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?

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear SeekHer,

You say "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?"

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.

Cameron D. McIntosh said...

I enter this discussion as a former South Fallsburg staffer who reluctantly separated in 1990, has struggled to regain physical and emotional balance, and who became reacquainted with another spiritual tradition starting in 1996. The last eleven years have been spent trying to get my bearings in the spiritual paradigm of the other tradition, and a recent life-transition has brought the urge to reexamine my SY experiences and see if I can make better sense of them. My referral came from Marta's site.

The concepts here seem pretty abstract, akin to my own inner atmosphere, though I'm not so well read. I need go no further than the blog title to find ammunition for a contemplation, based on the themes I've gathered from my new teacher. "Rituals" is one "million dollar" word. Under that rubric, you could gather all the spiritual technology of Siddha Yoga (I will not elaborate here).

The next word bursting with meaning is "disenchantment." The Latin etymology goes something like:

"dis-" falling away from (separating from)
"en-chant" (compare "incantation"): being "pulled in" to a state of fascination
"ment" the condition of

Disenchantment "The condition of falling away from a state of fascination."

We find that this so-called secular word has a spiritual reference--"chant" (whose meaning is identical with the English word). But, because a human being can become enchanted by just about anything, we have an example that a concept which we previously considered uniquely "spiritual" actually can be generalized to a universal human tendency to become focused on a charming object.

And what is charming? Here is another miracle. One can make some generalizations, but we also find that what is charming can vary according to the person and the time in that person's life.

The theme of disenchantment under discussion here is consequent to an earlier period of *enchantment*--we were fascinated by the paradigm of Siddha Yoga. We thought that this fascination was something which transcended the world of ordinary human values, yet now we find we are *disenchanted*.

A continuing theme in the stories and discussions on Marta's blog is how a peek behind the facade of the path revealed a less appealing view, or how a seeker's growth and learning showed him the limitations of the path. The focus is often on "the path," but I'm wondering about the tendency to become enchanted, then disenchanted. This tendency seems to hold for just about any human endeavor, spiritual or not.

My current spiritual guide points out that human beings are *addictive by nature*--that is an essential and carefully engineered trait in each of us. It is part of the cosmic design which sets us in motion experiencing every possible facet of every minute aspect of life by *becoming* it. In Siddha Yoga parlance, this is the phase of "evolution" (as contrasted with "involution"). The evolutionary phase comprises 700,000,000 lives, and that is a pretty fixed number. The involutionary phase is more flexible and can take a variable number of lives to complete.

I think a possible misunderstanding is that a Siddha guru can take a person who is somewhere in the evolutionary phase and immediately kick them into the involutionary phase. That's not how it works, according to this other tradition. The tradition also claims that, at this stage of creation, the number who have reached the involutional stage is a small minority.

I would say that the role which Siddha Yoga has played in our lives is more likely that of a needed standpoint to complete our "experiential set" in the lengthy phase of evolution. However, these things don't always fit into a neat model. We also have to revisit all these experiences when we melt them during the phase of involution.

The notion of a human life as a chain of addictions leads to another important principle, that the human ego (central organizing principle) is an "amplifier of meaning." Many life issues can be looked upon as dichotomies or as continua between two opposite poles. The ego in its most simple form goes the way of the digital computer and has only two modes--TRUE or FALSE for the assignation of meaning. The world is viewed as abiding by the principles of Aristotelian logic that "a proposition and its converse cannot be simultaneously true." (However, from a spiritual view, the world seems increasingly to obey the principles of non-Aristotelian logic, as both the proposition and its converse are seen as simultaneously true!)

What eventually pokes holes in the monolithic ego? That principle you so eloquently describe in this post--love. Our gurus made fun of human affection--how wrong they were. Close companionship is one of the most intense spiritual fires available to souls. If it is a relationship of peers, it doesn't suffer from the problem of possible abuse of a teacher-disciple relationship.

-Cam McIntosh (Yateendra, the South Fallsburg garbage man)

Anonymous said...

Great nourishment all round these parts of the cybersphere.

In comments
" 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."

This comment hammered a door open that I have been afraid to face and so wanted to. Thanks.

Yes, like you I have stopped holding my breath. Your post helped me release a little further away fron the god-for-saken state of 'longing' which no longer has my emotions targeted and tangled, just worn out. I know they will regenerate.

Thanks to the host for framing such a discussion. I too a a sense that without plumbing the heights of SY, I will not get to move beyond confidently. Crisis is opportunity.

I recycle everything else in my life, why not my god?

To SeekHer, hats off!

MC

Anonymous said...

"that without plumbing the heights of SY, I will not get to move beyond confidently."

I think the above is a freudian slip. We climb heights and plumb depths.

Plumbing the heights of SY. That's about right.

MC

Anonymous said...

Dear SeekHer,
I love Borges myself...his writing, that is. Of the man himself, I know nothing at all (never having met him) except that he never presented himself as a "God" as far as I am know...no one ever chanted, "Borgesbrama borgesvisnurborgesdevo mahesvarah, borgesreva parabrama tasmai sribores namah" (sorry I can't include the diacritical marks). Comparing an all too human writer with someone who has allowed herself to be deified and whose very position as "the guru" (within the guru/disciple tradition) would make it extremely difficult for her to present herself as a simple "teacher" is a little disingenuous, although I loved your section on imagining Borges' "ordinary life".
Ah how we were encouraged to shift our attention from "The Eternal Shiva" to the "Living Master". How many times did I hear how fortunate we were to have a 'living master' not a conceptual master. Somehow the "inner guru" got lost in the shuffle no matter how skillfully we intellectualize it.
regards,
sadhvi

Anonymous said...

>>>"The focus is often on "the path," but I'm wondering about the tendency to become enchanted, then disenchanted. This tendency seems to hold for just about any human endeavor, spiritual or not.

My current spiritual guide points out that human beings are *addictive by nature"<<<

Dear Yateendra,
Buddhists call this The Wheel of Samsara...enchantment being another word for ...Desire.Life on the wheel has been described as an inevitable pulsation of what you call
"enchantment/disenchantment/re-enchantment"...for however many lifetimes it takes to wake up.
sadhvi

Anonymous said...

Dear Christopher/SeekHer,

I'm the anonymous who posted about forgetting how to speak Hypothetical. I wanted you to know that I did not post that to "take you to task". Instead, I was simply stating that "yes, there was a period when I, too, felt that way, but since having learned all sorts of things about GM (whom I actually prefer now to call by her original given name of Malti since I would now challenge the authenticity of her "monkhood" for a whole host of reasons), I simply cannot realistically expect she'll be back out front and in public anytime soon, frankly, I personally think she won't ever again be in that public guru role.

Taking you to task wasn't on my mind. Simply stating my own take, and trying not to be overly offensive about it, was all I was trying to do.

You mention in your post today about there being "two camps", two places to pitch one's tent.

Frankly, I think there can possibly be a third camp that is definable: Those who adamantly refuse to face that Siddha Yoga is dying on the vine, and firmly believe it will come roaring back when Malti makes her public appearance to strongly "reclaim the throne".

As to whether this "third camp" is really a subset of the first, I really can't say. I just don't know.

But...It is one thing to yearn for a comeback. It is quite another to totally deny a comeback is considered by many to be "required" or even "sought for".

Unfortunately, I surmise that a lot of the people who vociferously sent/send Marta hate mail, those who set up the "Guru LOOKS Good" blog mimicking Marta's blog, and others, may fall into this third camp.

But there are so, SO many things that suggest that Malti has basically quit herself. Among them, how many intensives or audio or video satsangs can people sit through, paying LOTS of money (ya gotta admit $500 is steep for a one-day only pre-recorded video intensive led by the swamis) yet Malti never even shows UP for a pre-recorded event where the degree of control is incredibly high, as opposed to a live broadcast? How many times can she be AWOL before people start having the thought hit 'em: "She ain't comin' BACK....IS she???"

Like you, the last time I physically saw her was mid-2004, about a year before I fully and totally quit SY. In fact, I was standing right next to her and talking to her and felt ZERO "shakti hit" coming from her at all. We had been sitting in Anugraha amrit right by the breezeway hall door, and she cut right through there on the way back to her "house".

She spent a good bit of time talking with us directly. In fact, it was one of the LONGEST conversations I've ever had with her. She was gesticulating wildly and gesturing in a very overexaggerated way, and speaking in an overly dramatic way as well. It reminded me of way overdone acting as I was witnessing it, and the thought suddenly hit me "Why don't I feel ANY kind of a "shakti charge" from her AT ALL? And WHY is she acting so overdramatic and WEIRD?"

Just as soon as I thought that, the devoted "Siddhayogi" in me silenced that thought and tried to push it out of my space of consciousness. But, the memory stuck. And percolated. And percolated. Until a year later, I started reading LSY and EXSY and realized some of the people who had shared stories there were close old friends of mine...whom I immediately contacted to challenge them, to hear their side, to ask questions.

And soon my own path out was clear. Which is amazing to me, since I was incredibly devoted for nearly 25 years. I credited Muktananda with having saved my life, for taking away a drug addiction with just one intensive, and turning my life around for the positive.

Little did I realize then that I was substituting one addiction for another.

Anyway, this is the source of my own perspective, and I thank you for allowing me to share it.

Anonymous said...

" 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?"<<

Dear Christopher,
My answer to the hypothetical question, "would we take her back as a teacher" would have to be "no". I don't think gurumayi has proven herself to be a particularly effective "teacher".There are others who could and do fill this role more effectively if that's what we're after. The concept of the "perfection" of the Guru is deeply rooted in the "guru/disciple" tradition. Gurumayi would have to disassemble more than the karma she may or may not have created in order to present herself as "ordinary". Just my opinion, for what it's worth.
sadhvi

Cameron D. McIntosh said...

It's beginning to sink in that Gurumayi has not appeared in public for about three years (I've been away for about seventeen).

In personal terms, I can't remember a single instance in which I felt treated with anything but respect by her direct person, so I don't wish her ill in any way. As My life has gone forward, I've learned how difficult it can be to keep relations with close associates on an "even keel;" I'm therefore inclined to sympathize with her as a fellow human being.

There we have it--the distinction of a "normal human being" with a "perfect, fully divinized being." If you want to see it that way, I'd say that much of our hangups have to do with attributing super-human status to the guru. And I'd have to say that much of her suffering has the same cause.

Earlier in this discussion, I pointed out that love melts the ego, and that couples who work at accomodating with each other in a relationship of equals are extremely effective in purifying their souls. Although love is learned in unequal relationships as well, I think the less powerful member of the relationship too quickly forgets that the more powerful member needs comfort too. Who is mother to "Guru-Mother?" God alone? I'm sorry, that is too abstract.

Another topic I passed over was "ritual." That's a biggie. My new tradition has a lot to say about rituals. They are a spiritual technology which pulls down immense amounts of certain types of spiritual energy. But what do you do with the energy once you have pulled it down?

These rituals originated at a time in human history when spiritual energy needed to be balanced on earth through the help of people who were not perfected. An elaborate lifestyle was adopted among temple workers (under supervision of a real guru) to hold this energy, but in an area of their being beyond their conscious awareness. The book "Initiation" by Elizabeth Haich is an account of such a group of temple workers.

This is apparently very ancient history. It was described in the book as "ancient Egypt," but if he knew how ancient, no scientist would believe there were human beings around at that time.

My present teachers assert that in the intervening centuries, the atmosphere of the earth and the structure of human beings have evolved to the point where spiritual energies can be worked with directly, and there is no need to pull down power through ritual. To answer the question, "What do you do with the energy you've pulled down?" one would regretfully have to answer, "Be afflicted by it."

I don't know about you, but there were some times in my ashram days when the "shakti" really afflicted me. It started during the saptah in Ganeshpuri following Baba Muktananda's death. I developed an eating disorder there which re-erupted later during my days on staff in South Fallsburg. At that time, there was an immediate, caring response from Gurumayi and a number of loving people at the ashram. But who would have known that this was my body's way of saying, "this atmosphere is unnatural and oppressive?"

That brings me around to my own motherly concern. Who in Siddha Yoga is, according to the very corner stone of the philosophy, the most intensively engaged in "pulling down power?" You guessed it, Gurumayi herself. My new teacher specifically says, "Pulling down power inappropriately can give you a backache." Gurumayi doesn't have an "old fashioned" body--she has a body quite in-tune with the times. It is registering protest to being used according to outmoded precepts.

I'm very sorry that this view appears to undermine Siddha Yoga at so deep a level that it's doubtful that the person who can benefit from it most would be able to conform herself to the ability to receive it. But God is greater than any path to God, however time-honored. And, in time, God will have His perfect work.

Love, Cam McIntosh, South Fallsburg garbage man

Cameron D. McIntosh said...

Oops! I should say "ex-South Fallsburg garbage man." I don't want to get anyone into trouble!!

Love, Yateendra

Anonymous said...

"seekher"...

Your writing is exquisite, please do keep posting. It is bracing and exhilerating to write the truth. I especially love when you were writing about not tying truth up into the pretty red-ribboned syda-endorsed package.

It's the final day of navaratri today, the 9-day festival of the goddess that I used to love while on the path. Four years ago when I came out of denial about what syda really was, I left. I couldn't help myself. And I stopped being able to stomach celebrating the Hindu holidays I once loved.

But last night for the first time since the Great Exodus, I made a gorgeous puja. No, no pictures of false gurus who ransack the shakti. But statues of Durga, Tara and Ganesh all received their avisheks of rose water and pink gerber daisies, while lillies. Everyone was offered pomegranets, lush orange persimmons, dishes of almonds. I felt for the first time I could reown the parts of the tradition I love and see the deities as an expression of my inner self,. It's taken forever.

The heartbreak of giving my love and adoration to a fraud has been brutal. But I'm here to say, cut loose and the healing does eventuallly come.
Please keep writing!

SeekHer said...

Hypothetical--thank you for posting again! I didn't feel as though you were confrontational with your original email, just honest. In fact, I went back and edited "took me to task" to "took issue with" after I read my posting onsite, but guess you saw it before the re-write! Your account of your last "darshan" is riveting, and very, very telling. I have often wondered if, as more and more devotees disconnected from the path, Malti simply didn't have the energy (insert Shakti here?) to maintain the role of Guru, or to keep up the act, if you prefer. It's a fascinating idea to explore---was the Guru an energy vampire, leeching off of the combined power of her devotees devotion while all the while we thought she was the outlet and we were the plugs?

Cameron---I'm so happy that you have been moved to post here. Your considered responses are full of the valued perspective of someone who has down a lot of spiritual work and is a mature seeker. I'm especially pleased that you parsed the hidden meanings in the name of my blog; I chose the words ritual and disenchantment to represent both their secular and sacred meanings. Also, like you, I never had a negative experience with Gurumayi personally and I can't bring myself to wish her ill. Maybe that will change. But I like the idea that you can move on, as you have, and look back, not in anger, but with compassion and understanding.

PS Aren't we all kind of former So. Falls garbage men?!

Cameron D. McIntosh said...

I'd like to comment on a response to one of my earlier comments here:

>>>"The focus is often on "the path," but I'm wondering about the tendency to become enchanted, then disenchanted. [clip]
My current spiritual guide points out that human beings are *addictive by nature"<<<

Dear Yateendra,
Buddhists call this The Wheel of Samsara...enchantment being another word for ...Desire.Life on the wheel has been described as an inevitable pulsation of what you call
"enchantment/disenchantment/re-enchantment"...for however many lifetimes it takes to wake up.
sadhvi

Dear Sadhvi:
The Buddhist "Wheel of Life" is one of the models used the teachers with whom I feel associated (I can't claim to be in a formal "teacher-student relationship" with them).
The difference in this particular tradition's approach is that the enchantment-disenchantment cycle has a *definite purpose*--it spirals upward, rather than continuing endlessly in the same plane. In the initial turning of the Buddhist "Wheel of Life," the purpose is to collect a body of experience which covers every minute facet of every possible life-issue. We find that a given addiction may be continued for a string of lifetimes, but it is *finite*--we do learn that facet of life and we can then become addicted to something else. Finally we become addicted to an aspect of divinity, and this leads to the "addiction to end all addictions."

With the completion of our experience-set comes the "Reversal of the Wheel of Life" (the teachers claim that this term is also found in Buddhist teachings). These two great processes correspond to "evolution" and "involution" as used in Siddha Yoga.

Yateendra

Robert Adan Williams said...

"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."

My mention of the labyrinth in my earlier post was a reference to a couple of my own shakti dreams. I had not read this far into your blog at that time.

Now I understand why you said I revived your labyrinth metaphor!

Love Borges, by the way. Ever read a story called The Book of Sand?

Anonymous said...

Thank you kindly for all your messages. Please read the book
"The Daughters of the Goddess" by Linda Johnsen, this puts in perspective the essential need of the Guru to withdraw from the world and find her own Goddess within. Also, the Buddhist precept of "Detachment" helps here.
You must stay positive and happy that a lot has been given to the world by this woman. She is very pretty and I can understand the attachment some people will feel, but perhaps, she now needs to be left in peace.
I would erase from here all the ugly words that you have said about her.
Dear Gurumayi, if you are reading this, the world sends you all our love and for you to stay away and in peace. I am glad you are not in search of fame.

Love in the Goddess. Me.