Monday, December 31, 2007

2 out of 3 vote for a New Year's No Show

In the closing hours of our online poll, 74 respondents have voted so far, with 67% saying they don't expect a message from Gurumayi to be the advertised "sweet surprise" in store for the 2008 New Year's Message.

If you haven't yet cast your vote, this is your last chance. Poll closes at the stroke of midnight, EST. The poll can be found on the right hand margin of "Rituals" homepage.

I promise to reveal what the surprise actually was, as soon as I can persuade someone who spent $100 to hear it, to tell it to me for free.

Happy New Year, everyone. Thanks for coming along for the ride!


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I'll be wrapped around your finger

I'm sitting on my living room couch feeling like a small-time pot dealer, facing an ottoman stacked with messy piles of twenties, tens and fives. But instead of a fat blunt, I'm enjoying a glass or three of cheap champagne, and rather than counting my weekly take I'm doling out the annual Christmas bonuses for my apartment building staff. I prefer to get this done before Christmas so the boys can do their shopping, but this year I'm late. Which kinda takes some of the joy out of it for me. So I open a bottle of Comte de Gascogne and ride the elevator down with three flutes in hand, to share a toast to Christmas with my favorite doormen. And now I'm back with the balance of the bottle.

It's ridiculous that liquor stores are closed by law on Christmas day in the U.S. (the only day of the year that we're like Europe, where everything's locked up tighter than a Spanish virgin for yuletide.) I'd like another glass of holiday cheer, but the bottle's empty and I didn't plan ahead. Or, rather, I did. Planned not to drink alone on Christmas. Planned not to feel lonely, too. Well, as my Grandma used to say when things didn't quite go her way..."plans of mice and men."

Didn't Gurumayi once quote one of the Sufi poets, Rumi or Hafiz, in a talk in which she riffed on the theme "let your loneliness cut more deep"? I didn't hear that talk first hand, but got the download soon afterward from my friend Kathy and, the next time I was at S. Fallsburg ashram, I bought a volume of Hafiz--yes, it was Hafiz, I remember now--hoping to read the poem that Gurumayi had quoted from. Except that I got the wrong collection of his poetry.

It wasn't until years later, in 2005, that I finally read the source poem. I was at Burning Man, the annual arts festival/survivalist camp in the Nevada desert, sitting in an authentic Navajo tent erected by a wonderfully odd caucasian woman who lived her intense attachment to indigenous culture, surrounded by camp mates who had taken refuge from the stultifying midday heat. I'd brought a bottle of chilled white wine to share, and a beautiful young woman from San Francisco brought out "The Subject Tonight is Love", another volume of Hafiz' poetry. We passed around the wine and the book, taking turns drinking and reading aloud. When it came my turn I opened the slim paperback at random and began reading:

"Don't surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,

My need of God

I felt something like a mixture of joy and longing then, and my voice broke with emotion as I read. Of course, I was a little drunk (like Hafiz!) and quite probably dehydrated as well. Still, although Gurumayi had already gone missing for over a year by then, I experienced the old tug of attachment and wondered, what made her choose that passage as a basis for her talk? What was she trying to tell us, or more likely, reveal about herself?

A few days later, just after the climactic event of the week when the giant wooden effigy of "the Man" was burned, I was walking across the great expanse of desert known as the playa, hand in hand with my friend who had brought the book of Hafiz. As we walked she twisted her hand in mine for warmth and, a moment later, my right ring finger suddenly felt naked. Snatching my hand away I realized with panic that my Gurumayi signature ring was gone.

(That particular ring was precious to me; I'd acquired it during the years when the bookstore went all out to commission works of real beauty. It had twin pillars on its face surmounted by Gurumayi's signature, elegantly carved in Devanagari script against a delicately worked field of wavering gold, like a field of wheat shimmering in the sun.)

I grabbed for a flashlight and began sweeping it back and forth across the desert floor. But I knew almost immediately it was useless. Nothing is more disorienting than the desert at night, absent light or fixed points of reference. We could have been just feet away from where the ring fell and searched all night without finding it.

Still, I persisted and roped my friends into the effort as well. They were game, although my despair at losing the ring was harshing everyone's post-burn emotional high. Eventually, reluctantly, I called off the search and we all trooped off together in the direction of one of the dancing pavillions. As we were locking up our bikes and stashing anything we didn't need to dance, I remembered Gurumayi saying "If you lose something, let it go. Your karma with that object is over. It belongs to someone else now, and will bring them blessings."

I looked down on the desert floor and spotted...a penny. Which was extraordinary because money is superfluous at Burning Man. Nothing outside of coffee and ice can be bought or sold, and those only during a few hours each morning. It is the one place where you can lose your wallet and never miss it. The entire camp is run on a "gift economy": If there is something you want or need that you didn't pack in with you, just ask. Someone will have it and gladly give it to you, and visa versa.

As I've written before, whenever I'd find a coin on the ground I used to take it as a sign that my thoughts in that moment were blessed by the Guru. I later came to abjure such "magical thinking," but in that moment I believed and surrendered the ring to the desert with something akin to equanimity.

I never replaced that ring. I told myself that the bookstore was only offering pale imitations, but it was something more. I'd remembered that this was not the first Guru ring I'd lost. In 1994, close to the seventh anniversary of my Diva Diksha, I was playing in the surf off Long Island with my dog, Rama. As I clapped my hands to get him more and more excited, my ring flew off my finger and slipped beneath the waves. I dove again and again, frantically searching for it, but of course, it was gone, swallowed up by the ocean as completely as my next ring would be by the desert. I shouldn't have been wearing it in the water, I reprimanded myself. But, the truth was, I never removed that ring. It was, for me, as precious as a wedding ring. I'd brought it up to Gurumayi in darshan and asked her to put it on me, and when she asked which finger I gave her the ring finger of my right hand. Any time I thought of her and wanted to send her my love, I'd kiss the blue enamel signature set into its band of gold. It got to be that I'd do that so often that my boyfriend would joke: "Stop making out with your ring, already."

If something leaves you, let it go. This was the second time the natural world conspired to rob me of this token of fealty to the Guru, and this time I began to wonder if it wasn't for the best. If it wasn't a sign that the union I celebrated by wearing those rings was, finally, over.

Something is still missing in my heart, tonight. But it hasn't made my longing for God more clear. It hasn't done anything as simple as that.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I Am Grateful For These

K, you've got me started thinking. Thank you for that. I recognize that the list of things you loved about SY and now miss terribly is a litany of loss. I have my own litany; we all do. But, there are other things I have to acknowledge that I take with me. Herewith a partial list of those:

1. When I see someone on the street, or subway, and I'm tempted to have a judgment about them at first sight, I stop. Reflexively, I think: "they, too, are God." I don't claim to know what this means. It might mean nothing at all. But, it brings my judgment up short. Usually. And sometimes I even walk away with a renewed sense of the common dignity we all share, and I find myself wishing that person well.

2. I no longer think of myself as a sinner. In fact, the idea strikes me as absurd. For someone raised in the Roman Catholic tradition this is...a radical change in self-concept. To no longer have a majority of my inner life consumed with calculations over degrees of guilt, negotiations between venial and mortal sins and the need for confession, repentance, forgiveness, penance... this is immense. For me.

3. I can meditate. I can fall into a steady posture and quiet my thoughts and plunge inside. I don't anymore. But I trust that I still can. Like riding a bike, it's something you don't forget. My body remembers the posture, my mind remembers the mantra. Meditation was a refuge for me, a sweet surcease from the incessant demands of the world. I hope I can find it again.

Oh, God. This is hard. Because when taking account of those things I'm grateful for as a result of my practice of SY, many things crowd forward to be acknowledged, and I have to reluctantly dismiss them. For instance, what did it mean that we would smile at one another over chai before the Guru Gita, our eyes shining with joy, and silently acknowledge each other's state, which was really our shared state of bliss, of unaltered happiness? What was the unsaid connection we felt in those early morning hours at South Fallsburgh amrit? A common ecstasy produced by our united good thoughts, intentions, feelings, wishes? Or, the muted glow that junkies pass around with a lazy smile and tired nod?

4. I've met and befriended people in SY whose goodness takes my breath away. Friends whose purity of heart and intention I've never had cause to question. (I'm thinking of Nina, Iwona, Kathy, Stephan and Anne, Willa, and George, my George...) A few people have even expressed the same opinion of me. Something about this path invoked that in each of us. Yes, this was abused. This unquestioning, trusting goodness was exploited. That was...evil. But, it doesn't take away what I've seen and loved in others. And now, I know what to look for. I trust that this is there, in anyone I would call a friend. I guess I believe that at their core, most people are good.

5. I find it much easier to forgive. Not because I've become a more forgiving person, but because many of the small transgressions we all traffic in every day no longer seem so important to me. Has my ego shrunk? Not likely. I like my ego nice and strong these days. It just has a tougher shell. Guess all that knocking around had it's silver lining, after all.

6. I can talk about spirituality with others in this unmediated medium of the internet, and know that we all share unspoken assumptions and common beliefs and a language which, though corrupted, frames our experiences in ways we all understand. This is not, I realize, a direct product of SY practice (which officially circumscribed such unofficial dialogue, lest anyone start comparing notes and realize that the gig was up) It is, rather, an unintended and quite wonderful bi-product of our practice. Still, it could not have been possible without the intense, shared experience of the "laboratory of the Shakti" that was SY.

7. I know enough not to give my heart away again for a few hits of Shakti and a flashing blue pearl. I now know that my heart belongs entirely to me. In an ironic, sad way I finally understand the teaching that god dwells within my own heart, as me. Ironic, because the one who gave me this teaching sought to claim my heart as her own. Sad, because so many years have passed and, dazzled by the outward show, I've never made any serious attempt to claim the treasure within. But, at least I know it is there.

Well, this is a start. It is a benchmark of sorts, for me. You can't begin picking among the ashes for those few things that are left to you until you've accepted that there has been a fire. A really bad fire.

Please! Have at me with your comments. I'm feeling kinda open and vulnerable and susceptible to whatever comes my way. That's one thing we were never encouraged to feel in SY, n'est-ce pas?

PS Zennie. Start your blog! Please. There are so many correspondences between the yoga we practiced and addiction. I look forward to hearing what you have to say on this subject, and others as well.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Is she? Or isn't she? Only her hairdresser and speechwriters know for sure!

SYDA has announced that those who attend the New Year's Day global audio satsang will receive "A Sweet Surprise". Speculation runs rampant along two lines:

Is Gurumayi going to reappear and give the Siddha Yoga Message for 2008?

Or, is the "sweet surprise" we have in store an "all day sucker" handed out as prasad?

Scroll over to the right and cast your vote in "Rituals" first-ever poll! Who knows? Maybe someone "sweet" is watching and waiting for us to say we expect her back!

PS. Apologies for the irreverence of this post. But, as we've all been toyed with for going on four years as to whether G will make a showing, I find a healthy sense of humor invaluable. Feel free to disagree in the comments to this post. But vote first! Believe me, South Fallsburgh is watching.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Spectrum of Our Beliefs

"One thing that I have on mind, am I the only reader of this blog who is, as of today, skeptical of these abuses? Can I also ask you, Seekher, your opinion about this serious matter (if you feel comfortable about writing it)? I think it would be quite good to have more feedbacks.


I've been following the thread of comments to my last post with great interest but not much free time; which is just as well. I prefer to hear a number of opinions and voices speak on this indelicate, central, alleged, irrefutable, supposed matter of abuse. I characterize it with this string of antonyms because that seems to sum up the main points of contention in both camps.

Here's what I'd like to say. There is only one camp and we are all in it together. Like Anon 70 and others who have contributed to this thread, I feel there are only degrees of belief and disbelief—whether in the infallibility of the Guru, or in the culpability of SY leaders. This spectrum contains all the colors and shades of our collective belief system. And it is possible to move back and forth between them. In fact, it is required.

When I first began looking on the Internet for information about SY a few years ago, I happened on a message board that contained postings from an angry and disillusioned community of people who had self-identified as having left SY. It appalled and fascinated me. Never before had I experienced people voicing such passionate, forbidden dissent from the "official line" of SY. I joined the LSY group as an anonymous "lurker" and read for a few days, then abruptly discontinued my membership. Later, I told a friend that the act of having read there had "cratered my devotion." I now more fully understand what I meant—having accessed that forum I could no longer see the Guru in a universally beneficent, wholly good light (and what was the nature of devotion in Siddha Yoga if not nursing and nurturing these very feelings about the Guru?)

Much of what I read at LSY felt venomous, particularly to someone who was accustomed to following the "never a discouraging word" discourse of the ashram. Still, I harbored doubts about the Guru for the first time in my life. What I wanted more than anything was to shut those doubts down as quickly as possible. I had read enough online to know that anyone who posted at LSY saying that they were still "in" SY would not be welcome. Faced with choosing the path I knew and loved and had followed for years, or reaching out to a group of (I thought at the time) often bitter, sometimes hostile people, I chose to ignore my doubts and renew my practice.

I might have been successful at that for my whole life, had Gurumayi not disappeared. I've written here that the last time I saw her was at the 2004 message talk in South Fallsburgh: "Experience the Power Within. Kundalini Shakti." I loved that message more than all the others. I felt that Gurumayi was returning to the roots of our tradition, and I welcomed the renewed focus on the Goddess with the attendant release of Gurumayi's Kundalini Stavaha chanting CD, a chant I had become enamored with years before after reading a slim volume of Baba's commentary on it, that the foundation had subsequently let go out of print.

But what I thought was a renewal began to seem more and more like a farewell, as the years passed and no news of Gurumayi was forthcoming. More disturbing, I felt that my connection to the inner Guru had been severed. Despite trying to maintain devotion through my spiritual practices they seemed dry, or more to the point, unnecessary. As many have noted in their comments here, I was a bhakta, and Gurumayi was the focus of my devotional life, the object of my contemplations, meditations and chanting. I never had any trouble summoning up a mental image of her, or remembering how she had caressed a particular teaching with her exquisite phrasing, enunciating it perfectly in her inimitable, darkly lush, spellbinding voice.

No more. I felt Gurumayi slipping away--something that in the past would have filled me with such unease that I would instantly redouble my practices. For years I had thought of myself as being like a dog on a chain that Gurumayi held in her hands. The chain was very long, and she let me wander very far but at some point I'd reach the end with a yank and be called home. (Strange now to think that this was a comforting image, me as a pet of the Guru, but it was.) Now the pole that that tethered me to my center was gone.

Eventually, I don't know why or how, I became angry too. Not because I knew or believed anything about abuse in SY, or financial mismanagement, or instances of crushing cruelty, or because I felt that staff members were being exploited. No, I became angry for a very selfish and very human reason: I had been told and sold a lifelong connection with a spiritual teacher, who was abruptly MIA. I was angry at the conjecture I heard at the ashram and centers that Gurumayi had withdrawn herself as a teaching to find the Guru within. I was angry that there were no straight answers as to where she was, or if and when she would return. People I ran into who had recently been to SF told me she was in India. People I ran into who had come from India said, no, she is in SF. For once, the official line from SYDA management was not damage control, or spin, or a comforting platitude, but only complete silence.

If Gurumayi had withdrawn for a time, or even permanently, in order to shut down the cult of personality that had grown up around her like poisonous weeds, and which was strangling her devotees' true practice of the teachings—why not state so? Why not have one last global message and deliver the healing blow to everyone in the worldwide sangham at once? Why the secrecy and silence? Why the privileged access to (mis)information that in retrospect, always characterized communication in SY, i.e. an inner circle knows everything, they communicate the official line to "higher ups" in ashrams and centers, who read it as an announcement in programs or, in this case, keep it a secret and say nothing at all?

So, I began this blog. To break the silence and get some answers. Soon after I took that step I realized that I could now visit LSY and read there with detachment, objectively seeking truth about all the stories that had been hinted at for years. I ignored the message boards of exSY'ers and read the archives which were first gathered by Pendragon and are now maintained by Daniel Shaw. Many of the first-hand experiences there are highly personal, but still moving accounts of people who lived at the ashram, or were close to the inner circle, and who had left after becoming disillusioned by what they saw. These were not accounts that chronicled abuse or crimes that would convince a skeptic. I considered them carefully but read on.

I soon found other accounts that were much more objectively incriminating. I link to the pages that contain those testimonies here for the convenience of those who would like to read and consider the information under discussion. For those who have already read these and considered them, I ask your patience—they must be a sad and repetitive litany. Others perhaps might find these links useful in navigating the chronologically unorganized archives of LSY testimony and evidence.

The first account I took very seriously was the letter of resignation Swami Abhayananda sent to Muktananda in 1981. I found it to be a heart-wrenching statement from someone who had given his life to a cause he now felt he had to renounce, because his personal investigations had led him to discover testimony from long time SY insiders, whom he knew and personally trusted, as to the abuse they experienced and witnessed, including threats of violence from members of Muktananda's inner circle. That document can be found here:

Next I read an article published two years later, in 1983, by William Rodarmor in CoEvolution Quarterly. The article documented the same instances of abuse and physical threats and, significantly, implicated Malti as one of the insiders who counseled girls who had been abused by warning them to keep silent. The magazine independently contacted the individuals behind the accusations made in the article and verified their testimony (while the accusations were denied by SYDA, neither the magazine nor the author were sued for libel by the foundation, a fact I personally find significant.) That article, and an accompanying commentary from Abhayananda can be read here:

The article in CQ appeared during the turbulent period just before Muktananda's death, in which he installed first Nityananda as his sole successor, then Chidvilasanda some months later as his co-successor. Like other devotees who joined SY after the succession drama was resolved in favor of Gurumayi, I knew little or nothing of what went on at that time. That changed when I read Sarah Caldwell's scholarly account of those years, in which she attempted to reconcile "two apparently contradictory theses: namely that Swami Muktananda (1908-1982) was an enlightened teacher and practitioner of an esoteric form of Tantric sexual yoga, and that he also engaged in actions that were not ethical, legal, or liberatory with many disciples."

I found this fascinating and beautifully written work very convincing, precisely because it was penned by a devotee who was a first-hand witness to the events that unfolded, and who was trying to find a way to accept them as legitimate without justifying what she knew to be abuse, so that she could maintain her faith in the path. Interestingly, Caldwell's account has been criticized not by SYDA, but by exSY people who note that she was a devotee of (the then exiled) Nityananda's when she wrote the piece, and therefore, compelled to rehabilitate Baba's reputation because the legitimacy of her own Guru hung in the balance.

Her article can be read here:

Permit me a diversion to provide some personal background. I joined SY in 1987, after the sex scandals and succession drama had receded into the background. Sure, there were whispers, but the people I heard them from on the "inside" dismissed the allegations as baseless, while those on the "outside" who brought these things up I discounted as jealous, or just not "yogic". It would be seven years before I had to seriously question that attitude, but that day did come with the publication of Lis Harris' article in The New Yorker, "Oh, Guru, Guru, Guru" in 1994. I was a serious devotee by that time, having spent weeks out of every of summer in SF doing Intensive seva, and having gone on tour with Gurumayi in Italy, Germany and Poland, as well as taking numerous sevas at my local center. When the article appeared my seva supervisor, a woman with an amazing heart and mind that I trusted without question and whom I still respect greatly, urged all her sevites to read the article and make up their own minds. That impressed me; I had expected a blanket edict to avoid reading it. She even passed out copies. That moved me to read it. The thing is, I had worked at The New Yorker during this period of my life. I knew the integrity of the magazine and its iron-clad rules about fact-checking and verifying sources. This was no sensational tabloid cover story. This was an exhaustively researched, thoroughly documented account of violence, blackmail, sexual abuse and rape within the highest levels of SY leadership. It can be read here:

I read it and I ignored it. Basically, I told myself: "it's not my experience." I took refuge in my experiences, I contemplated them, I took more Intensives to see if the Shakti would still be there, still be strong for me and it was. I knew people, good people who were dropping away and I felt bad for them. I still loved them in my heart, still wished them well, prayed that they would find the grace to return again.

One of the fallouts of the NYer article was the founding of the online community LSY, in which people who had left SY could converse, compare notes and cross-check each other's stories for the first time. As part of this effort to construct a chronology of abuse, the founder of that forum, Pendragon, repeatedly petitioned Swami Abhayanada to issue a follow-up statement confirming the allegations he had made years earlier in his letter of resignation. He eventually consented (though even Abhayanada was put-off by Pendragon's "suspicious and combative" tone.) This letter goes into more detail about the events surrounding his departure and the abuse of young women he heard about first hand. The letter can be found here:

As the online community grew in numbers and as the corporate structure of SY began to decline in power, some of those who were abused felt confident enough to tell their stories first-hand. Joan Radha Bridges posted her story of sexual abuse at the hands of Baba Muktananda only after reading LSY for years. It can be read here:

Other accounts substantiate the sexual abuse of devotees at the hands of George Afif and Ram Butler, trusted heads of SY organization and teachings. But I won't post links for these here. If you've read the links above you've done enough homework to decide what you believe and what is right for you. No, you don't have to become an expert in "cults" to come to a decision about SY's dirty laundry. But, if you're reading here at all it seems you want to explore and find the truth out for yourself.

This post is really a continuation of the discussion begun in the long thread of comments left to my last post. It's neither an essay, nor a considered statement about one or another aspect of Siddha Yoga culture, teachings or practices. I do intend to return to those. But it seems we have gathered here a community of people who are in various stages of coming to grips with what SY was and where it is now. The links I've included here are merely things I've read that I've found helpful in doing just that.

To answer your question, Pp, that I appended at the beginning of this post; no, you are not the only reader who is skeptical that serious abuses occurred in SY. Many others share your apprehension and doubt. Unfortunately, after studying all the evidence linked to here, and more, I can no longer count myself among that number.

So, after reading all this you might ask—do I consider myself to be "in" or "out" of Siddha Yoga?

My answer would have to be: Yes.

Looking forward to all of your responses and comments.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pennies from Heaven

I set up this blog and first posted just over five weeks ago. In that time I've thought more about Gurumayi and Siddha Yoga than I have in years. I think. The problem is, when I actively practiced SY (for seventeen plus years) it was such a part of my mindset that when I drifted away (I never really "stopped") I reflexively continued to inhabit the same thought patterns. So, even when I wasn't consciously thinking of SY, I was thinking like a Siddha Yogi. The Guru I had welcomed into my heart had taken up residence in my head and wasn't disposed to leave, even after the love had gone and she herself had vanished.

For example; I once heard Gurumayi talk about her days as Baba's translator, how he would race off in those early morning hour in Ganeshpuri and she would have to run to keep up. One morning as she was running after him she spotted a one rupi note on the ground, but didn't take the moment to stoop and pick it up. Soon afterwards, she lost a one-hundred rupi note. I don't remember if Muktananda told her this, or if she did the math herself, but the point of Gurumayi's story was that money is Shakti, and you must respect it, or risk losing it. So, she continued, even if you see a penny in the street, bend down and pick it up, see it as Laksmi, put in on your puja at home and worship it as a manifestation of divine energy.

Of course, I took this as one of the Commands From The Guru that everyone was always so keen on getting. I began picking up coins off the street. Because I was always contemplating in those days, particularly when I was out walking, finding a penny quickly became a sign for me that whatever I had been thinking in relation to Gurumayi, or the path, the moment before I saw the coin was affirmed by the Shakti. I would lovingly pick the shiny penny up, repeat "Mahalaksmi Namostute" to myself and secretly smile as I slipped it into a separate pocket from my other change. Sometimes I would find a nickel or dime, maybe even a quarter, and these were particularly strong signs that the Guru knew what I was thinking and was blessing those thoughts with her support. Now, you may be quick to point out that Gurumayi didn't teach me this particular species of magical thinking. She never said, in public or private, that coins found in the street while contemplating were a sign of her grace. But, she did say that not picking a coin up was dissing the Shakti in such a way that it could come back to haunt you. In other words, a different kind of magical thinking. And there were so many of these in Siddha Yoga talks; "even a leaf falling from a tree can hold a mystical teaching for you, if you know how to look", etc. ad infinitum.

I liked this feedback loop that occurred in my contemplations and always rejoiced when I picked up a penny, even if it was dirty or in a puddle. Sometimes I really had to force myself to do it, especially if the coin was particularly nasty looking, as if it had been discarded by a homeless person. I didn't put those coins on my puja; sometimes they stayed in my jeans for a wash cycle before being liberated. Of course, I wasn't always contemplating the teachings when I picked them up; but I always re-traced my mental steps and felt better about whatever thought I was having at the time.

Eventually, I stopped doing even that, but still continued to pick up pennies and say my mantra to Laksmi anyway. Not because I thought it was a sign from the Guru, or that I would offend the Shakti if I didn't. It became a superstitious practice, like not walking under a ladder, or making the sign against the evil eye when passing by a church with red doors. In this, and in a million other ways, my thoughts remained stained by the sustained practice of years of contemplation.

What is contemplation as practiced in Siddha Yoga? Is it basting your experiences in the rasa of the teachings? Is it applying the teachings to every facet of your life? Is it a self-identification with the Guru that seeks to erase your small self and unfold your true Self? Or, is it a form of self-administered mind control? A closed mental loop that always deposits you back in the same place. A recipe that, whatever the ingredients, always ends up tasting exactly the same:

"Take one worrisome event in your life, or inconvenient fact about Siddha Yoga or the Guru. Add the first passage you find when randomly opening one of Gurumayi's or Baba's books. Mix thoroughly and bake for the length of time it takes you to go for a long walk in the woods. Take out of oven and allow to cool evenly before eating your own words."

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I just didn't know how to do it right, but I can't remember any of the amazing insights I had while practicing contemplation. None whatsoever. I do vividly remember the feeling of rightness that the practice engendered. The belief that I was testing the teachings in the laboratory of my own mind and finding that they held up wonderfully. Which is to say, when I applied the teachings to my life, I found that they always applied.

Eventually, I stopped picking up pennies from heaven. This happened just recently. I remember the feeling of transgression that dogged me when I first passed over a coin in the street. But you know what? It was laying in a puddle of puke in front of a bar down my street and I just couldn't stomach touching it. After that, not stooping to this particular superstition just got easier and easier.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Dream Remembered

Email to a friend, dated:

June 1999

Dear (Friend):

Thank you for the e-mail detailing the celebrations for Gurumayi's birthday. I've been meaning to write you since your last e-mail about moving to LA. I think it's wonderful that you are at last realizing your dream to move there and break into the film industry- the great communication vehicle of American culture and cradle of Maya. May you bring it light! I know you'll bring it love.

I didn't have time to make a wish for Gurumayi's birthday as your e-mail urged, because she found me first and gave me a beautiful gift of her own.

I went to bed late the night of the 23rd, just after midnight, and as I thought longingly of Gurumayi in those first few minutes of her birthday I wanted to offer her something. Often when I go to bed I think of those things I did wrong during the day and whisper a fragment of Baba's prayer to the Goddess:

"O Mother! As long as a person still has desires he is unworthy of receiving your grace, yet he makes an effort to acquire perfection. Knowing his many faults he lives in the world and remains weak."

But that night I thought instead of Baba's great command:

Honor yourself
Bow to yourself
Worship yourself
Your God dwells within as You

I decided to offer Gurumayi a gift of respect and love for my own Self. I had the uncharacteristic thought that I've actually been very constant in my spiritual search, that I always strive to understand myself better, to unfold my perfection more, and to see that perfection in others. Instead of judging my progress I allowed myself to admire my zeal for the path. Thinking thoughts like these, I fell asleep.

In the very early morning hours I had a dream that moved me so strongly that I awoke and was unable to go back to sleep until I had written it down. Nothing translates into language as poorly as dreams, which shift and fade even as we try to recall and capture them. Our experience of a dream occurs in the subtle body and soars free of the laws that govern physical existence. When we wake we might be still struck by the powerful, subtle impressions of a dream but they are quickly erased by the tangible sense impressions of our surrounding environment. This is why we forget dreams so quickly. Furthermore, when we try to remember a dream as it slips away we inevitably impose upon it the rules of logic that we believe order our waking world. In this way we alter its essential, evanescent character.

All of this is just to say that the story that follows is not my dream itself; but rather the message that dream left as it receded back into consciousness. Still, I don't value it any less. The scriptures say that the Self is that which stays awake while we dream, and reports back to us on our dreams when we awake--this, then, is the story my own Self whispered in my ear, in response to the love I showed it, in those early morning hours.

A young man or boy, a pilgrim, is at the end of a long journey to the burial shrine of a great saint. He is afflicted by a demon. The boy has heard that those who kiss the stone surface of the saint's tomb are so overcome with holy love that they stagger as they attempt to rise from their knees. Indeed, the shrine itself has ex votoes on its walls depicting stories of seekers who were struck lame by the holy kiss, remaining transfixed for the space of time it takes to recite one hundred Aves. The boy has therefore conceived of a plan--he will kiss the tomb and remain kneeling as he says his prayers, but the demon, reeling from the unaccustomed intoxication of divine love, will be captured there, and rising first, the boy will make his escape. The demon is not unaware of the boy's plan but he goes along because his pride does not allow him to believe that it will succeed, or because he wishes to test the power of the saint, or perhaps out of an unacknowledged longing.

In every dream the dreamer has to find a place to inhabit. If he himself is not a character in the dream he must either occupy one of the characters, or witness all of them from a distance, or shift between these perspectives. In the beginning of the dream I seemed to inhabit the boy, which is how I sensed the presence of the evil spirit. But in that moment when the boy's plan is about to come to fruition, as he kneels to kiss the stone latticework of the tomb's surface, I switch perspectives and find that I occupy the consciousness of the saint. I can feel (and this is where language loses its ability to capture experience and I have to satisfy myself with the meager crumbs of remembrance) the joyful, meditative lassitude of his inert body. I feel it pressing down on every point of that body as if a blanket of soft lead had been pressed over its features (as perhaps it had.)

I understand now how the saint's complete abandonment to the will of God has created its own gravity, attracting all things to itself—pilgrims, plants, flowers, birds, the stones of his shrine. I watch from beneath the latticework the face of the boy as he kneels and bends forward in reverence. I hear the beating of his heart. I feel the warmth of his breath as his mouth draws near... and I sense the chill waiting just behind it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Esprit de Corps

Let's imagine we've all been invited to a party. Some friends are getting together and each spontaneously phones others to come along and so on, until the party becomes something of an event. The host doesn't mind keeping an open door because the gathering is really a reunion: everyone attending, whether they know each other or not, shares a seminal experience in their past—perhaps they were the first burners when Burning Man was still held on the beach, or Deadheads who trouped after the band for an entire year, back before Jerry Garcia died and was reincarnated as an ice cream flavor. It doesn't matter. The thing is everyone shows up and someone starts to share their war stories. Others naturally join in. Even when the stories are sad they're tinged with a certain esprit de corps—a black humor when recounting a shared history that is both beloved and reviled, present and long gone. Everyone laughs at themselves when someone confesses her own gullibility. "Let's drink to our lost innocence!" A bottle of Rumi's wine is produced and poured out. That prompts someone to light up and pass that along too, and suddenly everyone is digging out their own high to share—like certain liberal Jesuits think Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes—by being the first to pass his lunch around he moved everyone else to do the same, until there was more than enough food to feed the crowd on the Mount of Olives.

The discussion becomes more impassioned even as it fragments into individual conversations. Someone brings up Zen, naturally. Someone else keeps floating metaphors and spinning them out until they get unwieldy. A couple in the corner are gossiping about whether or not one of the guests is secretly gay, or worse, a former swami. It's all still good. We're flush with the warmth of remembering things that we can't tell just anyone—if you weren't there you just wouldn't understand. And then an argument breaks out. Maybe there's a difference of opinion, or of the way things get remembered. The host intervenes as gently as he knows how; hey, hey there, no need for anger. We're all equally right and wrong. Let's all be One, OK? But this is misinterpreted too, and someone takes offense; overturning a table they start shouting: "Only a NAVY MAN can tell a Navy man when he's had too much to drink!" or something equally stupid. Quarrels break out and suddenly everyone is shouting at once, and whether they're appealing to order or fueling the fire it all just adds to the din.

What to do?

Here's what happened. The host turned up the lights and said "You don't have to go home folks, but you can't stay here." Party over.

The fact is, everything in civilized life is bound by societal norms—except an unmoderated blog. By giving voice to a minority who wanted to drag the discussion into the gutter, I created a free-for-all on this site. When I saw what I had created my only response was to shut it down.

But. The discussion we've had here does not deserve to be terminated because of some trolls. Rude guests who abuse the tolerance of others who are seeking open discourse on something that is tremendously meaningful to them, and puzzling, and unsettling and maddening and... so on.

So, Rituals of Disenchantment is open again. I will make the commitment to moderate comments. I think you'll find that I'm about as liberal as those good Jesuits who are eager to explain away Christ's miracles. Which is to say--you'll have to really be a flaming asshole not to get your comment posted. But if you are, you won't. Without explanation or response. Whoever is the viciously angry person(s) who flame the posts and comments here, I have a suggestion. Forget meditation and try upping your meds instead. You just might find the world a bearable place.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Not to Get all Drippy on You...

But I'm really glad you're all along for the ride--here at "Rituals" and at all the other online gathering places where we can each speak our truth and find our way forward. Please don't discriminate; visit all these places, and often. Isn't it fucking wonderful to finally be able to say what we feel and--equally importantly--what we don't feel, with complete freedom?

(I know, I know, I'm Mr. Metaphor. But I have my rock-n-roll side too. MC --lovin the Zombies lyrics, 'cept now you got that damn song stuck in MY head!)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

An Apparition from the Present

The other day I was entering the lobby of my building at work when I was stopped short by a tall, elegant woman staring at me with a puzzled expression. All at once her face brightened in recognition, like one candle being lit from another. She rushed forward, graciously offering both her hand and her name, and in that instant I recognized her. "C" was a familiar face I'd encountered at the ashram for many years. I embraced her spontaneously; my body reacting to the joy of unexpectedly meeting another devotee out in the world a moment before my mind registered it. As we looked at one another our eyes radiated warmth, kindled by the flame of remembered fellowship. We made the usual inquiries after each other's welfare, and then she answered the question hanging over us both. "I'm still practicing; I just took the recent Intensive." "The one for Baba's mahasamadhi?" I asked, happy to know that little bit of what is still going on. She nodded and asked if I still practiced. I replied that I did in my own way; mentioning that I was blogging about my experiences. Her face flickered for an instant. I then tried on a role that an early commenter to "Rituals" bestowed on me and told her I was a jnani yogi now, practicing self-inquiry through writing—an answer that didn't really convince either of us.

And then, like every conversation with every devotee I've had in twenty years, the topic turned to Gurumayi. With a few words and gestures of resignation we shared our belief that she is not coming back. Or at least, the yoga that we had practiced so lovingly for so long would not return in its old form. Then "C" said something that astounded me; she confessed that this was not a surprise to her because of a letter she received from Gurumayi years ago. What could Gurumayi have communicated to a devotee in writing that would presage her own disappearance? She explained; it was a letter in which Gurumayi declined her request for an extended stay at the ashram, saying that "C's" light was needed out in the world. Suddenly, the bridge to the past we were standing on crumbled down the middle and an abyss opened up between us. Or, so I felt.

Undoubtedly I was projecting, but it seemed to me that "C" had accomplished a set of mental gymnastics that used to be as natural to me as yogic breathing, but that I no longer knew how to perform. She had taken a glaringly inconvenient fact about SY (the Guru had disappeared) and reconciled it in her mind by appending it to another experience that confirmed, explained or even mystically predicted it (Gurumayi told her that our light is needed not at the ashram, but out in the world.)

I didn't judge my friend: I envied her. Once I asked someone who has left SY what she misses most about the path. Her answer was devastating in its simplicity. "The certainty," she replied "I miss the certainty." Precisely. Siddha Yoga is a system of thought that, by brightly coloring every aspect of a devotee's life, eventually subsumes all others. Everything that happens can be explained through sustained contemplation of the teachings. Explained, not rationalized. Because much of what we came to understand and accept is anything but rational. I knew this even as I practiced contemplation to explain away contradictions between the teachings and their actual practice in SY. I practiced this "Self" mind control willingly and gladly—because I relished the feeling of certainty it bestowed, the freedom from questions that had no answer, the numinous aura of belief that lit up everyday reality in the physcial world, magically turning it from a bleak material plane of cause and effect into a playground of the Shakti.

The talks, the chanting and meditation, the ritual, the hypnotic repetition of the mantra in place of thought; all these built up, stone by stone by stone, a temple in our minds that was really a palace of mirrors. Every reflection corresponded to and explained another, even if it was warped by distortion. Gurumayi sat on her chair in the center of the palace, her image reproduced and reflected back a thousand times over. Because she held a candle, we believed that the hundreds of thousands of reflected flames we saw were ones she had lit in our hearts.

Maybe that's exactly what she wanted. I seem to remember a poem from her slim volume "Ashes at my Guru's Feet" in which Gurumayi used the metaphor of a shattered mirror to stand for the dissolution of her ego at the moment of enlightenment. Perhaps she wants us all to smash our mirrors. Or maybe, just maybe, finding herself once again in a hall of mirrors, she shattered them all herself. I hope so. I really do.

Nevertheless, it is left to each of us to pick up the pieces. "C" seems to have collected the shards of her experience and re-assembled them into a mosaic that paves a path she still faithfully walks. Every one of my Siddha Yoga brothers and sisters who have successfuly accomplished this, know that I hope to walk alongside you one day. Others, the ones who relished all those dancing saptahs, may have gathered their pieces of mirror and used them to create a disco ball. Excellent choice! Finding the unfettered joy and lighthearted laughter we shared together at the ashram in our mundane lives is miracle enough. Still others have swept theirs into a dustbin and walked out of the palace, never looking back. As for me, the pieces of my experience still litter the floor at my feet. For now, I like looking at them from the vantage point of my normal human height. I try to puzzle out how they could ever fit back together again, these shards of mirror that each reflect one fractured aspect of my features, like a Cubist collage.

Friday, November 2, 2007

This is Going Nowhere

I've been following the metaphor of Krishna and the gopis seeking parallels with my practice of Siddha Yoga and the disappearance of Gurumayi, only to find the trail turn as cold as my sadhana. The gopis are abandoned, lost and alone; it appears Krishna really had been playing them all along. He got bored and grabbed his first chance to move to the big city and take eight queens as wives. The comments on the last post in which this betrayal was narrated intrigue me. No one seems to have much sympathy for the gopis, and the only advice we are able to muster is on the order of "get a life" or (and I love this one!) "he's just not that into you, ladies". Are we impatient with those 16,000 long-suffering cow-girls because they remind us too much of ourselves? Or is it because theirs is a cautionary fable. Avatars and Perfected Masters are fantastic at foreplay; the earth moves, the stars tremble and fall and all that. But they make lousy lovers, never sticking around long enough to engender the kind of trust that needn't be blind, or to help shoulder the burden of the daily grind. And if they're present to share our sorrows it is only because we will them to be; in the face of their absence it's the only comfort we've got.

In other words, the rasalila was one big dry hump.

The tale of Krishna and the gopis has been controversial for as long as it's been told. For centuries a debate raged among Hindu scholars regarding whether their love was svakiya (legitimate) or parakiya (illegitimate). The question was at last settled definitvely during a six-month long theological smack-down. I'll let Calasso relate how it ended:

"In the end, the disciples who upheld that the love between Krishna and the gopis was conjugal, legitimate, conceded defeat. They underwrote a document in which they accepted as correct the doctrine they had always abhored. But what were the decisive arguments that sealed the triumphant sovereignity of the illegitimate? Parakiya is that which brings the metaphysical element in love to the point of incandescence. And what is that element? Separation. Never is the rasa of separation so intense as in illegitimate passion. Furthermore, whatever is parakiya is denied the permanence of possession. It is a state in which one can only occasionally be possessed. This corresponds to the essence of every relationship with Krishna. Finally: the woman who abandons herself to a love that is parakiya risks more than other women. To violate the rules of conjugal order is to deny this world's bonds and abandon oneself to what calls to us from beyond our world. Such love does not seek to bear fruit and it never will. Whatever seeks to bear fruit will consume itself in that fruit. While that which disregards every fruit is inexhaustible."

It took the good scholars of India only half a year of intense debate to come to the truth any fan of the Lifetime channel or devotee of Italian opera knows in their heart: forbidden love is the hottest. Like the composers of grand opera, the rishis of ancient India lived in cultures steeped in tradition and tightly girded by the strictures of religion. Love was forbidden for one reason alone: it violated or threatened to sever the bonds that culture held most sacred—whether of marriage, religion or clan.

We don't live in such a world (thank goddess). So, what is forbidden to us, who have inherited every freedom? To love someone who doesn't love us back. Unrequited love's a bore, so the song says, but only if you're stuck listening to your friend go on about 'the one that got away'. If you're the one who is mired in it, infatuation is endlessly fascinating. You get to play victim of the capriciousness of fate, martyr to the ideal of a love so true it thrives even when rejected. What never occurs to us is that this kind of love survives only because it isn't returned. Infatuation, like parakiya, depends on the element of separation. A lover who withholds their attention or, worse, allows you only an occasional taste of themselves like Krishna petting his gopis, remains forever idealized. You're free to project onto the tabula rasa of their indifference all the best qualities you long for in a lover. Such a love is dangerously seductive precisely because it is all ache and no release. Reality can never intrude on an idyll when it is conducted solely in fevered fantasy, bereft of the sort of cold shower delivered when your boyfriend forgets your anniversary, or goes out for beers with the boys leaving you to clean up their Super Bowl mess.

The relationship between devotee and guru in Siddha Yoga is petrified in just such idealized amber. In "The Perfect Relationship" (note the starkly naked message of the title) Baba Muktananda wrote about the difference between romantic love between two people, and the love that exists between disciple and guru. He says (from memory, my SY books are in storage and I see no need to cite chapter and verse) that mundane love is a business transaction, on the order of "you give me this and I'll give you that; stop doing this and I won't do that". The guru-disciple relationship has no such crass bargaining; it is all surrender to unconditional love. Baba meant to press home the superior purity of spiritual love, but he opens up a Pandora's box. His definition hews uncomfortably close to our experience of mundane infatuation and obsession. Wonderfully remote, physically present only in the stolen clasp of darshan, or as a blaze of orange just glimpsed before we lowered our eyes behind hands clasped in reverence, the guru played Krishna and we worshipful gopis played ecstatically along.

And now, like the gopis we are wandering in silence. Ok, maybe not silence, our ongoing online discussions prove that. One commenter asked what advice we should give the gopis of Vrndavana. Here's mine. You will love and you will be torn from that love. The duty of forsaken love is to extinguish itself without leaving behind the ash of bitterness. Because only you will taste of that bitterness.


"Parakiya is that which brings the metaphysical element in love to the point of incandescence"

"Jyota se jyota jagavo
Sadguru jyota se jyota jagavo."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Interlude End

"Krishna left the forest and meadows of Vrndavana for the city of Dvaraka, where he was united in wedlock to eight queens. The gopis now roamed in silence. Accustomed to the emotion of stolen love, when they were alone they would sometimes say the words "you thief" over and over, but without getting any response. Life went on as though Krishna had never been with them. Separation, emptiness, absence: this was the new emotion, and the only one."

Calasso, "Ka"

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What Color is Your Krishna?

We are visiting the labyrinth of the night forest of Vrndavana. Krishna has just disappeared and the gopis are fleeing through the sacred groves in every direction. When the rasalila abruptly ended they awoke with a start, as if from enchantment; immediately each was seized by the twin coils of shame and desire. Shame, because they knew they'd left their homes and families to cavort with a lover; Desire, because they were desperate to consummate a forbidden act of love that had ended almost before it began. The gopis threw themselves headlong down the forest's thousand and one paths searching for Krishna in every direction except the one in which he could be found—up.

There is only one perspective from which it is possible to view a labyrinth in its entirety, and that is from above. Krishna had simply climbed a moonbeam until he could look down on his many lovers at once. What he saw startled him. The briars and brambles of the forest were shot through with a hundred shades of red. Each belonged to a scrap of cloth torn from the sari of a gopi as she darted first this way, then that. These flashes of bright crimson radiated outward from the clearing where the rasalila took place, like embers bursting from a burning log, like hyper-oxygenated blood cells escaping from the heart into the arteries, veins and capillaries of a panicked captive.

What did Krishna feel when he was confronted with this sight? Pity? Regret? Love?

Exactly what does a god feel for his devotees? This is not a rhetorical question; I really want to know. Krishna's dalliance with the gopis is traditionally explained as a game, a sport, a play of consciousness in which the divine lover entices the human heart to leave behind its mundane concerns and become enraptured with the eternal. But, if the gopis could never hope to follow Krishna when he would retreat to his eternal nature as Vishnu, to what end did he entice them? It is the quality of sport that unnerves here; Krishna may have been only playing, but no one likes to have their heart toyed with, least of all by god.

Which begs a further question—what was the gopis' experience? When they danced with their own personal Krishna did they feel they were standing at the threshold of the divine? Or, were they seduced by a perfect lover who, against all odds, had chosen them—a poor, wide-hipped farm girl to be his one true love?

It's said that the gopis each danced with a Krishna who conformed to her exact desires. That's why, when some brushed their breasts against his chest it was a deep indigo, others danced with a lover whose skin was the color of hyacinth, others sighed after a Krishna whose pale flesh was stained blue only along its veins. The differing colors of Krishna's skin may be seen as a visual metaphor for the varying guises the divine lover adopts for each gopi. For many, of course, Krishna was the dashing prince depicted in miniature paintings of the rasalila—handsome, flirtatious, attentive—the exact opposite of the brutish husbands who awaited them at home and demanded to be treated as a household god. Others, perhaps, were more enchanted by the adolescent Krishna, the trickster who hid behind the sandalwood trees with his posse of teenage boys, impatiently waiting to jump out and scare the younger gopis so that, trembling with excitement, they spilt their milk pails. Still others might well have lusted after the mature Krishna, brave warrior and steadfast charioteer for Arjuna on the battle-field of Kurukshetra, father-figure extraordinaire.

I can equally imagine a gopi who had lost her only child when he was just a toddler, leaving her marriage bed to wander in the forest following after the giggles and squeals of a small child. Reaching the clearing where the rasalila is to take place, she bends and sweeps the baby Krishna into her arms, that little thief whose mouth and chest are slick with stolen butter from the jar he grasps in tiny, chubby hands. After dancing with him she returns to her bed, her breasts now smeared with butter too, and when her husband sleepily reaches out for them she smacks his hand and rolls away, unwilling to let him nuzzle nipples still tender from suckling a god.

What do all these Krishnas have in common? Each is uniquely capable of satisfying the deepest longings of the gopi he dances with. He alone is able to fill the void she feels in her soul. Only in this guise will she permit him to lure her away from family, friends, the duties of hearth and home. Only dancing with this form does she allow herself to become totally vulnerable, opening up so completely that Krishna, the thief who could steal anything, finds no need to abscond with her heart, she has already placed it in his cupped hands.

We are all of us gopis. Thinking of Krishna's endlessly mutable nature reminds me of the verse we chanted together in the Guru Gita countless times:

"Salutations to Shri Guru. In order to receive the true understanding of the world, I consider you to be my father, my mother, my brother and my God."

Here we might add: sister, lover, grandfather, best friend, only friend, co-conspirator, disciplinarian, high-priestess, advocate, counselor, story-teller, sorceress...

The four roles mentioned in the above verse are not meant to delimit the Guru, rather they stand for any role, every role that the devotee needs the Guru to play. Between Bade Baba, Baba Muktananda and Gurumayi, these were practically endless for the followers of Siddha Yoga. My principle relationship to the Guru was with Gurumayi, and after receiving shaktipat I clung to her for many years like a child clings to the skirts of his mother. After much sadhana, I began to see her in a different way—as a sister. I felt that she was calling me to rise and stand shoulder to shoulder with her like Balarama stood with Krishna, or Lakshmana stood with Rama. This evolution was emblematic of a deep healing of my psyche. I had lost my mother when I was two years old. Too young to remember her at all. Growing up, when other children talked about their mothers, I was silent. For me, my mother was present only as an absence—negative space inhabiting the margins of the pages of my life's story. My relationship with Gurumayi somehow filled up that space, allowed me to engage with a maternal presence and so to grow, and to grow up. And then, just when I felt that we had attained a species of equality that would enable us to work together as one—she was gone.

The abandonment I had experienced with the death of my mother—sudden, unexplained and unfathomable loss—was repeated. It remains to be seen if the recurrence of this absence will prove to be another opportunity for radical re-integration and healing—or simply a further devastation.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Interlude Prolonged

"When the first full moon of autumn approaches and the jasmine is in bloom, the shrill soft sound of the flute penetrates the rooms. It is Krishna calling. Whatever they are doing, the gopis are roused. One gets up from the half-empty pail where she was milking a cow. One gets up from the flickering twigs where she was lighting the fire. One gets up from the bed where her husband was about to embrace her. One gets up from the toys she was playing with on the floor. One knocks over the bottle she was using to perfume herself. They are little girls, adolescents, wives who suddenly and furtively set off toward the forest. All you would hear was a twinkling of bangles and ankle bracelets through the dark. Slipping out from the trees, each believing she was alone, they found Krishna in a moonlit clearing. He looked at them as they stood still, panting from haste, smiled and said 'Women of good fortune, what can I do for you? The night is full of frightening creatures. Sons, husbands and parents are waiting for you in the village. I know you have come here for me. This is happiness. But you mustn't let people stay up worrying on your account. Celebrate my name in silence, from afar.' Then one of the gopis spoke up on behalf of all the others: 'Nothing we have left behind is as urgent and important to us as adoring the soles of your feet. No one is closer to us than you are. Why is it that learned men can find refuge in you, and we cannot? We grovel in the dust of your footsteps. Place your hand on our breasts and our heads.' Krishna smiled again and began to walk, playing Murali, the flute. From behind a curtain of leaves came the sound of the Yamuna flowing by. One by one, in order, the gopis came up to Krishna and, shaking breasts damp with sweat and sandalwood oil, brushed against his blue chest. Whenever Krishna laid his mouth on a new hole of his musical rod, his lips wet a different part of the gopis' bodies. In the milky light you could just see the pink marks his nails left. Dancing ever so slowly, the gopis closed around Krishna as he went on playing Murali. Each felt seized, abandoned and seized again, as if by a wave. Then all at once each noticed that her eyes met those of the gopis on the other side of the circle, while the center was suddenly empty. Yet again, Krishna had disappeared."

Calasso, "Ka"

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

An Interlude

"The rasalila, 'the dance game,' the circular dance that is echoed in every other dance, couldn't get started. Each of the gopis wanted to be nearest to Krishna. They were all trying to get close enough to color his skin with the saffron paste smeared on their breasts. That way they would have managed, even if for only a few seconds, to have left a trace of themselves on him. A cluster of shawls, bodices, and slender, glistening chests closed him in on every side. Then in order to get the dance going, Krishna decided to multiply himself. He resorted to his knowledge of mirrors and reflection. In the circle, between each gopi and the next, another Krishna appeared, holding them by the hand and looking alternately at one, then the other, as though following the steps of the dance, though each gopi was convinced that he was there for her alone. The yellow cloth wrapped around his loins was always the same, but the color of his skin varied, from dark blue to hyacinth. These were the many Krishnas, while the one Krishna remained in the center of the circle, where the gopis could see nothing at all."

from Robert Calasso's "Ka—Stories of the Mind and Gods of India"

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Metaphorically Speaking

As a writer I love metaphor (OK maybe a bit too much). I love how by simply holding something up and calling it by another name you can suddenly perceive it from a fresh angle that would otherwise remain obscured by habit. While writing this blog I've seized on a number of metaphors to more fully understand the current state of my relationship with Gurumayi and Siddha Yoga. The first was the name "Rituals of Disenchantment" which came to me after quite a bit of soul-searching, and then wouldn't leave me. It seemed to sum up the impasse I found myself in after 20 years of sadhana in which the Guru-Disciple relationship was forever paramount, only to discover that the Guru seemed to have up and left the relationship on her own and without so much as a farewell or forwarding address. It's not easy being jilted by a divine lover, and my abandonment issues were understandably inflamed. I suddenly felt that over the years I had become spellbound through the hypnotic intensity of Siddha Yoga practices—literally enchanted with the worship of a being I believed to be a living saint—and only through an equally incantatory and ritualized writing practice might I free myself from the fatal glamour of that spell.

And then I thought again. Maybe Gurumayi had planned this as a teaching? Maybe this was her way of disengaging us from an outward relationship that was finite and mutable, so that we might plunge more desperately and so more deeply into an inner relationship that was infinite and eternal. If so, she intended a break from the past that was at least as radical as the one I had imagined. If so, Gurumayi also wanted us to become disenchanted with the limits of our communal experience in order to break through to a future that would hold a new and more lasting magic for us all.

Either way, "Rituals of Disenchantment" seemed to work, both as metaphor and practice.

And so I began to write, but no sooner had I begun than I felt the metaphoric landscape shift and slide away beneath me; there were so many questions about the past twenty years of my sadhana that had remain unasked and unexamined for too long. Where to begin? I didn't know in which direction to turn. No sooner would I plunge forward to consider one (once off-limits) aspect of my experience then another would arise to turn me aside and lure me down its blind alleyway. That's when I posted that I felt I had stumbled into a labyrinth. And this new metaphor is one that apparently resonates with many others, as "MC" wrote in one of her comments:

"This theme of experiencing God in his absence is one that is very present for me now that Christopher has framed the labyrinth as a metaphor...It's rich and I look forward to lots of companionship there. Pan's Labyrinth I watched on the edge of my seat, not understanding a tenth of what was going on. Just like when I was kid, watching films I couldn't fathom, but fascinated."

Like MC, I was fascinated by Guillermo Del Toro's darkly majestic film (which as a fairy tale succeeds best if it is viewed with the wondrously wide eyes of a child). This enchanted movie reminds us that, traditionally, labyrinths both encompass and enclose the magical and forbidden. For the girl in Del Toro's film the labyrinth was both a refuge from an arbitrary and brutally violent world, and a testing ground in which she was trusted with a series of tasks—the completion of which would prove whether she was worthy to rule that enchanted underground realm. In myth, however, the labyrinth is not often conceived of as a refuge. And as a testing ground, it is not a territory to be explored, but rather escaped. Monsters and minotaurs prowl the heart of the labyrinth; heroes either slay them and emerge unscathed or remain forever trapped within, their bones whitening to become indistinguishable from the blank walls of chalk that imprison them.

I have a dream of the Siddha Yoga sangham; we are all cleaving together as one at an immense dancing saptah. Imagine the dancing circles behind the South Fallsburgh mandap—times ten thousand. Women, men and children all dance at the same time and there is so much room if we close our eyes it's as if each of us is dancing alone. We do the sidelong sliding step in unison, clap our hand and chant in unison—the women calling and the men responding. Everyone's eyes are turned to the center of the circles where Gurumayi dances by herself in an empty fire pit—orange robes twisting and flapping in the breeze like tongues of flame lapping the cool night air. As we dance and chant and sway the small rose bushes planted between the circles begin to grow and flourish, climbing and thickening until they stretch overhead and we can't see anything except the path in front and behind us. We are each of us lost in our own private ecstasy. Suddenly, a dark cloud obscures the face of the moon and everything is plunged into absolute darkness. As the drumbeats and harmonium fade into silence a few dancers—madwomen or saints—wrap their pale arms around themselves and twirl to music they alone continue to hear. The rest of us begin searching for a way out; stretching our arms outward to take the measure of the space around us and find our direction. But, instead of fingering rose blossoms our hands and arms are scratched and torn by thorns.

We have become like the gopis abandoned by a thousand Krishnas and lost in the labyrinth of the night forest.

to be continued

Friday, October 19, 2007

In Which Camp Are Your Pitching Your Tent?

Shortly after I posted last Sunday my home computer began what seems like a sharp descent into hard drive failure (We'll leave speculation as to whether that is a manifestation of coincidence, synchronicity or the Guru's will for another time). I’ve had to leave it shut down until a friend can do some diagnostics and, hopefully, repair it. Hence, I've been posting sporadically from work, and just today was pleased to discover that people have been reading here and posting comments and observations. Thank you all! The more this monologue becomes a dialogue, the more fulfilling it will be for me—and surely the more interesting for all of you.

One of the commentators who posted a response to my last entry took issue with the hypothetical scenario I imagined in which Gurumayi returned to the chair but admitted mistakes, made restitution and asked to be seen as nothing more mysterious or holy than a teacher. Anonymous wrote:

"Hypothetically, it would be absolutely wonderful. However in the two years plus since I completely quit Siddha Yoga, I've somehow managed to totally forget how to speak Hypothetical. The language has escaped me. And thus, I prefer not to hold my breath waiting for the actualization of the hypothesis you pose."

I'm not holding my breath either, Anonymous. If I had been, I suppose I'd be long dead. More and more what fascinates me is not the mystery of Gurumayi's disappearance, or whether she will return, but rather the question—what exactly were we doing during all those years we practiced together? I conjured up a hypothetical future for Gurumayi as an ordinary teacher in order to speculate about her past as an "enlightened, perfected master," what it meant to us, what hold it exerted over us, how much it contributed to the sense of worth we attributed to our practices and to the path itself.

It seems to me that the Siddha Yoga sangham is increasingly separating into two camps—those who are waiting for it all to come springing back, and those who have moved on—with or without a sense of closure. I began this blog feeling that I was out there wandering somewhere in the middle, in no-man's land. It has come as a real surprise that the more I think about SY, and the more I write about it, the less I can imagine it returning as a path, and the less I seem to need or want it to. Maybe writing this blog is my search for closure. And maybe there are others like me who want to consider more deeply what value, if any, those years had for us, if only to aid in the search for whatever of meaning will come next for us.

Wherever you've pitched your tent, I love having you along on the journey!


P.S. I especially want to thank Marta Szabo for inviting the readers of THE GURU LOOKED GOOD to visit here. Marta, your emotionally honest narrative about your time in Siddha Yoga is something truly special. For so long, I fantasized that the day would come when I could write freely, openly and honestly about my experiences of the path. The thought that it would be a kind of betrayal of the path always stopped me. Your example in doing so was—and is—courageous. May many more people follow it in the search for their own truth.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Into the Labyrinth

"Diodorus Siculus tells the story of a god who had been cut into pieces and scattered; which of us, strolling at dusk or recollecting a day from the past, has never felt that something of infinite importance has been lost?"
Jorge Luis Borges, Paradiso XXXI, 108

Maybe because my last post left me at the mouth of a labyrinth, I've been thinking about Borges, famous lover of labyrinths who used them as a central symbol in much of his writing. So, I picked up a volume of his work and turned to the above verse, the opening lines of a poem about the search for a lost god whose presence is felt by his worshippers only as an absence.

(Gurumayi, anyone?)

I can't read Borges without thinking it would have been easy to love him, to fall in love with the man whose extraordinary imagination could gestate entire worlds, or summon up a single, ancient evening in just a few lines. But a man is not synonymous with his art. Maybe Jorge Luis was surly in the morning if his eggs were runny, or maybe his underarms smelled like onions, or he scattered his clothes on the floor while making his drunken way to bed, expecting that his wife would dutifully pick them up before joining him for some hot monkey-love. Borges was doubtless guilty of a thousand and one faults which, over time, could turn love cold. Which is to say, he was merely human—even if he could write like a god.

But is this the way true love works? Don't lovers tolerate and even come to embrace each other's imperfections? That's been my experience. I've learned to face, and found the courage to change, some of my more egregious character flaws only after watching a boyfriend lovingly accept them, time and again. And I've performed the same healing function for him. In fact, wouldn't it seem inhuman, even monstrous, to insist that someone be perfect before you loved and accepted them?

If so, how did we all come to fall in love with the idea of a perfected master?

What did it mean when we said that the Guru was perfect? That she always acted in unity with the Shakti? That she saw perfection in everything, even us imperfect humans? Or, did it mean that she never made a mistake?

For many of us who only saw Gurumayi in public, always immaculately dressed, exquisitely poised, reading talks that were painstakingly scripted and polished with practiced spontaneity, it was easy to develop strange notions about what the Guru's perfection meant. I remember a day in the early 90's, at the apex of the Guru-as-Goddess stage in Siddha Yoga, sitting in Amrit with otherwise intelligent people debating whether or not Gurumayi actually menstruated (the thinking being she was a lifelong celibate by definition, so why would she need to?) How many of us true believers were all too eager to ascribe to her magical powers—if someone got up and shared in an Intensive that Gurumayi had appeared in their room and talked them through some difficulty, even though she was physically thousands of miles away at the time, well, the Guru could bilocate! And who among us hasn't sat in a chant, nursing some private sorrow, and believed that Gurumayi picked our face out of the thousands sitting before her in the mandap to deliver a penetrating gaze, or a momentary comforting smile, as a sign that she had read our thoughts and was answering our silent prayer?

Of course, the culture and practices of Siddha Yoga fed the flames of this sort of fevered apotheosis.The thousands of pictures of the Guru that papered the walls of the ashram, the steady stream of experience shares (themselves carefully crafted and "coached") that related miracles due to Gurumayi's or Baba's grace, the daily worship of Bade Baba's murti and the attendant hush of sacred stillness that permeated the atmosphere of the temple. If the teachings of Siddha Yoga were careful to make a distinction between the inner and outer Guru, placing the former above the latter in importance to the individual seeker, what was this orgy of outer worship about? Why did we need it?

I can imagine a Siddha Yoga grounded in the same Kashmir Shaivite teachings, with precisely the same list of spiritual practices, in which the physical Guru is merely "first among many" as a fellow practitioner. Revered as a teacher, but not worshipped. Not infallible, equally capable of making errors and learning from them. But would we want this?

Hypothetically, what if Gurumayi were to return to us chastened, admit to her wrongs and the wrongs of others committed under her watch, make restitution to individuals she has hurt, ask forgiveness from them privately and the sangham publically. What if she also asked to be seen as nothing more mysterious or holy than a teacher—would we take her back? Or are we willing to accept nothing less than perfection in our Guru?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

OK. This is weird.

The moment I posted my first entry to this blog—that is, the very second my mouse clicked the "Publish Post" button, my cell rang with a call from "N," someone who is close to Gurumayi's inner circle and whom I've known and trusted for many years. "N" had called to tell me she's in town from LA and wanted to get together. We made plans to see each other for coffee in a few days and I hung up with a lingering, unsettling feeling that the Guru knew and saw what I was posting here, and had reached out to tell me so.

Let's look at that. The way I see it, there are several possible explanations for this incident:

It was a mere coincidence, easily explained by the fact that I had called "N" recently after months of not being in touch, because Siddha Yoga had begun to occupy my thoughts more and more and her perspective was, and is, one I respect. The coincidence might have been dramatic in its timing, but that only has significance if I choose to invest it with special meaning. Otherwise, it was just two random events occuring at the same time, not unlike dozens of others twin occurences that go unnoticed every day precisely because they hold no meaning for me.

"Synchronous events reveal an underlying pattern, a conceptual framework which encompasses, but is larger than, any of the systems which display the synchronicity."

I'm quoting from a Wikipedia entry on Jung, which should be all the evidence you need that I have neither studied nor truly comprehend Jung's theory. But, it seems to me to go something like this: we are all connected by a vast collective unconscious that at times makes our shared connections plain through coincidental events that have no causal relationship. Synchronicity, then, is an invitation to look at coincidence and invest it with meaning. To pull the threads of our experience apart and examine them, following each back to see where it leads. You don't have to believe in god with a capital G to believe in synchronicity, faith in a common ground of being is sufficient.

This maxim, popular in Siddha Yoga, finds its expression in all religions. Coincidence is not merely an invitation to slow down and look for hidden connections; it is a revelation from God (Her)Self that is pregnant with meaning for the believer. It might be a sign that what you are doing is good, and you have blessings to proceed. It might be a warning that you should go back, you've crossed a boundary and are trespassing on something holy. In either case, the believer isn't the origin of the meaning invested in the coincidence; it comes directly from God.

It's tempting to look at these alternate theories as a set of Russian nesting dolls. The rationalist perspective is the outer shell; big, bright and colorful but when opened—empty of any further content. Synchronicity hides just beneath the surface; it rewards the curious who are willing to twist apart their reality in the search for a deeper significance. And God is the innermost shell; meaning in seed form, the still, quiet voice that reveals our destiny.

That's the way I used to see things. But, I'm not playing with dolls these days. Rather, it seems to me that I've stepped into a labyrinth in which any of the above perspectives can be followed, and any one of them might lead to a blind alley, become a circuit that deposits me back to exactly where I started, or be the arc that leads to the very heart of the truth.

Where in Hell is Gurumayi?

It's an open question. As in now open for discussion.

Gurumayi hasn't been seen in public for—how long has it been? Three years, almost four? It's hard to know precisely because news of her appearances has long been carefully controlled and sometimes concealed by those closest to her. I do know the last time I saw her; it was January 1, 2004 when I did seva helping to broadcast the last New Year's message that she gave in person: "Experience the Power Within. Kundalini Shakti." Soon afterwards she began to slowly fade away; first closing her ashram in upstate New York to outside visitors, then abruptly stopping public initiations. The following year she failed to appear to give the New Year's address, and instead issued a cryptic command that Siddha yogis should repeat the study of the previous year's message.

Or did she?

Communications from South Fallsburg (the international headquarters of Siddha Yoga) have been exquisitely calibrated to neither disclose her whereabouts nor quote her directly. Gurumayi's followers have been left to trust what they're (not) being told and invited not to ask questions.

Well, I can no longer trust without questioning. So, let's began with this: Why should anyone care about Gurumayi's disappearance? True believers are taught not to associate the eternal Guru Principle too closely with any transient human form, however beloved, while skeptics (of whom Siddha Yoga has many) doubtless cheer the seeming abdication of a teacher who has been implicated in numerous scandals in recent years, and who some now believe to be a false guru.

My answer is that it matters to me. This blog is an ongoing search not merely for information on Gurumayi's whereabouts, but for signs that the yoga I've practiced under her guidance for the past twenty years is a true path. In this quest I won't so much be looking for outside evidence as I will be trying—at last—to examine my own experiences of Siddha Yoga, their value and merit, without the constriction of a devotional narrative framework. Readers who are familiar with the Siddha Yoga "experience talk" straight-jacket will understand what I'm talking about here. Make no mistake. I treasure many of the spiritual experiences I've had while practicing Siddha Yoga; the intimately fulfilling states of self-awareness in meditation, the ecstatic, transcendental highs of group chanting, the silent swing of my inner compass pointing true north during profound self-inquiry. What I no longer value is the stultifying Siddha Yoga culture that replaces true self-inquiry (which must remain open to the divine contradictions and bittersweet ambiguities of real life) with foregone-conclusion contemplation that ties everything up in a neat package and wraps it in a brightly-colored Lesson Learned Due To The Guru's Grace.

I believe it is the responsibility of all of us who have practiced Siddha Yoga to break the seal that a false devotion once clamped over the doors of our free expression. It's the only way forward. I'll be the first to say that it's scary. Very scary. Because we don't know what we'll find. People I know and trust have taken this way and come to unbelief. Just deciding to start down this path feels like a departure from the path of Siddha Yoga to me. But I can't go back.

I've named this blog Rituals of Disenchantment because we all have to break the spell of silence that has been cast over the Siddha Yoga sangham if we are ever to become re-enchanted with this yoga again. In this, everyone is welcome to participate in their own way. I'm keeping this blog open to anyone who wants to read it, and to post to it. I want this to be a place where you can speak your own truth, whether you have left the path, are still on squarely on it, or don't know where you stand. Just be honest and kind. If we can't be kind with one another, what really have we attained after all this time?