Sunday, January 20, 2008

Holy Ghosts

The other day I was talking with a co-worker who practices formal meditation. I had thought his practice was Zen, but he explained that his yoga was actually Tantric Tibetan Buddhism. I was immediately intrigued, particularly given that I confessed my own love of ritualistic yogic worship was fostered by my Roman Catholic past, and he replied that his same heritage led him to love the pujas and ceremonies of his chosen path. He talked of Green Tara and Boddhisatvas and the various bardos of existence that make up our physical reality and that of our journey after death. I tried, lamely, to explain the doctrine of recognition as espoused in the Pratyabijna-hridayam, but began to flail almost as soon as I started. I realized that I had studied Kashmir Shaivism for twenty years to no avail. Even if I questioned the very premise of Guru-ignited enlightenment, I couldn't say exactly what I was abjuring.

The next day I visited my storage unit and extracted Paul Muller Ortega's The Sacred Heart of Shiva, as well as Swami Shantananda's exposition on the  Pratyabijna-hridayam. I wanted to understand and know the (putative) scriptural basis of Siddha Yoga practice. I'm reading these resources now. There is so much to be said about Siddha Yoga's shameful seduction and betrayal of today's leading scholars of Kaula Tantra teachings. I suppose I think if I can write this story, this shameful chapter in the history of SY, I will at least know what of the philosophical underpinnings of our faith I can retrieve and rescue. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Unanswered Prayers

Do you remember the golden period of Siddha Yoga expansionism that occurred in the 1990's? George Afif had been banished back to the Beirut ghetto he'd crawled out of, the New Yorker article was still just a blip on the radar, and each summer every public program in South Fallsburg rang with the clarion call that Siddha Yoga students must take Baba's meditation revolution to the masses. Gurumayi was going on world tours, and where she couldn't go personally she was sending ambassadors. I know one woman who traveled at her behest throughout China; when she returned she told me that she had seen white bands of shakti encircling the globe during meditation, one for each of the apostles Gurumayi was sending to spread SY meditation around the world.

Of course, the rank and file couldn't be trusted to undertake these delicate international missions, but we were told there was a way in which we could help. Through talking about Siddha Yoga to our friends and neighbors at the local level, and supporting the global mission through regular dakshina, we could do our part to ensure that the teachings of Siddha Yoga, and the inestimable gift of shaktipat diksha, would be transmitted to all humankind. Liberation, we were told, was the birthright of every living being. And, of course, we were exhorted to offer our prayers, chanting and practices for the spread of the meditation revolution

Well, as St. Teresa of Avila was fond of saying, "thank God for unanswered prayers."

If Siddha Yoga had succeeded in its global proselityzing mission, we might have found ourselves as absolutely batshit crazy as Tom Cruise in this internal Church of Scientology recruiting video. It was created as part of the ceremony during which he was awarded some sort of Scientology Medal of Honor for introducing 1 billion humans on the planet to the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard.

To view the video don't click on the YouTube picture above (YouTube took the video down due to legal action by the Church of Scientology citing copyright infringement) click on this link, but do it soon, there is no telling how long it will remain up.

The first time I watched this I thought that Tom's remarks must have been edited into incoherence. The man seems to be saying ABSOLUTELY NOTHING at all. But, armed with the index provided by an ex-church member (below) I soon realized that Tom, and the rest of his El Ron worshippers, see their mission as nothing less than total world domination.

(A letter from a former longterm Scientologist posted on gives the meaning behind the most cryptic of Tom's references)

"I was a Scientologist for almost 30 years and I can translate what Cruise is saying," wrote Pieniadz. "He's speaking 'Scientologese,' which is a bogus language that Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard made up in order to assist in the indoctrination of his followers."

Here are Pieniadz's translations:
• KSW: Short for Keeping Scientology Working, a policy written by Hubbard in the 1960s that requires all Scientologists to follow his words and his rules exactly.

• Orgs: An abbreviation for "organizations"; describes all churches of Scientology throughout the world.

• David Miscavige: He is the current leader of Scientology. He's the equivalent of the Pope to the Catholics.

• Out-ethics: Any behavior that violates any of Hubbard's rules of conduct.

• Put ethics in someone else: Make others conform to Hubbard's rules of behavior.

• Criminon: Scientology front group that tries to recruit through the prisons.

• SP: Suppressive Person. Anyone who doesn't like Scientology and/or criticizes Scientology.

• PTS/SP: Another bogus Hubbard term to define behavior that goes against Scientology rules.

• LRH technology or "tech": All of the Scientology policies, rules, mandates, and procedures.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Hand in the Trap

The title of my last post: "When what we had hoped for came to nothing, we revived." is a quote by Rebecca West (or so I read somewhere years ago; I've never been able to track down its origin in her writings.) I loved it when I first read it in my twenties, even though I knew I was too young to truly understand the paradox it so neatly contains. But I've carried those words around with me all this time, in memory, waiting for the situation that they describe to arise. And now it's here.

It's true that I had hoped the 2008 message would be an honest accounting of where SY is now (if not an admission of how we got here). That is was not, that it was nothing more than a recitation of the story of "the lineage", and an exhortation to do more sadhana mixed with contemplations obviously designed to make the listener believe he or she hadn't done enough, given enough, worshipped enough—was not a surprise, but a true disappointment.

It was a talk that could only have satisfied true believers, those who came looking to hear their beliefs reiterated, and so reinforced. I don't feel any special pride at no longer being one of these; I was unquestionably and unquestioningly one for many, many years.

So, where is the revival? For me, it lies outside of the practice of Siddha Yoga. Perhaps, probably, this talk will divide the sangham in two once again, at a moment when those who had left and those who had stayed were finally beginning to talk among themselves honestly and openly. Maybe it was designed to do just that. After all, talking amongst ourselves without a "moderator" was never permitted before, at least not in an official capacity.

My hope is that those who still identify as "belonging to" or practicing Siddha Yoga will stick around and talk about their experience of the message, its import on their sadhana and its effect. I hope I haven't scared you all away with my sarcastic remarks; I've thought about going back and editing them out but have not. They encapsulate my "experience" of the talk as cogently as I know how to. Please balance them out with your own, positive experiences if you'd like.

The title of this post is also from a quote, by Saint Augustine: "She who places her hand in a trap, carries the trap with her."

With this 2008 Message talk I think I see the trap that Gurumayi has placed her hand in. She will not, dare not try to go back to "the way things were". It would open too many questions, some of the official sort, that must remain unasked and unanswered. I don't believe that she wants to do this anyway--otherwise, what was the point in running away? But, "Gurumayi" can't just disappear indefinitely. Too many others have their lives and livelihoods wrapped up in a continued SYDA foundation and the appearance, at least, of an active organization. There may even be the truest of the true believers out there who would become unbalanced and dangerous if it all came apart.

So Gurumayi is condemned to continue to exist, at least periodically in public, and to continue exercising the last siddhi that has not abandoned her—that of mass thought control. Judging by this talk, that power is failing her too. Perhaps one day when it leaves her at last and the hope of controlling others finally blinks out, Malti will revive as well.

When what we had hoped for came to nothing, we revived.

OK, folks, let's dance this mess around one last time. Rat-a-tat-tat, just the facts, ma'am. I'll save the extended commentary for the comments page, where it's gonna go on regardless.

Where were we? Oh, yes. When last we left our lady in orange she had just finished relating the tale of the ten nincompoop seekers, who couldn't manage to count to ten between them, and then, after wishing Baba a happy 100th birthday several times in several different ways, she mentioned Play of Consciousness before reminding us that we have the treasure of the Siddha Yoga path only because of Baba's study, practice, assimilation and implementation of the teachings he received from his Guru.

At this point we were more than half way through the broadcast, and still there has been no mention of the message for the year. This is highly unusual, based on past years the formula for the New Year's talk was clear, after a brief introduction Gurumayi would quickly announce the message, then spend the balance of the talk uncovering and unfolding its meaning. During the 2004 talk, for instance, only four or five minutes passed before Gurumayi announced the message for the year. But, we still aren't there yet. First, Gurumayi wants to remind us all about the importance of sadhana:

"Sadhana gives you the means to see clearly what was not clear before. Just as the full moon blazing through dark clouds will illumine a landscape and allow you to move through it with ease, so with shaktipat a light is lit inside you. By means of that light you see things you couldn't see before. your physical and subtle senses are heightened, they adjust to a finer degree of perception than you knew before, perception of color and form, of energy and intention, of people and situations. In truth, sadhana for us is to experience this Bountiful grace. As you practice sadhana you come to a true estimate of the value of grace in your life. Did you hear that? As you practice sadhana you come to a true estimate of the value of grace in your life."

Next, Gurumayi told the story of the Sufi saint Rabia who, when asked what percentage of God she had attained, replied 100%. When next asked how much of herself she had given to God, she replied "100%, I got as much as I gave." Gurumayi paused and asked her audience of silent, absent listeners to contemplate Rabia's words:

"I got as much as I gave."

This contemplation was followed by a brief break to stand and stretch, punctuated after a minute or two by Nivritti Gillet greasily "welcoming" us back to our seats.

Gurumayi then asked us to close our eyes and visualize a column of light extending from the base of our spine up to the crown of the head. Your breath moves up and down the golden column as it comes in and goes out of you body. Let the breath come in easy, let the breath go out easy. Feel your own breath coming in and going out. Feel the breath at the top of your head. Feel the breath inside your head... et cetera, et cetera, you know the drill.

Then, the moment we had all been waiting for! "The Siddha Yoga Message for 2008 is..." (she taps mic three times to be sure we're all still awake out there)

"Search for the knowledge of the Truth and become established in the awareness of the Self."

Gurumayi continued: "In the coming year I would like you to study the new year's message for 2008 in the same way you have already learned to study through your work with the daily attributes, or your study of the sadhana of the heart, or the home study course. Study each world of the message and apply its meaning an d hidden blessings to your daily practice and daily life. You can do it! You have done it! Day by day. As you pondered over each new attribute, or quotation. Discover the message for 2008 word by word and extract the subtleties, the various connection between the words, and between the words and you life! ascertain the depth of color and form, of energy and intention, of people and situations."

Perhaps by way of further encouragement, Gurumayi added a small morsel of the fruit of her own contemplation: "While I was studying the words of this message and the composition of the sentence what leapt out for me is: you need to have both—the knowledge of awareness, and the awareness of knowledge."

Uhhumm. That's just what I was thinking.

"In his book Light on the Path Swami Muktananda says: Knowledge is one of the ways of obtaining God realization. It is knowing one's real self by acquiring knowledge of the truth in its essence, by the teachings of a guru. Baba Muktananda's words: through the teachings of a Guru. This is something Baba says over and over again. Disciples receive the teachings in their manifest and subtle forms from a Guru."

Gurumayi then narrated what she described as a commonly held fantasy of enlightenment: You meet the master in a remote place, bow and fold your hands, the master gazes at you with a bittersweet smile and Presto Magico! Enlightenment is yours!

But, Gurumayi asked, was this Baba's way? No. When you went up to Baba in darshan and asked for the mantra, or for the experience of meditation, he would hand you a mantra card, or point to a corner of the room and tell you to go sit, very matter of factly. Still, "the mantra came alive in the sound of your own silent breath. Meditation enveloped you in the deepest stillness. Your life was transformed. "

Hey, wait a minute, you might say! Isn't that a variation of the fantasy she just talked about? Never mind, you're missing the point of the story, which is:

"It is not about your own expectation of the Guru, or about indulging in fantasies of initiation in exotic settings. It is actually about following the teachings of the Guru."

At this point it has been several long minutes since we've had a good story, so Gurumayi offers one, a real one! from an early edition of the Ganeshpuri newsletter, "Siddha Path".

fairy dust chimes

"My friend and I had been going to Ganeshpuri village for Bhagawan Nityananda's darshan for many years. This happened 2 or 3 years before revered baba Nityananda took mahasamadhi. At that time we had no knowledge of who Swami Muktananda baba was. In those days, Muktanandaji lived in two rooms in Ghavdevi We would have baba Nityananda's darshan, and then go straight back to Bombay. One day Bhagawan asked, did you go to Gavdevi? When we said no, he told us to visit Swami Muktananda in Gavdevi before going back to Bombay. He had told us this one time before as well, to first go see Swami Muktananda, and then come back to see him in Ganeshpuri.

Whenever Bhagawan Nityananda's devotees would come to see him, he would tell them to go meet Swami Muktananda first. Every week when we would go to see Nityananda he would ask the Same question: Have you already gone to meet Muktananda of Gavdevi? We would reply, eh, we'll meet him on our way back home. One day Bhagawan NItyananda asked as always: did you already meet Muktananda? Before we could reply he said Muktananda Baba very wise, knower of the scriptures, saint. In this way he went on speaking in his succinct style. It was because of Nityananda that we could have the good fortune of receiving the nectar of knowledge from Swami Muktananda baba. Sometimes when we would go to see Swami Muktananda first, he would ask; did you already go to Ganeshpuri to see Bhagavan Nityananada? And when we would go to Bhagawan Nityananda first, he would ask: did you meet Muktananda? In this way, this bound of love between guru and disciple carried on to the end. Truly speaking, Bhagawan Nityananda himself trusted us to revered baba Muktananda."

Now, I have no reason to doubt this tale, but it did raise a few questions. Why, if everyone in the Guru tradition is always waiting and pleading for a command from their Guru, did these two hapless fellows travel all the way from Bombay to not only ignore Nityananda's direct instructions to go see Muktananda once, but several times running? I thought the Big Guy would assault people with sticks and throw stones at them for less? One can't fault them for being confused, though, with Nityananda sending them to Muktananda who sends them back to Nityananda, who send them on to Muktananda and so on.

But, we're missing the point again, and then there are the fairy dust chimes telling us story time is over...

Next Gurumayi sings in Hindi Baba's prayer to his Guru, from Play of Consciousness (so we did make it back there, after all) before giving the English translation. And then she has an inspiration:

"Baba's prayer is just so divine. In your future study of the message I would like to make a suggestion. You can cultivate your creative expression by writing a prayer to the guru! Here is one way to approach it; read Baba's prayer from Play of Consciousness several times through. Notice if any particular word or phrase draws your attention, calls to you. Or maybe it is an image or a feeling that is evoked for you. Note that word, or image or feeling in your journal. Allow it to resonate for you. You can even devote a special section of your journal to your experiences of the Guru. Or, you can create a Guru journal! Hmmmm. Be creative. Don't hesitate to write down any inspiration that arises for you, know that once you have set your intention to create your prayer, you will begin to attract the very images and words that will fulfill your intention. "

(Must be that 'ole debil Shakti again, heightening your physical and subtle senses and fine-tuning them to a higher degree of perception...)

And then Gurumayi repeats the message again in English and Hindi and...


Monday, January 7, 2008

The uses of disenchantment

Years ago I was watching the Disney film "Beauty and the Beast" on DVD with my nieces in my brother's living room. They were both enraptured with the tale, hanging on every twist and turn. At one point in the story the Beast passes out, I honestly can't remember why, and Belle has to hoist him onto the back of her horse. Now, the beastly Beast is maybe twice the size of petite Belle, yet she lifts him into the saddle with no problem at all. For me, this was just too much. Willing suspension of disbelief covers just so much ground and this was a yard too far, and I said so. Natalia, the more precocious of my two nieces came back with the perfect rejoinder:

"It's a CARTOON. The whole thing is unbelievable, that's the point!"

Disenchantment is not like the willing suspension of disbelief, the failure of which might make us question the plausibility of a Disney plot point or two, before we happily surrender ourselves to the magic of fantasy once again. No, disenchantment is serious stuff. Once a spell is broken it cannot exercise any more sway over the bewitched. For better or worse, you are free.

Doubtless, I should have anticipated this. After all, I was the one who named this blog Rituals of Disenchantment. Didn't I know what the outcome of my magic would be? Wasn't I the one who way back when (three months ago!) wrote:

"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."

But, there is no re-enchantment. I'm here to tell you that once you've learned to think for yourself, once you feel free to apply your critical understanding to the claims, teachings and legends of Siddha Yoga, there is no going back. The unquestioning mind of a disciple is no longer yours to possess. You've eaten the apple, peeked behind the curtain, opened Pandora's box and now you have to deal with the plague of knowledge swirling around you.

It's midnight in the garden of good and evil, folks. Step right this way and enjoy yourselves the show!

What I have posted thus far of the message talk for 2008 has been seen as wholly negative by some readers. Oh, Christ, I wish I could maintain the balance that characterized my earlier posts. But, I can't. There is no way for me to view this message as anything other than a cynical ploy to keep good-hearted folk on the hook. This by way of warning for what's coming next. The thing is, I don't believe my perspective is the be all and end all. I actually welcome those of you who feel differently to tell your truth here. Not because I want to argue with you. No, far from it. I want to hear what you have to say because, having lost the certainty of belief, I'm still fascinated by it, it still exercises its fatal allure.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

When what we had hoped for came to nothing... Part 3

Play of Consciousness. Just hearing Gurumayi mention Baba's spiritual autobiography took me way back to the start of my sadhana. Like every good beginner Siddha Yogi I had bought a copy of the hard cover edition, the one with the picture of Baba in his "lion of ganeshpuri" shaktipat pose on the cover. I began to devour it immediately, but have to say I didn't finish it for a long time. SY was too new and there were just too many other books and talks to command my attention (interesting phrase, that). And Play of Consciousness, let's face it, is a tough read for those who have not yet developed the appetite for colorful yogic kriyas and abstruse Indian philosophy. In the first years of my sadhana, it was just too much.

Eventually, of course, I came around. You just couldn't NOT read it if you were serious about the path. For a time during the late eighties and early nineties it was mentioned in every course, every Intensive. I vividly remember sitting on the hillside overlooking Nityananda Lake during the Fire Course one summer night. The leaders of the course were selectively humiliating South Fallsburg ashram insiders under the guise of asking them 'fiery' questions about their sadhana. The rumor was that the swamis asking the tough questions were wearing hidden earphones, that it was really Gurumayi who was behind the 'tapasya'. Later, it came out that it had been George Afif on the other end of the microphone, settling old scores and maintaining his iron grip over the ashram. As a newcomer and 'short term retreat participant' I couldn't know any of this; I just bought the line that those 'closest to the Guru's fire' were burning up karma.

At some point the questions came addressed to the general assembly of course participants. "Who here is not afraid of dying?" was one of the first. When a smattering of souls raised their hands they were made to stand up; the bravest among them volunteered to be handed a mic and have their resolve tested. As each one explained the source of their fearlessness the leaders mocked them, exposed their flimsy devotional rationales, taunted them by saying that the Guru wouldn't be with them at the moment of their death. I remember this so well because my best friend at the time was one of the unfortunates. I ached for him, but wasn't fearless enough to stand up in his defense, only smart enough to keep my head down and not answer the next question—which was "Who here has not read Play of Consciousness?" Amazingly, people stood up to confess this lapse. You can imagine the abuse these 'seekers after the truth' were subjected to—they wanted to follow in Baba's footsteps and couldn't even be bothered to read his spiritual autobiography?

But the leaders were not finished with the rest of us. "Who has only read Play of Consciousness once? Stand up!" And then, of course, who has read it only twice? Three times? The point was hammered home with each fresh rank of failures, until nearly everybody was standing. Why hadn't we read the greatest book about sadhana ever written, over and over again? What obstinancy kept us from continually studying what was the sum and summation of Baba's spiritual knowledge and attainment! What kind of seekers were we?

Word of the Fire Course spread through the Siddha Yoga sangham like, well, like a wildfire. When the 25th anniversary edition of Play of Consciousness was subsequently published it was hard to find anyone at the ashram who didn't have a new copy tucked under their arm or open on their lap. I read it again and again. By this time I was better able to appreciate this strange book with its exotic accounts of Baba's night time meditations, when he would be visited by gods and goddesses who would take him with them to Siddha Loka, or the moon, or hell, like otherworldly tour guides. Some of the language was utterly beautiful. I remember one passage in particular in which Baba uncharacteristically couldn't remember what had taken place during his meditation, only that entering it was like floating on a black river beneath the silent gates of a dark city. The account of Baba's initiation by Bhagawan Nityananda was towering in its serene, majestic beauty. Whoever wrote Play of Consciousness (and speculation tends to run to Amma, Baba's personal assistant at the time, whose name, whose very existence, has been scrubbed from SY history) was a fantastically talented writer.

At that moment I was interrupted from my reverie and my attention turned back to the hall as I heard Gurumayi rushing on with her talk:

"Play of Consciousness. Chit Shakti Vilas. To describe the importance of meditation and spiritual practice, Swami Muktananda wrote what has become THE BOOK for those who want to pursue sadhana. On Baba's 100th birthday I'd like to bring your attention to the SY legacy. Baba Muktananda established the SY path as a living tradition for seekers of the truth around the world. Baba's mahaprasad, his supreme gift to us is the great legacy of essential SY teachings. These teachings are alive with divine grace, they are chaitanya, they have been infused with the guru's prana shakti, the guru's breath which is chaitanya."

As she spoke, Gurumayi repeated many words and entire phrases in Hindi, as if to give them added legitimacy, to stress that they come from outside the Western tradition and are unknowable to devotees unless the Guru translates them into terms we can understand. She went on to talk about how we have the teachings because of the way Baba undertook his sadhana, how he respected the teachings and guidance he received from his Guru, how he studied, practiced, assimilated and implemented the SY teachings.

And then she began a familiar practice, taking each word she had used to describe Baba's sadhana and giving its dictionary definition, but I was still thinking about Play of Consciousness. Why had she brought it up, only to immediately move on? Had the most important book in Siddha Yoga become nothing more than a throw-away line? Or was there something I was missing? Could this be one of those mysterious hints Gurumayi was so good about hiding in her talks--the kind that would become poured over and interpreted and re-interpreted during a year's worth of study sessions? If so, what did it mean?

Gurumayi was using the occasion of Baba's 100th birthday as a pretext to examine the origins and trace the lineage of Siddha Yoga, following the transmission of teachings and grace from Bhagawan NItyananda to Baba Muktananda to...who? Wouldn't it be natural to say that the transmission continued with her Guru-hood? Why this lacuna? Why stop at Baba's teachings as exemplified in his book Play of Consciousness, or, in its original name:

Chit Shakti Vilas


Oh. right. I get it now. Bringing up the name of Baba's autobiography is a neat way for Gurumayi to remind us that Baba passed the lineage on to her, Swami Chidvilasananda, without having to deal with the messiness of narrating the actual succession drama, i.e. first her brother Nityananda is raised to the guru's chair by Baba, then she is installed as his co-successor and then, soon after Baba's death, the coup.

This sleight of hand has another purpose, it allows Gurumayi to simultaneously claim the Siddha Yoga Guruhood, and deftly sidestep it. Because when she retreats back out of the spotlight this taped message has briefly thrown on her to resume whatever life she is leading, her students will doubtless be told that this is an act of humility, that she wishes them to receive their instruction not from Chidvilasananda, but from their paid study of Chit Shakti Vilas.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

When what we had hoped for came to nothing... Part 2

I coaxed my mind away from its disappointment in the story of the ten dullard pilgrims, and turned it towards focusing on the point that tale was meant to illustrate:

"What do you habitually leave out of account when you take stock of your own world? Your own self, your own consciousness. That is the one that must be added to all the zeros, the one of the Self. "

In past years I would have agreed with this assessment without question. The Self? I didn't think about That nearly enough. Couldn't seem to keep That in the forefront of my waking consciousness for any extended length of time, and if I couldn't manage to maintain that practice for even a day or two, how was I ever going to become established in That State?

However, that's not what I was thinking when I heard Gurumayi say these words on New Year's Day. My immediate impression was that they weren't true for me anymore. I don't leave myself out of the consideration of my world! That world exists only in relation to my self, my consciousness, its perspectives, ideas, thoughts, judgments and beliefs.

Of course, I understand the distinction Gurumayi was trying to make between the (pure) self and the ego, I just don't believe in it anymore. When I thought there was a "capital S" self out there that I had to fight to relate to, it didn't eradicate my ego, it weakened it in ways that do not serve me as a person in the real world. It made me uncertain in my own skin. Now that I'm thinking for myself, without the mental gymnastics of having to align my everday thoughts and feelings with some unattainable ideal, I feel much more self-assured, calm and happy. In fact, in the past few months I've noticed a marked reevaluation in my assessment of myself. I feel more grounded in my beliefs, more able to articulate them and more certain of their truth, for me. If others disagree or contradict my truth, I not only don't get offended, I don't feel any need to argue the point. There is a quiet self-assurance that has grown up within me, maybe, probably, likely as a consequence of writing Rituals of Disenchantment and interacting with all those who have been moved to share their thoughts here.

In any case, there was no time to linger over the appreciation of this new estimation of my self worth. Gurumayi was again ecstatically wishing Baba a happy hundredth birthday! She exclaimed that if he were alive today ("in his physical body") Baba would announce to the whole world "I am 100 years old! I am a young man!" She shouted: "Can't you just hear him saying that?"

Now, I never met Baba. Never felt any particular connection to him, though I faithfully read all his books more than once, though I prostrated myself with abject abandon at the foot of his altar in the back of the main hall in South Fallsburg, watching mesmerized as the eyes of his picture would follow me back to my seat during each Intensive. So, when I would hear Gurumayi paint word pictures of him like this in the past I would just smile knowingly, confident that anyone who had met Baba or spent any time with him would be able to envision the scene precisely as she described it. But since that time I have read many more first-hand accounts of devotees' experience with Baba, and have had to come to terms with the well-chronicled instances of his sexual abuse of minors, and the violent tactics certain of his followers used to silence those who tried to protect the innocent. So now, this picture of a Perfected Master that I had always accepted without question was replaced in my mind's eye by one of a Perfect Bastard. Toothless, impotent, I saw Baba pushing his flaccid way into young female devotees, just girls really, as they turned their faces blankly away from the sight of his ecstasy, trying to will away the memories that are already sinking roots into their bodies like cancer.

Gurumayi continued with her fantasy of a live (in his physical body!) Baba having as much fun on his birthday as a ten year old. There would be laughter and food, singing and meditation. (I thought dryly, like there used to be in South Fallsburg when we actually gathered together as one to celebrate Siddha Yoga holy days?) Baba might even hold a year-long Shaktipat Intensive! The day would ring with Baba's characteristic phrases (Gurumayi repeats some of these in Hindi, without translation) And as Baba would always do during a satsang as part of a story, or for emphasis, or to quiet the room when loud kriyas were happening...

she taps the microphone slowly five times and repeats

shanti shanti shanti

Then Gurumayi asks: why is Baba's birthday so significant for us? It is a time to remember and reflect on what he so lovingly taught us. The Self is immortal. The Guru is immortal. The Self, God and the Guru are one. As we celebrate this anniversary of 100 years we are at the same time celebrating Baba's boundless love, Baba's all-pervading shakti, Baba's immeasurable grace and Baba's eternal teachigns.

Baba is immortal! she declares. She repeats this in Hindi. In fact, English and Hindi have alternated throughout this talk in a way I can't remember since I took an Intensive in Gurudev Siddha Peeth. And then Gurumayi begins to sing Jay Jay Muktanandaya! Muktananda Jay Jay! The musicians pick up the melody and play it for a few bars, just long enough for us to begin listlessly to follow along. And then, abruptly, the chant ends and I hear her say those three words.

Play of Consciousness.

Chit Shakti Vilas.

to be continued

When what we had hoped for came to nothing...

Of all the ways to study Siddha Yoga, I've always loved listening to Gurumayi's talks the most. I bought each one on CD or video as soon as it was available, and listened to it over and over again with rapt attention. It got to be that I had so memorized the rhythm and cadence of her speech, so internalized the darkly lush intonations of her voice, the plum-like fullness of her syllables, the exquisite clarity of her enunciation and, of course, the warm springs of her laughter that I could hear her reciting her talks even when I'd read them in books.

When the tradition of the annual Siddha Yoga message was established, what had been a glorious, overgrown profusion of Gurumayi's talks each year was tamed into a single coherent focus of study. Most years I made the pilgrimage to South Fallsburg to listen to the New Year's Message at her feet. And over the years I began to develop a curious ability. I knew that there would be a delay of at least two months before the recorded version of the talk would be available and, not wanting to miss practicing the full import of the message during those important first weeks of the year, I found a way to memorize whole passages of the talk. It didn't involve note-taking, a practice which I discovered early on divided my attention and reduced the talk to discrete fragments of whatever seemed important in the moment, leaving large gaps and destroying the coherence of the message.

Instead, I would sit comfortably and pay extremely close attention to every word, not allowing my attention to wander for even a moment to think about what Gurumayi had just said, but rather let her words sink into me like water running into a bed of hot sand. It didn't matter that the words would vanish from my short term memory almost as quickly as she spoke them. If I listened in this way and allowed the message to permeate me, then there was a good chance I could race away the moment the talk was over and write most of it down in my journal. In this way, I was able to capture whole segments of the talk, and even direct quotes of the points Gurumayi had stressed through repetition or particular emphasis. Nowadays I look on this ability as something of a parlor trick, but at the time I was proud of it, and when I'd gather with friends afterwards at amrit to compare mental notes on what Gurumayi had said and exactly how she said it, I was happy to be able to remember so much, in so much detail.

I approached this New Year's Message broadcast in the same way, hoping to recapture the same depth of attention and focus and retention. Consider this my experience talk of that effort.

My concentration was tested from the start when the broadcast began with the MC, Navritti Gillet, introducing himself as "a long term retreat participant" at South Fallsburg. Full disclosure; I've always disliked Navritti Gillet. He's never done anything to me; I've never even had a private conversation with the man, but he has always struck me as unctuous and transparently false. His voice has the self-satisfied tone of someone who has spent a great deal of time listening to himself speak, and is in love with what he's heard. But, it was that term: "long term retreat participant" that set my teeth on edge. Really? Are we really still talking about So Fallsburg in this way? What retreat is going on there?

OK, breathe. Shake it off. It isn't him you've come to hear, I reminded myself. Banish the image of his absurd little moustache from your mind and concentrate on the message that is coming. After all, you've waited so long for this. You're expecting so much. There are so many questions you have that you're certain will be answered. You're going to hear Gurumayi!

And, I remembered, I did have such high hopes for this talk. I felt sure that the Guru who had admonished us over and again "Never break another human heart, because it is in the heart that God dwells" would surely have something to say to those whose hearts have been broken after four years without any word from their Beloved. The teacher who had stressed that the ashram is the extended body of the Guru, and who had once asked everyone in the worldwide sangham to write an essay about what the ashram meant to them, would doubtless speak about the state of our beloved South Fallsburg ashram and the plans for its future. The Disciple who had shared so much of her own sadhana to illustrate the teachings would certainly have something to say about her experiences of the last four years, and how they have colored and shaped her understanding of the Truth.

And then Navritti was introducing the speaker by saying that "Our teacher today for the New Year's Message will be none other than our beloved Guru, Gurumayi!" I wished then that I hadn't read the comment from the devotee in Australia who had spilled the beans on the "sweet surprise" on New Year's eve (already New Year's Day down under). I imagined the wave of excitement that must have swept across the globe when the introductory mantras began and it was Gurumayi's unmistakable voice leading the chant. And then:

With great respect and love, I welcome you all with all my heart.

Hearing her pronounce those words, something felt...missing. Perhaps, I told myself, it's just that I'm not in the hall seeing her, truly being with her. But it wasn't that. I've heard Gurumayi's voice over broadcasts, both live and taped, many times before but it was always with the awareness that she was speaking in a hall filled with people. You could hear the rustling and coughing and laughing of the devotees fortunate enough to be there with her, and it helped to crystallize the scene. This always left me with a sense of longing and envy and even with the delicious feeling of eavesdropping on history in the making. But her voice now was shrouded by a mysterious silence. I had the uncomfortable sense that she was alone and speaking into a telephone line that communicated only one way.

My unease only increased when Gurumayi wished everyone a happy new year, by saying:"You've all come together in your satasang halls to hear the "sweet surprise"! So, please take a minute to wish each other a happy new year, and if you happen to be by yourself, wish yourself a very happy new year." She lifted her voice to emphasize the second syllable of 'surprise' in a way that made the word sound like baby-talk, and then the music began-- a jaunty up and down melody like the one on that game show Jeopardy, that is meant to count down a short passage of time.

When the music ended a gong sounded three or four times to signal us to return to our seats. Gurumayi then explained "when you hear the gong, it means the sharing session is complete. Everytime you hear the gong it means we are wrapping up a session of the satsang." This was so unnecessary and forced that it threw the rhythm off and only underscored the fact that we weren't in contact with her, no one was in contact with her, she was delivering the message into a sound-proof booth.

But, I reminded myself, haven't we been conditioned in SY to things changing all the time? Isn't that part of the practice of sadhana, doesn't it help us to let go of preconditioned ideas and be in the moment? I refocused on Gurumayi's words just as she was beginning to tell a story....

"Once upon a time there lived a great being. He was a great Guru. He had attained liberation. He was well known for his divine ability to give shaktipat, the awakening of kundalini shakti. In our time it was he who made shaktipat known to the whole world. HIs name was Swami Muktananda. We called him Baba. He was born in 1908 and now 100 years later in 2008 we are celebrating Baba's 100th birthday. 100 years! Happy birthday Baba! Do you want to wish him happy birthday? Go ahead! Happy birthday Baba!"

Gurumayi began to repeat her happy birthday salutations in Hindi as I somewhat nervously wondered if we were all supposed to join in. But before anyone could, Gurumayi continued:

"Without the number one, zeroes add up to nothing, Baba would say. Everything is zero, indicating it is meaningless, without...without what exactly?"

Suddenly a sweep of musical chimes, like the one used to signify pixie dust being sprinkled in the telling of fairy tales, marked the beginning of a story. Gurumayi then told the tale of the ten pilgrims who were crossing a river. When they made it to the other side they counted up to be sure no one was missing. But to their horror there were only nine of them! The story continued as one after another seeker completed the count and found only nine, until they all were weeping. A farmer heard them, asked what was wrong and then suggested they count again. In the middle of the recount he stopped them and suggested they they begin the count with themselves. Lo an behold there were ten of them after all! Each had forgotten to count himself!

Gurumayi continued by saying that Baba would tell this story to illustrate that without the number one, everything is zero. "What do you habitually leave out of account when you take stock of your own world? Your own self, your own consciousness. That is the one that must be added to all the zeros, the one of the Self. That gives life its rasa."

Again, for me, something wasn't quite right. I soon realized what it was. In the past when I would listen to Gurumayi's recorded talks over and over there were always passages that I inevitably began to skip over. These were almost always the stories. After repeated listenings the stories always seemed drawn out, way too long to justify the point they were meant to illustrate. Sure, when I first heard each story I LOVED it. And when I listened on tape everyone was laughing along with Gurumayi as she narrated with exaggerated silliness the folly of whoever was being taught a lesson because of their obstinacy or blindness. But it was clear to me that the magic of a Gurumayi story didn't translate as well to a recording as the rest of her talk. It was a meant for a live audience, a chance for Gurumayi to really roll up her sleeves and put on a performance that would delight her listeners. And that was the trouble here. There was no crowd to react to the story, no roar of laughter to punctuate the punch lines, no interaction at all. And yet, the story was written as if it was going to be performed before a live audience of thousands.

In the absence of feedback from an audience the story of the ten pilgrims seemed terribly belabored. Perhaps to compensate, Gurumayi raised the volume on her theatrics until they seemed shrill and histrionic. For me, the story didn't serve to set up the Baba quote at all. It was like trying to extract a personal lesson from the misunderstandings of a gathering of idiots.

to be continued

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Siddha Yoga Message for 2008 is...

OK. I'm not made out of wood. When a commenter from Australia revealed that the 2008 message talk would be given by Gurumayi herself, well, I just had to sign up.

I'd LOVE to tell you the message; I'm DYING to tell you the message. It's a message everyone MUST hear right away.

There's just one itty-bitty problem. At my center they made everyone promise not to talk about or reveal the message until after February 15. What's so auspicious about this date, you ask? Dunno. But I'm guessing it's the last day you can pay to sign up and hear the message via webcast.

In other words; pony up one hundred bills, or remain in the dark regarding the first message personally given by Gurumayi since 2004. But, here's the dillio! Once I collect myself from the shock of again hearing Gurumayi's divine voice (even via pre-recorded tape) I promise to share with you my 'experience' of the talk.

Stay tuned, gentle readers.