her dad had stormed out of the house following a fight with her drunken mother, whereupon her mother had picked up a baseball bat and swung it at Angelica, shattering several tiny ribs; this was one of the many violent episodes that had broken her faith in humanity. “Hey Mira,” Angelica yelled, her face lighting up as she saw me. “I’m going to check out this brilliant lama tonight down in the Village. Wanna come?

Kiri 16GB sd card 6243-1Absolute & Relative Reality

Angelica and I rode the subway into downtown Manhattan and then walked to a packed hall near 8th street in the simmering east village. She was right—her lama was magnetic. In hindsight, it is easy to see how his unique methods of teaching gave my own life meaning and forever changed its course. Years flashed by as I studied with him, absorbing every nugget he dropped. I saw his ego grow monstrous as his flock swelled, but I stayed on, convinced that his teachings were authentic, culled directly as they were from the ancient scriptures. In fact I was so enraptured by his efforts to spread the dharma among the lost tribes of Manhattan that I offered to transcribe his teachings on Mahamudra—a word that has many connotations in the Buddhist world, but which he introduced to us as an ancient teaching on the nature of samsara, or relative reality.

Bhagavan Sri Ramana MaharshiEastern philosophy teaches that there are Two TruthsAbsolute and Relative. The Absolute is the true nature of all beings without exception, and is often characterized as having three qualities—existence, awareness and bliss, which are really the same thing—just as mango ice-cream is simultaneously cold, sweet and tastes of mango. Only the Relative (samsara) varies from being to being. But before we can merge with the Absolute, we must first make sense of our relative lives, and this is where Mahamudra enters the picture, for it breaks mundane reality into easily digestible blocks. When one accepts that all things are subject to these flavors (flavors, not steps or stages, since none is higher or lower), relative life finally begins to make sense, and one is free to move forward with clarity and confidence.

Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to help us strip away the unreal from the real, so we can rest in the peace and bliss of our immortal Self!

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INFATUATION ADDICT

9a98b5caac8b4a9fc6c46747c8fdfc73Some time ago, a friend called to inform me that a guy we both knew had died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage in the middle of a conversation in a Delhi 5-star restaurant. I had met this fellow during a party in north India and quickly turned my back on him. (Those of us who live for a reasonable amount of time in Manhattan are not easy to con with fake words and pretenses.) And besides, I knew this friend had been cheated by him in business and had even threatened to sue him. She mentioned that he had many enemies who were actually thrilled that he was gone. In his sixty years or so, despite movie star looks and excellent material resources, he had never grown beyond the juvenile delinquent stage; his agenda, pure and simple, was to have a good time at the expense of others. I don’t believe he had a single real friend, she ran on, except for that old boozer who lived in that rambling old mansion up on the hill, and who put up with his misbehavior and always forgave him his transgressions.

How terrible I thought, for a human to live to sixty years and to have people actually celebrating his sudden death. And then I thought of my darling friend in the USA who had also died recently in his late sixties, surrounded by those who adored him and admired his fine questing mind. With tears in my eyes, for I had grown to love him too, I recalled the meticulous effort he had invested in trying to teach men, in particular, how to move past the infatuation stage and into really love. He focused first on self-love, for the paradox is that men and women who do not value their own precious selves are incapable of deeply loving another. Why is learning to love even important for us? Because, in my opinion, and based on sincere study and practice, there is no other way to break free of the dreary cycle of samsara (relative reality) unless we blast open the invisible portal of our Spiritual Heart. Corny as it may sound to the cynic, the key to that portal is simply Love—not human fickle love, but the highest love that recognizes the Oneness of all beings.

The second man who had died, surrounded by grieving relatives and friends, had loved my writing and had generously promoted me to his circle of friends. Here are two different passages from my novels in the Moksha Trilogy that he had made it a point to tell me he deeply appreciated:

279dbfcf2cba52b1ecbc23c53cf96b95****** In a rare burst of trust, Takshak had long ago confirmed Inanna’s words: while his mother had always indulged him materially, he had said, she had grown bitter and hard after Shaardul had tossed her aside for Inanna. Kings were intended to raise fire with their tantrikas, Abhilasha had sullenly averred, not to fall crazily in love with the rutting whores. For sure, Ishvari thought now, shivering despite the afternoon sun filtering in, Abhilasha had set her devil’s mark on her son. Takshak was incapable of seeing a woman as fully human—what pleasure he gave stemmed solely from his massive ego. Love to him was no more than a ravening lust, something that flared and died. The idea of aging alongside a lover, of watching wrinkles line a beloved face, nauseated him—and so he had chosen to flit from flower to exotic flower, to sip the nectar of the new rather than to savor the mature wine that alone evokes bliss. (Whip of the Wild God: A Novel of Tantra in Ancient India). ******

And the second:
****** Why were so many men compelled to inflict suffering on the women they desired? Odati came to believe that, at least to the conventional male, what was referred to as ‘love’ was in fact infatuation. All it seemed to involve was being drawn by the color, smell, taste and touch of the packaging, conveniently forgetting the contents within—rich contents that demanded patience and effort to savor. Manjari claimed most men were disinclined to milk intimate relationships for more than an orgasm, the little death all beings craved—for, apart from the oblivion of sleep, the rough pleasure of mating seemed to provide them with the only remedy to the dull ache of samsara. Real love, Manjari added, did not change when circumstances changed, or when the inexorable passage of time destroyed the freshness of physical charms. A true lover was happiest when the object of his affection was evolving into light. However, this kind of partner, the old woman added drily, was as rare to find as a star in a noon sky.(Copper Moon Over Pataliputra – the final novel in the Moksha Trilogy, about to be published.) *******

7293fc79f579a35ec9fc884aa6b3cadf-2What is love? A friend asked me yesterday. He loves Arunachala and visits here often, but claims to be too busy with worldly affairs to study the theoretical underpinnings of Advaita, which I personally feel are vital to Self-Investigation or the Direct Path (unless we have imbibed this wisdom in other lifetimes). Ironically, at some point we also have to jettison all we have learned as we enter the depths of the Spiritual Heart. I considered his question and then I said: for me, right now, it is that both Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj stayed on after they were both free of desire and fear, just to reveal to us sure way to escape the tedious hell of mundane living. Sages dwell in a blissful state ordinary humans can only imagine—to listen with compassion to the often ridiculous questions posed by all sorts of people, and to give each one what was needed to move on (although Nisargadatta was known as the Hammer for his blunt ways and would ask those not prepared for the path of jnana to leave his presence, which is itself a tough teaching) would take immense love. Infatuation is purely egoic; love is cosmic.

303537_3128548673069_1069126392_nGreetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a hill of fire and light, who has no hesitation whipping the darkness out of us so we can melt into our true nature, which is cosmic love!

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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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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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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: 1/4

WWG-Small-TrilogyNeither of us being in the mood for the frenetic end-of-year partying for which Manhattan is famed, a friend and I decided to spend the end of 1993 at Ananda Ashram in upstate New York. It was stunningly beautiful in that snow-blanketed world, and I was immensely grateful for this respite: after years of trying every damn thing to make my marriage work, I had finally left my partner of fourteen years. All I’d carried away with me were my clothes, some furniture, a collection of books and music, and the bitter festering wounds of what felt like a major failure.

Ours had been an old-fashioned marriage: he had played the role of wily businessman, while I had slipped into the role of scatterbrained artiste. Convincing me I was lousy at handling money, he had assumed total control over our joint finances. Dutifully I had handed him my pay checks, and all our assets were in his name. His mother colluded with him. As his extraordinary good looks and charm began to pall, I could no longer hide from the wide swath of deviousness that marred his character. Even as my own horizons spiraled into the mystical, I felt strongly that it was better for me to be alone.

My friend Robin was aware that I had neither a bank account nor a credit card, both of which I would need in order to break free. One Saturday morning, she escorted me to Citibank on Sixth Avenue and hovered over me like a guardian angel as I opened my first checking account. This single act of defiance signaled a fresh start but also opened up a fresh can of worms; as the chorus of that terrific rock song goes, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

“I’d rather go to prison than give you one cent,” my husband said grimly, when I asked for a portion of our marital assets. Although New York divorce law was clear—each of a divorcing couple is entitled to fifty percent of marital assets—Big Apple lawyers cost big money. Adding salt to my wounds, the contingency law which allows a divorce lawyer to take a percentage of a settlement had just been rescinded. To keep from jumping out the window, I dwelt on how extraordinarily kind and generous he had been to me in our early years; he was not intrinsically a bad guy, I assured myself, just congenitally unable to investigate his own gaping faults.

f92f7dea9f17b0dbcc31e5be036538d6Instinct warned me I’d gain nothing by fighting him. Still, I consulted a few lawyers, but every one of them asked for thousands of dollars upfront—money I did not have. Finally I talked to a tough lesbian lawyer. “Cut loose,” was her terse advice. “You’ll never pin this rascal down. Fight him in court, and you’ll lose everything, including your sanity.” I took her advice, and began life as a single, staying afloat by freelancing as an administrative temp on Wall Street and in Manhattan’s law firms. (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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