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."